Neo-Confederate Group Forms Paramilitary Unit—While Claiming It Isn’t

Michael Hill, president of the theocratic, White nationalist League of the South, has been escalating his threats of violence in recent months. As PRA has previously reported, Hill has gone so far as to call for the formation of death squads to target government officials and journalists of whom he does not approve. Hill now claims he was misunderstood—even as fresh evidence of his violent intentions has surfaced.

michael hill, league of the south

Michael Hill

In an essay published on the League’s web site on September 2nd, Hill does not quite deny that he meant what he said about violence, but he now claims he was just discussing ideas, and that the progressive writers who noticed his deadly assertions are “bedwetting” and “whining.”

Let’s look again at what he wrote.

Free men,” he declares, have the right not only to own guns, but to form militias in response to tyrannical governments. (And of course, he has many times stated that the government of the US is tyrannical.) He also says that since it would be impossible for the citizens to fight a conventional war against the police and the military, that a modern theory of guerrilla war known as “Fourth Generation Warfare” makes the most sense.

Here are his unambiguous words:

“As the Founders made explicit… the right to keep and bear arms is not really about hunting and sport shooting. Rather, it is about the citizens— the militia—having enough firepower to control their government if it should fall into the hands of tyrants….

In 4Gen Warfare the lines between the military and the political, economic, cultural, and social are blurred past the point of recognition. To oversimplify, the primary targets will not be enemy soldiers; instead, they will be political leaders, members of the hostile media, cultural icons, bureaucrats, and other of the managerial elite without whom the engines of tyranny don’t run.

4Gen Warfare doesn’t require that the populace be armed equal to the military and law enforcement. In fact, having such firepower, with few exceptions (such as full-auto “assault weapons,” silencers, and a handful of other esoteric toys), would be a logistical and tactical burden to the common 3- to 5-man group so common in this type of warfare.”

He concluded, “’Blessed be the Lord my strength who teaches my hands to war and my fingers to fight.’—Psalm 144:1”

But all this, he claims in his response to critics, was really just a discussion of the nature of 4th generation warfare, adding: “I’ll challenge all you bedwetting progs [sic] with this. You find proof that The League of the South is forming paramilitary “death squads” and then get back to your readership with it.”

Of course, what we had reported was that Hill had called for the formation of such groups, not that he had already done so.

However, on September 5th, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Ryan Lenz reported that the League had been organizing a secret paramilitary unit for months. They call themselves, “The Indomitables.” This, Lenz writes, follows “years of escalating and violent rhetoric from the League as well as a search for more ideologically extreme white nationalists to enliven their membership –– a pattern that has been ongoing since 2007, when the LOS national conference was titled ‘Southern Secession: Antidote to Empire and Tyranny.’”

The Indomitables unit features White supremacist military veterans, notably the League’s Florida chapter Chairman Michael Tubbs, who is a former Green Beret, demolitions expert, and convicted felon. He was released from prison in 1995, having served about four years.

Hill appointed Tubbs as his “Chief of Staff” in June of this year.

Tubbs has a long history of racism and criminal activity, as documented in 2004 by Mark Potok in Intelligence Report magazine:

“In 1987, prosecutors say Sgt. First Class Michael R. Tubbs and another Army Green Beret, toting automatic weapons fitted with silencers and dressed completely in black, robbed two fellow soldiers of their M-16 rifles during a routine exercise at Fort Bragg, N.C. ‘This is for the KKK,’ the holdup men shouted as they fled….

Ultimately, five caches of weapons were found, including machine guns, 25 pounds of TNT, land mines, an anti-aircraft machine gun, grenades, booby traps, 45 pounds of C- 4 plastic explosive and more. (Authorities believe that the arsenal was stolen from Fort Bragg and Fort Campbell, Ky.)

They also found notes written by Tubbs that showed that he and his brother, John Tubbs, were setting up a violently racist group called the Knights of the New Order. Officials said Michael Tubbs had drawn up lists of targets including newspapers, television stations and businesses owned by Jews and blacks.

There was even a group pledge authored by Tubbs: ‘I dedicate my heart to oppose the enemies of my race, my nation and the New Order. … I dedicate my life from this moment forward to fostering the welfare of the white Aryan race.'”

Try as he might to divert our attention by debating definitions and name calling–Hill has been caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar. He called for the formation of guerrilla paramilitary units while simultaneously claiming he and the League were not.

Image from the League of the South's Florida Chapter's Facebook page

Image from the League of the South’s Florida Chapter’s Facebook page

Hill concluded his September 5th post:

“Even if we are –– and you really have no idea on earth if we are or not ––setting up a Southern militia or some other form of paramilitary organization, we are doing nothing that free men have not done for centuries. Deal with it and stop your whining.”

Hill would also rather not have us recall his other recent call for for violence–on which PRA also reported.

In a July 25th essay, Hill called on the young men of “Christendom” to become “citizen-soldiers” in the battles against the tyranny of our time. He sees himself and his comrades as part of a long line of such men, invoking historic battles with Islamic armies going back to the Battle of Tours in the 8th century. His role models for warriors for Christendom, however, are the White Westerners who fought against Black liberation movements in Southern Africa in the 1970s.

So if Western men in past times were willing to fight for their civilization in remote areas of the world,” he asked, “shouldn’t we expect them to be just as willing to fight for that civilization here at its very heart—the South?”

The traditions and truths of Western Christendom are anathema to the [Obama] regime,” he concluded. “The tyrants’ regime and Western Christendom cannot co-exist—that is not possible. One must win and the other must disappear. It is indeed the ultimate Zero Sum game.”

Hill knows that history teaches us that small groups of determined revolutionaries can wreak havoc. And he has made his intentions clear.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Resisting Culture Warriors Down Under: How Australian Activists Fought Back Against the World Congress of Families

According to one of the activists who successfully infiltrated last weekend’s World Congress of Families (WCF) event in Melbourne, Australia, Larry Jacobs—vice president of the U.S.-based Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society and managing director of the WCF—said that what’s going on in Russia and Uganda is “very exciting.”

He’s referring, of course, to the Anti-Propaganda Law in Russia and the Anti-Homosexuality Act (formerly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill”) in Uganda, as well as—no doubt—the equally regressive measures taken against sexual and reproductive health & rights (SRHR) in both countries.

To depict the persecution of LGBTQ people and the elimination of SRHR as “exciting” is to suggest that the steady erosion of human rights is like a sporting event that Jacobs happens to be a spectating, and his callous portrayal of legislation that effectively robs people of their safety, dignity, and freedom very clearly demonstrates the need for human rights advocates around the world to get out of their seats and onto the field.

In any case, Jacobs is far from being an innocent spectator in the ground game of global attacks on LGBTQ people and SRHR. In a Mother Jones article published earlier this year, Hannah Levintova writes, “[T]he rise of anti-gay laws in Russia has mirrored, almost perfectly, the rise of WCF’s work in the country, with 13 new anti-gay laws passed since Jacobs first traveled there. When I ask Jacobs if WCF’s work has contributed to this pattern, he laughs and says, ‘Yes, I think that is accurate.’”

The World Congress of Families was founded in 1997 by Allan Carlson and is a project of The Howard Center based in Rockford, Illinois. The network of organizations that comprise its member base is essentially the who’s who of right-wing power players leading the charge against LGBTQ people and reproductive justice around the world.

Though it asserts itself as an international network, WCF’s Board of Directors is entirely U.S.-based and the vast majority of their support comes from the American Religious Right, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, United Families International, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and Concerned Women for America.

The organization aggressively pursues a global anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda. WCF’s articulated “purpose” is to “defend the family and to guide public policy and cultural norms,” particularly concerning “divorce, devaluation of parenting, declining family time, morally relativistic public education, confusions over sexual identity, promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, poverty, human trafficking, violence against women, child abuse, isolation of the elderly, excessive taxation and below-replacement fertility.”

Though much of their rhetoric is dominated by threats and warnings, occasionally, suggestions (completely lacking in any sort of research or reality-based backing) emerge. At the Melbourne gathering, for example, Jacobs told his audience, “We have to find the truth, and the truth says that statistically there is no better place for a child to be [than a conventional family]. Ninety per cent of poverty can be solved simply through the affirmation of marriage.”

Their dispersal of conservative ideologies largely takes place at international conferences, or “Congresses,” which have steadily increased in size and funding. These events have also served to build WCF’s international influence by bringing together elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, and scholars from around the world.

 

sorry no vacancy

This most recent event was a smaller, regional gathering, but Australian human rights advocates rightfully treated it like the extreme threat that it is. A coalition of organizers and activists from a broad range of progressive struggles teamed up to expose, resist, and contain the influence of the WCF in Australia, utilizing a range of tactics and strategies:

  • In order to prevent conservative participants from attending, activists RSVP’d en masse to limit the number of available seats for actual interested parties.
  • Negative publicity instigated by activists forced four different venues to back out of hosting the event, creating mayhem for the event’s organizers as they were forced to repeatedly create alternate plans.
  • Adding to the mayhem, activists also launched a pressure campaign targeting the handful of Australian politicians who were scheduled to participate in the conference. Less than a day before the event was scheduled to begin, most of them pulled out, including social services minister Kevin Andrews, who was set to receive WCF’s “Natural Family Man of the Year” award.
  • The event itself, which did eventually find a willing host (of the right-wing variety, of course), was further disrupted by a large-scale “Unwelcome Ceremony,” a family-friendly “Block Party Against Hate,” human blockades aimed at preventing participants from entering the venue, and direct action protests inside coordinated by activists who successfully infiltrated the space.

