Inside the AFA: How One ‘Hate Group’ Is Fighting the ‘Gay Agenda’ | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Inside the AFA: How One ‘Hate Group’ Is Fighting the ‘Gay Agenda’

AFA President Tim Wildmon took over his father’s non-profit in 2010. Since then, he has upheld the need for decency in the media and hosts his own radio-talk show, “Today’s Issues with Tim Wildmon.”

AFA President Tim Wildmon took over his father’s non-profit in 2010. Since then, he has upheld the need for decency in the media and hosts his own radio-talk show, “Today’s Issues with Tim Wildmon.”

Bryan Fischer is talking to me as if I'm a child.

We are on the phone discussing a press release sent out from the organization he represents, the Tupelo-based American Family Association, which mocks a campaign that promotes non-discrimination policies, especially for the gay community. The AFA release, distributed in April, states that the "If You're Buying, We're Selling" initiative is a way to "bully, intimidate and demean Christians."

Fischer offers that my understanding and awareness of the LGBT community's motives "may be limited."

Audio clip

Bryan Fischer: "What you're apparently kind of blind to here..."

"What you're apparently kind of blind to here, Anna," he says, is that "everywhere that you have the active, aggressive, assertive homosexual lobby, they punish Christian business owners. Everywhere they go, that's what they do."

Questions about the acuteness of my vision aside, AFA's press releases—saying Jackson's local anti-discrimination sticker campaign is "designed to vilify Christian-owned businesses"—aren't really confusing. They are just inaccurate.


Courtesy Anna Wolfe

At the American Family Association headquarters in Tupelo, Miss., a staff of about 130 produces radio programs and other media to promote its Christian ideology.

Fischer, AFA's director of issue analysis for government and public policy, stands by the accusation that local businesses who display the anti-discrimination stickers are bullying Christians. "Apparently, you have a little bit of difficulty grasping the concept that this is what the gay lobby is really all about," Fischer says in a matter-of-fact tone.

Fischer speaks with a deep, kind of gargled voice and, sitting at the Jackson Free Press with the receiver to my ear, I can picture his sagged, slightly artificially tanned-looking face. (Maybe it's just the contrast to his bright white hair). His condescension in speaking to a young female reporter is emblematic of AFA's overall tone and image toward anyone the group feels is standing in its way of promoting biblical ideals through condemnation of the LGBT community. This isn't just how AFA officers speak with reporters, but through its press releases and all communication with the public.

While Fischer's claims seem comparable with other right-wing talk personalities, and his blog includes a disclaimer saying his opinions do not necessarily reflect that of the AFA, he is the most prominent spokesperson for the multi-million-dollar political group with influence all over the nation.

But the AFA is more than a nonprofit that promotes conservative values. It is also a $20 million-per-year business. And while it's easy to write off Fischer and the AFA, which has implemented policies like using the word "homosexual" instead of "gay" in all official communications and refusing mail with the Harvey Milk stamp, the truth is that AFA has become one of the most influential right-wing organizations in the nation from its northeast Mississippi headquarters. In 37 years, with a network of more than 200 radio stations, a movie studio that produces Christian-themed feature films and a massive group of devoted disciples, the AFA has wielded its might on social issues from abortion to LGBT rights to anything they deem "indecent" in the media.

A 'Christian' Policy Organization

Sitting in the living room of his Tupelo home in 1976, Rev. Don Wildmon, his wife and four children gathered one evening just before Christmas to watch TV. Without warning, an actor screamed "Son of a bitch!"— prompting Wildmon, family man and pastor, to change the channel. What the family found next was a passionate (and adulterous) love scene and, after another dial change, a view of a man being tortured. Angry, Wildmon turned off the TV.

The next Sunday, Wildmon urged members of the First United Methodist Church in Southaven to join him by turning off their TVs as well. That simple request, as AFA attorney Patrick Vaughn puts it, must have occurred during a slow time in news for the U.S.—because the small Mississippi town's media boycott, "Turn the TV Off Week," made national headlines. And so began Wildmon's quest to end indecency in the media.

Wildmon, born in Dumas, Miss., in 1938 to a Mississippi Health Department worker and a schoolteacher, graduated from Millsaps College in 1960 and Emory University in 1965.

The Tippah County native married his wife, Lynda, in 1961, and they had four children—two sons and two daughters—between 1963 and 1971. His claim to fame came in 1977 when he set up the National Federation for Decency, the nonprofit that became the AFA in 1987.

