NBC News Reports on The Family [Revised and Updated]
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Apr 03, 2008 at 07:56:42 PM EST
NBC News had a segment on the secretive, elite influence network, The Family, featuring an interview with Jeff Sharlet, whose book by that title, will be published next month.

The segment also featured dramatic video of the elite fundamentalist "Family" leader Doug Coe preaching about the "covenant" that he says made Hitler among others, powerful -- commanding loyalty among his followers. The program transcript states:

Mr. DOUGLAS COE: (1989) I've seen pictures of the young men in the Red Guard. They would bring in this young man's mother. He would take an ax and cut her head off. They have to put the purposes of the Red Guard ahead of their father, mother, brother, sister and their own life. That was a covenant, a pledge. That's what Jesus said.

[Andrea] MITCHELL: In his preaching, he repeatedly urges a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment Coe compares to the blind devotion Hitler demanded, a rhetorical technique that draws sharp criticism.

Mr. COE: (1989) Hitler, Goebbels, and Himmler were three men. Think of the immense power these three men had, these nobodies from nowhere.

Jeff Sharlet and Kathryn Joyce reported in Mother Jones that Hillary Clinton has been involved in the group since the early 1990s; and NBC showed that Coe introduced 11 "businessmen" to her, according to her White House logs.  Access, and networking connections among the powerful is an important part of the modus operandi of The Family.

Sharlet and Joyce reported:

When Time put together a list of the nation's 25 most powerful evangelicals in 2005, the heading for Coe's entry was "The Stealth Persuader." "You know what I think of when I think of Doug Coe?" the Reverend Schenck (a Coe admirer) asked us. "I think literally of the guy in the smoky back room that you can't even see his face. He sits in the corner, and you see the cigar, and you see the flame, and you hear his voice—but you never see his face. He's that shadowy figure."

Coe has been an intimate of every president since Ford, but he rarely imposes on chief executives, who see him as a slightly mystical but apolitical figure. Rather, Coe uses his access to the Oval Office as currency with lesser leaders. "If Doug Coe can get you some face time with the President of the United States," one official told the author of a Princeton study of the National Prayer Breakfast last year, "then you will take his call and seek his friendship. That's power."

In their Mother Jones article, Sharlet and Joyce reported specifically on the involvement of Senator Clinton in the group, showing a more profound level of participation than unnamed people "close to" Sen. Clinton's claim to NBC (see transcript below) that she is not a "member" of the Family:
Clinton's God talk is more complicated--and more deeply rooted--than either fans or foes would have it, a revelation not just of her determination to out-Jesus the gop, but of the powerful religious strand in her own politics... Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian "cell" whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat. Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan. The Fellowship isn't out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward. This is in line with the Christian right's long-term strategy. Francis Schaeffer, late guru of the movement, coined the term "cobelligerency" to describe the alliances evangelicals must forge with conservative Catholics. Colson, his most influential disciple, has refined the concept of cobelligerency to deal with less-than-pure politicians. In this application, conservatives sit pretty and wait for liberals looking for common ground to come to them. Clinton, Colson told us, "has a lot of history" to overcome, but he sees her making the right moves.
Here are excerpts from the transcript of the NBC News segment:
MITCHELL: Jeff Sharlet lived among Coe's followers six years ago and came out troubled by their secrecy and rhetoric.

Mr. JEFF SHARLET: We were being taught the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin and Mao. And I'd say, `Aren't--isn't there a problem with that?' And they would even seem perplexed by the question. Hitler's genocide wasn't really an issue for them. It was the strength that he emulated.

MITCHELL: Now Sharlet's written about it in a soon-to-be-published book.

Mr. SHARLET: They're notoriously secretive. In fact, they jokingly call themselves the Christian Mafia.