Since PRA first began exposing the exportation of U.S. culture wars in 2009, we’ve been working closely with human rights advocates around the world to expand the conversation beyond the crisis on the ground in places like Uganda and Russia, where LGBTQ people are being increasingly persecuted and reproductive justice is under constant attack.

As our understanding and analysis of the global impact of right-wing U.S. evangelical Christians—like those involved with WCF—has begun to gain national and international attention, LGBTQ people, progressive faith leaders, human rights advocates, and many others are increasingly asking the inevitable question, “What can we do?”

Australian activists have just offered us a beautiful template.

Our research has repeatedly demonstrated that the crisis of today is made possible by years and years of systematic, targeted, and carefully choreographed campaigns designed to restrict bodily autonomy, propagate restrictive definitions for family, love, and relationship, and persecute LGBTQ people. Consequently, for us to achieve the liberation that we dream of, the response to the question, “What can we do?” requires a similar level of planning, organization, creativity, and commitment, built on a strong foundation of deep understanding and thoughtful analysis rooted in intersectional approaches to collective liberation.

The World Congress of Families will be hosting their next major gathering here in the U.S., in Salt Lake City, Utah in October 2015. What can we do to ensure that the true nature of their work is made known and their impact—both locally and internationally—is restricted?

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Sticks and Cages, Carrots & Cash: The Right’s Racist Assaults on Reproductive Freedom

This post is the fourth in a five-part series examining the U.S. Right’s efforts to alter demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics. (Read parts one, two, and three.) Today, I continue to discuss the U.S. Right’s coercive attempts to limit the fertility of people of color, an egregious affront to reproductive justice. This segment covers private and state mechanisms for preventing poor people of color, particularly Black women, from having children.  

As shown in the most recent post in this series, institutions like hospitals and other health care providers—generally regarded as unequivocally positive presences among White communities—often cast a much more violent shadow over communities of color. Similarly, White communities typically experience police officers as their protectors, while the same forces can pose a constant and lethal threat to law-abiding Black communities. People of color are also disproportionately likely to be ensnared in institutions designed to exert control without any veil of benevolence. Because mainstream narratives situate Black and Brown bodies as dangerous, as somehow oppositional or threatening to White American identity and nationhood, the state project of containing people of color is normalized and accepted as legitimate. Unspeakably inhumane apparatuses are thus widely regarded as necessary. Of the institutions violently managing Black and Brown bodies and populations (in every sense of both terms), mass incarceration likely looms largest.

The criminal justice system deploys a variety of methods to deny incarcerated people their rights to have children, and because mass incarceration is a racist project, African American people bear the brunt of this punishment. (Significantly, incarceration itself fundamentally obstructs the right to parent, making it a critical reproductive justice issue.) One such method is deliberately handing a woman a sentence likely to extend through her procreative years; another is forcing people convicted of certain crimes to “choose” between serving jail time and adopting long-acting contraceptive use; another is shifting parental rights over newborns to foster or adoptive parents; and another still is the practice of shunting people into carceral institutions distant from their communities and their partners. Additionally, incarcerated people’s access to reproductive health care tends to be abysmal. In some prisons and jails, the problem is not just the absence or insufficiency of care, but also procedures that are undertaken without informed consent.

A study by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) found that between 2006 and 2010, nearly 150 people (if not more) held in California state prisons were sterilized under coercion and without legally mandated state approval. Christina Cordero, who received an unauthorized tubal ligation while incarcerated, said the prison OB-GYN persistently recommended that she undergo the procedure, making her “feel like a bad mother if [she] didn’t do it.” Kimberly Jeffrey, a Black woman who was also sterilized while incarcerated, reported being “pressured by a doctor while sedated and strapped to a surgical table for a C-section” (emphasis added). Jeffrey also recalls being told that she could only reclaim custody of her youngest child if she underwent a full hysterectomy. Jeffrey, who works with Justice Now, received no medical consultation about the operation, and her explicit resistance was ignored. Even if she had willingly acceded to the operation, however, Jeffrey could not have given consent: according to University of Pennsylvania Law professor Dorothy Roberts, courts have ruled that the conditions of labor can impair judgment, making it such that informed consent cannot be given during labor. (See Roberts’s Killing the Black Body ((1997)) for a more comprehensive analysis of attacks on Black women’s bodies and fertility.)

James Heinrich, the unremorseful OB-GYN who performed many of the tubal ligations, told CIR that he believed the cost of the surgeries, at nearly $150,000,to be negligible “compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children…as they procreated more.” Heinrich’s language is loaded. “Unwanted” implies promiscuity and assumes carelessness, while “procreated” indicates animalism, as opposed to the white feminine ideal of nurturing motherhood. Perhaps most appalling is Heinrich’s implicit bottom line: that certain people, disproportionately poor women of color and particularly poor Black women, ought not to have children because their offspring would be supported at the expense of the state’s more deserving citizens. Like the mythical “anchor babies” of Latina/o immigrants, the children of incarcerated people are presumed to be parasitic strains on the “system” even prior to their conception.

His prejudicial premise aside, Heinrich’s cost-benefit analysis hardly stands up to interrogation. His economic argument belies the fact that the exponential rise in incarceration itself, caused not by a rise in crime but rather by increasingly harsh and inflexible sentencing laws, has incurred enormous cost to the state. While expenditures on assistance under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families totaled about $5.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2013, the President’s FY13 budget request for the Federal Bureau of Prisons was $6.9 billion.

For those complicit in imposing tubal ligations in California prisons, the procedures were predicated not on smart budgeting so much as on problematic notions of who deserves support and who deserves punishment. Like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and its rabidly anti-immigration constituency, Heinrich and his colleagues cast poor women of color as scam artists or conniving thieves, rather than rational agents of their own reproduction. The anti-immigration Right may no longer be taking active measures to physically manage Latina women’s fertility, but the arguments for sterilizing incarcerated people who can become pregnant (who, in California and elsewhere, are disproportionately poor and of color) are much the same as the arguments put forth by FAIR and other nativist groups highlighted earlier in this series.

Some on the Right, however, have explicitly condemned the malfeasances that occurred in California prisons, based on the notion that sterilization frustrates potential life. These anti-choice groups’ denunciation is well directed, but ill-reasoned. The arguments and strategies employed by individuals and groups like Heinrich and FAIR are reprehensible not because of the hypothetical lives lost to sterilization, but because they deprive living people of their fundamental right to build the families they wish to build. Still, while imagined children are not the victims, nor are they irrelevant. It is critical to understand that the criminalization of Blackness, of Brownness, and of poverty is so entrenched that it precedes birth.

Moreover, while certain right-wing groups have seized the opportunity to criticize the wrongdoings undertaken by state institutions under majority Democratic governance, the same factions have looked on silently, even supportively, as Project Prevention (PP, formerly Children Requiring A Caring Kommunity, or C.R.A.C.K.) pursues a parallel process, ideologically and practically, outside of prisons.

The name C.R.A.C.K. invokes President Reagan’s manufactured panic surrounding the crack epidemic and its racialized and scientifically baseless ghouls, “crack mothers” and “crack babies.” The organization was founded in 1994 by Barbara Harris, whose first mission was to pass state legislation punishing people who give birth to drug-exposed infants. Such punishments, codified and otherwise, abound, and in the 413 cases analyzed in a 2013 study, 59 percent of people subject to state punishment under post-Roe v. Wade legislation criminalizing pregnancy were of color, and 52 percent were African-American. Harris’ particular initiative, however, proved unsuccessful. Founding C.R.A.C.K. was her ostensibly benevolent alternative.

Today, Project Prevention gives $300 in cash to people who are or have been addicted

C.R.A.C.K. flyer targets women of color, offering them cash payouts to go on long-term birth control

C.R.A.C.K. flyer targets women of color, offering them cash payouts to go on long-term birth control

to drugs or alcohol and who submit documentation proving that they have undergone sterilization procedures or are using long-acting contraception, such as Norplant or Depo-Provera. The organization, whose advertising targets low-income communities of color, also disseminates stigmatizing and scientifically inaccurate literature, which describes imagined horrors of drug-addicted motherhood and the irresponsible hyperfertility Harris attributes to women who use drugs.

Just as the California sterilizations took place among the innumerable other restrictions incarceration imposes on incarcerated people’s reproductive lives, Project Prevention represents an extreme manifestation of racist ideologies and practices that are widely accepted and deeply rooted in American society.

Lynn Paltrow, founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), argues that the organization’s strategies are actually part and parcel of Harris’ original, more overtly punitive, intention. PP’s mission, she argues, could be “understood as one designed to stigmatize certain people and to make them seem appropriate targets for sterilization and other forms of population control” (23).

