Typically when the mainstream media has considered the figure of Pat Robertson, the famed televangelists, it is usually as an object of ridicule. This is understandable considering some of the more outlandish behavior Robertson has engaged in over the years, such as his on-air prayers to ward off Hurricane Gloria in 1985. But Robertson is far from the buffoonish figure his public spectacles have indicated. In fact, Robertson has had an enormous if little reported influence over the cultural landscape of the United States for over thirty years. In this piece I shall more closely examine the legacy Robertson has created in the United States and its possible sinister origins.
Pat Robertson is the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, its flagship show The 700 Club and the Christian Coalition advocacy group, in addition to being the author of several books. Probably no other figure is more responsible for the rise of modern Christian fundamentalism in the United States than Robertson. The platform Robertson has with CBN and The 700 Club has made him one of the leading figures in the far-right Christian fundamentalist movement which has wielded considerable influence over American political life since the mid-1970s. In 1988 Robertson even ran for the GOP nomination in the U.S. presidential race. While his campaign quickly lost steam he wielded enough influence to help George H.W. Bush secure the nomination.
|Robertson on the campaign trail|
While Robertson has typically portrayed his rise as a grassroots/rags-to-riches deal the facts on the ground strongly contradict this notion. Robertson is in fact from a well-to-do family and has received ample corporate backing over the years.
"Pat Robertson began his career as a televangelist in 1959 when he bought a run-down television station in Portsmouth, Virginia. In his autobiography, Shout it From the Housetops, Robertson described how in the early days he and his wife Dede had to survive on soybeans and how he opened CBN's first bank account with three one dollar bills. With help from Christians in the Tidewater, Virginia area, Robertson struggled to refurbish the station and, in 1961, began broadcasting a few hours each day.
"Robertson's 'rags to riches' tale strains credulity given his background. His father Willis A. Robertson served in Congress for 34 years, first on the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee and later as U.S. Senator from Virginia and Chair of the Senate Banking and Currency Committee. The Senator's son may have had only three dollars in his pocket, but his father's prestige and influence gave him access to the nation's wealthiest corporate executives. After graduating from college and before proceeding to law school, the young Robertson had worked a brief stint with the Senate Appropriations Committee, followed by two years as a 'management trainee' with the W.R. Grace Corporation."
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pgs. 12-13)
|J. Peter Grace|
The W.R. Grace corporation was owned by J. Peter Grace, known to most Americans nowadays for his role in the Grace Commission, a committee appointed by Ronald Reagen to examine waste and inefficiency in government. Grace, an Irish Catholic who would spearhead post-World War II attacks on U.S. labor, had vast dealings in Latin American via sugar, textile and banking industries. Grace helped found the American Institute for Free Labor Development to help suppress progressive labor movements in Latin American. He also helped Nazi chemist and former director of I.G. Farben Otto Ambrose establish a residency in the United States.
Robertson had other such far right corporate backers over the years.
"An analysis of money raised on air from '700 Club' viewers indicated that in 1985 Robertson was raising only about $100 million from viewers. According to CBN Public Affairs Director Earl Weirich, the rest came from 'sympathetic corporations.' CBN is not obliged to disclose the source of its individual or corporate donations, but the presence of Holly Coors, wife of the famous Colorado beer magnate, on the board of CBN University provides a clue as to where some of it comes from. In Shout it From the Housetops, Robertson described the generosity of the billionaire H.L. Hunt family in Texas. In 1970, Hunt helped launch Robertson's broadcast in Costa Rica, with an initial donation of $10 million."
(ibid, pg. 13)
|Holly Coors (top) and H.L. Hunt (bottom)|
Robertson would become involved in his own business ventures as the years went on. More than a few of them raised major ethical concerns.
"Investing heavily in Africa, Robertson created the African Development Corporation, or ADC. This was allegedly not connected in any way with his religious broadcasting operations, although it is hard to tell how these two companies are financed. What is known for sure is that, in 1992, the ADC entered into negotiations with the Zairean government of President Mobutu for the development of the diamond trade in the southern mining town of Tshikpa, along with projects including logging in other areas of Zaire.
"The idea, as touted by the Robertson organization, was that it had secured Mobutu's blessing to use some of the profits from these enterprises to boost humanitarian aid projects in Zaire. The fact that Mobutu had already plundered his country's economy, banking hundreds of millions --if not billions --of dollars in foreign accounts in Switzerland and Belgium, suggests the cynicism of this self-congratulations, It has been estimated that Mobutu could have single-handedly solved his country's economic and humanitarian problems with the funds he had salted away abroad while his countrymen's per capita annual income was something like $500, belying the necessity of a Robertson-Mobutu partnership."
