5 Right-Wing Media Narratives Attacking the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement

Black Lives Matter protests have electrified the country—mobilizing a wide and multiracial grassroots movement challenging the killing of often unarmed Black Americans by police and the pervasive, systemic racism that continues to fundamentally shape American society. This marks the first time since the 1992 Los Angeles riots—ignited by the acquittal of four LAPD officers after they were videotaped beating Black motorist Rodney King—that the United States has seen a national movement challenging the most lethal outcropping of the many-headed hydra of structural racism: local police departments.

black lives matter

The Right has responded with its usual bag of tricks, as it tries to ensure that the U.S. racial hierarchy remains intact.

Since August of this year, Ferguson, Missouri’s African-American community has been in a state of upheaval over the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by White officer Darren Wilson—just the latest of numerous killings of unarmed African Americans by the police. But despite the broad media coverage, most protest efforts remained largely localized in Ferguson for several months afterwards.

Yet on November 24, when the grand jury announced its decision not to indict Officer Wilson, a national mass movement broke out almost overnight. The subsequent refusal, announced on December 3, of a New York City grand jury to indict an officer for the murder of another unarmed Black man, Eric Garner—who was choked to death by police while onlookers filmed the whole scene—together resulted in massive marches and demonstrations around the country, from Oakland to Boston, with tens of thousands of people marching in New York City alone on December 13.

But how is the Right responding to this outpouring of opposition to these clear-cut illustrations of structural oppression? The Right’s approaches include:

  1. Trying to make the conversation about anything but race;
  2. blaming the individuals themselves or African Americans as a group;
  3. exploiting racial fears;
  4. denying that systemic racism exists; and
  5. attempting to directly intimidate protesters.

Over the past 30 years, PRA has documented how these techniques are often part of the right-wing toolbox. By using these approaches, the Right props up the current system of profound racial disparities by blaming minority groups for their own oppression, and further fueling resentment against them.

The most popular right-wing response to the Black Lives Matter movement is to try to sidetrack the conversation into discussions of—literally—anything other than race. The most common tactic (and found not just on the Right), is to change the movement’s slogan “Black Lives Matter” into “All Lives Matter.” The change alters the focus from the police killings of African Americans, a pillar of structural racism, into a more general commentary on police brutality. While some argue this will broaden the appeal of the movement, the effect is to once again steer dialogue to “anything but race.”

Other examples include that of the National Review’s Rich Lowry, who took the opportunity in August to criticize the Ferguson police—not for committing horrific acts of state-sanctioned violence, but rather for not doing enough to stop the looting.

On Twitter, Fox News host Todd Starnes attacked President Obama for sending condolences to Michael Brown’s family, and not Darren Wilson’s.

Laurie Higgins, writing for the Illinois Family Institute, lays blame for the unrest on high school teachers, and their inclusion of liberal and left-wing authors such as Howard Zinn and Eric Foner in their curricula.

Conservative doctor and author, infamous racial revisionist, and possible Republican 2016 presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson blamed the killings of African-American men by police on a lack of subservience, which, according to Carson, is a by-product of feminism. Carson cites a lack of father figures, who supposedly teach men to relate to authority properly, and which, in turn, “had to do with the women’s lib movement.”

Conservative talk show host Mark Levin also blamed Brown for his own death. Levin says the national Black Lives Matter movement is the fault of the “reckless liberal media,” “the lawless administration (especially Eric Holder),” “phony civil rights demagogues, race-baiting politicians, and radical hate groups.” Sounding like a cross between Bull Connor and George Wallace, Levin goes on to say that “What we are witnessing now is the left’s war on the civil society. It’s time to speak out in defense of law enforcement and others trying to protect the community and uphold the rule of law.”

In December, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul blamed high cigarette taxes for the death of Eric Garner (who was stopped by police for selling loose cigarettes). This blatant deflection from the issues at hand stands at odds with his past statements about mass incarceration.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani also trotted out decades-old racist tropes, including the “the family situation in black neighborhoods,” as the core of the problem. He also cited the lack of respect for police officers, “disproportionate rates of crime in the black community,” and even teachers’ unions—for rejecting the neoliberal charter school system.

Fox News senior correspondent Geraldo Rivera agreed that “too many young black men are being killed unnecessarily in encounters with police”—but then engaged in a bait-and-switch by claiming the real problem was “family dysfunction” among people of color. He attacked LeBron James for wearing a shirt with the words “I Can’t Breathe” and said that, instead, the slogan should be “We’re The Problem.”

For years, right-wing conspiracist Alex Jones has claimed that Obama has purposefully sought social disruptions as a pretext to seize privately held weapons and instigate a dictatorship. Jones is now peddling a particularly noxious variant of his conspiracy theory, saying the protests will lead to “the attempted takedown of the Republic” and an “attempt to start a civil war, playing the people off against the police and people off against each other racially.” Crooks and Liars’ David Neiwert says Jones and company “have whipped themselves into a frenzy over the prospect of a nationwide ‘race war,’ though it is difficult to tell whether they fear such a prospect or are actively hoping for it.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky wrote a classic right-wing response. He simply denied that there is any racism in the justice system; attacked Obama for refusing to acknowledge this; claimed “the anger on the street in Ferguson was being fueled by false stories that had no real basis in fact”; blamed Brown for his own death; and, finally, blamed Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder for damaging the justice system and deepening racial divisions.

In an interview with the National Urban League’s president Marc Morial, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly covered similar territory. Kelly first claimed that the grand jury results were the product of media attention, then repeatedly asserted that there was no evidence of racism in any of the recent police shootings of African Americans, and ended by saying the focus of attention should be on so-called “Black-on-Black” crime.

There have also been multiple attempts to intimidate those speaking out against the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Ferguson’s Flood Christian Church, where Michael Brown Sr. attended, was burned down in November. The pastor—who was active in calling for justice in Brown’s killing—said he received 71 death threats before the arson.

The Oath Keepers also came to Ferguson. The group recruits current and former members of the military and law enforcement who swear to defend the Constitution by disobeying federal orders which they believe violate it, and are awash in right-wing conspiracy theories. Their leaders claimed to be there to protect businesses from looting. What their presence showed, however, was that a majority-White paramilitary group was able to brandish high-powered guns at protesters. Ferguson police initially forced them out as an unlicensed security company, but they returned the next day after arguing they were not operating in a commercial capacity. Having previously shown up at Occupy LA and the Bundy Ranch standoff, the Oath Keepers have shown not only their penchant for publicity stunts, but also marks another stage in their transformation towards being a full-blown paramilitary.

Similar to Jones’s conspiracy theory, Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes said the government intentionally refused to suppress looting in Ferguson as part of a larger attempt “to justify a ratcheting up of police state power, and it will not end until all of our children have the boot of a totalitarian police state on the back of their necks.”

The NAACP held a seven-day march, starting in late November, from Ferguson to Jefferson City, Missouri; but in the town of Rosebud, the marchers were met by a crowd of 200. “A display of fried chicken, a melon, and a beer bottle had been placed in the street. A Confederate flag flew. Counter-protesters shouted racial epithets.” Even more ominous, the back window of one of the NAACP’s buses was shot out.

Last, in three different cities, cars plowed into the demonstrations. In Minneapolis, a teenager was taken to the hospital; in St. Louis, a driver also pulled a gun; and in Portland, Oregon, the police did not charge the driver—but did issue a ticket to the protestor whose foot was run over!

As various sectors of the U.S. Right continue their desperate attempts to convince White America that there is no racial divide in the country—and furthermore that the massive protests across the country are little more than the work of race-baiters deceiving local Black communities— it is critical that all social justice-minded individuals counter these damaging messages.

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Kapya Kaoma Speaks at United Nations About LGBTQ Africans’ Struggle

On last week’s Human Rights Day (Dec 10), PRA’s senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma spoke on a panel at the United Nations about LGBTQ and intersex people’s experience of family and the role of the family in the fight for equality.

Below are an excerpt of his remarks, and full video of the “Love is a family value: Supporting all families and family members” panel.

Defending the “traditional family” has come to mean demonizing sexual minorities. Not long ago, people who looked like me were considered less human, and millions were exported as natural goods across the world. But the people of good conscience stood up, and forced the world to demand justice for the entire human family and not just for the chosen few. Love is a human and family value, it ought not to be a crime—it is an intrinsic value inherent in each one of us. To deny others the ability to love and to be loved is to rob them of their humanity. It is to force them into hating themselves as well as life denying situations and ultimately sentencing them to death!

