Museveni Plays Politics with Human Rights

On Friday, Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) on procedural grounds, ruling that it was invalid because Parliament lacked a quorum when it passed the legislation on December 20, 2013. (In Uganda’s Parliament, a quorum requires that at least one third of members are present when a vote is held.) Thanks to this decision, LGBTI Ugandans no longer face the risk of life imprisonment, and advocacy for LGBTI rights is no longer criminalized. While this ruling is a significant victory for Uganda’s LGBTI community, the road forward remains rocky and steep. And the timing of the decision raises concerns that President Museveni is once again playing politics with human rights.

It’s ironic that the court struck down the law based on an issue that President Museveni himself raised in his letter to Ugandan Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on December 28, 2013—the very letter that led many people to the incorrect conclusion that Museveni would not sign the bill into law. Despite his criticism of the Speaker, succession struggles in his own party compelled Museveni to sign the bill—making him the hero of Uganda’s highly influential anti-gay pastors.

With the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in D.C happening this week (an event that Museveni is expected to attend, despite significant outcry from international human rights advocates), the timing of the court’s ruling should be viewed with suspicion. Some analysts claim that Museveni forced the courts to rush this ruling in time for his U.S. trip.

Quite probably, Friday’s ruling is Museveni’s attempt to silence the international outrage that has been directed against him and his country since he signed the AHA into law in February. Beyond that, it is an attempt to clear his path to yet another term as president. (He has already been in power for 28 years.) Since Uganda’s opposition candidates have condemned the law, this ruling works to the advantage of Museveni at home as well as internationally, allowing embargoed aid from the World Bank, the U.S., and other Western nations (approximately $118 million in total) to resume its flow into the country’s coffers.

The Court did not consider substantive objections to the legislation made by those challenging its constitutionality, ruling only on the technical issue of the quorum. That is, the ruling establishes no precedent with respect to human rights. The legislation could potentially be reintroduced. However, Museveni understands the cost of this law to his own image abroad and it seems unlikely he would welcome a re-tabling of the measure anytime soon. Regardless, sodomy laws imposed on Uganda during British colonial rule (which exact upon guilty parties a maximum punishment of seven years in jail) are still in place, and, more significantly, the anti-LGBTI, anti-woman ideologies imported and propagated by Christian fundamentalists from the West remain deeply entrenched.

Following the ruling, Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and one of the petitioners contesting the validity of the law, expressed relief. He also acknowledged, “Society won’t give in.” The LGBTI community in Uganda is braced for a surge in violent retaliation from supporters of the legislation.

Mugisha’s concern warrants reflection: the striking down of this law will not put an end to the violence and persecution experienced by LGBTI persons. If anything, demonization of sexual minorities is likely to escalate. Notorious homophobic pastor Martin Ssempa, a key promoter of the legislation, charged that the “gay lobby” bought off the judges. The reality is that a justice based on technicalities is not trustworthy. We need justice that accepts the full humanity of African LGBTI persons—a justice based on fundamental human rights.

But currently, there is no political will to put the persecution of LGBTI persons in Uganda to rest. It wasn’t long ago that the very same legal system that struck down this law callously threw out SMUG’s case against the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo—a person known for persecuting LGBTI persons in Uganda.

And we must not forget that all of this is happening on Museveni’s watch. For all of his flaws, Museveni is a clever politician, and he knows how to please the West. Now, at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit, he is about to meet with the very people he has previously referred to as the “homosexual lobby”—and with the law out of play, he can once again feign innocence, alongside other African presidents who are busy imprisoning LGBTI persons using colonial anti-sodomy laws.

Rather than give these African leaders a pass at the Summit we must support African human rights leaders who demand that colonial-era sodomy laws (and their neocolonial expansions supported by U.S. conservatives) be struck down. If we miss this opportunity, we will have allowed Museveni to divert us from our commitment to justice for African LGBTI persons—a dream that will only be realized when sexual minorities are decriminalized.

The process of dismantling these systems of oppression is tedious and difficult, and it requires perseverance, courage, creativity, sacrifice, and steadfast commitment. To endure the journey, we need to pause periodically to celebrate our progress, and when a panel of five judges unanimously nullifies a law that violates the human rights of LGBTI persons—even if the ruling is based more on technicalities than true justice—we are assuredly seeing progress. But after we have paused, momentarily allowing a relieved exhale to quietly escape our lungs, we must inhale once more and cry out even louder than before—tirelessly working for a durable and lasting justice.

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Dominionism Disguised as Aid: Rick Warren’s Expanding Influence in Rwanda

Expanding access to basic healthcare is an important and valuable goal, but what happens when those made responsible for providing the care also hold conservative religious ideologies? What sort of sexual and health education is being taught? How safe do LGBTQ people feel when seeking services? Are gay men able to access the information and resources they need in order to stay healthy? What options are available to women with unwanted pregnancies?

These concerns were amplified in May when megachurch pastor Rick Warren announced that he will return to Africa yet again in August 2015, this time to host an “All-Africa Purpose Driven Church Leadership Training Conference” in Kigali, Rwanda. He is calling for leading African evangelicals from each of the continent’s 54 countries to join him. Warren is also is enlisting 54 American pastors, who will join him in Rwanda, to “adopt” these new “purpose driven” recruits.

Image from saddleback.com

Image from saddleback.com

Rick Warren presents himself as a moderate but is actually a right-wing fundamentalist known for his staunch opposition to LGBTQ equality and women’s reproductive freedom. Sometimes referred to as “America’s pastor,” Warren—who claims Rwanda as his “home” and points to his Rwandan diplomatic passport as proof—is also arguably aspiring to be “Africa’s pastor”: he travels extensively in Africa as part of his dominionist agenda,¹ spreading his dangerous right-wing ideologies wherever he goes. The millionaire pastor has been especially active in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, where he has built close relationships with members of the political, business, and religious elite, including many prominent anti-LGBTQ pastors.

Rwanda, ranked among the world’s poorest countries, has been the focus of much of Warren’s international work since he first visited at the invitation of President Paul Kagame in 2005. Kagame enlisted Warren’s help in making the small African nation the first “purpose driven country” after reading the famous pastor’s bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.

The book found its way into Kagame’s hands thanks to Joe Ritchie, a Chicago-area businessman, who first partnered with the President in 2003 on economic development efforts in the wake of the 1994 genocide. It was while visiting Ritchie’s Chicago home that Kagame was initially introduced to Warren’s book. The pastor subsequently received a letter from the President stating, “I’m a man of purpose. Can you come help us rebuild our nation?”

Since their first meeting, the two have become close friends and colleagues.

That Kagame has been accused of numerous human rights violations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others seems not to have deterred Warren, who has hosted him multiple times as a guest of honor at Saddleback Church’s main campus in Lake Forest, CA. This isn’t terribly surprising considering Warren’s close ties to Martin Ssempa, an aggressively anti-LGBTQ pastor in Uganda who was responsible for helping to draft and promote the infamous “Kill the Gays” bill.

While Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was ultimately signed into law earlier this year, similar efforts were thwarted in Rwanda in 2009, when penal code revisions that would have criminalized homosexuality were rejected as violations of basic human rights.

