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  • Alliance Defending Freedom has an extremely shady network of thousands of attorneys

    ADF’s network of allied attorneys and Blackstone Legal Fellows affects policy at all levels of government

    Blog ››› ››› KAYLA GOGARTY


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Update (5/20/19): On May 20, Media Matters published the second installment of this two-part investigation into ADF's network of allies in the government. The additional report includes a database of more than 100 ADF allied attorneys, Blackstone Legal Fellows, and current and former staff who held government positions at the local, state, and federal levels in 2018. The full database can be found here

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is stunningly opaque about its large network of affiliated lawyers, what positions of influence they hold, and what beliefs they must agree to in order to be officially tied to the group.

    ADF's lack of transparency is multifaceted. For one, many members in its network do not publicize their relationship with the organization. Additionally, on several occasions, ADF has claimed affiliations with individual attorneys or officials who have disputed their ties, or removed references to affiliations with individual attorneys or officials following reports that exposed those connections.

    Through its Blackstone Legal Fellowship and allied attorney program, the number of ADF affiliated lawyers could be as high as 5,000 -- and many of those attorneys also have influential positions in government, ranging from local school boards to federal agencies. This legal network is one of the key tools in ADF’s arsenal that allows it to affect policies that impact LGBTQ people across the country, but journalists and the public have very little information about it.

    ADF is one of the most powerful anti-LGBTQ groups in the country

    ADF is one of the largest and most influential anti-LGBTQ groups in the world, and it takes extreme positions on nearly every aspect of LGBTQ equality. The group has supported Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, defended the discredited and dangerous practice of conversion therapy, advocated against adoption and foster care by LGBTQ people, and supported policies that ban trans people from using facilities that align with their gender identity, as well as dozens of other positions that are dangerous to LGBTQ people.

    ADF uses its revenue of more than $50 million per year to advance its mission of “advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family” through direct litigation, grant funding for other cases, and legal training programs. Since its founding in 1994, ADF has played a role in over 50 Supreme Court decisions, including cases regarding abortion and LGBTQ issues.

    In the last few years, ADF has been involved in several high profile court cases in which it argued in favor of legal discrimination against LGBTQ people. Last June, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled in favor of ADF client Jack Phillips, a baker who refused to serve a gay couple, in the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission case. The Supreme Court has taken on another ADF case for its upcoming term, R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which could determine whether civil rights protections in employment extend to LGBTQ employees.

    ADF has influence through the large network of lawyers who have completed its Blackstone Legal Fellowship

    Outside of its own staff and litigation, ADF seeks to influence the legal landscape by providing funding and training opportunities to create a large network of lawyers sympathetic to ADF’s mission. ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship has been around since 2000, and the group reports that it “has trained more than 2,100 law students from more than 225 law schools in 21 different countries.” ADF has written that the program seeks to train Christian law students “who will rise to positions of influence as legal scholars, litigators, judges, and perhaps even Supreme Court justices.”

    The Blackstone fellowship is a nine-week summer program that includes three weeks of training seminars and six weeks in legal internships, including in government entities. ADF says that “those selected to become ‘Fellows’” at the end of the program “receive ongoing training, resources, and support through an international community,” and the group boasts that its alumni “are serving on law reviews, securing clerkships, joining major firms, working in the government and nonprofit sectors, and accepting positions in academia and the judiciary.”

    ADF spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on its fellowship program; in 2019, expenses per person include $6,300 in scholarship funding, several flights, lodging, and weeks of meals for its interns. But as a result, the organization reaps the benefits of fostering a large network of potentially influential conservative lawyers at the onset of their careers. ADF has additional training programs for young legal professionals or students and recent graduates “on a path to future leadership in law, government, business, and public policy.”

