Sarah Posner

South Carolina Governor Requested Exemption to Allow Foster-Care Agency to Discriminate Against Non-Christians

In an unusual move, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a long-standing ally of President Donald Trump, has personally intervened with the Department of Health and Human Services to secure a religious exemption from federal nondiscrimination laws for a Christian foster-care-placement agency in his state. Without the exemption, the placement agency, Miracle Hill Ministries, of Greenville, is at risk of losing its license because it refuses to place foster children with non-Christian families. Like other such agencies that participate in state foster-care programs that receive federal funds, Miracle Hill would normally be barred from discriminating on the basis of religion.

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How Trump Is a Kind of Miracle for the Religious Right, Previously in Decline

Donald Trump’s conquest of the White House, buoyed by the overwhelming support of white evangelicals, has, for the moment at least, quelled the semi-regular pronouncements of the death of the religious right. As the numbers of non-white and non-religious Americans have increased, the demographic weight of white evangelicals has fallen. But rather than withering away, the religious right in its 2017 version seems poised to capitalize on unexpected access to power—a miracle, if you will. They are ecstatic over Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, and what they see as his steadfast protection of religious liberty and opposition to abortion. They also see trusted longtime allies in Vice President Mike Pence and at the helms of the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services; a co-religionist, climate-change denier as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency; and an opponent of public schools, long the movement’s “secular humanist” bogeyman, as secretary of education.

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How Trump Beat Cruz at His Own Game

Here’s a key reason why Ted Cruz lost the Republican presidential nomination to Donald Trump: Evangelicals don’t like him as much as Cruz imagines they do, and Trump possesses a diabolical savant’s grasp of how to push Republican base voters’ buttons—and Cruz’s.

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How Trump Smashed the Religious Right’s Recipe to Sway the GOP Primaries

Donald Trump’s stump speeches are not, as most are, the product of careful tweaking and calibration, a search for the sweet spot between animating one’s supporters and drawing in new ones. Instead, his speeches are a desultory, malicious accounting of winners and losers, and a call to often violent action against the latter. His rallies are, by design, a feedback loop of self-validation.

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How a Fringe Theocratic Movement Helped Shape the Religious Right As We Know It

Christian Reconstructionism is a twentieth-century theo-political movement whose influence—on the contemporary religious right, in particular—is little understood. Moreover, when Reconstructionism does come up in public conversation it is often in the context of some of its most extreme (and alarming) tenets: think biblical defense of slavery, the stoning of homosexuals.

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Why Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Infatuated With Donald Trump

The Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody wants to tell you why evangelicals like Donald Trump. It’s a good try, but it’s not very convincing.

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Why Conservatives Refuse to Believe Obama Is Christian

Alex Theodoridis, a political scientist at the University of California, Merced, conducted a survey last fall of Americans’ understanding of President Obama’s religious beliefs. Remarkably, he found that in response to the question, “Which of these do you think most likely describes what Obama believes deep down? Muslim, Christian, atheist, spiritual, or I don’t know,” 54 percent of Republicans said Obama is Muslim. Only nine percent said he is Christian.

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Fascinating Journey: How a Former Texas Conservative Operative Left the Religious Right

If you met interior designer and business consultant Joyce Elaine White, you’d never guess she was once the lobbyist for the group that formed the leading edge of the religious right’s takeover of the Republican Party in Texas; that she was once in the inner circle of political power in the second-largest state in the nation. Then a crisis of faith changed all that.

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Israel's Controversial Palestinian Policy Polarizes American Jewish Community

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. Follow RD on Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.

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Christian Megachurch in Foreclosure After Preacher Paid Himself Millions in Donated Cash

A headline caught my eye this morning: “Indiana’s Largest Megachurch Faces New Foreclosure Proceedings.” It made me think of Steve Munsey, an Indiana prosperity preacher I watched in a Decatur, Georgia television studio in 2007, pleading for audience members and viewers to give their money to the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

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Is America Losing Its Religion?

Last weekend, hundreds of conservative churches participated in "Pulpit Freedom Sunday", during which pastors preached about electoral politics and sent recordings of their sermons to the Internal Revenue Service. It's a provocation: these pastors and their legal counsel hope to challenge the rarely-enforced IRS rule prohibiting candidate endorsements by tax-exempt organizations, including houses of worship, and take it all the way to the US supreme court.

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How Long Can Romney Keep Quiet About His Mormonism While He Panders to Evangelicals?

At first blush, Mitt Romney’s reluctance to talk about his faith might seem like a positive development to any supporter of secularism in presidential politics. But he’s only tight-lipped about his Mormonism, not about religious right causes, which he is more than happy to take up. Even when the teachings of his own faith intersect, quite neatly on matters of sex and gender in particular, with the theo-politics of the Republican Party, he’s more likely to defend the Catholic Church than his own. If the past is any guide, at his upcoming commencement address at Liberty University, he’s more likely to invokethe religious right’s “Christian nation” mythology than to talk about Mormon values.

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Right-Wing End-Times Theology and the Politics of the Antichrist Smear

 Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, a 21-year-old from Idaho Falls, Idaho, was charged this week with attempting to assassinate Barack Obama by firing rifle shots at the presidential residence at the White House. The president, Ortega-Hernandez reportedly maintained, is the Antichrist.

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Inside the Right-Wing Christian Law School That Brought Us Michele Bachmann

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter here.

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Why Sarah Palin Will Never Lead the Religious Right

To the Republican base, Sarah Palin represents many things: a trailblazer for female candidates, a "pro-life" stalwart, a devoted mother, an athletic superstar, a moose hunter extraordinaire and a stylish crowd-pleaser unafraid to speak her conservative mind.

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Actor Stephen Baldwin Takes Christian Indoctrination to the Xtreme

VIDEO AT END OF ARTICLE

Actor Stephen Baldwin has a message for the millennial generation: Jesus is cool, Jesus is rad, Jesus will kick your butt, Jesus will help you kick the butts of secular liberals. Yet while Baldwin seeks to be the hip new face of evangelicalism, promoting the Jesus of skateboarders and cool kids, beneath his radical chic is the ideology of the old men behind the Cold War-era John Birch Society and Christian Crusade.

Together with Christian activist and radio host Kevin McCullough, Baldwin launched a youth-targeted for-profit Christian media company, Xtreme Media, LLC, and the radio program Xtreme Radio with Stephen Baldwin and Kevin McCullough. The aim of Xtreme Media, according to Baldwin, is to create "a content reality we want to utilize to fire up the conservative movement to stand up and push back louder and more ferociously."

Addressing a 2008 religious-right conference, the annual Values Voter Summit sponsored by FRC Action, Baldwin -- the baby of the Baldwin brothers acting family first put on the Hollywood map by brother Alec -- explained that he uses "extreme sports" to recruit young evangelicals "because I believe the way to ensure a better America in the future is make more Christians." At religious right conferences across the nation, Baldwin struts before young and not-so-young audiences, deploying his uber-masculine Christianity as a rebuke to the Hollywood liberals he claims are ruining America.

"We are the hands of the Lord Jesus in this realm," he told the Values Voters. "And I don't know about you -- I'm not tryin' to be dramatic -- I'm puttin' some boxing gloves on mine."

Packaging Paranoia for a New Generation

While Baldwin is the better-known face of Xtreme Media, Kevin McCullough is the brains behind the enterprise, as Baldwin readily admits. Clad in jeans, a backwards baseball cap and sunglasses, McCullough strutted through the XPAC lounge at last month's Conservative Political Action Conference, where a few dozen young people mingled in conversational groupings of sofas and arm chairs. Others played video games -- Guitar Hero, XBox and Wii were all available -- or took advantage of the "blazing fast" wi-fi. The CPAC crowd included a sizable contingent of younger activists, thanks to the heavily subsidized $25 admission fee for college students (compared to $175 for everybody else).

McCullough, who Baldwin says inspired him to become a Christian, is a celebrity in his own right within his own sphere. A prolific writer and sought-after speaker on the Christian right and Tea Party circuits, his radio show, now co-hosted with Baldwin, is syndicated by Fox News Radio, the American Family Association and Christian media giant Salem Communications, which also owns Townhall.com, where McCullough blogs. (Just before CPAC, Salem acquired HotAir.com from Michelle Malkin.) McCullough is also a Fox News contributor, and was a keynote speaker at the 9/12 Tea Party march on Washington. He is the author of two books, MuscleHead Revolution: Overturning Liberalism with Commonsense Thinking and The Kind of Man Every Man Should Be: Taking a Stand for True Masculinity.

In the XPAC lounge -- a made-over meeting room in Washington, D.C.'s Marriott Wardman-Park hotel, where CPAC took place -- McCullough told me that he and Baldwin hatched the idea for XPAC "on the back of a napkin" at last year's CPAC. "[In] about five minutes," he said, "we drew up the whole concept." The concept being a place for CPAC attendees under 30 to get "plugged in and have some fun." And, apparently, to get some "worldview" education in the process.

McCullough's outreach to millennials at CPAC demonstrates how Christian right education organizations, particularly XPAC cosponsor Summit Ministries, have created generations of warriors against the "worldviews" of communism, socialism and secular humanism that compete, they say, against a "biblical Christian worldview." Summit offers conferences to high school and college students "to counteract the alarming trend" of Christian youth "adopting the false humanistic philosophies of our day," as described in its promotional DVD distributed in the XPAC lounge. McCullough, who speaks at Summit's youth-focused conferences, personally solicited Summit's sponsorship of the XPAC lounge, according to John Stonestreet, Summit's executive director.

The "worldview" education plied by Summit does more than produce Christian right activists; as the conservative movement becomes more radicalized, this training also dovetails with the rhetoric of the Tea Party movement and its allied agitators. Rev. David Noebel, who founded the Manitou Springs, Colorado-based Summit Ministries in 1962, has a long history as an anti-communist propagandist, launching his career with Rev. Billy James Hargis' Christian Crusade, conceived by Hargis as a "Christian weapon against Communism and its godless allies," and which had close ties with the John Birch Society. Noebel was a member of the society until at least 1987, according to Jean Hardisty, founder of Political Research Associates, a think tank that monitors right-wing movements.

