Politics (and corporate foundations) makes strange bedfellows

True story. There’s this corporate-funded outfit in D.C. that started back in the 1980s as a Cold-War effort to attack churches for their supposed Communist sympathies in Central America.

The group quickly developed a reputation for nastiness and dishonesty, but it was small and clumsy and never particularly effective. Basically what they did was send their operatives out to church conferences and gatherings to collect anything that might be quoted out of context and portrayed as dangerously radical or anti-American. Every time some church figure said anything positive about Archbishop Romero, Dom Helder Camara, Gustavo Gutierrez, Bruce Cockburn, the martyred sisters in El Salvador, or the Sanctuary movement, these folks would write up a shrieking denunciation and a fundraising letter warning that dangerous liberal nuns and National Council of Churches bureaucrats were worshiping Daniel Ortega instead of Jesus.

The goal was to reduce the influence of mainline Protestant churches, which was already on the wane, so it’s hard to say that this sleazy group really made much of a difference there. It did manage to discourage some churches from sending aid after the 1982 Nicaragua earthquake, and its “reporting” managed to make missionary medical clinics targets of Contra attacks — two appalling results the group regarded as triumphs.

Mainly, though, the group faltered and stalled on the lower-tier fringes of the religious right. They had bet on the wrong horse at the beginning of the rise of that new movement, putting all their money on anti-Communism activism when it turned out that anti-abortion activism was the wave of the future.

The end of the Cold War forced this group to reinvent itself as a more generic culture-warrior operation, but they kept their focus on tearing down “liberal” churches — that’s their market-niche in the religious right. They managed to keep limping along with just enough funding from the right-wing corporate foundations to stay afloat. Their basic approach didn’t change: Attend church conferences, take statements out of context, write scary hatchet pieces arguing that mainline churches were a commie fifth column, lather, rinse, repeat.

One of the most prolific hacks for this group was this guy with a phallic name who, by the mid-1990s, had really established himself as a shameless distortion artist. He was then, and remains now, widely despised by everyone who has ever attended any church event and then read his unrecognizable “report” of what transpired.

The first time I encountered him in person was at the one conference where he opted not to write his usual hatchet piece. This was one of the “Christian roundtable” gatherings in the 1990s that brought together a wide array of Christian leaders, scholars and activists from all over the ideological and denominational spectrum. They offered a chance for candid conversation seeking common ground and were generally pretty constructive. This particular gathering included both Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Gary Bauer, then of the Family Research Council, to give you an idea of the scene.

I was walking in with a very conservative friend, part of the First Things crowd. He was a Kuyperian Calvinist, a Marine veteran and a sharp guy who enjoyed a good argument. Since we agreed on quite a bit and disagreed on quite a bit, we had become friends and argument-buddies. My friend spotted the hack in the lobby outside the main meeting room, recognizing him before I did. He muttered something about not letting that “little sh–” write his usual hatchet-job on this event and strode over to him.

Now, as a general rule, I do not condone violence and I do not think threatening someone with violence is either the best way to approach a situation or something that Christians ought to do. But this was still kind of delightful to see.

The Marine walked the hack backwards until he was pressed against the wall. With one hand leaning on the wall right below the hack’s right ear, and his other hand waggling a finger inches from the hack’s nose, my friend explained to him that it might be best if he chose not to “report” on this particular gathering. He didn’t raise his voice, he lowered it — which was scarier. And with just the right amount of colorful military profanity, he informed the hack that if his outfit published anything dishonest or distorted about this conference, there would be consequences. He outlined those consequences in intimately personal, if anatomically improbable, detail.

Then he stepped back and the hack hurried off. He left the hotel and did not return.

That was more than 15 years ago.

Today the little hack with the phallic name is the president of that same sad little anti-liberal corporate front-group — a promotion resulting from attrition more than from any apparent accomplishment. And the group is still limping along, producing more of its trademark hatchet jobs denouncing the dangerous liberals, real or imaginary, in the American church.

But the really weird part — the surprising and disheartening part of this story that I just learned — is that now my old friend the Kuyperian Marine is working for him. That’s … odd. And unfortunate. And I hope only temporary.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    An interesting story :O

    Is this hack’s name Dick Johnson, or anything like that, by some chance?

  • Magic_Cracker

    Rod Sauberkock?

  • C. Todger III

    Cock Todger IV, Esq.

