Unless you watch Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, you probably aren’t aware of the fact that Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal (the latter dropped out of the race Tuesday) all recently attended a “religious freedom” rally in Iowa hosted by antigay preacher Kevin Swanson, who has repeatedly called for the execution of homosexuals. Unlike the Duggar-styled martyr-complex performance art of Kim Davis, Swanson’s brand of bigotry is overtly bloodthirsty, with rhetoric echoing hateful pastor Scott Lively, a central figure in the persecution of LGBT Ugandans and part of the impetus for Uganda's proposed “kill the gays” legislation.
On her show, Maddow showed extensive clips from Swanson, and characterized the event as “a ‘kill-the-gays’ call to arms,” but the rest of the media has by and large ignored the scandal. The Huffington Post’s Michelangelo Signorile recently noted that The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the majority of mainstream outlets either ignored the comments altogether or focused their attention on the conference's derision of atheists or the Swanson’s outlandish claim that drowning children is preferable to letting them read Harry Potter, and suggested that the media’s tacit acceptance of this rally serves to “suggest we’ve not come as far on LGBT rights as we all like to tell ourselves.”
Perhaps it’s foolish to expect better from the antigay former governor of Arkansas (Huckabee) and the homophobic Texas senator (Cruz) at this point, as they have built their brands on endorsing various degrees of bigotry, but I would hope that more mainstream outlets would at least consider this kind of extremism newsworthy. In 2015, advocating for the death of homosexuals should no longer just be a matter of opinion. Sure, I don’t know how much good the media outrage machine actually accomplishes, but I believe journalists have a responsibility to report on a group of political candidates’ casual acceptance of murder. Where exactly is the line between a declaration of your backward belief and an incitement of violence? If the only weapon we have to limit this kind of speech is the court of public opinion, why are journalists allowing Swanson and his political companies to exist in a vacuum?
In a recent interview with Fox and Friends, Cruz stated that the “enemy is radical Islamic terrorism. As long as we have a commander in chief unwilling to even utter the words 'radical Islamic terrorism' we will not have a concerted effort to defeat these radicals before they murder more and more innocents,” insinuating that the war was not in fact with ISIS, but with an extremist religion. While Cruz may not consider LGBT people "innocents," it’s still hard to reconcile his affiliation with Swanson with his condemnation of extremism. If your deeply held religious belief is that gay people should be put to death, then you are, categorically, an extremist. What, exactly, separates Kevin Swanson from the ISIS leaders calling for the execution of homosexuals? It seems particularly ironic that the political candidates who are most vocal about barring Syrian refugees from entering this country out of fear of “radical Islam” are fervent advocates of turning this country into a radical Christian theocracy that subjugates women, gays, transgender people, and anyone who falls outside of their definition of morality.
Perhaps these candidates don’t see how similar they are to the extremists they denounce because they haven’t done much research into them in the first place. Jindal recently put forth a plan to defeat ISIS by enforcing no-fly zones and was humiliated by ABC host Martha Raddatz’s observation that the group doesn’t have any airplanes. On Huckabee’s website, there is a page where supporters are given the option of contributing $16, $25, $50, or $100 to take a “strong stand against ISIS,” with convenient buttons allowing you to “quick donate,” but literally no information about how your money will help to combat extremism overseas. There is, however, a friendly reminder that Huckabee has a “strong stand on Life and Traditional Marriage,” as though these are the key things that ISIS stands against. Similarly, Huckabee told a reporter at the conference that he “didn’t have any knowledge” of Swanson’s view that homosexuals should be executed, shortly before Swanson gave yet another speech calling for the execution of homosexuals.
Perhaps they were all blissfully unaware that they were at an extremist rally (even though People for the American Way called on them to drop out of the conference the week prior). Or perhaps all of these men are actually committed to rousing as much homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic sentiment as possible during their time in the political spotlight to ensure a consumer base for their inevitable homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic book deals and lucrative speaking engagements. I know it’s hard to muster outrage for the media at this point, but if we accept hate-filled rhetoric like Swanson’s as an ordinary part of the political landscape, we’re going to see more and more opportunist bigots like Huckabee, Cruz, and Jindal taking advantage of it, and laughing all the way to the bank. If the media won’t speak out on our behalf, we have a responsibility to speak out against the media for enabling this kind of bigotry.