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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

  • A Muslim community conservatives demonized for years was the target of a right-wing terror plot -- again

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Three men and one adolescent boy have been arrested for plotting a terrorist attack against Islamberg, a community in Hancock, NY, near the Catskills that was founded by African-American Muslims in the 1970s.

    This is the third time in recent years that a violent plot against the community has been uncovered. Fox News and other conservative media outlets have demonized Islamberg and its residents for years, often with the unfounded allegation that the town is a terrorist training camp. Local and federal law enforcement have repeatedly said there is no basis for claims about the town that have circulated in conservative media.

    On January 19, three men and a juvenile from East Rochester and Greece, NY, were arrested after local law enforcement uncovered a plot to attack nearby Islamberg. Authorities recovered three homemade bombs and 23 firearms during the investigation. Greece Police Chief Patrick Phelan told reporters, “If they had carried out this plot, and we have every indication that was what they were going to do, people would have died.” Muslims of America (MOA), a group located in Islamberg, released a statement thanking law enforcement for foiling the plot, writing, “It is beyond tragic that our nation continues to fester with Islamophobia, hate and religious intolerance.”

    Islamberg was previously targeted for violence in 2015. Robert Doggart, a Tennessee man who plotted to “round up a militia and burn down a mosque, school and cafeteria in the upstate New York community of Islamberg” while shooting anyone who attempted to stop them, pleaded guilty to several federal charges in 2017. When the story broke in 2015, Fox News didn’t even cover it despite serving as a platform for false attacks on the town for years. Also in 2015, far-right activist Jon Ritzheimer was arrested after he “posted a video online showing himself with a gun and saying he was traveling to the town for a possible confrontation.”

    The Outline’s Gaby Del Valle published an extensive investigation into an anti-Muslim protest outside of Islamberg and the previous planned attacks on the community, noting that much of the vitriol toward the town has been driven by conservative media, particularly Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and, in recent years, members of the extremist Proud Boys group.

    In particular, Islamberg has been smeared with the claim that it serves as a guerilla training camp for terrorists. The source for this claim is Ryan Mauro of the anti-Muslim organization Clarion Project. During media appearances, Mauro often shows a video he claims depicts the women of Islamberg engaging in guerilla warfare training. The source of the video has never been corroborated. (If the individuals in the video were white, conservatives would have likely said it merely showed people exercising their Second Amendment rights.) Muhammad Matthew Gardner, the public relations director for MOA, told Del Valle, “I don’t know anything about those videos. When [Mauro’s] quoting his source, that information is garbage. Whatever they’re saying is not happening with us. It’s not.”

    Fox News has mentioned the most recent plot against Islamberg just once, during a brief January 23 headline segment on America’s Newsroom.

  • Virginia TV news failed to explain why it was wrong for a fired teacher to repeatedly misgender a trans student

    Outlets framed coverage around concern for his job rather than the student’s well-being

    Blog ››› ››› BRIANNA JANUARY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Virginia TV news stations dedicated 90 segments to a story about an anti-trans high school teacher who was fired for repeatedly misgendering a student. The school board deemed those actions discriminatory; however, the news segments included considerably more voices in favor of the teacher than the trans student, and all failed to mention why misgendering someone is demeaning or harassing.

    On October 31, Virginia high school teacher Peter Vlaming was placed on administrative leave for refusing to identify a transgender student by his proper pronouns. According to The Associated Press, “Vlaming told superiors that his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns for the student,” and the West Point School Board voted unanimously to fire him for repeatedly violating the district’s anti-discrimination policy after a public hearing on December 6. Following the board’s decision, students and parents held a walkout and began circulating petitions in support of Vlaming, which have collectively garnered more than 15,000 signatures. Vlaming is considering legal action against the school district.

    Coverage failed to note the harms of misgendering trans people

    Despite extensively covering the story with 90 segments between December 4 and 12, not a single anchor or reporter explained why misgendering a trans student would be considered harassment or noted that those actions stigmatize trans folks and erase their identities. However, 33 of those segments did include language that Vlaming's actions were "hostile" or "threatening" -- nearly all of which were from one of two short clips of school administrators speaking during the hearing.

    For instance, several stations aired a clip of Superintendent Laura Abel testifying that “by failing to follow the directive” to refer to the student by the correct pronouns, Vlaming was "discriminating" and "creating a hostile environment.” Stations also aired a clip of the school’s Principal Jonathan Hochman during the hearing, saying, “I can't think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening. That was very threatening.”

