TAMPA, Fla. – The conservative group that got Lowe's to pull its ads from a reality TV show about American Muslims has been fighting for more than two decades against gay rights, strip clubs and most anything else that offends evangelical Christians.
The leader of the Florida Family Association is David Caton, a 55-year-old family values crusader who left an accounting career to found the group in 1987. He said the association has 35,000 members who were urged to email Lowe's to pressure the home improvement giant into dropping commercials during the TLC cable network show "All-American Muslim."
Lowes has drawn criticism for its decision from leaders in the Muslim community, celebrities and others suggesting a boycott of the store. Despite the growing backlash, the Mooresville, N.C.-based company said Monday it was planning to stick by its decision after the show became a "lightning rod for people to voice complaints from a variety of perspectives — political, social and otherwise."
Several politicians called the Florida Family Association a fringe hate group, a title Caton shrugged off, saying the group aims to "defend traditional American biblical values."
The show was not an accurate portrayal American Muslims, he said, because it doesn't disclose that "99.9 percent of Muslims agree with the principles of Sharia law," the restrictive religious code that Caton and others warn leads to the spread of Islamic extremism.
"This has all to do with the way this program was constructed to deliberately present Muslims in America as one flavor," he told The Associated Press. "It would be similar to the Learning Channel doing a report on 'snakes are good family pets' without reporting that there are four in Florida that are venomous. ....For TLC to choose to profile five people as an aberration of the Islamic faith is propaganda."
TLC used to be called The Learning Channel.
"All-American Muslim," which premiered last month, chronicles the lives of five families who live in and near Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim and Arab-American population. TLC spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said the show, which airs Mondays on TLC and ends its first season Jan. 8, has garnered a little over a million viewers per week.
Caton said he targeted the show because a recent poll on the group's website found that the spread of Islam in America was their No. 1 concern, more than homosexuality and pornography. About 1,800 votes were cast.
Florida Family Association claims more than 60 advertisers that it emailed have also stopped advertising on the show. So far, Lowe's is the only major company to confirm they pulled their ads.
Caton's group has also protested "Gay Days" at Walt Disney World.
Last year to no avail, Caton's group flooded the University of South Florida with 2,500 emails protesting a course on "queer theory." Recently the group targeted companies advertising on the teen show Degrassi on a Nickelodeon channel because it "promotes the transgender lifestyle and other inappropriate behavior to children," according to the Florida Family Association website.
The group's website appeared to be hacked Monday and posted a message that read: "No further proof is needed of the potential for vicious action then exactly what these folks are trying to do to this web site! The attack has been extremely mean spirited. ... Because of our real concern for the terrorism that is a way of life for some folks, we ourselves have become victims. Because we urge other to be vigilant we become the targets. Don't let it happen folks, take stand before it is too late."
The group also claims credit for helping get the show "The Playboy Club" canceled by NBC. The network, however, announced the show was being canceled less than 24 hours after the new series drew only 3.5 million people for its third episode.
The Florida Family Association, which is not affiliated with the older and larger American Family Association, reported more than $172,000 in donations last year, with $59,423 going toward salaries.