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  • Arizonans have unwittingly given anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom over $1 million

    As local and national media shine a spotlight on an Arizona law directing specialty license plate fees to ADF, the extreme anti-LGBTQ group went straight to a friendly right-wing media platform

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Sarah Wasko/Media Matters

    A recent open records request revealed that the state of Arizona has quietly given extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) more than $1 million over the last 6 years through sales of the state’s “In God We Trust” specialty license plates.

    The plates were created in 2008 to fund state highways and road maintenance, but state legislators amended the original law in 2011 to send donations to the then-unnamed nonprofit that paid to design the specialty plate -- which newly released public records revealed to be ADF. Two of the legislators who sponsored bills amending the law were previously represented by ADF in court.

    Local and national media have shined a spotlight on the funding after advocacy organizations uncovered the story, but ADF went to right-wing PJ Media to defend itself without explaining the lack of transparency around the practice.

    Open records request reveals that ADF has raised over $1 million dollars from the sale of “In God We Trust” license plates in Arizona

    According to a PinkNews report, a public records request found that ADF has received over $1 million from the sale of nearly 60,000 “In God We Trust” license plates “without being disclosed to people who buy the license plates.”

    The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) lists the specific recipient or cause for dozens of specialty license plates available to Arizona drivers, but it does not disclose ADF as the recipient for donations from the “In God We Trust” plates. Instead, ADOT’s ServiceArizona website states that donations from the sale of the specialty plates go “to promote the national motto ‘In God We Trust,’ 1st amendment rights and the heritage of this state and nation.” But data obtained through an open records request by the Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists indicate that ADF has been the recipient for the last six years. These groups have launched a campaign to raise awareness of ADF’s involvement and to give Arizonans the opportunity to report if they have inadvertently donated to ADF.

    Arizona is one of at least 20 states with the option to purchase a specialty license plate with the motto “In God We Trust,” and Mississippi included the motto on the state’s regular license plates beginning last month. This is part of a broader state-level strategy known as “Project Blitz” that seeks to advance anti-LGBTQ policies by introducing dozens of seemingly innocuous state-level bills, such as those that publicize the “In God We Trust” motto, alongside more extreme measures.

    Other states also donate a portion of the fees from sales of “In God We Trust” license plates to nonprofit organizations, but unlike Arizona, those states do note the specific beneficiaries. For example, Texas license plate donations go to the Texas Veterans Commission, and Florida plate sales benefit the In God We Trust Foundation. However, even these seemingly transparent donation policies can hide ties to extreme anti-LGBTQ groups -- the advisory council of the In God We Trust Foundation includes the Florida Family Policy Council, which is headed by ADF allied attorney John Stemberger.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity. The group operates with an extreme lack of transparency, particularly regarding its network of over 3,300 allied attorneys, who often do not publicly identify their affiliation with ADF. ADF also has alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country, including state attorneys general and their staffs.

    Two Arizona legislators who sponsored bills amending the law to benefit ADF were also previously represented in court by ADF

    When Arizona created “In God We Trust” plates in 2008, the legislation specified that $17 from sales of each plate that did not go to administrative fees “would go not to a particular group but to the state highway fund to build and maintain roads,” according to the Arizona Daily Sun. In 2011, however, the state legislature passed three bills that included amendments to the law that allow the plate’s financial sponsor to receive those donations instead of the state highway fund. As the recently released documents revealed, that beneficiary is ADF.

    Arizona state Sen. Linda Gray sponsored two of the bills including language amending the previous law to direct funds to ADF, and Rep. Nancy Barto was listed as a sponsor of the third. Before sponsoring these bills, both Republican legislators were ADF clients in lawsuits involving a 2009 law that made it harder to receive an abortion in the state.

    ADF turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to claim it welcomes transparency despite accepting these hidden donations for over 6 years

    In response to media coverage of Arizonans unwittingly donating to ADF through license plate sales, the group turned to right-wing outlet PJ Media to present its side of the controversy. PJ Media’s coverage has been friendly to ADF in the past, and ADF has given the outlet exclusive quotes on other issues as well.

    PJ Media claimed that “ADF may welcome the transparency” but is opposed to legislation that would prevent ADF from receiving donations from the plate. Additionally, ADF’s remarks to PJ Media seemed to focus on its designation as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center rather than addressing any of the group’s discriminatory anti-LGBTQ positions or why it was never publicly listed as the beneficiary of donations from the plates. ADF did not appear open to transparency during the six years it was secretly receiving money from the program.

    Right-wing evangelical outlet CBN News used the story to push the false premise that LGBTQ people and Christians are at odds with one another, calling it “the latest salvo of the culture wars pitting the LGBTQ community against Christians.” The post described ADF as “a group that advocates for religious freedom in the courts, and Christians are frequently the targets of LGBTQ activists in those cases.”

    Pitting religious people against LGBTQ folk is a false dichotomy, as a majority of religious groups believe that homosexuality “should be accepted.” Similarly, many religious Arizonans who have bought an “In God We Trust” license plate likely would not support ADF’s extreme anti-LGBTQ agenda. In fact, nearly 1,300 individual leaders from various faiths signed on to an amicus brief in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission against ADF’s client Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The brief argued that public accommodation laws should protect LGBTQ people and “be applied on the basis of religiously neutral principles of equal protection under the law.

