Far-right religious group behind 'Path to 9/11' film continues to infiltrate mainstream media
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Thu Jan 31, 2013 at 08:40:25 PM EST

‘Path to 9/11’ director David Cunningham, who was outed a few years ago as a member of the far-right group Youth with a Mission, has been toiling away on a number of media projects at YWAM’s expansive University of the Nations campus on the Big Island. His efforts include the development of a feature film about King David, running a film school, and starting a “grassroots” news service—which, as it turns out, is a front for YWAM.

In 2006, six years after the September 11 attacks, ABC was about to air a two-part movie called Path to 9/11. Days before it aired, the movie's director, David Cunningham, was exposed as having strong ties to a cult-like conservative evangelical organization known as Youth With A Mission (YWAM), based in Kona, Hawaii. He was the son of its founder, Loren Cunningham.

The disclosure immediately sent shock waves through the blogosphere and the political talk show world, and confirmed suspicions that the film, which had been billed as a factual docudrama, was made with the political agenda of laying the blame for September 11 at the feet of the Clinton Administration. (Additionally, the unusual access Cunningham was given to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, raised some eyebrows.)

Since the 9/11 kerfuffle, Cunningham has been toiling away on a number of media projects at YWAM’s expansive University of the Nations campus on the Big Island. His efforts include the development of a feature film about King David, running a film school, and starting an online news service called Grassroots News.

Not-so-Grassroots News

Although David Cunningham’s Grassroots News website says that its news content is produced by reporters from within local communities throughout the world, a recently discovered recording of a week-long 2011 YWAM video conference exposes Grassroots News as being a YWAM front, and, what’s more, shows David Cunningham actually coaching Grassroots trainees on how to conceal their YWAM affiliation as they scurry about the world using journalism as a cover for their proselytizing activities.

During the video conference that connected YWAM bases in Hawaii, Florida, Mexico, Peru, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Australia, Cunningham made these jaw-dropping remarks to his new recruits:

"Please do not brand this YWAM. If we do that, it’s going to limit us in a lot of sensitive areas that we’re working in—some closed countries, for example. This is another hat that people can put on to wear to get into some sensitive areas. As a reporter, you can get into places that you normally can’t. Not only that, it would limit us in getting footage to mainstream press. So please don’t brand this YWAM. Keep it Grassroots News."

Despite stressing on the first day of the conference that the hallmarks of Grassroots News are to be honesty, integrity, and unvarnished truth, by the end of the week Cunningham was coaching YWAM students on how to apply a liberal coat of varnish if someone pressed them on their true affiliation:

"If you need to have some kind of connection with YWAM, what you can say is University of the Nations alumni started this movement called Grassroots News. And University of the Nations is an international, interdenominational school that’s got people all over the world, and so it was a natural step to take. So, I think that would be a good way to brand and frame this. Does everybody got me on this? Can you give me a thumbs-up?"

Cunningham opened the video conference with the story of how the idea for Grassroots News came from a vision his father had concerning how YWAM, with all it’s “boots on the ground” could make a difference in media.

Years later, Cunningham said, he had his own vision that YWAM should move quickly to take advantage of the video camera and editing capabilities of the iPod Touch 4th Generation. “These kinds of tools in the hands of YWAMers and friends around the world can make a massive difference,” he said.

In case anyone was in doubt about who had editorial control of the news outlet, he told listeners that they need not be too overly concerned about content, because “the people on the editorial team are people of faith, and we’re not going to put up anything that we don’t agree with.”

Notwithstanding his clear instructions that YWAM members deliberately misrepresent themselves in public, he made it abundantly clear that the purpose of the five-day video conference, posted here in its entirety, was to train YWAM and friends of YWAM to impact the world through the news media.

Plausible Deniabilty

This instance of blatant misrepresentation gives outsiders a rare look into how YWAM works very hard to fly under the radar, maintaining plausible deniability of relationships that might prove to be problematic at some point down the road.

It also sheds light on an episode that took place a few years back when the row house at 133 C Street was garnering national attention because of Jeff Sharlet’s spellbinding expose. When Washington D.C. tax records showed that the C Street house was still owned by YWAM in 2009, YWAM leader Ron Boehme told TPM Muckraker that D.C.’s property records were inaccurate, that YWAM had sold the house to a shadowy organization know as the Family in 1989, and that YWAM had no affiliation with the Family.

But, in actuality, Boehme, who signed the papers to purchase the C Street house for YWAM in 1980, still claims it as a feather in his cap, citing Steve Largent as the first resident. And, although ownership of C Street was never transferred, the name on the title changed four times over the years.

Since TPM Muckraker did not report having seen any documentation of the sale, it would be easy to assume that YWAM is not affiliated with the Family in the same way that it is not affiliated with Grassroots News.

