Gov. Rick Perry’s planned Aug. 6 day of prayer and fasting, “the Response,” has garnered a range or reactions over the last month, from Houston clergy expressing concern about the blurring of lines between church and state, to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force decrying the rally as “profoundly harmful.” What almost every denouncement of “the Response” has in common is shock that the governor would align himself with the American Family Association, an organization listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
For those who’ve followed Perry’s political career closely, however, his connections with a notorious hate group are just par for the course.
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a pro-bono legal firm and civil rights advocacy group. Since shortly after its founding in 1971 the SPLC has declared certain groups “hate groups” based on the groups’ perpetuation of inaccurate and harmful information about communities fighting for their civil rights. In the case of anti-gay groups the SPLC places organizations on the list of hate groups for “their propagation of known falsehoods — claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities — and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”
Perry publicly aligned himself with the AFA as early as 2005, when AFA founder Don Wildmon was invited to participate in a signing ceremony celebrating the passage of Texas’ constitutional amendment defining marriage as between “one man and one woman.” The governor’s signature is not required on constitutional amendments. In fact, the executive branch of Texas government can neither propose nor approve constitutional provisions. That didn’t stop Perry from conducting a media event designed to take credit for the amendment’s passage. Perry selected Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Worth as the venue for the event, despite concerns that holding an (albeit superfluous) government ceremony in a religious facility strayed dangerously close to violating the separation between church and state. Also invited to the ceremony was former Louisiana State Rep. Tony Perkins, president of another group on the SPLC’s list, the Family Research Council.
The Family Research Council was formally a part of founder James Dobson’s far-right media empire, Focus on the Family. In 1992 the organizations formally split due to concerns that FRC’s political activities might endanger Focus on the Family’s nonprofit status, but the two groups retain close ties, with Dobson serving on both organizations’ boards (both Dobson as an individual and FRC as an organization would go on to endorse Perry in the 2010 election). Perkins has served as the FRC’s president since 2003.
One of the speakers before Perry’s extraneous signing of the amendment was Rod Parsley, a Pentecostal faith healer and televangelist. Parlsey provided the audience with several “facts” about homosexuality: “Only 1 percent of the homosexual population in America will die of old age,” said Parsley. “The average life expectancy for a homosexual in the United States of America is 43 years of age. A lesbian can only expect to live to be 45 years of age. Homosexuals represent 2 percent of the population, yet today they’re carrying 60 percent of the known cases of syphilis.”
Although Parsley gave no source for his supposed “facts,” the information is taken from a widely discredited study conducted in 1994 by the Family Research Institute, another hate group on the SPLC’s list. The FRI is headed by Dr. Paul Cameron. Cameron’s numerous discredited studies attacking LGBT people have earned him the scorn of the scientific community, losing him his membership in both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association (the ASA said Parsley “consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality and lesbianism”).
As Parsley presented his “facts,” Gov. Perry smiled in tacit approval, later beaming when Parsley went on to thank him for “protecting the children of Texas from the gay agenda.” Neither the governor nor any other organization involved in the signing ceremony issued a retraction or apologized for disseminating misinformation.
Perry’s inclusion of the AFA and FRC in his faux signing ceremony helped elevate the national profile of both organizations. In 2008, when Perry published his book, On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Worth Fighting For, he would turn to both organizations for help with its promotion. On My Honor presents the history of the Boy Scouts as grand myth, complete with divine intervention guiding lost travelers through the fog so they can meet and preserve an institution that Perry claims is crucial to American prosperity. However, the real purpose of the book is to decry what Perry sees as a “legal assault” on the Boy Scouts, namely the efforts to remove taxpayer support of the Scouts so long as they maintain their discriminatory policies against LGBT people. Both the AFA’s Wildmon and Ken Blackwell, senior fellow at the FRC, provided glowing promotional quotes for the book which can still be read on the official website.
