“They are planning to kill or panga [machete] us. We have been running from house to house because when a neighborhood learns about your orientation, then you should expect mob justice anytime” – Ugandan born-again Christian gay activist Peter Yiga, in an interview with Boise Weekly journalist Jody May-Chang, as cited in “Exporting Homophobia”, Boise Weekly, September 8-14 2010 issue.
Imagery of Africans hacked apart by machetes haunts the collective American sub-conscious, especially because of journalistic and movie treatments of the massacres that unfolded in Rwanda in mid-1994. It is all-too convenient for Westerners, especially Americans, to dismiss such violence as simply endemic to Africa. But the hatred that has unleashed a new wave of pogroms and anti-gay legislation across Christian-dominated African countries has American roots and traces, most notably, to America’s premier yearly conference of far right-wing evangelical philanthropists: The Gathering [see Twocare.org special report, The Gathering: The Religious Right’s Cash Cow].
In his 2001 book Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford University Press, 2001), Whitworth University psychologist James Waller drew upon interviews with victims and perpetrators of the most horrific cases of mass political violence of the 20th Century – from Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” to the Holocaust – to derive a general theory about the social processes that condition average people to carry out such violence. One key element was the demonizing and dehumanizing of targeted societal groups.
In their 2010 academic article “Genocidal Intentions: Social Death and the Ex-Gay Movement”, authors Sue E. Spivey and Christine M. Robinson applied Waller’s theoretical framework to the American-born “ex-gay” movement, to point out that what the authors call “social death” of demonized societal groups is often a precursor to mass political violence; and the two argued that, under the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG), this social and cultural extermination is in itself both a form of, and a precursor to, genocide.
Through its claim that same-sex attraction can be “cured” and thus is not an innate inclination but rather a decision – and within the context of Christian belief a moral decision – the ex-gay industry opens the door both to mob violence and anti-gay legislation being promulgated from Uganda, to Nigeria, to Russia.
Like one component of a binary chemical weapon, the “ex-gay” industry’s claim, that same-sex attraction can be “cured” – either through religious conversion, some secular process, or both, becomes truly toxic when combined with the sort of overt demonizing that occurred in Uganda, at the March 2009 Kampala, Uganda conference widely credited with whipping Uganda’s American-incited anti-gay crusade to a fever pitch.
At the conference, notorious anti-gay agitator Scott Lively aired his assertion, laid out in detail in his widely debunked book The Pink Swastika, that homosexuals dominated Hitler’s Nazi Party and, thus, the Holocaust was in effect a manifestation of (alleged) gay psychopathology. While Lively has received the overwhelming share of the blame, and legal repercussions, for his role, another American at the conference – who was in reality more significant than Lively, has received almost no attention at all.
Presenting his “ex-gay” ideology at the conference along with Lively’s hateful oeuvre, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer added his binary – the claim that homosexuals, whom Lively had collectively tarred as potential mass-murderers, were not innately gay but had chosen their sexual orientation.
Sophisticated information warfare —- conducted through the deployment of “binary” narratives that, when combined, create a toxic, demonizing ideological mix apparently designed to incite mass violence against targeted societal groups, to defend society at large against the threat they alleged pose to the larger community, the social fabric and social order, and the nation itself —- is hardly new to the American religious right.
One precedent can be found in the practices of the antiabortion movement – whose propandandists deployed inflammatory rhetoric against abortion providers – rhetoric that helped inspire independent agents and cell groups which perpetrated acts of domestic terrorism, such as the bombing of abortion clinics and the assassination of abortion doctors. The antiabortion movement strategy was based, in turn, on a tactic known as “leaderless resistance” popularized in the early 1980’s by KKK and Aryan Nations strategist Louis Beam, who sought to protect movement leadership from legal prosecution.
Other parallels can be drawn as well: from mafia assassinations to the Holocaust, the architects of violence typically take care to build in mechanisms of plausible deniability.
In a roughly analogous fashion, in Uganda, and across Africa, culpability is spread widely, diffused among myriad American evangelical missions and aid organizations and ministries that each feed the cultural climate in which it is becoming increasingly acceptable to target LGBT populations.
In conjunction with Scott Lively’s maximally hateful narratives, Don Schmierer’s 2009 Kampala conference presentation – which within the U.S. would have been, by 2009, generally regarded as debunked and laughable – in Uganda helped complete a truly toxic mix, leaving Ugandan leaders and government officials at the conference an obvious takeaway: the logical conclusion that, because gays not only choose their sexual orientation but also tended to resist being “cured” or else, after being “cured”, almost inevitably relapse, they are in effect choosing to be evil.
In the face of more obvious forms of demonization – exemplified by Lively’s Pink Swastika and the discredited research of Paul Cameron, which asserted that homosexuality was statistically correlated with increased rates of murder and pedophilia – the inherent toxicity of the ex-gay industry claim that same-sex attraction is preventable and “curable”, and thus in the end a matter of free will, tends to be underestimated.
But in a 1997 letter to Family Research Council President Gary Bauer, pioneering gay rights activist Frank Kameny expressed its true destructive power:
“We view your encouragement of prevention as tantamount to genocide, and treatment as tantamount to recruitment of gay people into heterosexuality.”
If Kameny’s 1997 evocation of genocide might have seemed, to some, to be hyperbolic, time has verified his insight. That same year, in 1997, Don Schmierer – in his capacity as Program Director for Howard Ahmanson’s Fieldstead and Company – presented to The Gathering a sophisticated plan for combating what Schmierer’s team called “organized homosexuality.”
A dramatic increase in funding for the ex-gay industry, and for trumpeting its success by publicizing the allegedly successful conversion stories of “ex-gays”, was part of the plan, that kicked off in earnest in 1998, with full page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today.
But the horrific murder of gay teen Matthew Shephard dampened American mainstream media and public enthusiasm for the ramped up ex-gay campaign, which became stigmatized as fueling the hatred which led to Shephard’s slaying.
By 2009 the work of LGBT rights nonprofits, notably Wayne Besen’s Truth Wins Out, to expose the hypocritical secret double lives many of the top leaders in the ex-gay industry were leading – touting by day the wonders of quack conversion therapy and the power of Jesus to help “pray away the gay” but furtively visiting gay bars at night – had destroyed the credibility of the ex-gay industry that Don Schmierer and his team had invested such great hope in, back in 1997, as a means for combating the gay menace.
Regardless, Schmierer continued to peddle discredited ex-gay theories, on a worldwide scale. His ministry — which has since 2005 received over $1.5 million dollars in funding from the National Christian Foundation (now the 12th biggest philanthropy in the United States according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy) — continues into 2014 to sell Schmierer’s high-end boutique line of ex-gay therapy books that have been translated from English into into the following languages:
Underlining the deeply corrupt moral and intellectual nature of Schmierer’s project is a quote that appears on the first page of Schmierer’s first ex-gay book; alongside the previously cited quote from Frank Kameny, that compared ex-gay therapy to genocide, was a quote from a top ex-gay leader whose apparent extracurricular pursuits came to embarrassing light in 2010.
In Schmierer’s book An Ounce of Prevention: Preventing the Homosexual Condition in Youth, on the first page alongside the Kameny quote, is a quote from George Rekers:
“The early detection of sexual problems in youth permits the treatment interventions that can prevent the … distressing sexual disorders of adulthood … [and] requires that the non-specialist in sexual disorders be equipped to recognize, treat, and/or refer young patients for appropriate interventions.” — George Rekers, Handbook of Child and Adolescent Sexual Problems
As described in a Miami New Times story, in 2010 Rekers – a cofounder of the Family Research Council who had served in advisory roles with Congress and the White House – was photographed at the Miami International Airport, embarking on a plane flight accompanied by a young male escort whose “Rentboy.com” public profile provided the dimensions of his penis and emphasized his “tight ass”.
The Miami New Times quoted Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen,
“While he keeps a low public profile, his fingerprints are on almost every anti-gay effort to demean and dehumanize LGBT people. His work is ubiquitously cited by lobby groups that work to deny equality to LGBT Americans. Rekers has caused a great deal of harm to gay and lesbian individuals.”
But what in America comes off as merely hypocritical and ridiculous takes on, beyond American shores, a radically uglier complexion. In his 2009 book C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat To American Democracy, author Jeff Sharlet described the chillingly casual elminationist attitudes that American evangelicals such as Don Schmierer, wielding their (debunked in America) ex-gay ideology had impressed upon Ugandan mass-consciousness:
” ‘Is the death penalty a good idea?’, I asked a pretty girl named Sharon, at a weekly abstinence rally on the campus of Makerere, Uganda’s top university.
‘Yeah!” She smiled, a flash of neat little teeth…
‘Have you ever met a homosexual?’, I asked.
‘I have never!’
‘If you met one, would you kill him?’
‘It’s hard for me to kill.’ That smile. Those teeth. ‘It is hard for me to do alone.’
‘But together?’ She giggled and nodded.” (pp. 131)
Becoming Evil author James Waller’s groundbreaking work fits into an evolving field of research that presents a disturbing truth; most humans can, under the right circumstances, be socially conditioned to carry out mass violence of the most horrific sorts against fellow members of their own species.
Another pioneer in this field has been Albert Bandura, who writes, in his 2002 research paper Moral Disengagement In The Perpetration Of Inhumanities,
“Rapid radical shifts in destructive behavior through moral justification are most strikingly revealed in military conduct (Kelman, 1973; Skeykill, 1928). The conversion of socialized people into dedicated fighters is achieved not by altering their personality structures, aggressive drives or moral standards. Rather, it is accomplished by cognitively redefining the morality of killing so that it can be done free from self-censure. Through moral justification of violent means, people see themselves as fighting ruthless oppressors, protecting their cherished values, preserving world peace, saving humanity from subjugation or honoring their country’s commitments. Just war tenets were devised to specify when the use of violent force is morally justified. However, given people’s dexterous facility for justifying violent means all kinds of inhumanities get clothed in moral wrappings.”
In a 2002 interview for Salon.com, James Waller explained to Salon‘s Suzy Hansen the necessary element of dehumanizing those to be killed:
Hansen: “We always hear about the dehumanization of victims, but how does it actually work and what’s the process behind it?”
Waller: “It allows us to more easily commit the evil that we want to commit because we’re not committing it upon someone who’s a moral equal or a fellow human. You see it in wartime: military groups and countries describe the enemy in certain terms — like Vietnam, with “gooks.” We do what we need to strip our enemy, our victims, of their humanity. In many ways for us it’s a psychological defense mechanism because if we see their faces, if we know they’re human, if we know they have a husband, wife, children, mother, father, those things make it more difficult to kill.
In the book, I refer to Franz Stangl, a commandant at Treblinka, who was asked after the war was over: When all the inmates came to Treblinka, you knew you were going to kill them in 24 hours, so why all the humiliation? Why the beating? Why did they have to run around naked? Why did you spit on them and call them names? Stangl’s response was incredible. He said that they did that because it made it easier for their men to do what they had to do.”
The most intensive research into this subject, on how humans can be conditioned to kill, has historically been carried out under the auspices of national defense, by national military establishments seeking to address a well-known problem:
As documented in depth at the Killology Research Institute website of Lt. Colonel David Grossman, a law enforcement trainer and author of the book On Killing, abundant research shows that humans have a strong instinctive aversion to killing members of their own species. Most soldiers, except for an estimated two percent who are sociopaths, have to go through specific conditioning before they are willing to fire weapons at other humans in combat.
For example in World War Two (prior to the development of such conditioning), according to one study only 15-20% of U.S. riflemen fired their rifles in combat. All but a very small percentage of humanity has an instinctual aversion to murdering other humans, and the very act of killing typically creates deep and long-lasting psychological trauma for the murderer.
Writes Grossman, “[W]hen left to their own devices, the great majority of individual combatants throughout history appear to have been unable or unwilling to kill.” Modern military training has found effective solutions to the problem however: as Grossman describes, by the time of the Vietnam War, the American military’s operant conditioning techniques had become so effective that in combat 95% of U.S. soldiers were capable of aiming and firing their weapons at the enemy.
In an unintentional but deep irony, in 1998 one of Lt. Col. Grossman’s articles, Trained to Kill, was published in Christianity Today – the same year that Don Schmierer helped launch the failed domestic U.S. “ex-gay” publicity campaign, elements of which have been deployed, in Uganda, to horrific effect.
In 2004 at The Gathering, Don Schmierer’s financial sponsor Howard Ahmanson, whose unincorporated Fieldstead and Company funding vehicle Schmierer had served as program manager for since the early 1990s, could be found on a The Gathering discussion panel together with Andy Crouch, future head editor of Christianity Today – which would in 2013 publish a deeply critical review of the Roger Ross-Williams documentary God Loves Uganda, that examines the role that U.S.-based evangelicals have played in demonizing homosexuals and inciting anti-gay hatred in that country.
The Christianity Today review suggested that it was God Loves Uganda which was itself was doing the demonizing – of evangelicals, in what the review branded as “evangelophobia”.
Andy Crouch, who in 2012 became Executive Editor of Christianity Today, did not see fit to reveal his past participation in the conference known as The Gathering – which has been biggest financial wellspring of funding for evangelicals, such as Don Schmierer, who have demonstrably helped carry out that demonizing of Uganda’s LGBT population, now fleeing from house to house in fear of being hacked apart by machete-wielding mobs.