Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Fellowship Foundation -- they are ALL ABOUT POWER

Worse Than Fascists: Christian Political Group 'The Family' Openly Reveres Hitler

Did you know that the National Prayer Breakfast is sponsored by a shadowy cabal of elite Christian fundamentalists? Jeff Sharlet's new book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," offers a rare glimpse of this remarkable network, which is known variously as the Family, the Fellowship and the International Foundation.

The Family was founded 70 years ago by Abraham Vereide,


a Norwegian immigrant evangelist based in Seattle. In 1935, Vereide said, God appeared to him in a vision and revealed where Christianity had gone wrong: preoccupation with the poor, the weak and the suffering.

The down-and-out were in no position to bring about the Kingdom of God, Vereide realized. Some Christians believe that the rapture is imminent, but not the Family. They're convinced that Jesus won't return until we get our collective house in order. If they were to wait for the down-and-out to remake the world in God's image, we could be here forever.

Besides, in Seattle in the 1930s, union agitators were making a play for the down-and-out. Christianity promised rewards in the hereafter, but workers in the Pacific Northwest were starting to wonder why they had to wait so long. Instead of competing for market share with the Industrial Workers of the World, Vereide sought a different niche.

His new plan was to target men who were already powerful and turn them to God -- and wouldn't you know it, God hated unions, too.

Through personal relationships and small group encounters, Vereide united captains of industry and politicians as a Biblical bulwark against the increasing power of organized labor.

In the late 1940s, the Family helped roll back key pro-labor provisions of the New Deal. Later, the Family did its part for the Cold War by cultivating anti-communist strongmen around the world, including repressive leaders like Suharto of Indonesia and Jonas Savimbi of Angola.

The roster of current and former Family members includes senators, congressmen, Fortune 500 CEOs, generals and at least one Supreme Court justice. The Family does not publish membership lists, and its members are sworn to secrecy, so a full accounting is impossible.

Sen. Hillary Clinton has been involved with the Family since 1993 when, as first lady, she joined a White House prayer circle for political wives. Clinton has also sought spiritual counseling from the current head of the Family, Doug Coe. Sharlet argues that Clinton's longtime association with the Family has helped her forge working relationships with powerful religious conservatives such as Family member and anti-abortion crusader Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas.

The Family nurtures the next generation of prayer warriors in suburban dormitories. Sharlet spent nearly a month living at Ivanwald, a dormitory in Virginia where sons of the Family are sent to immerse themselves in Jesus and clean the toilets of congressmen and senators.

The Family also runs a house on C Street in Washington, D.C. The C Street Center has housed a number of federal legislators, including Sen. John Ensign of Nevada. Residents allege that the center is just a cheap place to live, but as an Ivanwald brother, Sharlet saw firsthand that the center is a religious community. As far as the IRS is concerned, the C Street Center is a church.

Members will tell you that the Family is just a group of friends. As Sharlet discovered, 600 boxes of documents at the Billy Graham Center Archives tell a different story.

AlterNet writer Lindsay Beyerstein recently sat down with Jeff Sharlet at a Brooklyn coffee shop to discuss the Family.

Lindsay Beyerstein What is the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: It's an international network of evangelical activists in government, military and business. The Family is dedicated to this idea that Christianity has gotten it all wrong for two thousand years by focusing on the poor, the suffering and the weak.

The Family says that instead, what Christians should do is minister to the up-and-out -- as opposed to the down-and-out -- to those that are already powerful. Because if they can win those people for Christ, they win the whole deal. That's what this network is dedicated to. It includes nonprofit organizations, it includes think tanks, it includes various ministries.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Where did they get the idea that they should be ministering to the up-and-out? There doesn't seem to be a lot basis in Christianity for that view.

Jeff Sharlet: Two places. The founder of the Family, Abraham Vereide, would describe it as his "new revelation" that came to him in the middle of the night, very literally: in a vision from God in 1935 in response to the Great Depression and, more particularly, to a series of very successful labor strikes that he saw as challenging God's sovereignty. So, God comes and gives him this new revelation to say, "This is what I really meant …"

Early on, Vereide and the Family weren't actually talking about scripture, but as time went on they began invoking more and more a particular verse of Paul's Letter to the Romans, which is popular among fundamentalists, Romans:13: "The Powers that Be are Ordained of God." And it goes on to say that if you resist those powers, you're in a lot of trouble. Interpreted literally, this is the key text in authoritarian Christianity. So, that's where they're getting it.

Obey only those who have the Authority.

Lindsay Beyerstein: In "The Family," a lot of subjects explicitly state their admirationfor Hitler and other authoritarian political figures. How much of that is admiring their style, and how much is admiring their substance?

Jeff Sharlet: I'd argue that there isn't a hell of a lot of difference. I spent a lot of time living with these guys, and I remember at one point asking them, "What's the deal with all this Hitler talk?" And they'd say, "Oh, it's not the ends, it's the means." But to most of us, the means seem pretty bad, too. The means are authoritarianism.

It's pretty close to the substance because it grows out of this very broad movement in the 1930s of elites concluding that democracy has run its course, that democracy was a temporary phase in world history. And so, these people were experimenting with all sorts of different alternatives. And remember, before World War II it was considered a perfectly legitimate and acceptable position to endorse fascism.

