Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), is the Alex Jones of the Christian Right: hyperbolic, outrageous, thin on facts, and thick on melodrama.
And now he’s going on the government’s payroll, as a member of the U.S. Committee for International Religious Freedom (CIRF). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appointed Perkins to the role yesterday, for a term of two years.
Perkins isn’t your usual Christian fundamentalist. To get a sense of him, here are some choice cuts from Perkins’ long playlist:
While running a Senate campaign back in 1996, Perkins bought a robocall list from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s company, later admitting he used a shell corporation to cover it up. This wasn’t a fluke: In 2001, Perkins spoke to the ‘Council of Conservative Citizens,’ a white supremacist organization.
In 2010, Perkins wrote that the high rate of suicide among gay teens was due not to societal homophobia but because they know they are “abnormal.” Fortunately, Perkins continued, homosexuality could be cured through “the power of Jesus Christ.” In 2016, Perkins tried to have the debunked and abusive practice of “conversion therapy” included in the Republican Party platform.
In 2011, Perkins called LGBT activists “Intolerant, Hateful, Vile, Spiteful Pawns Of The Enemy [i.e. Satan].” Meanwhile, Perkins called Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, which provided the death penalty for homosexuality, an attempt to “uphold moral conduct.”
In 2014, Perkins said that a holocaust against American Christians was imminent, and that LGBT activists were about to begin “hauling out boxcars.” He has made the holocaust claim several times.
In 2015, Perkins chose not to report a sexual assault by a protégé, Wesley Goodman, on a teenage boy, instead telling the boy’s parents the issue would be handled “with prudence.” He cut ties with Goodman, but reportedly covered up the assault.
That same year, another Perkins protégé, Josh Duggar, was exposed as a former child molester, porn addict, and Ashley Madison-using adulterer. Duggar had headed the lobbying arm of the FRC, which the Southern Policy Law Center lists as a hate group.
It’s widely understood that the FRC engineered Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military; the FRC is now in court fighting not to release records of their contacts with the White House, most likely since they would undermine the security rationale for the ban. Perkins has said it would be better to disband the entire military rather than have trans people in it. He also said that because Target stores now allow trans people to use gender-appropriate restrooms, those restrooms look like “crime scenes” that are “a live rendition of CSI.”
Perkins frequently hosts Islamophobic conspiracy nut Frank Gaffney on his radio show. On the show, Gaffney called President Obama “a Sharia law proponent” and made fun of his name.
Perkins himself has said that only militant Muslims are actually practicing Islam; moderates are not. For that reason, Perkins said, the U.S. Constitution does not protect Muslims. Perkins also spread the myth of “no-go” Muslim neighborhoods in the United States. FRC’s vice president, Jerry Boykin, has been more straightforward, saying that “Islam is evil.”
I could go on and on and on. Sometimes it’s hard to know how seriously to take Tony Perkins—how much he believes this garbage, and how much is just for the headlines (and fundraising). But what does any of it have to do with international religious freedom?
As with Perkins’s new colleague, former governor Sam Brownback, there are two main concerns about putting such an extreme individual on an important State Department committee: weaponizing religious freedom against women and LGBT people, and waging a global counter-jihad against Islam.
First, the main responsibility of the office of International Religious Freedom is the production of an annual report detailing the status of religious freedom in every country in the world. It’s a valuable resource that makes the protection of religious freedom a real priority, rather than just empty words.
But remember that in Perkins’ view, it’s a violation of religious freedom to have to obey non-discrimination laws: not just cake-bakers having to bake cakes for gays, but any corporation required to provide spousal benefits to a same-sex couple, or any individual barred from uttering hate speech (like Perkins’).
Now plug that redefinition of religious freedom into the international arena. Nations that forbid discrimination against women or LGBT people might now be censured for violating “religious freedom.” Crackdowns on incitements to violence would be as well.
Remember, Perkins thought the “Kill the Gays” law was a good idea. It follows that cracking down on American hate-preachers like Scott Lively is a violation of “religious freedom.”
Additionally, Perkins, like Brownback, is part of the longtime alliance of Russian Christian conservatives and American Christian conservatives to define the “family” under international law in narrow, heterosexual, patriarchal terms.
That means women’s rights and LGBT rights are anti-family, and since the family is the bedrock of religious values, they’re anti-religious too.
It is entirely foreseeable that Perkins’s CIRF will support the hate groups persecuting women and LGBT people around the world, and oppose the human rights groups that have defended them.
They will do this by appropriating money, by characterizing human rights defenders as anti-religion crusaders, and by helping State Department officials around the world protect the discriminators and attack their victims.
As we reported in January, the “Trump Effect” has already affected LGBT people and other vulnerable populations worldwide. Regimes that have tortured LGBT people in Kenya, or murdered them in Cameroon, or imprisoned them in Chechnya and Russia have since acted with impunity, knowing full well that this "America First" government will not intervene to save them.
Nor, obviously, will its “religious freedom” team, filled with those who believe homosexuality destroys society and ought to be punished by death.
Second, Perkins and Brownback share the deluded and counter-factual view that Christians are the most persecuted group in the world. To be sure, there is indeed discrimination against Christians, and it is deplorable. Under President Obama, CIRF regularly reported on and censured such actions.
But Muslims are also discriminated against: in Myanmar, for example, where the largest ethnic cleansing of the 21st century has been perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims; or in Saudi Arabia, where the Sunni majority regularly persecutes the Shiite minority.
Is someone with woefully inaccurate views about Islam, and whose deputy thinks that the entire religion is “evil,” really going to protect the religious liberty of Muslims around the world? Of course not: Perkins believes that when Muslims practice their religion, they engage in terrorism.
Finally, Perkins has found a way to tie together these two threads of virulent anti-LGBT rhetoric and virulent anti-Islam rhetoric. In 2014, he told Rick Santorum that Christians are persecuted abroad because the United States “began to normalize behavior that had long been considered inappropriate” and that “there is a correlation… between the increase in persecution abroad and the increase of intolerance from our own government here at home.”
That’s right: ISIS is beheading Christians in Syria because Colorado told a baker to bake a cake. Apparently, they were just waiting for permission.
Come to think of it, maybe it doesn’t matter how much Perkins believes this stuff after all. The consequences of such ignorance will be deadly either way.