Rios Montt, Hero to the Christian Right, Guilty of Genocide in Guatemala
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri May 10, 2013 at 11:08:39 PM EST
Former Guatemalan dictator and darling of the American Christian Right, Rios Montt, was found guilty of genocide, making world news. ABC News has a timeline of the trial. The New York Times has the story of the verdict. Below is the story of the original indictment as reported by our own Bill Berkowitz on March 12, 20112: Guatemala's Former Leader Charged with Genocide. Pat Robertson Enabled It. -- FC

Nearly thirty years ago, Guatemala's ruthless dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt and televangelist Pat Robertson were practically tied at the hip. Now, Guatemala's judicial system is debating how to handle charges of genocide against the former military dictator, while Robertson, who had praised Ríos Montt for his `enlightened leadership,' appears to have turned his back on his old friend.

In the early 1980s, José Efraín Ríos Montt, a military general was a favorite of the Reagan Administration and U.S. Christian conservative evangelical leaders - particularly televangelist Pat Robertson -- and organizations. Ríos Montt was one of a series of military dictators that masterminded the murders of perhaps as many as 200,000 Guatemalans -- including tens of thousands of Mayan people -- as well as the destruction of a numerous Mayan villages.

Now, some thirty years later, Ríos Montt, whose rule as de-facto president lasted for seventeen months in 1982 and 1983 -- taking over in a military coup before being ousted by a subsequent military coup - has been ordered "to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity," the New York Times recently reported.
Rios Montt is accused of being responsible for at least 1,770 deaths, 1,400 human rights violations, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 indigenous Guatemalans.

This is the first time a Latin American court has charged a former president with genocide.

In late February, however, the judge in charge of the trial, Carol Patricia Flores, stepped down after being accused of being biased in the case. According to several press accounts, the new judge, Miguel Angel Galvez, who before postponing a scheduled hearing until the 1st of March, said that the charges against Ríos Montt as well as the conditions of his bail and house arrest, would remain in place.

During Ríos Montt's reign, "the military carried out a scorched-earth campaign in the Mayan highlands as soldiers hunted down bands of leftist guerrillas. Survivors have described how military units wiped out Indian villages with extraordinary brutality, killing all the women and children along with the men. Military documents of the time described the Indians as rebel collaborators, the New York Times reported."

A United Nations-backed truth commission, "set up after a peace accord in 1996, found that 200,000 people were killed during the civil war, mostly by state security forces. The violence against Mayan-Ixil villages amounted to genocide because the entire population was targeted, the commission concluded," the Times pointed out.

The Religious Right and the Ruthless Dictator

Thirty years ago, the Religious Right played a significant role in U.S.-Central American relations: vigorously supporting President Ronald Reagan's so-called low-intensity wars in the region - the contras in Nicaragua, right wing paramilitary death squads in El Salvador, and military dictators in Guatemala - a policy that was responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of people. The Religious Right's support was in part couched in the struggle against communism, and in part tied to what they hoped would be the expansion of evangelical Protestantism in the region.

Guatemala's José Efraín Ríos Montt was a favorite of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Loren Cunningham's Youth With A Mission (YWAM), and televangelist Pat Robertson.

In his book, The Most Dangerous Man in America?: Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition, Americans United's Rob Boston pointed out that Pat Robertson had praised Ríos Montt for his "enlightened leadership" and claimed that the dictator insisted on "honesty in government." Observed Robertson, "I was in Guatemala three days after Ríos Montt overthrew the corrupt [previous] government. The people had been dancing in the street for joy, literally fulfilling the words of Solomon who said, 'When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice.'"

According to Right Web, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies, "Within a week of the 1982 coup ... Robertson flew to Guatemala to meet with the new president. Ríos Montt's first interview as president was with Robertson, who aired it on [his Christian Broadcasting Network's program]`The 700 Club' and praised the new military government. Robertson also urged donations for International Love Lift, a relief project of Ríos Montt's U.S. church, Gospel Outreach. Ríos Montt said that Pat Robertson had offered to send missionaries and `more than a billion dollars' in aid from U.S. fundamentalists. Robertson, however, claimed that he hoped to match the earlier CBN donation of $350,000 in earthquake relief and send `a small team of medical and agricultural experts' to Guatemala. CBN reportedly sponsored a campaign to send money and agricultural and medical technicians to help design the first model villages under Ríos Montt."

