Welcome to the most recent installment in my ongoing examination of the elite Christian sect sometimes referred to as "The Family" or "The Fellowship." In part one I briefly addressed Family founder Abraham (Abram) Vereide, the vision that inspired him to sire the organization and the "chance" encounter he had with a "former" military officer of some means the very next day. With the second installment I advanced onto the Family's early political dabblings in Washington state as well the likelihood that it was involved in the murky netherworld of what is generally referred to as "industrial security."
Parts three and four examined the Family's extensive pre-WWII fascist ties and their efforts to rescue any number of "former" Nazis and fascists in the wake of WWII, respectively. The fifth installment considered the deep backgrounds of the next generation of Family leadership as well as Douglas Coe, the man who ultimately succeeded Vereide. The sixth and most recent installment considered the truly international scope of the Family's efforts in the second half of the twentieth century, especially their dealings with the genocidal Suharto regime of Indonesia.
This sway is aided in no small part by the collection of US congressmen that they've compiled over the years. This collection certainly features some interesting names and has managed to operate in a highly secretive fashion for decades now. It is through this collection, generally referred to as "prayer cells", that the Family's influence has steadily infiltrated the circles of power in both this nation and abroad.
"... The Family is in its own words an 'invisible' association, though it has always been organized around public man. Senator Sam Brownback (R., Kansas), chair of a weekly, off-the-record meeting of religious right groups called the Values Action Team (VAT), is an active member, as is representative Joe Pitts (R., Pennsylvania), an avuncular would-be theocrat who chairs the House version of the VAT. Others referred to as members include senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Steering Committee (the powerful conservative caucus cofounded back in 1974 by another Family associate, the late Senator Carl Curtis of Nebraska); Pete Domenici of New Mexico (a Catholic and relatively moderate Republican; it's Domenici's status as one of the Senate's old lions that the Family covets, not his doctrinal purity); Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa); James Inhofe (R., Oklahoma ); Tom Coburn (R., Oklahoma); John Thune (R., South Dakota); Mike Enzi (R., Wyoming); and John Ensign, the conservative casino heir elected to the Senate from Nevada, a brightly tanned hapless figure who uses his Family connections to graft holiness to his gambling-fortune name. 'Faith-based Democrats' Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, sincere believers drawn rightward by their understanding of Christ's teachings, are members, and Family stalwarts in the House include Representatives Frank Wolf (R., Virginia), Zach Wamp (R., Tennessee), and Mike McIntyre, a North Carolina Democrat who believes that the Ten Commandments are 'the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United States' and thus ought to be on display in schools and courthouses...
"... Another principle expanded upon is stealthiness; members are instructed to pursue political jujitsu by making use of secular leaders 'in the work of advancing His kingdom,' and to avoid whenever possible the label Christian itself, lest they alert enemies to that advance. Regular prayer groups, or 'cells' as they're often called, have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries.
"The Family's use of the term 'cell' long predates the word's current association with terrorism. It's roots are in the Cold War, when leaders of the Family deliberately emulated the organizing techniques of communism. In 1948, a group of Senate staffers met to discuss ways that the Family 'cell and leadership groups' could recruit elites unwilling to participate in the 'mass meeting approach' OF populist fundamentalism. Two years later, the family declared that with democracy inadequate to the fight against godlessness, such cells should function to produce political 'atomic energy'; that is, deals and alliances that could not be achieved through the clumsy machinations of legislative debate would instead radiate quietly out of political cells. More recently, Senator Sam Brownback told me that the privacy of Family cells makes them safe spaces for men of power – an appropriation of another term borrowed from an enemy, feminism. 'In this closer relationship,' a document for members reads, 'God will give you more insight into your own geographical area and your sphere of influence.' One cell should become 'an invisible "believing group" ' out of which 'agreements reached in faith and in prayer around the person of Jesus Christ' lead to action that will appear to the world to be unrelated to any centralized organization."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 18-20)
|Representative Joe Pitts, a long time staple of the Family|
"As a young representative, Inhofe attended the Family's weekly House Prayer Breakfast meeting only out of respect for Oklahoma representative Wes Watkins, its chairman at the time. 'I assumed I was a Christian,' he explain to an Oklahoma evangelical magazine. But that didn't mean much more to him than sitting through a service every Sunday. It was a Christian Embassy missionary, Tom Barrett, who challenged Inhofe to a more zealous faith by suggesting Inhofe was lukewarm towards Jesus...