    GLSEN, an LGBTQ-inclusive education advocacy organization, defines misgendering as “the experience of being labeled by others as a gender other than one that a person identifies with.” Misgendering not only invalidates the identities of trans people, but it can also have negative effects on their self-confidence and mental health. Trans adolescents already experience high levels of attempted suicide -- particularly transgender boys and nonbinary young people -- but a March study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found that “when transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.”

    School districts and states around the country have adopted affirming policies to respect trans identities and to condemn bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation. GLSEN's Model School District Policy on Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students encourages schools to respect students’ names and pronouns to improve their experiences and reduce the harms caused by non-affirming practices like misgendering.

    Tech companies have also passed similar policies to prevent anti-trans harassment on social media platforms. In September, Twitter banned “targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals” as part of its “hateful conduct” policy, acknowledging that those practices are meant to “dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes.” Media Matters’ Parker Molloy praised the decision in a November 29 op-ed for The New York Times, noting that misgendering and deadnaming are used to deligitimatize trans identities and can discourage trans people from voicing their opinions:

    As a transgender woman, I find it degrading to be constantly reminded that I am trans and that large segments of the population will forever see me as a delusional freak. Things like deadnaming, or purposely referring to a trans person by their former name, and misgendering — calling someone by a pronoun they don’t use — are used to express disagreement with the legitimacy of trans lives and identities.

    Defenders of these practices claim that they’re doing this not out of malice but out of honesty and, perhaps, even a twisted sort of love. They surely see themselves as truth-tellers fighting against political correctness run amok. But sometimes, voicing one’s personal “truth” does just one thing: It shuts down conversation.

    Virginia TV news coverage featured considerably more statements in support of the anti-trans teacher

    In addition to framing their coverage around Vlaming’s firing instead of how such harassment is harmful to students, Virginia TV news stations also aired considerably more statements that were sympathetic to the anti-trans teacher than the trans student. Virginia stations covered the story a total of 90 times between December 4 -- when station WRIC (ABC) says it broke the story -- and December 12. Throughout those segments, there were 82 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of Vlaming compared to 52 clips of quotes or statements read in favor of the student or the school board’s actions holding Vlaming accountable. (Repeated instances of the same person being quoted in one segment were counted as one statement.)


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters 

    Furthermore, while the majority of clips supportive of the student came from repeated airings of two short clips of school officials speaking at the hearing or readings from official school district statements, many segments showed lengthy or multiple clips of Vlaming, his lawyer, and students defending his actions. For example, a segment on WVEC 13 featured multiple clips of a student supportive of Vlaming interspersed throughout the segment.

    From the December 6 edition of WVEC’s 13News Now:

    Only one segment included a quote from a parent, friend, or student supportive of the trans student at the center of the case, which was read by a reporter on WRIC’s 8News. Additionally, stations aired five quotes that appeared neutral to the story, either calling for more discussion, describing the events, or saying that the situation was not good for either side.

    WAVY-TV 10 had particularly one-sided coverage, airing 18 statements or quotes in favor of Vlaming throughout 15 pieces of coverage compared to only 7 statements or quotes in favor of the student or school board’s actions.

    Similar cases have emerged that are being supported by extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom

    While Vlaming’s story plays out in Virginia, several similar cases around the country are already being supported or litigated by the influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In November, ADF attorneys announced that they had filed a federal lawsuit representing Nicholas Meriwether, a Shawnee State University professor who received a formal warning for not using the appropriate pronouns to address a transgender student. Additionally, an ADF-allied attorney said in June that the group was working with an Indiana high school teacher who also cited his religious beliefs for refusing to address transgender students by their appropriate names and pronouns.

    As Vlaming considers legal action and Virginia TV news stations continue to cover developments in his case, it is more important than ever that media contextualize the harms of misgendering trans people and give them a voice in these stories.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched iQ media for any mentions of “school,” “teacher,” “Virginia,” “fired,” “transgender,” or “trans” within 25 words of “pronoun,” as well as any mentions of “Peter Vlaming” or “West Point High School” from December 4-12 in all media markets serving Virginia: Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News; Richmond-Petersburg; Roanoke-Lynchburg; Harrisonburg, Charlottesville; Tri-Cities, TN-VA; Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown; Bluefield-Beckley-Oak Hill; Greensboro–High Point–Winston-Salem; and Raleigh-Durham (Fayetteville).

    Additional research by Brennan Suen.