Once regarded as a relic of anti-Communist paranoia, the John Birch Society has enjoyed a resurgence since the election of Barack Obama, resurfacing as a cosponsor of this year's CPAC. In its heyday during the 1950s and '60s, the Birch Society advanced the idea that water fluoridation was communist plot, opposed the use of federal law enforcement to enforce civil rights statutes and spread rumors of a worldwide Jewish banking conspiracy. Birch Society founder Robert Welch, who keynoted Christian Crusade events in the 1960s, contended in the 1950s that President Eisenhower was an agent of the "communist conspiracy," which he claimed reached "into all of the legislative halls, all of the union labor meetings, a majority of the religious gatherings, and most of the schools of the whole world."

Today, the Birch Society advocates "a strong belief in personal freedom and limited government, plus a sense of duty," according to its Web site. Although the society refuses to release membership numbers, its leaders claim that "tens of thousands" belong to Birch Society chapters.

On a recent edition of the webcast, "Worldview Matters," Noebel gave a long explanation of why he believes Barack Obama to be a "Fabian socialist," an assertion that echoes the Birch Society's conspiracy theory about Eisenhower.

McCullough, who speaks at Summit's youth-focused conferences, also promotes the canard of Obama's alleged socialism, attacking the "wickedness" of his "worldview," and insisting that Obama's worldview does "not espouse any form of Christianity."

In Christian right circles, Noebel, like Tim LaHaye, co-author of the best-selling Left Behind post-apocalyptic fiction series (and with whom Noebel coauthored the 2000 book, Mind Siege: The Battle for Truth in the New Millennium), represents an apocalyptic strain of evangelicalism, relying heavily on conspiracy theories about Satanic forces in conflict with Christian values. Noebel, LaHaye and leaders of the Birch Society "present a package of ideas that are taken quite seriously. The leadership [of the Christian right conservative movement] often believes it but knows better than to admit it," said Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates.

Noebel did not respond to an interview request.

A Worldview of Trouble

Summit Ministries' core program is its two-week "worldview" training for 16- to 25-year-olds, which Noebel has described as preparing "the next generation for Christian leadership" because it is "hard to keep Christian leaders if we keep losing them at universities" where there is "a tremendous struggle for their hearts and minds and very being."

The aim of worldview education is to undermine public education and academia, and Summit and McCullough -- like the broader conservative movement -- portray academia as a den of hedonistic liberals bent on discriminating against red-blooded American Christians. High school and college students attend two-week long Summit conferences "to help train them in dealing with the world of ideas before they go to college -- especially those that attack the Christian worldview in particular," Summit's John Stonestreet told me. "We just find it's extremely difficult to be a conservative, really difficult to be a Christian conservative in the university."

He added, "One of the worst barriers to real education is this idea of tolerance, that the best thing you can do is not offend someone. The fact of the matter is that truth does offend."

Praise is heaped upon Summit by Christian right leaders like Chuck Colson, James Dobson and Rod Parsley, who relied heavily on Noebel's writings in his 2007 New York Times bestseller, Culturally Incorrect: How Clashing Worldviews Affect Your Future. Dobson, who sent his son Ryan to Summit at age 17, credits Noebel as "the man who perhaps is most responsible for Ryan's development as a cultural warrior, except his dad, of course." Ryan Dobson also teaches at Summit, and has called his experience there "the best thing that ever happened to me" because "it gives you power."

Currently, according to Stonestreet, Summit is working with the Christian right legal powerhouse Alliance Defense Fund on its Speak Up project, which aims to confront "pervasive" and "illegal discrimination against Christians" on college campuses. "The battle of ideas is really the battle over definitions," Stonestreet told me. "That's what worldviews do, worldviews redefine words."

Noebel's seminal textbook, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today's Competing Worldviews, as well as Summit's related teaching materials, are widely used in Christian academies and homeschool curricula. He argues that his teachings shape the belief system of young Christians so they can "participate in the great collision of worldviews in the twenty-first century." Noebel maintains that abandoning the only true worldview, biblical Christianity, "has dire consequences" for society.

Even as religious right organizations like Focus on the Family attempt to portray themselves as less divisive than the old guard of the religious right -- an effort that is belied by their own actions and public pronouncements -- conservatives are tapping into the same paranoia and panics upon which Noebel built his career. Little known outside Christian right circles, Noebel has deeply influenced the religious right in a way that makes activists receptive and responsive to the rhetoric of the Tea Party movement.

"If you raise a whole generation of conservative Christians on a textbook that basically says there is a struggle between biblical Christianity and Marxism-Leninism-secular-humanism, and only option one is proper," said Berlet, "you are going to end up with the political situation we have: It's produced a whole network of grassroots organizations populated by people who really believe it and are really urging Republicans to stand up against Marxism, Leninism, secular humanism and the Satanic new world order."

The Roots of the Xtreme Worldview

Noebel cut his teeth as a Christian right activist in the 1960s as an organizer for Billy James Hargis' Christian Crusade.

In 1961, the New York Times reported that Hargis planned a "secret fraternity" with other right-wing organizations and members of Congress "to coordinate their anti-communist efforts," including a proposal by South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, then a Democrat, to outlaw the Communist Party. Over the course of his career, Hargis took aim at targets as disparate as the National Council of Churches and Henry Kissinger (referred to as a "mystery man of power" in an undated fundraising letter contained in the Christian Crusade FBI file), accusing them of being communist agents.

The following year, speaking at the Christian Crusade convention, Hargis unleashed a tirade against the "Liberal Establishment," which he called the "greatest threat to freedom, New Testament Christianity, and constitutional government," and which he claimed "works feverishly to enslave us all." At that convention, Hargis revealed plans for a "Christian Crusade Anti-Communist Youth University to train people to fight communism," located at the foot of Pikes Peak -- the current location of Summit.

In 1974, Noebel forced Hargis out of American Christian College -- the predecessor organization to Summit -- after revelations that Hargis had sex with male and female students. Before his ouster, though, Hargis had been a notable player in merging anti-communist extremism with a right-wing Christianist movement, thus playing a largely unrecognized role as a harbinger of the religious right. (The scandal, reported in Time magazine, made Hargis a sort of Ted Haggard of his time.)

Throughout his career, Noebel has engaged in conspiracy-theorizing about communism, homosexuality and rock music. His pamphlets, "Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles" and "Marxist Minstrels" argued that rock music was a secret communist plan to make teenagers mentally retarded. In the Beatles pamphlet, published by Christian Crusade in 1965, Noebel urged readers to "throw your Beatle and rock and roll records in the city dump. We have been unashamed of being labeled a Christian nation; let's make sure four mop-headed anti-Christ beatniks don't destroy our children's emotional and mental stability and ultimately destroy our nation as Plato warned in his Republic."

Now, instead of taking popular culture head-on, it seems that Noebel, through Summit's alliance with Xtreme Media, is gambling on the Baldwin-McCullough formula of bending the trends popular among the young for use as weapons in the old battle against "secular humanism."

A Chip on the Shoulders of Some Christian Soldiers

Fifty years ago, said Berlet, "in order to gain control of the Republican Party, conservatives first had to get rid of the John Birch Society because of their apocalyptic conspiracy theories." Now, he added, Buckley-style conservatism "has been overthrown in a rebellion of apocalyptic conspiracy theorists who can't tell the difference between a centrist Democrat and Stalin."

Hargis and his ilk were the very extremists forced out of the conservative movement by William F. Buckley in the 1960s. But more than two decades after the fall of communism, that sort of conspiracy-minded agitation, which fuels birtherism -- the false assertion that President Obama wasn't born in the U.S. -- and propaganda claims that Obama is a secret Muslim or that the Democratic Party is socialist, has been seeing a resurgence through Tea Partiers and at CPAC.

After this year's CPAC, William F. Jasper, writing in the Birch Society magazine, The New American, ridiculed the conference's old establishment, singling out "the Bush-Cheney wing of the Republican Party and the neoconservative scribblers at National Review" and "Buckley and his 'well-fed Right' at National Review [who] would go on to suppress, mutilate, ignore, and humiliate many of the leaders and luminaries of the conservative movement, betraying many who had befriended and helped them," including, according to Jasper, JBS founder Welch and MSNBC pundit and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.

Last year, Noebel, along with Birch Society Chairman John McManus, spoke at the 35th anniversary celebration of the Conservative Caucus, the far-right advocacy group founded by Howard Phillips, a major architect of the religious right. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Conservative Caucus helped orchestrate and perpetuate the smear campaigns claiming Barack Obama was anti-American, Muslim and socialist. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex. -- who won this year's CPAC presidential straw poll -- was the keynote speaker.

In a March 2009 article, "The Socialization of America," Noebel's red-baiting rant echoed his old anti-communist agitating, updated for the Tea Party era. Insisting that Keynesian economics amounted to socialism, Noebel maintained that the House of Representatives "crawls with a large, well-organized assembly of socialist organizations." Calling the interconnections between the AFL-CIO, the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus "staggering," Noebel concluded, "These organizations and their members quite literally comprise a Socialist Red Army within the very contours of the House of Representatives."

Still, Berlet cautions against dismissing Noebel and his allies as crackpots. "These are not dumb people," he told me. "They are highly motivated and well-read."

Get The Hell Out of the Way!

Without using the word "worldview" in his speech to CPAC, McCullough cast the challenge facing conservatives under 30 as "the most demanding philosophical challenge that has been asked of a generation of their age. Unfortunately, the enemy that they must fight is a philosophical one that has educated our children in public schools, that has taken over the college classrooms, that has passed law after law in our legislatures."

The speech was a call to arms for under-30 conservatives to overthrow the older generation of conservatives that had failed to win the "fight [that] is the greatest of our lifetime for the principles that made America uniquely American."

Mocking Washington political operatives for their "mediocre existence in public policy," rather than engaging in that "philosophical" battle, McCullough commanded the CPAC audience to let the under-30 conservatives take the reigns from the CPAC elders. "Get with them, encourage them, empower them," he barked, "or get the hell out of the way!"


