NBC News had a segment last night on the secretive, elite influence network, "The Family," featuring an interview with Jeff Sharlet, whose book by that title, will be published next month.
The segment also featured dramatic video of the elite fundamentalist "Family" leader Doug Coe preaching about the "covenant" that he says made Hitler among others, powerful -- commanding loyalty among his followers. The program transcript states:
Mr. DOUGLAS COE: (1989) I've seen pictures of the young men in the Red Guard. They would bring in this young man's mother. He would take an ax and cut her head off. They have to put the purposes of the Red Guard ahead of their father, mother, brother, sister and their own life. That was a covenant, a pledge. That's what Jesus said.
[Andrea] MITCHELL: In his preaching, he repeatedly urges a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment Coe compares to the blind devotion Hitler demanded, a rhetorical technique that draws sharp criticism.
Mr. COE: (1989) Hitler, Goebbels, and Himmler were three men. Think of the immense power these three men had, these nobodies from nowhere.
Jeff Sharlet and Kathryn Joyce reported in Mother Jones that Hillary Clinton has been involved in the group since the early 1990s; and NBC showed that Coe introduced 11 "businessmen" to her, according to her White House logs. Access, and networking connections among the powerful is an important part of the modus operandi of The Family.
Sharlet and Joyce reported:
When Time put together a list of the nation's 25 most powerful evangelicals in 2005, the heading for Coe's entry was "The Stealth Persuader." "You know what I think of when I think of Doug Coe?" the Reverend Schenck (a Coe admirer) asked us. "I think literally of the guy in the smoky back room that you can't even see his face. He sits in the corner, and you see the cigar, and you see the flame, and you hear his voice—but you never see his face. He's that shadowy figure."
Coe has been an intimate of every president since Ford, but he rarely imposes on chief executives, who see him as a slightly mystical but apolitical figure. Rather, Coe uses his access to the Oval Office as currency with lesser leaders. "If Doug Coe can get you some face time with the President of the United States," one official told the author of a Princeton study of the National Prayer Breakfast last year, "then you will take his call and seek his friendship. That's power."
In their Mother Jones article, Sharlet and Joyce reported specifically on the involvement of Senator Clinton in the group, showing a more profound level of participation than unnamed people "close to" Sen. Clinton's claim to NBC (see transcript below) that she is not a "member" of the Family:
Clinton's God talk is more complicated--and more deeply rooted--than either fans or foes would have it, a revelation not just of her determination to out-Jesus the gop, but of the powerful religious strand in her own politics...
Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection.
When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian "cell" whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat.
Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan.
The Fellowship isn't out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward.
This is in line with the Christian right's long-term strategy. Francis Schaeffer, late guru of the movement, coined the term "cobelligerency" to describe the alliances evangelicals must forge with conservative Catholics. Colson, his most influential disciple, has refined the concept of cobelligerency to deal with less-than-pure politicians. In this application, conservatives sit pretty and wait for liberals looking for common ground to come to them. Clinton, Colson told us, "has a lot of history" to overcome, but he sees her making the right moves.
Here are excerpts from the transcript of the NBC News segment:
MITCHELL: Jeff Sharlet lived among Coe's followers six years ago and came out troubled by their secrecy and rhetoric.
Mr. JEFF SHARLET: We were being taught the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin and Mao. And I'd say, `Aren't--isn't there a problem with that?' And they would even seem perplexed by the question. Hitler's genocide wasn't really an issue for them. It was the strength that he emulated.
MITCHELL: Now Sharlet's written about it in a soon-to-be-published book.
Mr. SHARLET: They're notoriously secretive. In fact, they jokingly call themselves the Christian Mafia.
MITCHELL: Asked about Coe's influence on Hillary Clinton, people close to her said "she does not consider him one of her leading spiritual advisers, has never contributed to his group, is not a member," and has never heard the sermons that we have cited. And they said he is not her minister.
Coe declined an interview, but a close friend said he invokes Hitler to show the power of small groups for good and bad, and most of the time talks about Jesus. Supporters also point to his good works around the world. Still, critics question his influence and secrecy in a year when the candidates' religious beliefs are part of the political debate. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
NBC also reported that Barack Obama and John McCain (among others) have also attended Family "prayer groups" -- but made no effort to say how often, or how deeply they were involved, or how common a practice it is for U.S. Senators to accept such invitations.
Still, it was a ground-breaking news segment about an elite fundamentalist political network that has cultivated and manipulated the powerful for the better part of a century.
For more background, see Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America's secret theocrats, by Jeff Sharlet, Harpers magazine. See also Bruce Wilson (aka Troutfishing) on the way that The Family promotes Christian nationalism and revisionist history.
Sen Clinton's involvement in this elite fundamentalist organization remains, frankly, murky. But as Sharlet's book will show (I am reading a review copy) The Family is a hair raising history of where fundamentalism meets the elites of American politics, rightwing business, and the military, as well as their respective intersections with domestic and European facism of the pre-and-post WWII eras; and it should be noted, the worst anti-labor repression of the last century. The book is based mostly on archival history of the group. The power and influence of this rightist network in American and world affairs is considerable, and ought not to be pooh poohed in the heat of the current campaigns. While Sen. Clinton's involvements seem to run deeper than the others, and I think she owes us all an explanation, the insidious role of this covert network of influence merits further scrutiny -- and a lot of coming clean by all of the public officials involved in this outfit.
[Crossposted from Talk to Action]