John Gorenfeld

Your Guide to the Troop Hospital Non-Scandal


So here's what happened. Sen. Obama, having visited wounded soldiers in Iraq, planned to do the same in Germany. Then he canceled, presumably because he agrees with the Pentagon's statement today that it would "not [be] acceptable" to use the Army hospital in the quaint town of Landstuhl as a campaign stop. Obama's people say they talked it over with the military for a while, and both entities decided it was a bad idea.

But fans of John McCain, playing into popular Republican themes this week, still suspect the dignity of the U.S. Armed Forces has been trod on, so they teem and rage. At the Web site ClintonDemocrats.com, for example, someone with access to a computer has opined that "Wounded Vets Don't Count With Obama." Points out fellow iJournalist "pat1755":

He [Obama] dont know what he is sayin just anything to make people like him He tells people over there our dirty little secrets we are not perfect blah blah then snubs our troops give them no credit they don't die to get 72 virgins in heaven they die to help people.

After the break, a guide to this non-thing.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors on the Republican Campaign Trail

November 2008 is a long way off, and there's been widespread concern that the presidential campaign season has already drawn on so long that it will exhaust public attention. Fortunately, the McCain, Giuliani and Romney campaigns have generously sustained our interest this summer with one corrupt campaign official after another stepping down after doing more than the law will allow. Here's a rundown on the GOP campaign scoundrels of 2008.

1. McCain campaign's outhouse outreach efforts in Florida

On July 11, Sen. John McCain's Florida campaign co-chair Bob Allen, a state assemblyman with an unrelentingly anti-gay record, knocked on a park bathroom stall in Titusville, Fla., and offered the man within a $20 bill to give him a blow job. The man was an undercover officer.

At first it seemed to be a familiar kind of tale -- the secret passions of a conservative who had taken a strong moral stand against gay adoption, and even presented to his state's Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety a bill that would have tightened the loopholes against public masturbators.

Recently, however, the story has taken on new dimensions with various accounts from Allen. To see the big picture, he explains, you must take into account that there was a lightning storm (from which he took refuge in the bathroom, he says), the park's "stocky" black people (i.e., their presence scared Allen into paying), and his panic that he might "become a statistic" if he didn't act fast.

Fearful of being mugged, the awfully jumpy Bob Allen told the police that he cut the blow job deal so that he could reach a guarded security area, the nearest of which was several miles away from him -- a plan which resists easy understanding. Maybe Allen hoped the oral sex could somehow stun his adversary?

Rather than quit his duties as assemblyman, Allen has apologized to the local NAACP for his "stocky" comment, explaining that in the course of being "accused of being a bathroom cruising pervert, and then a racist," he has come to understand the black (not gay) civil rights struggle better.

He plans to run for the state senate in 2010.

2. Romney's Secret Service wannabe

In 2004, law enforcement officers, having towed an illegally parked car, were surprised to find within it, according to the Boston Herald, "a set of red-and-blue flashing lights hidden in the grill [...] a siren and public address system, multiple police radios, strobe lights on the wheels, a police baton and a metal plate with a photo of a state police patch that said "official business."

The car belonged to Gov. Mitt Romney's "director of operations," Jay Garrity, who quit the candidate's presidential campaign in July after it emerged that he was now in trouble in two states for pretending to be a cop during the course of his duties in Romney's "logistics" department. He had handed out fake State of Massachusetts badges for use by colleagues and was said to have used his cop status to blaze through turnpikes without paying.

"I have resigned from the Mitt Romney for President campaign so that the media attention on me will not become a distraction to the campaign's efforts," he said.

Just two days after Garrity's resignation, the Herald reported that Romney's event planner, Will Ritter, had uploaded a MySpace page painting himself as a "Jason Bourne-esque" figure in the description of the newspaper whose duties include "very secretive work" in "special ops."

3. Romney's fraudmeister

More Romney. One of 35 co-chairs of candidate Mitt Romney's national war chest, a businessman named Alan Fabian, was in trouble this August for an alleged $32 million swindle -- one of the largest cases of its kind ever prosecuted in his home state of Maryland.

The way it supposedly worked was this: As head of his Virginia-based consulting company, Maximus, Inc., he'd first put in fake orders for computers. Instead of getting a Dell, the outfit was secretly paying for Fabian's beach houses and private jet travel. So he's facing 23 charges, including money laundering, mail and bankruptcy fraud, perjury and obstruction of justice.

Fabian was what's known in campaign finance terms as a "bundler." The bundler has emerged as clever rich people have sought to bypass newer campaign finance laws that cap off how much a single person can give. Instead, the bundler promises to bring in an entire network of moneyed friends.

He'd also been a bundler for the president. The Romney campaign has said it will be giving back the $2,300 that Fabian gave directly (the maximum) but not necessarily the heap of cash that he brought in, all bundled up. According to a representative of the governor's 2008 campaign, "The money he helped raise was donated by people who have not been accused of any wrongdoing, and so there is no reason for returning it."

4. Giuliani's coke connection in South Carolina

Three men have now been indicted in a federal narcotics investigation that led in June to the arrest of Thomas Ravenel, the state treasurer of South Carolina -- as well as Rudy Giuliani's state campaign chair. The son of powerful former U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel, R-S.C., Ravenel has been described by one journalist as "breezy", by some as arrogant and by a federal grand jury as one of a small group who bore a "tacit understanding" that they planned to distribute among themselves less than 500 grams of cocaine.

Prosecutors have not alleged that Ravenel, the real estate developer, actually sold the cocaine. But he could be in prison for up to 20 years and face a $1 million fine if convicted. In response, Giuliani's campaign issued a statement explaining that Rudy's man in the Palmetto State "has stepped down from his volunteer responsibilities with the campaign."

Ravenel, a defender of flying the Confederate flag and speaking to white supremacist groups, has courted controversy in the past by making a defiant speech against the NAACP, to which he referred -- possibly while dusted to the gills -- as the "National Association of Retarded People."

5. Sen. David Vitter -- A familiar face to the House of the Rising Sun

Also coordinating Giuliani's march through the South is his regional chair, Sen. David Vitter, R-La. Cut from the same uncompromising moral cloth as Bob Allen, Vitter is on record as having said he doesn't "believe there's any issue that's more important" than gay marriage.

In July, his telephone number surfaced amid the records of "D.C. Madam" Deborah Jeane Palfrey. Of the several times he rung up her brothel, two of his calls were during House roll call votes, according to the Associated Press.

"This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible," the senator explained. He is still with the campaign, though a report in New Orleans City Business asserted that he has been "quietly marginalized" in Rudy's army and can probably forget about longstanding hopes to be a veep nominee.

6. Fred Thompson: FEC flouter

This month, liberal activist Lane Hudson made trouble for actor Thompson, filing a complaint that Thompson's "test-the-waters" fund-raising is, on top of being a major disappointment so far to GOP supporters, a pathetic sham that is allowing him to hire, poll and fund-raise, all while escaping the oversight required for real candidates. Now Thompson has two weeks to respond and faces a possible fine of $1 million.

Like singer Axl Rose, who has delayed his comeback album Chinese Democracy for 15 years on the premise that long waits build public anticipation, Thompson has held out months for the moment when, it is believed, he will throw his hat into the ring and be welcomed as the Gipper's second coming. But according to Hudson, Thompson's testing-and-retesting-the-waters promotes him to a scofflaw on the order of such scoundrels as Tom DeLay and Mark Foley. Maybe not: Long-time admirers of high GOP scandal may be disappointed by the shortage here of dirty AOL chats, far-flung webs of bribery, casino yachts whose owners turn up murdered, etc.

*Bipartisan bonus: Bill Richardson's bookkeeper to the pimps

Crime isn't a GOP-only sport. Recently this August, Kristian Forland, who ran Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's presidential efforts in rural Nevada, got in trouble when it was revealed that he was wanted for passing fake checks. He had also been "manager" of Mona's Ranch, a legal house of prostitution in Elko, Nev. The Mona Ranch website extends a folksy invitation: "Y'all cum now, ya hear!" In his defense, Forland -- disliked by the girls for shorting them on their wages -- explained that he'd merely managed the books and "not the girls per se." He has since left the Richardson campaign.

No More Nightmares at Tranquility Bay?

From the Czech Republic to Costa Rica and Mexico, cops have seized American overseers for caging or mistreating American teens at harsh "boot camps" run under foreign flags to escape U.S. law.