  • After Time recognizes Jamal Khashoggi, Ben Shapiro launches old, debunked smears

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro criticized Time magazine’s decision to put murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi on its cover as a Person of the Year, claiming he was “pretty radical on politics,” “had a longtime history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood,” and “was very much in favor of more radical Islam in the Middle East.” Right-wing media began smearing Khashoggi in this vein soon after his murder by Saudi agents.

    While Khashoggi reportedly attended Muslim Brotherhood meetings early in his career, according to those who knew him, “to say that Jamal was some kind of an extremist is all lies.” In an August 28 column in The Washington Post, Khashoggi himself explained his lack of opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was, at its core, based on his support for Arab democracy -- a concept that the Saudi ruling family and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman deeply resent and fear. The Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked as a journalist at the time of his murder, further debunked these smears as they circulated among right-wing media and more extreme Republican midterm election candidates: “While Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements, he moved toward a more liberal, secular point of view, according to experts on the Middle East who have tracked his career.” Yet, months later, Shapiro has renewed this smear to attack Time magazine for choosing to honor a journalist murdered for his work.

    From the December 11 edition of DailyWire.com’s The Ben Shapiro Show:

    BEN SHAPIRO (HOST): Jamal Khashoggi was made the Person of the Year on the cover of Time magazine. Now Jamal Khashoggi, you'll recall, was the Saudi citizen who was here on a visa, and then he went to Turkey and went to the Saudi consulate for a marriage document and was promptly murdered by the members of the Saudi consulate, and then chopped up and sent in a bag back to Saudi Arabia. This all went wrong -- it was very bad for the Trump administration, which of course has been very close with the Saudi Arabian government, particularly the new leader of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. That's the reason that Time magazine selected Jamal Khashoggi, who, in reality, was, in fact, pretty radical on politics. He had a longtime history of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. He was very much in favor of more radical Islam in the Middle East, not less radical Islam in the Middle East. He was certainly no moderate. But since he was murdered for being a journalist, he is the Time magazine Person of the Year.

    ...

    Now that doesn't mean we shouldn't worry about the Jamal Khashoggi case, but again, this is the media trying to play itself up.

  • Major neo-Nazi website sees NRA’s recent hard-line messaging as its best hope to kill all Jewish people

    The Daily Stormer: “It’s time to put your money where your mouth is and join up with the country’s single effective pro-white organization intent on fully SMASHING THE JEW”

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    The Daily Stormer -- a major online hub for racists and anti-Semites that has followers who have committed mass murder -- has been telling its readers to join the National Rifle Association, as the neo-Nazis who run the website see a successful NRA as their best possible hope to see Jewish people subjected to another Holocaust.

    The Daily Stormer has been very pleased with the NRA’s hard-line messaging in the Trump era: As the neo-Nazi website itself notes, the NRA frequently singles out Jews as its political enemies and refuses to condemn anti-Semitic actions taken by members of its leadership. A February 2017 Daily Stormer article explained, “There is basically zero chance that [NRA leader Wayne] LaPierre and others in the top ranks of the NRA aren’t aware of the Jewish issue, especially as it relates to the second amendment. They’ve remained silent on this topic until now, scared of the media power that the Jews possess. But things are changing.”

    The Daily Stormer has frequently promoted NRA membership drives, including repeatedly linking to an NRA recruitment website and claiming,“The number 1 source of new recruits for the NRA has always been the Daily Stormer.”

    In articles posted on the website, Daily Stormer writers implore readers to join the NRA:

    According to The Daily Stormer, “The NRA is the country’s premiere pro-white and anti-Semitic organization. In fact, it is the only right-wing group of any kind in this country to have any success at all in the last 50 years.”

    The Daily Stormer clearly sees the NRA as a tool it can use to instigate wide-scale attacks against Jewish people. Here are a few pro-NRA threatening messages the site has posted:

    The Daily Stormer also posted a meme featuring NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch to threaten, “Our patience has its limits,” writing, “And guess what kikes? Your outrage machine is broken.”

    Following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, The Daily Stormer backed the NRA’s calls for arming teachers, writing:

    The Daily Stormer is endorsing a plan to take it a step further, and arm the students as well.

    Say you’re in class, the teacher is writing something on the board, and a Jew pulls out a gun. The teacher has his back to the class and doesn’t see the Jew make his move – but you’re sitting behind him, and you’ve got a clean shot – why shouldn’t you be allowed to take it?

