Sporting a fog machine for its smoke and mirrors routine and an extravagant stage that would make The Rolling Stones blush, the “ex-gay” group Exodus International held its glitzy annual conference in Asheville, North Carolina. I was in town all week to partner with regional and state organizations to oppose the meeting and its dizzying array of distortions.

A dark cloud hovered over the Exodus event, with violent hate crimes unsettling the local GLBT community. At the very moment ex-gay televangelists were railing against homosexuals in the foothills, news broke of an 18-year old boy in Anderson, South Carolina whose father, “yelled, cursed, swung a baseball bat, prayed and tried to cast the demon of homosexuality out of him.”

In nearby Greenville, South Carolina, Stephen Moller, an anti-gay thug who murdered 20-year-old Sean William Kennedy outside a gay bar, just learned that he would spend approximately 10 months in jail for his ferocious crime. In this gross miscarriage of justice, the message was sent that murdering gay people was tacitly acceptable, if not encouraged. While in town, I spoke to Sean’s grieving mother, Elke Kennedy, who rightfully called the sentence, “a joke and a slap on the wrist.”

Meanwhile, on the opening day of the Exodus conference, an anti-bullying bill was stalled in the North Carolina legislature. Into this backdrop of brutality stepped the ex-gay activists Alan Chambers and Randy Thomas, who were determined to show the progressive residents of Asheville that Exodus did not stigmatize gay and lesbian people. Unfortunately, they kept tripping over reality and revealing the true nature of their duplicitous, deceptive and depraved ministry.

For a week, western North Carolinians were dazzled with disingenuousness. The audacity of the lies was breathtaking and the sheer nerve was mind numbing. By the end of the conference, everyone who had paid attention learned that Exodus leaders are shameless charlatans who lack even a modicum of morality.

For example, Thomas tried to distance Exodus from the controversial practice of “reparative therapy,” telling the Asheville Citizen-Times, “We get lumped into the groups that do reparative therapy, when it’s just not true.” To put it kindly, Thomas sees the truth as a political pinwheel that he can spin in his efforts to win. I personally visited the Exodus conference (before I was evicted) and found that they were selling several books that taught “reparative therapy” including one from Dr. Joseph Nicolosi who invented the term.

In yet another instance of insincerity, on a local radio talk show Thomas feigned compassion for people living with HIV and AIDS. What “good guy” Thomas failed to tell listeners was that Exodus addresses AIDS on its website by saying that, “In today’s society, homosexuality is reaping a bitter harvest…Homosexual involvement reaps deep devastation in the lives of many who practice it.” That Thomas runs away from such judgmental words when speaking to more liberal audiences shows what a phony he truly is.

The double-talk and dissembling continued when Alan Chambers told the Citizen-Times that Exodus was, “not about fire and brimstone.” This, of course, was the same person who wrote in a 2005 newsletter, “One of the many evils this world has to offer is the sin of homosexuality. Satan, the enemy, is using people to further his agenda to destroy the Kingdom of God and as many souls as he can.” On Sept. 21, 2007, Chambers told a crowd of social conservatives in Florida, “We have to stand up against an evil agenda. It is an evil agenda and it will take anyone captive that is willing, or that is standing idly by.”

With such bombastic broadsides, does one really have to wonder how the violent Andersonville father got the idea that homosexuality was demonic? Or, how the gay bashing hooligan, Stephen Moller, believed he could devalue the life of a gay man?

To underscore this connection, consider Exodus’ keynote speaker on Friday, author Andy Comiskey, who wrote a book that Exodus was selling, which calls homosexuality “spiritual disfigurement” and says that “Satan delights in homosexual perversion.” Inside of a packed chapel, 700 vulnerable and confused gay people had their souls strip-mined, as Comiskey declared war:

“Wickedness is a reality,” said Comiskey on-stage. “And those with same-sex attraction that succumb to the spirit of the age, can become agents of that wickedness…When you claim healing for the homosexual, you have declared war. And people, it is only going to get worse; it is only going to get worse in the changing cultural climate in which we live. Ours is not a benign healing path, it is a call to battle.”

And, Exodus claims it does not preach fire and brimstone?

Exodus may smile sweetly and tell the mainstream media they love homosexuals. But, judging by the recent hate crimes in the Carolinas combined with the reactionary rhetoric of Exodus, it seems that they are literally “loving” us to death.

(Hear Wayne Besen on “Take a Stand” the day before Thomas)