Photo Credit: NPR
From 2003 to 2008 I would attend frequent meetings of a group called “The Arlington Group.” They were the religious right leaders of the time (some still remain the main figureheads of their respective organizations.) We went to the meetings at the Family Research Council’s building about once a month and would be in the same room as Jerry Falwell, James Dobson (Focus On The Family), Charles Colson, Tony Perkins (Family Research Council), Don Wildmon (American Family Association), Ted Haggard (before his “fall”), reps from the Alliance Defense Fund and any Christian group, media outlet, or activist with a national audience. I forgot to mention that Kellyanne Conway was a part of that group, too. I met her there several times.
We also had special guests from time to time like Senator Rick Santorum (or his reps), then Senator Sam Brownback (or his reps) and other congress person’s representatives like say, then Congressman Mike Pence. When lobbying we went to Pence’s office to share our “ex-gay” stories modified to oppose LGBT+ equality. Pence’s staff weren’t as nice, honestly, as Hillary Clinton’s staff when we did the same with her office.
Last Friday, I saw Trump on the hellivision screen with all those Arlington Group members logos behind him. He was speaking at their annual Pep rally called “The Values Voters” Summit. I have been to that Summit a couple of times, and I know exactly what goes on at the conference as well as behind the scenes. When I heard Trump praising Tony Perkins, effusively, I literally had to walk out of the room. Dan got an ear full of colorful language about all of it as I did. He very sweetly turned the channel, but I was fuming.
For decades this group or their predecessor, the Moral Majority, were always trying to secure a place at the table where they call the shots in public policy. That’s what I saw when I was a part of that group. However, at the moment I walked out of the room last Friday, I realized, they aren’t trying to win a place at the table to have a say in the process, they won the whole table. The Relgious Right won. They finally got exactly what they wanted; power at the highest levels. Lots of my friends are worried about Outrageous Trump trying to distract us from Bumbling Trump. In truth, I believe the Religious Right empowered him to distract us from them and their quiet coup.
It appears they didn’t sell their soul to Trump, Trump sold his to them. Up until this moment, I thought they had compromised their values to have a seat at his table. Now I believe he was manipulated into handing the full boardroom over to them as long as he gets to sit in the big chair.
Everyone seems to think that it was Trump’s charisma that won over the blue-collar workers and rural Americans that offered him the opportunity to be in the White House. I believe he wouldn’t have had a chance with that part of our country without the Arlington Group (or whatever they are calling themselves nowadays.) It’s hard for me to believe that these conservative cultural Christians voted for Trump because of who he really is, they voted for him because of how the religious right helped Trump reframe and reposition himself to them. He went from being a filthy rich, narcissistic, abusive, New York elitist into “God’s man” for the job. None of that would have happened without this particular groups influence. Speaking of Kellyanne Conway, she is brilliant regarding stats, polling, and drilling down to impact local races in a way that affects the larger elections. People make her out to be a parroting caricature… she is anything but.
I was not a “principal” player in The Arlington Group, but I was present during quite a few arguments and many planning sessions. I know they interviewed ALL the Republican candidates in the 2008 election cycle except Romney because he declined to meet with them. If I were him, I wouldn’t have met with them either. As far as I knew, I was the only one in that room that supported him during that election cycle. They met with the candidates in these secret meetings to decide on who to unify the Arlington Group around. Their infighting over that primary season is only one of many reasons I didn’t want to be a part of that group any longer, and we (as members from Exodus) made our exit shortly after.
One big thing I learned though is this, these leaders do not think in “short-term goals.” They play the long game. However, they did it, whether a Sanhedrin council style interview or conference, I have zero doubt in my mind that when Trump agreed to hire Kellyanne Conway and make Pence his VP, he sold his soul to them and not the other way around. I am still convinced that their end game isn’t to support Trump for 4 to 8 years… they are in this to eradicate as much LGBT+ and what might be seen as socially liberal public policy as possible and for an eventual President Pence.
There are all kinds of issues for LGBT+ people to be concerned about. From the very first moments of the Trump Occupied Oval Office, they have been trying to erase LGBT+ equality and silence our voices. I am convinced that Trump really doesn’t care about anything more than Trump, but I don’t think he understands all the incremental steps needed to try and erase us from full equality in every sector of public policy and culturally. The Arlington Group does, they have been studying it for years. They initially formed the group as a response to abortion and the “homosexual agenda.” They have a track record of every “win” and “loss” from the grassroots on up for decades now. They aren’t playing, and we don’t need to write them off as self-defeating activists or underestimate their abilities and determination.
Now, from this must-read article in The New Yorker:
When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
I don’t believe Pence literally wants to hang us all. I don’t think the Arlington Group would want that either. However, the environment they are crafting behind the scenes will seek to silence our voices, erase us from the culture, boot us out of churches, disenfranchise us from equal protection and standing in public policy. This, in turn, creates a pass for people to hurt and punish us like they have in the past; sometimes with violence.
The modern-day equivalent of the old Arlington Group won’t be the ones creating the nooses, but while they will be sure to put on blinders in the process, I have no doubt they would be very glad to take the votes from those who do.