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Web Is Newest Rallying Point for Christian Crusader

An e-mail campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch last month is the latest effort by Christian watchdog American Family Association to use the Internet to marshal supporters quickly.

Donald Wildmon, chairman of the Tupelo, MS-based association, and his supporters began the campaign to protest the cataloger's line of thong underwear for girls ages 10 to 14. The association said it sent 8,000 e-mails from consumers threatening to boycott A&F's merchandise unless the underwear was dropped from its product line.

A&F has defended its products and catalogs from accusations that it markets material of an inappropriately sexual nature to children. However, the association said the cataloger pulled the thong underwear from store shelves and removed it from its Web site in response to the e-mail campaign. Though A&F did not return calls for comment, the product was no longer available at www.Abercrombiekids.com.

Tim Wildmon, president of the association, said A&F “showed no shame” in carrying the underwear.

“It's really the sexualization of children, in our opinion,” he said. “Abercrombie & Fitch responded positively to the pressure.”

Donald Wildmon, Tim's father, began the association in an effort to rid television of sexual and violent content in the 1970s. He took on Sears, Procter & Gamble and other companies for sponsoring programming he called offensive. He also has targeted convenience store chain 7-Eleven for carrying Playboy and Penthouse magazines as well as radio DJ Howard Stern.

In the past, the association communicated with members through monthly newsletters.

Now it uses two Web sites, Onemillionmoms.com and Onemilliondads.com, which launched early this year and have 80,000 registered members. When the group wants to organize a protest against a company, it e-mails the registered members of the Web sites with a link to a form they can fill out online to send a complaint. Using e-mail can cut the turnaround time in such campaigns by six weeks, Tim Wildmon said.

“We found that by using the latest in technology, people can respond instantaneously,” he said. “Companies don't like it because it ties up their e-mail system.”

Using the Web sites, the association has organized an e-mail protest against battery maker Energizer for running a commercial on a May 16 episode of NBC's “Will & Grace” that featured some of the characters thinking another character had ingested sperm. The group also has gone after sponsors of FX's racy police drama “The Shield” and claims to be responsible for several companies, including Burger King, pulling ads from the show.

Though the association has issued statements critical of A&F in the past, this was its first e-mail campaign against the company, Tim Wildmon said.

The thongs are the latest controversy for A&F. In April, the cataloger ran afoul of Asian-American groups who complained about T-shirts they said reinforced negative ethnic stereotypes. In that case, A&F apologized and pulled the shirts. Its magalogs also have drawn consumer criticism for using pictures of partially nude young adults and promoting irresponsible drinking in one of its articles.

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