Tag Archives: hate group

Trump/Pence considering anti-LGBT extremists for transition team

Leaked documents indicate Donald Trump is considering for his transition team candidates with histories of anti-LGBTQ animus, including Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council, a hate group.

“Ken Blackwell is a man who has spent his entire career going after LGBTQ Americans. Blackwell’s leadership role in President-elect Trump’s transition team should be a major wake up call for anybody who ever had any doubt that LGBTQ people are at risk,” said JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president for policy and political affairs  at the Human Rights Campaign. HRC is the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group.

Winterhof continued, “Ed Meese and Kay Cole James, who are also reported to have key roles, have been vocal opponents of equality and other issues we care deeply about. The people President-elect Trump picks to serve in his administration will have a huge impact on the policies he pursues. We should all be alarmed at who he’s appointing to key posts on his transition team.”

Blackwell is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, which was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He also serves on the board of directors of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

In addition to supporting measures to ban marriage equality, Blackwell believes being LGBTQ is a choice, saying, “The reality is, again…that I think we make choices all the time. And I think you make good choices and bad choices in terms of lifestyle. Our expectation is that one’s genetic makeup might make one more inclined to be an arsonist or might make one more inclined to be a kleptomaniac. Do I think that they can be changed? Yes.”

Meese, a former attorney general, is a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, an organization that asserts that laws protecting LGBTQ people are not “necessary” and “weaken the marriage culture and the freedom of citizens and their associations to affirm their religious or moral convictions…”

According to NBC, the conservative Heritage Foundation is helping vet candidates for Trump’s cabinet.

Meese supported Indiana’s religious refusal law enacted under Vice President-elect Mike Pence, saying it “has nothing to do with refusing to serve gay people.” Meese has also said that marriage equality “shows how the culture has deteriorated over two centuries.”

Kay Cole James, president and founder of the Gloucester Institute, is a former senior vice president of the Family Research Council and a former director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

She worked in the administrations of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.

The Advocate reported that in her book Transforming America from the Inside Out, James compared LGBTQ people to drug addicts, alcoholics, adulterers or “anything else sinful.”

White supremacists in the ‘age of Trump’

When Hillary Clinton warned about the dangers of the “alt-right” in an August speech, she was referring to white supremacists like Matthew Heimbach.

Directly, it turned out.

“Hillary noted me by name on her website,” said Heimbach, a self-described white nationalist who sounded giddy at the mention.

Heimbach was referring to the aftermath of an August speech in which Hillary Clinton warned about the dangers of the “alt-right” movement, calling out people like Heimbach by name. At 25, he’s already a racial provocateur on the rise.

Despite his age, Heimbach has been agitating about race for years, long before Trump ran for president. Though he is an avowed Trump supporter, Heimbach is first and foremost a product of Maryland, a liberal state still struggling to come to terms with its Confederate-friendly past.

“(Trump) is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party,” Clinton said in a speech on Aug. 25. “The names may have changed. Racists now call themselves ‘racialists.’ White supremacists now call themselves ‘white nationalists.’ The paranoid fringe calls itself’ alt-right.’ But the hate burns just as bright.’’

Heimbach says he is not a racist, despite calling himself one in a 2014 Nightline interview that he argues was edited to quote him out of context. He also claims he is not anti-Semitic, but he posed at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington with a sign that read: “Six million? More like 271,301.”

The reference to Heimbach on Clinton’s campaign website appears on a page dedicated to explaining Trump’s ties to the white supremacists on the alt-right. “The following quote from a 2013 Heimbach speech called “I Hate Freedom” is featured: “The ’freedom’ for other races to move freely into white nations is nonexistent. Stay in your own nations, we don’t want you here.”

Part of what sets Heimbach apart from other white supremacists is his willingness to argue his case with anyone, particularly those repulsed by his ideas.

“He’s very media savvy,” said Ryan Lenz, editor of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog. “He knows how to talk to people and make himself seem what he is not. He uses media to elevate his image. Meanwhile, he is hiding from the realities of his hate. And believe me, Matthew Heimbach does hate.”