In the nine years since his first visit, Warren has returned to Rwanda countless times. He is a member of Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council and has developed an extensive relationship with hundreds of congregations in Rwanda through Saddleback’s PEACE Plan, which is described as “an initiative of Purpose Driven Ministries that brings together all Christian churches in Rwanda with the ultimate purpose of building peace within our community.”²

Specifically, Warren’s PEACE Plan endeavors to tackle what he refers to as the five “Global Giants”:

P – Plant churches and promote reconciliation – to address spiritual emptiness
E – Equip leaders – to address corrupt leadership
A – Assist the poor – to address extreme poverty
C – Care for the sick – to address pandemic diseases and suffering they cause
E – Educate the next generation – to address illiteracy and lack of education

Because the HIV/AIDS crisis is a primary focus of Warren’s work in Africa, one of the major PEACE Plan projects launched in Rwanda is the Rwanda Healthcare Initiative, a “grassroots effort to mobilize volunteers in community health who are proficient in home visits and health promotion, with a focus on the early identification, treatment care and support of people living with HIV through the local church.” Citing a lack of hospitals and clinics in the country, Warren has used the Rwanda Healthcare Initiative to promote the use of churches as distribution centers for medicine and basic healthcare.

Which returns us to the question, what happens when those made responsible for providing healthcare and other social services also hold conservative religious ideologies? What happens when the gatekeepers charged with distributing antiretrovirals also promote reparative therapy? Or when those responsible for teaching young people about safer sex insist that condoms are sinful? And where will women turn when the only people resourced to provide safe abortions refuse to do so?

In addition to these concerns, Rwanda is a signatory to the African Union Maputo Protocol, which obligates African nations to ensure women’s health and reproductive rights (including safe abortions). Given that Warren has advanced an explicitly anti-women agenda in the U.S. (earlier this year, Warren referred to Planned Parenthood as the “McDonalds of abortion” and declared it to be the “#1 baby killing franchise”), it is most likely that Warren aims to pursue a similar anti-SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) agenda in Rwanda, and his close ties to political and religious leadership in the country will assuredly pave the way for increased attacks on women and reproductive freedom.

The connections between religious fundamentalism and international aid were further strengthened when the Rwanda PEACE Plan experienced a leadership transition in April of this year, appointing Apostle Dr. Paul Gitwaza as its new director. Gitwaza—who condemns abortion and describes homosexuality as an abomination—is a member of the International Coalition of Apostles, now known as the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and the primary organizational structure of C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation.

Wagner, who also served as Rick Warren’s dissertation advisor and mentor at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes in his book Dominion! that the PEACE Plan fits into “the 7-M mandate”―the idea that Christians need to take charge of a country by “capturing” the seven “mountains” that represent cultural aspects of society: business, government, family, religion, media, education, and entertainment. This suggests that rather than actually being interested in the empowerment and self-determination of Rwandan people, Warren’s primary interest is controlling the destiny and rights of others.

Warren often explains this multi-pronged approach to development (bringing together business, government, and church) with his “three-legged stool” metaphor. He says that public-private sector partnerships are equivalent to a two-legged stool, which will fall over without a third leg—that of the church. According to Warren, the church is the critical missing link affecting a country’s development.

Unfortunately, Warren’s stool—presented as an instrument of benevolent humanitarianism—is actually more like a soap box for his white savior neocolonial agenda. And as a relatively small country (Rwanda is approximately the size of Maryland) with a population of just over 12 million people (94% of whom are Christian), Rwanda is the perfect test site for this Wagner-inspired, Warren-driven quest for global dominionism.

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[1] Dominionism: The theocratic idea heterosexual Christian men are called by God to exercise dominion over secular society by taking control of political and cultural institutions. This competes in Christianity with the idea of stewardship, which suggests custodial care rather than absolute power.

[2] Warren’s PEACE Plan has since grown, expanding to targeted “Gateway Cities” around the world in order to “live out the Great Commandment and Commission in 12 key cities and all unreached people groups by 2020.”

Eugenics as U.S. Nationhood: Situating Population Control in a Settler State

This post is the third in my series examining the U.S. Right’s efforts to alter demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics. (Read part one and part two.) Today, I continue to discuss the U.S. Right’s coercive attempts to limit the fertility of people of color, an egregious affront to reproductive justice. This segment addresses U.S. initiatives undertaken to limit Native American women’s reproductive autonomy.

In my last post, I discussed right-wing nativists’ efforts to establish a two-tiered citizenship structure, which would institutionalize discrimination against and disenfranchisement of people of color. While this redefinition of citizenship has not gained legal ground, comparable institutions proliferate in the U.S.

image via http://nativeamericansterilization.wordpress.com/

image via http://nativeamericansterilization.wordpress.com/

Indeed, it is important to acknowledge that the United States itselfnot only the structures it creates and upholdsis such a system. Superimposed as it was, and is, on land once shared by tens of millions, this country is a settler colonial state and a necessarily genocidal project: as Cavanagh and Veracini explain, “settlers want Indigenous people to vanish.” In the United States, this aim has been largely (though certainly not entirely) realized, and sterilization has been among the means of effecting it.

The genocidal practices undertaken during the formation of the U.S. are well documented and fairly well known, as are some of those implemented in the 19th and early 20th centuries. More contemporary iterations of the U.S. genocidal project are less widely known, due in part to the widespread misconception that Native Americans have long been virtually extinct.

Between 1973 and 1976, the Indian Health Servicea federal programsterilized more than 3,406 Native American people who could become pregnant. Dozens of those sterilized were under 21, contrary to a moratorium on sterilizing minors. From 1969 to 1974 (coinciding with President Nixon’s term), the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) subsidized a full 90 percent of the costs of these sterilizations (Ralstin-Lewis). Many were sterilized against their will; moreover, a substantial portion of the providers lacked documentation attesting to fully informed consent. As researchers Jane Lawrence and D. Marie Ralstin-Lewis show, the consent forms the patients signed were often incomplete, and many did not indicate that they had a right to refuse the procedure at no risk of losing benefits. Nor is it evident from any of the forms later evaluated by the U.S. General Accounting Office that providers had fully informed their patients of what sterilization entailed. They certainly did not make a compelling effort to overcome cultural barriers in explaining the procedure. Additionally, consent is difficult to ascertain in light of the circumstances in which Native patients found themselves; the dire poverty inflicted by the United States, constant infringements on sovereignty, and concerted efforts to uproot indigenous cultures shape a landscape in which white doctors could coerce their Native patients in highly subtle ways.

Both Lawrence and Ralstin-Lewis also stress the significance of Native Americans’ ability to have children in the face of continuing efforts to exterminate them. Ralstin-Lewis reports specifically on extensive investigations undertaken by Native Americans. Cheyenne tribal judge Marie Sanchez and Northern Cheyenne tribal member Mary Ann Bear Comes Out concluded that in just three years, a full third of the mere 165 women of childbearing age on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and Labre Mission grounds had been sterilized, “reducing births within this group by half or more over a five-year period” (82). This devastating statistic is representative of what many tribes experienced: a Lakota researcher named Lehman Brightman devoted many years to investigating the sterilizations of Native American women and found that approximately forty percent of all Native women had been sterilized (Ralstin-Lewis).