But here at home, the companies that ship teenagers to remote reform schools can freely go about their business in many states. You can dial 1-800-355-TEEN to reach the sales staff of Teen Help, LLC, who can arrange for your child to be spirited away. They might put you in touch with "escorts," guys who can pull up to your driveway in a van and transport even the most defiant child to the airport. The next destination is up to you: a "tough love" school here in the 50 states, like Majestic Ranch in Utah or Spring Creek Lodge Academy in Montana?

Or perhaps Tranquility Bay, a barbed-wire discipline facility in Jamaica, where some of the approximately 250 teens can find themselves confined against their will and marched around by guards. Only the devil stands in the way of your consumer choice. The devil, that is, and a lone congressman, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.

Just ask Ken Kay. He's the president of the tightly knit group of Utah men who run these outposts with their families, under the umbrella company World-Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS), whose leaders, critics say, try to hide their role in running the schools by running them under different names. Ken's son Jay, a college dropout who ran a mini-mart in San Diego, now oversees Tranquility Bay, where he had admitted to the media that he squirted pepper spray on his charges in the past.

As a teen at Tranquility Bay, you can't call home and are escorted between rooms by Jamaican "chaperones." Talk out of turn and your punishment might be that a trio of guards wrestles you to the ground. "They start twisting and pulling your limbs, grinding your ankles," a student told the British newspaper The Guardian. Not knowing when you'll go home, you might take cold showers and watch "emotional growth" videos. The promise is that you will return a respectful, happy teen. But many WWASPS alumni who've banded together at online survivor websites like Tranquility Bay Fight and Fornits say their lives haven't been saved, they've been devastated.

Several WWASPS schools have been shut down after abuse claims. Tranquility Bay's counterpart, High Impact, a WWASP affiliate in Mexico, closed in 2002 after dark stories emerged. Teens said they were kept in dog cages. Two parents, Chris Goodwin and Stephanie Hecker, told the Rocky Mountain News their children were made to lie in their underwear for three nights with fire ants roaming over them and were threatened with a cattle prod if they scratched.

In December, Rep. Miller asked Congress's nonpartisan General Accounting Office (GAO) to launch a fact-finding probe into similar schools, claiming the $1.2 billion teen rehabilitation clinic industry is shrouded in secrecy. Miller's office is awaiting word from the GAO on the investigation request. After a call to the GAO, AlterNet was told no decision had been made yet as to whether to launch the study, which would look into whether the industry was receiving special tax treatment or using fraudulent marketing techniques. Asked why he requested the probe, Rep. Miller explained, "Far too little is known about the so-called 'behavior modification' industry, even as it has surged in size since the 1990s, and that is why I have asked the GAO to review it... There is no excuse for allowing children to be placed in unlicensed programs where their physical or emotional health is jeopardized."

But company president Kay told AlterNet he questioned the congressman's motives. "I think that he must just want to be powerful, or seen as, 'oh, the guy that saved all these children from abuse,'" says Kay. "My fear is that he has a vendetta."

The WWASPS schools rake in about $80 million a year. Claiming to enlist about 1,250 students (the official number has dropped from 2,500 in 2003), the company schools are part of a wider industry, estimated to hold 10,000 teenagers, that is rarely covered by the news media.

Miller, senior Democrat on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is pushing for a bill, H.R. 1738, to increase state licensing of the teen control trade and hold Americans who run foreign discipline schools accountable to U.S. laws. Company president Kay, however, suggested Miller may also have a partisan, anti-Republican motive against WWASPS.

It's true that WWASPS is generous to the GOP. The schools and "teen transport" company are run by a web of cell-like corporate entities that deny their interconnectedness -- but share family members, billing addresses and other obvious signs of affiliation. At the top is founder Bob Lichfield, who lives in Utah on a posh ranch, his lifestyle and political presence fueled by tuition payments. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune Bob Lichfield and his family and business associates have given given over $1 million to GOP politics at the local and national level.

The lobbying seems to have paid off. Seeing as how the National Mental Health Association has categorically condemned juvenile boot camps as counterproductive "bullying," the goal would appear to be keeping oversight out of the hands of mental health experts. Like some timber companies and others, a number of "troubled teen" companies have promoted the idea that they should be their own watchdogs. While the rules are tightening this year in Utah, a frontier is opening in Montana. As Michelle Chen reported in the NewStandard, a pro-WWASPS plan is winning out in the state over a tougher one, coinciding with WWASPS school Spring Creek Lodge Academy's $50,000 lobbying push to water down the rules. Instead of the state Department of Health, the new plan lets industry insiders watch over schools such as Spring Creek and others. And there will be exemptions for "faith-based" schools.

So far, WWASPS hasn't chosen the God loophole, but its officials attach such religious zeal to teen control that the "faith-based" label would fit the company snugly. "Do I believe that God is finding a way for teens to get help? I do," Lichfield once told the Los Angeles Times. "Do I believe that Satan is interested in thwarting it? I do." Asked in December about his boss's remarks, Kay waxed philosophical: "If you have a spiritual side, I think you can truly believe that there may be some adversarial part of our nature and makeup that gets involved." Then there are other adversaries, some of whom Kay has called "wackos" -- a steady parade of unhappy mothers and teens, as well as the pesky foreign cops who have arrested camp leaders at Kay's schools for "human rights violations."

The company has spent the last decade trailblazing an unregulated frontier. Like manufacturers, they've outsourced to foreign countries which have different laws and standards. A predecessor like STRAIGHT, Inc., from 1976 to 1993 the foremost teenage drug rehab outfit in America, was driven out of business by liability and sued for false imprisonment and manhandling of children. But as industry watchers have discovered, the early 1990s saw new business models emerging for "tough love." WWASPS' approach has been a goldmine. By splintering its business empire into fragments -- including Teen Help, Adolescent Services, Inc., and Teen Escort (the teen retrieval arm) -- it has received much more leeway to conceal accountability and money trails, its critics argue. Draw a map of the network, Utah state prosecutor Craig Barlowe told the New York Times in 2003, and you'll see "a lateral arabesque with no hub except for these connections in Utah." Barlowe was pursuing a child abuse charge against the director of a WWASP-affiliated school at the time.

On the consumer end, parents are offered thousands of dollars in sales incentives for finding new kids or promoting WWASP schools, the New York Times has reported. The schools' hunger for pupils has created a proliferation of promotional websites -- like FamilyFirstAid.org -- beckoning mom and dad to ship the kid to the "friendly tourist Island [sic]" of Tranquility Bay, the "prime forest land" of WWASPS' Spring Creek Lodge and other pleasurable-sounding destinations. (As author Maia Szalavitz documents in her upcoming book, Help at Any Cost, at WWASPS program Paradise Cove in Samoa, which is now shuttered, kids caught scabies, and guards confined bad kids to a 3 feet by 3 feet plywood chamber that teens referred to as "The Box.")

School of hard knocks

Two Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters, Lou Kilzer of the Rocky Mountain News and Tim Weiner of the New York Times have written exposes of the kennel cages, bug infestations, unqualified staff and confinement to punishment rooms that have been passed off under the Harry Potter-esque language of "boarding school." Rep. Miller's spokesman Tom Kiley said that substandard education is just one of the areas of concern that the GAO needs to help resolve about WWASPS and the wider industry. This August, one facility with the prestigious name "Academy at Ivy Ridge" in New York had to refund more than $1 million after pretending to offer legitimate high school diplomas.

WWASPS eludes the attention and regulation it might receive if its institutions were presented as health care facilities instead of schools. There is little to show for them as high-water marks in American education, however; when not being bombarded with Tony Robbins motivational tapes, kids learn by rote and fill out multiple-choice tests. While a promotional website claims that "more than 80 percent of the graduates of these programs go on to attend some of the best universities and professional schools in the country," Kay didn't respond to a request for an example of a student at an Ivy League or other top school. Referring to WWASPS-affiliated institutions, Maia Szalavitz said admissions officers are unlikely to be impressed by the education, which not only stresses conformity over critical thinking but can include long stays in solitary confinement.

Over two years ago, Rep. Miller was turned down by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft when he asked him to investigate possible crimes revealed in the New York Times reports. "Congressman Miller sees this as a top priority," says Miller's spokesman Kiley. "The promise is that your child is going to be treated with respect, and that these are the people meant to help them. In fact, the opposite is happening."

The money linking WWASPS and Republicans, says Kiley, "definitely sends up red flags," but he wouldn't go so far as to claim a web of connections. Miller's proposed End Institutional Abuse Against Children Act, would give states $50 million to help license schools, establish new criminal and civil penalties for leaders of abusive programs and let the government regulate overseas camps that are presently beyond the arm of the law. Right now, the State Department warns that it "has no authority to regulate these entities."