Paltrow’s analysis is supported by a 2012 article Jed Bickman published in Salon, which states that of the 4,077 people the newly rebranded Project Prevention had paid to be sterilized or use long-acting contraceptives, 24 percent were African-American. The United States population is only 13.2 percent Black, and illicit drug use among Black Americans is not substantiallyif at allhigher than it is among White Americans.

Groups like NAPW have worked extensively to expose and oppose PP’s discriminatory efforts to undercut reproductive justice. But where is the Right with its ardent defense of life and unequivocal condemnation of contraception? They’re funding Harris. By 2006, C.R.A.C.K. had received donations totaling more than $2 million, the majority of which, Paltrow documents, came from wealthy conservatives. Major benefactors included the Allegheny Foundation, founded by the “funding father of the right,” billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife (who also contributed millions of dollars to FAIR and to other nativist projects initiated by FAIR’s eugenecist founder, John Tanton.); Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the vitriolically anti-Black and anti-LGBTQ talk show host; and right0-wing donor Jim Woodhill, Woodhill also hired British psychologist and unabashed eugenicist Chris Brand to bring Project Prevention overseas. Project Prevention’s sites of operation now include Haiti and Kenya, where its staff works to sterilize women with HIV.

Like Heinrich and the fertility-obsessed nativists, Project Prevention’s representatives are adept at speaking in code. The publicity team at Project Prevention characterizes the organization as seeking to “save our welfare system and the world from the exorbitant cost to the taxpayer for each drug-addicted birth”(Bickman).Ultimately, all of these enemies of reproductive autonomy position themselves as noble crusaders against the “threat” of government resources sustaining Black and brown children and families.

In the final installment of this series, I will more specifically address welfare’s role as part of the Right’s rhetorical and practical strategies for vilifying poor women of color and limiting their reproductive freedoms.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Manufactured Emergency: The Neoliberal Assault on Michigan

Those who want to privatize public services and destroy unions have made some successful incursions into the once union-friendly state. Whether Michiganders can mount an effective resistance remains to be seen.

 

**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

 

When Michigan Republicans decided to push through a so-called right-to-work bill in December 2012, schools in three districts were forced to close for a day because so many teachers went to the Capitol to protest. Several dozen protesters demonstrated in the Capitol Rotunda; nine were arrested.

Misnamed right-to-work laws make a certain type of agreement between a union and an employer illegal: union-represented employees may not be required to pay dues or near-equivalent “agency fees.” By law, the union is still obligated to represent non-paying workers as if they were members, which is why unions call the laws “right to freeload.” Since a certain portion of the workforce will take advantage of the chance to save a few bucks, these laws weaken unions financially—including their political operations—as well as breaking up solidarity. A weaker union has less clout to defend its members at the bargaining table or on the shop floor.

But right-to-work in Michigan was a done deal, signed into law by Governor Rick “The Nerd” Snyder just a week after it was introduced. Unions hastily bused demonstrators to Lansing, bringing the crowd to 10,000, but Snyder remained unmoved. After all, the previous year his counterpart in Wisconsin, Scott Walker, had ignored crowds of up to a hundred thousand who kept the state in turmoil for a month as they protested an anti-union bill.

Thousands of supporters rally at the Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., in Dec, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state Legislature. ((AP Photo/Carlos Osorio))

Thousands of supporters rally at the Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., in Dec, 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state Legislature. ((AP Photo/Carlos Osorio))

A central goal of the neoliberal project is to weaken unions, and state legislation is one method. Unions are anathema in the free-market ideology, since they constrain employers’ liberty to operate exactly as they please. Unions also bargain higher wages and benefits and give employees some workplace rights not to be ordered about like indentured servants—thus cutting into potential profits, in the private sector.

A Midwestern Trend

Thousands of supporters rally at the Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., in December 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state Legislature. ((AP Photo/Carlos Osorio))

Thousands of supporters rally at the Capitol grounds in Lansing, Mich., in December 2012. The crowd is protesting right-to-work legislation that was passed by the state Legislature. ((AP Photo/Carlos Osorio))

Several Midwestern states have become laboratories for such neoliberal experiments. Wisconsin’s legislature passed a bill in 2011 that required state employees to contribute more to their pensions and health insurance—the equivalent of an eight to 12 percent pay cut in some cases—and eliminated collective bargaining for most public employees on everything except base wages; raises were in practice limited to the rate of inflation.

In Ohio, the legislature passed a measure that effectively took away collective bargaining rights from  state employees, including those in higher education, changed their pay structure, and required many of them to pay at least 20 percent of the cost of their health care plans.  (Ohio voters later overturned this bill in a hard-fought referendum.)

Indiana became the first Rust Belt state to take the right-to-work path, in February 2012, as thousands of unionists shouted their anger from the Statehouse hallways.

Michigan made use of an “emergency manager” law, which allowed the governor—citing any of a variety of triggers—to appoint an unelected overseer to run towns or cities. This included those whose budgets were in the red. These managers used their authority to tear up union contracts. Detroit’s takeover by an emergency manager, and its subsequent bankruptcy, had a similar effect, with city employees taking wage and pension cuts.

Still, Michigan’s sudden move to become the 24th right-to-work state rocked the labor movement nationwide. A birthplace of industrial unionism, Michigan still enjoyed a 16.6 percent unionization rate, the seventh-highest in the country. Its premier union, the United Auto Workers, was treated in the press as a major political player. And yet Michigan had joined the ranks of anti-union strongholds like Mississippi and Wyoming.

Too Divisive

How did right-to-work come about in the seemingly solid union state of Michigan? Governor Snyder had previously said it was too divisive and not on his political agenda. So, union members and supporters were shocked when the governor announced his change of heart. United Auto Workers (UAW) President Bob King, who had 151,000 members and 190,000 retirees in the state, said the governor’s about-face had “blindsided” him.

But the plan to make Michigan right-to-work was actually long brewing. With its record of voting for Democratic presidents, Michigan was a tempting target for such billionaire-funded national groups as Americans for Prosperity (founded by the Koch brothers) and for the state’s home-grown billionaire, Richard  DeVos of the Amway fortune. As Lee Fang reported for The Nation, Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan chapter quadrupled its spending in 2010, the year Snyder was elected, to $1.1 million. The Mackinac Center, a longtime right-wing think tank in the state, spent $5.7 million on Michigan-based advocacy in 2011. (DeVos is a funder of both groups.)

Mark Brewer, who was then the Michigan Democratic Party chair, dated the plotting for right to work to at least 2007. A video shows former Michigan Republican Party Chair Ron Weiser speaking to a Tea Party meeting in August 2012. Weiser, who was  finance chair of the Republican National Committee, described meeting with DeVos, former Michigan Governor John Engler (now with the Business Roundtable), representatives from Americans for Prosperity, and Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma which passed right-to-work in 2001. (The CEO of Oklahoma’s Chamber of Commerce had admitted he can’t name any companies that moved to Oklahoma because of right-to-work.  But that inconvenient fact, which holds true in other states as well, has not deterred the pro-right-to-work forces from claiming to be “job creators.”)

Weiser says the group decided not to move on right-to-work until Republicans controlled both the legislature and the governorship. Those elements were in place by January 2011, but in February the tumultuous uprising against anti-union measures kicked off in next-door Wisconsin, bringing tens of thousands of union members and progressives repeatedly to the Capitol, and demonstrations in cities and small towns across the country.

So Michigan’s neoliberal strategists instead pursued a piecemeal strategy: appointing emergency managers to run financially troubled cities and throw out union contracts; taking away the lifeline of teachers’ automatic union dues deductions; rescinding domestic partner benefits for public employees; defining university research assistants as non-workers; and a host of other measures designed not to rile everyone at once.

Proactive Strategy

To head off the possibility of right-to-work and to nullify all these laws that were interfering with collective bargaining, the UAW’s King and allied unions developed an offensive plan, to pass a constitutional amendment. Proposal 2, on the November 2012 ballot, would have made collective bargaining a constitutional right in the state.

But campaign leaders were reluctant to be specific about any particular laws that Proposal 2 would have outlawed, according to Mark O’Keefe, a staffer for the Detroit Federation of Teachers. O’Keefe said leaders were afraid that any specific was likely to offend someone. Meanwhile, Proposal 2 was opposed by every business interest in the state, some of whom mounted a $30 million disinformation campaign. This included ads from a front group called Citizens for Protecting Michigan’s Constitution claiming that the bill would prevent school districts from firing child molesters. Proposal 2 went down to defeat decisively, 57 to 42 percent.

Locked In

Because of an accident of timing, it’s still too soon to know how right-to-work will play out in Michigan’s largest private-sector contracts, the UAW’s pacts with the Big 3 automakers. The law doesn’t affect contracts already in place, and the Big 3’s won’t expire until September 2015.

UAW leaders, though they decried right-to-work, were oddly complacent about the prospect of losing a chunk of their union’s core members.   The UAW convention this summer—which took place as King retired– even voted to raise dues by 25 percent—surely a disincentive for wavering members to stay on board.

Teachers’ local unions took a different tack, quickly opening up existing contracts and bargaining new ones before right-to-work was due to take effect in March 2013. By signing new contracts under the old law, they locked in dues or the agency fee as a funding stream for the length of the new contracts. In most cases, though, those contracts were concession-filled, as management bargainers took advantage of leaders’ desperation.