PRA senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma

PRA senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma

We all have the duty to defend the family! Like the rainbow, our human family has always being diverse! Persecution, rejection and demonization of LGBTQ persons weaken the family—it doesn’t protect or strengthen it. We are one human family—black, white, Latinos, yellow,  straight, gay, bisexual, lesbian, and transgender—we all have a special place in the human family.

It is this family value we must all defend and protect! It is not long ago that Jews and Tutsis were robbed of their place in the human family! The result is genocide. Is it not time we stood together and said, enough is enough—one more life is too much?

Sexual minorities are not pleading for sympathy, special rights or benefits—they are just taking their own place at the family table. They want the ability to live, love and to be loved without fear of persecution! It is this family value that we must all protect, defend and uphold—for love is a family value worth defending and in the case of many African sexual minorities, worth dying for!

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Old Time Revisionism—Southern Baptists Seek to Redefine Separation of Church and State

A conference at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in Washington, DC a few months ago provided a platform to launch a trial balloon for revising the Christian Right’s contentious and often bizarre approach to separation of church and state. Russell Moore, head of the powerful Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), told participant at AEI’s first Evangelical Leadership Summit that they need to “reclaim” the phrase “separation of church and state,” a term he admitted that “we long ago tossed overboard.”

This is a development worth exploring in some detail.

Russell Moore,

Russell Moore, head of SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

The Baptist Press reported that Moore declared that separation of church and state “does not mean secularization.” Rather, “It means that the state is limited and does not have lordship over the conscience …” It’s a variation on the old Manichean framing, pitting religion vs. the secular—as if they were mutually exclusive ideas.

Historically, the separation of church and state has been considered to be a necessary prerequisite for the true meaning of religious liberty. The Framers of the Constitution recognized that creating a new nation would require finding a way for people of all faiths (as well as those with no faith) to live in peace and be treated as equals. (Given the history of religious warfare, bigotry, and persecution, that was a tall order, and we are clearly still working on it.)

The secular state does not mean a place where there are no religious people, nor is it opposed to religion generally or to any particular religion, and it is certainly not seeking “lordship” over anyone’s consciences. Rather, the secular state is intended to be neutral in matters of religion—allowing every citizen the freedom to choose for themselves what they will or will not believe in.

And this is where Moore’s argument gets even more slippery.

Moore’s SBC, in alliance with the Roman Catholic bishops, and bodies of conservative evangelicalism, are seeking to craft zones of exemption from reasonable public policies, as we saw in the Hobby Lobby case, and in the introduction of Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (crafted in part by the Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF) in the states, which seek to limit the scope of LGBTQ civil rights, especially marriage equality.

Historically, religious liberty (or religious freedom) and separation of church and state are about the guarantee of the right of individual conscience, against the excesses of both the state and powerful religious institutions.

Thus it is important to note that what the SBC and the wider Christian Right has “tossed overboard”, is actually the traditional Baptist understanding of the term. Before it departed in the wake of the fundamentalist takeover of the denomination, the SBC was a member of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. Today, the Joint Committee represents 15 Baptist entities in Washington, DC (which takes no position on marriage equality) and summarizes the traditional Baptist view:

“Baptists have valued religious freedom and separation of church and state because they suffered the hard lessons of history. From jail cells in England to stockades in Massachusetts Bay to whipping posts in Virginia, early Baptists experienced firsthand the pain of persecution — the heartache and bloodshed caused by religious zealots armed with the coercive power of government.”

“[R]eligious liberty,” the Joint Committee concludes, “is best protected when church and state are institutionally separated and neither tries to perform or interfere with the essential mission and work of the other. Separation has been good for both church and state.”

Interestingly, Moore also took a more nuanced view of Islam than some of his co-belligerents on the Christian Right, while simultaneously suggesting that the common enemy is actually secular government, which he sees as a religion unto itself.

Moore says that conservative evangelicals, for example, do not have to agree with Islam to oppose local governmental efforts to zone “a mosque out of existence.” But they should do so in order to oppose the “power to the mayor and the city council to hand down theological edicts.” If city government can zone one group out of town “on the basis of what they believe,” Moore insists, “[it] will in the fullness of time drive us all out.”

These are the types of clever arguments that are going to continue to be the stuff of politics for the foreseeable future. But they are a contemporary twist on the same hoary old casting of secular government as the anti-religious devil out to squash all religious expression and to drive institutions from the public square.

One-time Southern Baptist televangelist Pat Robertson claimed in 1993 that the “radical left … kept us in submission because they have talked about the separation of church and state. There is no such thing in the Constitution. It’s a lie of the left, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Of course, SBC Baptists have not been alone in making outlandish claims. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), a conservative Catholic, recently distinguished himself by claiming “the words ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution, but it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union. That’s where it very, very comfortably sat, not in ours.”  Santorum and his ilk are correct that the phrase does not appear in the Constitution, but the principle certainly is. The U.S. Supreme Court has found it to be a useful and authoritative shorthand phrase to describe the Constitution’s approach to religion and government.

History is Powerful

The battle for the story of religion in America has been a vastly under-appreciated aspect of the so-called culture wars. But Brent Walker of the Joint Committee, for one, has taken on the man who is arguably the leading culture warrior of Christian historical revisionism, David Barton. He notably debunked Barton’s claim that when Thomas Jefferson used the phrase “separation of church and state” in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802, Jefferson meant that there is a “one directional wall”—to prevent the government from harming religion, not to prevent religion from capturing the government.

Walker wrote that “there is absolutely nothing in the letter even to hint that” Jefferson thought of the wall of separation between church and state as being “one directional.” In any case, Walker wrote, “most scholars would argue that he was more concerned with the church harming the state than vice versa.”

Russell Moore, nevertheless, sounded decidedly Bartonesque when earlier this year he argued “…that the state has no business in recreating marriage.” He failed to acknowledge that same-sex marriage is sacred in other religious traditions, while urging the federal government to enforce his particular notion of religious marriage, “by holding mothers and fathers to their vows to each other and to the next generation.”

But he then raised one of the wild bogeyman of the debate about marriage equality—that the government would compel a church to marry someone against their will.

“If the state ever attempts to force us to call marriage that which is not marriage in our churches and ceremonies, let’s obey God, even if that means we sing our wedding hymns in the prison block.”

It is easy for Moore and his ilk to suggest that Christian martyrs should go to prison out of principle—for something that has never happened and that no has argued should.  But there are a lot of religious and non-religious Americans who are fighting every day for the rights of all, and not just their favorite brands—including a lot of Baptists and, as Jefferson once put it, “Infidels of every Denomination,” and even Moore’s much derided secularists.

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Rick Warren’s Mental Health Program Praised by NYT—Despite Ex-Gay Therapy

Saddleback megachurch pastor Rick Warren and his fellow conservative evangelical leaders are receiving a lot of fame and attention for their new commitment to providing professional services to those with mental health issues. It’s a long overdue conversation, considering that nearly half of all evangelicals reportedly believe mental illness can be cured through prayer and scripture study alone. But while the news media may lavish them with praise, Warren’s programs still put emphasis on discredited and dangerous “ex-gay therapy” for LGBTQ people.

ex-gay protester

In an article praising Rick and Kay Warren for their new endeavor, the New York Times says:

The Warrens have campaigned for mental health treatment among evangelicals. This spring Saddleback, along with the local Roman Catholic diocese and a mental health advocacy organization, held its first conference about mental illness and faith. Some 2,000 people attended, including 600 pastors.

The church’s website now points worshipers to resources for addiction and mental health. Officials at Saddleback have met with the leadership of an evangelical Christian university to create a program that educates students about mental health. This month, Saddleback held its first gathering for members whose loved ones committed suicide. In January, it will sponsor a weekend addressing suicide prevention in adolescents.