Part of AFA's goal became to create its own "decent" media content. In 1991, Wildmon founded American Family Radio, the broadcasting leg of the AFA. Today, AFR has 200 radio stations in 27 states. AFA built its radio empire "the hard way," as Vaughn tells me during a tour of AFA headquarters in late June. They applied to the FCC for permission to start each station. Its own engineers, with the help of donations from existing subscribers, built the stations. Wildmon's son, Tim, took over as president of AFA in 2010 after his father retired.

The Wildmon family has a lengthy record as officers of businesses in Mississippi. Don Wildmon, for example, is listed as an officer for organizations ranging from Christian Music Institute to the Center for Behavioral Pediatrics. Wildmon's son Mark, a child psychologist, is also an officer for CBP, which dissolved in 2002.

But while one might assume the massive Christian policy-pusher with an annual budget of around $20 million could have something to hide, the nonprofit's IRS form and financial reports are available on its website. While they don't disclose the names of their donors, Vaughn tells me around 80 percent of donations to the AFA come from small gifts averaging $20 per person.

He also informs me that $20 million to run 200 radio stations is actually quite a small budget.

A 'Good Time' on Campus

Shortly after I arrive at the AFA campus in Tupelo, which is a large, one-story building with a neatly trimmed lawn, attorney Vaughn, my tour guide, is most excited to show me their main operation: American Family Radio. He beams when he tells me at the start of our tour about Urban Family Communications, AFA's black talk station. He assures me its hosts are "like-minded" in conservative values, but that they "have a good time" on the air. He and a white woman working in the office next to the recording area agree that black talk is the AFA's most entertaining segment.

Vaughn opens one of the studio doors under a red, lit "on air" sign, and I quietly smile and wave to a 30-something black woman behind a mic. I hear several laughing voices through the speakers.

Later, he takes me across the street to the second AFA building, where the team broadcasts the late-morning spot called "Today's Issues with Tim Wildmon," AFA's president. It is a much larger room with a desk and a giant American flag backdrop. After the segment is done, Wildmon rushes out of the room, only greeting me in passing. He tries to have a conversation with me while simultaneously walking away.

"Where did you go to school?" he asks from across the hall, moving further and further from me. I tell him Mississippi State.

"I'm a Bulldog, too!" he yells from basically around the corner. I turn back to my guide, almost expecting an explanation, but I don't get one.

The AFA offices keep busy, and—with 200 radio stations across the nation and, as they claim, 2 million online supporters—I can see why. The one-floor building is a maze—I peer around corners where, with 130 staff members, the offices seem never-ending. The furniture and artwork in each space are almost lavish, and each room we enter is nicer than the last.

"Here's where the ladies open the mail," Vaughn says, leading me into a large open room with desks that, though big and polished, are arranged in rows the way I imagine a sweat shop. An older, white-haired woman looks up from her mail opener and envelope, smiles and mouths "hello" to me. Boxes of mail are piled high on one desk. Laughing, I ask Vaughn how much mail the AFA has received with Harvey Milk stamps since announcing a boycott on postage with the face of the first openly gay politician. He gives a courtesy laugh, saying that they received some but, of course, returned it to senders.

The engineering department, a workshop-looking room, is undoubtedly the "motherboard" of the AFA. Here, workers make sure all the radio stations are up and running properly. Some of the engineers, Vaughn tells me, have helped build stations across the country. All of the on-air entertainment and production by the AFA carry Christian undertones, but one goal is especially evident: protecting religious liberty.

'Headed Off a Cliff'

In our phone interview, Fischer says the AFA works to correct issues that force him and "most Americans" to believe that "this country is headed off a cliff into a moral abyss and that we are running out of time to save the greatest nation in the world, the greatest nation in world history."

The AFA relies on Bible verses such as Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5-6 to claim that marriage is between a man and a woman and is fundamental to a family unit. The group also believes in the list of sins that will "keep people out of heaven" mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The list includes sexual immorality, homosexual sex, idolatry, adultery, theft, greed, drunkenness, lying and swindling.

The list is, however, followed by: "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

Fischer believes one solution to the moral dilemma America faces today is the protection of "religious consciences" in the law. Religious consciences that, he admits to me, are subjective and entirely dependent on an individual's moral standard.