Company president Kay, however, told AlterNet that local authorities already do a "great job" regulating the schools.

Under Montana's new plan, that board, dominated by industry insiders, will be responsible for making sure companies avoid some of what has befallen WWASPS's 450-teen Spring Creek Lodge Academy campus in Thompson Falls, Mont., in the last three years. Such as the time that Karlye Anne Newman from Denver, days shy of 17, hanged herself in a bunkhouse there in 2004. Or making sure the firm doesn't again allow a man like former employee Keith Wood, 31, in the proximity of troubled youth. Wood last February went to nearby Plains and shot a romantic rival seven times with a Glock pistol before turning the weapon on himself.

According to a 2004 report in the Missoula Independent that re-opened Karlye's forgotten death, the kids are forbidden to speak of her suicide -- or spread tales of Jamaica, a distant island that looms over them as a fate worse than Montana. "That's a Cat-4," a student said when the paper asked about the dead girl. "We can't talk about Karlye." A card around the student's neck helpfully informed the reporter that a Cat-4 meant losing rank in the program, meaning staying longer at the camp and costing dad thousands more in tuition. Tuition at the lodge runs at about $40,680 a year, a typical figure for these schools.

Abuse, says Kay, doesn't happen anymore often than in the public school system. "That doesn't mean we're gonna shut down the public schools," he said.

Unless, of course, if your middle school principal kept girls in multi-day "stress positions" similar to the kind approved by Donald Rumsfeld for use on Muslim prisoners. As Maia Szalavitz relates in "Help At Any Cost," that was the case at a WWASPS school for girls in Mexico. It was called Sunset Beach and was shut down after being raided by local police in 1996. Authorities seized and later released overseers Glenda and Steve Roach. A company official blamed "the local legal system" for the ensuing closure of the school.

But across the world in the Czech Republic, two years later, authorities reached similar conclusions after finding that the WWASPS-affiliated Morava Academy was holding kids in windowless rooms and forcing them to remain on their stomachs for days. Czech cops arrested and released the overseers on bail for illegal imprisonment and torture, the British Guardian reported.

The accused were the Roaches, the same people arrested in Mexico. At press time AlterNet could not locate the Roaches for comment or determine the outcome of their case, though industry watchdog group International Survivors Action Committee has claimed to have located them in the Bahamas living under new names. Czech press reports paint a cloudy picture as to their whereabouts, with Glenda leaving the country before trial on a health waiver, and Steven "at large" to avoid criminal investigation, according to Radio Prague and other sources.

But somehow, according to WWASPS officials' statements to the press, it was the teens' fault for being "master manipulators" who'd tricked the European officials into thinking there was abuse. In 2003, a dramatic teen uprising in Costa Rica at the company's Dundee Ranch school brought WWASPS to the attention of Times national security reporter Tim Weiner. The uprising began after a visit by Costa Rican officials, who told students they had more rights under local law than WWASPS allowed them. "They told us you have the right to speak, you have the right to speak to your parents, you have the right to leave if you feel you've been mistreated," 17-year-old Hugh Maxwell told the Times. "Kids heard that and they started running for the door. There was elation, cheering and clapping and chaos. People were crying."

Six people told the Times that staff beat the children to stop them from leaving. As order collapsed, Costa Ricans seized control and hauled off the founder's brother, Narvin Lichfield, in handcuffs for holding kids against their will, releasing him a day later. In a statement, the company complained that the Latin American prosecutor, with his "Rambo-like tactics," had told kids they could "do whatever they wanted, without consequences." According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Narvin Lichfield was charged in Costa Rica with "aggravated privation of liberty, coercion and international crimes." A Costa Rican judge ordered him to stay in the country for six months, but ultimately Lichfield did not stand trial.

An evil world without consequences, populated by lying teens, is what WWASPS's officials and pro-company parents often say they're up against, a nearly metaphysical threat. Participating families must attend motivational seminars on the struggle. Ex-participant Karen Lile, a piano seller in Northern California, has written an essay alleging that she suffered "distress and emotional shock" from a Teen Help "discovery seminar" she attended at a Holiday Inn which, she wrote, encouraged her to keep her child in the program. Witnesses at similar events describe the atmosphere as rising to the fever pitch of religious revival road shows, with adults wailing and beating on chairs.

So how are mom and dad talked into keeping their kids at a foreign detention center? The pamphlets for one Teen Help-affiliated school show kids playing basketball and wandering amid natural wonders, rediscovering lost innocence. As long as parents ignore the small letters warning, "Not all Photos [sic] taken at the facility," they can tell themselves they are buying a snooty private education.

And they are told it's this or death on the streets. "If your child needed a kidney transplant to save their life, you would come up with the money," Kay said. "If the value of your child's life isn't worth the cost of a new car " And they're warned not to believe teens who may spin tall tales of abuse. After a high school basketball player named Paul Richards was sent to Paradise Cove in Samoa, Szalavitz recounts in her book, his parents received a newsletter, "WHUTZ UP in Paradise Cove," offering a lesson in how to avoid being "manipulated" by letters from the front.

The lesson presents a sample letter reading, in part: "It is not the camp you promised ... The [program staff] are mean and beat me when I do something they don't like."

Parents are encouraged to write back with dispassionate jargon: "Work your program."

The young basketballer later told Szalavitz that "working" his own $2,000-a-month "program" meant letting groups of shaved-headed teens belittle him for refusing to "see the light" and be grateful. "They just circle you up, and they all start yelling at you at the same time and say how shitty a person you were," he said. "'You're worthless, you're pathetic, you're a piece of shit, you're a compulsive liar and nobody likes you,' just basically stuff 'til they broke down your self-esteem."

Was a shipment to the Jamaica security complex appropriate for a teenage girl who'd been sleeping around? Kay, asked the question, stressed that being flown to a school like Tranquility Bay is "a child's right." Teens "should expect that their parents have the right to step in on their behalf and make some decisions for them," he said. Some kids have entered WWASPS-affiliated schools for no infraction more serious than fighting with a stepmother. No court order is required.

Szalavitz says there's no evidence for the legitimacy of the "treatment" at most of the schools, which operate in a regulatory climate without consequences. As there is no research into long-term effects, she'd like to see studies done on whether any WWASPS alumni have been left with post-traumatic stress disorder. Some parents have described their kids' WWASPS transformations with language more "Dawn of the Dead" than "Dead Poets Society." Alex Ziperovich, 16, emerged from Spring Creek Lodge "35 pounds lighter, acting like a zombie," his mother, a Seattle attorney, told the New York Times.

Where's the outcry?

Why haven't stories like the ones by Weiner and Kilzer, Pulitzer winners both, caused a public outcry and swift government reaction? Do press accounts give WWASPS too much equal time? "It's a ridiculous way of covering things. We don't cover any other kind of health care that way," Szalavitz says, suggesting the press wouldn't be so charitable to non-doctors who claimed to have a new method for extracting tumors. Most news features take the he-said-she-said approach familiar to us from recent reporting on Intelligent Design: "WWASPS isn't for everyone ..." But, says Szalavitz, "This is not a story of 'some people go to this church, some people go to that church.'" Szalavitz added, "We're selling what they stamped out of psychiatric institutions 100 years ago."

Oddly enough, WWASPS president Ken Kay himself has raised unsettling questions about the programs Rep. Miller is waging his battle to regulate. During a period in 2002 when he'd split with WWASPS, he told the Rocky Mountain News' Kilzer: "These people are basically a bunch of untrained people who work for this organization. So they don't have any credentials of any kind. We could be leading these kids to long-term problems that we don't have a clue about because we're not going about it in the proper way ... How in the hell can you call yourself a behavior-modification program -- and that's one of the ways it's marketed -- when nobody has the expertise to determine, is this good, is this bad?"

Kay has since rejoined WWASPS as president. Asked in an email interview in December whether his concerns had since been calmed since 2002, Kay said he was quoted out of context. "Nobody [calmed] my worries for children," he wrote back. "There are trained authorities that deal with abuse. All necessary systems are in place ..."

Neil Bush Meets the Messiah

"Those who stray from the heavenly way," the owner of the flagship Republican newspaper the Washington Times admonished an audience in Taipei on Friday, "will be punished."

This "heavenly way," the Rev. Sun Myung Moon explained, demands a 51-mile underwater highway spanning Alaska and Russia. Sitting in the front row: Neil Bush, the brother of the president of the United States.