However, nowhere in the article does it mention that dark side of the Warrens’ program. PRA gender justice researcher Cole Parke recently explained:

Warren’s conference was arguably intended to address these attitudes and misperceptions surrounding the need for comprehensive, professional medical and therapeutic approaches to healing and wellness…

The catch, though, is that what Warren considers to be “professional approaches to mental health and healing” includes certain approaches that perpetuate hurt and harm rather than work to combat it, and that rely on homophobic “science” and a conservative Christian worldview. The most worrisome example is Saddleback’s Celebrate Recovery program, offering support to people struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction, as well as a wide range of other issues, including codependency, depression, eating disorders, gambling, and sexual abuse. Yet some churches’ volunteer leaders also offer “support” for people who have “same-sex attraction”—the solution to which, ultimately, is to “face the root causes of our same-sex attraction,” and “acknowledge God’s design and desire for our sexuality.”

Additionally, conservative evangelical commitment and support for these dangerous techniques isn’t limited to the United States. U.S. culture warriors have been documented promoting the use of the practice across Africa. PRA senior religion and sexuality researcher, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, has written extensively about how so-called “conversion therapy” is critical to the agenda of the U.S. Religious Right in countries like Uganda and Nigeria, allowing them to advance anti-LGBTQ legislative packages (such as the “Kill the Gays Bill” in Uganda) by propagating myths about choice and curability regarding LGBTQ people.

Speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of St. Stephen’s Church in Uganda on November 30, [Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament Rebecca] Kadaga repeated the U.S. culture warriors’ claim that “computers and books donated to (underfunded and technology starved) schools are installed with software and literature that promote homosexuality in the institutions.” She went on to say, “Homosexuals are recruiting members of religious institutions,” and homosexuals are now “adopting” vulnerable children and turning them gay. “Be very careful because gays are here to distort our heritage. We have discovered that they adopt our children and confine them in gay communities abroad to train them on gay practices. By the time they come back home, they are already influenced by homosexuality and are used to influence others in the community,” Kadaga told her audience.

It may be laudable for these conservative religious leaders to take a more active stance promoting professional mental health care for those in need. But we must recognize that for Warren and these other culture warriors, any good they are doing is dangerously tainted by their continued acceptance of practices which the United Nations Committee on Torture is investigating, and much of the Western world is focused on outlawing.

As Cole Parke concluded, “Health care—including care for mental illness—is a human right. So, too, is the right to live freely and fully regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. But until Rick Warren affirms both of these human rights, my own ‘faith’ in Saddleback’s efforts to address mental health remains limited at best.”

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“Employers Feel Wildly Free to Pay People However They Want”: An Interview with Kim Bobo

Interfaith Worker Justice founder Kim Bobo explains why progressives should be doing more to woo evangelicals; how the Chamber of Commerce is abandoning small businesses by not fighting wage theft; and why some Catholic employers are lobbying for workers to get paid overtime.

This interview is part of the upcoming Winter 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine

Kim Bobo, founder and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice

Kim Bobo, founder and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice

Kim Bobo, the founder and executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), is one of the Left’s luminaries when it comes to the intersection of faith and economic justice. Bobo, who was herself raised an evangelical Christian, and is the author of Wage Theft: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid, and What We Can Do About It, will transition out of leadership at the end of 2014.  Although the problem of wage theft—workers not being paid what they are owed for their work—is rampant in low-wage workplaces, Bobo’s ability to persuade Christians, Jews, and Muslims to support the rights of workers in their communities has even earned her the respect of some employers. But it has also earned her the distinction of being targeted by both the Religious and Corporate Right. In 2012, the Catholic-funded American Life League issued an 80-page “report” red-baiting Bobo. Recently, too, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has challenged IWJ by blocking anti-wage theft laws and naming IWJ in a series of reports claiming that worker centers should be regulated just like labor unions.  Bobo sat down with The Public Eye to talk about her personal journey of bringing together workers’ rights and faith, and about her reasons for remaining optimistic despite the continued suffering of many low-wage workers under the most extreme economic inequality in 100 years.

The Public Eye (PE): How did you come to start Interfaith Worker Justice?

I had gotten involved in 1989-1990 in putting together a religious support committee for the Pittston Coal strike. I realized that there was not much structure in the faith community to be involved in labor issues. That seemed just a missing piece to me, because in faith communities we cared about poverty, we cared about poor people, we were doing soup kitchens and shelters.

Clearly we needed to do something around labor, jobs, wage payment, those kinds of issues, as well. So I did this Pittston work and the folks I worked with at UMWA (the United Mine Workers of America union) were phenomenal and interested in the partnerships with the faith community.  While there was no structure, it was pretty easy to get people to do stuff.

I was living in Chicago, so I put together a group of religious leaders to support labor.  I didn’t understand the politics of labor, but I happened to completely luck out: Don Turner, who was the assistant to the President of the Chicago AFL-CIO, was assigned to be my liaison. He was interested in rebuilding these partnerships. We became this team, with me mobilizing the religious community for labor and him helping me understand labor.

We called it the Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Justice.

PE: What is your faith background?

I grew up in an evangelical fundamentalist home in Cincinnati, Ohio, in what’s called the Church of Christ. I memorized lots of Bible verses as a kid. The heart of the scripture is: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. For me, my whole life is trying to figure out how to put that into actuality. Some would say that’s an odd background to be doing this work. I don’t think so. It was fundamentalist teachings of the core of the scriptures that drove me.

I have been involved in church work my whole life; in fact, I’m the choir director and moderator at my church. I am now a member of the United Church of Christ. (The names sound similar; they’re about as far away from one another as you can get.)

One of the things that has not been smart has been to lump evangelicals and fundamentalists in with the conservative Christian Right. While a lot of people have been confused on things and connect with the Christian Right on stuff, to lump this huge group of people or write them off as not part of our [workers’ rights] movement is dumb.

You see that right now on immigration reform. The evangelical world is completely solid on immigration reform. And at the local level, we see a lot of fundamentalists and evangelicals involved in the work.

We need to understand there are some very well-funded, concerted efforts by right-wing forces to continue to capture [evangelicals]. The Heritage Foundation published a small study guide entitled “Seek Social Justice.” It argues that the best way to help poor people is to do it through your church, because we are closer to people, and thus the best way to get there is to cut taxes of rich people and give more money to the church. It also makes these wild statements like, “If people aren’t happy with their jobs, they can just go find another one.”  Really?  It is not a very sophisticated argument.

We should not assume [evangelical Christians] are a static group of people that is owned by the Right Wing.

We should not assume [evangelical Christians] are a static group of people that is owned by the Right Wing. This is a set of folks that have a set of values of their faith that are being contested. I think that we need to be in there contesting for them. It’s hard because the Right Wing understands the importance of the faith community in these issues. They put a lot of money into funding right-wing religious organizations; the progressive world doesn’t.

You look at those of us working in the economic justice space within the religious community and every one of us is struggling for money. The progressive funding infrastructure doesn’t get that this is contested space and that we need to be out there working at it. Most progressive donors do not fund in this world. It is a problem. We get a little money from the unions, but most large donors, the people who are viewed as the larger progressive donors, do not fund in this world. They just don’t believe in it.

PE: How did the worker centers start?

I can remember that in ’96 and ’97, pastors would refer us workers who hadn’t gotten paid. They said, “Oh you got a workplace problem? Oh, call Interfaith Worker Justice.”  So these random workers would call us. I would say, “You haven’t gotten paid? You work at a restaurant? Maybe the hotel and restaurant workers union can help you.” My assumption was if workers weren’t getting paid, I could just refer them to unions, but unions didn’t want these workers that didn’t make sense in their strategic plans.

We produced a workers’ rights manual in English and Spanish. Then, when workers called, I could send them the manual and I could go back to doing my real work – supporting workers’ right to organize.

Yet we had to figure how to create a structure that could support these workers who are not being served by the labor movement.

I describe the work right now in three prongs. One is the work engaging the faith community in supporting workers’ right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Second is helping support and build structures that help workers that are not yet served by unions: the worker center movement. We now have 27 worker centers. The third is public policy. How can we be involved in policies that raise the core standards of workers, from minimum wage to sick days to anti-wage theft ordinances?

Our wage theft work, which grew out of the worker center movement, has merged with all aspects of our work. On the one hand, dealing with wages is the heart and soul of worker centers. It’s their number one problem.

But unions are recognizing that the issue of wage theft resonates with workers and makes sense to use in organizing workers. In sectors where they are unionized, the non-union companies are committing wage theft in a way that undermines the standards of whole industries.

