Know Your Right-Wing Powerhouse
From Fascism to Anti-Gay Bills, “The Family” Influences GOP Pols
By Nico Brancolini
Staff Writer, CMC ‘11
What do disgraced politicians Mark Sanford and John Ensign have in common with Bart Stupak, our favorite health care limiting Michigan congressman? Answer: They’ve all lived together in a house on Washington, D.C.’s C Street, which is basically a cesspool of Evangelical hypocrisy. Never mind that Stupak has touted his Catholicism and used his deep faith in the Holy Trinity to justify obstructing legislation that would give 32 million Americans access to medical care. In truth, Stupak – like many other politicians in America – has close ties to a radical Evangelical group that has professed its admiration of Adolf Hitler and is spearheading violent, anti-gay legislation in Africa.
“The Family” is officially a church group and thus has tax-exempt status. In addition to links to such GOP luminaries as former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign, politicians of both parties have involved themselves with the Family.
Doug Coe, the group’s leader, is most prominently known in Washington for his annual prayer breakfasts. Coe began as a disciple of the Family’s original founder, a Norwegian immigrant named Abraham Vereide, who claimed god spoke to him in a vision during the Great Depression. What began as support for economic and social elites quickly took on a more sinister element; the group’s foundations include anti-unionsism and support for domestic fascist groups in the years preceeding World War II. Democracy, according to Vereide, is essentially incompatible with the teachings of Christ and the future of America. Today, Coe continues to preach this philosophy.
He insists that the 20th century political figures who most embodied Jesus were not Christians like Martin Luther King Jr. – or even Billy Graham – but were dictators like Pol Pot, Hitler, and Mao Zedong. Like Jesus, these individuals demanded absolute commitment from their followers. In a 1989 sermon, Coe told his audience, “Jesus Christ said, ‘If you do not put me before your father, your mother, your brother, and your sister, you cannot be my disciple.’ If you’re going to have any movement that moves men and nations, you have to have that kind of commitment. Jesus knew that.”
While Coe acknowledges that these dictators committed unspeakably evil acts, he argues that they understood the use of power, “cult of personality,” and absolute strength. Coupled with the group’s support for powerful Senators and Titans of Industry, these values echo the Family’s core message: strength is everything. That a group that openly professes its love for totalitarianism has earned the support of prominent Republican lawmakers is disturbing enough. Yet the Family also prides itself on its behind-the-scenes power and has had a tangible effect on national and international policy.
Perhaps their most prominent achievement is a violently anti-homosexual bill introduced in the Ugandan parliament last October. The bill would legalize execution of “repeat offenders” of homosexuality and currently mandates prison terms for foreigners who “promote” tolerance of homosexuality. David Bahati, the main emissary of the Family in Ugandan politics, introduced the bill.
The Family’s connection to this bill extends beyond one politician – in fact, all the major anti-homosexual figures in Uganda have connections to the Family. Ethics minister James Nsaba Buturo, instrumental in the most recent Family prayer breakfast in Uganda, has served as the bill’s chief supporter in the executive branch. Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, connected to the Family since the 1980s, has also indicated his support. In line with the group’s stated support for un-democratic strongmen, the Family pegged Museveni as a “key man in Africa” back in 1986. After pushing Museveni towards right-wing social causes supported by Coe, the Family used its Washington connections to bring U.S. aid to the regime. James Inhofe has proven one of Uganda’s greatest champions in the Senate and has publicly stated that he travels to Uganda on tax-payer funded trips to promote Coe’s interpretations of the teachings of Christ.
Many American Evangelicals and lawmakers have expressed dismay at the law in Uganda, but they surely hold partial responsibility. It should come as no shock that conservative rhetoric emphasizing “gay agendas” and conspiracies to “convert” children to homosexuality could lead to draconian anti-human rights legislation like the bill in Africa. Despite living in the Family’s house, Representative Stupak has publicly denied knowledge of their extreme opinions and actions – but how long can we forgive such dangerous ignorance and inflammatory rhetoric from our lawmakers?