“Covert Religious Supremacist Agendas”: The $1-Billion-A-Year Right-Wing Conspiracy You Haven’t Heard Of
Have you heard of the $1,750-per-person “Gathering,” which starts Thursday in Orlando, Florida?
Probably not. But if you’re female, gay, non-Christian, or otherwise interested in the separation of church and state, your life has been affected by it.
The Gathering is a conference of hard-right Christian organizations and, perhaps more important, funders. Most of them are not household names, at least if your household isn’t evangelical. But that’s the point: The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools, redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobby case), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest. They’re probably behind that, too.
Featured speakers have included many of the usual suspects: Alliance Defending Freedom President and CEO Alan Sears (2013), Focus on the Family President Jim Daly (2011), and Family Research Council head Tony Perkins (2006). This year, however, they are joined by David Brooks of The New York Times and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post. What’s going on? Has The Gathering gone mainstream?
Hardly, says Bruce Wilson, director of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out’s Center Against Religious Extremism and a leading researcher on The Gathering. The selection of this year’s speakers, he says, is just the latest in a long line of misdirections and canards.
To be sure, untangling webs of funders, organizations, and campaigns can often feel like conspiracy-mongering. Your brain begins to resemble one of those bulletin boards from A Beautiful Mind or Se7en, full of paranoid-seeming Post-Its and strings. Wilson has been untangling these webs for years, and sometimes it shows. His many publications and his emails to me are long-winded, occasionally exaggerated, and sometimes hard to follow.
But often he’s dead on. And beneath the hyperbole, The Gathering is as close to a “vast right-wing conspiracy” as you’re likely to find. So with this year’s conference about to get under way, Wilson gave The Daily Beast an exclusive interview over email—heavily redacted here—about this shadowy, powerful network of hard-right funders.
Let’s start with the basics. What is The Gathering?
The Gathering is an annual event at which many of the wealthiest conservative to hard-right evangelical philanthropists in America—representatives of the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Green, Maclellan, Ahmanson, Friess, plus top leaders of the National Christian Foundation—meet with evangelical innovators with fresh ideas on how to evangelize the globe. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity. Last year, for example, The Gathering 2013 brought together key funders, litigants, and plaintiffs of the Hobby Lobby case, including three generations of the Green family.
The Gathering was conceived in 1985 by a small band of friends at the Arlington, Virginia, retreat center known as The Cedars, which is run by the evangelical network that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. This stealthy network is known as The Family or The Fellowship. Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power described it in great detail.
How much money are we talking about here?
The evangelical right financial dynasties and foundations that meet each year at The Gathering dispense upwards of $1 billion a year in grants. But even that is overshadowed by the bigger sums that The Family and The Gathering have managed to route from the federal and state government to fund their movement via the Faith-Based Initiative program, USAID, PEPFAR and other multibillion-dollar programs.
You mentioned the National Christian Foundation. I bet most of our readers haven’t heard of that, either. Can you tell us a bit about it?
The NCF was created, back in 1982 or so, to maximize hard right-wing evangelical Christian philanthropic giving. It was so novel and complex, the architects got a special ruling from the IRS, to make sure it was legal. The NCF has multiple overlapping legal entities and holding companies, but at the core is a huge donor-advised fund. The NCF is now the 12th biggest charitable foundation in America that raises money from private sources.
Since its founding, the NCF has given away over $4.3 billion, $2.5 billion of it in the last three years. The NCF gave away $601,841,675 in 2012—and is estimated to have given out $670 million in 2013.
One reason the NCF, a donor-advised fund, has been so successful is that it ensures anonymity for its philanthropists. Many of these individuals may fear a backlash, given the controversial causes that they support.
But we do know about the NCF’s leadership. Two of the NCF co-founders were tied to Campus Crusade for Christ, and the late Larry Burkett, a NCF co-founder, was also one of the co-founders of the Alliance Defense Fund/Alliance Defending Freedom, now the religious right’s preeminent umbrella legal defense fund. NCF’s other co-founder, Atlanta tax lawyer Terrence Parker, sits on the board of directors of the Family Research Council, and also The Gathering Foundation, which puts on The Gathering.