    Some religious leaders in Arizona have already started speaking out after learning that ADF benefited from sales of the license plates, including David Felten, a pastor at Fountain Hill United Methodist Church:

    This is not just an abstract violation of church-state separation. It’s a very real rejection of Arizona’s LGBTQ people by the very government that is supposed to impartially support and protect all of its citizens.

    As part of the campaign by Secular Coalition for Arizona and American Atheists, Arizonans can report if they inadvertently donated to ADF through the program but do not support its agenda. Additionally, Democratic state Sen. Juan Mendez has proposed one bill that would “require ADOT to more fully disclose where the money from specialty plates goes” and another bill that would “eliminate the ADF plate.”

    Additional research by Brennan Suen

  • Anti-LGBTQ attacks against high-profile queer Americans should be a wake-up call to everyone

    The community has been struggling with increasing violence for years, and two recent attacks show that none of us is safe

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Editor’s note (2/21): Following the publication of this post, Smollett was arrested on February 21 by Chicago police “on suspicion of filing a false report about” the alleged assault.

    The threat of violence and harassment is nothing new for those in the LGBTQ community, particularly those who are trans or people of color. We know that our safety is at risk when we hold hands in public; queer sex workers know they risk their lives just by going to work; trans women of color know that they could be killed at any time just for existing in public. The list goes on. But after two reports of high-profile queer people being beaten or harassed for their identities in the past week, it seems like everyone else might finally be waking up to the reality that their LGBTQ friends and family are simply not safe.

    In the early hours of January 29, two people reportedly physically attacked Empire actor Jussie Smollett -- a gay Black man -- while “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” according to police. And on January 30, anti-trans so-called “feminists” barged into a meeting and recorded themselves repeatedly harassing and misgendering high-profile trans activist and author Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

    Smollett’s attack has been significantly covered in news media, and rightly so. But there is also Candice Elease Pinky, the Black trans woman who was shot in a Texas gas station parking lot on January 24, and Dana Martin, the first reported trans woman to be killed in the United States in 2019. According to HRC, there were “at least 26 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means” in 2018. And in 2017, there were “a total of 52 reported anti-LGBTQ homicides,” according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP); that number reflected a staggering 86 percent increase in single-incident reports from the previous year. This violence is most frequently targeted toward trans women of color, but even homicides of queer cisgender men went up from four to 20 between 2016 and 2017 -- a fivefold increase.

    But many Americans who are LGBTQ allies had no idea. In 2018, Media Matters published a yearlong study of TV news coverage of those 52 homicides in 2017, and what we found shows why Smollett’s attack may have been such a wake-up call for so many: The media was barely touching these stories. Throughout a year of coverage, seven networks discussed anti-LGBTQ violence for less than 40 minutes total -- and a quarter of that discussion came from Fox News, which regularly traffics in anti-LGBTQ animus.

    And it’s not just physical violence that we should be talking about. The majority of LGBTQ Americans, like McBride, “have experienced some form of harassment or discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.” A 2017 Harvard study put numbers to it:

    Regarding individual forms of discrimination, a majority of all LGBTQ people have experienced slurs (57%) and insensitive or offensive comments (53%) about their sexual orientation or gender identity. A majority of LGBTQ people say that they or an LGBTQ friend or family member have been threatened or non-sexually harassed (57%), been sexually harassed (51%), or experienced violence (51%) because of their sexuality or gender identity.

    During Smollett’s attack, the assailants reportedly yelled, “This is MAGA country.” This sentiment should not be a surprise; it has come straight from the top. President Donald Trump has regularly used his office as a platform to bully and demean others, and his followers have become emboldened. Bullying is increasing; right-wing extremists are circulating liberals’ private information “to encourage harassment or violence”; and right-wing terrorism remains the biggest national security threat. All this while, as trans advocate Brynn Tannehill explained, right-wing media have been inciting violence against transgender people by demonizing them as a threat to women and children as well as U.S. national security, even sometimes hinting that violence is "an appropriate response to encountering transgender people in public."

    But there is another group of people who claim to be liberal and feminist yet also pose a direct threat to the LGBTQ community. “Trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” also known as TERFs, are anti-trans activists who claim that transgender people threaten the safety of cis women, and they are behind the targeted harassment and misgendering of Sarah McBride.

    TERFs have worked for years to dehumanize transgender people and to exclude trans women from female spaces and the broader movement for women’s equality, and they have increasingly cozied up to the right to do so. On January 28, just days before two TERFs harassed McBride on video, the right-wing Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of anti-trans activists “from the Left” to argue against a bill that aims to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in current nondiscrimination laws. Introducing the panel, vehemently anti-trans researcher Ryan T. Anderson made it clear that combating trans equality is a value the right shares with TERFs, and they are willing to work together despite their differences on other issues. Heron Greenesmith, researcher at the think tank Political Research Associates, described the alliance between the right and TERFs to NBC News:

    “They are capitalizing on a scarcity mindset rhetoric … saying there aren’t enough rights to go around, and therefore we must prioritize cis women over everyone else,” Greenesmith said, referring to nontransgender women. “That’s right out of the right’s playbook, when they say, ‘Let’s prioritize citizens over noncitizens, let’s prioritize white people over people of color.’”

    Anti-trans harassment is another piece of the right-wing playbook that TERFs have capitalized on. The two TERFs who interrupted McBride during a private meeting -- Posie Parker and Julia Long, who identifies as a lesbian -- repeatedly misgendered her on video, describing her as “male,” and pushed myths about trans-inclusive facilities being a safety risk for cisgender women. According to PinkNews’ report, Parker had also been at the Heritage Foundation just days before its panel, though she denied involvement with the January 28 event.

