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The Cancer From Within

by David Antoon


“I will sup­port and defend the Con­sti­tu­tion of the Unit­ed States against all ene­mies, for­eign and domes­tic. ...”
—Oath of Office

“Our mis­sion is to edu­cate, train, and inspire men and women to become offi­cers of char­ac­ter moti­vat­ed to lead the Unit­ed States Air Force in ser­vice to our nation.”
—Air Force Acad­e­my mis­sion state­ment

“We will not lie, steal, or cheat. ...”
—Air Force Acad­e­my hon­or code

“Mil­i­tary pro­fes­sion­als must remem­ber that reli­gious choice is a mat­ter of indi­vid­ual con­science. Pro­fes­sion­als, and espe­cial­ly com­man­ders, must not take it upon them­selves to change or coer­cive­ly influ­ence the reli­gious views of sub­or­di­nates.”
—Reli­gious Tol­er­a­tion (Air Force Code of Ethics, 1997)

Forty-two years ago, at the age of 18, I took the oath of office on my first day as an Air Force Acad­e­my cadet. The mis­sion of the acad­e­my was not only to train future lead­ers for the Air Force but for Amer­i­ca as well, because, in the end, most acad­e­my grad­u­ates do not serve full mil­i­tary careers. The hon­or code became an inte­gral part of every­day life. These are the val­ues that I, and most grad­u­ates of the 1960s and ear­ly ’70s, took with us from our four years at the acad­e­my.

I, as did many grad­u­ates, under­went pilot train­ing fol­lowed by tours of duty in Viet­nam. Like mil­i­tary men and women of today, we did our best to become tech­ni­cal­ly com­pe­tent and pro­fes­sion­al lead­ers. Nev­er, dur­ing my four years at the acad­e­my and sub­se­quent pilot and com­bat train­ing, was the word war­rior used; nor, whether as a cadet or offi­cer, did I ever encounter “Chris­t­ian suprema­cist” rhetoric.

In April of 2004, my son, after receiv­ing a cov­et­ed appoint­ment to the Unit­ed States Air Force Acad­e­my, asked me to accom­pa­ny him to the ori­en­ta­tion for new appointees. This 24-hour vis­cer­al event changed my life for­ev­er, and crushed my son’s life­long dream of fol­low­ing in my foot­steps.

The ori­en­ta­tion began with a one-hour “war­rior” rant to appointees and par­ents by the com­man­dant of cadets, Brig. Gen. John­ny Wei­da. The fact that the word war­rior had replaced lead­er­ship was a sig­nal of what was to fol­low. I lat­er learned that cadets, to deter­mine when a new record was estab­lished, had cre­at­ed a game in which war­rior was count­ed in each speech Wei­da gave.

My son and I then made our way to the mod­ernist alu­minum chapel, where I expect­ed to hear a wel­come from one or two Air Force chap­lains offer­ing coun­sel, sup­port and an open-door pol­i­cy for any spir­i­tu­al or pas­toral needs of these future cadets. In 1966, the acad­e­my had six gray-haired chap­lains: three main­line Protes­tants, two priests and one rab­bi. Any cadet, regard­less of reli­gious affil­i­a­tion, was wel­come to see any one of these chap­lains, who were rem­i­nis­cent of Father Fran­cis Mulc­ahy of “MASH” fame.

Instead, my son’s ori­en­ta­tion became an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the acad­e­my to aggres­sive­ly pros­e­ly­tize this next crop of cadets. Maj. War­ren Wat­ties led a group of 10 young, exclu­sive­ly evan­gel­i­cal chap­lains who stood shoul­der to shoul­der. He proud­ly stat­ed that half of the cadets attend­ed Bible stud­ies on Mon­day nights in the dor­mi­to­ries and he hoped to increase this num­ber from those in his audi­ence who were about to join their ranks. This “invi­ta­tion” was fol­lowed with hal­lelu­jahs and amens by the evan­gel­i­cal cler­gy. I lat­er learned from Air Force Acad­e­my chap­lain MeLin­da Mor­ton, a Luther­an who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rab­bi or main­line Protes­tant had been per­mit­ted to par­tic­i­pate.