From 2001-12, the NCF gave $163,384,998 to leading anti-LGBT organizations. These include Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund), Campus Crusade for Christ (aka CRU), the National Organization for Marriage, and the Alliance for Marriage. They fund ex-gay ministries like Exodus International, exporters of homophobia like Advocates International, you name it.
The NCF is just getting started, though. The Green family—who were at The Gathering in 2008 and 2013—have said they intend to leave much of their fortune to it. And in 2009, Hobby Lobby-related contributions were the No. 1 source of NCF funding (about $54 million), which we know because Eli Clifton, funded by The Nation Institute, somehow got hold of an NCF 2009 990 Schedule B form, which shows NCF’s top funders that year (Hobby Lobby was No. 1, Maclellan Foundation No. 2).
On another note, Chick-fil-A’s VP and CFO, James “Buck” McCabe, is on the board of the NCF, and in 1999 no less than three of Chick-fil-A’s top leaders spoke at The Gathering (S. Truett Cathy, Dan Cathy, and Don “Bubba” Cathy).
Having worked in philanthropy myself, I can say that these figures are astounding. The leading private funder of LGBT issues gives out about $16 million a year. Which other funders will be there?
Other major players include the John Templeton Foundation ($104,863,836 in 2012 grants), the Barnaby Foundation ($39,939,489), the Christian Community Foundation (an NCF “spinoff”), and the family foundations of the DeVos families (including Rich DeVos, one of the original funders of the Christian Right), Howard & Roberta Ahmanson (operating as Fieldstead & Company—and among the most notorious right-wing funders in America), Adolph Coors, and many others.
Interestingly, some more secular right-wing funders—Scaife, Olin, Bradley—are not known to attend The Gathering.
And yet The Gathering also has some mainstream figures on the schedule, including David Brooks of The New York Times and Michael Gerson of The Washington Post.
Well, there are two possibilities. One, Brooks knows a bit about the underlying politics of The Gathering but doesn’t care, which is to say he’s on board with that political agenda to the extent he’s willing to lend his reputation to the event. Two, he’s relatively clueless. He’s been conned. Which would raise questions about his political acumen.
I’m very suspicious that Brooks’ planned appearance at The Gathering was an outgrowth of his heavy participation in the Faith Angle Forum of frequent The Gathering participant Michael Cromartie, who advises elite secular media on the culture wars, which he is also helping to wage. In 2008 Cromartie talked to The Gathering about the need to “infiltrate” secular media. His Faith Angle Forum was created to bring together elite journalists who covered religion and politics with “experts.” And experts they are—but they’re all picked by Cromartie, and many of them have been speakers at The Gathering, as well.
A lot of these issues are pretty unsurprising: fight the gays, fight abortion. But your research also shows that these Christian Right funders are behind a lot of climate denial.
Yup. Over the last decade, he NCF has pumped over $140 million into groups that oppose action to curb climate change and portray concern over global warming as part of a satanic conspiracy to impose a tyrannical “One World Order” or “New World Order.”
Michael Cromartie, whom I just mentioned, will be one of the presenters at The Gathering 2014. He is a signatory to the positions of the Cornwall Alliance, a rump religious coalition opposing action to curb human-caused climate change. The Cornwall Alliance was itself masterminded by E. Calvin Beisner, who helped coin many of the most popular arguments of the global warming denialist/inaction crowd, in a late 1980s-early 1990s book series project led and financed by Howard Ahmanson and his Fieldstead & Co.
Most of the major players in the Christian Right signed the Cornwell Alliance papers. The Ethics and Public Policy Center (NCF gave it $115,000 over 1- years), Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship ($12,768,852), Focus on the Family ($44,754,804), Campus Crusade for Christ ($55,233,717), Family Research Council ($17,707,343), Concerned Women for America ($160,163), American Family Association ($2,024,033), and others.
This is exhausting, depressing stuff. What keeps you going?
First, endless exposure to the politicized religious right renders the disturbing nature of the subject banal. So at one level, it becomes just another job specialization. Most days, I might as well be studying some obscure species of sea snail.
But I think the story of the politicized religious right is one of the biggest untold stories of our time. It’s the story of how a covert political movement, driven by a well-organized, -funded, and committed minority, has perturbed the political arc of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful nation on Earth—and how it has subverted the national dialogue.
