Last month brought the death of the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, who infamously coined the phrase 'God Hates Fags' and was considered by many to be 'the most homophobic man in America.’
But that doesn't mean there's not someone eagerly waiting to take his place. And his predecessor may be even more of a problem than he was.
Meet Scott Lively.
“He is certainly a contender for the title that Fred Phelps once famously held,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “He is a ranting, screaming homophobe, and has been for many years. He engages in all of the worst lies about gay people.”
But Lively certainly doesn’t look or sound like the man Potok describes.
Slightly overweight and sporting a full, grey beard, he could be your gentle, kind, local pastor — or your best friend’s father. His demeanor and voice can almost be calming. He’s easy to listen to.
And unlike Phelps who was prone to fits of anger and known for his overuse of the word fag, Lively is calm and collected — like a professor giving a lecture.
But those lectures are filled with nothing more than anti-gay propaganda.
“[Lively] is the author of the some of the most vile and completely false accusations against LGBT people in this country,” Potok said. “For anyone to say that gay men were responsible for the Holocaust is beyond ludicrous. He has no respect for facts, history or people.”
Those claims Potok is referring to come from Lively’s book “The Pink Swastika” where he makes the claim gay men were to blame for the Holocaust.
"While we cannot say that homosexuals caused the Holocaust, we must not ignore their central role in Nazism," Lively writes in the book. "To the myth of the 'pink triangle' — the notion that all homosexuals in Nazi Germany were persecuted — we must respond with the reality of the 'pink swastika.'"
Lively lives in Springfield, Mass. and is the founder of Abiding Truth Ministries and Redemption Gate Mission Society. ATM’s poorly designed website is populated with links to right wing Christian news stories, anti-gay books and other anti-gay propaganda.
One such book featured is Lively’s manual “Seven Steps To Recruit-Proof Your Child” which, according to its description, is “A concise, practical guidebook for parents who wish to protect their children from pro-homosexual indoctrination and the possibility of recruitment into the homosexual lifestyle.”
While Lively’s claims are outrageous and few in America take him seriously it’s his globetrotting adventures that worry gay rights activists. In the past few years he’s traveled to Africa and Eastern Europe spreading his falsehoods and hate in countries where gay rights movements are in their infancy.
"Scott Lively is a fascist who has dedicated his life to destroying the lives of LGBT people across the world,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out.
“While he has been largely discredited in the United States and is regarded as a pathological individual, his propaganda resonates overseas in countries with uneducated people who take his lies as the gospel.”
He traveled to the African nation of Uganda in 2009 to attend an anti-gay conference where he presented his views on homosexuality. Some believe that presentation played a key role in the country’s now infamous ‘kill the gays’ bill.
“Now he’s running around the world spreading his poison in any country that will allow him,” Potok said. “He’s trying to get gay sex outlawed and doesn’t mind if the death penalty is included in those laws.”
And that’s what Besen says makes him far more dangerous than Phelps ever was.
“Because of his international reach he must be taken seriously and his loony ideas can't be easily dismissed. It is my view that Lively should be in prison for promoting ‘eliminationism’ and inciting crimes against humanity,” Besen said. “He is far more diabolical and dangerous than Fred Phelps.”
It was easy to see why Phelps was universally condemned and despised and arguably the most homophobic man in America. His funeral protests shocked even conservatives and other traditional anti-gay folks. But it wasn’t until he and his church protested the funeral of Matthew Shepard that he became a household name.
Ironically to get his point across he used drama, flamboyancy and shock value. In the end though most commentators agree that Phelps actually helped the gay rights movement by forcing people to speak out against such outrageous behavior and condemn the ‘God Hates Fags’ campaign. It spurred several counter movements such as “Angel Action" in which groups of people dress as angels with giant wings that shield families from protests, and ‘God Loves Poetry,’ an art installation that featured press releases from the church with most of the text blacked out, leaving affirming poems and messages.
In many ways Phelps brought the LGBT community together, while also forcing the straight community to pay attention to his antics and in turn condemn them.
When it came to public policy though Phelps was never a player. He preferred theatrics to get his point across. When his funeral protests lost their desired effect and people stopped paying attention, he switched tactics by protesting the funerals of American soldiers. But like most of Phelps’ stunts it had the opposite effect with even the staunchest conservatives coming out against his church’s tactics.
As for Lively, since at least 2007, he’s been working behind the scenes to spur the anti-gay forces overseas, not with pickets and protests, but with policy, including Uganda’s ‘kill the gays’ bill. That bill originally included the death penalty, but after international pressure, a new bill was drafted that dropped the maximum penalty to life in prison and was signed into law this past February.
In 2007 Lively launched the anti-LGBT group, Watchmen on the Walls, which was the beginning of his overseas anti-gay outreach.
Lively promoted his ‘Watchmen’ group as an international network of Christian activists dedicated to fighting the "homosexual agenda." He traveled to the capital of Latvia where at a church, railed against the LGBT rights movement, calling it "the most dangerous political movement in the world."
In 2011 he traveled to the Eastern European country of Moldova to oppose a human rights bill saying in a statement, "What I know now, and have taught the Moldovans, is that the anti-discrimination law is the seed that contains the entire tree of the homosexual agenda, with all of its poisonous fruit."
He’s also traveled to and spoken at venues in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine.
“What he and his organizations leave in their wake are vulnerable LGBT communities abroad under greater threat of violence and state sanctioned discrimination. Still the most chilling and heartbreaking result of this hate mongers work is the hope he takes away, not just the hope of LGBT youth and LGBT adults, but the hope of the broader communities to value their diversity,” said Stuart Milk, founder of the Harvey Milk Foundation. “I have witnessed first hand, on the ground, the devastating aftermath of the Scott Lively's orchestrated hate campaigns that he has held at college and state functions in Latvia, Poland, Lithuania, and Estonia.”
At least one organization though is standing up to Lively. Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella organization which represents the interests of its member organizations in advocating for the rights of LGBT people filed a federal lawsuit against Lively under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. §1350, which provides U.S. jurisdiction for “any civil action by an alien, for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.”
The lawsuit accuses Lively of violating international law by inciting the persecution of gays in Uganda. The judge, so far, has denied a motion to dismiss the case.
So is Scott Lively the most homophobic man in America now that Phelps is dead?
Well the answer to that may be subjective, but as Milk notes: “Make no mistake about it, Lively has blood on his hands, both the blood from the violence inflicted by the ultra-nationalist he emboldens to commit hate crimes and the blood of innocent youth who take their lives hearing that who they are or who they may be ‘is the heart of the apocalypse.’”
In His Own Words:
Here’s what Scott Lively has said about the LGBT community in the past. His homophobic statements have been recorded at least since 1992.
"Because no matter what, [homosexuality] is still abnormal, wrong, harmful and perverse."
– Eugene Register-Guard, Nov. 1, 1992
"There is no question that homosexuality figures prominently in the history of the Holocaust. … The first years of terrorism against the Jews were carried out by the homosexuals of the SA."
– “The Pink Swastika,” 1996
"It is not mere coincidence that the emperors of Rome in its horrific final days were homosexual; that Adolf Hitler's inner circle were mostly homosexual; and that nearly all of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history were homosexual. It is not mere coincidence that America's cultural decline parallels the rise of 'gay rights.’"
– "Agents of the Death Agenda," May 1996 edition of Life Advocate magazine, quoted in "Northwest Update," Coalition for Human Dignity, June 1996.
"Homosexuality is thus biologically (and to varying degrees morally) equivalent to pedophilia, sado-masochism, bestiality and many other forms of deviant behavior."
– “Deciphering 'Gay' Word-Speak and Language of Confusion," May 2002
"Homosexuality is a personality disorder that involves various, often dangerous sexual addictions and aggressive, anti-social impulses."
– Letter to the Russian people, 2007
"The gay movement is an evil institution [whose] goal is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity in which there’s no restrictions on sexual conduct except the principle of mutual choice."
– Conference in Kampala, Uganda, March 2009
“We need to bring back public discussion of AIDS as a ‘gay’ disease, pederasty as [sic] major subculture of male homosexuality, mental health problems and domestic violence as major problems associated with lesbianism, the increasing recruitment of children into a homosexual identity through experimentation with ‘gay’ sex, etc. – all the truths we stopped telling because the other side screamed so loudly about them.”
– WorldNetDaily, September 2012