    ADF also has a network of more than 3,300 allied attorneys

    In addition to its training programs for law students and new attorneys, ADF has created what it calls a “powerful global network” of over 3,300 “allied attorneys.” Attorneys in the network receive opportunities for funding, access to ADF’s legal resources, and additional training programs; in return, allied attorneys provide pro bono service to ADF, such as litigation, amicus briefs, media work, “legal services to churches & religious non-profits,” and “research assistance, legal advice, and drafting of bills for legislators, policy makers, administrative agencies, etc. relating to religious liberty, sanctity of life, and marriage & family.”

    ADF can activate these allied attorneys when it learns about LGBTQ-related events to quickly get involved in cases down to the local level. In turn, these attorneys can also alert ADF to LGBTQ-related matters in their localities and bring the force of a national group to their backyards. ADF has written that it “depends upon its network of attorneys and others to bring appropriate matters to our attention.”

    ADF notes that its allied attorneys must agree to a statement of faith as part of their application. In the past, ADF’s FAQ page about the program linked directly to an 11-point statement on its website that opposes trans identities and same-sex marriage and lumps in “homosexual behavior” and “acting upon any disagreement with one’s biological sex” with bestiality and incest as “forms of sexual immorality” that are “sinful and offensive to God.” However, after a detailed report on the program and its influence by Sarah Posner in The Nation, ADF said that allied attorneys “do not have to agree to the same statement of faith as employees” and removed links to the statement.

    ADF specifically encourages government attorneys to join the allied attorney program. On its FAQ, ADF notes that government attorneys who are “prohibited from doing private pro bono litigation” can instead provide ADF with “legal research, educational presentations, or other types of work related to Alliance Defending Freedom mission areas.”

    Between its allied attorneys and Blackstone fellows, ADF has a network of legal allies that reach across the globe and hold an unknown number of U.S. government positions.

    ADF operates with an extreme lack of transparency about its training programs and allied attorneys

    ADF is extremely opaque about its programs and has worked to keep details about them from the public, such as removing mentions of its allied attorneys’ statement of faith after The Nation’s investigation. It also does not release a comprehensive list of people who participate in its programs, and many of its participants and alumni do not publicly identify their relationship with ADF. A noncomprehensive Media Matters review of allied attorneys mentioned on ADF’s website found only 300 of its reported 3,300 members, many of whom were mentioned on pages that are now archived. Additionally, it is unclear whether allied attorneys remain counted in the network for life, or whether the 3,300 number includes former allied attorneys, some of whom could have cut their official ties with the group with no public record. The number of allied attorneys could thus be larger than the 3,300 claimed by ADF.

    Additionally, it seems that some participants in these programs are unaware of their status as allied attorneys or may have avoided publicizing it during judicial nomination processes. For example, confirmed federal Judge Jeremy Kernodle submitted answers to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary during his nomination stating that he served as an allied attorney with ADF on a 2017 case. But in a later questionnaire, he asserted that he “did not apply or request to be an ‘allied attorney’ with ADF” and first “discovered that ADF had listed [him] as an ‘allied attorney’” when he began preparing responses to the questionnaire for his nomination. Kernodle continued that he only worked with ADF on one case and was “not certain when” he first became an allied attorney.

    Another now-confirmed federal judge, Kyle Duncan, reported participating in several speaking engagements for ADF but did not report his status as an allied attorney in his nomination questionnaire or in follow-up questions to the Senate Judiciary Committee. ADF, however, previously documented his affiliation as an allied attorney while Duncan served in the Louisiana Department of Justice.

    Other reporting discrepancies further underscore the opacity surrounding ADF’s networks. Posner’s report in The Nation identified Noel Francisco, the Trump-Pence administration's solicitor general, as an ADF allied attorney, citing two different ADF press releases explicitly stating that Francisco is one of “more than 3,000 private attorneys allied with ADF.” After publication, however, ADF “contacted The Nation, claiming that Francisco has never been an allied attorney.” According to the attached editor’s note, ADF called the press releases “our mistake” and claimed that its “media dept. got it wrong.” ADF promptly rewrote its press releases but did not issue corrections on either of them.

    In another instance, Media Matters identified an attorney at a major law firm as an allied attorney based on another ADF press release, but his law firm reached out to say that was incorrect and due to a typo in the ADF press release that named him as such.