In her 1989 book, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (South End Press), Sara Diamond wrote: "Ríos Montt's ascension to power was celebrated by the U.S. Christian Right as a sign of divine intervention in Central America."

While Robertson never delivered the sums of money Ríos Montt expected, Diamond pointed out that the promise "enabled Ríos Montt to convince the U.S. Congress that he would not seek massive sums of U.S. aid. Instead, he would rely on `private aid' from U.S. evangelicals. Toward that end, Ríos Montt's aide... came to the United States for a meeting with... [Presidential counselor] Edwin Meese, Interior Secretary James Watt... and Christian Right leaders Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Loren Cunningham)."

In an article written prior to the publication of her book, Diamond pointed out that Montt was a member of Gospel Outreach, a fundamentalist sect based in Eureka, California, which became the Church of the Word. Diamond noted that "The Gospel in Guatemala," a PBS documentary, "revealed the complicity of Gospel Outreach in the Guatemalan Army's administration of camps for refugees from Rios Montt's brutal counterinsurgency massacres of Mayan Quiche Indians."

In the September 25, 2006 edition of The Nation magazine, Max Blumenthal reported that, Loren Cunningham, according to Diamond "was a follower of Christian Reconstructionism an extreme current of evangelical theology that advocates using stealth political methods to put the United States under the control of Biblical law and jettison the Constitution."

These days, while Guatemalans are seeking justice, Pat Robertson is still selling snake oil on his "700 Club." One of the Grand Old Men of televangelism is no longer as significant a political figure that he once was.

"In 1996, I called Pat Robertson `the most dangerous man in America,' but I wouldn't do that now," Americans United's Rob Boston told me in an email. "Robertson is clearly in his dotage and is no longer the powerful political figure he once was. His influence declined greatly when the Christian Coalition collapsed. Without a large political organization behind him, Robertson became just another TV preacher ranting over the airwaves."

Boston was careful, however, to give Robertson his props. "That doesn't mean we should dismiss Robertson as an unimportant figure," Boston explained. "The model he used to launch the Christian Coalition has been copied by others, including the Family Research Council, thus ensuring that his legacy will be felt for many years to come."

Meanwhile, according to two experienced right-wing watchers, Robertson has not so much as uttered the name of his former Guatemalan contact, José Efraín Ríos Montt, on "The 700 Club."

Bill, I'm glad you've recapped this chapter of recent history. If you get a chance, psychologist James Waller's book Becoming Evil includes interviews with both victims and perpetrators of the horrible violence, killing, and torture in Guatemala. Waller's book did groundbreaking work in constructing a general model of how average people could be conditioned to carry out mass political violence.

Also, here's some research I just did, which I tacked on, a few days ago, as a footnote to one of my stories on Harold Caballeros - it documents ties between the charismatic stream that has become the NAR, and Rios Montt.

Here goes:

In his book Dominion: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, C. Peter Wagner notes the enthusiastic reception that the administration of Guatemalan president Efraín Ríos Montt  initially received from evangelical leaders and media, writing,

"I recall the elation among U.S. Christian leaders when Efraín Ríos Montt became Guatemala's first born-again president back in the early 1980s. He had a noble vision of ending corruption and overcoming the Marxist guerrilla bands ravaging the nation. The U.S. evangelical media, including Charisma, Christianity Today, Pat Robertson's CBN, Jerry Falwell, Luis Palau and others, raised hope of authentic social transformation of that nation. Palau said of Ríos Montt, "The hand of God appears to be on him."

Wagner goes on to acknowledge the genocidal level of killing under Ríos Montt but tries to shift blame away from president Ríos Montt himself:

"under Ríos Montt's regime the violence in Guatemala reached unprecedented heights, with some two hundred thousand fatalities, mostly among innocent, civilian indigenous peoples. He undoubtedly was up against high-level spiritual forces of evil that were having their way. Despite all his good intentions, he could not control his own military, and after only seventeen months in office, he was deposed by a coup. Transformation did not occur despite the backing of the international Body of Christ and influence at the highest governmental level."

