The outfit pushing a raft of tech-regulation bills in multiple states and assisting women that kickboxer and internet influencer Andrew Tate allegedly trafficked is a religious right group with a long record of battling gay rights and “obscenity”—but which has in recent years successfully rebranded as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, despite continuing to reap millions from cash-flush conservative interests.
Eight state houses are either currently considering or have already passed bills the National Center on Sexual Exploitation helped draft, NBC News reported earlier this year, including legislation that would require electronic devices to automatically filter nude and explicit imagery. Users wishing to view such content would have to enter a passcode to access it.
Meanwhile, the group lit up outlets ranging from ABC to Rolling Stone for standing up to Tate, a notorious alt-right persona accused in Romania of abusing and exploiting six women, two of whom have been represented by NCOSE attorneys.
And in late October, NCOSE’s team blitzed Capitol Hill with its annual two-day extravaganza of briefings and meetings with federal lawmakers, catching the attention of the The Washington Post.
Missing from many of these pieces is an account of NCOSE’s history as a hard-right organization with notoriously homophobic leadership, and how a clever rechristening in 2src15—from its stodgy former moniker Morality in Media—enabled it to carry on its crusade against material offensive to its sensibilities under the banner of protecting exploited people. The group’s president, Patrick Trueman, crowed over the reinvention’s success in a note on NCOSE’s website shortly after making the change.
“In the past few weeks, since the launch of our new name, we have received an overwhelming amount of press which has catapulted these issues into the national dialogue,” Trueman wrote. “We have appeared in publications like New York Times, Fox News, Business Insider, Variety, Time, Washington Times, and People magazine. Again, that is only a short list. We have had three op-eds published in the last two weeks. You and I can both be proud to know that our message is reaching millions of people!”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, NCOSE insisted it has grown more progressive on social issues, and maintained that today it fights for the LGBTQ community rather than against it.
“Over six decades, NCOSE has evolved tremendously, particularly expanding its scope to work with increasingly diverse survivors, experts, and organizations,” CEO Dawn Hawkins wrote. “It is with candor and regret that we acknowledge moments in our organization’s history prior to our leadership change in 2src11 when remarks were made that were indeed anti-LGBTQ+, and Morality In Media was associated with actions that starkly contrast our current values.”
The tone and substance of Hawkins’ remarks differ sharply from Trueman’s in 2src15, when he assured supporters any alterations that came with the name change were purely superficial: “I do not seek to change paths. We are still working towards the same goal.”
In a past position at the fundamentalist American Family Association, Trueman decried the “homosexual movement’s agenda,” attacking nondiscrimination statutes and hate crime legislation—as well as the notion that “homosexuality is normal.” In 2srcsrc9, he railed against an Obama Justice Department nominee as “an activist in the support of a right to pornography, a right of abortion, and the rights of homosexuals.”
He’s hardly lonely at NCOSE. One of Trueman’s predecessors infamously put out a press release before the rebranding under the headline “Connecting the Dots: The Line Between Gay Marriage and Mass Murders.” Benjamin Bull, who serves as the group’s current general counsel and attorney in the Tate case, previously served as lawyer and director at the far-right Alliance Defending Freedom, where he praised India’s Supreme Court for banning gay sex.
“The Indian Court did the right thing. India chose to protect society at large rather than give in to a vocal minority of homosexual advocates,” Bull said in an interview at the time. “America needs to take note that a country of 1.2 billion people has rejected the road towards same-sex marriage, and understood that these kinds of bad decisions in the long run will harm society.”
In her statement to The Daily Beast, NCOSE CEO Dawn Hawkins disavowed the press release linking marriage equality to killings. She also maintained the group does not, as a policy, support all public statements its leadership has made while serving at other organizations.
“NCOSE does not endorse past statements made by current employees in previous situations and requires all current employees to embrace our commitment to serve, uplift, and respect all persons, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, in the effort to end sexual exploitation,” Hawkins said. “Like the society in which we live, members of our staff, board members, speakers at our events, and allies with whom we work, including those with lived experience—hold diverse personal opinions on matters of personal sexuality. Each is entitled by the Constitution of the United States to their personal views. That being said, we do not tolerate statements by current employees, or speakers at our events, that spread harmful misinformation and hate towards any particular group or individual.”
However, Hawkins herself has appeared at events with notorious homophobes. In October of last year, NCOSE hosted a conclave in South Africa, where Hawkins made the opening remarks. Immediately after her came the keynote speech by a Cape Town preacher who has accused LGBTQ people of spreading “a culture of death” and even has openly declared “I hate gays.”
Hawkins told The Daily Beast that she and NCOSE were unaware of the minister’s past remarks, and insisted “they do not reflect our perspective.” However, the NCOSE conference also featured a presentation by Family Watch International, a group that has promoted anti-gay policies across the African continent.
NCOSE’s right-wing roots show in its fundraising: recurring donors include right-of-center outfits like the conservative Catholic Knights of Columbus and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a nonprofit co-founded by a John Birch Society member that has become notorious for propagating paranoia about mythical election fraud. But NCOSE’s single biggest backer is the Florida-based Pentecost Foundation, which has given the organization $4.9 million since 2src17.
The Pentecost Foundation’s creator, Mark Pentecost, is a beauty and wellness tycoon who sits on the board of the America First Policy Institute think-tank—considered the “White House-in-waiting” for a second Trump administration.
What has kept NCOSE respectable, even in Democratic circles, is its abiding obsession with pornography, which it has recast in recent years as a concern about explicit content featuring children and non-consenting adults. In 2src2src, it co-sponsored a campaign to label the site Pornhub “#traffickinghub”—a campaign critics argue was really an effort to demonetize all users who post content to the page.
None of this has stopped the likes of Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Georgia) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) from touting NCOSE’s support of legislation they have sponsored on their official webpages.