    The attacks on Smollett and McBride should serve as a wake-up call for the rest of the country. Black queer folk, transgender people, queer immigrants, and those at the intersections of these identities have been living with this fear and pain for years, and it has shown no sign of getting better. The right has been emboldened to enact violence and harassment against the LGBTQ community, and it is actively trying to fracture our community by teaming up with TERFs. In fact, this alliance has given this strategy a name: “divide and conquer.” One anti-trans activist said, “If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”

    But we will not be fooled, and we will not be divided. Queer equality and liberation are nothing if they are not intersectional. As the last week has shown, if one of the community’s most beloved actors can’t walk home without experiencing racist and homophobic violence, and one of our most effective advocates can’t go to work without being targeted for harassment, then none of us is safe.

  • Anti-trans activists “from the Left” joined right-wing Heritage Foundation to rail against trans people

    Trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, use a veneer of progressivism and feminism to advocate against trans equality

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Media Matters / Melissa Joskow

    On January 28, the vehemently anti-LGBTQ advocate Ryan T. Anderson hosted a panel attacking the Equality Act, a bill that would add “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” to existing nondiscrimination laws, and the talk featured several “trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” or TERFs. TERFs claim trans identities threaten women’s safety and equality and actively work to deny their existence and rights. During the event, the panelists, who were identified as "from the Left," demeaned transgender people and used anti-trans language, with one saying, “It’s not a fucking ‘she’” in reference to transgender women.

    The event was held at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has railed against LGBTQ equality for decades. The New York Times has written that the group is “stocking Trump’s government,” including by recommending “some of the most prominent members of Trump’s cabinet.” Anderson, a senior research fellow, is one of the group’s most vocal anti-LGBTQ figures. He wrote an entire book dedicated to denying trans identities and reportedly helped craft the Trump-Pence trans military ban.

    TERFs, who often refer to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists,” are anti-trans activists who are becoming increasingly visible. They have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and denied trans identities. In 2018, TERF groups throughout the United Kingdom lobbied against improving the country’s Gender Recognition Act of 2004, a “piece of legislation regulating how trans people can legally change [their] genders” that currently “requires trans people to jump through numerous hoops to ‘prove’ that” they are trans. TERFs have cited the thoroughly debunked myth that allowing trans people, in particular trans women, to access restrooms and other facilities that align with their gender identity poses a threat to women’s safety.

    The Heritage Foundation panel identified its panelists as people “from the Left” who disagree with the Equality Act. One panelist, Hacsi Horvath, an adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco, says he formerly identified as transgender. His work also appears on 4thwavenow, an anti-trans online community that was critical in the creation and spread of the flawed concept of rapid-onset gender dysphoria (ROGD). The theory posits that trans teens are coming out as such due to “social contagion,” but it relies on a study with a shoddy methodology that is under review by the academic journal that published it. Though all the Heritage panelists advocated against accepting trans identities -- and some even referred to the Gender Recognition Act as the “Women Erasure Act” -- Horvath made some of the most extreme anti-trans statements throughout the event.

    From the January 28 Heritage Foundation panel “The Inequality of The Equality Act: Concerns from the Left”:

    HACSI HORVATH (PANELIST): We have to get this gender identity out of the Equa -- the Women Erasure Act. But also, … I don’t play along. I don’t say “trans woman.” I don’t say “she, her.” I don’t care if it hurts their feelings. This is reality, and it gaslights everybody else if we have to -- it gaslights yourself. And you begin to internalize it, like, “OK, she” -- it’s not a fucking “she” -- sorry. I can’t help it. It’s -- just say it in reality, English language, what is happening here, and don’t play along with it. So, I just don’t play along. I won’t.

    The act of misgendering -- which LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization GLSEN defines as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with” -- is considered harassment, and it stigmatizes trans people, lowers their self-esteem, and erases and invalidates their identities.

    Horvath also parroted 4thwavenow’s messaging on ROGD, calling it a “mass craze” and saying trans identities are “the new eating disorder” or “the new goth.”

    Julia Beck, another panelist at the Heritage event, was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans animus. Two other panelists, Kara Dansky and Jennifer Chavez, are board members of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), which has teamed up with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in an ongoing court case that seeks to dismantle a trans-inclusive policy at a Pennsylvania high school.

    The Heritage Foundation’s panel is just one example of the growing alliance between TERFs and conservative groups. Along with TERF group WoLF siding with ADF on its anti-trans court case in Pennsylvania, TERF groups in Massachusetts joined with the anti-LGBTQ Keep MA Safe campaign to support its anti-trans referendum to overturn to state’s comprehensive nondiscrimination protections, which ultimately and resoundingly failed in the voting booths. And TERF groups in Canada joined conservatives in testifying against that country’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law. TERFs often identify with the left, and even though some identify as queer, they have made it clear that they are willing to take part in conservatives’ “divide and conquer” strategy to attempt to fracture the LGBTQ movement and erode trans equality.