    Though ADF makes it clear that government employees can join its allied attorney program, it does not publicly specify which positions might make participants ineligible to remain in the network. However, it does appear that judges may have to cut ties with the group. For example, after Jamie Anderson was appointed as a county judge in Minnesota, ADF wrote that she will “no longer participate as an Allied Attorney for obvious reasons.” Additionally, Steve Christopher’s LinkedIn profile says that he stopped being an ADF allied attorney in March 2013, the same month he became a judge in Hardin County, Ohio.

    Understanding ADF’s influential and opaque network is key to knowing how it shapes anti-LGBTQ policy

    Between its Blackstone Legal Fellowship and allied attorney program, ADF’s network could include more than 5,000 lawyers. A 2017 Media Matters review of just a few hundred of those attorneys found that at least 55 had government positions, and the number in 2018 was at least twice that.

    In addition to its role in promoting anti-LGBTQ policies through the courts, ADF also directly shapes legislation at the state level, such as anti-trans “bathroom bills” and sweeping religious exemptions laws that make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Its allies sit in federal agencies and on federal courts, among other influential places, and have countless ways to affect policy. Many journalists do not have the information they need to draw the connections between these decision makers and the national group driving much of the anti-LGBTQ policies in the country.

    In Wisconsin, journalists and advocates have published several articles about a state Supreme Court justice-elect who received thousands of dollars for speeches to ADF and was a Blackstone Legal Fellow. Journalists, policymakers, and the public need to know about ADF’s network of allies in government in order to ask them how these associations affect their decision making and whether they stand by the extreme anti-LGBTQ beliefs of the group. Understanding ADF’s programs and network is crucial to knowing the full scope of its influence on LGBTQ-related policies at every level of governance.

    This is the first part of a two-part investigation into ADF's network of allies in the government.

    Additional research by Brennan Suen

  • Extreme anti-LGBTQ group American Family Association says it met with “senior” Walmart executives to discuss ad with gay couple

    AFA runs a right-wing evangelical media apparatus that includes a website and radio network and has endorsed dangerous anti-LGBTQ positions

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX PATERSON


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Extreme anti-LGBTQ group the American Family Association claimed to have met with “senior executives” at Walmart to discuss its objections to the company’s Valentine’s Day advertisement that featured two men going on a blind first date at a Walmart.

    On May 9, AFA announced that “senior executives with AFA met with senior executives at Walmart where our objections to the video ad were strongly and respectfully articulated.” AFA wrote that it “shared our plea that Walmart remain neutral on the promotion of homosexuality,” asserting that it had a “forthright and engaging discussion about the matter.” 

    AFA launched a petition urging Walmart to remove the advertisement in February, complaining that it “normalizes homosexual relationships.” AFA dubiously claimed that the petition garnered “over 190,000 signers.” However, reporter Nico Lang noted that the petition was “likely bogus,” as it contained no security or verification measures. Lang wrote that users were able to sign the petition an unlimited amount of times using “transparently counterfeit” emails and “from the same IP address while using the same web browser.” Despite the questionable authenticity of its petition, Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt reported on April 3 that AFA had secured the meeting with a representative for Walmart CEO Doug McMillon.

    In addition to its anti-LGBTQ advocacy work, AFA also runs a substantial right-wing evangelical media apparatus. It uses its American Family Radio network (AFR) and news website OneNewsNow to push extreme anti-LGBTQ narratives and misinformation to various types of audiences. Posts on its news website have claimed that Texas legislation would “ban Christianity” and pushed the debunked “bathroom predator” myth, which have received significant engagement from their audience.

    On AFR’s Janet Mefferd Live, host Janet Mefferd has linked homosexuality to child sexual abuse, suggested that LGBTQ-inclusive Christianity will destroy churches, and advocated for the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy. On AFR’s Focal Point, former AFA spokesperson and host Bryan Fischer has condemned gay men to hell, claimed that gays were responsible for the Nazi Party, and said that “any practitioners of any other religion other than Christianity,” such as Muslim and Jewish people, “do not have First Amendment rights.”