It would be reductive to attempt to identify the U.S. government’s discrete motivations for reducing the Native American population, which cannot be understood outside the context of settlement and genocide. However, it is worth noting that while many of the arguments put forward for limiting immigrants’ reproductive agency are manifestly inapplicable to Native American populations, some of the explicit justification is the same. Specifically, proponents and practitioners of sterilization frame it as an investment, contending (sometimes implicitly) that when certain people do not have children, the money saved in welfare expenditures will offset the cost of sterilization. The welfare state is a ubiquitous trope in right-wing rhetoric surrounding issues of poor women of color’s reproductive autonomy. Ralstin-Lewis comments, “The noncompliant female body has become the central point of contention for conservative fury about the welfare state” (89).

The conflation of certain bodies with welfare costs, which is inextricable from the degradation of welfare itself, is a means of normalizing and obscuring racism and sexism. The construction of these bodies as burdensome allows bigotry to be couched in ostensibly pragmatic arguments against unnecessary spending. Meanwhile, welfare is seen as objectionable and unnecessary because it is associated with marginalized people. Prejudice is thus woven invisibly through the fabric of public opinion.

This is consistent with Thomas W. Volscho’s thesis that “sterilization racism” is a function of the U.S. having been organized around white supremacy. Volscho uses Cazenave and Maddern’s definition of racism as “…a highly organized system of race-based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of color/race/supremacy,” theorizing that the hierarchy this produces will give those at the top control over or influence within the institutions determining their reproductive abilities (such as health care providers), while those at the bottom will be subject to the whims of the same institutionsand those of others intended specifically to constrain them (19). (This too is part of the colonial project, which necessitates that those in power be able to manage the bodies of those they subjugate.) The next installment of this series will give an overview of ways in which constraining institutions, including the carceral system, have targeted Black women’s reproductive freedom.

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Of Bombs and Wombs: Nativist Myths of Weaponized Fertility

(More Right-Wing Prophecies of White Supremacy’s Decline)

This post is the second in a series examining the U.S. Right’s efforts to alter global demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics. (Read part one here.) In this post and those to follow, I discuss the U.S. Right’s coercive attempts to limit the fertility of people of color, with a focus on the anti-immigration Right. 

In my last article, I discussed the Right’s fear-mongering narrative that contraceptive use and other exercises of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy are catapulting civilization into decline. Curiously, there is also a swath of powerful right-wing voices making what appears to be a diametrically opposed argument. They are organized around the perceived threat of population growth, and—like their pro-population growth counterparts—they are deeply invested in regulating exactly which populations are permitted to procreate. In truth, though, these seemingly rival factions are two sides to the proverbial coin, and that coin is eugenics.

Courtesy of peoplesworld, Creative Commons

Courtesy of peoplesworld

Population alarmism, or the notion that high rates of population growth are to blame for poverty, climate change, and a host of other nightmarish global problems, is a well-disguised framework for undermining poor people of color’s reproductive autonomy. Its insidiousness comes from the effective coding of rhetoric surrounding hyperfertility and handout-seeking burdens to taxpayers as references to women of color, particularly poor Black women and immigrant Latina women. The fiction that excessively high birthrates are the source of human suffering becomes a way to mask racism, misogyny, and elitism while still clearly identifying poor women of color as the enemy, the undesirable Other.

It is important to note that not all people who can become pregnant are women; many trans men and nonbinary people can also become pregnant, and they are materially affected by attacks on reproductive health. Of course, such attacks are gendered in their ideology, and in this sense they are attacks on women, which necessarily impact trans women. Therefore, when referring to the logic of limiting reproductive choice, I will use “women”; when referring to actual initiatives to limit reproductive choice, I will use “people who can become pregnant.”

U.S. eugenics are at least as old as Mendel’s laws of heredity, but the pretext of unsustainable population growth for right-wing vilification of women of color’s fertility can be traced back to the emergence of a “new Malthusianism” that gained traction under President Nixon. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich sounded the alarm with his book The Population Bomb (coauthored without attribution by his wife), which argued that the earth was approaching its carrying capacity, and rising population growth would be catastrophic for humans and the environment. Coupled with Cold War anxieties that growing populations would cause resource scarcity, which would give rise to Communism, the Ehrlichs’ arguments helped generate bipartisan support for the suppression and stabilization of population growth. The conflation of the “population problem” and the implicitly racialized “urban crisis” of the mid-1960s further strengthened this support. Derek Hoff writes, “The purported connection between population growth and the urban crisis…injected a fresh dose of racial politics into a population discussion already tainted and racialized via the unfortunate legacy of eugenics” (31).

Right-wing enthusiasm for population control began to wane precipitously, however, when zero-growth efforts became associated with the pro-choice movement (giving way to right-wing resistance from groups like the Population Research Institute and the World Council of Families, which I discussed previously). Additionally, libertarian groups embraced population growth as integral to populist efforts, and the rise of neoliberalism thrust regulation to the political margins. Nonetheless, certain right-wing elements of the zero population growth movement remained.

One such element was the right-wing nativist contingent. 1979 saw the inception of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a virulently nativist organization that began by couching its racist agenda in unscientific environmentalist arguments for shrinking the immigrant population in the United States. According to Priscilla Huang of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), a number of FAIR’s highest positions are held by people with “ties to white supremacist groups,” and the organization has been the recipient of more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, whose other grantees include groups that perform “research in eugenics and ‘race science’” (394). FAIR’s founder, John Tanton, has openly embraced eugenics. (Tanton also played an integral role in founding NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, which both advance nativist efforts to restrict immigration.) The Southern Poverty Law Center has named FAIR a hate group.

FAIR is not alone in exploiting fears of climate change and resource scarcity to foster anti-immigrant sentiment and shape anti-immigrant legislation, but it is spearheading the charge. FAIR is the largest anti-immigrant organization in the U.S., and probably the most influential. With ample congressional influence and a reported 250,000 members, FAIR cannot be dismissed as merely a fringe group.

Nativist advocates of population control have attempted to square their agenda with the anti-choice philosophies of the Right by claiming, as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) did in 2007, “If we had those 40 million children that were killed over the last 30 years, we wouldn’t need illegal immigrants to fill the jobs that they are doing today” (Huang, 403). The subtext of this ludicrous assertion is that abortion (that evil of evils) is killing the good children: the White ones.

DeLay’s line of reasoning also smooths over another major break between the anti-choice Right and the population control movement. To right-wing libertarians who seek to shrink government, DeLay (along with those who have made similar arguments) suggests that curtailing immigration and immigrant populations will preserve the integrity of a U.S. libertarian movement by restoring power to the right (read: White) people.

In a memo titled “Latin Onslaught,” John Tanton says that White people’s “power and control over their lives [is] declining” as “a group that is simply more fertile” procreates itself to majority status (Sánchez, 2). As Tanton would have it, big government and a growing Latino voting base are co-conspirators in the effort to rob “real” Americans of the autonomy and supremacy they are due. (“More fertile,” of course, implies more promiscuous, more sexual, more irresponsible—all stereotypes with which women of color are branded. In true eugenic fashion, it also implies innate bodily difference from white women.)