Subsequent developments have cast a shadow over Wagner's extremely revisionist take on Ríos Montt's role in Guatemala's genocidal "dirty war", with Ríos Montt now on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. As described in a January 27, 2012 Christian Science Monitor post,

"On Thursday, Efrain Rios Montt appeared in a Guatemalan court on genocide charges. During the hearing, the government presented evidence of over 100 incidents involving at least 1,771 deaths, 1,445 rapes, and the displacement of nearly 30,000 Guatemalans during his 17-month rule from 1982-1983, according to the Washington Post, BBC, Siglo XXI (in Spanish), and the LA Times.

Rios Montt did not speak during today's hearings, but it looks like he will be able to test his "I was never on the battlefield" defense. Tonight, judge Carol Patricia Flores determined that there is enough evidence to try Rios Montt on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The prosecution wanted him incarcerated because of his potential for flight but the judge ruled that he can remain out on bail. He has now been placed under house arrest and will be watched by the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC)."

C. Peter Wagner was somewhat closer to the topic than he acknowledged - one of the longtime members of Wagner's International Coalition of Apostles has been Dennis Peacocke, who was listed as an ICA member from the dues-paying organization's inception in 2001 up until the ICA put its membership list, previously publicly available on the ICA website, behind a password-protected firewall, in 2010.

But Wagner's ties to Peacocke go back much farther - the two were original members of the Coalition on Revival. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick describes,

"The Coalition on Revival (COR) brought together Religious Right figures from many different theological backgrounds. In the 1980s, they produced a set of Worldview Documents laying a ideological foundation for activism to take authority over 17 various areas of culture and government.

The Coalition on Revival included several Charismatic leaders who are now a part of the New Apostolic Reformation, including Dennis Peacocke and Bob Weiner, formerly head of Maranatha Campus Ministries.  C. Peter Wagner is listed as a signer of the COR's  Christian Manifesto for the Church.  The concept advanced in the COR's 17 Worldview Documents, has now been simplified by apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation into the Seven Mountains mandate, a campaign for taking control of: arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion."

In 1984, the year that Dr. Jay Grimstead called together the 112 Christian leaders who comprised the Coalition on Revival, and the year after Efraín Ríos Montt was deposed in a coup, COR member Dennis Peacocke held a seminar that featured Ríos Montt as a keynote speaker, according to researcher Sara Diamond.

As described in Diamond's book Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (South End Press, 1989),

"Peacocke's political organization, Alive and Free, is based in Northern California and has sponsored various right-wing conferences including one on "pro-family" issues featuring Phyllis Schafly. In December 1984, Peacocke conducted a seminar, called "Marxism On The Doorstep: Conflict To The South" which included presentations from various intelligence operatives and a keynote address by former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. Peacocke and his associates have also been active in efforts to destabilize Nicaragua." [Diamond, page 128]

Diamond's book contains substantial research on the degree to which conservative evangelical missions work, especially by charismatic, born-again evangelicals, aligned during the 1980s with U.S. anti-communist foreign policy initiatives (often covert in nature) that were antagonistic to the establishment of democracies in the developing world and were commonly associated with substantial human rights violations. Writes Diamond, on page 161,

"One of the hallmarks of the Reagan era was the increasing "privatization" of U.S. foreign policy, the government's deployment of groups and individuals unaccountable to citizens through constitutionally mandated channels. The Christian right has an integral role to play in this "private" pursuit of the "national interest", particularly in the execution of "total conflict" warfare strategy known as "low intensity conflict". Briefly, "low intensity conflict" (LIC) posits that in order for the United States to achieve its political objectives in the Third World, what is required even more than brute military force is a comprehensive, coordinated set of tactics designed to create desired attitudes--and corresponding political responses--both domestically and in "target" countries...


