News & Politics

Ginni Thomas' Think Tank Allied With Group That Celebrates Spanish Inquisition

The Tea Party think tank run by Justice Thomas' wife counts among its friends the far-right Catholic group Tradition, Family and Property.

In recent days, the media has turned its attention to Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- not for her troubling ties to right-wing extremist groups, but for her bizarre demand for an apology from the woman who accused her husband of sexual harassment more than a decade ago. Yet Mrs. Thomas' Tea Party think tank, Liberty Central, promotes the causes of groups that take pride in intolerance, including one right-wing Catholic group, Tradition, Family and Property, whose founder declared the Spanish Inquisition "the most beautiful page in the history of the Church."

Earlier this year, AlterNet reported on Liberty Central's embrace of Gun Owners of America, whose president, Larry Pratt -- guru to the militia movement -- unapologetically addressed a rally of white supremacists in 1992, and more recently told attendees of a gun owners' rally in Washington, D.C., that they are "at war" with the federal government. We also looked at Liberty Central's relationship with the Missouri Sovereignty Project, which threatens armed insurrection against the government. Since then, Thomas has added to the "Friends of Liberty Central" page on her think tank's Web site a plug for Tradition, Family and Property, a virulently anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-democratic Catholic group founded in 1960 in opposition to Brazilian land reform.

TFP has long enjoyed ties to the far right in American politics, including the International Freedom Foundation, which existed primarily as an American front group for the apartheid regime in South Africa during the Reagan years, according to researcher Richard Bartholomew, and was once led by convicted felon and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But TFP is better known for its role in promoting and supporting authoritarian regimes in South America. Here's Bartholomew:

TFP played a role in the 1964 coup in Brazil, and in Uruguay it allegedly received explosives from the Brazilian military attaché that were used to attack communist installations. The editor of TFP's Chilean magazine, Jaime Guzmán, became chief ideologist for General Pinochet's regime.

If TFP's activities on behalf of torturers and anti-democratic forces weren't enough to give one pause, there's its status as a cult. TFP is an all-male organization that finds its recruits among adolescent boys, whom it trains in the use of the combat regalia of the Middle Ages -- maces, crossbows, and the like -- according to the late Penny Lernoux's 1989 book, People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism. The medieval games in which the boys partake are so brutal, Lernoux reported, that one recruit told her his arm had been broken three times in the exercises.

The medieval games continue today. Last July, TFP sponsored a 10-day "Call to Chivalry" camp in rural Louisiana, where, according to the group's Web site, boys and young men took part:

Some new skills were learned such as medieval spear throwing and archery. Mock sword battles with padded weapons were a great success as were paintball wars in the thick tropical-looking forest surrounding the property. An exhausting hike in the Tunica Hills Park taught a poignant lesson of endurance.

At the time Lernoux was reporting, recruits were taught to worship not only the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holiest woman in Catholicism, but also the flesh-and-blood mother of TFP founder Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, whom he referred to as Santa Monica. Oliveira, who died in 1995,  loved the Spanish Inquisition, he wrote, "because, while it went on, the Catholic Church managed to cleanse itself of heretics." (Never mind that many of those so-called heretics were Jews who wanted nothing more than to practice their own faith, or people whose politics were inconvenient to the Spanish throne.)

I first learned of the American branch of TFP by stumbling upon one of their demonstrations in midtown Manhattan in the late 1980s, when the group was coddled by the late Archbishop John Cardinal O'Connor. They often assembled on the sidewalk near St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, decked out in red polyester sashes emblazoned with a yellow lion. Their big issue at that moment was the criminalization of flag desecration, which was a lure for collecting names and addresses on petition forms. I remember feeling disconcerted by their need to videotape each interaction they had with those they were trying to attract.

The group remains active in New York, though its red-sashed members are as likely to be seen in lower Manhattan than around the cathedral.

The Catholic crusades against the Muslim world are viewed as a time of glory by the devotees of TFP. Roberto de Mattei, who wrote a friendly biography of Oliveira and is said to be close to TFP, presented his revisionist history of the crusades at a 2006 conference at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. TFP is expressing its embrace of the medieval crusades in the chorus of intolerance raised against the Parc51 Islamic cultural center planned for lower Manhattan, dispatching student volunteers to a September protest at the site where the World Trade Center once stood. (TFP video here.)

TFP maintains a presence on the campuses of U.S. Catholic colleges, and currently sponsors a petition drive to purge them of LGBT rights groups. It describes a Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the suit that struck down anti-sodomy laws, as America's "Moral 9/11." Clarence Thomas, incidentally, joined Antonin Scalia's dissent in that case, which accused the court's majority of having "largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda."

Related stories:

Tea Party Think Tank Headed By Clarence Thomas' Wife Makes Common Cause With Militia Guru Larry Pratt

Group Allied With Ginni Thomas' Think Tank Threatens Armed Insurrection

Will Clarence Thomas' Wife Demand Apology From Latest Accuser? (It's His Ex-Girlfriend)

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.