The John Birch Society’s Anti-Civil Rights Campaign of the 1960s, and Its Relevance Today

Founded in 1958, the John Birch Society (JBS) fiercely opposed the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and 1970s.  Decades later, the rise of the Tea Party and the ongoing “Ron Paul Revolution” have helped the JBS make a comeback as it attracts young people by re-branding itself as “libertarian.” The organization is a significant force behind promoting the nullification of federal laws, as described in the most recent issue of The Public Eye.  The JBS has also helped provide fodder for accusations that President Obama, considered by most Democrats to have governed as a centrist, is a Marxist.

While many Americans have been puzzled by the use of the term “anti-colonialist” within the context of such accusations, author Claire Conner has helped illuminate the historical and rhetorical linkages among the JBS, opposition to civil rights, anti-Communism, and accusations of anti-colonialism. Her recent book, Wrapped in the Flag, is an autobiographical account of growing up as the daughter of two of the organization’s earliest and most dedicated members. (See an interview with Conner by Theo Anderson, editor of The Public Eye.) Conner’s descriptions of the JBS’ opposition to the Civil Rights Movement are further supported by many primary sources, including the JBS’ own media campaigns. Examples include pamphlets republished as advertisements in newspapers in the mid-1960s, in which the Civil Rights Movement is described as a communist conspiracy to form a “Negro Soviet Republic,” as well as a pamphlet written by a member of the JBS National Council most famously known as the father of the Koch brothers. Both publications are described below:

“What’s Wrong with Civil Rights?”

The first example of the JBS campaign to oppose the Civil Rights Movement is an advertisement in the October 31, 1965 issue of the Palm Beach Post titled, “The John Birch Society Asks: What’s Wrong With Civil Rights?

The half-page advertisement begins with the statement that nothing is wrong with civil rights, just with the Civil Rights Movement.  According to the JBS, it constituted a communist plot to build a “Negro Soviet Republic” in the United States.  The “average American Negro,” according to the JBS in 1965, “has complete freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and freedom to run his own life as he pleases.”  Moreover, “The pursuit of happiness enjoyed by the average American Negro has been far superior to that of any race or any people among at least ninety percent of the earth’s population.”jbs civil rights ad copy 2

The ad continues, “So what is all the complaining about?”  The problem, according to the JBS, is that communist agitators are beginning to see the results from “patiently building up to this present stage for more than forty years.”  The reader is informed that this Soviet strategy in the U.S. is a continuation of anti-colonialism fermented by communists in Africa and Asia and conducted by those who have no interest in civil rights.  According to the John Birch Society, both the push for civil rights in the U.S. and anti-colonialist activism in Africa and Asia are a communist plot to destroy all that is good and holy—namely, capitalism.

The advertisement then seeks to expose the “big-lie” of anti-colonialism: “Its specific core of falsehood has been that the colonial peoples of Asia and Africa wanted and deserved their ‘independence’ from the nations of Europe which were oppressing and exploiting them. Actually, by 1926, the French in Indochina or Algeria, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Belgian in the Congo, and other ‘imperialistic’ powers, were giving their colonial subjects a very enlightened and benevolent rule.”

The next step in this communist plot, as stated in the ad, is the formation of a “Negro Soviet Republic” in the U.S. that would include the major cities of the South. JBS claimed this to be the real intent of American civil rights leaders. The ad continues,  “A careful study quickly reveals that every part of the civil rights program has been designed, and in is being carried forward, as a step in the Communist strategy for these purposes. And the current leaders of the nationwide civil rights campaign have such extensive records of affiliating with Communists of Communists, of being guided, trained, and supported by Communists, and of themselves supporting Communists agents and causes, as to make their real purposes as obvious a sunrise to anybody who will simply use honestly the intelligence that God gave him.”

The JBS authors close by stating that “American Negroes as a whole” did not plan this or want this and and “are no bigger dupes in yielding to the propaganda and coercion of the comaymps among them, than are the white people in the United States in swallowing the portions of that propaganda which are labeled idealism.  “Comaymps” was JBS shorthand for communist sympathizers.

Across the bottom of the half-page ad is marketing of other JBS pamplets and books through American Opinion publishing, including It’s Very Simple and New York: Communist Terror in the Streets, both by Alan Stang.  Stang published many works  through the John Birch Society’s American Media, and also wrote widely on Christian Reconstructionism.  Stang was a contributor to the Gary North-edited The Theology of Christian Resistance, one of many examples of the overlap between the JBS and theocratic Christian Reconstructionism.

Stang passed away in 2009 and was eulogized in the pages of the JBS’ New American magazine.  Yet other 1960s-era JBS leaders are again leading the charge in a contemporary state’s rights projects: nullification.  Leaders who were involved with the organization in the 1960s include its current president, John McManus. McManus was the surprise guest speaker at the Ron Paul Rally for the Republic, the counter-rally to the Republican National Convention in 200.  In his remarks, he told the audience, “If you like Ron Paul, you’re going to love the John Birch Society.”

A Businessman Looks at Communism

Published by the Farmville Herald (VA) in 1963, A Businessman Looks at Communism was written by Fred Koch and provides an account of his work in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The pamphlet provided support for JBS’ claim to insider knowledge of the communist agenda.Fred Koch's pamphlet copy

Page sixteen of the pamphlet sums up Koch’s attitude about labor unions. “Labor Unions have long been a Communist goal,” Koch asserts. “The effort is frequently made to have the worker do as little as possible for the money he receives. This practice alone can destroy our country.”

On page 25, Koch explains his fear of the Civil Rights Movement: “You may be sure the Communists are fishing furiously in the troubled waters of integration on both sides. The Communists are not interested in the aspirations of the negro except as a means to stir up racial hatred … The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.”

Koch continues, “I have been told by the ex-Communists that the Communist Party has been influential in changing the relief laws of New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit, and Chicago to make it attractive for rural Southern Negroes and Puerto Ricans to come to those cities.  In the first place, the Communist Party intends to use the votes of these people to swing the balance in these populous states; secondly, when the Party is ready to take over these cities it will use the colored people by getting a vicious race war started.”

This 1963 pamphlet was celebrated in the pages of The New American magazine in 2010, in an article titled, “Fred Koch: Oil Man Against Communism,” and closing with these words about Koch: “He would probably be dismayed, however, that the United States is still enmeshed in the United Nations, and that she has traveled very far down the road to socialist serfdom. He would no doubt perceive the irony that, despite the demise of the Bolsheviks, their program for America, as a wispy little revolutionary explained it to him so long ago, is still very much in force.”

This and other JBS media provide a window into the underlying foundations of the worldview that has spread throughout the Tea Party Movement and much of the Right.

Thanks to Claire Conner for pointing out Fred Koch’s 1963 pamphlet. For more coverage and analysis on the JBS and the resurgence of nullification ideology, see PRA’s profile on the John Birch Society and “Nullification, Neo-Confederates and the Revenge of the Old Right,” by Rachel Tabachnick and Frank Cocozzelli.

The Tea Party, the John Birch Society, and the Fear of “Mob Rule”: An Interview with Claire Conner

Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag

Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag

Claire Conner’s parents were early members of the John Birch Society (JBS), an aggressively right-wing organization that was founded in 1958 by Robert Welch. It drew much of its energy from opposition to the New Deal and Great Society programs that dramatically expanded the social safety net in the United States. The JBS was also active in opposing the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. In foreign policy, many of its members believed that U.S. participation in the United Nations was part of a communist conspiracy to create a “one-world” government. The JBS also viewed mainstream politicians from both major parties, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, as communist sympathizers.

Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013) is Conner’s memoir about growing up in Chicago as the daughter of two of the organization’s earliest and most dedicated members. Kirkus Reviews named Wrapped in the Flag one of the best nonfiction books of 2013 and described it as “an invaluable contribution to understanding the mentality of extremist conservatism.” A paperback edition will be published in March 2014.

In the following interview, Conner discusses the organization’s early years and its influence on the contemporary conservative movement. For more about the history and recent resurgence of the organization, see PRA’s brief profile of the JBS and the article “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right”—both by PRA fellow Rachel Tabachnick.

What motivated you to write this book now? 

When I started writing it more than 10 years ago, no one was interested in the story. People didn’t really want to hear about what it was like growing up in the radical Right. In 2003, I revisited it again and did some more work. And again, no one was interested. Then in 2008, we were sitting in the family room watching television, and Sarah Palin was really digging into Obama. And a group of people started shouting [at the mention of Obama], “Terrorist!” That said to me, “Finish your book.”

It became clear to me that something was happening. The level of hatred, fear, and paranoia was so familiar to me that I began to realize that the Right was making a comeback. They were emerging again from their cocoon. And as I say in the book, all it took was the election of the first African-American president, health care reform, and an economic crisis. And they were back in the saddle. This time they were called the Tea Party. Basically they had the same ideas, the same policy prescriptions for the United States, as the John Birch Society (JBS) had back in the 1960s and ’70s.

You mentioned the hatred and paranoia that are shared by the JBS and the Tea Party. What accounts for that? 

It comes from a very different view of what government is—and what government should or could be. The John Birch Society came from the principle that the federal government is essentially evil. That’s extremely difficult for liberals to grasp. But it was exactly where they were coming from. They believe the government is essentially evil and should either be privatized or completely done away with.

For example, the John Birch Society said that Social Security should never exist, because it is a giant embezzlement. They also held that the 16th Amendment to the Constitution—the amendment creating a federal income tax—should be repealed because the federal government did not have the authority to collect those sorts of taxes. The John Birch Society basically believes that anything the federal government does, beyond what is specifically mentioned in the Constitution, is wrong.

Here are the things that, according to the John Birch Society, the federal government can properly do. It can negotiate treaties with federal powers, declare and conduct war, run a postal system, and deal with disputes between the states. Because those are the essential functions of the federal government, those are the only things the John Birch Society sees them as having the right to do. From that particular point of view, you can see why they don’t believe in the Department of Education or the Highway Department. They don’t believe in any regulation of business. They don’t even believe in nuclear regulations or the Federal Aviation Administration. We’re talking about reducing the government to a level that would be, at the very least, astounding.

I said to my mother one time, “What would happen if we actually did all these things?” What if there was no Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation, food stamps—no safety net at all. And she said, “Oh, it would be glorious. It would be what the Constitution intended.” I’d say, “Mom, the Constitution is not going to feed a hungry child”. I can still see her face looking up from her teacup, saying, “That’s not my concern, dear.”