Lindsay Beyerstein: When I read the book, I found myself thinking about Umberto Eco's essay, "Eternal Fascism," which provides a kind of checklist of the essential characteristics of fascism. How many of those criteria does the Family meet?

Jeff Sharlet:The book I find helpful as a succinct guide to fascism is a book by historian Robert Paxton. He'll boil it down into five principles or ten principles. The Family's always hovering around 80 percent, but never all the way.

And that's an important distinction to make. I think many progressives want to reduce everything bad to fascism. There's more than one kind of bad under the sun. One of the arguments in this book is that these guys aren't fascists; they're ultimately something worse. They're not fascists because they don't explicitly revere violence. Lots of violence occurs through various dimensions, but in fascism, violence is thought to have redemptive power.

Lindsay Beyerstein: So, they don't literally believe in physical conflict when they describe themselves as warriors for Christ?

Jeff Sharlet: Oh, no. (They think) that's fine, but they don't love violence the way that fascism did. Their leader, Doug Coe, says that the Bible is filled with mass murderers. And it is. The difference is that European fascism was based on this idea that you can only become truly human through violence. The Family will say, oh no, we're pursuing peace. Hitler wasn't pursuing peace. The goal was this constant redemptive violence.

The other thing is they differ in the strictness of their nationalism. The Family is an American ideology, and it has a lot of American ideology involved, but still it was founded by a Norwegian immigrant. It's more pluralist than European fascism that was about cleansing the blood. The Family is an imperial ideology, which is why I think it's ultimately worse than fascism. Since the Second World War, fascism hasn't been a very powerful ideology, but imperialism has.

Lindsay Beyerstein: What kind of empire do they envision?

Jeff Sharlet: They envision the empire that we have. Doug Coe says, "We work with power where we can and build new power where we can't." Usually they can work within power. Rob Shank, another Christian right activist in Washington, says, "The Family is into living with what is."

In the immediate postwar era, they were talking about Christian D-Day and Washington as the world's Christian capital. And World War Three, they were very excited about that, all full-steam ahead. But they sort of subsided and were subsumed into the American Cold War project, which ended up becoming an imperial project.

Lindsay Beyerstein: What did the Family have to do with a B-movie called "The Blob"?

Jeff Sharlet: The best illustration of the Family's involvement in the Cold War was something that I stumbled on by accident: The 1958 film "The Blob." It began at the 1957 National Prayer Breakfast. "The Blob" was a famous horror movie that was a metaphor for Communism. This is their imagination of how Communism spread. At the time, the American imagination couldn't grasp ideology, so it had to be an actual goo that globs more and more people and grows and becomes expansive. As I recall, they have to blow up the town at the end. The logic of "The Blob" is that we must destroy the village in order to save it. That's the logic of Vietnam.

The project actually began at the National Prayer Breakfast. This filmmaker who had been making fundamentalist films, Irvin "Shorty" Yeaworth, was on the lookout for someone to make this film. (The writer) Kate Phillips was a B-movie sci-fi actress. Not a Christian Right person; (she was) there as a guest of a friend of hers. She's there at the breakfast and they become friends. They end up making this movie.

"The Blob" was paralleled with this other movie. This other movie that comes out of the Prayer Breakfast is "Militant Liberty." John Groger, on Family payroll and on the Pentagon payroll, he was obsessed with making these kooky films that were almost too weird for the Pentagon, like "Operation Abolition," because it was so trippy and so bent on blaming the spread of Communism on Japanese youth culture.

Lindsay Beyerstein: On Japanese youth culture?

Jeff Sharlet: Don't forget, there was a pretty powerful Japanese communist movement after the Second World War. Japan would have been a communist country had it not been for us buying their political system wholesale.

So, that's "The Blob." The whole approach represents their understanding of Communism and the way America responded. Tim Weiner, in "Legacy of Ashes," has a devastating critique. The real issue is incompetence -- they never understood who they were fighting. You might say, "Hey, I'm down with anti-communism" -- but they were always bent on fighting with these crazy schemes and networks. That's not the way to combat Stalinism, which is an evil ideology.

It's just as true now, when I look at what the Family does today in the Central Asian Republic. The 1999 Silk Road Strategy Act, sponsored by Sam Brownback, and Rep. Joe Pitts renewed it in 2006. Combat militant Islam in Central Asia by pouring American aid into dictatorial regimes. This same kind of top-down aid.

Thugs have always understood that they could use the Family. … When you see Suharto getting down on his knees and praying to Jesus with members of the Family -- he's Muslim, technically, but he's not even really that; he's a dictator.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Sort of like Daniel Plainview in the movie "There Will Be Blood"? (Plainview is the cynical oil man who makes a big show of converting to Christianity at a revival meeting to consolidate his power in town.)

Jeff Sharlet: Daniel Plainview had more integrity. That's a nice comparison, I hadn't thought of that. Some of these central Asian dictators are not drinking the Kool-Aid.

(At some level, the Family understands.) One member says that he'd rather let in a few wolves then keep out one sheep. I just want to know: When is the sheep getting here? Because all they've got are wolves.

The more interesting analysis is to view it not as cynicism but as a logical outcome of a theology that reveres power. This is not their system not working; it's their system working.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Does this attitude have to do with the Family's unusual theology? In the book you say that they teach a kind of ultrasubjectivism, stripping away all history, doctrine, institutions and all rituals until "religion" is just what pops into your head.

