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The Satanic Temple is divided over hiring a lawyer who defended Alex Jones

The Satanic Temple is divided over hiring a lawyer who defended Alex Jones

A spiritual activist group known for taking on the religious right and conservative policy is splintering over its leader’s decision to enlist a lawyer who also represents prominent alt-right figures.

The Satanic Temple (TST) a nontheistic religious group that says it is dedicated to humanistic values, evidence-based scientific inquiry, and the separation of church and state, is currently suing Twitter for religious discrimination. TST argues it was not only unable to effectively report threats to its headquarters on the platform, but also that when its leader, who uses the pseudonym Lucien Greaves, spoke out, he was punished by being temporarily suspended.

Greaves’s decision to work with Marc Randazza, a lawyer whose other clients include Infowars’ Alex Jones and a number of neo-Nazis and white supremacists, has led to a fracture within TST. The Los Angeles chapter of the group has disaffiliated in protest, calling Randazza a “Twitter troll and an agent of the alt-right,” while the co-head of the New York chapter has resigned and left the organization.

The controversy over Greaves’s engagement of Randazza has crystallized wider debates within the organization. For Greaves and his allies, TST’s primary mission is to defend principles of personal sovereignty like free speech and separation of church and state, often by taking advantage of legal religious liberty exemptions. Greaves has frequently argued that this sovereignty is sacrosanct, even for views he finds repugnant: He has, for example, defended the right of ultra-conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at California Polytechnic University after students purporting to be Satanists led a protest against him.

But for many of the progressive activists drawn to TST for its high-profile commitment to left-wing advocacy work, TST’s partnership with Randazza, and willingness to overlook his more troubling clientele, is a worrying sign that the organization is too willing to let the voices of its leadership — many of whom are straight white men — crowd out the wishes of a more diverse membership.

The fracture within TST reveals the complications and ambiguities inherent in activism in the age of Trump. It also raises questions about the responsibility of broader activist groups, including religious organizations, to its members.