I’m annoyed at the basic dishonesty of religio/political phenomena such as The Gathering that lay claim to the Christian tradition but ignore its underlying mandate of truth-telling. The semi-covert movement represented by The Gathering may not be able to conquer America and its “7 mountains” (Loren Cunningham, co-originator of the 7M motivational mantra, addressed The Gathering in 2001), but it nonetheless exerts considerable force on international politics, and not in an especially honest manner.
The world needs better. There are many problems to address. And I think world religions can become part of the solutions that guide us toward a better outcome in coming decades, but only insofar as they put aside covert, religious supremacist agendas and work for the common good of all. And workable solutions will require honesty—not currently a hallmark of The Gathering.
By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, September 25, 2014
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been quite candid on most of the hot-button social issues of the day, and despite national ambitions, the Florida Republican has positioned himself well to the right of the American mainstream on issues like contraception, reproductive rights, and marriage equality.
But the senator nevertheless believes he has a strong case to make when it comes to the culture war, and yesterday he delivered a big speech his staff billed as an address on “the breakdown of the American family and the erosion of fundamental values that has followed.” The remarks, which can be read in their entirety here or watched online here, covered a fair amount of ground, though as Benjy Sarlin explained, there was a special emphasis on gay rights.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged Wednesday that American history was “marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians.” But in a speech at Catholic University in Washington, Rubio drew the line sharply at marriage equality and accused supporters of same sex unions of “intolerance.”
“I promise you even before this speech is over I’ll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” Rubio said. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage.”
Rhetoric like this is familiar – the right has long believed it’s unfair for the left to be intolerant of intolerance. Despite its repetition, though, the argument always seems to come up short.
Consider the underlying point Rubio is trying to make. On the one hand, he and his allies intend to keep fighting, hoping to use the power of the state to deny equal rights and basic human dignity to Americans based on sexual orientation. On the other hand, Rubio and his allies would appreciate it if no one said mean things about them while they push these policies.
I’m afraid the public discourse doesn’t quite work this way. No one is suggesting Rubio must abandon his opposition to civil rights for LGBT Americans, but if he wants to avoid criticism while pushing public policies that create second-class citizens, he appears to have chosen the wrong line of work.
That said, let’s not overlook the part of the speech in which Rubio also tried to position himself as a critic of anti-gay discrimination.
“We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.
“Fortunately, we have come a long way since then.”
Yes, that is fortunate. But under existing federal law, American employers, right now, can legally fire gay employees – or even employees they think might be gay – regardless of their on-the-job performance.
Our history is, in fact, “marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians,” but that discrimination can still happen under existing law – and though he didn’t mention it yesterday, as far as Marco Rubio is concerned, federal anti-discrimination laws should not be changed. Indeed, when the Senate rather easily passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last fall, only 30 senators voted against it, and Rubio was one of them.
The far-right senator, in other words, is trying but failing to thread a culture-war needle. Rubio wants to block consenting adults who fall in love from getting married, but he doesn’t want to be accused of intolerance. The Republican senator wants to decry employment discrimination against LGBT Americans, but he doesn’t want to take action to prevent the discrimination he claims not to like.
As culture-war visions go, this one needs some work.
By: Steven Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 24, 2014
“No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it,” Esau told The Wichita Eagle on Friday. “It would be my hope that they could work out their incompatibilities and learn to work together on things.”
…Esau disputed the suggestion that bill was an example of government overreach. He said the state gives benefits to married couples, such as tax breaks, so couples shouldn’t enter into the institution of marriage lightly.
Moreover, he said, the state has a vested interest in supporting “strong families,” and divorce undermines that.
“I think we’ve made divorce way too easy in this country,” he said. “If we really want to respect marriage it needs to be a commitment that people work at and don’t find arbitrary reasons to give up.”
Of course, one of the immediate effects of this law would be that couples seeking a divorce would have to face-off in court and point fingers at each other. Either that, or one of them would have to accept the blame for their failed relationship.
Divorce is tough on kids, but nasty divorces are toxic.
But this isn’t even the worst bill that was considered in the Kansas House this week.
On Tuesday, the Kansas House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a measure designed to bring anti-gay segregation—under the guise of “religious liberty”—to the already deep-red state. The bill, written out of fear that the state may soon face an Oklahoma-style gay marriage ruling, will now easily pass the Republican Senate and be signed into law by the Republican governor. The result will mark Kansas as the first state, though certainly not the last, to legalize segregation of gay and straight people in virtually every arena of life.
