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Brennan Suen

Author ››› Brennan Suen
  • Fox & Friends weekend shows ignored stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Donald Trump’s favorite Fox News program Fox & Friends’ weekend editions completely ignored a series of major damaging stories about Trump associate Michael Cohen. This continues the show’s pattern of playing defense for the president and ignoring damaging stories.

    On April 9, FBI agents raided Cohen’s hotel room, home, and office “seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.” Federal prosecutors in Manhattan revealed on Friday, April 13, that Cohen has been under investigation for months and that a grand jury has been convened that is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Prosecutors emphasized that while Cohen has been called Donald Trump’s lawyer, he is being investigated over his business dealings and that Cohen “is in fact performing little to no legal work.” CNN also reported that during the raid, the FBI seized recordings between Cohen and Stormy Daniels’ former attorney.  

    Also on Friday, McClatchy reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered evidence that Cohen “secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign” after he “vehemently denied for months that he ever has been in Prague or colluded with Russia during the campaign.” If true, the evidence would corroborate parts of the Christopher Steele dossier “purporting to detail the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia.”

    Yet another Cohen-related story broke on April 13, when CNN reported that Cohen “facilitated a payment plan totaling $1.6 million last year to a former Playboy model who says she became pregnant by Elliott Broidy, a leading GOP fundraiser.” Broidy resigned as a result of the revelations.

    While Fox & Friends has been silent on Cohen, Trump has reportedly called Cohen. Trump also tweeted about the matter.

    The obsequious relationship between Fox & Friends and Trump has been well documented, with Trump’s tweets frequently lining up with segments and talking points from the right-wing morning show. Media Matters has repeatedly highlighted the feedback loop between the show and Trump, including how Trump has made policy announcements responding to its segments. Fox & Friends has also repeatedly ignored damaging stories about Trump and the Russia investigation.

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Snapstream transcripts of Fox & Friends Saturday and Sunday for mentions of the word “Michael” or “Cohen.”

  • The trans military ban is yet another example of the White House's cozy relationships with anti-LGBTQ hate groups

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Dayanita Ramesh / Media Matters

    There’s new reporting about anti-LGBTQ hate group leader Tony Perkins’ role in crafting the latest White House policy banning transgender troops from serving in the military -- and that’s only the most recent reminder that we should be very, very worried about the Trump administration’s coziness with anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists.

    Hours after the White House released an updated policy banning transgender service members from serving in the military, Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern reported that “behind the scenes, a ‘panel of experts’” crafted a report justifying the ban. The so-called experts included Perkins, president of anti-LGBTQ hate group the Family Research Council (FRC), and the virulently anti-trans Ryan Anderson from the Heritage Foundation, who wrote an entire book dedicated to discrediting the transgender experience. Stern also reported that Vice President Mike Pence, who has a long history of anti-LGBTQ animosity and is a longtime friend of Perkins’, “played a leading role in the creation of this report.” This is yet another disturbing example of anti-LGBTQ extremists’ influence on White House policy and close relationships with the administration.

    Just one day before Trump announced the new policy, Tyson Langhofer, director of the Center for Academic Freedom at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), spoke at an official youth outreach event at the White House. During the event, Justice Department Office of Public Affairs Director Sarah Isgur Flores praised ADF as a “great organization” and thanked Langhofer for its work.

    Here are just some of the ways ADF and other anti-LGBTQ hate groups and extremists are directly influencing White House policy beyond the newly released ban:

    • After consulting with ADF, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions released religious exemptions guidance making it easier for individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

    • The Justice Department issued an unusual brief on behalf of ADF’s client in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission Supreme Court court case.

    • ADF is reportedly in “negotiations” with the Trump administration to undo protections for incarcerated transgender people.

    • Perkins has bragged about how many times he has visited the White House.

    • Trump is nominating attorneys with ties to ADF for federal judgeships.

    • Former ADF legal counsel Matt Bowman works in the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which has been employing more right-wing religious activists and has started a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division that makes it easier for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people, among others.

    • Roger Severino, who wrote an anti-trans report with Ryan Anderson at the Heritage Foundation, runs the HHS Office of Civil Rights.

    • Former Family Research Council Chief of Staff Shannon Royce has emerged “as a pivotal player” at HHS as director of its Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

    • Former ADF Communications Director Kerri Kupec is a Department of Justice spokesperson.

