Welcome to the fifth installment in my examination of the elite and highly secretive Christian sect variously known as "The Family" or "The Fellowship." In the first installment of this series Abraham (Abram) Vereide, the founder of the organization, and the religious vision that served as his inspiration for the Family were considered as well as a "chance" encounter with a "former" military officer of some means who provided early financial backing for the organization.
With this installment I would say a word about the next generation of leadership that had began to supplant Vereide in the late 1950s and which laid the ground work for the truly international efforts of the Family during the second half of the twentieth century. Several of these individuals show indications of a "deep" background. Consider, for instance, Clifton J. Robinson, supposedly a mild-mannered missionary who specialized in Asia, opening several key frontiers for the Family. Robinson's missionary work was reportedly influenced by a most curious source he encountered during his time in the Far East.
"Among his most fruitful meetings was time spent with William H. Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Laos. As chairman of the State Department's Vietnam Working Group in 1963, Sullivan had been one of the architects of the war, a de facto 'field marshal,' according to General William Westmoreland. Such a man was an unlikely source of inspiration for Robinson, who called himself a Quaker. But preaching Abram's ideal overseas had put him at odds with the Society of Friends. Like another lapsed Quaker, Richard Nixon, Robinson had no patience for pacifism. He saw himself as a man of action, a 'jungle' missionary on the move. He spoke with a quick velvety voice of an old-time radio announcer and used it to dispense axioms and analogies about the need for key men in the Cold War, Bruce Barton jingles as interpreted by James Jesus Angleton, top man religion as geopolitical strategy. Sullivan provided fodder for Robinson's commando theology.
"'He said the strategy of the VC was the same as International Christian Leadership's,' gushed Robinson, 'except applied physically and militarily.' Robinson's vision of Worldwide Spiritual Offensive could not yet accommodate Ho Chi Minh's tactics, but Sullivan convinced him their enemy was a worthy one. 'They spent hours, days, weeks, whatever time is necessary setting up for the LEADERS and then either by ambush, assassination, or other intrigue, they do away with them – not the people, the leaders. He said to kill 32 top level people' – as the Vietcong had done the previous month – 'was tantamount to immobilizing thousands.'
"The lesson was that the Fellowship should understand itself as a guerrilla force on the spiritual battlefield. Specifically, Sullivan, who directed the CIA's 'secret air war' in Laos and turned its Hmong minority into cannon fodder against the North Vietnamese, wanted the Fellowship to recruit Buddhist businessmen to collaboration by matching them with Jaycees under the guise of a ' "brotherhood of leadership" – or some such slogan.' Robinson also took Sullivan's words as an endorsement of Abram's key man strategy...
"Evangelical steamroller such as the Billy Graham Crusade might win millions, but the Fellowship could neutralize the enemy – 'bold satanic forces,' as Abram described it, the Vietcong's 'sweep of communism,' America's 'secular cyclone' – by conquering the select few souls of the strong. 'Assassination' was just a figure of speech to Robinson; Abram wanted elites to 'die to the self,' to submit totally to Jesus of their own volition even as they held on tightly to the power that could advance His kingdom. Long after Abram's death – and Ho's total victory in Vietnam – the Fellowship would distribute a tract purporting to be 'ten steps to commitment from a Vietcong soldier.' "
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 206-207)
"The junction of Burma, Thailand, and Laos, the Golden Triangle, is the site of the bulk of the world's opium production and thereby the source of enormous fortunes for the French and later the Americans. The French held effective control over the Southeast Asian opium traffic until 1965. Between 1946 and 1955 the Mixed Airborne Commando Group (MACG) and the French Air Force managed the shipment of opium from Burma to Laos. A guerrilla corps comprised mostly of Laotian Meo tribesmen and led by Colonel Roger Trinquier, MACG remained unusually independent despite its direct connection to the SDECE and Deuxieme (Second) Bureau. To finance their secret Indochina operations, these organizations turned to the smuggling of gold and opium, with MACG in charge of the latter. Large quantities of opium were shipped to French Saigon headquarters and passed on to the Corsican Mafia, who in turn smuggled the drug to Marseilles.
