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Fischer is Vander Plaats is Perkins is Wildmon is Gallagher is….

by Jeremy Hooper

He's a hugely influential figure, Rick Warren. When he issues a rebuking, many listen. When said rebuking is directed at a member of the organized religious right, I also lend an ear.

Now, it's no surprise that the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer would be the one to elicit ire from a fellow religious conservative like Warren. I've long considered and have, in fact, long called Fischer a liability to the religious right. Through his obsessive fervor, the AFA's most prominent voice has contributed to the American discourse some of the most noxious rhetoric known to man (or woman or child or pet). From calling gay sex a "form of domestic terrorism," to claiming that only gays were savage enough for Hitler, to declaring that "homosexuality represents an evolutionary degrade"…"evidence of a species devolving" (to name a tiny few), Fischer has proven a willingness to say just about anything that comes to his unfiltered mind, so long as said musings work to wound LGBT people in the hardest ways possible. In fact, Fischer's words pretty much single-handedly landed the American Family Association on the Southern Poverty Law Center's hate groups list, a dubious distinction the organization had avoided for the many years prior to Bryan's tenure.

Specifically, it was Bryan's recent self-appointed mission of telling the science world that HIV doesn't cause AIDS that earned Rick Warren's attention. Warren and his wife Kay have been long involved in HIV/AIDS advocacy worldwide. For many of us who have heaped criticism on Rick Warren for some of his anti-LGBT views, his and his wife's HIV/AIDS work has been something we've been able to earmark as honorable. So despite my own misgivings with the Warren record, it wasn't surprising or hard for me to see the Warrens' rebuking of the dangerous HIV/AIDS myths that Bryan Fischer is pushing as equally as honorable. In comments to conservative writer Warren Throckmorton, the Warrens say, in part:

Since AIDS was first discovered in 1981, 30 years of non-stop scientific research by the US military, the medical community, our government, and by every international health organization has proven over and over, with countless irrefutable results, that ONLY people with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) develop AIDS. To imply the disease is caused by anything besides HIV is quack science, like claiming the earth is flat, or the moon is made of cheese. Since 1985, when the virus that creates AIDS was isolated, every doctor on the planet, except Peter Duesberg, has known that HIV is the only cause of AIDS.
Let’s be very careful about what reality we deny; lives are at stake. [

It's a strong correction of Bryan Fischer's egregious, dangerous errors. And for most, this is where this conversation would end. The story would be: "Overcharged AFA personality makes incendiary, anti-scientific claims; mainstream evangelical steps in and corrects them." Properly, most would cast Fischer in a fringe box -- a voice that deserves to be marginalized. The vast majority would just move on.

Over the past couple of years, Bob Vander Plaats has become known as an Iowa "kingmaker." Ever since his strong push for Mike Huckabee landed that GOP candidate at the top of the 2008 Iowa Caucus, Vander Plaats, himself a failed gubernatorial candidate three times over, has become known as the guy who can get a conservative to the top of his state's polls. This is why all of the GOP candidates, sans Romney and Huntsman, showed up to the November forum that Vander Plaats hosted under the auspices of his Family Leader organization (in tandem with his pals at the National Organization For Marriage and Focus on the Family). It's also why Rick Santorum so gladly accepted Vander Plaats' endorsement of his candidacy when the most sweater-vested of the GOP slate was still polling in the single digits. Some might even say that Vander Plaats was key in getting Santorum to his second place Iowa finish. But while that last point is debatable, Vander Plaats' now-solidified place within the conservative establishment is not up for discussion. He has been folded into the mix in every way, now routinely appearing on mainstream TV and in mainstream print outlets, positioned as little more than a social conservative.

On Monday, Vander Plaats made another one of his now-regular media appearances, this one with a friend whose show he always seems so eager to do. That friend: The aforementioned Bryan Fischer. Here's a clip of Vander Plaats chummy appearance on Fischer's show:

Just two conservatives discussing presidential politics. Pundits. Voices. Credible parts of a nationwide debate?

You surely know that Family Research Council president Tony Perkins is among the most prominent men in all of Social Conservaville. Despite his own chain of slights that go well beyond policy and cut right into the hearts of LGBT people, Tony's media bookings are plentiful and prominent. Tony doesn't just get the cable news treatment, instead making his way onto the big three networks with startling frequency. He's also a bold name in just about any print outlet that covers politics. He's so prominent, that just this past weekend, Tony was appointed as the one person who got to speak for the over one hundred fifty social conservatives who met in Texas for the purpose of rallying behind a candidate. That's how big Tony is with this crowd: He quite literally got to speak for them all.

But if conservative politics is what fills the 365 days in his social calendar, then the annual Values Voter Summit is certainly his yearly ball. Each year, Tony gathers a whole host of far-right figures for a weekend of guns, God, and gays, all hosted by FRC. The proceedings are toasted and lorded over by Perkins himself, the mortal deity among the gathered masses. He's a bona fide rock star among this gathered choir.

In presidential election years, the Value Voters Summit gets even more interesting, since virtually every single GOP candidate manages to find the time to show up at the event. This past year was no different. Bachmann, Santorum, Cain, Paul -- they were all there. Mitt Romney too. At around 10:15 on Saturday October 8, 2011, the GOP frontrunner addressed Perkins, the crowd, and an event that must be considered, at this point, mainstream GOP. This is now a must-do booking for anyone wanting the Republican nomination.

At around 10:30 on Saturday, October 8, 2011, Mitt Romney's Values Voters speech was immediately followed by one from another religious conservative. For any political speaker, the slot right behind a presidential candidate is a huge booking. This is true of just about any presidential candidate, much less one of Mitt Romney's prominence. It's only logical to assume that the bookers -- in this case, Tony and his Family Research Council -- chose someone they considered up for the job. Someone they thought needed to be heard. Someone they considered credible enough to handle such a lofty gig.

The man who got the slot this year? Yup, you guessed it:

Bryan Fischer, GOP bon vivant.

My point in all this: This "culture war" game is all intra-connected! The same Bryan Fischer who Rick Warren so rightly rebuked is the same Bryan Fischer who routinely plays buddy, buddy with people like Bob Vander Plaats (and Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, et al). The same Bryan Fischer who said that "homosexuals should be disqualified from public office" is the same Bryan Fischer who speaks at uber-prominent places behind GOP leading lights like Romney. The same Bryan Fischer who said "homosexuals in the military gave us...six million dead Jews" is the same Bryan Fischer who The New York Times cites as a mere voice of conservative punditry. It's all connected!

The natural inclination for most of us -- LGBT activists, non-political LGBT people, journalists, everyday citizens -- is to look a things like Bryan's "HIV doesn't cause AIDS" claims and see the words as out of the mainstream. We roll our eyes and reinforce our thanks for not ourselves thinking in that way. We temporarily side with Warren for speaking a degree of sanity. It's easy to do when the level of craziness is so high. It's understandable.

But when looking at the opposition movement that keeps us fighting this "culture war," this outlook does those of us in the pro-equality movement a great disservice. It's actually not even an outlook -- it's a blatant overlook. When we see Bryan Fischer as a lone voice and fail to connect the prominent dots -- those attached to him, his work, his host organization, his pals, his chain of influence, etc. -- we fail to understand the breadth of what is working against us. And when we fail to understand it all, we fail to explain to our would-be, should-allies or our would-be, should-be stewards of accurate reporting why, exactly, people like Bryan Fischer matter, and why letting them hide behind "pro-family" labeling is both offensive and inaccurate. We have to get better about knowing and noting the whole chain.

In the coming weeks, you will hear more about a project I am working on that is aimed to help us do just that. Stay tuned.

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