WATCH SARAH POSNER DISCUSS THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT WITH ED KILGORE ON BLOGGING HEADS TV



Gingrich Reinvents Himself in the Virtual Reality World

Newt Gingrich has had at least nine lives so far. In just the last two decades, he's been a professor, fancied himself a revolutionary, and, while third in line to be leader of the free world, was an adulterer, moralizing hypocrite and partisan witch hunter. Then he became the former House speaker who was run out of town in disgrace and reinvented himself as a partisan gasbag posing as a nonpartisan do-gooder while bloviating for the most partisan network in America. And then, on top of all that, he very predictably came to Jesus.

But this past weekend, it was the "virtual" incarnation of Newt that was on display. Just days before it turned out that another manifestation -- Gingrich the presidential candidate -- was but a flicker that would fail to light the way for a fractured conservative movement, Gingrich's avatar was making an exclusive appearance in the virtual reality world called Second Life. Like in Gingrich's real life, he was confronted by hecklers and naked women. Gingrich looked right past them and extolled the virtues of political discourse in the "metaverse." On its own news network, Second Life reported that he called the virtual world "part of the solution."

It was all part of last weekend's launch of workshops for his new brainchild, the web-based American Solutions, a project which Gingrich claims is a nonpartisan, interactive way of forging citizen involvement in solving the country's most pressing problems. Like everything Newt, this venture is not exactly as advertised and consists mostly of empty rhetoric dredged from the conservative dustbin, like Social Security privatization and half-baked schemes to abolish the Internal Revenue Service. The whole effort was best summed up by the slogan from Gingrich's book, itself inanely titled Winning the Future. "Real Change Requires Real Change," is the header for the introduction of the book, and Gingrich hauled it out as PR for the American Solutions launch as well.

One of the most amusing features of the Americans Solutions site is the compulsive use of the dot. "Solutions" are not just solutions but ".Solutions." There is not just media coverage of the project, but ".Media." But .Newt is still Newt, and there's not much new here except that he's joined the rest of us in using the internet.

While the American Solutions launch, held at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta and broadcast on satellite television and the web, presented a sprinkling of centrist Democrats, like former Clinton adviser Elaine Karmack and former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, many of the speakers were hyperpartisan stalwarts of the conservative movement. David Barton, the Christian right activist, revisionist historian, and GOP consultant, who, as vice-chair of the Texas Republican Party, had language included in the party plank that defined America as a "Christian nation," spoke on "Rediscovering God in America." Neal Boortz, the conservative talk radio host, spoke on abolishing the IRS, as did former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who has a flair for embracing the Christian right while avoiding the use of its most venomous rhetoric, spoke on enhancing education through art and music. Sean Hannity also broadcast his radio show from the event.

Some of the workshop leader choices were downright baffling, like former CIA director Porter Goss, who led a workshop titled "Defending America Requires Fixing Our Intelligence System." What's next, Erik Prince advising Gingrich's anti-government devotees on how to privatize the military?

Given Prince's family ties to financing the Christian right, his presence might dovetail with some of the proposed .Solutions focused on Barton's "Christian nation." One of the .WildWestWikiSolutions (so titled, presumably, because anyone can edit them and not, presumably, because they are "wild" as in "crazy") is "Make Christianity More Attractive than Liberalism." One of its prescriptions included a proposal that America work toward realizing "the most important project in the world, the [book of Revelation] 12:5 manchild . . . . [This] means all material works of man, including the great pyramids and great wall, will be burned. The only thing to make it from this heaven and earth to the new is the New Jerusalem built in heaven by the manchild, making the manchild the most important project, building a body of overcomers which not only follow Jesus but become like Jesus as much as possible." This .Solution, fortunately, has only one .SolutionMember, other than the .SolutionOwner, someone named Kirk, who also authored a .Solution called "Robots Can Empower Utopia."

While the .WildWestWikiSolutions might represent the fringe of Gingrich's virtual revolution, .Editors'Picks were largely focused on issues of xenophobia and nationalism, like making English the official government language and border security; the ever-dreaded taxes; and rejecting government reforms, like the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform and the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate disclosure requirements. They included proposals to "protect" the Constitution by ensuring that residents of the District of Columbia and U.S. territories like Guam and America Samoa are not granted voting rights and to ensure that courts guarantee the "right of every American to publicly acknowledge our Creator" in the pledge of allegiance. Although "limited government" continues to be a Gingrich catch phrase, not a single .Solution addressed our government's seemingly limitless appetite to spend billions to prolong the Iraq war.

Gingrich might see his new project as a conservative answer to web-fired progressive organizations like Moveon.org, which also solicits grassroots ideas for policy prescriptions and reform. But unlike its progressive counterparts, which seek to enhance checks and balances and therefore ensure oversight and accountability, Gingrich's .Solutions are based on that conservative fundamental principle that government is inherently incompetent and untrustworthy, except when controlled by conservatives. For the majority of Americans who want to end the Iraq war, and for Americans who are appalled by six and a half years of living in a banana republic and who want light shed on warrantless surveillance, torture, and military privatization run amok, Gingrich's .Solutions don't offer any answers. For us, Gingrich really is living in a virtual reality.

Joe Lieberman Defends Speech to Fundamentalist Christian War-mongers

In his Salon interview with Walter Shapiro this morning, Joe Lieberman defends his speech to Christians United for Israel last month. The goods:

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Religious Right Warmonger Claims to Speak for Most Evangelicals

This post was written by Sarah Posner

Liberal and moderate evangelicals are standing up to the fundamentalist rhetoric of Christians United for Israel and its leader, John Hagee. After thousands of CUFI supporters descended on Washington last month, with the message to their members of Congress that Israel should never be pressured to give up land to the Palestinians, Evangelicals for Social Action wrote a letter to President Bush, countering Hagee's claim to represent the majority of American evangelicals. The majority of American evangelicals, says the group's leader, Rev. Ronald Sider, favor a two-state solution.

Today the BBC/Public Radio program "The World" took a look at the issue - as well as a look at whether the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's embrace of Hagee represents the view of most American Jews. I participated in the discussion, and you can listen to it here.

Not surprisingly, Hagee disingenuously maintained that the end of days scenario has nothing to do with his support of Israel, and (apparently with a complete absence of self-awareness) accused Jewish critics of "fear-mongering." He also claimed to not rule out support for a two-state solution, but of course that, along with his insistence that Armageddon is of no relevance to his policy position, is flatly contradicted by his prolific writings, sermons preached to his congregation, and the entire tenor of the CUFI summit.

An Army of Christian Right Lawyers Is Waging War on the Constitution

On a dismal, rainy afternoon, over tea and Pepsi and a plate of fries at the Bob Evans restaurant in Cannonsburg, Kentucky, Bill Scaggs, a retired government and public-relations executive of ARMCO Steel, told me why he thinks that homosexuality is the greatest threat to America. "AIDS kills," was his circa 1984 answer, "and the most common way to pass that on of course is from homosexual contact." His voice cracking with indignation, Scaggs added that he refuses to use the word gay. "It's homosexual, or worse," he says. "Gay is in our Kentucky song! They took it away and trampled on it. We want it back."

Scaggs is a board member of Defenders Voice, a local organization formed two years ago by a group of ministers and their followers who fought the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Boyd County High School, just up the road from where we sat. Located on a stretch of state highway dotted with churches, dollar stores, payday lenders, and a drive-through cigarette store, the high school had become a place where anti-gay harassment had become an everyday occurrence.

Most of the time, student organizers of the Boyd County GSA said, the basis for the harassment was religious. One of the organizers, Libby Fugett, said that "most of the people at school, even the younger people, who would call us names at school, they would cuss at us; they would say, You f'ing fag, you're going to hell. . . . They just think it's excusable because their religion backs it up. And that was a really big part of it. It's okay for them to sin against us because we're sinners."

Leading the charge against the GSA were ministers, led by the Rev. Tim York, who said they "believe the Bible to be the word of God; we believe that homosexuality is a sin." (In 2004, York, who is now the pastor of a church in Nashville, ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Kentucky Senate on an anti-gay-marriage platform, with backing from the state and national Republican parties.) York and his followers exerted such intense pressure on school officials that it influenced their decision on the GSA, ultimately forcing the students to sue the school system in order have the GSA recognized.

To settle the case, the school district agreed to conduct mandatory anti-harassment training for all students. Although the training consisted of just a one-hour video once a year, York was intent on preventing students from seeing what he considered "indoctrination [into the] homosexual lifestyle . . . indoctrination to tear down the Christian view that homosexuality is wrong. It is reverse discrimination, is what it is." The minister-led group circulated opt-out forms in an effort to exempt students from watching the video, but the forms were not legally binding. York, his followers, and some parents wanted to exempt Christian students, legally, from watching the court-ordered anti-harassment video. To vindicate what he believed to be their legal rights, York knew exactly where to turn for help: the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).

THE O'REILLY FACTOR

If Bill O'Reilly had a hero other than himself, it would be ADF and its courtroom crusaders lined up to fight the ACLU, Nickelodeon's homosexual agenda, and heathens who are hell-bent on censoring the words "Merry Christmas." ADF's president, Alan Sears, a former Reagan administration prosecutor who, according to the ADF's website, "God uniquely prepared" for his lead role in the organization, admits to being inspired by the right-wing commentator O'Reilly--hardly known for his jurisprudential acuity--to write portions of his book, The ACLU vs. America.

In the first chapter, Sears maintains that "from the very start, the ACLU wanted to destroy from within the America our founders intended." As proof of the ACLU's supposed anti-American, anti-Christian agenda, Sears fingers ACLU founder Roger Baldwin as an "agnostic and socialist who demonstrated Communist leanings"; Baldwin was moreover a friend of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, whom Sears calls a "eugenicist who . . . establish[ed] the early link between the ACLU and abortionists." Before the reader has turned even ten pages, Sears has established that only ADF's godly legal services can save the country from the havoc the ACLU has wreaked on its justice system and culture.