Even though we’ve been losing on a lot of other stuff, we’ve been winning on wage theft. It’s hard to argue that wage theft is okay.

We’ve been winning all of these local ordinances around the country around wage theft. Even though we’ve been losing on a lot of other stuff, we’ve been winning on wage theft. It’s hard to argue that wage theft is okay.

PE: Can you name a couple of significant victories?

Fe Y Justicia in Houston just passed a wage theft ordinance that strengthens enforcement at the citywide level and says that when they do city contracts they’ll look at wage theft criteria for city enforcement. Arise Chicago (a worker center) led an effort that allows city government to pull a business’ license if someone is found to be a repeat violator.

PE: Are such ordinances largely symbolic, or do they have real teeth?

I think that a bunch of them have teeth. Some of the state bills have treble damages, which is huge [Ed. note: this means the employer must pay the worker triple the amount owed]. The New York State includes a provision for protection against retaliation. The city ones, it’s early to tell.

PE: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been portraying worker centers as a problem, as crypto-unions that should be regulated in the same way.

The Chamber doesn’t like worker centers because worker centers have been effective in challenging bad practices in businesses. To the extent that unions have a bad reputation in the country, which the polls generally show, the Chamber is trying to taint worker centers by calling them unions. I like unions so that doesn’t taint them in my book, but the truth is, legally they’re not unions and the Department of Labor has been really clear [about that].

Worker centers work with and support labor unions, but that doesn’t make them labor unions—in the same way that they work with religious communities but are not a church. If you want to compare them to something, they’re much more like settlement houses at the turn of the century or the Catholic or Jewish labor schools from the ’30s and ’50s. They are community organizations that support labor.

The Chamber of Commerce would be much better served helping its members address the wage theft problems that they have.

PE: What do IWJ worker centers do beyond helping workers who have been denied their wages?

We advocate in general for higher wages through increasing the minimum wage.

If you have a group of workers who come in and they haven’t been paid or are having problems, we talk to them about their rights in the workplace, including their right to have a union.

Workers make the choice. Sometimes they want to get their money back. We’ll work with them on direct action and help them get their money back. Sometimes, we’ll file claims with the Department of Labor or file a lawsuit. Sometimes, they decide, “we need ongoing representation in our workplace,” and the workers organize a union.

We do education around these issues and tell people what their rights are, but the worker center is not the union.

PE: What is the role of congregations with worker centers?

We are trying to encourage deep engagement of the faith community with worker centers. Some worker centers were started by people of faith or by social justice committees. Some of them had a secular start, but because they are affiliated with us, they want to know how to do a better job. Congregations and denominations provide financial support and volunteers. IWJ’s national headquarters is housed at a church that offers space for modest rent. There are a lot of worker centers in church basements and they provide advocacy. If a group of workers want to get their money back from an employer, local clergy will go with them. Or, if they want to strengthen enforcement at the city level, there’s engagement of the faith community in advocating for that.

PE: IWJ says it aims to address the root causes of economic disparity and indignity in the workplace. What are those causes?

It’s because workers don’t have power.  We are trying to figure out how we get more power through unions and through workers working independently, and through core standards and public policy.

We need to figure out how to get from where we are to something hospitable to the vast majority of the people.

We believe that the economic system in this country, monopoly capitalism, is not serving the common good and not serving the vast majority of workers in the country. We need to figure out how to get from where we are to something hospitable to the vast majority of the people.

How do you put some limits on capital, as it is now?  How do you get higher core standards in the society? How do workers get more power, more ability to influence what happens?

PE: IWJ calls for a proactive and transparent Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. How far are we away from that?

We have great leadership in the Department of Labor. Tom Perez is really great, but he’s new.

[Labor enforcement] also hasn’t been on the top of the list of the White House and that’s a problem. While the Department of Labor touts its expanded enforcement as, “We’ve added 250 more investigators,” [that means that] they went from 750 to 1,000 for 135 million workers in the country. That’s not enough. They’re really working hard and doing creative work—but they’re not scratching the surface of the problems.

If they had 4,000 investigators, I think we could start making a dent, but I’m convinced that wage theft has gotten worse, not better, in the last few years. The economy has gotten rough and employers feel wildly free to pay people however they want.  Calling people independent contractors [so that] they are exempt from all basic laws is another practice exacerbating this. How do we stop that?

It’s outrageous: there’s no sense right now of the importance of paying workers fairly. We’ve got to strengthen this sort of work that worker centers are doing around this, beating up on employers who are cheating people.  [That’s] why the Chamber of Commerce is so upset, but we’ve got to keep doing this.

We’ve got to always stand with unions because if we had more unions we wouldn’t have this crisis of wage theft.

We also need to engage the business community in some conversations around this. The Chamber of Commerce needs to stop these attacks and start having conversations with its members: how can we have a democratic society if we can’t figure out how to pay workers enough to raise their family with dignity?  The Chamber ought to be helping lead those conversations.

PE: Do you see any signs of that actually happening? 

I see several signs. They’re not huge ones, but I always look for the glimmer of hope as a person of good faith. There are some business leaders in construction in Texas who are good Republicans, Catholic businessmen who are saying, ‘We can’t compete against these low-road employers who are calling [employees] independent contractors.’

So they are standing up for the anti-wage theft bills in Houston. [Ed, note: Since this interview was conducted, Houston has begun implementing its anti-wage theft law, and workers have been getting the money they are owed.] They’ve got a commitment from both the public entities and the universities and hospitals to only hire employers in construction that pay people fairly. That’s huge and that’s really being driven by the business community. They may be conservative, but these are ethical people.

We are trying to figure how to lift up employers who are paying fairly. I think that’s encouraging.

I did an interview with human resources professionals who were concerned that they’re being asked to condone [employer] behavior in the workplace that’s not right. What if the Chamber of Commerce were saying, “We’re going to start a conversation with our members about how to pay people fairly and justly?” That would change things. They should be doing that.

PE: On the other hand, the HR people are probably worried about their legal responsibilities and the Texas businessmen are worried about competing with low-wage labor. Does the moral argument ever resonate with people?

I think it’s hard to separate them. Stan Merrick in Houston has really led. There are clearly economic arguments. He’s getting hurt by [low-road contractors], but he also has all these immigrant workers. He’s become a huge advocate for immigration reform, as well, because he knows these guys. He’s hired these guys. They’ve got families. It’s also personal. He was raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools. His values are also a part of this. When you talk to business leaders, some of them are cutthroat and don’t care about anyone else, but that’s not all of them. A lot of them, on the one hand, are hardcore business guys, and, on the other hand, know it’s not right to cheat people. We’ve got to appeal to people on that.

I think figuring out how to pay people fairly is a moral issue, but it is also an economic issue in the long term. We can’t be a consumer-driven society if the consumers don’t have any money to buy anything. So, I’m going to make all the arguments. You can’t separate one from another. 

PE: “Can you talk about how IWJ’s economic justice work also intersects with and reflects a commitment to racial and gender justice?”

You see companies using race to separate people and to make economic gain. The Chicago Workers’ Collaborative is suing temp agencies that refuse to hire African American workers, and have instead intentionally hired immigrant workers and then stolen their wages from them. The lawsuits seek to recover back wages and stop discriminatory practices. Clearly, the temp agencies believed they could make higher profits that way.

Home care work was women’s work and African Americans’ work, and also not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. We’ve built into the very codification of our laws these discriminatory practices.

Race and class are intermingled in ways that are used against us. Anybody who is vulnerable is likely to be a victim of abuse in the workplace. African Americans often feel vulnerable and are often victims of abuse. Immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, are even more vulnerable. Women’s wages are not what men’s wages are. Almost two-thirds of minimum-wage workers are women, and you’ve got this whole sector of jobs that continues to be viewed as women’s work and has historically been paid less.

And these discriminatory practices are embedded in our labor laws. So farm work, which was historically performed by African Americans and then by Latinos, was not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. Home care work was women’s work and African Americans’ work, and also not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act. We’ve built into the very codification of our laws these discriminatory practices.

PE: What can you leave us with that would be helpful in social justice work?

On the one hand, we’ve got to learn from the past. What are the struggles that people have had before us, and what can we learn from that?

For organizers, how do we make sure we spend time with our families so we’ve got the support structures that we need? We need love surrounding us so we can do the work for the long haul.

