If the National Republican Party had embraced the Ku Klux Klan or the American Nazi Party, would mainstream media pick up the story? Probably.
The American Family Association, sponsor of the Republican National Committee's upcoming Israel trip (organized and led by pastor David Lane), is no less extreme and has been venting its virulently hateful anti-LGBT, nativist, religious supremacist, and arguably racist rhetoric across America's airwaves for years. Hate speech from the AFA's nationally syndicated radio show targets a wide range of minorities: LGBT citizens, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Native-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Muslims (generally), Mormons, Jews, and more.
And this is not a new issue: Time magazine broke the news of the RNC Israel trip (and, more to the point, who was sponsoring it) over six weeks ago, on December 8, 2014. So mainstream media has had ample advance notice.
"They were making an overt argument that Mitt Romney should not be elected to public office in this country specifically because of his religion... the Republican Party is now explicitly embracing these guys. Not just people who are related to people who are related to these guys. I mean, the 'I won't vote for Mitt Romney because of his religion' guy [pastor David Lane] is the same guy, the exact person who is taking Reince Priebus and the Republican Party leadership on this trip [to Israel] the day after tomorrow." - MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, January 29, 2015, characterizing statements from Bryan Fischer, David Lane, and the American Family Association, made during the 2012 presidential election, concerning the candidacy of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
The "serious" heavyweights - the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, not to mention broadcast media (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and so on) - have thus far opted to not cover the story, which has also been covered by two major Israeli media outlets (by Haaretz and the Times of Israel), by several American Jewish outlets including the Daily Jewish Forward, and extensively in LGBT media.
On Saturday, 60-odd Republicans from the Republican National Committee (about 1/3 of the RNC), headed by Reince Priebus, will fly to Israel for a nine day all-expenses paid trip. Financially sponsoring the trip is the American Family Association and leading it is activist pastor David Lane, whose "Renewal Project" that seeks to bring pastors into politics is bankrolled by the AFA.
Among all U.S. media sectors, LGBT media has covered this story most heavily, and for good reason; it would not be a stretch to characterize the American Family Association as leading the vanguard of anti-gay hate speech in American today:
How anti-gay is the American Family Association ? Longtime AFA Director of Issue Analysis Bryan Fischer, star of the AFA's national radio show, is notorious for his recycling of Scott Lively's claims that Adolf Hitler and most of the top leadership of Hitler's Nazi movement were gay and so, by implication, homosexuality caused World War Two and the Holocaust.
While the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified the AFA as a hate group, for years People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch has been documenting a wide range of hate speech from Bryan Fischer and the AFA. Not just anti-LGBT hate speech.
Fischer has claimed that believers of non-Christian faiths (e.g. Muslims and Jews) do not have a First Amendment right to freely practice their faiths, stated that young African-American women "rut like rabbits", and cited the Bible as justification for the violent ethnic cleansing of Native Americans from their lands. Hispanics, claims Fischer, are "socialist by nature".
This month, arguing that homosexuals should not be allowed to run for political office, Bryan Fischer declared, "It's a form of sexual perversion and remember, we're going to have to choose between the gay agenda and Christianity." It's not just LGBT citizens who should be excluded from office, per the AFA, but also Mormons, Mitt Romney included.
The AFA "fires" Bryan Fischer
Media attention on the RNC/AFA scandal turned first to the hate speech of Bryan Fischer; and after Rachel Maddow's first MSNBC treatment of the scandal, on January 28 , 2015, the American Family Association released a statement that Bryan Fischer was no longer the AFA's "Director of Issues Analysis."
AFA president Tim Wildmon suggested Fischer had been fired because of "the soundbite quotes, you know, the Hitler and homosexuality one..." But meanwhile, Fischer himself observed that the alleged firing or demotion was meaningless because his show on AFA radio, Bryan Fischer's main national media platform for spreading his hate speech, would go on regardless.
Underscoring Fischer's point was the AFA's showcasing, simultaneous with its alleged "firing" of Fischer, of a Bryan Fischer op-ed on the front page of the American Family Association website. If Bryan Fischer was indeed no longer the AFA's official spokesperson, evidence for the demotion was scarce to nonexistent.
And another figure was even more central to the story than Fischer who, after all, was not himself personally organizing and leading the RNC's Israel junket. That honor falls to pastor David Lane, who helped organize Rick Perry's 2011 The Response prayer rally and it's recent clone, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal's The Response prayer rally in early 2015.
Pastor David Lane
On Thursday night, in the January 29, 2015 segment of the MSNBC Rachel Maddow Show, Maddow pivoted to Lane. As exhaustively documented by Bryan Tashman, with People For The American Way's Right Wing Watch project, pastor Lane's hateful and religious supremacist rhetoric has been no less extreme than Bryan Fischer's.
Among Lane's rhetorical firebombs showcased by Maddow was Lane's endorsement of a 2012 statement from Texas Baptist megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress identifying Mitt Romney's Mormon religion as a "cult." In an email from pastor Lane obtained by the Daily Beast, Lane emphasized, "Getting out Dr. Jeffress [sic] message, juxtaposing traditional Christianity to the false god of Mormonism, is very important in the larger scheme of things." Lane continued, "Let me go on the record, I won't vote for Mitt Romney as Republican nominee in 2012." Asked Maddow,
Why is the National Republican Party sending its chairman, and all its national leadership, on a trip, led by that guy [Maddow gestured at a photo of pastor David Lane] who said he wanted to be on the record about the fact that he wouldn't vote for Mitt Romney on religious grounds, because of Mitt Romney's religion?