(Sinister Forces Book II, Peter Levenda, pg. 306)
The nature of this 'humanitarian aid' was revealed during the Rwandan Genocide, which shared a border with Zaire.
"Robertson initiated Operation Blessing as a tax-exempt humanitarian mission to help those less fortunate in Africa, buying three Caribou aircraft in the process, for the ostensible purpose of flying medical supplies and doctors to those areas of Zaire being flooded by refugees, both internal refugees as well as those from the growing Rwandan crisis across the border...
"Unfortunately for the poor Zaireans and Rwandans, Operation Blessing was largely a scam.
"Pilots who had been employed by the organization revealed to newsmen that their job was not hauling medicine to Goma or the other regions where people were starving to death or dying from a host of terrible illnesses; rather, they were involved with moving mining and dredging equipment to Robertson's diamond mines...
"As the Rwandan crisis deepened in 1994, Robertson was on the air constantly trying to raise money for his humanitarian efforts to help the refugees. Where this money wound up is anyone's guess at this point. None of the pilots who have been contacted by investigators could come up with more than half-a-dozen humanitarian flights during the entire period Operation Blessing was in operation in Zaire, and even then the medical support was minimal. In a 1994 Time magazine article... one aid worker complained that the efforts of Operation Blessing in Goma --the town hardest hit by the Rwandan refugee crisis --were a joke: that they were heavy on transportation and light on aid; workers preferred to stand around and preach rather than get down and dirty with the dead and dying, and the organization pulled its people out after only short tours in the region."
(ibid, pgs. 306-307)
|image from the Rwandan genocide|
Zaire was hardly an isolated incident.
"...Robertson... continued with his business dealings in other parts of Africa, such as Liberia in support of Charles Taylor, a man with a human rights abuse record as least as long as Mobutu's. Taylor's use of death squads, his support of mercenary groups who use Liberia as a staging area for attacks in other countries, and his involvement in arms trading made him a '90s equivalent to former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin; he had even been known to conduct torture and interrogation sessions in his own home, the Executive Mansion. Corruption was rife and unapologetic in Liberia, with Taylor and his cronies pocketing at least 20% of Liberia's annual budget, according to a 1998 US department of State Country Report on Liberia.
"In 1998 Robertson created a company called Freedom Gold for investment in Liberia. His focus remained roughly the same: the exploitation of Liberia's raw material and natural resources --gold diamonds, oil, lumber --with the expectations that profits would be plowed back into the Liberian economy for humanitarian efforts."
(ibid, pg. 307)
There are no indications that this worked out any better than Robertson's humanitarian aid in Zaire. These are just two of numerous instances when Robertson cozied up to far right dictators for various unsavory agendas, as we shall see. For the time being I would like to consider Robertson's rise a bit further.
Pat Robertson began to emerge as a major figure in the Christian fundamentalist movement in the late 1970s. By the 1980s The 700 Club adopted a political slant that was highly favorable to both American foreign policy as well as corporate America.
"Throughout the 1980s... CBN was perhaps the most valuable, consistent forum for New Right political figures eager to organize the fundamentalist masses. For years, everyone who was anyone in New Right political circles or in the U.S. intelligence establishment (those not under deep cover) paraded through the "700 Club" studios or spoke with Robertson live by satellite from one of CBN's off-site broadcast centers, usually in Washington D.C."
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pg. 12)
Initially CBN and The 700 Club were Robertson's main forums for waging his own peculiar world view war. He mastered several basic propaganda techniques such as framing a debate with two nearly identical sides, heavy use of loaded terminology, outrageous statements presented as quotes from unnamed sources and shocking film footage used in conjunction with scripts about the 'enemy,' all of which proved to be highly effective. These techniques combined with his unusual access to heads of state made his program invaluable in the process of shifting the audience's view rightward.
Robertson's propaganda blitz was not limited to the airwaves, however. In the 1970s he also set his sights on academia.
"In the mid 1970s, CBN purchased about 140 acres of land for an international broadcasting headquarters facility, and in 1978 opened CBN University graduate school. CBNU started with a graduate program in the School of Communications and later expanded to include Schools of Education, Business, Biblical Studies, Public Policy and an Institute of Journalism. CBNU enables evangelical students to receive a master's degree in just a year or two in a safe, less than rigorous, 'Christian' environment. Foreign students are especially encouraged to attend."By the 1990s CBNU would be renamed Regent University. By then it had acquired a reputation as being the "Harvard of the Religious Right." Thus far the apex of its influence occurred during Bush II's presidency when numerous Regent graduates were granted positions in the administration. The Boston Globe reports:
(ibid, pg. 21)
"But even in its darker days, Regent has had no better friend than the Bush administration. Graduates of the law school have been among the most influential of the more than 150 Regent University alumni hired to federal government positions since President Bush took office in 2001, according to a university website."