These consciences, Fischer says, determine how a business person interacts in the marketplace. That is why the AFA, according to its website, "worked closely with friends and supporters in Mississippi, including the Christian Action Commission, to pass the bill (Senate Bill 2681 or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act)."

The purpose of SB 2681, which was signed into law April 3, 2014, is to allow Mississippi residents to "sue over laws they say place a substantial burden on their religious practices," an AFA press release states. Another states the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act "protects Christian business owners against lawsuits from gay activists."

Tim Wildmon applauded the law in a press release: "... Mississippi residents will have the means to defend their religious freedoms in the marketplace without fear of repercussions from decisions that are in line with their religious and moral convictions."

While the AFA's main concern is protecting religious liberty, a close second is shutting down the "homosexual agenda," which, according to Fischer, is one of the biggest threats to religious liberty that America has ever seen. The agenda Fischer refers to is one that he says normalizes and forces people to condone homosexual behavior, which can go against a person's religious conscience. "If America is to be preserved, that agenda must be successfully resisted," Fischer said.

An 'Identical' Act

In 2012, a baker in Colorado named Jack Phillips declined to bake a wedding cake after being asked to do so by a gay couple. He said that, because of his Christian faith, he is unable to create a cake celebrating a same-sex marriage. The couple, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, filed a discrimination complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission and won—Phillips was ordered to not only treat his customers equally no matter their sexual orientation but also to undergo comprehensive training on Colorado's anti-discrimination laws.

Since then, Phillips has decided to stop baking wedding cakes altogether. "My God is bigger than any bullies they've got," Phillips told Fox News.

The AFA loves to tell this story, suggesting that the "gay lobby" is on a mission to punish Christian business owners and that somewhere in Mississippi there is a baker who needs protection.

"No business owner should be forced to promote or endorse a homosexual marriage if he does not want to," Fischer demands.

Vaughn admits, though, that the state does not have laws that protect the LGBT community from discrimination like the ones used to file a lawsuit against Phillips in Colorado, so RFRA in Mississippi doesn't actually change anything.

Fischer says that business people, like bakers, should be able to operate according to their deeply held religious beliefs, even if that means refusing to serve someone in certain situations. The state should not, Fischer insists, mandate that a business treat its customers equally if that equal treatment (baking a cake for a same-sex couple as one would for an opposite-sex wedding, for example) conflicts with that person's religious conscience.

"That is something that is absolutely unconscionable in the United States of America, and it must be stopped, and the point of that bill is to keep that from happening in Mississippi," Fischer said.

The government passed the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to enforce the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment, which prohibited laws infringing upon religious exercise. This was because courts had begun to rule that only laws specifically designed to ban religious exercise violated the First Amendment. Laws of "general applicability," then, could not be prohibited even if they unintentionally infringed upon religious freedom.

The RFRA changed this, urging courts to scrutinize all laws that could place a substantial burden on a person's religious freedom, even unintentionally. Four years later, courts ruled that the federal RFRA could not be applied on the state level, which prompted states to pass RFRAs of their own.

RFRAs introduced in states in the last year, including Kansas and Arizona, received national attention for showing preference to Christianity or providing a possible legal defense for discrimination against members of the LGBT community. Many news outlets reported—too simplistically—that RFRA was a Jim Crow-like bill, while outlets that reported the bill was not discriminatory failed to recognize the complexity of the issue and the potential for using it to justify discrimination.

Fischer, nonetheless, said in an AFA blog post that when it comes to discrimination, "[I]t's time for conservatives to unhesitatingly reclaim the "D" word, dust it off, and use it without apology. A rational culture that cares about its people will in fact discriminate against adultery, pedophilia, rape, bestiality, and, yes, homosexual behavior."

Mississippi RFRA's initial language was based directly on Arizona's doomed version, which opponents said supported discrimination of the LGBT community.

Initially, 2681 raised little fuss because it was quietly tucked into legislation to add "In God We Trust" to the state seal.

After LGBT activists and others sniffed out the bill, its principal author, Sen. Phillip Gandy, R-Waynesboro, and 18 other co-authors, eventually rewrote it to directly model language in the federal one. Part of the bill reads that it is "(an act) to provide that state action shall not substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion."

The Christian legal powerhouse that Wildmon Sr. helped found, Alliance Defending Freedom, uses this fact to discredit public concern regarding the bill.

"If you read the text of both the federal RFRA and the Mississippi RFRA, it's pretty eerily similar. If you look at them next to each other that's not even a fact that can be disputed. They're pretty much the same," said Greg Scott, ADF vice president of communication, in an interview from ADF's headquarters in Arizona.