"He became a Prayer Breakfast loyalist, but it took another challenge to turn him into a missionary. It was Doug Coe who gave it to him. 'Doug has always been kind of behind the scenes, very quiet,' Inhofe told fundamentalist activist Rev. Rob Schenck, in a video Schenck made to defend Inhofe against the Oklahoman. 'He talked me into going to Africa,' Inhofe said of Coe. 'And I had no interest in going to Africa.' His daughter, a schoolteacher, called him one day to tell him she was going to Africa for school break. 'I said, "Well guess where Daddy's going? To Africa. And if you go with me, it's free!" ' It'd also be off the books. Although Inhofe would go on to charge his missionary travel to taxpayers, that first trip was paid for by a religious organization, according to a press release. Inhofe never reported it.
"What was his mission? 'I call it the political philosophy of Jesus, something put together by Doug.... It's all scripturally based. Acts 9:15' – the last of the Eight Core Aspects outlined in the document distributed at the Prayer Breakfast, which Inhofe paraphrased as ' "Take my name, Jesus, to the kings." And, of course, if you're a member of the United States Senate in Africa, they think you're important.' He chuckled, slapping the arm of his red leather sofa. 'You're always going to get in to see the kings!'
"His first king? Gen. Sani Abacha, dictator of Nigeria, Africa's largest and most populous nation, not long before Abacha died in bed with three prostitutes in 1998. Abacha was known for two qualities: the greed that led him to steal $3 billion from his country, and the loyalty to the foreign oral companies that made that theft possible. 'You can't help who you are,' said a Family man, defending the group's outreach to the general. 'I mean, can't he have a friend?'
"Inhofe would be that friend. 'We went in there,' Inhofe continues, 'not really knowing what we're doing. He started talking about political things.' But Inhofe had a greater mission. 'I came all the way across the Atlantic and down to sub-Saharan Africa,' he said, 'to tell you in the spirit of Jesus that we love you...'
"Was it Jesus who changed the dictator's heart? The rest of the world might be inclined to say it was oil. Forty-four percent of Nigeria's went to America. The ninth largest oil producer, Nigeria became a pariah nation under Abacha's rule, officially condemned by Washington since the time of his overthrew of a democratic government, in 1993. But Abacha launched a $10 million lobbying campaign in the capital that won him Democratic as well as Republican allies. He already had four very important American friends: Mobil, Chevron, Ashland, and Texaco. Inhofe, winner of a Lifetime Service Award from a petroleum industry group, was another good friend to have. 'Democracy advocates,' wrote an analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus in 1997, the year of Inhofe's mission, 'worry that Abacha will interpret Washington's willingness to dialogue as a signal that Washington will not follow through on its threats to impose oil sanctions.'
"None of that mattered to the senator. All he was trying to do was help 'millions and millions of poor people,' he told Rev. Schenck in the video. And for him, that began with helping General Abacha, one of the kings of Acts 9:15, through his leadership in a successful effort to block sanctions. More recently, in 2008, Inhofe pledge military aid to the government of Nigeria's President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, who'd stolen his election the previous year.
"But it didn't end in Nigeria..."