"When the French withdrew from Indochina in1955 after their defeat by the Vietminh, and after the CIA pushed aside the SDECE, MACG leaders communicating through CIA agent Lucien Conein offered the Americans their entire guerrilla force. Against Conein's advice they refused. History would cast doubt on the wisdom of that decision.
"In 1955 CIA agent General Edward Lansdale began a war to liquidate the Corsican supply network. While Lansdale was cracking down on the French infrastructure, his employer the CIA was running proprietaries, like Sea Supply and CAT, that worked hand-in-hand with the opium-smuggling Nationalist Chinese of the Golden Triangle, and with the corrupt Thai border police.
"The Lansdale/Corsican vendetta lasted several years, during which many attempts were made on Lansdale's life. Oddly enough, his principal informant on Corsican drug routes and connections was the former French Foreign Legionnaire, Lucien Conein, then of the CIA. Conein knew just about every opium field, smuggler, trail, airstrip, and Corsican in Southeast Asia. He spent his free time with the Corsicans, who considered him one of their own. Apparently they never realized it was he who was turning them in.
"When Lansdale returned from Vietnam in the late fifties, the Corsicans recouped some of their losses, chartering aging aircraft to establish Air Opium, which functioned until around 1965. That year, the Corsicans' nemesis Lansdale returned to Vietnam as advisor to Ambabassador Lodge. There was also an upheaval in the narcotics traffic, and perhaps the two were connected. CIA-backed South Vietnamese and Laotian generals began taking over the opium traffic – and as they did so, increasing amounts of morphine and low-quality heroin began showing up on the Saigon market.
"The first heroin refineries sprang up in Laos under the control General Ouane Rattikone. President Ky in Saigon was initially in charge of smuggling from the Laotian refineries to the South Vietnamese; and Lansdale's office, it is to be remembered, was working closely with Ky. Lansdale himself was one of Ky's heartiest supporters, and Conein went along with whatever Lansdale said.
"One result of the smuggling takeover by the generals was the end of the Corsican's Air Opium. The KMT Chinese and Meo tribesmen who cultivated raw opium either transported it themselves to the refineries or had flown there by the CIA via CAT and its successor, Air America, another agency proprietary. Though the Corsicans still sent drugs to Marseilles, the price was becoming prohibitive, since they were forced to buy opium and morphine in Saigon and Vientiane rather than pick up the opium for peanuts in the mountains.
"In 1967, a three-sided opium war broke out in Laos between a Burmese Shan State warlord, KMT Chinese and General Rattikone's Laotian army. Rattikone emerged victorious, capturing the opium shipment with the help of U.S.-supplied aircraft. The KMT, for its part, managed to reassert its dominance over the warlord. The smuggling picture was becoming simplified, with Southeast Asian opium divided among fewer hands, and most of the Corsicans out of the way.
"General Lansdale returned to the U.S. in 1967, leaving Conein in Vietnam. The next year Conein greeted a new boss, William Colby. Since 1962 Colby had run the agency's special division for covert operations in Southeast Asia, where his responsibilities included the 'secret' CIA war in Laos with its 30,000-man Meo army. He shared that responsibility with the U.S. ambassador in Laos, William H. Sullivan, who would later preside over the Tehran embassy during the fall of the Shah."
(The Great Heroin Coup, Henrik Kruger, pgs. 133-134)
There is evidence that not only was Sullivan knee deep in one of the hottest drug trafficking zones in the entire world at the time, but that he was actively protecting Agency-backed drug trafficking occurring there. Consider, for instance, an account given by Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN, the predecessor agency to the DEA) agent Al Habib, who was sent there to investigate the heroin trafficking:
"... Eager to get back abroad, Habib took his place. 'I went on a ninety-day TDY,' he recalls, 'and after the initial shock, I wound up staying two years.'