Jeff Sharlet: This is very important. It's a seductive idea for many on the left as well. These attitudes go back to 1930s. It was part of the feeling that democracy had run its course.

Whenever you strip away history, you are stripping away accountability. The irony is that sometimes people on the left make the same kind of noises, like, "We're not going to get all caught up in institutions and religions" -- leaving aside the history of that rhetoric in anti-Catholicism and anti-Semitism.

Whenever you strip away history, you are stripping away things you wish you hadn't done, and accountability for that. When people say that "we're not going to get all caught up in the law and the rules," they mean anti-Semitism. They may not know they mean that that's the history of it.

Lindsay Beyerstein: They think it's bad even to know about history?

Jeff Sharlet: They just don't care. One of the ironies of this book is that now they're in my debt. I know more about the history of their movement than they do. (That's why they were so casual about what ended up in the Family's records at the Billy Graham archives.) It didn't even occur to them that anyone would find anything wrong there, including various government documents that shouldn't have been there.

Lindsay Beyerstein: There's a story in the book that says a lot about how the Family operates, the one about the South African secrecy memo …

Jeff Sharlet: My favorite document in the entire archives. This was, I think, sometime in the '80s, the Family was very involved in South Africa supporting a right-wing black movement lead by Mangosuthu Buthelezi. They were part of a group of white South Africans cultivating him. A Family operative wrote a letter to a colleague saying, "You've got to be very careful, those outside we don't understand. That's why we do things through networks and friendships and travel around. Never put anything too specific on paper." The guy wrote back: "I understand, I've made copies of this for all my co-workers." I don't know whether he was passive aggressive, or just dumb as a brick.

Lindsay Beyerstein: In the book you say that the Family treats powerful women like Hillary Clinton as if they belonged to a kind of "third gender" that's female but not subordinate like ordinary women …

Jeff Sharlet: When I was at Ivanwald, I'd see these young women as servants. They came from wealthy families. They were women who have a lot of privileges in life. You'd have expected to have gone on to great things because they started with a big push [LB Note: But the Family had them scrubbing floors and serving coffee.] Then a woman political leader would come around and it would be a whole different story.

There are wives like Grace Nelson, wife of conservative Democrat Bill Nelson. Bill was an astronaut -- still has a spacesuit. He still wears it for occasions.

Lindsay Beyerstein: The suit still fits?

Jeff Sharlet: He's quite trim, I'll give him that. But Grace is obviously the political mover and shaker in that couple. She served on board of the Fellowship Foundation. Still, she's just the wife, secondary. Same with Joanne Kemp. Jack Kemp is a pretty aggressive leader, but it was Joanne who brought Christian ideas to Washington to start the Schaeffer Foundation nonprofit for the study of these ideas.

Two ways third gender works in the Family: There are these very strong wives who oftentimes are very strong-willed people. I'm just reading Katherine Joyce's book on Quiverfull … And the other are women like Hillary Clinton, who's just a man as far as they're concerned.

Lindsay Beyerstein: What's Hillary's involvement with the Family? What is she getting out of it?

Jeff Sharlet: As I was researching the book, I knew Hillary had this strange connection. I didn't think much of it until I was reporting on Sen. Sam Brownback. Everyone knew I was a reporter from "Rolling Stone," probably more liberal than they were. So, a way that a lot of Family people would reach out to be friendly was to tell me that Hillary Clinton was OK with them. They'd tell me that HRC was going for regular spiritual counseling with Doug Coe.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Is she still getting counseling from him?

Jeff Sharlet: This was in 2005, and she refused to say anything about this. When NBC questioned her about this, her only answer was that (she's) not a member and (she) has never given Doug Coe money -- which was a strangely parsed kind of answer.

Lindsay Beyerstein: The Family has some strange ideas about what it means to be chosen by God. Tell me about the incident in the book when Doug Coe's son, David Coe, dropped by Ivanwald to give the brothers instruction on chosenness.

Jeff Sharlet: David Coe used to be the heir apparent in the Family. He's still involved in ministry to congressmen, and at the time he was also meeting with Hillary. He'd come around to talk to the young guys at Ivanwald to talk about his vision of Biblical leadership. One day he says to brother Beau: "Suppose I heard you'd raped three little girls, what would I think of you?" Beau, being a human being, says, "That I'm pretty bad?" But David Coe says: "No, no, I wouldn't. Because you're chosen … like King David."

Lindsay Beyerstein: Does the Family have a different perspective on sexual morality than mainstream fundamentalism?

Jeff Sharlet: In one sense, their sexual morality is a very restrictive, traditional, fundamentalist morality. Yet one of their major influences was Frank Buchman of Moral Re-Armament in the 1930s. He was all but "out" as gay. But he was also one of the early architects of anti-gay invective on the Christian right. He even wrote a pamphlet on how to spot gay men: their green shoes and their affection for suede.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Explicit sexual confession in small groups is a big deal in the Family, right?

Jeff Sharlet: Yes. I started paying attention when I visited Westmont College, a major recruiting base for the Family. Some of the professors are very concerned about the focus on small group sex confessions: Parents are spending $80,000 to send their kids to college, and they go off to become a driver for Doug Coe. Then they tell their parents that they sat in a circle and talked about masturbation. Of course, they don't do that sort of thing at the weekly prayer meeting in the Senate.