One of the messages I have for liberals is that they’re not going to change that basic viewpoint. We are not going to convert people who hold that viewpoint to a liberal view of government. So we have to find a different way to mobilize Americans to understand that government is a good thing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything government does is without glitches, mistakes, or problems, like the rollout of the health care website. But I believe that government is human beings, communities, Americans banding together to do the things that we can’t do alone. Like building bridges, schools, and guaranteeing civil rights.

You became a member of the JBS at a very young age. Why? 

I was 13 years old, and my father was a very powerful guy. I loved my parents and didn’t want to disobey them. I tried to be a good, right-wing girl. But there were things that happened along the way that didn’t feel right to me.

The first one had to do with my parents’ view of the Holocaust. They ran into a fellow who was part of the leadership of the John Birch Society, named Revilo Oliver, one of the most vile, hateful, and nasty human beings I have ever had the unpleasant experience of knowing. He’d come to our house and was full of religious and racial hatred. He hated people of colors, Jews, immigrants—practically anyone who wasn’t White, it seemed to be beyond his capability of caring for. He was a professor at the University of Illinois.

Before we knew Oliver, my father had taught me about the Holocaust, and about how our soldiers freed the camps and found bodies stacked like wood, and crematoriums, and how the ashes floated over everything. And I knew it as well as my name—that Hitler had tried to kill all the Jews in Europe. Well, when Revilo Oliver started coming to dinner, suddenly my parents were less appalled by the Holocaust. They began saying that Hitler really wasn’t trying to kill all the Jews. He was trying to kill the communists, and most of the people that were detained in the camps were actually traitors to Germany. And the military was just following orders. That did not sit well with my experience as a kid growing up in a very Jewish neighborhood.

Another thing really bothered me was the attitude of the John Birch Society towards people who were in need. I always felt, as a kid, that if somebody was hungry, you fed them. If the churches weren’t able to help and the need was too great, the government had to help. That made perfect sense. And then I discovered that it was totally against the principles of the John Birch Society. They actually believed in what they called “healthy poverty.” That sounds like a complete contradiction, but that’s what they called it.

Robert Welch wrote about this at great length in 1976. He talked about the fact that healthy poverty was what existed in the United States at the turn of the century—about 1900 to 1920—and that it was an ideal time of economic growth and increase in productivity in the United States. He admitted that there were pockets of poverty, but he said that it was a healthy kind of poverty, free from government interference. I’m telling you, when I heard the debates in the House of Representatives in 2013 about eliminating food stamps completely from the farm budget, all I could say was, “Oh my God, they sound just like John Birchers!”

Ken Blackwell, the secretary of state in Ohio during the uproar over who could vote in Ohio in 2004, left the state of Ohio and went to work for the Family Research Council. He said that getting rid of food stamps would be an exercise in Christian compassion, because it would allow people to participate in their own uplift. That is the same JBS idea: If you’re poor or in need, or your child is disabled, then somehow you’re in the wrong.

As an adult with some perspective on all of this, how have you made sense of your parents’ ideas and their involvement with the JBS?

For a long time, I wanted to say that my parents had just put their apples in the wrong cart. And then I had a real wake-up moment and realized that my father wasn’t just someone who was led around. He was on the leadership of the John Birch Society for 32 years. He was out selling the John Birch Society all over the United States, as one of its speakers, and was often paid for his speeches.

When it came to compelling speech giving, he was better than either Revilo Oliver or Robert Welch. So I had to face the reality that my parents weren’t just led around. My parents believed all of this. And my father was one of the leaders. And I have to say, it was a hard realization for me. It’s easy to say that your parents were just going along. It’s hard to say that they were leading the pack.

The question is: Why did he believe all of this? I think it’s partially because of World War II and seeing the communists [emerge as a threat]. He picked up on a level of fear and paranoia that was prevalent in the country in the 1950s. We have this imaginary view of the ‘50s—women in their aprons making cupcakes, children quietly playing Monopoly, and it was always a good day, like in the movie Pleasantville. But the United States was in turmoil during the 1950s, because after World War II, communist boots were marching across Eastern Europe and Asia. And it looked for all the world like they were coming for us. And then Sen. Joe McCarthy [R-WI] just threw gasoline on that fire and said that the government of the United States was run by these guys.

After McCarthy was discredited, my father didn’t stop believing what he was selling. He always said, “We’re going to need a lot more Joes to save this country.” And he found people who agreed with him—lots of them. Robert Welch wasn’t a particularly good speaker, but he had a plan. He had an idea to actually get something to happen. Whereas, as my dad used to say, “All the rest of these anti-communists were just debating societies.” They just gave speeches. My father wanted to change the country. So he looked for someone who had a method to his madness. Robert Welch had a method.

[The] John Birch Society did something that nobody else has ever done. They organized all their volunteers to do the same thing—at the same time. Before that, people who were upset about the country would go to these speeches, and everybody would take home a pamphlet. But Robert Welch believed that they weren’t going to change the country that way. So he actually put in place a structure and said, “Everybody’s going to do this at the same time.” And if you didn’t, you got kicked out. They didn’t tolerate deadwood in the organization.

Robert Welch made no bones that he thought democracy was the worst form of government—not just for his organization, but for a country. The John Birch Society believes that democracy is mob rule. So, that explains a lot about the way the government is organized. It also explains a lot about some of the things that are happening in the United States today, in terms of that belief system.

A whole bunch of people on the Right don’t think that everyone ought to vote. Why? Because if you’ve got everybody voting, you have yourself a mob. And that idea comes from [National Review founder and editor] Bill Buckley, who is sort of a patron saint of the Right. Buckley, the John Birch Society, my father, and a very prominent political science professor [who taught at Yale], Willmoore Kendall, all believed that the franchise, or the right to vote, had to be limited, as it was in colonial in times, when you had to be White, free, over a particular age, and a landowner in order to vote.

JBS members often believe in conspiracies, and many of them view the Catholic Church as part of a grand, global conspiracy. So it’s interesting that your parents were very dedicated Roman Catholics. 

My parents were very right-wing Catholics. And it was a big surprise to me that they could find common ground with Robert Welch, who was a Baptist. My mother used to say all the time, “Once we save the country, then we can argue about theology.” But I would say, “You do know that these people hate you, right?”

My parents, being Roman Catholics, wanted the United States to be governed by papal law. So my parents loved [the Roman Catholic Spanish dictator Francisco] Franco, and the idea that the church and the state were inseparable. I always figured that if the John Birch Society ever took over the United States, they’d have a religious war, because members wouldn’t agree about how to interpret the Bible, or what was the role of the Pope, or any of that. And many Protestants and evangelicals saw the Catholic Church as the “Whore of Babylon.” As I got much older, and much more aware of these things, I would say to my parents, “How could you possibly do this?” I mean, just in terms of religion. And my mother would say, “We have to save the country first, and then we’ll worry about theology.”

There’s an interesting tension there, between believing that there’s a grand conspiracy—and everything is already determined—and believing that they can somehow “save” the country.  

First of all, they never think they’re losing. After the government shutdown fiasco [in October 2013], if you read what the Right says about it, they loved what they did. They think they won. And that’s how my parents were. They always said they were in for the long haul. My mother might have a day where she was frustrated, but she never did stop. And where I thought that the Right had suffered a great loss, she didn’t see it that way. So they looked at the government shutdown as a success. And the corollary is, “Let’s do it again.” They don’t mind being a minority. In fact, my father used to say all the time, “Minorities take over countries.” And he’s right. Historically, they do.

The other thing my father used to say is that “you have to shut down the government before you can take it apart.” They hate the government. They want to break it. That’s the hardest thing to grasp. Why would you want to wreck the government? But if you think it is essentially evil, and you think, as Robert Welch said, that the people who work for it are going to destroy the country, then you think you are doing a good thing if you wreck it.

Earlier in the interview, you said that you see the JBS and the Tea Party as essentially the same thing. Can you expand a little on the parallels? 

There are some differences between the two, but in terms of policy, I see very little difference. The Tea Partiers would probably take exception to that, because they don’t want to think they’re just leftovers from a bygone era. They want to think they’re original and unique. But the fact is that the early funding for the Tea Party came from Americans for Prosperity, which is a Koch Brothers group.

The Koch Brothers are Birch kids. They were raised by a John Birch Society father. So we’re talking about people who were raised with that same hatred of government that I was. So, I like to look at the continuity of ideas from the 1950s to today, and it is extremely difficult to find much difference between them. The only differences are, where we used to focus only on this communist conspiracy, they’ve expanded that word to include socialists, because you don’t see the communists as one marching group like they used to before the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But basically, the ideas are the same. Government should be 60 percent smaller than it is, there should be no Social Security, no income tax, no direct election of U.S. Senators, no safety net or Department of Education or Environmental Protection Agency—exactly what we heard during the circus that was the GOP Presidential debates in 2012. The same exact thing. People always say to me, “But they’re not Birchers.” But what difference does it make? It’s the same exact idea.

One theme of your book is how concerned your parents were with the “corruption” of the school system. This has been a defining issue for the JBS and the conservative movement more generally, hasn’t it? 

We forget that people have been arguing about the content of textbooks since the mid-nineteenth century. So this has been an ongoing fight in America. In the 1960s, my mom and dad had literally piles of textbooks in our apartment flat in Chicago, and they would go through every textbook I had, every textbook my brother had, every textbook in the Catholic school system, and then they branched out to the public schools in Chicago. That’s a lot of books. They went through every line of every textbook to find any hint of socialist, communist, or collectivist, “un-American” ideas. They used to study my lessons at home, then send me to school with directions as to what to tell the teacher was wrong in the book.

Now, I went to the Catholic schools in Chicago in the 1950s, so you can imagine that I was not the most popular girl as far as the teachers were concerned. Because you didn’t stand up in the class and say, “By the way, this is wrong.” In my book, I tell this story about when I was in seventh grade, and my father asked me what was going on at school that day, and I made the mistake of saying to him, “Well, we learned in geography that the farms in Sweden had electricity in their barns before the barns in the United States.”

Well, my father jumped out of his chair like he’d been shot out of a cannon. He was so furious with me for saying such a thing, because Sweden, being a socialist country—there was absolutely no way it could possibly have anything before the United States did. It wasn’t until I got to college, and I was taking a history class, that I found out that my book had been correct. Sweden did electrify their farms, 20 or more years before the United States. But for my mother and dad, the idea that Sweden could do something better than we did it, or sooner, could not possibly be the case.

