Just finished John Gorenfeld’s “Bad Moon Rising.” The unwieldy subtitle says it all: “How Rev. Moon Created The Washington Times, Seduced the Religious Right, and Built an American Kingdom.”
My memory stretches back to the 1970’s, when Moonies were a punchline. They were the ones selling flowers in airports, and rumored to be recruiting new members by giving away cookies laced with LSD. They were considered a bit creepy, especially after other cult horrors like Jim Jones, but the idea of Moon as a major power player in Washington was laughable.
Yet now he is. Moon’s political ascendancy culminated in a bizarre coronation ceremony in a Senate office building in 2004, attended by Senator John “Not-Mark” Warner and at least a dozen members of Congress. What happened?
Unsurprisingly, a lot of it comes down to money. In 1978, Jerry Falwell denounced Moon as an exploiter of young people, one of the “religious phonies who are raping America.” In 1997, Moon bailed out Falwell’s Liberty University to the tune of 3.5 million dollars. In 1982, Chris Matthews scoffed at the thought of Moon buying a newspaper; a few years later, Matthews’s column was running in The Washington Times and he was speaking at a Moon-sponsored media event.
The source of all this money is murky. The Times has been a massive money pit from the start, yet it cranks out fishwrap year after year. Some of Moon’s money comes from tired old con-artist routines: persuading elderly Japanese widows that their late husbands can be saved from eternal suffering with a donation for indulgences. And while high-ranking Times employees appear to be well paid, Moon owns a shadowy network of businesses where church members work for nearly nothing or “volunteer.” Even after Gorenfeld sifts through what is known, there’s a distinct impression that there are pieces that haven’t been uncovered yet.
Moon practices a surprisingly effective sleight of hand. Using a variety of front groups, he contrives to get politicians and other prominent individuals to appear at his events. Some of the good guys have been suckered to appear at Moon’s “award ceremonies” and seminars. Christopher Reeve, Coretta Scott King, and Bill Cosby, among others, agreed to appear at innocuous-sounding community events where Moon’s name wasn’t mentioned until he took the stage. In turn, footage of Moon with respected individuals gives him legitimacy and helps with his fundraising. And the funds get cycled back around to more of these events.
They aren’t all dupes, however. Falwell knew exactly where his endowment was coming from. George H.W. Bush is a repeat offender when it comes to appearances with Moon. And Moon dollars and church members have been spreading into right-wing organizations like the Heritage Foundation. Some of his claims about his influence are undoubtedly just self-aggrandizement, but he bought himself a certain amount of respectability when the Washington Times became Reagan’s favorite paper.
Moon’s obsessive anti-Communism gave him an affinity with Republicans, even though the rest of his belief system includes claiming to be anointed by God to rule the world. (Normally right-wing Christians have a term for someone like this: Antichrist.)
Moon’s dogma is as crazy as it’s always been. He claims to channel dead Presidents, tells spouses to ceremonially beat each other to drive out evil, and has weird sexual obsessions (yes, weirder than the average wingnut). He even says that the Holocaust was God’s payback for the sins of Jews.
The unsurprising takeaway from all this is that there are an awful lot of wingnuts, in politics and religion, who don’t believe their own rhetoric. (Yeah, we all know this, but do their followers?) They’re wining, dining, and taking bribes from a guy who has declared his great enemies to be Christianity and democracy. They’re also sending funding his way in the form of grants for abstinence-only education, among other things. Wonder what the average parent would think if they knew Rev. Moon was being given access to their teenagers?
As with many things, the Internet was a game changer (ugh, can’t believe I used that expression). Vague whispers about Moon’s coronation gave way to easily accessible video, and the corporate media actually started asking questions about why members of Congress were participating.
Gorenfeld couldn’t get answers to a lot of the questions about where Moon gets his money, and what he’s doing with it. And with Moon now in his eighties, there are already hints of the power struggle to come among his closest underlings.
In the meantime, did you hear that communists are taking over America by defunding abstinence-only programs? It’s true – I read it in the Washington Times!