And how do we keep hope so we can keep going, especially in what’s been really rough times the past few years? How do we have the hope for the future?

How do we in the faith community do more at the congregational level, because there’s a structure. There are so many young people who define themselves as spiritual but not religious. So how do we capture engaged people who are spiritual not religious, not connected with a congregation? Is there a way to have people participate?

PE: To have a sense of the common good?

Right! I’m intrigued by all the online stuff that people are doing, like social networking. We need to do that, but I’m not convinced that it’s a substitute for “people stuff.” How do we do the people stuff and the social networking? the only way change ever happens is when people work together.

Ed. Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Top Uganda Politician: Western Gays Adopting Children to Turn Them Gay

As Uganda awaits the passage of the new Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Speaker of the Parliament Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, one the nation’s biggest political powerhouses, is ramping up her U.S. conservative-fed talking points. Her recent speech resulted in a headline in The Uganda Daily Monitor reading, “Gay groups targeting church leaders, schools – Kadaga.”

Uganda's Speaker of the Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga

Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga

Speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of St. Stephen’s Church in Uganda on November 30, Kadaga repeated the U.S. culture warriors’ claim that “computers and books donated to (underfunded and technology starved) schools are installed with software and literature that promote homosexuality in the institutions.” She went on to say, “Homosexuals are recruiting members of religious institutions,” and homosexuals are now “adopting” vulnerable children and turning them gay. “Be very careful because gays are here to distort our heritage. We have discovered that they adopt our children and confine them in gay communities abroad to train them on gay practices. By the time they come back home, they are already influenced by homosexuality and are used to influence others in the community,” Kadaga told her audience.

As Speaker of the Parliament, Kadaga’s words ought to be taken seriously. Being one of the most powerful people in Uganda, she holds the key to the new Anti-Homosexuality Bill which has potential to destroy countless families if passed into law.

Since coming to power in 2011, Kadaga has become the center of the government’s power structure and a fierce campaigner of anti-gay laws. In 2012, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird confronted Kadaga about Uganda’s record on human and sexual rights during the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Quebec, Canada. Kadaga rebuffed Baird’s pleas for a fair treatment of LGBTQ Ugandans, saying “If homosexuality is a value for the people of Canada they should not seek to force Uganda to embrace it. We are not a colony or a protectorate of Canada.” She went on to promise to pass the infamous Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009.

The original Anti Homosexuality Act (formerly known as the “Kill the Gays” bill) was signed into law in February of 2014, before being struck down by the court for a procedural violation during the Parliament’s vote. Since then, Kadaga has surpassed Uganda president Yoweri Museveni in her zeal to fight homosexuality and “protect” Uganda’s heritage.

But the power of Kadaga stems from her close ties with both the U.S. conservative evangelicals and anti-gay pastors such as Martin Ssempa. Aside from receiving conservative funding from U.S. culture warriors, these vitriolic pastors won’t rest until Kadaga gives them the new anti-gay law, which includes prison sentences up to 15 years for LGBTQ Ugandans, human rights advocates and straight allies.

Kadaga’s claim about computers and books being used to promote homosexuality are direct quotes from claims that have been made by U.S. conservatives such as Scott Lively and Lou Engle during their visits to Uganda.

In fact, Lively used this claim in 2009 to lobby Ugandan parents to reject UNICEF’s books. He later described the effort, saying “On the TV show we exposed a book distributed to schools by UNICEF that normalizes homosexuality to teenagers. (We expect a massive protest by parents, who are mostly not aware that such materials even exist in their country, let alone in their childrens’ classrooms.)”

Likewise, Lou Engle said Uganda must oppose UNICEF “at all costs.” And Sharon Slater, co-founder of Family Watch International, making similar accusations about the United Nations itself.

Moreover, Kadaga’s claim that religious leaders are being recruited by western homosexuals should not be viewed as something new either. The same claims were made during the now-infamous March, 2009, Anti-Gay Strategic Meeting at Triangle Hotel in Kampala. In October 2012, the court convicted six of Speaker Kadaga’s friends—among them were Martin Ssempa and Solomon Male—for character assassination of Ugandan Pastor Kayanja. Each were sentenced to either six months in prison or a fine of Shs1 million (about $400 U.S.) and 100 hours of community service. They all chose the latter.

Reading between the lines, there is another aspect to Kadaga’s claims—the changing religious landscape of Africa’s homophobia. After many unchallenged years of demonizing sexual minorities and human rights activists by U.S. culture warriors and their African allies, pro-human rights clergy are growing slowly on the continent. Many are realizing that the U.S.-born campaigns of demonization and violence against sexual minorities goes against their religious convictions. As the KwaZulu Natal Declaration showed, some African clergy opposed to the violent persecution of sexual minorities are now speaking out. In almost all Sub-Saharan African countries, religious voices against hate are slowly emerging. Since these leaders are preaching love and acceptance of sexual minorities as opposed to hatred, anti-gay pastors’ voices are now being challenged. To dismiss their critical voices, they are being branded as homosexuals themselves. African anti-gay pastors and their U.S. Right allies have entirely branded affirming Religious leaders such as Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo of Uganda, Revds. MacDonald Sembereka of Malawi, Benebo Fubara-Manuel of Nigeria, Michael Kimindu of Kenya, this author, and many others as homosexuals. Regardless, their numbers are growing—forcing anti-gay pastors and their Western allies into social panic.

Kadaga’s claim to have discovered Western homosexuals adopting African children and “confining them in gay communities abroad to train them on gay practices” is certainly a new low in her attempts to vilify LGBTQ people. Kadaga does not, of course, have any evidence for such claims—it is just another way anti-gay groups incite hatred against gay communities. African sexual minorities and their allies are also frequently accused of receiving “millions of dollars” to recruit people into homosexuality. The reality, however, being that the majority of LGBTQ people in Africa live in extreme poverty.

It is interesting that Speaker Kadaga, and not President Museveni, made these claims about LGBTQ Ugandans at this particular religious event—the space Museveni has usually used to demonize gays in the past. Does this suggest that Museveni would veto the new Anti Homosexuality bill?

Museveni may wish to veto the legislation when the Parliament inevitably passes it again—this time without the procedural mistake—in order to save face with the international community and preserve the country’s approximately $118 Million in foreign aid Uganda receives each year. With Kadaga on the helm, however, the Parliament could easily override the veto by simply passing the bill two more times. This backs Museveni into a no-win situation. As for Kadaga, she would emerge as a hero—as she did it in 2012, 2013, and 2014 when she used her position to challenge the West, pass the Bill and force Museveni to sign it into law.

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A Manhattan Declaration Reunion in Rome: Conservative Catholic-Protestant Alliance Strengthens

Five years ago, approximately 150 American right-wing religious and political activists came together to sign The Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience, which called for a rededication to the fight for “the sanctity of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty.” The Vatican hosted a conference last week featuring similar themes and many of the same faces, further solidifying the conservative Catholic-Protestant alliance against LGBTQ people and reproductive justice.

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

Culture War Exporter Rick Warren sits in the front row as Pope Francis speaks at the Humanum meeting at the Vatican

The Manhattan Declaration—published in 2009covered familiar right-wing talking points, but it was far more than just another conservative call-to-arms. As PRA research fellow Fred Clarkson observed, “[I]ts distinct achievement has been to broaden and deepen the emerging alliance between conservative Roman Catholics and right-wing evangelical Protestants.”

Nine Catholic Archbishops joined some of the best-known Christian Right leaders in the United States on the list of original signatories. Among them were key right-wing leaders such as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom; Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; and Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage. Evangelical scholars like Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, added their names to the list. Prominent anti-gay culture warriors like Rick Warren also signed. Key leaders involved with the New Apostolic Reformation—Harry Jackson, Joseph Mattera, and Samuel Rodriguez—were on the list, too.

Many of these same individuals teamed up again this week in Rome at “Humanum: An Interreligious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman,” which was convened by Pope Francis. The conference follows a recent synod gathering at which Catholic bishops considered, but ultimately rejected, proposals to soften the church’s stances on homosexuality and divorce.