Citing another quote from pastor Lane, claiming that the United States was founded explicitly as a "Christian nation" and "for the advancement of the Christian faith", Rachel Maddow posed the question,
What will it mean to the Republican Party, going forward, if they go on a trip, to Israel, with a group that advocates that America is by Christians and for Christians only, Christians exclusively?
The ramifications of such an embrace, between the RNC, the AFA, and pastor David Lane, are many.
What it means
The trip will likely strengthen already strong ties between Republicans, Israel's Likud Party and, specifically, current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That could, in turn, strengthen Netanyahu's hand in his perennial drive for heavier sanctions and/or military action against Iran. Coming shortly before a planned Netanyahu speech before the U.S. Congress, it is easy to see how the RNC's Israel trip could further Netanyahu's chances in the upcoming election in Israel.
On the domestic U.S. front, the implications are profound. Some in the Republican Party seek to rebrand and reshape the GOP, as more multi-racial and multi-ethnic, and tamp down the party's historic anti-gay stance.
But Priebus' trip stands to present to the party a grotesque fait accompli, by placing his authority as head of the RNC behind Lane and the AFA. In 2012, Reince Priebus himself was blessed and anointed, with the laying on of hands, by fellow "believers" in the radical stream of dominionist Christianity David Lane, Bryan Fischer, and the AFA represent. Since 2008 the ranks of national Republican figures "anointed" in similar ceremonies have included Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and others.
By embracing the American Family Association, and by extension its de facto spokesperson Bryan Fischer, Reince Priebus gives the GOP a veritable Father Coughlin reincarnate for our age, as well as a new de facto Republican prayer leader, a pastor whose naked assertions of Christian supremacy have included calls for believers to "Wage War To Restore a Christian America" through acts of Christian martyrdom that would force all Americans to either bow to Jesus or else "begin drinking holy blood".
The Party of God
In a 2013 World Net Daily op-ed "Wage War To Restore a Christian America", Lane, who has described himself as a "political operative and a mechanic" working "under the radar" to pull pastors into politics, called upon believers to sacrifice their lives in order to force Americans to either acknowledge Jesus as their supreme ruler or else "begin drinking holy blood." Wrote pastor Lane,
"American Christianity has not done a good job of producing martyrs... Christians must risk martyrdom and force Babel to the crux where it has to decide either to acknowledge Jesus an imperator and the church as God's imperium or to begin drinking holy blood."
The same year, in 2013, Lane also predicted car bombings in major U.S. cities because of "homosexuals praying at the Inauguration [of Barack Obama]".
In 2013 at an Iowa pastors rally, Lane and Barton helped lead public blessings of U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Also publicly blessed at that event, according to a special report from Christian Broadcasting Network reporter David Brody, was RNC head Reince Priebus: a photo posted by Brody shows Reince Priebus amidst a tight knot of men laying hands on Priebus, to bless and anoint the RNC head as one of God's elect.
Other indications that RNC head Priebus holds a similar form of Christian supremacy as pastor David Lane include an October 2013 interview with CBN's David Brody in which Priebus lashed out at a USA Today story which claimed the RNC head had urged "tolerance for views of gay marriage." "[T]here's only one sovereign God", Priebus assured Brody.
Lane's close ties to Reince Priebus and the Republican National Committee were also on display in a January 19, 2014 story from CBN reporter Brody. According to Brody, Renewal Project head David Lane had sent out an email, to 10,000 pastors, which featured a ringing endorsement of Priebus as a GOP leader who "the masses will follow" and who could lead the American evangelical right to political triumph :
"Reince Priebus is making a stand this coming Wednesday in Washington, DC...but let's see this for what it is -- Reince Preibus is moving the ball down the field.
30 years ago Ronald Reagan branded the Republican Party as the leader of limited government, lower taxes, deregulation of business, the attitude of 'the-one-thing-government-can-do-for-me-is-leave-me-alone' -- which brought in the Reagan Democrats and Independents; Reagan then won reelection in 1984 with 49 States.
He then handed the ball to Bush 41', who quickly lost, and then Bush 43' needed the Supreme Court in 2000, and OH in 2004 to win the presidency."
The Evangelical/Pro-Life Catholic constituency didn't show in 2008 or 2012.
We need someone with principle, the masses will follow.
Will you -- right now -- stop and whisper a prayer for Reince Priebus please. He's making a stand, which is what we are all commanded to do...
Reince Priebus -- Salute. "
This strong mutual endorsement, of Lane by Priebus and Priebus by Lane, is striking. As I have documented, Lane works closely with the most radical faction of the religious right, the New Apostolic Reformation which, per the testimony of leaders who have helped create the contemporary American religious right, represents the American answer to Al Qaeda or the Taliban (or, some might suppose, ISIS).
Rachel Maddow's rhetorical question can be answered, in short: while some are working to build a bigger, more inclusive GOP tent with room for LGBT people and other minorities, both ethnic and religious, Reince Priebus, David Lane, and the AFA are hard at work pulling the Republican Party in a radically different direction, towards a future as the party of Christian religious supremacy, and religious war: the Party of God.
What would it mean for such people to gain top-level control of a political party that controls the U.S. Congress and Senate, and over 2/3 of governorships and state legislatures in America today?
We may soon find out.