LGBTQ Equality

Prominent shadow network Christian Nationalist group rocked by sexual harassment charges

  Rob Boston

When you think of Christian Nationalist organizations, the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association (AFA) may not be the first one that springs to mind. But the group, with an annual budget of $31 million (we think – the AFA declared itself a church a few years ago and no longer provides even minimal information about its finances to the public) has been pumping out propaganda attacking separation of church and state and promoting extreme political views for 46 years. Often flying under the radar, AFA, which owns a nationwide network of radio stations and a fake news service, is a major player in the Christian Nationalist shadow network.

Founded in 1977 by Donald E. Wildmon, a United Methodist minister, the AFA was originally known as the National Federation for Decency. Wildmon wanted to clean up what he considered to be filth on television and often threatened to boycott companies that advertised on shows that displeased him.

Adopting the Christian Nationalist playbook

The rise of cable in the 1980s with its more salacious content made that a nonstarter, so Wildmon adopted the standard Christan Nationalist playbook – beating on LGBTQ+ Americans, slandering public education, spreading hysteria about legal abortion, promoting false “Christian nation” history and blaming every social ill on Democrats. (AFA claims to be a Christian organization, but based on the emails I receive from the group, its Holy Trinity these days seems to Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and Marjorie Taylor Greene.) In 2010, the aging Wildmon passed the group to his son, Tim. It is considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

We’re learning more about the internal workings of this band of Bible Belt bluenoses thanks to a lawsuit filed last week by Robert Chambers, the AFA’s former vice president of policy and legislative affairs. Chambers alleges that another staff member, Ron Cook, made sexual advances toward him, including unwanted touching and comments about masturbation.

Ex-employee files federal lawsuit

Chambers’ lawsuit, filed in federal court, makes a number of other allegations – that his complaints about Cook were ignored, that the AFA’s political action committee engaged in financial irregularities and, most bizarrely, that he was unjustly fired in 2022 after another AFA staff member, Lexie Wildmon, the daughter of Tim Wildmon, had a disturbing dream about him.

The group offered Chambers a severance package if he would agree to walk away and not speak negatively of the group. He refused and filed litigation. As “Friendly Atheist” blogger Hemant Mehta has noted, Chambers is no hero. He remains a Christian Nationalist, and his past activities have caused pain for a lot of people. It’s possible this litigation is just a maneuver to secure a bigger payoff from the AFA. (The AFA denies his allegations.)

If nothing else, the lawsuit has put the spotlight on this nasty group and exposed it for the collection of hypocrites it is. And if the case proceeds to trial and top AFA officials are compelled to testify under oath, things could get interesting.

Stay tuned.

Photo: Donald E. Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association

 

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