    • ADF client Sara Hellwege spoke at the HHS announcement of its anti-LGBTQ rule granting religious exemptions for health care providers to deny services to LGBTQ people.

    • At least four people who have worked for the Family Research Council were on Trump’s transition team.

    These groups spent years under the Obama administration pushing anti-LGBTQ policies through municipalities and states and fighting equality in court while also strategizing over how to undo the progress that has happened over the past decade at the national level. Now the current administration is welcoming them to the table and fulfilling their wish lists. Trump made a clear play for these groups and their supporters' votes when he chose Pence as his running mate, and so-called “values voters” like Perkins have repeatedly abandoned their morals to defend Trump -- and reaped the rewards in policy.

    We are witnessing a massive effort to roll back LGBTQ equality at all levels of government and on nearly every issue affecting the lives and rights of community members, and these groups are at the forefront of it. And there are repercussions outside of the policy realm: Their attacks are creating a more hostile, anti-LGBTQ environment in society at large. For the first time in four years, acceptance of LGBTQ people has decreased, and violence against the community is surging without many Americans even being aware of it.

    The trans military ban was just the latest win for anti-LGBTQ hate groups. There will certainly be more. If you haven’t been alarmed by this yet, it’s time to be now.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom is working to keep LGBTQ people from adopting children

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & REBECCA DAMANTE

    Lawyers and allied attorneys from influential anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have been working to pass and defend legislation in at least five states that allows child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ people, among others, in adoption and foster care. In 2017, three states passed anti-LGBTQ adoption laws, and a sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemptions law in Mississippi also included provisions about adoption and foster care. Georgia’s state Senate passed a similar bill in February, to be considered by its House, and at least three other states are considering similar bills this year.

  • Alliance Defending Freedom spent big fighting against marriage equality in Latin America and Europe. It's losing.

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Last year, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a designated anti-LGBTQ hate group, fought against marriage equality in Latin American and European courts, including by presenting oral arguments before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in the Americas. Multinational courts in both countries recently ruled or advised in favor of same-sex marriage and spousal recognition. The international courts’ opinions show that attempting to export anti-LGBTQ bigotry abroad is not always a winning battle, even as ADF gains influence in our court system.

    The IACHR is a part of the Organization of American States (OAS), an organization that “brings together all 35 independent states of the Americas and constitutes the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere.” On May 17 of last year, ADF International presented oral arguments before the IACHR against legalizing marriage equality in its member states. The IACHR was reviewing a petition submitted in 2016 by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis, "who had vowed to increase rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the majority Catholic country.” Talking about the case, ADF International legal counsel Neydy Casillas had said, “While the right for men and women to marry is recognized under international law, there is no corresponding right to same-sex marriage or a name change based on ‘gender identity.’” Casillas continued, “The American Convention on Human Rights does not obligate Member States to recognize same-sex partnerships.”

    On January 9, Reuters reported that the IACHR ruled “that countries in the region should legalize same-sex unions.” According to AFP and Costa Rica’s Tico Times, the ruling “said gay married couples should have the same rights as heterosexual ones existing under each country’s laws.” The court also ruled that transgender people should be able to change their names on identification documents. In response, Costa Rica’s government said that it “would take steps to adopt the court’s criteria ‘in its totality.’” And on January 17, Panama’s government also “signaled it plans to comply” with the ruling, according to the Washington Blade.

    ADF International showcased this work in its Annual Report 2017, writing that its team argued “in defence of Costa Rica’s definition of marriage.” ADF and another anti-LGBTQ hate group, C-Fam, both participated in the 47th annual session of the OAS General Assembly.

    In a separate international case, ADF submitted an intervention in April to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against a married Romanian and American gay couple who were fighting for their right to live together. The couple challenged Romanian authorities’ decision to refuse the American husband’s residence permit. On January 11, a senior adviser to the ECJ backed legal residency for same-sex couples under the definition of “spouse.” According to the BBC, “ECJ Advocate General Melchior Wathelet said the term ‘spouse’ included, under the freedom of residence of EU citizens and their family members, spouses of the same sex.” “Opinions given by ECJ advocate generals are non-binding on the court’s judges,” The Guardian noted, “but are normally followed by the full court.” The court decision, which is expected in a few months, “could have wider repercussions for the range of benefits and rights” same-sex married couples can claim.