    The Daily Stormer is particularly enamored of five high-profile NRA employees: Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, President Oliver North, national spokesperson Dana Loesch, NRATV host Chuck Holton, and NRA board member Ted Nugent.

    The Daily Stormer has labeled LaPierre “/ourlad/” and “Reichsmarschall,” the highest military rank in Nazi Germany, and favorably called the NRA leader an “anti-Semitic white nationalist.” In particular, the site likes LaPierre because of a speech he gave after the Parkland school shooting in which he called opponents of the NRA “European-style socialists,” which, as The Daily Stormer explained, “everyone acknowledges, means ‘Jews’” or “the gun-grabbing kikes.” The Daily Stormer has favorably mentioned that LaPierre “gave a speech calling out the Jews as gun grabbers,” noted that LaPierre “purposefully pushed for an open war with the Jews,” and written that “he literally put out a Jew list, showing that everyone who disagrees with gun rights is a Jew. And he has to know, too. There is no way you list off a dozen Jews – and not a single goy – without noticing that pattern.” Indeed, LaPierre has frequently targeted Jews during his public remarks.

    In May, The Daily Stormer heaped praise on North after he became president of the NRA. An article on the neo-Nazi website argued, “The NRA just made a great pick for their new head. Great, great pick.” The website described North’s involvement in the Iran-Contra arms trafficking scandal as a positive, writing, “This is one guy who definitely does not give a single fuck about having a license to buy and sell weapons. For those who don’t know – the Iran-Contra ‘scandal’ was a program of selling weapons to Iran and using the money from that to fund communist-killing death squads in Latin America.” The article speculated that as president of the NRA, North could help arm Iran with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that the country could then use against Israel.

    The Daily Stormer also has a lot of praise for NRA national spokesperson Loesch, whom it calls “Princess Dana.” The site praised the gun group for not firing Loesch for her recently resurfaced 2010 tweet that said, “I bet Rick Sanchez was fired by a Jew.” (Sanchez was fired from CNN after he made anti-Semitic remarks about comedian Jon Stewart.) Loesch said that her tweet was meant to be an appeal to poetic justice. The Daily Stormer wrote that instead of firing her, the NRA “doubled-down by giving her a show about how she is going to destroy the Jews,” referencing promotional material for her NRATV show Relentless in which Loesch has threatened members of the media that their “time is running out.”

    The Daily Stormer has also praised Chuck Holton, a correspondent for the NRA’s media operation NRATV. During a July 2017 appearance on NRATV, Holton suggested that Black people were poised to commit mass rape and murder against white people while referencing “what’s happening in South Africa.” In response, The Daily Stormer wrote, “Holy shit! The NRA cited the White Genocide in South Africa as a warning to America!” Holton has a lengthy history of promoting white nationalism and making racist comments, and he has repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory that Jewish philanthropist George Soros is behind the migrant caravan traveling through Central America and Mexico -- a remarkably similar theory to the one that inspired a gunman to carry out an anti-Semitic massacre at a Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue in October. The site is aware of NRATV and has disturbingly noted, “A NRA tv channel calling out ‘socialist corruption’ 24/7 would be the best thing ever, especially considering that all of these ‘European-style socialists’ are actually Jews.” (Three months after that Daily Stormer article was published and a day after an ISIS terror attack in Manchester, U.K., Holton argued on NRATV that “this wave of violence that we’re seeing across Europe is a symptom of the broader problem of multiculturalism and socialism.”)

    The Daily Stormer also lauded NRA board member Ted Nugent for sharing an anti-Semitic meme on Facebook without repercussions from the NRA, writing, “I’ve gotta give it to Ted. I expected an apology within hours. Instead he is just straight trolling these Jews. It’s fantastic.” In February, a Daily Stormer article defending the NRA as a friendly home for anti-Semites brought up the incident: “Remember another NRA spokesperson, Ted Nugent, posted that one meme a couple years ago… So, the NRA knows and the Jews know the NRA knows, and both sides want to escalate that.”

    The NRA’s recent adoption of more extreme messaging tactics is not lost on The Daily Stormer. As the neo-Nazis who run the website cheered in a March article, “The NRA is done with euphemisms.”

