Meet The Theocratic Tea Party And Its Inner-City "Prayer Warrior" Cousin
During the '08 campaign you posted an audio excerpt in which Pastor John Hagee---one of John McCain's BFFs---said that God sent Hitler to force Europe's Jews to Palestine. It made McCain squirm and sucked some of the air out of the right's condemnation of Jeremiah Wright. I'm curious: what kind of response did you get from the right-wingers when you released that?
Mainly people trying to quietly stuff the body back in the closet, trying to defuse via convoluted theological arguments Hagee's claim that Hitler was God's real estate agent delegated with red-lining Jews, via Holocaust, to Palestine (the only place God ever intended the Jewish people to live, claimed Hagee.) Here's the heart of the matter - there's a Christian Zionist/Likud political symbiosis going back to the late 1970's, and John Hagee and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are close allies - consider their contemptuously in-your-face stunt on the eve of Biden's peace trip to Israel. The two also tried to sabotage the peace process over a decade earlier, in 1998, during the Clinton Administration.
Hagee's PR minions are selling Jewish-Americans the proposition that his Christians United For Israel lobby offers benign, non-Book of Revelations based support for Israel (that's demonstrably a lie). But Hagee's people are to the right of Attila The Hun, and so they're gradually peeling off Jewish support for the Democratic Party. It's bizarre, because Hagee also demonizes Jews to a remarkably vicious degree. In his globally distributed books and sermons Hagee claims Hitler was Jewish and promotes the conspiracy theory that European-based Rothschild bankers control the world economy and are scheming to bankrupt America. The ADL calls that one a "classic anti-Semitic myth" and I'd have to agree. There was a well known 20th Century German politician who espoused an almost identical theory, and his name was not Hagee.
As a recent study by Swiss physicists has revealed, 10 financial entities have controlling interest in about 80% of stocks in 48 countries worldwide, but none of the Jewish banking firms traditionally cited in anti-Semitic literature, such as Rothschild financial entities, are on on the list. Seven are American firms and the rest are based in the UK, France, and Switzerland ( PDF of Science News article. )
Looking into your crystal ball, how do you see the midterm elections shaking out for the House and Senate?
I don't foresee a disaster for the Democratic Party on the scale of 1994. Strategists on the evangelical right have for decades worked to build a 'rainbow right', but the effort's taking a serious hit now that the knuckle dragging, racist wing of the American right is making so much noise. Many conservative black and Hispanic evangelicals who otherwise might be inclined to vote Republican, especially for culture war issues, may be too revolted to do it - they'll either vote blue or just stay home. And I think many white independents and conservatives may also be turned off by Tea Party ideological extremity. Rand Paul and Sharron Angle are emblematic of that - they came in with a bang, now their poll numbers are sagging as the public comes to understand their ideological hostility to government efforts to mitigate the impact of the recession on average Americans and their steadfast support for huge, predatory corporations.
You're the co-founder of the Talk to Action blog, which is a "platform for reporting on, learning about, and analyzing and discussing the religious right---and what to do about it." Is the religious right gaining or losing its mojo within the political-sphere at this point in American history?
Beyond the Tea Party movement (which I cover in the next question), let me suggest a few reference points. First, Sarah Palin. To this day neither mainstream media or even progressive media have paid much attention to where she came from, but there's video from a summer 2008 religious conference near Seattle during which Palin's long-time personal prayer leader, Mary Glazier, tells evangelical leaders that Sarah Palin joined her prayer group in '89, around the time Palin decided to go into politics. Glazier then advocates cleansing "the land" of unbelievers. Palin's clearly in the "prayer warrior" movement - she hangs around with the leaders, uses the lingo, and so on.
The religious right is changing so fast that the movement is outstripping efforts of journalists and researchers to track or understand it. First of all, it's a global movement that's changing American politics but also reshaping entire nations globally - Uganda for example. The charismatic wing of the movement is where the real action is. One of the leaders in this tendency, Lou Engle, has become the de-facto prayer leader for the Republican Party. It's targeting entire states for political takeover (Hawaii, for example) and is infiltrating traditionally liberal cities - such as Newark, Orlando, and Baltimore, working with police departments in those cities to "pray down" crime. But what's really going on is the creation of neighborhood watch groups whose church leaders hold a virulently anti-gay, eliminationist ideology. And they're evangelizing the cops, which is what evangelicals do.