Sam Brownback told me, there are two functions of sexual confession: You confess, and they help you. You say, "My girlfriend and I almost held hands the other day." And they say "Don't do it, brother!" It's also a way of creating a bond in the group: If I have had gay thoughts and I tell the group, then they have something on me. And if you say you've cheated on your wife, they have something on you.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Kind of a mutually assured destruction?

Jeff Sharlet: Yeah.

Lindsay Beyerstein: An interesting paradox comes through in the book. The Family is both revolutionary and elitist. They see themselves as warriors fighting to remake the world, but really they are the establishment.

Jeff Sharlet: All that revolutionary rhetoric serves a very status quo version of the world. The real threat of the right is not what they're going to do, but what they've done. You have to consider what happens in America, which is part of the empire, versus what happens in the rest of the world. Here, they think things should stay as they are. Like rolling back FDR's New Deal. FDR came along and said, "Let's change things." The Family said no.

Lindsay Beyerstein: So, you have to consider what happens in America, which is part of the empire, versus what happens in the rest of the world.

Jeff Sharlet: All that revolutionary rhetoric serves a very status quo version of the world. The real threat of the right is not what they're going to do, but what they've done. You have to consider what happens in America, which is part of the empire, versus what happens in the rest of the world. Here, they think things should stay as they are. Like rolling back FDR's New Deal. FDR came along and said, "Let's change things." The Family said no.

Abroad, Suharto was supporting very violent revolution that reasserted hierarchical control. People had gotten out from under colonial yoke; if they go democratic, they might choose socialism or whatever. But Suharto came along and reasserted the hierarchy.

Lindsay Beyerstein: So, the Family loves the revolutionary rhetoric, but they're really about keeping things the way they are?

Jeff Sharlet: It's about the co-optation of cool by Madison Avenue. Counterculture is cool, and it's the bestselling tool ever. Capitalism has always had this understanding that we could use this counterculture rhetoric (as an alternative to communist rhetoric). In the 1950s, Eisenhower recognized that the rhetoric of communism was much more appealing to the average person than rhetoric of capitalism. "Everyone's going to share" is more appealing than "If you're lucky, you'll make a living, and if you're not lucky, it's your own damned fault and you'll suffer."

So, the government in a big way turns toward the Religious Right to market capitalism. It flopped. So, they tried spreading people's capitalism by focusing on the love part.

The right understood that in a way that the left doesn't. A left that organizes itself solely in a reactionary way is missing something. You can't just say: "Look, another corrupt Bush official!" No. What's needed is a much more joyful politics.


The Stealth Persuader: Many people think Congress is the host of the gala annual National Prayer Breakfast, which takes place this week. It is not. The breakfast is organized by 33 members of Congress who belong to a well-connected but secretive Christian group called the Fellowship Foundation, which is run by Douglas Coe. Coe, 76, has been called the "stealth Billy Graham." He specializes in the spiritual struggles of the powerful.

Several members of Congress live in rooms rented in a town house owned by a foundation affiliated with the group. Coe and his associates sometimes travel (on their own dime) with congressional members abroad and—according to investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Harper's—have played backstage roles in such diplomatic coups as the 1976 Camp David accords. Yet Coe also befriends dictators. "He would still hold out hope that these people could be redeemed and try to work through them to help the people over whom they have authority," says Richard Carver, president of the Fellowship's board of directors. Some skeptical Evangelicals criticize Coe's indiscriminate alliances and his downplaying of Jesus' divinity in favor of his earthly teachings—which allows Coe to pray with Muslim and Buddhist leaders. But few turn down an opportunity to confer with him.


The Family (also known as The Fellowship, The Fellowship Foundation, and The International Foundation) is the name of a designedly informal U.S. organization that claims to be centered around the life and teachings of Jesus. The group, without any formal membership, has relationships that span from poor communities in developing countries to prominent members of the United States Congress. It is best known for its role in organizing the annual National Prayer Breakfast, at which the President of the United States customarily makes an address. Douglas Coe has led the group since 1966. It has 20,000 members, directed by 350 leaders.

The Family was founded in Seattle in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant and traveling preacher who had been working with the city's poor, and who feared that "socialist" politicians were about to take over Seattle's municipal government. Prominent members of Seattle's business community recognized his success with those who were "down and out" and asked him to give spiritual direction to their group who were "up and out." He organized Christian prayer breakfasts for politicians and businessmen that included anti-Communism and anti-union discussions. He was subsequently invited to set up similar meetings among political and business leaders in San Francisco and Chicago. By 1942, the organization had moved headquarters to Washington, DC, where it helped create breakfast groups in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. In 1944, the organization's name was changed to International Christian Leadership, then in 1972, to The Fellowship Foundation. It was at this time that the group's leaders decided to lower the Fellowship's public profile by decentralizing its leadership.

The organization has been criticized for its relationships with dictators, including Brazilian dictator Marshal Artur da Costa e Silva, General Suharto of Indonesia, Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez , Siad Barre in Somalia . More recently, Congress members of the "Family" have voted texts in favor of Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti and of Park Chung-hee in South Korea .

In the 1930s, Vereide also recruited the antisemitic Merwin K. Hart, labelled by the FBI as a supporter of the US fascist movement . Following World War II, Vereide visited prisoners camps in Germany, and recruited several former Nazis, such as the Gestapo's head in America, Ulrich von Geinath , Dr. Otto Fricke , a radio propaganda specialist of Joseph Goebbels' service , or Hermann J. Abs, "Hitler's banker" .