Historically, nativist efforts to quell the perceived threat of Latina women’s fertility have gone far beyond altering immigration patterns. An article by Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Taja Lindley at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health explains that coercive sterilizations of Latina/o people who could become pregnant were widespread in the 1960s and 1970s. This abuse, the authors say, was motivated by “[f]ears about over-population, welfare dependency, increased spending for public services, and illegitimate childbearing,” which “fueled stereotypes about both women of color and immigrant women, and led health professionals and State policymakers to intimidate ‘undesirable’ women into agreeing to surgical sterilization.”

In 1978, ten Chicana women who were coercively sterilized at a Los Angeles County hospital (whose obstetric residents had a quota for tubal ligations) over a four-year period went to court seeking justice. While Madrigal v. Quilligan ultimately led to the enactment of important regulations for obstetricians, the ruling favored the doctors who had performed the surgeries, affirming the stereotype that Mexican women tend to have excessive numbers of children and determining that “it was not objectionable for an obstetrician to think that a tubal ligation could improve a perceived overpopulation problem,” or to perform the procedure in compliance with this racialized and politicized theory. (Read Alexandra Minna Stern’s thorough analysis of the politics of Madrigal here.) Latina organizers, including those who bravely went before the court in Madrigal, worked tirelessly to abolish tubal ligations performed under coercion or without informed consent.

Yet Latina women’s fertility remains a target of right-wing attacks. FAIR and its allies continue to argue (falsely) that hyper-fecund Latina women come to the United States in droves to give birth so that their children—derisively referred to as “anchor-babies”—can reap the benefits of big government’s welfare policies. To mitigate this problem, they propose amending the U.S. Constitution to deny citizenship for children born in the United States to undocumented parents, which is currently guaranteed by the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Huang points out that this project, if realized, would create a subjugable second class of “U.S.-born ‘alien’ children…a classification that would apply only to the offspring of immigrant women, the majority of whom are women of color” (401).

The institutionalization of such a racialized classification system would be utterly deplorable. It would undoubtedly visit unspeakable harm on many of the most vulnerable families in the United States; it would erect enormous barriers to access and gut protections for people already deprived of their rights and of recourse. But it would not be unique.

In the next part of this series, I endeavor to problematize the very notion of immigrants to the U.S., which is manifestly premised on racism and exclusion. This installment will discuss U.S. culpability in promoting sterilization as part of the ongoing genocide of Native American people.

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Whose Family? Religious Right’s “Family Values” Agenda Advances Internationally

The U.S. Religious Right has a long history of employing the frame of “traditional family values” to scapegoat a revolving cast of marginalized characters for all of society’s problems. (Consider Anita Bryant’s anti-LGBTQ crusades in the 1970s and Scott Lively’s more recent efforts to eradicate homosexuality in order to “save the children.”) But while they may rail against straw man stereotypes like “welfare queens” and “homosexual pedophiles” in their efforts to “defend the family,” the truth is that the arguments of religious conservatives have absolutely nothing to do with abortion or sex. The Right’s allusion to—and veneration of—some mythological one man + one woman utopian era of the past (where everyone was content with their assigned gender roles and every pregnancy was carefully planned) ultimately serves to pave the way for ongoing colonization and exploitation of the Global South.

United Nations. image via GRU.edu

United Nations. image via GRU.edu

Recently, we’ve seen a new round of right-wing “family values” efforts at the international level, focused particularly on the United Nations.  In May, Family Watch International president Sharon Slater launched a “Protect the Family” petition on CitizenGO. CitizenGO is a right-wing digital platform for online activism based in Spain that includes National Organization for Marriage head Brian Brown on its board of directors. Slater’s petition calls on all UN ambassadors to “fulfill their international obligation to protect the family by including the family in the UN’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” She urges supporters to “Help [UN member states] feel the power that comes when the families of the world arise and demand that policies that undermine this vital institution never advance.” 100,000 supporters have already signed on, and the number is steadily rising.

Protecting families certainly seems like a fine goal. After all, is anybody actually “pro” family destruction? The issue here is that Slater’s petition has an extremely limited definition of what counts as a family, and her list of threats to this “fundamental unit of society” conveniently coincides with the many of the same policies the U.S. Right opposes in seeking to maintain male supremacy and white supremacy: According to Slater, the policies that are “undermining” the family include efforts to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected statuses under international human rights law, providing comprehensive sex ed to young people, and ensuring accessible and safe contraception and abortion options.

And while Slater claims to speak on behalf of the “families of the world,” she conveniently excludes those that are led by grandparents, single parents, same-sex parents, and countless other amalgamations of people caring for people.

In Slater’s view, extending human rights protections to LGBTQ people, respecting the bodily autonomy of all, and expanding our definition of “family” to reflect the diversity that is evident throughout the world is just too dangerous.

This growing movement to advance a restrictive definition of “family” gained ground last month when the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on “Protection of the Family.” While the resolution itself doesn’t have immediate policy implications for “non-traditional” families, it is part of a broader agenda led by the U.S. Religious Right aimed at cementing a patriarchal and heteronormative family structure as the fundamental unit of society, and then using that as a tool to advance conservative, right-wing social policies through the UN and other international organizations.

Other conservative organizations have also jumped into the “family” fray.  Following failed efforts led by Chile, Uruguay, Ireland, and France to include language in the resolution acknowledging that “various forms of the family exist,” Austin Ruse—head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM)—said the vote reflected widespread opposition to efforts to protect LGBTQ rights in diplomatic agreements—efforts that right-wing leaders insist are Western-imposed initiatives (ignoring the fact that they, themselves, are Westerners actively imposing a particular worldview on families and communities in the Global South).

C-FAM has joined with Slater’s Family Watch International (FWI), National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH), and others in establishing the UN Family Rights Caucus. Collectively, these groups lobby against efforts to promote LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice at the UN.

In this coordinated, global campaign, the U.S. Religious Right has also been supported by an increasingly powerful program developed by the Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society—the World Congress of Families (WCF). Allan Carlson, founder of the WCF, observed in 2007, “You might say we’re the United Nations of the pro-family movement.”

Indeed, the WCF functions very much like the UN, with elected officials, religious leaders, scientists, and scholars representing countries from all over the world convening at regular international conferences, or “Congresses,” to  discuss and determine strategies for advancing their anti-LGBTQ, anti-SRHR agenda internationally.

At WCF II, hosted in Geneva in 1999, Ruse defined the focus of the campaign that is finally taking hold:

“We have arrived at a perilous moment in the life of the family. Long under attack by her enemies, the family seems now to be disintegrating all around us. In every country of the developed world, families are breaking up under a plethora of pernicious pathologies. The roots of the attack, and their result are easily enumerated by most of the current social science data. But I will focus on one institution with which I am most familiar, the United Nations, an institution that is increasingly at the forefront of the attack on the family.”

The UN functions as the world’s primary decision-making body, working to maintain international peace and security, promote and protect human rights, foster social and economic development, protect the environment, and provide humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict. As part of these efforts, in 2000, it established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight goals aimed to be achieved by 2015, including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, a reduction in child mortality, and the advancement of gender equality.

Slater’s “Protect the Family” petition calls for the establishment of an additional, standalone goal focused on the family, and she’s systematically putting the necessary pieces into place to ensure her vision’s success. One of those necessary pieces is the establishment of a conservative voting bloc at the UN, which Slater and other members of the UN Family Rights Caucus have developed by aggressively lobbying African delegates, winning them over with a sort of “reverse colonizer” argument—suggesting that they only endeavor to save poor, helpless Africans from those family-hating Western liberals who are out to destroy the developing world for their own gain.