"The initial shock, of course, was the CIA. 'Taylor had gotten in trouble in Laos,' Habib recalls, 'and eventually he sent me there to patch things up. I reported to the Embassy in Vientiane, where I was met by a CIA officer. He asked me what I wanted, and I told him I was there to make narcotics cases. Well, that made him nervous, so he called the marine guard. Then he told me to "Stay here until we come to get you." And I sat there under guard until they took me to see Ambassador William Sullivan.'
"Habib laughs sarcastically. 'I'm sitting in Sullivan's office surrounded by a gang of menacing CIA officers. Sullivan introduces himself and asked if I would please explain what I'm doing in Laos. I say I'm there to work undercover with the police, to locate morphine labs. To which he replies, "Are you serious?" At which point a CIA officer says to me, "You! Don't do anything!" Meanwhile Sullivan goes to his office and composes a yard-line telegram to Secretary Rusk saying, in effect, "Don't they know that Laos [which had withdrawn from the Single Convention in 1963] is off-limits?" Then they tell me how Taylor set up an undercover buy from a guy. He got a flash roll together and went to the meet covered by the Vientiane police. When the guy stepped out of the car and opens the trunk, the police see it's the king of the Meos. The police run away, and Taylor busts General Vang Pao, alone...'
"Habib returns to his story. 'A few days after Sullivan sends his telegram, Rusk writes back and says, "Let him at them." So Sullivan calls me into his office and says, "Okay. You can work. But don't forget, they're fighting a war for us."'
"In effect, Sullivan limited Habib's investigation of the regional heroin traffic to the involvement of non-CIA Americans. Sullivan referred have up to Public Safety Advisor Paul Skuse in this regard, and Skuse said that no Americans were involved, that Air Force General Ouane Rattikone was the drug lord, but that the Laotian prime minister protected him. The local US Information Service officers likewise said no Americans were involved, as did Robert Rosselot, president of the CIA-connected Continental Air Service..."
(The Strength of the Wolf, Douglas Valentine, pgs. 333-335)
Nor was Robinson the only member of the Family's upper hierarchy with such contacts. There was also Richard Halverson (who, along with Robinson and Doug Coe, was one of the three men vying to be Abram's heir apparent).
"Halverson's story, like that of the Family's, began in 1935, when he got off the bus in Hollywood fresh from North Dakota, where he'd grown up with the unlikely ambition of being an actor. Blandly handsome by small-town standards, in Los Angeles he hardly looked like movie star material: his lips were too full, his cheeks too chubby, his eyes too deeply set. He wasn't bad looking, but he wasn't Clark Gable, either. His strength was a certain gee-whiz sincerity, an earnestness augmented by intelligence. Dick Halverson wasn't a good guy because he didn't know any better; he was a good guy because he calculated the angles and concluded that decency was his best bet in this world.
"Thereafter, he pursued it mightily. In later years, Halverson would help build up one of the world's largest relief agencies, World Vision, a Christian outfit that supplies food for the starving and medicine for the wounded and gospel tracks only to those who ask. Although it has long been plagued by accusations of serving as a CIA front, World Vision's verifiable record is admirable – the sort of Christian efforts which Abram paid lip service and nothing more. But Halverson also helped build the Fellowship into a network of truly international scope, introducing the American Christ to any number of nations. Halverson, in other words, was an imperialist of the old school, bringing light to the natives and clearing the way for other men to extract a dollar. He was no hypocrite. He believed with all his heart he was helping, and he never thought too deeply about whom. Halverson loved public speaking, and he was good at it, too, invited to preach in pulpits around the world. He wrote popular books and mailed out newsletters and presided over a conservative Presbyterian church outside of Washington that was popular with politicians. In 1981, Ronald Reagan would make him Senate chaplain, the pinnacle of his career."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 209-210)
The accusations that World Vision, the organization for which Halverson fronted for, was a CIA front are quite compelling.