Heimbach’s actions at a Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 1 make it hard to argue with Lenz. In one of the first videos of violence at a Trump campaign event, Heimbach, who is baby-faced, heavy-set and with close-cropped black hair, is seen repeatedly shoving Kashiya Nwanguma, a black female protester, on the auditorium floor.

He was not arrested and charged in the incident, but was later sued in civil court by Nwanguma. In response to the charges, Heimbach said: “They’re another attempt by the far left to bog us down by using law-fare (sic),” playing on the word “warfare.’’

In June, Heimbach organized but did not attend a joint rally in Sacramento, California, of his Traditionalist Worker Party and a local skinhead group that turned bloody when anti-fascist counter protestors arrived. Ten people were injured, two with critical stab wounds according to the Sacramento Fire Department.

Where Heimbach goes from here will answer the question of whether he is an anomaly made prominent by Trump, or a future leader of white supremacists who remains on the political scene after this year’s presidential election.

“If Hillary wins, the Republican establishment will be totally discredited,” he said. “The ‘alt-right’ will be the only option for the white working class. We will be become their de facto voice.”

Heimbach is actively preparing for the possibility.

In 2018, he plans to run for a state legislature seat in Paoli, Indiana, where he moved in 2013.

And Heimbach believes he can win. “There is a clear path to electoral victory,” he said. “If I can just get a sizeable percentage of people who are disgusted with Democrats and Republicans to vote again, I can win the seat.”

There is also his charisma to consider. Speaking with Heimbach — who is widely described as friendly, well-spoken and accessible — is disorienting. He is genial, smooth and adept at presenting his views as simple solutions to complex problems, and not an improbable return to race-based segregation.

Yet all his purported solutions lead to the same thing white supremacists have been seeking for years: a homeland for whites only within the United States.

“America is big enough to divide,” said Heimbach, citing the breakup of the Soviet Union into different ethnic-based republics as a model for what could happen in the U.S. “We’ll take any patch of dirt. We’re not asking for people to follow us. We’re asking to opt out.”

He intends to pursue this end by political means. In addition to his own candidacy in 2018, Heimbach plans to field a slate of Traditionalist Worker Party candidates for local, state and county offices in regions he considers friendly to his cause, specifically in rural Appalachia.

“We don’t have to win to win,” said Heimbach, referring to the idea of preventing Republican candidates from holding on to their seats. “If you support free trade, amnesty, gun regulation, more money to Israel, if we can go ahead and knock you out of office, we’re going to have a disproportionate impact on American politics.”

Heimbach’s Traditionalist Worker Party has yet to field a candidate in any race. However, Heimbach said he has already recruited seven candidates to run for state or local offices in Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana. For now, Western Maryland is not in Heimbach’s sights, but he hopes to run candidates there one day.

“Western Maryland doesn’t like being under the control of Annapolis,” said Heimbach, a native of Poolesville, Maryland. “We’d like to work with people there to have their own state, or join West Virginia so they can be a part of state that more reflects their values.”

“There’s no easy answer to why someone becomes radicalized,” says Patrick James, a researcher and project manager for the Profiles of Individual Radicalization project at the University of Maryland. “But they tend to come from a middle-class background.”

Heimbach’s father, who did not return calls for comment, was a history teacher at the local high school in Poolesville, Maryland. The town’s population is 5,000, almost 90 percent of whom are white and with a median family income of $150,000, nearly double the state median, according to the Maryland Department of Planning.

At Poolesville High, Heimbach became interested in history and learned about Maryland’s seditious side during the Civil War. Although Maryland never seceded from the Union, its proximity and ties to the South were well known. Its state song, “Maryland My Maryland,” was written in 1861 at the start of the Civil War and includes a lyric about how the state “spurns the Northern scum.”

Poolesville was founded by a man named John Poole, whose house is now a historic site in town. According to Heimbach, there is a framed quote on the wall in the house from a Union commander that reads: “Poolesville was most treasonous town in the entire south.”

During high school, Heimbach also discovered Confederate ancestors in his family tree and claimed that Poolesville had voted for segregationist George Wallace repeatedly. According to the Montgomery County Board of Elections, which could only locate polling going back to the 1976 presidential primaries the last time Wallace ran for President, Poolesville cast only 29 votes for him out of a total of about 400. However, there is evidence of a local Poolesville group that tried to stop desegregation there in 1956.