Regent is yet another instance of Robertson's propaganda efforts at work. The scale of his campaigns in television and academia point to a full scale world view war. The question then becomes, what world view is Robertson attempting to project? Some believe that Robertson is a part of an incredibly fringe movement in modern Christian fundamentalism.
"Some of America's most influential Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson... are adherents of Dominionist theology, although Robertson and others officially disclaim any loyalty to the radical doctrine."The bulk of Americans have never heard of dominionist theology even thought it has had an enormous influence on the American political landscape for more than three decades. Of it, journalist Katherine Yurica wrote on her website:
(Fixing America, John Buchanan, pg. 60)
"There were an estimated 110,000 Pentecostal and fundamentalist churches in America in the 1980s. Robertson taught them—through his vast television network and through his books—that the role of the Christian is to rule over the wicked. Dominionism’s purpose is to create theocrats (a Christian class of rulers). But in order to successfully place only certain Christians in positions of power, Dominionism divides Christian believers into classes based upon political ideology and certain hot point issues such as the privatization of Social Security and Medicare, freedom to decide on medical procedures with ones own physician, freedom of the press and freedom of speech, freedom of the arts, and certain rights like the right to a fair trial and protection from governmental intrusion into the privacy of marriage and adult associations.
"The believers who are destined to rule are called the 'elect,' and are separated from those believers who do not and will not accept the predestined superiority of the chosen ruling class. A Christian who raises his voice against the 'elect' could be labeled a 'false prophet or a dreamer of dreams,' and therefore, according to the Deuteronomic law 'shall be put to death.'"
Whether Robertson is an actual dominionist or simply found the ideology useful for his purposes is impossible to tell. What is more clear, however, are his ties to the United States intelligence community. Evidence of this first began to emerge in the mid-1980s, such as allegations made by Robertson and CBN in 1985, first that they were aware of the location, and later the identity, of US hostages taken in Lebanon.
"While running for the GOP presidential nomination, in February 1988, Robertson surprised reporters when he announced that CBN had known the location of U.S. hostages abducted in Lebanon in 1985. Robertson argued that even if he knew their whereabouts the White House was certainly remiss in not obtaining their rescue...
"...CBN's Beirut bureau chief Gus Hashim told the Washington Post that he knew the identity of the 1985 TWA plane hijackers but not the location of the hostages. The real question, then, was not whether Robertson was accurate about the location of the hostages nor whether he conscientiously reported information to the White House. The relevant matter is that most likely Gus Hashim's inside information came from top-level intelligence sources, making CBN an intelligence 'asset.'"
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pgs. 18-19)
Even more damning was the role Robertson played in generating financial support throughout the 1980s for a series of Central American dictators that the Reagen administration believed were essential in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union.
"Another 'Christian' ruler supported by Robertson on television and in his books is Jorge Serrano, the bizarre President of Guatemala who wanted to create a Pentecostal Christian government in Guatemala. The list goes on and on. Here is Robertson sitting down to dinner with notorious Salvadoran death-squad leader Roberto D'Aubuisson. Here is Robertson raising two million dollars for Guatemalan military dictator General Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores. Here is Robertson being saluted by the Contras at their base camp in Honduras. Here is Robertson once again in Guatemala, this time in support of death-squad leader and eventual president Rios Montt, a born-again Christian who suspended his country's constitution and proceeded to murder thousands of his fellow citizens. The eagerness of Fundamentalist Christians in their support of vicious dictators simply because they pay lip service to Christianity is baffling...
"The story of Iran-Contra as is generally known to most Americans omits one important aspect. Although the trail of deceit and treachery --especially against the US Congress and in violation of the Borland Amendment which forbade the government from giving military aid to the Nicaraguan rebels --stretched as far as North, Secord, McFarlane and others sworn to defend the Constitution, and whose names became household words (and in some cases, heroes) to Americans in the 1980s, the breadth of 'private funding' of the Contra rebellion has never been deeply explored. The fact that the Christian Right raised millions of dollars in aid to the Contras has been 'backburneed' in most histories of the affair. Indeed, Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network was only one source of aid and support to the Contras; in addition, we find the Unification Church of Rev. Sun Myung Moon as well as the Knights of Malta fraternal society involved in fund-raising and other efforts on behalf of the rebels.