While the ACLU gained its reputation by winning cases, ADF's reputation--and fund-raising spigot--preceded its first court case. Created just 13 years ago with the support of such Christian Right powerhouses as James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, and Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, it is today the nation's leading Christian Right legal organization. Through its National Litigation Academy, ADF has trained more than 900 lawyers, who commit themselves to performing 450 hours of pro bono legal work "on behalf of the body of Christ." It doles out millions of dollars a year to other Christian Right organizations--many of which are already well endowed--to cover attorneys' fees and costs.

Its three principal goals are protecting the "sanctity of human life" (through litigating cases relating to abortion and end-of-life issues); promoting the "traditional family" (via cases concerning gay marriage and adoption); and ensuring the "religious freedom" of Christians (by portraying them as victims of discrimination on the part of those who seek to silence their ability to "speak the Truth" by preaching the Gospel). Using the propaganda machinery of conservative media outlets and churches, ADF has created a zeitgeist of Christian victimhood among people like Rev. York, who believes Christian students are the victims in Boyd County, and who has long admired ADF's "fight with the ACLU to protect Christian freedom and Christian liberty."

Last year, ADF received over $21 million in individual and foundation funding. Some of the major donors include the Covenant Foundation, financed by the "Granddaddy" of the Texas Christian Right, business mogul James Leininger; various members of the Amway-Prince Automotive empire, including the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, whose vice president, Erik Prince (Edgar and Elsa's son, and brother of Betsy DeVos, wife of the Amway magnate, right-wing financier, and unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard DeVos), founded the Blackwater USA military-security firm; and the Bolthouse Foundation, which is underwritten chiefly with profits from Bolthouse Farms, a family-run California company whose products are often seen at organic markets and Whole Foods. Bolthouse requires recipients of its grants to pledge adherence to a statement of faith that includes the declaration that "man was created by a direct act of God in His image, not from previously existing creatures" and a belief in "the everlasting blessedness of the saved and the everlasting punishment of the lost."

SCHOOLHOUSE "DAYS"

Public high schools--where, as a result of a Vietnam-era case, public school officials can curtail student speech in the interest of preventing disturbances or infringement of the rights of other students--have become one of ADF's principal battlegrounds. Right now, it is gearing up for its annual Day of Truth, scheduled for April 19, which ADF has sponsored since 2005 in response to the nationwide Day of Silence, intended to promote tolerance of LGBT students at public high schools. Last year, ADF claimed that students at 700 high schools participated in its organized effort "to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective." Each year, only a handful of ADF's longed-for federal cases emerge. But when they do, ADF makes a public relations spectacle out of them.

ADF recognizes that sometimes strange bedfellows--even the ACLU--can help its divine cause on behalf of the free-speech rights of America's public high schoolers. It recently sided with its arch-enemy (and against the Bush administration) in a Supreme Court case in which an Alaska high school student charged that his First Amendment rights were violated when school officials forced him to take down a sign reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus." The student, Joseph Frederick, admitted that he designed the sign "to be meaningless and funny, in order to get on television" as the Olympic torch passed through his home town of Juneau in 2002. And even though Frederick's cause had nothing to do with Jesus (and even implicated the Savior in the defiled culture that ADF disdains), ADF has an interest in continuing to shape Supreme Court precedent, an effort it began with its first landmark case 12 years ago and that has been aided by a judiciary increasingly friendly to its views. ADF's legacy in these cases has been to elevate the First Amendment's free speech clause over its Establishment Clause, which separates church and state, and thereby to promote religious speech--even proselytizing speechin the nation's public schools.

In that first landmark case, Rosenberger vs. The Regents of the University of Virginia, ADF represented a student challenging the university's policy of not funding religious student groups through the same student activity fees that funded secular clubs. The Supreme Court deviated from its precedents and based its decision not on the Establishment Clause--which prohibits a state institution like the University of Virginia from endorsing or appearing to endorse a particular religion--but on ADF's theory of "viewpoint discrimination."

In other words, ADF convinced the Court that instead of determining whether the school's funding of religious clubs would be, or would appear to be, an endorsement of a particular religion, it should decide whether or not funding religious groups "discriminated" against them based on their religion. And discrimination is present, the Court reasoned, if the school funded secular clubs but not religious ones.

Rosenberger, then, not only began to bring down the Christian Right's dreaded "wall of separation" between government and religious activities, but elevated ADF's mythology of the victimized Christian to a legal precedent. The case, says Marci Hamilton, professor of constitutional law at Cardozo Law School and author of the book God Versus the Gavel, represented a "fork in the road" in Establishment Clause jurisprudence. "When framed as a viewpoint discrimination issue," Hamilton adds, "it was going to be very hard for the university to win. . . . the word discrimination is so freighted in our culture with negatives that the minute that viewpoint discrimination was on the table, it was really the end."

The Court reiterated its reasoning and applied it to the nation's public elementary schools in a 2001 decision in an ADF-funded case, in which it forced the Milford Central School District in upstate New York to change its policy of prohibiting religious clubs from using its facilities for after-school meetings. Although the Good News Club, one of thousands sponsored nationwide by the Child Evangelism Fellowship, proselytizes to children, under Rosenberger, the school's denial of its use of school facilities to the religious clubs, when it allowed secular clubs to use them, again constituted "viewpoint discrimination." The Court rejected the school's claim that it had to exclude the religious club in order to comply with the Establishment Clause.

According to Hamilton, in "viewpoint discrimination" cases, the plaintiffs need only claim discrimination, without any actual proof, to prevail on their assertion that they were illegally prevented from using school resources for religious activities. Compared with other civil rights law, said Hamilton, "it's like living with Alice in Wonderland."

These cases have become not only the chief legal weapon in ADF's arsenal but also the organizing principle for all its fund-raising, public relations, and propaganda. ADF attorney Mike Johnson summed up his organization's position when he said, "What we're seeing in more and more cases is a discrimination against particular viewpoints, even outright hostility sometimes, against . . . kids who hold a Christian kind of world view who want to share Christian viewpoints or speech on campus, and they're being discriminated against because some people see that as intolerant, or however they characterize it."

"BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN IS IN"

Over the past several years, ADF has seized on "viewpoint discrimination" to put the gay rights movement in its cross hairs. Gay rights, in ADF's view, cannot coexist with its version of Christianity. Anti-harassment codes at schools and universities, gay rights events, and other expressions of freedom or equal rights for LGBT people, necessarily silence Christians, who, ADF insists, are biblically compelled to condemn homosexuality. The "homosexual agenda," then, is ipso facto anti-Christian. Alan Sears, ADF's president, told the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit last fall that "the homosexual agenda and religious freedom are on a collision course." He scoffed at what he called "propaganda about so-called oppression" of gays, countering that the "homosexual agenda" not only seeks to silence religious speech but it "probably includes the abolition of marriage."

Shortly before the Supreme Court heard arguments in the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case, it had agreed to hear ADF's appeal of another case, one in which a San Diego student, Chase Harper, who participated in the first Day of Truth, claimed that his school prevented him from wearing a T-shirt that read "Be ashamed, our school has embraced what god has condemned" on the front, and "Homosexuality is shameful, Romans 1:27" on the back. After a federal appeals court for the Ninth Circuit (the Christian Right's bogeyman of the judiciary) ruled last year that the school could constitutionally restrain Harper from wearing the shirt in the interest of protecting the rights of other students, ADF issued a press release complaining that the opinion "implied that Brokeback Mountain is in, and the Bible is out."

Back in Boyd County, Kentucky, ADF lost its attempt to exempt its clients from the mandatory training, and is now appealing. Kevin Theriot, ADF's senior legal counsel, says the training video--which he hasn't seen--is trying "change the belief systems of religious students." In fact, the video, which is publicly available, acknowledges that "your religious beliefs are sacred and we're not trying to influence those," and "you have the right to express your beliefs" that "homosexuality is wrong" without harassing another student.

Despite ADF's ongoing litigation, the percentage of students viewing the video has steadily increased since 2004, when barely half the students watched it, to over 87 percent. But there is no longer a GSA at Boyd County High School, which to Bill Scaggs proves that it was just a "flash in the pan," failing to see that his organization intimidated the club out of existence. As William Carter, a Boyd County High School graduate whose efforts to start the GSA resulted in years of personal upheaval and entanglement in lawsuits, said, "Who wants to join a club where you would have to explain to your parents, you know, I'm going to be involved in a federal lawsuit because I'm going to be in a club or someone hit me in the head with a can of pop, or someone's going to kill me? No one's going to do that. It's high school."

The Nation Institute Investigative Fund provided research support for this article.

The Goy Who Cried Wolf

This article is reprinted from the American Prospect.

Delegates at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference were treated to an air-brushed John Hagee last night, primed with his most innocuous talking points and stripped of his most outlandish Armageddon rhetoric. Hagee, the founder of the America's leading Christian Zionist lobby, Christians United for Israel, left his clumsy exegeses of Biblical prophecy back home in San Antonio. He is well-versed in bringing an audience of several thousand people to its feet, and he knew he didn't need his slide show of mushroom clouds and world-ending wars to work this crowd.


Hagee's set-up man was the historian Michael Oren, who recited the history of restorationism, a Protestant movement dating back to the first settlers at Plymouth Rock that sought to return the Jews to Palestine and create a Jewish state. In Oren's telling, you would have thought that before Mearsheimer, Walt, and Carter came along, Jews and American Christians had spent the last several centuries in an idyllic, carefree frolic together, and that George W. Bush's forebearers were Jew-loving Zionists rather than arms-dealing tycoons so intent on consolidating power that they were willing to transact business with the Nazis. The placement of Oren's speech laid the groundwork for Hagee by insinuating that the war-mongering fundamentalist is nothing more than an innocuous heir to a quintessentially American love-fest between apocalyptic Christians and displaced Jews.


In anticipation of Hagee's appearance at AIPAC's conference, there has been much discussion about whether Hagee is actually an anti-Semite who blames Jews for the Holocaust yet anticipates their conversion at the Second Coming -- and another debate over whether it's actually good for Israel or the world's Jews when groups like AIPAC ally themselves with him. But judging from the crowd's reaction, and that of delegates I spoke with afterwards, none of that mattered. Like other Jewish leaders I've talked to about Hagee, the attitude is simply that Israel has very few friends, and it needs all the friends it can get. If Hagee is willing to mobilize hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of conservative Christians to the cause, then they're willing to overlook his eagerness for the Second Coming (when we'll all become Christians), because it's just a silly fantasy that won't come to pass, anyway.



