Steven Anderson: Serial abuser of free speech

Pastor Steven Anderson. (Facebook photo)
Updated 09 July 2019

Steven Anderson: Serial abuser of free speech

  • The American pastor embodies a trend of preachers hiding behind religion to spew messages of bigotry
  • Anderson has lauded the 2016 Orlando massacre, publicly prayed for Obama's death and denied the Holocaust

DUBAI: Pastor Steven Anderson uses his pulpit as his hate platform and justifies his extremist views in the name of religion.

Banned from half a dozen countries across the globe, the US-born hate preacher has lauded the 2016 Orlando massacre, publicly prayed for the death of former US President Barack Obama and denied the Holocaust.

Anderson says he hates anyone who believes in the “sin” of any other religion than his own fundamentalist Christian beliefs.

According to experts, he is part of a growing trend of hate preachers hiding behind religion, using their places of worship as a sanctuary to spread their discriminatory and bigoted messages to the world, all under the smokescreen of “religious freedom.”

Such preachers of hate justify their actions by saying they are fighting the enemies of God, said Josh Lipowsky, a research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project.

“Calling Anderson a hate preacher is an appropriate term as he promotes an extreme version of religion,” Lipowsky told Arab News.

BIO

  • Nationality: American
  • Place of residence: Tempe, Arizona
  • Occupation: Pastor and founder of the Faithful Word Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Baptist church
  • Legal status Banned from Ireland, the Netherlands, Jamaica, South Africa, Botswana and the UK
  • Medium YouTube sermons, personal vlogs “sanderson1611” and “Faithful Word Baptist Church,” Facebook

“While he doesn’t specifically encourage violence, he praises it and justifies his ideology by using his religious beliefs to disprove others.”

Anderson promotes an image that “he’s on the side of God, therefore anyone who disagrees with him is an enemy of God,” Lipowsky said.

A father of 10, Anderson heads the infamous Faithful Word Baptist Church, a fundamentalist Independent Baptist church in Tempe, Arizona.

The church — which he describes as an “old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, soul-winning Baptist church” — is currently listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because of Anderson’s radical stands.

Lipowsky said “dangerous is an appropriate term to describe the messages” that Anderson spreads, pointing to his comments in the aftermath of the massacre inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Anderson claimed in one of his uploaded YouTube sermons that “these people all should’ve been killed anyway” given that “the Bible says that homosexuals should be put to death.”

He claimed at the time that a “righteous government” should have tried the victims in court and had them executed according to “God’s perfect law.”

Lipowsky said: “You could have people listening to that and take that responsibility because this is the will of God — ‘if the government won’t take that action then I have to do it.’ That’s the danger of the consequences of these types of work.”

It is also an example of why it is often so difficult to directly penalize hate speech, said Lipowsky.

“Under US laws, you have to be very clear in showing that the speech specifically led to the act of violence,” he added.

“By saying he doesn’t condone the violence in Orlando per se, Anderson is covered, although we can see he’s preaching that hatred and someone who listened to that might feel this makes sense and we need to take this from words into action.”

“In Anderson’s YouTube videos, you can see a physical pulpit, but social media also allows him a digital pulpit that allows him to reach much further.”

Josh Lipowsky, research analyst at the Counter Extremism Project

Katharine Gelber, professor of politics and public policy at the University of Queensland, said Anderson hides behind religion to spread his messages of hate.  

“In some countries, those engaged in hate speech are trying to cite religious freedom as their defense,” she told Arab News.

“This is a clever tactic because they’re using the language of human rights to engage in an anti-human rights agenda. However, it shouldn’t be supported,” she said.

“The term ‘hate’ relates to hate speech, and should be used to identify people engaged in speech that’s discriminatory and harmful. Anderson certainly appears to fit this pattern,” Gelber added.

“Like any human right, free speech carries with it commensurate responsibilities. The right to free speech, and the right to religious freedom, aren’t absolute.”

Like many other hate preachers, Anderson goes online to spread religious discrimination and hatred.

He has a huge YouTube following, both on his personal vlog “sanderson1611,” which has more than 120,000 subscribers, and through his church’s dedicated vlog “Faithful Word Baptist Church,” which has more than 5,000 subscribers.

In one sermon, Anderson said “Hinduism is Satanic,” and those who follow the Roman Catholic faith are “confessing their sins to the priest who calls himself father and dresses like his mother in a dress.”

He has also said “I’m gonna pray that he (Obama) dies and goes to hell,” according to the SPLC.

Following the 2015 terror attack at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris, where 90 people were killed, Anderson said the victims deserved to die: “You went to a death metal concert. You bought the ticket.”