A conservative think tank monitoring unions’ efforts to “dodge” right-to-work reported that at least 54 school districts signed contracts before the deadline. In Detroit, teachers signed a pay freeze through 2016—after already taking huge cuts in 2010 and 2011. In Taylor, a blue-collar suburb, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) locked in 10 years of agency fee and took a 10 percent pay cut.

Attack on Tenure

Perhaps the example that shows most clearly how the attack on unions fits with other neoliberal aims is at Detroit’s Wayne State University. Allan Gilmour, then-president of Wayne State (who had been a top officer at Ford Motor Co.), had made headlines a few months before right-to-work was passed, when he proposed that Wayne become among the first major U.S. universities to effectively end tenure. Allies of the union quickly got 6,000 signatures on an online petition, and Gilmour backed down.

But this set the stage for the university to take the offensive during contract negotiations. The union representing 1,950 full-time faculty bargained eight years of dues security but, said chief negotiator Anca Vlasopolos, “We had to make concessions to obtain the length of the contract.”

Decrying the “corporatization” hitting universities everywhere, Vlasopolos said the faculty union was forced to concede on issues that affected the quality of education at Wayne State. “We were not able to hold on as strongly to things that were very dear to our hearts and important for the university to remain a university,” she said.

In particular, under the pressure of settling before the deadline, the question of online teaching—where professors now have no say and may have as many as 350 students in a class—was put off to a committee.

“The aim of the corporate university is to become a diploma mill and rely on a large percentage of part-time teachers,” Vlasopolos said, while the union’s aim is to “make sure we don’t become a University of Phoenix.”

If unions in Michigan do end up substantially smaller, workers will have less bargaining power and therefore can expect even weaker contracts: lower wages, higher payments for health insurance, and less protection against workload increases. After Walker’s successful attack on public employees in Wisconsin, unions there were caught in a vicious spiral: with unions’ right to bargain eviscerated, workers could see less reason to pay dues. As members dropped out in droves, the unions’ infrastructure was weakened and they could do far less to make themselves relevant. Said John Matthews, longtime leader of the Madison teachers’ local: “working conditions have been rolled back to the mid-1950s by some regressive public employers.”

At the Michigan unions’ 2012 anti-right-to-work rally, Teamsters President James Hoffa, who is from the state, admitted that the way back for unions will be a long fight. The slide down has been long, too, but it’s accelerating.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Neoliberal Feminists Don’t Want Women to Organize

Lean any way you want; the view from the bottom of the economic system doesn’t change.

 

**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

To say that Sheryl Sandberg ruined my life would be to make the same mistake that Sandberg herself makes—it would be to assume that the successes or failures of an individual woman, feminist or no, equal the successes or failures of feminism.

Nevertheless, writing about feminism and the workplace in the shadow of Lean In has been a task in itself. One must, it often seems, either define oneself as for or against Sandberg. Critique of her was critique of feminism, at least for the heady months around her book’s publication when well-known feminists felt compelled to take sides.

Sandberg is not herself the problem, but she exemplifies it in a way that has been instructive. When Jill Abramson was fired from her position as executive editor at the New York Times, reportedly after she confronted the paper’s publisher over her discovery that her pay was less than that of her (male) predecessor, among the many outraged reactions from feminists was the response that leaning in doesn’t work after all. Abramson’s experience, similar to that of so many women, seemed a rebuke to the idea, promoted in Sandberg’s book, that individual women were holding themselves back. It reminded us that no matter how hard we try, sexism—sexism in the workplace—cannot be defeated individual success story by individual success story.

One of the insidious things about neoliberalism is how it has managed to absorb our vibrant, multifaceted liberation struggles into itself and spit them back out to us as monotone (dollar-bill-green) self-actualization narratives. The way this has happened to feminism is particularly instructive. As I wrote in Dissent last winter, the so-called “second wave” of feminism fought for women to gain access to work outside of the home and outside of the “pink-collar” fields. Yet in doing so, as Barbara Ehrenreich has written, some feminists wound up abandoning the fight for better conditions in what had always been considered women’s work—whether that be as teachers and nurses, or the work done in the home for little or no pay.

National Domestic Workers Alliance members protest

National Domestic Workers Alliance members protest

In fact, the flight of middle-class women into the paid workplace left other women, namely domestic workers, cleaning up the mess left behind, and many of those middle-class women seemed unwilling to deal with the fact that they too, sometimes, could oppress. As Ehrenreich wrote in “Maid to Order,” a piece published in the anthology, Global Woman, which she co-edited with Arlie Russell Hochschild, “To make a mess that another person will have to deal with—the dropped socks, the toothpaste sprayed on the bathroom mirror, the dirty dishes left from a late-night snack—is to exert domination in one of its more silent and intimate forms.”

While some women have experienced the workplace as a site of liberation and increased power, for many others, the workplace was never a choice. Particularly for women of color, whose domestic work was excluded intentionally from New Deal-era labor laws, the workplace was and remains a site of oppression. And to this day, women remain concentrated in the economy’s lowest-paying jobs—some two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and three of the fastest-growing occupations in the country are retail sales, food service, and home health care, which are both low-wage and female-dominated jobs. Home health care workers, in many ways the face of the new service economy, were just ruled only “partial” public employees by the right-wing Roberts Supreme Court. More than 90 percent of them, according to the Economic Policy Institute, are female.

Those are jobs at which, no matter how hard one leans in, the view doesn’t change.

And these days, the conditions for more and more workers are beginning to resemble those at the bottom; fleeing the female-dominated workplace, rather than improving it, has left middle-class women more, not less, vulnerable. The devaluation of work that involves care, work for which women were assumed to be innately suited, continued apace when feminism turned its back. As other jobs have disappeared, the low wages that were acceptable when women were presumed not to need a “family wage,” because they ought to be married to a man who’d do the breadwinning, became the wages that everyone has to take or leave.

Though the movement for paid sick leave has gained some important wins in recent months and years, alongside a growing movement to raise the minimum wage, a more expansive family policy that would actually allow more than a few days’ paid leave or allow workers more control over their own schedules remains a pipe dream.

Equal pay for equal work means little when the wages for all are on the way down. You would be hard pressed to find a self-proclaimed feminist, even of the most neoliberal variety, who doesn’t argue in favor of equal pay, but this focus has often served, as I have argued, to stifle discussion of other concerns in the workplace. As Marilyn Sneiderman, lifelong labor organizer and director of the New Labor Center at Rutgers University, told me for Dissent, the fight for fair pay might seem an individual struggle for high-end workers like Abramson, but for a hotel housekeeper, a nurse, a janitor, the best way to improve your job isn’t to get promoted through the ranks, but to organize with your fellow workers.

Neoliberal feminism is a feminism that ignores class as a determining issue in women’s lives. It presumes, as Tressie McMillan Cottom pointed out in an article on her personal website, that giving power to some women will automatically wind up trickling if not power, than at least some lifestyle improvements down to women with less power.

This applies internationally as well as domestically. Nancy Fraser, in her book Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis, cites Hester Eisenstein’s argument that feminism has entered into a “dangerous liaison” with neoliberalism, embracing critiques of the state and men’s economic power that allowed for deregulation. Fraser sees neoliberal feminism embracing a pro-globalization mentality that regards women in the developing world as in need of “saving” by enlightened Western feminists.

Take Somaly Mam, the Cambodian NGO entrepreneur who built her career on her own fraudulent tale of being sex trafficked as a child. Westerners flocked to her story and her cause, joining her on trips to “save” women from brothels. Sheryl Sandberg was on the board of her foundation, alongside Susan Sarandon. Hillary Clinton was a fan. Mam’s rise to fame dovetailed with the rise, across the U.S., of an obsession with “saving” sex workers and increasing criminal penalties for sex trafficking.

Her fame attracted prominent feminists to a cause that continues, as Melissa Gira Grant writes in her book Playing the Whore, to be supported by the Religious Right and to criminalize women who are trying to make ends meet any way they can. Yet the solutions offered to the women saved by Mam’s organization (currently undergoing a name change after Newsweek published its expose of Mam’s fabrications) were mostly low-wage sweatshop jobs producing clothing for Western consumption. As Anne Elizabeth Moore, who has spent years working in and reporting on Cambodia, writes in Salon of Mam’s organization and others like hers, “What they do is normalize existent labor opportunities for women, however low the pay, dangerous the conditions, or abusive an environment they may be. And they shame women who reject such jobs.”

This is neoliberal feminism at its finest. As Gira Grant writes, the idea that women in Cambodia—or in the United States—can organize themselves and change their working conditions is almost always absent from the conversation.

Selma James, one of the founders of the 1970s Wages for Housework movement and a leader in the Global Women’s Strike, criticized how some feminists turned grassroots organizing projects into “jobs for the girls” as a way for some women to have power by creating mechanisms to save others. In today’s political climate, we must be wary of claims that feminism is best served by increasing the power of individual (white, middle-class) women, and question over whom they exercise that power. We must understand the difference between power for a few and a real change in how power affects us all.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

The Shell Game of Contingent Employment

When subcontractors, freelancers, and independent contractors get hurt or abused on the job, these workers are finding it harder to hold employers accountable. This is no accident—it’s a direct result of a neoliberal labor agenda.