In a speech delivered at WCF III in 2004, Gwendolyn Landolt, vice president of REAL Women of Canada, outlines the Right’s narrative:

“The west was concerned that the large population of the developing world would precipitate both increased migration to the west and increased civil unrest, which could lead to a loss of access to natural resources in the developing world by the west.

“The western nations, therefore, began to use the UN as a tool by which to attempt to curtail Third World population.  This was carried out by way of anti-family policies, such as reproductive rights (abortion), contraceptive and sterilization programs, adolescent access to these services without parental knowledge or consent (WHO defines an adolescent as anyone from 10 to 19 years), and homosexual rights.”

To put it mildly, the arguments of Slater and her crew are flawed and retrogressive.  To put it more accurately, they are neocolonial, white supremacist, patriarchal—and of grave concern to all those committed to an authentic vision of human rights and social justice.  And unfortunately, Slater and her crew seem to be succeeding—every country in the African Group voted for the resolution without hesitation.

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“Libertarian Scaife” and His Religious Right Legacy

Richard Mellon Scaife was the “epitome of a libertarian,” or at least, that’s how he was described in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review following his death on July 4. “Libertarian Scaife” is apparently how he wished to be remembered in the city where many of the landmarks bear his famous family’s name. But Scaife’s redefinition as a libertarian is belied by his decades of funding, including as funder of the architect of the religious and political right alliance and religio-political think tanks.

Richard "Dick" Scaife. Image via Fair.org

Richard “Dick” Scaife. Image via Fair.org

The libertarian portrayal of Scaife in the newspaper that he owned, including quotes from his long-time lawyer describing him as the defender of “free speech, freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, a woman’s right to choose, and other individual liberties,” is in contrast with “Citizen Scaife,” the title of the Columbia Journalism Review’s multi-part 1981 profile. The series portrayed Scaife as a “funding father” of the emerging New Right.

At that time, the foundations Scaife controlled were the leading source of seed money for two dozen New Right organizations, and funding for neoconservative military and intelligence think tanks.

And there is another not-so-libertarian legacy of Scaife’s funding that was not mentioned in most of his obituaries.

“Libertarian Scaife” empowered the Religious Right

He did not do it alone, nor was he the first plutocrat to fund the enlistment of amenable religious leaders as partners to roll back the New Deal, or to make use of John Birch Society-style Christian Nationalism to attack unions and the regulatory system.

Today’s constitutional conservatism is a curious marriage of Ayn Rand-style economics to social conservatism, or even a biblical worldview in which American law is to align with biblical law. The plus for plutocratic funders is that this biblical worldview also portrays the Bible as aligned with free market fundamentalism.

That list covers more than a half century and has included Sun Oil’s J. Howard Pew, textile magnate Roger Milliken, and Fred Koch. But few have been better at the behind-the-scenes funding of this partnership than Scaife. The outcome of his actions? An empowered Religious Right, who today prefer the term “constitutional conservative” to describe their wing of the GOP.

The Scaife-controlled foundations—the Sarah Scaife, Allegheny, and Carthage Foundations, run from the 39th floor of the Oxford Centre in Pittsburgh—are at least partially responsible for the consummation of this plutocratic/theocratic partnership. The enigmatic Scaife’s personal activism sometimes conflicted with the unruly offspring of his foundation’s largesse.

The Oxford Centre in Pittsburgh, PA. The Scaife foundations are housed on the 39th floor. Photo by the author.

Oxford Centre, Pittsburgh, PA. The Scaife foundations are housed on the 39th floor. Photo by the author.

Evidence includes a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, with a letter by Scaife calling for conservatives to oppose efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. His passing is an opportunity to ask why Scaife and other billionaires have helped to empower, whether intentionally or not, this theocratic-minded offspring that will long outlive them.

Richard Viguerie, leading patriarch of the Religious Right, told a Heritage Foundation audience in April that he was more optimistic than ever that “constitutional conservatives” could take over the Republican Party by 2017. Viguerie insisted that their agenda must go beyond rolling back the New Deal and return a pre-Teddy Roosevelt era, and that the enemy was establishment Republicans like Rep. Eric Cantor. Viguerie suggested that Sen. Rand Paul (R) be given the vice presidential slot on the 2016 ticket in order to bring libertarians on board—not really much of a concession since Paul has himself rejected the libertarian label in the past for that of “constitutional conservative” (and is described as the standard bearer of that movement by his former aid and ghost writer Jack Hunter, a.k.a. the “Southern Avenger”).

Scaife was not a direct funder of Religious Right institutions that are household names (that was left to families like Prince/DeVos and Coors), but he was a major funder of the late Paul Weyrich, shepherd of the Religious Right into GOP politics, and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Council for National Policy. Described as the “Robespierre of the Right,” for his purges of the insufficiently conservative, Weyrich left the Heritage Foundation and started what would become the Free Congress Foundation (FCF). Scaife, who had supplied the bulk of the seed money for Heritage and served as vice president of the board until his death, also funded Weyrich’s FCF—sometimes to the tune of over a million dollars a year.

This included in 2001, when the FCF published the manifesto “Integration of Theory and Practice,” calling for a new traditionalist movement of conservatives and right-leaning libertarians, and the following.

“Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them. We will endeavor to knock our opponents off-balance and unsettle them at every opportunity. All of our constructive energies will be dedicated to the creation of our own institutions.”

In a 2005 CSPAN interview about his career, Weyrich said that he could not have done what he did without the help of Dick Scaife.

Before Scaife paved the way with millions of dollars for conservative infrastructure, the St. Louis Post Dispatch noted, “there was a world where extremist ideas weren’t repackaged as mainstream by outfits like the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, Judicial Watch, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Cato Institute or the Federalist Society.”

And Scaife did not stop there. He funded the building of new institutions, but also the destroying of old ones. He extended his impact on American religion by funding entities that undermined denominations and marginalized religious leaders not so amenable to rightwing politics.

Church & Scaife

The Scaife foundations funded the institute that published the First Things magazine of leading neoconservative Father Richard John Neuhaus, and the closely allied Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD)—jokingly referred to during the Reagan administration as “the official seminary of the White House.”

A 2004 exposé by the late Methodist pastor Andrew Weaver was titled “Church & Scaife: Secular Conservative Philanthropies Waging Unethical Campaign to Take Over United Methodist Church.”  Weaver described IRD as a pseudo-religious, neo-conservative organization with a goal of undermining the liberal, social and economic justice mission of mainline Protestant denominations.  Christian Century exposed the fact that 89 percent of IRD’s early funding came from three foundations, and the largest block from the Scaife foundations. Infiltration of the Mainline Protestant denominations came in the guise of renewal groups, as described by PRA fellow Frederick Clarkson, also featured in the documentary “Renewal or Ruin.”

The largest single block of funding for think tanks promoting climate change denial has come from Donors Trust, according to a 2013 study by Drexel University, but a close second is the Scaife foundations at over $39 million dollars (well ahead of the funding from the Koch Brothers’ foundations).

