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.

 


Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

Updated 19 min 49 sec ago

Malaysian police question Al Jazeera journalists over report on immigrants

  • Al Jazeera journalists under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur
  • The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3

KUALA LUMPUR: Six members of staff from state-owned Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera were questioned by police in Malaysia on Friday.

They are under investigation for sedition following the broadcast of a documentary about the mistreatment of migrant workers in Kuala Lumpur during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The documentary has ignited a backlash among the public,” said national police chief Abdul Hamid Bador. “During our investigation, we found out there were inaccuracies in the documentary that were aimed at creating a bad image of Malaysia.”

He said police have discussed the case with the attorney general and added: “We are going to give a fair investigation and a fair opportunity for them to defend themselves, in case the AG wants to file charges against them.”

The journalists, accompanied by their lawyers, were questioned at police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

The 25-minute documentary, titled “Locked Up in Malaysia’s Lockdown,” was broadcast as part of Al Jazeera’s “101 East” documentary strand on July 3. It highlighted the plight of undocumented migrants reportedly arrested during raids on COVID-19 lockdown hotspots. Malaysian officials said the report was inaccurate and misleading.

On Thursday, Al Jazeera said it refutes the charges and “stands by the professionalism, quality and impartiality of its journalism” and has “serious concerns about developments that have occurred in Malaysia since the broadcast of the documentary.” It added: “Al Jazeera is deeply concerned that its staff are now subject to a police investigation.”

However, the incident highlights the broadcaster’s double standards in reporting issues about migrant workers. When Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Qatar in February of failing to implement a system to ensure construction companies pay migrant workers on time, the issue was not highlighted by Al Jazeera, the headquarters of which is in Doha.

On May 23, migrant workers staged a rare protest in Qatar over unpaid wages but Al Jazeera did not send reporters to interview the demonstrators.

Also in May, HRW said that crowded and unsanitary conditions at Doha Central Prison were exacerbating the COVID-19 threat. The organization urged Qatar to reduce the size of prison populations and ensure inmates have access to adequate medical care, along with masks, sanitizer and gloves. Again Al Jazeera did not focus on the issue.

Activists and civil-society groups criticized the Malaysian government for its heavy-handed move against Al Jazeera.

“The Malaysian government should stop trying to intimidate the media when it reports something the powers that be don’t like,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “The reality is Malaysia has treated migrant workers very shoddily and Al Jazeera has caught them out on it.”

Nalini Elumalai, the Malaysia program officer for freedom of speech advocacy group Article 19, said the action against Al Jazeera is alarming and akin to “shooting the messenger.”

She added: “The government should instead initiate an independent inquiry into the issues raised in the documentary.”

There are at least 2 million migrant workers in Malaysia, though the true number is thought to be much higher as many are undocumented. They are a source of cheap, low-skilled labor in industries considered dirty and dangerous.