Last week, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer caused a tidal wave of outrage when he asserted that Americans have "feminized the Medal of Honor" and asked, "When are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?"
Fischer, on his AFA-sponsored radio show and blog, often makes comments that would be ridiculous if they weren't so offensive. He routinely directs his hate-filled rants at gay people, Muslims, and even select members of the animal kingdom. He last caused a minor splash on the Internet when he declared an intifada on grizzly bears. He has said that the fire fighters who stood and let a house burn down earlier this year did "the Christian thing." He has said multiple times that "gay sex is a form of domestic terrorism." He repeatedly says that the building of new mosques should be banned in the U.S.
It is worth remembering that despite his clear extremism, Fischer is not an outcast. In fact, he has been embraced not only by the religious right, but by the mainstream GOP. This spring, Fischer rubbed elbows with GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann, and Mike Pence at the Family Research Council's "Values Voter Summit." He frequently has right-wing politicians as guests on his show, including Tea Party kingmaker Sen. Jim DeMint.
Fischer's prioritization of a small set of inflexibly extreme views over basic human decency is disturbing. But it's not, unfortunately, unique. In fact, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, a much higher-profile figure than Fischer, has repeatedly insulted servicemembers in his quest to keep gays and lesbians from serving in the military. Last week, Perkins said that if Don't Ask Don't Tell were repealed so many servicemembers would leave the army that the country would have to reinstate the draft. (Perkins, as it happens, presented a similar hypothesis to a Army Sgt. Benjamin Ratliff in June. Ratliff, who isn't exactly a proponent of gay rights, insisted that Perkins was wrong: "Even though I disagree with [DADT repeal] strongly, I love my country more.") At this year's Values Voter Summit, Perkins said of militaries that allow gays and lesbians to serve, "they're the ones that participate in parades, they don't fight wars to keep the nation and the world free"-- thereby belittling the contributions of at least seven allied countries who currently have troops in Afghanistan.
Both the American Family Association and the Family Research Council were recently added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of "anti-gay hate groups." SPLC explained that groups added to the list are there not because of religious beliefs ("Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups") but because of "their propagation of known falsehoods" about LGBT people.
Bryan Fischer is extreme, even by extremist standards, but his place among the ranks of the "mainstream" Right is telling. As I said when he attended the Values Voter Summit, those who hobnob with him "don't necessarily endorse [his] propaganda--but they do acknowledge its credibility." People like Fischer and Perkins have been allowed to be thought leaders on the Right despite the often single-minded direction of their thought.
Fischer's latest anti-military rant and Perkin's steady stream of digs at members of the armed forces should be a reminder of that. There is a difference between honest debate and hateful propaganda. The first step toward debate is acknowledging the basic humanity of others. Bryan Fischer's insensitive and inhumane rant laid bare his real priorities. And it should give serious pause to any political figure who agrees to be seen with him.
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peoplefor