    As expected, ADF saw the repercussions of the decision in a very different way. In April, ADF International legal counsel Adina Portaru, the “leading lawyer on the third party intervention,” released a statement saying, "Forcing a Member State to amend its national law to legally recognize same-sex relationships means deliberately ignoring a national democratic process." The statement also claimed that the ECJ "runs the risk of undermining the law" in many EU countries and "creating legal chaos as a result."

    ADF International also highlighted its work before the ECJ in its Annual Report 2017. Additionally, ADF gave legal assistance to a “Coalition for Family” in Romania that worked to collect 3 million signatures across the country in order to get a referendum “to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage” up for a vote. Anti-LGBTQ hate group Liberty Counsel also gave legal assistance and organized for Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to LGBTQ couples in 2015, to visit the coalition. The United Nations has granted ADF a special consultative status, which allows its attorneys access to treaty and convention drafting meetings. C-Fam also has the same status.

    ADF is the largest designated anti-LGBTQ hate group in the nation, and the group and its representatives have supported a number of extreme positions, including criminalizing gay sex both domestically and abroad. According to a major investigative report by The Nation’s Sarah Posner, ADF has “redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” amid its growing influence, including its role in the U.S. Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. ADF’s international arm has grown to “50 team members in 8 countries,” with a budget of more than 3.5 million euros, and engagement in “580 ongoing legal matters in 51 countries.” Its work in international courts proves that ADF is not simply interested in “free speech” and is in fact dedicated to eroding every aspect of LGBTQ equality both in the U.S. and abroad. It is to be seen whether ADF’s arguments prove successful in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case before our own nation’s high court, but failures abroad illustrate that international courts aren’t falling for them.

  • Recent reporting on violence against trans inmates illustrates the dangers of Trump administration rescinding protections

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom is negotiating with the Trump administration to undo Obama-era guidelines protecting transgender inmates

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Trump administration is considering undoing protections for incarcerated transgender people after reportedly being in “negotiations” with anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). Transgender inmates are frequently housed with members of the opposite gender and experience the highest reported incidence of sexual violence in prisons and jails. The dangers they face are illustrated by a number of recent media reports on lawsuits trans women have filed regarding their treatment while incarcerated.

    On January 4, The Dallas Morning News reported that ADF is representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The suit demands that the bureau “remove all transgender inmates” from a female-only prison in Fort Worth, TX. In an effort to settle the lawsuit, ADF is “in negotiations with the federal government” over undoing policies that protect transgender inmates. The article predicted that the Trump administration was “likely to undo” those policies. ADF lawyer Gary McCaleb, who has also been active in ADF’s work against transgender student equality in schools, told The Dallas Morning News that he was “pretty confident” that the BOP would change some of its transgender inmate protections, particularly on the issue of whether transgender women are housed with non-trans prisoners. ADF’s work here is just one piece of its relentless campaign against LGBTQ equality.

    In weighing whether to remove protections for incarcerated trans people, ADF and the Trump administration will likely be taking aim at two pieces of Obama-era guidance. One is a January 18, 2017, “Transgender Offender Manual,” which gave guidance on the treatment of transgender inmates and sought to “ensure the Bureau of Prisons (Bureau) properly identifies, tracks, and provides services to the transgender population.” The other guidance likely to be affected is the Justice Department’s 2012 standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) that require detention facilities to “incorporate unique vulnerabilities of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and gender nonconforming inmates into training and screening protocols.” Those rules say that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex inmate to a facility for male or female inmates, … the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the inmate’s health and safety, and whether the placement would present management or security problems.”

    According to Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, transgender protections under PREA can work as “a mechanism through which trans inmates essentially sue prisons for violating their rights under federal law.” Thus, the attempts by ADF and the Trump administration to alter those policies could affect transgender inmates’ ability to sue for inhumane treatment.

    Recent coverage of a number of lawsuits filed by transgender women who reported sexual and physical violence and harassment in prisons and jails demonstrates the countless hardships transgender inmates encounter. In November, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that a transgender woman filed a lawsuit against the county and jail officials after she was “placed in a male holding cell” in Allegheny County, PA. The woman was “raped and physically assaulted by [an] inmate -- despite her cries for help and seeking assistance through the cell’s emergency call button.” The woman also said she was “harassed physically and called derogatory names” and had men watch her shower and strip-search her.

