Senate nominee Ted Budd to appear alongside right-wing extremists at anti-LGBTQ conference

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The conservative Christian group hosting the event this weekend pushed to ban same-sex marriage in North Carolina.

Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), who is his party's nominee for an open Senate seat, is set to speak at a Christian right conference this weekend with a host of far-right extremists with a history of ethical scandals and bigotry.

According to the group's website, Budd will be part of the North Carolina Faith & Freedom Coalition's Salt & Light Conference near Charlotte. Tickets to the full two-day event, which bills itself as featuring "leaders" who "are declaring the TRUTH of God's Word to the cultural issues of the day," start at $99.

The sponsoring organization is the state's chapter of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a group founded by Christian right leader and Republican strategist Ralph Reed. It works to promote "Christian values" in public policy and advocates for redefining marriage to being only for opposite-sex couples.

In 2012, the Faith & Freedom Coalition fought for an amendment to North Carolina's state constitution to ban same-sex marriage and domestic unions. The amendment, which passed in May 2012, held that "marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State."

The group lists North Carolina's same-sex marriage ban in the "Milestones & History" section of its website. A federal judge struck down the ban in 2014, and same-sex marriage is now legally recognized in the state.

Reed, who is also scheduled to speak at the North Carolina conference, came under fire in 2006 for his role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

According to a Senate Indian Affairs Committee report, he received over $5 million funneled from Native American tribes who operated gambling casinos to drum up religious opposition to gaming competitors in other states. He denied knowledge of the source of the payments and any wrongdoing.

A Budd spokesperson did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the event.

Others announced speakers include:

Greg Locke

Greg Locke, the lead pastor at Global Vision Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, is best known for his connection to the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection. A COVID-19 science denier and a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump, he reportedly has traveled around the nation to falsely claim that Trump was the legitimate winner of the 2020 election. Locke was on the steps of the Capitol as the violent mob of Trump supporters illegally stormed the building.

According to a report by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Locke prayed for the Proud Boys at a rally the day before the insurrection, preaching, "I declare unto you that President Donald Trump is gonna stay for four more years in the White House ... We're a mighty army. They've gotta listen. They can't ignore us. Our churches have been backed into a corner."

"God, help us to live, help us to fight, and if need be, lay down our life for this nation, and we thank you for those that have gone before us and done just that," he added.

In January 2022, Locke said in a sermon that children on the autism spectrum and with epilepsy were really possessed by demons. "Your kid could be demonized and attacked, but your doctor calls it autism," he claimed. "Ain't no such diagnosis in the Bible."

Lauren Boebert

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), a QAnon conspiracy theorist, claimed her 2020 election was "a sign and a wonder, just like God promised."

In July 2021, she attacked public health workers going door to door to help people voluntarily get vaccinated against COVID-19, likening them to totalitarian fascists or Communists.

"Biden has deployed his Needle Nazis to Mesa County," she tweeted. "The people of my district are more than smart enough to make their own decisions about the experimental vaccine and don't need coercion by federal agents. Did I wake up in Communist China?"

She again made headlines in January for reportedly asking a group of observant Jews who were visiting the U.S. Capitol whether they were there to conduct "reconnaissance."

Mark Harris

Mark Harris, a senior pastor at the Trinity Baptist Church in Mooresville, North Carolina, gave a 2013 sermon in which he questioned whether it is "a healthy pursuit for society" to teach girls to be "independent." He suggested that "God's plan for biblical womanhood" did not involve women having careers and lamented that society "created a culture and created an environment that have made it extremely difficult for any woman ... to live out and fulfill God's design."

In 2018, he was the Republican nominee for an open U.S. House seat. While initial tallies showed that he had won narrowly, the election was nullified after it came out that his campaign had engaged in a massive election fraud scheme involving stolen absentee ballots.

Harris opted not to run in the subsequent 2019 special election, citing a "health situation." He denied any wrongdoing in the scandal.

E.W. Jackson

E.W. Jackson, a Baptist minister and founder of the conservative nonprofit Staying True to America's National Destiny (STAND), was the unsuccessful 2013 Virginia Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

He has frequently attacked LGBTQ people, mocking the "homosexual religion" and calling Pride Month "ikky."

In his 2008 prosperity gospel book "Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life," Jackson wrote that people should prioritize giving money to the rich over the poor because, "While giving to the poor is important, the most powerful giving for wealth building is upward giving."

He also claimed in the book that people should not do yoga because "the purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself ... [Satan] is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it."

Todd Starnes

Todd Starnes is a bigoted right-wing media host. He has attacked Muslim American people, asserted in 2015 that one should never be president because the U.S. was founded on "Judeo-Christian values, not Islamic" and suggested Muslims "want to blow me up or chop my head off."

In his 2012 book "Dispatches from a Bitter America," he mocked transgender people and accused schools of being "anti-straight" for acknowledging that LGBTQ people exist.

Starnes even lost his job on Fox News in 2019 after he agreed with right-wing pastor Robert Jeffress that Democrats worship the "Pagan god" Moloch, rather than the "God of the Bible."

James O'Keefe

James O'Keefe, the right-wing provocateur and founder of the guerilla filmmaking Project Veritas, makes deceptive stealth videos designed to embarrass his political opponents.

He was arrested with three colleagues in 2010 for illegally entering the office of then-Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) disguised as telephone workers in a botched "sting" attempt. He agreed to a plea bargain, accepting three years of probation, a $1,500 fine, and 100 hours of community service.

In 2013, he agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement to a former employee of the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) after secretly recording him and releasing a video purportedly showing him agreeing to smuggle underage sex workers into the country. The employee called the police immediately after the conversation to report O'Keefe.

On Thursday the Trump-funded Project Veritas was found by a jury to have committed fraud against a Democratic consulting firm and ordered to pay $120,000.

Mark Robinson

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican who has endorsed Budd's Senate candidacy, is well-known for his history of anti-LGBTQ bigotry.

In June 2021 comments at the Asbury Baptist Church in Seagrove, North Carolina, he told congregants: "There's no reason anybody, anywhere in America should be telling children about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth. And yes, I called it 'filth.' If you don't like it that I called it 'filth,' come see me and I'll explain it to you."

Amid calls for him to resign, Robinson delivered another sermon that November in which he complained about seeing men kiss on television, claimed homosexuality serves no purpose, and said opposite-sex relationships are better because heterosexuals can reproduce.

"These people are superior," he said, "because they can do something these people can't do because that's the way God created it to be."

Budd, who is himself virulently anti-LGBTQ, also spoke with Robinson at an August event hosted by the Christian theocratic American Renewal Project.

There, Budd reportedly told the audience: "I look around and I see our freedoms trampled underfoot by the obscene advances of the radical left, whether it be through those open border policies, threats to the Second Amendment or attacks on Christians, churches and schools like this. As believers, we know that's not the path that leads to human prosperity and human flourishing. It's the path instead that leads down the road to destruction."

He will face Democratic nominee Cheri Beasley, a former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, for the seat of retiring Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC). Beasley backs LGBTQ rights and has been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign as "a fierce ally to the LGBTQ+ community."

Recent polls show the two are virtually tied.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.