Vereide's principal collaborator in France was Edmond Michelet, five-time minister under President Charles de Gaulle .

Fellowship members have been active in reconciliation efforts between the warring leaders of The Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.

The organization has operated under other names, including: National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, the National Leadership Council, Fellowship House, the National Fellowship Council.

The Family has interlocking leadership with the New Age "Cultural Creative" Movement in the form of Paul N. Temple, a former Standard Oil executive who was also instrumental in founding the Institute of Noetic Sciences as well as the World Business Academy. In 1987, "The Family" co-sponsored a conference, "Bridging Through Christ" at the Goldlake New Age center near Boulder, Colorado. Barbara Marx Hubbard and Doug Coe co-chaired the event; David Spangler, Findhorn Community representatives, Conservative Baptist Seminary representatives including Vernon Grounds and Gordon Lewis participated. The catalyst appears to have been Paul N. Temple, who co-founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences and is a major funder of both IONS and The Family, through his "Three Swallows Foundation. Funding to "The Family" is indicated as to "International Foundation." The address of 133 C Street, SE is the mailing address for Doug Coe, which is the address given on the 990 IRS form of the Three Swallows Foundation

The Fellowship is incorporated in the United States as a tax-free 501(c)(3) organization operating under the name The Fellowship Foundation. While they conduct no fundraising operations, they reported revenues of more than $12 million in 2003 from donations. Its mission statement is:

"To develop and maintain an informal association of people banded together, to go out as "ambassadors of reconciliation," modeling the principles of Jesus, based on loving God and loving others. To work with the leaders of other nations, and as their hearts are touched, the poor, the oppressed, the widows and the youth of their country will be impacted in a positive manner. It is said that youth groups will be developed under the thoughts of Jesus, including loving others as you want to be loved."

Their primary activity is to develop small support groups for members of Congress, businesspersons, and anyone else who is interested in the teachings of Jesus. Prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense. They have connections to the CIA.

The Fellowship maintains a three-story, 7,914-square-foot red brick townhouse at 133 C Street in Washington, D.C., near the United States Capitol. The townhouse used to be a convent. As many as six members of Congress, Democratic and Republican, live here while in Washington. In 2003, these men paid $600 a month to live there: U.S. Reps. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; Bart Stupak, D-Mich.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; and Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; and U.S. Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev.; and Sam Brownback, R-Kan. The house, which was valued at $1.1 million in 2003, is owned by a Fellowship sister organization called the C Street Center. IRS records show that the Center received more than $145,000 in grants from the Fellowship between 1997 and 2000.

The Fellowship operates a retreat center as an "unofficial headquarters," at the end of Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington (not far from the CIA!), Va. Called "The Cedars," it was purchased in 1978 through donations from, among others, Tom Phillips, CEO of arms manufacturer Raytheon; and Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment Corporation.

There is no official membership of the group. Most members of Congress who participate are from the Republican Party but some Democrats such as Hillary Clinton (Doug Coe is a pastor/ advisor for Clinton) participate as well. Clinton's associates distanced her from Coe in 2008, saying that Clinton was not a member of The Fellowship and never contributed money to it. They also said that Clinton had not heard sermons Coe gave using Nazi and Communist leaders as examples of gaining commitment. (See Mitchell, Andrea and Popkin, Jim. "Political ties to a secretive religious group", NBC News, 2008-04-03. Retrieved on 2008-05-04.) Senators who have been cited as members of the organization include Don Nickles and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Charles Grassley of Iowa, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, John Ensign of Nevada, Bill Nelson of Florida, Conrad Burns of Montana. Members of the House who have been cited as participants include Frank Wolf of Virginia and Joseph Pitts of Pennsylvania. Charles Colson, an adviser of Richard Nixon, was also a member of "the Family"

The International Foundation (aka The Family, The Fellowship, The Fellowship Foundation, and Jesus Plus Nothing), is the sponsor of the National Prayer Breakfast, long seen as ground zero of evangelical influence in Washington D.C. More recently, though, The International Foundation has become better known for promoting syncretism with its rabbis and imams at the podium. In keeping with its promotion of Muslim-Christian rapprochement, The International Foundation has become much-enamored with Mark Siljander and his approach to Islam.

Mr. Siljander, a former high-profile evangelical congressman from Michigan recently indicted for money laundering, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice, just published a book opposing the historic Christian position on Islam (that it's simply another Christian heresy). Mr. Siljander is touring the country with his revisionist gospel of misunderstood Islam and its Quran, and in this he's typical of a host of former-evangelical (my label) missionaries who say 'God' and 'Allah' are both names for the True God, that there's no reason for Muslim converts to Christianity to stop going to the mosque for daily prayers, and that baptism of these converts and membership in a Christian church is unnecessary given the dire consequences of conversion in an Islamic nation...

It sounded like a reality show on the PAX network: Six conservative politicians living in a DC townhouse owned by a fundamentalist Christian organization. What happens when you stop being polite and start finding Jesus?

In April, the AP broke the story that six U.S. congressmen were paying the bargain rate of $600 a month each to live together in a swanky DC townhouse owned by a secretive fundamentalist Christian group known as the Fellowship or the Foundation. Many, understandably, were curious. Who is this organization, and what is its agenda?