They just didn’t care about the actual facts? 

Well, they just assumed there were no facts. It wasn’t like they investigated it. They said, “No, that can’t be, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.” It’s a very strange way of looking at the world, because my parents, as well read as they were, they read only books that were on the approved list. And it’s probably a very good lesson for all of us: You can’t just read what you already agree with. You can’t, and we shouldn’t. But it is certainly more comfortable.

But even though they may have ignored inconvenient facts, your parents were very intelligent people. One point you make in the book is that, even if we find some of their ideas outrageous, we’re mistaken if we think conservatives are ignorant. 

My father had a degree from Northwestern University. His degree was in speech. He actually raised part of his tuition by giving speeches. He was on the debate team at Northwestern and never lost a debate. He was very well read, very professional, and he owned six businesses.

The leadership of the Right has never been uneducated. It has never been poor, uneducated, or uninterested. Look at the Koch brothers—both of them are engineers. If you are laughing at these people, you are completely wrong and doing great harm. If you look at one of those silly Facebook posts where some goofball has tea bags on his hat, and a sign with three or four misspelled words, everyone goes, “Gee, they’re fools.”

But they are winning on ideas. For example, let’s take the government shutdown. This is the perfect example. We ended up calling it a victory to reopen the government at sequestration budget levels, which were originally an absolute no-go for the Democrats. So, while we are saying that these folks are foolish and are losing the battle, in fact, our policy debates are now on right-wing terms. Which is why I say to people that you have to quit underestimating our competition. Look at Ted Cruz. Someone said to me that he’s just a dumb cowboy. No he’s not. He’s a Harvard [Law School] educated lawyer that never lost a debate in college, who has argued many cases in front of the Supreme Court—successfully. This is not a guy we should be dismissing. This is, in my opinion, the most potentially dangerous guy out there, because he’s a demagogue in training. He has the command of the room. When you hear him speak, you may disagree with everything he says, but you can’t look away.

When you look at the list of Birch leaders, you’re talking about former military men and very successful businessmen. Robert Welch was a multimillionaire. And I think that is the most important message: You have to take this seriously. They are very smart. They have a belief about the United States. They want to change the way we are governed. They want to change the nature of the federal government, and take it back to a time before any New Deal programs.

 

Profiles on the Right: John Birch Society

John Birch Society

John Birch Society: The Old Right Reemerges

A key partner in the Nullify Now! tour is the John Birch Society (JBS), founded in 1958 to fight the perceived infiltration of communism throughout American society. Fred Koch, father of the billionaires Charles and David Koch, was one of its founding members. Marginalized for decades for its outlandish conspiracy theories, it has recently made a comeback, largely via the Tea Party movement and as part of the Ron Paul Revolution.[1

The JBS was a major force in the battle against the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to the publication of books and pamphlets, the JBS placed advertisements in newspapers in 1965, asking, “What’s Wrong with Civil Rights?” The ads filled a full half page with fine print outlining the communist conspiracy and United Nations plot that the JBS believed to be behind the movement, including plans for a “Soviet Negro Republic” in the United States. Like many segregationists, the JBS claimed that racial unrest resulted from the Civil Rights Movement, not from previously existing discrimination against African-Americans.

John Birch Society2The JBS promotes nullification as a possible way to avoid secession. As an essay on the organization’s website puts it, “states weary of the assault on their sovereignty don’t need to secede to rid themselves of this repugnant despotism and unrepentant cronyism. They need only nullify every act of the central government that exceeds its constitutional authority, every time, without exception.”

The JBS works directly with state legislators on enacting model bills. In early 2013, a “JBS Weekly Update” on the Florida Tenth Amendment Center website featured Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Ritze (R), who was described as having “recently introduced HB 1021 to nullify ObamaCare.” In an accompanying video, Ritze identifies the JBS as the organization “providing the leadership,” and he calls for new members to help add more Birchers to the Oklahoma legislature.

JBS has also led efforts to nullify the Affordable Care Act and current and potential federal gun laws. It produces extensive guides for activists, and its media productions regularly track, report on, and encourage activism on nullification legislation. Recent articles in the JBS magazine, the New American, have included “States Aim to Nullify Obama Gun Control” and “Sheriffs and Legislators Are Acting to Nullify Obama Gun Controls.

Next ProfileThis profile, along with a full-length article on nullification and neo-Confederates, are part of the Fall 2013 issue of The Public Eye Magazine.


[1] Hundreds of Tea Party websites and meetups have helped disseminate JBS publications and videos.

The Wise Use Movement: Right-Wing Anti-Environmentalism

In the last days of the 1992 presidential campaign, George Bush denounced “environmental extremists” who sought to lock up natural resources and destroy the American way of life. At the heart of this imagined green conspiracy was the “Ozone Man,” Senator Al Gore Jr., author of Earth in the Balance. Bush’s attack on environmentalism failed to save his candidacy, but it was a high water mark for the political influence of the “Wise Use” movement, a network of loosely allied right-wing grassroots and corporate interest groups dedicated to attacking the environmental movement and promoting unfettered resource exploitation.

New organizing opportunities and media exposure of the movement’s less savory connections have caused constant splintering within the movement. At present, the best way to recognize Wise Use groups is by the policies they support. Therefore, Wise Use will be used here to describe all organizations that promote the core Wise Use agenda: removing present environmental protections and preventing future environmental reforms in order to benefit the economic interests of the organization’s members or funders.

Five years ago Wise Use was just the latest fundraising concept of two political entrepreneurs: Ron Arnold and Alan Gottlieb. Arnold once worked for the Sierra Club in Washington State. He has told reporters that he helped organize teaching expeditions to areas that became the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. Alan Gottlieb is a professional fundraiser who has generated millions for various right-wing causes.

Wise Use groups are often funded by timber, mining, and chemical companies. In return, they claim, loudly, that the well-documented hole in the ozone layer doesn’t exist, that carcinogenic chemicals in the air and water don’t harm anyone, and that trees won’t grow properly unless forests are clear-cut, with government subsidies. Wise Use proponents were buffeted by Bush’s defeat and by media exposure of the movement’s founders’ connections to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church network (tainted by charges of cultism and theocratic neo-fascism), but the movement has quickly rebounded. In every state of the US, relentless Wise Use disinformation campaigns about the purpose and meaning of environmental laws are building a grassroots constituency. To Wise Users, environmentalists are pagans, eco-nazis, and communists who must be fought with shouts and threats.

Environmentalists often point to public opinion polls that show most Americans are willing to sacrifice some short-term economic gains to preserve nature. But the Wise Use movement is eroding the environmental consensus that dominated American politics from the Greenhouse Summer of 1988 until shortly after the media overload that greeted Earth Day 1990.

What’s in a Name?

The term “Wise Use” was appropriated from the moderate conservationist tradition by movement founder Ron Arnold. In 1910, Gifford Pinchot, first head of the US Forest Service, called for national forestry policies based on the wise use of America’s trees and minerals. That triggered a simmering feud between Pinchot and Sierra Club founder John Muir. Muir wanted to see wilderness valued for its own sake, as the spiritual center of the world. In theory, the current US system of combining national forests managed for resource extraction with wilderness areas managed for recreation is a compromise solution to this debate.

But Ron Arnold did not pick the term Wise Use because of an affinity to the moderate conservationism of Pinchot. In 1991, he told Outside magazine that he chose the phrase Wise Use because it was ambiguous and fit neatly in newspaper headlines. Such duplicitous and opportunistic tactics are a trademark of the Wise Use movement. “Facts don’t matter; in politics perception is reality,” Arnold told Outside.

For a number of years, Arnold was a registered agent for the American Freedom Coalition, a political offshoot of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church. The American Freedom Coalition takes credit for funding the first Wise Use conference in 1988. Aside from telling Outside he is willing to ignore facts to achieve his goals, Arnold proclaims at every opportunity that his mission is to destroy the environmental movement. “We’re mad as hell. We’re dead serious. We’re going to destroy them,” he told the Portland Oregonian. In the spring of 1995, Arnold told a Vermont audience that Wise Users do not want to negotiate with environmentalists.

Ron Arnold’s big career break coincided with the coming of the Reagan presidency and Arnold’s own rapid swing to the right. In 1981, he co-authored At the Eye of the Storm, a flattering biography of James Watt that the former Secretary of the Interior helped edit. Watt’s attempts to dismantle environmental regulation and open federal lands to logging and mining produced short-term gains for corporate interests, but the long-term result of such policies was public revulsion and the explosive growth of the environmental movement during the 1980s.

Arnold’s movement-building was enhanced when he joined forces with Alan Gottlieb. Gottlieb’s Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise (CDFE) reportedly takes in about $5 million per year through direct mail and telephone fundraising for a variety of right-wing causes. Gottlieb seems to possess a genius for dancing along the edge of legal business practices. He purchased the building that houses CDFE’s headquarters with money from two of his own non-profit foundations, then transferred the building’s title to his own name so he could charge his foundations over $8,000 per month in rent. Gottlieb also spent seven months in prison for tax evasion.

In 1988, Gottlieb published Ron Arnold’s book, The Wise Use Agenda, which outlines their movement’s goals and aims. Few environmentalists would find fault with the spirit behind this quote from The Wise Use Agenda: “[Wise Use’s] founders [feel] that industrial development can be directed in ways that enhance the Earth, not destroy it.” But the Agenda itself is basically a wish list for the resource extraction industries. The Wise Use movement seeks to open all federal lands to logging, mining, and the driving of off-road vehicles. Despite much rhetoric about seeking ecological balance and environmental solutions, almost the only environmental problem The Wise Use Agenda addresses rather than dismisses is the threat of global warming from the build-up of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere. The solution proposed is the immediate clear-cutting of the small portion of old growth timber left in the United States so that these forests can be replanted with young trees that will absorb more carbon dioxide.

Although the science cited by Wise Use sources is suspect, and their arguments are mostly retreads of corporate press releases, today nearly everyone on the right wants a piece of the Wise Use movement. Rush Limbaugh, Lyndon LaRouche, the National Farm Bureau Federation, and dozens of other organizations and public figures are adopting their own versions of Wise Use rhetoric.