I no longer rec­og­nize the Air Force Acad­e­my as the insti­tu­tion I attend­ed almost four decades ear­li­er. At that point, I had no idea how inva­sive this extreme evan­gel­i­cal “can­cer” had become through­out the entire mil­i­tary, that what I had wit­nessed was far from an iso­lat­ed case of a few reli­gious zealots.

In order to bet­ter under­stand this shift to a reli­gious ide­ol­o­gy at this once sec­u­lar insti­tu­tion, I called the Acad­e­my Asso­ci­a­tion of Grad­u­ates (AOG). Its response: “We don’t get involved in pol­i­cy.” What I didn’t know was that the AOG, like the acad­e­my, had affil­i­a­tions with James Dobson’s and Ted Haggard’s pow­er­ful mega-church­es. When Dobson’s Focus on the Fam­i­ly “cam­pus” was com­plet­ed, the acad­e­my sky­div­ing team, with great cer­e­mo­ny, deliv­ered the “keys from heav­en” to Dob­son. Dur­ing some alum­ni reunions, the AOG arranged bus tours of Focus on the Fam­i­ly facil­i­ties in near­by Col­orado Springs, Colo. I also learned that the same Mon­day night Bible stud­ies dis­cussed at ori­en­ta­tion were taught by bused-in mem­bers of these evan­gel­i­cal mega-church­es and that some spous­es of senior acad­e­my staff mem­bers were employed by these same reli­gious insti­tu­tions. It seemed that my beloved Unit­ed States Air Force Acad­e­my had mor­phed into the Rocky Moun­tain Bible Col­lege.

The acad­e­my chap­lain staff had grown 300 per­cent while the cadet pop­u­la­tion had decreased by 25 per­cent: from six main­line chap­lains to 18 chap­lains, the addi­tion­al 12 all evan­gel­i­cal. The acad­e­my even gained 25 reserve chap­lains, also nonex­is­tent in ear­li­er times, for a total of 43 chap­lains for about 4,000 cadets, or one chap­lain for every 100 cadets.

In the fol­low­ing weeks, a uni­formed Army Maj. Gen. William Boykin began shar­ing his Chris­t­ian suprema­cist views from church pul­pits around the coun­try, declar­ing that he was “God’s War­rior” and that “Amer­i­ca is a Chris­t­ian nation.” He demeaned the entire Mus­lim world by stat­ing that his God was big­ger than a Mus­lim warlord’s god and that the Muslim’s god “was an idol.” He received lit­tle more than a token slap on the wrist. At the time, Joseph Schmitz, then the Depart­ment of Defense inspec­tor gen­er­al (Schmitz is cur­rent­ly the chief oper­at­ing offi­cer of Black­wa­ter Inter­na­tion­al), found that Boykin had com­mit­ted no ethics vio­la­tions.

Days lat­er, the May 10 edi­tion of The New York­er fea­tured the Abu Ghraib tor­ture arti­cle by Sey­mour Hersh, who more than three decades ear­li­er had brought us the sto­ry of My Lai.

As a late crit­ic of the Viet­nam War, in which I lost many high school and acad­e­my class­mates, I was skep­ti­cal and crit­i­cal of the drum beat for war orches­trat­ed by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion. When then-Sec­re­tary of State Col­in Pow­ell again sold his soul in front of the Unit­ed Nations and the world, the die was cast. I say again because as a major on his sec­ond tour in Viet­nam, Pow­ell white­washed reports of the My Lai mas­sacre and attempt­ed to dis­cred­it and silence those few, most notably Ron Riden­hour, who had the courage to get the sto­ry into Hersh’s hands.