The group, the AP reported, is best known for holding the annual National Prayer Breakfast at the White House, which offers scores of national and international heavy hitters the opportunity to praise God in close proximity to the President. In the article, the congressmen boarding at the house denied owing any allegiance to the group, and several professed ignorance of even the most basic facts about the organization. Little else was reported about the group's history, motives or backers.

There is a reason for that. The Fellowship is one of the most secretive, and most powerful, religious organizations in the country. Its connections reach to the highest levels of the U.S. government and include ties to the CIA and numerous current and past dictators around the world.

Last month, Harper's magazine published a rather extraordinary article by Jeffrey Sharlet, editor of the irreverent web site and co-author of the upcoming "Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible" (Free Press). The piece chronicled Sharlet's three-week semi-undercover stay at Ivanwald, the Fellowship's mansion:

Ivanwald, which sits at the end of Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington, Virginia, is known only to its residents and to the members and friends of the organization that sponsors it, a group of believers who refer to themselves as "the Family." The Family is, in its own words, an "invisible" association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as "members," as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.).

Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries. The Family maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards and collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities. The organization has operated under many guises, some active, some defunct: National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, the National Leadership Council, Fellowship House, the Fellowship Foundation, the National Fellowship Council, the International Foundation. These groups are intended to draw attention away from the Family, and to prevent it from becoming, in the words of one of the Family's leaders, "a target for misunderstanding."

The Family's only publicized gathering is the National Prayer Breakfast, which it established in 1953 and which, with congressional sponsorship, it continues to organize every February in Washington, D.C. Each year 3,000 dignitaries, representing scores of nations, pay $425 each to attend. Steadfastly ecumenical, too bland most years to merit much press, the breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can "meet Jesus man to man."

If this all sounds like something out of a conspiracy theorist's wet dream (or paranoid nightmare), you're right. Sharlet's account of his three weeks of "man to man" interaction can only be described as disturbing and downright bizarre. In fact, it was so creepy many accused him of making the whole thing up.

So what did Sharlet find?

GNN: You went undercover into this house. Who were you posing as and what were you trying to find?

SHARLET: Actually, I was posing as myself. I write about religion. A friend said go check it out, it's an interesting place. I went not knowing the politics. Within a few days I began to see things were not at all what I expected. This was connected to a pretty vast political network. Still it was quite a pleasant place to live. These people had a different approach than I did, but I was interested in learning. As time went on I started hearing more and more disturbing talk.

That's when I started keeping my ears open. I didn't go in undercover, but I suppose I left undercover. But I told them who I was, I never told a lie.

GNN: Some people have called your story a hoax.

SHARLET: I've got lots of letters from people saying this has got to be a hoax, or please tell me it's a hoax or curiously from people who know a little too much to be saying the things they were saying.

GNN: What are some this group's core ideas and what level of secrecy is involved here?

SHARLET: The goal is an "invisible" world organization led by Christ -- that's what they aspire to. They are very explicit about this if you look in their documents, and I spent a lot of time researching in their archives. Their goal is a worldwide invisible organization. That's their word, and that's important because it sounds so crazy.

What they mean when they say "a world organization led by Christ" is that literally you just sit there and let Christ tell you what to do. More often than not that leads them to a sort of paternalistic benign fascism. There are a lot of places that they've done good things, and that's important to acknowledge. But that also means they might be involved with General Suharto in Indonesia and if that means that God leads him to kill half a million of his own citizens then, well, it would prideful to question God leading them.

GNN: Who are these guys, and how many are there?

SHARLET: The only estimate was made by Charles Colson, Nixon's chief dirty tricks guy who went on to become the head of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Right before he went to prison the founder [of the Fellowship] Doug Coe turned him on to Christ. Colson said there are about 20,000 people involved in the U.S. But you aren't really supposed to talk about it.

I always say to interviewers, "This is not a conspiracy." There's no secret badge or anything. It's much looser. This is how the vast right-wing conspiracy works, by being associates, friends.

GNN: But they speak of themselves as operating in terrorist-like cells.

SHARLET: Yes, they do. Inside your cell, you might know six or eight guys.

Let me give you a real quick history. In 1935, Abraham Vereide starts it. By the 1940s he has about a third of Congress attending a weekly prayer meeting. In the mid-50s, he gets Eisenhower's support.

[According to a 2002 Los Angeles Times article, during the 1950's Vereide played a major role in the U.S. government's anti-communist activities: "Pentagon officials secretly met at the group's Washington Fellowship House in 1955 to plan a worldwide anti-communism propaganda campaign endorsed by the CIA, documents from the Fellowship archives and the Eisenhower Presidential Library show. Then known as International Christian Leadership, the group financed a film called 'Militant Liberty' that was used by the Pentagon abroad." Showing Faith in Discretion, Lisa Getter, The Los Angeles Times, Sep 27, 2002]

It's sort of stabilized now. By the mid-60's, they sort of realized they didn't want too many people. Too many people dilute the organization.

One scene I saw was Congressman Todd Tiahrt, Republican from Kansas, who seemed as if he was interviewing to be in the organization. He was very nervous. The leader of the organization was asking him questions, sort of leaning back and testing him. I think he wanted into this network, and he would fumble a little by talking about abortion. They don't really care about abortion. They are against it but they aren't really concerned about it.

GNN: What are their core issues then?