Much of this popularity can be explained by the lingering economic recession of the early 1980s, which provided a receptive grassroots audience for the Wise Use claim that it is easier to force nature to adapt to current corporate policies than to encourage the growth of more environmentally sound ways of doing business. Wise Use pamphlets argue that extinction is a natural process; some species weren’t meant to survive. The movement’s signature public relations tactic is to frame complex environmental and economic issues in simple, scapegoating terms that benefit its corporate backers. In the movement’s Pacific Northwest birthplace, Wise Users harp on a supposed battle for survival between spotted owls and the families of the men and women who make their livings harvesting and milling the old growth timber that is the owl’s habitat. In preparation for President Clinton’s forest summit in Portland, Oregon, Wise Use public relations experts ran seminars to teach loggers how to speak in sound bites. Messages such as “jobs versus owls” have been adapted to a variety of environmental issues and have helped spark an anti-green backlash that has defeated river protection efforts and threatens to open millions of acres of wilderness to resource extraction.

While attacking environmentalists, Wise Use statements borrow heavily from environmental rhetoric; this borrowed rhetoric often cloaks a self-serving economic agenda. The Oregon Lands Coalition in effect supports the timber industry by arguing that only people who cut down trees really love the wilderness. At the same time, the Wise Use movement opposes environmentalist efforts to find new careers for unemployed loggers who could be hired to begin restoring the stream beds ravaged by clear-cutting of forests.

Similarly, National Farm Bureau Federation publications repeatedly argue that farmers are the true stewards of the land. But the Farm Bureau lobbies for fewer restrictions on pesticide use and for the clearing of wetlands–not for government support for the alternative farming practices that the National Research Council’s 1989 book, Alternative Agriculture, showed can reduce farming’s impact on the environment while improving farmers’ net incomes.

Both the National Farm Bureau Federation and the Oregon Lands Coalition later disavowed any association with Alan Gottlieb’s Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and the term Wise Use. Groups that portray themselves as moderate Wise Users, like the Farm Bureau and Alliance for America, now describe their approach with substitute terms like “multiple use,” while still employing Ron Arnold’s tactics and inviting him to speak at Wise Use conferences. This distancing is apparently due to Arnold’s willingness to make extreme statements to the press and the baggage of his association with Rev. Moon’s Unification Church.

“It shouldn’t be surprising that there are these terminology wars, given that so much of this movement is about manipulating language and manipulating people’s understanding of concepts like environmentalism,” according to Tarso Ramos, who monitors Wise Use activity for the Western States Center in Portland, Oregon.

In fact, the Wise Use movement resorts to a bewildering range of subterfuges to mask its agenda. For instance, the developer-funded Environmental Conservation Organization and its member organization, the National Wetlands Coalition, want to make it easier for their funders to drain wetlands to build malls. To that end, Champion Paper and MCI fund the Evergreen Foundation, which spreads the word that forests need only clear-cutting and healthy doses of pesticides to become places of “beauty, peace and mystery.”

In a similar example, the Sea Lion Defense Fund is the Alaska fishing industry’s legal arm in its fight against government limits on harvests of pollock, one of the endangered sea lion’s favorite foods. Oregonians for Food and Shelter and Vermont’s Citizens for Property Rights cultivate a folksy grassroots image while promoting the agendas of developers or extractive industries. This was a tactic first advocated by Ron Arnold in a series of articles he wrote for Timber Management magazine in the early 1980s.

Alliance for America

Since the first corporate check arrived, the Wise Use movement has been split by debates over who will control organizing strategy and funds. “[Wise Use] is not a disciplined ideological coalition. It is a multifaceted movement. There are factions within it. They fight. The objectives of various players are very different. Coalitions can be tenuous, but they are very effective,” says Tarso Ramos. The Oregon Lands Coalition (OLC) is dominated by timber interests but also includes the National Farm Bureau Federation, pro-pesticide groups, and land-use planning activists representing developers.

In 1991, the OLC became a national organization by creating the Alliance for America. The Alliance’s stated purpose is to “put people back in the environmental equation.” The means to this end is to enlist grassroots groups in each state to fight environmentalists on a wide variety of issues. In 1991 and 1992, the Alliance staged “Fly-ins for Freedom” that brought supporters to Washington, DC, to lobby on behalf of logging, mining, and ranching interests.

From its founding, the Alliance for America’s purpose was to unify grassroots anti-environmentalist organizations in all 50 states. In the western states, where the movement was born, the Wise Users tend to be freedom-loving, right-wing libertarians, yet they spend much of their time and energy working to protect government subsidies for ranchers, miners, and loggers.

A well-worn joke describes the typical westerner’s attitude toward the federal government as “go away and give me more money.” Groups like the Oregon Lands Coalition and People for the West strive to preserve government privileges, such as below-cost sales of timber from federal lands and the 1872 mining law that lets mining companies lease government mineral rights for as little as $2.50.

A more subtle approach was required to build support for Wise Use groups in eastern states, where the Wise Use movement’s natural audience, primarily rural landowners, was not so accustomed to government largesse. The Alliance for America quickly found a slogan for its efforts to organize east of the Mississippi: private property rights.

The Theme of Private Property Rights

The Wise Use movement argues that regulations protecting environmentally sensitive areas on private property are unconstitutional “takings.” They cite the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, which states in part: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” That clause is the basis for the concept of eminent domain, which allows government entities to take land for public projects by paying property owners the land’s fair market value.

Across the nation, the Wise Use movement is backing state legislation seeking to expand the legal concept of what constitutes a “government taking” to include all situations where possible profits from developing, mining, or logging private lands are limited by environmental regulations. The movement argues that if a regulatory agency wants to protect a wetland, for example, the agency must pay the wetlands owner what he or she might have made if the wetlands were drained in order to become a buildable site.

The private property rights strategy may prove Wise Use’s best weapon. Despite their ability to draw attention and corporate money, western Wise Use organizations will remain vulnerable to negative press coverage because they are so often arguing for more government handouts for their corporate backers. But the call to protect private property rights from “government land grabs” or “unconstitutional takings” appeals strongly to rural landowners and small businesspeople, sectors of society that fear economic change and heavy-handed environmental reforms. “As an organizing strategy, takings is a kind of deviant genius,” says Tarso Ramos. “It automatically puts environmentalists in the position of defending the federal government and appeals to anyone who has ever had any kind of negative experience with the federal government, which is a hell of a lot of people.”

By the end of 1992, private property rights advocates had introduced legislation expanding the definition of takings in 27 states. If passed, these bills would rule that government regulatory actions, such as wetlands protection or even zoning restrictions, are “takings,” and require that landowners be paid for the potential value of the land they lost due to government actions. A single lost takings case could bankrupt most state regulatory agencies. The takings movement would, if successful, effectively end environmental protection in the US. The only federal legal test of takings was Lucas v. South Carolina. Lucas, a developer, sued the state for the lost value of homes he had planned to build on land that South Carolina subsequently declared sensitive coastal habitat. The 1992 US Supreme Court ruling on the case is often trumpeted as a takings triumph by Wise Users, but was actually a split decision requiring that South Carolina prove the homes would have constituted a public nuisance before enforcing the regulation protecting the sea coast.

In Vermont, a failed takings law was nicknamed the “pout and pay” bill. Opponents argued that the bill would have encouraged owners of low-value properties to imagine fantastic development schemes that conflicted with zoning restrictions or wetlands protection, then present the federal government with the bill.

After a bitter legislative battle, Arizona Governor Fife Symington signed a takings bill into law in June 1992. Delaware also passed a takings bill in 1992. In 1993, Utah passed a takings bill. In Idaho and Wyoming, takings bills passed the state legislatures, but were vetoed by the governors of each state on the grounds that the laws would create unnecessary bureaucracy. Similar bills are pending in a number of states across the country.

It is at the grassroots, city, town, and county level in rural areas that the Wise Use movement has been most effective. State-level takings laws fare better than efforts to convince the federal government it has no right to regulate land use. American industry has never dared advocate total war on the environment, even if the argument can be made that at times standard industry practices have fit that description. But grassroots Wise Users are proving effective shock troops, using tactics inspired by Ron Arnold to reverse decades of environmental compromise and negotiation in a few months.

The private property rights call was first sounded in the Northeast by the John Birch Society. In 1990-91, John Birch Society members helped turn out hundreds of people to protest the Northern Forest Lands study, a joint effort by the federal government and the governments of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to plan for the future of the vast woodland known as the Big North.

Now, New England’s private property rights movement has outgrown its John Birch Society origins. Wise Use groups in every New England state have affiliated with the Alliance for America. In Vermont, Citizens for Property Rights has assembled a coalition of developers and far right politicians to crusade for the repeal of the state’s progressive land-use laws. The Maine Conservation Rights Institute, based in the state’s far northeast (a stronghold of Christian fundamentalism), promotes a typical Wise Use agenda, opposing wetlands and forest protection under the guise of conservation.

A western Massachusetts Wise Use group called Friends of the Rivers (FOR) blocked a US Park Service plan to designate the upper reaches of the Farmington River a federally protected “wild and scenic” river. With assistance from Alliance for America, FOR spread disinformation on the effects of wild and scenic designation. Its literature predicted businesses being forced to close, property values plummeting, and riverbank homes being taken by the government.

Friends of the Rivers’ most vocal ally was Don Rupp, who is affiliated with Alliance for America. Rupp previously had led an unsuccessful struggle against wild and scenic designation of the Upper Delaware river in New York. Along the Delaware, Rupp warned of dire effects from wild and scenic designation that were virtually identical to the claims that appeared in Friends of the Rivers’ literature. But no homes have been taken or landowners forced to move from Rupp’s home territory. And after the Park Service stepped in to provide protection to the river property, land values along the Upper Delaware rose.

Friends of the Rivers’ leaders included the Campetti family, owners of an oil distributor and off-road vehicle dealership, and Francis Deming, who operates his 100-acre property as a pay-as-you-go dumpsite. But despite this evident self-serving interest, FOR’s claims frightened enough Massachusetts residents to cause three towns to vote against the wild and scenic designation of the Upper Farmington. FOR displayed posters claiming local wild and scenic supporter Bob Tarasuk was a paid government agent. Tarasuk had once spent a summer working for the Bureau of Land Management; he reports that harassing phone calls from opponents of wild and scenic designation eventually forced him to get an unlisted telephone number.

“There is no better tactic than to threaten someone’s land. Get someone who lives on their land and that’s all they have and then tell them that the government is coming to take it. Fear works. The Alliance for America knows this and I believe they coach [local groups],” Tarasuk said. “Your land has been stolen,” read an FOR flier distributed along the Farmington.

