First let me express my thanks to Harper/Collins Publishing for sending this book along to me for review.
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet is a book that will shock you. It will surely enlighten you. And to boot, it is so well written it’s a simple pleasure you can enjoy as well.
Sharlet is more than qualified and some speak of him as the premier writer on American religion in the country today. His credentials include being a associate research scholar at New York University’s Center for Religion and Media, where he has taught both journalism and religious studies. He is co-author of the book, Killing the Buddha. He has published articles in Harper’s, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, New York Magazine, Washington Post, and others.
His book delves into a secret organization, one that has operated for some 70 years, largely unknown to the public at large, but one that has invaded and tentacled its way into the all our government. It’s reach is international in scope. Some of the most amazing people have relationship with it. It is not Republican by definition, though the vast majority of it’s vast cadre are Republicans. It is Christian but does not either tout that or actually care much for any formalized religion. It is unashamedly pro-free market economics and anti-Communist. It should scare the living day lights out of you.
At first glance, The Family or Fellowship seems childishly silly, composed of men who tout free-market economy and claim that Jesus and God choose businessmen for their leadership qualities to lead the fight to reform the world. Self-serving as this may be, it works. Started some 70 years ago by a Norwegian immigrant, the group, lead by Abraham Vereide, an itinerant preacher, began by union busting in the northwest. Convinced that businessmen were God’s chosen leaders, Vereide was successful in promoting this idea whereby the working man was where he was because God wanted him there, and business would “do the right thing” if left unimpeded by laws.
The Family takes credit for helping to dismantle New Deal legislation. Eventually it came to Washington. It operates the National Prayer Breakfast each year, its only now visible showing of itself. Vereide is of course now dead and leadership has gone to a guy named Doug Coe, whom many claim is the most important unknown man in Washington. He has had the ear of most presidents, and travels the world extensively, meeting with leaders in many countries.
The point of the Family is to promote what is called Jesus plus nothing. Jesus, claimed to speak pretty directly to Coe, councils a warrior type attitude for leadership. Jesus is the way, but a Jesus that is not tied to any formal religion at all. This Jesus will “guide” his chosen to do the right thing. It is in the end pro business, pro military and pro American empire.
As I said, this may all seem rather silly and unimportant until you look at what they have done. Throughout the Cold War years, this group has been responsible for helping into power and helping the staying power of such dictators as Suharto, Papa Doc Duvalier, Siad Biarre in Somalia, and others. When asked how they justify the bloodshed perpetrated by these monsters, Coe shrugs and claims that God apparently has reasons. He is sure that God means for his elites to run the world, and sure that God will use these men (yes nearly all men) in ways that we don’t need worry about.
How does the group operate? It has from the beginning organized through the cell. Giving lip service and regrets (“they are bad men, of course), its model of organization are such men as Adolph Hitler, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro. These were men who knew how to organize other men. These were men who taught and were obeyed unquestioningly, and whose followers would murder mother and father before betraying the leadership. This is what Coe believes in, what Vereide believed in, and what the Family still believes.
They set up innocuous “prayer” cells, and offer “contacts” and opportunities to meet important and wealthy other men, men who can help fund campaigns. Among Washington members are Sam Brownbeck, James Inhofe. Chuck Grassley and Hillary Clinton are “friends” not members. The have houses in the surrounding area where breakfast prayer meetings are held, still led by Ed Meese of Reagan fame. Military higher ups attend as well, as do members of many of the federal departments. Recently some military types from the academies were caught doing videos for the Family, touting how they followed the Family directives of Jesus first over their oaths as members of the military. That has happily been cleaned up, so I understand.
Such is the clout of this group. President Bush has called Doug Coe a “quiet diplomat.” Rev. Billy Graham has been associated with them. In deed, the more vocal and usual “fundamentalist” players, like Ted Haggart, Pat Robertson, Chuck Colson and all the usual suspects also are hangers on. Ted Haggart, no longer leading his New Life group, also organized his followers into cells, following the blueprint of the Family. While the elitist fundamentalists that Coe represents don’t particularly care about abortion and homosexual issues, they are more than willing to form alliance with such groups to further their aims.
And when you look at the philosophy of the Ted Haggarts and these types, you find ‘prosperity” preaching which goes along with the free-market business programs that the elites which to impose. Indeed Ted Haggart claims that Jesus wants a free market economy.
Sharlet goes far and wide to learn about both segments of the movement, both the visible populist one and the hidden elitist one. Much of the material he used was from the archives of the Billy Graham Center. in 1970, Coe put a stop to the creation of a paper trail, and the movement, as I said, went underground.
He spent time underground himself, visiting the Washington house, Ivanwald, where young men learn to get connected and rise in their fields, all the while forming cells of their own. Much of this of course is done on the sly. Most are not told about the “Jesus” thing until well after they are enticed by promises of connections which will make them players in the world, players that God has called them to be, they are told. They are God’s chosen. Few refuse the call it seems. Heady stuff indeed for not yet graduated young men.
The brilliance of Jeff Sharlet is that he is not overtly against this movement. He sees some things in fundamentalism which are to be appreciated and are laudable. He is seemingly about as objective as one can be. This does not keep him from pointing out the flaws in the group, and of course they are major and glaring. It’s philosophy is self-serving to say the least. It has no objective safe guards for discerning good from bad. Anyone who is willing to entire their environs whom they feel might be useful is adopted and helped, even though the help may mean untold misery for tens of thousands of others. They believe in ends justifying means. They believe they are chosen quite frankly.
The fact that they condone the teaching of bald faced lies to children in homeschooling materials is another of those, can’t be concerned about things. The textbooks used by homeschooling fundamentalist parents is simply appalling in they direct and utter rewriting of history to justify the positions they wish to extol today. The Family of course, plays no overt role in this, but uses the leaders of the populist fundamentalist movement for their own purposes, and again the ends justify the means used, as usual.
As I said at the beginning, at first one is amused at how silly people can re-organize the world for their own purposes. Then one becomes seriously concerned as one sees how detrimental this group has been. Then one becomes shocked at the depth and breadth of its influence in America. Then one becomes deeply angry at the bloodshed and vile activities it has supported, and influenced our government to engage in, all in the name of doing God’s will as they see it.
Sharlet does not offer much of a solution I’m afraid. He suggests that we must create a new and better myth to sell that what they are selling. I don’t see anybody much doing that, but a few writers here and there. This stuff is deeply troubling. It helped me to see just of how little consequence the American public is held. We are not important, plain and simple, we don’t count, because as they see it God doesn’t think we count. They count, their beliefs count, and so much of this has been done right under our noses. While politicians give lame lip service today and always to the “what the American people” want, they go about the business of reordering the world in the vision of Doug Cole, their guru.
I’m told this book has reached the NY Best Seller‘s list. I’m glad if that is the case. It needs to be read, and read widely. We need to reclaim or perhaps claim for the first time, control of this government before it is too late. Jeff Sharlet makes that so very clear. Buy it, read it, and give it to someone else. This book needs to be read.