Rand Paul in Concord, New Hampshire. (Photo: Matt Rourke/AP)
Although Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky and rumored presidential hopeful for 2016, has only been in Israel for one day he’s already making headlines. Within the first 24 hours in country he called to reduce U.S. aid to Israel while speaking in Jerusalem on Monday. But the freshest political face to take the reins of the Ron Paul nation is not on a partisan journey to the holy land, rather he is a participant in a mission trip funded by an evangelical media organization dubbed a “hate group” by the Southern Law Poverty Center for anti-gay bigotry.
Paul’s trip was financed by the American Family Association, a right-wing lobby group and a Christian media enterprise whose airways froth about the “homosexual lobby” and the likelihood that anti-discrimination legislation will lead to gay men in “stilettos, a dress and dangly earrings” bombarding Christian bookstores for sales jobs. Their anti-gay rhetoric even caught the ire of mainstream media. Last year, CNN’s Carol Costello cut an interview short with AFA spokesperson and radio jockey Bryan Fischer who claimed that Hitler surrounded himself with gay “storm troopers to be his enforcers” because according to Fischer straight storm troopers found moral objection to Nazism.
CNN interview with AFA’s Bryan Fischer cut short over homophobic Hitler statements.
American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer’s homophobic radio broadcast.
Prayerapalooza 2011. (Photo: David J. Phillip/AP)
In American politics the AFA backed not Paul’s father presidential candidate Ron Paul in the 2012 GOP run-off, but Rick Perry. At the organization’s 2011 ecclesiastical version of an epic rock festival “Prayerapalooza.” Perry was given a platform for a 13-minute speech where teary-eyed prayer-goers crouched down on their knees as the Texas governor spoke from the stage.
Other GOP presidential front-runners made use of AFA’s air space ahead of the the Republican primary. Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Mike Huckabee all appeared on Fischer’s program seeking support from the Christian right. AFA’s radio reach is impressive, boasting syndication from 200 stations in 37 states reaching over two million listeners, according to the think tank People for the American Way (PFAW). But AFA’s endorsement of the GOP goes beyond media tutelage Its national and local chapters bankrolled a number of anti-gay ballot propositions. From PFAW:
The Tupelo, Mississippi-based group [a local branch of AFA] has used its significant financial resources to fund anti-gay campaigns across the country. Most recently, the AFA donated $500,000 to the campaign to pass Proposition 8, the California referendum that overturned marriage equality in the state, and spent $140,000 on the successful 2010 campaign to defeat three Iowa Supreme Court justices who had ruled in favor of marriage equality. Newly-announced Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich bolstered the AFA’s finances by funneling $125,000 to the group to assist their Iowa efforts.
AFA organizes tours to not only the holy land—like Paul’s trip—but to American colonial cities that celebrate “our rich Christian history.” The “Spiritual Heritage Tours” take U.S. pilgrims to places the current president of AFA, Tim Wildmon, considers to have domestic religious significance such as Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown and Washington D.C. Wildmon, the son of AFA founder Don Wildmon, leads all of the tours. Although both father and son are ardently pro-Israel, Don is a bit of a Christian Zionist wild card, having sparred with the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman in 2005. The Forward reported that the father lambasted Foxman for not backing Christianity as the dominent religious culture in the U.S., as he felt Foxman owed American Christians a kick-back in exchange for supporting Israel:
‘The more [Foxman] says that ‘you people are destroying this country,’ [the more] some people are going to begin to get fed up with this and say, ‘Well, all right then. If that’s the way you feel, then we just won’t support Israel anymore.’
When it comes to Jewish-Christian relations, Tim Wildmon has taken more of a carrot approach. According to his spiritual tours website, he even requires his participants to wear clothing while in Israel, perhaps inspired by the controversial GOP skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee last year during a Project Interchange tour. From Tim Wildmon’s website:
You will be required to wear clothes on our tour. I have always made that mandatory. But what kind of clothes is up to the individual. Casual attire is best with comfortable walking shoes. Jeans, windsuits, etc. Also, you will need to bring your bathing suit as we will have an opportunity to swim in the Dead Sea which is a very unique experience.
This week Senator Paul is joined by Republican leaders from the key primary states of Iowa and South Carolina, and 50 evangelical officials. Later Paul is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II, according to Business Insider. The tour was organized with David Lane, founder of the evangelical American Renewal Project whose raison de guerre is to “restore America to its Christian heritage,” and evangelical “mega church” minister Richard Roberts who is the son of Oral Roberts, televangelist and mentor to Kathy Lee Gifford.