The white knight of American family values knows no limits when pitted against big business, writes Daniel Jeffreys
The Reverend Don Wildmon is a scary guy. He scared Pepsi out of a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign with Madonna. He frightened retail chain K-Mart out of an estimated $500m in sales. Now he's knocking on Unilever's door and the Anglo-Dutch multinational is feeling the fear.

Wildmon is the 57-year-old founder of the American Family Association, an organisation that has become the white knight of "traditional family values". From his Mississippi headquarters the Reverend issues a simple warning: "Any company that thinks it can make money by undermining the family had better watch out."

Because Unilever, which makes household products, has placed commercials around NYPD Blue, Wildmon says the company "promotes depravity". "Unilever's support of NYPD Blue is helping to open the doors of sexual nudity on prime time TV," he says, talking fast with a soft southern accent. "America was built on the family; NYPD Blue is undermining the family. We won't stand by and let that happen."

The AFA has 2 million members. Three weeks ago, Rev Wildmon called on all of them to boycott Unilever's products. "The response has been wonderful," he says. "We've sent out half a million boycott cards to members in just under a month." That means around 500,000 god-fearing Americans are now walking the supermarket aisles with a list of Unilever products. All on a neat long-lasting plastic card that fits right in the purse or wallet. Unilever won't comment on the effect this has had on sales but Rev Wildmon says his spies report that the company's revenues are starting to hurt.

"I've just seen a confidential Unilever memo. It was sent out by Ronald Goldstein, the president of Unilever US," The Reverend's southern twang speeds up with excitement. "He said the whole NYPD Blue series of commercials is under review. Senior staff were asked to comment on how best to handle a withdrawal."

Perhaps Unilever consulted with K-Mart. Four years ago, AFA members complained about pornography on the shelves of Waldenbooks, a K-Mart subsidiary. Wildmon decided on a boycott. K-Mart is a discount retailer selling food and clothing which has stores throughout middle America. Rev Wildmon says K-Mart's customer base is prime AFA territory: white, lower-middle-class families struggling to make a buck. Since the boycott began, K-Mart's sales have sagged.

"I have just one motivation - to protect the family," says Rev Wildmon. "This country was built on the family. In the past 30 years, family values have been under attack. During that time crime has risen, illegitimacy has risen, drug use is all but out of control. That's what happens when the family is weakened.The family is God's way of establishing order in the universe."

"God help this country if Don Wildmon ever gets control of the airwaves." says Lucie Salhany, the former head of 20th Century Television which helped produce NYPD Blue. "The airwaves belong to the people and they cast their ballots every day of the week. They don't need the AFA to tell them what to watch. Wildmon underestimates the intelligence of the American people." Ms Salhany is part of what the AFA calls the "liberal media establishment", a pet target for Rev Wildmon. "Believe me, I'm not a liberal," she insists. "I'm a mother with two children and I believe in the family. But to fight what's on the screen is crazy. People like the AFA should get out on the streets and fight drugs and fight for gun control."

Rev Wildmon is used to a "crazy" tag. He says he gets it all the time from Hollywood. "We're quite sane. You can't deny 2 million members," he says. "Hollywood is hung up on sex and violence. Most of the Hollywood people are pagans, they have no values, other than money."

Nor can Hollywood dismiss Rev Wildmon. In addition to 2 million members, 67 religious denominations, including the Roman Catholic church, are affiliated to AFA, and he has the official backing of eight senators, including presidential candidate, Senator Phil Gramm from Texas. As American politics have moved to the right, the AFA has been pulled into the mainstream. Over half the new republican members in the House of Representatives endorsed the AFA's objectives during their election campaigns. Rev Wildmon has not yet launched a boycott against Hollywood but one is not far away.

"Disney is a likely target for our next campaign." says Rev Wildmon. "It encourages homosexuality through its corporate culture." For him, gay people are part of an unholy trinity, along with feminists and liberals. "Disney holds seminars for employees which encourage acceptance of homosexuality. They also have same-sex medical benefits for homosexual couples. If you ask me, have our laws gone too far to accommodate homosexuals, I have to say yes." And this is a man who can get his calls answered by at least 100 republican congressmen.

Not that Rev Wildmon aims to change too many laws. He'd rather go in for corporate blackmail than have a fair fight with opponents on Capitol Hill."I have four children and four grandchildren. Two of my children work here at the AFA. I started the AFA because one night we sat down to watch TV with the kids and on every channel there was either sex or violence. I was scared for the kind of world my children would find for their kids." That was 15 years ago. Since then 7-Eleven, ABC TV, Burger King, MatchBox Toys and Clorox bleach have lost millions because they offended the Reverend.

"Hollywood is the worst," says Wildmon. "They won't let us in to influence their values so we will just have to take the place by storm. Take this Hugh Grant fellow, he's been with this woman for eight years almost as man and wife. Then he takes off with some hooker. What does Hollywood say? That he was stupid! Not wrong, but stupid! If Hollywood had any values it would close its door to Hugh Grant."

Rev Wildmon's next campaign isalready the talk of the telecommunications industry. America's long-distance telephone companies AT&T, Sprint and MCI are locked in fierce competition. "We have our eyes on AT&T," says Wildmon, a sharp edge to his voice. "They also have a corporate culture that encourages homosexuality with compulsory 'gay awareness' seminars. They're vulnerable right now. We might just launch a joint campaign and do Disney and AT&T all in one deal."

"Wildmon is a threat to liberty," argues Majorie Heims, a director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "He is trying to accomplish censorship, which runs right against the spirit of the First Amendment."

"Speech is not free," counters Rev Wildmon. "It has consequences. We don't plan to pass any laws to limit free speech. But if people use the treasured right of free speech to try and destroy the family, they are trying to destroy America. When we see those attacks on the family, we are going to speak out loud and clear."

You know he's not kidding. And you know he's not going away. All the Republican contenders for the Presidency need to court the right-wing vote. We're all going to hear a lot more from the Wildmon of Tupelo, Mississippi.

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