MITCHELL: Asked about Coe's influence on Hillary Clinton, people close to her said "she does not consider him one of her leading spiritual advisers, has never contributed to his group, is not a member," and has never heard the sermons that we have cited. And they said he is not her minister. Coe declined an interview, but a close friend said he invokes Hitler to show the power of small groups for good and bad, and most of the time talks about Jesus. Supporters also point to his good works around the world. Still, critics question his influence and secrecy in a year when the candidates' religious beliefs are part of the political debate. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
NBC also reported that Barack Obama and John McCain (among others) have also attended Family "prayer groups" -- but made no effort to say how often, or how deeply they were involved, or how common a practice it is for U.S. Senators to accept such invitations.

Still, it was a ground-breaking news segment about an elite fundamentalist political network that has cultivated and manipulated the powerful for the better part of a century.

For more background, see Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America's secret theocrats, by Jeff Sharlet, Harpers magazine.




Display:
I have read a lot about the Cultural Revolution. I have known survivors of it, including a roommate who became a close friend. I have read and heard of Red Guards committing truly appalling crimes, but what Doug Coe alleges I think is a stretch.

by nogodsnomasters on Thu Apr 03, 2008 at 10:30:02 PM EST
(whether or not it is historically accurate) is an argument for blind loyalty to a political group, such as The Family, to the point of violence against one's own family.

by jhutson on Fri Apr 04, 2008 at 12:01:25 PM EST
Parent


Senator Hillary Clinton tries to distance herself from Coe by saying that he "is not her minister." True: he is not anyone's minister -- he is not ordained. Yet he is the leader of a covert network of political influence that operates in part by recruiting elected officials into "cells" (his own term).

In her autobiography, Clinton calls Coe "a genuinely loving mentor and spiritual guide to many." She also says of him: "Doug became a source of strength and friendship." And she has written about participating in one of the "cells" that prayed for her during her time in the White House.

Though Clinton denies being "a member," she does not deny that she has ever been a member of one of Coe's "cells," and does not state when her participation in the cell ceased.

Though Clinton says now that Coe is not one of her "leading spiritual mentors," she has written about him as one of her spiritual mentors. The word "leading" in her recent denial therefore seems like a weasel word: he has mentored her spiritually, and Clinton does not say that he does not remain a spiritual mentor to any degree, only that he is not a "leading" one to her.

So why does Clinton refuse interview requests to speak on the record about her involvement with The Family and its secretive political leader, Doug Coe?

by jhutson on Fri Apr 04, 2008 at 11:58:15 AM EST

about her involvement. NBC quotes unnamed persons close to Clinton denying membership.

We have yet to hear from Senator Clinton about any of this. That may be understandable, but is is a lot less than open and honest.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Apr 04, 2008 at 12:09:47 PM EST
Parent



Thanks for confirmation on something I have strongly suspected re the Family/Fellowship--that they have been users of the coercive "discipling and shepherding" model (which is heavily prevalent in the Assemblies and Campus Crusade, and which ended up getting Maranatha in some rather serious trouble forcing a renaming).

If so, this makes Hillary Clinton's membership extremely troubling (even more so than it was anyways); depending on how long "The Fellowship" has been using the "cell church" model, this may also push the history of this particular coercive tactic back to the 30's (the earliest I can date it is to the 40's and originating in neopente churches in China in the pre-Communist era, though there are hints that cell-church models may have been used as early as the 1920s by the Assemblies in eastern Europe for purposes of steeplejacking Reformed Baptist congregations).

As to why this disturbs me, here's a post I've just done here on coercive tactics within dominionist "cell churches" that explains my distinct worries regarding this.

As for the discussion of the "total war" that Nazis did--I'm not entirely surprised by the use of that metaphor.  There's been persistent rumours (which I am hoping to either confirm or deny when Sharlet's book comes out and I get it) as to possible involvement of the original founders of the Family/Fellowship in Nazi-sympathiser groups in the 30s (there was, alas, a non-negligible amount of covert and overt Nazi support by the dominionist movement of the time, because the Nazis portrayed themselves as anti-Communist; even today, the Holocaust is seen as a kick-start for the re-establishment of Israel by many Christian Zionists).

by dogemperor on Fri Apr 04, 2008 at 03:15:33 PM EST



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