“There was a huge part of our local history that was ignored based on political correctness,” said Heimbach.

After high school, he attended Montgomery College just 30 minutes away from his hometown of Poolesville. It was where he began to despise what he called the “social justice warriors”on campus. By the time he transferred to Towson University in 2011, Maryland’s liberal side had gotten under his skin.

“If you can’t make it at Towson with political differences, you can’t make it anywhere,” said Richard Vatz, the Towson professor who briefly served as a faculty adviser to a student group Heimbach started there called Youth for Western Civilization.

Heimbach saw it differently. “Towson was Montgomery College on steroids,” he said.

So was it old vs. new Maryland that led Heimbach to be called part of a “hate movement” by a candidate for president?

“More often radicalization is driven by some kind of emotional need,” says James, ”a quest for significance, the need to be someone.”

In response, Heimbach said: “I think that’s dismissive of the legitimate political, economic and social concerns of white millennials.”

Emotional or otherwise, Heimbach’s attention-seeking efforts began in earnest at Towson, where he formed the White Student Union, escalating his race-based provocations by chalking a series of slogans around campus that included, “White Pride,” ‘White Guilt is Over” and ‘Celebrate Your European Heritage.”

Despite Towson’s standing as the safest school in the Maryland collegiate system for crimes per capita in 2014, Heimbach and other members of the White Student Union embarked on campus night patrols in 2013 to prevent black-on-white crime. The ensuing attention included a widely seen profile by Vice Media that landed Heimbach firmly on the larger white nationalist scene.

Upon graduation he doubled down, joining the neo-Confederate League of the South, attending events with the Aryan Terror Brigade and the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. He twice addressed the annual conference hosted by Stormfront, one of the biggest Internet forums for white supremacists and hate speech. He has also traveled abroad, visiting with far-right groups in Europe, including Greece’s Golden Dawn, the Czech Workers’ Party and the New Right Party in Romania.

All of it in apparent preparation for what is happening now, or per Heimbach’s master plan, in 2018.

By then, it will be more clear whether he is the next David Duke, to whom he’s so often compared, or merely as Lenz said: “The consummate glad hander of the racist right.”

 

Wisconsin school nixes reading of book about transgender kid

A southern Wisconsin elementary school canceled a planned reading of a children’s book about a transgender girl after a group threatened to sue.

The Mount Horeb Area School District released a statement saying it would not proceed with its planned reading of I am Jazz, the Capital Times reported. The district said it would give the board of education the opportunity to address a situation for which the district has no current policy.

Earlier in November, the principal of Mount Horeb Primary Center sent a letter to parents saying the book would be read and discussed because the school has a student who identifies as a girl but was born with male anatomy.

“We believe all students deserve respect and support regardless of their gender identity and expression and the best way to foster that respect and support is through educating students about the issue of being transgender,” the letter said.

The Florida-based Liberty Counsel threatened to sue, saying it was contacted by concerned parents. Reading the book would violate parental rights, claimed the Liberty Counsel. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Liberty Counsel as a hate group that advocates for “anti-LGBT discrimination, under the guise of religious liberty.”

In its statement, the district said as it seeks to address the needs of the individual student, it will be mindful of the needs of other students and families. It also said families whose children may be affected will be notified of future actions and the goal is to protect all students from bullying so they can learn together in a safe environment.

Defense counsel representing Kim Davis deemed a hate group

Kim Davis’ lawyer stood onstage in a Washington, D.C., hotel and pointed to a photo on the screen. It showed 100,000 people packed into a Peruvian soccer stadium, Mat Staver told the crowd, all there to pray for the Kentucky clerk battling against gay marriage.

The crowd erupted.

It wasn’t true.

Staver’s firm, the Liberty Counsel, which revealed Davis’ secret meeting with Pope Francis, has been accused by advocacy groups of peddling misrepresentations in the past. Yet it has become the main source of details about the controversial pope meeting.

Online sleuths quickly debunked the Peru story Staver told at the Values Voter Summit, a conference for the conservative Family Research Council. The photo was from a year-old gathering unrelated to Davis, who spent five days in jail for defying a court order and refusing to license gay marriages. Staver could provide no evidence of a massive Davis rally. He called it a mistake and blamed miscommunication with the Peruvian authorities who gave him the photo.

The next day, the firm dropped a bombshell. It said Pope Francis, on his celebrated visit to America, secretly met with Davis. The pope hugged her, thanked her for her courage and told her to “stay strong,” Liberty Counsel said. The Vatican has said the pope had a brief meeting with Davis that should not be seen as support for her stance.

Many on the religious right hail the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which bills itself as a nonprofit committed to “restoring the culture by advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the family.”

“They’re willing to stand up for our rights under the Constitution, they’re not backing down,” said Nick Williams, a probate judge in Alabama who has also pledged never to issue a marriage licenses to a same-sex couple and sought guidance from the Liberty Counsel. Williams compared the federal court system to the tyrannical kings in the Bible: “I’m glad we have a law firm willing to stand up to the kings of our time.”

But critics watched in exasperation as the organization rocketed to national celebrity alongside Davis.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Liberty Counsel as an anti-gay hate group for spreading false information.

“A group that regularly portrays gay people as perverse, diseased pedophiles putting Western civilization at risk are way, way over the line,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the center.

The Liberty Counsel has connected homosexuality to higher rates of promiscuity and incest, Potok said, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. The firm opposes laws banning hate crimes and supports discredited conversion therapies that purport to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Staver once declared that the Boy Scouts would become a “playground for pedophiles” once it allowed gay troop leaders.

Staver, his hair bright white and his ties usually red, contends his quotes were taken out of context and he has legal arguments for the rest: hate crime laws infringe on free speech, he believes, and gay conversion therapies should be available to those who want them because he believes in “personal autonomy.”

“It is irresponsible and reckless to call someone a hate group because you disagree with them,” he said.

He added that he can’t be considered a hater because he loves all of God’s creation.

Williams also came to his defense: the Bible warned that Christians would be persecuted for standing strong for their faith, he noted.

“Jesus told us we would be hated for his name,” he said. “For standing for what we stand for, people will hate us. It happened to the disciples, but it’s also happening today.”

Staver grew up in Florida. He told The Associated Press in a phone interview that his father was an abusive alcoholic who his Catholic mother divorced when he was young. She worked three jobs and raised him alone, he said, and he went through the motions of Catholicism until an evangelical pastor saved him from sin as a young man.

He became a pastor himself in Kentucky, though he shied away from social issues until he saw a film in 1982 about abortion. He resolved to go to law school to fight for traditional family values. He graduated from the University of Kentucky’s law school, moved back to Florida with his wife, Anita, and they started the Liberty Counsel in 1989.

For years they dabbled in causes against abortion, the “War on Christmas” and other hot-button topics in the American culture wars.

In 2000, the firm threatened to sue a Florida library that offered a “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry” certificate to kids who read the Harry Potter book series. Five years later, they sent letters complaining that a Wisconsin elementary school put on a decades-old play called “The Little Christmas Tree,” about a lonely pine searching for a family, which sets a song to the tune of ‘’Silent Night” but does not mention Jesus.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, has called Staver a courageous legal scholar. 

Civil liberties advocates disagree. 

“There is an enormous amount of bluster amid his legal arguments,” said Barry Lynn, a minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who has debated Staver on religious freedom issues. “It looks to me like he’s making claims that will get his clients great publicity, but not necessarily get them victories.”

Staver stands firm on his contributions to American jurisprudence. His firm has been involved in 60 same-sex marriage cases. It has 10 full-time attorneys, and dozens more across the country willing to work for free to promote the cause. In 2013, the firm hauled in more than $4 million, according to tax returns.

As Davis defied a series of federal court orders and was sent to jail, Staver cast her as a heroine called into battle by God. He compared her actions to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. She received 20,000 pieces of mail in jail, he said.

“I’ve lost the ability to be surprised at how easy it is to become the next Joan of Arc,” said Lynn. “When you make heroes out of people who refuse to accept the rule of law and who fail to acknowledge the dignity of other human beings, you are on a very dangerous path.”

Staver said the meeting with the pope validates his arguments about Davis’ rights to conscientious objection. He rejects even the suggestion he might wake up one day and discover himself on the wrong side of history.

Last week, he showed the crowd at the Values Voter Summit the photo of the imaginary Peruvian prayer rally and declared its significance in the battle against Christian oppression.

“That, my friends, is happening around the world,” he said. “When one person stands it has an impact and Kim Davis will continue to stand for her lord and savior Jesus Christ.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence betrayed his state as well as his own beliefs

Of all the headlines about Indiana’s discriminatory anti-gay law, The Onion had the best: “Indiana Governor Insists New Law Has Nothing To Do With Thing It Explicitly Intended To Do.”

Throughout the ordeal surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Gov. Mike Pence insisted it was never designed to provide a legal right to discriminate against LGBT people. But the company he keeps and his history on the issue suggest otherwise.

For proof, look no further than the people who surrounded Pence as he privately signed the bill into law.

Standing directly behind him was Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana. The American Family Association has been labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for spreading mistruths that demonize LGBT people and incite violence toward them. An AFA “action alert” in 2012 typifies the group’s rhetoric. It said, in part: “Homosexuality is a poor and dangerous choice and has been proven to lead to a litany of health hazards to not only the individuals but to society as a whole.”

It’s unlikely that Pence would invite someone from a group that made similar statements about white men to a bill signing.

Also standing near Pence was anti-gay activist Eric Miller, executive director of Advance America. In praising Pence for signing the bill, Advance America exposed the law’s true intentions by crowing that the law would allow wedding vendors to refuse to serve same-sex couples and allow Christian businesses to refuse transgender people access to restrooms.

Pence’s record while serving in the U.S. House of Representatives also reflects his anti-gay bias. The Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBT lobbying group that rates lawmakers based on their votes on equality issues, awarded Pence a zero for every legislative session from 2005 to 2012.

As is generally the case with bigots, Pence doesn’t like other minority groups either. The NAACP awarded him a zero to 5 percent rating over the same time period. Both the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the National Council of La Raza awarded him zeros.

In the backlash over Indiana’s discriminatory law, Pence repeatedly claimed it was no different from laws in other states or from a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton. If that were the case, then why was Pence compelled by a backlash over the law to add an amendment specifically stating that it couldn’t be used to discriminate against gays? No one else who signed a religious freedom act was compelled to do that. And why are his former Christian-right supporters so angry with him over that amendment?

The federal law was designed to prevent government from interfering with people’s practice of their faiths. For instance, it prevents government from prohibiting the use of peyote by Native Americans in their religious ceremonies. Most of the religious freedom laws in other states are based on that model, and many states with such laws specifically protect LGBT people from discrimination. Tellingly, Pence made it clear that he would never support such a law in Indiana.

Pence and other religious fundamentalists are frustrated by the legalization of same-sex marriage and they’re unleashing a string of such laws to push back against what we see as social progress. They’re certain that they’re doing what God wants then to do.

Given their certainty, why did Pence deny the law’s obvious intentions? He shamed himself with those denials. He betrayed his state by tarnishing its image and he betrayed his faith by refusing to stand behind it.

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KKK calls for shooting children at border

The leader of a U.S. hate group says he wants to see corpses at the southern border as a way of protecting the United States from children seeking refuge in the United States.

Robert Jones, described as the Imperial Wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, gave an interview to Al Jazeera America dressed in his KKK robes on the subject of immigrant children threatening the “white homeland.”

Jones, in the interview that caught the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the president had “sold out the American people.”

He also said, “If we can’t turn them back, I think if we pop a couple of them off and leave their corpses laying at the border maybe they’ll see we’re serious about stopping immigration.”

Jones claimed that African-Americans in the United States are “waking up to this illegal immigration problem” and “agreeing with the Klan.”

SPLC, meanwhile, reported that right-wing militia members armed with assault rifles are again on border patrols.

Global anti-gay hate organization to meet in Salt Lake City

An international anti-gay hate group will hold its first worldwide conference in the U.S. next year — a four-day gathering in Utah.

The Rockford, Illinois-based World Congress of Families has about 40 partner organizations, including the Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America. The organization says it brings together people of different religions and ethnicities to promote the “natural human family,” which it defines as a man and woman raising children with love and discipline.