But the religious freedom cases of today—even federally, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., which the Supreme Court decided June 30—provide relatively new issues the courts have not yet discussed, which is why Mississippi's law raises even more questions. Legal experts say that RFRAs can conflict with anti-discrimination and commerce laws already in place or anticipated to come.

"I think it was smart of the Mississippi Legislature to draft it as closely to the federal statute as possible, so that they have a model and say, 'Well, we're not doing anything different,'" said Michele Alexandre, assistant professor of law at University of Mississippi School of Law. "So it was smart, but it doesn't solve the issue. And it doesn't mean that these additional issues are not there, which only can be worked out through, I think, test cases and litigation."

What Fischer seems to want through Mississippi's RFRA is an exception for permissible discrimination under religious freedom, which an AFA press release implies: "[T]here is no record of homosexuals being refused service, except when they try to force a Christian business to help celebrate a homosexual wedding."

Fischer admits that religious conscience is personal and depends entirely on individual experience, saying, "His conscience and his standards may be different than the baker down the street."

'If You're Buying, We're Selling'

That is certainly true for Mitchell Moore, the owner of Jackson's Campbell's Bakery. He is a heterosexual, a Christian and a Republican who does not consider same-sex marriage offensive to his religious beliefs.

In May, AFA publicly attacked a campaign Moore helped start in Jackson in opposition to SB 2681. The campaign urged business owners to post stickers reading "If You're Buying, We're Selling" in their windows to ensure customers know they will not discriminate, drawing national attention and requests for stickers from around the country.

In response to the effort, Fischer tells me that gay activists, whom he assumes are responsible for the stickers, are the "most intolerant bullies and bigots on the block."

Since the religious-freedom bill received flack just as the failed Arizona RFRA did, Mississippi business owners including Moore and Eddie Outlaw of William Wallace Salon—both occasional Jackson Free Press columnists—started the sticker campaign to demonstrate their and other businesses' aim to serve everybody. (Outlaw is gay and married his husband, Justin, in California last year.)

The AFA is unhappy about that, saying the campaign illustrates the "homosexual agenda" the AFA is hell-bent on destroying. It sent out alerts to supporters, claiming that the campaign displays hatred toward Christians, despite the fact that Moore is a straight, Christian conservative.

An original May 9 AFA press release, which included a list of businesses that display the "If You're Buying" sticker, was titled, "A List of Businesses Displaying Hatred Toward Religious Freedom." About a week later, and after a cease-and-desist letter from an attorney representing some of the businesses, the AFA quietly changed the headline on the same press release to "Businesses Suckered By Homosexual Reaction to MS Religious Freedom Restoration Act," altering their message to suggest the LGBT community is manipulating local businesses.

"If you see this sticker when you go to a business, ask the owner or manager if they are aware that the sticker is the symbol of a campaign to label Christians as bigots," the alert urges AFA followers.

The sticker, which labels participating businesses as non-discriminatory, is meant to target and demean Christians, the AFA maintains.

"That's the intention of it. Why else would you have this program unless you were going to use it to single out conscience-driven business and accuse them of being homophobic bigots? I mean that's the whole point of the campaign," Fischer explains.

But if this were true, Moore likely would have complied when someone asked "If You're Buying" to post a list of businesses who refused to display the sticker on their website so followers could boycott those businesses. Instead, Moore said no.

Unlike the AFA's primary activism, which includes boycotts of companies that support marriage equality or uses same-sex couples in advertising, that's not what the founders of the "If You're Buying" campaign say it is about.

"It's not about who doesn't have a sticker. It's about who does have a sticker. It's about people taking a positive stance against discrimination," Moore says of the campaign.

The AFA would know this if they asked anyone from "If You're Buying" why they started the campaign, but even though many articles had been written about the campaign and its founders before the AFA's alert, the AFA never sought comment from them.

Instead, AFA released a statement that said the stickers are "part of a plan to bully, intimidate and demean Christians."

"Basically, you put one of these stickers in your window, it's like paying protection money to the mafia. If you've got one of these stickers in your window, the gay lobby will leave you alone. If you don't, you better watch out, because they could be coming after you," Fischer tells me.

Whose Religious Conscience?