    On January 5, the Associated Press reported that a transgender woman incarcerated in Illinois “is seeking a rarely granted transfer to a female prison” after experiencing “sexual assault, taunting and beatings” in male prisons. Her lawsuit described “how guards and fellow inmates would regularly single her out for brutal treatment,” saying “that guards made her and another transgender inmate perform sex acts on each other as the guards hurled slurs and laughed.” The AP reported on another filing from her lawyers that said it had been “devastating psychologically” for her to be unable to present “herself as a female” while incarcerated. The article noted the “greater risk of abuse” for trans inmates, including that “nearly 40 percent reported being victims of sexual misconduct by other inmates and guards — compared to around 4 percent of the general prison reporting such abuse.”

    On that same day, Reuters reported that the state of Massachusetts “asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a transgender woman” who is housed in a men’s prison. In her lawsuit, the woman said that she has been subjected “to strip searches by male guards” who “routinely groped” her and forced her “to shower in the presence of male inmates.” In yet another January report, the New York Post wrote that a transgender woman who was incarcerated in the notoriously violent Rikers Island jail complex is suing New York City and correction officials after being “beaten so severely by several guards that they broke her jaw, knocked out teeth and left her with two black eyes.”

    In December, Aviva Stahl wrote a piece for The Village Voice, titled “New York City Jails Still Can’t Keep Trans Prisoners Safe,” analyzing the state of incarcerated transgender people in the city's jails. Stahl’s report noted that advocates say the city’s Department of Correction has failed to protect transgender prisoners and that “some trans women have been denied entry” into the city’s Transgender Housing Unit (THU) or “been transferred into male facilities after their external genitalia were observed in medical exams.” Stahl noted that these failures are violations “of national prison anti-rape standards,” the very standards that could be affected by the negotiations between the ADF and the Trump administration. The article added that transgender people have “the highest reported incidence of sexual violence of any demographic group studied, more than eight times the rate for prisoners overall,” according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. A 2007 study found an even higher rate for transgender women: “59 percent of transgender women housed in men’s prisons had been sexually abused while incarcerated, as compared to 4 percent of non-transgender inmates in men’s prisons.”

    These abuses are happening even with the Obama-era protections in place. If ADF is successful in getting the Trump administration to rescind these limited protections, trans lives and bodies will be at still further risk.

  • A compliant press helped bring Alliance Defending Freedom's anti-LGBTQ hate back into the mainstream in 2017

    The hate group led the fight against queer and trans equality this year, but many in the press fell for its "free speech" narrative

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) began 2017 by being designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and finished the year arguing before the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commision. Throughout that time, ADF fervently opposed LGBTQ equality at every step while also moving its hardline extremism more and more into the mainstream. The media, in turn, aided the group’s efforts by largely failing to contextualize its unrelenting campaign against queer and trans people.

    In the landmark Masterpiece Cakeshop case, ADF is representing plaintiff Jack Phillips, who was sued after he refused to bake a wedding cake for Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a gay couple. ADF argued before the Supreme Court on December 5, and the court will decide the case next year. But Masterpiece Cakeshop is just the tip of the iceberg of ADF’s anti-LGBTQ work this year, all of which has one thing in common: seeking to make LGBTQ people second-class citizens.

    ADF spent the year attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality at the school, local, state, and federal level

    ADF’s representation of the plaintiff in Masterpiece Cakeshop case did not occur in a vacuum. The group and its allied lawyers have worked on at least eight other legal cases involving religious exemptions this year. Religious exemptions are often used by anti-LGBTQ groups and people to justify discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” ADF helped write, promote, and justify Mississippi’s sweeping anti-LGBTQ religious exemption law and fought for it in court, and it worked with Attorney General Jeff Sessions before he issued religious exemptions guidance in October. In addition, ADF has been leading the fight against transgender student equality in schools across the United States, including by influencing anti-trans “bathroom bills” in at least eight states.

    SPLC labeled ADF as an anti-LGBTQ hate group in February due to a history of the group’s leaders and affiliated lawyers “regularly demoniz[ing] LGBT people, falsely linking them to pedophilia, calling them ‘evil’ and a threat to children and society, and blaming them for the ‘persecution of devout Christians.’” The hate group designation was also conferred in part for ADF’s history of supporting anti-sodomy laws, which effectively criminalize homosexuality. In 2003, the group filed an amicus brief in Lawrence v. Texas that defended state sodomy laws and called “same-sex sodomy … a distinct public health problem.” ADF also supports attempts to turn LGBTQ people straight through dangerous conversion therapy, which every mainstream medical group has discredited for decades and which has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims.