If that sounds overblown, consider the bill itself. When passed, the new law will allow any individual, group, or private business to refuse to serve gay couples if “it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Private employers can continue to fire gay employees on account of their sexuality. Stores may deny gay couples goods and services because they are gay. Hotels can eject gay couples or deny them entry in the first place. Businesses that provide public accommodations—movie theaters, restaurants—can turn away gay couples at the door. And if a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney’s fees.
Unlike Rep. Esau’s idiotic no-divorce bill, the anti-gay measure will actually become law. Most likely, the federal courts will strike it down as unconstitutional, but that won’t prevent Republicans in Kansas from wasting money defending it.
By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 15, 2014
“Willful Stupidity In The Obamacare Debate”: Fat Chance, Republicans Are Not Looking For Enlightenment
One of the best arguments for health-insurance reform is that our traditional employer-based system often locked people into jobs they wanted to leave but couldn’t because they feared they wouldn’t be able to get affordable coverage elsewhere.
This worry was pronounced for people with preexisting conditions, but it was not limited to them. Consider families with young children in which one parent would like to get out of the formal labor market for a while to take care of the kids. In the old system, the choices of such couples were constrained if only one of the two received employer-provided family coverage.
Or ponder the fate of a 64-year-old with a condition that leaves her in great pain. She has the savings to retire but can’t exercise this option until she is eligible for Medicare. Is it a good thing to force her to stay in her job? Is it bad to open her job to someone else?
By broadening access to health insurance, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ends the tyranny of “job lock,” which is what the much-misrepresented Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study of the law released Tuesday shows. The new law increases both personal autonomy and market rationality by ending the distortions in behavior the old arrangements were creating.
But that’s not how the study has been interpreted, particularly by enemies of the law. Typical was a tweet from the National Republican Congressional Committee, declaring that “#ObamaCare is hurting the economy, will cost 2.5 millions [sic] jobs.”
Glenn Kessler, The Post’s intrepid fact checker, replied firmly: “No, CBO did not say Obamacare will kill 2 million jobs.” What the report said, as the Wall Street Journal accurately summarized it, is that the law “will reduce the total number of hours Americans work by the equivalent of 2.3 million full-time jobs.”
Oh my God, say opponents of the ACA, here is the government encouraging sloth! That’s true only if you wish to take away the choices the law gives that 64-year-old or to those parents looking for more time to care for their children. Many on the right love family values until they are taken seriously enough to involve giving parents/workers more control over their lives.
And it’s sometimes an economic benefit when some share of the labor force reduces hours or stops working altogether. At a time of elevated unemployment, others will take their place. The CBO was careful to underscore — the CBO is always careful — that “if some people seek to work less, other applicants will be readily available to fill those positions and the overall effect on employment will be muted.”
The CBO did point to an inevitable problem in how the ACA’s subsidies for buying health insurance operate. As your income rises, your subsidy goes down and eventually disappears. This is, as the CBO notes, a kind of “tax.” The report says that if the “subsidies are phased out with rising income in order to limit their total costs, the phaseout effectively raises people’s marginal tax rates (the tax rates applying to their last dollar of income), thus discouraging work.”
But the answer to this is either to make the law’s subsidies more generous — which the ACA’s detractors would oppose because, as the CBO suggests, doing so would cost more than the current law — or to guarantee everyone health insurance, single-payer style, so there would be no “phaseout” and no “marginal tax rates.” I could go with this, but I doubt many of the ACA’s critics would.
The rest of the CBO report contained much good news for Obamacare: Insurance premiums under the law are 15 percent lower than originally forecast, “the slowdown in Medicare cost growth” is “broad and persistent” and enrollments will catch up over time to where they would have been absent Obamacare’s troubled rollout.