"The Knights of Malta participation is interesting because, at the time, its head was J. Peter Grace, an old friend of Pat Robertson and the godfather to his children..."
(Sinister Forces Book II, Peter Levenda, pgs. 308-309)
Robertson and his fellow Christian fundies bare an enormous amount of responsibility for the destabilization of Central America in the 1980s. Further, it wasn't merely the money that they raised for a series of brutal regimes that caused the destabilization. Even more insidious was the psychological component at play: Robertson and company used the religion of the peoples of these Central American nations to rationalize the behavior of their governments in the context of the Cold War. This was absolutely essential to the foreign policy objectives of the Reagen administration in these nations.
"'Total warfare' relies, to a large degree, on the concept of 'humanitarian aid' which itself is a major component of 'psychological operations.' 'Humanitarian aid' is a euphemism frequently used to describe the millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars channelled to corrupt military regimes. The term 'psychological operations' (PSYOPs) had been used to describe the practice of dropping propaganda leaflets from helicopters or campaigns in which smiling, 'humanitarian' soldiers give candy to peasant children. But PSYOPs is much more than that.
"'Humanitarian aid' and 'psychological operations' are two areas of 'total war' where the Christian Right serves U.S. foreign policy objectives best. Acting either as 'private' benefactors or as agents of the U.S. government, Christian Right 'humanitarian' suppliers and promoters of anticommunist ideology use religion to mask the aggressive, cynical nature of 'humanitarian' projects. Cloaked as missionary evangelism, the 'spirual warfare' component of counterinsurgency escapes serious attention by anti-intervention activists who are justifiably preoccupied with stopping massive, direct forms of U.S. militarism.
"It is doubtful, however, that counterinsurgency could be effective without the use of religion. Because the conduct of 'psychological operations' relies on the successful interpretation and manipulation of a target population's deeply held beliefs and cultural practices, the functional use of religion simply must be addressed by anyone intending to understand and put an end to 'total warfare.'
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pg. 162)
It goes without saying that the PSYOPs component of Robertson's efforts was not limited to foreign nations: It was also meant for domestic consumption. What's more, it wasn't simply fundamentalists Christians that were being targeted. Robertson also made major in roads with the militia movement in addition to conspiracy culture.
"His [Robertson's -Recluse] bestselling 1992 book, The New World Order, purports to reveal an elaborate, centuries-old conspiracy dominated by a satanically spawned clique of Freemasons, occultists, and European bankers who just happen to have Jewish names. Refurbishing the old canard about a handful of rich Jews who backed both godless Communism and monopoly capitalism as part of a sinister, long-range plan, the Christian Coalition commander claimed this ongoing superconspiracy was behind everything from the French and Russian Revolutions to the assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln
"Robertson's musings resembled not only anti-Jewish motifs of the past --he listed several notorious anti-Semites in his bibliography --but militia fables of the of the present. In his books and on his ubiquitous cable network, he rallied against one-world government and the United Nations. Robertson's nightly TV show, The 700 Club, also promoted the militia line on Waco and gun control. Spokesmen for the Militia of Montana appeared on this program as experts, commenting upon photos of black helicopters and other misinterpreted phenomena that were allegedly threatening American citizens. New York Times columnist Frank Rich summed it up best when he accused Pat Robertson of throwing 'gasoline on the psychic fires of untethered militias running across the country.'"
(The Beast Reawakens, Martin A. Lee, pgs. 359-360)
And it is here that I shall wrap things up. For years Robertson's detractors have tried to portray him as the head of a radical Christian movement bent on installing a theocracy in the United States. But is Robertson really a true believer or do his longstanding ties to the U.S. intelligence community hint at a more sinister agenda?
Robertson was undeniably a major part of the grass roots right wing movement that emerged in the late 1970s and achieved its apex of power under the Bush II administration. Said movement was a staunch backer both of U.S. imperialism and corporatism despite receiving no real benefits from either. This curtailed well, however, with the interests of Robertson's friends amongst the military/intelligence and business communities. Robertson would certainly do his part to raise support, both in terms of money and votes, from his followers for these agendas.
At the same time as Robertson was embracing these blatantly fascistic policies he began copying the party line of various right-leaning anti-government movements that secular communism was the greatest threat humanity had ever faced... At the same time as the Soviet Union was collapsing and multinational corporations were becoming global powers unbeholden to national governments.
Certainly this has all the makings of a PSYOPs slight of hand and a most likely candidate for Robertson's actual agenda.