Had Hagee come to Washington with his usual spiel, perhaps these delegates would have been mortified to learn that Hagee calls the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah "the Prophecy of the Trumpets," and says it represents the regathering of the church in anticipation of the Second Coming. He says the feast of Sukkot is significant because it will be the time of the Second Coming, and that the tallis, the Jewish prayer shawl, is a clear indication that there will be a Second Coming. You see, says Hagee, Jesus would not have left his tallis neatly folded up when he went off to his crucifixion if he didn't have plans to come back.


Perhaps the AIPAC crowd would have dismissed all these strange distortions of their faith as an amusing but largely irrelevant sideshow to their single-minded mission of making more friends. But they never had to confront the issue because Hagee's speech was stripped of the most damning details.


Whether Hagee is good for Israel is beside the point. The real problem is that he represents a catastrophe for the United States and its standing in the world -- not because he might love the Jews too much, or might in fact secretly hate them, but because he is leading a growing political movement completely lacking in a substantive understanding of world affairs. At a time when the Middle East faces seemingly intractable conflicts with dire geopolitical consequences, the notion that Hagee -- whose status is only elevated by invitations like AIPAC's -- is leading a political movement based on nothing more than a supposedly literal reading of his Bible only reinforces the view that the United States is being led by messianic forces at odds with world peace and stability. Young Americans should have a deeper understanding of Middle East politics in order to fully participate in civic discourse as American troops are fighting a seemingly unending war. But Hagee worries not about troop deployments, instead focusing on teaching the Bible in public schools. While religious fundamentalism is causing untold bloodshed around the world, Hagee frets about secularists who are "destroying America."


When he does speak to actual Middle East politics, it's only to encourage the further destabilization of the region. Hagee has been agitating for a war with Iran for well over a year now, certainly not a single-handed effort on his part, nor one for which he would deserve sole blame should it happen. But if it does happen (and some think it already has begun), Hagee most certainly should be blamed for something else: convincing his minions that war is not only palatable, but required by God.


Hagee's speech, laced with charged comparisons of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to men like Pharaoh, Haman, and Hilter, as well as countless Churchillian references, brought the crowd to its feet. "He's A-OK," said one AIPAC delegate who had never heard of Hagee before, adding that he wanted to get one of Hagee's DVDs for his grandchildren to watch. "I love him," enthused another delegate, a woman who had already learned of CUFI through conservative talk radio and had donated money to the cause. "Who else cares about Israel?"

This article is available on The American Prospect website. © 2007 by The American Prospect, Inc.

Taxpayers continue to fund right-wing meetings to assess presidential candidates

As reported on these pages two years ago, the Council for National Policy is a secretive association of influential ultra-conservatives who get charitable tax breaks for their membership dues and thrice yearly trips to fancy resorts to hobnob with politicians and policymakers. The secrecy surrounding an organization that was the brainchild of end-timers and right-wing financiers is contrary not only to democratic principles generally, but also to the Internal Revenue Code, which requires tax-exempt educational organizations to educate the general public -- in other words, to make its lectures, publications and other materials publicly available.

The luxury resort meetings of the CNP have been reported for several years in the New York Times by David Kirkpatrick, who almost consistently notes the organization's secrecy but not the fact that its members get a tax break despite the fact that they operate in secret. It's a subject worth revisiting (and I don't say this to toot my own horn), because my article exposing the tax-exempt boondoggle was a runner up for one of the top 25 censored stories of 2005. This past Sunday, in a piece entitled Christian Right Labors to Find '08 Candidate, Kirkpatrick grants anonymity to a recent meeting's attendees, and that anonymity was granted based on the internal policy of the CNP -- although contrary to the law -- that it function as a secret organization.

Tax-exempt planes for Church leaders

While the House GOP, the RNC and the Anna Nicole Smith-addled media prattle on about Nancy and the jet, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed an IRS complaint against Brooklyn Park, Minnesota prosperity preacher Mac Hammond. CREW charges Hammond used church funds to buy himself not only a jet airplane, but a stunt airplane as well.

Hammond, some readers might recall, last fall endorsed Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Fool for Christ a.k.a. R-Bush Kissed Me!), which drew the first IRS complaint CREW filed against him for violating the prohibition against clergy endorsing political candidates.

Luxury jets -- often purchased with church funds -- are common among televangelists. Churches receive donations that are tax-exempt to the church and a tax deduction to the donor. So when those funds are used to buy jets for televangelists to fly around in, taxpayers are, in part, footing the bill. Do you hear any Republicans screeching about that?

Can Giuliani Be the Armageddon Candidate?

Glenn Greenwald today challenges the conventional wisdom that Rudy Giuliani's presidential candidacy is a sinker with conservative evangelicals. Greenwald's right about a couple of things: first, that foreign policy, particularly Middle East policy, will be more important to conservative evangelicals in '08 than gay marriage and abortion, and second, that Giuliani's messy personal life, including his divorces and adultery, won't alone doom his candidacy with these voters because . . . ah, well, you know, we all fall. (Even John Hagee, the country's leading Christian Zionist, is divorced.)

Unless Giuliani unequivocally flip-flops (like Mitt Romney has, including vociferous denunciations of the citizens he once served as governor of Massachusetts) from his stance on gay rights, his skeletons won't be his divorces and adultery, but his political views, as evidenced by this or this or this. For these voters, anyone can be a convert, but they have to prove it. Romney's getting there. Giuliani has a long way to go. His favorable remarks about the Supreme Court's most reactionary members -- and his promises to promote more of the same -- won't be enough.

Get Your Mitt Off That Prophecy

It shouldn't come as any surprise that Pat Robertson has issued another loony prediction, this time of "mass killing" of Americans on U.S. soil sometime in 2007. "The Lord didn't say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that," he mused on national television.

Before we get all inflamed about how Robertson represents an entire swath of conservative voters and their wingy leaders, let's remember that in their circles Robertson is yesterday's news. Any homage to Robertson's ability to channel God is entirely ceremonial, and, in fact, largely absent. Robertson is long past his heyday and his ability to rally voters. Sure, people watch the 700 Club (I think). But Robertson has no political sway, outrage over his outrageousness just gives him more attention than is warranted in light of his actual influence.

But Robertson's empire, and the operatives he's cultivated there, is a different matter entirely. So that's why it's noteworthy that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney -- under scrutiny for having once aspired to be to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights but of late has publicly scorned his own Massachusetts as a modern day Sodom -- has reportedly signed up Robertson's protege Jay Sekulow as an advisor to his campaign.

The Judicial Tyranny Sham

Yesterday's Washington Post ran a front page story about how Christian right political groups like Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ALCJ) and Tim LaHaye's Concerned Women for America (CWA) are fretting about losing control of the coveted and conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fourth Circuit represents a fair chunk of Bible Belt territory -- Virginia, Maryland, and North and South Carolina -- and it's been the venue of choice for Kafka-esque quasi-legal proceedings for enemy combatants and other enemies of Truth, Justice and The American Way. The Post piece would have you believe that, notwithstanding Bush's two years remaining in the White House, ALCJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow is actually biting his nails to the quick over this one.

As with most things emanating from Virginia Beach, this is more about posturing than about reality. And in this case, they're posturing for 2008. They think (and of course they might be right) that getting their base jazzed up about crazy judges authorizing beastiality in lieu of school prayers would be the way to make them remember that -- notwithstanding all that war and corruption stuff -- they need to actually go out and vote Republican next time.

Cut and Run at the Department of Homeland Security

With all the Bush Administration bluster about border security, you'd think that keeping track of the comings and goings of non-citizens might be a high priority. But given that FEMA -- which is supposed to be taking care of our own citizens -- can't even develop a computer program to track whether Katrina victims are getting housing assistance, should it be surprising that the Department of Homeland Security has squandered over a billion dollars on the U.S. VISIT program, and then decided to scrap a major part of it?

But that's par for the course for DHS, which bleeds over $10 billion to government contractors a year, when a lot of them just take the money and run. That is, they start the project, and then they throw up their hands and say it can't be done. Screw the public, which is footing the bill without a money-back guarantee. Even if the project is a "top priority", as DHS claims U.S. VISIT is.

DHS has decided that it's just too complicated and expensive to develop the technology to track who's leaving the country (and, in the case of people overstaying their visas, who's not). Now I'm no anti-immigration nut and am certainly not a fan of the biometric technology, like the facial, fingerprint or iris recognition techology that was under consideration for the U.S. VISIT program. But this story really isn't about border security. It's about corruption and our broken government.

Years ago, when U.S. VISIT was first put out to bid, technology experts decried its open-ended contract requirements and its $10 billion price tag (that over 10 years), given that everyone knew the technology just wasn't there to perform magical screenings of eyeballs and cheekbones on such a large scale. Ignoring those protests, the government went ahead and awarded the contract anyway. To an American contractor, Accenture, which is headquartered in Bermuda. So a company which evades paying U.S. income taxes would get paid billions of dollars to track people here illegally. Nothing like having an expert on skirting the law watching out for people who might be skirting the law.

But of course Accenture didn't get the contract because it had a miracle technological fix. It got the contract because it had a well-connected lobbyist and the company and its well-connected lobbyist gave lots of money to politicians. So while a lot of people benefit from legalized bribery and graft -- the lobbyist who got paid by the company, the politicians who got campaign contributions from the company and its lobbyist, and finally, the company that got paid for deciding that the work was too hard -- the Administration got to crow about how it was keeping us safe from illegal immigrants. But in the end, the Administration and its corporate cronies just cut and run.

Jesus at the Movies

Tommy Tenney, a televangelist and author, likes to let his audiences in on a little secret about a new movie based on his novel, Hadassah, a fictionalized account of the Old Testament Book of Esther. Tenney equates the movie, "One Night With the King," with Jesus' parables. It advances an agenda that reveals a hidden truth, even if the audience is unaware of it. As Tenney writes on his website, "'One Night With the King' preaches the Gospel in a subtle and nonconfrontational way. I call it 'sneaky' preaching."

