Will Getting Rid of Bryan Fischer Get Rid of the AFA’s Problem?

Rachel Maddow broke the news last night that Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association’s Director of Issue Analysis, has been fired, following media coverage and pressure from watchdog groups highlighting Fischer’s racist and homophobic views in advance of an AFA-funded trip to Israel for members of the Republican National Committee.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen reports in Haaretz that following news of the Israel trip, the Southern Poverty Law Center highlighted AFA’s “extensive track record of bigotry and hate,” and urged RNC members to boycott the trip. (None have.)

“Our issue is not with these folks going to Israel, which is an important ally and important for international policy,” Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project told Cohen. “Our issue is that one of our mainstream political parties and a group with these heinous beliefs is sponsoring it.”

The trip is being led by long-time evangelical operative David Lane, who is also organizing a domestic effort to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for political office. Lane is also behind the AFA-sponsored prayer rallies The Response, first hosted by former Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2011, and most recently by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal last weekend.

About his role in mobilizing evangelicals in the 2008 election, Lane told me, “why the left continues to attack public involvement by folks with faith in the public square is beyond comprehension to most people… What we’re doing is the mobilization of pastors and pews to restore America to her Judeo-Christian heritage. That’s our goal.”

Fischer reportedly remains a radio host on AFA’s radio network.

Getting rid of Fischer, though, does not get rid of the AFA’s problem. Not only did the AFA tolerate Fischer’s outrageous statements for years, in 2010 former employees told me his views were actively and enthusiastically shared and supported within the organization.

As I reported here at RD in 2010:

Just before this year’s Values Voter Summit, the progressive advocacy group People For the American Way called on Republican elected officials and candidates to condemn virulently anti-gay and anti-Muslim statements made by the American Family Association’s director of public policy, Bryan Fischer.

Fischer, who hosts a daily radio show on AFA’s radio network of 180 stations, has, among other things, claimed that inbreeding causes Muslims to be stupid and violent; called for the deportation of Muslims and for banning them from military service; claimed that gay sex is “domestic terrorism”; called gay adoption a “terrible, terrible, inexcusable, inhumane thing to do to children”; and claimed that Hitler and his stormtroopers were all gay.

No one took PFAW up on its suggestion, and AFA’s founder and chairman emeritus Don Wildmon was feted at the Summit’s gala with the James C. Dobson Values & Leadership Award, which declared him “one of the most effective Christian leaders of our time.” At the award dinner, anti-gay marriage crusader Bishop Harry Jackson called him a “legend” and “the ultimate advocate for the kingdom of God”; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson called him a “wonderful man of God” who had a “great influence” on the culture; and Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson added, “I don’t think there’s been a more fearless defender of righteousness and truth than Don Wildmon.”

* * * *

[W]hile the AFA has long been known for its invective against the “homosexual agenda” and its boycotts of companies that fail to meet its standards of “decency,” Fischer (no policy wonk, despite being director of “Issue Analysis for Government and Public Policy”) has taken the public rhetoric to a new, ugly level.

According to former employees of the AFA, the views represented by Fischer are not only tolerated within the organization, but any opposition to its anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant invective—including reliance on white nativist sources in the AFA’s media programs—is dismissed. What’s worse, former employees say, anyone questioning such attitudes as un-Christian is denigrated, and in some cases forced out.

Fischer had come to the AFA from activism in Idaho, where he was well-known for his anti-gay, anti-immigrant views. In Idaho, he worked with Scott Lively, the evangelist known for provoking an anti-gay panic in Uganda that led to the introduction of the Anti Homosexuality Bill there, and who claims a link between Nazism and homosexuality:

In an online column, Fischer defended Lively’s preposterous and debunked “history” of a Nazi-gay link, claiming “the masculine homosexual movement in Germany created the Brown Shirts, and the Brown Shirts in turn created the Nazi Party.” In a column earlier this year opposing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Fischer recycled that 2008 column, adding, “Even today in America, it is chic in some homosexual circles for individuals to wear replicas of Nazi Germany uniforms, complete with iron crosses, storm trooper outfits, military boots, and even swastikas.”