  • New Alaska Attorney General Kevin Clarkson has been tied to anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom for decades

    Clarkson was co-counsel on an ADF case up until he was nominated for attorney general

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Alaska laws protect less than half of the state’s LGBTQ population from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in “private employment, housing, and public accommodations,” and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent appointment of Attorney General Kevin Clarkson puts LGBTQ Alaskans at even greater risk. Clarkson has a long history of advocating against LGBTQ rights and nondiscrimination policies in Alaska, and he has spent more than two decades working alongside extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

    Dunleavy appointed Clarkson as the state’s new attorney general on December 5. Clarkson was previously a senior attorney for the law firm Brena, Bell & Clarkson, and he worked directly alongside ADF in a case representing a women’s homeless shelter in Anchorage, AK, that is suing to be exempt from the city’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination policy after it refused to house a homeless transgender woman. Clarkson withdrew from the case on December 6 after being appointed the state’s attorney general.

    ADF is one of the largest and most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the nation and has played a role in over 50 Supreme Court decisions, including on cases regarding abortion, religion, tuition tax credits, and LGBTQ issues. The legal powerhouse has taken dozens of extreme anti-LGBTQ positions, such as supporting Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defending the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocating against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supporting policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity.

    ADF has identified Clarkson as an allied attorney, and his history with the extreme anti-LGBTQ organization spans more than 20 years. ADF has alumni and allies in influential government positions across the country, including in other state attorneys general offices. It is crucial for reporters to include this context when discussing the Anchorage shelter case, or reporting on any other LGBTQ-related matters Clarkson might be involved in as attorney general.

    Clarkson was co-counsel on an anti-trans ADF case up until he was appointed attorney general

    ADF is representing the Hope Center, also known as the Downtown Soup Kitchen, in its ongoing case, The Downtown Soup Kitchen d/b/a Downtown Hope Center v. Municipality of Anchorage. ADF sued the city of Anchorage in August “to stop it from applying a gender identity law to the Hope Center shelter, which denied entry to a transgender woman” in 2018. The city’s trans-inclusive policy was put to a vote in April, but Anchorage voters upheld the protections and “soundly rejected” the ballot measure that sought to repeal them.

    Clarkson served as the Hope Center's local counsel, alongside ADF, from the start of the case in early 2018 until he withdrew on December 6, the day after he was appointed attorney general. The Hope Center’s case was heard by the U.S. District Court on January 11, and ADF is also pushing several other license-to-discriminate cases through the courts.

    Clarkson has a history with ADF dating back to 1997

    In 1997, Clarkson attended ADF’s National Litigation Academy (now known as ADF Academy), a program that trained “attorneys to battle the radical homosexual legal agenda, defend parental rights, uphold the sanctity of human life, and protect religious freedom.” ADF has described the program as “all-expense-paid classes” in exchange for lawyers providing “450 dedicated pro bono hours on matters related to ADF issues.” ADF has identified Clarkson as one of its more than 3,300 allied attorneys, who must agree to a "statement of faith" which claims that “homosexual behavior … and acting upon any disagreement with one’s biological sex” are “sinful and offensive to God.”

    Clarkson has also served as local counsel alongside or with the help of ADF on several other cases in Alaska since 1999. In addition to his role in the Hope Center case, Clarkson has served as co-counsel with ADF on a case defending a law that required abortion providers to notify the parents of minors; received training and funding from ADF for a 1998 case regarding a ballot measure attempting “to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman”; received funding and legal support from ADF in a 2005 case regarding benefits for government employees in same-sex relationships; and represented two churches in a 2008 case about a “property tax exemption for religious schools.”

    In fact, Clarkson has provided ADF with more than 10,000 hours of pro bono or dedicated service, which ADF calls “the equivalent of nearly five years of legal assistance, offered at no cost to clients.” Clarkson’s extensive work on behalf of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group has earned him ADF’s “Silent Watch” and “Gold Service” awards.

    As attorney general, Clarkson has broad powers and represents the state on all legal matters

    Many state attorneys general have gained power in the last decade as they used litigation to shape policymaking, which The Washington Post has noted “raises concerns because much of it occurs well outside of the public view.” Alaska’s attorney general has broad powers to advise the governor and represent the state in legal matters, “including the furnishing of written legal opinions to the governor, the legislature, and all state officers and departments.” In 2017, former independent Gov. Bill Walker used one such legal opinion from then-Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth to establish his administration’s position on tribal recognition and sovereignty, demonstrating how attorneys general can provide a “legal framework” for state governments to act.

    As attorney general, Clarkson can also support and defend anti-LGBTQ bills. Attorneys general in other states, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have previously weighed in on LGBTQ issues. Paxton has supported Texas’ anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill,” sued -- alongside 10 other states -- the Obama administration over its guidelines protecting trans students, and filed legal briefs in support of the Trump-Pence administration’s discriminatory position against trans-inclusive bathroom policies. Another reported ADF allied attorney who became a state’s attorney general, Montana’s Timothy Fox, also has a history of using his office to fight against LGBTQ rights.

    With Clarkson’s appointment to Alaska attorney general, ADF has only expanded its influence over policymaking and the broader fight against LGBTQ equality.

  • Right-wing media attack Rep. Ilhan Omar for something she never said

    Omar criticized Sen. Lindsey Graham, and right-wing media accused her of homophobia

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On January 15, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) shared a video of a 2015 CNN interview in which Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called then-candidate Donald Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot,” commenting that Graham had since been “compromised.” (Her tweet was a retweet of another that linked to the video, noting, “I can’t even imagine what they have on Graham.”) Two days later, Omar clarified her comments on CNN, arguing that Graham’s shift in rhetoric on Trump over the past three years is evidence that he is “compromised to no longer stand up for the truth.” Some right-wing media figures twisted Omar’s tweet and claimed that the congresswoman was suggesting Graham was being blackmailed over his sexuality.