    In 2013, AFA endorsed Russia’s anti-LGBTQ “gay propaganda” law, which “effectively legalizes discrimination based on sexual orientation” and led to an increase in homophobic rhetoric and violence in the country. The group has also said that “gay sex is a form of domestic terrorism.”

  • Juan Williams’ heartfelt plea to Fox colleagues on the growing white nationalist threat is met with lies and derision

    Blog ››› ››› JASON CAMPBELL

    After a heartfelt plea by Fox's Juan Williams for conservatives to address the rise of white nationalist violence inspired by their hateful rhetoric, Williams' colleagues made excuses, attempted to both-sides the issue, and lied about the motivation behind the rash of white supremacist violence taking place worldwide. Fox's Jesse Watters insisted that the perpetrators of the Pittsburgh, Christchurch, and Poway shooting all "hated Donald Trump." This is a complete distortion of the reality for each of these shooters who, though felt Trump was not extreme enough, cite his rhetoric along with showing admiration for him as a symbol.

    While the perpetrator of the Pittsburgh shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue claimed Trump was not sufficiently anti-Semitic, he echoed Trump and Fox News’ rhetoric that an "invasion" of migrants funded by George Soros was coming to the United States, a conspiracy theory that Fox continued pushing even after the Tree of Life massacre. The Christchurch shooter hailed Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose" but similarly felt Trump’s policies did not go far enough. The murderer in the Poway, California shooting said he had been inspired by both the Tree of Life and Christchurch shooters. 

  • Study: As Notre Dame burned, anti-Muslim content thrived online

    On 4chan and 8chan, the number of posts with mentions of Muslims and anti-Muslim slurs spiked on April 15, and on Facebook, the top-performing post was from an anti-Muslim bigot.

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Anti-Muslim content surged online as the tragic news broke on Monday of a fire engulfing Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, with far-right figures weaponizing news of the seemingly accidental fire to link it to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and to scapegoat Muslims and Islam. A Media Matters analysis found that anti-Muslim sentiment spiked on 4chan and 8chan on April 15, while the story containing the words “Muslim” or “Islam” that got the most engagements on Facebook was from an anti-Muslim bigot and claimed, “Jihadis reveled in the fire engulfing the Notre Dame Cathedral.”

    On anonymous message boards 4chan and 8chan, posts containing mentions of either “Muslim” or “Islam,” references to 9/11, or offensive anti-Muslim slurs skyrocketed on April 15 well beyond the average in the days before Notre Dame burned. On 4chan’s “politically incorrect” board, “/pol/,” the thread with the most posts containing those search terms was an April 15 discussion about the fire at Notre Dame. From April 9 to April 14, we looked at spikes in mentions of these words and found 10 high spots. The average number of mentions from those spikes was 209. But on April 15, 897 posts contained those words -- over four times the average.

    Media Matters also analyzed Spike data for Facebook posts containing the search terms “Muslim” or “Islam,” which showed that the post that earned the most interactions on April 15 came from anti-Muslim bigot Pamela Geller, who linked to a story on her site accusing Muslims of laughing at the sight of Notre Dame burning. (The story was based on a far-right hoax that baselessly claimed people who reacted with laughing emojis to a Facebook livestream of Notre Dame burning were Muslim). The post earned almost 38,000 interactions -- well over twice the 16,506 interactions of the next highest search result, a HuffPost story unrelated to the burning cathedral. Geller’s Facebook post overperformed her usual content by 15.71 times, a metric which Spike calculates “by comparing a story or post’s performance to the publisher’s historical average.”

    French prosecutors have reportedly ruled out arson as a cause for the tragic fire. This is not the first time news cycle events have triggered waves of bigotry on anonymous message boards: A study by the Anti-Defamation League found that there was a spike in posts containing racist terms on 4chan following President Donald Trump’s election.  

    Natalie Martinez provided research for this piece.