"World Vision, the largest evangelical relief and development agency, was started in 1950 by Bob Pierce, a spiritual 'brother' of Billy Graham. Pierce helped Graham build the Youth for Christ teams after World War II...
"Like Wycliffe Bible Translators, World Vision is theologically evangelical but not 'charismatic.' From a sprawling corporate offices in southern California, World Vision administers hundreds of millions of dollars worth of relief projects in 80 countries. The largest projects are in Africa, followed by Latin America and Asia. World Vision's 1987 budget was over $145 million, with more than 20 percent coming from the US Agency for International Development (AID) and 'gifts in kind,' meaning government supplied food.
"World Vision's accounting practices make it difficult to determine exactly how the government money is spent. In 1987, for example, World Vision reported that 46 percent of its income was used for the broad category 'Relief, Development, and Christian Leadership,' without breaking down which portions of the funds go for strictly evangelistic purposes.
"The U.S. AID is an arm of the U.S. State Department, and its relief and development projects are designed to increase Third World political and economic dependence on the United States. Because World Vision's evangelicalism and humanitarian programs are woven together in a seamless web, AID directly finances World Vision's proselytization of Third World aid recipients...
"In tandem with its food distribution and leadership training for indigenous believers, World Vision has on a number of occasions functioned as an intelligence gathering arm of the U.S. government. In the 1970s, World Vision was charged with having collected field data for the CIA in Vietnam. After U.S. troops left the region, World Vision played a major role in the administration of refugee camps.
"By the early 1980s, World Vision was in charge of medical services for Hmong refugees in northern Thailand camps... World Vision also became a crucial player in the 'yellow rain' campaign to discredit the Soviet Union. In 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced that the Vietnamese, with help from the Soviets, were waging biological warfare in Laos. Haig's evidence was a supposedly toxic leaf and twig provided to him by Soldier of Fortune mercenaries in the area and refugee testimonies that they had seen yellow raindrops from aircraft over Laos. The administration never produce a single piece of ordinance to bolster the charges. The scientific community was generally skeptical of the biological warfare thesis, and instead offered varying hypotheses that the yellow substance might have been bee feces or naturally occurring fungal toxins. World Vision was drawn into the plot when the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok requested that the relief agency send medical samples taken from Hmong refugees who claimed to have been poisoned by 'yellow rain.' According to a missionary working with refugees in Thailand, World Vision's dependence on U.S. grant money obligated it to comply with requests that refugee blood samples be sent to the U.S. embassy rather than to more impartial investigators.
"By 1988, the mission agency was again involved in Vietnam. World Vision president Robert Seiple, who as a former marine piloted 300 bombing missions over North Vietnam, returned to the country he helped destroy to offer prostatic devices for some of Vietnam's 60,000 amputees.
"In July 1980, World Vision became one of five agencies working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide food, shelter and other services to more than 20,000 Salvadoran refugees who had fled into Honduras. From the start, World Vision was openly critical of CEDEN, the mainstream Protestant aid organization appointed by the United Nations to coordinate relief efforts. Inside the camps, World Vision workers preached against the 'communist religious workers' from the other refugee agencies.
"The most serious incident occurred in May 1981, when World Vision played a role in the deaths of three Salvadoran refugees. One evening, two new Salvadoran refugees arrived at the Colomoncagua camp after the immigration office had closed for the day. Instead of waiting to register them in the morning, as was the usual practice, the World Vision camp coordinator took them to the local Honduran army post where they were immediately arrested. A short time later, Honduran soldiers entered the camp and arrested two of the refugees. World Vision administrators did not report the incident to the other relief agencies. The next day, one of the rest of refugees was released, but three days later the bodies of the other three were found shot to death on the Salvadoran side of the border.