(C Street, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 121-124)
"... The goal, according to the 'Vision,' was to identify five for each of the 192 countries in the world by the end of 2008. Did they succeed? Not likely. But the 'Vision' has gone far and wide with the help of men such as Inhofe, and the Work goes on. The Family apostate sent me a 2004 budget for funds to be raised by businessmen around the country for Inhofe's missionary work. Not his travel – the government would cover that – but that of his protégés, the five men for each country he was to select with the help of a local leader. The budget covered eleven African nations (Inhofe has since said he stepped it up to twelve) : Benin, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, Cote d'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the site of the worst war on the planet at the moment, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda and Uganda. For each country, the local liaison is listed. In all but Ethiopia and Mauritius, it is the president. Then the U.S. leader: Inhofe, down the line. The sums that follow are small, but that's the point: power, not cash, is the Family's currency. Costs for 2003 were mostly covered; for 2004, the budget projected between $20,000 and $40,000 for each country, except one, Uganda, for which $70,000 was to be raised."
(C Street, Jeff Sharlet, pg. 127)
"Uganda, which following the collapse of Siad Barre's Somalia became the focus of the Family's interests in the African Horn, has been the most tragic victim of this projection of American sexual anxieties. Following implementation of one of the Continent's only successful anti-AIDS program, President Yoweri Museveni, the Family's key man in Africa, came under pressure from the United States to emphasize abstinence instead of condoms. Congressman Pitts wrote that pressure into law, redirecting millions of dollars from effective sex-ed programs to projects such as Unruh's. This pressure achieved the desired result: an evangelical revival in Uganda, and a stigmatization of condoms and those who use them so severe that some college campuses held condom bonfires. Meanwhile, Ugandan souls may be more 'pure,' but their bodies are suffering; following the American intervention, the Ugandan AIDS rate, once dropping, nearly doubled. This fact goes unmentioned by activists such as Unruh and politicians such as Pitts, who continue to promote Uganda as an abstinence success story.
"The actual fate of Ugandan citizens was never their concern. Pitts, in the Family tradition, may have had geopolitics on the mind: with Ethiopia limping along following decades of civil war and dictatorship and Somalia veering towards a Taliban state, tiny, Anglophone Uganda has become an American wedge into Islamic Africa. But the American uses and abuses of Uganda are still more cynical: Christian Africa has been appropriated for story with which American fundamentalists argue for domestic policy, a parable detached from African realities, preached for the benefit of Americans...."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pg. 328)
Unsurprisingly, the Family's influence is rather evident in Uganda's "kill the gays" legislation that has garnered so much outrage in recent years. Consider:
"On October 14, 2009, the Ugandan MP David Bahati introduced legislation called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Among its provisions:
- three years in prison for failure to report a homosexual within twenty-four hours of learning of his or her crime;
- seven years in prison for 'promotion,' which would include not only advocacy but also even simple acknowledgment of the reality of homosexuality;
- life imprisonment for one homosexual act;
- and, for 'aggravated homosexuality' (which includes sex while HIV-positive, sex with a disabled person, or simply sex, more than once, marking the criminal as a 'serial offender'), death.
"Bahati, the secretary of the Family's Ugandan branch, called his bill traditional, Ugandan 'family values.' Both the disease – homosexuality, that is – and its diagnoses have been exported from the West, said Dr. James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's minister of ethics and integrity and the chair of the weekly Family meeting in Parliament. But the solution, he added probably, was Ugandan, an idea the came from the people...
"Winston Churchill called Uganda 'the pearl of Africa.' The Family thinks it is, too. In the last ten years, it has pour millions into 'leadership development' there, more than it has invested in any other foreign country. A Family leader takes credit for turning on the tap of U.S. foreign aid through which billions have flowed into Ugandan coffers. Or private bank accounts, as the case may be. The government of Yoweri Museveni, hailed by the United States as a democracy since the general marched into Kampala twenty-four years ago, in 1986, is ranked 130th on the most reliable corruption index – better than Belarus but just behind Lebanon. 'Corruption is not just an element of [the] system,' observed Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda, 'it is "the system." '
"Every year, right before Uganda's Independence Day, the government holds a National Prayer Breakfast, modeled on the Family's event in Washington. It's organized, with Washington's help, by Bahati's Parliament prayer group called the Fellowship – also modeled on the group in Washington. Americans, among them Sen. Jim Inhofe and former attorney general. John Ashcroft, both longtime Family man, and Pastor Rick Warren, are a frequent attraction at the weekly meetings of the Parliament group. Inhofe and Ashcroft are nearly defined by their anti-gay beliefs...