**This article appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special edition on neoliberalism and the Right**

In 2011, Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc., a corporate partner of the Marriott hotel chain, used a general contractor that it had hired to renovate guest rooms at the Host-owned Copley Marriott in Boston.   A convoluted web of subcontractors emerged, as the general contractor subcontracted the work to several other companies, and some of that subcontracted work was then further subcontracted, with more than a dozen firms working on the same project.

construction site

A state-led, multi-agency investigation found that 15 contractors on the project committed a wide array of labor law violations. Workers from a church-sponsored rehabilitation project in Philadelphia were paid only four dollars an hour—just half the state minimum wage—and no overtime, though they were required to work 12-hour days and more than 60 hours per week. All told, contractors failed to report or pay taxes on more than $1 million in wages, and at least one of them failed to maintain workers’ compensation insurance policies for the hazardous work. They misclassified many of the workers as independent contractors, thus evading tens of thousands of dollars more in unemployment insurance taxes, workers compensation premiums, and employer-side taxes, while stripping workers of basic workplace rights.[1]

Because so many layers of contractors were involved in the project, investigators had difficulty determining which ones could be held responsible for the violations. Host Hotels, which ultimately benefited from the sub-minimum wages and tax evasion, asserted that it had no legal obligation to the workers and should not be held liable for any of the violations committed by the subcontractors or their subcontractors.[2]

Companies at every possible level of the project avoided accountability for the mistreatment of the workers.  Despite having found that 15 companies had broken the law and abused their workers, authorities only held three subcontractors to the most immediate sanction—Stop Work Orders. The general contractor neither faced significant penalties nor admitted wrongdoing. As a summary of the investigation put it, “The issue of which entity was legally the employer and responsible for the wages was never resolved.”[3]

 An Old Neoliberal Paradigm

We increasingly see businesses like the Marriott (and corporate partner Host Hotels) seeking to shed the burden of government regulation by passing off liability to intermediaries, like staffing agencies, or by falsely claiming that no labor laws at all apply because the workers are either independent contractors or corporations in business for themselves. By restructuring work relationships in these ways, some of the nation’s largest corporations aim to shift much of their workforce outside the scope of employment laws and employment taxes that apply to “employees”—as defined by a set of labor laws that still presume a conventional workplace with one employer and the on-site workers it directly hires.

The isolation from fellow workers that the “independent contractor” designation engenders cuts against workers’ ability to organize to challenge abuses resulting from subcontracted work structures.

This shift in work structures, combined with increased attacks on the labor movement and the de-funding of the nation’s labor enforcement agencies, has depressed workers’ income and weakened their ability to claim basic workplace rights like overtime pay and health and safety protections. Outsourcing and independent contractor misclassification have also drained millions from local, state, and federal coffers, undermining the social safety net just as workers need its protection even more.  The isolation from fellow workers that the “independent contractor” designation engenders cuts against workers’ ability to organize to challenge abuses resulting from subcontracted work structures.

Reorganization of work structures also acts to direct workers’ anger away from the company calling the shots (such as a general contractor) and onto the direct employer, or even to the workers themselves, who may believe their situation stems from their own failings as independent business people.  All of these factors undermine workers’ ability to organize into unions and worker collectives, one of the fundamental goals of neoliberalism and its pursuit of an unregulated free market.

 Free Markets, Unfree Workers

The rise to power of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom ushered in a new era of economic policy. Minimal corporate taxation, privatization of public goods, and the deregulation of businesses became the dominant policies promoted for economic growth. The attacks against organized labor, progressive organizations, and community groups that opposed the new regime were brutal. The percentage of workers in unions plummeted.

Across the country, new formations emerged that tried to deal with this onslaught of attacks on workers.  Coalitions of organized labor, grassroots organizations, and worker centers began fighting back together and winning campaigns using a combination of militant rank-and-file membership, intelligent planning, and strategic organizing. The target of these campaigns was often a clearly identifiable owner of the business, and so workers and community allies knew whom to hold responsible for the conditions of work. This, however, is no longer the case, as seen in the Copley Mariott and other examples where companies pass on liability to their subcontractors and outsourced agencies, making it difficult for workers to hold real employers accountable.

Such interruption in the employer-employee relationship is reminiscent of the neoliberal structural adjustment policies the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have imposed on so-called developing countries.  As the IMF and World Bank required national governments to loosen labor laws and other regulations to promote free trade and supposed foreign investment, corporations have similarly restructured the relationship between employer and employee to avoid government regulation altogether and to create confusion over who is responsible for workers. Ultimately, the result is the same: structural adjustment and debt repayment policies increased poverty and stripped local governments’ ability to provide basic health care, education, and employment for their citizens, while the restructuring of employer/employee relationships has helped create a shadow (or underground) economy free from regulation and has reduced the government’s ability to provide an adequate safety net for the growing low-wage, contingent workforce.

In Massachusetts, the Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification has collected more than $55 million in the past five years from individuals and businesses that engage in strategies to avoid responsibility to their workers.[4] The Task Force utilizes existing labor laws and regulations to recover nonpayment of wages and payroll taxes; licenses and permit fees; unemployment and workman’s compensation insurance, and other important monies owed to workers and the state. Despite its successes, the Task Force is limited by existing labor law and is unable to broaden its scope of accountability to include companies who surely profit from workers, but may not be legally defined as their direct employer.

 Toward A New Legal Framework

Extensive use of abusive subcontracting and misclassification schemes and other outsourcing tools are eroding the 80 years of labor protections that many have come to take for granted. Community Labor United and the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative are working to close that accountability gap in Massachusetts with a new legal framework, being developed by the National Employment Law Project, that holds all entities in the labor supply chain responsible—whether they initiate the demand for the work, orchestrate a project, or directly hire and supervise the workers. We call this the “accountable employer” framework.

Accountable employers know what work is being performed, often control the conditions under which it is performed, and have the power to ensure compliance with labor laws and regulations. All entities and creators of supply chain or outsourced work arrangements would then be held liable for performing these key employer functions.

In the Copley Marriott case, the Accountable Employer framework would hold multiple parties responsible because of the labor violations they perpetrated. The Philadelphia church that supplied $4-an-hour workers would be accountable for creating and ending the employment relationship; the general contractor and its subcontractor would be accountable for managing the enterprise internally and externally; and Host Hotels would be accountable because it received the fruits of the workers’ labor.

Similarly, a new Accountable Employer statute would make a large corporate employer like Wal-Mart responsible for wages and working conditions in its supply chain even if it outsources much of the labor (and even management). Wal-Mart controls the timing and manner of delivery of the goods on its store shelves, decides how goods are handled when they are unloaded and delivered, and uses its market dominance to force contractors to keep costs as low as possible. Wal-Mart engenders labor violations in its supply chain and therefore should be on the hook for these abuses.

As corporations continue to look for ways to skirt government regulations and increase their profit margins, many will continue to hire intermediaries or misclassify workers as a way of outsourcing their responsibility and escaping liability. This shift is part of neoliberalism’s broader political realignment towards deregulation of markets and the empowerment of corporations.  However, employer accountability can be restored through legislation that holds all entities throughout the web of contractors and subcontractors responsible for their workers.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

 

Article Authors:

Darlene Lombos started with CLU in 2006 as a Senior Organizer, became OrganizingDirector then Co-Director in 2008, and finally Executive Director in 2011. She is also the Vice President of the Greater Boston Labor Council.

Sarah Leberstein is a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project (NELP). She advocates for policy reforms promoting the workplace rights of non-standard workers and enforcement of wage and hour and workplace laws.

Elvis Mendez is a coordinator at the Immigrant Worker Center Collaborative in Boston, Mass.

 


Endnotes:

[1] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2013. “2012 Annual Report,” p. 6. [http://www.mass.gov/lwd/eolwd/jtf/annual-report-2012.pdf]

[2] Casey Ross, “Marriott Copley Place project flouted pay law.” Boston Globe, 4 September 2012. [http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2012/09/03/investigators-find-widespread-labor-violations-copley-marriott-renovation/iIRlNeRovG05Dkbta3rOTI/story.html]
[3] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2013. “2012 Annual Report,” p. 6. [http://www.mass.gov/lwd/eolwd/jtf/annual-report-2012.pdf]
[4] Massachusetts Joint Enforcement Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification (JTF), 2014. “2013 Annual Report,” [http://www.mass.gov/lwd/eolwd/jtf/annual-report-2013.pdf]

 

To Shock the Heart of the Nation

An Interview with Rev. Dr. William Barber II, President, North Carolina NAACP

**This interview appears in PRA’s upcoming Fall, 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine, a special issue on neoliberalism and the Right**

“We had some happy clients when we found out they wouldn’t have to pay the North Carolina estate tax,” Elizabeth Quick, an estate lawyer in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told Forbes magazine in July 2013. The state’s Republican governor, Pat McCrory, had just signed a repeal of the estate tax that removed the obligation for one wealthy family to pay more than $2 million, and another family $680,000, into state coffers.

So that those two families (plus around 20 others) could keep the entirety of their estates intact, the governor and state legislature eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit, depriving 907,000 low-income North Carolinians of state funds that many counted on to pay their utility bills and rent.