"World Vision insisted that the incident was accidental and uncharacteristic of its ministry in the camps, but admitted that its credibility problem in Central America began when it allowed its staff to come under the control of an anticommunist Cuban exile, a Nicaraguan exile evangelist and a group of Honduran military veterans. One person on the World Vision staff was a member of the Honduran military. Aside from these 'bad apples,' World Vision – as a policy – maintained records on all Salvadoran aid recipients and filed daily reports by telephone and telex with the World Vision office in Costa Rica. World Vision's extensive information-gathering procedures bolster charges that the group is collaborating with the CIA."
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pgs. 220-222)
The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), from which a good chunk of World Vision's funding was provided year in and year out, had a long standing relationship with the CIA as well. Consider, for instance, this one particular bit of collaboration:
"Until 1974 the training of torturers and members of Latin American death squads came under the auspices of the CIA and USAID's Office of Public Safety. Some 100,000 Brazilian policemen, for example, were trained and 523 of them were chosen for courses in the U.S.A. They were trained at the International Police Academy in Georgetown, Washington, D.C. and at a secret CIA center in the same city on R Street, under cover of International Police Services, Inc. When school was out the prize pupils returned home to work, besides CIA advisers, as functionaries or torturers in such effective repression apparatuses as Sao Paulo's Operaco Bandeirantes Many would moonlight with the Death Squads."
(The Great Heroin Coup, Henrik Kruger, pgs. 164-165)
The above-mentioned Hmong tribesmen had been deeply involved in the heroin trafficking of Laos during the Vietnam war and for several years afterwards. In other words, these were the same individuals Ambassador William Sullivan was protecting during his tour in Laos. Certainly it is curious that these two men, Clifton Robinson and Richard Halverson, who would vie for control of the Family as Vereide's health began to decline seem to have traveled within the orbit of Southeast Asian heroin trafficking.
Before moving along to the man who actually succeeded Vereide, another point must be made about World Vision: The group's founder, Bob Pierce, cut his teeth with an organization known as Youth for Christ. The movement features more than a few names that should be immediately familiar to regular readers of this blog:
"An important item in evangelical folklore is the story of how William Randolph Hearst of newspaper empire fame and Henry Luce, head of Time, Inc., helped launch the career of an itinerant evangelist named Billy Graham. After World War II, when the national preoccupation with the Communist Menace coincided with the birth of Graham's Youth for Christ organization, the two media moguls decided to promote Graham and his conservative message in their respective media outlets. In late 1949, so the story goes, Hearst send a telegram to all of his editors: 'Puff Graham,' which the editors dutifully did in Hearst-controlled newspapers, magazines, movies and newsreels. Luce likewise promoted Billy Graham, who by the mid-1950s was preaching: 'Either communism must die, or Christianity must die.' That worldview no doubt is what made Graham eligible for a Time cover story in October 1954.
"The Hearst and Luce media outlets puffed much more than Billy Graham, who initially was little more than a figurehead for Youth for Christ (YFC), perhaps the most successful of the postwar 'parachurch' organizations. The idea behind Youth for Christ was both to capture new converts and to revitalize evangelical Christianity among the already converted through a network of youth groups not associated with any particular church. Beginning in 1945, YFC sponsored Saturday night rallies with contemporary music, guest appearances by war veterans and media stars, combined with exuberant preaching and finally a call for young people to commit themselves to Jesus. The formula was simple and successful: by mid-1946, the movement had grown to some 900 rallies and involved about one million young people...
"Another key was timing. Youth for Christ was launched at a time when youth was a primary focus of concern in the United States. Many young men were off fighting in the war and those returning often look for help in readjusting to civilian life. Youth for Christ focused on testimonies of teenage rebels made more stable by conversion to Christianity. 'Police chiefs, governors, newspaper editors and reportedly President Truman – all applauded the rallies' wholesome contributions to community life.' After the war, the YFC message remained relevant as the national ideological focus shifted to moral and political superiority over the Soviet Union. In fact, immediately after the war, Gen. Douglas MacArthur invited YFC missionaries to Japan to 'provide the surest foundation for the firm establishment of democracy.' "
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pgs. 10-11)
|Willoughby; according to Dick Russell in The Man Who Knew to Much "Sir Charles" was on good terms with at least one "former" Nazi whom Vereide and the Family intervened on behalf of: Hans Speidel|
"Bob Pierce led YFC teams throughout Asia and became deeply involved in relief work in Korea. In 1950, he established World Vision, one of the largest missionary relief agencies."