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He has also openly criticized Pope Francis for his more tolerant views, describing him as “the greatest false prophet on the earth at this time.”

Gelber said Anderson is a key example of extremists’ use of social media and the problems that arise with it.

“Social media provides a reach and volume that wouldn’t be possible without it. Narrowing hate speech regulations is entirely appropriate, and should be applied online just as they are offline,” she said.

“Beyond that, we need leadership that clarifies that rights come with commensurate responsibilities, and that one person’s exercise of their human rights stops at the point at which their exercise of their rights impedes another’s exercise of their own.

 

ALSO READ: All About Steven Anderson

 

“Democratic states have drawn a line in the sand that says discrimination isn’t acceptable. We need to hold that line.”

Anderson has made international headlines by getting banned from several countries — including Ireland, the Netherlands, Jamaica, South Africa, Botswana and the UK — because of his comments and beliefs.

While his physical presence in these countries may have been curtailed by the bans, his digital presence continues uncensored.

Until stricter online rules are introduced, Lipowsky said,  listening to — and being influenced by — the messages of hate spread by preachers such as Anderson will continue to expand.

 


‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

Updated 59 min 45 sec ago

‘Terminator’ Rajapaksa storms to victory in Sri Lanka

  • Gotabaya Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism
  • His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists

COLOMBO: Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who spearheaded the brutal crushing of the Tamil Tigers 10 years ago, stormed to victory Sunday in Sri Lanka’s presidential elections, seven months after Islamist extremist attacks killed 269 people.
Rajapaksa conducted a nationalist campaign with a promise of security and a vow to crush religious extremism in the Buddhist-majority country following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks blamed on a homegrown militant group.
His triumph will, however, alarm Sri Lanka’s Tamil and Muslim minorities as well as activists, journalists and possibly some in the international community following the 2005-15 presidency of his older brother Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mahinda, with Gotabaya effectively running the security forces, ended a 37-year civil war with Tamil separatists. His decade in power was also marked by alleged rights abuses, murky extra-judicial killings and closer ties with China.
Gotabaya, a retired lieutenant-colonel, 70, nicknamed the “Terminator” by his own family, romped to victory with 51.9 percent of the vote, results from the two-thirds of votes counted so far showed.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” said student Devni, 22, one of around 30 people who gathered outside Rajapaksa’s Colombo residence. “I am so excited, he is the president we need.”
Rajapaksa’s main rival, the moderate Sajith Premadasa of the ruling party, trailed on 42.3 percent. The 52-year-old conceded the race and congratulated Rajapaksa.
On Sunday three cabinet members resigned — including Finance Minister Mangalar Samaraweera.
The final result was expected later on Sunday with Rajapaksa due to be sworn in on Monday. Turnout was over 80 percent.
Premadasa had strong support in minority Tamil areas but a poor showing in Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese heartland, a core support base where Rajapaksa won some two-thirds of the vote.
Saturday’s poll was the first popularity test of the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe’s administration failed to prevent the April attacks despite prior and detailed intelligence warnings from India, according a parliamentary investigation.
Premadasa also offered better security and a pledge to make a former war general, Sarath Fonseka, his national security chief, projecting himself as a victim seeking to crush terrorism.
He is the son of assassinated ex-president Ranasinghe Premadasa who fell victim to a Tamil rebel suicide bomber in May 1993.
But Gotabaya is adored by the Sinhalese majority and the powerful Buddhist clergy for how he and Mahinda ended the war in 2009, when 40,000 Tamil civilians allegedly perished at the hands of the army.
Under his brother, Gotabaya was defense secretary and effectively ran the security forces, allegedly overseeing “death squads” that bumped off rivals, journalists and others. He denies the allegations.
This makes the brothers detested and feared among many Tamils, who make up 15 percent of the population. Some in the Muslim community, who make up 10 percent, are also fearful of Gotabaya, having faced days of mob violence in the wake of the April attacks.
Under Mahinda, Sri Lanka also borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects and even allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo in 2014, alarming Western countries as well as India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Sunday that India looked forward to “deepening the close and fraternal ties... and for peace, prosperity as well as security in our region.”
The projects ballooned Sri Lanka’s debts and many turned into white elephants — such as an airport in the south devoid of airlines — mired in corruption allegations.
Unlike in 2015 when there were bomb attacks and shootings, this election was relatively peaceful by the standards of Sri Lanka’s fiery politics.
The only major incident was on Saturday when gunmen fired at two vehicles in a convoy of at least 100 buses taking Muslim voters to cast ballots. Two people were injured.
According to the Election Commission the contest was, however, the worst ever for hate speech and misinformation.