The Florida Family Association's One-Man Outrage Machine
While the Florida Family Association has won national attention for its successful campaign to convince advertisers like Lowe’s and Kayak to pull their ads from TLC’s All-American Muslim, the reality show about Muslim families living in Michigan was far from the first show the group attacked, as the FFA previously went after programs like Degrassi, Modern Family, Family Guy and Dancing With the Stars, among others.
As Samuel G. Freedman explains in The New York Times, the FFA is the one-man operation of David Caton, who for decades has been using the FFA as a shell organization for his attacks against not only television programs but also public schools, Disney World and government officials. “What makes the attack on ‘All-American Muslim’ more disturbing — and very revealing — is that it was prosecuted by just one person,” Freedman notes, “a person unaffiliated with any established organization on the Christian right, a person who effectively tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim bigotry”:
During the mid-1990s, after hearing about the harassment of gay students, the principal of Largo High School in Florida created a support group for them. Over the next year or two, the meetings also drew sympathetic friends, evolving into a club called the Gay Straight Alliance. For a while, it operated in comfortable obscurity.
Then, in 1998, the principal, Barbara Thornton, began receiving postcards, many bearing the identical message bizarrely denouncing the alliance as a “government-funded witch hunt.” The local school board felt compelled to take up the issue, with 400 parents attending a meeting at which one speaker compared the gay students to murderers.
During that session, Ms. Thornton finally encountered the man who had manufactured the entire controversy: David Caton. An accountant turned rock-club owner, the author of a book about his pornography addiction, Mr. Caton had become a born-again Christian and the founder and sole employee of a fundamentalist activist group called the Florida Family Association.
It would be upsetting enough if a well-financed, well-organized mass campaign had misrepresented a television show, insulted an entire religious community and intimidated a national corporation. What makes the attack on “All-American Muslim” more disturbing — and very revealing — is that it was prosecuted by just one person, a person unaffiliated with any established organization on the Christian right, a person who effectively tapped into a groundswell of anti-Muslim bigotry.
The question is why anybody, especially a major company like Lowe’s, would be swayed by Mr. Caton’s campaign. (Lowe’s did not respond to several requests for comment.) Just to put him in perspective, the 2010 federal tax forms for the Florida Family Association list Mr. Caton as its only paid employee, earning $55,200. The association took in $172,133 in donations and closed out the calendar year with precisely $8,868.76 on hand.
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