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the South Korean giant of the religious right who owns the Washington Times, is on a 100-city speaking tour to promote his $200 billion "Peace King Tunnel" dream. As he describes it, the tunnel would be both a monument to his magnificence, and a totem to his prophecy of a unified Planet Earth. In this vision, the United Nations would be reinvented as an instrument of God's plan, and democracy and sexual freedom would crumble in the face of this faith-based glory.

The name Peace King Tunnel would allude to the title of authority to which Moon, 86, lays claim, and to which U.S. congressmen paid respect on Capitol Hill in last year's controversial "Crown of Peace" coronation ritual.

Moon's lobbying campaign is "ambitious and diffuse," as the D.C. newspaper The Hill reported last year, and the sheer range of guests revealed just how many Pacific Rim political leaders the Times owner has won over, including Filipino and Taiwanese politicians. And the head of the Arizona GOP attended a recent stop in San Francisco. But perhaps the most surprising VIP to tag along is Neil Bush, George H.W. Bush's youngest and most wayward son, who made both the Philippines and Taiwan legs of the journey, according to reports in newspapers from those countries and statements from Moon's Family Federation.

While Neil Bush and Moon's church couldn't be reached for comment on the tunnel or his speaking fees, a brochure from Moon's Family Federation underscores that the project is "God's fervent desire," dwarfing such past wonders as the Chunnel and heralding a "new era of automobile travel."

Moon, reviled in the 1980s as the leader of a group that separated young recruits from their families, says he is the Messiah. His far-flung business empire includes the UPI wire service, Washington, D.C. television studios, a gun factory, and enormous swaths of real estate, and he donates millions to conservative politics. In 1989, U.S. News & World Report linked his group to the Heritage Foundation and other conservative organizations. "Because almost all conservative organizations in Washington have some ties to [Moon's] church," wrote reporter John Judis, "conservatives ... fear repercussions if they expose the church's role."

The billionaire Moon has never been one to pander to the Sierra Club, having subsidized the anti-environmental "wise use" movement. Likewise, his group anticipates an anti-tunnel backlash by those who "demand the preservation of the polar region's ecosystem and the protection of polar bears and seals," and proposes an aggressive media strategy: "[P]ublic opinion polls must be carried out all over the world and it is absolutely essential that a public relations campaign to educate environmental groups, concerned organizations and residents near the proposed construction sites be carried out as well." (Moon has said in the past that Caucasians are descended from polar bears.)

In addition to the Taipei report, the Bush brother also surfaced in an article last week from the Manila Times, which placed him at a similar dinner in Manila attended by Washington Times president Dong Moon Joo and respected Filipino House Speaker Jose de Venecia. (It's unclear if Bush attended an intermediate stop in the Solomon Islands.) According to the Manila Times piece, Venecia proposed Moon's idea for a trans-religious council to President Bush in a 2003 meeting; President Bush was said to have called it "a brilliant idea."

The Taiwan paper similarly revealed high-powered support for Moon, describing Republic of China Vice President Annette Lu as listening "rapt" to his speech.

In the United States, Moon's end-of-democracy vision has been honored on the floor of Congress. According to the Congressional Record, on June 19, 2003, Democrat Danny K. Davis joined Republican Curt Weldon in recognizing Moon's "effort to create an international council of religious leaders ... this body will provide a direct link between international leaders and the various religious peoples in their constituencies," Davis said. "We are grateful to ... the Reverend and Mrs. Sun Myung [Moon] for promoting the vision of world peace, and we commend their work."

Davis later took part in Moon's March 23, 2004 Capitol Hill ceremony in which he was brought a gold crown and royal robe to coronate him Peace King. The sponsor of the event was the Virginia Republican Senator John Warner, who later told the Washington Post he'd been "deceived" into hosting the event, a charge that organizers rejected, saying the ritual was taken out of context.

While Moon's proposal has been deliberated by politicians around the world as a mere religious council, church promotional materials make clear that it's intended to forge "God's fatherland," and not just idle talk. A video from his group stresses that the U.N. will give way to a "Peace United Nations," as Moon terms it, with fantastical reverberations.

"Like a candle that burns down, sacrificing itself to give light to the world, the light of wisdom and hope will shine from the headquarters of world governance -- the "Peace United Nations" -- into all realms of life," a narrator says in a Family Federation video (available here via BitTorrent). "This light will radiate beyond the high barrier separating nations and will illuminate the road to peace, the path to the fulfillment of humanity's hopes -- and dreams ..."

Moon has frequently gone on the record against Western-style democracy and individualism, calling them results of the fall of Adam. "There are three guiding principles for the world to choose from: democracy, Communism and Godism," he said in a 1987 sermon. "It is clear that democracy as the United States knows and practices it cannot be the model for the world."

"Individualism," he also said at the speech -- entitled "I Will Follow With Gratitude And Obedience" -- "is what God hates most and what Satan likes best."

Neil isn't the only Bush to attend Moon events. In 1996, his father, President George H.W. Bush, traveled to Buenos Aires with the Reverend in one of several such fundraising expeditions. "The 41st president, who told Argentine president Carlos Menem that he had joined Moon in Buenos Aires for the money, had actually known the Korean reasonably well for decades," writes former top GOP strategist Kevin Phillips in his book "American Dynasty." "Their relationship went back to the overlap between Bush's one-year tenure as CIA director (1976) and the arrival in Washington of Moon, whose Unification Church was widely reported to be a front group for the South Korean Central Intelligence Agency." Moon and his aides have called such claims bogus, saying his accusers were controlled by "Satan" to distract from his campaign to destroy communism.

Reverend Moon is the latest in a line of unusual partners for Neil Bush in recent years, including the son of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and fugitive Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who has been promoting the younger Bush's educational software company, Ignite!, according to the Washington Post.

A messy divorce case in 2003 exposed his dalliances with prostitutes in Asia. Moon's group didn't return e-mails asking how this bore upon Neil Bush's contributions to last week's events, whose central theme was "Ideal Families."

Ambassador de Sade

Among our president's appointments of GOP activists to important posts, we've done worse than Melvin Sembler, the Ambassador to Italy who couldn't speak Italian. Unlike the FEMA chief, who had real responsibilities, Sembler sometimes found himself a fifth wheel around his own embassy. As the Washington Monthly has reported, the scandal that claimed Scooter Libby's job last month may have sprung from secret Rome meetings between neocons, an Iran-Contra figure and an Italian intelligence boss who later pushed phony WMD documents -- all behind Sembler's back.

But where Melvin Sembler, 74, demands attention is as an object lesson in how cruelty can be redeemed by the transformative power of political donations. For 16 years, Sembler, with his wife Betty, directed the leading juvenile rehab business in America, STRAIGHT, Inc., before seeing it dismantled by a breathtaking array of institutional abuse claims by mid-1993. Just one of many survivors is Samantha Monroe, now a travel agent in Pennsylvania, who told The Montel Williams show this year about overcoming beatings, rape by a counselor, forced hunger, and the confinement to a janitor's closet in "humble pants" -- which contained weeks of her own urine, feces and menstrual blood. During this "timeout," she gnawed her cheek and spat blood at her overseers. "I refused to let them take my mind," she says of the program. The abuse took years to overcome.

"It sticks inside you," she told Williams, "it eats at your soul." She told AlterNet that she was committed at 12, in 1980, for nothing more than being caught with a mini-bar-sized liquor bottle, handed out by a classmate whose mother was a flight attendant. Samantha's mother suspected more. A STRAIGHT expert was on hand to nurture fears her daughter was a drug fiend, not to be trusted. So the small blond junior high-schooler was lured under false premises to one of the warehouse-like outposts of STRAIGHT.

Overcome by dread in the lobby, Samantha tried to run but was hauled into the back by older girls. Inside, as was standard operating procedure, she began the atonement process that cost over $12,000 a year: all-day re-education rituals in which flapping the arms ("motivating") and chanting signaled submission to "staying straight." She was coerced, she says, into confessing to being a "druggie whore" who went down on truckers for drugs. "You're forced to confess crimes you never committed." (Some survivors call it extortion.)

Melvin Sembler stepped down earlier this year as Our Man In Rome -- he also served under the first Bush as Ambassador to Australia. Were Monroe's story unique, his STRAIGHT clinics might still be in business. Instead, his creation, which he stubbornly defends, closed in 1993 after reports of sexual abuse, beating and stomping to boys called "faggots" for hours while being spat upon -- humiliation so bad that a Pennsylvania judge recently ruled it potentially mitigating of a Death Row sentence for a former STRAIGHT teen who committed a homophobic murder.