    ADF has worked hard to mainstream its image, but the media has a responsibility to start contextualizing the group

    One hallmark of ADF’s year -- as it headed to the Supreme Court for one of its most consequential cases -- has been its work alongside its allies and a sympathetic right-wing media to mainstream its image and move the goalposts on what is considered hate. In a report for The Nation, Sarah Posner summarized the group’s strategy: “Increasingly wary of being called discriminatory in the wake of a decision last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center to label it a hate group, ADF has redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream.” Posner quoted First Amendment attorney Greg Lipper saying that ADF has been able to “‘take an extreme position’ and mainstream it so thoroughly that it has become ‘a viable theory at the Supreme Court.’”

    Media Matters has found that major newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times tend to avoid using SPLC’s “hate group” label when it comes to anti-LGBTQ groups but frequently identify other hate groups designated by SPLC, particularly white nationalist groups. ADF and its allies have taken advantage of media’s hesitancy to use the label and actively worked to discredit SPLC’s designation, especially when media outlets do use it. In September, ADF and a number of other groups wrote a letter to “members of the media” asking them to stop using the designation. The same groups signed a similar letter in June attacking a nonprofit database for using the designation; the database eventually succumbed to the pressure and announced its decision to stop using the label partly because of “harassment and threats directed at our staff and leadership.” The groups involved in these campaigns comprise a sort of “who’s who” of anti-LGBTQ bigotry and are highly influential.

    When ABC News and NBC News used the “hate group” designation to describe ADF in June reports, ADF demanded a retraction from ABC and began an aggressive media strategy to attack SPLC and attempt to discredit ABC’s and NBC’s reports. Right-wing media figures joined the chorus and echoed ADF's and others’ attacks on the designation, and ADF representatives soon made the rounds on Fox News, appearing on Fox & Friends, The Story with Martha MacCallum, and Tucker Carlson Tonight. The network has proven to be a safe space for the group to push this narrative. In July, Tucker Carlson called SPLC a “totally discredited but extremely rich left-wing organization” that attempts to “shut down legitimate debate by labeling ideas it disagrees with as ‘hate speech.’” Later in the segment, Carlson interviewed ADF Vice President Kristen Waggoner about ABC’s and NBC’s reports. In another segment, Carlson lamented that SPLC’s list of hate groups “lump[ed]” anti-LGBTQ groups with “Nazis and crazy people.” This flawed argument has been recycled thoroughly by hate groups and right-wing media.

    But it’s not just right-wing media that has been sympathetic to this campaign to discredit the “hate group” label. CNN changed a headline from “Here are all the active hate groups where you live” to “The Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups” after pressure from right-wing figures and media. News outlets are more than just hesitant to use the “hate group” label, though, and often fail to give any context to ADF’s work at all. Media outlets owe it to their audiences to, at the very least, contextualize ADF and groups like it. Yet a lot of coverage has been lacking in that context.

    Much of the reporting around the Masterpiece Cakeshop case fell into this trap. Time and time again, media outlets failed to contextualize ADF, instead simply noting that it was arguing the case or sometimes calling it “conservative.” In their reports on the case, The Washington Post, NPR, Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times all mentioned ADF’s role in the case but failed to mention its years-long campaign against LGBTQ equality, and those compose just a small sampling of a larger problem. A report by Time explicitly said that ADF “is making the argument that [the case] is fundamentally not about LGBTQ discrimination but about free speech” but also failed to note any of ADF’s other work combating LGBTQ equality. The piece did appropriately address the ramifications of the case for queer and trans rights, but it failed to counter ADF’s narrative or give background to its work, which would’ve shown the readers that ADF’s argument about the case “not [being] about LGBTQ discrimination” is without any merit in the context of its other work.

    Leaving out important context about ADF can give readers an impression that the case, or even ADF’s work as a whole, may truly be about “free speech” rather than discrimination against LGBTQ people. ADF’s history proves that, for the group, the Masterpiece case is not about so-called “artistic freedom” or the First Amendment; it’s about preventing LGBTQ people from being fully recognized citizens in public and even private life. If news outlets won’t call it hate in 2018, they can at least give enough information for their readers to see it for themselves.

