Bias Watch

A conservative hate group’s leader misrepresents its relationship to Chick-fil-A

The American Family Association (AFA), designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a hate group, has tried to tote its influence for years, including in its supposed relationship with Chick-fil-A.

The AFA began to panic after Chick-Fil-A’s ownership decided to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ organizations, and the group’s President, Tim Wildmon, launched a hasty campaign to change Chick-fil-A’s mind on the issue. That included writing a letter to Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy.

Related: The religious right is melting down over Chick-fil-A & Hallmark Channel this month

The AFA claimed this week that they received a direct, “personal” response from Cathy. Wildmon asserts that the CEO “responded to my personal letter and the more than 116,000 people who signed AFA’s petition asking the company for clarification” over their corporate giving policy.

It turns out that Chick-fil-A had sent that letter to “hundreds of recipients”, not directly because of any communication with the AFA. In the version of the letter Wildmon provides, it even says at the end of the letter “Customer Service,” indicating that it could be sent to anyone inquiring on the company’s stances.

In the letter that Cathy wrote, dated December 5, he expressed regret that his company had “inadvertently discredited several outstanding organizations” by choosing to focus on hunger, homelessness and education as opposed to anti-LGBTQ religious groups. Wildmon tries to frame the response as clearing the name of two specific anti-LGBTQ groups, the Salvation Army and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), but Cathy doesn’t name any of the Chick-fil-A Foundation’s previous donation recipients.

Wildmon also expresses concern about Chick-fil-A’s support of the Covenant House, which “openly promotes homosexuality as normal, natural, and healthy,” he writes – but again, Cathy does not specifically say they will continue to support them. “As a result, AFA will continue to monitor Chick-fil-A’s corporate giving, at least for the foreseeable future,” Wildmon writes. “We believe our supporters rely on us to do so.”

While Chick-fil-A claim they will stop supporting bigoted groups, their giving policy still remains unclear and they provide varying responses on the issue. In Cathy’s letter, he says that “the intent of our corporate giving has always been to have impact – not to make a statement or support a political or social agenda.”

“Chick-fil-A will give to faith-based and other organizations that we believe to be highly effective in a particular area,” Cathy wrote.

Yet, several conservative outlets blindly took the AFA’s claims as the truth and wrote that Chick-fil-A was apologizing to the Salvation Army, which was not the case. The AFA-created One News Now blatantly regurgitates it’s parent organization’s claims – not until the end does the reader find out that One News Now and the AFA are one in the same.

Wildmon has misrepresented his influence, as well as his group’s, multiple times. Recently, he made statements claiming to have joined Donald Trump’s “Faith Advisory Council”, although the White House claimed not to know anything about it.

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said after the reports. “There is no such thing as a White House Faith Council or Advisory Board.”

The arm of the AFA known as One Million Moms also has a questionable history of misrepresenting itself to influence different organizations. They recently led the campaign that initially led to the Hallmark Channel refusing to air a Zola ad featuring a lesbian couple, and also claimed that Thinx was “damaging young people” with a commercial for underwear.

AFA is also the home of conservative media personality Bryan Fischer, whose most recent outlandish claim is that the Nazi Party started in a gay bar.

“The AFA has led a decades-long political crusade against LGBTQ folks. As part of that, it runs a substantial right-wing media apparatus that pushes dangerous anti-LGBTQ narratives and misinformation,” Media Matters For America writes.

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