Saturday, March 22, 2008

Conspiracy Theorists Hate Hillary Clinton

I'm all for things that make Hillary Clinton look bad... provided that they're factual and relevant.

This Nation article by Barbara Ehrenreich is almost certainly not relevant, and I'm doubtful that it's factual.

The Family's most visible activity is its blandly innocuous National Prayer Breakfast, held every February in Washington. But almost all its real work goes on behind the scenes--knitting together international networks of right-wing leaders, most of them ostensibly Christian. In the 1940s, The Family reached out to former and not-so-former Nazis, and its fascination with that exemplary leader, Adolf Hitler, has continued, along with ties to a whole bestiary of murderous thugs.

. . .

Clinton fell in with The Family in 1993, when she joined a Bible study group composed of wives of conservative leaders like Jack Kemp and James Baker. When she ascended to the Senate, she was promoted to what Sharlet calls the Family's "most elite cell," the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, which included, until his downfall, Virginia's notoriously racist Senator George Allen. This has not been a casual connection for Clinton. She has written of Doug Coe, The Family's publicity-averse leader, that he is "a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God."

And these are the relevant quotes.

Most- hell, pretty much all of Ehrenreich's information comes from a single source- writer Jeffrey Sharlet, who "went undercover" into The Family for a Harper's Magazine article in 2003. The result reads like a conspiracy theorist's wet dream: a group of far-right fundamentalist Christians attempting to bring about theocracy first at home, then globally.

Ivanwald, which sits at the end of Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington, Virginia, is known only to its residents and to the members and friends of the organization that sponsors it, a group of believers who refer to themselves as “the Family.” The Family is, in its own words, an “invisible” association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as “members,” as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). Regular prayer groups 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 maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities.

. . .

In the process of introducing powerful men to Jesus, the Family has managed to effect a number of behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy. In 1978 it secretly helped the Carter Administration organize a worldwide call to prayer with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and more recently, in 2001, it brought together the warring leaders of Congo and Rwanda for a clandestine meeting, leading to the two sides' eventual peace accord last July. Such benign acts appear to be the exception to the rule. During the 1960s the Family forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa's postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand “Communists” killed marks him as one of the century's most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration the Family helped build friendships between the U.S. government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise. “We work with power where we can,” the Family's leader, Doug Coe, says, “build new power where we can't.”

. . .

“A covenant,” Doug answered. The congressman half-smiled, as if caught between confessing his ignorance and pretending he knew what Doug was talking about. “Like the Mafia,” Doug clarified. “Look at the strength of their bonds.” He made a fist and held it before Tiahrt's face. Tiahrt nodded, squinting. “See, for them it's honor,” Doug said. “For us, it's Jesus.”

Coe listed other men who had changed the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their “brothers”: “Look at Hitler,” he said. “Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden.” The Family, of course, possessed a weapon those leaders lacked: the “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ.

“That's what you get with a covenant,” said Coe. “Jesus plus nothing.”

. . .

The regimen was so precise it was relaxing: no swearing, no drinking, no sex, no self. Watch out for magazines and don't waste time on newspapers and never watch TV. Eat meat, study the Gospels, play basketball: God loves a man who can sink a three-pointer. Pray to be broken. O Heavenly Father. Dear Jesus. Help me be humble. Let me do Your will. Every morning began with a prayer, some days with outsiders—Wednesdays led by a former Ivanwald brother, now a businessman; Thursdays led by another executive who used tales of high finance to illuminate our lessons from scripture, which he supplemented with xeroxed midrash from Fortune or Fast Company; Fridays with the women of Potomac Point. But most days it was just us boys, bleary-eyed, gulping coffee and sugared cereal as Bengt and Jeff Connolly, Bengt's childhood friend and our other house leader, laid out lines of Holy Word across the table like strategy.

. . .

We prayed to be “nothing.” We were there to “soften our hearts to authority.” We instituted a rule that every man must wipe the toilet bowl after he pisses, not for cleanliness but to crush his “inner rebel.”

. . .

“Remember that story Cal Thomas told?” he asked. Thomas, a syndicated columnist, had recently stopped by Ivanwald for a mixer with young congressional staffers. He had regaled his audience with stories about tweaking his liberal colleagues, in particular about when he had addressed a conference of nonbelievers by asking if anyone knew where to buy a good “negro.” Jeff C. thought it was hilarious but also profound. What Thomas had meant, he told me, was that absent the teachings of Jesus there was no reason for the strong not to enslave the weak.

. . .

Two weeks into my stay, David Coe, Doug's son and the presumptive heir to leadership of the Family, dropped by the house. My brothers and I assembled in the living room, where David had draped his tall frame over a burgundy leather recliner like a frat boy, one leg hanging over a padded arm.

“You guys,” David said, “are here to learn how to rule the world.”

. . .

He walked to the National Geographic map of the world mounted on the wall. “You guys know about Genghis Khan?” he asked. “Genghis was a man with a vision. He conquered”—David stood on the couch under the map, tracing, with his hand, half the northern hemisphere—“nearly everything. He devastated nearly everything. His enemies? He beheaded them.” David swiped a finger across his throat. “Dop, dop, dop, dop.”