"One Night With the King," which opens today, is a production of Gener8Xion Entertainment, (8X) a media company run by Matt and Laurie Crouch, son and daughter-in-law of Paul and Jan Crouch, the patriarch and matriarch of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the world's largest purveyor of Christian programming. The movie is the first major production to be distributed by Twentieth Century Fox's latest nod to the growing evangelical toehold in Hollywood, its religious distribution label, FoxFaith.

TBN, a 30-year-old network that's expanded along with media technology -- growing from individual local broadcast stations to cable to satellite and the internet -- now has five channels through which it peddles its bizarre mix of prosperity preaching and Biblical prophecy, around the world, every hour of every day. Its programs, in which televangelist hosts plead for money, are often followed by a plea for a "love gift" for Paul and Jan, meaning a donation in exchange for a tchotchke, recently a small bottle of perfumed "anointing oil." TBN, a nonprofit, pays the Crouches nearly $1 million a year in compensation, and its many popular televangelists, such as Rod Parsley, a rising star in the Christian Right, and Armageddon lobbyist John Hagee, also live lavish lifestyles off the donations of their congregations and viewers.

Its televangelists have been subjects of investigations and exposés into scandals over fund-raising and controversial faith-healing practices. And two years ago, Paul Crouch was the subject of a Los Angeles Timesinvestigative series charging that he paid hush money to a former male lover. But none of this has seemed to dampen viewer enthusiasm for TBN, which, through a conglomerate of nonprofit entities, pulls in nearly $300 million in revenue each year. And it certainly hasn't dampened the enthusiasm of the Christian Right, which is jumping right in with TBN in promoting "One Night With the King."

Although the movie, a lavish production filmed on location in India and starring such well-known Hollywood entities as Omar Sharif and Peter O'Toole, may seem on the surface a tale of political intrigue and romance, on TBN and in front of Christian audiences, the filmmakers relentlessly make clear their prophetic intentions. "Your destiny awaits!" proclaims a TBN ticker running across the screen during daily programming. As part of a special "pastors' screening tour" in September, TBN offered pastors' testimonials to the power of the film. "We have been called for a time such as this," said one. The film is "about leading others to the Kingdom," another intoned. The message for the modern audience? One pastor said, "Esther means ... it's time for Christians to stand up and save our nation."

The movie's marketers have somehow reengineered Esther's story to turn an Old Testament legend into a modern proselytizing tool for Christians. In Jewish tradition, Esther is a heroine, the brave queen who risked her favor with the King of Persia to save Jews from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. Her story is celebrated on Purim by eating triangular pastries, wearing costumes, and making a lot of noise. But for evangelicals, Esther's story has long resonated as evidence that God chooses saviors in every generation. When Esther -- who had hidden her Judaism from her husband, the King of Persia -- balked at approaching the king for his intervention to stop his assistant, Haman, from slaughtering the Jews, her cousin Mordecai asked her: "Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" It is those last six words -- "for such a time as this" -- that evangelicals have seized upon in maintaining that God chose Esther, and God can choose you, too. And the movie's promoters are driving home the point that the movie isn't really about Esther saving the Jews, it's about the viewer being saved.

This message wasn't lost on Pastor Jesse Edwards of Pentecostals of Philadelphia, whom I met in Washington at the Family Research Council's Values Voters Summit last month, where some attendees were treated to a screening of the film. Edwards said that while "The Passion of the Christ," to which "One Night's" promoters are comparing the film, was "great for Christians who already knew Jesus," "One Night" is also for people who "haven't made a dedication to Christ." He added "they will when it's over," and called "One Night With the King" "one of the greatest outreach tools of the church in this century."

The movie's promoters are reaching out to three different audiences. One is the believers in Biblical prophecy, who think that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a modern-day Haman. The second audience is women, lured by the fantasies depicted by the film's portrayal of royal pageantry while walking in the kingdom of God. And the third is the misbegotten: "minorities," "orphans," and even foster children, who will, the movie's promoters hope, see a chance for themselves to make their mark by finding Jesus.

The Biblical prophecy audience is often warned of remaining silent -- just as Mordecai warned Esther -- in the face of Ahmadinejad, who is compared to Hitler, the first modern-day Haman. Last month, when Hagee, the televangelist who has been at the forefront of pushing a military confrontation with Iran in order to bring about the Second Coming, hosted the younger Crouches at his church, Matt told his audience, "This isn't really a movie, this is a prophetic statement." Hagee added, "God used this one woman [Esther], just like He can use you, to change the course of human history." Edwards, the Pentecostal preacher from Philadelphia, told me that current events in the Middle East "are setting the stage for Jesus to walk again."

Although the film has experienced a series of production delays, the producers and promoters insist that God himself postponed its release date to coincide with escalating hostility between Iran and Israel and the United States. As Jan Crouch sobbed on "Behind The Scenes" on TBN in September, as she sat stroking a little white dog in her lap:

God saved this movie. We couldn't figure out why it couldn't come out ... and now, right now, just as the King of Iran, the President of Iran, has defied the whole U.N. Why? Because he doesn't like the Jewish people. Is this the most prophetic word? … one little orphan girl changed the course of the whole Israeli-Jewish nation. One can do it. We are one, the Body of Christ. We cannot get the Gospel into the beautiful hearts of those Muslim people until they realize the Jews are not their enemy … They've got to just relax.


For women, the film is presented as a spectacle of pageantry and romance -- you, too, can be a queen if you walk with Jesus. At Hagee's church, the Crouches promoted the film at a commencement ceremony for a King's Daughter conference, which is run by Hagee's wife, Diana. There, Hagee told the audience that Esther "used her beauty" for a divine reason, and that the Book of Esther teaches that "it is your destiny to rule and reign with Jesus Christ." (He later instructed the all-female audience to marry a man who has been saved and has a job to support his wife because wives shouldn't have to support "lazy louts." He bellowed, "If you are dating a non-believer, break up with him as soon as possible!") Tenney told Hagee's audience, "for the Esther that's within you, one encounter with the King of Kings can so change your destiny that you walk in peasantry and you walk out royalty."

At Falwell's Liberty University, the film was shown in conjunction with an Extraordinary Women Conference, run by the Extraordinary Women Association, which teaches women how they can be "the best you can for your family, church, and for God." In a TBN broadcast, Laurie Crouch would frequently giggle as she asked women if they thought the movie was "pretty," and several talked about how much they liked the "romance" of the film. But the real message of the film -- like the messages of the Extraordinary Women and King's Daughters -- is not, like the film's promoters insist, that Esther was admirable because she was strong. It is that she is admirable because she performed God's will.

Although the film received a PG rating from the Motion Picture Association of America "for violence, some sensuality and thematic elements," 8X and TBN are promoting it to children as well. One particular target is foster children, frequently mentioned by the Crouches and Tenney as modern-day Esthers (they like to refer to her as "a little minority orphan girl") whose destiny could be changed by seeing the film. One Texas organization, The Arrow Project, a Christian foster child ministry funded in part with state money, places foster children in Rio Bend, a planned community run by indicted former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's DeLay Foundation for Kids. (Back in the salad days, DeLay cajoled big money donors to curry favor with him by paying top dollar to participate in golf tournaments that were touted as Foundation fund-raisers.) The Arrow Project, whose executives believe that all people are in need of salvation, is arranging for foster children to see the movie gratis.

At the Values Voters Summit, Tenney, who was a featured speaker, described his role in the entertainment industry as being "enmeshed in the mission field of Hollywood." Sandwiched between other speakers who ranted about the promiscuity, homosexuality and amoral secularism that plagues Hollywood, there was more than a hint that the movie just might inspire Christians to rescue Hollywood from itself. "The spirit of Haman rises again," said Tenney, "but we are making headway."

The Religious Right Goes to Washington

Republicans are staking their hopes of holding on to power in the November elections on looking tough on terror. But at the Family Research Council's first "Values Voters Summit" in Washington last week, billed as the most important political event in the Christian Right's history, a showcase of 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls, and, tellingly, the president's own spokesman, all focused not on terrorists or war or global jihad, but on the threat posed to America by two men getting married. Under the stress of possibly losing its grip (on power), the party of the so-called "values voter" has collapsed under the weight of its own moral dishonesty.

Speakers at the conference fired up the audience, but there was virtually no mention of the occupation of Iraq, spiraling health care costs, a huge housing bubble, or the daily economic struggles many Americans face. Those things pale in comparison to the real threats: a declining culture, and the shadowy network of feminists and Hollywood executives that are responsible for its fall.

Bishop Wellington Boone, a black preacher, distributed a pamphlet entitled, "The Rape of the Civil Rights Movement: How Sodomites Are Using Civil Rights Rhetoric to Advance Their Preference for Sexual Perversion." Jenn Giroux of Cincinnati's medievalist Citizens of Community Values denounced feminism and proclaimed, to enthusiastic applause, "We want to be protected by men! That doesn't make us weak!" Don Feder, the anti-Hollywood provocateur and founder of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, said that George Clooney hates George W. Bush the way Hamas hates Jews. An unrepentant George Allen was canonized as the victim of "the worst gotcha journalism we've seen in recent years."

It is by now old news that the Perkins-Dobson-Wildmon-Bauer quartet is hysterical, close-minded, and out of touch with all but a vocal minority of religious fundamentalists who think that the ACLU has laid waste to America and that everything could be fixed if all gay people turned straight and Christians were just allowed to preach the Gospel in every corner of America's public squares. But while the movement lacks what many would consider virtue, its virtue to Republican bean counters is the durability of its leaders' predictability. Every two years, Republican strategists, sensing an election about to slip away, beg the Christian Right to mobilize its voters. The Christian Right complies. And about a year and a half later, like a jilted lover, the Christian Right complains loudly that the Republicans have betrayed them, have forgotten about their issues, have led the nation astray by allowing crazy judges to let two men get married. So they organize a conference. The Republicans show up. The Republicans pretend there is nothing more pressing in the world's greatest democracy than preventing certain citizens from having families. Relieved, the Christian Right (and, illegally, some of its tax-exempt pastoral foot soldiers, too) tells its followers to vote Republican. And it will go on this way until a collective wave of moral spine -- from Republicans, Democrats, and just regular, nonpartisan people who think statements like "Sex and the City" "is one of the most damaging shows of our generation" are just plain ludicrous -- stands up against the bullies at the pulpit.