In Connecticut, along the lower reaches of the Farmington River, a local river protection group called the Farmington River Watershed Association defeated FOR’s efforts to prevent wild and scenic designation. Drawing on its strong local base, the Watershed Association (founded in 1953) rallied local citizens to support wild and scenic designation. Don Rupp’s efforts to spread fearful tales about the Park Service were blunted by the fact that the city of Hartford has flooded several branches of the lower Farmington to create reservoirs. Connecticut residents saw wild and scenic designation as Federal protection from future dam projects.

The battle over New England’s rivers reached a climax in March 1993, when the New Hampshire Landholders Alliance, an affiliate of the Alliance for America, convinced six of seven New Hampshire towns along the Pemigewasset River to vote against the river’s proposed wild and scenic designation. Patricia Schlesinger of the Pemi River Council said that only 15 percent of the registered voters in the seven towns took part in the town meetings that decided the river’s fate. “People felt intimidated and abused by fear-mongering and deceit. It was canned stuff, claims that the ‘feds are going to take your land.’ It was typical Wise Use tactics.”

The founders of the New Hampshire Landholders Alliance, Cheryl and Don Johnson, have a profit motive to fight wild and scenic designation along the Pemi. Don Johnson works for Ed Clark, a local businessman who has unsuccessfully sought to build a small hydroelectric dam at a scenic area called Livermore Falls–a project that would be prohibited if wild and scenic status were secured. As a result of the defeat of the wild and scenic plan, the state of New Hampshire will lose $450,000 in federal aid to develop a park at Livermore Falls.

Free Market Environmentalism

Environmentalists are conditioned by decades of using legislative processes to battle industry over the scale of development and resource exploitation in natural areas. But Wise Users don’t contest the scope of environmental protection; they wage war on the notion that any ecological problems exist that cannot be solved by reliance on the free market. David Gurnsey, Maine Conservation Rights Institute’s representative to the Northern Forest Lands Advisory Committee, did not criticize the conclusions of the Committee’s biodiversity study–he claimed the whole concept of preserving biodiversity was a veiled effort to take land from private owners.

Wise Users often call environmentalists “watermelons”: green on the outside, but red to the core. This association of environmentalists with the specter of communism is not mere grassroots name-calling. Corporate-funded, rightist libertarian think tanks like the Cato Institute and the Reason Foundation publish analysis and research supporting the Wise Use claim that green politics are the last vestige of communism’s collectivist, One World Government plot to subjugate the planet. In its most extreme forms, this logic surfaces in the claim of Lyndon LaRouche’s followers that Greenpeace’s activists are eco-terrorists and pawns of the KGB. The Greenpeace-KGB connection, first trumpeted in LaRouche publications, resurfaced in the writings of Kathleen Marquardt, founder of Putting People First and winner of the Best Newcomer Award at the June 1992 Wise Use Leadership Conference .

In some respects, however, free market environmentalism as advocated by Cato’s director of Natural Resource Studies, Jerry Taylor, or Reason Magazine editor, Virginia I. Postrel, has more merit than many environmentalists want to admit. For example, the biggest source of water pollution in America today is municipal wastewater facilities built with federal assistance. It was only after the end of federal subsidies for wastewater treatment that alternative clean-up methods like engineered wetlands were able to win out over traditional wastewater plants in many areas. But the Wise Use movement is not seeking to open opportunities for small businesses to profit while healing the planet. They want to dismantle government environmental protection while removing restrictions on industrial exploitation.

At the grassroots level, the Wise Users are taking on many of the typical characteristics of demagogic, paranoid right-wing movements, portraying environmentalists as in league with the federal government to destroy families. In Vermont, Citizens for Property Rights decorated a rally with effigies of their opponents dangling from nooses. Massachusetts’ Friends of the Rivers claimed that environmental groups had paid off legislators to support wild and scenic designation of the Farmington River. In New Hampshire, opponents of grassroots Wise Users along the Pemigewassett River received threatening phone calls.

Wise Use and the Right Wing

By 1993, the Wise Use movement had begun forming its first links with anti-gay activists and the Religious Right. In his report, God, Land and Politics, Dave Mazza of the Western States Center traced the growing association of two grassroots movements in Oregon. “Oregon’s electoral process has seen the Wise Use Movement and the Religious Right movement coming together in a number of ways, intentionally or unintentionally pushing forward a much broader conservative social or economic agenda,” Mazza concluded.

The Oregon Citizens’ Alliance, which achieved a small measure of national fame by its advocacy of a state referendum effectively legalizing discrimination against gays and lesbians (Measure 9), is trying to climb on the state’s crowded Wise Use bandwagon by sponsoring an initiative undermining Oregon’s land-use planning laws. As the Wise Use movement continues to spread, it is becoming both more vociferous and sophisticated. The leaders of the Wise Use movement have demonstrated that they would rather intimidate environmentalists than negotiate compromises between economic and environmental interests. In practice, Wise Use is proving to be a slick new name for some of democracy’s oldest enemies.


William Kevin Burke has written extensively about environmental issues. This article appeared in the June 1993 issue of The Public Eye. © 1995, William Kevin Burke.

Constructing Homophobia: Colorado’s Right-Wing Attacks On Homosexuals

**This article appeared in the March, 1993 edition of The Public Eye magazine**

“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.”

On the Pulse of Morning, Maya Angelou

An eerie unease hangs in the air in Colorado. For lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, nagging questions pervade everyday life: did the kindly person who just gave me her parking place vote for Amendment 2? Did my landlord vote for the amendment, knowing that I am gay? Will gay rights be pushed back to the days before Stonewall? Who or what is behind this hate?

Amendment 2 is a ballot initiative that seeks to amend the Colorado Constitution. The amendment was passed by a majority of Colorado voters in November 1992, and was to take effect on January 15, 1993. The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal Defense Fund, the cities of Boulder, Aspen, and Denver, and individual plaintiffs joined forces under the leadership of attorney Jean Dubofsky, a former Colorado Supreme Judicial Court judge, and filed a motion in Denver District Court seeking to enjoin the governor and state of Colorado from enforcing Amendment 2. On January 15, 1993, Judge Jeffrey Bayless granted a preliminary injunction, giving the plaintiffs the first victory in a legal struggle over the constitutionality of Amendment 2. That injunction was later made permanent, but was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Amendment 2 reads as follows:

“Neither the State of Colorado, through any of its branches or departments, nor any of its agencies, political subdivisions, municipalities or school districts, shall enact, adopt or enforce any statute, regulation, ordinance or policy whereby homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships shall constitute or otherwise be the basis of, or entitle any person or class of persons to have or claim any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination. This Section of the [Colorado] Constitution shall be self-executing.”

Historical Background to Colorado’s Amendment 2

The gay rights movement in the US is often traced to June 27, 1969, in New York City, when police raided a Greenwich Village bar, the Stonewall Inn, and bar patrons rebelled in protest. Seven years later, in 1976, in Dade County, Florida, Anita Bryant led the first religious campaign against gay rights. Bryant’s campaign (run by Bryant, her husband Bob Green, and a political operative named Ed Rowe, who went on to head the Church League of America briefly and later Christian Mandate) was in opposition to a vote by the Dade County commissioners to prohibit discrimination against gay men and lesbians in housing, public accommodation, and employment. Bryant promoted a successful referendum to repeal the commissioners’ vote, and her campaign gained strength and notoriety.

In 1977, Anita Bryant inspired a similar campaign in California, where State Senator John Briggs, who had worked with Bryant in Miami, sponsored the “California Defend Our Children Initiative,” a binding initiative on the general election ballot in November 1978. The initiative provided for charges against school teachers and others advocating, encouraging, or publicly and “indiscreetly” engaging in homosexuality. It prohibited the hiring and required the firing of homosexuals if the school board deemed them unfit. This was in reaction to a 1975 California law preventing local school boards from firing teachers for homosexuality. California Defend Our Children, the organizing group supporting the initiative, was chaired by State Senator John Briggs. Rev. Louis Sheldon, now head of the Anaheim-based organization Traditional Values, was executive director. The initiative failed, but Rev. Louis Sheldon would remain extremely active in anti-homosexual organizing. That same year, David A. Noebel, later to head Summit Ministries of Colorado, published The Homosexual Revolution, which he dedicated to Anita Bryant.

Bryant’s anti-homosexual campaign ended in 1979 with the collapse of her two organizations, Anita Bryant Ministries and Protect America’s Children, which were hampered by a lack of political sophistication. Contemporary techniques in influencing the political system–direct mail, computer technology, religious television ministries–were not available to Bryant. Although US history is dotted with right-wing movements led by preachers (such as Father Charles Coughlin, who used radio to enormous effect), at that time few religious fundamentalists and evangelicals were interested in the political sphere. Bryant herself was plagued by personal problems, such as divorce, and her organizations were unable to respond effectively to a boycott mounted against Florida’s orange industry, for which Bryant was a major spokesperson. Her organizations collapsed because they were unable to expand their base through direct mail and fundraising, to use the media to build that base, or to use the political system for their own religious ends. With the creation of the New Right at the end of the 1970s, a political movement was born that incorporated conservative fundamentalists and evangelicals as full partners. Now there were tremendous political resources available to the Religious Right, and the success and influence of religious fundamentalists in the spheres of public policy and popular opinion improved dramatically.

Under the benign influence of the Reagan Administration, the New Right and its Religious Right component flourished. Several major leaders emerged, their individual fortunes rising and falling, but their collective political clout reaching into new spheres of influence, especially the political sphere. A focus of attention that emerged with the advent of the New Right was a rollback of gains made by the gay rights movement.

The Second Right-Wing Anti-Homosexual Campaign

The “second” anti-homosexual campaign, born within the New Right in the early 1980s, has been a far more sophisticated one. It has been planned at the national level, carried out by at least 15 large national organizations using the most refined computer technology, showing an understanding of the political system, and therefore exerting influence only dreamed of by the first movement.

The effects of this new sophistication are:

  • to make local anti-homosexual campaigns appear to be exclusively grassroots efforts, when they are guided by major national organizations;
  • to increase the effect of each New Right organization’s efforts by building networks and coalitions among the organizations and by coordinating political campaigns;
  • to camouflage the religious content of the organizing and create the more secular theme of “defense of the family”;
  • to pursue the anti-homosexual campaign under the slogan “no special rights,” despite that slogan’s inaccuracy.