But from Vietnam to El Salvador, the euphemisms "low intensity" and "counterinsurgency" translate into real terms: death squad assasinations napalm and, as in Nicaragua, the kind of prolonged economic sabotage that takes its toll in escalated infant mortality rates." [Diamond, page 161]

by Bruce Wilson on Mon Mar 05, 2012 at 03:06:29 PM EST
check this out- more information from an evangelist Christian who participated in Pheonix and CIA operations- and is firmly opposed to dominionism. Here are article about how the military, CIA and missionaries in Guatemala and other South American countries were intertwined with horrific results: ------- also see --- and --- ml/file0000348.htm

by zowie on Sun Apr 01, 2012 at 01:24:59 AM EST
Your links don't work. They connect to Wayback but a message appears stating that the article is not archived.

by Villabolo on Sat May 11, 2013 at 04:49:28 PM EST

by FindingTruth on Sun May 12, 2013 at 12:02:30 PM EST

Bruce, did you ever publish the third part that was supposed to be on the eliminationist nature of spiritual mapping you stated was forthcoming in your February 13, 2012, article on Caballeros?

by James Estrada Scaminaci on Sun May 12, 2013 at 10:47:34 PM EST

"Max Blumenthal reported that, Loren Cunningham, according to Diamond "was a follower of Christian Reconstructionism an extreme current of evangelical theology..."

Reconstructionist? Loren Cunningham appears to be an Apostolic member (Dominionist) but not a Reconstructionist. Reconstructionists are the hard core theocrats believing in total and complete adherence to all Old Testament laws and their punishments whereas 'Apostles' (NAR) are more softer on enforcing those laws (capital punishment for Reconstructionists versus life imprisonment for Dominionists).

I personally refer to the general movement as "Christian Nationalism" with two subgroups within them - Dominionism and Reconstructionism.

See page 7 of -Christian-Nationalists-Reconstructionists-Their-Political-Connec tions-and-the-Threat-They-Pose-to-our-Nation

by Villabolo on Sat May 11, 2013 at 05:28:08 PM EST
Gary North's 1987 manual for reconstructing Latin American countries, Teologta de Liberacion, was dedicated to Loren Cunningham.  Sarah Diamond dated Cunningham's study of Reconstructionism back to 1988. Beginning in the early 1980s Reconstructionists worked closely with neo-Pentecostals in Guatemala and other Latin American countries, including Paul Jehle's development of school curricula. Jehle can now be found speaking at NAR events.  The Coalition on Revival is another example of Reconstructionists working closely with figures who are now NAR apostles, including Dennis Peacocke and C. Peter Wagner.

NAR's brand of Dominionism is less theologically rigid than Reconstructionism, but I would not necessarily describe its agenda as less severe or less willing to support capital punishment. Apostles have been leaders in promoting the "kill-the-gays" bill in Uganda.  

by Rachel Tabachnick on Sun May 12, 2013 at 02:09:00 PM EST

Let us remember another Christian Reconstructionist Larry Pratt who in his book Armed People Victorious slammed international reporting that Montt was engaged in genocide. That book was Pratt's calling card to the white supremacist's meeting at Estes Park where he advocated and supported the creation of church-based militias--a recommendation made at least two years earlier by the Coalition on Revival's National Coordinating Council. On pages 41-2, Pratt claimed that Amnesty International's estimate of 20,000 citizens killed between 1966-1976, and at least 3,000 murdered in 1980 alone as "false and misleading." Pratt called the Christian Science Monitor's estimate of 100,000 killed since 1961 as "wilder statistics" (p. 43). On page 44 he claims that Montt "dealt with in appropriate fashion" Army killings that he became aware of. Pratt qualifies as an enabler and protector of Montt and the genocide. Let us also remember that Pratt served as the secretary of the Moonie-connected Council for Inter-American Security which was part of the World Anti-Communist League. (See Russ Bellant, The Coors Connection, p. 75). Bellant in his book Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party noted that "The ties between the legal political organizations, death squads, the American Security Council and the World Anti-Communist League can found in several countries including El Salvador, Guatemala, and Argentina." What I would suggest is that there are many in the Christian Right who are not very far removed from supporting and/or enabling genocide in Guatemala.

by James Estrada Scaminaci on Sun May 12, 2013 at 10:34:00 PM EST

Well, that was indeed a great read. Actually I have heard so much about this topic from other journals and I now think that they all were kind of twisted and has been masking the truth. Thanks for leaving such a good explanation.

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by Heman on Thu Dec 10, 2015 at 12:37:27 AM EST

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