SHARLET: The core issue is capitalism and power. The core issue they would say, is love. There are a lot of different things love means. They will always work with both sides of the issue. I saw some correspondence with Chinese officials before Deng Xiao Ping was in power. They had some very clandestine associations with senior Chinese officials, and were told Deng was a guy they could do business with. So that was fine with them.

GNN: When you say 'do business,' was it all about actual business deals?

SHARLET: I wouldn't say it was all about business deals. But if you happened to be praying with someone and you were done praying and said, "Hey, I have some F-16s to sell..." They would deny there is any connection.

They are pretty careful about those kinds of things. They will never say, "We are out here to help set you up in business." They will always help out their friends. "Let me introduce you to someone. The Prime Minister of Malaysia is coming."

GNN: It sounds to me like some sort of extended Skull and Bones, an Old Boys Network crafted onto a religious context.

SHARLET: The religious context is real. The Old Boys Network is about business. This is about more than business. This is about maintaining a certain kind of power, a certain view of how power should be distributed. The Episcopalian Old Boys Network was a lot more easygoing than this. This is a lot more militaristic. Really at its fundamental core, almost monarchist. We would be told time and time again, "Christ's kingdom is not a democracy" This is their model for leadership. They would often say, "Everything you need to know about government is right there in the cross - it's vertical not horizontal."

GNN: In that vein, reading your article I got the impression they are praising guys like Adolph Hitler and Ghengis Khan -- a lot. Is that a fair assessment of your intention?

SHARLET: In fact, Harpers made me cut back on that stuff. [They said] 'We know it's true, but this is already so much to absorb.' That's why I included that line at the end of the story. The leader of the group is having dinner with the younger members of that group and is talking about the bond, the covenant. And he says, "Can anyone think of someone who had a covenant?" And the answer, of course, and everyone knows it, is "Hitler."

This goes back to the 1960's, Vereide was instructing young men by having them read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich -- "Look at what those guys did." But they will say, "We are not trying to kill Jews." What we are talking about is imagine if you took the "Hitler Concept," and they'll use that phrase, the Hitler Concept, to work for Christ, or the Mao Concept. We're not right wingers, they'll say. You can use the Mao Concept.

GNN: Define what they mean by Hitler Concept.

SHARLET: A loyal leadership cadre, which is interesting because guys like Hitler and Stalin were famous for purging, but they seem to focus on a couple of guys. "If two or three agree" is a phrase they use a lot. If you can get together and focus you can accomplish anything. You don't need to sway the electorate. You don't need to convert everyone to Christ. Everyone doesn't have to believe in Christ, and that's where they differ from other fundamentalists. Some fundamentalists really distrust them for that. [They say] "We need to convert everyone, the high and the low." The Family says, "No we don't need the high." All these guys Hitler, Lenin, Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden is another guy they cite a lot, are guys who understood the power of a political avant garde. That's what they mean by the Hitler Concept. Also keeping your message simple, and repeating it again and again because there is only one message and it is "Jesus Loves." You can express lots of different things with that term.

I always try to play the devil's advocate. They are not the traditional right wing bad guys. They have been able to do what they do for so long because no one has been looking for this kind of thing.

A lot of this is already in the culture, take [the book] "Ghengis Khan Business Secrets," for instance, the admiration authoritarian leaders.

GNN: Here's where I'm confused. To me they sound like Nietzsche. They don't sound like Jesus Christ. They sound like they are creating the Nietzschean superman above the moral universe the rest of us slaves live in.

SHARLET: I don't think I mention Nietzsche in the article, do I?

GNN: I don't think so.

SHARLET: That's really perceptive of you. Many of them love Nietzsche. They think he's fascinating.

GNN: But he hated Christianity. He was the ultimate amoralist.

SHARLET: I know it's weird. There is one really wacky fundamentalist group that thinks Doug Coe could be the Anti-Christ. They're not sure yet, they might need to shave his head and see if he has the mark of the beast.

They have gotten into trouble with a lot of evangelical groups. They invited Yasser Arafat to the National Prayer Breakfast.

They've boasted, and I don't know if it's true, that they had special permission from the State Department to bring anyone they wanted to the Cedars, that they'd brought some Sudanese on the terrorist list to their mansion headquarters and they'd love to get Osama bin Laden down there.

GNN: But where does Christ fit into all of this? This seems like a lot of Old Testament stuff, not the new [Testament], meek-shall-inherit-the-earth Jesus part.

SHARLET: That's an interesting point. For them, Jesus is just a regular guy, a buddy, a guide, the standard evangelical stuff, no sex. It's sort of a weird hipster puritanical view. If you met them you wouldn't think they were uptight.

GNN: Actually, they sound like complete homophobes to me.

SHARLET: They definitely think homosexuality is a sin.

GNN: But they seem like they can't stand women.

SHARLET: They're just not that interested. It's a very gendered point of view. Jesus is everywhere. Jesus is right there with you on the basketball court.

But at the upper levels there is this weird emphasis on the Old Testament. It's in the story, they talk about King David, who in some ways was a really bad guy. They are really interested in the biblical concept that whether you are good or bad it doesn't matter, what matters is whether you are chosen. That's part of the Hitler Concept. It doesn't matter whether Hitler was good or bad, Hitler was chosen for leadership. That was part of God's plan. Nothing happens that isn't part of God's plan.

GNN: Let's cut to this house where these six congressmen are living on C Street in DC. What is the connection, if any, to the Bush Administration? The White House seems to have its own relationship to religion and people who are influencing them on religious issues. Is there a relationship here?

