“Some bishops promote sites like LifeSite,” he said. “I know some people read them in Rome. ... These groups are very small, but they have an outsize influence and a very big voice. Fear and hatred are remarkably motivating for some people.”
In response to repeated requests for comment from NBC News, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the following response from their spokesman Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont:
"The promotion and defense of the faith should invite an encounter with the merciful love of Christ and contribute to a more civil and peaceful dialogue in our church and society," he said. "I urge my brothers and sisters to exercise extreme caution before giving credence to anyone who instigates shameful, digital stoning as a way to defend the Church. Catholic participation in the public square should be marked by both fidelity to the Gospel and to charity toward all our fellow citizens."
Martin said he knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of abuse from the Catholic alt-right. His book, which calls on Catholics to show gay people more respect and compassion — but does not explicitly challenge the Church’s teachings on homosexuality — was treated like heresy when it was published last year.
“I would find myself confronted after some talks by people yelling: ‘You’re a heretic! You’re a false priest,’” Martin said. “They would find out I was supposed to speak at a parish or at a university and they would launch a telephone campaign to get the lecture canceled.”
Online, the abuse is even more repugnant, he said.
Who are the Catholic alt-right?
They are longtime pro-life activists like Engel, who holds the title of national director of the U.S. Coalition for Life, which appears to be a shoestring operation registered to a P.O. Box in tiny Export, Pennsylvania (pop. 895). She appears to be the only employee, according to available records.
But Engel, who told NBC News she prefers to be called a “traditional Catholic,” has a platform on the RenewAmerica site, which boasts 157,000 likes on Facebook. It was launched in 2002 as a vehicle for supporters of failed GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes.
The “Homosexual Collective,” as Engel refers to it, appears to be a favorite subject, based on a survey of her columns that appear on the website.
Never mind that a 2004 report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, known as the John Jay Report, concluded there was no connection between homosexuality and the sexual abuse of children by priests. It found these priests targeted whoever was around them regardless of age or gender.
“The John Jay staff said what the bishops wanted to hear,” Engel said in an email to NBC News.
Engel's assertions “are part of a tired trope that has been used to malign gay men for generations,” Steidl said.
“If anything, her work suffers from a lack of imagination,” he said. “These homophobic stereotypes are as false as they are salacious, revealing Engels’ and others’ desperation in a society that is quickly moving toward LGBTQ affirmation and a church that is in the earliest stages of considering and acting on the pastoral and spiritual needs of LGBTQ Catholics.”
While Engel is hardly alone in her thinking, even more dangerous are the outfits with a much greater reach like Voris’ Church Militant, the experts said.
Based in suburban Detroit but not affiliated with the archdiocese, Church Militant produces podcasts, YouTube Videos, online articles and a daily talk show that Voris says gets about 1.5 million views a month.
It has nearly 19,000 Twitter followers, over 68,000 YouTube subscribers, and more than 196,000 Facebook likes. In 2016, the umbrella company, St. Michael’s Media, reported to the IRS total revenue of more than $1.35 million. And it has juice enough to drive donors to raise more than $100,000 for a Chicago priest who was ousted from his parish after burning a rainbow flag, which is a symbol of LGBTQ pride.
Church Militant has also caught the attention of The Detroit News, The New York Times and other mainstream media organizations. Voris was also profiled in a video produced by The Atlantic.
The chief focus of the slickly produced web videos that Church Militant has been posting of late are gays in the Church, some of which have gotten up to 100,000 views.
Waving a pencil like a wand, Voris stars in most of the videos, which open with him declaring that this is "where lies and falsehoods are trapped and exposed."
The Southern Poverty Law Center is not a fan. “Church Militant focuses on homosexuality with an intensity and frequency bordering on obsessive,” it said.
Voris insisted just 5 to 10 percent of the 4,000 or so videos Church Militant has produced over the years deal with what he called “the gay cabal in the church.”
"Lots of people weren’t talking about that back in the day, but now they are," he said. "I don’t consider that harsh rhetoric. I think that is newsworthy.”