The reaction to the CBO study is an example of how willfully stupid — there’s no other word — the debate over Obamacare has become. Opponents don’t look to a painstaking analysis for enlightenment. They twist its findings and turn them into dishonest slogans. Too often, the media go along by highlighting the study’s political impact rather than focusing on what it actually says. My bet is that citizens are smarter than this. They will ignore the noise and judge Obamacare by how it works.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, February 5, 2014
“A Nasty Piece Of Work”: There’s No Getting Rid Of David Vitter, America’s Most Contemptible Senator
I was once shooting the breeze with a Democratic senator I knew fairly well. This was a few years ago, back when the toxic atmosphere wasn’t quite as hideous as it would become. Just on a personal level, I asked: Who on the other side is surprisingly nice, and who’s just a real prick? I don’t remember the surprisingly nice answers, but on the S.O.B. factor the senator’s response was immediate: David Vitter.
He’s a nasty piece of work, the junior senator from Louisiana. He doesn’t seem to like anybody. He loathes senior senator Mary Landrieu, he detests Governor Bobby Jindal, he despises the media. They all pretty much hate him back. And yet, by merely announcing, he immediately became the odds-on favorite to win the governor’s race in 2015. Why?
The announcement may seem surprising to those of us outside the state, but “this was the worst-kept secret in Louisiana,” a political operative with knowledge of the state told me Monday. Vitter has been holding a series of town-hall meetings and tele-town-hall meetings, signaling the obvious intention.
I’ll get to race handicapping in a few paragraphs, but first let’s deal with the only thing most people know about David Vitter (who has not, by the way, distinguished himself in the Senate in any way). I’ve always wondered: How in the world did he survive that hooker business? Not only did he admit he was a client of Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s escort service. She then went and hanged herself. Not over him personally. Over the whole mess, and staring at serious jail time. But still. Extramarital relations are one thing, with a staffer or a woman of accomplishment; politicians almost always slog their way through that. But here we had the guy calling on hookers, and the dead body of the madam. And Vitter skated through it and sailed to reelection two years later. How?
“He hid for a year and a half,” says my operative. At first, when his name was revealed by Hustler in connection to the case, Vitter acknowledged it. He said he’d asked for and received his wife’s and (somewhat presumptuously) God’s forgiveness. After that he would say no more—“out of respect for my family.” Nice touch.
By the time 2010 came around, Palfrey was less important to the state’s voters than the fact that Charlie Melancon, the Democrat who challenged Vitter, had “voted with Barack Obama 98 percent of the time” in Congress. That’s all Vitter said. That, and the forgiveness thing, and the “fact” that illegal immigrants were cutting holes through chain-link fences and being welcomed by bleeding-heart Melanconistas with a brass band and a waiting limousine, as this really vile and racist TV ad of his had it. Vile and racist works down there, so what had seemed at first like a close-ish race became a 19-point whupping.
Ever since, Vitter has been fine, with his approval rating up in the high 50s. I guess all it takes to do that is to be right wing and anti-Obama. And so, he’s the favorite to be the state’s next governor.
But that could change. The declared field so far is no great shakes—the Republican lieutenant governor and a Democratic state representative. Not even any members of Congress yet. But here are a couple of developments to keep an eye on. First, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, faces reelection on Feb. 1. He’s expected to roll to an easy win. “If it’s a landslide, he’ll have to consider the governor’s race,” says the operative. Second, there’s Mary Landrieu’s (they’re brother and sister) reelection this fall. That’s expected to be very close. If she loses and is out of a job, might she give it a shot? She and Vitter have the reputation of disliking each other more, maybe a lot more, than any other state’s two U.S. senators. Landrieu v. Vitter for governor would be awesome.
But even if the field doesn’t get a lot stronger, Louisiana politics blogger Robert Mann still thinks Vitter might have a harder time than he did in 2010. It’s not always great to be the front-runner this far out, because everyone below you is attacking you. And, Mann notes, Vitter’s not going to be able to make this race about Obama, who’ll be on the way out in 2015.
There’s an interesting Vitter-Jindal subplot going on here, which is nicely detailed by Marin Cogan at The New Republic, and the issue of whom Jindal might endorse is an interesting one. Though he’s unpopular overall in the state, he’s still in decent shape among the state’s Republicans, so his word might carry some weight. But he’ll be off running for president in 2015 (yes, he still apparently thinks he can do this!).
So Vitter is all in. And even if he somehow loses the governor’s race, it’s no real skin off his nose—he’d remain a senator, because that seat isn’t up until 2016. And running for reelection then, he can just run ads with Hillary Clinton welcoming swarthy illegals with open arms. Easy peasy. One way or another, we’re stuck with this guy for a while.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, January 22, 2014