SHARLET: Yes, though I will say it is not exclusively Democrat or Republican. They say there are six guys at the C Street house, there were eight when I was there. They say there is one for members of Parliament in England, and I think there are similar ones in other capitals. The house is constantly rotating. Steve Largent used to live there. John Elias Baldacci, a conservative Democrat who is now the governor of Maine. As for the Bush connection, there is Ashcroft. I discovered in their archives a correspondence between Ashcroft and Coe that began in 1981. Al Gore at one time referred to Doug Coe as his personal hero, which is easy to believe. Doug Coe is an incredibly charming man.

The Bushes have visited the Cedars many times, but all presidents have. Bush Sr. when he was Vice President was hosting dinners for Middle Eastern ambassadors there. There are going to be people at all levels.

GNN: When you say someone "is a part of it" what does that mean? Are you in or out, or is it a loose thing?

SHARLET: It's a loose thing. But there are levels of participation.

GNN: Are they codified like the Masons or something?

SHARLET: There is an inner core group that is codified in their documents, called the Core. I don't know who is in it other than Doug Coe. The documents I saw only went up to the late 80's with senators, congressmen, and a lot of military men. Before he died, Senator Harold Huges was Core. Former Senator Mark Hatfield used to be Core, and may still be. In the AP article, there is an Air Force officer who I hadn't known about. Then there are associates, usually about 150 associates and they are the key individuals in their areas, and then there are the people who are in a cell with an associate and they are very close. And then there are close friends. Senator James Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma, is frequently, for instance, referred to as a close friend. President Museveni of Uganda is a close friend. There is no membership card. In all of their letters there is a paragraph that says this is a private, confidential relationship and we don't talk about it when they are recruiting a new person into the group.

GNN: Are there formal events and meetings, other than this national prayer breakfast?

SHARLET: There are literally thousands of governors', mayors', prayer breakfasts around the country. Some of those probably launched forty, fifty years ago and have long since lost their connection to the mothership, as it were. But that's the idea. They're part of the movement. The system is in place, that we should turn to God to make all our decisions. Up until the 1970's, they had Core meetings around the world, but that's as far as I saw in the documents.

GNN: So how scared are you of this group? Are they a force for fascism or some sort of cult-like group with big connections that comes and goes?

SHARLET: I think they are definitely a force for fascism. I think a lot of the way the world looks is a result of their work. They were instrumental in getting U.S. government support for General Suharto, for the generals' juntas in Brazil. Just take those two countries alone, they are two of the biggest countries on Earth. Those countries might have been progressive democracies a long time ago had it not been for U.S. support for those regimes ...

GNN: But don't you think the CIA and the U.S. government's own agenda had a lot to do with those decisions?

SHARLET: Yeah, but they made those connections.

GNN: What are the connections between the CIA and the Fellowship?

SHARLET: A lot of their key men in a country would be the intelligence officers in the American embassy. Throughout their correspondence, that's the kind of guy they would like to have involved. They always had a lot of Army intelligence guys involved, Pentagon guys.

Doug Coe in the early 70's was touring the frontlines in Vietnam with intelligence officers and South Vietnamese generals. That's the level of connections they are talking about, like the Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova [convicted by a Florida jury for the torture of thousands] and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez [a minister also linked to the CIA and death squads]. They are the people who brought those people in. They said you need to meet this person. That's how it works.

Their diplomacy can affect some good things, like the truce in Rwanda. They had a lot of connections with the South African [apartheid] regime, where they were generally a moderate, even a progressive force. But it's kinda hard to name a nasty regime around the world that doesn't have really well-documented connections to them. Franco was a hold-out. So they started winning over a bunch of ministers in the Franco regime and then they went to Franco and said this is a good group, we can do business with them.

GNN: Why hasn't there been more mainstream press on this?

SHARLET: Lisa Getter of The Los Angeles Times, a Pulitzer prize winning investigative reporter, did a piece on it, but there was no follow-up. I got a little press out of it when my article came out. There is a big reason there hasn't been a lot of press about it and that's the war. On the other hand, and this isn't a conspiracy theory, if they can't see it then it's not there. I mean if you read that your local congressman is sitting there saying Hitler is a leadership model, the local paper should at the very least call up and say, "Congressman Tiahrt do you believe Hitler is a good leadership model?" If he had said, "Noam Chomsky is a great philosopher" then there'd be an investigation in a minute.

Why they are not following up on it? I don't know. Partly because it's so crazy, and partly because there is this idea that religion and politics are separate and religion is a personal thing. The media has always been pretty dumb when it comes to religion. In the New Yorker profile of John Ashcroft they talk about his weekly prayer breakfast, Steve Largent, [former congressman from Oklahoma] in The New York Times, same deal. I think they interviewed him while he was living at the house. The reporter never asked, "Hey, how did you get involved in this? Is this something that existed before you?" The reporter sort of implied it was Largent's idea for the weekly prayer breakfasts.

It hasn't been that secret. The New Republic did an expos� in the late 60's, early 70's, and no one really followed up. Robert Scheer did a piece on it in Playboy in the 1970's.

GNN: Any fallout from the members?

SHARLET: I've talked to several who swear we are still friends.

One guy did say, I'm paraphrasing, 'You're a traitor and you'll be dealt with as a traitor.'

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posted by u2r2h at 6:43 PM


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