The Anti-Homosexual Campaign of the Early 1980s

The opening of the second anti-homosexual campaign can be traced to three events:

  1. the 1982 publication of Enrique T. Rueda’s massive The Homosexual Network (Old Greenwich, CT: Devin Adair Co.);
  2. the onset of the AIDS epidemic, which in its earliest days in the US, was almost exclusively confined to the gay male community. (For an account of the earliest days of the AIDS epidemic, see Randy Shilts, And The Band Played On (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.);
  3. the work of anti-gay activist Dr. Paul Cameron, director in the early 1980s of the Institute for the Scientific Investigation of Sexuality in Lincoln, Nebraska, and now chairperson of the Family Research Institute in Washington, DC. Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation would prove an early supporter of Dr. Cameron: FCF distributed copies of Cameron’s “Model Sexuality Statute” in 1983.

Enrique Rueda’s massive book, The Homosexual Network, is a thorough examination of the organizations, activities, and ideology of the gay rights movement. The book does not discuss AIDS, and much of its critique of homosexual organizations is directed at their liberalism. Rueda, a native of Cuba and a Catholic theologian, is also interested in the moral dimension of homosexuality and its offense against the church.

In 1987, the Free Congress Foundation, which had sponsored Rueda’s book, developed a new condensation that updated the critique of homosexuality to include the AIDS crisis. This book, Gays, AIDS and You, by Michael Schwartz and Enrique Rueda, stands as a seminal work in the right’s analysis of homosexuality in the context of the AIDS crisis. A quote from the introduction illustrates the significance of this book to an understanding of Colorado’s Amendment 2:

“For the homosexual movement is nothing less than an attack on our traditional, pro-family values. And now this movement is using the AIDS crisis to pursue its political agenda. This in turn, threatens not only our values but our lives. . . .

“They are loved by God as much as anyone else. This we believe while affirming the disordered nature of their sexual condition and the evil nature of the acts this condition leads to, and while fully committed to the proposition that homosexuals should not be entitled to special treatment under the law. That would be tantamount to rewarding evil.”

It is significant that Rueda wrote his two important critiques of the gay rights movement at the suggestion of, and under the sponsorship of, Paul Weyrich and the Free Congress Foundation, which Weyrich directs. FCF’s early and important work on the issue of homosexuality foreshadowed a national campaign to highlight homosexuality as a threat to the well-being of Americans.

Paul Weyrich is a founder and central leader of the New Right. He was more astute than many in the New Right in his early appreciation of the potential of anti-gay themes in building the success of the New Right. But he was not alone in understanding the appeal of this issue in right-wing organizing. As early as 1978, Tim LaHaye, “family counselor,” husband of Beverly LaHaye (head of Concerned Women for America), and prominent leader in both the pro-family and Religious Right components of the New Right, wrote The Unhappy Gays (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1978).

In 1983, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority sent out at least three mailings that highlighted the threats of homosexuality and AIDS.

In a similar vein, Robert G. Grant’s organization, Christian Voice, used the threat of homosexuality as a major theme in a fundraising letter that began, “I am rushing you this urgent letter because the children in your neighborhood are in danger.”

Phyllis Schlafly, head of Eagle Forum and grande dame of the pro-family movement, made heavy use of the accusation of lesbianism in her early 1980s attacks on Equal Rights Amendment organizers. She argued that the ERA would promote gay rights, leading, for example, to the legitimization of same-sex marriages, the protection of gay and lesbian rights in the military, the protection of the rights of persons with AIDS, and the voiding of sodomy laws.

Dr. Paul Cameron is a tireless anti-gay activist who has played an important roll in encouraging punitive measures against people with AIDS. In 1983, the American Psychological Association dropped Cameron from its membership rolls “for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists.” Despite being discredited by reputable social scientists, Cameron has served as an “expert” on homosexuality at numerous right-wing and Religious Right conferences, and was hired as a consultant on AIDS by California Assemblyman William Dannemeyer.

As the 1980s unfolded and the New Right achieved substantial gains on economic, military, and foreign policy issues, its Religious Right and pro-family sectors devoted their most passionate organizing to the anti-abortion crusade, where there were significant successes. The campaign against homosexuality was not a major focus in the mid-1980s, though it was never repudiated as a goal of right-wing organizing. A shared alarm and loathing over the gains of the gay rights movement was understood within the New Right.

The Current Anti-Homosexual Campaign

In the late 1980s, three issues reinvigorated the New Right’s anti-homosexual activism and focused added attention at the national level. The first issue was the promotion of school curriculum reform to reflect a greater acceptance of gay men and lesbians (e.g., Project 10 in southern California). The second was the religious and political right’s objection to public funding for homoerotic art. The third issue was the passage of gay rights ordinances, bills, and initiatives in the local sphere and in state legislatures. According to People for the American Way, 19 states and more than 100 cities and counties now have laws or executive orders protecting gay and lesbian rights.

It is commonly thought that the local responses to each of these three gay rights issues are grassroots efforts, mounted by outraged citizens stirred to action by local manifestations of “gay power.” In fact, while local anti-homosexual groups did and do exist, their power and effectiveness is enormously enhanced by the technical assistance provided by national New Right organizations.

Colorado provides a case study of the effective involvement of national right-wing groups at the local level. Colorado for Family Values (CFV), the local group that sponsored Amendment 2, was founded by Coloradans Kevin Tebedo and Tony Marco, and is headed by Colorado Springs car dealer Will Perkins. It promotes itself as a grassroots group, but its tactics, success, and power are largely the result of support from a national anti-homosexual campaign mounted by the New Right. Five of the national organizations active in this campaign are represented on the executive and advisory boards of CFV: Focus on the Family, Summit Ministries, Concerned Women for America, Eagle Forum, and Traditional Values. Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition is not officially represented on the board of CFV, but has a strong presence in Colorado and is ubiquitous in anti-homosexual organizing nationally. Many other New Right and “old right” organizations are climbing on the anti-homosexual bandwagon as the issue becomes more prominent.

Colorado for Family Values has maintained adamantly that its strategy was not coordinated by national religious or political groups. However, according to People for the American Way, a Washington, DC, organization that monitors the right wing, “the Religious Right’s anti-gay vendetta is not, as its leaders often claim, a spontaneous outpouring of concern about gay issues. Theirs is a carefully orchestrated political effort, with a unified set of messages and tactics, that is deliberately designed to foster division and intolerance.” A review of the national organizations involved with Colorado’s Amendment 2 will support this analysis.

Key Homophobic Groups Active in Colorado

Rev. Louis Sheldon’s Traditional Values

Traditional Values (often called the Traditional Values Coalition) is headed by Rev. Louis Sheldon and is based in Anaheim, California. Rev. Sheldon and his organization have taken leadership within the Religious Right’s anti-homosexual campaign. In October 1989, Rev. Sheldon led the “West Coast Symposium on Homosexuality and Public Policy Implications” in Orange County, California. Two of the featured speakers were Roger Magnuson, Esq., author of Are Gay Rights Right?, and Congressman William Dannemeyer, author of Shadow in the Land: Homosexuality in America.

Building on the success of the west coast symposium, Rev. Sheldon convened a January 1990 conference in Washington, DC, that was billed as a “national summit meeting on homosexuality.” One of the two dominant themes of the conference was that homosexuals have, since the 1960s, been seeking “special protection over and above the equal rights already given to all Americans.” This theme would later appear in Colorado as the central theme of the Colorado for Family Values’ promotion of Amendment 2.

Rev. Louis Sheldon was an aide to Pat Robertson in 1987, and he shares much of Robertson’s interest in the legal codification of moral issues. In 1988, Sheldon led the opposition to Project 10, a counseling program for gay adolescents in the Los Angeles school system. In 1986 and 1988, his zeal against homosexuals led him to endorse the California anti-homosexual initiatives sponsored by far right extremist Lyndon LaRouche. The initiatives sought, in effect, to require quarantine for people with AIDS. Sheldon himself has advocated establishing “cities of refuge” for people with the HIV infection. In 1991, Sheldon submitted to the California attorney general a constitutional amendment that would bar civil rights laws from protecting homosexuals, unless approved by a two-thirds vote of the California voters. Sheldon has recently announced his intention to pursue in California an initiative modeled on Colorado’s Amendment 2.

Barbara Sheldon, chairwoman of the Traditional Values Coalition of Colorado, is on the executive board of Colorado for Family Values. She is not related to Rev. Sheldon.

Focus on the Family

It is widely agreed that the 1991 arrival in Colorado Springs of Dr. James Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, was an important catalyst for Colorado Springs’ local anti-homosexual organization, Colorado for Family Values. CFV had already led a successful campaign against a local gay rights ordinance. Focus on the Family, however, brought to Colorado Springs a tremendous influx of resources and sophisticated political experience: it arrived with 750 employees (and has since added another 300) and an annual budget of nearly $70 million, including a $4 million grant from the El Pomar Foundation to buy 50 acres in Colorado Springs. Focus on the Family is indeed a national organization. While it has no official ties to CFV, it has offered “advice” to CFV, and several Focus on the Family employees, such as public policy representative Randy Hicks, sit on CFV advisory boards. Focus on the Family has given an in-kind donation worth $8,000 to Colorado for Family Values.

Dr. Dobson’s background is in pediatrics and he is best known as an advocate of traditional discipline and corporal punishment for children. However, his organization has also been heavily involved in anti-homosexual organizing. In 1988, Focus on the Family merged with the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, headed by Gary L. Bauer. The Family Research Council distributed a “homosexual packet,” available through Focus on the Family, which contained the lengthy document, The Homosexual Agenda: Changing Your Community and Nation. This detailed guide includes a section titled “Starting An Initiative.” In October 1992, the Family Research Council separated from Focus on the Family after warnings from the Internal Revenue Service that the Council’s lobbying activities were endangering Focus on the Family’s tax-exempt status.

In keeping with the Family Research Council’s anti-gay organizing, Focus on the Family’s newsletters have shown an increase in anti-gay articles over the last several years. For instance, in the May 1990 Focus on the Family newsletter, Dr. Dobson himself began a column with the statement, “I am familiar with the widespread effort to redefine the family. It is motivated by homosexual activists and others who see the traditional family as a barrier to the social engineering they hope to accomplish.” A March 1991 article in the newsletter uses this argument against treating gays equally: “There are people in our society who find sexual satisfaction from engaging in intercourse with animals. . . .Would anyone suggest that these groups deserve special protection?”