Although prosecutors closed the clinics, six-figure settlements sucked it dry, and state health officials yanked its licenses after media reports of teen torture and cover-up, Sembler himself escaped punishment. As one of the preeminent and hardest-working GOP fundraisers, Sembler has received the honor of living during the George W. Bush presidency at the Villa Taverna, the official residence for the U.S. ambassador, which has the largest private garden in Rome. One night in May at "The Magic Kingdom" (as Mel and Betty call it), the dining room filled with smoke from fine cigars, as the ambassador entertained Bush Sr. and an entourage -- until Betty complained that the old friends were stinking up "my house," the Washington Post reported.

He's come home, but still wafting across national drug policy is the influence of his STRAIGHT, which has legally changed its identity to the Drug Free America Foundation (director Calvina Fay denies it's the same organization but the name change is listed in Florida corporate filings). Subsidized by tax dollars, it lobbies for severe narcotics policies and workplace drug testing, with an advisory board that includes the like of Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife Columba, and Homeland Security Director of Public Safety Christy McCampbell. A more pressing issue is that former overseers of Sembler's company, true believers in the STRAIGHT model, are still running spin-off businesses that treat teens with the old methods.

Starting out STRAIGHT

The story begins in 1976 when Sembler, who'd made his fortune in Florida real estate, founded STRAIGHT from the ashes of The Seed -- an earlier program suspended by the U.S. Senate for tactics reminiscent, said a senator, of Communist POW camps. But as the Reagan years rolled into view, and a climate of fear nurtured a Shock and Awe approach to teens, the Semblers found a new world of acceptance for an anything-goes treatment business, meting out punishment in privately run warehouses. Endorsers from Nancy Reagan to George H.W. Bush lent their names to the program, celebrating a role model weapon in the "war on drugs."

Nine years before the elder Bush took office, Sembler was a faithful political supporter, and raising millions beginning in '79 for the Bushes' clash with Reagan for the Republican nomination. In 1988, as Bush finally accepted the GOP's nomination for president, Sembler sat in the front row. With his man in the White House, STRAIGHT would become a vehicle for purchasing eminence as a Drug War thinker. By 1988, Sembler wasn't just running the Vice President's "Team 100" soft money campaign and enjoying steak dinners with him -- he was sojourning in George and Barbara Bush's living room, briefing the candidate on drug policy. As a token of his friendship, he gave Bush a new tennis racket, receiving this note in return: "Maybe we can play at Camp David someday."

And Sembler's success grew and grew as the Clinton era spooled out. The slickly dressed go-getter smashed records as RNC Finance Chairman from 1997 to 2000, chairing the "Regents" club that accommodated such super donors as Enron's Ken Lay to fund George W. Bush's campaign machine.

Meanwhile, a coast-to-coast trail of human wreckage had ensued during STRAIGHT's reign from 1976 to 1993 -- its survivors claimed physical, sexual and psychological trauma. The Web sites Fornits.com and TheStraights.com have collected many of their stories. Posts Kelly Caputo, an '88 alumna: "I don't think I will ever be the same. My every thought has been violated, confused, degraded and warped."

"My best guess is that at least half of the kids were abused," says Dr. Arnold Trebach, a professor emeritus at American University who created the Drug Policy Foundation to find alternatives to harsh laws. He has singled out STRAIGHT in his book "The Great Drug War" as among drug warriors' worst mistakes.

But today, Sembler's trail of purchased political friendships has led him through the opulent doors of the $83 million "Mel Sembler Building" in Rome, christened this year with help from a longtime ally in Congress, Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-FL). Not the palace where Sembler worked as ambassador, but another of the Eternal City's architectural treasures, built in 1927 and now dedicated as an annex to the U.S. Embassy in a $30 million renovation at taxpayer expense. "Narcissus is now Greek and Roman," said the Washington Post of the monument. No one could remember any other diplomat receiving such honors, not even Benjamin Franklin.

"We don't do that, do we?" George W. Bush reportedly told the congressman, according to Congressman C.W. Bill Young 's (R-Florida) speech during the ceremony. "We don't name buildings for ambassadors where they have served."

"Mr. President," the politician replied, "I introduced the bill and you signed it." Bush may have missed the Sembler Building provision, tucked as it was into an appropriations bill. But he owed much to the longtime family friend, whom he thanked on "The Jim Lehrer Report" [RealAudio] in 2000 for raising $21.3 million at a single dinner in April, a new record. Asked what favors the money paid for, Bush professed wonderment at the premise: "I know there's this kind of sentiment now -- I heard it during the primaries ... [that] if someone contributes to a person's campaign, there's this great sense of being beholden."

At the Sembler Building, visitors can stroll among the Italian frescoes of cherubs and heavens, and marvel at the spoils of Bush family loyalty, and meditate on the human costs that made Sembler's paradise possible.

STRAIGHT's practices

Melvin Sembler's Jekyll-and-Hyde empire appealed to parents with cheery pamphlets bearing pictures of happy and reunited families that had put their horrible pasts behind them.

Even Princess Diana had graced the clinics with a visit, celebrating STRAIGHT as a humanitarian institution. George H.W. Bush named the program among his "thousand points of light." But many called it Hell.

Taking in new kids without much discrimination -- many addiction-free -- STRAIGHT staff assured parents that a variety of troubled teens could benefit from their brand of discipline.

Vanished from home and school, the newcomer would enter the care of a "host home" overseen, at night, by the same counselors up in her face by day. Over the months, patients like Samantha Monroe earned back basic privileges like speaking or, in the distant future, going to the bathroom alone, without an ever-present minder's thumb in the belt loop -- literally. The counselors were themselves STRAIGHT kids, who had been molded into drug warriors in the heat of humiliation. They'd learned to play along and join the winning side, becoming the hall monitors and the muscle that enforced the rules.

From the outset, STRAIGHT's method was on thin ice with regulators. The underpinnings had long struck critics as more Pyongyang than Pinellas County. Sembler took his blueprint from another St. Petersburg program, The Seed, in which his son had enrolled in the 1970s. The Senate was less impressed than Sembler with The Seed. Senator Sam Ervin, who'd brought down Richard Nixon, killed the program's federal subsidies for funding a method "similar to the highly refined 'brainwashing' techniques employed by the North Koreans." Ervin's 1974 probe into the rise of treatment abuse articulated an admirable American ideal: that "if our society is to remain free, one man must not be empowered to change another's personality and dictate the values, thoughts and feelings of another." Sembler had other ideals in mind, as hundreds of STRAIGHT victims would later attest.

Finally, one by one, the 12 clinics, which had once formed a nine-state empire, went dark. Much of the money was lost in settlements, but jury verdicts offered a peek into the regularity of the abuses. Florida patient Karen Norton was awarded $721,000 by a jury after being thrown against a wall in 1982 by the Semblers' treatment guru of choice: Dr. Miller Newton, whose unaccredited Ph.D was in public administration, but was tapped by the Semblers as STRAIGHT National Clinical Director. He's emblematic of how the creature Sembler built just won't stop sprouting heads, having personally launched spinoff businesses with names like KIDS. As a result, Newton has paid out over $12 million to his victims. Having moved back to Florida, he now calls himself "Friar Cassian," a priest in the non-Catholic Antiochian Orthodox church.

But just last month, Betty Sembler testified in a case against a STRAIGHT critic that Miller Newton, the dark cleric of rehab, is "a very close and dear friend and a valued one," and an "outstanding individual." Had he committed outrageous acts? "Absolutely not," she said, adding that it was incomprehensible that ex-STRAIGHT teen Richard Bradbury was picketing Newton. Thanks to her judgment of character, Newton has been given a voice in national drug policy, listed as a participant in a Drug Free America Foundation "International Scientific and Medical Forum."

From the beginning, critics were shocked to find that the keepers freely acknowledged many of the tactics -- yet insisted they were necessary. Mel Sembler even seems to have been emboldened by painful questions about his clinics. "We've got nothing to hide -- we're saving lives," he said in 1977 after six directors quit over practices that included kicking a restrained youth. He remained closely involved in personnel management. Almost two decades later, recalling how the ACLU was furious about STRAIGHT's practices, Sembler told Florida Trend Magazine in 1997 -- "with a grin," the reporter wrote -- that "it just shows that we must have been doing things right."