Merging plutocratic interests with religion has been key to promoting climate change denial, including in the 2010 DVD series “Resisting the Green Dragon,” a product of the Cornwall Alliance. The 12-part teaching series, used in churches nationwide and featuring major Religious Right leaders, claims that environmentalism is a religion in opposition to Christianity.  Funding is hidden behind Donors Trust, but the Cornwall Alliance is a project of the James Partnership, founded by E. Calvin Beisner, a fellow with several Scaife-funded entities, including the Atlas Economic Research Institute, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and IRD.

The irreligious Scaife’s molding of religion into the image of right-wing politics was not limited to Christianity.  As reported by the Washington Post, Scaife provided the seed money for former Reagan State Department official Elliot Abrams’ 1997 book “Faith or Fear.”  Sponsorship of the book was suggested by the president of the Hudson Institute and reportedly prompted by Scaife’s concern that most American Jews remain politically liberal.

Islam and immigrants provided a different type of target. The Scaife foundations are major funders of anti-immigrant organizations, but are outspent by Colcom, the leading funder of anti-immigrant causes in the U.S. and founded by Scaife’s sister.

Institutionalized Islamophobia was exposed in PRA’s research report Manufacturing the Muslim Menace, and in Fear, Inc. by the Center for American Progress, with the latter citing the Scaife foundations as the largest single source.

The Pennsylvania Plan

Partnership between free market fundamentalism and religion was extended to the state level through a network of Heritage Foundation-style think tanks in all 50 states.  These are linked through the State Policy Network and ALEC, but also work at the state level with a network of about three dozen state Family Policy Councils, loosely affiliated with the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.  This infrastructure is described in The Public Eye articles from 1999 and 2013, including coverage of the “Pennsylvania Plan” model of Don Eberly.  Eberly was founder of both the Commonwealth Foundation and the Pennsylvania Family Institute, which work on shared agendas like school privatization.

In a 1989 speech to the Heritage Foundation, Eberly described the need for initiating both free market and religious tanks at the state and local levels.  The Scaife foundations provide funding for both the Commonwealth Foundation and the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy, a similar think tank for the Pittsburgh area.

Scaife’s legacy in Pennsylvania includes an aggressive assault on labor unions.  A PRA report titled “The Well-Funded Anti-Labor Arsenal” tracked $170 million dollars to major anti-union think tanks across the nation over 20 years, where the Scaife foundations provided the largest single block of funding. In 2013, the Commonwealth Foundation launched “Project Goliath,” a plan described with biblical terminology to follow in the footsteps of Wisconsin and Michigan to destroy Pennsylvania’s labor unions.

The Enigmatic Scaife

The libertarian Scaife has been portrayed in obituaries as less zealous in his later years, but the Scaife foundations’ reports show no backing away from right-wing causes, and the efforts to redefine him in his obituaries fail to negate his role as the “funding father” of modern conservatism.  Quoting a column in the St. Louis Post Dispatch,

“Without those early Scaife-paid efforts, there might have been no Fox News, no tea party, no Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz. …Without the Federalist Society, whose members include four justices of the Supreme Court, there would be no corporate personhood decisions like Citizens United and Hobby Lobby.”

I would add that without Scaife’s funding, we might not now live in a nation where the interests of a few plutocratic billionaires successfully masquerade as religion.

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Demographic Winter: Right-Wing Prophecies of White Supremacy’s Decline

 And What They Mean for Reproductive Justice

This post is the first in a series examining the Right’s efforts to alter demographic trends by re-popularizing arguments and ideologies rooted in eugenics (read part two and three). Today, I discuss the ideas of white supremacy underpinning claims that the continuity of hinges on spurring population growth (and thus the cessation of contraceptive use).

Reproductive justice, as opposed to reproductive rights, is often defined as the ability to parent, not to parent, and—if one is a parent—to raise children in a safe and healthy environment. While reproductive rights have often been narrowly understood as the legal right to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy, an understanding of reproductive justice broadens our analysis in critical ways. It raises up the structural inequalities that render reproductive choice and care disproportionately unattainable for people of color, poor people, undocumented immigrants, trans* people, and other marginalized groups, and it reminds us that reproductive justice is inextricable from housing justice, from food justice, from transit justice. Indeed, the creation of a safe and healthy environment for all parents and all children requires the broad realization of social justice.

Unfortunately, full reproductive justice remains a distant prospect, and it was dealt a significant blow in this week’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have religious rights—rights that were hampered by the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraception mandate. In addition to its manifold and ominous implications for civil rights, this decision poses a severe threat to low-income workers’ reproductive health care access. The decision reminds us—those of us with the privilege to be sheltered from a constant barrage of reminders—that attacks on reproductive justice are not confined to standard anti-abortion efforts.

The plaintiffs argued that because certain contraceptives take effect subsequent to fertilization, they are in fact abortifacients: “If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions,” wrote Justice Alito (2).

This argument is not merely a new stratagem to undermine the ACA. For years, initiatives such as the American Life League’s “The Pill Kills” campaign have sought to inflame conservative religious sentiment against contraceptives. Significantly, the Right has also undertaken much more subtle and insidious attempts to limit birth control access. Perhaps surprisingly, these attempts often are not explicitly rooted in religious conviction.

Many anti-contraceptive arguments couched in secular rhetoric are designed to incite fear, even panic, concerning not the deaths of “preborn children,” but rather the demise of entire populations. In her review of a documentary titled Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family (2008), Kathryn Joyce discusses how the film tacitly invokes right-wing Christian morality and ideology to undergird claims posited as “research-driven” and “based on social science alone.” The never-quite-stated thesis Joyce extracts from the documentary is that “birth control and the sexual revolution, and the widespread cultural decision of women to limit their fertility” are the egregious “sin” that will precipitate the fall of civilization. Political prospects such as marriage equality are, of course, easily subsumed into this nebulous menace.

The U.S. Right’s demographic agenda is highly racialized; in recent years, however, the doomsday argument for traditional family values has gained global currency. Its momentum is largely attributable to organizations such as the World Congress of Families (WCF), which has scant visible presence in Demographic Winter but enormous behind-the-scenes influence. Theresa Okafor, a Nigerian right-wing activist who has worked closely with WCF and Family Watch International, espouses anti-LGBTI and anti-reproductive health measures based substantially on tenuous correlations between demographic trends and development in sub-Saharan Africa. In a 2012 interview, Okafor decried contraceptives as superfluous before saying, “It is instructive that Nigeria and Ethiopia which have high fertility rates feature among the fastest growing economies in the IMF 2011 economic survey. The UN data is evidence that population growth does lead to economic prosperity.” Okafor has gone so far as to allege that the provision of reproductive health care in Africa is part of an imperialist Western “conspiracy,” a claim reproduced in the WCF newsletter. (Much of Demographic Winter was filmed at the 2007 WCF conference. On Tuesday, on the heels of the Hobby Lobby decision, WCF announced that their 2015 conference theme will be “religious liberty.”  The regional conference is to be held in Salt Lake City.)

That Okafor’s politics appear to be lockstep with the U.S. Religious Right is indicative of the latter’s success in imposing their agenda in the Global South. Furthermore, that Okafor cries imperialism while promoting the U.S. Right’s imperial agenda illustrates the Right’s facility with shaping narratives to obfuscate the presence of their own aims. However, it would be inaccurate to assume that Okafor’s work is entirely congruent with, let alone identical to, that of her U.S.-based collaborators. Her stance on demographic winter differs from that of the U.S. Right in one critical respect: for Okafor, augmenting population growth in the Global South is a priority; for the U.S. Right, it is a threat.