Indeed, one doesn’t have to look very far on YWAM or David Cunningham’s websites to uncover similar instances of artful truth twisting.

On a site promoting YWAM’s Digital School of Filmmaking (formerly called The Film Institute), under the heading “What the Students Have to Say,” one of the testimonials to the school’s greatness is from a student who went on to direct the motion pictures Beyond ParadiseTo End All Wars, and the Little House on the Prairie miniseries. He says:

"I learned the foundation and the basis for my career and my calling. Without this spiritual foundation and without the practical tools I was given, I would not have been able to go through the process of making a film. I constantly go back to what I learned at UofN and apply those principles."

That “student” who wrote the endorsement is none other than the head of the school, David Cunningham. Nowhere on the page does it identify him as the one who started the program or the son of YWAM’s founder.

The Fog of War

Besides his Grassroots News and Digital School of Filmmaking projects, Cunningham is also working on the concept for an epic film about King David called Day of War, based on the Lion of War series of novels by Cliff Graham.

In a promotional video for the film, Cunningham announces the film he’s producing has a number of “partnerships,” including one with Global Virtual Studio, which bills itself as “an innovative transmedia studio that bundles cutting edge technology to virtually link artists, technicians and craftsmen from all over the world to create transformational content.” But Global Virtual Studio is merely another YWAM operation overseen by David Cunningham. So he is, in effect, partnering with himself.

Cunningham also announces that he and his fellow movie makers are “partnering with the University of the Nations and their brand new Lokahe Studios that will be the largest in the state of Hawaii.”

Currently under construction, Lokahe Studios will be a 30,000 square-foot production facility that includes production offices, editorial, sound design, and visual effects.  Oh, and it will also house Cunningham's Global Virtual Studio, Grassroots News, and School of Digital Filmmaking.

So again, it’s David Cunningham partnering with David Cunningham partnering with David Cunningham.

What is truly disingenuous about this behavior is that Cunningham is trying give the impression that he has little or no direct involvement in YWAM, when in reality, at least in the media arena, he’s the one calling the shots.

This deceptive behavior is understandable when one considers that his agenda is aligned with the Seven Mountains philosophy propagated by his father, which calls for evangelical Christians to dominate the major areas of cultural influence—two of those being media and entertainment.

Michael Lienau, a Seattle-area producer and cinematographer who has longstanding YWAM ties, and who relocated to Kona last year take part in YWAM media efforts, said recently on his blog that he did so because of “the opportunity to be involved in the Day of War and the other film projects that follow David Cunningham’s mandate to bring the Bible into popular culture through trans-media applications.”

Lienau is among the legion of unpaid workers that Cunningham has at his disposal by virtue of the fact that he is Loren Cunningham’s son. This is because YWAM staff are all considered missionaries, and as such, are required to raise their own financial support.

Even the studio is being built with unpaid labor. Loren Cunningham said during an interview last year that the studio is part of an expansion and renovation project at University of the Nations. The elder Cunningham discussed the details of the project in the June 2012 interview with Medford, Oregon-based theDove.us.

Loren Cunningham did the interview to recruit volunteer workers from the Medford area, home of builder Rush Behnke, who is heading up the build-out of the YWAM Kona campus. Behnke has a pool of subcontractors who helped him build a home for ABC-TV’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” and, as a result, know how to work quickly and efficiently.

The majority of the construction at the Kona campus is being done in phases during summer breaks so that Behnke’s team and other volunteer construction workers can be housed in vacant student dorms. The annual building effort, the first of which took place from June to September 2012, is being promoted on YWAM’s website as a missions opportunity called the “Summer Surge.”

Loren Cunningham didn’t disclose during the interview who provided or shipped building materials to Hawaii, but he did make the intriguing revelation that an Alaska-based defense contractor provided the cables and personnel necessary for a "military-level" IT infrastructure" for University of the Nations.

The missionary leader said that having a sophisticated computer network was critical for the projects YWAM is engaged in, and noted that the unnamed defense contractor who provided the networking had been a YWAMer as a youth.

Free labor. Free building. Free IT infrastructure. What’s missing? How about free money? No matter how his film does at the box office, David Cunningham won’t have any investors to pay back because he has “embraced the concept of crowd funding”—which is a fancy way of saying he’s financing the movie with donations.

In return for their contribution, donors will receive promotional items, like an autographed copy of the Day of War, or a prop that was used in the movie. Or they may get a chance to go behind the scenes or be an extra during filming.  And they’ll also have bragging rights that they helped to bankroll a David Cunningham production—or whatever he happens to be calling himself by then.

Though the ultimate point is to subvert or oust present organizations and replace them with their own creations. And a narrow field it would become.

by Nightgaunt on Tue May 07, 2013 at 03:58:06 PM EST

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