And rather than clean up Florida's program, he apparently leaned on health inspectors in 1989 to go easy on it. Reports of a cover-up wouldn't emerge for four more years -- long years, for the teenagers committed to a program that wouldn't lose its license until 1993. STRAIGHT foe Bradbury, believing he'd been "brainwashed" into becoming an abusive counselor, brought the clinics to the attention of the state after years of protest. Inspector Lowell Clary of the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services found that reports of illegally restrained and stomped-on teens had been swept under the rug, likely with help from Republican state senators, who went unnamed, but made phone calls urging the clinic stayed open. A "persistent foul odor" hung over this use of power, said a St. Petersburg Times Op-Ed applauding the death of STRAIGHT.

"While at the facility," wrote Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services Acting Inspector General Lowell Clary on May 19, 1993, "the team [of inspectors in 1989] received a phone call informing them that no matter what they found, STRAIGHT would receive their license." "If you do anything other than what I tell you on this issue, I will fire you on the spot," an HRS official was told. Clary wasn't positive, but evidence suggested that "pressure may have been generated by Ambassador Sembler and other state senators."

By now, Clinton was in office. Four years earlier, while young "druggies" were still being restrained to chairs for 12 hours, denied medication and sent to the hospital with injuries, the 1989 report would have tarnished President George H.W. Bush's "points of light." Bush had designated STRAIGHT an American treasure. On that fragile premise, not one but two STRAIGHT presidents had been named ambassadors in 1989, the year of the Florida inspection. Sembler got the Australian assignment. The other post sent co-founder Joseph Zappala to Spain armed for diplomacy with a high school education. The two were mocked in People as "too hick to hack it." They'd clowned around during the nomination process, turning in nearly identical answers on Senate disclosure forms. In the "languages spoken" box Sembler had written, humorously, "English (fluent)."

That took real cheek. These two pranksters had been leaders of a group characterized as a destructive cult by top authorities on cult abuse ranging from Steve Hassan of the Freedom Of Mind Center to the late Dr. Margaret Singer of UC Berkeley, an expert on the abuse of American servicemen in the Korean War whose expert testimony was used to close a facility in Cincinnati. Bradbury, the whistleblower, concurs, saying the program modified his personality into something monstrous. Bradbury attended the St. Petersburg, Florida clinic. "You don't understand what they did to these kids," Bradbury told AlterNet. "They put stuff up my butt."

But you wouldn't know from Sembler's State Department biography that his claim to fame has such a shoddy legal record. The program has the honor of being described as a "remarkable program" in his bio, and it credits STRAIGHT with saving 12,000 kids. The ambassador did not return attempts to contact him during the reporting for this story, and declined the author's interview requests last year through a U.S. Embassy spokesman.

In addition to receiving a second Ambassadorship from the second Bush president, his Governor Jeb Bush named August 8, 2000, "Betty Sembler Day" for her "work protecting children from the dangers of drugs," labeling her "ambassadorable." The next year, at a drug policy conference in Florida, a writer from the Canadian legalization magazine Cannibis Culture asked her about the STRAIGHT victims. "They should get a life," he quotes her as replying. "There's nothing to apologize for. The [drug] legalizers are the ones who should be apologizing."

The ambassador's wife is an outspoken critic of what she calls "medical excuse marijuana," and serves on the boards of such mighty anti-legalization campaigns as the International Task Force On Strategic Drug Policy, which works with Latin American countries to lobby for harsh drug laws. Mel himself used his Rome ambassadorial pulpit for a global conference in 2003, appealing to the "moral imperatives" of the drug war and urging a "culture of disapproval of drug abuse." DFAF, founded by the Semblers, receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from the Small Business Association to advance workplace drug testing in businesses -- for example, a handout in 2000 of $314,000. Betty Sembler is president and Melvin has served as chairman.

STRAIGHT's Spin-offs

Though Sembler's clinics were shuttered, the spirit of STRAIGHT lives on as a flourishing model for drug rehabilitation. That includes offshoots run by former STRAIGHT staff, such as the Orlando STRAIGHT spin-off, SAFE, which was described by 16-year-old Leah Marchessault in 2000 as "something from the Twilight Zone" in a report by Florida's WAMI TV station.

Leah had gone to visit her sister, in for heroin abuse, only to be told she herself was a "druggie" -- sound familiar? And when Leah fled, she was pinned against a wall and assaulted by a pack of nine women members who forced her to undergo a full-body search. Another girl told WAMI of being "forced to stand for about an hour and a half, the attention being focused on me, and about every 10 minutes I was told how I was full of crap, how I needed to be flushed out."

Despite their cheery names -- SAFE in Orlando, Florida; Kids Helping Kids of Cincinnati, Ohio; Growing Together of Lake Worth, Florida -- these barely regulated warehouses cry out for oversight. Hungry for recruits, they appeal to the fears of parents by warning a child will die on the streets if uncorrected by their methods.

In the TV report, the presence of a spokeswoman named Loretta Parrish was evidence that SAFE was the child of STRAIGHT -- she'd been the local STRAIGHT's marketing director until 1992, when the old company closed under state scrutiny, and SAFE, a new company, almost immediately sprang up to replace it. A new head for the hydra: Parrish didn't dispute the visiting sister's horrifying experience, but called it necessary, as if explaining something obvious to her since the '80s.

"Yes we do require that," said Parrish. "And if they don't, then they have to remove the other child. This is a family treatment program. And unless the entire family is in treatment, it doesn't work."

"We do not do a strip search that is different from any other treatment program," she adds, and later described the teens and moms attacking SAFE as "a coalition of cockroaches." Gov. Jeb Bush even endorsed SAFE in a letter he wrote as "a valuable tool."

And so with the former STRAIGHT bosses rich in Republican honors, and insulated in a political Xanadu not unlike the alternate reality field engulfing the White House, a new generation of teenagers is going under the hammer, as an old generation of victims finds cold comfort for their own suffering. If this is the compassionate kind of conservatism, how harsh the other variety must be.

Throw Down Your Cross

This wintry season, as the faithful continue to receive alarming reports from the news that Republicans are all that stand between them and the outlawing of Christmas itself by hordes of secular humanists, the two presidents Bush have endorsed a powerful conservative interest group specializing in removing the cross – not from schools or courthouses, but from churches.

Rather than the traditional egg hunt, this group, calling itself the American Clergy Leadership Conference, sponsored a nationwide "Tear Down The Cross" day for Easter, 2003. Last week, leaders in this radical cause presided over a Washington prayer breakfast featuring messages of thanks from the presidents. Former Sen. Bob Dole came in person.

Mostly African American, pastors who joined in 2003's ACLC-sponsored "Tear Down The Cross" won gold watches from the wealthy group, which unabashedly claims in its publications to have stripped churches of over a hundred crosses over the Easter holiday alone. This, movement leaders said, cleared the way for a new age and second messiah.

Speaking of messiahs, make a quick stop at the Web site of the ACLC, and it's clear there's more to it than the "rapidly growing movement of clergy committed to the endeavor of making this nation the best that it can be," as the ACLC described itself in a Dec. 8 Washington Times op-ed. It's actually a vehicle for Sun Myung Moon, the billionaire conservative donor who calls himself the True Father.

Though the breakfast boasted two other "co-sponsors," both are easily identifiable as projects of the self-declared Messiah: the International and Interreligious Federation of World Peace and the American Family Coalition, which Moon founded in 1984. How much more eminent these names sound than "the Moonies"! In the 1970s, that was the shorthand on the evening news for Moon's followers, whose frank call for crushing Western democracy, combined with success in recruiting teenagers, made them a popular nightmare on the evening news.

On Wednesday, a video file containing the elder President Bush's message to the ACLC disappeared from the movement's web site, though both Bush endorsements were reported in the Washington Times. Neither the White House nor the ACLC returned requests for comment on the breakfast and President Bush's participation.

Taking out the Trash

One series of photos found on Moon's Web site, but purged after receiving unfavorable attention earlier this year from evangelicals, shows Massachusetts preacher John Kingara taking down the cross from his church, hauling it behind the old brick building and hoisting it into a dumpster. Another shows a ritual in Israel disposing of the cross in the earth.

Kingara, embracing the ACLC's new gospel, declared in remarks found in the Unification News, "The fact that the cross is a symbol of division, shame, suffering and bloodshed prove that it is not of God but Satan." He continued, "On this 18th day of April 2003, we are beginning a new history. Pastors, please, help me to bring the cross down, because it is not of God but the devil."

