Ron Paul has faced a torrent of criticism in recent weeks over newsletters printed in his name during the 1980s and 1990s which contained racist, anti-semitic, and homophobic content. He is also on the hook for accepting the support of fringe right-wing groups. While Paul dismisses these concerns, his campaign seems to have no problem working with and enjoying the support of anti-gay extremists, including one supporter who has called for the implementation of the death penalty for homosexual behavior.
Paul's Iowa chair, Drew Ivers, recently touted the endorsement of Rev. Phillip G. Kayser, a pastor at the Dominion Covenant Church in Nebraska who also draws members from Iowa, putting out a press release praising "the enlightening statements he makes on how Ron Paul's approach to government is consistent with Christian beliefs." But Kayser's views on homosexuality go way beyond the bounds of typical anti-gay evangelical politics and into the violent fringe: he recently authored a paper arguing for criminalizing homosexuality and even advocated imposing the death penalty against offenders based on his reading of Biblical law.
"Difficulty in implementing Biblical law does not make non-Biblical penology just," he argued. "But as we have seen, while many homosexuals would be executed, the threat of capital punishment can be restorative. Biblical law would recognize as a matter of justice that even if this law could be enforced today, homosexuals could not be prosecuted for something that was done before."
Reached by phone, Kayser confirmed to TPM that he believed in reinstating Biblical punishments for homosexuals -- including the death penalty -- even if he didn't see much hope for it happening anytime soon. While he said he and Paul disagree on gay rights, noting that Paul recently voted for repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell, he supported the campaign because he believed Paul's federalist take on the Constitution would allow states more latitude to implement fundamentalist law. Especially since under Kayser's own interpretation of the Constitution there is no separation of Church and State.
"Under a Ron Paul presidency, states would be freed up to not have political correctness imposed on them, but obviously some state would follow what's politically correct," he said. "What he's trying to do, whether he agrees with the Constitution's position or not, is restrict himself to the Constitution. That is something I very much appreciate."
Kayser's allegiance to the Paul campaign may reflect who the campaign has chosen to sell Paul to the churches. Mike Heath, who became Ron Paul's Iowa state director this fall, has spent his career on the Christian right. In Iowa, Heath has focused on outreach to the religious community in the state, where Paul has made an effort to target evangelical voters.
Heath spent 14 years running the Christian Civic League of Maine (which has since changed its name). As a prominent figure in Maine, Heath slowly alienated the Christian right in the state with his extreme tactics. In 2004, for example, he launched a witch hunt to out gay members of the Maine legislature, asking supporters, according to the Portland Press Herald, to "e-mail us tips, rumors, speculation and facts" regarding the sexual orientation of the state's political leaders, adding, "We are, of course, most interested in the leaders among us who want to overturn marriage, eliminate the mother/father family as the ideal, etc." The result was that his own organization suspended him for a month.
"He's a well-known conspiracy theorist about the 'gay agenda,'" says Travis Kennedy, chief of staff for the House Democratic Office in Maine, who says Heath was a big figure around the capital for many years. Heath made more enemies than friends, says Kennedy, whose "offensive and aggressive" tactics put off even his allies on the Christian right. In 2007, Heath played a big part in opposing a sexual orientation anti-discrimination ballot measure which ultimately passed by a wide margin. On Heath's new job in Iowa, Kennedy said, "I'm not surprised he'd be hired in a state far away from Maine. He has a pretty poor reputation around here."
From 2008-2010, Heath served as chairman of the board of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality. AFTAH is a fringe, anti-gay organization and has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for promoting false information. For example, the organization and its founder, Peter LaBarbera, have published false reports about LGBT people, including allegations that they live shorter lives and that they are prone to pedophilia. LaBarbera disputes the SPLC's label.
"Peter LaBarbera is among the most fringe elements of the anti-gay industry in America today," Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, wrote in an email to TPM. "You'd be hard pressed to find another group that is so singularly focused on telling lies about LGBT Americans."
It's unclear if Ron Paul ascribes to some of Heath's anti-gay beliefs. Paul's newsletters do contain several quotes smearing gay Americans as well as the AIDS epidemic. Recently, a disenchanted former Paul aide described an instance when Paul refused to use the bathroom of a gay supporter. But whatever Paul's beliefs, Heath's work on his campaign is another strike against a candidate with a history of associating with fringe elements of the right.
Neither the Paul campaign nor Mike Heath responded to requests for comment.