The warmest reception of the day was reserved for the president's proxy, Tony Snow. If there was any doubt that he had perfected the art of turning every day into opposite day while shilling for Fox News and the Bush White House, he laid that doubt to rest with his sickening homage to the president's "humility." While some people might view Bush's hypercompetitive bike rides through the blistering Texas heat as an effort to humiliate others, Snow cited them as an example of Bush's humility as he gives "glory to a Creator." (More dictionary and less Bible might be in order.) Snow described the bike rides as an example of Bush's ability to "indulge in the glories of life and [not have to] apologize for things that give our lives shape and meaning."

Shamelessly, Snow repeatedly invoked 9/11, lacing his words with innuendo of Bush's divine intervention, such as the "miracle" of his appearance at Ground Zero on 9/14, his "fighting evil and professing good," or that America has "reinvented the world," post-9/11, and "we've given people the capacity to form big dreams and live them." While standing on the stage that later would be occupied by Ann Coulter, and where other conference speakers said things like "the ultimate child abuse is placing a child in a gay home," or that conservative activists need to "confront" and "neutralize" the press, and where Rush Limbaugh was repeatedly lionized, Snow had the audacity to talk about "decency," "civility," and "humility."

Whether the GOP addiction to the Christian Right vote will work for Republicans in this year's midterm elections remains to be seen, but at least in some critical parts of the country, fault lines are beginning to appear between lifelong Republicans and the moralizing interlopers who have wrested rhetorical control of the party. But that was not apparent listening to the parade of Republican presidential aspirants speak to the crowd of nearly 2,000 political activists from around the country on Friday.

The day was not without moments of unintended hilarity, much of it related to the musical selections accompanying the introduction of each speaker. Even though seemingly endless oxygen was spent bashing Hollywood's "anti-Christian" bias, the theme from "Rocky" accompanied Perkins and Dobson to the stage, made only more amusing by Dobson's girly outrage at being spurned for the first 18 months of the second Bush administration. And even though homosexuality is the greatest threat to civilization, the panel "What Feminist Majority? American Women and the Values Agenda" took the stage to the gay anthem "I Will Survive."

To the Republicans, nothing was more important than satisfying the crowd's anti-gay zealotry, even if it meant ridiculing your own blue state or making the nutty assertion that gay marriage represents the greatest threat to civilized society, while not mentioning terrorism, genocide, or the two Americas (the John Edwards version, not the George Allen version).

Uttering the word "Massachusetts" to this crowd was akin to speaking of Sodom, provoking titters, boos, and hisses from the crowd throughout the day. Mention of the New York Times (which at one point Perkins cited as the anti-Bible), Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Rosie O'Donnell, or CNN inspired similar venom. Even Mitt Romney, who has now surpassed John McCain in sucking up to his party's rightist fringe (enough to delight Bill O'Reilly), felt compelled to join in with ridiculing the state of which he is chief executive. But more telling of Romney's unfitness for the presidency was his absurd prioritizing of the nation's most pressing issues. Topping Romney's list, of course, was gay marriage, which he ranked ahead of jihadists, the Asian challenge to America's economy, excessive government spending and our overconsumption of oil on his list of top five issues facing America.

Has the Republican Party fallen down a rabbit hole? Could Jack and Joe threaten us more than an al Qaeda hydra? Could Mary and Caitlin and their turkey basters pose a greater challenge to America than the world's dwindling supply of fossil fuel? Is King and King scarier than a fatwa? Wouldn't a presidential platform naming gay marriage the number one threat to America be, uh, weak on terror?

Others were less single-minded than Romney, but no less oblivious to real moral issues like poverty, political corruption, climate change, war, or torture. Sam Brownback, who unabashedly announced he wanted "a much bigger room" in 2008, named just one piece of legislation he was intent on passing, which would require doctors performing abortions to advise the mother of pain to the fetus and offer anesthesia (to the fetus). Like other speakers, Brownback decried excessive government spending, but didn't utter the words "Iraq," "earmark," "lobbyist," "cronyism," "corruption," or, heaven forbid, "DeLay," "Abramoff," "Ney," "Burns," or "Halliburton." Nor did they take responsibility for said spending, despite the fact that they legislated it. For Brownback, it's enough to just say you're from Kansas to prove you represent the values of the heartland.

George Allen was trotted out as the victim of a Washington Post that was downright obsessed with his innocent little macaca remark. Terry Jeffrey, the editor of Human Events, said the coverage of the macaca slur treated it like an affront equivalent to the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. (Otherwise, nobody discussed Abu Ghraib or torture.) Allen moved the crowd by telling of God's guidance to him on an abortion parental notification law while governor of Virginia (see, even though he's from California, he's a real Virginian now, while Romney, who originally hails from Michigan, must justify his transplantation to Sodom). Allen said that while he was praying about whether to veto that parental notification law, which he considered weakened by a loophole, he saw an American flag ("a sign of integrity"). In a tale implausible even by the standards of people accustomed to claims of direct communication with God, Allen took the American flag as a sign that he had to veto the bill. And if he had seen his Confederate flag, that would have been a sign of what, exactly?

The most telling moment of the afternoon, though, came during the remarks of Mike Huckabee, Mr. Covenant Marriage and Governor of the Other Sodom, Arkansas. Huckabee was the only person, all day, to discuss poverty, health care, housing, hunger, or Katrina, to obligatory applause. But when Huckabee implored his audience to "prove we don't have closed minds, but open hearts and hands that will lift people up," he was met with stone cold silence. He had suggested, blasphemously, that his audience work with feminists to end pornography, with proponents of gay marriage to combat AIDS, and with unions to make better workplaces. While nearly everything anyone said was met with thunderous applause, when these words came out of Huckabee's mouth, the room was so quiet you could have heard people thumbing through their Bibles to see if what he said was sanctioned by God. But they didn't. Not a soul even tried to start a chain reaction of applause with a single clap.

If the Values Voters Summit 2006 proved anything, it was not, as its organizers intended, that voters -- or even Republican voters -- care more about the "culture" than other issues. It did not prove, although later events might, whether Dobson and Perkins have enough followers to help the Republicans cling to power this fall. It proved only that the Republican Party has run out of ideas, innovations and any sense of decency.

Lobbying for Armageddon

In a perfect world, a reporter at last week's press conference with George Bush and Tony Blair would have asked Bush, in the presence of his principal European ally, if he believes the European Union is the Antichrist.

Although it sounds like the kind of Pat Robertson lunacy that makes even the wingnuts run for the nearest exit, it's a question Bush should be forced to answer. Bush and other leading Republicans have lined up behind a growing movement of Christian Zionists for whom a European Antichrist figures prominently in an end-times scenario. So they should be forced to explain to the rest of us why they're courting the votes of people who believe our allies are evil incarnate. Could it be that the central requirement for their breathlessly anticipated Armageddon -- that the United States confront Iran -- happens to dovetail so nicely with the neoconservative war agenda?

At the center of it all is Pastor John Hagee, a popular televangelist who leads the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. While Hagee has long prophesized about the end times, he ratcheted up his rhetoric this year with the publication of his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," in which he argues that a confrontation with Iran is a necessary precondition for Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. In the best-selling book, Hagee insists that the United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West. Shortly after the book's publication, he launched Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which, as the Christian version of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he said would cause "a political earthquake."

At CUFI's kick-off banquet at the Washington Hilton, attended by over 3,500 members, Republican support for both Hagee's effort and his drumbeat for war with Iran were on full view. Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman told the group that "no regime is more central to the global jihad" than Iran. Just two days before, Newt Gingrich and John McCain made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to sound the same message, leading Benny Elon, a member of the Israeli Knesset, to comment to the Jerusalem Post that their remarks originated with Hagee. Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback also addressed the group, and Bush sent words of support to the gathering. Republicans, and even some Democrats, spoke at CUFI events to show their "support for Israel." But while public and media attention was on the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, Hagee's focus continued to be on Iran.

While the crisis at the Israel-Lebanon border drew more mainstream media attention to CUFI's activities, Hagee's supporters have long known that leading Republicans are listening. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, a prominent Jewish ally of the evangelical right (and friend of Jack Abramoff) has said that Hagee "without question, yes, absolutely" has the ear of the White House. Hagee's annual Night to Honor Israel at his church has drawn prominent Republicans, including Tom DeLay, who was the keynote speaker in 2002.

Although Republicans would never admit it -- they claim their support for Christian Zionists like Hagee is based on their own support for Israel -- it is clear that they know they need the votes of this constituency to win. In the same way that Karl Rove courted conservative evangelicals in 2004 by appealing to their homophobia, Republican campaign rhetoric for 2006 and 2008 has already shown signs of playing to voters who have been hearing hype for a war with Iran for months -- at church.

While Washington insiders wonder what it means when Republicans like Mehlman and presidential aspirants Gingrich and McCain finger Iran as the central player in an epic clash of civilizations, Hagee already has spent months mobilizing the shock troops in support of another war. As diplomats, experts and pundits debate how many years Iran will need to develop a viable nuclear weapon, Hagee says the mullahs already possess the means to destroy Israel and America. And although Bush insists that diplomatic options are still on the table, Hagee has dismissed pussyfooting diplomacy and primed his followers for a conflagration.

Hagee wields "a very large megaphone" that reaches "a very large group of people," said Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee, who has studied the Christian right for 30 years. With CUFI, the pastor has exponentially expanded the reach of his megaphone beyond his television audience. Thanks to the viral marketing made possible by the hundreds of evangelical leaders who have signed on to his new organization, his warmongering has rippled through megachurches across America for months. Hagee calls pastors "the spiritual generals of America," an appropriate phrase given his reliance on them to rally their troops behind his message.

The CUFI board of directors includes the Rev. Jerry Falwell, former Republican presidential candidate and religious right activist Gary Bauer, and George Morrison, pastor of the 8,000-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colo., and chairman of the board of Promise Keepers. Rod Parsley, the Ohio televangelist who is rapidly becoming a major political player in the Christian right, signed on to be a regional director.