Cheerfully pitched to pastors as "trade your cross for a crown," Moon's rebate plan takes its name from a 1913 hymn with a somewhat different slant. Whereas "The Old Rugged Cross" pines for salvation in heaven, Moon offered the pastors the possibility to cash in here on earth, at a taxpayer-funded Senate building. At a secret March 23, 2004 ceremony, he declared he was erecting heaven on earth. That evening, the elderly Korean eminence behind the ACLC was brought the twinkling crown by bowing Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.).

Moon was no accidental VIP that night. Far from being on the fringes of Washington, he's the supermogul behind a political and media empire that includes the Washington Times and United Press International, as well as being a longtime friend of the Bush family.

In Moon's teachings, God himself is shedding tears over mankind's obsession with the cross, which prevents us from recognizing the real "returning lord": Moon himself. It's no secret. This is something he's patiently explained to many audiences of congressmen and former Republican presidents over the years, in Washington pageants that hardly ever make the news.

Moon was keynote speaker last week, declaring in remarks reprinted by the Times that "God's heart is under confinement." In some ways it was a repeat performance of the Senate coronation ceremony, which The New York Times editorial page compared to an act of the mad emperor Caligula.

You may remember that Sen. John Warner and other congressmen unloaded on Moon's entourage for "deceiving" them into sponsoring a ceremony where America "surrendered to [Moon] in the king's role," according to an internal church memo. "America is saying to Father, 'please become my king,'" claimed Moon minister Chung Kwak. The versatile Kwak is currently wearing a second hat as head of the UPI news agency, added to Moon's collection of media properties in 2000.

Strangely enough, last week the hosts of the "surrender" ceremony weren't blasted but blessed by two presidents of the United States. The same faces were there: George Stallings, Jr., the flamboyant ex-archbishop who bellowed at the March dinner for America to open up its heart to Moon; Michael Jenkins and Chang Shik Yang, hosts of past "Tear Down The Cross" rituals; and former Democratic D.C. representative Walter Fauntroy, who shares the Moonies' opposition to gay civil unions (Moon calls gays "dung-eating dogs"; Fauntroy calls same-sex marriage "an abomination"). Congressman Davis did not attend.

Like the Senate party, this conference climaxed with a new Crown of Peace awarded to Moon by his own organization, though in this case they held off on the royal treatment until the following evening. The award was reported by UPI.

According to a report in the Washington Times as well as video found on the Moon-affiliated Web site FamilyFed.org, the elder Bush made a taped appearance before the ACLC's 3,000-strong crowd, which he thanked for their work. "I thought about parachuting into the building," he joked about wishing he could make it. And he paid lip service to Moon's unwieldy religious jargon, using phrases like "peace centered on God," a goal that he called "right on target."

His son, George W. Bush, wrote a warm letter of support presented at the event by a state senator, in which the president and his wife Laura sent his best wishes to the sponsors – and thanked them for rallying his "armies of compassion." It is unclear what the ACLC has done for society's problems, though its Web site is selling a video called "Beyond The Cross," and an affiliated Moon front group, Free Teens USA, has received almost half a million dollars under Bush's abstinence-only program.

Last year, as word seeped out of a movement with billions in the bank, exchanging gifts and promises of financial security for the rejection of Protestant beliefs, more mainstream, born-again Christians, like radio host Vic Eliason, were horrified. He warned on his nationally-syndicated program CrossTalk that the ACLC was ushering a false teacher into the houses of belief. Others speculated Moon was the Antichrist. But how many listeners knew that the false teacher's phone number might as well be programmed into George H.W. Bush's mobile phone?

Wouldn't Be Prudent

The elder Bush once explained his cooperation with Moon's Unification Church to the Washington Post, through a spokesman, as follows: "this group is about strengthening the family and that's what President and Mrs. Bush are deeply focused on." Well, after a fashion. Moon preaches that Jesus failed to start a family, which is why God is "confined," as he said Tuesday – grieved by his son's having blown it for mankind, with the Nazi Holocaust a punishment for the Jews' failure to unite behind the King of the Jews.

And so Moon says he's building a new kingdom centered on "absolute family-ism," referring to his True Family of sworn followers. In the past, his new sons and daughters have rejected their own families to join Moon, who handpicks mates for them to marry at his mass weddings. One ex-member is Cathryn Mazer, whose grieving family was filmed in 1993 by the "Today Show" as they tried without success to enter a Moon dormitory where Cathryn was staying. She says photos of Moon with Bush played a major role in the seminar that indoctrinated her into the cult – used to sell potential converts on the legitimacy of Moon.

"If someone told you about it, it would seem too far-fetched to be plausible," she says.

Yet the friendship is well-documented. Reuters reported in the mid-'90s that the elder Bush trekked to Argentina as a paid spokesman for Moon, whom he introduced as "the man with the vision." During the Clinton years, Bush also tagged along with Moon's speaking tour in Japan, where the former president had kind words for his strange bedfellow, an ex-convict. Bush is estimated to have received upwards of $1 million for these appearances. Moon also gave $1 million to Bush's presidential library. And when Bush was vice president, it was a generous check from Moon that opened Oliver North's Contra Freedom Fund.

But Washington conservatives are most thankful to Moon for lavishing more than $2 billion on the money-losing Washington Times. The paper was an important building block in the construction of the alternative, Republican media machine as we know it today. But many conservatives were quietly uneasy – fretting that a pact was being made with the devil. At a 1997 Washington Times anniversary dinner, the elder Bush made a video appearance similar to Monday's, crediting the paper with winning the Cold War, and similarly sharing a stage with Moon, who claimed then that he had founded the Times to save the world.

In Monday's video, Bush declared: "I want to salute a man I respect: Wes Pruden," referring to the Times editor, whose paper frequently publicizes Moon projects that most newspapers would ignore. On December 7 he ran a piece by ACLC Rev. Donnie McLeod, who has argued for the removal of the cross in sermons covered by Unification Church publications.

The cross-disposal theologian wrote: "as the president is now free from the election concerns and can never be reelected, he can now build a legacy for America and the world." ACLC leaders, he said, "are ready to see the president as I see him, a man to God who is truly ready to make the sacrifices and commitments to create a legacy of faith and family that will guide our nation for the next 200 years."

The Washington Times Foundation is slippery to define, an organization with multiple public faces that morphs when convenient into the ACLC and other religious organizations. The Senate coronation, for example, was booked under the name of the foundation, though it was treated as a photo opportunity for the South Korean religious arm of the church, which trumpeted it as the U.S. government's official stamp of approval on plans for the future of Christianity.

A former Times editor, James Whalen, told me that the protean nature of the group makes it easy to involve national-level figures in "showcasing" Moon – yet conveniently allows politicians to claim, for example, that they only dropped by to lift a glass to the awesome investigative reporting of Times reporter Bill Gertz.

And meanwhile, at the other end of the invisible line between mainstream and eldrich, there is the ACLC and its persistence in seeing the Christian cross disposed of like nuclear waste. A month after Easter last year, the group flew holy men from all over the world to a graveside in Israel, where undertakers had draped a cross beneath the blue and yellow flag of Reverend Moon, and buried the cross forever – another casualty at the hands of the armies of compassion.

Spurred on by the likes of Bill O'Reilly, conservatives are outraged at the war against Christianity supposedly declared in department stores' "Happy Holidays" signs. But secularism is one thing, and sacrilege is something else, especially coming from Sun Myung Moon's cult, which indulges dreams of becoming the state religion. The president has built his reputation on being a good Methodist, but he rarely attends church, come to think of it. And he has cozied up to a desecration spree that Tim LaHaye couldn't make up in his "Left Behind" books. Is he what he pretends to be?

Bezerkly Radicals

As if making a last-ditch attempt to sneak away and avoid being seen in this company, the American flag flops off the chalkboard behind the raven-haired beauty, breaking free from some duct tape securing it. It half-dangles below where "Welcome Michelle Malkin" has been scrawled in chalk by the University of California, Berkeley College Republicans.

Malkin scrunches her face, determined not to be silenced – not by the contingent of gigglers in the audience, nor the protesters outside with their rhyming chants and not entirely relevant ("We Need a Worker's Party") signs. In the little time we have together, she is here to warn us of a "radical alliance," of Japanese-American civil libertarians teaming up with Arab-Americans to betray America. They're doing it by incessantly comparing the barbed-wire internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II with the treatment of Arab citizens today: racial profiling, due process suspensions for "enemy combatants."

"In a post-Sept. 11 world," Malkin says, "we can no longer afford the indulgent abuse of history as multicultural group therapy." And now the two groups "have declared solidarity with each other," she says.