Robert P. George, creator of the Manhattan Declaration and co-founder of the Witherspoon Institute which funded the debunked anti-gay Regnerus study, was a key organizer of Humanum. Speaking in an interview at the conclusion of the event, George enthusiastically described the shared values and understandings that had been made evident at the event despite so many “profound theological differences” among attendees. Though admitting that “things look very black” back in the U.S. when it comes to marriage and family, George was optimistic about the potential found in the unification of conservative believers. “People are leaving this conference on fire!” he exclaimed.

Several prominent signatories were also in attendance, including Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, and Brian Brown. And Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration’s nonprofit, was present as well. In the list of goals he presented to his Facebook followers before departing for Rome, #1 on Teetsel’s list was “ask Pope to sign the Manhattan Declaration.”

Rick Warren and Russell Moore—two of the most prominent right-wing Protestants in the U.S. and both signers of the Manhattan Declaration—were featured speakers at the event.

Indulging anti-Western sentiments, Moore explained to the global interfaith audience, “Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, marriage redefinition, and abortion rights as parts of a sexual revolution that can tear down old patriarchal systems.”

Critiquing the Western world as “anti-family” is an increasingly popular tactic for right-wing Western culture war exporters who are seeking to foster stronger relationships and gain favor with their conservative international comrades. In doing so, these [mostly U.S.] right-wing leaders are effectively forming a consolidated conservative voting bloc at the UN and in other international decision-making bodies which enables them to advance their anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice agenda with increasing efficiency.

Speaking later in the day, Warren agreed with Moore. Marriage, he said, is being “ridiculed, resented, rejected, and even redefined.” He went on to charge the attendees, “The church cannot cower in silence. The stakes are too high!”

Warren—like Moore—is a strategic thinker. For a Protestant speaking at the Vatican to address “the church” in broad, collective terms, he’s effectively making a bold statement of shared ideology and mission, brushing aside historic tensions between Catholics and Protestants that have been smoldering ever since Martin Luther famously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses onto the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany in 1517.

The linking of conservative movements in the Roman Catholic and right-wing evangelical Protestant worlds is a dangerous threat to movements for LGBTQ and reproductive justice, and the ties are growing stronger. Next year, the Vatican will be coming to the U.S., providing further opportunity to strengthen these new alliances. In September 2015, Philadelphia will play host to the Eighth World Meeting of Families—an event coordinated by the Roman Catholic Church and held every three years with the expressed purpose of “strengthening the sacred bonds of the family unit across the globe.”

During his address to the Humanum audience, Pope Francis announced that he will be personally attending the event in Philadelphia. This will be his first papal visit to the United States, and organizers expect his presence will attract more than a million people.

When the Manhattan Declaration was first published in 2009, many social justice advocates especially expressed concern about the inclusion of a call for civil disobedience. Timothy Kincaid, writing for the Box Turtle Bulletin, noted:

“While this alliance is one that does not reflect the face of Christianity, it also is not a declaration of a new-found position of agreement based on shared Christian teaching and ideology. There is no mention of shared faith in creeds or teachings, no virgin birth, no resurrection, no divine redemption.

Rather, this is a statement of political purpose by an alliance of socially conservative activist who oppose abortion and marriage equality. … This is, in short a political alliance. It is a pact and a threat.”

This threat cannot be overstated. As various factions of the Christian Right continue to strengthen their alliances through the common ground of shared enemies, culture war casualties will only increase.

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Defending Justice: How Does Law & Order Play Out in Racial Terms?

In the United States, existing institutional, systemic, and individual racism magnify and reinforce this us/them dichotomy. Because the criminal justice system of every country serves as a means of control over some members of that society (and others who get caught up in it), it always reflects the need of the State for control, the political desire of leaders to stay in power, and the norms and mores of behavior favored by those leaders and usually supported by at least a portion of the society’s members. In a country with the racial history of the United States, we cannot be surprised that Whites have always controlled the criminal justice system and used it to control people of color, especially African Americans and increasingly all dark-skinned people, including those from the Middle East and South Asia.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

Cartoon by Kirk Anderson.

In the ideological and political campaign to promote “law and order,” conservative strategists have been careful to avoid any mention of its agenda’s racial implications. After arguing for criminalizing certain behaviors, especially drug consumption and distribution, they never mentioned how this would disproportionately affect communities of color (where the State’s arrests for such behavior are higher than in White and suburban communities). Some of the academics who promote law-and-order arguments have even maintained an identity as liberals, and claim to be writing in the interests of “the community.” Through this sleight of hand, rightist policymakers have constructed law-and-order policies as a series of supposedly race-neutral policies, although the outcome of these policies has been to criminalize, to a vastly disproportionate extent, the behaviors of certain targeted groups, especially racial minorities. Whether or not these law-and-order policies were intentionally racist may be open to debate, but many people, especially people of color, connect the dots and see their outcome as both intentional and systemic.

You might imagine that an increased emphasis on law and order would result in increased attention to all forms of law-breaking. But addressing police brutality and other forms of State violence clearly is not the focus of law-and-order policies. Nor is it the focus of the ideological camp that promotes these policies. Such neglect of a whole class of “victims”-those victimized by police or military power-supports the assertion that illegitimate race-based practices are the single most salient feature of the contemporary criminal justice system. Rightists often blatantly deny statistical evidence of unequal rates of incarceration, arrest, and punishment by race or class for identical crimes, as well as evidence of police and criminal justice officials’ presumption of guilt according to the race of the accused. Rightist Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr., a prominent law-and-order proponent who inaccurately predicted a growing wave of “super-predator” children, stated that data on the administration of capital punishment “disclose no trace of racism..” But it is nearly impossible to study the discrepancies between incarceration rates for people of color and those of Whites for similar behaviors and not conclude that these policies, and those who defend them, are racially motivated.

Ideological Contradictions In Law-and-Order Policies

Each sector of the Right does not necessarily support the same policy solutions to the issues of crime and punishment. Various anti-crime policies create splits and disagreements within the Right. For example, rightist libertarians – who favor the most limited role possible for government – object to a punishment model that requires a huge investment of government funds, even when incarceration is privatized, and prisons eliminate training and treatment. The cost of building new prisons to house and police a swelling prison population increases government spending in both the long- and short-term. Between 1985 and 1995, states and the federal government opened one new prison a week to cope with the flood of inmates into the prison system. Much of this increase resulted from the increasing criminalization of non-violent offenders, through three-strikes laws, mandatory sentences, and drug laws. Referring to the many economic interests that now have a vested interest in maintaining high rates of incarceration, some critics, notably Angela Davis, have called this the emergence of a “prison-industrial complex.” Police departments, private prison corporations, unions of prison guards, rural communities eager for prison jobs, and businesses that provide prisons with food, security, and maintenance serve as pressure groups to assure the continuation of ever-increasing funding for prisons and to support tough on crime policies and drug laws that continually escalate rates of imprisonment.

Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Widespread imposition of the death penalty also creates dissonance for some rightists. Between 1995 and 2003, prisoners in the United States were executed at an average rate of one per week. Although execution is a more expensive form of punishment than life-long imprisonment (due to the cost to the State of legal appeals), until recently its use has been steadily increasing, driven, in large part, by the Secular Right. Some conservatives are disconcerted by the revelation, as a result of DNA testing, that innocent prisoners have been executed. Others more critical of the criminal justice system, have not been surprised by these cases.

Finally, some rightists are uneasy with the growth of federal domination over state criminal justice systems. Despite the traditional conservative commitment to “states’ rights,” criminal prosecutions usually conducted at the state level have increasingly been taken over by the federal government, as the law-and-order crime model has grown in influence. For decades, crimes that involve crossing state lines have been classified as federal crimes and are prosecuted in federal courts. Organized crime cases and many drug and firearms crimes have swelled the number of federal cases. But journalist Ted Gest describes a “creeping federalization of criminal prosecutions” of crimes that occur at the local level. Liberals have supported some of this growth in the role of federal courts. Because they hope, for instance, that hate crimes, abortion clinic bombings, and stalkings will often be prosecuted more vigorously at the federal level than at the state level. But, as both political parties compete to appear tough on crime, much of the federalization of the criminal justice system is directed at drug offenders and non-violent criminals. It thereby diminishes the role of the states in fighting even local crime. So much for states’ rights, a key principle of the Right’s ideology.