  • Sinclair is forcing local news stations across the country to air multiple false attacks on the Southern Poverty Law Center

    Right-wing groups and anti-LGBTQ hate groups have been actively campaigning against SPLC’s “hate group” designation

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Conservative local TV news giant Sinclair Broadcast Group has produced two “must-run” segments misrepresenting the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and casting doubt on its “hate group” designations. Sinclair is known for requiring its local news stations to air “must-run” segments that often look like right-wing propaganda. These must-runs come as hate groups and other right-wing organizations have ramped up their years-long campaign against SPLC in 2017.

    Sinclair’s Behind the Headlines with Mark Hyman segment that ran on air on October 31 included several false claims about SPLC, including the incorrect claim that the group spent only $62,000 on legal expenses in 2015 and that SPLC gave a “hate group” designation to “a young woman who called into a radio show to discuss socialism.” (Right-wing media, hate groups, and Fox News helped amplify that same lie in October.) The segment also took issue with SPLC’s designation of some “christian ministries, think tanks and public interest law firms” as hate groups, giving an innocuous veneer to groups such as the rabidly anti-LGBTQ Liberty Counsel. The segment said SPLC’s inclusion of those groups in a list of hate groups that includes “the Klan and skinheads … raises serious questions,” echoing an argument repeatedly made by hate groups and right-wing media.

    SPLC responded to the segment by sending a November 21 letter to Sinclair station WSYX that called the claims made by Hyman “inaccurate, defamatory, and irresponsible.” The letter called on the station “to acknowledge on the air the errors contained in the story about the SPLC, remove any reference to the story from your website if it was posted there, and not run the segment again.” The SPLC previously called for similar action by Fox News after the channel made false claims about the group’s legal spending. On December 7, Hyman replied to SPLC in a second Behind the Headlines segment. Hyman read some of SPLC’s clarification in response to the October segment but failed to acknowledge that his previous claims about SPLC were wrong. Thus local news audiences across the country will be shown another exchange in a Sinclair personality’s petty and inaccurate attacks against a major civil rights group.

    Hyman’s segments came during a year in which anti-LGBTQ hate groups have stepped up their campaign against SPLC and its “hate group” designation. A number of those groups even launched an “SPLCexposed” campaign in an attempt to discredit the label and mainstream bigotry against the queer and trans community.

    Sinclair’s “must-run” segments feature right-wing and pro-Trump commentary and are required to be aired by all Sinclair-owned or operated local news stations. Hyman’s twice-weekly segment is just one of those so-called “must-runs.” If Sinclair’s controversial purchase of Tribune Media Group is approved by the Federal Communications Commission and Department of Justice, the company would grow as the largest provider of local TV news in the country, adding 42 more stations to its existing 173 stations in 81 markets. In November, Media Matters compiled a list of more than 15 communities that will be affected by Sinclair’s acquisition.

  • Anti-LGBTQ hate group fundraises for its UN work with swastika over a rainbow flag

    C-Fam has special consultative status at the UN, and its swastika fundraising meme called LGBTQ people "sexual fascists"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Anti-LGBTQ hate group C-Fam sent this meme in a fundraising email about its United Nations work

    Anti-LGBTQ hate group C-Fam, which has special consultative status at the United Nations, sent a December 8 fundraising email that featured a custom meme of a rainbow flag with a swastika in it. The meme read, “Sexual Fascists Want to Take Away Your Rights. We are Beating Them at the UN. Help us.”

    C-Fam’s fundraising email that included the meme repeatedly used variants of the term “homosexual fascists,” comparing LGBTQ people to Nazis. The email did not shy away from other anti-queer rhetoric, including saying, “We will always call homosexual behavior sinful, offensive, and deeply harmful to the individual who practices it and to society at large."

    Formerly known as the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, C-Fam was granted U.N. special consultative status in 2014, which according to Political Research Associates, gives the group “virtually unfettered access to U.N. missions during key convention and treaty-drafting meetings.” Earlier this year, the State Department sent a C-Fam representative as one of the country’s public delegates to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

    C-Fam has worked closely with anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, which just argued before the Supreme Court in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Both groups have supported and promoted each other’s work on a number of causes. At least once, C-Fam President Austin Ruse spoke before more than 100 participants of ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship, and C-Fam has hosted some of those fellows for summer internships.  In September, Ruse co-signed a letter to media, along with ADF and about a dozen other anti-LGBTQ and hate groups, that asked media outlets to drop the “hate group” designation in their coverage of these organizations. The letter referred to such groups as “public interest law firms and think tanks” and lamented that they were being associated with “neo-Nazis” and the Ku Klux Klan. It also called media’s use of the “hate group” label “the height of irresponsible journalism.”