Because, as Joyce pointedly shows, nativism and racism constitute another hidden cornerstone of Demographic Winter and the reactionary movement it represents. She observes, “The concern is not a general lack of babies, but the cultural shifts that come when some populations, particularly immigrant communities, are feared to be out-procreating others,” a fear that “permeates nearly all of the current debate on demographic worries.” Joyce names a bevy of books published since 2001 that gravely forecast non-white immigrants supplanting white populations in the Global North. Joyce also cites an assertion made at the 2007 WCF conference by a U.S. anti-contraception activist, who pronounced that the children of immigrants are “too many, and too culturally different from their new countries’ populations to assimilate quickly … They are contributing to the cultural suicide of these nations as they commit demographic suicide.”

The white supremacy underlying demographic winter prophecies is also visible in the work produced by the Population Research Institute (PRI), a right-wing organization run by Steven W. Mosher. Mosher, a Catholic social scientist, specializes in Chinese demography, and PRI aims to dismantle “population control” efforts across the globe. Ostensibly, PRI is a natural ally to activists like Okafor. However, articles such as “How to debunk the myth of overpopulation in three easy steps,” written by Mosher and Anne Roback Morse and published on LifeSiteNews.com, deploy demographic winter rhetoric exclusively with respect to Europe in contrast to Africa, implicitly conjuring up the specter of white supremacy’s collapse. “Africa’s growth,” the authors assure, “is not something to worry about. Europe’s decline, however, is something to worry about.” Eventually, they warn, “the French, German, Italians and British will virtually cease to exist.”

The scare tactics employed by PRI, WCF, and other organizations on the Right exemplify the urgency of reproductive justice work. Right-wing efforts to chisel away reproductive freedoms are not random attacks on uteruses. They are carefully crafted elements of powerful Americans’ long-standing attempts to determine and regulate who ought to procreate and who ought not to.

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Works Cited

Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Supreme Court of the United States. 30 June 2014. SupremeCourt.gov. Web. 1 July 2014.

Joyce, Kathryn. “Review: Demographic Winter: The Decline of the Human Family.” Kathryn Joyce. Web. 01 July 2014.

Mosher, Steven W., and Anne Roback Morse. “How to Debunk the Myth of Overpopulation in Three Easy Steps.” LifeSite. LifeSiteNews, 1 Oct. 2013. Web. 01 July 2014.

Ramos-Ascensão, José. “The African Situation with Regard to ‘sexual and Reproductive Health’” Europeinfos: Christian Perspectives on the EU. Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the EU and the Jesuit European Office, July-Aug. 2012. Web. 1 July

“WCF Newsletter.” WCF Newsletter. World Congress of Families, Apr.-May 2010. Web. 01July 2014.

 

 

 

Men’s Rights Conference Host Says Women Who Drink & Dance Are “Begging” for Rape

On Sunday, a USA Today article on this weekend’s inaugural conference for men’s rights activists (MRAs) asked whether it marked, “A kinder, gentler turn to the gender wars?” In May, Elliot Rodger, killed six people after regularly posting misogynistic rants against the “oppressive feminist system,” and a video warning, “If I can’t have you, girls, I will destroy you.”

Paul Elam of A Voice For Men. photo courtesy of ABC

Paul Elam of A Voice For Men. photo courtesy of ABC

In the intervening time, the First Inaugural Conference for Men’s Issues, hosted by A Voice for Men, faced a successful campaign asking Detroit’s Hilton DoubleTree hotel to cancel the event. The petition, which obtained close to 6,000 signatures, pointed out that MRAs were designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012. It continued, “MRAs are linked to the recent mass shooting in UCSB, wherein a young man declared that he would exact revenge on all the women who had rejected him. MRAs are linked to false rape statistics, further perpetuating the dangerous myth that women, ‘make it up for attention.’ MRAs are linked to threats of rape and murder against women who dare to speak out against them.”

Jaclyn Friedman writes in A Look Inside The Men’s Rights Movement, “One of their tactics is to put out a cash bounty for personal information—including home addresses, places of employment, email addresses, and phone numbers—of feminists who upset them. The deluge of hate mail, rape and death threats for those on the receiving end of these witch hunts is hard to describe.”

After news outlets connected Rodger to groups in the MRA sphere, Paul Elam, founder of A Voice for Men, asserted that his organization is committed to nonviolence and that Rodger was not a member. However, Katie McDonough writes at Salon that “until the moment that he is alleged to have killed six women and men, Elliot Rodger was every bit the same as the other men who are defined by their resentment toward women and their sense of bitter victimization in the world.” While she deems it “irresponsible to lay this violence at the feet of the men’s rights activists with whom Rodger seemed to find support for his rage,” nonetheless it “denies reality to pretend that Rodger’s sense of masculine entitlement and views about women didn’t matter or somehow existed in a vacuum.” In 2009, another man who filled an online journal with misogynistic rants killed three women at a fitness center.

Former PRA researcher Chip Berlet has written extensively on how toxic rhetoric can feed violence, and the danger in viewing these perpetrators as mentally disturbed lone wolves. As Berlet said following the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, “[Right-wing pundits] are not legally culpable for the assassination of Dr. Tiller, but they must share some portion of moral responsibility for creating a dangerous environment.”

Moral Responsibility

While claiming to be a pacifist, Paul Elam has gloried in the idea of a judge who ruled against fathers being “doused with gasoline and set afire.” He opposes abortion (and, it seems, adoption and motherhood too) and wrote a Mother’s Day article saying, “If you have a vagina, the blood of all those children, who are abused far more at the hands of women than men, has stained your skin and caked around the cuticles of your fingers.” He further argued, “Progress for men will not be gained by debate, reason or typical channels of grievance … The progress we need will only be realized by inflicting enough pain on the agents of hate, in public view, that it literally shocks society out of its current coma.” Would the murders Elliot Rodger committed fit that vision of public shock?

Then there’s Elam’s 2010 post about women who go clubbing, accept drinks, make out, and enter a man’s apartment, who end up “victims” [quotation marks his] of rape. “In the most severe and emphatic terms possible the answer is NO, THEY ARE NOT ASKING TO GET RAPED .. They are freaking begging for it. Damn near demanding it.”

The next paragraph goes on to claim that women get raped because they are stupid, arrogant, and narcissistic. The post was scrubbed from A Voice for Men’s website as of 2014, and Elam claims it was intended as satire on the impossibility of promoting self-protection without being accused of victim-blaming. The scrubbing of the post smacks of an attempt to clean up his image, as the organization attempts to mainstream itself to the public. Yet even the “satirical” message, if we take it as such, is that empty-headed women need to be informed by a man that they face risks and that the solution is for women to smarten up not address what Katie McDonough calls “toxic male entitlement.”

Other scheduled conference speakers have blamed women for the state of the world because they choose “fucking monsters” and “assholes” rather than “nice guys” (which we assume the male MRAs consider themselves); Asserted that women are “demanding” desired violence with their behavior—what another speaker calls “consensual violence” (consent would be a negotiated BDSM situation, not domestic abuse); Equated paying for dinner and not getting sex to “a male version of date rape;” And argued that when a woman’s “nonverbal ‘yeses’ … conflict with those verbal ‘noes,’ that the man not be put in jail for choosing the ‘yes’ over the ‘no.’”