Why would rightists persist in favoring these “big government” aspects of tough-on-crime policies? The prevention and rehabilitation model, which has largely been defunded, ultimately costs less in tax dollars because it addresses the causes of crime and the rehabilitation of prisoners. The answer lies in the ideological compatibility of apparently contradictory ideas when they are held within an overarching worldview that explains the contradictions. Two especially strongly held conservative beliefs are not subject to debate-criminals must be punished, and government should remain small. But “smallness” does not mean that the government should be weak. Thomas Hobbes’ admonition that States must establish a strong power that can exert control undergirds the idea that a massive program of incarceration is ideologically acceptable for conservatives who don’t believe in “big government.” In this case, many conservatives who believe that criminals are bad and must be punished in order to protect good, responsible (read White) people accept a strong role for government as appropriate and consistent with a conservative ideology. All sectors of the Right oppose the one policy solution that is most likely to solve the problem of crime in the long term-the creation of jobs, housing, economic opportunity, and universal health care that includes treatment for addictions.

Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt of Political Research Associate’s 2005 Activist Resource Kit, “Defending Justice.” The full kit is available here.

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Racist Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen’s Long Family History of Reactionary Third-Party Politics

Assemblyman Ira Hansen (R) stepped down as speaker-elect of the Nevada Assembly on Sunday, following national publicity of a report on his racist and misogynistic columns in a local newspaper—including his labeling of Black people as “simple minded darkies.”  But given that memories are short, and politicians’ ambitions never die, this may be a good time to discuss  the Hansen families’ 50+ year history of right-wing third party politics, from George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign to the present.

Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen

Nevada Assemblyman Ira Hansen

Hansen is denouncing the “orchestrated attack” on his character, claiming that the inflammatory quotes are 20 years old and taken out of context—his use of the word “negro” in lower case in reference to President Obama is not two decades old—but it is true that national press failed to provide context for Hansen’s rapid rise to prominence in Nevada’s GOP.

The Independent American Party of Nevada

The Hansen clan, including Ira Hansen’s father, grandmother, aunt, and uncles, and other relatives, are practically synonymous with the state’s third largest party, the Independent American Party (IAP). The IAP in Nevada has included in its ranks Sharron Angle, who later ran for Senate as a Republican, and Cliven Bundy, who publicly abandoned the GOP and signed his registration form at an IAP event held in his honor in May, 2014. The IAP is the fastest growing party in Nevada, now with over 70,000 members and doubling in size since 2005.

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The John Birch Society (JBS) tried but failed to build GOP support for a 1968 presidential ticket with Ezra Taft Benson and Strom Thurmond for vice president. Benson was one of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles of the Mormon (LDS) church and the former Secretary of Agriculture in Eisenhower’s administration. After the attempt failed, the JBS played a significant role in getting George Wallace on state ballots as the American Independent Party presidential candidate. Wallace asked Benson to be his running mate, but LDS President David O. McKay either strongly advising him to decline, as published in 1968 by the Bell-McClure Syndicate for newspapers, or refused to grant him permission, as indicated in an article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, by D. Michael Quinn and based on letters in the Wilkinson Papers at Brigham Young University. Daniel Hansen was one of many John Birch Society members who campaigned for George Wallace in western states and was one of Wallace’s many Mormon supporters. Wallace won five Southern states and 13.7 percent of the vote in Nevada. Ezra Taft Benson, whose work to align the church and JBS in the 1960s was controversial, would become the 13th LDS Prophet and President in 1985.

The Party was founded by Ira’s father, Daniel Hansen, as part of an effort to get Alabama Governor George Wallace, a hardcore segregationist, on the ballot in Nevada for the 1968 presidential election. (See the sidebar about the role of Daniel’s fellow John Birch Society members and Mormon leadership in campaigning for Wallace in Western states.)  The IAP of Nevada was affiliated with the American Independent Party (AIP) in the 1960s and 70s, and later with the theocratic Constitution Party.

Daniel Hansen was the runner up in balloting for the vice presidential slot on the ticket with Gov. Lester Maddox in 1976, and would run unsuccessfully in Nevada for Governor and Congress before his death in a car accident in 2002. The IAP would continue, with Daniel’s sister Janine and brothers Christopher and Joel, also running as perennial IAP candidates.

The Hansens have been leading culture warriors in the fight against women’s and LGBTQ rights.  Led by Janine, the Hansens organized the STOP ERA [Equal Rights Amendment] movement in the western states. Janine continues today as the leader of Nevada’s Eagle Forum and as the Constitutional Issues Chairman of the national organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly. Janine has published a voter guide since 1988 and lobbies the Nevada Assembly on behalf of Eagle Forum.

Daniel Hansen wrote that homosexuals are “termites of civilization [who] have brazenly oozed out of their closet to proclaim that they have a right to maim, molest and embarrass society.” In 1994, the IAP published a 16-page advertising insert for local papers titled “The Homosexual Agenda Exposed,” promoting an amendment to the Nevada constitution that would permanently legalize LGBTQ discrimination. Talking Points Memo described it as including “virtually every homophobic myth ever conceived” after obtaining a copy during investigation of Angle’s role in the IAP.

By the 1990s, the Nevada IAP affiliated with the Constitution Party.  Daniel served as Western States Chairman for the national party, followed by Janine who represented Michael Peroutka’s presidential campaign at the Alaskan Independence Party convention in 2004.  She continues as Western States Chairman in the national party today.  (Peroutka has been featured in PRA articles concerning his successful infiltration of the Maryland Republican Party and election to an influential county council position.)

Janine and Christopher Hansen were behind a 2006 schism in the Constitution Party. The Hansens are Mormon (LDS) and Christopher, as the IAP candidate for governor, ran on a platform opposing abortion which included the Mormon church’s support of exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, as documented in Janine’s voter guide. This was unacceptable to some of the Constitution Party leadership, since the party adheres to a strict written policy “opposing abortion 100%, no exceptions.”  In the power struggle that followed, the Hansens and IAP were not expelled from the national party, and nine state parties disaffiliated in protest. Ironically, those states included Maryland, resulting in Peroutka being essentially locked out of the party which he had represented in the presidential election.

Ira Hansen himself has expressed disdain for his relatives’ third party efforts, complaining that “IAP candidates can only be spoilers and never win any major races themselves.” Only Ira, running as a Republican, has achieved success beyond a local office.  “I don’t want anyone to think I have anything to do with the Independent American Party,” stated Hansen, according to the Las Vegas Sun, which described him as not wanting his fellow Republicans to wonder whether he belongs to the GOP just to get elected. He disassociates himself from his relative’s IAP activity, even getting up from his seat and walking out of the Assembly when his Aunt Janine was testifying. 

The Battle for the Soul of the GOP

But Ira Hansen wouldn’t be the first politician to join the GOP out of expediency.  Sharron Angle joined the IAP and worked with the Hansens in circulating petitions to the get the party back onto the state ballot in 1992. Talking Points Memo interviewed three IAP members, including Janine Hansen, who described Angle’s departure in 1997 as a strategic move in order to run for office.

Ira Hansen’s critiques of the GOP sound much like those of his late father. In a 2014 interview, Ira claimed that it was Nevada Republicans who doomed Sharron Angle’s run for the Senate, and joined radio host Janet Mefferd in bemoaning what they described as the party establishment’s “leftward drift.”

Ira Hansen also appears to share his relative’s views on state’s rights and their admiration for Cliven Bundy—who gained notoriety after refusing to pay the fees for letting his cows graze on public land for decades, although the notoriety was short-lived after he made some incredibly racist comments on Fox News.

Janine Hansen welcomed Bundy into the IAP and described him as “her hero” in May, at an event honoring him for his “courage in standing up for state sovereignty.”  Bundy spoke for more than a half hour, calling for states to take over the federal land within their boundaries, including national parks.

Ira Hansen joined several other Assembly members in calling for the Nevada Attorney General to conduct an investigation of the Bureau of Land Management following its standoff with Bundy. “Whatever Mr. Bundy’s unfortunate comments [addressing the racist remarks] were, Mr Bundy is really not the issue per se,” Hansen told local news. “It was the overreaction by the Bureau of Land Management.” He is a co-sponsor of a bill in the Assembly creating a task force to “conduct a study addressing the transfer of public lands from the Federal Government to the State of Nevada.”