    C-Fam’s email is just the most recent example of its years-long campaign of demonizing lies and rhetoric about LGBTQ people. Ruse was the subject of controversy in 2014 when he said that “the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities” should “all be taken out and shot.” He later had to apologize for the statement. Ruse has also said that all countries should pass laws against homosexual behavior “even if unenforced,” in order to "help society to teach what is good" and “prevent such truly harmful practices as homosexual marriage and adoption.” According to GLAAD, Ruse has claimed that, rather than bullying and social stigma, LGBTQ people and activism are the real cause of LGBTQ teen suicide and alcoholism.

    View C-Fam's email below:

  • It's not just Masterpiece Cakeshop: Alliance Defending Freedom is attacking nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    On December 5, anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) will argue before the Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case on behalf of a baker who refused to serve a gay couple. ADF is a highly influential, right-wing legal group that has worked to impact policy at the local, state, national, and international level, from working to ban transgender students from using the restrooms that align with their gender identity to helping write and defend the country’s most sweeping anti-LGBTQ state law in Mississippi.

  • Six key takeaways from The Nation's investigative report on Alliance Defending Freedom’s “legal army”

    ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group and “has fast become a training ground for future legislators, judges, prosecutors, attorneys general, and other government lawyers"

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    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Nation’s Sarah Posner published a horrifying investigative report on anti-LGBTQ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Christian “legal army” that is arguing before the Supreme Court on December 5 in the Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court’s decision on this case, which involves a Christian baker who refused to serve a gay couple, could have huge implications on LGBTQ peoples’ right to access otherwise public accommodations.

    ADF is the largest anti-LGBTQ hate group in the country and has played a role in nearly every aspect of the modern right-wing battle against queer and trans rights. Media Matters has documented its years-long effort to combat transgender student equality in schools, advocating -- often through suing schools -- for discriminatory “bathroom bills” that prevent transgender students from using the restroom facilities that align with their gender identity. It has been involved in writing, promoting, and legally defending so-called “religious freedom” both as Justice Department guidance and as bills in a number of states, including one in Mississippi that has been called the “worst anti-LGBTQ state law in the U.S.” It has also supported harmful reparative therapy, which seeks to turn LGBTQ people “straight” and has been discredited by every mainstream medical group for decades as it has severe mental and medical health consequences for its victims. In 2013, ADF issued a memo in support of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, which has led to the arrests of a number of LGBTQ activists and a climate where hate crimes against queer and trans people have doubled. Additionally, ADF works with more than a dozen other hate groups that are devoted to demonizing LGBTQ people and halting progress toward equal rights.

    Posner’s November 28 report, “The Christian Legal Army Behind ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop,’” detailed ADF’s vast influence and its relentless campaign to combat LGBTQ equality. Here are six key takeaways from the piece:

    1. ADF has “propelled” numerous attorneys “into state and federal government” and a number of its allies have influential cabinet and agency positions

    In May, Media Matters identified at least 55 ADF-affiliated lawyers serving in federal, state, and local governments. The Nation’s report also detailed that ADF “has fast become a training ground for future legislators, judges, prosecutors, attorneys general, and other government lawyers—including, notably, in the Trump administration. Noel Francisco, Trump’s solicitor general, is an ADF-allied attorney.” According to the report, “at least 18 ADF-affiliated lawyers now work in 10 attorney-general offices” at the state level, including at least three in Texas. Texas’ office has led a number of other attorneys general in “two legal challenges to Obama-era rules protecting transgender rights.” Posner noted that ADF alumni also work as congressional staff, attorneys in the military and federal agencies, “state legislators, City Council members, district attorneys, and judges.” From the report:

    In the past five years, state attorneys general in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin have hired former ADF staff attorneys, allied attorneys, and Blackstone Fellows. Still others in recent years have brought on ADF attorneys to act as special counsel for the state in cases involving touchstone issues for social conservatives. The Nebraska attorney general, Doug Peterson, has spoken at an ADF conference and called its lawyers “some of the best at what they do.” Attorneys general in Arizona and Oklahoma have brought on ADF staff and allied attorneys to assist in major litigation over abortion and LGBTQ rights. In Mississippi, the governor retained an ADF attorney to represent the state in defending a legal challenge to an anti-LGBTQ law that the organization had helped champion, after the state attorney general declined to defend it.

