Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Brief History of the AFA

The American Family Association is one of the most influential "family" organizations in the United States. In November 2010, the association was labeled as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center. I intend to document the history of the AFA here including its activities and prove that they have long deserved the titles of "hate group" and "anti-freedom."

The organization actually began in 1977 as the National Federation for Decency and was started by United Methodist minister Donald Wildmon (b. 18 Jan 1938, in Dumas, MS). Wildmon graduated from Millsaps College in 1960, served in the Army from 1961-1963, then got his Master of Divinity (MDiv) in 1965 from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. In 1977, he moved* to Tupelo to found the National Federation for Decency as a way to fight against pornography and violence, particularly on television. The organization's mission was to foster "the biblical ethic of decency in American Society with the primary emphasis on television." They started with only 1400 members and protested any show, network, or sponsor that supported what they determined to be violent or immoral. The NDF's first boycott was in 1978 when they targeted Sears for sponsoring three shows that they disapproved of: All in the Family, Charlie's Angels, and Three's Company. Although I couldn't find concrete evidence of what displeased Wildmon so much, I believe it had a lot to do with seeing strong, sexy women, women cohabiting with a man, and Carroll O'Connor's use of the word "god dammit."

In 1980, Wildmon joined forces with Jerry Falwell to create the Coalition for Better Television (CBTV). This group monitored television content and analyzed it to record the number of infractions - much in the way some who are virulently anti-pornography watch loads of it so they can tell us how awful it is. Although the group claimed membership in the millions, it fell apart only 2 years later when Wildmon and Falwell split, but not before they had bullied Proctor & Gamble into pulling advertising on about 50 TV shows.

From there, Wildmon founded Christian Leaders for Responsible Television (CLEAR-TV) and branched out from just TV into movies and magazines. He organized protests against any company that created or sold adult content while continuing to push for television programming to be censored according to his standards. No one was safe from the threat of boycott: not bookstores, not convenience stores, not even hotel chains. He successfully targeted Pepsico, Mazda, and Burger King among many others.

In 1987 he renamed his organization the American Family Association. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that seems to have its fingers in every pot imaginable. This empire boasts 180 radio stations,  a popular monthly publication (AFA Journal), a news division (, and a legal arm (Center for Law & Policy) that was shut down in 2007. The organization runs on a $14 million dollar yearly budget. There are approximately 3.4 million subscribers to their "Action Alerts" in which they instruct followers to protest or boycott anything that the organization deems offensive or unAmerican. If only 1% of those subscribers act on any given instruction, then they still have a powerful voice.

The AFA will boycott over anything that gets under their skin but they have a few targets close to their heart: the inappropriately named "War on Christmas," pro-choice activities, anything sexual, and LGBT issues. Their protest/boycott efforts include but are not limited to:

7-Eleven - selling adult magazines
Abercrombie & Fitch - using "pornography" in their catalog
American Airlines
American Girl - supporting the charity Girls, Inc.
Blockbuster Video - renting adult films
Burger King - advertising on shows considered "anti-family"
Calvin Klein
Campbell Soup - advertising in an LGBT magazine
Carl's Jr.
Domino's Pizza - supporting Saturday Night Live
Ford Motor Co. - advertising in gay magazines; promoting homosexuality
GAP Stores - not using the word "Christmas"
General Mills - supporting Saturday Night Live
Hallmark - selling same-sex wedding cards
Home Depot - promoting homosexuality
Kmart - selling "adult" CDs
Mary Kay
Mazda - supporting Saturday Night Live
McDonald's - having a director on the board of the NGLCC
Movie Gallery - renting adult films
Nike - promoting same-sex marriage
Old Navy
PepsiCo - supporting sacrilegious advertising (Madonna)
Proctor & Gamble - advertising on shows considered "anti-family"
Ralston Purina - supporting Saturday Night Live
S.C. Johnson & Son
Target - not using the word "Christmas"
Waldenbooks -  selling adult magazines
Walt Disney - offering benefits to same-sex employees

Although there have been some cases of the boycotts being at least partially successful, in recent years they seem to become less and less effective. The organization takes credit for a lot of store closings and other decisions that cannot be directly linked to their boycott efforts, a failure to understand that correlation doesn't equal causation if ever there was one. The AFA is also known to make grandiose claims about their success that don't always pan out to be true.