    Omar did not come close to making this argument. In fact, during her interview with CNN she suggested three things that could be held over Graham’s head in order to change his behavior: “his funding when it comes to running for office,” polling information from his district, and leadership positions in the Senate. But that didn’t stop Breitbart and right-wing media figures from putting words in her mouth. Tom Elliott, founder of the TV monitoring platform Grabien, tweeted Omar’s interview in which she explained her original tweet, but still suggested that she had claimed Trump was blackmailing Graham over “his homosexuality.” (Graham has previously said that he is not gay.)

    Many right-wing figures picked up Elliott’s tweet and ran with it:

    • Radio host Buck Sexton claimed Omar insinuated “Graham is gay to undermine him, which is grossly homophobic.”

    • Conservative host Steve Deace shared Elliott’s tweet and added: “Just imagine if this were an evangelical Republican saying this on television about a Democrat’s sexual proclivities…”

    • Commentary magazine’s Noah Rothman also shared Elliott’s tweet and commented: “The best part about this clip is that it begins with Omar offering some unobjectionable bromide about ‘inclusive societies.’”

    • Conservative CNN host S.E. Cupp also retweeted Elliott, writing, “This is ignorant, homophobic and unacceptable, @IlhanMN. Democrats, this is becoming a very bad look.”

    • Mediaite’s Pardes Seleh: “A sitting member of congress publicly theorizing, with ZERO basis, that senator lindsay graham is secretly gay and trump is blackmailing him for being gay. watch this video and tell me she doesn't sound like a kook.”

    • The Daily Wire’s Amanda Prestigiacomo: “Homegirl is batshit crazy pushing homophobic conspiracy theories abt Graham.”

    • Other right-wing media figures, including right-wing troll Jack Posobiec, Newsmax’s Joe Walsh, and National Review’s Rich Lowry re-tweeted Elliott and wrote disapproving comments without noting that the original tweet was fallacious. Fox’s Lisa Booth replied to Elliott’s tweet, writing, “WTH is wrong with this woman. This is reprehensible.”

    Many journalists and media figures pushed back on the lie.

    Omar herself responded to the bad-faith criticism:

    Intercept columnist Mehdi Hasan added:

    The Atlantic's Adam Serwer pointed to another reason right-wing voices were eager to run with a lie about Omar:

    Serwer also added that Graham is just "acting like a Republican" and is not being coerced.

  • Social Security Administration removes official from staffing charts following Media Matters reports about his toxic commentaries

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Robert W. Patterson, a right-wing commentator who argued that married working mothers have hurt society and that condoms rob women of “remarkable chemicals” in semen, has been removed from staffing charts posted on the Social Security Administration's (SSA) website.

    The SSA previously listed Patterson on its website as its acting associate commissioner at the Office of Strategic and Digital Communications. Those references to Patterson are now gone and the position is listed as vacant. One staffing chart listed a date of January 16. The SSA has not responded to Media Matters' requests for comment about Patterson

    Media Matters first reported that Patterson has been working for the SSA since 2017 despite his history of toxic remarks as a commentator. He has:

    • argued against contraceptives because “condom use robs” women of the “remarkable chemicals” in semen;
    • said married mothers in the workplace have undermined society;
    • suggested that homosexuality is a mental disorder and that sexual orientation can be forcibly changed;
    • lauded the police officers who beat Rodney King, claiming that "the entire video reveals the officers putting themselves in harm’s way to restrain King when they could have just shot him. For that restraint, the cops were subject to relentless prosecution”;
    • attacked the “diversity agenda” of U.S. immigration law that, he said, has led to “millions of foreigners from the Muslim Middle East and dysfunctional Third World countries” coming into the United States; and
    • claimed that “hordes of Central American migrants” are threatening public health (a xenophobic and false right-wing trope).

    Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) responded to news of Patterson’s remarks by tweeting on January 14: “Reports of disgusting comments and attitudes from inside this Administration are far too common. President Trump sets the tone from the top so sadly none of these reports are too shocking, but that doesn’t make them acceptable.”

    Patterson got a job in President Donald Trump's administration despite his resignation from a senior job in then-Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration.

    In 2012, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Patterson both worked in state government and edited a right-wing journal, where he weighed in on “what he described as a woman's ideal role in society: married and at home raising children.” The paper added that he also “wrote about research that he said showed that if women wanted to find ‘Mr. Right,’ they should shun birth control pills; and if they wanted to improve their mood, they should not insist that their men wear condoms lest they miss out on beneficial chemicals found in semen.” After the Inquirer asked the state government about “Patterson's side job as editor,” he resigned and Corbett’s “administration swiftly distanced itself from the views expressed in the journal he edits.” The Inquirer later wrote: “Department officials said Patterson had decided to resign because he had been denied his request to remain the editor of the Family in America journal while working for the state.”

    Patterson is another example of the staffing disaster posed by the Trump administration’s reliance on media commentators.

  • Social Security official: Married working mothers hurt society, condoms rob women of “remarkable chemicals” in semen

    Robert W. Patterson also suggested that homosexuality is a mental disorder and sexual orientation can be forcibly changed

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Before joining President Donald Trump's administration, right-wing commentator Robert W. Patterson argued against contraceptives because “condom use robs” women of the “remarkable chemicals” in semen; said married women in the workplace have undermined society; and suggested that homosexuality is a mental disorder and sexual orientation can be forcibly changed.

