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Ferndale-Based Hate Group Church Militant: Gone For Good?

Org has history of virulent anti-LGBTQ+ activity

Hank Kennedy

We fighters for LGBTQ+ rights have to take our victories where we can get them. As state governments continue to try to take our rights away, as right-wing bigots fulminate about eliminating us from public life, as we reel in horror from the death of Nex Benedict, it’s nice to get some good news. What kind of good news? How about an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group shutting down?

This month, the Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group Church Militant closed its doors and shut down its website. The group’s two story headquarters was on Hilton Street, incongruously in our gayborhood of Ferndale. Former broadcaster Michael Voris was the brainchild behind Church Militant. Voris was reportedly displeased by what he viewed as inaccuracies about Catholicism presented in the book and film "The Da Vinci Code" and sought to clear up misconceptions through the website and YouTube channel RealCatholictv.com, later renamed Church Militant.

Obviously, no one should have their religion slandered or defamed, but it appears that Voris’s true goal was less clearing up misconceptions about Catholicism and more spreading hatred and intolerance. Church Militant insinuated that more liberal Catholics were gay in an attempt to force them out of the church. Composer of Catholic hymns Dan Schuette was called “an active homosexual.” The group garnered even more publicity by calling the Archbishop of Washington D.C. a Black man, a "Marxist" and "African Queen." These racist and homophobic slurs were too much for the Detroit Catholic archdiocese, who officially rebuked the organization in 2020.

Instead of moderating their message after this rebuke, Church Militant promoted Holocaust denier and Trump-dinner guest Nicholas Fuentes and hosted a fawning interview with conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed Christian nationalist Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Within Ferndale, they attempted to get their neighbors on city council to fly their flag but, wisely, the council decided it would be a mistake to fly the flag of a hate group. In an episode that showed the group’s influence within the wider conservative movement, Donald Trump’s head of the Federal Elections Commission, James E. Trainor, gave an interview to Church Militant. In the interview, Trainor called the separation of church and state “a fallacy” and declared that the 2020 presidential election was “a spiritual war.”

Church Militant worked hard to earn their hate group designation. They also endorsed the discredited and harmful practice of conversion therapy. They published homophobic headlines like “Episcopal Sodomy: Exposing the Enablers” and “The Gay Rainbow is the Mark of the Beast.” They targeted a queer-owned bakery by asking them to bake a cake with a homophobic message.

The one and only time I encountered Church Militant was during a counter-protest in Royal Oak last March. They were there, along with the 11th District Republican Committee led by fellow bigot Shane Trejo (who once hosted a podcast named after the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil”), to protest a Drag Queen Story Time event at Sidetrack Bookshop. Happily, they were vastly outnumbered. An estimated two dozen protested the event but there were 1,000 joyful counterprotesters. Church Militant and friends could not halt the event and had to slink away in defeat. No children were harmed by any bigots, or the storytime.

An obvious influence on the group was notorious historical resident of metro Detroit: The antisemitic “Radio Priest” Father Charles Coughlin. Coughlin broadcast his radio program in Royal Oak, at the Shrine of the Little Flower on 12 Mile and Woodward. Like Church Militant, Coughlin spewed hate against minority groups and theorized that foreigners and Communists were secretly controlling the United States. Also like Church Militant, Coughlin used modern media to spread his message. In the 1930s that was radio; today it is the internet. Church Militant seemed aware of the connection given that they posted an article to their website recommending Coughlin to members as a fighter against Communism and the welfare state. (For obvious reasons, they avoided the swastika-covered elephant in the room of Coughlin’s Nazi sympathies.)

A few months ago, Vorhis stepped down. He had admitted in a 2017 Atlantic documentary that he had “live-in relationships with homosexual men," but claimed he was now no longer gay. Apparently that change did not take since he had been allegedly sending out shirtless selfies to male staffers at Church Militant, surely embarrassing behavior for such a virulently anti-LGBTQ+ organization. After that misfortune, the group was sued for defamation by the Rev. Georges de Laire due to Church Militant publishing an article calling him unstable and vindictive. The costs of the lawsuit settlement are so great that Church Militant will have to shut down in April. When I mentioned at a recent vigil for Nex Benedict in Ferndale at Affirmations that Church Militant would no longer be in operation, there were cheers and applause.

It appears, however, that some of that praise may have been premature. Last week it was reported that a new email claiming to be from Church Militant has sprung up. Ferndale residents can rest easy knowing that the new Church Militant, if it exists, will no longer trouble their hometown. It looks like the hate group found a more hospitable political climate in Texas. Yeehaw. 

Whether Church Militant is truly gone or not, it’s clear that eternal vigilance is the price to pay for our liberties. Even before Church Militant shut down, the group Catholicvote.org brought their homophobic “Hide the Pride” campaign to the Ferndale library. It’s a necessity that we be ready to battle against any of these dark satanic mills of propaganda, whoever they are or whatever they call themselves.

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