(Spiritual Warfare, Sara Diamond, pg. 11)
|Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification cult|
The Navigators was founded shortly before the Family, in 1933. And like the Family, it seems to have forged close ties with the US military very early in the organization's history. Trotman and the Navigators were also one of the first evangelical groups to make use of Colorado Springs, a location that would became a major mecca for the Christian right by the end of the twentieth century in the United States. While all of this is most suggestive, this researcher has not been able to turn up much information on Trotman or the Navigators and thus it is difficult to determine what the nature of this organization truly was/is.
By all accounts Coe, despite his unremarkable background, displayed natural leadership abilities. He also displayed a ruthless ambition with more than a few fascist tendencies, not unlike Abram.
"Coe was as much of an elitist as Abram, but differently so. Aristocracy didn't impress him; more important, he never lied to himself about the virtues or lack thereof of the top men he was courting. Coe understood early on that he would be dealing with violent characters, and that didn't bother him. Indeed, it seemed to excite him. He dreamed of their power harnessed to the new American fundamentalism, a fascination with strength and influence given clearest voice in the words of one of his disciples, attempting to grasp Coe's vision. 'I have had a great and thrilling experience reading the condensed version of The Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich,' a protégé wrote Coe, following up on reading advice Coe had given him. 'Doug, what a lesson in vision and perspective! Nazism started with 7 guys around a table in the back of an old German Beer Hall. The world has been shaped so drastically by a few men who really want it such and so. How we need the same kind of stuff as a Hitler or a Lenin.'
"Abram had thought as much, albeit phrased in stuffier terms. 'An epochal opportunity is ours,' one of his tracts had advertised to the new men of his congressional Fellowship back in 1942, 'to control the future of America by the simple strategy of controlling the character and ideals of [a] relatively small minority of [college-age] men and women. Hitler long ago perceived this strategy, and established his elaborate system of... leadership training. The democracies have been asleep.' Indeed – asleep to the Hitler method of disciplining youth into a revolutionary cadre, a concept that absent the Fuhrer's bloodlust would lead to Abram's later support for groups such as the Navigators and Campus Crusade. Neither was fascist anymore than Coe actually subscribed to the philosophies of Hitler or Lenin. It was the myth of brotherhood that Coe thought such men exemplified, the '7 guys around a table' that would become a trademark of his teaching. That such a view bore little correspondence with history – both Hitler and Lenin brutally pitted their supporters against one another – was of no concern. What mattered was the model, the seven or the twelve, circles of access to a power defined by a personality at the center: Jesus. Contrasting American fundamentalism to secularism at a Fellowship meeting in 1962, Bill Bright, the Fellowship fellow traveler who founded Campus Crusade, one of the biggest popular fundamentalist groups in the world, put it succinctly: 'We worship a person, they worship ideas.' That was American fundamentalism's Christ: a person, purged of the ideas that defined him, as if what mattered most about Jesus was the color of his eyes and the shape of his beard.
"Coe understood the cult of personality better than Cliff Robinson and Dick Halverson. He may even have understood it better than Abram, who, after all, was moved first and foremost by 'the Idea.' Not Coe. For Coe, it was Jesus plus nothing – a formula into which he could plug any values. It was a theology of total malleability, perfect for American expansion."
(The Family, Jeff Sharlet, pgs. 216-217)Indeed. And in the next installment we shall begin to consider the results of Jesus plus nothing. Stay tuned.