    Patterson is now the acting associate commissioner at the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of Strategic and Digital Communications. He has avoided scrutiny despite working in the administration since spring 2017. A notice about his hiring on the SSA's website touted Patterson's "wealth of experience in communications and public engagement," including "as a policy expert, professor and op-ed contributor." 

    Patterson also worked in former President George W. Bush’s administration, ran for Congress in New Jersey as a Republican, and wrote for such publications as Breitbart News, Washington Examiner, and National Review. He previously edited The Family in America, a conservative journal dedicated to “subjects ranging from a family-centered Farm Bill to a reevaluation of Friedan-style feminism, and from the continued ill effects of divorce and family breakdown to the positive effects of marriage and child-bearing.”

    Patterson’s work with The Family in America led to his resignation as a special assistant in Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare in January 2012. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported at the time that Patterson weighed in on “what he described as a woman's ideal role in society: married and at home raising children.” He also “wrote about research that he said showed that if women wanted to find ‘Mr. Right,’ they should shun birth control pills; and if they wanted to improve their mood, they should not insist that their men wear condoms lest they miss out on beneficial chemicals found in semen.” The Inquirer explained of Patterson's views:

    In last year's spring issue of the journal, Patterson co-authored a piece summarizing and reviewing recent studies related to families.

    Among them: a recent study suggesting condom use robs a woman of "remarkable" chemicals found in semen that have been shown to elevate mood and self-esteem.

    What's more, the study found that "semen-exposed women" perform better on concentration and cognitive tasks, Patterson reported.

    He also referenced a 2004 study that suggested birth-control pills weakened a woman's "natural sense of attraction to men who would be a good biological match and enable her to conceive easily and bear healthy children."

    After the paper asked the Pennsylvania state government about “Patterson's side job as editor,” he resigned and then-Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s “administration swiftly distanced itself from the views expressed in the journal he edits.” The Inquirer later reported: “Department officials said Patterson had decided to resign because he had been denied his request to remain the editor of the Family in America journal while working for the state.” (Patterson defended himself at the time by claiming “that The Inquirer distorted his views, and that his writings cited respected studies published elsewhere.”)

    The SSA did not respond to a request for comment.

    Media Matters recently examined Patterson’s writings and found additional sexist commentary about married women in the workplace along with anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

    Patterson complained that the government “has facilitated the movement of mothers out of the home economy and into the market economy, undermining the family as an economic unit, marriage as a lifelong partnership, and the well-being of children.” Patterson wrote a 2011 Washington Examiner op-ed (which is no longer available on its website) that complained about mothers in the workforce:  

    Congress incentivized family breakup by creating a child-support system that virtually guarantees divorcing mothers and their children an income stream without requiring those women, who initiate two-thirds of marital disruptions, to demonstrate any wrongdoing on the part of the father.

    All this needs to go. As does another policy monstrosity of the 1970s: sex-based affirmative action that favors not just women over men in the workplace but the privileged career woman over the homemaker-wife who depends on her breadwinning husband. According to a 2007 Pew Research Center study, this blatant rent-seeking has resulted in employment patterns that neither American men nor women consider ideal.

    Most important, the workplace bias that Uncle Sam sanctions, in collusion with big business, has facilitated the movement of mothers out of the home economy and into the market economy, undermining the family as an economic unit, marriage as a lifelong partnership, and the well-being of children.

    Moreover, by advantaging young women over their male counterparts, affirmative action has disrupted the marriage market and helped lead to dramatic increases in cohabitation and single households.

    Patterson has worked for two virulently anti-LGBTQ organizations. Patterson has worked for extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Family Research Council (FRC) and the International Organization for the Family (formerly The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society).

    He worked for FRC from 1998-2002, serving as its senior director of publications and the editor of its Family Policy journal. FRC is an influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group that has tried to prevent equal rights for LGBTQ individuals.

    During Patterson’s time at FRC, the group’s website stated that it “believes that homosexuality is unhealthy, immoral and destructive to individuals, families and societies. Compassion — not bigotry — impels us to support healing for homosexuals who want to change their orientation. FRC opposes any attempts to equate homosexuality with civil rights or to compare it to benign characteristics such as skin color or place of origin.”

    One issue of Family Policy that Patterson edited included a piece by Frank York and Robert Knight arguing that “parents, teachers, social workers, and clergy need to challenge the nonsense set forth by homosexual activists that homosexuality is simply an alternative lifestyle or a harmless diversion. They need to view homosexuality in a more realistic fashion, seeing it for what it really is: a life-controlling addiction like smoking or drug abuse.” In a section about “available resources,” the Patterson-edited issue also recommends conversion therapy, a dangerous and discredited practice that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of LGBTQ individuals. 

    FRC’s website today still states that the organization “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed.”

    Patterson was also the editor of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society’s The Family in America journal from 2009-2012. In 2016, the organization retooled and became the International Organization for the Family (IOF).

    The Howard Center was openly anti-LGBTQ. A statement from its 2011 website read: “The complementary natures of men and women are physically and psychologically self-evident. These differences are created and natural, not primarily socially constructed. Sexuality is ordered for the procreation of children and the expression of love between husband and wife in the covenant of marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman forms the sole moral context for natural sexual union. Whether through pornography, promiscuity, incest or homosexuality, deviations from these created sexual norms cannot truly satisfy the human spirit. They lead to obsession, remorse, alienation, and disease.”