Summit Ministries

Summit Ministries of Manitou Springs, Colorado, is a little-known Religious Right organization whose work is national in scope. It is a 30-year-old Christian organization specializing in educational materials and summer youth retreats. Its president is Rev. David A. Noebel, formerly a prominent preacher in Rev. Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade. As early as 1977, Noebel authored The Homosexual Revolution, in which he claims that “homosexuality rapidly is becoming one of America’s most serious social problems.” He has also written several books claiming that rock’n’roll and soul music are communist plots to corrupt US youth. Summit Ministries later published AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome: A Special Report, co-authored by David Noebel, Wayne C. Lutton, and Paul Cameron. For the last several years, virtually every issue of The Journal, Summit Ministries’ monthly newsletter, has contained several anti-homosexual entries. Summit Ministries has just published Noebel’s new book, Understanding the Times: The Story of the Biblical Christian, Marxist/Leninist and Secular Humanist Worldviews.

Noebel’s background with Rev. Billy James Hargis’s Christian Crusade helps to explain the historical friendly relationship between Summit Ministries and the John Birch Society (JBS). Both the Christian Crusade and the John Birch Society represent a political sector known in political science literature as the “old right.” Born out of the conviction that communism was rampant in the United States, both organizations believed that the civil rights movement was manipulated by communists, that the National Council of Churches promoted communism, and that the United Nations was controlled by communists. In 1962, Rev. Billy James Hargis purchased an old resort hotel in Manitou Springs, which was renamed The Summit. The Summit became a retreat and anti-communism summer college.

Summit’s relationship with the John Birch Society is deeper than mere ideological affinity. In fact, in 1983, a donor responding to a John Birch Society fundraising letter sent a check to Robert Welch of JBS, and received a thank-you letter from Welch. The check, however, was made out to Summit Ministries.

Rev. David Noebel was a member of the John Birch Society until at least 1987, and for many years Summit Ministries took out full-page advertisements for its summer youth retreats in Review of the News andAmerican Opinion, two John Birch Society publications.

Summit Ministries is also politically close to Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family. Dr. Dobson, especially since moving to Colorado, leads seminars at Summit Ministries, and his endorsement of Summit’s work was prominent in Summit’s material promoting its 30th anniversary. David Noebel is on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values.

Beverly LaHaye’s Concerned Women for America

Touting itself as the largest women’s organization in America, Concerned Women for America claims a membership of 500,000, a number disputed by many. CWA was founded in 1979 as “the Christian women’s answer to the National Organization for Women.” It is based in Washington, DC, and organizes its member chapters through prayer circles and LaHaye’s monthly newsletter. CWA distributes a pamphlet titled The Hidden Homosexual Agenda that condemns the homosexual agenda for seeking “to take away the right of those who believe that homosexuality is wrong and immoral to voice that opinion.”

CWA’s most recent anti-homosexual pamphlet is The Homosexual Deception: Making Sin A Civil Right. It is a reprint of a treatise by Tony Marco, co-founder of Colorado for Family Values, that CFV filed with the state of Colorado as evidence supporting the correctness of Amendment 2. Here, to give a local activist his due, we see the local group creating material that is then used by a national group–a reversal of the usual pattern. Concerned Women for America is represented on the CFV advisory board by the president of its Colorado chapter, Bert Nelson.

Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum

Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, based in Alton, Illinois, is another national organization whose local affiliate is represented on the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values. Phyllis Schlafly is perhaps best known for her successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. During that campaign, she used the threat of homosexual and lesbian privileges as a central argument to support her opposition to the ERA. Eagle Forum continues to oppose gay and lesbian rights.

Other National Groups Prominent in the Anti-Homosexual Campaign

Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition

Rev. Pat Robertson, longtime host of the cable television program “The 700 Club,” and prominent leader of the Religious Right, ran unsuccessfully in the Republican presidential primary in 1988. In October 1989, Robertson used the 1.9 million names he had collected from his 1988 campaign to identify 175,000 key activists and donors, and launch the Christian Coalition. The new Coalition’s stated goal was “to build the most powerful political force in American politics.”

The 175,000 activists were contacted and urged to establish chapters of the Christian Coalition in their precincts. Five goals were identified:

  1. build a grassroots network using professional field organizers and training schools;
  2. construct a lobbying organization to work at the national and state levels in every state and in Washington, DC;
  3. create a mass media outreach program;
  4. build a legal arm to defend the gains made in state legislatures from challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union;
  5. build a prayer network to unite all evangelical and pro-family voters.

Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation was an early endorser of the Christian Coalition.

The Christian Coalition’s training tapes teach activists to fight those forces pursuing “an agenda of chaos.” An early videotape distributed by the Christian Coalition used homosexual scenes to illustrate the moral decline of America; opposition to homosexuality has always been a commitment of the Christian Coalition. However, it was the 1990 political battle over a gay rights initiative in Broward County, Florida, that moved the anti-homosexual agenda to prominence within the organization. In its literature, the Christian Coalition took credit for “spearheading” the defeat. It claims to have “led the charge and won a major political victory.” Robertson calls on Christian Coalition members to “duplicate this success in your city and state and throughout the nation.”

By 1992, the organization had grown dramatically. Ralph Reed, its executive director, claimed 250,000 members in 49 states and $13 million in the bank. The Christian Coalition launched an election year get-out-the-vote effort which included “in-pew” registration at churches, the distribution of up to 40 million “voter guides,” and the use of computer-assisted telephone banks to help elect favored candidates in key races.

Reed’s tactics are self-confessedly surreptitious. “I want to be invisible,” he told one reporter. “I do guerrilla warfare. I paint my face and travel at night. You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag. You don’t know until election night.” Despite this statement, Reed later publicly distanced himself from the “stealth” strategy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Coalition overwhelmingly has targeted local Republican Party precinct and county organizations for takeover. It works closely with Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, which was founded in 1974 with money from the Coors family and its foundation. County Christian Coalition chapters have been directed to subscribe to Weyrich’s National Empowerment Television (NET) satellite program. Ralph Reed is on the NET board.

Colorado for Family Values is not an affiliate of, nor is it funded by, the Christian Coalition (unlike the group that led the anti-homosexual initiative campaign in Oregon, the Oregon Citizens Alliance); the link between the Christian Coalition and Colorado’s Amendment 2 is an indirect one. The National Legal Foundation of Chesapeake, Virginia (a conservative Christian legal organization founded by Pat Robertson and funded by Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, but no longer affiliated with Robertson), gave advice to Colorado for Family Values as early as 1991, long before Amendment 2 was on the ballot. The consultation was intended to help CFV formulate ballot language that would survive legal and political challenges. By the end of 1992, the National Legal Foundation had taken over much of the legal work of CFV.

The Berean League

The Berean League, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, has published Roger J. Magnuson’s much-cited book Are Gay Rights Right? This discredited work was used by Tony Marco in the treatise he wrote for Colorado for Family Values. In addition to publishing Magnuson’s book, the Berean League developed a successful campaign to oppose a local civil rights ordinance for gay men and lesbians. On the basis of that success, it began to conduct workshops at national conferences on “Strategies for Defeating Homosexual Privilege Proposals.”

A Christian organization, the Berean League states in its promotional literature that “the League’s authority is Scripture.” Recently, it has issued a “Back-grounder” report titled Some Things You May Not Know About Homosexuality. An inflammatory three-page document, it was circulated in Oregon as a tool to organize support for Oregon’s 1992 anti-homosexual Measure 9, the Abnormal Behavior Initiative.

The American Family Association

Headed by Rev. Donald Wildmon and based in Tupelo, Mississippi, the American Family Association has an annual budget of $5 million, and focuses primarily on profanity, adultery, homosexuality, and other forms of anti-Christian behavior and language on television. An earlier Wildmon organization was called CLeaR-TV (Christian Leaders for Responsible Television) and was based in Wheaton, Illinois. Wildmon has specialized in boycotting the corporate sponsors of shows which he dislikes. He called for a boycott of American Express because it sponsored the television program “L. A. Law,” which ran an episode featuring a bisexual woman kissing another woman. Wildmon opposes even the depiction of homosexuality. One of his “top goals” for 1989 was to force off the air three TV shows (“Heartbeat,” “Hooperman,” and “thirtysomething”) that, he said, “promote the homosexual lifestyle and portray practicing homosexuals in a positive light.” Wildmon was accused of anti-Semitism for inflammatory comments he made during his campaign against the film The Last Temptation of Christ.

The Rutherford Institute

The Rutherford Institute, based in Manassas, Virginia, and founded and headed by John W. Whitehead, is a non-profit, legal defense organization associated with the far-right fringe of the Religious Right. Speakers listed in its Speakers Bureau include R. J. Rushdoony, a prominent Christian Reconstructionist. Reconstructionists believe that the text of the Bible provides the only legitimate basis for civil law. The most zealous wing of Reconstructionism has called for the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers, and recalcitrant children. In 1992, the Rutherford Institute spearheaded a suit in Hawaii to block implementation of that state’s new gay rights law.

The John Birch Society

The John Birch Society is another national organization with a prominent anti-homosexual agenda. JBS is not properly categorized as a New Right organization, but is best seen as “old right.” Historically, the John Birch Society has existed as an isolationist, anti-communist organization. It was founded near the end of the McCarthy era, and expanded on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s conspiracy theory of communist penetration of the United States. Since the death of its founder, Robert Welch, the JBS has moved from Belmont, Massachusetts, to Appleton, Wisconsin. Its recent concerns have been family issues, AIDS, US internationalist foreign policy, opposition to government regulations, and the right to bear arms. High on its list of concerns within family issues is homosexuality. The September and October 1992 issues of its publication, New American (published immediately before the November votes on anti-gay initiatives in Colorado and Oregon), carried anti-homosexual stories. The October story was a two-page article supporting Oregon’s Abnormal Behavior Initiative.

Lyndon LaRouche: A Special Case

Lyndon LaRouche is a far-right political extremist who is now serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison for mail fraud and tax evasion. LaRouche runs a vast empire of organizations with ideological positions that exactly mimic his bizarre conspiracy theories. His followers are seen in airports and on street corners, often campaigning to free LaRouche from jail or attacking the organization’s mortal enemy–Henry Kissinger. LaRouche’s many organizations have always incorporated sexual themes into their analysis, and have been obsessed with AIDS since the pandemic began. LaRouche has conducted a long-running and fanatical campaign against homosexuality. Most recently, LaRouche spearheaded Proposition 64 in California, which would have established restrictive public health policies regarding AIDS. Proposition 64 was opposed by virtually all public health officials and elected officials (one exception was legislator William Dannemeyer). A public health specialist for the California Medical Association described Proposition 64 as “absolute hysteria and calculated deception.” LaRouche organizers continue to peddle hysteria over AIDS and homosexuality. Their embrace of anti-Jewish and other scapegoating conspiracy theories and use of demagoguery add a firm base to the claim that the LaRouchians are a neo-fascist movement. Many New Right groups avoid any official alliance with the LaRouchians.