The organization canceled this year’s international conference in Moscow due to turmoil related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

It chose Salt Lake City for its October 2015 gathering over St. Louis and Atlanta because it is an international city with experience hosting the Olympics, said Larry Jacobs, the group’s managing director. The conference is expected to draw about 3,000 people.

The Sutherland Institute, a public policy think tank in Utah that advocates for conservative values, put in the bid and is leading the event planning, Jacobs said. The World Congress of Families also will hold a smaller, regional conference in Salt Lake City this fall.

Its previous events have been in Madrid, Amsterdam, Warsaw, Poland, Mexico City, Geneva, Sydney and Prague.

Gay rights activists have won 18 cases in federal and state courts across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last summer.

Utah became one of the focal points for the same-sex marriage movement after a federal judge threw out its ban in December. An appeals court recently upheld that ruling, and the state plans to appeal.

The World Congress of Families opposes homosexuality and abortion, and is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups for its anti-LGBT views.

The Human Rights Campaign, which supports gay rights and gay marriage, is an outspoken critic of the organization. Ty Cobb, HRC’s director of global engagement, said the World Congress of Families is a network of extremist groups that has been working to promote anti-LGBT rhetoric and legislation abroad, including in Russia and several African countries.

Cobb called Salt Lake City a strange choice for the worldwide conference.

“Whatever the World Congress of Families may believe in their head about the values of people of Salt Lake City, they are wrong,” Cobb said. “The values of the people of Salt Lake City are ones that promote inclusivity.”

Unintentional legacy: Did Fred Phelps’ hate campaign help drive LGBT equality?

Fred Phelps Sr. led his small Topeka church for more than two decades in a bellicose crusade against gays and lesbians, saying they were worthy of death and openly declaring – often at military funerals – that the U.S. was doomed because of its tolerance of homosexuality.

But in targeting grieving families of troops killed overseas, taunting people entering other churches and carrying signs with anti-gay slurs and vulgar language or symbols, Phelps and his Westboro Baptist congregation created public circuses that may have helped the gay rights movement.

Following Phelps’ death on March 19 at age 84, some gay-rights advocates suggested that he and his church inadvertantly helped improve public opinion and acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Religious leaders who oppose gay marriage also said the pastor’s tactics clouded the debate over such issues and put them on the defensive in discussing both policy and faith.

“The world lost someone who did a whole lot more for the LGBT community than we realize or understand,” said Cathy Renna, a longtime consultant to LGBT groups. “He has brought along allies who are horrified by the hate. So his legacy will be exactly the opposite of what he dreamed.”

Phelps founded the church in the 1950s, and it has drawn much of its small congregation from his extended family. Its rise to national and even international notoriety began in the early 1990s, as it picketed against gays and lesbians, then protested funerals of AIDS victims and, eventually, fallen soldiers.

The protests sparked outrage, with the federal government and lawmakers in more than 40 states passing specific laws to limit the protests and local residents using various tactics – including lining up to block views of the protesters – to protect grieving families.

Conservative religious leaders regularly denounced Phelps, worried that his relentless attacks would be perceived as representing the Christian case against same-sex relationships. At the 2003 annual Southern Baptist Convention, leaders spent a session drawing a distinction between their opposition to same-sex unions and Phelps’ protests.

Phelps called his church Baptist but had no ties with the Southern Baptist Convention or any other mainstream Baptist group.

“Westboro Baptist is to Baptist Christianity what the “Book of Mormon” Broadway play was to the Latter-Day Saints,” said the Rev. Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission. “They were kind of a performance art of vitriolic hatred rather than any kind of religious organization.”

Phelps professed not to care what anyone thought of his church. He said in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press that no minister could “preach the Bible” without preaching God’s hate. Westboro spokesman Steve Drain said in an email a few days before Phelps’ death that the church’s doctrines weren’t changing.

“The church of the Lord Jesus Christ does not rise or fall with any man – in fact, the Lord doesn’t need ANY of us,” Drain wrote. “Any nation that embraces that sin as an `innocent’ lifestyle can expect to incur the wrath of God.”