These were some of my thoughts on the day my son had t
o decide whether or not to accept his appoint­ment to the Air Force Acad­e­my. It was a time in my life when father­hood and truth were con­front­ed with faux nation­al­ism. With tremen­dous courage and sad­ness my son declined his appoint­ment and end­ed his dream—and my dream for him—to attend the Air Force Acad­e­my. Though deeply sad­dened, we were not sor­ry.

In what would have been my son’s acad­e­my sum­mer encamp­ment, chap­lain Wat­ties “sug­gest­ed” that cadets return to their tents and tell their tent mates they would “burn in hell” if they did not receive Jesus as their sav­ior. At the same time, the acad­e­my com­man­dant, Wei­da, made a habit of includ­ing bib­li­cal pas­sages in offi­cial e‑mails and cor­re­spon­dence to sub­or­di­nates and cadets. He had devel­oped a secret “chant and response” with the cadets: When he yelled “Air­pow­er,” the evan­gel­i­cal cadets in the know would respond “Rock, sir” in ref­er­ence to the Bible sto­ry that Jesus built his house upon a rock.

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, at this time and at the invi­ta­tion of the acad­e­my, the Yale Divin­i­ty School was observ­ing the pas­toral care pro­gram for sex­u­al assault vic­tims at the acad­e­my. Under the lead­er­ship of pro­fes­sor Kris­ten Leslie, the Yale team issued a stun­ning report on the divi­sive and stri­dent evan­gel­i­cal pres­sures by lead­er­ship and staff at the acad­e­my.

The response from acad­e­my lead­ers was telling. They at first denied the reports of Wat­ties’ “hell-fire” threats. Under media pres­sure, they lat­er claimed the vio­la­tions were com­mit­ted by a vis­it­ing reserve chap­lain, when in fact they were by the recent Air Force Chap­lain of the Year him­self: Wat­ties. In an inter­view after receiv­ing his Chap­lain of the Year award, Wat­ties boast­ed of bap­tiz­ing young sol­diers in Sad­dam Hussein’s swim­ming pool. It is dif­fi­cult to think of more inflam­ma­to­ry and Cru­sad­er-like behav­ior in an Arab nation.

In response to the Yale report, the acad­e­my demand­ed that chap­lain Mor­ton denounce the report she had co-signed. When she refused, she was trans­ferred to East Asia, ulti­mate­ly resign­ing from the Air Force in protest. Mor­ton was the only offi­cer who put her oath of office “to sup­port and defend the Con­sti­tu­tion” above careerism.

Then-DoD Inspec­tor Gen­er­al Schmitz, not­ed for his Chris­t­ian suprema­cist rhetoric in the book “Black­wa­ter,” sent a team led by evan­gel­i­cal “born again” Lt. Gen. Roger Brady to inves­ti­gate the acad­e­my. Schmitz had recent­ly found no ethics vio­la­tions in the actions of Gen. Boykin and allowed Boykin’s pro­mo­tion to senior mil­i­tary offi­cer in charge of Abu Ghraib, Guan­tanamo and “extra­or­di­nary ren­di­tion.” The “Brady Report” found the acad­e­my only to have an “insen­si­tiv­i­ty” prob­lem. Air Force Acad­e­my grad­u­ate Brig. Gen. John­ny Wei­da, “silenced” and removed from the major gen­er­al pro­mo­tion list, was secret­ly pro­mot­ed with back pay the fol­low­ing year at Wright Pat­ter­son Air Force Base.

Fol­low­ing the release of the “Brady Report,” West Point grad­u­ate and Sec­re­tary of the Air Force Mike Wynne, ignor­ing the exist­ing code of ethics, issued anoth­er “code of ethics” that allowed evan­gel­i­cal pros­e­ly­tiz­ing. A month lat­er, in an effort to appease the reli­gious right, Wynne issued an even soft­er “code of ethics.” Amaz­ing­ly, Wynne’s doc­u­ment is in com­plete vio­la­tion of the code of ethics issued in 1997 by Sec­re­tary of the Air Force Sheila Wid­nall pro­hibit­ing pros­e­ly­tiz­ing by com­man­ders and oth­er offi­cers.