The AFA has been working diligently to erase the separation between church and state, particularly by trying to convince Christians that they are now a persecuted minority being oppressed by the federal government. He sees the solution to all our social ills as reinstating school prayer, electing only "godly" politicians who parrot his views, ending abortion and sex education, and cleaning up all forms of communication so they conform to his standards. 

No one is safe from the AFA's demonization. In the 1980s, Wildmon mentioned on a few occasions that he thought Hollywood was run by a Jewish cabal that sought to put programming on the air that would promote anti-Christian values and undermine the Christian culture. In 2005 he threatened the Anti-Defamation League with a loss of support for Israel by AFA members if its president Abraham Foxman didn't stop criticizing the religious right. 

November 2006, the AFA had a fit when Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be elected, was sworn in on a Quran. Since that time, the AFA, chiefly through their tool Bryan Fischer, have done everything they can to convince Americans that all Muslims are evil and out to destroy America. Fischer has even gone so far to say that Muslim Americans should not have the same rights to free speech, assembly, and religious expression as Christians do. This is just the tip of the iceberg of Bryan Fischer's (and the AFA by proxy's) hate.

As far as money goes, the AFA has plenty of it and they don't mind using it to promote their absolute hatred of freedom. They spent $500,000 to pass Prop 8 in California against marriage equality. They spent $140,000 in Iowa to defeat some judges they didn't like. They spent at least $125,000 in Mississippi to promote the Personhood Amendment/Yeson26 campaign. And they also funneled money to Texas for Rick Perry's ridiculous prayer rally.

Although Donald Wildmon has stepped down from the leadership of the AFA, his son Tim runs it now as president. Nevertheless, Bryan Fischer appears to be the most public face and certainly the loudest voice of the AFA. It's a well-documented fact that the organization has suffered from and still suffers from a strict, authoritarian management style (probably driven by ego mania on the part of its leaders) and that working there is not very "comfortable." Employees have been criticized, chastised, and censored with no regards to their feelings or situations. They are generally not allowed to question organization leadership and they are expected to play fast and loose with the facts in order to further vilify AFA's opponents. The organization is believed to have at least loose ties to some racist organizations such as the American Renaissance magazine and FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform). But regardless of which group the AFA is targeting for their bile, you can always be sure that their barbs will be wrapped in the American flag and delivered in the name of God and the family. 

So, to wrap up, the AFA has been in existence under one name or another for about 35 years. It's primary goals are to censor American thought, speech, and media and to control American government through the merge of (their particular) church and state. If you boil all this down, you get one overarching theme: these people hate freedom and they don't want you to have any AT ALL.

As I have said before, the AFA has been working to undermine our freedom and spread their hatred almost as long as I've been alive. There is no way I could possibly list everything they have done here but I've given you a good start. I will write more in the coming weeks to try to zero in on what they've done and what they are doing. If you are interested, please be sure to check out our weekly podcast which will always contain an AFA Watch segment.

If you'd like to strike back at the AFA, please visit the blog every day for our Carrotmob list on the right section of the screen. These are stores that the AFA is boycotting. We don't ask you to necessarily shop at these stores (though that would be nice if you wish to) but we hope you'll find a way to contact them and let them know that the AFA's stranglehold on this country is about to end. It's time for Mississippi to "take out the trash" so I hope you'll help us however you can and stay tuned!

*Although the referenced article says that Wildmon moved to Tupelo in 1977, sources below say that he was already in town. I have reason to believe this is true.