    Patterson criticized the American Psychiatric Association for removing “homosexuality … from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” and pushed false and dangerous propaganda that sexual orientation can be forcibly changed. Patterson co-wrote in a 2010 piece for The Family in America: “When homosexuality was deleted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association was motivated not by the scientific evidence but by a therapeutic desire to weaken prevailing social attitudes that allegedly damage the self-esteem of homosexuals. Consequently, much of the discussion of homosexuality by public-health officials and professional associations ignores the large body of empirical literature that casts homosexual behavior in an unfavorable light.”

    Patterson then cited purported research from the discredited anti-LGBTQ and conversion therapy advocacy group National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH; the group has since been folded into The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity), which concluded, “Homosexuality is not innate, immutable, or without significant risk to the medical, psychological, and relational health,” adding:

    The review of 600 reports and studies contains three review essays, two of which refute claims of the American Psychological Association that sexual orientation is fixed and that attempts to change it can be harmful. The third review finds that the literature demonstrates, contrary to another claim of the APA, that “problematic behaviors and psychological dysfunctions are experienced among homosexuals at about three times the prevalence found in the general population—and sometimes much more.”

    In contrast to the junk science cited by Patterson, major medical associations have rejected and discredited conversion therapy and stated that gender identity and sexuality cannot be forcibly changed. Further, such organizations have concluded that conversion therapy leads to dangerous consequences, including suicidal ideation. 

    Patterson said same-sex marriage goes against “nature, history, and reason.” Patterson wrote for National Review in 2009: “Because it predates society and the state, wedlock actually creates, builds, and renews society. Same-sex marriage — a construct that depends on the state for its very existence — can never duplicate these functions. Of course, insisting that marriage law should reflect what nature, history, and reason affirm risks offending not so much homosexuals as cultural elites who care little about America.”

    Patterson: “Gay marriage, like all the liberal ideas of the 1970s--including no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, cohabitation, and daycare--does not and cannot serve the common good.” Patterson complained about same-sex marriage in a 2004 piece for Human Events Online (which is no longer available on its website):  

    [The] communal dimension is virtually nonexistent when it comes to same-sex relationships, evidence that such relationships should never be deemed equivalent to, or even an alternative to, marriage. Unlike marriage, same-sex relationships are static, self-focused, and center almost exclusively on what the relationship delivers for the two partners, not what it represents to the supportive families or to society. Does a homosexual partner even solicit the blessing of his prospective partner's family? Do his aunts and uncles travel cross-country to celebrate the occasion? Who are the third parties to these pairings? Rarely conducted in a community setting like a church or synagogue, these new-fangled arrangements are essentially private affairs with no organic ties to anything. Ironically, this private identity is praised by advocates like Andrew Sullivan who assert that gay marriage can't possibly impact the traditional marriages of others because it concerns only the two persons involved.

    What this comes down to should be obvious: Gay marriage, like all the liberal ideas of the 1970s--including no-fault divorce, abortion on demand, cohabitation, and daycare--does not and cannot serve the common good. When elected officials, like the minister in a wedding ceremony, ask whether the public objects to what is being proposed in Massachusetts and San Francisco, the American people need to rise up and speak their minds for the sake of the children, for the sake of women, and for the sake of the Republic.

  • Right-wing media are inciting violence against transgender people

    Their actions amount to stochastic terrorism -- public demonization of a group through mass media that incites unpredictable violence

    Blog ››› ››› BRYNN TANNEHILL


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Hate crimes against transgender people have been rising in both the United States and the U.K., and 2017 saw the first federal conviction of a hate crime against a transgender person in the U.S. Meanwhile, members of extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have had regular access to the White House -- and to mainstream media outlets, where they are often uncritically presented as simply offering one side of the debate, rather than as pushing a bigoted and hateful message.  

    Of late, these extremist groups have deliberately shifted their focus toward transgender people and have increased the use of false rhetoric depicting transgender people as sexual predators, claiming they are a danger to not only women and children but also U.S. national security. At the same time, they sometimes hint that violence is an appropriate response to encountering transgender people in public.

    These actions, and their effects, amount to a form of stochastic terrorism.

    The concept of stochastic terrorism is not new; it is the public demonization of a person or group via mass media that incites a violent act that is “statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.” It can be difficult to ascertain the intention behind such rhetoric, making the subject even more complex. When centrist media outlets give uncritical airtime to extreme anti-LGBTQ groups as an effort to present “both sides,” they are either unaware that they are contributing to the promotion of violence, or they do not care if they do. Right-wing outlets in the U.S. and the U.K., meanwhile, routinely publish or air inflammatory material meant to demonize transgender people as dangerous, mentally ill sexual perverts who prey on women and children.

    Such content can incite real-world acts of violence. One of the best-known examples of stochastic terrorism is “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that flourished on message boards 4chan and Reddit alleging that Hillary Clinton and her 2016 campaign chairman, John Podesta, were raping and murdering children as part of a satanic child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. It was promoted most prominently by Alex Jones of Infowars and Jack Posobiec, now a correspondent for the ultra-conservative One America News Network. Acting on these false rumors, a gunman went to the pizza shop with an AR-15 and a revolver and fired multiple shots into a locked door after panicked customers and employees fled for their lives.

    Additionally, the suspect who allegedly mailed bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump was similarly radicalized by online media. He believed and spread conspiracy theories, such as the claim that a Parkland school shooting survivor was a paid protester hired by philanthropist George Soros and that there is “100% proof” that Obama is the “Antichrist.” His former boss described him as “anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Jews.”

