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Romney Meets With Leader of Radical Christian Group, Despite Extremism Exposed By Their New Hire

With the hiring of the right's favorite Islamophobe, the Family Research Council's extremism just got a little harder to ignore.
 
 
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When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney met privately this week with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, he sought the counsel of a leader who, just days before, selected as his right-hand man a retired general known for his extreme contempt for Muslims. 

Romney, hoping to draw the same kind of help organizing evangelical voters that Perkins gave former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum during the primaries, sought Perkins' input on potential running mates and "family" issues, barely 24 hours after FRC announced the hiring of retired Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin as executive vice president, in charge of day-to-day operations. It's a bold move, and one that makes FRC's extremism just a little harder to ignore.

Perkins and the Family Research Council have too often been treated by mainstream media as the reasonable and responsible wing of the Religious Right movement -- maybe because the former state representative has the polished presence of a politician and the Rolodex of a Washington insider. Republican officials flock to the Values Voter Summit, FRC's annual political gathering. But by hiring Boykin, FRC has dramatically undermined its claim to be an advocate for religious liberty as well as its efforts to position itself in the mainstream of the conservative movement.

While Perkins' extremism has largely flown below the media's radar, Boykin's style is in-your-face intolerance. In April, for instance, Boykin told Glenn Beck that anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is a "Muslim Brotherhood facilitator." That’s the kind of rhetoric that got anti-Muslim zealot Frank Gaffney kicked out of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Now it's the kind of rhetoric that will define the Family Research Council.

Boykin may not be a household name, but he has in recent years become a folk hero on the far right. Boykin had a legendary military career as a leader of America’s special forces, but he was rebuked by then-President George W. Bush and by the Pentagon’s inspector general for giving speeches in uniform while dismissing the God of Islam as an "idol" and portraying the "War on Terror" as a spiritual war between "our God" (Christian) and Satan. That, of course, endangered members of the American military serving in armed conflicts and undercut the diversity of our armed forces.

After retiring, Boykin continued diving further into the deep end of Religious Right extremism. “Islam is evil,” he says;  Islam is not a religion but a "totalitarian way of life." Boykin, a board member of the dominionist Oak Initiative, is a leader of the Religious-Right push to scare Americans into believing that the U.S. Constitution is under dire threat of being replaced by Sharia law. He is the co-author of Sharia, the Threat to America, popularly known as the Team B II report. Since, he has claimed, Muslims are under an "obligation to destroy our Constitution," American Muslims are not protected under the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. (Muslims, by the way, are under no such obligation.) He even said no mosques should be allowed to be built in America, though he has since backed away from that outrageous statement.

And Boykin is, like Perkins, unremittingly hostile to President Barack Obama. Boykin has charged that Obama is creating a Hitler-like cadre of Brownshirts to force Marxism down Americans’ throats. No wonder Tony Perkins loves him!  

But what really made Boykin and FRC a match made in heaven is their shared expertise in portraying criticism of Religious-Right extremism as an attack on religious freedom. In March, AlterNet published "The Mythical Martyrdom of the Religious Right's Favorite Islamophobic General," People For the American Way Foundation’s report on the propaganda campaign to depict Boykin as victim of religious persecution.

Back in February, Boykin had been invited to speak at a National Prayer Breakfast at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, but a group of West Point faculty and cadets – mostly Christians – objected, along with advocacy groups familiar with Boykin’s record.  

One faculty member wrote that Boykin’s invitation would cause "horrible consequences" around the world: "The true price to be exacted, by granting this high-profile speaking engagement to the bigot Boykin, will shamefully be paid in blood, and the blood of innocents," the faculty member wrote to the Military Religious Freedom foundation (which withheld the person's name). As opposition grew, Boykin withdrew, and he and his allies on the Religious Right went to work portraying him as a martyr to anti-Christian bigotry. Boykin called on Christians to "draw a line in the sand" against efforts to "silence" people like him.

This martyrdom campaign may well have been his trial run for working at the Family Research Council, which constantly portrays the Christian majority in America, and politically influential Religious Right groups, as if they were a tiny minority on the verge of being persecuted into extinction.  

Perkins loves to make irresponsible claims about President Obama, who Perkins says "has created an environment that has become hostile to Christianity in this country." Perkins alleges that the administration wants to "sweep Christianity off the face of military bases." As Adele Stan has reported, Perkins has his own long and well-documented record of extremism, including a 2001 appearance at a gathering of the Council of Conservative Citizens and the purchase of a mailing list from KKK’er David Duke when Perkins was running a congressional campaign in the 1990s.

Boykin’s military record and his God-and-country appeal to far-right activists and donors may have proven irresistible to the folks at FRC. But the bluntness of Boykin’s bigotry may – and should – end up diminishing FRC’s ability to portray itself as the mom-and-apple-pie of the far right. If nothing else, Boykin’s demonstrated hostility to the rights of one religious minority should (but probably won’t) give Mitt Romney pause about his penchant for cozying up to the FRC at its annual Values Voter Summit.

Peter Montgomery is a senior fellow at People For the American Way and an associate editor at Religion Dispatches.