(C Street, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 130-132)
|Family man Bahati|
One such of these affiliate groups is an organization known as "the Gathering." Over the past three decades the Gathering has emerged as one of the major financial powerhouses active in the political spectrum today. The Daily Beast notes:
"The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity. Last year, for example, The Gathering 2013 brought together key funders, litigants, and plaintiffs of the Hobby Lobby case, including three generations of the Green family.
"The Gathering was conceived in 1985 by a small band of friends at the Arlington, Virginia, retreat center known as The Cedars, which is run by the evangelical network that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. This stealthy network is known as The Family or The Fellowship. Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power described it in great detail...
"The evangelical right financial dynasties and foundations that meet each year at The Gathering dispense upwards of $1 billion a year in grants. But even that is overshadowed by the bigger sums that The Family and The Gathering have managed to route from the federal and state government to fund their movement via the Faith-Based Initiative program, USAID, PEPFAR and other multibillion-dollar programs."
|the Cedars mansion, a location the Family has gotten a lot of use out of over the years|
"... The Family's interests always tended towards foreign affairs, but faith-based initiatives embody a core philosophy of governance fundamentalists have long sought on every front. During the 1980s, Attorney General Ed Meese and Gary Bauer, Reagan's domestic policy advisor, corresponded with Coe about creating a federal, faith-based response to poverty – a broad application of the methods Coe had experimented with a decade earlier by backing the Black Buffers as an alternative to black power. Meese's plans never came to fruition, but the outlines of compassionate conservatism... began to cohere in these letters."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 381-382)From these humble beginnings has emerged one of the greatest political activism cash cows in recent history. The public was first given a glimpse of the massive transference of public funds into religious organizations and agendas by former Bush administration official David Kuo, one of the architects of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. In 2007 Kuo authored a tell-all book called Tempting Faith.
"When Kuo discovered that Bush's faith-based rhetoric was for the most part just that – lost in the shadow of the Iraq War, the program never received anywhere near the $8 billion Bush had once spoken of – he resolved to prove its value to the money men. Tempting Faith is, most damningly, the story of how he and a few others transform the Office of Faith-Based initiatives into the very Republican vote-getting machine its critics have accused it of being from the beginning. 'We laid out a plan whereby we would hold roundtable events for threatened incumbents with faith and community leaders,' he writes. In 2002, those roundtables contributed to nineteen out of twenty victories in targeted races. In 2004, the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives repeated the trick on the presidential scale. By that time, Kuo was going. He had quit. 'We were good people forced to run a charade, to provide political cover to a White House that needed compassion and religion as political tools.'
"It was a startlingly honest admission. The media celebrated Kuo as a truth teller and his book as the first big crack in the Christian Right's alliance with the Republican Party. By 2007, the press was declaring the Christian Right dead and evangelicalism a waiting force in American life, despite the fact that by Kuo's own confession, the machine he helped build will likely continue to lurch along after Bush is gone. Bush never provided it the funds he had promised in idealistic speeches aimed at evangelical voters, but he did something more significant: through administrative changes made by executive order, he transformed Clinton's 1996 welfare reforms into a wedge with which to drive irreparable cracks into the wall of separation between church and state. Suddenly, there were faith-based offices not just in the Department of Health and Human Services but also in the Department of Justice, not only in the Department of Education but also in the Department of Commerce. The Small Business Administration gained a faith-based office; so, too, did the Agency for International Development, to which the United States distributes its imperial largesse, the diplomacy of foreign aid. None of these offices have much money, but then, they didn't need to. Their budgets didn't matter so much as the budgets of the departments and agencies in which they were housed, huge portions of which could now be tapped for faith-based ends even if the money didn't flow directly through the faith-based office. The real achievement of faith-based initiatives was not to launch flashy programs or even to buy voters for Republicans; it was to open the door for religious groups to the whole treasure house of federal social-services funding."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 383-384)
"In 1988, Gary Bauer and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson began building what would become the Family Research Council (FRC), the crusading, influential, and staunchly conservative evangelical organization that has since taken the lead on issues ranging from banning gay marriage to promoting school vouchers for Christian schools to outlawing abortion and stem-cell research. To get it off the ground, though, they needed funding, and they turned Edgar Prince. '[W]hen Jim Dobson and I decided that the financial resources weren't available to launch FRC, Ed and his family stepped into the breach,' wrote Bauer. 'I can say without hesitation that without Ed and Elsa and their wonderful children, there simply would not be a Family Research Council.' Young Erik would go on to become one of Bauer's earliest interns at the FRC..."
(Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill, pgs. 71-72)
"In prison, Colson claims, he gave up politics for God. But in a June 11, 1974, letter defending his conversion to his parole board, Colson wrote, 'That which I found I could not change or affect in a political or managerial way, I found could be changed by the force of a personal relationship that men develop in a common bond to Christ.' Doug Coe, in a letter to the board dated one day later, wrote that Colson's freedom was necessary so that a group of Christian men could put him to work on a program for 'reaching youth' in juvenile delinquent homes. Upon his release, the two men collaborated on what would become the model and inspiration for what may well be a generation or more of 'faith-based' governmental activism.
"The story of Prison Fellowship – the largest ministry for prisoners in the world, with 50,000 employees and volunteers dedicated to helping convicts become law abiders – has been recounted in short, inspirational burst many times since Colson founded it with Coe's help and the Fellowship's money shortly after his own release from prison in 1975..."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 232-233)
"A few years earlier, in the 2002 speech in which Colson praised Erik Prince, the former Watergate conspirator talked extensively about the historical foundation and current necessity of a political and religious alliance of Catholics and evangelicals. Colson talked about his work, beginning in the mid-1980s, with famed conservative evangelical Protestant minister turned Catholic priest Richard Neuhaus and others to build a unified movement. That work ultimately led in 1994 to the controversial document 'Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.' The ECT document articulated the vision that would animate Blackwater's corporate strategy and the politics practiced by Erik Prince – a marriage of the historical authority of the Catholic Church with the grassroots appeal of the modern conservative U.S. evangelical movement, bolstered by the cooperation of largely secular and Jewish neoconservatives. Author Damon Linker, who once edited Neuhaus's journal, First Things, termed this phenomenon the rise of the 'Theocons.' "
(Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill, pgs. 83-84)
But even more striking is Colson's involvement with above mentioned "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" document. This seems to be an agenda pursued by the Family in recent years as well. It is most evident in one of the group's most noted members: Sam Brownback, the current governor of Kansas, former US representative and senator, and a 2008 presidential candidate that remains extremely popular among social conservatives. In addition to the Family, Brownback has made some other interesting alliances in recent years.
"Although Brownback's 2002 Catholic conversion was through Opus Dei, and ultra-orthodox order that, like the Family, specializes in cultivating the rich and powerful, the source of much of his religious and political thinking is Chuck Colson. 'When I came to the Senate,' Brownback remembers, 'I sought him out. I had been listening to his thoughts for years, and wanted to get to know him some.' The admiration was mutual. Colson spotted Brownback's potential not long after Brownback joined a Family prayer cell..."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pg. 269)
But even with out these other groups, the Family and its affiliates remain a major force in the US political landscape and, more importantly, a crucial tool of the Pentagon and CIA. The militant faith proclaimed by the Family has become a crucial component of the US empire, both domestically and abroad, providing a rationalization for the clasping domestic standards fussed with imperial over reach overseas. This constitutes a form of psychological warfare that the "truth tellers" of the conspiratorial right largely refuse to even acknowledge while the public at large remains utterly blind to the truly revolutionary aims that lay behind the old time religion guise used by the Family.
What it amounts to is that while conspiracy theories are as popular and widely believed as ever, this is one rabbit hole few are ready to explore. And the repercussions of this may well be truly horrific in the very near future. But for now I shall sign off on this subject. Until next time dear reader.