Analyzing the Anti-Homosexual Campaign’s Coordination & Networking

Since its earliest days in the late 1970s, the New Right has been a political and religious movement that has self-consciously networked among its members. The Religious Roundtable, the Free Congress Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, Christian Voice, the Conservative Caucus, the Moral Majority, Eagle Forum, and Concerned Women for America, among others, have held frequent conferences, published in each other’s journals and newsletters, and promoted legislation within the context of a sympathetic Republican administration.

The anti-homosexual campaign nests within a sector of the New Right known as the pro-family movement. The major national gathering for the pro-family movement is the Family Forum conference, held annually since 1981. The conference has usually been sponsored by Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. These conferences are symptomatic of the coordination and networking among the New Right leadership. The issues of concern to the pro-family movement are aptly described in a 1984 promotional letter for Family Forum III. They are “important moral issues such as: the economic survival of the family, parents’ rights in education, the homosexual movement, personal charity, child pornography, and abortion.”

Reflecting the New Right leadership’s shared opposition to homosexuality, the Family Forum conferences nearly always feature an anti-homosexual speaker. With the arrival of the AIDS epidemic, and the publication of Gays, AIDS and You, sponsored by the Free Congress Foundation, the anti-homosexual profile became much higher. We see the fruits of a decade of organizing by the pro-family movement of the New Right in the many challenges to gay rights bills and initiatives, and most recently in the anti-gay initiatives in Colorado and Oregon.

The analysis underlying the pro-family movement’s morality is a fervent distrust and irrational hatred of “secular humanism,” which is used as a shorthand for all that is evil and opposed to God. This distrust of secular humanism can be traced to the US nativist right at the turn of the century, which believed secular humanists were engaged in a conspiracy to undermine the United States. The purported conspiracy was linked, from its beginning, to an extreme fear of communism and its undermining effect on Christianity and the Christian family. Today, a major focus of the New Right, and particularly of the pro-family movement, is unrelenting opposition to the perceived secular humanist conspiracy. As Paul Weyrich describes it, “Well, first of all, from our point of view, this is really the most significant battle of the age-old conflict between good and evil, between the forces of God and the forces against God, that we have seen in our country.”

For a better understanding of how fear of secular humanism serves as the theoretical basis for right-wing organizing, see the Berlet/Quigley chapter on the Culture War: Theocracy and Racism.

Camouflage of the Christian Agenda

In the discussion above, three of the four national New Right organizations playing the highest profile role in organizing support for Colorado’s Amendment 2 are explicitly Christian organizations. However, the association of anti-homosexual organizing with religious (specifically Christian) principles is highlighted only when activists are targeting fellow Christians in order to recruit or educate them. When organizing in the wider political arena, anti-homosexual organizing is cast in the secular terms of “family values” and “defense of the family.”

This is an important aspect of the Religious Right’s organizing style. Since the mid-1980s, when the heavy-handed style of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority lost popularity, the Christian Right has cast its campaigns in terms not so obviously linked to the Bible. Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition refers to the soft-peddling of the religious message in his own organization’s work as conducting a “stealth campaign.”

In the case of the anti-homosexual campaign, the Religious Right has dwelt on calumnious depictions of predatory behavior by homosexuals. Various anti-gay campaigns have accused homosexuals of eating feces, molesting children, and destroying the family. Many of these characterizations are “documented” by the work of Dr. Paul Cameron and Roger J. Magnuson. Oregon’s 1992 anti-gay initiative (which was rejected by the voters) equates homosexuality with “pedophilia, sadism or masochism.” While it is only in explicitly religious attacks on homosexuals that homosexuality is equated with Satan, that connection is uncontroversial among many involved in organizing against homosexuals.

Though the religious basis of this anti-homosexual fervor often is not mentioned, occasionally this bias becomes clear. On February 10, 1992, Bill McCartney, head football coach at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said at a press conference that homosexuality is a “sin” that is “an abomination of almighty God.” McCartney is a member of the advisory board of Colorado for Family Values. Former US Representative William Armstrong, who describes himself as having had a “life-changing experience” when he became born again, is chairman of the advisory board of CFV.

But the clearest revelation of the religious basis for the work of CFV is a talk given by Kevin Tebedo, CFV executive director, at the First Congregational Church in Colorado Springs on August 23, 1992. In this setting, Tebedo states that Amendment 2 “is about authority.”

He goes on to say, “It’s about whose authority takes precedence in the society in which we live. . . [I]s it the authority of God? The authority of the supreme King of Kings and Lord of Lords? You see, we say we should have the separation of church and state, but you see, Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. That is politics; that is rule; that is authority.”

In spite of the obvious preeminence of Christian principles in the values of its national organizational supporters and some of its advisory board members, the literature of Colorado for Family Values does not refer to Christianity, Biblical admonitions regarding homosexuality, or religious principles. A large CFV packet of information dated January 9, 1992, does not mention a religious basis for CFV’s work. Finally, there is no mention of religion in the CFV Mission Statement.

The History of “No Special Rights”

Another area of deception in the public face of the anti-homosexual campaign is its assertion that lesbians and gay men are seeking “special rights” or “special protections.” This was the guiding premise behind Anita Bryant’s campaign, was raised again by Enrique Rueda in The Homosexual Network and Gays, AIDS and You, and eventually emerged as the slogan of the national anti-homosexual campaign. In the case of Colorado’s Amendment 2, the slogan was the dominant theme of CFV’s advertising and promotion.

The use of “no special rights” is purposefully misleading. Gay rights initiatives do not provide “special rights,” but a guarantee of equal rights for lesbians and gay men. Amendment 2 would deny equal protection against discrimination only to this group. CFV’s decision to use “no special rights” only in its public materials and not in the legal language of the amendment itself was made on the advice of the National Legal Foundation.

A June 1991 letter from Brian McCormick of NLF advises CFV to stay away from the “no special rights” language in its legal formulations, but to use it as the centerpiece of its public campaign. Coloradans were bombarded with advertisements and flyers all drumming home the message that Amendment 2 did nothing but reverse the unfair granting of “special rights” through gay rights initiatives. Future anti-gay initiatives will undoubtedly continue the use of the “no special rights” slogan because the cohesiveness of the right’s anti-homosexual campaign virtually guarantees that local initiatives will follow the lead of national organizations.

Legal Issues Raised by Amendment 2

After the voters in Colorado approved Amendment 2 by majority vote, a preliminary injunction was successfully sought by a group of plaintiffs that included individuals, gay rights organizations, and the three Colorado cities–Denver, Aspen, and Boulder–that had existing gay rights ordinances. The injunction was requested on the grounds that Amendment 2 would deprive gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals of any legal remedy for acts of discrimination against them, and deprive the state and all local governments from enacting any statutes, ordinances, or policies that prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination may occur in such areas as insurance, employment, housing, and accommodation.

The plaintiffs faced the difficult burden of overcoming the “presumption of constitutionality” granted to any successful amendment. They also needed to prove that there was a reasonable likelihood that they would prevail on the merits of their case. The plaintiffs argued that the amendment denied fundamental constitutional rights and also violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection because there was no rational relationship between its provisions and the accomplishment of a legitimate public goal. To prevail, the plaintiffs needed to establish that such a denial of rights would create real, immediate, and irreparable harm to lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals.

Colorado District Court Judge Jeffrey Bayless determined that there was a reasonable probability that the amendment denied the plaintiffs a fundamental right–the right to participate in the governmental process–and that the amendment could be upheld only if the defendants could show that it furthered a compelling governmental purpose.

Judge Bayless concluded that lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals are an identifiable group that deserves protection. Acknowledging that the Constitution cannot control private prejudices, he ruled that legislation must not indirectly “give them effect.” Judge Bayless then granted the temporary injunction blocking Amendment 2. A later permanent injunction was then appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Conclusion

Homophobia is a bedrock value in our society, one that crosses lines of class, race, and even gender. Our Calvinist attitudes toward sex, based in religious teaching that sex is only for procreation, and a patriarchal culture that is discomforted by any breaking down of rigid sex roles, combine to create a culture that can deal with homosexuality, if at all, only in the artistic and commercial spheres. The lesbian and gay civil rights movement has pushed homosexuality out of the artistic and commercial world and into the political and social sphere. This is almost guaranteed to create a backlash while society absorbs and adjusts to new values.

While that backlash may be inevitable, it can be tamped down or fanned by political forces. This review of the right wing’s organizing to promote a backlash against the gay rights movement is a study in reaction. Deprived of its old enemies and needing a new issue to promote, the right’s anti-homosexual organizing is rank opportunism. The anti-gay backlash is in large part a creation of the right. It is generating funds, keeping right-wing organizations that were in danger of complete eclipse alive with an infusion of new support, and generating the all-important evidence of political power–media attention.

The threat this backlash represents is very real. Violence is its most blatant manifestation, but the litany of pain and waste caused by homophobia includes subtle attacks on gay men and lesbians as well. Furthermore, confronting the backlash distracts time, energy, and money from the work necessary to bring about equal rights for lesbians and gay men.

In the case of Colorado’s Amendment 2, it would be comforting to think that the people who voted for the amendment were simply misled, and believed they were opposing special rights for homosexuals. While that deception was promoted by Colorado for Family Values, the vote also reflects the deep-seated persistence of homophobia in our society. The skillful manipulation of homophobia by the right wing creates anti-gay sentiment and actions that bolster and promote intolerance.

In the United States, we must decide what role the church and religious tenets are going to play, especially when those tenets are in conflict with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It is not an attack on Christianity or religion to question the propriety of imposing Biblical law on a secular society. If ours is a society in which church and state are separate, then the prohibitions of church dogma cannot overrule the protections provided by the Constitution. And the Constitution, to paraphrase Mr. Justice McKenna in the 1910 case of Weems v. U.S., is progressive–it is not fastened to the obsolete, but may acquire new meaning as public opinion becomes enlightened by a humane justice.