Perry reunited with the AFA and the FRC in September 2009 when he was a featured speaker at the “Value Voters Summit,” co-sponsored by both groups and another group on the SPLC’s hate list: the Traditional Values Coalition. Founded in 1980, the TVC claims to speak on behalf of 43,000 churches and lobbies in opposition to LGBT rights and reproductive freedom. Founder Lou Sheldon was quoted in a 1992 Washington Times article as saying: “Homosexuals are dangerous. They proselytize. They come to the door, and if your son answers and nobody is there to stop it, they grab the son and run off with him. They steal him. They take him away and turn him into a homosexual.” Sheldon disputes the quote. The TVC dismisses concern about suicide by LGBT teens on its website, claiming “teens who are struggling with homosexual feelings are more likely to be sexually molested by a homosexual school counselor or teacher than to commit suicide over their feelings of despair.”
In his speech at the Values Voters Summit, Perry trotted out the old conservative war horses of family values and small government conservatism. He also took the opportunity in his speech to make a most peculiar reading suggestion: The Five Thousand Year Leap by Cleon Skousen. Skousen is the founder of the ubiquitously named National Center for Constitutional Studies. Last spring the SPLC wrote an extensive profile of the NCCS and its attempts to rewrite American history to conform to an apocalyptic vision based on fringe Mormon theology.
The Five Thousand Year Leap, which Fox “news” commentator Glen Beck described as “divinely inspired,” lays out a strategy for turning the U.S. into 50 loosely confederated theocracies with little to no federal government. Six years after the book’s 1981 publication, Skousen revised and condensed its claims in a book titled The Miracle of America. In Miracle, Skousen described the white slave owners of America’s ante bellum south as the “worst victims” of slavery, labeled African-American children as “pickaninnies” and expressed sympathy for southerners who defended “white civilization” from the threat of slave revolts.
Both Leap and Miracle are still published by the NCCS. Recent editions, however, have had the most overtly racist passages excised.
Considering Perry’s close ties with the FRC, it’s no surprise that he received their endorsement in the 2009 governor’s race. They joined a long list of far-right organizations and leaders including the state director of the Texas chapter of Concerned Women for America, Ann Hettinger. CWA is not considered a hate group by the SPLC, but has been profiled in the SPLC publication Intelligence Report due to their homophobic propaganda. In 2009, the same year Perry accepted the endorsement of their state director, the CWA’s national office accused the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) of recruiting children, warning “teaching students from a young age that the homosexual lifestyle is perfectly natural … will [cause them to] develop into adults who are desensitized to the harmful, immoral reality of sexual deviance.”
Hettinger’s endorsement makes sense in light of Perry’s assistance in promoting the CWA. In 2008, when Perry held a press conference to promote the creation of a Texas “Choose Life” license plate, he did so with representatives of the CWA by his side. Perry’s prepared speech for the event specifically mentions the CWA and his pleasure at their attendance. That seems to be a pattern for Perry. He’ll invite a group like the AFA, FRC or CWA to one of his press events, talk them up and help them receive public attention. Then, or within the next few years, he enthusiastically accepts that group’s endorsement for public office.
“The Response ” is different than Rick Perry’s other partnerships with hate groups. While comparable in scale to the 2009 Values Voters Summit, and similar in sponsorship to the 2005 staged “signing ceremony,” the timing of this event is unique. In the past Perry seems to have reserved his associations with the likes of the AFA, FRC, FRI, TVC, NCCS and CWA for years that led up to the Texas gubernatorial races in 2006 and 2010. Perry doesn’t face re-election again until 2014, so why is he brushing up his far-right bona-fides so early?
Rumors persist that Perry plans to enter the 2012 presidential race, and he did nothing to quash them by saying he is “thinking about” running. If he does run, this partnership with the AFA would be consistent with his previous campaign pattern. When media commentators warn that the Aug. 6 event in Houston is a precursor to Perry running for president, it’s this pattern they are noticing. If Perry runs it’s a safe bet that the AFA and the other organizations co-sponsoring the event will reward him for his promotional assistance with endorsements. It’s also a safe bet that Perry will use the homophobia of the AFA’s members to scare them into voting for him.