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.”

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[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?