Anatomy of a Smear
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Jul 06, 2007 at 01:06:38 AM EST
A few weeks ago in New York City, the publisher of Steeplejacking: How the Christian Right is Hijacking Mainstream Religion, held a panel discussion as part of the launch of the book. Scheduled to speak were co-authors Sheldon Culver and John Dorhauer, Michelle Goldberg, Chris Hedges (author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America) and me. Hedges, a divinity school graduate and former New York Times reporter who teaches at Princeton, was ultimately unable to attend -- but we were joined by a young spy from the Washington, DC-based neoconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy.
This was not really a surprise. IRD uses a mix of staff and freelancers to infiltrate events of all kinds -- denominational and related interest group meetings; as well as events that have no obvious connection to their purported mission of "renewal" of the mainline protestant churches in the U.S. In this case, the spy was Rebekah Sharpe, a 2005 graduate of the University of North Carolina, who has written a series of apparently freelance reports for the IRD web site.  

Usually when I write about aspects of the quarter century campaign by IRD and its neoconservative and religious right allies to disrupt and divide the mainline prostestant churches -- I am writing from a distance. But this time, it's personal. The writer and/or her editors have published a piece that grossly misrepresents what I said that evening in New York.  In short, it's a smear.

It is worth a brief examination of this bit of propaganda, not only to clear the air about what I said and what I meant that night, but use Sharpe's screed as a case example of the way that IRD staff and contractors spy on and seek to discredit their critics.

Sharpe's report is titled:

Event Denounces Conservative Christians as "Fascists"

That is certainly a provocative article headline, but it does not remotely represent the event in which I participated. No one denounced conservative Christians in general -- nor would we. Nor did we generalize to describe conservative Christians as fascists. In fact, I don't recall any of us using the words fascists or fascism all evening. What's more, if professor Hedges had been there, I am certain that he also would not have made such a generalization

Now it is certainly true that the event was billed: "Nationalists, Fascists, and Fanatics: The Christian Right's Threat to the Future of Democracy in America." But in the absence of professor Hedges, there wasn't anyone there to discuss fascism. Perhaps the IRD will send someone to one of his many public appearances and report on what he actually has to say, rather than trying to stuff distorted versions of his ideas into the mouths of others.

Again, the title of Sharpe's report not withstanding, no one on the panel denounced conservative Christians or any one else as fascists, and Sharpe does not quote any of us using the words fascist or fascism.  The main way that Sharpe seeks to justify the headline, is a mention of Hitler -- by someone else. During the discussion period, a questioner mentioned pre World War II era policies of appeasement in response to Hitler, and asked me what I thought about some contemporary issues of political appeasement. I did not address the matter of policies of appeasement to Hitler or to fascism in general, nor did I draw any analogy the current situation:

In Chris Hedges' absence, the inevitable analogies between more orthodox Christians and Nazis only arose during the question and answer session. One participant, playing off of Goldberg's earlier comments, stated, "[20th century author Eric Fromm] talks about... how the young Hitler was hardened and toughened and became more extreme and he says one of the things that made him more extreme was that so many Germany tried to appease him and he saw right through it ... and ... it increased his hatred of them.... And what I see in the Democratic Party is an attempt to co-opt the evangelical political block by giving them some concessions.... Mara Vandersleiss, whom Michelle brought up; I think she's part of the culture of appeasement."

In response, Fred Clarkson provided a lengthy critique of present-day appeasers. He gravely warned, "This is the area of appeasement, make no mistake.... What happens when we have evangelical movements in the church? Not just evangelicals in the church, but people who say 'We want to bring things back to the way they ought to be in the church, the true orthodox Christianity, that somehow all those ... people have somehow abandoned and they don't believe in God and Jesus, and we have to bring it back.' How do you appease people like that?" Specifying a political example of the supposed Hitler-esque appeasement attempts, Clarkson said, "In order to include pro-life Democrats, you can no longer stand for your own principles. That's appeasement. And that's the advice the Democratic Party leaders are getting now."

