Letter from Richard Cohen, President, Southern Poverty Law Center
(Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters)Donald Trump addresses the 2017 Values Voter Summit in Washington, October 13, 2017.
As expected, the annual “Values Voter Summit” in Washington this past weekend featured a rogue’s gallery of far-right extremists.
But something extraordinary happened this year.
For the first time ever, a sitting president spoke at the gathering – shamefully lending the legitimacy of the White House to hate groups like the Summit’s host, the Family Research Council, and its president, Tony Perkins.
What’s more, President Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, also addressed the audience and took the opportunity to attack us.
I’m not surprised that Bannon singled us out for his vitriol. We’ve been a thorn in the FRC’s side for years – calling out the group because it relentlessly vilifies the LGBT community with demonizing rhetoric and falsehoods.
We’ve always believed it’s important to take on groups like the FRC that have a foothold in the mainstream. In many ways, they’re more dangerous to our country than hatemongers who wear robes and hoods.
Now, it’s even more important. Trump has brought the FRC closer into the mainstream and has given it a voice in his administration – just as he did with Bannon, a champion of the reemerging white nationalist movement that calls itself the “alt-right.”
No one should be fooled. These are people and groups who harbor extreme beliefs that are antithetical to the very foundations of our democracy.
One of the headliners at the Summit, for example, was Roy Moore – the former Alabama chief justice who suggested in a 2002 judicial opinion that the state would be justified in executing gay men and women to protect children. Moore alsowrote in 2006 that Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, shouldn’t be allowed to serve because of his faith. As any judge should know, the U.S. Constitution explicitly bars any sort of religious test as a prerequisite to holding federal office.
We’ve twice had Moore removed from the Alabama Supreme Court for thumbing his nose at the Constitution. The first time, in 2003, was after he defied a federal court order to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments that he had installed in the state judicial building. The second time was after he ordered state officials to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after the U.S. Supreme Court settled the issue with its landmark ruling in 2015.
Bannon, however, called Moore a “good and righteous man” during his Summit appearance. It tells you that Bannon has no more respect for the rule of law than does our president.
If the FRC and its allies had their way, our country would return to the days when gay people were in the closet and faced the risk of being jailed for being who they are.
Because we’ve been calling out the FRC and groups like it for their vilification of the LGBT community, they’ve been attacking us in right-wing media outlets like Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and Breitbart News, which is led by Bannon.
Now that Trump has given the FRC unprecedented access to the White House, it will be more powerful than ever and the LGBT community will be at even greater risk.
It’s the reason why our work is more important than ever.
Richard Cohen, President, Southern Poverty Law Center
And Lee Zeldin still supports the bigot in chief, Donald Trump?