Like Bundy, Ira Hansen has also been fighting authorities for decades.  He is a professional trapper and refuses to pay fines accumulated for violations to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.  In this, Hansen echoes his Uncle Christopher who touts his refusal to file income taxes and made himself “Presiding Sovereign” over a political-religious entity called “The First Christian Fellowship of Eternal Sovereignty.”  The organization of about 650 “patriot saints” uses their “Testament of Sovereignty” to fight OSHA, the IRS, and other county, state, and federal entities.

In 2008, Ira Hansen and several relatives joined a local Nevada camp of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SCV), advertised as the largest SCV camp outside of the South.  A 2009 SCV newsletter includes a reprint of a column by Hansen titled “The Confederate Battle Flag – Symbol of Manly Courage.” (The SCV newsletter points out that Hansen knows the Stars and Bars was not the Confederate battle flag, but that he’s trying to connect with those not aware of this distinction.)

In the column Ira Hansen reveals he does his writing in a room adorned with a Confederate flag, but it’s the following paragraph that confirms his allegiance to state’s rights:

“Anyone who has read the Confederate Constitution, studied the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, read Calhoun’s arguments on nullification and delved into the ideology behind the attempts at seceding knows the Southern position represents the original intent of the majority of our founding fathers. The death of the Confederacy was in fact the death of Federalism, the division of power between the equal States with a common, intentionally weak central government handling primarily the foreign affairs and general needs of this union of states known as the United States of America. By way of contrast, today, as Nevadans know oh so well, the central ‘Federal’ government is an almost unbridled and an increasingly dangerous power, while the states have become practically impotent.”

Hansen also co-sponsored a 2001 bill in the State Assembly claiming state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment, and demanding the federal government “cease and desist, effectively immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.”

In a year when the party establishment was supposedly outflanking the Tea Party wing, Ira Hansen’s rapid rise to prominence in the Nevada Republican Party indicates the ongoing appeal of the reactionary politics embraced by the Hansen family over the last half century.

For more on the growth of neo-Confederate ideology see Nullification, Neo-Confederates and the Revenge of the Old Right.

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TDOR 2014 and the Right-Wing Roots of Anti-Trans Violence

Since 1999, Nov. 20th has been set aside as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TDOR provides space to remember and honor those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The annual event originated when trans activists and allies came together to mourn the loss of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was brutally murdered in Allston, Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. Beyond a few transphobic mentions in the local media (the Boston Globe referred to Hester as “a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes,” while the Boston Herald called her a “transvestite” and “a large man who lived as a woman”), her death garnered little attention, let alone outrage.

transgender day of remembrance PRA

While significant legal advances have been made for the LGBTQ community in the 15 years since Hester’s murder, trans people continue to experience horrific and disproportionate rates of violence. As the official TDOR website states:

“We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.”

Yet most media outlets, policymakers, and even the mainstream LG(BTQ) movement, have a long history—that continues to this day—of marginalizing the experiences, contributions, and needs of transgender people and people of color. The 1969 Stonewall Riots—often considered a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history—are frequently claimed by White, gay men as a triumph of their own doing, even though it was primarily trans women of color and homeless youth who led the charge. And whereas Rita Hester’s murder in 1998 was largely ignored, the murder of Matthew Shepard—a young, White, gay man—just two weeks later prompted nationwide vigils and helped lead to the eventual passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The legislation expanded the 1969 U.S. federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Indeed, disregard for the role of trans people and people of color has plagued the LGBTQ justice movement since its earliest days. Meanwhile, these are the members of our community who bear the brunt of the violence and oppression directed toward LGBTQ people.  In its annual report on hate-violence experienced by LGBTQ and HIV-affected persons in the United States, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) documented more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2013, and 18 hate-violence homicides. NCAVP’s findings also reflect the disproportionate impact of this violence: almost three-quarters (72%) of the documented homicide victims were trans women, and more than two-thirds (67%) were trans women of color.

TDOR interrupts this pattern of neglect, insisting that the LGBTQ movement—as well as our broader communities—acknowledge and mourn these lives.

Who Are The Architects of Anti-Trans Violence?

To a certain extent, talking about violence against trans people as a “hate crime” abstracts it from any social or political context, and suggests that these attacks are isolated incidents caused by rogue individuals. As Kay Whitlock has argued in a PRA discussion paper:

“While the hate frame may be powerful in terms of increasing awareness and mobilizing opposition to the threatening, violent actions of individuals and small groups directed against targeted communities, it also, paradoxically, obscures the relationship of such violence to its systemic underpinnings […] It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist.”

And so we must acknowledge—and then challenge—the architects responsible for manufacturing and perpetuating a cultural climate that justifies violence against trans and gender nonconforming people. 

Christian Right Church Leaders

Earlier this year, delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June signed a “Declaration on Transgender Identity.” With 16-plus million members, SBC is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States (in terms of Christian organizations, only the Catholic Church manages to outnumber them). Consequently, SBC’s policy decisions carry tremendous influence.

Unfortunately, the declaration was far from affirming. It states that trans and intersex people are manifestations of “human fallenness” and “contrary to God’s design.” The resolution notes that SBC condemns “acts of abuse or bullying” (unlike many of the document’s other proclamations, the authors couldn’t seem to find any scriptural backing for this piece), but they are quick to note that SBC also opposes hormone therapy and gender affirmation surgery, as well as any legislative or cultural efforts to validate trans people as “morally praiseworthy.”

SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), hosted a conference last month on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” At the event, ERLC president Russell Moore—who was recently invited by the Vatican to speak at a conference on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman”—took the opportunity to offer advice to pastors ministering to trans people during a live “Questions & Ethics” session, saying “The people who are coming to you—that biologically male person who says ‘I think I’m a woman,’ or vice versa—that person really experiences that and believes that. … You don’t have to agree with that at all, and I would say we can’t. The Bible teaches us that God created us male and female.”

Right-Wing Parachurch Organizations

Focus on the Family explicitly opposes “the celebration of ‘transgenderism’ as one of God’s gifts.”

On its website, FOTF explains its position: “Because ‘transgenderism’ violates God’s intentional design for sex and sexuality, we believe that this is a cultural and theological battle that we must engage and win. The modern ‘transgender’ movement is systematically working to dismantle the concept of gender as the Bible and the world have always known it to be. If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for marriage, family and society at large.” Those who fail to follow FOTF’s guidance are told, “[T]he problems associated with transgenderism, like confusion and pain, stem from a lack of parental involvement and guidance.”

Right-Wing Think Tanks & Legal Lobbyists

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), a right-wing legal ministry committed to “religious freedom,” has recently taken up the cause of isolating and shaming transgender students. Arguing against a Massachusetts school’s 2013 decision to allow transgender students to access facilities and recreation activities that aligned with their gender identity, ADF’s Jeremy Tedesco warned the policy created “an atmosphere that could result in sexual assaults committed by minors.”

In letters delivered last month to similarly progressive schools in Wisconsin and Rhode Island, ADF suggested that creating inclusive policies for transgender students would “seriously endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ right of conscience, and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

The Family Research Council, a right-wing lobby group based in Washington, DC, similarly argues that gender identity protections would “purposefully threaten the public safety of women and children by creating the legitimized access that sexual predators tend to seek.”

Concerned Women for America has warned its members that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—legislation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—could force “Christian businessmen” to allow transgender employees to wear male and female clothing alternately, and could “open bathroom doors for predators throughout the nation.”

As Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, put it, “These bills or policies are gifts to predators![emphasis his].

What’s Next?

Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and co-author of the SBC’s anti-trans declaration, has warned that the trans justice movement is “the next phase of the LGBT revolution.” In actuality, the mainstream gay rights movement is already demonstrating a preference for other, international priorities in the post-marriage equality era.

Rita Hester

Rita Hester

Nonetheless, with leaders on the Right conceding defeat on the marriage front, we can expect to see them turning their sights toward other battlefronts, particularly ones they perceive to be winnable.

While it may seem that the trans community is that vulnerable, “winnable” target, what the Right doesn’t recognize is that the power of the gay rights movement—a movement that most would say has beaten the Right—was fueled first by trans women of color. These women—who find themselves at the nexus of White supremacy and heteropatriarchy—were fighting long before Stonewall, and they’ll continue fighting long after Gay Inc. closes its doors. They are fierce and formidable, and, as the Right will soon learn, they are undefeatable.

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