National media and watchdog groups like the SPLC and People for the American Way have long documented the extensive list of Fischer’s appalling invective. For years, there have been calls for the group to rid itself of Fischer and his views. Despite pressure, Fischer was never fired–or even reigned in.

Why now? This trip to Israel puts the AFA in the spotlight as never before, because of the participation of one-third of the Republican National Committee in a trip intended to prove evangelical “love” for Israel. Perhaps they realized that peddling conspiracy theories about gay people creating Nazism wouldn’t go over that well with the Jews–not to mention the mountain of other racist and homophobic rants. But what of all the columns of Fischer’s the AFA has published, and the reiteration of his views through their other media? Will firing Fischer make all of that magically go away?

  • DKeane123

    Looks like the short answer is yes (politically) and no (realistically).

  • NavyBlues05

    Yep. But this did give me an lengthy giggle fit last night.

  • fiona64

    Israel is generally not pleased when evangelicals show up … because evangelicals tend *not* to know how to show up without trying to convert people.

  • Whiskyjack

    Agreed, but Israel nonetheless needs the money and political capital that flows from the evangelicals. If only they’d just send money and stay away.

  • Craptacular

    “If only they’d just send money and stay away.” – Whiskeyjack

    That’s pretty much how the GOP feels about them, too. Although the GOP would probably add, “…send money, vote for us, and stay away.”

  • Tige Gibson

    Israel gets the far better side of the deal. The only thing Christians get out of it is comfort that Israel will continue to exist so that some day Jesus can return, in other words nothing.

  • As a Jew, whenever ANYONE uses “Judeo-Christian” I check to see if I still have my wallet.

    Judeo-Christian is an oxymoron since Christianity has a long, ugly history of slaughtering Jews, denying the validity of the Torah by calling it “the Old Testament” and creating a “new” one, and, in general, making sure that this usage really means judeo-CHRISTIAN.

  • RevDan

    Fischer may seem like the worst-of-the-worst, but David Lane proves that bigotry and hatred will continue at the AFA. Yes, the “firing” of Fischer was a sham. The good thing is that everybody knows it. The bad thing (for the RNC) is that everybody knows it. The RNC’s ties to the Christian Right will certainly not let them pass up such a wonderful freebie. Now if Fischer ever loses his radio spot, THEN we can see real rejoicing!

  • Jim Reed

    Judeo-CHRISTIANS love the Jews. They are critical pawns in the end times prophecy where blood in Israel runs up to the horse’s bridle.

  • apotropoxy

    1. Someone needs to convince Rachel Maddow to reduce her repetitions. I love her politics and her winsome charm, but the everlasting recycling of the same point makes me glaze over like a doughnut.
    2. and no…The AFA will remain a reactionary hate group of fundraisers for as long as it exists. The zebra can’t change his stripes.

  • apotropoxy

    The Judeo-Christian trope is a legitimate concept. The very fact that Christians have devoted themselves throughout their long history to persecuting Jews and distorting the Torah demonstrates its validity. Without Judaism, Christianism would not exist. Neither would Islam.
    Christians use the term as a convenient rhetorical coupling usually to emphasize their liberality. On a good day, some of them even admit that Jesus was a Jew.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    They love them so much that they believe they must convert, at the end times, or be damned.

    No thanks.

  • Let’s be completely clear about what happened here. Officially, yes, the AFA fired Fischer. However, they didn’t actually “fire” him. He remains their radio host. He remains their radio host, and their Web site still streams his show.

    So on the one hand, he’s no longer their spokesman. But on the other, they continue carrying his words and, presumably, paying him to do so.

