One of the front groups controlled by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich funded an organization designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group Gingrich supported is now under scrutiny for taking positions that are offensive towards gays, blacks, Muslims and others.

The news comes as Gingrich explores a run for president, and joins the NAACP in urging reform in the nation’s prison system.

According to ThinkProgress, last year Gingrich — through his ReAl Action organization — gave $350,000 to anti-gay groups. These groups successfully campaigned to unseat three of nine Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled unanimously in favor of same-sex marriage in that state. Gingrich funneled $125,000 to AFA Action, the nonprofit political wing of the Tupelo, Mississippi-based American Family Association.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group based in Montgomery, Alabama, AFA is a hate group — with 2 million online supporters and 180,000 subscribers to the AFA Journal. AFA also broadcasts “AFA Report” on nearly 200 radio stations. Among AFA’s stated goals are “combating the homosexual agenda” and criminalizing homosexual behavior.

In its direct mailings, AFA has compared homosexuality to a “grotesque culture” on par with murder, adultery and stealing. Bryan Fischer, the organization’s director of analysis for government and policy, said that ”[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews.” He also warned that if gays and lesbians were allowed to openly serve in the military, “your son or daughter may be forced to share military showers and barracks with active and open homosexuals.”

Although it appears on SPLC’s list of prominent anti-gay hate groups along with the Family Research Council and others, AFA is also known for its racist sentiment and the targeting of minority groups. According to AFA, people of Jewish heritage are raised to hate Christians and prone to a criminal lifestyle. In addition, the organization claims that Jewish people control Hollywood and popular culture, according to Media Matters.

AFA believes the media “shows a genuine hostility towards Christians,” and as Right Wing Watch reports, organizes boycotts against sponsors of TV shows with “anti-Chistian” messages, such as Saturday Night Live, Roseanne, Nightline, NYPD Blue, Ellen, and Desperate Housewives. Other AFA targets have included Disney, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Wal-Mart and Ford Motor Company for their sponsorship of LGBT causes, advertising to the gay community, or for offering domestic partner benefits for same-sex couples.

AFA has argued that Europe is “infested” with Muslims who breed “faster than we do.” Fischer believes Muslims have no First Amendment rights. “The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity. They were making no effort to give special protections to Islam. Quite the contrary,” Fischer said. He continued: “While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Further, Fischer called Islam “a totalitarian political ideology,” adding that “It is as racist as the KKK…. Allowing a mosque to be built in town is fundamentally no different that granting a building permit to a KKK cultural center built in honor of some King Kleagle.” He called it “unthinkable” for anyone to embrace the Islamic faith and Muslim values, which he said were “grossly incompatible with American values.”

Recently, the AFA spokesman also targeted Native Americans. In a February 2010 blog post, Fischer commented on “the role that the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil.” Arguing that Indian tribes lost their land because they were immoral savages, Fischer goes on to say that “The native American tribes at the time of the European settlement and founding of the United States were, virtually without exception, steeped in the basest forms of superstition, had been guilty of savagery in warfare for hundreds of years, and practiced the most debased forms of sexuality.”

Fischer believes America’s native people “resisted every attempt to ‘Christianize the Savages of the Wilderness,’ to use George Washington’s phrase.” He adds that “Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.” Fischer subsequently removed the offensive language from his blog,

Moreover, AFA’s Fischer has made some offensive comments about African-Americans on welfare and their alleged sexual habits. “Welfare has destroyed the African-American family by telling young black women that husbands and fathers are unnecessary and obsolete. Welfare has subsidized illegitimacy by offering financial rewards to women who have more children out of wedlock,” Fischer said. “We have incentivized fornication rather than marriage, and it’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of people who rut like rabbits.”

On Fischer’s blog, the last sentence was replaced with the following: “We have incentivized fornication rather than marriage, and it’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of those who engage in random and reckless promiscuity, whether they are Caucasian, Hispanic, or African-American.”

Republican presidential hopefuls such as Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee appear frequently on Fischer’s radio program. And the AFA director is regarded as a GOP kingmaker and go-to guy for conservative presidential aspirants.

Gingrich denies that AFA is a hate group, claiming instead that is a “Christian organization” and a “Christian based membership group.” While saying he does not favor criminalizing homosexuality, the presidential hopeful declared, “The only thing I’ve done, which I was perfectly happy to defend, is I did help raise resources for a campaign to defeat three judges in Iowa.”

Meanwhile, a recent poll suggests that in the 2012 presidential election, Gingrich would lose to President Obama in the red state of Georgia — the former speaker’s home state — 46 to 45.