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'Slanderous' Fake News Sparks Death Threats Against 'Hate Group' Over Anti-Lynching Bill

Earlier this week, Mat Staver, president and CEO of the Christian legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel, warned against a liberal attempt to hijack an anti-lynching bill to focus on LGBT issues. Various news outlets condemned Staver and Liberty Counsel, insinuating that this Christian leader and his organization somehow condone lynching LGBT people. Liberty Counsel condemned the "false, slanderous narrative" and went public about receiving death threats due to the media barrage.

"Liberty Counsel has received death threats as a direct result of the false media narrative," the group announced in a statement on Thursday. "One person, whose identity is being traced, said 'All LC leaders must die.' The media and those with a political axe to grind must exercise caution when reporting or using social media. False reporting endangers lives."

As for his position on the bill, Staver declared, "No one can or should oppose a bill that bans lynching. We oppose lynching across the board for any person. Period!"

"The bill in question created a list of protected categories, thus limiting the application of the law. Lynching should be prohibited no matter the person’s reason for committing this violent crime," Staver concluded.

The Liberty Counsel president originally objected to the inclusion of special protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity into the bill in an interview with One News Now published Tuesday. He falsely claimed that "this would be the first time that you would have in federal law mentioning gender identity and sexual orientation." (The terms are mentioned in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law by President Obama in 2009.)

Various news outlets seized on Staver's declaration.

NBC News's headline screeched, "Evangelical group wants gays removed from anti-lynching bill." That article uncritically referenced the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designation of Liberty Counsel as a "hate group." [SPLC's false and malicious "hate group" designations have inspired at least one terrorist attack, and last year the group settled a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit for calling a Muslim reformer an "anti-Islamic extremist."]

Newsweek reported, "Evangelical 'Hate Group' Lobbies to Remove LGBT Protections From Anti-Lynching Bill." While Newsweek eventually incorporated Liberty Counsel's response, it also uncritically cited the SPLC "hate group" designation.

The Hill reported, "Evangelical group calls for LGBT people to be removed from anti-lynching bill." This article also uncritically referenced the SPLC's label.

Pink News reported, "Evangelical activists want LGBT people excluded from anti-lynching bill." Like the others, it uncritically cited the SPLC label.

The LGBT magazine The Advocate reported, "Hate Group Leader Objects to LGBTQ Inclusion in Anti-Lynching Bill." This article, which did not even put the SPLC designation in scare quotes, proved the most egregious. "Mat Staver of the far-right legal group Liberty Counsel thinks it’s a terrible idea to make lynching a federal hate crime — if the law covers crimes against LGBTQ people," Trudy Ring wrote.

Any article suggesting that Staver wanted LGBT people somehow cut out of laws against lynching is utterly false and arguably slanderous. He opposed specific protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity because any law making lynching illegal should apply equally to everyone, regardless of the motivation behind any lynching. His preferred version of the law would still make it illegal and a hate crime to lynch LGBT people, because it would be an illegal hate crime to lynch anyone.

As Staver said, "We oppose lynching across the board for any person. Period!"

Yet attacks on Liberty Counsel grew on Twitter.

Matt Ortega, digital director for the Democratic firm New Partners, claimed that Liberty Counsel demanded "a carve out in federal legislation to lynch gays."

Pastor Nate Pyle went so far as to quote Liberty Counsel's website condemning "violence and hatred" and contrasted this with what he claimed was the group's desire to have "LGBTQ protection removed from anti-lynching bill. Indefensible."

Think Progress editor Zack Ford tweeted, "You know [Liberty Counsel] is a hate group when they're upset that a law against LYNCHING will also protect LGBTQ people from violence."

These and other attacks suggested that Liberty Counsel supports violence against LGBT people, despite clear statements to the contrary.

"I want to address this false, slanderous narrative that Liberty Counsel is opposed to banning lynching or opposes the banning of lynching of LGBT people," Jonathan Alexandre, Liberty Counsel's director of public policy and an African-American, said in a powerful video response. "Such reporting is false. It’s a reckless and offensive narrative."

"No one can or should oppose a bill that bans lynching," Alexandre added. "This is obvious that we oppose lynching across the board for any person. We have addressed members of Congress questions regarding the created list of protected categories, which would in fact limit the application of this law. We support a prohibition on lynching no matter the person’s reason for committing this violent crime."

"As an African-American, I am likewise outraged over the false narrative that the media is spinning of Liberty Counsel’s position here," Alexandre declared. "The systematic torture and abuse of African-Americans throughout this country’s history is its greatest disgrace. Some politicians and now the media have tried to use this horrible history to push an unrelated political agenda by hijacking this serious issue."

Once again, the Liberty Counsel director stated unequivocally, "Lynching is wrong for all people, for any reason, and for any and all motives, and the historical victims of lynching should not, as I do not, tolerate the hijacking of this issue by a political agenda. There is no proper comparison here and there is no excuse for this false narrative."

Follow the author of this article on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.