Remember when Hillary Clinton outraged the Chattering Classes with statements like “basket of deplorables,” and accusations of a “vast right-wing conspiracy.”
According to Wikipedia, the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy” preceded Clinton’s 1998 use. It was listed as a conspiracy theory in a 1995 memo by political opposition researchers. Wild conspiracy theories are everywhere you look these days–mostly but not exclusively on the political Right (are Jewish Space lasers the grandchildren of the Elders of Zion?). When Clinton leveled the accusation, the blowback was both overwhelming and understandable.
LIBERTY COUNSEL, an evangelical Christian nonprofit that provided a brief cited by the Supreme Court in its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, has been hacked, revealing a 25-gigabyte internal database that contains nearly seven years’ worth of donor records. The hacker, who identifies with the Anonymous movement, released the data on the hacktivist site Enlace Hacktivista, and the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets is providing it to journalists who request access.
“Noticing a worrying trend of far-right and anti-abortion activists aligning themselves with the evangelical Christian movement, hiding their funding sources behind laws that allow church ministries to keep their donations secret,” the hacker wrote in a press release, “we decided to bring about some much-needed radical transparency.”
In addition to fighting abortion, Liberty Counsel — a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group — has focused its legal efforts on challenging LGBTQ+ rights and vaccine mandates in the name of religious freedom. Because it is registered with the IRS as an “association of churches,” Liberty Counsel is not required to file a public tax return, meaning that its finances are largely shielded from the scrutiny applied to other tax-exempt organizations.
The disclosures showed that “nonprofit organizations” controlled by Liberty Counsel not only encouraged supporters to vote for Trump –in violation of IRS rules that prohibit such endorsements– they also documented the ways in which Liberty Counsel has deployed disinformation about election integrity and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Are you wondering why I titled this blog post “Religious Liberty”? As the linked Intercept article goes on to explain, the legal privileging of (some) religion has not only facilitated the lack of transparency illustrated by the breach, but has served to conceal a theocratic political movement within a cloak of faux piety.
Liberty Counsel’s virulently anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and efforts to legalize discrimination in the name of religious freedom led the Southern Poverty Law Center to designate it as a hate group. “The organizations on our hate group list vilify others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity — this includes Liberty Counsel and their vilification of LGBTQ+ people,” said Rachel Carroll Rivas, interim deputy director of research for the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.
Some examples: Liberty Counsel represented Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple. The day after the January 6th insurrection, its president sent an email to supporters stating that “our research and legal staff have been deeply engaged in stopping the steal of our 2020 elections.” (The email and a later blog post insisted that Trump could remain in power if God intervened: “We know God can intervene and turn what looks like a hopeless cause into a miraculous victory!” (Evidently, God was uninterested…)
During the pandemic, Liberty Counsel successfully sued LSU’s School of Dentistry and Loyola University, requiring them to abandon their vaccine mandates on religious freedom grounds. The organization is currently suing the U.S. government over the military’s vaccine mandate. (God evidently wants people infected..)
If these activities were limited to a single organization, it would be troubling enough, but the breach disclosed a network of similarly fanatic entities, and campaigns that stretched the definition of “religion” to the breaking point.
While Liberty Counsel is best known for legal battles over abortion and LGBTQ+ rights, the hacked data shows more than $1.6 million in donations resulting from petition and fax campaigns built around dubious claims about the pandemic and election integrity…
The largest petition included in the data set, launched on the eve of Biden’s inauguration, makes no mention of religion: It warns of “giant pharmaceutical companies in partnership with government officials sweeping harmful and even deadly COVID-19 vaccine reactions under the rug” and demands that politicians oppose unspecified efforts “to make COVID shots mandatory, to require a Vaccine Passport or to electronically track and trace my movements.”
I don’t know how “vast” Liberty Council’s conspiratorial network is, but I do know the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment weren’t intended to shield partisan political activity from legal scrutiny.
We can protect genuine religious liberty without enabling political fundraising by hate groups.