Protected Minorities

The audience is pumped. Damn those indulgent Japanese – maybe we should intern them again! Or, to use Malkin's term, "evacuate," like the people fleeing Hurricane Ivan. Usher them far, far away from the Arabs and their insidious group therapy craze.

You know, for their own protection.

But not for protection from racist hysteria, the internment excuse revived last year by U.S. Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.), to widespread disgust. Malkin's book, "In Defense of Internment," sidesteps Coble's rationale, dismissing racism as a factor completely. (Here in California, however, locking up the Japanese and forcing them to sell their land cheap was welcomed by whites as the long-awaited follow-up to the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924. That law followed warnings by the Michelle Malkins of the time that the Mikado's "brown hordes" were poised to subjugate the Bay Area.)

The spell breaks, however, as the duct tape plastering up Old Glory succumbs to the vibrations of the walls. Protesters are stomping in the halls outside. They're trying to edge past a few brave College Republicans, arms akimbo, who have appointed themselves "security," the last line of defense between the protesters and Ms. Malkin. Later they tell tales of the liberals getting in their face, of their opponents' lack of Right Guard and the capacity for abstract thought required to grapple with the works of Malkin, the Fox News Channel historian. For Malkin, having feverishly pored over declassified documents, claims to have reversed over 50 years of standing historical thought in only 16 months, by the calculation of University of North Carolina professor Eric Muller, a vocal Malkin critic.

Now and then the doors blow open to underscore, by the roar of the crowd outside, the Malkin speech, which is taking on "one of the most critical national security issues facing our country" (according to the red-headed girl who introduces Malkin). The protesters are indulging the Berkeley tradition of drowning out speeches by right-wingers they disagree with. It's a custom that the likes of David Horowitz have counted on for headlines as free speech heroes. As Malkin says of the rabble: "What are they afraid of?" For the innocent would have nothing to fear in a Malkin Administration.

But the sexy revisionist will have to wait until that Sunday for her headline. That's when the Washington Post reports that another campus has canceled her stop, leaving the helpless youth of American University in Washington abandoned behind the Iron Curtain of left-wing orthodoxy. "Staff members for the Bush campaign have frowned on us for having an event centered on the internment of Japanese Americans," Mike Inganamort, president of the club, writes in an e-mail to her. This hot campus cause is "an issue we frankly cannot defend at our heart of hearts," he says.

Tonight, however, the night is all Malkin's. She's on a roll because her honor has just been defended on television by U.S. senator Zell Miller (D-GA), who tells Chris Matthews he saw what the Hardball host had done to "that young lady," and said it would be good for the two men to duel. Tonight, in the tone of a school board member who has grown tired of explaining the policy that expelled your kid, she says of the internment, with an intimidating head tilt: "It was a tough call!"

And tonight Malkin, as Whitney Houston sang, believes the children are our future. "These are the students who are going to be making our Homeland Security issues in the future," she says, with yearning in her voice, of the audience.

She dreams of a time when children won't just be taught to relate to Japanese kids behind barbed wire at camps, but to the officials who put them there. To teach otherwise, she says, is "educational malpractice."

Apparently American University's Republicans are not quite so stoked for the future Malkin envisions – in which a wiser generation of teachers will allow fourth-graders to role-play being internment decision-makers. Who gets to be Chase Clark, the Idaho governor who brainstormed at the time, "Japs live like rats, breed like rats, and act like rats?"

Berzerkely Republicans

Berkeley's College Republicans, however, pride themselves on being at the bleeding edge. Besides the now-standard "bake sales" that mock affirmative action by charging whites extra for muffins, they've printed trading cards of Berkeley's homeless, taking a stand against the poor and the weird. Such gestures, like inviting Malkin, foster debate, they say.

The night after the Malkin appearance, a campus meeting for the group is packed. Conventional wisdom is that Cal's rise in conservatism stems from a greater proportion of Asian kids at the school. But this crowd, at least, doesn't bear out the theory. Inviting Malkin can't have helped.

Announcements include some talk of rival frat parties, then laughter at an e-mail from a Mass Communications professor, Dr. Jonathan Gray, who has hilariously suggested that the Washington Post is more reliable than Fox News, a source Gray brands "pathetic." The word brings gasps. The crowd howls when the student reading the letter comes to the part about how Fox viewers are more likely to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"Do we have Students for Academic Freedom on campus?" someone asks, referring to the group that watchdogs professors for signs of liberalism. The answer is yes.

"Does anyone not know what the Drudge Report is?" asks host Andrea of the group, as if making sure everyone has the syllabus.

Now the floor is opened up to what Andrea calls "the Malkin discussion." But there isn't so much a debate as a feeling of epiphany. Rhianna, the treasurer, responds to one of Malkin's more misleading assertions: "I didn't know that like 50 percent of the people in camps were white! It's not in our textbook at all!"

And Andrea tells of confronting protesters, only to realize they were woefully underinformed. They'd only heard the title, In Defense of Internment, and assumed it was something else. And when told what it was really about, she says, they realized of Malkin's thesis, "Oh well, it wasn't as bad as we thought," in her words.

Beyond that, everyone seems to think it was pretty cool. They're much more interested in sharing war stories from the front – fighting off the "nasty liberals outside" with their sweat stains. "A thousand pansy guys with excessive facial hair," describes a guy named Jeb, to laughter. "Two people tried to get in my face!" says Josiah, a handsome boy in a polo shirt, pantomiming how it happened. There's talk of a protester with a sign reading, "Berkeley Coward Republicans." ("Why?" "Because none of us were willing to go to war," says one of the leaders. An awkward pause follows.)

These are the apple-cheeked athletes who form the central clique of the group, along with a scattering of Republican Geeks who fidget on their periphery, wonks with the vibes of potential Grover Norquists.

Fringes of the Fringe

Gathering further towards the fringes, as we leave to head for the campus bar to watch the Packers game, is an even shyer group, the Michael Savage fans. They're sharing their favorite moments when Savage reportedly stuck it to someone or other. They agree that he might be "a little too-right wing" sometimes (like when he mocked homeless ladies with shopping carts), but admire him because "he speaks his mind."

There are also unassuming new recruits like John, a quiet young freshman from Los Angeles. Why'd he join? "The whole atmosphere," he says. "You just want a normal school atmosphere..."

The lack of normalcy here at Berkeley is well-documented. On the other hand... well, surely someone has to disagree with Michelle Malkin, right? Such was the spell cast by her visit that you'd think Ronald Reagan had never called internment "a grave injustice."

Down at the pub, I talk to Nick, a Ben Affleck type hitting on a Democratic chick friend of his. He says he normally wouldn't talk to a media guy like me, except that he's wavering from a few drinks. Anyway, he has no real objections to Malkin. So, I move deeper into the crowd at the Bear's Lair, and the Republicans I find mostly just repeat Malkin's lines.

Curious. I pull aside political science major Jeff Bauer (no relation to Gary), who seems to have given it more thought than the others. It pains him, but he'd have to say the government made the right call – the tough call. What would he say to someone humiliated by having being herded into a camp? "I would say, in the most sincere way, 'You took one for the country,'" he says. I thank him and he returns to watching the Packers game.

Finally I sit down with the executive director of the group, third-year student Amaury Gallais, who admires Malkin as "loving mother" to her own offspring. I run past him the possibility that Malkin, who is Filipina-American (since we're in Malkin's 1940s groove of analyzing behavior by race) just resents the Japanese for savaging the Philippines.

He doesn't think so. Internment, he says, "prevented Japanese-American citizens from helping our enemies." He cites Malkin's studies, which describe intercepted "MAGIC" telegrams supposedly proving a military need to round up American citizens. Usually characterized as the last resort of cranks less ravishing than Michelle Malkin, the MAGIC defense has been consistently rejected by such P.C. handwringers as Lt. Col. James C. McNaughton, the Command Historian in charge of the U.S. Army's official history of the Pacific.

So why not lock up all Arab citizens, I ask, since a few people resembling them have actually gone to the trouble of forming terror cells, as opposed to the scattered incidents of "disloyalty" Malkin cites among the Japanese. Would it bother him if we did?

"The overwhelming majority of Arabs are not enemies," he says. "They love peace. They love the freedom that we provide."

Will they love it if we provide a lot less of it? Because that's what syndicated columnist John Leo seems to be floating, now that Malkin has tested the waters of revisionism. Finding the water is just fine, Leo wades right on in, opining in a September 19 column that internment has been a "taboo" for far too long. It's "reasonable and important," he concludes, "to open an honest discussion of internment, past and present."

Present?

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