    2. Trump is nominating attorneys with ties to ADF for federal judgeships

    Posner identified four Trump federal judicial nominees with ties to ADF: Amy Coney Barrett (who was recently confirmed) and Kyle Duncan at the appeals court level and Jeff Mateer and Michael Joseph Juneau at the district court level. Mateer is one of the most vehemently anti-LGBTQ figures to be nominated to the judiciary. Trump also nominated Steven Grasz to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Grasz is a member of the board of the Nebraska Family Alliance, which is partnered with ADF. Media Matters has identified another nominee who was confirmed in August to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Joseph Toth, who was an ADF Blackstone Fellow in 2005.

    3. Extreme anti-LGBTQ book The Homosexual Agenda “has long been on the reading list” for ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship

    According to Posner, testimonials from students who were part of ADF’s law school training program the Blackstone Legal Fellowship “hint at an ideology firmly opposed to secular government and law.” She noted that ADF’s longtime President Alan Sears’ extreme anti-LGBTQ book, The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, “has long been on the reading list” for the fellowship. The book pushes a number of myths about LGBTQ people, including that they are promoting “sexual relations between adults and children, known as pedophilia.”

    4. To hide its extremist views, ADF has “very recently” tampered down "routinely traffick[ing] in slurs against the LGBTQ community"

    The Nation’s report acknowledged a shift in ADF’s rhetoric as it has “redoubled its efforts to portray its views as mainstream” amid its growing influence, including at the Supreme Court, and after being labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Posner noted that “until very recently, ADF routinely trafficked in slurs against the LGBTQ community, consistently depicting LGBTQ people as promiscuous, uncommitted, and unfit to parent.” From the report:

     In a 2006 case in Maryland, ADF maintained that “sexual fidelity is rare among homosexual men” and that “the average homosexual relationship is short.” In a 2009 case in West Virginia, arguing against a lesbian couple’s adoption of a baby they had fostered, ADF noted that the couple had insisted that the court be “forced to treat their home as just as good as any other.” But, ADF wrote, “this cannot be.” Although the organization had long opposed allowing same-sex couples to marry, in another parenting case, this one in Arkansas in 2010, it used the fact that the couple could not marry as an argument against allowing them to adopt. “It is logical to prevent children’s exposure to the illicit sexual conduct and revolving-door of adult sexual partners that often accompany cohabitation,” ADF argued.

    5. ADF-allied attorneys often do not disclose their relationships to the group

    Media Matters has repeatedly found a lack of transparency with ADF-allied attorneys, as many of its 3,200-plus reported allies do not publicly identify their affiliation with the group. In her report, Posner noted that Trump’s solicitor general, Noel Francisco, was identified as an allied attorney in a 2016 ADF press release but that the relationship is not one “that he has made public,” including in a questionnaire “submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee in advance of his May confirmation hearing.” She continued, “Francisco’s only acknowledgment of his ADF ties was a mention, on a list of speaking engagements, of his participation on a 2015 panel on law-firm recruiting hosted by the Blackstone Legal Fellowship.”

    6. ADF’s guise of “religious liberty” is essentially exclusively focused on Christians

    The Nation conducted “a review of 146 of ADF’s appellate and Supreme Court briefs” and found that its lawyers “are focused almost exclusively on the religious rights of Christians.” Of cases that involved non-Christian religious plaintiffs, the group’s lawyers “weighed in” on only five instances and expressed support for the non-Christian plaintiffs only two times. From the report:

    [W]e found just five instances in which ADF’s lawyers weighed in on appellate cases involving religious plaintiffs who were not Christian. In only two of them did ADF express support for the religious-minority plaintiff—once in a case in which a rabbinical organization challenged a public-health regulation on circumcision, and once in support of an Orthodox Jewish day school claiming that a local permitting process violated its religious rights. ADF also weighed in on two cases in support of Muslim prisoners who claimed their religious rights had been violated, but in neither did it address the particular facts of the case, making only arguments about what it considered to be a proper interpretation of the relevant statute and, in one case, how that interpretation would affect Christian organizations.