    There’s little we can do to mitigate speech designed to incite violence except to call it out for what it is. Within the U.S., such speech generally cannot be punished by law due to the 1969 Supreme Court decision in the case of Brandenburg v. Ohio. Clarence Charles Brandenburg was a Ku Klux Klan leader who attacked Black and Jewish people at a televised rally where weapons were present and said the Klan might have to take “revengeance” (sic) against the federal government if it “continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race.” The Supreme Court ruled that since the speech itself was not likely to incite “imminent lawless action,” Brandenburg’s right to free speech protected him from Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statutes. It is telling that the court ruling that would now protect the people targeting the transgender community was first applied to a Klansman.

    In 2015, after it became clear that the cultural and legal fight to prevent same-sex marriage was all but lost, religious conservatives deliberately pivoted to a strategy of fearmongering about transgender people in bathrooms. Using the thoroughly debunked “bathroom predator” myth as justification, leaders of extreme anti-LGBTQ groups have been willing to step up to the same line that Clarence Brandenburg did, this time publicly stoking violence against transgender people.

    After Target publicly announced its policy of welcoming employees and customers in its stores to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity, Anita Staver, president of the influential anti-LGBTQ law firm Liberty Counsel, tagged Target in a tweet saying that she would carry a pistol to the ladies room because “it identifies as my bodyguard.” James Dobson, who helped found extremist anti-LGBTQ organizations Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, wrote in 2016: “If you are a dad, I pray you will protect your little girls from men who walk in unannounced, unzip their pants and urinate in front of them. If this had happened 100 years ago, someone might have been shot. Where is today’s manhood? God help us!”

    Some Republicans and law enforcement personnel have picked up on this message as well. During his (successful) 2016 campaign for sheriff in Denton County, TX, Tracy Murphree posted on Facebook, “If my little girl is in a public women’s restroom and a man, regardless of how he may identify, goes into the bathroom, he will then identify as a John Doe until he wakes up in whatever hospital he may be taken to.” Todd Kincannon, the former executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party, tweeted this past fall that transgender people should “all be put in a camp.” (Kincannon was charged in August for stabbing his mother’s dog to death.) Chuck Wright, sheriff of Spartanburg County in South Carolina, told a meeting of a local Republican women’s group, “If you are a guy and you go into bathroom with my wife, … I’m gonna whip your tail.”

    Trans people are impacted by such rhetoric. A Minnesota teen was harassed in a school restroom, while a congressional candidate in California filmed herself confronting an unidentified individual using a Denny’s restroom, and a gender-fluid person was maced for using a women’s bathroom. There have also been several high-profile cases of cisgender women who have been mistakenly identified as transgender and harassed for using the bathroom.

    Public attacks on transgender people have also extended to parents of transgender children, their supporters, and even the children themselves.

    The conservative tabloid the Daily Mail in the U.K. recently introduced a new line of attack against transgender youth based on an anonymous “whistleblower” teacher who claimed that older transgender students at an unnamed British school “groomed” young autistic students to trick them into believing they are transgender. This narrative of contagion, “grooming,” and recruitment is exactly the same approach used for decades to stir up suspicion and hatred of gay men. For instance, Helen Joyce, the finance editor at The Economist, recently wrote an article at Quillette baselessly asserting that the transgender movement has advanced the interests of pedophiles.

    These messages trickle down to the base. Stories of communities banding together to abuse and discriminate against transgender children have been in the media for years. Last year, parents in Achille, OK, communicating in a Facebook group for students’ parents suggested telling their children to beat a 12-year-old transgender girl and threatened to castrate her. As a result, the girl’s family made plans to leave town.

    Transgender students are being physically assaulted in school for their gender identity as well. The FBI reported that in 2017, anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose for the third consecutive year. The number of recorded hate crimes is likely a dramatic undercount, given that many, if not most, hate crimes go unreported. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality, nearly one in 10 transgender people report being physically assaulted in the past year for being transgender, and almost half reported verbal harassment. Seventy-five percent of transgender students feel unsafe at school, according to another 2015 survey. The proportion has likely grown since then.

    Murders of transgender people have been increasing for years, and stochastic terrorism is likely part of the problem. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that 2017 was the deadliest year for LGBTQ people since it began reporting on hate crime violence against LGBTQ people in 1996. Fifty-two LGBTQ people were killed in hate-related violence, representing an 86 percent increase over 2016. Twenty-seven of those 52 victims were transgender, even though transgender people represent a much smaller portion of the LGBTQ community.

    In 2012, legal scholar Tobias Wolff predicted in his paper “Civil Rights Reform and the Body” that transgender people would become a target and that many of the attacks would center on fear and disgust directed at transgender bodies. He correctly noted that this directed angst would manifest itself as labeling transgender people as sexual predators.

    Wolff also drew direct parallels to the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, when fear of Black bodies was channeled into calls to protect white women and children from sexual predation at swimming pools. Violence directed at Black people during that period was undeniably a direct result of this stochastic terrorism and prejudice. Today, we are seeing the same tactics toward transgender people, used to similar effect, and they are protected by the same case law.

    Brynn Tannehill is a guest contributor to Media Matters. She is a former naval aviator who has written for The New York Times, Slate, Salon, USA Today, HuffPost, The Advocate, and other outlets. She is the author of the recently released book "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Trans* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)."