Tax cuts for the wealthy are a common Republican tactic, but this wasn’t just a Republican maneuver. McCrory and the GOP-dominated legislature were just getting started on a set of policy changes reflective of a comprehensive and far-reaching neoliberal agenda. Within the first 50 days of the 2013 legislative session, the lawmakers, whose campaigns had been backed by some of the wealthiest families in the state, enacted a string of new laws that transfer wealth from poor to rich. The state moved to refuse federal dollars for expanding Medicaid to cover 500,000 more people under the Affordable Care Act; suppress the vote with a restrictive Voter ID law; cut off unemployment benefits for 170,000 North Carolinians; and slash teacher salaries to bring North Carolina to 46th place nationwide for teacher pay.

These policies were among the wishes of Art Pope, a retail tycoon and former state representative whose interest in politics is so keen that he became McCrory’s state budget director (a position from which Pope just stepped down amid controversy over how concentrated his power had become).  Pope, along with organizations such as the (billionaires and political allies of Pope) Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity—exerts such influence on Gov. McCrory and state legislators that even some Republicans in the state have suggested it is too much.  In one egregious example, in 2013, Pope entered the statehouse during debate on a bill that would have allowed public funding of campaigns for judgeships and collared a GOP lawmaker who was considering a compromise, reminding the lawmaker of Pope’s past contribution to his campaign and thus personally ensuring the bill’s death.

Pope also funds NC-based think tanks—such as the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation— that generate research to support the neoliberal agenda that has, in two short years, come to dominate the political process in North Carolina. “He drives the budgetary policy goals of this administration,” complained one anonymous North Carolina Republican lobbyist to the Washington Post in July 2014.

But a grassroots movement is underway to fight back against Pope and the free-market incursions he and other neoliberals are making against the state’s hard-won policies for racial and economic justice.  Tapping into the same religious core that fueled the Civil Rights Movement, state NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber II has energized a broad swath of people in the state to take to the streets at least 70 times since 2012 to say that enough is enough. Rallying thousands of North Carolinians around a 14-Point People’s Agenda, the Moral Marches (or Moral Mondays, as they were first popularly dubbed) have come to be seen as a touchstone for a renewed social justice movement across the South. As Barber prepared to spread a message of hope and democracy through a week of actions Aug. 22-28 in Raleigh and other Southern state capitals, he talked with me about North Carolina’s free-market ideology and how it has already affected the people who live there.  Barber, referring to the billionaire-backed Tea Party, the national group that pushes free-market policies at the local and state level, says these past two legislative sessions have been a “coordinated, premeditated attempt to undermine progress and engage in regressive Tea Party policies.”

William Barber

Rev. Dr. William Barber II

“This is really Robin Hood in reverse,” Barber told me. “It is government of business, bought by business, for business. And not just business—because lots of business leaders disagree with them—but this is Tea Party greed. This is Koch brother-type greed.”

“This is really Robin Hood in reverse,” Barber told me. “It is government of business, bought by business, for business.

Barber bristles, though, at the notion that conservatism or partisan politics are at the root of the problem. “I fuss against these terms ‘liberal’ versus ‘conservative’,” he says, “because I want to conserve the essence of our Constitution and then liberally make sure everybody has access to them. What we’re dealing with is extremism, and you can’t just define it as ‘conservative.’”

At the local level, says Barber, the state legislature’s extreme adherence to free-market neoliberal policy is gutting the state’s public school system. “Five thousand teachers being fired, being removed, and local school boards decrying [this] because of the impact that it was having on classroom sizes and students,” he says.

Barber adds that, because of the salary cuts, he sees teachers actively leaving North Carolina. “In fact,” he said, “one state, Texas, sent memos out and said if you’re in North Carolina, come to Texas. And you know that’s kind of sad, considering Texas’s regressiveness, when they actually can offer teachers more than North Carolina.”

Barber also described the legislature’s attempt to shift $10 million earmarked for public schools to voucher programs that could only be used to pay for private schools. In shifting these public funds into private hands, said Barber, the legislature refused to require that private schools benefiting from the vouchers maintain the same non-discrimination standards that public schools must uphold, meaning that private schools receiving voucher funds would have been allowed to restrict enrollment however they chose. A Superior Court judge declared on Aug. 21 that the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional, citing the lack of accountability inherent in the program, and issued a permanent injunction stopping the voucher program from going forward.

Art Pope and the Tea Party aren’t just alienating teachers and progressives, says Barber. They are also alienating Republicans across the state. Barber says that the legislature and McCrory never made clear, even to their own constituents, what they were planning to do once they achieved a supermajority in the statehouse and won the governorship. “They did not run saying,  ‘Elect me, I’m going to take your health care, cut your public education, and strip you of your unemployment even if you lost your job at no fault of your own,’” says Barber. “So, we’ve had a Republican unemployed person stand on the stage [at a Moral March] and say, ‘I’m a Republican, but I’m unemployed—I didn’t vote for this.’”

Even Republicans holding public office are objecting to the legislature’s actions. Adam O’Neal, a self-described conservative Republican mayor from Belhaven, NC, began a one-man march of 273 miles to Washington D.C. on July 14 to dramatize the impact of Gov. McCrory’s and  [House Speaker] Tillis’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. O’Neal explained that the lack of Medicaid funds had forced the only hospital in his coastal community to close, creating a “medical desert” that would certainly cost lives. O’Neal also laments the potential economic impact of the hospital closing; he told NPR, “How many people go retire somewhere where it doesn’t even have a hospital?”

I asked Barber what he believes is the neoliberals’ vision for North Carolina. “They believe that the way to a great North Carolina is to deny necessary funds and access to public education.  Attack teachers. Deny unemployment. Deny earned 

“They believe that the way to a great North Carolina is to deny necessary funds and access to public education.  Attack teachers.

income tax credit and other safeguards for the working poor.  Deny affordable healthcare and access to healthcare, even if it allows people to die. Deny labor rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights … And then, if you really want a great America after you’ve done all these things, then suppress the right to vote and attempt to use your power to stay in office.  And then, after you’ve done all of that to create all this tension,  ensure that everyone has access to guns easier than they have access to the polls. Now, that sounds crude and sinister, but those are their policies.”

Having set this grim scene, Barber continued with a surprisingly upbeat message:  “Whatever we’re facing now, it’s not greater than slavery, it’s not greater than Jim Crow, it’s not greater than women being denied the right to vote.  We won those battles.  But we did not win those battles by merely engaging in political arguments. We had to tap into the moral and social consciousness of the nation.”

“I am hopeful,” he went on, “because I believe in the deep moral consciousness at the heart of America. Those of us who believe in justice and who believe in freedom, we are the heartbeat of this nation. Our role now is to be like a social defibrillator, to shock the heart of the nation, to cause it to revive and to remember what the real enemy is: regressive extremism. And it’s not just about winning all the elections, but changing the context in which our politicians have to operate.”

Barber said he hopes that the momentum of the Forward Together Moral Movement (as one of the core groups organizing Moral Marches is currently called) will spread. He sees it moving across the South from North Carolina to help change the political context and create the possibility for the state NAACP’s 14-Point People’s Agenda to be written into legislation both in North Carolina and beyond. The Agenda includes anti-poverty, pro-labor policies; equality and equitable distribution of resources in public education; access to healthcare for all; fairness in the criminal justice system; and protection and expansion of the right to vote and the rights of immigrants.

Barber acknowledges that the neoliberal forces in his state—and across the country—remain powerful. “We’ve got to fight in the courts, we’ve got to fight the legislative halls, we’ve got to fight in the streets, we’ve got to push at the pulpit, and we have to work at the ballot box,” he says. “If we do all of this with what I call a moral critique, so we’re not trapped with the language of Republican versus Democrat, I believe we can continue to work towards the reconstruction of this nation.”

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

AUDIO: Officer Who Pushed CNN’s Don Lemon Claims There’s a Military Plot For One-World Government

 

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

St. Louis County police officer Dan Page is best known for shoving CNN host Don Lemon while the journalist was covering the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Page has since been suspended after video of his speech to a right-wing militia group, Oath Keepers of St. Louis and St. Charles, was brought to the attention of his superiors. In his speech Page claims to inside knowledge of a grand conspiracy against “Caucasian Christians.” However this is not the only time Page has expressed such views, as PRA has learned, he forcefully touted his claims on the TruNews radio show with Rick Wiles on July 10, 2014.

St. Louis County Officer Dan Page

St. Louis County Officer Dan Page

Wiles’ popular radio show is a combination of end-times prophecy and right-wing conspiracy theories. For example, this past week Wiles interviewed Walid Shoebat, who claimed, “Obama is destroying Christian America. That’s his assignment as a jihadist, it is to destroy Christian America.” Shoebat is a popular speaker on the end-times prophecy circuit, celebrated for his claimed inside knowledge of a Muslim jihadist infiltration of U.S. government. PRA has also reported extensively on Shoebat and his claims, including in our 2011 research report, “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace.”

According to a USA Today interview with St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Dan Page joined the police force in 1979, but spent about nine of the last twelve to fifteen years deployed with the Army. Throughout the TruNews interview, embedded below, Wiles addresses Dan Page as Sgt. Major and discusses only his military career. Neither Wiles nor Page mentions Page’s tenure with the St. Louis County Police.