Visiting A Voice for Men’s website today, the first thing I noticed was a speaker denouncing feminism as never about gender equality, but always about misandry and “blaming men.” According to MSNBC’s coverage, the first day of the conference was attended by over 100 participants, and focused on rants about the “evil empire” of feminism. Barbara Kay, a columnist for Canada’s National Post, claimed that rape on campus is nothing more than “buyer’s remorse” and rape culture a “baseless moral panic.” (Note: Men’s Rights Activists include women; structural patriarchy and misogyny influence the beliefs of everyone.)

This is a kinder, gentler turn?

As Jaclyn Friedman writes, “you’ll find women (and, gasp!, even feminists) in leadership in most of the institutions actually working to make life safer for men. It’s feminists who fought a long and recently successful battle to ensure that male victims are included in the FBI’s definition of rape. … Feminists have ensured that, through the Violence Against Women Act that MRAs oppose, the overall rate of intimate partner violence in the U.S. declined 64 percent between 1994 and 2010, and that decline is distributed evenly between male and female victims.”

I was proud to be among those feminist women who worked on the campaign to improve the FBI definition of rape. In college, as a committed feminist, I took a course titled “The Masculine Mystique,” which analyzed the problems that a patriarchal, homophobic, violent system causes men, especially considering stereotypes against men of color and the disproportionate number of black men in prison (most egregiously for harmless drug offenses). An inclusive gender justice movement is already a part of the feminist sphere, and expanding as women and feminist gain more authority and ability to make change.

The men’s rights movement (MRM), with its history and present-day of virulent anti-woman and anti-feminist hate speech, is not the place to look for a “kinder, gentler turn to the gender wars.” Don’t be fooled by a single pragmatic attempt at portraying a more respectable image.

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PRA’s Fred Clarkson Discusses Religious Liberty on Between The Lines Radio

PRA’s senior fellow, Frederick Clarkson, joined Between The Lines radio this week to discuss the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision, and the broader campaign to redefine religious liberty by the Religious Right.

Between the Lines“The greatest significance [of the Hobby Lobby ruling] is going to be over time. When a Supreme Court decision comes down, a body of federal case laws develop as a result… As a matter of religious belief, the Supreme Court has now said that a company can defy medical science, and get an exemption from federal law. That’s an extraordinary development.”

Clarkson goes on to explain how the Right is implementing not only a judicial and court campaign to redefine religious liberty, but are also using legislative and PR attacks in an effort to create the exemptions necessary for them to be able to dictate the religious consciences of individuals.

Click here to listen!

Check out more from Between The Lines here.

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Fred Religious Freedom Picture

Video Denounces Planned Parenthood and BDSM; New Personhood Alliance Forms

When I decided to search for #SexEd on Twitter, looking for coverage of sex education, I wasn’t expecting to see activity from Live Action, Lila Rose’s anti-choice organization. But I quickly realized the tweets related to the slew of emails from Live Action this month—the latest attention-grabbing headline, “I can’t even degrade animals that way.”

sexed planned parenthood lila rose

“SexEd: Planned Parenthood’s Dangerous Sex Advice for Kids,” is the first in a new Live Action series of videos “exposing” Planned Parenthood. The video features a counselor answering questions from what is identified as a 15-year-old girl. The girl requests information on concepts such as role-playing and kink, which she claims interest in attempting with her 17 year old boyfriend. The Planned Parenthood counselor explains BDSM as the girl thanks her—the staffer also suggests making use of the internet, saying anything they’re interested in trying, someone else has already thought of.

Indeed, the staffer provides basic information easily available to any teenager with internet access. The staffer also emphasizes the need for consent, an important element misunderstood by those who see BDSM as abuse. But rather than recognizing the advice as basic counseling driven by the teen’s persistent questions, Live Action’s video seeks to cast it as titillating and encouraging of youth sexuality—fundraising for their anti-choice agenda with multiple appeals for donations by playing up a sex-panic to their followers.

Live Action also uses its videos to push a petition telling Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, denouncing its receipt of taxpayer money (which is already prohibited from being used for abortions, and is used to fund comprehensive sex education and family planning).

This isn’t a first for Live Action’s films, which have been criticized for manipulative editing to promote their agenda, and have been used to accuse Planned Parenthood of covering for sex-traffickers, endangering women’s lives, and ignoring child sexual abuse. The latest video accompanies a 60-page report drawn from this background, Lies, Corruption, and Scandal: Six Years of Exposing Planned Parenthood, which Rose distributed to members of Congress a few weeks ago. While largely unsuccessful in triggering the government investigations Live Action calls for, given the lack of substantive evidence of criminal behavior by Planned Parenthood, the videos catapulted founder Lila Rose into a prominent position on the anti-abortion circuit. On the Roe v. Wade anniversary this year, CNN’s Crossfire program pitted Rose against NARAL president Ilyse Hogue.

As it happens, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England already produced its own video explaining BDSM to young people, as part of their series “A Naked Notion,” hosted by Laci Green. This video covers the same themes Live Action elicited from staff in its undercover video. In fact, it’s unclear whether Live Action “uncovered” anything that Planned Parenthood hadn’t already made public.

BDSM has gained widespread acceptance in mainstream American culture. Fifty Shades of Grey, and its depictions of BDSM, sold its 100 millionth copy this February. Mainstream films like Secretary and Nine ½ Weeks openly (and vividly) discuss BDSM themes (and the movie version of Fifty Shades will join them next year). Why shield teens from accurate information when books and movies on the topic have received so much hype? In fact, it could be the very acceptance of BDSM and the success of books like Fifty Shades that inspired Live Action’s latest exposé—part of what makes regulating sex such an attention-grabber for right-wing mobilizing is that conservatives can be simultaneously outraged and tantalized.

Elsewhere in the world of anti-choice activism, on June 16 the Georgia and Cleveland Right to Life organizations issued a press release announcing the formation of a National Personhood Alliance. Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) lost its affiliate status in the National Right to Life in March, after refusing to support federal legislation to ban abortion after 20 weeks—the Georgia group refused to support the exceptions for rape and incest.

The formation of a new personhood alliance means more support for the stance of organizations like Personhood USA, which so far has been seen as outside the mainstream of the anti-choice rights movement. While other mainstream “pro-life” organizations support the goals of Personhood, which advocates banning abortion in all cases from the moment of conception, they pragmatically are unwilling to sacrifice the opportunity to pass partial-bans and their image as a “moderate” player. GRTL and its new compatriots, like Personhood USA, are unwilling to compromise, hardening the fringe of the anti-choice movement.

“Compromise is not possible,” the press release reads. “This is not like roads or highways or agricultural subsidies; when we compromise – someone dies.” GRTL president Daniel Becker claims that the founding of the group answers “an overwhelming call from many within the movement” to represent personhood and pursue “a fresh strategy.”

The new coalition’s website includes quotes made by various anti-abortion leaders in support of personhood, including Lila Rose, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, American Life League president Judie Brown, and former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The official formation will be at a national convention on October 10 and 11 in Atlanta, Georgia.

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