The pre-exist­ing Air Force code of ethics in The Lit­tle Blue Book states:
“Mil­i­tary pro­fes­sion­als must remem­ber that reli­gious choice is a mat­ter of indi­vid­ual con­science. Pro­fes­sion­als, and espe­cial­ly com­man­ders, must not take it upon them­selves to change or coer­cive­ly influ­ence the reli­gious views of sub­or­di­nates.”

Here are just a few vio­la­tions of that prin­ci­ple over the last three years: Acad­e­my foot­ball coach Fish­er DeBer­ry hung a ban­ner in the team lock­er room read­ing: “Competitor’s Creed: I am a Chris­t­ian first and last. ... I am a mem­ber of Team Jesus Christ.” Base­ball coach Mike Hutcheon, recruit­ed from evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian Bethel Col­lege, forced play­ers to lead team prayer dur­ing prac­tice. When asked about lock­er room prayer in March 2007, Lt. Gen. John Reg­ni, the acad­e­my super­in­ten­dent, respond­ed “we have chap­lains that are attached to each of the teams and they are very impor­tant in that area.” In a July 12, 2005 inter­view with the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Cecil Richard­son, Air Force deputy chief of chap­lains, stat­ed, “...we reserve the right to evan­ge­lize the unchurched.” For over a decade, the offi­cial acad­e­my news­pa­per ran ads stat­ing: “We believe that Jesus Christ is the only real hope for the World. If you would like to dis­cuss Jesus, feel free to con­tact one of us! There is sal­va­tion in no oth­er name under heav­en giv­en among mor­tals by which we must be saved.” The ads were signed by 16 depart­ment heads, nine per­ma­nent pro­fes­sors, both the incom­ing and out­go­ing deans of fac­ul­ty, the ath­let­ic direc­tor and more than 200 acad­e­my senior offi­cers and their spous­es.

Mikey Wein­stein, founder of the Mil­i­tary Reli­gious Free­dom Foun­da­tion, in just a few short years has received com­plaints from more than 6,000 ser­vice mem­bers and dis­cov­ered church-state vio­la­tions at the acad­e­mies, at mil­i­tary instal­la­tions in Iraq and around the world, and even with­in the inner cor­ri­dors of the Pen­ta­gon.

In 2005, when Wein­stein filed suit against the Air Force for con­sti­tu­tion­al vio­la­tions of church-state sep­a­ra­tion, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, with lit­tle pub­lic notice, passed a chill­ing bill that under­mines enforce­ment of the First Amendment’s sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. The Pub­lic Expres­sion of Reli­gion Act, H.R. 2679, pro­vides that attor­neys who suc­cess­ful­ly chal­lenge gov­ern­ment actions that vio­late the estab­lish­ment clause of the First Amend­ment shall not be enti­tled to recov­er attorney’s fees. Accord­ing to The Wash­ing­ton Post, the pur­pose of this bill is to pre­vent suits chal­leng­ing uncon­sti­tu­tion­al gov­ern­ment actions advanc­ing reli­gion.

