Movement building on the Internet
Christian Right and "free market" think tanks collaborate in cyberspace

By Bill Berkowitz

 

May 31, 2000 | In the sixties you could "get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant." In the twenty-first century, information is at your fingertips through the click of a mouse and you don't even have to visit your neighborhood cyber-caf´┐Ż. Indeed, "the times they are a-changin'." Many Christian Right organizations are keeping up with these changing times. Along with dozens of conservative think tanks, policy institutes and grassroots organizations, they have been turning the Internet into a vast conservative neighborhood.

The Internet is now used to spike-up political campaigns. The day after Senator John McCain defeated George W. Bush in the New Hampshire primary, McCain attracted a large number of visitors to his website, raising several million dollars. In a preemptive strike last summer, the Bush campaign brain-trust bought up a bunch of indelicate domain names, including such gems as georgebushsucks.com, bushbites.net and bushblows.com, in an attempt to stifle cyber-chicanery. They failed. Zack Exley thwarted these efforts, playing the Internet like a toy which, squeezed in one place, pops up in another. Exley is the Webmaster of gwbush.com, a parody site which has attracted tens of thousands of visitors, as well as several feature articles in the mainstream press and caused the Bush campaign to file a suit against it. Bush responded with his infamous "there ought to be limits to freedom," (available as a tee-shirt at http://www.gwbush.com.

Most of the groups lumped together as "The Right" -- from neo-Nazi, white supremacist and militia organizations, to Christian Right, conservative and libertarian groups, are active on the Internet.

The Right knows the World Wide Web is a tool for building support for their political and social agenda. "I view the Internet as the best tool to reach the grassroots in coming years," Chip Griffin, former site director for the Heritage Foundation's Townhall.com., told reporters three years ago. "In the next two to four years," he added, "I think you will see the Internet reaching the level of talk radio."

Whichever way you characterize "the level of talk radio," there is no denying that the Internet has become a major part of the political process. Griffin: "If I'm trying to convince someone, I can provide more information on the Web than I could in a 30-second TV or radio ad. You get to back up your rhetoric...and I think people are more easily swayed by examples and anecdotes."

Keeping Up With the Christian Right

For those monitoring the Christian Right and related conservative movements, the Internet is a veritable godsend. When CultureWatch began tracking the Christian Right in 1993, the Internet was still in its infancy. In order to follow right-wing activities we ordered subscriptions to many conservative newspapers, magazines, newsletters and journals. We got on as many right-wing mailing lists as possible. While the evolution of the Internet has not rendered these publications moot, many of the smaller Christian Right groups continue to have only a limited Internet presence. The most important groups now upload the full text of their publications and much more.

For the Christian Right, the Internet has been a godsend and a curse. The upside for many on the Right is that they have found an avenue for promoting their campaigns and delivering information to their constituents in a timely manner. The downside consists in their concern that unfettered Internet access opens up a world of unsavory challenges to "traditional family values." For several years, groups like Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association and Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family have been agitating for Internet filters in public schools and public libraries. In addition to filtering out access to pornographic sites, many of these filtering devices indiscriminately block gay and lesbian sites and censor health-related information, particularly as it relates to reproductive rights.

Here's a short tour of some key Christian Right sites:

  • At Wildmon's American Family Association you can find the full text of Homosexuality in America: Exposing the Myths, a recent twenty-four page pamphlet examining the "homosexual" agenda, and the most current AFA campaigns. 
  • Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition celebrates his 70th birthday and provides details of the Coalition's "Countdown to Victory" campaign for November's election.
  • I used "homosexuality" as a searching tool at Beverly LaHaye's Concerned Women for America and found more than ninety items including articles on Health and Homosexuality, a review of the film It's Elementary, Homosexuality: Born or Bred? and American Airlines - Stop Promoting Homosexuality.
  • Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the Family org is the Christian Right's 800-lb. gorilla -- a multi-media ministry which has become a multi-million dollar empire. In response to a FoF-commissioned Zogby poll, which revealed that a growing percentage of those seeking sexual fulfillment use the Internet, FoF has set up a new online resource called "Pure Intimacy" . This site aims "to help re-direct individuals from the disappointments of Internet sex." You can also check out the "The Trouble With Harry [Potter]" in the February issue of Focus on the Family Citizen.   
  • For all things "ex-gay," it's Deliver Ministries. There is an "Exhaustive List of Ex-gay Internet Resources" including the GayChange Webring, Ex-Gay Ministry Leaders List, From Gay to God!, Internet-based Products, Internet-based Articles/Files, Music-related Sites with Ex-Gay Themes, and an extensive list of national organizations.
  • If these sites haven't appeased your appetite, click on <http://www.actwin.com/eatonohio/gay/antigroup.html >  for a thorough list of Crusading Anti-Homosexual Groups & Anti-Gay Web Sites including such stalwarts as AIDS CURES FAGS, Americans for Truth, The Anti Pedophile Network, Cleaning out the CLOSET, Homosexuality the Plague of the Human Race, S.T.R.A.I.G.H.T., and WHITESONLY. 

Opposition Research

The American Religious Right

There are several organizations examining the activities and campaigns of the Religious Right. The American Religious Right webmaster does it with the panache, thoroughness and humor of few others. Little-known and certainly underutilized, TARR presents visitors with a comprehensive look at "Christian political extremists in the US...[who] are only a small minority of the population, but they are well-organized and wield political power far beyond their numbers."

TARR delights in challenging some of the accepted wisdom handed down by the Christian Right including: "the glory of the 'golden 50's'"; "premarital sex is against Christian values"; and the biblical condemnation of homosexuality. TARR also deconstructs the language used by the Religious Right saying it "sounds a lot like plain English, except that the words family and children appear about twice in every sentence." In addition, TARR provides direct access to hundreds of the best articles, research documents and publications available on the Christian Right. 

The site provides background information and links to key Christian Right organizations including: the Christian Coalition; Promise Keepers; Southern Baptist Convention; Family Research Council; American Family Association; Concerned Women for America; Operation Rescue; Christian Action Network; American Center for Law and Justice; Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; the Coalition for Excellence in Education, and a bevy of ex-gay ministries. 

Other organizations worth checking out:

Americans United for Separation of Church and State  

American Atheists

Gay Today

Institute for First Amendment Studies

People for the America Way  

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Political Research Associates

Turn Left: Fight the Right and

CultureWatch

Researching the Think Tanks and Policy Centers

Conservative websites, like almost everything else on the Internet, are a dime a dozen. However, there are a few sites that distinguish themselves from the others. Townhall.com and Heartland Institute's site are two public policy-oriented sites dedicated to building and uniting the conservative movement. This is where policy makers, congressional staffers, conservative activists, and media workers regularly come for information and research on a broad array of issues. There are no comparable sites for progressive and left organizations.

Townhall.com

What started out in 1993 as a project of William F. Buckley's National Review magazine and the conservative Heritage Foundation, has evolved into Townhall.com, the "mother" of all serious conservative web sites. Now solely a project of the Heritage Foundation, Townhall.com claims to be "the nation's leading online service for conservative ideas and information, uniting over 55 conservative think tanks, grassroots organizations, publishers, and publications at one Internet address."

Townhall.com. links to: right-wing think tanks and policy centers like Americans for Tax Reform, Capital Research Center, Federalist Society, Mackinac Center, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation; key Religious Right groups including the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition; and a small sampling of periodicals including the National Review, Weekly Standard, Human Life Review and two Unification Church-supported publications, the Washington Times Weekly and World & I.

Since 1998, Jonathan A. Garthwaite has been Director of Online Communications for the Heritage Foundation. He oversees the development of the organization's web projects and supervises the seven person staff. He emphasizes thinking outside the box and the necessity of "sparking innovation," recognizing that updating the site, adding new features and marketing it broadly are all essential aspects of his work. Garthwaite says that "websites have to keep people interested and coming back." When asked about the level of Heritage's financial support for the site, Garthwaite, although claiming he was not at liberty to reveal exact numbers, acknowledged the site was substantially supported.

An outstanding recent addition is the RightPages Internet Guide, an extremely useful directory to a host of conservative sites. It is broken down by areas of interest: books & publishing; election & campaigns; government - federal, state, local and foreign; news & media - online, radio, tv, newspapers; business & marketing - internet and political consultants; entertainment & arts; issues & advocacy - think tanks, lobbying groups, PACs; and research & resources - online databases, people, chat and forums.

Garthwaite says that Heritage measures the success of Townhall.com by the level of feedback the site gets from people posting on message boards and sending e-mail, by comments from folks involved in the policy making process and by the site's traffic. With a claimed twenty million hits a month, Townhall's audience seems to be satisfied with what it is finding.

Heartland Institute

If the name of the game is influencing public policy and shaping the political debate, then the Heartland Institute has created a perfect vehicle for accomplishing these goals. They call it PolicyBot, "the world's fastest, most complete, most reliable, and easiest-to-use source of public policy solutions."

Writing an op-ed piece and looking for research to blow a hole in the theory of global warming? Need supportive statistics to argue for more prisons and the efficacy of "three strikes" initiatives?  Searching for model legislation that pushes privatization at the state and local levels? Concerned about budget and tax issues, civil rights, health care policy, or education? Documentation on all these issues and much more is available online at Heartland's PolicyBot.

Over the years the Heartland Institute has evolved into one of the most important state-based conservative policy groups. Founded in 1984 by Joseph L. Bast, Heartland spent its early years as a no-frills, conservative, free-market, tax-exempt research organization applying "cutting-edge research to state and local public policy issues" - but not really distinguishing itself. 

In 1996, Heartland created a new program and immediately moved to the head-of-the-class. It linked the conservative advocacy of a think-tank with state-of-the-art technology, to become the Right's leading information clearinghouse. If ever a trendy phrase "just-in-time" information delivery had meaning, it was illustrated by Heartland's PolicyFax project. Now, like many other political organizations, Heartland is moving it's voluminous document retrieval service online.

PolicyBot allows you access to more than 7,000 public policy documents from 300+ think tanks, policy institutes and industry associations. In order to gain access to the documents you must register online with Heartland. Once registered, scroll to your area of interest to find a selection of documents. The documents, which usually provide a healthy dose of statistics, range from 3 to 15 pages and are succinct summaries of complex research. The environment section alone lists hundreds of articles covering a broad range of issues including: air quality, chemicals, endangered species, energy, environmental justice, forestry, free-market environmentalism, global climate change, ozone depletion, regulatory reform, and sustainable development. Finally, their "web gateway" section allows you to link to participating organizations.

Every elected official in the United States (regardless of position), significant media worker, and researchers from the other think tanks used to receive Heartland's catalogue and updates free. In place of the bulky 300+ page catalogue, Heartland now blast-faxes special issue-oriented alerts to its mailing list on a daily basis. It also makes its other serial publications -- School Reform News, and Intellectual Ammunition -- available online.

Back to the Right

There are numerous conservative-based websites. Two that provide up-to-date news, views, Clinton-bashing and message boards are Lucianne.com (the Lucianne Goldberg of Linda Tripp & company), and FreeRepublic.com (beware of the proclivity for loopiness here).

Other sites to check out:

Conservative News Service, sponsored by Brent Bozell's Media Research Center;

Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network.

Former lefty turned rightist David Horowitz's Center for the Study of Popular Culture

Cyber-celebrity Matt Drudge's Drudge Report

World, the weekly evangelical magazine.

On a snowy day in San Francisco, you might want to check in with the Rev. Fred Phelps at God Hates Fags.   

More and more Christian Right groups are turning to the Web to promote and publicize their political campaigns. On a recent Sunday afternoon, the Richmond, Va.-based Family Policy Network (FPN), the Virginia affiliate of the AFA, set about re-invigorating their "Race for the Family" campaign against Anheuser-Busch -- the makers of Budweiser beer. They hired an airplane to fly a banner over a NASCAR motor racing event in Atlanta, Georgia, which read: "Bud: Stop Backing the Gay Agenda." At the same time, according to the CNS, "thousands of flyers documenting the beer giant's marketing to homosexual communities were distributed to fans at the track." The brochure promoted FPN's web site" <http://www.gaybeer.com>. At gaybeer.com you find a headline reading "Bud Light, Homosexuality and the Family - A compassionate appeal to change corporate policy at Anheuser-Busch."  In addition to links to a number of "Resources for Repenting Homosexuals," there is a page called "Promoting Homosexuality" which ironically, has "material [that] is not suited for children."


Research assistance by Greg Paroff

Bill Berkowitz edits CultureWatch, a monthly publication tracking the Religious Right and related conservative movements, published by Oakland's DataCenter. Subscriptions are $35 a year. Contact him via phone: 510-835-692, ext. 308, or by e-mail: culturewatch@datacenter.org. For a free sample copy, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to: CultureWatch, 1904 Franklin St., Suite 900, Oakland, CA 94612.

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