Plus, the "Pray For Newark" effort (see link in paragraph above) claims to field 1,000 volunteers, walking the streets of Newark, who might as well be political organizers - they're organized by city ward. And the leadership is virulently anti-gay and opposes abortion in all cases (including rape & incest), is contemptuous of church-state separation, and is radically pro-big business. In 2010 will that volunteer army work the Newark streets for Democratic candidates ? I doubt it.
Then there are the chilling inroads the movement has made in evangelizing the US military. Spend some time browsing the extensive media archives from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (disclosure - I worked for MRFF in 2007) and I guarantee you'll come away with a different sense of conservative evangelical influence in US government.
On to the numbers game - are there more or less conservative evangelical Christians now than a decade ago ? I'd say that's a pointless question, because politicized evangelicals have always been a minority group in American society. So why, during the 2008 election, did McCain and Obama choose to hold a debate in Rick Warren's megachurch ? Why did they go to such lengths proclaiming their credentials as believing Christians ? It's about influence, and politicians have a sixth sense for influence. Warren's personal megaphone reaches hundreds of thousands of pastors globally. John Hagee's sermons go out on Christian broadcast networks that can reach hundreds of millions of people around the world. Top Republican senators court Hagee, Democrats and Republicans both court Warren. There's a reason they do that.
Based on what I've seen, right-wing religious groups don't seem to be too terribly visible in, or linked to, the tea party gaggle. Is that your sense, too?
Not so much. A lot of the rank and file Tea Party members may well be libertarians but if you look at photos from recent Tea Party rallies across America you'll find many signs calling Obama the "Antichrist" and warning of an impending "New World Order." My favorite was "Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama's Ovens." Those tropes are coming from apocalyptic religious narratives, found on the evangelical right, which literally envision that Christians will soon be persecuted in the way the Nazis persecuted Europe's Jews.
I see the Tea Party movement in part as an evangelizing tool that pulls secular libertarians towards the Christian right. Ron Paul was staging 'Tea Party' events across America back in 2007, and Paul's no libertarian. He's good friends with Constitution Party Founder Howard Phillips, a leading Christian Reconstructionist who served briefly as a staffer for Paul's congressional office. Paul has spoken at Constitution Party fund-raising events and Phillips has spoken at Ron Paul rallies. Rand Paul, by the way, has said his political views are little different from his father's. Ron Paul is to be commended for his principled anti-war stance, and that's the orthodox Christian Reconstructionist position. I'm with them on that count.
But look at the official platform of the Libertarian Party - nothing there about banning abortion (even in cases of rape and incest) or gay marriage, no specific proposals like abolishing the Department of Education or pulling the US out of the United Nations. Nothing claiming Global Warming is a hoax. Where can you find those positions ? Well, they've been espoused by Sharron Angle and Rand Paul, and they're also in the official platform of the overtly theocratic Constitution Party, founded by R.J. Rushdoony acolyte Howard Phillips. Rushdoony who wanted to see gays, adulterers, and "unchaste" women stoned and believed the Sun revolved around the Earth. Libertarians tend to have some baseline respect for science and find theocracy appalling, and they want to stay far away from the bedrooms of consenting adults. Christian Reconstructionists want to be in those bedrooms with videocameras, think that Biblical literalism should supplant science as the arbiter of reality, and want an Old Testament-based legal system, including stoning and burning at the stake as forms of capital punishment, and the legalization of slavery.
This next question may be impossible to answer: among the Republicans running for House or Senate seats this year, which one do you think is flat-out the most bizarre?
Well, D'Annunzio is out of the running (taking his 1,000 mile high Greenland divine pyramid with him, alas.) Then there's Rand Paul and Sharron Angle - their ties to Christian Reconstructionism are not exactly mainstream. Running for Congress in Oregon's 6th District, Art Robinson (also a crypto-Christian Reconstructionist, it seems), organized the infamous Oregon Petition which helped set back action on Global Warming by years, maybe even a decade - some think that lag may have doomed the world as we know it. In 2006 at a Family Research Council conference in DC, I heard Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe citing Robinson's petition as evidence that Global Warming was an evil plot hatched by the UN to create a New World Order.