In Decem­ber 2006, the Mil­i­tary Reli­gious Free­dom Foun­da­tion brought media focus to the Chris­t­ian Embassy Evan­gel­i­cal Orga­ni­za­tion and its now famous video, which clear­ly showed the egre­gious ethics and con­sti­tu­tion­al vio­la­tions of sev­er­al flag offi­cers and the breadth of the prob­lem. Air Force Acad­e­my grad­u­ate Maj. Gen. Jack Cat­ton, who sug­gest­ed in the film that his reli­gious beliefs trump coun­try and his oath to the Con­sti­tu­tion, was cit­ed last year for send­ing e‑mails to mil­i­tary sub­or­di­nates and con­trac­tors advo­cat­ing they vote for a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date for Con­gress, argu­ing that there are “not enough Chris­tians in Con­gress.” West Point grad­u­ate and Army Brig. Gen. Robert Caslen, who was filmed stat­ing “We are the aro­ma of Jesus Christ here in the Pen­ta­gon,” is now com­man­dant of cadets at West Point. West Point grad­u­ate Army Brig. Gen. Vin­cent Brooks, anoth­er Chris­t­ian Embassy star, was the “voice” and “face” of the press con­fer­ences at Qatar. His office is famous for the cre­ation of the “Ram­bo” Jes­si­ca Lynch fab­ri­ca­tions and the manip­u­la­tion of the killing of Pat Till­man into a recruit­ing and media event. West Point grad­u­ate and evan­gel­i­cal Lt. Col. Ralph Kau­zlarich, involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion of Tillman’s death, stat­ed pub­licly that Pat Tillman’s fam­i­ly was not at peace with his death because they are athe­ists who believe their son is now “worm dirt.” Air
Force Acad­e­my grad­u­ate Maj. Gen. Peter Sut­ton, assigned as the senior U.S. mil­i­tary offi­cer in Turkey at the time the Mil­i­tary Reli­gious Free­dom Foun­da­tion brought the Chris­t­ian Embassy into media focus, was ques­tioned by Turk­ish offi­cials about his mem­ber­ship in a rad­i­cal evan­gel­i­cal cult.

Many are aware of the mer­ce­nary army, Black­wa­ter USA, led by Eric Prince, for­mer Ambas­sador Cofer Black and Joseph Schmitz, the same Joseph Schmitz men­tioned above. It is here where the ties become com­plex and sug­ges­tive of an even grander “cru­sade.”

As described by Jere­my Scahill in his book “Black­wa­ter,” Prince, who attend­ed the U.S. Naval Acad­e­my, comes from a wealthy theo-con fam­i­ly, is a “neo-cru­sad­er,” and a Chris­t­ian suprema­cist. He has been giv­en bil­lions of dol­lars in fed­er­al con­tracts to cre­ate a pri­vate army. COO Schmitz, anoth­er Naval Acad­e­my grad­u­ate, is a mem­ber of the Order of Mal­ta, a Chris­t­ian suprema­cist orga­ni­za­tion dat­ing back to the Cru­sades, and hap­pens to be mar­ried to the sis­ter of Jeb Bush’s wife, Colum­ba. And Cofer Black, for­mer coor­di­na­tor for coun­tert­er­ror­ism at the U.S. State Depart­ment and for­mer direc­tor of the CIA’s Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter, who was quot­ed by the BBC as say­ing “Cap­ture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice,” brings his own skill set to the Black­wa­ter team as vice chair­man.

The Chris­t­ian suprema­cist fas­cism first report­ed at the Air Force Acad­e­my is endem­ic through­out the mil­i­tary. From the top down, there has been a com­plete repu­di­a­tion of con­sti­tu­tion­al val­ues and time-hon­ored codes of ethics and hon­or codes in favor of reli­gious ide­ol­o­gy. And we now have a revolv­ing door between Black­wa­ter USA, which is Bush’s Prae­to­ri­an Guard, and the U.S. mil­i­tary at every lev­el. The cit­i­zen-sol­dier mil­i­tary dic­tat­ed by our found­ing fathers has been replaced with pro­fes­sion­al and mer­ce­nary right-wing Chris­t­ian cru­saders in con­trol of the world’s most pow­er­ful mil­i­tary. The risks to our demo­c­ra­t­ic form of gov­ern­ment can­not be over­stat­ed.

This evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian suprema­cist fas­cism with­in our mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment is a can­cer. Offi­cers, espe­cial­ly com­man­ders, who vio­late the orig­i­nal code of ethics, must be root­ed out of the mil­i­tary. The under­min­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion, espe­cial­ly by senior mil­i­tary offi­cers, must end.

As I look back at my 30 years as an active-duty offi­cer, two com­bat tours in Viet­nam, dec­o­ra­tions includ­ing air medals and the Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross, I real­ize that not once was my ser­vice in sup­port or defense of the Con­sti­tu­tion. For the very first time, I am uphold­ing my oath of office.


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