ICYMI: In ADF’s Decades-Long Campaign of Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate, Speaker Mike Johnson’s Ascent is a Chilling New Development

by Cullen Peele

On the Heels of ADF Alum’s Promotion to Lead U.S. House of Representatives, Rolling Stone Publishes Exposé on the Organization’s Mission to Undermine LGTBQ+ Rights and Instill Their Own Extremist Forces Within All Levels of Government

WASHINGTON — In a story published by Rolling Stone over the weekend, reporter Spencer Macnaughton details the Alliance Defending Freedom’s (ADF) long game to dismantle civil rights for LGBTQ+ people and to infiltrate virtually every space of government and public life in the U.S. This timely look comes days after Mike Johnson’s election to House Speaker. Johnson worked as a spokesperson and attorney on behalf of ADF for more than a decade.

ADF’s cunning legal and political strategies were also exposed in a piece published by The New Yorker’s David Kirkpatrick earlier this month, with HRC calling attention to its implications that prove frightening for the future of LGBTQ+ people in America.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — the nation’s largest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization — is providing excerpts of the story below, preceded by key points and takeaways that highlight ADF’s history of targeted extremism.

Key Takeaways from Macnaughton’s Story

  • Former longtime ADF attorney Mike Johnson, as the new Speaker of the House, has the power to select which bills get floor votes — providing him a prime opportunity to indulge his virulently anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs as he charts the course of federal legislation.

  • As the ADF increases its financial capital and political influence, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people have risenheidi dramatically. Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security warned of domestic terror threats to the LGBTQ+ community and places of business, as well as churches, have received violent threats for providing any signal of LGBTQ+ allyship.

  • ADF is successfully infiltrating its beliefs into the inner workings of governance, with more than 100 current or former staffers who have worked or currently work in U.S. government.

  • ADF is also actively involved in the development of Project 2025, an effort that outlines a vision for the next GOP presidential administration, which includes gutting LGBTQ+ protections and terminating any government official deemed unloyal to right-wing extremism.

  • According to experts who monitor extremist groups, ADF is a prime mover behind anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and legislation in the country and across the world. “They’ve had more cases heard at all levels of government and they have been winning. That’s the difference with ADF and other groups. They get shit done. They win,” said Heidi Beirich, CEO of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

Key Excerpts

  • “The Alliance Defending Freedom has been busy this year. Its senior legal council, Matt Sharp, has been on the move, parachuting into different state … houses to testify or voice support for some of the record-shattering 501 anti-LGBTQ bills that have been introduced in legislatures this year — more than 70 of which have passed into law.”

  • The bills, which share many of the same themes and in some cases the exact same language, have been described as part of a coordinated effort by Republican lawmakers to intensify LGBTQ issues as a key wedge in the culture war ahead of the 2024 presidential election. Sharp and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) have played a key role in this effort, which isn’t likely to abate any time soon considering Mike Johnson, a former attorney and spokesperson for the ADF, was just elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

  • “Johnson comes with quite a resume. He defended Donald Trump at both of his impeachment hearings, helped plot the Jan. 6 attempted coup, and holds hardline positions on everything from abortion to LGBTQ rights. He worked for the ADF from 2002 until 2010, penning op-eds against marriage equality and endorsing briefs filed by the ADF meant to criminalize sexual activity between consenting adults. He now controls the business of the House of Representatives, including which members chair congressional committees and which bills receive floor votes.”

  • “[W]hile the ADF presents itself as a benevolent Christian legal group aiming to protect religious freedom, they are in essence an organization that litigates in favor of bills, laws, and policies that work to undermine LGBTQ rights domestically and around the world.”

  • In 2004, Johnson wrote in an op-ed that homosexual relationships are ‘inherently unnatural’ and that society should not give a rubber stamp on such a ‘dangerous lifestyle.’”

  • “‘They are injecting an anti-LGBTQ and anti-woman agenda at every level of government. By having influence over policy in these positions, that can result in further erosion to the rights of this community,’ says Heidi Beirich, the CEO of Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, a group that investigates extremist movements in the U.S. and Europe. ‘They sound innocuous when they throw out terms like “pro-family,” et cetera. But that’s not what this is. And most Americans don’t know that. They’re wolves in sheeps clothing when it comes to human rights.’”

  • “Because the ADF works to undermine human rights, [says Neil Datta, the executive director for the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights], they intentionally try to operate under the radar. ‘That’s why it’s so important to shed light on what they do and proactively monitor their actions,’ he says. ‘They’re transforming religion from a shield into a weapon. We need to keep our eyes wide open on this group.’”

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