Peter LaBarbera’s Illinois Family Institute identifies itself as an independently financed partner of Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the Alliance Defense Fund.
His career has been spent protesting against communism, leftist Latin American Christians, liberal freedoms, and supposed antifamily values. In the 1980s, he supported “contra” terrorist attacks against liberals and leftist civilians in Nicaragua. During his tenure with Robert Knight at the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, LaBarbera actively promoted the exgay movement — for example, offering favors to Jerry Falwell and his handpicked exgay spokesman, Michael Johnston, at a forum with Soulforce that I attended in 1999. LaBarbera’s writing enjoys support from both the Exodus Media Blog and the Exodus national office.
LaBarbera is a conservative, to be sure, but I thought surely (surely!) his politics are a far cry from what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the most extreme political party in the United States: The Constitution Party.
According to the SPLC, the Constitution Party (formerly the U.S. Taxpayers Party) seeks to make the Old Testament the law of the land. It seeks to undo every constitutional amendment since 1913 — including women’s right to vote. It seeks to re-legalize assault weapons for undisclosed purposes, and it flirts with advocates for the execution of adulterers and homosexuals.
In 2004, Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Peroutka described the Republican Party as playing “Gomorrah” to the Democratic Party’s “slightly more evil Sodom.”
With 340,000 registered voters, the party is among the nation’s largest third parties. It draws its support from fundamentalists and neo-Confederates. It traces its origins to racist 1968 presidential candidate George Wallace.
But racism pervades the Party’s present as well as its past.
“We’re not one nation under God — we’re one nation under God’s wrath,” said John Lofton, a former GOP operative who’s now earning $800 a week running Peroutka for President’s press operations. His sentiment was seconded by Michael Hill, president of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South.
SPLC research cites numerous anti-black and anti-Hispanic racists among the Party’s recent candidates and guest speakers. Among the candidates:
- Utah’s Jack Gray, who presents himself as a member of David Duke’s white supremacist hate group, the European American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO)
- Mississippi’s John Thomas Cripps, a long-time member of the white-supremacist hate group, League of the South
But racism is just one of several themes of the Party.
Religious self-pride is another theme. The SPLC points to the Party’s affection for Oregon antigay activist Lon Mabon, who has repeatedly violated Oregon state laws and court rulings. Mabon told a Party audience that they — like Mabon — are above the law, and worthy of determining who qualifies for public office:
“I hear the voice of God saying that the [government] must surrender to the requirements of His Holiness,” Mabon has written. “This means that the Governor, U.S. Senators, Representatives and all elected officials should be allowed into office only after they have proved to the Citizens … that they are indeed obedient to the Will and Holiness of God.”
One hopes that there are limits to voters’ attraction to religious self-righteousness and racial and sexual blame-games. At least the SPLC hopes so: It says the Constitution Party is so stridently antifamily and fanatical that voters would find the party morally repugnant if they peered beneath the Party’s pro-family, pro-faith facade:
How many potential voters, after all, will punch their ballots for a party that calls for outlawing abortion even in cases of rape or incest, withdrawing from the United Nations, overturning every Constitutional amendment passed since 1913 (which would include the amendments authorizing the federal income tax and the right of women to vote), halting all immigration, abolishing the income tax and re-legalizing assault weapons?
Those planks only begin to tell the story. In its brief history, the Constitution Party has flirted egregiously with some of the most extreme elements of the antigovernment militia movement and of Christian Reconstruction, a radical theology that calls for imposing Old Testament laws — stoning to death adulterers and homosexuals, to name just two.
According to the SPLC, the Constitution Party’s public-policy immoralities are matched by the private moral wrongs of its leaders:
Peroutka’s wholesome appeal as “the home-school candidate” was undercut by a scathing profile this spring in Baltimore City Paper. Though Peroutka likes to preach family responsibility and criticize state-funded programs for kids (often proclaiming in campaign speeches, “The state has no children!”), reporter Van Smith discovered that the candidate had disowned two teenage stepdaughters who accused him of abuse, turning them over to the state of Maryland and rebuffing their subsequent attempts to reconcile with their mother.
Peroutka’s public record also includes a conviction for driving with an illegally high concentration of alcohol in his system in 1991, and questions have been raised about his sudden rise to wealth. “Just a few years ago,” Smith says, “the Peroutkas were living in cul-de-sac townhouse developments, and suddenly they’re in this huge new house” valued at well over half a million dollars.
Peroutka’s response to City Paper’s financial questions was pious but vague: “I am thankful to God from whom all blessings flow.”
At his acceptance speech in Valley Forge, Pa., Peroutka said, “What kind of country sends sodomites to fight in an unconstitutional, undeclared war?” He was greeted mostly with polite applause, according to the SPLC.
The party’s vice presidential nominee, Chuck Baldwin, was (again according to SPLC) identified in a 1995 newspaper article as an active member of the Escambia County Militia. (“Jesus never preached disarmament,” he explained.)
Knowing all that, it was mighty surprising to discover today that Peter LaBarbera’s Illinois Family Institute is promoting the Constitution Party’s 2006 Illinois convention.
Was this oversized, full-page calendar item on the IFI web site an isolated oversight? Perhaps not: Looking a bit further, I discovered that, in a letter dated last November, LaBarbera promoted the Constitution Party’s candidate for Illinois governor. LaBarbera said:
Do we really need the leaders of both major parties to support such causes? Pro-family and pro-life voters would be utterly dejected at the prospect of having to choose between two committed social liberals (Topinka and Gov. Blagojevich) next November. Many, like me, would sit it out or perhaps vote for a third party candidate. (There is a conservative third-party candidate for governor, Randy Stufflebeam of the Constitution Party.)
A Google search finds 121 web sites (mostly conservative) that, to varying degrees, perceive connections or ideological affinities between Peter LaBarbera and the Constitution Party.
One wonders whether the national “pro-family” movement and Exodus are even slightly disturbed by the Illinois Family Institute’s support for racism, vote-less women, militia activity, death threats against homosexuals, and fundamentalists who consider themselves above the law.
Disturbed enough, perhaps, to repudiate these immoralities in public?
Or would a repudiation of the Constitution Party’s extremist “absolutes” force the pro-family movement to acknowledge its own moral relativism?