  • Anti-LGBTQ forces warn that Colorado's first openly gay governor is a threat to Christians

    As Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis makes history, an anti-LGBTQ group and right-wing media outlet have dubiously attempted to pit religion against the LGBTQ community

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-LGBTQ groups and right-wing media outlet The Daily Wire have used the successful campaign of Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor, to push a false narrative pitting religion against the LGBTQ community. Specifically, they have leveraged the story of anti-gay Colorado baker Jack Phillips -- who went all the way to the Supreme Court in a case involving his refusal to bake a cake for a gay couple -- to say that the state is persecuting Christians and that Polis’ election would result in religious people losing their rights.

    Extreme and influential anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom represented Phillips in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court narrowly ruled in Phillips’ favor based on the particulars of the case, citing “inappropriate and dismissive comments” from one of the Colorado civil rights commissioners as “hostility” toward Phillips’ religion. Polis called the Supreme Court’s decision “disappointing, but thankfully narrow in scope,” adding that Congress should pass the Equality Act, a bipartisan federal bill that would amend civil rights protections in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, and other areas of life to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

    After Polis’ historic win, The Daily Wire’s Paul Bois published an article headlined “Colorado Elects First Openly Gay Governor In U.S. History As The State Persecutes Christians.” Bois highlighted Polis’ “commitment to LGBTQ principles” and wrote, “The ascension of Polis in Colorado comes at a time when the state has increasingly positioned itself as an enemy of religious liberty, most notably in its persecution of baker Jack Phillips.”

    Before Election Day, anti-LGBTQ group Family Policy Alliance also featured Phillips in a campaign ad against Polis. According to LGBTQ news outlet INTO, the ad said, “Assaults on Jack’s faith – and yours – could get even worse if Boulder’s own Jared Polis becomes governor,” and a statement released alongside the ad asserted that “the decision Colorado voters make will impact Jack Phillips and other people of faith in Colorado—and beyond—for years to come.” Family Policy Alliance sent an email promoting the ad on October 24, which claimed that Polis’ election “means that things could get even worse for Jack and other people of faith in Colorado.”

    The group deleted the ad within days and scrubbed references to the video from its website. A Family Policy Alliance spokesperson told Baptist Press on November 2 that the group “was no longer featuring Phillips in its ad online but was ‘pivoting to the next phase in our strategy with an ad that focuses on candidate Jared Polis and the threat to religious freedom he poses for people of faith in our state.’" That second ad, titled “Jared Polis vs. Freedom,” asserted that if elected, Polis would threaten “the freedom of people of faith throughout Colorado.” (During the 2018 election, Family Policy Alliance and its member group Massachusetts Family Institute worked extensively to undo a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination law in Massachusetts. The repeal effort failed.)

    The Family Policy Alliance ads and The Daily Wire’s story rest on the false premise that the LGBTQ community and people of faith are at odds, or that equal rights for LGBTQ people somehow result in the loss of rights for people of faith. Anti-LGBTQ figures often set up this “God vs. Gay” dichotomy to gin up sympathy for individuals and groups who wish to discriminate against LGBTQ people by citing their faith. But these figures, often right-wing evangelical Christians, do not represent all people of faith or even speak for all of Christians. The majority of Americans believe that homosexuality should be accepted -- including majorities of most religious groups. Almost 1,300 faith leaders filed an amicus brief defending the gay couple at the center of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case and condemning the use of “religious freedom” arguments to discriminate against LGBTQ people. According to the brief’s press release, the faith leaders represented 500,000 congregants “from approximately 50 unique faith traditions across the U.S.” And though the Supreme Court ruled against the couple, the decision did not indicate how similar court cases should play out. But Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the baker in the case, is litigating several other cases that may determine whether businesses serving the public have the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious exemptions.”

    Additional research by Brianna January.

  • Fox’s Varney pushes smear that Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum is anti-Israel

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox Business host Stuart Varney helped the chairman of the Florida Republican Party push a smear against Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections.

    Right-wing outlets have been trying to fabricate an "anti-Israel" narrative around Gillum based on some very tenuous arguments. The Washington Free Beacon published an article attacking Gillum for his “ties to radical anti-Israel groups” that have "promoted the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS," and The Daily Caller attacked him for speaking at an event hosted by a group primarily focused on engaging Muslim voters. Days later, the flimsy claims made their way onto Fox Business when Varney brought on Florida GOP Chairman Blaise Ingoglia to claim that Gillum has ties to groups that support terrorist organizations.

