He's Back: Rev. Jerry Falwell Gets Ready to "Reclaim America"
Falwell is no stranger to the political spotlight. Despite the fact that he has been a man without a political organization since his Moral Majority folded in 1989, he continues to be in the public eye.Throughout the Clinton impeachment hearings Falwell was a favorite guest of television's Larry King and Geraldo Rivera -- often paired with his old nemesis and current buddy, Larry Flynt. A little over a year ago he angered Jews by preaching, at a pastor's conference, that the Antichrist, the archnemesis of God, may be a Jew who is alive today. Who can forget when Falwell's National Liberty Journal outed Tinky-Winky, a character on the British television show Teletubbies? And last October, in an attempt to soften his image, he hosted gay minister Mel White and 200 gay Christians at his Lynchburg, Va. headquarters and pledged to tone down his anti-gay rhetoric.In the past few weeks Falwell joined forces with Christian Right stalwarts Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition, Rev. D. James Kennedy of the Center for Reclaiming America and Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, in condemning gay rights activists and the leaders of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) for their campaign of "demonization" against Dr. Laura Schlessinger, one of America's most-listened radio talk-show hosts.George W. probably fell out of his chair when in mid-March Falwell announced a seven month campaign to "reclaim America as one nation under God." Just what W. needed to hear. Bush is still answering for his embarrassing and ill-conceived appearance at the racialist and anti-Catholic Bob Jones University, and his courting of Christian Right gurus Pat Robertson and Falwell just prior to the South Carolina primary. I suppose Bush will have to postpone his much anticipated trip to the political center -- at least until the dust clears from Falwell's announcement.In his Press Release, Falwell uses a time-honored Christian Right tactic, claiming that "the demonization of conservative people of faith is being accelerated in the Congress as well as in the media." The founder and chancellor of the 10,000-student Liberty University says that he has seen these "orchestrated plans of liberals and civil libertarians to demonize and marginalize people of faith" before.Twenty years ago, Falwell's Moral Majority played a key role electing Ronald Reagan as President and helped to build a conservative majority in Congress. Falwell says these accomplishments were realized by "register[ing] over 8.5 million new voters through the churches and religious organizations and re-activated millions more back into the political arena."Now he intends to top that figure: "I am ... announcing a seven-month campaign, ending on November 7 (Election Day), which I am calling PEOPLE OF FAITH 2000 ... [during which I will] attempt to energize, inform and mobilize the 70 million religious conservatives in America. (Falwell's campaign is quite similar to the Christian Coalition's "Countdown to Victory" campaign which intends to "distribute more than 70 million voter guides showing where candidates stand on key issues").Falwell's PEOPLE OF FAITH 2000 will:*Mobilize 200,000 ministers, and their congregations, to return America to its spiritual roots; *Register and bring to the polls at least TEN MILLION new voters; *Urge all registered, "but apathetic voters to also fulfill their Christian duty by voting this year."You can bet that Falwell will be trumpeting his new action campaign every day on his two-minute Listen America radio broadcast, which goes out to more than 200 radio stations nationwide. He is just beginning to build a new infrastructure and he is calling upon his old colleagues from Moral Majority days to join him. Many have already assured him that they will immediately "report for duty."Bill Berkowitz is the editor of CultureWatch, a monthly publication tracking the Religious Right and related conservative movements, published by Oakland's DataCenter.