The subjective nature of one's religious conscience, on which religious liberty depends, makes it a difficult trait to protect in the law. The First Amendment, law professor Alexandre points out, does not question the legitimacy of religious claims. Even the Alliance Defending Freedom agrees.

How, in fact, would the courts determine what religious practices were valid and protected by RFRA?

"That is kind of a hard question, and based on everything I've said I would say yeah, of course the government shouldn't be in the business of deciding if your beliefs are legitimate or not," Scott of ADF says.

The ADF, whose website states, "We must continue the fight for religious liberty, so that the life-changing message of Jesus Christ can be proclaimed and transform our culture," is a Christian organization.

So is the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, whose president, Tony Perkins, attended Gov. Phil Bryant's signing of SB 2681. All three groups defend RFRAs across the country with Christian religious conviction. "And we're not ashamed of that," Scott adds.

So, it's clear that the most obvious and loudest backers of today's RFRA movement say they are Christians. Its backers claim religious freedom, or the protection of religious conscience, is for everyone, of every faith, but they reject the idea that ministers in North Carolina, who think they should be able to perform same-sex weddings for marriages that will be recognized by the state, can use RFRA to push for gay marriage for those whose religious consciences accept it.

That suggests, then, that their religious convictions against same-sex marriage are, in an Orwellian sense, "more equal" than others'.

All the while, Christian policy and legal leaders like Fischer and Scott continue to discredit real concerns about the outcome of RFRAs—on the state or federal level—continuously stating that the U.S. has been operating successfully under a federal RFRA since the '90s. (FRC's Perkins told me that Gov. Jan Brewer's veto of Arizona's RFRA was "melting in the face of opposition").

They ignore the importance of the law's intent, which obviously gave preference to Christianity in the case of the Kansas RFRA.

"If you're getting into this person's or that person's intent as to why they passed the law, well, you know, it really doesn't matter when it's on the books, and then it has to be adjudicated," Scott says.

Scott's right: Each religious-freedom claim, as Alexandre reminds me, will be ruled on by judges who will determine how the law will be applied.

"Time, vigorous public debate and courts will give a better idea of the scope and limitations of these statutes," Alexandre says.

But intent does matter, whether apparent in the language of the law or not. "Intent matters because, if hidden, it might chill social engagement, grass roots organizing and public discourse," Alexandre says.

While AFA attorney Vaughn says he and the AFA believe religious freedom belongs to people of all faiths, "that's not what Bryan would say," Vaughn tells me, adding that Fischer—an official AFA spokesman—believes religious liberty only applies to Christians.

In an AFA blog post, Fischer wrote that the First Amendment "was not about religion in general but specifically about the religion of Christianity."

That the courts would agree with this viewpoint in the United States in the 21st century is certainly not a foregone conclusion. Those backing "religious freedom" fail to recognize today's social landscape, Alexandre says, adding that the growing equality for the LGBT community despite their lack of protection in the law, as well as traditional Christian forces and trends, prompts new questions and presents new legal conflicts.

"It is hard to discuss the full impact of a potential enactment when all of the factors at play are not fully acknowledged. As a result of hidden factors or objectives, the public might be less informed about the full impact of a particular law. This minimizes accountability and dialogue," Alexandre said.

'God Will Not Give Up'

Halfway through my tour of AFA, I am surprised to come across a familiar face: Anne Reed, whom I'd interviewed by phone for a piece about Mississippi's failed Personhood initiative. AFA promoted that controversial initiative back in 2011, but Mississippi voters turned it back 58 percent to 42 percent.

I walk up to her desk awkwardly, stick out my hand and say something like, "I think we've talked."

Reed sponsored and campaigned for the most recent Mississippi Personhood amendment, under Initiative 41, which failed in May 2014 to receive enough signatures to go on the ballot again in 2015. The Personhood movement, or the "Right to Life" measure, seeks to codify the notion that human life unambiguously begins at conception. The idea of legally defining human life in this way has raised concerns over its application for birth control, in vitro fertilization and in cases of life-threatening pregnancy.

We had a heavy, slightly stiff conversation in April 2013 about whether or not a person should be defined at the moment of conception, and if that embryo has the right to life under the U.S. Constitution.

I asked Reed then if the amendment would outlaw abortion to which she responded, "I'll answer your question with a question: When is it ever alright to kill another human being?"

Reed has been working as a freelance writer for AFA for several years, and tells me she is no longer pursuing Personhood. Fischer, however, wrote in his blog after personhood's 2011 failure: "Giving up is not and will never be an option. God will not give up on babies in the womb, and neither should we."

While as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, AFA does not typically write or sponsor legislation and is required by law to limit its lobbying efforts and avoid contributions to politicians; it is active in promoting political ideology that aligns with its values through AFA Action, their 501(c)(4) political group, that sends action alerts to its followers.

One look at the "Action Alert" page of AFA's website demonstrates the never-ending requests the group makes of it followers. These messages prompt readers and listeners to act by asking them to vote certain ways, contact their legislators or boycott companies who don't share AFA's views.

It is no mistake that Reed, AFA Journal's newly hired staff writer, sponsored the controversial bill.

Vaughn says the AFA is primarily issue-based, and denies that it has strong relationships with legislators in Jackson. Still, the message AFA sends to its disciples is enough to have a powerful influence on policy decisions—from anti-abortion legislation to vague "religious freedom" bills.

The group sent a news release to its followers June 30, the day of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. case ruling, calling the U.S. Supreme Court decision a victory. That same day, Fischer tweeted his interpretation of the religious freedom decision, "What freedom means: If you want to hire homosexuals, you can. If you don't want to hire homosexuals, you don't have to."

In the SCOTUS case, Hobby Lobby challenged the birth-control mandate of the Affordable Care Act, saying that providing some kinds of birth control to its employees infringed on its religious liberty, protected under the federal RFRA.

"Today's decision confirms what's been true all along: business owners do not need to check their faith at their company doors," Wildmon said in the release.

AFA also claims a recent success in McCullen v. Coakley, a constitutional case it initially funded on the state level, which is something AFA doesn't normally do. In it, the U.S. Supreme Court decided June 26, the morning of my visit to the AFA, that a Massachusetts abortion clinic buffer-zone law was unconstitutional. The law required protesters and those attempting to counsel patients to stay 35 feet away from the clinic, but the court found the law excessive.

Vaughn, after inviting me to sit at his desk when I first arrive, slaps the large stack of papers—the Supreme Court decision—in front of me, victoriously.

No Smoking Gun

The AFA plans to celebrate other victories with its growing movie-producing projects. "One Generation Away," an AFA-promoted propaganda film about the erosion of freedom, specifically freedom of religious expression, will be released Sept. 1 2014.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction," the movie trailer repeats, illustrating the apparent theme, played over footage of marching Nazi soldiers.

This is another way AFA taps into followers' fears and sends a message that benefits their cause. This sense of urgency in implying that freedom could be gone in one generation is what prompts viewers to act, and it is exactly why Fischer, who is known for saying "homosexuality gave us Adolf Hitler," is the high-profile spokesman for the nonprofit.


Courtesy Troy Maben/AP

Bryan Fischer, AFA director of issue analysis for government and public policy, has stirred up the public with his controversial comments and blog posts.

His no-hold-barred personality and intimidating alerts, such as against the "If You're Buying" sticker businesses, makes him perfect for the job.

Near the end of my AFA visit, Vaughn mentions the Westboro Baptist Church. He says the church, known for picketing funerals of service members with signs like "God Hates Fags," gives a bad name to all Christians and to the AFA. I am standing near the entrance door of the main building, getting ready to leave.

Then I bring up Fischer.

"He told me Jesus was a capitalist to his core," I say, hinting for a response. Vaughn, as he leads me into a small dimly lit office to sit down again, says that he could chat with me all day long about all the things Fischer has said.

"I would really like to cut and paste on what he says some of the time," Vaughn says, adding that controversial figures can be good for organizations by grabbing the attention of the public. I'm squinting and sitting on an antique-looking couch and am the most intrigued I've been all day.

Vaughn, in an attempt to relate, equates the AFA to the Jackson Free Press, saying that both are companies who believe in a message they make it their goal to spread. 
 And that is where the power of the American Family Association lies—in its members and followers' sincere belief in its message and their willingness to act on it.

A light on the ceiling flickers, triggering Vaughn and me to stand and, after saying "nice to meet you," part ways.

Exiting the headquarters of the largest Mississippi nonprofit, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a "hate group," I'm filled with hope knowing that my tour guide and Bryan Fischer may not share the same ideology.

Still, on July 1, five days after my trip to the AFA, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act took effect in Mississippi—a law enacted out of the fear propagated by groups like the American Family Association.

Comment at Email Anna Wolfe at [email protected] or call her at 601-362-6121 ext. 20.

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