The TruNews radio show starts with a dramatic opening introducing, “Trunews, the only newscast reporting the countdown to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and now for the most powerful hour on radio, here is the end time newsman, Rick Wiles.” Following the introduction, Wiles launches into an introduction of Page as being in charge of U.S. Army special forces in Africa and having inside knowledge of a plot to create a global regime.

Page follows with an equally grandiose and unbelievable account of his military career, recounting military exploits including Vietnam, paratrooper training, training in Germany for psychological and asymmetric warfare, and a recent assignment as the senior enlisted adviser to the commanding officer of Africom. Page mispronounces the names of places and countries with which he is supposedly familiar, while claiming that his military experience has provided him with inside knowledge of a grand worldwide plot to end American sovereignty and a one-world government and military takeover.

Here are a few clips of the interview (the full and unedited version is at the bottom of this article):

Page claims (at about 21 minutes in) that the definition of terrorism has been changed by Homeland Security. Page states:

“It is a Caucasian male 18-65, one who supports the second amendment, one who believes in the second coming of Jesus Christ, one that is against illegal immigration and is against homosexuality and has a definition of traditional marriage. That is their definition of a terrorist.”

Wiles responds, “It has appeared for several years that the Obamanistas are purging the military of the patriots. Is that the case?”

Page then responds, “Yes, that’s absolutely true.” He also gives an account of “four-star generals and above” who he claims were removed by the Obama administration because “of their refusal to support military involvement in domestic affairs.” When Wiles asks Page why none of these generals have spoken out, he implies it is because they don’t want to lose their pensions. Wiles then asks if something significant is in the works for the year 2015. Page claims that he sat in on briefings from very high sources and learned that there is a timeline for orchestrated events that will create havoc worldwide and allow for the supposed globalist takeover.

Wiles also brings up the current influx of refugee children from South America into the United States, and asks Page if it is one of those orchestrated events. Page says it is, and that the wider scenario includes nuclear suitcase bombs, a planned North American Union, and, of course, further “demonization of Caucasian Christians.” Page expresses his belief that the flood of immigrant children is a clandestine operation with the purpose of programming American citizens for the eventual rounding up and imprisonment of their own children. In terms of the timeline for this conspiratorial takeover, Page states that he believes the takeover will be completed by 2017.

The interview closes with the following exchange (at 56:13 in the audio) about the inevitability of the coming one-world government takeover and loss of American sovereignty:

Dan Page: You have to put that [fear] aside] and make some decisions. God put the man in charge of his household to do two things—provide and protect his family. The males in this country are not doing that, they’ve abrogated that to the police department and somebody else to take care of it. It really grieves me to say, no, it can’t be stopped.

If we could get the men mobilized, to get politically active and hold the local and state officials responsible, we could change this. But I would give you some suggestions on this. Focus your attention at the county and state level, such as the sheriff’s office and things like that. Do not give any support to any federal, career politician. Do not donate to the Republican faction or the Democratic faction of the socialist party that we have in charge. Do not contribute anything to them. Stay at the state and local level. Then I think we have a chance.

Rick Wiles: The bottom line is Jesus Christ is our only hope.

Dan Page: I agree with that.

Rick Wiles: Unless this nation turns to Jesus Christ, nothing we do is is going to work.

Dan Page: Absolutely.

The St. Louis/St. Charles, Missouri Chapter of Oath Keepers has tried to distance the organization from the video of Page’s speech to them now that it has received national attention. However, the video rant, as well as the above interview, is compatible with the ideology voiced by leadership in the organization as well as a spin off of the group called the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association or CSPOA. Both groups have a mission of organizing their members to refuse to enforce federal laws that they believe are unconstitutional.

The St. Louis County Police department is one of the few county-controlled police departments in the nation. Most county departments are headed by elected sheriffs, who are viewed by the Oath Keepers and CSPOA as the supreme law of the land, with a constitutional mandate to counter the federal government, particularly concerning gun laws. Oath Keeper Richard Mack, the head of CSPOA, has described his organization of county sheriffs as the “army to set our nation free,” and claims to have about 500 county sheriffs who have signed on in agreement with their mandate .

Click here for the profile on CSPOA

Click here for the profile on CSPOA

Mack himself is a former sheriff, as well as a former lobbyist for Gun Owners of America  (GOA). The CSPOA 2013 convention was held in St. Charles, the county seat of St. Charles County, Missouri. Over an hour of the highlights of that convention can be watched at their website.

These highlights and other media of the Oath Keepers and CSPOA focus on the role of county sheriffs to stand against “executive orders to derail the Second Amendment,” as described in a letter sent to sheriffs around the country by the the Liberty Group Coalition (comprised of the CSPOA, Oath Keepers, GOA, John Birch Society, and the Tenth Amendment Center).

I have written previously about the CSPOA as part of the national movement promoting nullification and secession in a profile of the organization and in a longer article titled Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right. As I wrote in the profile, the May, 2013, CSPOA conference featured religion-infused rhetoric against “tyranny” of the federal government. Speakers included former Constitution Party leader Michael Peroutka, GOA’s Larry Pratt, Joe Wolverton of the John Birch Society, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Mike Zullo.

Zullo is Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s chief “birther” investigator. Part of the conference was dedicated to his latest revelations in this ongoing pursuit. Conference speakers also included several county sheriffs and Tea Party leaders. The highlight video opens with one of the few people of color in the movement, Sheriff David Clark of Milwaukee County.

PRA Fellow Frederick Clarkson has also written extensively about one of the speakers at the St. Charles CSPOA event, neo-Confederate leader and 2004 Constitution Party candidate for president, Michael Peroutka, who switched parties (presumably to gain credibility) and is currently a Republican nominee for the County Council in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Peroutka is joined on the ticket by longtime ally and graduate of Peroutka’s course on the Constitution, Joseph Delimater, who is running for county sheriff.

Peroutka’s race for county council has already drawn national attention. Paul Rosenberg, writing at Salon, casts the Peroutka race in terms of the Republican Party’s race problem, as racist outbursts undermine the party’s efforts to become more diverse.

My article on nullification and Clarkson’s articles on Peroutka go into greater detail on the religious background of the philosophy behind organizing local and county leaders to lead a revolution against the federal government.

Unedited full version of Dan Page’s interview:

Update: 

Dan Page was also interviewed on May 12, 2014 on the John Moore Radio Show.  At about 24:50 in this interview, Dan Page states, “You’ve got Sen. Claire McCaskill right now beating the podium about assaults in the military and probably 99.9% of these things are bogus.  One only need to look at a woman in a way she feels uncomfortable and that’s considered sexual assault in the military.” 

UPDATE #2:

On May 29th of this year, Officer Page appeared on the Caravan to Midnight radio program, and claimed that the public education system is full of Caucasian female school teachers who are teaching young Black males to hate White men. According to Page, those young Black men grow up to be willing to violently disarm White men.

 

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

If Democracy is a Crime Under Religious Right’s Biblical Law, What is the Punishment?

The League of the South, best known for its advocacy of white supremacy and the secession of Southern states in the name of Southern Independence, has another less well known dimension: The advocacy of Old Testament notions of the “law of the Bible” as the standard for contemporary civil law— including the prescribed criminal punishments for non-believers.

The League and its leaders are not exactly household names, although New York Times best-selling author Thomas Woods is an unapologetic founding member and close confederate of Ron Paul. But they overlap with the more extreme elements of anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice movements, and led by elements of the virulently theocratic theological strain, Christian Reconstructionism.

image via the Florida League of the South's website

image via the Florida League of the South’s website

Contemporary Christian Right leaders have focused on matters of sexuality, notably homosexuality and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).  But it wasn’t until the notorious “kill the gays bill” in Uganda, where the notion of the death penalty was formally raised. But if the Old Testament Biblical Laws that are foundational to the contemporary Christian Right are to be the standard, then it stands to reason that the biblically prescribed punishments would, in their view, fit the crimes. If that is so, then many of us who think that democracy and religious pluralism are good things may, come the theocracy, find ourselves guilty of capital crimes.

League of the South president Michael Hill laid it out in stark terms in a recent column.

In a piece titled The League and Theocracy, Hill claims that theocracy is what God wants for us, and that anyone who says otherwise is committing treason against God’s Laws. While this is serious enough coming from an organizational leader, in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, it is worth considering that such views maybe more common than usually meet the eye.

Hill argues that religious pluralism is an affront to “the law of the Bible,” and anything other than a theocratic approach to Christianity and government is, he declares, “watered-down, emasculated, wimpy, liberal-sotted ‘Christianity-lite’.” A theocracy, he insists, “is a government ruled by the triune God of the Bible: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. More precisely, it is a government whose code of law is firmly grounded in the law of the Bible.”

Before we get into this further, it is worth noting that Hill’s views are at odds with history. The ratification of the Constitution by the original 13 states, most of which had been miniature theocracies for a century and a half, set in motion the disestablishment of state churches and the elevation of religious equality and the individual’s right to believe (or not) as they choose as a central value of our society. It is this right to believe as we will, and to believe differently than the rich and the powerful, which was the original contribution of the framers of the Constitution and a central part of our story as a nation. We can’t have religious freedom without religious equality, and we can’t have religious equality without religious pluralism.