Leaving aside the question of whether Sharpe fairly represents my points, in response to the question, I discussed some of the dynamics of the Democratic Party and mainline protestantism and the problems caused by the appeasement of those who cannot, in fact, be appeased. Now hear the method of the propagandist:

"Specifying a political example of the supposed Hitler-esque appeasement attempts, Clarkson said..."
This is putting words in my mouth. I did not characterize anyone or anything as "Hitler-esque" nor did I "specify" anything as an example of such. This is a fabrication, and it is as outrageous as it is dishonest.  (BTW, the correct spelling of the name of the prominent Democratic consultant mentioned above, is Mara Vanderslice.)

Using a similar tactic, Sharpe tries to claim that I said or believe that all conservative Chrisians are "totalitarian." That is not what I said and it is not what I meant.

Clarkson stated that like "anyone who is a totalitarian of some sort" a conservative Christian "understands that dilemma of democratic pluralism and will exploit it at every opportunity. Because a liberal is an easy mark: "Oh, you're intolerant aren't you liberals?!" and the liberal goes, "Oh, I don't want to be intolerant! I don't want to paint myself that way!"" He added that, "the Right has used this very successfully."

My point was that many, including IRD and its minions, exploit what theorist Gary North calls the dilemma of democratic pluralism. This is essentially the idea that those who believe in democratic pluralism, as a matter of profound conviction, are necessarily tolerant of views with which they also may profoundly disagree. The dilemma comes when people feel they must "tolerate" even those views that are committed to the destruction of democratic pluralism itself.  This knowledge is smartly exploited by totalitarians of many sorts, including some conservative Christians. Note that Sharpe does not have any quote marks around the phrase a conservative Christian in the quote above.  That's because that is not what I said, and clearly did not mean.

I have also been consistent on this over the years. I first wrote about the dilemma of democratic pluralism in my 1997 book Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, and more recently at Talk to Action. (Here, for example).

People familiar with my work know that I am careful with facts and with language. I avoid making broad brush claims about conservative Christians -- or anyone. The apparent effort here is to try to discredit my work by leaving the impression that I compared conservative Christians to Hitler, when I did not; and that I also described conservative Christians in general as "totalitarian" when I did not.

It's possible that all this is not Rebekah Sharpe's fault -- but it nevertheless carries her byline. And it is not the first time that she has worked for this disreputable agency.

When reading anything that the IRD puts out or if you happen to see an IRD spokesperson quoted as an authoritative source in the media, consider this: The IRD spends tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to deploy staff and consultants like young Ms. Sharpe around the country to attend events small and large, and produce numerous reports like this one; edited and published online by a professional staff. But their tremendous efforts at information gathering and writing and publishing not withstanding, one has to wonder -- how much do they just make up?

There is an exchange in Plato's Republic where the dialogue discusses who is better, the just or unjust man. The character Glaucon tells Socretes that it is perhaps better to be unjust but seem just rather than being just.

It seems that whatever issues these neocons touch this mentality permeates. These are nasty folks for whom propriety is not as important the ends justifying the means.

Well, some means cannot be justified and this continuous mendacity is one such example. Obviously they feel threatened by what we are doing. And the reasoned why they feel threatened is because we are standing up to expose their vile means to an end.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Jul 06, 2007 at 07:22:05 AM EST

But amongst those dealing with the IRD & Co. is there a distinction between "conservative Christians" and "the Religious Right"?  

I'm thinking that the former is a pretty big group but the latter are a subset of politically motivated, rigid, frightened, agenda driving folk.

But I'm not sure the distinction is always understood.  Thoughts?

by Don Niederfrank on Fri Jul 06, 2007 at 10:00:42 PM EST

Yours is a distinction that is roughly the same as any reasonable person would make.

These terms are broad and overlapping, but certainly not synonymous.

To my knowledge it has never been an issue among the people I know who write credibly in this general field.  

That said, people on all sides use these, and many terms somewhat differently from one another, and there are no generally agreed upon definitions. Even in the news media. The Religion Newswriters Association has taken a stab at definitions of terms, with mixed results in my view.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat Jul 07, 2007 at 12:03:27 AM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (324 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (165 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (96 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (84 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (95 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (121 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (98 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (71 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (222 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (53 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (144 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (172 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (49 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (50 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (202 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (212 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (82 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (156 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (139 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (136 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (128 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (139 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (119 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (167 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (131 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (69 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (184 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (73 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (103 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (98 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.