For Hagee's new project, his influence in Washington is probably less important than his influence over his audience. With the clout of his listeners, he can serve Bush administration hawks by firing up grassroots support for a military strike against Iran. Over 700,000 people purchased his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," and countless more have heard him promote it on Christian radio and television programming. Dramatic, doomsday advertising has been heard by listeners of Christian media as well as on Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly's radio programs. The pages of "Jerusalem Countdown" provide a peculiar mix of biblical prophecy, purported inside information from Israeli government officials and a mixed-up, pared-down lesson in nuclear physics.

"I wrote this book in April 2005, and when people read it, they will think I wrote it late last night after the FOX News report," says the author without a trace of irony. "It's that close to where we are and beyond."

Hagee speaks simultaneously to two audiences about Iran's nuclear capabilities: one that fears a terrorist attack by Iran and another that embraces a biblically mandated apocalypse. To impress the fearful, he mimics Bush's deceptions about Iraq's capacity to attack the United States with weapons of mass destruction, Condoleezza Rice's warnings of mushroom clouds, and Dick Cheney's dissembling about an alliance between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Comparing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler, Hagee argues that Iran's development of nuclear weapons must be stopped to protect America and Israel from a nuclear attack. Preying on legitimate worries about terrorism, and invoking 9/11, he vividly describes a supposed Iranian-led plan to simultaneously explode nuclear suitcase bombs in seven American cities, or to use an electromagnetic pulse device to create "an American Hiroshima."

When addressing audiences receptive to Scriptural prophecy, however, Hagee welcomes the coming confrontation. He argues that a strike against Iran will cause Arab nations to unite under Russia's leadership, as outlined in chapters 38 and 39 of the Book of Ezekiel, leading to an "inferno [that] will explode across the Middle East, plunging the world toward Armageddon." In Hagee's telling, Israel has no choice but to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, with or without America's help. The strike will provoke Russia -- which wants Persian Gulf oil -- to lead an army of Arab nations against Israel. Then God will wipe out all but one-sixth of the Russian-led army, as the world watches "with shock and awe," he says, lending either a divine quality to the Bush administration phrase or a Bush-like quality to God's wrath.

But Hagee doesn't stop there. He adds that Ezekiel predicts fire "upon those who live in security in the coastlands." From this sentence, he concludes that there will be judgment upon all who stood by while the Russian-led force invaded Israel, and issues a stark warning to the United States to intervene: "Could it be that America, who refuses to defend Israel from the Russian invasion, will experience nuclear warfare on our east and west coasts?" He says yes, citing Genesis 12:3, in which God said to Israel: "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you."

To fill the power vacuum left by God's decimation of the Russian army, the Antichrist -- the head of the EU -- will rule "a one-world government, a one-world currency and a one-world religion" for three and a half years. (Hagee adds that "one need only be a casual observer of current events to see that all three of these things are coming into reality." The "demonic world leader" will then be confronted by a false prophet, identified by Hagee as China, at Armageddon, the Mount of Megiddo in Israel. As they prepare for the final battle, Jesus will return on a white horse and cast both villains -- and presumably any nonbelievers -- into a "lake of fire burning with brimstone," thus marking the beginning of his millennial reign.

Hagee doesn't fear a nuclear conflagration, but rather God's wrath for standing by as Iran executes its supposed plot to destroy Israel. A nuclear confrontation between America and Iran, which he says is foretold in the Book of Jeremiah, will not lead to the end of the world, but rather to God's renewal of the Garden of Eden. But Hagee is ultimately less concerned with the fate of Israel or the Jews than with a theocratic Christian right agenda. When Jesus returns for his millennial reign, he tells his television audience, "the righteous are going to rule the nations of the earth When Jesus Christ comes back, he's not going to ask the ACLU if it's all right to pray, he's not going to ask the churches if they can ordain pedophile bishops and priests, he's not going to ask if it's all right to put the Ten Commandments in the statehouses. He's not going to endorse abortion, he's going to run the world by the word of God The world will never end. It's going to become a Garden of Eden, and Christ is going to rule it."

Right-wing Radio

The story of low-power radio is a cautionary tale on how a progressive victory can quickly be turned to conservative gain. Thanks to Rupert Murdoch, Clear Channel, and Sinclair Broadcasting, the right wing has long dominated corporate media. Now religious broadcasters are busy pushing community radio right off the FM dial.

Low-power FM (LPFM) radio is a service created five years ago by the Federal Communications Commission in response to an effective lobbying by progressive activists -- that enables schools, churches, civic associations, or clubs to establish their own neighborhood radio stations. Yet this vision of locally operated, independently programmed, and not-for-profit media is being threatened with extinction before it even gets off the ground.

The Dream of Low Power Radio

For years, media reform activists have fought valiantly to force the FCC to issue licenses for low power radio stations. Their dream: to create a space on the radio dial for true locally produced community programming, untainted by the profit considerations of large media conglomerates. Low power radio would finally give voice to those who needed it most: people of color, low-income communities, local organizations.

Five years after their victory, community radio has become the bastion of Christian programming. LPFM is being squeezed off the radio dial by religious broadcasters who are gobbling up FM frequencies at an astonishing speed. Their weapon of choice: low power translators.

While much of the media coverage of rightwing groups and low power radio has focused on low power licenses -- they represent about half of the applications (344) for the FCC low power licenses -- these broadcasters dominate low power frequencies primarily by acquiring translator licenses.

Translators, which range in power from 10 to 250 watts, were created by the FCC to help boost signals of existing stations in areas where the terrain can hamper their signals. Christian broadcasters use these translators to transmit programs from their bigger full-power stations. Unlike commercial stations which can only have a translator within the receivable range of the full-power "parent" station non-commercial groups such as religious broadcasters can place their translators at any distance and feed them via satellite or other means. As a result, one full-power station can be used to broadcast programming across a number of states, vastly extending its reach, especially in rural areas. And the more translators take up low power frequencies in a community, the less room for local radio stations on the FM dial. More importantly, Christian radio networks can gain access to small communities without having to produce any local programming -- since the FCC forbids translator stations from airing such programming.

The end result: community radio is literally being crowded off the radio by religious broadcasters.

The most notorious of the Christian broadcasters who abuse translator licenses is Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, Idaho, which owns only 34 full-power radio stations, but transmits programming to 361 translators across the country from its flagship station, KAWZ.

While Calvary Chapel is by far the biggest user of translators, other such major broadcasters of Christian radio programming have large number of such stations of their own. They include the American Family Association Radio, Bott Radio Network, Bible Broadcasting Network, and Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. The combined heft of these broadcasters adds up to a level of audience penetration that's simply astonishing. Take, for example, "Portraits of Freedom," a syndicated program hosted by Alan Sears, the president and chief lawyer of the James Dobson-backed Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). And now look at the map of the stations and translators that broadcast this program. Translators, in essence, have become the backbone of a powerful radio empire of the religious right that reaches people in every corner of America.

Rightwing Programming

This sprawling radio network has become a powerful means to disseminate the reactionary ideological agenda of the evangelical right and its leading organizations.

A good example is "Portraits of Freedom," which is produced and distributed by the ADF, a legal organization with its own staff attorneys and a network of 700 pro-bono lawyers -- all of whom work on filing lawsuits all over the country on issues close to the heart of the religious right. The program -- which presents dramatizations of ADF cases -- is essentially a piece of self-promotional propaganda designed to showcase ADF's efforts to "protect" the constitutional right to religious freedom of Christians against secularists who are ignorant of both faith and the law. Such egregious cases of discrimination include public school teachers who were stopped from praying for their students at recess; a non-profit called C.U.D.D.L.E. (Children Under Duress Divinely Loved Everywhere) that was prevented by a state Child Protective Services agency from distributing quilts bearing the words Jesus Loves You.

The other star of Christian radio is Jay Sekulow, president of the Pat Robertson-backed American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). Sekulow is not just the head of ACLJ a group with a $15 million budget -- but also a board member of the politically powerful National Religious Broadcasters. He was named recently by Time magazine as one of the countrys 25 most influential evangelicals.

His daily, 30-minute program -- which is broadcast on over 550 stations and translators across the country is less a talk show than a tool for political organizing. Sekulow continually rallies his listeners to take action on a variety of causes important to the Christian right, be it the elimination of the judicial filibuster or displaying the Ten Commandments on government property, or protesting the Terry Schiavo case. In recent weeks, Sekulow used his program to mobilize listeners to call and write members of Congress, urging them to adopt the emergency legislation that threw the Schiavo case into the federal courts -- which was eventually passed in the wee hours of Palm Sunday.

Another rightwing star of the Terry Schiavo case is David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association, who represented Schiavos parents in their federal appeal. Gibbs broadcasts a ninety second Legal Alert on over 1,000 stations worldwide. Short and effective as an advertisement, the program repeatedly portrays the constitutional actions of public school districts and municipalities as part of an ongoing assault on faith in America. Therefore, an employers prohibition on witnessing in the workplace is interpreted as legal discrimination against believers. When school districts decide not to have holiday parties in order to avoid conflicts due to worries about favoring one religion over another, Gibbs will claim that Christmas is being made illegal. The enforcement of tax law barring churches (and other non-profits) from partisan electioneering represents an anti-Christian threat.

The absence of alternative views on the FM dial in remote communities makes this kind of ideological programming doubly effective, and the absence of alternative local programming all the more dangerous.

Despite these concerns, the FCC has done little to check the expansion of religious broadcasters or investigate its effects on community radio. While it did institute a freeze on granting additional construction permits for translators, it was prompted by allegations of fraud leveled against two companies with ties to Calvary Chapel, which are accused of applying for 4,200 translator permits for the sole purpose of selling them to other religious broadcasters (Trafficking in translator licenses is illegal.).

By the time of the freeze was put in place earlier this month, the FCC had already granted construction permits for nearly 1,000 of the companies' translator license applications. The decision will also not affect the numerous other religious broadcasters who have already received approval of hundreds of additional translators.

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