    I have no idea in what alternate universe this truly constitutes a “firing,” but in the universe we live in, it’s no such thing. Rather, the AFA is merely triangulating here … attempting to distance itself from him, without actually forcing him to leave and without actually preventing him from speaking for them. (Yes, even though he’s no longer their “spokesman,” that he continues to do their radio show and that their site streams it, means he does, in fact, speak for them. To say anything else is laughably absurd. At least, I’m not stupid enough to buy it.)

  • Yes indeed. For years I’ve been saying evangelical Christians are actually anti-Semitic. Once in a while one of them actually leaks his or her anti-Semitism, for example as John Hagee did a little over a year ago.

    The truth is that evangelical Christians view Jews and Israel as sacrificial pawns in their sacred prophetic game, which — they hope! — will bring on Armageddon and the return of their precious Jesus. The whole scenario, as they see it, is described in their scripture:

    “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. (“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon.” (Revelation 16:12-16)

    No wonder they’ve spent the last several years agitating for an attack on Iran! They hope Iran — given its position across the Euphrates from the Jewish state — will retaliate by attacking Israel from the east. Obama’s been thwarting them, so they’ve decided to make an end-run around him by consulting directly with Benjamin Netanyahu, who for reasons of his own would love to (as John McCain famously put it) “bomb, bomb, bomb; bomb bomb Iran.”

    It’s really frightening how close these people are to accomplishing their goal of inciting a war with Iran … all so that they can get their Jesus back; the guy whom they think is God but who never actually managed to finish his mission the first time he came to earth to straighten things out. (What kind of supposedly-omnipotent deity does an incomplete job at something?)

  • Jim Reed

    Christianity could have been a better religion if they didn’t include Revelation in the New Testament, and as I understand it, it was a very close vote.

  • LegalizeLezMarriage

    ditto all that, with John

  • Well, yeah, except there was never any single, actual “vote” on the matter — in the case of the R.C. Church, not until the Council of Trent in the 16th century. In reality the Bible canon developed organically, over time. If there were a single event that eventually determined it, that may have been St Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate, which would become the Church’s Bible through the Middle Ages. At least, until the Reformation, when Martin Luther plucked the “deuterocanonicals” from the O.T. and the Anglican Church followed suit.

    But you’re right, it was touch-&-go for Revelation (more specifically, the Revelation of John, since in the first several centuries CE, a lot of “revelations” by various presumed authors were banging around Christendom). Jerome himself doubted its authenticity, something which he turned out to be correct about (scholars have determined it’s unlikely, if not impossible, for it to have been written by the apostle John). But he also doubted the authenticity of other works such as Philemon, which most scholars now think had been written by Paul/Saul of Tarsus, along with 6 other epistles (minus the occasional interpolation that had later been injected into some of them).

    In any event, Jerome hadn’t translated Revelation into Latin. He merely tacked an existing Latin translation on to his work. His reason for doing so is that either Pope Damasus asked him to (assuming the Pope had formally “commissioned” Jerome’s work) or he thought Damasus expected it to be included (if there hadn’t actually been a papal commission).

    Other real or legendary proposed canons, such as one presumed to have been generated at the Synod of Laodicea in the 360s CE, did not include Revelation. The Syriac Peshitta doesn’t contain it either. Some other early proposed canons, such as that of St Ignatius of Antioch, left Revelation out, but other influential Church Fathers, such as Origen, did approve of it.

    FYI, here’s a useful chart showing the various proposed canons and early Bible collections and which books they did or didn’t include. The Revelation line is a bit deceptive; for instance, it doesn’t make clear that Jerome doubted it (it simply lists it as included in the Vulgate). Of course, the case of Eusebius is impossible to reconcile, since he listed Revelation as both specious and acceptable (go figure).

  • Jeffrey Samuels

    Christianity would have been a better religion if they weren’t suicidal and determined to take the rest of the world down with them.

  • Jim Reed

    The original intention was not really to screw up history for thousands of years, but now that they have gone this far they are having trouble figuring out how to back down and have it still mean something.