  • AnonaMiss

    Those of us outside the religion don’t have any idea,  unfortunately, but I do feel for your friend. I don’t know what I would have done if I had gotten a job offer from an enemy.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Peenie Doodle-Wang

  • AnonaMiss

    *any idea who you’re talking about.

    I should really just woman up and register.

  • Vermic

    I don’t know what I would have done if I had gotten a job offer from an enemy.

    I think Left Behind gives a clear picture of what not to do, at least.

  • Aeryl

     Your gonna have to provide some documentation with that sir!

    :D

  • http://twitter.com/DavidTWeaver David Weaver

    Dirk Codpiece, Richard Longfellow, John Thomas, Dick Peckerman, Johnson Trousersnake  

  • Darkrose

    Rick Drywall!

  • Baby_Raptor

    Long Dick Johnson. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Dick Roman.

    (Wait, that’s taken.)

  • patter

    Buck Williams

  • flat

    Look that isn’t possible: we all know that buck williams has no balls.

  • Münchner Kindl

     I see only two directions this can go with the friend: either he has taken a job offer from Nicky Alps / an enemy – he doesn’t believe in this method, but he (needs a job to feed his hungry children, pay chemo for his mother, … made a promise to his dying father …). Compromising his principles by working for the enemy – either by doing a bad job or doing a good job – and no matter what good reason will end up either making him hate himself for doing bad, or take the easier way (often unconsciously) and start to believe the lies he has to tell, in an attempt to justify his own actions.

    Or, even worse, he changed his mind in the decades since Fred’s original encounter, and no longer sees this group/ hateful-lies-teller as enemy, but as bedfellow.

    Let’s hope for the sake of Fred and his friend that the reason is something that can be fixed (needs any job to feed the family and finds a better job elsewhere soon).

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    I was going with either Rod Parsley or Dick Armey, myself. Or maybe the always glorious Rodd Maxx.

  • Tricksterson

    I’m wondering why Fred didn’t name names, he’s usually not shy about that.

  • EllieMurasaki

    The difference in privacy between ‘this is a story about a friend of mine’ and ‘this is a story about my friend Emma Radcliffe’ is really kind of substantial. Same story, but it’s much harder to track Emma down from the details in the story if those details do not include Emma’s name.

  • JustoneK

    Roll Fizzlebeef?

  • MaryKaye

    There’s a good movie “The Insider” about a tobacco company scientist.  The epilog says he’s now teaching in the public schools and making a tiny fraction of what he was before.  It’s a hard call to make, but I think working for falsehood is going to hurt you in a tangible way, and pretty quickly.  I like to think I’d be teaching high school if those were the choices.  (I taught high school for a day once.  Exhausting!  My hat is off to people who do it for a living.)

    My university, under NIH direction, imposes huge restraints on where I can get money if I want to continue doing federally funded biomedical research.  These are occasionally a pain but I celebrate them.  I never want to be under that kind of outside pressure in my research.  Imagine if you nudged some results one way or another and then later met a patient who’d been harmed by your decision.  I’d be devastated.  It is hard enough dealing with bad patient outcomes even when I (a) am not responsible for them, and (b) hear about them only secondhand as I don’t have clearance to receive patient data.  All I really get is that we will be talking about a particular data file, and the physicians in the room will suddenly go quiet and look down, because they know the outcome even if I don’t.  Oh, and one time when a researcher was asked a question at the podium and burst into tears, because behind the abstract numbers was a small child who had died under their care.

    Short form:  I hope Fred’s friend is okay; this is a bad situation.

  • Keulan
  • CAThompson

    Buck Steel.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Waiiiiiiiiiiiit a miiiiiinute.

    There’s a real-world person named Rayford Steele? (O_O)

  • Osteomatad2

    I can’t believe I spent two hours trying to figure out who this was.  I think I finally got it; found an Institute whose history and stated purpose matches perfectly, and the bio of the head matches almost exactly, but his name is only vaguely phallic.   I take it that Fred would prefer not to guess out loud here?  We need a private room to speculate, heh. 

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Damn, I actually thought for a second a real-life Rayford Steele existed who was a million times better than the douchebag portrayed in LB.

  • Guest

    Is the term for what this group does ‘steeplejacking?’

    The group name places emphasis on religion and democracy?
    Hmm. Sexual symbolism – as in tool?

    Stumped on the marine friend.
    The only former marine I’m aware of who works with First Things is Joe Carter, who loves to argue and wrote a book titled “How to Argue Like Jesus. and who wears his Calvinism with pride.


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