In light of this, Hill’s argument may sound arcane and his reasoning circular—but it is nevertheless worth understanding because Hill is far from alone in such views, and arguably versions of his thesis are part of the driving ideology of the wider leadership of the Christian Right and their agenda.

Hill continues:

“Simply put, locate the source of law for a society and you have found its god. In a democracy, for instance, the people serve as god – the ultimate source of sovereignty…. All societies are theocracies, whether they realize it or not. But there is a major difference in what traditional Christians (regardless of denomination), on the one hand, and pagans, on the other, have believed and that is this: a society that is not explicitly Christian is a theocracy under the sway of a false god. The false god of the modern American Empire is the god who demands tolerance and pluralism…”

In this way, Hill identifies democracy as idolatry (worship of a false god) or apostasy (abandonment of the faith.) Either way, as Hill understands it, these will not be matters of religious but civil law. And they may well be capital offenses. These, along with more than 30 others, were enumerated by the leading theocratic theologian of the 20thcentury, R. J. Rushdoony—an American whose work has been profoundly influential in catalyzing the contemporary Christian Right. Beyond such crimes as murder and kidnapping, death penalties apply, according to Rushdoony and the influential Christian Reconstructionist movement he launched, are mostly related to religion and sexuality. In addition to idolatry and apostasy, there is blasphemy, and the propagation of false religions, and specifically, astrology and witchcraft. Crimes related to sexuality include adultery, homosexuality, and premarital sex (for women only).

In his foundational tome, Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony called idolatry, “treason” against “the one true God.”

These things said, there are many contemporary theocrats who do not follow Rushdoony down every detail of what ought to be the basis of a criminal code in the U.S. and everywhere else in the world. But since Rushdoony was the first to systematize what he calls “Biblical Law,” everyone interested in the topic measures where they are stand in relation to him.  (Biblically approved methods of execution, according to Reconstructionists, include stoning, hanging and “the sword.”) How the law would be implemented, would depend entirely on the interpretation of the Bible, and the political predilections of the leading faction at the time.

Hill writes:  “There is really only the choice between pagan law and Christian law and nothing else. There is no neutral position where one can comfortably sit. The God of the Bible specifically forbids pluralism (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” Ex 20:3).” Hill couldn’t be clearer that in his view that religious pluralism under the law, is idolatry. “The simple choice that lies before nations,” he concludes, “is either pluralism or faithful obedience to God’s word, and the two are mutually exclusive.”

Like his fellow members of the League of the South, Maryland Republican candidates Michael Peroutka and David Whitney, Hill argues that if governmental leaders fall out of synch with Biblical Law—“If they rule unfaithfully, and thus tyrannically, they are illegitimate and their decrees have no authority.” Peroutka and Whitney have previously made this point regarding the Maryland legislature’s endorsement of marriage equality.

So this is the problem for contemporary Americans wrangling with the definition of religious liberty. Is religious liberty to be reserved only for Christians of the right sort, as defined by the likes of Hill, Peroutka and Whitney (or other leaders of the Religious Right and the Catholic Bishops)? Or is religious liberty something that belongs to all citizens without regard to their stated religious or non-religious identity at any particular time?

Such questions have, in centuries past, been the stuff of religious wars. And some Christian Right leaders are coming to see violence as an inevitable result of contemporary religious and political tensions on these matters. The question of whether, or to what extent, opponents of contraception and abortion get to define the standard for religious liberty in these matters was not settled by the Hobby Lobby decision. And who gets to be the arbiter of religious liberty on marriage equality is also deeply contentious, in light of the spread of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been proposed in several states and signed into law in Mississippi and allows businesses to discriminate against LGTBQ employees and customers if their personal faith does not approve of homosexuality. The legislation is modeled on a bill which was originally crafted in large part by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), and the Arizona political affiliate of Focus on the Family. But in North Carolina, the mainline protestant United Church of Christ (UCC) has filed a federal lawsuit against the state’s constitutional amendment banning the performance of same-sex marriage ceremonies. The UCC argues that this law violates the religious liberty of their church, its clergy and its members. The million member denomination has officially recognized same-sex marriages since 2005. As it happens, a recent federal court ruling in Virginia overturning a similar amendment, may also apply to North Carolina which is located in the same federal court jurisdiction. At this writing, it appears that will be the case.

But even as the courts are recognizing marriage equality and the debate over religious liberty continues, the view of doctrinaire theocrats that governments and government officials and others who do not comport with God’s Law as they understand it, remains unchanged. How they reconcile their views with the contemporary struggles over the law is also a struggle whose outcome remains to be seen. However, it is worth not losing sight of the fact that for some, there is no answer but armed resistance. Hill has called not only for the South to rise again, but to lead the resurrection  with vigilante death squads targeting government officials, journalists and others who do not comport with their particular religious and political views.

We have become almost accustomed to hearing declarations from the likes of these men justifying vigilante violence against everyone from abortion providers to government officials, said to be tyrants. But it is helpful to remind ourselves that the society that they envision is not only based on Biblical Laws, but on Biblical punishments. And those who advocate for religious liberty, and if the theocrats ever achieve their desired governmental control, are likely to find themselves charged with a variety of crimes, and punished accordingly.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button

Michigan Seeks to Become Third State to Protect Youth From Ex-Gay Therapy

Conversion or “ex-gay” therapy continues to come under fire, this time in Michigan where Representative Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced House Bill (HB) 5703to ban “sexual orientation change efforts” for minors. While conversion therapy is not a widespread practice across the state, supporters of HB 5703 indicate that state-sanctioned exposure of even a single child to this type of therapy cannot be accepted. Introduced on July 16, 2014, the bill was referred to the Committee on Health Policy where it awaits action.

A billboard outside of Atlanta advertises the discredited practice of conversion therapy

A billboard outside of Atlanta, paid for by the now defunct Exodus International, advertises the discredited practice of conversion therapy.

If HB 5703 advances in Michigan, the state would join California and New Jersey in banning conversion therapy for minors. Conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, for minors is a thoroughly discredited practice that has no proven effect on changing sexual orientation, but a long-documented history of negative psychological effects on individuals. A 2009 report by the American Psychological Association (APA) detailed the mental health problems this therapy can cause, including depressive, anxious, and suicidal symptoms. Survivors of ex-gay therapy, such as 29-year-old Michigan native Patrick McAlvey (who began conversion therapy at age 11), have spoken out about the detrimental influence of this childhood trauma on their lives and healthy sexuality.

Both California’s and New Jersey’s laws survived lawsuits from ex-gay therapy proponents such as the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), who argue that the law prohibits them from respecting clients’ wishes. New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie initially expressed qualms about signing his state’s bill, but determined that regardless of parental preferences, children should be protected from a therapy with severe negative psychological consequences and no evidence of benefits or effectiveness. California state senator Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), lead sponsor of the state’s anti-conversion therapy bill, bluntly called the practice “psychological child abuse.”

Since the 1970s, the mental health community has come a long way in its understanding of sexual orientation.  (Until 1973, the APA classified homosexuality as a psychological disorder.)  As PRA’s research on the ex-gay movement has documented, the pseudoscientific ex-gay movement, which presents itself as having a more “compassionate” anti-gay stance, has suffered severe setbacks in recent years. The most well known national ex-gay advocacy organization, Exodus International, closed its doors—and apologized to those it has harmed—in June of 2013.

Other organizations, however, have hastened to fill the gap left by Exodus International’s disbanding, including the Christian Right think tank, the Family Research Council (FRC), and the Exodus breakaway Restored Hope Network. Some conservative state politicians have also continued to endorse reparative therapy. In June 2014, for example, the Texas Republican Party adopted an anti-LGBTQ party platform that “recognize[s] the legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.” Last year in Maryland, it was discovered that a middle school was screening the film Acception as part of their health curriculum, which actively promotes ex-gay therapy. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX) continue to appear on school grounds, disseminating harmful misinformation about same-sex attraction to vulnerable teens.

Moreover, prominent evangelical Christians continue to peddle programs based on conversion therapy as effective and compassionate mental health care.  As PRA’s LGBTQ and gender justice researcher, Cole Parke, discussed in a recent post, megachurch pastor Rick Warren has recently sought to increase awareness of mental health issues within the evangelical community and hosted a daylong event in March to “encourage individuals living with mental illness, educate family members, and equip church leaders to provide effective and compassionate care to any faced with the challenges of mental illness.”  Yet part of his mental health initiative includes promotion of Saddleback’s Celebrate Recovery program, which, among other things, offers “support” for people who have “same-sex attraction.” What this means, ultimately, is to “face the root causes of our same-sex attraction,” and “acknowledge God’s design and desire for our sexuality.”

The principles and practices of conversion therapy continue to have a tenacious foothold around the country. Celebrate Recovery’s endorsement of harmful and highly dangerous reparative therapy models, and the ongoing activities of PFOX and other groups, demonstrates that despite recent setbacks for ex-gay groups, constant vigilance by LGBTQ advocates and legislation like that introduced in Michigan remain necessary.

**A version of this article originally appeared on the SIECUS website.

 Share on Twitte Button  Share on Facebook Button