David explained that when Genghis entered a defeated city he would call in the local headman and have him stuffed into a crate. Over the crate would be spread a tablecloth, and on the tablecloth would be spread a wonderful meal. “And then, while the man suffocated, Genghis ate, and he didn't even hear the man's screams.” David still stood on the couch, a finger in the air. “Do you know what that means?” He was thinking of Christ's parable of the wineskins. “You can't pour new into old,” David said, returning to his chair. “We elect our leaders. Jesus elects his.”

He reached over and squeezed the arm of a brother. “Isn't that great?” David said. “That's the way everything in life happens. If you're a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that's who you guys are. When you leave here, you're not only going to know the value of Jesus, you're going to know the people who rule the world. It's about vision. 'Get your vision straight, then relate.' Talk to the people who rule the world, and help them obey. Obey Him. If I obey Him myself, I help others do the same. You know why? Because I become a warning. We become a warning. We warn everybody that the future king is coming. Not just of this country or that, but of the world.” Then he pointed at the map, toward the Khan's vast, reclaimable empire.

. . .

Another document—“Regional Reports, January 3, 2002”—lists some of the nations where Youth Corps programs are already in operation: Russia, Ukraine, Romania, India, Pakistan, Uganda, Nepal, Bhutan, Ecuador, Honduras, Peru. Youth Corps is, in many respects, a more aggressive version of Young Life, a better-known network of Christian youth groups that entice teenagers with parties and sports, and only later work Jesus into the equation. Most of my American brothers at Ivanwald had been among Young Life's elite, and many had returned to Young Life during their college summers to work as counselors. Youth Corps, whose programs are often centered around Ivanwald-style houses, prepares the best of its recruits for positions of power in business and government abroad. The goal: “Two hundred national and international world leaders bound together relationally by a mutual love for God and the family.”

. . .

The Family was founded in April 1935 by Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant who made his living as a traveling preacher. One night, while lying in bed fretting about socialists, Wobblies, and a Swedish Communist who, he was sure, planned to bring Seattle under the control of Moscow, Vereide received a visitation: a voice, and a light in the dark, bright and blinding. The next day he met a friend, a wealthy businessman and former major, and the two men agreed upon a spiritual plan. They enlisted nineteen business executives in a weekly breakfast meeting and together they prayed, convinced that Jesus alone could redeem Seattle and crush the radical unions.

. . .

Vereide met with Jewish survivors and listened to their stories, but he nevertheless considered ex-Nazis well suited for the demands of “strong” government, so long as they were willing to worship Christ as they had Hitler.

. . .

“He's the question,” Bengt retorted, half-smiling, satisfied with his inversion by which doubt became the essence of a dogma. God was just what Bengt desired Him to be, even as Bengt was, in the face of God, “nothing.” Not for aesthetics alone, I realized, did Bengt and the Family reject the label “Christian.” Their faith and their practice seemed closer to a perverted sort of Buddhism, their God outside “the truth,” their Christ everywhere and nowhere at once, His commands phrased as questions, His will as simple to divine as one's own desires. And what the Family desired, from Abraham Vereide to Doug Coe to Bengt, was power, worldly power, with which Christ's kingdom can be built, cell by cell.

And those are the more sensible and relevant quotes from the article.

When you actually read both articles, you come up with only the following facts:

Fact: The annual National Prayer Breakfast is run by a right-wing organization with its roots in anti-socialist reactionaries during the Great Depression.

Fact: This organization proselytizes aggressively for Christ in a non-denominational fashion.

Fact: The organization believes in a doctrine that calls for obedience to authority.

Fact: A number of high-ranking officials from various nations attend their events, including the annual National Prayer Breakfast and weekly group prayer meetings.

Fact: These is no actual evidence these individuals are involved with this group in any way other than to participate in these prayer meetings.

Fact: The organization has reached out to groups and individuals who normally would not be acceptable to Christian organizations. You know- like Christ did. Remember, St. Matthew was a tax collector?

Fact: For all the spooky "inside dirt" Sharlet deals out- and he's got a whole book coming out this summer- there is no proof of any conspiracy to conquer the nation and alter its laws to make all Americans worship Christ. The closest it comes to conspiracy is an attempt to ensure that world leaders follow Christ's teachings.

And finally, Fact: we only have one reporter's word for all of this.

For my money, rather than a conspiracy to rule the world, the Family is really a small organization with a donor base of wealthy individuals who politicians have used for their own ends for the past sixty years- everything from gaining campaign donations to providing cheap temporary housing for Congresspersons when Congress is in session.

There's nothing here that shows that Hillary Clinton is trying to create a theocracy, or even that she is an active member of the Family- except for one man's reporting filtered through another woman's pen.

And, unfortunately, that woman is an Obama supporter, so there's every reason to accuse her of bias in this article- not just accuse her, but accuse all of us who support Obama.

Friends and neighbors, conspiracy theorists are not solely a phenomenon of the far right. The left is capable of them too- as these two articles demonstrate.

And in honor of having demonstrated this so well, and even though it's a day late, and even though neither person involved is a Libertarian... Barbara Ehrenreich and Jeff Sharlet, this week's Corn Flakes!

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