Some LGBT rights advocates argued that Phelps and his congregation were problematic for the religious right because they said what social conservatives truly believed but were careful not to publicly express.

“Fred was a loathsome creature,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of the gay-rights group Truth Wins Out. “But I’ll say one nice thing about him: He’s the only honest person on the religious right I’ve ever met.”

Phelps often reserved especially caustic comments for evangelical Christians and Catholics who view homosexual behavior as sinful but also preach that God also loves and reaches out to gays and lesbians. Phelps dismissed them as “enablers,” and his congregation often picketed their churches.

The Rev. Terry Fox, a Southern Baptist minister who’s pastor of Wichita’s non-denominational-leaning Summit Church, once felt compelled to apologize for Phelps’ shocking behavior on television. Fox called Phelps “a false prophet” and said Satan “greatly used him.” Fox was prominent in a successful effort in 2005 to persuade voters to amend the Kansas Constitution to ban gay marriage and said Phelps “was an embarrassment” but had “become the face of Christian work in Kansas.”

Michael Schuttloffel, executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said Phelps and his congregation still represent “an easy device” for gay-marriage supporters to “short-circuit the conversation” on that and related issues in recent years.

“People were justifiably, appropriately outraged by the things that they did,” Schuttloffel said of Phelps and his church. “As soon as someone, then, is able to tar you as being related to them or thinking the same way as them, right away you’re starting behind the eight ball.”

LGBT rights advocates, meanwhile, were assessing Phelps’ place in the history of their movement.

“An obscene footnote” is how Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading gay-rights group, believes Phelps and his followers will be remembered. Witt said progress began well before Westboro’s protests and will continue long after Phelps’ death.

However, James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledged that he eventually saw Phelps’ protests as helping his own movement.

“He would show up with his extreme anti-gay views, and a bunch of people in the middle would think, `If that’s what it means to be anti-gay, I want no part of it,'” Esseks said.

The Rev. Fred Phelps, founder of anti-gay Westboro church, dies

The Rev. Fred Phelps Sr., who founded a Kansas church widely known for its protests at military funerals and hateful anti-gay sentiments, has died.

Phelps, 84, was being cared for in the days before his death at a Shawnee County facility, Westboro Baptist Church spokesman Steve Drain said.

Shirley Phelps-Roper told The Capital-Journal in Topeka this morning that her father died late Wednesday.

Members of the Westboro church, based in Topeka, frequently protest at funerals of soldiers with signs containing messages such as “Thank God for dead soldiers,” and “Thank God for 9/11,” claiming the deaths are God’s punishment for American immorality and tolerance of homosexuality and abortion.

Westboro Baptist, a small group made mostly of Phelps’ extended family, inspired a federal law and laws in numerous states limiting picketing at funerals. But in a major free-speech ruling in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the church and its members couldn’t be sued for monetary damages for inflicting pain on grieving families under the First Amendment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil-rights nonprofit group, has called Westboro Baptist Church a hate group. On its website, the SPLC described Phelps as “America’s most notorious anti-gay activist. On his ‘God Hates Fags’ website and in tracts sent from his church compound in Topeka, Kan., Phelps and his congregation — composed mainly of his extended family — pump out reams of anti-gay material, much of it so vulgar that many anti-gay activists complain that Phelps has given them a bad name. Phelps and his followers have crisscrossed the country to picket the funerals of AIDs victims and engage in other, similar protests. But it is his group’s picketing of the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq — to tell the world, as Phelps argues, that their deaths are God’s punishment for America’s ‘fag-enabling’ ways — that has inspired almost universal revulsion and contempt.”

In a pamphlet for the church, Phelps said, “America is doomed for its acceptance of homosexuality. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for going after fornication and homosexuality then why wouldn’t God destroy America for the same thing?”

In a 1996 press release for a demonstration at a synagogue, Phelps said, “Rabbi Lawrence Karol is an apostate Jew who denies the faith of his fathers, militantly promotes the anal-copulating agenda of Topeka’s filthy fag community, and persecutes the Lord’s people just as his vermin ancestors did in killing the Lord Jesus Christ and their own prophets and persecuting the apo[s]tles of Christ. Hence they live filthy lives of sexual perversion, greed, violence, and oppression of the Lord’s people. This is why the vile Jews of Temple Beth Sholom promote sodomy and persecute Baptists.”