    But the claims that Gillum has “ties” to anti-Semitic groups are exaggerated and disingenuous. According to fact-checking site PolitiFact, Gillum has supported Dream Defenders, one of the groups conservative media are pointing to; but, according to his spokesperson, Gillum has opposed the group's stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Gillum signed a Dream Defenders pledge that “calls on those who sign it to pledge not to take a penny from the NRA or the Geo Group, a private prison operator," but which makes no mention of Israel. Gillum has stated that he does not support the BDS movement. And, even though Varney's guest tried to link Gillum to opposition for funding security for Jewish day schools, The Associated Press has reported on Gillum's support for that funding.

    From the November 5 edition of Fox Business’ Varney & Co.:

    STUART VARNEY (HOST): Gillum does have a slight lead in the polls, but his campaign has been linked to a radical, pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel group. Joining us now is Blaise Ingoglia, Florida GOP chair. Blaise, are those linked -- those links to anti-Israel organizations, is that resonating at all with Florida voters?

    BLAISE INGOGLIA (FLORIDA GOP CHAIRMAN): Well, it's definitely resonating with our Jewish community here in Florida. You know, after the attacks on the Jewish community in Pittsburgh, Andrew Gillum, still to this day, has yet to condemn those attacks. And he spoke before a group that opposes security for Jewish day schools here in the state of Florida. And that same group has just been unapologetic for their support of some terrorist groups and even defended them in court.

    And it's not just those groups, it's other groups like the Dream Defenders, which are anti-police. Andrew Gillum, unfortunately, and his campaign is surrounding themselves with some people who are just bad for Florida and bad, quite frankly, for the United States of America.

  • Steve King twice promoted a white supremacist, anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying website on Twitter

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In previously unreported tweets, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) promoted a website that advocates for the “geographical separation of the races,” states that Jewish people are conspiring against Europe and the United States, and pushes Holocaust denialism.  

    King is a white supremacist congressman who has a long history of promoting bigoted media, including British neo-Nazi writer Mark Collett; white nationalist website VDare and its founder and editor Peter Brimelow; white nationalist host Lana Lokteff; and anti-Semitic and racist commentator Faith Goldy. In response to increased criticism of the Republican congressman, white supremacist media have been urging their fellow racists to support King.  

    In a January 6, 2017, tweet, King wrote: “Six months to remove all illegal immigrants. Pakistan & Afghanistan doing sweeping deportations. Too hard 4 America?” He then linked to a piece on The New Observer which concluded:

    Furthermore, it seems that when nonwhite nations take steps to close their borders and secure their nations, the controlled media in the West either ignores them or reports it without comment.

    If, however, a white or European nation should dare impose restrictions on illegal immigration, the same controlled media would pillory them as “bigots” and “inhuman.”

    On February 3, King again promoted The New Observer on Twitter, writing: “Four ‘Dreamers’ doing the work that Americans won’t do.” He then linked to a piece headlined “Four ‘Dreamers’ Arrested Smuggling Invaders into US in 1 Week.”

    The New Observer is a virulently anti-Semitic website. Here are some headlines that were posted on the website before King’s February tweet:

    In a February 2016 piece headlined “Jews Push Muslim ‘Refugees’ on US,” the site writes of Jewish people: “Why do Jews all over the world demand that America and Europe accept millions of nonwhite invaders, while at the same time building walls to protect Israel and barring any invaders from entering their country? This obvious Jewish hypocrisy cannot be an accident. It must be malicious -- there is simply no other explanation.”

    Its November 2016 piece headlined “Jews, Muslims Form Alliance against Trump” states: “Jewish-Muslim cooperation against Europeans has a long historical record, most notably during the era of the white-slave trading Barbary States of North Africa.”

    The website's anti-Semitic pieces include attacks on HIAS (which was founded as the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society), a nonprofit humanitarian organization that was repeatedly vilified by the Pittsburgh, PA, synagogue shooter. 

    The New Observer also pushes Holocaust denialism. It heavily promotes The Six Million: Fact or Fiction? by Peter Winter; that book purports to disprove the Holocaust’s death total.

    The site is openly white supremacist and advocates for a separation of the races.

    An August 2014 piece stated: “The uprising in Ferguson is actually only the tip of the iceberg -- and it serves as a prominent warning to whites in America, and all over the globe, that the only path to racial peace lies in physical geographical separation -- and nothing less.”

    A December 2016 piece concluded of “what can be done about the specter of black crime and violence overwhelming America’s urban areas": “The answer to this question is, of course, a political solution which must be based upon a physical geographical separation of the races -- not segregation, nor supremacy, but separation.”

    Here are other white nationalist headlines from the website which were posted prior to King’s tweet: