Medlin: One Million Moms, American Family Association stain Mississippi’s legacy

Founded by Donald Wildmon in 1977, Christian fundamentalist group American Family Association (AFA) stands up against topics such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.

American Family Association [Fair Use]

Founded by Donald Wildmon in 1977, Christian fundamentalist group American Family Association (AFA) stands up against topics such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights.

By Zach Medlin, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

What does a hate group look like in America today?

Last month, conservative activist group One Million Moms, based in Tupelo, Miss., announced plans to boycott Oreo for selling rainbow-colored cookies and airing an ad depicting a father coming to accept his daughter and her girlfriend. The ad, according to One Million Moms, is a “dangerous” effort by big business to “brainwash children and adults” into accepting the much-dreaded homosexual agenda.

Normally, I couldn’t care less about some conservative Karens getting angry over rainbow capitalism that does nothing to further the cause of the queer community. But when I saw this story as a Washington Post opinion while scrolling through Instagram, one note caught my eye: the American Family Association (AFA), a pro-family values organization that is the parent company to One Million Moms, is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group. After looking further into this group, I realized that they still pose a threat to society no matter how ridiculous their messages seem to any sane person. 

A quick scroll through the SPLC’s hate map shows that Mississippi has its fair share of hate groups and extremist clubs, but few have been as successful or held such prominence in the past fifty years as the AFA. Founded in 1977 by Donald E. Wildmon, then-pastor of a church not 20 miles from my house, the AFA claims to fight “on the front lines of America’s culture war” through a radio show, a monthly journal and a myriad of online blogs and activism campaigns, such as One Million Moms. 

I think most would agree with me that hate groups have no place in the world today. Why, then, does the AFA still boast a large, active following?

Part of it comes down to the group’s shady business practices. According to the Advocate, the AFA frequently gives false reports of the size of its supporter base, even claiming to have more than a million email subscribers. That seems to be about as true of a statement as the idea that One Million Moms actually has that many angry, petty moms supporting it.

The other part of it has to do with how the AFA presents itself. Like other mainstream hate organizations (I’m looking at you, PragerU), the AFA tries to create an air of distinction and righteousness around itself to give false logos to the baseless, sensationalized storylines it promotes. One article I read made the disgusting and unsettling claim that the Holocaust was part of God’s plan for reestablishing the state of Israel. Another one called for Congress to defund PBS to stop it from promoting “sexual deviancy” and attacking “religious liberty” in its show “Prideland,” which puts a spotlight on LGBTQ+ rights progress in America. My personal favorite for most hilariously stupid was an article titled “The Truth about BLM: Marxism, Witchcraft, and Feminism,” which, honestly, sounds like a pretty good time.

Digging deeper into the AFA’s history and structure, red flags keep popping up. On the website for the Michigan chapter of the AFA, regional president Gary Glenn declares himself to be the “modern-day Gideon” in the fight for traditional religious values. It seems this fight also involves keeping the Michigan state legislature from protecting queer kids in school by removing part of an anti-bullying bill, which seems to me to be an obvious, profoundly un-American denial of rights on the basis of one’s individual identity. In the most shockingly horrible article I read, Sandy Rios of the AFA’s radio show American Family Radio claimed that a train engineer’s sexual orientation was likely a factor in a 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia. 

Though its hateful messages still hold danger, today, the AFA is little more than a diminishing holdover from the days of the conservative coalition and satanic panic. Long gone is the AFA that had enough influence to remove “Playboy” from thousands of convenience stores across America; now, they’re hardly able to promote petty boycotts over gay cookies. AFA Michigan had already lost most of its cultural influence when it had to close permanently due to the pandemic. Even the United Methodist Church, the historically undivided Christian denomination that Donald Wildmon preached in, is considering a split over LGBTQ+ rights. 

Hate groups like One Million Moms and the American Family Association might leave permanent stains on Mississippi’s troubled legacy, but we don’t have to let them be anything more than stains. So watch PBS, eat some rainbow Oreos, embrace change and acceptance and let the AFA fade into obscurity. 

This story was originally published on The Vision MSMS on November 11, 2020.