The SPLC said Phelps, since 1951, was arrested multiple times for “assault, battery, threats, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and contempt of court. He has been convicted four times, as well as disbarred, but has successfully avoided prison.”

Phelps was born in Mississippi in 1929. He dropped out of classes at Bob Jones University in 1947 and made his first news splash in 1952, when, as a street preacher, he was profiled for crusading against “dirty” humor.

Phelps eventually earned a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, and positioned himself as career as a civil rights lawyer. But he was, according to the SPLC, disbarred in Kansas in 1979 for perjury. He ceased practicing in federal courts in 1989, as the result of a plea deal that followed repeated complaints about false testimony.

Phelps began what would become a national anti-gay crusase in the late 1980s in Topeka, where his church was situated in a small compound.

Nate Phelps, an estranged son of Fred Phelps, told The Associated Press in a phone interview earlier this week that members of Westboro voted his father out of the church last summer, apparently “after some kind of falling out.”

Nate Phelps, who broke away from the church 37 years ago, said church members became concerned afterward that his father might harm himself and moved him out of the church, where he and his wife had lived for years. Fred Phelps was moved into a house, stopped eating and then was moved into hospice care, Nate Phelps said.

The estranged son was in contact with other family members who are also estranged from the church and said two of them managed to visit his father earlier this month.

With news of the minister’s failing health, Kansas’ leading gay-rights group urged the gay community to respect the privacy of the “notoriously anti-LGBT” pastor and his family.

Phelps and the members of his church have “harassed” the grieving families of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Kansans and others, Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said in a prepared statement.

But Witt added: “This is our moment as a community to rise above the sorrow, anger, and strife he sowed, and to show the world we are caring and compassionate people who respect the privacy and dignity of all.”

Nate Phelps said he has no doubt some people would want to protest his father’s funeral but added, “I wish they wouldn’t.”

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Feds seek 45-year sentence for attack on right-wing group’s HQ

Prosecutors say a Virginia man who planned a mass killing at the Washington headquarters of a conservative Christian lobbying group should spend 45 years in prison for his plot.

Prosecutors filed a court document late last week that recommends the 45-year sentence for Floyd Corkins II.

A security guard subdued Corkins in the lobby of the anti-gay Family Research Council in August after he pointed a pistol at the man. Corkins fired three shots, and the guard was the only one wounded. Corkins, who was carrying nearly 100 rounds of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, later told authorities that he had planned to kill as many people as possible and then to smear the sandwiches on their faces as a political statement.

Chick-fil-A was making headlines at the time because of its president’s stated opposition to gay marriage and the companies devout support – verbally and financially – for anti-gay efforts. The Family Research Council also opposes equal rights for gays, and police officers who responded to the shooting scene reported Corkins said he didn’t like the group or what it stands for.

The government said in making its recommendation that if not for the security guard’s actions, Corkins “would have almost certainly succeeded in committing a massacre of epic portions.”

“Although the defendant largely failed to bring about the violence he sought, he was still able to accomplish one of his objectives – that is, to use acts of violence to terrorize and intimidate those within the District of Columbia and the United States who did not share his political beliefs and views,” government attorneys wrote.

Corkins, 28, told authorities he initially wanted to make a bomb but did not have the patience. He bought a gun in Virginia the week before the shooting and received private firearms training the night before his attack.

When Corkins was arrested, he was carrying a list of four socially conservative organizations written on a piece of paper printed with the Bible verse, “With God all things are possible.” He told authorities that if he had not been caught at the Family Research Council he planned to go to the next organization on his list and shoot there as well. Prosecutors did not release the list of organizations. They said about 50 people were working inside the Family Research Council when Corkins arrived.

Corkins pleaded guilty to three charges in February: interstate transportation of a firearm, assault with intent to kill while armed and committing an act of terrorism while armed. The first charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison and the two other charges carry a maximum 30 years in prison.

Sentencing is currently set for April 29, though Corkins’ defense attorneys asked on April 22 to delay it so they can have additional time to get and look at his mental health records.