And my point is this - there are so many GOP candidates espousing fringe ideas it's hard to know where to start. Unfortunately, because local mainstream media is so financially damaged from the recession, the rise of Net-driven news, and Craiglist's undermining of the traditional media ad base, there's little real state level coverage of this. So Sam Brownback, running for the Kansas governor's seat, was for 7 months condo-mate with Lou Engle, according to Engle - who claims gays are possessed by demons. I doubt one out of a hundred or a thousand Kansans are aware of this. Few Hawaiians know Republican gubernatorial candidate James "Duke" Aiona is close to evangelist Ed Silvoso, who compares his opponents to rats that should be exterminated. On and on.
I have one question left, but I'm so distraught that Time magazine thinks Daily Kos is one of the most overrated blogs---for the second year in a row!---that I can't go on. Please ask and answer the final question yourself...
Well, my rhetorical question would be - why, when people have been writing on the influence of the Christian right in US and world politics for decades now, has the (profoundly ignorant) nature of the media discourse changed so little ?
In 1994 Campaign and Elections commissioned a study of the relative influence of the Christian right in the Republican Party. The survey was repeated in 2000 - by then, according to Spreading Out and Digging In; Christian Conservatives and State Republican Parties, "In 2000, Christian conservatives were perceived to hold a strong position in 18 state Republican parties, the same number as in the 1994. The moderate category had 26 states, exactly twice the 1994 number. And the weak category declined to seven cases, down from 20 six years prior."
So, the Christian right by 2000 had a strong to moderate level of influence in 44 out of 51 states, and giving the ongoing purge of moderate and secular national Republican politicians I suspect the Christian right's influence has only grown since then. This is the crazy uncle in the attic of American politics that few want to acknowledge - the GOP is in effect the party of Christian (theocratic) supremacy. Barry Goldwater was warning (howling, really) about the Christian right's takeover of the Republican Party trend for over two decades prior to his death, and most media voices are still in denial.
What's wild is that the new Christian right, the charismatic wing, videotapes almost everything it does. The movement chronicles itself, and much of that video is free on the Net. But almost nobody outside of the movement watches it. I can show you a video documentary, from a Ugandan evangelist who backs Uganda's so-called "kill the gays bill," showing his people organizing a partnership between Baltimore churches and the Baltimore police department. I lived in Baltimore for a decade and so that's disturbing to me. It's a movement that's not just anti-gay - it claims that all non-charismatic Christianity, all non-Christian religions, and all secular belief systems (atheism, agnosticism, environmentalism, etc.) are evil and under demonic influence. The vision is to purge the Earth of all competing beliefs. It's an expression of Christian supremacy that could hardly be more bigoted or more totalitarian.
[note: I've repositioned the following interview questions from Bill Harnsberger, originally interspersed through the interview, because they were geared to the Daily Kos readership]
How long have you been blogging and what originally brought you to Daily Kos?
I started blogging in 2004, one of the cohort of people who gripped by the abject horror of the early George W. Bush years, and DKos was one of only group political sites with substantial site traffic where members could post and stand a reasonable chance of getting some decent readership.
Your Kos name is Troutfishing. What's the biggest one you've caught?
Well, my dKos moniker is a tribute to Richard Brautigan, author of Trout Fishing in America (which is about anything but.) When I was a little kid I empathized so deeply with fishes that when I saw people angling I'd find nearby hiding spots and throw rocks at the water - to scare the fish away. Rather improbably, I never got beaten up for it. Over time my stance has moderated - I still think fish are people too, but they're very tasty. I do fish in a sense - for bullshit or, rather, for evangelists and politicians who emit it in abnormal quantity.
What kind of music makes you feel invincible to the GOP horde? Since you've out it that way, The Ride Of The Valkyries.
What's the one book every Kossack must read?
No waffling here: dogs or cats? Dogs.
Finish this sentence: In the kitchen I make a mean...
... Niçoise salad. It's a great summer dish and there are lots of substitutions you can make. I like using smoked mackerel in place of the traditional salmon. And you can use just about any dried, salted fish (which is a pretty cheap type of fish) in place of anchovies if those aren't handy. Add local farmer's market tomatoes and green beans... chill, serve... Bon appetit !
Meet The Theocratic Tea Party And Its Inner-City "Prayer Warrior" Cousin | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden)
Meet The Theocratic Tea Party And Its Inner-City "Prayer Warrior" Cousin | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden)