Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

The Eyes Over Mike Johnson: the CNP’s Texas Template for God’s Power Grope

“I am not the Catholic can­di­date for pres­i­dent. I am the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty’s can­di­date for pres­i­dent, who hap­pens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on pub­lic mat­ters, and the church does not speak for me” Those were the kinds of words John F. Kennedy had to use when run­ning for the pres­i­dent in 1960. Words that feel almost quaint in 2023. Painful­ly quaint, as we’re going to see in this post.

Because as we’ve seen, Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism isn’t sim­ply on the rise in the Unit­ed States. It’s already at the top, thanks in no small part to the decades long efforts of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP) and the myr­i­ad of groups oper­at­ing under its theo­crat­ic umbrel­la. The Supreme Court is dom­i­nat­ed by a hard right major­i­ty like­ly to be in place for decades to come at the same time Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism is whol­ly main­stream inside the con­tem­po­rary Repub­li­can Par­ty. We even have the CNP’s planned mass purges — start­ing with the gov­ern­ment but not end­ing thereunder the ‘Sched­ule F’/Project 2025 label that is being open­ly report­ed and dis­cussed in the news. The mask dropped a while ago.

That’s all part of the grim con­text sur­round­ing a series of reports around the new Speak­er of the House, Mike John­son. The kind of reports that should raise seri­ous ques­tions about just how much influ­ence the lead­ing Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist hold over new Speak­er of the House.

For starters, the whole intra-par­ty ker­fuf­fle that result­ed in Kevin McCarthy’s ouster as speak­er appears to have the CNP’s fin­ger­prints all over it. Recall how it was the CNP-backed Free­dom Cau­cus that orches­trat­ed the giant intra-par­ty show­down over Kevin McCarthy’s speak­er­ship nom­i­na­tion back in Jan­u­ary with exten­sive CNP sup­port. Flash for­ward to the new show­down over the Speak­er­ship, and it was again the Free­dom Cau­cus lead­ing ‘anti-estab­lish­ment’ oppo­si­tion, with CNP affil­i­ates like Amy Kre­mer and Russ Vought again play­ing a sup­port­ing role. And at the end of it all, back­bencher Mike John­son emerges as the par­ty’s con­sen­sus can­di­date with unan­i­mous par­ty sup­port. Some­one who hap­pened to call CNP Vice Pres­i­dent Kel­ly Shack­elford his men­tor dur­ing an Octo­ber 2019 speach at a CNP con­fer­ence. John­son isn’t real­ly hid­ing his theo­crat­ic sen­ti­ments.

But he has­n’t exact­ly adver­tised the full scope of his com­mit­ment to Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism either. But as we’re going to see, he’s com­mit­ted and he’s far from alone. Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism is the main­stream ide­ol­o­gy gov­ern­ing the Repub­li­can Par­ty in 2023. Mike John­son’s Speak­er­ship is mere­ly one of its many man­i­fes­ta­tions. So when we got reports about the gen­uine­ly creepy “Covenant Eyes” spy­ware that John­son proud­ly installed on his phone, we should prob­a­bly start ask­ing ques­tions about who exact­ly Mike John­son is answer­ing to in his role as House Speak­er. Spy­ware that tracks all of the web­sites he vis­its, search­es he makes, and even takes screen­shots and tends them back to ‘Covenant Eyes’, where any signs of way­ward activ­i­ty (like search­ing for LGBTQ con­tent) will be report­ed to John­son’s “Account­abil­i­ty Part­ner”, who hap­pens to be his adopt­ed son.

Yes, the new Speak­er of the House put some sort of super-spy­ware on his phone that enforces ‘Chris­t­ian’ behav­ior. And that’s why, while it was absurd to think JFK was tak­ing order from the Pope, these kinds of ques­tions aren’t so absurd when it comes to politi­cians like Mike John­son. Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism is, after all, about the for­mal end­ing of the Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State and the trans­fer of real polit­i­cal pow­er into the church­es. Not all church­es, mind you. Spe­cif­ic church­es deemed to be the ves­sels of the theo­crat­ic ideals that under­pin the found­ing of the Unit­ed States are to receive the sup­port of the state. And, lo and behold, those spe­cif­ic church­es tend to be the con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian church­es under the sway of the CNP net­work of lead­ers.

And as we should expect at this point, the par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual who deter­mines this ‘authen­tic the­ol­o­gy’ for church­es in the Unit­ed States is the same fig­ure who has long been the go-to pseu­do-his­to­ri­an for this move­ment: David Bar­ton. As we saw, Bar­ton has long been the defin­ing fig­ure for the CNP-backed his­tor­i­cal revi­sion­ism designed to under­mine the Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State. And as we’re going to see below, Bar­ton’s vision for end­ing that sep­a­ra­tion of church and state is on the cusp of becom­ing a real­i­ty in his home state of Texas, thanks, in part to recent Supreme Court rul­ings that hint at a much greater will­ing­ness of the con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court major­i­ty to go much fur­ther in mak­ing this vision a real­i­ty. Worse, the plan is make Texas a tem­plate for the rest of the nation. With the Texas GOP firm­ly behind Bar­ton, it’s just a mat­ter of time. Things are in motion.

So it should come as no sur­prise to learn about anoth­er David Bar­ton super-fan: Mike John­son. Yes, it was just one day after John­son won the Speak­er­ship that Bar­ton said on a pod­cast that he was already dis­cus­sion staffing with John­son, a long­time ally of Bar­ton. John­son even recent­ly spoke at an event for Bar­ton’s Wall­builders group where he praised Bar­ton’s “pro­found influ­ence on me, and my work, and my life and every­thing I do.”

Chill­ing words to hear from the new Speak­er, but not sur­pris­ing. John­son worked as the attor­ney and spokesper­son for the Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom (ADF). Recall how the ADF received large dona­tions from the Bet­sy DeVos and Erik Prince and fun­neled that mon­ey into sup­port­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ments in Europe and backed a 2016 Belize law that pun­ished homo­sex­u­al sex with 10 years in prison. Also recall how the ADF has been play­ing a major behind the scenes role in shap­ing the cur­rent man­u­fac­tured anti-trans pan­ic. At the same time, the ADF shows up on the list of orga­ni­za­tions involved with the Sched­ule F/Project 2025 scheme. CNP mem­ber Michael Far­ris, who co-found­ed the “Con­ven­tion of States” project designed to over­haul the Con­sti­tu­tion — has served as the Pres­i­dent and CEO of the ADF. John­son and Bar­ton have been oper­at­ing in the same CNP-run cir­cles for years. Of course Bar­ton has had a pro­found influ­ence on John­son’s life. They’re basi­cal­ly Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist co-work­ers.

All in all, it’s high­ly dis­turb­ing con­text for the new Speak­er. But it gets worse. As usu­al. Because as we’re going to also see, the par­tic­u­lar the­o­log­i­cal insti­tu­tion most close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Bar­ton’s work — the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion — has an ongo­ing mega-scan­dal of the kind of nature that is going to be increas­ing impor­tant to under­stand as this move­ment accrues more and more very real polit­i­cal pow­er over the lives of the US pop­u­la­tion. To put it blunt­ly, the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion (SBC) — a denom­i­na­tion con­sist­ing of rough­ly 47,000 church­es — has a mas­sive sex­u­al abuse prob­lem. A large­ly unchecked prob­lem that has been ram­pant for decades thanks, in part, to the near com­plete lack of action of the part of the SBC lead­er­ship. When actions have been tak­en by the SBC lead­er­ship, they’ve typ­i­cal­ly been to cov­er up or deny the alle­ga­tions. It’s the kind of sys­tem­at­ic abuse of pow­er that should serve as a major warn­ing for what’s in store for the rest of US soci­ety as the strain of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism cham­pi­oned by the SBC con­tin­ues its polit­i­cal ascent.

Oh, and it turns out we’re learn­ing a lot about this his­toric of abuse and cov­er up thanks to an ongo­ing law­suit filed against a num­ber of SBC lead­ers and insti­tu­tions. The law­suit cen­ters around decades of abuse by Paul Pressler, a promi­nent mem­ber of the CNP and CNP pres­i­dent from 1988–1990. Pressler has been instru­men­tal in push­ing the SBC’s 16 mil­lion mem­bers and 47,000 church­es to adopt lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Bible and align more close­ly with the Repub­li­can Par­ty.

This isn’t to say that the ascent of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism will nec­es­sar­i­ly bring wide­spread unchecked sex­u­al assaults on the rest of soci­ety. But it’s hard to ignore the deep tol­er­ance for sys­temic abus­es by the same lead­ers who per­son­i­fy the strains of Chris­tian­i­ty Bar­ton, John­son, and the rest of their Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist allies are aggres­sive­ly car­ry­ing out this theo­crat­ic pow­er grab. Lead­ers like Ed Young of the South­ern Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton. The Unit­ed States is in the midst of a theo­crat­ic pow­er grab decades in the mak­ing thanks to the exten­sive full-spec­trum work of the CNP’s pow­er­ful mem­ber­ship. And as we’re going to see, the peo­ple involved with the sys­temic cov­er up of these abus­es in the SBC com­mu­ni­ty includes one CNP mem­ber after anoth­er.

And bring­ing it all full cir­cle: there’s a rather amus­ing yet dis­turb­ing chap­ter of Mike John­son’s career as a Chris­t­ian legal activist that is only going to more and more amus­ing and/or dis­turb­ing as the case against Pressler plays out. It turns out Mike John­son was recruit­ed to be the dean of a new­ly form­ing Chris­t­ian law school back in 2010. Part of John­son’s role was to raise the funds need­ed to start the school. The prob­lem is some­one was embez­zling those fund. The school was ulti­mate­ly nev­er start­ed and John­son returned to his Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist legal activism in 2012. The name of that school that nev­er was? The Judge Paul Pressler School of Law.

Here’s a quick review of the arti­cle excerpts we’re going to be review­ing in this post:

* Novem­ber 5, 2023: Mike John­son Admits He and His Son Mon­i­tor Each Other’s Porn Intake in Resur­faced Video

It’s shock­ing. Except not real­ly. The new Speak­er of the House actu­al­ly bragged about how he had the “Covenant Eyes” soft­ware installed on his phone, along with his son’s phone. That way, they could keep each oth­er ‘account­able’ by get­ting updates house should the oth­er brows­er any unac­cept­able web­sites or pornog­ra­phy. In oth­er words, the new Speak­er of the House installed theo­crat­ic spy­ware on his phone.

* Sep­tem­ber 22, 2022: The Ungod­ly Sur­veil­lance of Anti-Porn ‘Shame­ware’ Apps

You can call it ‘spy­ware’. But as this WIRED arti­cle warns, per­haps ‘dis­ci­ple­ship shame­ware’ is a more apt descrip­tion of the kind of app Mike John­son has run­ning on his phone. An app that does­n’t just send warn­ings about the view­ing of pornog­ra­phy. It mon­i­tors almost every­thing you do on your phone and sends that data back to the com­pa­ny. And while users are allowed to select their own per­son­al “account­abil­i­ty bud­dy” who will receive noti­fi­ca­tions of any ‘impure’ actions, the real­i­ty is that church lead­ers are fre­quent­ly the ones tapped to play that ‘bud­dy’ role, which has result­ed in sto­ries like teens get­ting ques­tioned by church elders over activ­i­ties like read­ing an arti­cle about athe­ism. It’s app-pow­ered ‘dis­ci­ple­ship’, and there­fore par­tic­u­lar­ly pop­u­lar with SBC church­es like Gra­ce­point, where ‘dis­ci­ple­ship’ is heav­i­ly prac­ticed.

* Novem­ber 3, 2023: Texas activist David Bar­ton wants to end sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. He has the ear of the new U.S. House speak­er.

For all the uproar over Mike John­son’s anti-porn ‘shame­ware’, there was a far more dis­turb­ing sto­ry about the new Speak­er’s theo­crat­ic ori­en­ta­tion. It turns out Mike John­son is a huge fan of David Bar­ton. He even recent­ly declared Bar­ton’s “pro­found influ­ence on me, and my work, and my life and every­thing I do” as an event put on by Bar­ton’s Wall­Builders orga­ni­za­tion. And with Texas Repub­li­cans already on board with Bar­ton’s agen­da too, it’s easy to see why Texas is poised to become the Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism tem­plate for the rest of the nation. Bar­ton is a super­star among Texas Repub­li­cans, where his brand of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism is already the main­stream.

* May 4, 2023: Con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians want more reli­gion in pub­lic life. Texas law­mak­ers are lis­ten­ing.

With the Texas Repub­li­cans already ful­ly embrace David Bar­ton’s brand of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism, what’s stand­ing their in way? Well, a lot less than before thanks to a series of recent Supreme Court rul­ings. In 2020, the court ruled 5–4 in favor of a Mon­tana woman who argued that her state’s Depart­ment of Rev­enue improp­er­ly barred her from using a tax-cred­it schol­ar­ship at a Chris­t­ian school. And in 2022, the court sim­i­lar­ly ruled that Maine could not bar reli­gious insti­tu­tions from pub­lic fund­ing. It’s reminder that tear­ing down the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state is unlike­ly to come in a sin­gle blow. It will be a death by a thou­sand cuts. And with Texas Repub­li­cans active­ly work­ing on legal chal­lenges to the laws cur­rent­ly block­ing tax exempt enti­ties like church­es from engag­ing in par­ti­san activ­i­ty, it appears to be just a mat­ter of time before the Supreme Court deliv­ers anoth­er one of those cuts.

* Novem­ber 1, 2023: Mike John­son is not the only David Bar­ton fan to be Speak­er of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives

And while Mike John­son’s improb­a­ble Speak­er­ship might seem like the improb­a­ble rise of a close Bar­ton ally, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that it’s not actu­al­ly that improb­a­ble to find out a Repub­li­can Speak­er of the House is a big Bar­ton fan. For­mer Speak­er Paul Ryan once said of Bar­ton, “I lis­ten to him all the time, even in my car while dri­ving.” Ryan went on to elab­o­rate that, because of Barton’s teach­ings, Ryan is very knowl­edge­able of the 1954 John­son Amend­ment that put restric­tions on the polit­i­cal activ­i­ties of pas­tors from their pul­pits, which has done so much dam­age to Amer­i­can cul­ture. So what appears to be a final push tak­ing place now to the end the restric­tions on church­es engag­ing in direct polit­i­cal action is the cul­mi­na­tion of long ongo­ing efforts.

* May 23, 2016: South­ern Bap­tist, oth­er evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers to meet with Don­ald Trump: Reports

And as a reminder that we can’t real­ly sep­a­rate the cur­rent remark­able pow­er held by the move­ment from the impact of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and the pro­found role it played in reshap­ing the Supreme Court, it’s worth tak­ing a lit­tle at a fas­ci­nat­ing May 2016 arti­cle describ­ing plans for a del­e­ga­tion of lead­ers — includ­ing many SBC lead­ers — who were plan­ning on meet­ing then-can­di­date Trump. The del­e­gat­ed includ­ed:
* CNP Found­ing Mem­ber James Dob­son
* CNP mem­ber Ralph Reed
* CNP mem­ber Pen­ny Nance
* CNP Exec­u­tive Direc­to Bob McEwen
* CNP mem­ber Tim Wild­mon
* CNP mem­ber (and CNP VP start­ing in 2020) Kel­ly Shack­elford, who also hap­pens to be Mike John­son’s men­tor.
* CNP mem­ber (and CNP Pres­i­dent in 2018) Tony Perkins
* CNP mem­ber Bill Dal­las

Ed Young, long­stand­ing past of South Bap­tist Church Hous­ton and a major leader in the SBC, also attend­ed. In oth­er words, he’s obvi­ous­ly very close­ly tied to the CNP.

* March 27, 2023: Hous­ton GOP offi­cial knew for years of child sex abuse claims against South­ern Bap­tist leader, law part­ner

And now we get to the oth­er chap­ter in this sto­ry. The ongo­ing sex­u­al abuse mega-scan­dal that con­tin­ues to rock the SBC com­mu­ni­ty. A mega-scan­dal that involves hun­dreds of fig­ures — pas­tors. Min­is­ters. Youth pas­tors. Sun­day school teach­ers. Dea­cons. Church vol­un­teers — inside the SBC com­mu­ni­ty and which includes some extreme­ly promi­nent fig­ures. In par­tic­u­lar, Paul Pressler. Con­sid­ered one of the key fig­ures in the push to get to SBC to adopt Bib­li­cal lit­er­al­ism in the 80s and 90s, Pressler has become one of those peo­ple whose endorse­ment aspir­ing Repub­li­cans seek out. Long an impor­tant fig­ure in the CNP’s lead­er­ship, Pressler was the CNP pres­i­dent from 1988–1990. And a ser­i­al sex­u­al abuser of young men and teenage boys going back to at least 1978. And with the SBC lead­er­ship seem­ing­ly run­ning cov­er for Pressler the whole time. But, Pressler’s sex­u­al abuse did­n’t just take place with­in his role as an SBC youth pas­tor. A for­mer judge, Pressler was a part­ner in the law firm Wood­fill & Pressler, LLP, with fel­low Texas con­ser­v­a­tive activist Jared Wood­fill. It turns out Pressler was­n’t paid a salary for his work at the law firm. Instead, he was paid in the form of young male per­son­al assis­tants who would ‘assist the fam­i­ly’ at his home. And, yes, mul­ti­ple for­mer assis­tants have come for­ward alleg­ing abus­es. It’s far from the only sto­ry involv­ing sys­temic sex­u­al abuse and coverup inside the SBC com­mu­ni­ty. But it’s a big one, and with a law­suit still play­ing out it’s the kind of sto­ry that promis­es to deliv­er more and more sor­did details.

* Feb­ru­ary 10, 2019: Abuse of Faith

Next, we’re going to look at Part 1 of an explo­sive 6 Part inves­tiga­tive series pub­lished ear­li­er this year by the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle. In an inves­ti­ga­tion that exam­ined court records, crim­i­nal records, and hun­dreds of inter­views describ­ing how hun­dreds of known abusers — some con­vict­ed sex offend­ers — were rou­tine­ly allowed into posi­tions of pow­er and author­i­ty inside the SBC com­mu­ni­ty. And this was hap­pen­ing with the full aware­ness of SBC lead­er­ship — includ­ing fig­ures like Ed Young and CNP mem­ber Paige Pat­ter­son — who con­sis­tent­ly fell back on a doc­trine of ‘local church auton­o­my’ as an excuse for doing noth­ing. And if some­thing was done, it was typ­i­cal­ly some sort of cov­er up.

* April 20, 2023: SBC sem­i­nary and promi­nent for­mer leader set­tle in high-pro­file abuse law­suit, SBC still defend­ing

While Rollins’s law­suit against Pressler and the SBC lead­er­ship is still ongo­ing, there was a set­tle­ment announced: Paige Pat­ter­son set­tled with Rollins back in April. The terms of the set­tle­ment have not been dis­closed. But this would mark at least the sec­ond instance we know of where Rollins brought a law­suit involv­ing Pressler that result in an undis­closed set­tle­ment.

* Octo­ber 31, 2023: House Speak­er Mike John­son was once the dean of a Chris­t­ian law school. It nev­er opened its doors

Final­ly, a look back at a inter­est­ing chap­ter in Mike John­son’s Chris­t­ian activism legal career that is all the more inter­est­ing in light of the ongo­ing law­suits against Pressler and his SBC enablers. It turns out John­son was hired to be the dean of new­ly formed Chris­t­ian law school back in 2010. Except it nev­er actu­al­ly opened due to finan­cial issues (includ­ing pos­si­ble embez­zle­ment) and John­son left that role in 2012 to return to his Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist legal career. The school was to be called the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law.

Mike Johnson Has Nothing to Hide...At Least Not from the Owners of Covenant Eyes

Ok, start­ing off, let’s take a look at a recent Rolling Stone arti­cle that asks the ques­tion: so what are the impli­ca­tions of the Speak­er of the House installing an app on his phone that sends almost every­thing he does to the ‘Covenant Eyes” com­pa­ny? It’s the kind of dis­turb­ing ques­tion we should­n’t real­ly have to ask. But we have to ask it. And while the con­cerns obvi­ous­ly include all sorts of gov­ern­ment-relat­ed con­cerns about the leak­ing of impor­tant gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion to this com­pa­ny (and any­one else they decide to share the info with), there’s also the oth­er obvi­ous con­cern here: the fact that the new Speak­er of the House is an active mem­ber of a hyper-con­trol­ling reli­gious sect that seeks to wield cult-like con­trol over the lives of its fol­low­ers:

The Rolling Stones

Mike John­son Admits He and His Son Mon­i­tor Each Other’s Porn Intake in Resur­faced Video

“I’m proud to tell ya, my son has got a clean slate,” Speak­er of the House says of his “account­abil­i­ty part­ner”

By Daniel Kreps
Novem­ber 5, 2023

Speak­er of the House Mike John­son admit­ted that he and his son mon­i­tored each other’s porn intake in a resur­faced clip from 2022.

Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion on the “War on Tech­nol­o­gy” at Ben­ton, Louisiana’s Cypress Bap­tist Church — unearthed by X user Receipt Maven last week — the Louisiana rep­re­sen­ta­tive talked about how he installed “account­abil­i­ty soft­ware” called Covenant Eyes on his devices in order to abstain from inter­net porn and oth­er unsa­vory web­sites.

“It scans all the activ­i­ty on your phone, or your devices, your lap­top, what have you; we do all of it,” John­son told the pan­el about the app.

“It sends a report to your account­abil­i­ty part­ner. My account­abil­i­ty part­ner right now is Jack, my son. He’s 17. So he and I get a report about all the things that are on our phones, all of our devices, once a week. If any­thing objec­tion­able comes up, your account­abil­i­ty part­ner gets an imme­di­ate notice. I’m proud to tell ya, my son has got a clean slate.”

COMPROMISE ALERT: Speak­er Mike John­son uses soft­ware Covenant Eyes (learned about at a Promise Keep­ers retreat) that scans all his elec­tron­ic devices & gives a week­ly report an “account­abil­i­ty part­ner” his 17 yr old son (so basi­cal­ly don’t watch porn or your son/dad will know??) pic.twitter.com/SSWpB9IIDB

— Receipt Maven (@receiptmaven) Octo­ber 31, 2023

...

“A US Con­gress­man is allow­ing a 3rd Par­ty tech com­pa­ny to scan ALL of his elec­tron­ic devices dai­ly and then upload­ing reports to his son about what he’s watch­ing or not watch­ing….,” Receipt Maven wrote. “I mean, who else is access­ing that data?”

Since he was elect­ed Speak­er of the House in Octo­ber, Johnson’s his­to­ry as a faith-obsessed, elec­tion-deny­ing, far-right Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist has come under the micro­scope, from his time with the anti-LBGTQ orga­ni­za­tion Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom to his claim that school shoot­ings could be blamed on abor­tion and teach­ing evo­lu­tion.

In an inter­view Sun­day morn­ing on Fox News, John­son was asked about his his­to­ry on abor­tion, includ­ing claims that he was opposed to con­tra­cep­tion and IVF treat­ment. “I’m pro-life. I’ve said very clear­ly, I’m a Bible-believ­ing Chris­t­ian, I believe in the sanc­ti­ty of every sin­gle human life,” John­son said, but added, “I’ve not brought for­ward any mea­sure to address any of those issues.” How­ev­er, he didn’t deny whether he would vote against con­tra­cep­tion when the time comes.

Wow. Mike John­son on Fox News Sun­day does­n’t rule out vot­ing against access to con­tra­cep­tion but then says “I real­ly don’t remem­ber any of those mea­sures” when asked about his past votes against repro­duc­tive health care pic.twitter.com/4pDl3BGGD3

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) Novem­ber 5, 2023

———–

“Mike John­son Admits He and His Son Mon­i­tor Each Other’s Porn Intake in Resur­faced Video” By Daniel Kreps; The Rolling Stones; 11/05/2023

“Dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion on the “War on Tech­nol­o­gy” at Ben­ton, Louisiana’s Cypress Bap­tist Church — unearthed by X user Receipt Maven last week — the Louisiana rep­re­sen­ta­tive talked about how he installed “account­abil­i­ty soft­ware” called Covenant Eyes on his devices in order to abstain from inter­net porn and oth­er unsa­vory web­sites.

Yes, dur­ing a “War on Tech­nol­o­gy” talk at Louisiana’s Cypress Bap­tist Church, the new Speak­er of the House open­ly bragged about using the “Covenant Eyes” app so he and his son can be “account­abil­i­ty part­ners”. Except Mike John­son isn’t just shar­ing all of this sen­si­tive data with his son (and vice ver­sa). He’s shar­ing it with the Covenant Eyes com­pa­ny too. Basi­cal­ly all of the data gen­er­at­ed by his phone is poten­tial­ly sent to this creepy com­pa­ny:

...
“It scans all the activ­i­ty on your phone, or your devices, your lap­top, what have you; we do all of it,” John­son told the pan­el about the app.

“It sends a report to your account­abil­i­ty part­ner. My account­abil­i­ty part­ner right now is Jack, my son. He’s 17. So he and I get a report about all the things that are on our phones, all of our devices, once a week. If any­thing objec­tion­able comes up, your account­abil­i­ty part­ner gets an imme­di­ate notice. I’m proud to tell ya, my son has got a clean slate.”

...

“A US Con­gress­man is allow­ing a 3rd Par­ty tech com­pa­ny to scan ALL of his elec­tron­ic devices dai­ly and then upload­ing reports to his son about what he’s watch­ing or not watch­ing….,” Receipt Maven wrote. “I mean, who else is access­ing that data?”
...

Now why did the top­ic of the Con­venant Eyes app come up dur­ing a “War on Tech­nol­o­gy” talk at a Bap­tist Church? Well, as we’re going to see in the fol­low­ing Sep­tem­ber 2022 WIRED arti­cle, the Covenant Eyes app was actu­al­ly pulled from both the Google app store after WIRED report­ed on the incred­i­ble amount of infor­ma­tion being passed along to these third-par­ty com­pa­nies via these apps. Covenant Eyes has sub­se­quent­ly been restored to Google’s app store back in March. So that was pre­sum­ably part of why it came up dur­ing a “War on Tech­nol­o­gy” talk.

But as we’re also going to see, it appears that Covenant Eyes is par­tic­u­lar­ly pop­u­lar with the South­ern Bap­tist church­es. That includes Gra­ce­point, a Cal­i­for­nia-based min­istry that focus­es on col­lege cam­pus­es and claims to “serve stu­dents” on more than 70 cam­pus­es across the US. Impor­tant­ly, Gra­ce­point hails prac­tices the kind of ‘dis­ci­ple­ship’ or ‘shep­herd­ing’ prac­tices many for­mer mem­bers describe as cultish. This is a good time to recall how the “Peo­ple of Praise” Catholic com­mu­ni­ty that Supreme Court Jus­tice Amy Coney-Bar­rett hails from has also been accused of engag­ing in sim­i­lar cult-like ‘dis­ci­ple­ship’ prac­tices.

Gra­ce­point’s ‘ser­vices’ include help­ing stu­dents secure afford­able apart­ments, and that’s where the creepi­ness of this sto­ry gets extra inter­est­ing. Because, based on this report, installing Covenant Eyes on their phones is some­thing Gra­ce­point asks of the stu­dents in its min­istry. Stu­dents poten­tial­ly receiv­ing assis­tance, like Grant Hao-Wei Lin who recounts the dis­turb­ing expe­ri­ences he had with the Covenant Eyes soft­ware and his church lead­er­ship. With­in a month of installing the app, Hao-Wei Lin start­ed start­ed receiv­ing emails from his church leader about the things he had viewed online. As Hao-Wei Lin describes, he did­n’t real­ly think he was in a posi­tion to refuse the Covenant Eyes app giv­en all the stu­dent assis­tance he was get­ting from Gra­ce­point. And Hao-Wei Lin’s sto­ry is just one exam­ple of a rapid­ly grow­ing ‘shame­ware’ app indus­try that is grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty in reli­gious com­mu­ni­ties. A trend that includes church lead­ers typ­i­cal­ly end­ing up as the ‘account­abil­i­ty part­ner’ for church mem­bers.

And while the Covenant Eyes and sim­i­lar apps claim to be exclu­sive­ly focused on fight­ing pornog­ra­phy, it’s capa­ble of col­lect­ing a lot more infor­ma­tion, includ­ing what web­sites you vis­it or social media pages vis­it­ed. As one for­mer Gra­ce­point mem­ber put it, “It’s real­ly not about pornography...It’s about mak­ing you con­form to what your pas­tor wants.” This same per­son recounts, “I remem­ber I had to sit down and have a con­ver­sa­tion with him [her pas­tor] after I Wikipedia’d an arti­cle about athe­ism.” Yes, church lead­ers are able to get noti­fied any time one of their ‘flock’ reads some­thing unap­proved. That’s the top-down lev­el of con­trol being tech­no­log­i­cal­ly enabled here.

It’s that much broad­er, and deep­er, pow­er grab over the per­son­al lives of the mem­bers of these com­mu­ni­ties that’s a big part of the sto­ry here. Because as we’re also going to see in the fol­low­ing arti­cles, when we’re talk­ing about the lead­er­ship of the South­ern Bap­tist Church com­mu­ni­ty, we are talk­ing about a major ele­ment of the Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist lead­er­ship of the Unit­ed States, with one CNP mem­ber after anoth­er after anoth­er, includ­ing major fig­ures like David Bar­ton. Which, of course, is the same com­mu­ni­ty of lead­ers behind the efforts to over­turn the 2020 and upcom­ing Sched­ule F/Project 2025 mass polit­i­cal purges. So as we are learn­ing about the eye­brow-rais­ing deci­sion by the new Speak­er of the House to install ‘dis­ci­ple­ship shame­ware’ on his, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that this is just one piece of a much larg­er sto­ry about the ongo­ing plans for a full-spec­trum cap­ture of soci­ety:

Wired

The Ungod­ly Sur­veil­lance of Anti-Porn ‘Shame­ware’ Apps

Church­es are using inva­sive phone-mon­i­tor­ing tech to dis­cour­age “sin­ful” behav­ior. Some soft­ware is see­ing more than con­gre­gants real­ize.

Dhruv Mehro­tra
Secu­ri­ty
Sep 22, 2022 1:00 PM

Gra­ce­point is the kind of evan­gel­i­cal South­ern Bap­tist church that’s com­pelled to pub­licly enu­mer­ate all of the ways it’s not a cult. “We’ll admit that we’re a bit crazy about the Great Com­mis­sion and shar­ing the Gospel,” reads an FAQ page titled, “Is Gra­ce­point a Cult?” So when Grant Hao-Wei Lin came out to a Gra­ce­point church leader dur­ing their week­ly one-on-one ses­sion, he was sur­prised to learn that he wasn’t going to be kicked out. Accord­ing to his church leader, Hao-Wei Lin says, God still loved him in spite of his “strug­gle with same-sex attrac­tion.”

But Gra­ce­point did not leave the mat­ter in God’s hands alone. At their next one-on-one the fol­low­ing week, Hao-Wei Lin says the church leader asked him to install an app called Covenant Eyes on his phone. The app is explic­it­ly mar­ket­ed as anti-pornog­ra­phy soft­ware, but accord­ing to Hao-Wei Lin, his church leader told him it would help “con­trol all of his urges.”

Covenant Eyes is part of a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar ecosys­tem of so-called account­abil­i­ty apps. These apps are mar­ket­ed to both church­es and par­ents as tools to police online activ­i­ty, and they charge a month­ly fee to do so. Some of these apps mon­i­tor every­thing their users see and do on their devices, even tak­ing screen­shots (at least one per minute, in the case of Covenant Eyes) and eaves­drop­ping on web traf­fic, WIRED found. The apps then report a feed of all of the users’ online activ­i­ty direct­ly to a chaperone—an “account­abil­i­ty part­ner,” in the apps’ par­lance. When WIRED pre­sent­ed its find­ings to Google, how­ev­er, the com­pa­ny deter­mined that two of the top account­abil­i­ty apps—Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You—vio­late its poli­cies.

The omni­science of Covenant Eyes soon weighed heav­i­ly on Hao-Wei Lin, who has since left Gra­ce­point. With­in a month of installing the app, he start­ed receiv­ing accusato­ry emails from his church leader ref­er­enc­ing things he had viewed online. “Any­thing you need to tell me?” reads one email Hao-Wei Lin shared with WIRED. Attached was a report from Covenant Eyes that detailed every sin­gle piece of dig­i­tal con­tent Hao-Wei Lin had con­sumed the pri­or week. It was a trail of dig­i­tal minu­ti­ae accu­mu­lat­ed from nights spent aim­less­ly brows­ing the inter­net, things Hao-Wei Lin could bare­ly remem­ber hav­ing seen—and would have for­got­ten about had a mem­ber of his Church not con­front­ed him. The church leader zeroed in on a sin­gle piece of con­tent that Covenant Eyes had flagged as “Mature”: Hao-Wei Lin had searched “#Gay” on a web­site called Statigr.am, and the app had flagged it.

Gra­ce­point, which focus­es on col­leges, claims to “serve stu­dents” on more than 70 cam­pus­es across the Unit­ed States. Accord­ing to emails between a Covenant Eyes rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a for­mer Gra­ce­point church leader that WIRED reviewed, the com­pa­ny said that in 2012 as many as 450 Gra­ce­point Church mem­bers were signed up to be mon­i­tored through Covenant Eyes.

“I wouldn’t quite call it spy­ware,” says a for­mer mem­ber of Gra­ce­point who was asked to use Covenant Eyes and spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, due to pri­va­cy con­cerns. “It’s more like ‘shame­ware,’ and it’s just anoth­er way the church con­trols you.”

Sim­i­lar to sur­veil­lance soft­ware like Bark or Net­Nan­ny, which is used to mon­i­tor chil­dren at home and school, “shame­ware” apps are less­er-known tools that are used to keep track of behav­iors par­ents or reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions deem unhealthy or immoral. For­ti­fy, for instance, was devel­oped by the founder of an anti-pornog­ra­phy non­prof­it called Fight the New Drug and tracks how often an indi­vid­ual mas­tur­bates in order to help them over­come “sex­u­al com­pul­siv­i­ty.” The app has been down­loaded over 100,000 times and has thou­sands of reviews on the Google Play store.

The cur­rent iter­a­tion of the Covenant Eyes app was devel­oped by Michael Holm, a for­mer NSA math­e­mati­cian who now serves as a data sci­en­tist for the com­pa­ny. The sys­tem is alleged­ly capa­ble of dis­tin­guish­ing between porno­graph­ic and non-porno­graph­ic images. The soft­ware cap­tures every­thing vis­i­ble on a device’s screen, ana­lyz­ing the images local­ly before slight­ly blur­ring them and send­ing them to a serv­er to be saved. “Image-based pornog­ra­phy detec­tion was a huge con­cep­tu­al change for Covenant Eyes,” Holm told The Chris­t­ian Post, an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian news out­let, in 2019. “While I didn’t yet know it, God had put me in that place at that time for a pur­pose high­er than myself, just as I and oth­ers had desired and prayed for.”

Covenant Eyes spokesper­son Dan Arm­strong says the com­pa­ny is “con­cerned” about “peo­ple being mon­i­tored with­out prop­er con­sent.” He adds that “account­abil­i­ty rela­tion­ships are bet­ter off between peo­ple who already know each oth­er and want the best for one anoth­er, such as close per­son­al friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers,” and that the com­pa­ny dis­cour­ages using its app in rela­tion­ships with a pow­er imbal­ance.

Among the top account­abil­i­ty apps—including Accountable2You and Ever­Ac­count­able—Covenant Eyes appears to be the largest play­er. The com­pa­ny orga­nizes con­fer­ences that are attend­ed by thou­sands of peo­ple and ded­i­cat­ed to edu­cat­ing atten­dees about the dan­gers of pornog­ra­phy while pitch­ing the company’s prod­uct as an urgent solu­tion to what it char­ac­ter­izes as a grow­ing moral cri­sis. Accord­ing to the app ana­lyt­ics firm App­Fig­ures, in the past year more than 50,000 peo­ple have down­loaded Covenant Eyes. Rock­e­treach esti­mates that the com­pa­ny has an annu­al rev­enue of $26 mil­lion.

Ed Kang, pas­tor of Gra­ce­point Church in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, and a major fig­ure in the orga­ni­za­tion, says in an email that vol­un­teer staff mem­bers are required to install Covenant Eyes or Accountable2You “as part of their staff agree­ment.” But he dis­putes that church lead­ers were instruct­ed to mon­i­tor con­gre­gants’ phone activ­i­ty. “Usu­al­ly it’s who­ev­er they [con­gre­gants] des­ig­nate, and we actu­al­ly dis­cour­age lead­ers from being the account­abil­i­ty part­ners as that seems a bit too heavy,” he writes. (All five for­mer Gra­ce­point con­gre­gants who spoke to WIRED said a church leader was their account­abil­i­ty part­ner.) Kang adds that the num­ber of Gra­ce­point con­gre­gants who use Covenant Eyes or Accountable2You “may be sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er than 450 nowa­days” and that Accountable2You “has bet­ter pric­ing.”

What’s com­mon across Covenant Eyes, Accountable2You, and Ever­Ac­count­able is their zero-tol­er­ance approach to pornog­ra­phy. All three sug­gest in their mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als that not only is watch­ing porn a moral fail­ure, but any amount of porn con­sump­tion is bad for your health. Their solu­tion: Pro­mote puri­ty through what they call “rad­i­cal account­abil­i­ty,” a con­cept where­in a com­mu­ni­ty comes togeth­er to con­front a per­son who is liv­ing in sin. At its most basic lev­el, the idea is pret­ty straight­for­ward: Why would any­one watch porn if they are going to have to talk to their par­ents or pas­tor about it?

While these apps claim to have helped many peo­ple over­come pornog­ra­phy addic­tions, experts who study sex­u­al health are skep­ti­cal that the apps have a last­ing pos­i­tive effect. “I’ve nev­er seen any­one who’s been on one of these apps feel bet­ter about them­selves in the long term,” says Nicole Praus, a sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Ange­les, who stud­ies the effects of pornog­ra­phy on the brain and the spread of dis­in­for­ma­tion on sex­u­al health. “These peo­ple just end up feel­ing like there’s some­thing wrong with them when the real­i­ty is that there like­ly isn’t.”

But Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You do much more than just police pornog­ra­phy. When WIRED down­loaded, decom­piled, and test­ed Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, we found that both apps are built to col­lect, mon­i­tor, and report all sorts of inno­cent behav­ior. The appli­ca­tions exploit­ed Android’s acces­si­bil­i­ty per­mis­sions to mon­i­tor almost every­thing some­one does on their phone. While the acces­si­bil­i­ty func­tion­al­i­ties are meant to help devel­op­ers build out fea­tures that assist peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, these apps take advan­tage of such per­mis­sions to either cap­ture screen­shots of every­thing active­ly being viewed on the device or detect the name of apps as they’re being used and record every web­site vis­it­ed in the device’s brows­er.

In Hao-Wei Lin’s case, that includ­ed his Ama­zon pur­chas­es, arti­cles he read, and even which friends’ accounts he looked at on Insta­gram. The trou­ble is, accord­ing to Hao-Wei Lin, pro­vid­ing his church leader with a ledger of every­thing he did online meant he could always find some­thing to ask him about, and the way Covenant Eyes flagged con­tent didn’t help. For exam­ple, in Covenant Eyes reports that Hao-Wei Lin shared with WIRED, his online psy­chi­a­try text­book was rat­ed “High­ly Mature,” the most severe cat­e­go­ry of con­tent reserved for “anonymiz­ers, nudi­ty, erot­i­ca, and pornog­ra­phy.” The same was true of any­thing Hao-Wei Lin felt was “remote­ly gay,” like his Statigr.am search­es.

After WIRED con­tact­ed Google about Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, both apps were sus­pend­ed from the Google Play store. “Google Play per­mits the use of the Acces­si­bil­i­ty API for a wide range of appli­ca­tions,” spokesper­son Danielle Cohen says in an email. “How­ev­er, only ser­vices that are designed to help peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties access their device or oth­er­wise over­come chal­lenges stem­ming from their dis­abil­i­ties are eli­gi­ble to declare that they are acces­si­bil­i­ty tools.”

...

In our tests of Accountable2You pri­or to its sus­pen­sion, we found that the soft­ware sim­i­lar­ly flagged con­tent with key­words like “gay” or “les­bian” in the URL. For instance, when we set up a test account and nav­i­gat­ed to the US Cen­ters for Dis­ease Control’s web­site for LGBTQ youth resources, the phone we des­ig­nat­ed as our account­abil­i­ty part­ner was imme­di­ate­ly texted and emailed a “ques­tion­able activ­i­ty report” indi­cat­ing that our test phone had vis­it­ed a “High­ly Ques­tion­able” web­site.

“It’s real­ly not about pornog­ra­phy,” says Brit, a for­mer user of Accountable2You who asked to only be iden­ti­fied by her first name, due to pri­va­cy con­cerns. “It’s about mak­ing you con­form to what your pas­tor wants.” Brit says she was asked to install the app by her par­ents after she was caught look­ing at pornog­ra­phy and that her moth­er and her pas­tor were both her des­ig­nat­ed account­abil­i­ty part­ners. “I remem­ber I had to sit down and have a con­ver­sa­tion with him [her pas­tor] after I Wikipedia’d an arti­cle about athe­ism,” she says. “I was a kid, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some kind of right to read what I want to read.”

While account­abil­i­ty apps are large­ly mar­ket­ed to par­ents and fam­i­lies, some also adver­tise their ser­vices to church­es. Accountable2You, for exam­ple, adver­tis­es group rates for church­es or small groups and has set up sev­er­al land­ing pages for spe­cif­ic church­es where mem­bers can sign up. Covenant Eyes, mean­while, employs a direc­tor of Church and Min­istry Out­reach to help onboard reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions.

Accountable2You did not respond to WIRED’s requests for com­ment.

Eva Galperin is direc­tor of cyber­se­cu­ri­ty at the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, a dig­i­tal rights non­prof­it, and cofounder of the Coali­tion Against Stalk­er­ware. Galperin says con­sent to such sur­veil­lance is a major con­cern. “One of the key ele­ments of con­sent is that a per­son can feel com­fort­able say­ing no,” she says. “You could argue that any app installed in a church set­ting is done in a coer­cive man­ner.” While WIRED did not speak to any­one who was unaware that the app was on their phone, which is often the case with spy­ware, Hao-Wei Lin says he didn’t feel like he was in a posi­tion where he could say no to his church leader when he was asked to install Covenant Eyes. Gra­ce­point had secured him a $400-a-month apart­ment in Berke­ley, where he was attend­ing col­lege. With­out the church’s sup­port, he might have had nowhere to live.

But this is not the expe­ri­ence of every­one we spoke to. James Nagy is a for­mer Gra­ce­point mem­ber who says he was on both sides of Covenant Eyes reports. Nagy, who is gay, was taught from a young age that homo­sex­u­al­i­ty was a sin. So when Gra­ce­point offered him a soft­ware solu­tion that claimed to be able to help what he then con­sid­ered to be a moral dilem­ma, he jumped at the oppor­tu­ni­ty. He says that while he believed many peo­ple at Gra­ce­point were pres­sured to install the app, in his case, the pres­sure came from him­self. “Gra­ce­point didn’t try to change me,” Nagy says. “I tried to change me.” Nagy is now an elder at the Pres­by­ter­ian Church (USA) and until 2021 was a facil­i­ta­tor with the Ref­or­ma­tion Project, a non­prof­it whose mis­sion is to advance LGBTQ inclu­sion in the church.

In the quest to curb behav­ior church­es deem immoral, these account­abil­i­ty apps will col­lect and store extreme­ly sen­si­tive per­son­al infor­ma­tion from their users, includ­ing from those under the age of 18. For­ti­fy, which describes itself as an addic­tion recov­ery app, asks its users to log infor­ma­tion about when they last mas­tur­bat­ed, where they were when it hap­pened, and what device they used. While Fortify’s pri­va­cy pol­i­cy states that the com­pa­ny doesn’t sell or oth­er­wise share this data with third par­ties, its pol­i­cy does allow it to share data with trust­ed third par­ties to per­form sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis, though it does not men­tion who these trust­ed third par­ties are. In a phone call, Clay Olsen, the CEO of For­ti­fy par­ent com­pa­ny Impact Suite, clar­i­fied that these trust­ed third par­ties include com­pa­nies like Mix­pan­el, an ana­lyt­ics ser­vice com­pa­ny that tracks user inter­ac­tions with web and mobile appli­ca­tions.

...

When WIRED test­ed the For­ti­fy soft­ware, we found that the app also uti­lizes oth­er tech­nol­o­gy to track users. For instance, because it includes Facebook’s Pix­el, data relat­ed to Fortify’s mas­tur­ba­tion-track­ing form is sent to Face­book. While the data does not appear to include the con­tents of the track­ing form, it does have meta­da­ta about the form itself, includ­ing when it was filled out. Face­book appears to store that data and, when pos­si­ble, asso­ciates it with a user’s account. After set­ting up a test account with Face­book, log­ging in, and then inter­act­ing with For­ti­fy, we were able to see inter­ac­tions with For­ti­fy in a copy of the test account’s data obtained through Facebook’s pri­va­cy cen­ter.

Fortify’s inclu­sion of Facebook’s Pix­el isn’t just a pri­va­cy issue, it’s a secu­ri­ty prob­lem. While test­ing the app, we also noticed that the pass­word to our account was sent in plain­text to Face­book in the URL of the track­ing requests. Face­book claims to have fil­ter­ing mech­a­nisms to pre­vent its sys­tems from stor­ing this type of per­son­al infor­ma­tion, but Fortify’s appar­ent over­sight is still con­cern­ing to experts like Galperin. “That’s a huge vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty,” she says. “It’s the sort of behav­ior that makes me feel like they don’t have secu­ri­ty experts review­ing the app or its poli­cies.”

Face­book spokesper­son Emil Vazquez says com­pa­nies that share sen­si­tive user data with the Meta-owned social media plat­form are vio­lat­ing its poli­cies. “Adver­tis­ers should not send sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion about peo­ple through our Busi­ness Tools. Doing so is against our poli­cies,” Vazquez says. “Our sys­tem is designed to fil­ter out poten­tial­ly sen­si­tive data it is able to detect.” Face­book did not say whether its fil­ters detect­ed the plain­text pass­words sent by For­ti­fy.

After being noti­fied of the pass­word issue, Olsen said For­ti­fy would stop trans­mit­ting users’ unen­crypt­ed pass­words to Face­book. As we went to press, the issue had not yet been addressed.

Hao-Wei Lin has since moved on from Gra­ce­point but is still pro­cess­ing the trau­ma he feels the church has caused him. I met him ear­li­er this month at his the­sis exhi­bi­tion at Par­sons School of Design in New York City, where he is about to get his Mas­ter of Fine Arts in pho­tog­ra­phy. He tells me that it was only after he went back to school that he felt he was in a safe enough space to start pro­cess­ing what he went through at Gra­ce­point.

Hao-Wei Lin’s pho­tog­ra­phy was somber, but not with­out humor. One was of a 3D ren­der­ing of a room where he says he and oth­er mem­bers of Gra­ce­point would meet after their Sun­day ser­vice. A soli­tary fig­ure is hunched over pray­ing, his head rest­ing in the seat of his plas­tic chair. As I look at the pho­to, Hao-Wei Lin tells me he wants the view­er to feel like they are a sur­veil­lance cam­era perched in the top cor­ner of the room. The name of his work: “Covenant Eyes.”

...

———–

“The Ungod­ly Sur­veil­lance of Anti-Porn ‘Shame­ware’ Apps” by Dhruv Mehro­tra; Wired; 09/22/2022

““I wouldn’t quite call it spy­ware,” says a for­mer mem­ber of Gra­ce­point who was asked to use Covenant Eyes and spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, due to pri­va­cy con­cerns. “It’s more like ‘shame­ware,’ and it’s just anoth­er way the church con­trols you.””

It’s not spy­ware. It’s much worse. It’s ‘shame­ware’ designed to be so overt­ly inva­sive that you’ll be too scared to view any ‘sin­ful’ con­tent in the first place. Or to use the ter­mi­nol­o­gy of this move­ment, puri­ty through “rad­i­cal account­abil­i­ty”. And that “rad­i­cal account­abil­i­ty” comes through apps watch­ing vir­tu­al­ly every­thing you do on your phone, includ­ing which arti­cles you read and the social media accounts you vis­it. It’s like giv­ing your church leader a ‘Gods eye’ view of your dig­i­tal life:

...
The cur­rent iter­a­tion of the Covenant Eyes app was devel­oped by Michael Holm, a for­mer NSA math­e­mati­cian who now serves as a data sci­en­tist for the com­pa­ny. The sys­tem is alleged­ly capa­ble of dis­tin­guish­ing between porno­graph­ic and non-porno­graph­ic images. The soft­ware cap­tures every­thing vis­i­ble on a device’s screen, ana­lyz­ing the images local­ly before slight­ly blur­ring them and send­ing them to a serv­er to be saved. “Image-based pornog­ra­phy detec­tion was a huge con­cep­tu­al change for Covenant Eyes,” Holm told The Chris­t­ian Post, an evan­gel­i­cal Chris­t­ian news out­let, in 2019. “While I didn’t yet know it, God had put me in that place at that time for a pur­pose high­er than myself, just as I and oth­ers had desired and prayed for.”

...

What’s com­mon across Covenant Eyes, Accountable2You, and Ever­Ac­count­able is their zero-tol­er­ance approach to pornog­ra­phy. All three sug­gest in their mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als that not only is watch­ing porn a moral fail­ure, but any amount of porn con­sump­tion is bad for your health. Their solu­tion: Pro­mote puri­ty through what they call “rad­i­cal account­abil­i­ty,” a con­cept where­in a com­mu­ni­ty comes togeth­er to con­front a per­son who is liv­ing in sin. At its most basic lev­el, the idea is pret­ty straight­for­ward: Why would any­one watch porn if they are going to have to talk to their par­ents or pas­tor about it?

...

But Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You do much more than just police pornog­ra­phy. When WIRED down­loaded, decom­piled, and test­ed Covenant Eyes and Accountable2You, we found that both apps are built to col­lect, mon­i­tor, and report all sorts of inno­cent behav­ior. The appli­ca­tions exploit­ed Android’s acces­si­bil­i­ty per­mis­sions to mon­i­tor almost every­thing some­one does on their phone. While the acces­si­bil­i­ty func­tion­al­i­ties are meant to help devel­op­ers build out fea­tures that assist peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, these apps take advan­tage of such per­mis­sions to either cap­ture screen­shots of every­thing active­ly being viewed on the device or detect the name of apps as they’re being used and record every web­site vis­it­ed in the device’s brows­er.

In Hao-Wei Lin’s case, that includ­ed his Ama­zon pur­chas­es, arti­cles he read, and even which friends’ accounts he looked at on Insta­gram. The trou­ble is, accord­ing to Hao-Wei Lin, pro­vid­ing his church leader with a ledger of every­thing he did online meant he could always find some­thing to ask him about, and the way Covenant Eyes flagged con­tent didn’t help. For exam­ple, in Covenant Eyes reports that Hao-Wei Lin shared with WIRED, his online psy­chi­a­try text­book was rat­ed “High­ly Mature,” the most severe cat­e­go­ry of con­tent reserved for “anonymiz­ers, nudi­ty, erot­i­ca, and pornog­ra­phy.” The same was true of any­thing Hao-Wei Lin felt was “remote­ly gay,” like his Statigr.am search­es.

...

“It’s real­ly not about pornog­ra­phy,” says Brit, a for­mer user of Accountable2You who asked to only be iden­ti­fied by her first name, due to pri­va­cy con­cerns. “It’s about mak­ing you con­form to what your pas­tor wants.” Brit says she was asked to install the app by her par­ents after she was caught look­ing at pornog­ra­phy and that her moth­er and her pas­tor were both her des­ig­nat­ed account­abil­i­ty part­ners. “I remem­ber I had to sit down and have a con­ver­sa­tion with him [her pas­tor] after I Wikipedia’d an arti­cle about athe­ism,” she says. “I was a kid, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some kind of right to read what I want to read.”
...

Now, if this was a pure­ly vol­un­tary arrange­ment, that would be one thing. Dis­turb­ing and cult­like, but at least not coer­cive. But when we read about how Gra­ce­point basi­cal­ly asks all of their stu­dent mem­bers — many of whom are receiv­ing Gra­ce­point’s assis­tance to attend col­lege — to install this soft­ware this soft­ware, it’s clear that this isn’t a pure­ly vol­un­tary trend. Instead, we’re look­ing at the lead­er­ship of a ‘discipleship’-based move­ment gain­ing an even deep­er direct stran­gle­hold over the lives of their ‘flock’. Hence the con­stant ‘We’re not a cult!’ dec­la­ra­tions:

...
Gra­ce­point is the kind of evan­gel­i­cal South­ern Bap­tist church that’s com­pelled to pub­licly enu­mer­ate all of the ways it’s not a cult. “We’ll admit that we’re a bit crazy about the Great Com­mis­sion and shar­ing the Gospel,” reads an FAQ page titled, “Is Gra­ce­point a Cult?” So when Grant Hao-Wei Lin came out to a Gra­ce­point church leader dur­ing their week­ly one-on-one ses­sion, he was sur­prised to learn that he wasn’t going to be kicked out. Accord­ing to his church leader, Hao-Wei Lin says, God still loved him in spite of his “strug­gle with same-sex attrac­tion.”

...

The omni­science of Covenant Eyes soon weighed heav­i­ly on Hao-Wei Lin, who has since left Gra­ce­point. With­in a month of installing the app, he start­ed receiv­ing accusato­ry emails from his church leader ref­er­enc­ing things he had viewed online. “Any­thing you need to tell me?” reads one email Hao-Wei Lin shared with WIRED. Attached was a report from Covenant Eyes that detailed every sin­gle piece of dig­i­tal con­tent Hao-Wei Lin had con­sumed the pri­or week. It was a trail of dig­i­tal minu­ti­ae accu­mu­lat­ed from nights spent aim­less­ly brows­ing the inter­net, things Hao-Wei Lin could bare­ly remem­ber hav­ing seen—and would have for­got­ten about had a mem­ber of his Church not con­front­ed him. The church leader zeroed in on a sin­gle piece of con­tent that Covenant Eyes had flagged as “Mature”: Hao-Wei Lin had searched “#Gay” on a web­site called Statigr.am, and the app had flagged it.

...

Gra­ce­point, which focus­es on col­leges, claims to “serve stu­dents” on more than 70 cam­pus­es across the Unit­ed States. Accord­ing to emails between a Covenant Eyes rep­re­sen­ta­tive and a for­mer Gra­ce­point church leader that WIRED reviewed, the com­pa­ny said that in 2012 as many as 450 Gra­ce­point Church mem­bers were signed up to be mon­i­tored through Covenant Eyes.

...

Ed Kang, pas­tor of Gra­ce­point Church in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia, and a major fig­ure in the orga­ni­za­tion, says in an email that vol­un­teer staff mem­bers are required to install Covenant Eyes or Accountable2You “as part of their staff agree­ment.” But he dis­putes that church lead­ers were instruct­ed to mon­i­tor con­gre­gants’ phone activ­i­ty. “Usu­al­ly it’s who­ev­er they [con­gre­gants] des­ig­nate, and we actu­al­ly dis­cour­age lead­ers from being the account­abil­i­ty part­ners as that seems a bit too heavy,” he writes. (All five for­mer Gra­ce­point con­gre­gants who spoke to WIRED said a church leader was their account­abil­i­ty part­ner.) Kang adds that the num­ber of Gra­ce­point con­gre­gants who use Covenant Eyes or Accountable2You “may be sig­nif­i­cant­ly high­er than 450 nowa­days” and that Accountable2You “has bet­ter pric­ing.”

...

Eva Galperin is direc­tor of cyber­se­cu­ri­ty at the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, a dig­i­tal rights non­prof­it, and cofounder of the Coali­tion Against Stalk­er­ware. Galperin says con­sent to such sur­veil­lance is a major con­cern. “One of the key ele­ments of con­sent is that a per­son can feel com­fort­able say­ing no,” she says. “You could argue that any app installed in a church set­ting is done in a coer­cive man­ner.” While WIRED did not speak to any­one who was unaware that the app was on their phone, which is often the case with spy­ware, Hao-Wei Lin says he didn’t feel like he was in a posi­tion where he could say no to his church leader when he was asked to install Covenant Eyes. Gra­ce­point had secured him a $400-a-month apart­ment in Berke­ley, where he was attend­ing col­lege. With­out the church’s sup­port, he might have had nowhere to live.
...

How much spy­ware will peo­ple allow in their lives for an afford­able apart­ment? These might seem like ques­tions spe­cif­ic to these ‘dis­ci­ple­ship’ based com­mu­ni­ties of faith. But we aren’t just talk­ing about insu­lar reli­gious move­ments push­ing these kinds of ‘apps’ on their ‘flock’. We are talk­ing about a net­work of reli­gious lead­ers with deep ties to the CNP and the grow­ing polit­i­cal strength of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism in Amer­i­ca.

Mike Johnson’s “Profound Influence”: David Bartons’s Christian Nationalist Texas Template

It’s that cru­cial con­text of the grow­ing polit­i­cal pow­er of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ists affil­i­at­ed with the CNP that we’re going to look at next. In par­tic­u­lar, the remark­able polit­i­cal influ­ence of some­one we’ve looked at before: David Bar­ton, lead­ing pseu­do-his­to­ri­an of the Chris­t­ian Right. As we’ve seen, “Covenant Eyes” is far from only Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist influ­ence in Mike John­son’s life. He’s sur­round­ed him­self with CNP fig­ures, includ­ing CNP Vice Pres­i­dent Kel­ly Shack­elford, who John­son once described as a per­son­al men­tor. So it should come as no sur­prise to learn that John­son has described key CNP-mem­ber David Bar­ton as anoth­er source of “pro­found influ­ence” influ­ence in his life. A pro­found influ­ence who is cur­rent­ly work­ing on turn­ing the state of Texas into a kind of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist ‘tem­plate’ for the rest of the US. But as we’re going to see, this isn’t just David Bar­ton’s agen­da. It’s the Texas GOP’s agen­da too:

The Texas Tri­bune

Texas activist David Bar­ton wants to end sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. He has the ear of the new U.S. House speak­er.

Bar­ton has been a sta­ple of Texas’ Chris­t­ian con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, offer­ing cru­cial sup­port to politi­cians and fre­quent­ly being cit­ed or called on to tes­ti­fy in favor of bills that crit­ics say would erode church-state sep­a­ra­tions.

by Robert Dow­nen
Nov. 3, 2023
5 AM Cen­tral

For near­ly four decades, Texas activist David Bar­ton has barn­stormed state­hous­es and pul­pits across the nation, argu­ing that the sep­a­ra­tion between church and state is a myth and that Amer­i­ca should be run as a Chris­t­ian nation.

Now, he’s clos­er to pow­er than per­haps ever before.

One day after lit­tle-known Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Mike John­son of Louisiana was elect­ed as the new House speak­er last week, Bar­ton said on a pod­cast that he was already dis­cussing staffing with John­son, his long­time ally in deeply con­ser­v­a­tive, Chris­t­ian caus­es.

“We have some tools at our dis­pos­al now (that) we haven’t had in a long time,” Bar­ton added.

John­son recent­ly spoke at an event host­ed by Barton’s non­prof­it, Wall­Builders; he’s praised Bar­ton and his “pro­found influ­ence on me, and my work, and my life and every­thing I do”; and, before his career as a law­mak­er, John­son worked for Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom — a legal advo­ca­cy group that has helped infuse more Chris­tian­i­ty into pub­lic schools and gov­ern­ment, a key goal of Barton’s move­ment.

Bar­ton, who lives in Ale­do, has been a sta­ple of Texas’ own Chris­t­ian con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, offer­ing cru­cial pub­lic sup­port to politi­cians and fre­quent­ly being cit­ed or called on to tes­ti­fy in favor of bills that crit­ics say would erode church-state sep­a­ra­tions — includ­ing in front of the Texas Leg­is­la­ture this year.

Johnson’s elec­tion — and his prox­im­i­ty to Bar­ton — is a mas­sive vic­to­ry for a grow­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ment that claims the Unit­ed States’ foun­da­tion was ordained by God, and there­fore its laws and insti­tu­tions should favor their brand of Chris­tian­i­ty.

“John­son’s rise means that Bar­ton and his fel­low Chris­t­ian nation­al­ists now have unprece­dent­ed access to the levers of pow­er on the nation­al stage, par­al­lel­ing the access they already have here in Texas and some oth­er states,” said David Brock­man, a non-res­i­dent schol­ar in reli­gion and pub­lic pol­i­cy at Rice Uni­ver­si­ty’s Bak­er Insti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­i­cy.

...

In 1988, Bar­ton found­ed his group, Wall­Builders, to “exert a direct and pos­i­tive influ­ence in gov­ern­ment, edu­ca­tion, and the fam­i­ly by edu­cat­ing the nation con­cern­ing the God­ly foun­da­tion of our coun­try” and “pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion to fed­er­al, state, and local offi­cials as they devel­op pub­lic poli­cies which reflect Bib­li­cal val­ues,” accord­ing to the group’s web­site.

Since then, Bar­ton has been arguably the most influ­en­tial fig­ure in a grow­ing move­ment to under­mine the estab­lish­ment clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amend­ment, which states that “Con­gress shall make no law respect­ing an estab­lish­ment of reli­gion.”

Bar­ton claims the clause has been mis­un­der­stood. He argues that most of the Found­ing Fathers were “ortho­dox, evan­gel­i­cal” Chris­tians, and that it would thus be more accu­rate to read the estab­lish­ment clause’s use of the word “reli­gion” as a stand-in for “Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tion.”

“We would best under­stand the actu­al con­text of the First Amend­ment by say­ing, ‘Con­gress shall make no law estab­lish­ing one Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tion as the nation­al denom­i­na­tion,’” he has said.

Bar­ton also argues that the coun­try’s founders “nev­er intend­ed the First Amend­ment to become a vehi­cle to pro­mote a plu­ral­ism of oth­er reli­gions.”

In his mind, the wall sep­a­rat­ing church and state was only meant to extend one way, pro­tect­ing reli­gion — specif­i­cal­ly, Chris­tian­i­ty — from the gov­ern­ment, but not vice ver­sa.

“‘Sep­a­ra­tion of church and state’ cur­rent­ly means almost exact­ly the oppo­site of what it orig­i­nal­ly meant,” his group’s web­site claims.

And he argues that most of what he con­sid­ers society’s ills — from school shoot­ings, low stan­dard­ized test scores and drug use to divorce, crime and LGBTQ+ peo­ple — are the nat­ur­al con­se­quences of aban­don­ing the Judeo-Chris­t­ian virtues, as artic­u­lat­ed in his form of Chris­tian­i­ty, that he says are the bedrock of the nation’s found­ing. Some­times, he’s drawn fire for those views — such as when he said the lack of cure for AIDS was God’s vengeance for homo­sex­u­al­i­ty or when he com­pared the Third Reich’s “evils” to the “homo­sex­u­al lifestyle” in 2017.

Bar­ton, a self-styled “ama­teur his­to­ri­an,” has for years been debunked and ridiculed by actu­al his­to­ri­ans and schol­ars, who note that he has no for­mal train­ing and that his work is filled with selec­tive quotes, mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and inac­cu­ra­cies — cri­tiques that Bar­ton has claimed are mere attacks on his faith. He has been accused of white­wash­ing the Found­ing Fathers — par­tic­u­lar­ly, their slave own­ing — to fit his nar­ra­tive of a God-ordained nation. He has acknowl­edged using uncon­firmed quotes from his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. And Barton’s 2012 book, “The Jef­fer­son Lies,” was so wide­ly panned by Chris­t­ian aca­d­e­mics that it prompt­ed a sep­a­rate book, “Get­ting Jef­fer­son Right,” to debunk all of his inac­cu­ra­cies, and was lat­er pulled by its Chris­t­ian pub­lish­er because “the basic truths just were not there.”

Despite that, Bar­ton has remained a fix­ture in con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian cir­cles and Repub­li­can Par­ty pol­i­tics. He served as vice chair of the Repub­li­can Par­ty of Texas from 1997 to 2006 and, in 2004, was tapped for cler­gy out­reach by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s reelec­tion cam­paign. In 2010, his fel­low Tex­an and promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive per­son­al­i­ty Glenn Beck praised him as “the most impor­tant man in Amer­i­ca right now.” Bar­ton was an ear­ly and impor­tant endors­er of Sen. Ted Cruz’s unex­pect­ed first win in 2012. And in 2016, Bar­ton ran one of mul­ti­ple super PACs that were cru­cial to Cruz’s reelec­tion.

...

In Texas, Bar­ton has become increas­ing­ly instru­men­tal among GOP politi­cians. He and Wall­Builders cur­rent­ly work close­ly with Rick Green, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and cur­rent leader of Patri­ot Acad­e­my, a Drip­ping Springs-based group that trains young adults, church­es and oth­ers how to “influ­ence gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy with a Bib­li­cal world­view” and bor­rows heav­i­ly from Barton’s teach­ings.

Bar­ton has also railed against the John­son Amend­ment, which pro­hibits tax-exempt groups, includ­ing church­es, from direct polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy. And he is fre­quent­ly called on to sup­port laws that would infuse more Chris­tian­i­ty into pub­lic life — includ­ing in pub­lic schools. In May, he and his son, Tim­o­thy Bar­ton, tes­ti­fied in favor of a bill — which lat­er failed — that would have required all Texas pub­lic school class­rooms to dis­play the Ten Com­mand­ments.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Barton’s work was praised as “great” by Sen. Don­na Camp­bell, R‑New Braun­fels. His the­o­ries were echoed by Sen. Mayes Mid­dle­ton, R‑Galveston, who said that church-state sep­a­ra­tion is “not a real doc­trine. And the bil­l’s spon­sor, Sen. Phil King, R‑Weatherford, extolled Bar­ton and his son as “esteemed wit­ness­es.”

Oth­er promi­nent Texas Repub­li­cans have sim­i­lar­ly echoed Bar­ton’s views, includ­ing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has called the Unit­ed States “a Chris­t­ian nation” and said “there is no sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. It was not in the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

“We were a nation found­ed upon not the words of our founders, but the words of God because he wrote the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Patrick said last year.

The main­stream­ing of Barton’s views has cor­re­spond­ed with a series of U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions that have allowed for a greater infu­sion of Chris­tian­i­ty into the pub­lic sphere, and a bur­geon­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ment on the right that was tur­bocharged by for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his promise to white evan­gel­i­cals that “Chris­tian­i­ty will have pow­er” should they sup­port him.

Feb­ru­ary polling from the Pub­lic Reli­gion Research Insti­tute found that more than half of Repub­li­cans adhere to or sym­pa­thize with foun­da­tion­al aspects of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism, includ­ing beliefs that the U.S. should be a strict­ly Chris­t­ian nation. Of those respon­dents, PRRI found, rough­ly half sup­port­ed hav­ing an author­i­tar­i­an leader who main­tains Chris­t­ian dom­i­nance in soci­ety. Experts have also found strong cor­re­la­tions between Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist beliefs and oppo­si­tion to immi­gra­tion, racial jus­tice and reli­gious diver­si­ty.

Johnson’s elec­tion to House Speak­er shows how nor­mal­ized such beliefs have become, said Aman­da Tyler, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Bap­tist Joint Com­mit­tee for Reli­gious Lib­er­ty, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based group that advo­cates for a strong wall between gov­ern­ment and reli­gion. She not­ed that some Repub­li­cans — includ­ing U.S. Rep. Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene, R‑Georgia, have embraced the title of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist in recent years.

Tyler said that Johnson’s views are par­tic­u­lar­ly con­cern­ing because of his back­ground as both a South­ern Bap­tist and as a con­sti­tu­tion­al lawyer. Bap­tists, she not­ed, have a long his­to­ry of advo­ca­cy for strong church-state sep­a­ra­tions because of the per­se­cu­tion they faced dur­ing the country’s found­ing — a stance that she said John­son has betrayed through­out his legal and polit­i­cal career.

“He has worked active­ly for these prin­ci­ples that fur­ther Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism,” Tyler said. “I am also a Bap­tist, and to see some­one who is a Bap­tist real­ly reject foun­da­tion­al con­cepts of reli­gious free­dom for all — con­cepts which are real­ly core to what it means to be a Bap­tist — is also very dis­heart­en­ing.”

John­son played a cen­tral role in attempts to over­turn the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by craft­ing a legal brief that was signed by more than 100 U.S. House Repub­li­cans in sup­port of a law­suit filed by Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton that sought to have elec­tion results thrown out in four swing states by Pres­i­dent Joe Biden.

At the same time that he was aid­ing the legal charge to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion, John­son was also cul­ti­vat­ing clos­er ties to fig­ures in the New Apolostolic Ref­or­ma­tion, a fast-grow­ing move­ment of ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive preach­ers, tel­e­van­ge­lists, self-described prophets and faith heal­ers who abide by the “Sev­en Moun­tains Man­date” — a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist-adja­cent the­ol­o­gy that says Chris­tians must ful­fill a divine man­date to rule over all sev­en aspects of soci­ety (fam­i­ly, reli­gion, edu­ca­tion, media, enter­tain­ment, busi­ness, and gov­ern­ment) in order to ush­er in the “end times.”

Dri­ven by that the­ol­o­gy, New Apolostic Ref­or­ma­tion fig­ures played major roles in the lead up to the Jan. 6, 2021 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol, com­bin­ing Trump’s lies about a stolen elec­tion with claims that they were engaged in “spir­i­tu­al war­fare” with their polit­i­cal ene­mies and, thus, extreme and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic mea­sures were not only nec­es­sary, but God-ordained.

———-

“Texas activist David Bar­ton wants to end sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. He has the ear of the new U.S. House speak­er.” by Robert Dow­nen; The Texas Tri­bune; 11/03/2023

“Johnson’s elec­tion — and his prox­im­i­ty to Bar­ton — is a mas­sive vic­to­ry for a grow­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ment that claims the Unit­ed States’ foun­da­tion was ordained by God, and there­fore its laws and insti­tu­tions should favor their brand of Chris­tian­i­ty.”

The Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist move­ment just keeps accru­ing more and more pow­er and influ­ence. It took the ele­va­tion of Mike John­son — a rel­a­tive­ly unknown mem­ber of the House until now who pre­vi­ous­ly worked for the CNP-dom­i­nat­ed Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom — to end the par­ty squab­ble. Why Jon­son, of all peo­ple? That’s part of the sig­nif­i­cance of John­son’s unlike­ly abil­i­ty to gar­ner the unan­i­mous sup­port of the GOP cau­cus to end this bizarre intra-par­ty speak­er­ship fight.

And a day lat­er, we have Bar­ton open­ly brag­ging on a pod­cast about how his long­time ally just become the speak­er and how Bar­ton was already involved with staffing dis­cus­sions with John­son. So John­son chose to put ‘discipleship’-style apps on his phone and has now been con­sult­ing Bar­ton about staffing deci­sions. What kind of ‘dis­ci­ple­ship’ role is Bar­ton play­ing for the new Speak­er of the House?

...
One day after lit­tle-known Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Mike John­son of Louisiana was elect­ed as the new House speak­er last week, Bar­ton said on a pod­cast that he was already dis­cussing staffing with John­son, his long­time ally in deeply con­ser­v­a­tive, Chris­t­ian caus­es.

“We have some tools at our dis­pos­al now (that) we haven’t had in a long time,” Bar­ton added.

John­son recent­ly spoke at an event host­ed by Barton’s non­prof­it, Wall­Builders; he’s praised Bar­ton and his “pro­found influ­ence on me, and my work, and my life and every­thing I do”; and, before his career as a law­mak­er, John­son worked for Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom — a legal advo­ca­cy group that has helped infuse more Chris­tian­i­ty into pub­lic schools and gov­ern­ment, a key goal of Barton’s move­ment.
...

And, of course, when we see David Bar­ton cit­ed as a pro­found influ­ence on Mike John­son’s life, that influ­ence isn’t lim­it­ed to John­son. Bar­ton is a cen­tral char­ac­ter in con­tem­po­rary Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism, and in par­tic­u­lar in Tex­as­’s pow­er­ful Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist com­mu­ni­ty, and has been for years. He was vice chair of the Repub­li­can Par­ty of Texas from 1997 to 2006 and declared “the most impor­tant man in Amer­i­ca right now” in 2010 by Glenn Beck:

...
Bar­ton, who lives in Ale­do, has been a sta­ple of Texas’ own Chris­t­ian con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, offer­ing cru­cial pub­lic sup­port to politi­cians and fre­quent­ly being cit­ed or called on to tes­ti­fy in favor of bills that crit­ics say would erode church-state sep­a­ra­tions — includ­ing in front of the Texas Leg­is­la­ture this year.

...

“John­son’s rise means that Bar­ton and his fel­low Chris­t­ian nation­al­ists now have unprece­dent­ed access to the levers of pow­er on the nation­al stage, par­al­lel­ing the access they already have here in Texas and some oth­er states,” said David Brock­man, a non-res­i­dent schol­ar in reli­gion and pub­lic pol­i­cy at Rice Uni­ver­si­ty’s Bak­er Insti­tute for Pub­lic Pol­i­cy.

...

Bar­ton, a self-styled “ama­teur his­to­ri­an,” has for years been debunked and ridiculed by actu­al his­to­ri­ans and schol­ars, who note that he has no for­mal train­ing and that his work is filled with selec­tive quotes, mis­char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and inac­cu­ra­cies — cri­tiques that Bar­ton has claimed are mere attacks on his faith. He has been accused of white­wash­ing the Found­ing Fathers — par­tic­u­lar­ly, their slave own­ing — to fit his nar­ra­tive of a God-ordained nation. He has acknowl­edged using uncon­firmed quotes from his­tor­i­cal fig­ures. And Barton’s 2012 book, “The Jef­fer­son Lies,” was so wide­ly panned by Chris­t­ian aca­d­e­mics that it prompt­ed a sep­a­rate book, “Get­ting Jef­fer­son Right,” to debunk all of his inac­cu­ra­cies, and was lat­er pulled by its Chris­t­ian pub­lish­er because “the basic truths just were not there.”

Despite that, Bar­ton has remained a fix­ture in con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian cir­cles and Repub­li­can Par­ty pol­i­tics. He served as vice chair of the Repub­li­can Par­ty of Texas from 1997 to 2006 and, in 2004, was tapped for cler­gy out­reach by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s reelec­tion cam­paign. In 2010, his fel­low Tex­an and promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive per­son­al­i­ty Glenn Beck praised him as “the most impor­tant man in Amer­i­ca right now.” Bar­ton was an ear­ly and impor­tant endors­er of Sen. Ted Cruz’s unex­pect­ed first win in 2012. And in 2016, Bar­ton ran one of mul­ti­ple super PACs that were cru­cial to Cruz’s reelec­tion.
...

And what was “the most impor­tant man in Amer­i­ca right now” work­ing on at the time that made him so impor­tant? The same thing he’s been work­ing on since he found­ed Wall­Builders in 1988: over­turn­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State, allow­ing for the state back­ing of spe­cif­ic Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tions:

...
In 1988, Bar­ton found­ed his group, Wall­Builders, to “exert a direct and pos­i­tive influ­ence in gov­ern­ment, edu­ca­tion, and the fam­i­ly by edu­cat­ing the nation con­cern­ing the God­ly foun­da­tion of our coun­try” and “pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion to fed­er­al, state, and local offi­cials as they devel­op pub­lic poli­cies which reflect Bib­li­cal val­ues,” accord­ing to the group’s web­site.

Since then, Bar­ton has been arguably the most influ­en­tial fig­ure in a grow­ing move­ment to under­mine the estab­lish­ment clause of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amend­ment, which states that “Con­gress shall make no law respect­ing an estab­lish­ment of reli­gion.”

Bar­ton claims the clause has been mis­un­der­stood. He argues that most of the Found­ing Fathers were “ortho­dox, evan­gel­i­cal” Chris­tians, and that it would thus be more accu­rate to read the estab­lish­ment clause’s use of the word “reli­gion” as a stand-in for “Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tion.”

“We would best under­stand the actu­al con­text of the First Amend­ment by say­ing, ‘Con­gress shall make no law estab­lish­ing one Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tion as the nation­al denom­i­na­tion,’” he has said.

Bar­ton also argues that the coun­try’s founders “nev­er intend­ed the First Amend­ment to become a vehi­cle to pro­mote a plu­ral­ism of oth­er reli­gions.”

In his mind, the wall sep­a­rat­ing church and state was only meant to extend one way, pro­tect­ing reli­gion — specif­i­cal­ly, Chris­tian­i­ty — from the gov­ern­ment, but not vice ver­sa.

“‘Sep­a­ra­tion of church and state’ cur­rent­ly means almost exact­ly the oppo­site of what it orig­i­nal­ly meant,” his group’s web­site claims.

...

In Texas, Bar­ton has become increas­ing­ly instru­men­tal among GOP politi­cians. He and Wall­Builders cur­rent­ly work close­ly with Rick Green, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and cur­rent leader of Patri­ot Acad­e­my, a Drip­ping Springs-based group that trains young adults, church­es and oth­ers how to “influ­ence gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy with a Bib­li­cal world­view” and bor­rows heav­i­ly from Barton’s teach­ings.
...

And then there’s Bar­ton’s cru­sade against the laws ban­ning tax-exempt groups, like church­es, from direct polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy. Or his push to get the Ten Com­mand­ments post­ed in all pub­lic school class­rooms, a move that earned him praise from Texas Law­mak­ers like CNP-mem­ber Mayes Mid­dle­ton, who declared that church-state sep­a­ra­tion is “not a real doc­trine”:

...
Bar­ton has also railed against the John­son Amend­ment, which pro­hibits tax-exempt groups, includ­ing church­es, from direct polit­i­cal advo­ca­cy. And he is fre­quent­ly called on to sup­port laws that would infuse more Chris­tian­i­ty into pub­lic life — includ­ing in pub­lic schools. In May, he and his son, Tim­o­thy Bar­ton, tes­ti­fied in favor of a bill — which lat­er failed — that would have required all Texas pub­lic school class­rooms to dis­play the Ten Com­mand­ments.

Dur­ing the hear­ing, Barton’s work was praised as “great” by Sen. Don­na Camp­bell, R‑New Braun­fels. His the­o­ries were echoed by Sen. Mayes Mid­dle­ton, R‑Galveston, who said that church-state sep­a­ra­tion is “not a real doc­trine. And the bil­l’s spon­sor, Sen. Phil King, R‑Weatherford, extolled Bar­ton and his son as “esteemed wit­ness­es.”
...

Even Lt. Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick is com­fort­able being open about his Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism. David Bar­ton’s Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist agen­da real­ly is the Texas GOP’s agen­da. Bar­ton is just the fig­ure­head pro­vid­ing alleged his­tor­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for that shared agen­da:

...
Oth­er promi­nent Texas Repub­li­cans have sim­i­lar­ly echoed Bar­ton’s views, includ­ing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has called the Unit­ed States “a Chris­t­ian nation” and said “there is no sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. It was not in the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

“We were a nation found­ed upon not the words of our founders, but the words of God because he wrote the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Patrick said last year.
...

But it’s not just the Texas GOP behind this agen­da. Polls reveal a major­i­ty of Repub­li­can vot­ers sup­port the idea of an author­i­tar­i­an leader who main­tains Chris­t­ian dom­i­nance in soci­ety. David Bar­ton has A LOT of fans:

...
The main­stream­ing of Barton’s views has cor­re­spond­ed with a series of U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions that have allowed for a greater infu­sion of Chris­tian­i­ty into the pub­lic sphere, and a bur­geon­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ment on the right that was tur­bocharged by for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his promise to white evan­gel­i­cals that “Chris­tian­i­ty will have pow­er” should they sup­port him.

Feb­ru­ary polling from the Pub­lic Reli­gion Research Insti­tute found that more than half of Repub­li­cans adhere to or sym­pa­thize with foun­da­tion­al aspects of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism, includ­ing beliefs that the U.S. should be a strict­ly Chris­t­ian nation. Of those respon­dents, PRRI found, rough­ly half sup­port­ed hav­ing an author­i­tar­i­an leader who main­tains Chris­t­ian dom­i­nance in soci­ety. Experts have also found strong cor­re­la­tions between Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist beliefs and oppo­si­tion to immi­gra­tion, racial jus­tice and reli­gious diver­si­ty.
...

And when Mike John­son craft­ed that legal brief in sup­port of a law­suit seek­ing to over­turn the elec­tion results of four swing states, it was Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton who waged that law­suit. The Texas GOP is a Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist cau­cus:

...
John­son played a cen­tral role in attempts to over­turn the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by craft­ing a legal brief that was signed by more than 100 U.S. House Repub­li­cans in sup­port of a law­suit filed by Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton that sought to have elec­tion results thrown out in four swing states by Pres­i­dent Joe Biden.

At the same time that he was aid­ing the legal charge to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion, John­son was also cul­ti­vat­ing clos­er ties to fig­ures in the New Apolostolic Ref­or­ma­tion, a fast-grow­ing move­ment of ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive preach­ers, tel­e­van­ge­lists, self-described prophets and faith heal­ers who abide by the “Sev­en Moun­tains Man­date” — a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist-adja­cent the­ol­o­gy that says Chris­tians must ful­fill a divine man­date to rule over all sev­en aspects of soci­ety (fam­i­ly, reli­gion, edu­ca­tion, media, enter­tain­ment, busi­ness, and gov­ern­ment) in order to ush­er in the “end times.”

Dri­ven by that the­ol­o­gy, New Apolostic Ref­or­ma­tion fig­ures played major roles in the lead up to the Jan. 6, 2021 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol, com­bin­ing Trump’s lies about a stolen elec­tion with claims that they were engaged in “spir­i­tu­al war­fare” with their polit­i­cal ene­mies and, thus, extreme and anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic mea­sures were not only nec­es­sary, but God-ordained.
...

As we can see, David Bar­ton’s polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed fan base is much larg­er than the new Speak­er of the House. He’s got the Texas Repub­li­can del­e­ga­tion more or less total­ly on board. And as the fol­low­ing May 2023 Texas Tri­bune arti­cle excerpt describes, that vision of turn­ing Texas into a Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism tem­plate of the nation is clos­er to fruition than ever before thanks, in part, to the CNP-select­ed con­ser­v­a­tive Supreme Court major­i­ty that has made a num­ber of recent ‘Chris­t­ian Nationalist’-friendly rul­ings worth plen­ty more pre­sum­ably on the way:

The Texas Tri­bune

Con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians want more reli­gion in pub­lic life. Texas law­mak­ers are lis­ten­ing.

Oppo­nents of church-state sep­a­ra­tion have been embold­ened by recent U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions and the grow­ing accep­tance of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism on the right.

by Robert Dow­nen
May 4, 2023
5 AM Cen­tral

Wav­ing a copy of the Ten Com­mand­ments and a 17th-cen­tu­ry text­book, ama­teur his­to­ri­an David Bar­ton recent­ly argued that Chris­tian­i­ty has always formed the basis of Amer­i­can moral­i­ty and thus is essen­tial to Texas class­rooms.

“This is tra­di­tion­al, his­tor­i­cal stuff,” he told a Texas Sen­ate Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee last month. “It’s hard to say that any­thing is more tra­di­tion­al in Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion than was the Ten Com­mand­ments.”

For near­ly four decades, Bar­ton has preached that mes­sage to politi­cians and pews across the coun­try, argu­ing that church-state sep­a­ra­tion is a “myth” that is dis­proven by cen­turies-old texts, like the school book he showed sen­a­tors, that ref­er­ence the Ten Com­mand­ments and oth­er reli­gious texts.

Now, Barton’s once-fringe the­o­ries could be cod­i­fied into Texas law.

Embold­ened by recent U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions and the grow­ing accep­tance of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism on the right, Bar­ton and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians could see mon­u­men­tal vic­to­ries in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture this year.

Already this leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the Texas Sen­ate has approved bills that would require the Ten Com­mand­ments to be post­ed in all pub­lic school class­rooms and allow unli­censed reli­gious chap­lains to sup­plant the role of school coun­selors. Mean­while, there are numer­ous efforts to elim­i­nate or weak­en two state con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments that pro­hib­it direct state sup­port of reli­gious schools and orga­ni­za­tions, a key plank of the broad­er school-choice move­ment.

In leg­isla­tive hear­ings, law­mak­ers have called church-state sep­a­ra­tion a “false doc­trine,” and bill sup­port­ers have blamed it for school shoot­ings, crime and grow­ing LGBTQ accep­tance.

In Texas, they believe they can cre­ate a nation­al mod­el for infus­ing Chris­tian­i­ty into the pub­lic sphere.

“We think there can be a restora­tion of faith in Amer­i­ca, and we think get­ting Ten Com­mand­ments on these walls is a great way to do that,” for­mer state Rep. Matt Krause tes­ti­fied last month. “We think we can real­ly set a trend for the rest of the coun­try.”

A new legal and polit­i­cal land­scape

It’s the lat­est bat­tle in what Bar­ton and oth­er Chris­t­ian lead­ers have framed as a long-run­ning and exis­ten­tial war with the sec­u­lar world, rhetoric that has helped fuel Repub­li­can move­ments to crack down on LGBTQ rights, ban books, push back against gun con­trol and lim­it the teach­ing of Amer­i­can his­to­ry in class­rooms, among oth­er oft-framed “cul­ture war” issues.

And it comes amid grow­ing accep­tance on the right of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism, the belief that the Unit­ed States’ found­ing was ordained by God and, thus, its laws and insti­tu­tions should favor Chris­tians.

Bol­stered by for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — who shored up evan­gel­i­cal sup­port through his vow that “Chris­tian­i­ty will have pow­er” under his lead­er­ship — and ani­mat­ed by a rapid­ly sec­u­lar­iz­ing and diver­si­fy­ing soci­ety, Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ments have become main­stream among large fac­tions of the Repub­li­can Par­ty.

...

“The nation has start­ed to become con­scious of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism with­in the last hand­ful of years,” said David Brock­man, a non­res­i­dent schol­ar at the Reli­gion and Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Pro­gram at Rice University’s Bak­er Insti­tute. “But we’ve been pret­ty much under the thumb of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism here in Texas for at least a decade.”

He notes that Texas is home to a litany of well-known pur­vey­ors of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism or relat­ed ide­olo­gies, includ­ing BlazeTV founder Glenn Beck; U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael Cruz; and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has called the Unit­ed States “a Chris­t­ian nation” and said “there is no sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. It was not in the con­sti­tu­tion.”

“We were a nation found­ed upon not the words of our founders, but the words of God because he wrote the Con­sti­tu­tion,” Patrick said last year.

Such claims have been ele­vat­ed by a cadre of far-right financiers who have shov­eled small for­tunes into polit­i­cal cam­paigns and insti­tu­tions that seek to erode the wall between church and state, includ­ing through can­di­dates for the State Board of Edu­ca­tion and local school boards.

Those efforts have found an avid audi­ence with­in the state’s mas­sive evan­gel­i­cal — and most­ly white — con­ser­v­a­tive vot­ing bloc and have been rou­tine­ly ampli­fied by Texas megachurch pas­tors who’ve made no bones about pol­i­tick­ing from the pul­pit, even after oth­ers have said they’re run­ning afoul of restric­tions on polit­i­cal activ­i­ty by tax-exempt non­prof­its.

A 2022 Texas Tri­bune and ProP­ub­li­ca inves­ti­ga­tion found that at least 20 church­es in Texas may have vio­lat­ed such rules. Among them was Mer­cy Cul­ture Church in Fort Worth, which has host­ed Kel­ly Shack­elford — whose First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute has been instru­men­tal in legal chal­lenges to the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. Krause, the for­mer Texas rep­re­sen­ta­tive who tes­ti­fied last month in sup­port of the Ten Com­mand­ments bill, recent­ly took a job at First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute after a decade in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture.

On Sun­day, Krause’s suc­ces­sor, state Rep. Nate Schat­z­line, also spoke at the church.

“The dev­il is not afraid of a church that stays with­in the four walls,” Schat­z­line said before tout­ing a wave of suc­cess­ful con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates in Tar­rant Coun­ty and anti-LGBTQ bills he’s sup­port­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture. “That’s what hap­pens when the church wakes up. That’s what hap­pens when men and women of God get behind oth­er men and women of God.”

Found­ing fathers: A wall of sep­a­ra­tion

But few fig­ures have been as instru­men­tal in the push to erode church-state sep­a­ra­tion as Bar­ton, a self-taught his­to­ri­an who found­ed his group, Wall­Builders, in 1988 with a mis­sion to “present America’s for­got­ten his­to­ry and heroes, with an empha­sis on the moral, reli­gious, and con­sti­tu­tion­al foun­da­tion on which Amer­i­ca was built.”

Bar­ton served as vice chair of the Texas GOP from 1997 to 2006 and has pushed back for decades against con­ven­tion­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the First Amendment’s estab­lish­ment clause, which pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from estab­lish­ing a state reli­gion. Bar­ton argues the “wall of sep­a­ra­tion” that the Found­ing Fathers envi­sioned has been mis­con­strued. In his view, that sep­a­ra­tion was only meant to extend one way, pro­tect­ing reli­gion — osten­si­bly, Chris­tian­i­ty — from the gov­ern­ment, not vice ver­sa.

“‘Sep­a­ra­tion of church and state’ cur­rent­ly means almost exact­ly the oppo­site of what it orig­i­nal­ly meant,” his group’s web­site claims.

Among Barton’s favorite tac­tics: cit­ing cen­turies-old texts, such as the one he pre­sent­ed to the Texas Sen­ate com­mit­tee, that he says men­tion Chris­tian­i­ty or the Ten Com­mand­ments. That, he says, sug­gests a long­stand­ing Judeo-Chris­t­ian influ­ence on Amer­i­can edu­ca­tion, law and moral­i­ty. Aban­don­ing those uni­ver­sal moral stan­dards, he and oth­er Wall­Builders lead­ers claim, helps explain most of America’s ills — includ­ing the recent mass shoot­ing at a Nashville, Ten­nessee, Chris­t­ian school.

“Our young peo­ple are hav­ing a very hard time deter­min­ing what’s right and wrong,” David Barton’s son, Tim­o­thy Bar­ton, told the Sen­ate com­mit­tee last month. “We’re see­ing peo­ple do what they think is right. But what they think is right is often things like what result­ed in Nashville. … Instead we should be pre­sent­ing those morals [in the Ten Com­mand­ments] in front of stu­dents so they know there is a basis of moral­i­ty and killing is always wrong.”

Barton’s broad­er the­o­ries have been wide­ly ridiculed and debunked by his­to­ri­ans and oth­er schol­ars who note that he has no for­mal his­tor­i­cal train­ing and that his 2012 book, “The Jef­fer­son Lies,” was recalled by its Chris­t­ian pub­lish­er because of fac­tu­al errors.

Even so, he’s been court­ed by polit­i­cal hope­fuls, includ­ing Cruz, and his the­o­ries have been rou­tine­ly ele­vat­ed by oth­ers in the Texas GOP.

In just one hear­ing last month, state Sen. Don­na Camp­bell, R‑New Braun­fels, praised one of Barton’s books as “great”; Sen. Mayes Mid­dle­ton, R‑Galveston, called sep­a­ra­tion of church and state “not a real doc­trine ; and Weath­er­ford Repub­li­can Sen. Phil King brought forth Bar­ton — an “esteemed” wit­ness — to sup­port King’s bill to post the Ten Com­mand­ments in pub­lic school class­rooms.

Such a pro­pos­al, King said, would not have been fea­si­ble a few years ago.

“How­ev­er, the legal land­scape has changed,” he added.

A “mas­sive shift” in the law?

King has a point.

In 2022’s Kennedy v. Bre­mer­ton School Dis­trict, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Wash­ing­ton state high school foot­ball coach who argued that his reli­gious rights were vio­lat­ed because his employ­er, a pub­lic school, sought to lim­it his prac­tice of silent­ly pray­ing in the mid­dle of the foot­ball field imme­di­ate­ly after games. The dis­trict had asked Kennedy to pray at a lat­er time to avoid the appear­ance that the school was endors­ing his beliefs, then declined to renew his con­tract after he refused to do so.

In a 6–3 rul­ing, the court’s con­ser­v­a­tive super­ma­jor­i­ty said Kennedy’s prayers were pro­tect­ed by the First Amend­ment, reject­ing the district’s con­tention that allow­ing the prayers amount­ed to an offi­cial endorse­ment of reli­gion.

The rul­ing dealt a sub­stan­tial blow to the so-called Lemon test. Estab­lished by the court’s 1971 deci­sion in Lemon v. Kurtz­man, the Lemon test held that the gov­ern­ment could inter­act with reli­gion so long as it served a sec­u­lar pur­pose, did not advance or inhib­it reli­gion, and did not cre­ate an exces­sive gov­ern­ment entan­gle­ment with reli­gion.

In the Kennedy deci­sion, the Supreme Court also ruled that restric­tions on reli­gious expres­sion must take into account his­tor­i­cal con­text and prac­tices — a direc­tive that some have tak­en as a green light to put reli­gion in the class­room, includ­ing Krause and First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute, which rep­re­sent­ed Kennedy.

“The law has under­gone a mas­sive shift,” Krause said dur­ing his tes­ti­mo­ny in sup­port of the Ten Com­mand­ments bill. “It’s not too much to say that the Kennedy case for reli­gious lib­er­ty was much like the Dobbs case was for the pro-life move­ment. It was a fun­da­men­tal shift.”

Experts aren’t yet sold on that claim.

“Any­one who tells you that the law in this area is clear, or has ever been clear, is prob­a­bly try­ing to sell you some­thing,” said pro­fes­sor Steven Col­lis, direc­tor of both the First Amend­ment Cen­ter and the Law and Reli­gion Clin­ic at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Texas at Austin.

While Col­lis added that the Lemon test was often ignored or dis­put­ed by courts because of its vague lan­guage, he said the Kennedy rul­ing neutered much of it, as well as the government’s abil­i­ty to lim­it reli­gious expres­sion based on claims that doing so amounts to a state-sanc­tioned endorse­ment of reli­gion.

But Col­lis not­ed that part of the Kennedy rul­ing was pred­i­cat­ed on the idea that the coach was not forc­ing play­ers to pray with him, an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion to the court’s major­i­ty. He said there’s a case to be made that post­ing the Ten Com­mand­ments or oth­er reli­gious texts in a class­room — where chil­dren are required to remain — is far dif­fer­ent. And he expects such leg­is­la­tion would face court chal­lenges in which oppo­nents say that it amounts to a “coer­cion of reli­gion upon stu­dents.”

“There has been a long tra­di­tion in the Unit­ed States of say­ing, what­ev­er gov­ern­ment is doing, it has to do neu­tral­ly between reli­gions — it can’t treat one reli­gion dif­fer­ent­ly than anoth­er. And cer­tain­ly, it can’t favor one reli­gion over anoth­er,” he said. “One of the chal­lenges with hav­ing some­thing like the Ten Com­mand­ments up in a pub­lic school — or real­ly any reli­gious texts up on the wall in a pub­lic school — is you imme­di­ate­ly have to ask the ques­tion, whose reli­gion is it going to be?”

...

Rul­ings embraced by school choice advo­cates

A poten­tial legal chal­lenge to the Ten Com­mand­ments or a sim­i­lar bill would come amid a broad­er shift in how the U.S. Supreme Court and some state leg­is­la­tures treat reli­gious expres­sion.

The series of moves has deeply con­cerned advo­cates for church-state sep­a­ra­tion. Dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, for exam­ple, Con­gress made the his­toric deci­sion to let reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions — includ­ing some of the nation’s largest and most influ­en­tial con­gre­ga­tions — receive for­giv­able fed­er­al dis­as­ter loans.

In 2021, Texas law­mak­ers passed leg­is­la­tion that required donat­ed “In God We Trust” signs to be placed in pub­lic class­rooms. Not long after, a North Texas school dis­trict reject­ed signs in Ara­bic that were donat­ed by a local par­ent while allow­ing Eng­lish ver­sions that were pro­vid­ed by Patri­ot Mobile, a Grapevine-based con­ser­v­a­tive cell­phone com­pa­ny that has fund­ed numer­ous Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist cam­paigns in the state, includ­ing anti-LGBTQ school board can­di­dates.

Mean­while, the Supreme Court, dri­ven by its con­ser­v­a­tive major­i­ty, has hand­ed down a series of con­se­quen­tial rul­ings that have raised ques­tions about so-called Blaine amend­ments in 37 state con­sti­tu­tions, includ­ing Texas’, that pro­hib­it or lim­it state fund­ing of reli­gious insti­tu­tions, includ­ing schools:

* In 2020, the court ruled 5–4 in favor of a Mon­tana woman, Kendra Espinoza, who argued that her state’s Depart­ment of Rev­enue improp­er­ly barred her from using a tax-cred­it schol­ar­ship at a Chris­t­ian school.

* In 2022, jus­tices sim­i­lar­ly ruled that Maine could not bar reli­gious insti­tu­tions from pub­lic fund­ing, a sig­nif­i­cant deci­sion to ongo­ing debates over pub­lic edu­ca­tion financ­ing in Texas.

Those rul­ings have been embraced by the broad­er school choice move­ment.

The same week that state Sen. Bran­don Creighton, R‑Conroe, filed Sen­ate Bill 8 — a mas­sive over­haul of the Texas edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem that would allow reli­gious schools to receive state fund­ing via edu­ca­tion­al sav­ings accounts — he request­ed an expe­dit­ed opin­ion from Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton about whether the state’s Blaine amend­ments were uncon­sti­tu­tion­al.

Days pri­or, state Sen. Angela Pax­ton — a McK­in­ney Repub­li­can who is mar­ried to the attor­ney gen­er­al — filed leg­is­la­tion that would repeal “the con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­vi­sion that pro­hibits the appro­pri­a­tion of state mon­ey or prop­er­ty for the ben­e­fit of any sect, reli­gious soci­ety, or the­o­log­i­cal or reli­gious sem­i­nary.”

The next week, the attor­ney gen­er­al released an opin­ion that said Texas’ Blaine amend­ments vio­lat­ed the U.S. Constitution’s free-exer­cise clause.

There are also two bills, one in the House and one in the Sen­ate, that sim­i­lar­ly chal­lenge the state’s Blaine amend­ments.

...

———-

“Con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians want more reli­gion in pub­lic life. Texas law­mak­ers are lis­ten­ing.” by Robert Dow­nen; The Texas Tri­bune; 05/04/2023

“Bol­stered by for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — who shored up evan­gel­i­cal sup­port through his vow that “Chris­tian­i­ty will have pow­er” under his lead­er­ship — and ani­mat­ed by a rapid­ly sec­u­lar­iz­ing and diver­si­fy­ing soci­ety, Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ments have become main­stream among large fac­tions of the Repub­li­can Par­ty.”

It may be a cult. But it’s a main­stream cult. At least with­in the con­tem­po­rary Repub­li­can Par­ty. The kind of cult that was more than hap­py to make a deal with a fig­ure like Don­ald Trump and his promis­es that “Chris­tian­i­ty will have pow­er” under his lead­er­ship. And Trump is far from the only major polit­i­cal force pro­pelling Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism at a nation­al lev­el. The hard right Supreme Court major­i­ty has Bar­ton and his allies in Texas poised for much greater vic­to­ries to come. They’re embold­ened for a rea­son. Texas has been head­ing toward this moment for well over a decade. Or, as CNP mem­ber Matt Krause tes­ti­fied back in April dur­ing a leg­isla­tive hear­ing on a bill to put the 10 Com­mand­ments in Texas pub­lic school class­rooms ‚“We think there can be a restora­tion of faith in Amer­i­ca, and we think get­ting Ten Com­mand­ments on these walls is a great way to do that...We think we can real­ly set a trend for the rest of the coun­try”:

...
For near­ly four decades, Bar­ton has preached that mes­sage to politi­cians and pews across the coun­try, argu­ing that church-state sep­a­ra­tion is a “myth” that is dis­proven by cen­turies-old texts, like the school book he showed sen­a­tors, that ref­er­ence the Ten Com­mand­ments and oth­er reli­gious texts.

Now, Barton’s once-fringe the­o­ries could be cod­i­fied into Texas law.

Embold­ened by recent U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions and the grow­ing accep­tance of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism on the right, Bar­ton and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians could see mon­u­men­tal vic­to­ries in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture this year.

Already this leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the Texas Sen­ate has approved bills that would require the Ten Com­mand­ments to be post­ed in all pub­lic school class­rooms and allow unli­censed reli­gious chap­lains to sup­plant the role of school coun­selors. Mean­while, there are numer­ous efforts to elim­i­nate or weak­en two state con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ments that pro­hib­it direct state sup­port of reli­gious schools and orga­ni­za­tions, a key plank of the broad­er school-choice move­ment.

In leg­isla­tive hear­ings, law­mak­ers have called church-state sep­a­ra­tion a “false doc­trine,” and bill sup­port­ers have blamed it for school shoot­ings, crime and grow­ing LGBTQ accep­tance.

In Texas, they believe they can cre­ate a nation­al mod­el for infus­ing Chris­tian­i­ty into the pub­lic sphere.

“We think there can be a restora­tion of faith in Amer­i­ca, and we think get­ting Ten Com­mand­ments on these walls is a great way to do that,” for­mer state Rep. Matt Krause tes­ti­fied last month. “We think we can real­ly set a trend for the rest of the coun­try.”

...

“The nation has start­ed to become con­scious of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism with­in the last hand­ful of years,” said David Brock­man, a non­res­i­dent schol­ar at the Reli­gion and Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Pro­gram at Rice University’s Bak­er Insti­tute. “But we’ve been pret­ty much under the thumb of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism here in Texas for at least a decade.”
...

And it appears that allow­ing the bla­tant pol­i­tick­ing from the pul­pit is one of the ways Texas is push­ing that Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist enve­lope, with a 2022 inves­ti­ga­tion find­ing at least 20 church­es in Texas vio­lat­ing those rules, includ­ing the Mer­cy Cul­ture Church in Fort Worth, which fea­tured talks by CNP Vice Pres­i­dent Kel­ly Shack­elford who has long argued against the sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State. Again, recall how Mike John­son referred to Shack­elford has a men­tor. That’s who was invit­ed to give a talk at a megachurch that is in open defi­ance of laws pro­hib­it­ed pol­i­tick­ing from the pul­pit:

...
Such claims have been ele­vat­ed by a cadre of far-right financiers who have shov­eled small for­tunes into polit­i­cal cam­paigns and insti­tu­tions that seek to erode the wall between church and state, includ­ing through can­di­dates for the State Board of Edu­ca­tion and local school boards.

Those efforts have found an avid audi­ence with­in the state’s mas­sive evan­gel­i­cal — and most­ly white — con­ser­v­a­tive vot­ing bloc and have been rou­tine­ly ampli­fied by Texas megachurch pas­tors who’ve made no bones about pol­i­tick­ing from the pul­pit, even after oth­ers have said they’re run­ning afoul of restric­tions on polit­i­cal activ­i­ty by tax-exempt non­prof­its.

A 2022 Texas Tri­bune and ProP­ub­li­ca inves­ti­ga­tion found that at least 20 church­es in Texas may have vio­lat­ed such rules. Among them was Mer­cy Cul­ture Church in Fort Worth, which has host­ed Kel­ly Shack­elford — whose First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute has been instru­men­tal in legal chal­lenges to the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state. Krause, the for­mer Texas rep­re­sen­ta­tive who tes­ti­fied last month in sup­port of the Ten Com­mand­ments bill, recent­ly took a job at First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute after a decade in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture.

On Sun­day, Krause’s suc­ces­sor, state Rep. Nate Schat­z­line, also spoke at the church.

“The dev­il is not afraid of a church that stays with­in the four walls,” Schat­z­line said before tout­ing a wave of suc­cess­ful con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates in Tar­rant Coun­ty and anti-LGBTQ bills he’s sup­port­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture. “That’s what hap­pens when the church wakes up. That’s what hap­pens when men and women of God get behind oth­er men and women of God.”
...

And when we look at the recent Supreme Court rul­ings that have fueled this move­ment, look at who was behind those law­suits: the plain­tiffs in the 2022 Kennedy v. Bre­mer­ton School Dis­trict rul­ing were rep­re­sent­ed by Kel­ly Shack­elford’s Lib­er­ty insti­tute, which at that point had Matt Krause work­ing for them. This was a CNP-backed law­suit:

...
“How­ev­er, the legal land­scape has changed,” he added.

A “mas­sive shift” in the law?

King has a point.

In 2022’s Kennedy v. Bre­mer­ton School Dis­trict, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Wash­ing­ton state high school foot­ball coach who argued that his reli­gious rights were vio­lat­ed because his employ­er, a pub­lic school, sought to lim­it his prac­tice of silent­ly pray­ing in the mid­dle of the foot­ball field imme­di­ate­ly after games. The dis­trict had asked Kennedy to pray at a lat­er time to avoid the appear­ance that the school was endors­ing his beliefs, then declined to renew his con­tract after he refused to do so.

In a 6–3 rul­ing, the court’s con­ser­v­a­tive super­ma­jor­i­ty said Kennedy’s prayers were pro­tect­ed by the First Amend­ment, reject­ing the district’s con­tention that allow­ing the prayers amount­ed to an offi­cial endorse­ment of reli­gion.

The rul­ing dealt a sub­stan­tial blow to the so-called Lemon test. Estab­lished by the court’s 1971 deci­sion in Lemon v. Kurtz­man, the Lemon test held that the gov­ern­ment could inter­act with reli­gion so long as it served a sec­u­lar pur­pose, did not advance or inhib­it reli­gion, and did not cre­ate an exces­sive gov­ern­ment entan­gle­ment with reli­gion.

In the Kennedy deci­sion, the Supreme Court also ruled that restric­tions on reli­gious expres­sion must take into account his­tor­i­cal con­text and prac­tices — a direc­tive that some have tak­en as a green light to put reli­gion in the class­room, includ­ing Krause and First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute, which rep­re­sent­ed Kennedy.

“The law has under­gone a mas­sive shift,” Krause said dur­ing his tes­ti­mo­ny in sup­port of the Ten Com­mand­ments bill. “It’s not too much to say that the Kennedy case for reli­gious lib­er­ty was much like the Dobbs case was for the pro-life move­ment. It was a fun­da­men­tal shift.”
...

Texas Repub­li­cans are clear­ly enthu­si­as­tic about turn­ing their state into a mod­el for the nation. David Bar­ton’s mod­el for the nation. A mod­el that implic­it­ly got a big endorse­ment with Mike John­son’s new role as Speak­er of the House.

But, for addi­tion­al con­text, don’t over­in­ter­pret the sym­bol­ic sig­nif­i­cance of a Bar­ton super-fan becom­ing speak­er. Because as the fol­low­ing piece in Cur­rent reminds us, Bar­ton has been quite pop­u­lar among Repub­li­can speak­ers for years:

Cur­rent

Mike John­son is not the only David Bar­ton fan to be Speak­er of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives

John Fea | Novem­ber 1, 2023

I was recent­ly talk­ing with a reporter who asked me if Mike John­son was the first Speak­er of the House to embrace the teach­ings of David Bar­ton. I didn’t know the answer off the top of my head so after the call I decid­ed to do some research. Here’s what I found:

Paul Ryan, who served as Speak­er from 2015–2019, was also a fan of the con­ser­v­a­tive activist who invokes the past to advance his polit­i­cal agen­da. Or at least this is what he told Dan Cum­mins of Charis­ma mag­a­zine in 2016:

Though we may nev­er agree total­ly with everyone’s pol­i­tics, let me tell you why I’m thank­ful that Paul Ryan is speak­er of the House and that he won his pri­ma­ry race. Speak­er Ryan, a Roman Catholic, is a pas­sion­ate dis­ci­ple and fol­low­er of Jesus Christ. He is sur­round­ing him­self with god­ly spir­i­tu­al pas­tors.

He said, “The only hope for Amer­i­ca is a spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing. … We must have spir­i­tu­al solu­tions to our prob­lems, or we’re in for trou­bled times as a nation” (spo­ken to JoAnn and me alone in a pri­vate, 30-minute con­ver­sa­tion). He asked that I help him invite pas­tors to the Capi­tol for spir­i­tu­al advice. So far, we have had more than 200 pas­tors vis­it the Capi­tol, and we plan for many more for this fall.

Ryan makes meet­ing pas­tors a top pri­or­i­ty in his busy sched­ule. JoAnn and I have an open work­ing rela­tion­ship with his staff. They told us that in six weeks’ time, they had to turn down more than 500 invi­ta­tions to var­i­ous impor­tant events (I saw the print out sheets), “but he’s doing the pas­tors brief­in­gs because he’s pas­sion­ate about it,” a top staffer told us.

Speak­er Ryan is an avid fan of his­to­ri­an David Bar­ton. “I lis­ten to him all the time, even in my car while dri­ving,” he said. Because of Barton’s teach­ings, Speak­er Ryan is very knowl­edge­able of the 1954 John­son Amend­ment (putting polit­i­cal speech restric­tions on pas­tors from their pul­pits) and its dev­as­tat­ing effects on our cul­ture.

...

But wait, there’s more:

In Jan­u­ary 2009, John Boehn­er, who was speak­er from 2011–2015, appeared on Barton’s radio show Wall­builders Live when he was the House minor­i­ty leader to talk about the cen­sus:

To be fair, Boehn­er did not say, as Mike John­son did, that Bar­ton and com­pa­ny had a “pro­found influ­ence” on his life. The inter­view actu­al­ly had noth­ing to do with Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism direct­ly, but it is still worth not­ing that Wall­builders Live was on Boehner’s radar screen.

Bar­ton has had an influ­ence on con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics for a long time. If you can find any­thing about his con­nec­tions to Den­ny Hastert or Kevin McCarthy let me know.

———–

“Mike John­son is not the only David Bar­ton fan to be Speak­er of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives” by John Fea; Cur­rent; 11/01/2023

“Speak­er Ryan is an avid fan of his­to­ri­an David Bar­ton. “I lis­ten to him all the time, even in my car while dri­ving,” he said. Because of Barton’s teach­ings, Speak­er Ryan is very knowl­edge­able of the 1954 John­son Amend­ment (putting polit­i­cal speech restric­tions on pas­tors from their pul­pits) and its dev­as­tat­ing effects on our cul­ture.”

David Bar­ton is quite the celebri­ty when it comes to Repub­li­can Speak­ers of the House. He almost sounds like a men­tor to Paul Ryan. Was Bar­ton involved in Ryan­s’s staffing deci­sion too?

All in all, it’s quite a love fest between Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist lead­ers and Repub­li­can politi­cians. Even more so after the pres­i­den­cy of Don­ald Trump and the pro­found impact his term in office had the com­po­si­tion of the Supreme Court. And as the fol­low­ing May 2016 arti­cle about plans for a June gath­er­ing of evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers to meet then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump reminds us, this same net­work of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist lead­ers was bear hug­ging Trump’s polit­i­cal ascent from the very begin­ning. It was ‘Who’s Who’ of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism:

* CNP Found­ing Mem­ber James Dob­son
* CNP mem­ber Ralph Reed
* CNP mem­ber Pen­ny Nance
* CNP Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Bob McEwen
* CNP mem­ber Tim Wild­mon
* CNP mem­ber (and CNP VP start­ing in 2020) Kel­ly Shack­elford, who also hap­pens to be Mike John­son’s men­tor.
* CNP mem­ber (and CNP Pres­i­dent in 2018) Tony Perkins
* CNP mem­ber Bill Dal­las

That was the del­e­ga­tion of Chris­t­ian lead­ers who gath­ered to meet with Don­ald Trump back in May of 2016. It was a CNP del­e­ga­tion sent to assess Don­ald Trump. And the rest is his­to­ry. Specif­i­cal­ly, the his­to­ry of the ongo­ing love sto­ry between Trump and his Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism base that even­tu­al­ly result­ed in the CNP-orches­trat­ed attempts to over­turn in 2020 elec­tion:

AL.com

South­ern Bap­tist, oth­er evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers to meet with Don­ald Trump: Reports

By Lea­da Gore
Pub­lished: May. 23, 2016, 11:41 a.m.

Don­ald Trump will meet with some of the nation’s most promi­nent Evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers, includ­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive reli­gious groups.

The meet­ing comes as sev­er­al Evan­gel­i­cal leader have spo­ken out against Trump, the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

The gath­er­ing, first report­ed by Fox News, will include South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion Pres­i­dent Ron­nie Floyd; Focus on the Fam­i­ly founder James Dob­son; Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion founder Ralph Reed; Con­cerned Women for Amer­i­ca CEO Pen­ny Nance; Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Bob McEwen; Amer­i­can Fam­i­ly Asso­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Tim Wild­mon; First Lib­er­ty Pres­i­dent Kel­ly Shack­le­ford; and pas­tors Jack Gra­ham of Pre­ston­wood Bap­tist Church in Plano, Texas and Ed Young in Grapevine, Texas.

South­ern Bap­tist pres­i­dent Floyd told Fox News he wants to learn more about Trump’s poli­cies and plans.

...

Set for June 21 in New York, the meet­ing is being orga­nized by Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Tony Perkins. For­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date turned Trump sup­port­er Dr. Ben Car­son and Bill Dal­las of Unit­ed in Pur­pose assist­ed in plan­ning the event, which is expect­ed to include as many as 500 reli­gious lead­ers. The meet­ing will not include an endorse­ment or straw poll but rather pro­vide atten­dees time to ask ques­tions about Trump, who has main­tained his poli­cies will align with those of Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians.

———–

“South­ern Bap­tist, oth­er evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers to meet with Don­ald Trump: Reports” by Lea­da Gore; AL.com; 05/23/2016

“Set for June 21 in New York, the meet­ing is being orga­nized by Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Tony Perkins.> For­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date turned Trump sup­port­er Dr. Ben Car­son and Bill Dal­las of Unit­ed in Pur­pose assist­ed in plan­ning the event, which is expect­ed to include as many as 500 reli­gious lead­ers. The meet­ing will not include an endorse­ment or straw poll but rather pro­vide atten­dees time to ask ques­tions about Trump, who has main­tained his poli­cies will align with those of Evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians.”

Orga­nized by CNP mem­bers Perkins and Dal­las, and attend­ed by CNP mem­bers Dob­son, Reed, Nance, McEwen, Wild­mon, and Shack­elford. This was the CNP’s oppor­tu­ni­ty to for­mal­ly gov­ern­ment Trump their bless­ing:

...
“The gath­er­ing, first report­ed by Fox News, will include South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion Pres­i­dent Ron­nie Floyd; Focus on the Fam­i­ly founder James Dob­son; Faith and Free­dom Coali­tion founder Ralph Reed; Con­cerned Women for Amer­i­ca CEO Pen­ny Nance; Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Bob McEwen; Amer­i­can Fam­i­ly Asso­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Tim Wild­mon; First Lib­er­ty Pres­i­dent Kel­ly Shack­le­ford; and pas­tors Jack Gra­ham of Pre­ston­wood Bap­tist Church in Plano, Texas and Ed Young in Grapevine, Texas.”
...

And note the two pas­tors who also attend­ed: Jack Gra­ham and Ed Young. While Ed Young’s name does­n’t show up on the avail­able leaked CNP mem­ber­ship lists, there are indi­ca­tions that Young is indeed a CNP mem­ber includ­ing a 2015 doc­u­ment put out by the CNP sum­ma­riz­ing a pan­el dis­cus­sion on mar­riage equal­i­ty. But whether or not Young is a for­mal CNP mem­ber, he’s clear­ly a play­er in this agen­da. A rather sig­nif­i­cant one, as we’re going to see below. And some­one with an atro­cious track record of cov­er­ing up sys­tem­at­ic abus­es inside the South­ern Bap­tist Con­fer­ence (SBC) net­work of church­es. Sys­temic abus­es, includ­ing abus­es by a promi­nent Texas CNP mem­ber, the SBC lead­er­ship was very aware of very many years.

The SBC’s Megachurch Sexual Abuse Mega-scandal. It’s the CNP’s Mega-scandal Too

Paul Pressler isn’t a house­hold name. Unless you have to come from the house­hold of an aspir­ing Texas Repub­li­can politi­cian, in which case you may have heard of the promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive lawyer and SBC leader. Pressler, a for­mer Texas Court of Appeals judge and one-time White House nom­i­nee under George H.W. Bush, is the kind of fig­ure whose sup­port GOP hope­ful have long sought out out and brag about should they get it. That includes Texas Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz, who has report­ed­ly known Pressler since he was a teenag­er. In 2012, Pressler — who was CNP pres­i­dent from 1988–1990 — host­ed a meet­ing at his ranch where con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers agreed to sup­port the CNP mem­ber Rick San­to­rum over Mitt Rom­ney in the GOP pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry. Pressler is described as hav­ing been instru­men­tal in push­ing the SBC’s 16 mil­lion mem­bers and 47,000 church­es to adopt lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Bible and align more close­ly with the Repub­li­can Par­ty. And as we’re going to see in the fol­low­ing March 2023 Hous­ton Pub­lic Radio arti­cle, Pressler has been using his pow­er and influ­ence inside the SBC com­mu­ni­ty to sex­u­al­ly assault young men for decades, going back to at least the 1978 when he was forced out of Hous­ton church for molest­ing a teenag­er in a sauna.

For years, Pressler’s law firm part­ners paid him in young men. That’s right, Paul Pressler was­n’t paid a salary for his work at Wood­fill & Pressler LLP. He was instead paid in the form of a string of employ­ees tasked to serve him as per­son­al assis­tants. Most of these assis­tants are described as young men who typ­i­cal­ly worked out of his Riv­er Oaks man­sion. Two of those assis­tants have now accused Pressler of sex­u­al assaults. They are among at least six men who have now come for­ward to accuse Pressler of sex­u­al assault or mis­con­duct includ­ing two who say they were minors at the time. Notably, Pressler’s for­mer per­son­al assis­tant, John Fields, also shows up on the CNP mem­ber­ship list. You have to won­der what’s under that rock.

Jared Wood­fill — Pressler’s part­ner of Wood­fill & Pressler LLP — is no stranger to Pressler’s pol­i­tics or sex­u­al pro­cliv­i­ties. Wood­fill, who led the Har­ris Coun­ty Repub­li­can Par­ty from 2002 to 2014, is him­self a promi­nent Hous­ton con­ser­v­a­tive activist who led the cam­paign against a Hous­ton 2015 ordi­nance on the bal­lot that would have pro­tect­ed the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty. And based on what we’re learn­ing from the doc­u­ments released in a law­suit against Pressler, Wood­fill was no stranger to Pressler’s pat­tern of prey­ing on young men. Worse, he appar­ent­ly enabled it, often arrang­ing for meet­ings between Pressler and young male con­ser­v­a­tives in his cir­cle.

Nor is the cur­rent law­suit the first against Pressler. Wood­fill rep­re­sent­ed him in a 2004 law­suit stem­ming from a 2003 inci­dent in a Dal­las hotel room. As Wood­fill admit­ted dur­ing a tes­ti­mo­ny back in Feb­ru­ary, Wood­fill helped set­tle the 2004 suit for $450,000 in a one-day medi­a­tion that also includ­ed a con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ment. It was a notable dis­clo­sure giv­en that Wood­fill has been assert­ing since 2016 that he knew noth­ing about Pressler’s groom­ing behav­ior.

2016 is also the year Pressler report­ed­ly invit­ed a young male attor­ney who had just joined Wood­fil­l’s law­firm back to his Drip­ping Springs ranch where they have a 10-per­son hot tub for a naked boys-only hot tub­bing expe­ri­ence. When the young man brought up the inci­dent with a long­time Wood­fill law firm employ­ee, he learned this was not the first time they heard such alle­ga­tions. “I dis­cov­ered that this was not unusu­al behav­ior for Pressler, and that he had a long his­to­ry of lech­er­ous behav­ior towards young men. Even going as far as bring­ing scant­i­ly clad men and parad­ing them through the office,” accord­ing to the man’s affi­davit.

The invite to this young attor­ney took place at the home of CNP mem­ber Steven Hotze, anoth­er con­ser­v­a­tive activist who co-led the 2015 anti-LBGTQ cam­paign with Wood­fill. Wood­fill is also rep­re­sent­ing Hotze in a sep­a­rate crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion over an Octo­ber 2020 inci­dent in which a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor Mark Aguirre held at gun­point an A/C repair­man who he believed was trans­port­ing fake bal­lots. Aguiree was paid $266,400 by the group Lib­er­ty Cen­ter for God and Coun­try, whose CEO is Hotze.

But it’s just inci­dents that hap­pens to these young attor­neys that trig­gered the cur­rent ongo­ing law­suit play­ing out. Decades of rape and molesta­tion start­ed, accord­ing to Duane Rollins, when he was 14 and a mem­ber of Pressler’s church youth group. Rollins accus­es Pressler of decades of molesta­tion begin­ning when Rollins was 14. Notably, Rollins is the same per­son who sued Pressler back in 2004, which end­ed in the $450,000 settlement/confidentiality agree­ment. Also notable is that Rollins did actu­al­ly end up going to work at Wood­fill & Pressler in 2002, so Rollins’s case against against Pressler poten­tial­ly involves abus­es that took place in both church and law office set­tings.

And that brings us to anoth­er oth­er major facet of this sto­ry: Pressler’s abuse inside the SBC net­work of church­es almost sure­ly could have gone unchecked for decades because that’s the giant scan­dal that’s been unfold­ing for the SBC com­mu­ni­ty for years now. Unchecked sex­u­al abuse, often at the hands of known abusers and con­vict­ed sex offend­ed repeat­ed­ly allowed back into posi­tions of pow­er and influ­ence inside the SBC’s 47k church­es. And all of this is wide­ly tol­er­at­ed by the SBC lead­er­ship, includ­ing promi­nent SBC lead­ers like Ed Young. Pressler’s decades of unchecked abuse did­n’t just hap­pen because Paul Pressler is a pow­er­ful and influ­en­tial man. He’s instead a pow­er­ful and influ­en­tial exam­ple of some­thing that is appar­ent­ly ram­pant inside the SBC com­mu­ni­ty with almost no effort by the SBC lead­er­ship to do any­thing oth­er than cov­er it up.

And that brings us to anoth­er SBC leader impli­cat­ed in Rollins’s lat­est law­suit: Paige Pat­ter­son, a for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent. Pat­ter­son and Pressler are described as two of fig­ures who pushed the SBC to adopt lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Bible back in the 1980s and 90s. Pat­ter­son, and his wife Dorothy Kel­ly Pat­ter­son, are both mem­bers of the CNP. Pat­ter­son has been ignor­ing and cov­er­ing up sex­u­al abuse claims in the SBC for decades, accord­ing to the law­suit, includ­ed accu­sa­tions made by mul­ti­ple women against his ex-pro­tégé, Dar­rell Gilyard. In May of 2018, Pat­ter­son was oust­ed as pres­i­dent of South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth, Texas, after it was revealed he said he want­ed to meet alone with a female stu­dent who said she was raped so he could “break her down.”

It’s the ‘Catholic Church’ cri­sis for Bap­tists. But it’s also awful con­text for this broad­er sto­ry we’ve been look­ing at of the pro­found ascen­den­cy of the CNP’s pow­er and influ­ence as exem­pli­fied by the ascen­sion of a back­bencher David Bar­ton-fan with creepy theo­crat­ic spy­ware on his phone to the House Speak­er­ship. But also exem­pli­fied by the CNP’s abil­i­ty to orches­trate the Jan­u­ary 6 Capi­tol insur­rec­tion and get away with almost no scruti­ny and then pro­ceed to open­ly plan a Sched­ule F/Project 2025 mass purge. And then there’s the CNP’s sol­id grip on the Supreme Court for decades to come. It’s a meta cri­sis of sys­temic abus­es of pow­er under the guise of piety:

Hous­ton Pub­lic Radio

Hous­ton GOP offi­cial knew for years of child sex abuse claims against South­ern Bap­tist leader, law part­ner

Under oath, out­spo­ken anti-gay activist Jared Wood­fill said he was told in 2004 that Paul Pressler had sex­u­al­ly abused a minor. But Wood­fill did not cut ties with the South­ern Bap­tist leader — and said he had no knowl­edge of Pressler’s alleged behav­ior when anoth­er young man came for­ward about alleged sex­u­al mis­con­duct in 2016.

Robert Dow­nen, The Texas Tri­bune
Post­ed on March 27, 2023, 11:46 AM (Last Updat­ed: March 27, 2023, 12:50 PM)

In 2016, for­mer Har­ris Coun­ty GOP chair Jared Wood­fill received an urgent warn­ing about Paul Pressler, his long­time law part­ner and a South­ern Bap­tist leader. In an email, a 25-year-old attor­ney from Wood­fil­l’s Hous­ton firm said he’d recent­ly gone to lunch with Pressler, who told him “lewd sto­ries about being naked on beach­es with young men” and then invit­ed him to skin­ny-dip at his ranch.

Wood­fill — an out­spo­ken anti-gay politi­cian and promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive activist who’d just played a key role defeat­ing an equal rights ordi­nance for LGBTQ Hous­to­ni­ans — respond­ed to the young man’s request for help with shock and indig­na­tion. “This 85-year-old man has nev­er made any inap­pro­pri­ate com­ments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” he wrote of Pressler at the time.

...

In recent sworn tes­ti­mo­ny, Wood­fill said he’d known since 2004 of an alle­ga­tion that Pressler had sex­u­al­ly abused a child. Wood­fill learned of those claims, he said, dur­ing medi­a­tion of an assault law­suit filed against Pressler that he helped qui­et­ly set­tle for near­ly a half-mil­lion dol­lars at the time. Despite his knowl­edge of the accu­sa­tion, Wood­fill con­tin­ued to work with Pressler for near­ly a decade — lean­ing on Pressler’s name and rep­u­ta­tion to bol­ster their firm, Wood­fill & Pressler LLP.

Rather than pay him a salary, Wood­fill tes­ti­fied, the firm pro­vid­ed Pressler a string of employ­ees to serve as per­son­al assis­tants, most of them young men who typ­i­cal­ly worked out of his Riv­er Oaks man­sion. Two have accused Pressler of sex­u­al assault or mis­con­duct.

Ref­er­ence

View Fullscreen

Wood­fill led the Har­ris Coun­ty Repub­li­can Par­ty from 2002 to 2014 and has for years been at the helm of anti-LGBTQ and oth­er hard­line con­ser­v­a­tive move­ments in Hous­ton and Texas. In 2015, amid tense debate over a Hous­ton equal rights ordi­nance that would have made LGBTQ work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion ille­gal, he and well-known GOP pow­er bro­ker Steven Hotze co-led a cam­paign that, among oth­er things, said the mea­sure would allow chil­dren to be sex­u­al­ly groomed and abused in bath­rooms, paid for hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in oppo­si­tion adver­tise­ments and com­pared the gay rights move­ment to Nazis.

Since then, Wood­fill has remained a fix­ture in Texas GOP pol­i­tics: Dur­ing the height of the pan­dem­ic, he and Hotze filed numer­ous law­suits chal­leng­ing COVID-19 man­dates, and he’s cur­rent­ly rep­re­sent­ing con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal can­di­dates chal­leng­ing the 2022 elec­tion results in Har­ris Coun­ty. Wood­fill is also rep­re­sent­ing Hotze in a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion stem­ming from a 2020 inci­dent in which a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor, alleged­ly act­ing at Hotze’s behest, held at gun­point an A/C repair­man who he believed was trans­port­ing fake bal­lots.

Wood­fil­l’s depo­si­tion came as part of an ongo­ing, six-year-old law­suit in which a for­mer mem­ber of Pressler’s church youth group accus­es him of decades of rape begin­ning when he was 14. The suit also accus­es Wood­fill and oth­ers, includ­ing lead­ers of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, of con­ceal­ing and enabling Pressler’s behav­ior — claims that prompt­ed a 2019 Hous­ton Chron­i­cle and San Anto­nio Express-News inves­ti­ga­tion into wide­spread sex­u­al abuse in the SBC, the nation’s sec­ond-largest faith group.

Released over the last few weeks, the thou­sands of pages of new court records show how Wood­fill leaned on his Pressler con­nec­tions to bol­ster his polit­i­cal and legal career — despite warn­ings about his law part­ner’s behav­ior. And they shed new light on how Pressler, a for­mer Texas Court of Appeals judge and one-time White House nom­i­nee under George H.W. Bush, alleged­ly used his pres­tige and influ­ence to evade respon­si­bil­i­ty amid repeat­ed accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct and assault dat­ing back to at least 1978, when he was forced out of a Hous­ton church for alleged­ly molest­ing a teenag­er in a sauna.

Pressler is best known for his work in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, where he was instru­men­tal in push­ing its 16 mil­lion mem­bers and 47,000 church­es to adopt lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Bible, strong­ly denounce homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and align more close­ly with the Repub­li­can Par­ty. And for decades, he was a high-rank­ing mem­ber of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy, an uber-secre­tive net­work of con­ser­v­a­tive judges, mega donors, media fig­ures and reli­gious elites led by Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil.

The new records show that in 2004, lead­ers of First Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton, a mas­sive South­ern Bap­tist con­gre­ga­tion, inves­ti­gat­ed claims that Pressler, then a dea­con, had groped and undressed a col­lege stu­dent at his Hous­ton man­sion. The church lead­ers deemed the behav­ior “moral­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly” inap­pro­pri­ate and warned Pressler but took no fur­ther action, cit­ing dif­fer­ing accounts of the inci­dent and Pressler’s stature in their church and the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion. In recent depo­si­tions, plain­tiffs attor­neys also briefly men­tion new com­plaints from two oth­ers about Pressler, though those doc­u­ments remain sealed ahead of the loom­ing civ­il tri­al in the case.

At least six men have now accused Pressler of sex­u­al assault or mis­con­duct, includ­ing two who say they were molest­ed while minors and two who say they were solicit­ed for sex in inci­dents after 2004, when Wood­fill and First Bap­tist lead­ers were sep­a­rate­ly made aware of com­plaints about Pressler.

Pressler has not been crim­i­nal­ly charged in any of the inci­dents. Nei­ther Wood­fill nor his attor­ney respond­ed to a list of ques­tions about Wood­fil­l’s han­dling of the alle­ga­tions against Pressler. In a Wednes­day email, Wood­fil­l’s lawyer David Oubre said they are “con­fi­dent Mr. Wood­fill will be suc­cess­ful in defeat­ing these claims.”

“A big name”

The new alle­ga­tions came as part of an ongo­ing law­suit in which Duane Rollins accus­es Pressler of decades of rape and molesta­tion begin­ning when Rollins was 14 and a mem­ber of the church youth group led by Pressler, who was then in his late 40s. Those alleged attacks, Rollins says in court doc­u­ments, pushed him into years of drug and alco­hol addic­tions that kept him in prison for much of his adult life. While in prison ther­a­py ses­sions in 2015, Rollins says he uncov­ered repressed mem­o­ries of sex­u­al abuse by Pressler. He was lat­er diag­nosed with post-trau­mat­ic stress as a “direct result of the child­hood sex­u­al trau­ma he suf­fered,” accord­ing to med­ical records filed in court.

In 2017, Rollins sued Pressler, Wood­fill and South­ern Bap­tist fig­ures and insti­tu­tions that he says enabled and con­cealed Pressler’s behav­ior, argu­ing that, because of trau­ma and manip­u­la­tion by Pressler, it took him decades to rec­on­cile that he was sex­u­al­ly abused. Last year, after the defen­dants fought to have the suit tossed by argu­ing the assault claims were out­side the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with Rollins‘ argu­ments and allowed the law­suit to go for­ward.

The new fil­ings give insight into Wood­fil­l’s long rela­tion­ship with Pressler begin­ning in the mid-1990s. At the time, Pressler, then 65, was phas­ing out of years of work in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and focus­ing more on pol­i­tics. Wood­fill was still in his 20s and said Pressler’s con­ser­v­a­tive bona fides were a valu­able asset.

Pressler’s sup­port has long been sought and tout­ed by Repub­li­can polit­i­cal hope­fuls, includ­ing Sen. Ted Cruz, who has known Pressler since he was a teenag­er. In 2012, Pressler host­ed a retreat at his Texas ranch, where a group of promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers agreed to sup­port Rick San­to­rum over Mitt Rom­ney in the upcom­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

...

Over the course of their law part­ner­ship, Wood­fill tes­ti­fied, Pressler did almost no work for the firm, but was pro­vid­ed numer­ous young, male assis­tants who tend­ed to his and his fam­i­ly’s needs — includ­ing his son who has a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty.

“I can think of one or two cas­es that he brought in,” Wood­fill tes­ti­fied. “He may have gone to one hear­ing in his entire time with us, two at the most. Real­ly, it was his name. ... He got an employ­ee that worked for him. So he did­n’t get a salary. He did­n’t get a draw. He did­n’t get a bonus. We paid for some­one to come and assist him. That’s how he got com­pen­sat­ed.”

The lat­est law­suit marks the sec­ond time Rollins has sued Pressler over alle­ga­tions of assault.

In 2004, Wood­fill rep­re­sent­ed Pressler in a law­suit in which Rollins accused him of assault stem­ming from a 2003 inci­dent in a Dal­las hotel room, dur­ing which Rollins says Pressler injured him dur­ing a phys­i­cal alter­ca­tion and, cit­ing his stature as a for­mer Texas judge, threat­ened him if he came for­ward. In order to avoid pub­lic­i­ty, Wood­fill helped set­tle the suit for $450,000 in a one-day medi­a­tion that also includ­ed a con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ment, he said in tes­ti­mo­ny last month.

Copies of the law­suit did not refer to the inci­dent as sex­u­al assault. But as the case was being medi­at­ed, Wood­fill said under oath last month, he was told by Rollins’ then-attor­ney that Pressler had “been sex­u­al­ly inap­pro­pri­ate” with Rollins, had “done some things to him when he was a child” and “sex­u­al­ly abused (Rollins) … when he was a child or in a youth group or some­thing.”

Dur­ing his depo­si­tion, Wood­fill declined to dis­cuss most oth­er details of the 2004 law­suit, cit­ing the con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ment. Even so, Wood­fil­l’s tes­ti­mo­ny direct­ly con­tra­dicts his pre­vi­ous asser­tions that he had no knowl­edge of Pressler’s alleged groom­ing and sex­u­al mis­con­duct toward young men — claims that he has repeat­ed since at least 2016, when he denied any knowl­edge of such behav­ior after the young attor­ney detailed Pressler’s alleged invi­ta­tion to hot tub naked, as well as in sub­se­quent media inter­views and court fil­ings.

Rollins’ attor­neys say Wood­fill “had an incen­tive to turn a blind eye to Mr. Pressler’s abuse.”

...

Records show that Pressler remained a lim­it­ed part­ner at the firm until around 2012, when Wood­fill said Pressler retired. The firm was renamed Wood­fill Law Firm and has been involved in numer­ous law­suits involv­ing con­ser­v­a­tive caus­es over the years. The firm has also faced accu­sa­tions of impro­pri­ety, includ­ing mon­ey laun­der­ing alle­ga­tions that sparked a 2018 raid and inves­ti­ga­tion by the Har­ris Coun­ty Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office, though no charges were ever filed in the mat­ter.

“If brought to light”

Rollins’ lat­est law­suit also brought to light oth­er sex­u­al mis­con­duct alle­ga­tions against Pressler, includ­ing an affi­davit that was sub­mit­ted as part of the 2004 law­suit. Wood­fill declined to com­ment on the affi­davit while under oath, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­i­ty rules.

In the affi­davit, which was made pub­lic this year, anoth­er col­lege stu­dent says Pressler pres­sured him to get naked and then groped him at his Hous­ton man­sion. Accord­ing to court records, the young man met Pressler through First Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton and then was hired by Wood­fil­l’s law firm as Pressler’s assis­tant. The Texas Tri­bune does not iden­ti­fy vic­tims of alleged sex­u­al assault with­out their con­sent.

In the new­ly-sur­faced affi­davit, the young man said he was invit­ed to live with the Presslers. “Mov­ing into the Pressler home was in the fash­ion of being invit­ed to be a mem­ber of the fam­i­ly which, by that time and owing to the church rela­tion­ship, I had become,” he wrote in his affi­davit.

One night in May 2004, he was asked by Pressler to give him a neck mas­sage on his bed, he said in the affi­davit. Pressler then removed his pants and began to give the young man a mas­sage, the man said. Pressler lat­er invit­ed him on a trip to Europe, and the col­lege stu­dent said he was “non-com­mit­tal.” When he went out­side after, Pressler fol­lowed him and sug­gest­ed they undress to get him “adjust­ed to trav­el­ing in Europe,” where he said nudi­ty among men was com­mon, accord­ing to the affi­davit.

The young man said he declined mul­ti­ple times but even­tu­al­ly gave in to Pressler’s requests and briefly undressed. Pressler lat­er sug­gest­ed they pray togeth­er naked, he said in the affi­davit, after which the col­lege stu­dent got dressed and hur­ried into the home. Pressler fol­lowed him inside, he said, and “reached to hug me good­night.”

He said Pressler then “quick­ly and with­out warn­ing or invi­ta­tion, grabbed my swim trunks and pulled them down far enough to expose my gen­i­tals and but­tocks.”

“I was hor­ri­fied and froze,” he said. “Appar­ent­ly, in response to my reac­tion, he backed away and went upstairs.”

Court records show that, after the col­lege stu­dent men­tioned the inci­dent to a church leader, a small group of top First Bap­tist lead­ers briefly looked into the mat­ter but deter­mined it was a “he said, she said” type of ordeal that would be dam­ag­ing to Pressler if made pub­lic. Pressler was beloved by many at the church and had just served on a search com­mit­tee that brought the church’s new pas­tor on around the same time.

“Giv­en your stature and var­i­ous lead­er­ship roles in our church, the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and oth­er Chris­t­ian orga­ni­za­tions, it is our con­sid­ered opin­ion that this kind of behav­ior, if brought to light, might dis­tort your tes­ti­mo­ny or cause oth­ers to stum­ble,” First Bap­tist lead­ers wrote in a 2004 let­ter to Pressler that was recent­ly made pub­lic as part of Rollins’ law­suit. “We desire nei­ther, but, rather, pray that God con­tin­ues to use your gifts and tal­ents to accom­plish His will and pur­pose.”

In an inter­view, a lawyer for First Bap­tist defend­ed the church’s actions, say­ing lead­ers imme­di­ate­ly looked into the alle­ga­tions and, after inter­view­ing both Pressler and the col­lege stu­dent, found noth­ing that was con­clu­sive or crim­i­nal.

“The church act­ed prompt­ly when we heard this alleged behav­ior,” Hous­ton attor­ney Bar­ry Fly­nn said. “Remem­ber: We did­n’t know if this was true or untrue.”

Fly­nn said the church has strict rules on back­ground checks for any­one who works with chil­dren — but not­ed that Pressler pri­mar­i­ly taught adult Bible study class­es. And, he added, even if the church had checked his back­ground, they would not have found any­thing crim­i­nal.

In a depo­si­tion, a top church leader reit­er­at­ed that stance and com­pared Pressler’s behav­ior to boys who play­ful­ly “depants” one anoth­er. He said Pressler’s defense — that he was ready­ing the young man for a trip to Europe — was believ­able.

Pressler remained a dea­con at the church, First Bap­tist lead­ers tes­ti­fied, but sig­nif­i­cant­ly cur­tailed his involve­ment there until around 2007, when he trans­ferred to Sec­ond Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton, a mas­sive net­work of Hous­ton-area church­es that’s led by for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Ed Young, and has been pre­vi­ous­ly accused of con­ceal­ing oth­er sex­u­al abus­es. Fly­nn, the First Bap­tist attor­ney, said there was “no com­mu­ni­ca­tion” between the two church­es about the alle­ga­tions against Pressler.

A pat­tern of behav­ior

In the years after leav­ing First Bap­tist, Pressler was accused of sex­u­al mis­con­duct by at least two oth­er young men — includ­ing a young Hous­ton Bap­tist Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent who tes­ti­fied that, as a result of Pressler’s sex­u­al advances, he stopped pur­su­ing a career in min­istry, fre­quent­ly had pan­ic attacks and attempt­ed sui­cide.

That man’s alle­ga­tions are sim­i­lar in detail to those described by the 25-year-old attor­ney who wrote to Wood­fill in 2016. The attor­ney, whom the Tri­bune is not nam­ing, was a recent law school grad­u­ate who said in an affi­davit that he moved to Texas in 2016 for a job at Wood­fil­l’s law firm. Dur­ing that time, he said, Wood­fill intro­duced him to Pressler, call­ing him his “men­tor for over 25 years,” a “hero of the faith” and a “great man.”

Two months lat­er, the young attor­ney said he ran into Pressler at a polit­i­cal fundrais­er at the home of Hotze, and was encour­aged by Wood­fill to go to lunch with Pressler. The fol­low­ing week, he said, he arrived at Pressler’s home to pick him up. Pressler answered the door with­out pants on and invit­ed him inside, after which he showed him pic­tures of “impor­tant peo­ple” he knew and talked about swim­ming naked in Europe numer­ous times, the attor­ney wrote in his 2018 sworn affi­davit.

At lunch, Pressler told the attor­ney about a 10-per­son hot tub at his Drip­ping Springs ranch and invit­ed him there, say­ing “when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub com­plete­ly naked,” he said.

Hor­ri­fied, the attor­ney addressed the inci­dent with a long­time employ­ee of Wood­fil­l’s law firm, who made it clear that this was not the first time he’d heard such alle­ga­tions, the attor­ney said in the affi­davit.

I dis­cov­ered that this was not unusu­al behav­ior for Pressler, and that he had a long his­to­ry of lech­er­ous behav­ior towards young men. Even going as far as bring­ing scant­i­ly clad men and parad­ing them through the office,” he wrote in his affi­davit.

Emails show that the attor­ney reached out to Wood­fill, who claimed it was the first time he’d heard of such alleged behav­ior by Pressler. Wood­fill lat­er offered the attor­ney a $10,000 raise, court records show, and said he’d talk to Pressler and keep him away.

“How­ev­er,” the attor­ney wrote, “with­in two weeks Pressler was at a polit­i­cal lun­cheon that Wood­fill required me to attend.”

———–

“Hous­ton GOP offi­cial knew for years of child sex abuse claims against South­ern Bap­tist leader, law part­ner” by Robert Dow­nen; The Texas Tri­bune; 03/27/2023

“Pressler is best known for his work in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, where he was instru­men­tal in push­ing its 16 mil­lion mem­bers and 47,000 church­es to adopt lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Bible, strong­ly denounce homo­sex­u­al­i­ty and align more close­ly with the Repub­li­can Par­ty. And for decades, he was a high-rank­ing mem­ber of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy, an uber-secre­tive net­work of con­ser­v­a­tive judges, mega donors, media fig­ures and reli­gious elites led by Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil.

Judge Pressler, a long­stand­ing leader in the SBC com­mu­ni­ty, isn’t just a high-rank­ing mem­ber of the CNP. He was the CNP’s pres­i­dent from 1988–1990 and a major fig­ure in Texas Repub­li­can pol­i­tics. He even helped orches­trate an obvi­ous­ly failed attempt to shore up sup­port for CNP mem­ber Rick San­to­rum’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial run:

...
Pressler’s sup­port has long been sought and tout­ed by Repub­li­can polit­i­cal hope­fuls, includ­ing Sen. Ted Cruz, who has known Pressler since he was a teenag­er. In 2012, Pressler host­ed a retreat at his Texas ranch, where a group of promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers agreed to sup­port Rick San­to­rum over Mitt Rom­ney in the upcom­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.
...

So it’s a pret­ty big deal for the SBC and Texas Repub­li­can pol­i­tics that Paul Pressler is now the sub­ject of an ongo­ing law­suit that is bring­ing out one damn­ing tes­ti­mo­ny after anoth­er and paints of pic­ture of unchecked abus­es of pow­er going back decades. Bla­tant abus­es of pow­er that were effec­tive­ly hid­den in plain sight. Like the fact that Pressler was appar­ent­ly nev­er paid a salary by his law firm, Wood­fill & Pressler LLP, but instead was paid in the form of young male assis­tants who would serve at his man­sion, osten­si­bly to help with the fam­i­ly’s needs. That’s just one of the details Pressler’s law part­ner Jared Wood­fill had to reveal in sworn tes­ti­mo­ny this year as part of an ongo­ing law­suit that has been bring­ing to light evi­dence of abuse by Pressler going back to at least 1978:

...
In recent sworn tes­ti­mo­ny, Wood­fill said he’d known since 2004 of an alle­ga­tion that Pressler had sex­u­al­ly abused a child. Wood­fill learned of those claims, he said, dur­ing medi­a­tion of an assault law­suit filed against Pressler that he helped qui­et­ly set­tle for near­ly a half-mil­lion dol­lars at the time. Despite his knowl­edge of the accu­sa­tion, Wood­fill con­tin­ued to work with Pressler for near­ly a decade — lean­ing on Pressler’s name and rep­u­ta­tion to bol­ster their firm, Wood­fill & Pressler LLP.

Rather than pay him a salary, Wood­fill tes­ti­fied, the firm pro­vid­ed Pressler a string of employ­ees to serve as per­son­al assis­tants, most of them young men who typ­i­cal­ly worked out of his Riv­er Oaks man­sion. Two have accused Pressler of sex­u­al assault or mis­con­duct.

...

Wood­fil­l’s depo­si­tion came as part of an ongo­ing, six-year-old law­suit in which a for­mer mem­ber of Pressler’s church youth group accus­es him of decades of rape begin­ning when he was 14. The suit also accus­es Wood­fill and oth­ers, includ­ing lead­ers of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, of con­ceal­ing and enabling Pressler’s behav­ior — claims that prompt­ed a 2019 Hous­ton Chron­i­cle and San Anto­nio Express-News inves­ti­ga­tion into wide­spread sex­u­al abuse in the SBC, the nation’s sec­ond-largest faith group.

Released over the last few weeks, the thou­sands of pages of new court records show how Wood­fill leaned on his Pressler con­nec­tions to bol­ster his polit­i­cal and legal career — despite warn­ings about his law part­ner’s behav­ior. And they shed new light on how Pressler, a for­mer Texas Court of Appeals judge and one-time White House nom­i­nee under George H.W. Bush, alleged­ly used his pres­tige and influ­ence to evade respon­si­bil­i­ty amid repeat­ed accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct and assault dat­ing back to at least 1978, when he was forced out of a Hous­ton church for alleged­ly molest­ing a teenag­er in a sauna.

...

Over the course of their law part­ner­ship, Wood­fill tes­ti­fied, Pressler did almost no work for the firm, but was pro­vid­ed numer­ous young, male assis­tants who tend­ed to his and his fam­i­ly’s needs — includ­ing his son who has a phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ty.

“I can think of one or two cas­es that he brought in,” Wood­fill tes­ti­fied. “He may have gone to one hear­ing in his entire time with us, two at the most. Real­ly, it was his name. ... He got an employ­ee that worked for him. So he did­n’t get a salary. He did­n’t get a draw. He did­n’t get a bonus. We paid for some­one to come and assist him. That’s how he got com­pen­sat­ed.

...

Records show that Pressler remained a lim­it­ed part­ner at the firm until around 2012, when Wood­fill said Pressler retired. The firm was renamed Wood­fill Law Firm and has been involved in numer­ous law­suits involv­ing con­ser­v­a­tive caus­es over the years. The firm has also faced accu­sa­tions of impro­pri­ety, includ­ing mon­ey laun­der­ing alle­ga­tions that sparked a 2018 raid and inves­ti­ga­tion by the Har­ris Coun­ty Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office, though no charges were ever filed in the mat­ter.
...

It’s an ongo­ing law­suit stem­ming from abuse alle­ga­tions around Pressler’s church youth group. Duane Rollins accus­es Pressler of decades of abuse start­ing when he was 14. It’s not the first time Rollins sued Pressler over these alle­ga­tions. Rollins first sued in 2004. But Rollins isn’t just suing Pressler in the ongo­ing law­suit. He’s suing Wood­fill, and oth­er SBC fig­ures and insti­tu­tions that enabled and con­cealed Pressler’s behav­ior. It’s the kind of giant scan­dal that huge, in part, because it could obvi­ous­ly get a lot big­ger:

...
The new records show that in 2004, lead­ers of First Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton, a mas­sive South­ern Bap­tist con­gre­ga­tion, inves­ti­gat­ed claims that Pressler, then a dea­con, had groped and undressed a col­lege stu­dent at his Hous­ton man­sion. The church lead­ers deemed the behav­ior “moral­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly” inap­pro­pri­ate and warned Pressler but took no fur­ther action, cit­ing dif­fer­ing accounts of the inci­dent and Pressler’s stature in their church and the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion. In recent depo­si­tions, plain­tiffs attor­neys also briefly men­tion new com­plaints from two oth­ers about Pressler, though those doc­u­ments remain sealed ahead of the loom­ing civ­il tri­al in the case.

At least six men have now accused Pressler of sex­u­al assault or mis­con­duct, includ­ing two who say they were molest­ed while minors and two who say they were solicit­ed for sex in inci­dents after 2004, when Wood­fill and First Bap­tist lead­ers were sep­a­rate­ly made aware of com­plaints about Pressler.

...

The new alle­ga­tions came as part of an ongo­ing law­suit in which Duane Rollins accus­es Pressler of decades of rape and molesta­tion begin­ning when Rollins was 14 and a mem­ber of the church youth group led by Pressler, who was then in his late 40s. Those alleged attacks, Rollins says in court doc­u­ments, pushed him into years of drug and alco­hol addic­tions that kept him in prison for much of his adult life. While in prison ther­a­py ses­sions in 2015, Rollins says he uncov­ered repressed mem­o­ries of sex­u­al abuse by Pressler. He was lat­er diag­nosed with post-trau­mat­ic stress as a “direct result of the child­hood sex­u­al trau­ma he suf­fered,” accord­ing to med­ical records filed in court.

In 2017, Rollins sued Pressler, Wood­fill and South­ern Bap­tist fig­ures and insti­tu­tions that he says enabled and con­cealed Pressler’s behav­ior, argu­ing that, because of trau­ma and manip­u­la­tion by Pressler, it took him decades to rec­on­cile that he was sex­u­al­ly abused. Last year, after the defen­dants fought to have the suit tossed by argu­ing the assault claims were out­side the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with Rollins‘ argu­ments and allowed the law­suit to go for­ward.

The new fil­ings give insight into Wood­fil­l’s long rela­tion­ship with Pressler begin­ning in the mid-1990s. At the time, Pressler, then 65, was phas­ing out of years of work in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and focus­ing more on pol­i­tics. Wood­fill was still in his 20s and said Pressler’s con­ser­v­a­tive bona fides were a valu­able asset.
...

Wood­fill was even forced to reveal dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny that he helped to arrange the 2004 $450,000 settlement/confidentiality agree­ment in the face of Rollins’s first suit, which direct­ly con­tra­dicts the claims Wood­fill has been mak­ing since 2016 that he had no knowl­edge of Pressler’s his­to­ry of abuse:

...
The lat­est law­suit marks the sec­ond time Rollins has sued Pressler over alle­ga­tions of assault.

In 2004, Wood­fill rep­re­sent­ed Pressler in a law­suit in which Rollins accused him of assault stem­ming from a 2003 inci­dent in a Dal­las hotel room, dur­ing which Rollins says Pressler injured him dur­ing a phys­i­cal alter­ca­tion and, cit­ing his stature as a for­mer Texas judge, threat­ened him if he came for­ward. In order to avoid pub­lic­i­ty, Wood­fill helped set­tle the suit for $450,000 in a one-day medi­a­tion that also includ­ed a con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ment, he said in tes­ti­mo­ny last month.

Copies of the law­suit did not refer to the inci­dent as sex­u­al assault. But as the case was being medi­at­ed, Wood­fill said under oath last month, he was told by Rollins’ then-attor­ney that Pressler had “been sex­u­al­ly inap­pro­pri­ate” with Rollins, had “done some things to him when he was a child” and “sex­u­al­ly abused (Rollins) … when he was a child or in a youth group or some­thing.”

Dur­ing his depo­si­tion, Wood­fill declined to dis­cuss most oth­er details of the 2004 law­suit, cit­ing the con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ment. Even so, Wood­fil­l’s tes­ti­mo­ny direct­ly con­tra­dicts his pre­vi­ous asser­tions that he had no knowl­edge of Pressler’s alleged groom­ing and sex­u­al mis­con­duct toward young men — claims that he has repeat­ed since at least 2016, when he denied any knowl­edge of such behav­ior after the young attor­ney detailed Pressler’s alleged invi­ta­tion to hot tub naked, as well as in sub­se­quent media inter­views and court fil­ings.

Rollins’ attor­neys say Wood­fill “had an incen­tive to turn a blind eye to Mr. Pressler’s abuse.”
...

And as we can see with the range of addi­tion­al accu­sa­tion that have come to light in the affi­davits pro­vid­ed to the court, Pressler’s abuse was­n’t just cov­ered up. He was allowed to con­tin­ue his role as a dea­con at First Bap­tist until around 2007, when he was trans­ferred to Sec­ond Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton led by for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Ed Young. No com­mu­ni­ca­tion was made to SBC about the alle­ga­tions against Pressler. That’s despite the fact that anoth­er col­lege stu­dent who met Pressler through First Bap­tist Church and end­ed up serv­ing as one of Pressler’s “per­son­al assis­tants” at Wood­fil­l’s law­firm told church lead­ers about a grop­ing inci­dent. The lead­ers dis­missed it as a “he said, she said” inci­dent that should be kept pri­vate:

...
Rollins’ lat­est law­suit also brought to light oth­er sex­u­al mis­con­duct alle­ga­tions against Pressler, includ­ing an affi­davit that was sub­mit­ted as part of the 2004 law­suit. Wood­fill declined to com­ment on the affi­davit while under oath, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial­i­ty rules.

In the affi­davit, which was made pub­lic this year, anoth­er col­lege stu­dent says Pressler pres­sured him to get naked and then groped him at his Hous­ton man­sion. Accord­ing to court records, the young man met Pressler through First Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton and then was hired by Wood­fil­l’s law firm as Pressler’s assis­tant. The Texas Tri­bune does not iden­ti­fy vic­tims of alleged sex­u­al assault with­out their con­sent.

...

Court records show that, after the col­lege stu­dent men­tioned the inci­dent to a church leader, a small group of top First Bap­tist lead­ers briefly looked into the mat­ter but deter­mined it was a “he said, she said” type of ordeal that would be dam­ag­ing to Pressler if made pub­lic. Pressler was beloved by many at the church and had just served on a search com­mit­tee that brought the church’s new pas­tor on around the same time.

...

Pressler remained a dea­con at the church, First Bap­tist lead­ers tes­ti­fied, but sig­nif­i­cant­ly cur­tailed his involve­ment there until around 2007, when he trans­ferred to Sec­ond Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton, a mas­sive net­work of Hous­ton-area church­es that’s led by for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Ed Young, and has been pre­vi­ous­ly accused of con­ceal­ing oth­er sex­u­al abus­es. Fly­nn, the First Bap­tist attor­ney, said there was “no com­mu­ni­ca­tion” between the two church­es about the alle­ga­tions against Pressler.
...

And based on the accu­sa­tions against him, Pressler con­tin­ued to prey on young men until at least 2016. That’s what we can con­clude based on inci­dent involv­ing a young attor­ney who had just joined Wood­fil­l’s law­firm (Pressler was retired by then). Wood­fill intro­duced the young lawyer to Pressler. Two months lat­er, the young lawyer met Pressler at a polit­i­cal fundrais­er at the home of CNP mem­ber Steven Hotze, where the lawyer was encour­aged by Wood­fill to go to lunch with Pressler. The fol­low­ing week, the lawyer arrived at Pressler’s home to pick him up for lunch. It was dur­ing that encounter when Pressler invit­ed to lawyer to his ranch for some naked boys-only hot tub­bing. Again, this was 2016, 12 years after the 2004 set­tle­ment. It’s a the kind of anec­dote that rais­es seri­ous ques­tions about just per­va­sive Pressler’s abus­es tru­ly were. We’re pre­sum­ably not hear­ing from all of his vic­tims:

...

In the years after leav­ing First Bap­tist, Pressler was accused of sex­u­al mis­con­duct by at least two oth­er young men — includ­ing a young Hous­ton Bap­tist Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent who tes­ti­fied that, as a result of Pressler’s sex­u­al advances, he stopped pur­su­ing a career in min­istry, fre­quent­ly had pan­ic attacks and attempt­ed sui­cide.

That man’s alle­ga­tions are sim­i­lar in detail to those described by the 25-year-old attor­ney who wrote to Wood­fill in 2016. The attor­ney, whom the Tri­bune is not nam­ing, was a recent law school grad­u­ate who said in an affi­davit that he moved to Texas in 2016 for a job at Wood­fil­l’s law firm. Dur­ing that time, he said, Wood­fill intro­duced him to Pressler, call­ing him his “men­tor for over 25 years,” a “hero of the faith” and a “great man.”

Two months lat­er, the young attor­ney said he ran into Pressler at a polit­i­cal fundrais­er at the home of Hotze, and was encour­aged by Wood­fill to go to lunch with Pressler. The fol­low­ing week, he said, he arrived at Pressler’s home to pick him up. Pressler answered the door with­out pants on and invit­ed him inside, after which he showed him pic­tures of “impor­tant peo­ple” he knew and talked about swim­ming naked in Europe numer­ous times, the attor­ney wrote in his 2018 sworn affi­davit.

At lunch, Pressler told the attor­ney about a 10-per­son hot tub at his Drip­ping Springs ranch and invit­ed him there, say­ing “when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub com­plete­ly naked,” he said.

Hor­ri­fied, the attor­ney addressed the inci­dent with a long­time employ­ee of Wood­fil­l’s law firm, who made it clear that this was not the first time he’d heard such alle­ga­tions, the attor­ney said in the affi­davit.

I dis­cov­ered that this was not unusu­al behav­ior for Pressler, and that he had a long his­to­ry of lech­er­ous behav­ior towards young men. Even going as far as bring­ing scant­i­ly clad men and parad­ing them through the office,” he wrote in his affi­davit.

Emails show that the attor­ney reached out to Wood­fill, who claimed it was the first time he’d heard of such alleged behav­ior by Pressler. Wood­fill lat­er offered the attor­ney a $10,000 raise, court records show, and said he’d talk to Pressler and keep him away.

“How­ev­er,” the attor­ney wrote, “with­in two weeks Pressler was at a polit­i­cal lun­cheon that Wood­fill required me to attend.”
...

And we can’t help not­ing the gross hypocrisy involved with this whole sit­u­a­tion: Jared Wood­fill and Steven Hotze were co-lead­ers of 2015 cam­paign oppos­ing a Hous­ton ref­er­en­dum that would have pro­tect­ed bath­room access rights for the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty:

...
Wood­fill led the Har­ris Coun­ty Repub­li­can Par­ty from 2002 to 2014 and has for years been at the helm of anti-LGBTQ and oth­er hard­line con­ser­v­a­tive move­ments in Hous­ton and Texas. In 2015, amid tense debate over a Hous­ton equal rights ordi­nance that would have made LGBTQ work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion ille­gal, he and well-known GOP pow­er bro­ker Steven Hotze co-led a cam­paign that, among oth­er things, said the mea­sure would allow chil­dren to be sex­u­al­ly groomed and abused in bath­rooms, paid for hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in oppo­si­tion adver­tise­ments and com­pared the gay rights move­ment to Nazis.

Since then, Wood­fill has remained a fix­ture in Texas GOP pol­i­tics: Dur­ing the height of the pan­dem­ic, he and Hotze filed numer­ous law­suits chal­leng­ing COVID-19 man­dates, and he’s cur­rent­ly rep­re­sent­ing con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal can­di­dates chal­leng­ing the 2022 elec­tion results in Har­ris Coun­ty. Wood­fill is also rep­re­sent­ing Hotze in a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion stem­ming from a 2020 inci­dent in which a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tor, alleged­ly act­ing at Hotze’s behest, held at gun­point an A/C repair­man who he believed was trans­port­ing fake bal­lots.
...

How many more rev­e­la­tions are we going to get thanks to this law­suit? Time will tell. But as the fol­low­ing Feb­ru­ary 2019 Hous­ton Chron­i­cle inves­tiga­tive piece lays out, this was already a mega-scan­dal that goes far beyond Paul Pressler. The SBC lead­er­ship — includ­ing Ed Young and CNP mem­ber Paige Pat­ter­son — has been sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly pro­tect­ing and cov­er­ing up hun­dreds abusers with­in its ranks going back decades. In fact, there’s a spe­cif­ic doc­trine they cite to excuse the lack of action: local church auton­o­my. As far as the SBC is con­cerned, each of its rough­ly 47,000 mem­ber church have exclu­sive author­i­ty over their inter­nal oper­a­tions and, as such, the SBC lead­er­ship has nev­er had the author­i­ty to do any­thing about reports of abuse. Either the local lead­ers han­dle it or no one will. And, typ­i­cal­ly, no one did. Hence the ongo­ing unfold­ing mega-scan­dal:

The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Abuse of Faith

20 years, 700 vic­tims: South­ern Bap­tist sex­u­al abuse spreads as lead­ers resist reforms

By Robert Dow­nen, Lise Olsen, and John Tedesco
Pub­lished Feb. 10, 2019

First of six parts

Thir­ty-five years lat­er, Deb­bie Vasquez’s voice trem­bled as she described her trau­ma to a group of South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers.

She was 14, she said, when she was first molest­ed by her pas­tor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dal­las. It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her preg­nant by the South­ern Bap­tist pas­tor, a mar­ried man more than a dozen years old­er.

In June 2008, she paid her way to Indi­anapo­lis, where she and oth­ers asked lead­ers of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and its 47,000 church­es to track sex­u­al preda­tors and take action against con­gre­ga­tions that har­bored or con­cealed abusers. Vasquez, by then in her 40s, implored them to con­sid­er pre­ven­tion poli­cies like those adopt­ed by faiths that include the Catholic Church.

“Lis­ten to what God has to say,” she said, accord­ing to audio of the meet­ing, which she record­ed. “... All that evil needs is for good to do noth­ing. ... Please help me and oth­ers that will be hurt.”

Days lat­er, South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers reject­ed near­ly every pro­posed reform.

The abusers haven’t stopped. They’ve hurt hun­dreds more.

In the decade since Vasquez’s appeal for help, more than 250 peo­ple who worked or vol­un­teered in South­ern Bap­tist church­es have been charged with sex crimes, an inves­ti­ga­tion by the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle and the San Anto­nio Express-News reveals.

It’s not just a recent prob­lem: In all, since 1998, rough­ly 380 South­ern Bap­tist church lead­ers and vol­un­teers have faced alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct, the news­pa­pers found. That includes those who were con­vict­ed, cred­i­bly accused and suc­cess­ful­ly sued, and those who con­fessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any oth­er state.

They left behind more than 700 vic­tims, many of them shunned by their church­es, left to them­selves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to for­give their abusers or to get abor­tions.

About 220 offend­ers have been con­vict­ed or took plea deals, and dozens of cas­es are pend­ing. They were pas­tors. Min­is­ters. Youth pas­tors. Sun­day school teach­ers. Dea­cons. Church vol­un­teers.

How we did this sto­ry:

Cur­rent as of June 2019

In 2007, vic­tims of sex­u­al abuse by South­ern Bap­tist pas­tors request­ed cre­ation of a reg­istry con­tain­ing the names of cur­rent and for­mer lead­ers of South­ern Bap­tist church­es who had been con­vict­ed of sex crimes or who had been cred­i­bly accused. That did­n’t hap­pen; the last time any such list was made pub­lic was by the Bap­tist Gen­er­al Con­ven­tion of Texas. It con­tained the names of eight sex crim­i­nals.

In 2018, as advo­cates again pressed SBC offi­cials for such a reg­istry, Hous­ton Chron­i­cle reporters began to search news archives, web­sites and data­bas­es nation­wide to com­pile an archive of alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al abuse, sex­u­al assault and oth­er seri­ous mis­con­duct involv­ing South­ern Bap­tist pas­tors and oth­er church offi­cials. We found com­plaints made against hun­dreds of pas­tors, church offi­cials and vol­un­teers at South­ern Bap­tist church­es nation­wide.

We focused our search on the 10 years pre­ced­ing the vic­tims’ first call for a reg­istry and on the 10-plus years since. And we con­cen­trat­ed on indi­vid­u­als who had a doc­u­ment­ed con­nec­tion to a church list­ed in an SBC direc­to­ry pub­lished by a state or nation­al asso­ci­a­tion.

We ver­i­fied details in hun­dreds of accounts of abuse by exam­in­ing fed­er­al and state court data­bas­es, prison records and offi­cial doc­u­ments from more than 20 states and by search­ing sex offend­er reg­istries nation­wide. In Texas, we vis­it­ed more than a dozen coun­ty cour­t­hous­es. We inter­viewed dis­trict attor­neys and police in more than 40 Texas coun­ties. We filed dozens of pub­lic records requests in Texas and nation­wide.

Ulti­mate­ly, we com­piled infor­ma­tion on rough­ly 400 cred­i­bly accused offi­cials in South­ern Bap­tist church­es, includ­ing pas­tors, dea­cons, Sun­day school teach­ers and vol­un­teers.

We ver­i­fied that about 260 had been con­vict­ed of sex crimes or received deferred pros­e­cu­tions in plea deals and sent let­ters to all of them solic­it­ing their respons­es to sum­maries we com­piled. We received writ­ten respons­es from more than 30 and inter­viewed three in Texas pris­ons.

Find our records that relate to those con­vict­ed or forced to reg­is­ter as sex offend­ers at HoustonChronicle.com/AbuseofFaith

Near­ly 100 are still held in pris­ons stretch­ing from Sacra­men­to Coun­ty, Calif., to Hills­bor­ough Coun­ty, Fla., state and fed­er­al records show. Scores of oth­ers cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are reg­is­tered sex offend­ers. Some still work in South­ern Bap­tist church­es today.

Jour­nal­ists in the two news­rooms spent more than six months review­ing thou­sands of pages of court, prison and police records and con­duct­ing hun­dreds of inter­views. They built a data­base of for­mer lead­ers in South­ern Bap­tist church­es who have been con­vict­ed of sex crimes.

The inves­ti­ga­tion reveals that:

• At least 35 church pas­tors, employ­ees and vol­un­teers who exhib­it­ed preda­to­ry behav­ior were still able to find jobs at church­es dur­ing the past two decades. In some cas­es, church lead­ers appar­ent­ly failed to alert law enforce­ment about com­plaints or to warn oth­er con­gre­ga­tions about alle­ga­tions of mis­con­duct.

• Sev­er­al past pres­i­dents and promi­nent lead­ers of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion are among those crit­i­cized by vic­tims for con­ceal­ing or mis­han­dling abuse com­plaints with­in their own church­es or sem­i­nar­ies.

• Some reg­is­tered sex offend­ers returned to the pul­pit. Oth­ers remain there, includ­ing a Hous­ton preach­er who sex­u­al­ly assault­ed a teenag­er and now is the prin­ci­pal offi­cer of a Hous­ton non­prof­it that works with stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions, fed­er­al records show. Its name: Touch­ing the Future Today Inc.

• Many of the vic­tims were ado­les­cents who were molest­ed, sent explic­it pho­tos or texts, exposed to pornog­ra­phy, pho­tographed nude, or repeat­ed­ly raped by youth pas­tors. Some vic­tims as young as 3 were molest­ed or raped inside pas­tors’ stud­ies and Sun­day school class­rooms. A few were adults — women and men who sought pas­toral guid­ance and instead say they were seduced or sex­u­al­ly assault­ed.

Heather Schnei­der was 14 when she was molest­ed in a choir room at Hous­ton’s Sec­ond Bap­tist Church, accord­ing to crim­i­nal and civ­il court records. Her moth­er, Gwen Casa­dos, said church lead­ers wait­ed months to fire the attack­er, who lat­er plead­ed no con­test. In response to her law­suit, church lead­ers also denied respon­si­bil­i­ty.

Schnei­der slit her wrists the day after that attack in 1994, Casa­dos said. She sur­vived, but she died 14 years lat­er from a drug over­dose that her moth­er blames on the trau­ma.

“I nev­er got her back,” Casa­dos said.

Oth­ers took decades to come for­ward, and only after their lives had unrav­eled. David Pittman was 12, he says, when a youth min­is­ter from his Geor­gia church first molest­ed him in 1981. Two oth­er for­mer mem­bers of the man’s church­es said in inter­views that they also were abused by him. But by the time Pittman spoke out in 2006, it was too late to press crim­i­nal charges.

The min­is­ter still works at an SBC church.

Pittman won’t soon for­give those who have offered prayers but tak­en no action. He only recent­ly stopped hat­ing God.

“That is the great­est tragedy of all,” he said. “So many peo­ple’s faith is mur­dered. I mean, their faith is slaugh­tered by these preda­tors.”

August “Augie” Boto, inter­im pres­i­dent of the SBC’s Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, helped draft the rejec­tion of reform pro­pos­als in 2008. In an inter­view, he expressed “sor­row” about some of the news­pa­pers’ find­ings but said the con­ven­tion’s lead­er­ship can do only so much to stop sex­u­al abus­es.

“It would be sor­row if it were 200 or 600” cas­es, Boto said. “Sor­row. What we’re talk­ing about is crim­i­nal. The fact that crim­i­nal activ­i­ty occurs in a church con­text is always the basis of grief. But it’s going to hap­pen. And that state­ment does not mean that we must be resigned to it.”

‘A porous sieve’

At the core of South­ern Bap­tist doc­trine is local church auton­o­my, the idea that each church is inde­pen­dent and self-gov­ern­ing. It’s one of the main rea­sons that Boto said most of the pro­pos­als a decade ago were viewed as flawed by the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee because the com­mit­tee does­n’t have the author­i­ty to force church­es to report sex­u­al abuse to a cen­tral reg­istry.

Because of that, Boto said, the com­mit­tee “real­ized that lift­ing up a mod­el that could not be enforced was an exer­cise in futil­i­ty,” and so instead draft­ed a report that “accept­ed the exis­tence of the prob­lem rather than attempt­ing to define its mag­ni­tude.”

SBC church­es and orga­ni­za­tions share resources and mate­ri­als, and togeth­er they fund mis­sion­ary trips and sem­i­nar­ies. Most pas­tors are ordained local­ly after they’ve con­vinced a small group of church elders that they’ve been called to ser­vice by God. There is no cen­tral data­base that tracks ordi­na­tions, or sex­u­al abuse con­vic­tions or alle­ga­tions.

All of that makes South­ern Bap­tist church­es high­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to preda­tors, says Christa Brown, an activist who wrote a book about being molest­ed as a child by a pas­tor at her SBC church in Farm­ers Branch, a Dal­las sub­urb.

“It’s a per­fect pro­fes­sion for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and con­vince peo­ple that he’s been called by God, and bin­go, he gets to be a South­ern Bap­tist min­is­ter,” said Brown, who lives in Col­orado. “Then he can infil­trate the entire­ty of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to big­ger church­es and more promi­nent church­es where he has more influ­ence and pow­er, and it all starts in some small church.

“It’s a porous sieve of a denom­i­na­tion.”

To try to mea­sure the prob­lem, the news­pa­pers col­lect­ed and cross-checked news reports, prison records, court records, sex offend­er reg­istries and oth­er doc­u­ments. Reporters also con­duct­ed hun­dreds of inter­views with vic­tims, church lead­ers, inves­ti­ga­tors and offend­ers.

Sev­er­al fac­tors make it like­ly that the abuse is even more wide­spread than can be doc­u­ment­ed: Vic­tims of sex­u­al assault come for­ward at a low rate; many cas­es in church­es are han­dled inter­nal­ly; and many South­ern Bap­tist church­es are in rur­al com­mu­ni­ties where media cov­er­age is sparse.

It’s clear, how­ev­er, that SBC lead­ers have long been aware of the prob­lem. Bow­ing to pres­sure from activists, the Bap­tist Gen­er­al Con­ven­tion of Texas, one of the largest SBC state orga­ni­za­tions, in 2007 pub­lished a list of eight sex offend­ers who had served in South­ern Bap­tist church­es in Texas.

Around the same time, the Rev. Thomas Doyle wrote to SBC lead­ers, implor­ing them to act. A priest and for­mer high-rank­ing lawyer for the Catholic Church, Doyle in the 1980s was one of the ear­li­est to blow the whis­tle on child sex­u­al abuse in the church. But Catholic lead­ers “lied about it ... cov­ered it up and ignored the vic­tims,” said Doyle, now retired and liv­ing in north­ern Vir­ginia.

Doyle turned to activism because of his expe­ri­ences, work that brought him clos­er to those abused in South­ern Bap­tist church­es. Their sto­ries — and how the SBC han­dled them — felt haunt­ing­ly famil­iar, he said.

“I saw the same type of behav­ior going on with the South­ern Bap­tists,” he said.

The respons­es were pre­dictable, Doyle said. In one, Frank Page, then the SBC pres­i­dent, wrote that they were “tak­ing this issue seri­ous­ly” but that local church auton­o­my pre­sent­ed “seri­ous lim­i­ta­tions.” In March, Page resigned as pres­i­dent and CEO of the SBC’s Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee for “a moral­ly inap­pro­pri­ate rela­tion­ship in the recent past,” accord­ing to the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

Details have not been dis­closed, but SBC offi­cials said they had “no rea­son to sus­pect any legal impro­pri­ety.” Page declined to be inter­viewed.

[see doc­u­ment]

Oth­er lead­ers have acknowl­edged that Bap­tist church­es are trou­bled by preda­tors but that they could not inter­fere in local church affairs. Even so, the SBC has end­ed its affil­i­a­tion with at least four church­es in the past 10 years for affirm­ing or endors­ing homo­sex­u­al behav­ior. The SBC gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments ban gay or female pas­tors, but they do not out­law con­vict­ed sex offend­ers from work­ing in church­es.

In one email to Deb­bie Vasquez, Augie Boto assured her that “no Bap­tist I know of is pre­tend­ing that ‘the prob­lem does not exist.’ ”

“There is no ques­tion that some South­ern Bap­tist min­is­ters have done crim­i­nal things, includ­ing sex­u­al abuse of chil­dren,” he wrote in a May 2007 email. “It is a sad and trag­ic truth. Hope­ful­ly, the harm ema­nat­ing from such occur­rences will cause the local church­es to be more aggres­sive­ly vig­i­lant.”

Offend­ers return to preach

The SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee also wrote in 2008 that it “would cer­tain­ly be jus­ti­fied” to end affil­i­a­tions with church­es that “inten­tion­al­ly employed a known sex­u­al offend­er or know­ing­ly placed one in a posi­tion of lead­er­ship over chil­dren or oth­er vul­ner­a­ble par­tic­i­pants in its min­istries.”

Cur­rent SBC Pres­i­dent J.D. Greear reaf­firmed that stance in an email to the Chron­i­cle, writ­ing that any church that “proves a pat­tern of sin­ful neglect — regard­ing abuse or any oth­er mat­ter — should absolute­ly be removed from fel­low­ship from the broad­er denom­i­na­tion.”

“The Bible calls for pas­tors to be peo­ple of integri­ty, known for their self-con­trol and kind­ness,” Greear wrote. “A con­vict­ed sex offend­er would cer­tain­ly not meet those qual­i­fi­ca­tions. Church­es that ignore that are out of line with both Scrip­ture and Bap­tist prin­ci­ples of coop­er­a­tion.”

But the news­pa­pers found at least 10 SBC church­es that wel­comed pas­tors, min­is­ters and vol­un­teers since 1998 who had pre­vi­ous­ly faced charges of sex­u­al mis­con­duct. In some cas­es, they were reg­is­tered sex offend­ers.

In Illi­nois, Leslie Mason returned to the pul­pit a few years after he was con­vict­ed in 2003 on two counts of crim­i­nal sex­u­al assault. Mason had been a ris­ing star in local South­ern Bap­tist cir­cles until the charges were pub­li­cized by Michael Leathers, who was then edi­tor of the state’s Bap­tist news­pa­per.

Let­ters from angry read­ers poured in. Among those upset by Leathers’ deci­sion to pub­lish the sto­ry was Glenn Akins, the inter­im exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Illi­nois Bap­tist State Asso­ci­a­tion.

“To have sin­gled Les out in such a sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic man­ner ignores many oth­ers who have done the same thing,” Akins wrote in a memo, a copy of which Leathers pro­vid­ed. “You could have asked near­ly any staff mem­ber and got­ten the names of sev­er­al oth­er promi­nent church­es where the same sort of sex­u­al mis­con­duct has occurred recent­ly in our state.”

Akins, now the assis­tant exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Bap­tist Gen­er­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Vir­ginia, declined an inter­view request.

Leathers resigned after state Bap­tist con­ven­tion lead­ers told him he might be fired and lose his sev­er­ance pay, he said. Mason, mean­while, admit­ted to inves­ti­ga­tors that he had rela­tion­ships with four dif­fer­ent girls, records show.

Mason received a sev­en-year prison sen­tence under a plea deal in which inves­ti­ga­tors dropped all but two of his charges. After his release, he returned to the pul­pit of a dif­fer­ent SBC church a few miles away.

“That just appalled me,” Leathers said. “They had to have known they put a con­vict­ed sex offend­er behind the pul­pit. ... If a church calls a woman to pas­tor their church, there are a lot of South­ern Bap­tist orga­ni­za­tions that, sad­ly, would dis­as­so­ci­ate with them imme­di­ate­ly. Why would­n’t they do the same for con­vict­ed sex offend­ers?”

Mason has since preached at mul­ti­ple SBC church­es in cen­tral Illi­nois. He said in an inter­view that those church­es “absolute­ly know about my past,” and said church­es and oth­er insti­tu­tions need “to be bet­ter at han­dling” sex­u­al abuse.

Mason said that “nobody is above reproach in all things” and that church lead­ers — par­tic­u­lar­ly those who work with chil­dren — “des­per­ate­ly need account­abil­i­ty.”

In Hous­ton, Michael Lee Jones start­ed a South­ern Bap­tist church, Cathe­dral of Faith, after his 1998 con­vic­tion for hav­ing sex with a teenage female con­gre­gant at a dif­fer­ent SBC church near­by. Jones, also leader of a non­prof­it called Touch­ing the Future Today, was includ­ed on the list of con­vict­ed min­is­ters released by the Bap­tist Gen­er­al Con­ven­tion of Texas a decade ago.

In Decem­ber, Cathe­dral of Faith cel­e­brat­ed its 20th anniver­sary at a down­town Hous­ton hotel, accord­ing to the church’s web­site. A fly­er for the event tout­ed ser­mons from Jones, anoth­er pas­tor and Joseph S. Ratliff, the long­time pas­tor of Hous­ton’s Brent­wood Bap­tist Church.

Ratliff was sued in 2003 for sex­u­al mis­con­duct with a man he was coun­sel­ing. The law­suit was set­tled and dis­missed by agree­ment of the par­ties, accord­ing to Har­ris Coun­ty court records and inter­views. The set­tle­ment is sub­ject to a con­fi­den­tial­i­ty agree­ment. Ratliff has been sued two oth­er times, one involv­ing anoth­er per­son who had come in for coun­sel­ing; the oth­er involved his han­dling of alle­ga­tions against anoth­er church offi­cial, Har­ris Coun­ty records show. The dis­po­si­tion of those two cas­es was not avail­able.

...

‘A known prob­lem’

Wade Burleson, a for­mer pres­i­dent of Okla­homa’s South­ern Bap­tist con­ven­tion, says it has long been clear that South­ern Bap­tist church­es face a cri­sis. In 2007 and 2018, he asked SBC lead­ers to study sex­u­al abuse in church­es and bring pre­ven­tion mea­sures to a vote at the SBC’s annu­al meet­ing.

Lead­ers pushed back both times, he said. Some cit­ed local church auton­o­my; oth­ers feared law­suits if the reforms did­n’t pre­vent abuse.

Burleson could­n’t help but won­der if there have been “ulte­ri­or motives” at play.

“There’s a known prob­lem, but it’s too messy to deal with,” he said in a recent inter­view. “It’s not that we can’t do it as much as we don’t want to do it. ... To me, that’s a prob­lem. You must want to do it, to do it.”

Doyle, the Catholic whistle­blow­er, was sim­i­lar­ly sus­pi­cious, if more blunt: “I under­stand the fear, because it’s going to make the lead­er­ship look bad,” he said. “Well, they are bad, and they should look bad. Because they have ignored this issue. They have demo­nized the vic­tims.”

Sev­er­al South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers and their church­es have been crit­i­cized for ignor­ing the abused or cov­er­ing for alleged preda­tors, includ­ing at Hous­ton’s Sec­ond Bap­tist, where for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Ed Young has been pas­tor since 1978. Young built the church into one of the largest and most impor­tant in the SBC; today, it counts more than 60,000 mem­bers who attend at mul­ti­ple cam­pus­es.

Before she was molest­ed in the choir room at Sec­ond Bap­tist in 1994, Heather Schnei­der filled a black note­book with poems. The sev­enth-grad­er, with long white-blond hair and sparkling green eyes, had begun to work as a mod­el. She soon attract­ed atten­tion from John Forse, who coor­di­nat­ed church pageants and pro­grams at Sec­ond Bap­tist.

He also used his posi­tion to recruit girls for pri­vate act­ing lessons, accord­ing to Har­ris Coun­ty court doc­u­ments.

A day after she was attacked, Schnei­der told her moth­er, Casa­dos, that Forse had touched her inap­pro­pri­ate­ly and tried to force her to do “hor­ren­dous things.” Casa­dos called police.

Casa­dos, who was raised a Bap­tist, said she received a call from Young, who ini­tial­ly offered to do what­ev­er he could to help her daugh­ter. But after she told Young she already had called police, he hung up and “we nev­er heard from him again,” she said in an inter­view.

It took months — and the threat of crim­i­nal charges — before Forse left his posi­tion at the church, accord­ing to state­ments made by Forse’s attor­ney at the time and Schnei­der’s respons­es to ques­tions in a relat­ed civ­il law­suit.

In August 1994, Forse received deferred adju­di­ca­tion and 10 years’ pro­ba­tion after plead­ing no con­test to two counts of inde­cen­cy with a child by con­tact. He remains a reg­is­tered sex offend­er and was lat­er con­vict­ed of a pornog­ra­phy charge. He is list­ed in the sex offend­er reg­istry as tran­sient; he could not be reached for com­ment.

Church offi­cials declined inter­view requests. In a state­ment to the Chron­i­cle, Sec­ond Bap­tist stat­ed that it takes “alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct or abuse very seri­ous­ly and con­stant­ly strives to pro­vide and main­tain a safe, Chris­t­ian envi­ron­ment for all employ­ees, church mem­bers and guests.”

IN THEIR WORDS: Vic­tims, fam­i­lies and law enforce­ment explain the dev­as­ta­tion that occurs when a child is abused by a reli­gious leader

The church declined to release its employ­ment poli­cies but described Forse as a “short-term con­tract work­er” when he was accused of sex abuse. “After Sec­ond Bap­tist became aware of the alle­ga­tions made against Forse his con­tract was ter­mi­nat­ed,” the state­ment says. “Upon noti­fi­ca­tion, Sec­ond Bap­tist Church coop­er­at­ed ful­ly with law enforce­ment in this mat­ter.”

Schnei­der’s par­ents filed a civ­il law­suit against the church, Forse and a mod­el­ing agency. The case against the church was dis­missed; its lawyers argued that Forse was not act­ing as a church employ­ee. Sec­ond Bap­tist was not part of an even­tu­al set­tle­ment.

In 1992, before Schnei­der was molest­ed, a lawyer for the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion wrote in a court fil­ing that the SBC did not dis­trib­ute instruc­tions to its mem­ber church­es on han­dling sex­u­al abuse claims. He said Sec­ond Bap­tist had no writ­ten pro­ce­dures on the top­ic.

The lawyer, Neil Mar­tin, was writ­ing in response to a law­suit that accused First Bap­tist Church of Con­roe of con­tin­u­ing to employ Riley Edward Cox Jr. as a youth pas­tor after a fam­i­ly said that he had molest­ed their child. In a court fil­ing, Cox admit­ted to molest­ing three boys in the late 1980s.

Young, SBC pres­i­dent at the time of the law­suit, was asked to out­line the orga­ni­za­tion’s poli­cies on child sex­u­al abuse as part of the law­suit. He declined to tes­ti­fy, cit­ing “local church auton­o­my” and say­ing in an affi­davit that he had “no edu­ca­tion­al train­ing in the area of sex­u­al abuse or the inves­ti­ga­tion of sex­u­al abuse claims.”

Young also said he feared tes­ti­fy­ing could jeop­ar­dize his blos­som­ing TV min­istry.

[see doc­u­ment]

Lead­ers of Sec­ond Bap­tist have been sim­i­lar­ly reluc­tant to release or dis­cuss their poli­cies on sex­u­al abuse in response to two oth­er civ­il law­suits relat­ed to sex­u­al assault claims filed in the last five years, court records show. Those suits accuse the church of ignor­ing or con­ceal­ing abus­es com­mit­ted by youth pas­tor Chad Fos­ter, who was lat­er con­vict­ed.

Anoth­er civ­il law­suit assert­ed that Sec­ond Bap­tist helped con­ceal alleged rapes by Paul Pressler, a for­mer Texas state judge and for­mer SBC vice pres­i­dent. In that suit, brought by a mem­ber of Pressler’s youth group, three oth­er men have said in affi­davits that Pressler groped them or tried to pres­sure them into sex. Sec­ond Bap­tist, how­ev­er, has been dis­missed from the suit, and the plain­tiff’s sex­u­al abuse claims against Pressler have been dis­missed because the statute of lim­i­ta­tions had expired.

Pressler has been a promi­nent mem­ber of Sec­ond Bap­tist for much of his adult life.

In its state­ment to the Chron­i­cle, Sec­ond Bap­tist said “our pol­i­cy and prac­tice have been and will con­tin­ue to be that any com­plaint of sex­u­al mis­con­duct will be heard, inves­ti­gat­ed and han­dled in a law­ful and appro­pri­ate way. Reports of sex­u­al abuse are imme­di­ate­ly report­ed to law enforce­ment offi­cials as required by law.”

‘Break her down’

Anoth­er defen­dant in the law­suit against Pressler: Paige Pat­ter­son, a for­mer SBC pres­i­dent who, with Pressler, pushed the con­ven­tion in the 1980s and 1990s to adopt lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Bible.

In May of last year, Pat­ter­son was oust­ed as pres­i­dent of South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth after he said he want­ed to meet alone with a female stu­dent who said she was raped so he could “break her down,” accord­ing to a state­ment from sem­i­nary trustees.

But his han­dling of sex­u­al abuse dates back decades. Sev­er­al women have said that Pat­ter­son ignored their claims that his ex-pro­tégé, Dar­rell Gilyard, assault­ed them at Texas church­es in the 1980s; some of those alle­ga­tions were detailed in a 1991 Dal­las Morn­ing News arti­cle.

The Gilyard case both­ered Deb­bie Vasquez. She feared oth­er vic­tims had been ignored or left to han­dle their trau­ma alone.

When Vasquez became preg­nant, she said, lead­ers of her church forced her to stand in front of the con­gre­ga­tion and ask for for­give­ness with­out say­ing who had fathered the child.

She said church mem­bers were gen­er­al­ly sup­port­ive but were nev­er told the child was their pas­tor’s. Church lead­er­ship shunned her, asked her to get an abor­tion and, when she said no, threat­ened her and her child, she said. She moved abroad soon after.

Vasquez sued her for­mer pas­tor and his church in 2006. In a depo­si­tion, the pas­tor, Dale “Dick­ie” Amyx, admit­ted to hav­ing sex with her when she was a teenag­er, though he main­tained that it was con­sen­su­al. He acknowl­edged pater­ni­ty of her child but was nev­er charged with any crime. Amyx was list­ed as the church’s pas­tor as late as 2016, state Bap­tist records show. He could not be reached for com­ment.

Amyx denies that he threat­ened or phys­i­cal­ly assault­ed Vasquez. He and his employ­er at the time of the law­suit — an SBC church Vasquez nev­er attend­ed — argued that Vasquez exag­ger­at­ed her sto­ry in an attempt to get pub­lic­i­ty for her fight for reforms, court records show.

Amyx wrote an apol­o­gy let­ter that Vasquez pro­vid­ed to the news­pa­pers; her law­suit was even­tu­al­ly dis­missed, but she con­tin­ued press­ing SBC lead­ers, includ­ing Pat­ter­son, to act. In one series of emails, she asked Pat­ter­son why lead­ers did­n’t inter­vene in cas­es such as Gilyard’s.

Pat­ter­son respond­ed force­ful­ly, writ­ing in 2008 that he “forced Gilyard to resign his church” and “called pas­tors all over the USA and since that day (Gilyard) has nev­er preached for any South­ern Bap­tist orga­ni­za­tion.”

In fact, Gilyard preached after his Texas ouster at var­i­ous church­es, includ­ing Jack­sonville’s First Bap­tist Church, which was led by for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Jer­ry Vines. It was there that Tiffany Thig­pen said she met Gilyard, who she said lat­er “vicious­ly” attacked her.

Thig­pen, who was 18 at the time, said that Vines tried to shame her into silence after she dis­closed the abuse to him. “How embar­rass­ing this will be for you,” she recalled Vines telling her. As far as Thig­pen knows, police were nev­er noti­fied.

Gilyard was con­vict­ed in 2009 of lewd and las­civ­i­ous molesta­tion of two oth­er teenage girls, both under 16, while pas­tor­ing a Flori­da church. He found work at an SBC church after his three-year prison sen­tence, prompt­ing the local South­ern Bap­tist asso­ci­a­tion to end its affil­i­a­tion.

...

Vasquez: “They made excus­es and did noth­ing.”

Thig­pen said of Vines in a recent inter­view: “You left this lit­tle sheep to get hurt and then you pro­tect­ed your­self. And I hope when you lay your head on your pil­low you think of every girl (Gilyard) hurt and life he ruined. And I hope you can’t sleep.”

...

‘Lethal’ abuse

Defen­sive respons­es from church lead­ers rank among the worst things the abused can endure, says Har­vey Rosen­stock, a Hous­ton psy­chi­a­trist who has worked for decades with vic­tims and per­pe­tra­tors of cler­gy sex­u­al abuse. They can rewire a devel­op­ing brain to for­ev­er asso­ciate faith or author­i­ty with trau­ma or betray­al, he says.

“If some­one is iden­ti­fied as a man of God, then there are no holds barred,” he said. “Your defense sys­tem is com­plete­ly par­a­lyzed. This man is speak­ing with the voice of God. ... So a per­son who is not only an author­i­ty fig­ure, but God’s ser­vant, is telling you this is between us, this is a spe­cial rela­tion­ship, this has been sanc­tioned by the Lord. That allows a young vic­tim to have almost zero defens­es. Total­ly vul­ner­a­ble.”

Rosen­stock is among a grow­ing num­ber of expert clin­i­cians who advo­cate for changes in statute of lim­i­ta­tions laws in sex­u­al abuse cas­es. They cite decades of neu­ro­science to show that those abused as chil­dren — par­tic­u­lar­ly by cler­gy — can devel­op a sort of Stock­holm syn­drome that pre­vents them for decades from rec­og­niz­ing them­selves as vic­tims.

Such was the case for most of David Pittman’s life.

...

An ath­let­ic child with an incar­cer­at­ed father, Pittman said he had dreamed about join­ing the youth group at his church near Atlanta since he was bap­tized there at age 8.

There, he could play any sport he want­ed, and at 12 he found in the youth pas­tor a much-sought father fig­ure. The groom­ing start­ed almost imme­di­ate­ly, he said: front-seat rides in the youth pas­tor’s Camaro; trips to see the Doo­bie Broth­ers and Kansas in con­cert; and, even­tu­al­ly, sleep­overs dur­ing which Pittman said he was first molest­ed. Pittman said the assaults con­tin­ued until he turned 15 and the youth pas­tor qui­et­ly moved to a new church near­by.

...

Three decades lat­er, in 2006, Pittman learned that his alleged abuser was work­ing as a youth min­is­ter in Geor­gia. Though Geor­gia’s statute of lim­i­ta­tions had by then elapsed, Pittman and oth­ers came for­ward with alle­ga­tions.

Like Pittman, Ray Har­rell grew up with­out a male fig­ure in his life. His father left ear­ly, he said, and his moth­er lat­er “threw her­self” into the church. Even­tu­al­ly the youth min­is­ter start­ed babysit­ting Har­rell, then a pre-teen. Har­rell still remem­bers the min­is­ter’s stuffed mon­key, which was used to “break the ice,” he said.

...

Pittman reached out to the church’s lead pas­tor and chair­man of the church’s dea­cons.

The dea­con said in an inter­view that he con­front­ed the youth min­is­ter and “asked him if there had ever been any­thing in his past and he acknowl­edged that there had been.” The min­is­ter also told the dea­con that he had got­ten “dis­creet” coun­sel­ing, the dea­con said.

The youth min­is­ter resigned, after which the dea­con and oth­ers began look­ing through a Myspace account that he had while employed at the church. On it, the dea­con found mes­sages “that the police should have,” he said.

The dea­con said he pro­vid­ed the Geor­gia State Bap­tist Con­ven­tion with evi­dence that the youth min­is­ter should be barred from work­ing in church­es.

The youth min­is­ter who Pittman and Har­rell say abused them still works at an SBC church in Geor­gia. The church’s lead pas­tor declined to say if he was ever made aware of the alle­ga­tions, though Pittman pro­vid­ed emails that show he reached out to the pas­tor repeat­ed­ly.

The youth min­is­ter did not return phone calls. Reached by email, he declined to be inter­viewed. The news­pa­pers are not iden­ti­fy­ing him because he has not been charged.

Anne Marie Miller says she, too, has been denied jus­tice. In July, Mark Ader­holt, a for­mer employ­ee of the South Car­oli­na Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and a for­mer mis­sion­ary, was charged in Tar­rant Coun­ty with sex­u­al­ly assault­ing Miller in the late 1990s, when she was a teenag­er. Texas elim­i­nat­ed its statute of lim­i­ta­tions for most sex crimes against chil­dren in 2007.

In 2007, Miller told the SBC’s Inter­na­tion­al Mis­sion Board about Ader­holt after he was hired there, prompt­ing an inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion that offi­cials said sup­port­ed her sto­ry. Ader­holt resigned and worked at SBC church­es in Arkansas before mov­ing to South Car­oli­na, where he worked for the state’s Bap­tist con­ven­tion.

Miller, mean­while, was told to “let it go” when she asked mis­sion board offi­cials about the inves­ti­ga­tion.

“For­give­ness is up to you alone,” gen­er­al coun­sel Derek Gaubatz wrote in one 2007 email. “It involves a deci­sion by you to for­give the oth­er per­son of the wrongs done to you, just as Christ has for­giv­en you.”

After Ader­holt’s arrest, a mis­sion board spokes­woman said it did not noti­fy his future SBC employ­ers about the alle­ga­tions in 2007 because of local church auton­o­my. The board also said that Miller at the time did not want to talk with police. She says that was because she was still trau­ma­tized.

The charges against Ader­holt are pend­ing.

Miller, 38, lives in the Fort Worth area. She says she has received sup­port from Greear, the new SBC pres­i­dent. But she’s skep­ti­cal that the SBC will act deci­sive­ly.

“I was real­ly, real­ly hope­ful that it was a turn­ing point, but I’ve been dis­ap­point­ed that there has­n’t been any mean­ing­ful action oth­er than form­ing com­mit­tees and assign­ing bud­gets, which is just good old Bap­tist red tape,” Miller said. “That’s just what you do — you form a com­mit­tee, and you put some mon­ey towards it and no change actu­al­ly hap­pens.”

The elec­tion last year of Greear, the 45-year-old pas­tor of The Sum­mit Church in Durham, N.C., was seen as a sig­nal that the SBC was mov­ing away from more rigid con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers such as Pat­ter­son. Greear has launched a group that is study­ing sex­u­al abuse at the request of Burleson and oth­ers.

Unlike in 2008, Burleson last year direct­ed his request for a sex offend­er reg­istry to the Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion, which does moral advo­ca­cy on behalf of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion. For the first time, the study of his pro­pos­al has been fund­ed.

But Greear said in an email that he is lim­it­ed by local church auton­o­my.

“Change has to begin at the ground lev­el with church­es and orga­ni­za­tions,” he wrote. “Our church­es must start stand­ing togeth­er with a com­mit­ment to take this issue much more seri­ous­ly than ever before.”

Part 2: South­ern Bap­tist church­es hired min­is­ters accused of past sex offens­es

Part 3: All too often, South­ern Bap­tist youth pas­tors take advan­tage of chil­dren

Part 4: Mis­sion­ar­ies left trail of abuse, but lead­ers stayed qui­et

Part 5: South­ern Bap­tist church­es har­bored sex offend­ers

Part 6: Sur­vivors of Bap­tist sex­u­al abuse come for­ward to help oth­ers

———

“Abuse of Faith” By Robert Dow­nen, Lise Olsen, and John Tedesco; The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle; 02/10/2019

“It’s not just a recent prob­lem: In all, since 1998, rough­ly 380 South­ern Bap­tist church lead­ers and vol­un­teers have faced alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct, the news­pa­pers found. That includes those who were con­vict­ed, cred­i­bly accused and suc­cess­ful­ly sued, and those who con­fessed or resigned. More of them worked in Texas than in any oth­er state.”

This is not a new scan­dal. Paul Pressler pow­er and influ­ence may have helped him evade jus­tice over the decades, but he had a lot of help. The same help kind of sys­tem­at­ic help that was like­ly pro­vid­ed to the rough­ly 380 South­ern Bap­tist church lead­ers and vol­un­teers who have faced alle­ga­tions of sex­u­al mis­con­duct since 1998 alone. Don’t for­get that Pressler’s abuse alle­ga­tions go back to 1978. Those were the find­ings of a six month long jour­nal­is­tic inves­ti­ga­tion first pub­lished back in Feb­ru­ary of 2019 that exam­ined thou­sands of pages of court, prison and police records and con­duct­ing hun­dreds of inter­views. Decades of sys­temic coverup and denials going all the way to the top of the SBC lead­er­ship:

...
They left behind more than 700 vic­tims, many of them shunned by their church­es, left to them­selves to rebuild their lives. Some were urged to for­give their abusers or to get abor­tions.

About 220 offend­ers have been con­vict­ed or took plea deals, and dozens of cas­es are pend­ing. They were pas­tors. Min­is­ters. Youth pas­tors. Sun­day school teach­ers. Dea­cons. Church vol­un­teers.

...

Near­ly 100 are still held in pris­ons stretch­ing from Sacra­men­to Coun­ty, Calif., to Hills­bor­ough Coun­ty, Fla., state and fed­er­al records show. Scores of oth­ers cut deals and served no time. More than 100 are reg­is­tered sex offend­ers. Some still work in South­ern Bap­tist church­es today.

Jour­nal­ists in the two news­rooms spent more than six months review­ing thou­sands of pages of court, prison and police records and con­duct­ing hun­dreds of inter­views. They built a data­base of for­mer lead­ers in South­ern Bap­tist church­es who have been con­vict­ed of sex crimes.

The inves­ti­ga­tion reveals that:

• At least 35 church pas­tors, employ­ees and vol­un­teers who exhib­it­ed preda­to­ry behav­ior were still able to find jobs at church­es dur­ing the past two decades. In some cas­es, church lead­ers appar­ent­ly failed to alert law enforce­ment about com­plaints or to warn oth­er con­gre­ga­tions about alle­ga­tions of mis­con­duct.

Sev­er­al past pres­i­dents and promi­nent lead­ers of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion are among those crit­i­cized by vic­tims for con­ceal­ing or mis­han­dling abuse com­plaints with­in their own church­es or sem­i­nar­ies.

• Some reg­is­tered sex offend­ers returned to the pul­pit. Oth­ers remain there, includ­ing a Hous­ton preach­er who sex­u­al­ly assault­ed a teenag­er and now is the prin­ci­pal offi­cer of a Hous­ton non­prof­it that works with stu­dent orga­ni­za­tions, fed­er­al records show. Its name: Touch­ing the Future Today Inc.

• Many of the vic­tims were ado­les­cents who were molest­ed, sent explic­it pho­tos or texts, exposed to pornog­ra­phy, pho­tographed nude, or repeat­ed­ly raped by youth pas­tors. Some vic­tims as young as 3 were molest­ed or raped inside pas­tors’ stud­ies and Sun­day school class­rooms. A few were adults — women and men who sought pas­toral guid­ance and instead say they were seduced or sex­u­al­ly assault­ed.
...

“Local church auton­o­my” appears to be the slo­gan SBC lead­er­ship is falling back on to jus­ti­fy its decades of inac­tion. Despite all the claims of abus­es, SBC lead­ers con­clud­ed they nev­er had any author­i­ty to do any­thing. And it’s not actu­al­ly clear that stance has even changed to this day:

...
At the core of South­ern Bap­tist doc­trine is local church auton­o­my, the idea that each church is inde­pen­dent and self-gov­ern­ing. It’s one of the main rea­sons that Boto said most of the pro­pos­als a decade ago were viewed as flawed by the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee because the com­mit­tee does­n’t have the author­i­ty to force church­es to report sex­u­al abuse to a cen­tral reg­istry.

Because of that, Boto said, the com­mit­tee “real­ized that lift­ing up a mod­el that could not be enforced was an exer­cise in futil­i­ty,” and so instead draft­ed a report that “accept­ed the exis­tence of the prob­lem rather than attempt­ing to define its mag­ni­tude.”

SBC church­es and orga­ni­za­tions share resources and mate­ri­als, and togeth­er they fund mis­sion­ary trips and sem­i­nar­ies. Most pas­tors are ordained local­ly after they’ve con­vinced a small group of church elders that they’ve been called to ser­vice by God. There is no cen­tral data­base that tracks ordi­na­tions, or sex­u­al abuse con­vic­tions or alle­ga­tions.

All of that makes South­ern Bap­tist church­es high­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to preda­tors, says Christa Brown, an activist who wrote a book about being molest­ed as a child by a pas­tor at her SBC church in Farm­ers Branch, a Dal­las sub­urb.

“It’s a per­fect pro­fes­sion for a con artist, because all he has to do is talk a good talk and con­vince peo­ple that he’s been called by God, and bin­go, he gets to be a South­ern Bap­tist min­is­ter,” said Brown, who lives in Col­orado. “Then he can infil­trate the entire­ty of the SBC, move from church to church, from state to state, go to big­ger church­es and more promi­nent church­es where he has more influ­ence and pow­er, and it all starts in some small church.

“It’s a porous sieve of a denom­i­na­tion.”
...

Note how Rev. Thomas Doyle — a priest and for­mer high-rank­ing lawyer for the Catholic Church who was one of the ear­li­est to blow the whis­tle on the ram­pant child sex­u­al abuse in the Catholic church — even wrote to SBC lead­ers back in 2007 fol­low­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of a list of eight sex offend­ers who served in SBC church­es in Texas. Doyle recounts how haunt­ing­ly famil­iar the lack of action was from the SBC lead­er­ship. This real­ly is the ‘Catholic cri­sis’ for the SBC com­mu­ni­ty:

...
Sev­er­al fac­tors make it like­ly that the abuse is even more wide­spread than can be doc­u­ment­ed: Vic­tims of sex­u­al assault come for­ward at a low rate; many cas­es in church­es are han­dled inter­nal­ly; and many South­ern Bap­tist church­es are in rur­al com­mu­ni­ties where media cov­er­age is sparse.

It’s clear, how­ev­er, that SBC lead­ers have long been aware of the prob­lem. Bow­ing to pres­sure from activists, the Bap­tist Gen­er­al Con­ven­tion of Texas, one of the largest SBC state orga­ni­za­tions, in 2007 pub­lished a list of eight sex offend­ers who had served in South­ern Bap­tist church­es in Texas.

Around the same time, the Rev. Thomas Doyle wrote to SBC lead­ers, implor­ing them to act. A priest and for­mer high-rank­ing lawyer for the Catholic Church, Doyle in the 1980s was one of the ear­li­est to blow the whis­tle on child sex­u­al abuse in the church. But Catholic lead­ers “lied about it ... cov­ered it up and ignored the vic­tims,” said Doyle, now retired and liv­ing in north­ern Vir­ginia.

Doyle turned to activism because of his expe­ri­ences, work that brought him clos­er to those abused in South­ern Bap­tist church­es. Their sto­ries — and how the SBC han­dled them — felt haunt­ing­ly famil­iar, he said.

“I saw the same type of behav­ior going on with the South­ern Bap­tists,” he said.

The respons­es were pre­dictable, Doyle said. In one, Frank Page, then the SBC pres­i­dent, wrote that they were “tak­ing this issue seri­ous­ly” but that local church auton­o­my pre­sent­ed “seri­ous lim­i­ta­tions.” In March, Page resigned as pres­i­dent and CEO of the SBC’s Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee for “a moral­ly inap­pro­pri­ate rela­tion­ship in the recent past,” accord­ing to the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

Details have not been dis­closed, but SBC offi­cials said they had “no rea­son to sus­pect any legal impro­pri­ety.” Page declined to be inter­viewed.
...

Also keep in mind that 2007 is the year Paul Pressler was trans­ferred from First Bap­tist to Sec­ond Bap­tist Church of Hous­ton, which is led by for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Ed Young. So we should­n’t be sur­prised to find Ed Young sin­gled out by a vic­tim for being par­tic­u­lar­ly unhelp­ful when she came for­ward with an abuse alle­ga­tion. As a long-time SBC leader going back to 1978, it’s hard to think of some­one more impli­cat­ed in this than Young:

...
Sev­er­al South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers and their church­es have been crit­i­cized for ignor­ing the abused or cov­er­ing for alleged preda­tors, includ­ing at Hous­ton’s Sec­ond Bap­tist, where for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Ed Young has been pas­tor since 1978. Young built the church into one of the largest and most impor­tant in the SBC; today, it counts more than 60,000 mem­bers who attend at mul­ti­ple cam­pus­es.

Before she was molest­ed in the choir room at Sec­ond Bap­tist in 1994, Heather Schnei­der filled a black note­book with poems. The sev­enth-grad­er, with long white-blond hair and sparkling green eyes, had begun to work as a mod­el. She soon attract­ed atten­tion from John Forse, who coor­di­nat­ed church pageants and pro­grams at Sec­ond Bap­tist.

He also used his posi­tion to recruit girls for pri­vate act­ing lessons, accord­ing to Har­ris Coun­ty court doc­u­ments.

A day after she was attacked, Schnei­der told her moth­er, Casa­dos, that Forse had touched her inap­pro­pri­ate­ly and tried to force her to do “hor­ren­dous things.” Casa­dos called police.

Casa­dos, who was raised a Bap­tist, said she received a call from Young, who ini­tial­ly offered to do what­ev­er he could to help her daugh­ter. But after she told Young she already had called police, he hung up and “we nev­er heard from him again,” she said in an inter­view.

It took months — and the threat of crim­i­nal charges — before Forse left his posi­tion at the church, accord­ing to state­ments made by Forse’s attor­ney at the time and Schnei­der’s respons­es to ques­tions in a relat­ed civ­il law­suit.

...

Schnei­der’s par­ents filed a civ­il law­suit against the church, Forse and a mod­el­ing agency. The case against the church was dis­missed; its lawyers argued that Forse was not act­ing as a church employ­ee. Sec­ond Bap­tist was not part of an even­tu­al set­tle­ment.

In 1992, before Schnei­der was molest­ed, a lawyer for the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion wrote in a court fil­ing that the SBC did not dis­trib­ute instruc­tions to its mem­ber church­es on han­dling sex­u­al abuse claims. He said Sec­ond Bap­tist had no writ­ten pro­ce­dures on the top­ic.

The lawyer, Neil Mar­tin, was writ­ing in response to a law­suit that accused First Bap­tist Church of Con­roe of con­tin­u­ing to employ Riley Edward Cox Jr. as a youth pas­tor after a fam­i­ly said that he had molest­ed their child. In a court fil­ing, Cox admit­ted to molest­ing three boys in the late 1980s.

Young, SBC pres­i­dent at the time of the law­suit, was asked to out­line the orga­ni­za­tion’s poli­cies on child sex­u­al abuse as part of the law­suit. He declined to tes­ti­fy, cit­ing “local church auton­o­my” and say­ing in an affi­davit that he had “no edu­ca­tion­al train­ing in the area of sex­u­al abuse or the inves­ti­ga­tion of sex­u­al abuse claims.”

Young also said he feared tes­ti­fy­ing could jeop­ar­dize his blos­som­ing TV min­istry.
...

But Young obvi­ous­ly isn’t the only SBC leader impli­cat­ed in this. And that brings us to for­mer SBC pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son, one of the oth­er defen­dants in Rollins’s law­suit against Paul Pressler and the SBC lead­er­ship. Pat­ter­son, and his wife Dorothy Kel­ly Pat­ter­son, are both mem­bers of the CNP. In May of 2018, Pat­ter­son was oust­ed as pres­i­dent of South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth, Texas, after it was revealed he said he want­ed to meet alone with a female stu­dent who said she was raped so he could “break her down”:

...
Anoth­er civ­il law­suit assert­ed that Sec­ond Bap­tist helped con­ceal alleged rapes by Paul Pressler, a for­mer Texas state judge and for­mer SBC vice pres­i­dent. In that suit, brought by a mem­ber of Pressler’s youth group, three oth­er men have said in affi­davits that Pressler groped them or tried to pres­sure them into sex. Sec­ond Bap­tist, how­ev­er, has been dis­missed from the suit, and the plain­tiff’s sex­u­al abuse claims against Pressler have been dis­missed because the statute of lim­i­ta­tions had expired.

Pressler has been a promi­nent mem­ber of Sec­ond Bap­tist for much of his adult life.

In its state­ment to the Chron­i­cle, Sec­ond Bap­tist said “our pol­i­cy and prac­tice have been and will con­tin­ue to be that any com­plaint of sex­u­al mis­con­duct will be heard, inves­ti­gat­ed and han­dled in a law­ful and appro­pri­ate way. Reports of sex­u­al abuse are imme­di­ate­ly report­ed to law enforce­ment offi­cials as required by law.”

‘Break her down’

Anoth­er defen­dant in the law­suit against Pressler: Paige Pat­ter­son, a for­mer SBC pres­i­dent who, with Pressler, pushed the con­ven­tion in the 1980s and 1990s to adopt lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions of the Bible.

In May of last year, Pat­ter­son was oust­ed as pres­i­dent of South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth after he said he want­ed to meet alone with a female stu­dent who said she was raped so he could “break her down,” accord­ing to a state­ment from sem­i­nary trustees.

But his han­dling of sex­u­al abuse dates back decades. Sev­er­al women have said that Pat­ter­son ignored their claims that his ex-pro­tégé, Dar­rell Gilyard, assault­ed them at Texas church­es in the 1980s; some of those alle­ga­tions were detailed in a 1991 Dal­las Morn­ing News arti­cle.
...

Final­ly, again, note the gross hypocrisy here: the SBC lead­er­ship is unwill­ing to take actions against sys­temic sex­u­al abuse tak­ing place with­in its mem­ber church­es thanks to the “local church auton­o­my” doc­trine. But it’s fine with kick­ing out church­es for affirm­ing the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty. It’s weird how that local auton­o­my works:

...
[see doc­u­ment]

Oth­er lead­ers have acknowl­edged that Bap­tist church­es are trou­bled by preda­tors but that they could not inter­fere in local church affairs. Even so, the SBC has end­ed its affil­i­a­tion with at least four church­es in the past 10 years for affirm­ing or endors­ing homo­sex­u­al behav­ior. The SBC gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments ban gay or female pas­tors, but they do not out­law con­vict­ed sex offend­ers from work­ing in church­es.
...

And don’t for­get, that was just Part 1 in the Hous­ton Chron­i­cle’s amaz­ing 6 Part series. There’s a lot more on this sto­ry.

Although we did get an update back in April. It’s a some­what mys­te­ri­ous update: Rollins agreed to set­tle in his suit against Paige Pat­ter­son in an undis­closed set­tle­ment. The law­suits against Pressler, the SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, and oth­ers involved in suit is still ongo­ing. So in 2004, Rollins man­aged to get Pressler to set­tle in an undis­closed set­tle­ment. And almost 20 years lat­er, his­to­ry sort of repeats itself:

The Ten­nessean

SBC sem­i­nary and promi­nent for­mer leader set­tle in high-pro­file abuse law­suit, SBC still defend­ing

Liam Adams
Nashville Ten­nessean
Pub­lished 5:00 a.m. CT April 20, 2023

Key Points

* Ger­ald D. Rollins, Jr. is suing Paul Pressler, a promi­nent for­mer SBC leader and for­mer Texas Court of Appeals judge, over abuse alle­ga­tions, and the SBC and oth­ers for fail­ure to pre­vent abuse.
* Rollins set­tled with South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary and Paige Pat­ter­son, for­mer South­west­ern pres­i­dent and who led the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence move­ment in the SBC with Pressler.
* Rollins is still suing Pressler, SBC and SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, and oth­ers in case that’s sched­uled for tri­al in May.

A promi­nent for­mer leader in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and an SBC sem­i­nary set­tled a law­suit with an alleged sex­u­al abuse vic­tim. But the high-stakes case remains pend­ing against two oth­ers — anoth­er promi­nent South­ern Bap­tist leader and the denom­i­na­tion itself.

Ger­ald D. Rollins, Jr. agreed to an undis­closed set­tle­ment with South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth, Texas and for­mer South­west­ern pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son, a major devel­op­ment in a six-year-long case against Paul Pressler.

The set­tle­ment leaves Pressler, the SBC and SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, and First Bap­tist Church Hous­ton as defen­dants in the case, which is set for tri­al in May. The case’s even­tu­al con­clu­sion is poten­tial­ly prece­dent set­ting for the Nashville-based SBC and the respon­si­bil­i­ty of its top lead­ers to address sex­u­al abuse.

Pressler, a for­mer Texas Court of Appeals judge, and Pat­ter­son famous­ly led the late 20th-cen­tu­ry Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence move­ment in the SBC that pulled the denom­i­na­tion fur­ther to the right. It was dur­ing that same time Pressler alleged­ly repeat­ed­ly sex­u­al­ly abused Rollins, accord­ing to the law­suit.

Rollins’ case has sent shock­waves in the SBC and in Texas. It led to an adja­cent Texas Supreme Court case over the statute of lim­i­ta­tions and Rollins’ abil­i­ty to sue Pressler. The Texas Supreme Court ruled last April in favor of Rollins, who argued the trau­ma of the abuse caused him to sup­press mem­o­ries until 2016.

For the SBC, Rollins’ law­suit, through which addi­tion­al abuse alle­ga­tions against Pressler have emerged, helped spark a reck­on­ing over abuse through­out the con­ven­tion and cov­er-up by its top lead­ers. That reck­on­ing is recent­ly marked by a his­toric report in May fol­low­ing a third-par­ty inves­ti­ga­tion and ongo­ing reform led by a task force.

“Dr. Pat­ter­son is grate­ful that he has been removed from a suit that he should nev­er have been includ­ed,” J. Shel­by Sharpe, Pat­ter­son­’s attor­ney, said in a state­ment. “No mon­ey was paid on Dr. Pat­ter­son­’s behalf or by him to have him non-suit­ed.”

...

Suing South­west­ern and Pat­ter­son

Rollins’ case against South­west­ern and Pat­ter­son was part of a larg­er effort to hold SBC insti­tu­tions respon­si­ble for Pressler’s alleged abuse.

“Rather than report­ing, they col­lec­tive­ly con­cealed,” Rollins said in an amend­ed com­plaint about sev­en defen­dants. “Rather than coop­er­at­ing in the work­ings of jus­tice, they col­lec­tive­ly obstruct­ed it.”

Rollins sued Pat­ter­son because of his rela­tion­ship with Pressler. Rollins sued South­west­ern most­ly because Pat­ter­son was its pres­i­dent between 2003–2018.

Due to Pat­ter­son and Pressler’s tight rela­tion­ship as they led the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence, Rollins calls Pat­ter­son a “joint enter­pris­er” in the law­suit, a term that places lia­bil­i­ty on Pat­ter­son for not speak­ing up about sus­pect­ed abuse.

Rollins said he inter­act­ed with Pat­ter­son on sev­er­al occa­sions dur­ing the time of Pressler’s alleged abuse between 1979–2004, accord­ing to Rollins’ amend­ed com­plaint. Lat­er, when Pressler hired Rollins at his law firm in 2002, Pressler alleged­ly called Rollins his “spe­cial office assis­tant” to Pat­ter­son, the com­plaint said.

But Pat­ter­son denies abuse alle­ga­tions against Pressler and any pri­or knowl­edge of Pressler’s abu­sive behav­ior, accord­ing to recent­ly released court fil­ings, includ­ing a depo­si­tion tran­script.

“I can­not make a judg­ment about whether it’s true,” Pat­ter­son said in a depo­si­tion on Jan. 11, 2023. It was only on a trip to North Africa that includ­ed Pressler, Pat­ter­son and Rollins that Pat­ter­son said he inter­act­ed with Rollins.

Pat­ter­son has faced his own series of scan­dal relat­ed to abuse in the SBC.

When he was pres­i­dent of South­west­ern in 2015 and pres­i­dent of South­east­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in 2003, he report­ed­ly treat­ed female sem­i­nar­i­ans with hos­til­i­ty after they came for­ward with reports of sex­u­al assault and down­played their reports.

Reports of both inci­dents led South­west­ern to fire Pat­ter­son in 2018, and the lat­ter case led to a law­suit against Pat­ter­son in fed­er­al court. A judge in that case dis­missed some claims against Pat­ter­son ahead of a tri­al sched­uled for ear­ly April.

Suing the SBC

Rollins’ suit still includes the SBC, SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, First Bap­tist Church in Hous­ton and Pressler’s for­mer law part­ners.

Rollins’ argu­ment against the SBC and SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee is based on mul­ti­ple fac­tors, such as that Pressler served on the SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee. The exec­u­tive com­mit­tee man­ages denom­i­na­tion busi­ness out­side the SBC annu­al meet­ing.

...

The SBC denies all alle­ga­tions it’s fac­ing from Rollins, accord­ing to a recent court fil­ing. Due to the bot­tom-up struc­ture of the SBC, it’s always been a high bar for sur­vivors to sue the SBC for inci­dents of abuse at a local South­ern Bap­tist church.

How­ev­er, Rollins’ suit and oth­ers have cit­ed the report from Guide­post in May to argue the SBC has a hier­ar­chy and a respon­si­bil­i­ty to pre­vent abuse in local church­es. The con­ven­tion is also fac­ing two defama­tion law­suits from alleged abusers.

———-

“SBC sem­i­nary and promi­nent for­mer leader set­tle in high-pro­file abuse law­suit, SBC still defend­ing” by Liam Adams; The Ten­nessean; 04/20/2023

Ger­ald D. Rollins, Jr. agreed to an undis­closed set­tle­ment with South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth, Texas and for­mer South­west­ern pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son, a major devel­op­ment in a six-year-long case against Paul Pressler.”

We don’t know what exact­ly the set­tle­ment was, but we know Paige Pat­ter­son set­tled. And based on every­thing else we know about this case, that was prob­a­bly a for­tu­itous turn of events for Pat­ter­son, who worked so close­ly to Pressler over the decades that Rollins called them a “joint enter­prise” in the law­suit. And note how Rollins’s abuse at the hands of Pressler did­n’t just include his inter­ac­tions with Pressler as his youth pas­tor. Rollins got a job at Wood­fill & Pressler in 2002, where he served as Pat­ter­son­’s “spe­cial office assis­tant”. Or at least that’s how Pressler describe Rollins’s job to Pat­ter­son at the time:

...
Pressler, a for­mer Texas Court of Appeals judge, and Pat­ter­son famous­ly led the late 20th-cen­tu­ry Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence move­ment in the SBC that pulled the denom­i­na­tion fur­ther to the right. It was dur­ing that same time Pressler alleged­ly repeat­ed­ly sex­u­al­ly abused Rollins, accord­ing to the law­suit.

...

Due to Pat­ter­son and Pressler’s tight rela­tion­ship as they led the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence, Rollins calls Pat­ter­son a “joint enter­pris­er” in the law­suit, a term that places lia­bil­i­ty on Pat­ter­son for not speak­ing up about sus­pect­ed abuse.

Rollins said he inter­act­ed with Pat­ter­son on sev­er­al occa­sions dur­ing the time of Pressler’s alleged abuse between 1979–2004, accord­ing to Rollins’ amend­ed com­plaint. Lat­er, when Pressler hired Rollins at his law firm in 2002, Pressler alleged­ly called Rollins his “spe­cial office assis­tant” to Pat­ter­son, the com­plaint said.
...

But this set­tle­ment was­n’t a set­tle­ment for Pressler, or the rest of the defend­ents in the case. This case isn’t over:

...
The set­tle­ment leaves Pressler, the SBC and SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, and First Bap­tist Church Hous­ton as defen­dants in the case, which is set for tri­al in May. The case’s even­tu­al con­clu­sion is poten­tial­ly prece­dent set­ting for the Nashville-based SBC and the respon­si­bil­i­ty of its top lead­ers to address sex­u­al abuse.

...

Rollins sued Pat­ter­son because of his rela­tion­ship with Pressler. Rollins sued South­west­ern most­ly because Pat­ter­son was its pres­i­dent between 2003–2018.

...

Rollins’ suit still includes the SBC, SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, First Bap­tist Church in Hous­ton and Pressler’s for­mer law part­ners.
...

You have to won­der if some future law­suit against Pat­ter­son, Pressler, or the SBC will ulti­mate­ly end up reveal­ing the nature of this undis­closed set­tle­ment. It’s pos­si­ble. Just ask Jared Wood­fill.

The Judge Paul Pressler School of Law: Mike Johnson’s College that Never Was

So that was our look at the broad­er con­text sur­round­ing Mike John­son’s sur­prise Speak­er­ship. But we aren’t quite done yet. There’s a fas­ci­nat­ing piece of Mike John­son’s his­to­ry worth recount­ing here: the time Mike John­son was hired back in 2010 to lead a Chris­t­ian legal school that nev­er exist­ed. It tried to exist, mind you. But real­i­ty got in the way. Real­i­ties like embez­zle­ment of the funds need­ed to get the school start­ed. John­son was­n’t per­son­al­ly charged with any wrong­do­ing and end­ed up resign­ing from the posi­tion in 2012 and return­ing to his role as a Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist legal advo­cate.

Now here’s the part that’s sad­ly poignant giv­en every­thing we just looked at: the name of law school to be was the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law. It was sup­posed to be the kind of law school that admin­is­tra­tors boast­ed would “unashamed­ly embrace” a “bib­li­cal world­view.”

Five years after John­son left that role, of course, Pressler and much of the rest of the SBC found them­selves fac­ing Rollins’s sec­ond still-ongo­ing law­suit. So while it was pre­sum­ably seen as mis­for­tune when the school was pre­emp­tive­ly shut­tered, that may not have been the worst out­come all things con­sid­ered:

Asso­ci­at­ed Press

House Speak­er Mike John­son was once the dean of a Chris­t­ian law school. It nev­er opened its doors

By BRIAN SLODYSKO
Updat­ed 8:25 PM CST, Octo­ber 31, 2023

WASHINGTON (AP) — Before House Speak­er Mike John­son was elect­ed to pub­lic office, he was the dean of a small Bap­tist law school that didn’t exist.

The estab­lish­ment of the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law was sup­posed to be a cap­stone achieve­ment for Louisiana Col­lege, which admin­is­tra­tors boast­ed would “unashamed­ly embrace” a “bib­li­cal world­view.” Instead, it col­lapsed rough­ly a decade ago with­out enrolling stu­dents or open­ing its doors amid infight­ing by offi­cials, accu­sa­tions of finan­cial impro­pri­ety and dif­fi­cul­ty obtain­ing accred­i­ta­tion, which fright­ened away would-be donors.

There is no indi­ca­tion that John­son engaged in wrong­do­ing while employed by the pri­vate col­lege, now known as Louisiana Chris­t­ian Uni­ver­si­ty. But as a vir­tu­al­ly unknown play­er in Wash­ing­ton, the episode offers insight into how John­son nav­i­gat­ed lead­er­ship chal­lenges that echo the chaos, feud­ing and hard-right pol­i­tics that have come to define the Repub­li­can House major­i­ty he now leads.

The chap­ter is just the lat­est to sur­face since the four-term congressman’s improb­a­ble elec­tion as speak­er last week fol­low­ing the ouster of for­mer Speak­er Kevin McCarthy, a reminder of his long­stand­ing ties to the Chris­t­ian right, which is now a dom­i­nant force in GOP pol­i­tics.

It’s also a mile­stone that he does not typ­i­cal­ly men­tion when dis­cussing a pre-Con­gress resume that includes work as lit­i­ga­tor for con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian groups that fierce­ly opposed gay rights and abor­tion, as well as his brief tenure as a Louisiana law­mak­er who pushed leg­is­la­tion that sanc­tioned dis­crim­i­na­tion for reli­gious rea­sons.

...

“The law school deal was real­ly an anom­aly,” said Gene Mills, a long­time friend of Johnson’s. “It was a great idea. But due to issues that were out of Mike’s hands that came unrav­eled.”

J. Michael John­son Esq., as he was then known pro­fes­sion­al­ly, was hired in 2010 to be the “inau­gur­al dean” of the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law, named for a South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion lumi­nary who was instru­men­tal in the faith group’s turn to the polit­i­cal right in the 1980s. The board of trustees who brought John­son onboard includ­ed Tony Perkins, a long­time men­tor who is now the pres­i­dent of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil in Wash­ing­ton, a pow­er­house Chris­t­ian lob­by­ing orga­ni­za­tion that the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter clas­si­fies as an anti-gay “hate group.”

In ear­ly pub­lic remarks, John­son pre­dict­ed a bright future for the school, and col­lege offi­cials hoped it would some­day rival the law school at Lib­er­ty Uni­ver­si­ty, the evan­gel­i­cal insti­tu­tion found­ed by the Rev. Jer­ry Fal­well.

“From a pure fea­si­bil­i­ty stand­point,” John­son said, “I’m not sure how this can fail.” Accord­ing to the Dai­ly Town Talk, a news­pa­per in Alexan­dria, Louisiana, he added that it looked “like the per­fect storm for our law school.”

Real­i­ty soon intrud­ed.

For sev­er­al years before Johnson’s arrival, the col­lege had been in a state of tur­moil fol­low­ing a board takeover by con­ser­v­a­tives who felt the school had become too lib­er­al. They imple­ment­ed poli­cies that restrict­ed aca­d­e­m­ic free­doms, includ­ing the poten­tial fir­ing of instruc­tors whose cur­ricu­lum touched upon sex­u­al moral­i­ty or teach­ings con­tra­dic­to­ry to the Bible.

The school’s pres­i­dent and oth­er fac­ul­ty resigned, and the col­lege was placed on pro­ba­tion by an accred­i­ta­tion agency.

But a shale oil boom in the area also brought a wave of pros­per­i­ty from new­ly enriched donors. And school offi­cials, led by pres­i­dent Joe Aguil­lard, had grand ambi­tions beyond just the law school, which includ­ed open­ing a med­ical school, a film school and mak­ing a movie adap­ta­tion of the 1960s pas­toral com­e­dy TV show “Green Acres.”

Bring­ing John­son into the school’s lead­er­ship helped fur­ther those ambi­tions. As dean of the pro­posed law school, John­son embarked on a major fundrais­ing cam­paign and described a big-dol­lar event in Hous­ton with for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, then-Louisiana Gov. Bob­by Jin­dal and Pressler, accord­ing to an account John­son wrote in a 2011 alum­ni mag­a­zine.

But he strug­gled to draw an ade­quate amount of cash while dra­ma per­co­lat­ed behind the scenes. That cul­mi­nat­ed in a flur­ry of law­suits, includ­ing a whistle­blow­er claim by a school vice pres­i­dent, who accused Aguil­lard of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing mon­ey and lying to the board, accord­ing to court records.

A law firm brought in to con­duct an inves­ti­ga­tion lat­er con­clud­ed in a 2013 report that Aguil­lard had inap­pro­pri­ate­ly divert­ed funds to a school the insti­tu­tion hoped to build in Africa, as well as for per­son­al expens­es.

...

Mean­while, the his­toric for­mer fed­er­al cour­t­house in Shreve­port that was select­ed as the law school’s cam­pus required at least $20 mil­lion in ren­o­va­tions. The envi­ron­ment turned unten­able after the school was denied accred­i­ta­tion to issue juris doc­tor­ate degrees and major donors backed away from their finan­cial pledges.

“Mike worked dili­gent­ly to assem­ble a very elite fac­ul­ty and cur­ricu­lum,” said Gilbert Lit­tle, who was involved in the effort. But “fundrais­ing for a small pri­vate col­lege is very, very dif­fi­cult.”

John­son resigned in the fall of 2012 and went back to lit­i­gat­ing for Chris­t­ian caus­es. He also start­ed a new pro-bono firm, Free­dom Guard, which Perkins served as a direc­tor, busi­ness fil­ings show.

Five years lat­er, Pressler, the school’s name­sake, was sued in a civ­il case that has since grown to include alle­ga­tions of abuse by mul­ti­ple men who say he sex­u­al­ly assault­ed them, some when they were chil­dren. The mat­ter, which is still pend­ing in court, helped spark a broad­er reck­on­ing by the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion over its han­dling of claims of sex­u­al abuse.

Lit­tle said the school was named after Pressler because he had a close rela­tion­ship with the institution’s lead­ers. John­son didn’t stray entire­ly from the school. He rep­re­sent­ed the col­lege for six more years in a case chal­leng­ing a man­date in then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law that required employ­ers to pro­vide work­ers access to birth con­trol, court records show.

It was the type of case that has defined his legal career.

The 51-year-old John­son was born in Shreve­port, Louisiana, the eldest of four chil­dren in what he has described as a “tra­di­tion­al Chris­t­ian house­hold.” Tragedy struck when John­son was 12.

His father, Pat, a Shreve­port fire­fight­er and haz­ardous mate­ri­als spe­cial­ist, was crit­i­cal­ly injured when ammo­nia gas leak­ing inside a cold stor­age facil­i­ty explod­ed dur­ing an emer­gency repair — leav­ing him per­ma­nent­ly dis­abled, while killing his part­ner.

“None of our lives would ever be the same again,” his son wrote years lat­er in a com­men­tary piece pub­lished in the Shreve­port Times.

John­son and his wife, Kel­ly, mar­ried in 1999, enter­ing into a covenant mar­riage, which both have tout­ed for the dif­fi­cul­ty it pos­es to obtain­ing a divorce, and the cou­ple served as a pub­lic face of an effort by evan­gel­i­cal con­ser­v­a­tives to pro­mote such mar­riages. In 2005, Kel­ly John­son told ABC News that she viewed any­thing less as “mar­riage-light.”

John­son has said he was the first in his fam­i­ly to grad­u­ate col­lege, enrolling at Louisiana State Uni­ver­si­ty, where he earned a law degree in 1998. He also worked on the 1996 Sen­ate cam­paign of Louis “Woody” Jenk­ins, where he had an ear­ly brush with a con­test­ed elec­tion.

Jenk­ins, a con­ser­v­a­tive state law­mak­er, nar­row­ly lost to Demo­c­rat Mary Lan­drieu amid alle­ga­tions of vot­er fraud, includ­ing bal­lots cast by dead peo­ple and vot­ers who were paid. A sub­se­quent inves­ti­ga­tion by the Senate’s then-Repub­li­can major­i­ty found no evi­dence “to prove that fraud or irreg­u­lar­i­ties affect­ed the out­come of the elec­tion.”

But in the wake of Trump’s 2020 elec­tion loss, which John­son played a lead­ing role in dis­put­ing, the con­gress­man offered a dif­fer­ing view of the decades-old con­test while describ­ing him­self as a young law stu­dent “car­ry­ing around everyone’s brief­cas­es.”

“Even though we had all the evi­dence all wrapped up,” John­son, told Louisiana radio host Moon Grif­fon in 2020, the Sen­ate “put it in a clos­et and nev­er looked at it again.”

Even though Jenk­ins lost, John­son drew notice from con­ser­v­a­tive activists who worked on the cam­paign.

Among them was Perkins, the founder of the Louisiana Fam­i­ly Forum, who has long pro­mot­ed an exis­ten­tial clash between pious Chris­tians and deca­dent lib­er­als. He did not respond to a request for com­ment.

Mills, a long­time Perkins con­fi­dant who now leads the Louisiana Fam­i­ly Forum, called Johnson’s ascen­sion to House speak­er “a won­der­ful day in Amer­i­ca,” adding, “if you don’t believe God is at work in the midst of this, then you aren’t pay­ing atten­tion.”

Of his ini­tial inter­ac­tions with John­son, Mills said, “he just glowed.“

“The real­i­ty is Mike added val­ue every­where he went. And that was evi­dent from the ear­ly days,” Mills said.

Soon John­son was rep­re­sent­ing the group and oth­ers dur­ing his rough­ly decade-long tenure as an attor­ney for the Alliance Defense Fund, a non­prof­it legal orga­ni­za­tion still in its infan­cy, which pre­sent­ed itself as a bul­wark for tra­di­tion­al fam­i­ly val­ues.

The group is no longer an upstart. Now known as the Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, or ADF, the orga­ni­za­tion raised over $100 mil­lion in 2022 and con­ceived the legal strat­e­gy that led to the Supreme Court last year over­turn­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al right to an abor­tion, among oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive wins it helped secure from the high court.

Much of Johnson’s ear­ly work for ADF was far more pro­sa­ic. In court and before pub­lic boards, he rep­re­sent­ed con­ser­v­a­tives on issues relat­ed to the exer­cise of faith in schools and alco­hol reg­u­la­tions, as well as zon­ing dis­putes over casi­nos and strip clubs.

But Johnson’s vehe­ment oppo­si­tion to the bur­geon­ing gay rights move­ment in the mid-2000s soon gar­nered greater atten­tion.

In 2004, John­son and the ADF filed suit, seek­ing to over­turn a New Orleans law that allowed same-sex part­ners of city work­ers to receive health ben­e­fits, which a judge reject­ed.

He also wrote a semi-reg­u­lar guest col­umn in the Shreve­port Times, where his defens­es of “reli­gious lib­er­ty” includ­ed stri­dent­ly anti-gay rhetoric, includ­ing a pre­dic­tion that same-sex mar­riage would be a “dark har­bin­ger of chaos and sex­u­al anar­chy that could doom even the strongest repub­lic.”

...

Anoth­er col­umn lament­ed the Supreme Court’s deci­sion in 2004 to over­turn a Texas law that out­lawed same-sex inti­ma­cy, which John­son referred to as “devi­ate sex­u­al inter­course.”

His advo­ca­cy did not occur in a polit­i­cal vac­u­um. Then-Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s reelec­tion cam­paign was look­ing to ener­gize turnout among social con­ser­v­a­tives, tap­ping allies across the U.S. to place ref­er­en­dums oppos­ing gay mar­riage on the bal­lot in hopes of doing so. It’s a role John­son leaned into.

In 2004, he rep­re­sent­ed the Louisiana Fam­i­ly Forum in oppos­ing a case filed by gay rights sup­port­ers who sought to block a vot­er-approved state con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment that pro­hib­it­ed “civ­il unions” — a legal pre­cur­sor to same-sex mar­riage — and cod­i­fied mar­riage as between one man and one woman.

The amend­ment was over­whelm­ing­ly approved in an unusu­al and low-turnout elec­tion, held weeks before the 2004 pres­i­den­tial con­test, in which it was the only issue on the bal­lot. The elec­tion was marred by the late deliv­ery of vot­ing machines to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic strong­hold of Orleans Parish.

In a legal brief, John­son chid­ed gay rights sup­port­ers for chal­leng­ing the out­come in court.

“Dis­con­tent with an election’s results does not enti­tle one to have it over­turned,” he wrote. Near­ly two decades lat­er, John­son, then in Trump’s cor­ner, would effec­tive­ly argue the oppo­site.

Johnson’s harsh rhetoric in the ear­ly 2000s sur­round­ing the issue of gay rights con­trasts stark­ly with the ami­able image he cul­ti­vat­ed fol­low­ing his elec­tion to pub­lic office, which is punc­tu­at­ed with appeals for “a respect­ful, diverse soci­ety where cit­i­zens from all view­points can peace­ful­ly coex­ist.”

Yet his argu­ments often obscure a far more strik­ing real­i­ty.

The Mar­riage and Con­science Act, which he spon­sored as a fresh­man state rep­re­sen­ta­tive in 2015, would have effec­tive­ly blocked Louisiana from pun­ish­ing busi­ness own­ers and work­ers who dis­crim­i­nat­ed against gay cou­ples, so long as it was for reli­gious rea­sons — sim­i­lar to argu­ments invoked dur­ing the Civ­il Rights era against inter­ra­cial mar­riage. The bill was reject­ed by law­mak­ers in both par­ties.

The fol­low­ing year, crit­ics charged that his “Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act,” which was focused on gay mar­riage, would also cre­ate a legal defense for cler­gy who opposed inter­ra­cial mar­riage. John­son, who has an adopt­ed Black son, acknowl­edged the point but argued it wasn’t a big deal because oppo­si­tion to inter­ra­cial mar­riage was an issue of the past — unlike gay mar­riage.

“Maybe there are some peo­ple out there who do that. But it’s not a big cur­rent issue, I think we would agree, at least in the courts and the court of pub­lic opin­ion,” John­son said dur­ing a 2016 com­mit­tee hear­ing.

The bill was reject­ed by law­mak­ers in both par­ties. John­son was elect­ed to Con­gress the next fall, draw­ing his short tenure as a law­mak­er in Baton Rouge to a close.

Lamar White Jr., a pro­gres­sive who wrote a wide­ly read Louisiana polit­i­cal blog, said his inter­ac­tions with John­son were always pleas­ant, even if he “dis­agreed with every­thing he stood for.”

“His climb to the top is not sur­pris­ing con­sid­er­ing his per­son­al charm, his charis­ma and intel­lect, which were dis­arm­ing,” said White. “That obscured the end goal and what he was real­ly up to.”

———–

“House Speak­er Mike John­son was once the dean of a Chris­t­ian law school. It nev­er opened its doors” by BRIAN SLODYSKO; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 10/31/2023

The estab­lish­ment of the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law was sup­posed to be a cap­stone achieve­ment for Louisiana Col­lege, which admin­is­tra­tors boast­ed would “unashamed­ly embrace” a “bib­li­cal world­view.” Instead, it col­lapsed rough­ly a decade ago with­out enrolling stu­dents or open­ing its doors amid infight­ing by offi­cials, accu­sa­tions of finan­cial impro­pri­ety and dif­fi­cul­ty obtain­ing accred­i­ta­tion, which fright­ened away would-be donors.”

Well look at that. The Judge Paul Pressler School of Law. The school that nev­er was. It was going to be Mike John­son’s next big project back in 2010:

...
J. Michael John­son Esq., as he was then known pro­fes­sion­al­ly, was hired in 2010 to be the “inau­gur­al dean” of the Judge Paul Pressler School of Law, named for a South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion lumi­nary who was instru­men­tal in the faith group’s turn to the polit­i­cal right in the 1980s. The board of trustees who brought John­son onboard includ­ed Tony Perkins, a long­time men­tor who is now the pres­i­dent of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil in Wash­ing­ton, a pow­er­house Chris­t­ian lob­by­ing orga­ni­za­tion that the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter clas­si­fies as an anti-gay “hate group.”

...

For sev­er­al years before Johnson’s arrival, the col­lege had been in a state of tur­moil fol­low­ing a board takeover by con­ser­v­a­tives who felt the school had become too lib­er­al. They imple­ment­ed poli­cies that restrict­ed aca­d­e­m­ic free­doms, includ­ing the poten­tial fir­ing of instruc­tors whose cur­ricu­lum touched upon sex­u­al moral­i­ty or teach­ings con­tra­dic­to­ry to the Bible.

The school’s pres­i­dent and oth­er fac­ul­ty resigned, and the col­lege was placed on pro­ba­tion by an accred­i­ta­tion agency.

But a shale oil boom in the area also brought a wave of pros­per­i­ty from new­ly enriched donors. And school offi­cials, led by pres­i­dent Joe Aguil­lard, had grand ambi­tions beyond just the law school, which includ­ed open­ing a med­ical school, a film school and mak­ing a movie adap­ta­tion of the 1960s pas­toral com­e­dy TV show “Green Acres.”

Bring­ing John­son into the school’s lead­er­ship helped fur­ther those ambi­tions. As dean of the pro­posed law school, John­son embarked on a major fundrais­ing cam­paign and described a big-dol­lar event in Hous­ton with for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, then-Louisiana Gov. Bob­by Jin­dal and Pressler, accord­ing to an account John­son wrote in a 2011 alum­ni mag­a­zine.
...

But then the embez­zle­ment charges came, along with costs for get­ting the cam­pus ready that the school could­n’t afford. John­son end­ed up resign­ing in 2012, return­ing to his career as a Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist legal cru­sad­er:

...
But he strug­gled to draw an ade­quate amount of cash while dra­ma per­co­lat­ed behind the scenes. That cul­mi­nat­ed in a flur­ry of law­suits, includ­ing a whistle­blow­er claim by a school vice pres­i­dent, who accused Aguil­lard of mis­ap­pro­pri­at­ing mon­ey and lying to the board, accord­ing to court records.

A law firm brought in to con­duct an inves­ti­ga­tion lat­er con­clud­ed in a 2013 report that Aguil­lard had inap­pro­pri­ate­ly divert­ed funds to a school the insti­tu­tion hoped to build in Africa, as well as for per­son­al expens­es.

...

Mean­while, the his­toric for­mer fed­er­al cour­t­house in Shreve­port that was select­ed as the law school’s cam­pus required at least $20 mil­lion in ren­o­va­tions. The envi­ron­ment turned unten­able after the school was denied accred­i­ta­tion to issue juris doc­tor­ate degrees and major donors backed away from their finan­cial pledges.

“Mike worked dili­gent­ly to assem­ble a very elite fac­ul­ty and cur­ricu­lum,” said Gilbert Lit­tle, who was involved in the effort. But “fundrais­ing for a small pri­vate col­lege is very, very dif­fi­cult.”

John­son resigned in the fall of 2012 and went back to lit­i­gat­ing for Chris­t­ian caus­es. He also start­ed a new pro-bono firm, Free­dom Guard, which Perkins served as a direc­tor, busi­ness fil­ings show.

Five years lat­er, Pressler, the school’s name­sake, was sued in a civ­il case that has since grown to include alle­ga­tions of abuse by mul­ti­ple men who say he sex­u­al­ly assault­ed them, some when they were chil­dren. The mat­ter, which is still pend­ing in court, helped spark a broad­er reck­on­ing by the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion over its han­dling of claims of sex­u­al abuse.

Lit­tle said the school was named after Pressler because he had a close rela­tion­ship with the institution’s lead­ers. John­son didn’t stray entire­ly from the school. He rep­re­sent­ed the col­lege for six more years in a case chal­leng­ing a man­date in then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law that required employ­ers to pro­vide work­ers access to birth con­trol, court records show.
...

Final­ly, note one final bit of John­son’s gross hypocrisy in the name of his Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist cause: in 2004, John­son chid­ed gay rights sup­port­ers for chal­leng­ing the out­come in court, writ­ing, “Dis­con­tent with an election’s results does not enti­tle one to have it over­turned.” 16 years lat­er, he’s the guy writ­ing legal mem­os argu­ing the oppo­site in an effort that cul­mi­nat­ed in an insur­rec­tion:

...
In 2004, he rep­re­sent­ed the Louisiana Fam­i­ly Forum in oppos­ing a case filed by gay rights sup­port­ers who sought to block a vot­er-approved state con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment that pro­hib­it­ed “civ­il unions” — a legal pre­cur­sor to same-sex mar­riage — and cod­i­fied mar­riage as between one man and one woman.

The amend­ment was over­whelm­ing­ly approved in an unusu­al and low-turnout elec­tion, held weeks before the 2004 pres­i­den­tial con­test, in which it was the only issue on the bal­lot. The elec­tion was marred by the late deliv­ery of vot­ing machines to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic strong­hold of Orleans Parish.

In a legal brief, John­son chid­ed gay rights sup­port­ers for chal­leng­ing the out­come in court.

“Dis­con­tent with an election’s results does not enti­tle one to have it over­turned,” he wrote. Near­ly two decades lat­er, John­son, then in Trump’s cor­ner, would effec­tive­ly argue the oppo­site.
...

But, of course, this isn’t about the hypocrisy of Mike John­son. It’s about the exis­ten­tial threat to the fab­ric of the Unit­ed States posed by the CNP and its vision for for the impo­si­tion of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist author­i­tar­i­an­ism. A threat that seems to keep grow­ing whether Repub­li­cans win or lose elec­tions. Because that’s the kind of game the CNP is play­ing. It’s not a game cen­tered around gain­ing pow­er by win­ning elec­tions. It’s about gain­ing pow­er through any means nec­es­sary. With David Bar­ton’s Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism there to jus­ti­fy what­ev­er is done in the name of Chris­tian­i­ty. Or at least the arch-con­ser­v­a­tive ‘dis­ci­ple­ship’ cult-like genre of Chris­tian­i­ty cham­pi­oned for decades by CNP stal­warts like Paul Pressler and Paige Pat­ter­son.

It’s God’s Pow­er Grab. The kind of pow­er grab that starts with grab­bing the state but does­n’t end there. The kind of pow­er grab where the pow­er­ful are free to ‘grab’ what­ev­er they want, and who­ev­er they want, with­out any real con­se­quences. A soci­ety run by pow­er preda­tors cyn­i­cal­ly oper­at­ing in the name of God. So if you find the idea of the Speak­er of the House vol­un­tar­i­ly installing a creepy ‘dis­ci­ple­ship shame­ware’ app on his phone high­ly dis­turb­ing, imag­ine how dis­turb­ing it’s going to be when it’s your phone get­ting the creepy shame­ware app and it’s not at all vol­un­tar­i­ly because soci­ety is now run by a bunch of pow­er­ful cultist who seized pow­er and now demand that every­one else join their cult or face the con­se­quences. It’s hap­pen­ing. This cult with very big plans for the future real­ly is steadi­ly tak­ing over. It’s a long-game. And the fur­ther it goes, the more ‘old school’ those con­se­quences are going to get.

Discussion

24 comments for “The Eyes Over Mike Johnson: the CNP’s Texas Template for God’s Power Grope”

  1. You prob­a­bly haven’t heard about the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers (NACL). The group, formed in August of 2020, does­n’t have a huge pub­lic pro­file. State leg­is­la­tors, on the oth­er hand, might be famil­iar with the group. Because when we’re talk­ing about the NACL, we’re basi­cal­ly talk­ing about ALEC for theoc­ra­cy. Yes, it’s a group ded­i­cat­ed to the cre­ation of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism ‘mod­el leg­is­la­tion’, designed to be ped­dle to allied state law­mak­ers across the US. And while the group isn’t explic­it­ly oper­at­ing as an arm of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP), that’s basi­cal­ly what it is as we’re going to see when we look at who’s involved.

    The NACL’s founder, Jason Rap­ert, is a for­mer Arkansas state leg­is­la­tor and open Domin­ion­ist. As we should expect by now, Rap­ert’s name shows up on the leaked CNP mem­ber­ship lists.

    But Rap­ert isn’t run­ning the NACL on his own. The NACL advi­so­ry board con­sists of a num­ber of lead­ing theo­crat­ic per­son­al­i­ties: Mike Huck­abee, Texas Lt. Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick, Tony Perkins, and Matt Staver. Recall how Perkins served as the CNP’s pres­i­dent in 2018. Also recall that 2016 report about the leaked 2014 CNP mem­ber­ship list that list­ed Staver a CNP board mem­ber, along­side fel­low CNP board mem­bers like the League of the South’s Mike Per­out­ka who is an open advo­cate of the theo­crat­ic impo­si­tion of the Old Tes­ta­ment. This is a CNP oper­a­tion. And with NACL leg­isla­tive mem­bers in 31 states, it’s anoth­er CNP oper­a­tion already in a posi­tion covert­ly wield the CNP’s enor­mous influ­ence.

    So as we watch the ongo­ing Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist takeover of Texas, which has the enthu­si­as­tic back­ing of Texas Lt. Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that Texas isn’t Vegas. What hap­pens in Texas does­n’t stay in Texas. And ensur­ing that hap­pens is what the CNP’s new NACL out­fit is all about:

    Rolling Stone

    The Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist Machine Turn­ing Hate Into Law

    The Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers is enact­ing its “bib­li­cal world­view,” one state leg­is­la­ture at a time

    By Tim Dick­son
    Feb­ru­ary 23, 2023

    Jason Rap­ert has likened him­self to an Old Tes­ta­ment seer, con­vey­ing hard truths on behalf of an angry God. On his broad­cast Save the Nation, the 50-year-old preach­er and for­mer Arkansas state sen­a­tor calls him­self a “proud” Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist, insist­ing: “I reject that being a Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist is some­how unseem­ly or wrong.”

    Long a shad­owy force in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism is hav­ing a com­ing out par­ty. The move­ment seeks a fusion of fun­da­men­tal­ist the­ol­o­gy with Amer­i­can civic life. “They believe that this coun­try was found­ed for Chris­tians like them, gen­er­al­ly nat­ur­al-born cit­i­zens and white,” says Andrew White­head, author of Tak­ing Amer­i­ca Back for God: Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism in the Unit­ed States. White­head empha­sizes that the dan­ger of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism to democ­ra­cy is that the move­ment “sees no room for com­pro­mise — their vision must be the one that comes to pass.”

    Thanks to Rap­ert, the Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist move­ment now com­mands a bur­geon­ing polit­i­cal pow­er­house, the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers. A first-of-its-kind orga­ni­za­tion in U.S. his­to­ry, NACL advances “bib­li­cal” leg­is­la­tion in America’s state­hous­es. These bills are not mere stunts or mes­sag­ing. They’re dark, free­dom-lim­it­ing bills that, in some cas­es, have become law.

    NACL’s impact has already been felt nation­al­ly. The group played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the legal fight that cul­mi­nat­ed in the Supreme Court over­turn­ing Roe v. Wade. NACL mem­ber Bryan Hugh­es, who serves in the Texas leg­is­la­ture, led pas­sage of S.B. 8, the boun­ty-hunter bill that all-but out­lawed abor­tion in Texas by allow­ing pri­vate cit­i­zens to sue women who ter­mi­nate preg­nan­cies after six weeks, and their doc­tors, in civ­il court.

    By the time that bill passed in Texas in Sept. 2021, it had been adopt­ed by NACL as mod­el leg­is­la­tion. The repro­duc­tive-rights group NARAL lat­er tracked copy­cat leg­is­la­tion in more than a dozen states. Rap­ert takes sub­stan­tial cred­it for that spread: “NACL was the first and only para-leg­isla­tive orga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try to adopt the Texas method­ol­o­gy as a mod­el law,” he tells Rolling Stone, “and we pro­mot­ed it to be passed in every state.”

    The NACL logo is a crusader’s shield: red embla­zoned with a white cross. Rap­ert says the red rep­re­sents “the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross as a sac­ri­fice for the sal­va­tion of all human­i­ty.” The emblem, he says, is meant to evoke the bib­li­cal “shield of faith” that promis­es to “extin­guish all the flam­ing arrows of the evil one.”

    Yet far from the defen­sive pos­ture sug­gest­ed by its shield, NACL is unabashed­ly on the offense. Rap­ert brags that NACL is at “the fore­front of the bat­tles to end abor­tion in the indi­vid­ual states” and also seeks to dri­ve queer Amer­i­cans back into the clos­et. “For far too long,” Rap­ert insists, “we have allowed one polit­i­cal par­ty in our nation to hold up Sodom and Gomor­rah as a goal to be achieved rather than a sin to be shunned.”

    Today, NACL has leg­isla­tive mem­bers in 31 states, and touts a dozen “mod­el laws” that its mem­bers can intro­duce “in leg­isla­tive bod­ies around the coun­try.” NACL pre­vi­ous­ly made four of its mod­el laws pub­lic — includ­ing the Texas-style anti-abor­tion bill and a bill to man­date the dis­play of “In God We Trust” in pub­lic build­ings.

    ...

    With a nation­al agen­da and a state-by-state focus, NACL is emu­lat­ing the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil. An infa­mous cor­po­rate front group, ALEC pio­neered the strat­e­gy of push­ing for nation­al polit­i­cal goals by advanc­ing car­bon-copy bills through state leg­is­la­tures. But where ALEC serves far-right bil­lion­aire mas­ters and pol­lut­ing spe­cial inter­ests, NACL sees itself as serv­ing the Lord on high. Rap­ert has tout­ed NACL as “basi­cal­ly ALEC from a bib­li­cal world­view.”

    Found­ed in Aug. 2020, NACL is tied to top Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al and polit­i­cal lead­ers. The group’s advi­so­ry board includes one­time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mike Huck­abee — the for­mer gov­er­nor of Arkansas and father of the new gov­er­nor Sarah Huck­abee Sanders — Texas Lt. Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick, Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil pres­i­dent Tony Perkins, and Mat Staver, pres­i­dent of Lib­er­ty Coun­sel. (Lib­er­ty Coun­sel is a fre­quent lit­i­gant before the Supreme Court; the head of its min­istry, Rolling Stone exposed, bragged of pray­ing with SCOTUS jus­tices.)

    Rap­ert declares that Amer­i­ca was found­ed as a “Judeo-Chris­t­ian nation.” And he believes that from the moment the found­ing fathers “ded­i­cat­ed this nation to God” that “Satan and his forces [have] put a tar­get on the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca, try­ing to take us out.”

    Rap­ert sees Amer­i­ca embroiled in “a spir­i­tu­al strug­gle that is pre­dict­ed and proph­e­sied in the 66 books of the bible.” He rails against the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state as a myth, and insists that America’s strug­gles with debt and divi­sion are the result of stray­ing from a God­ly path. To regain heav­en­ly favor, he says, the coun­try must free itself from the “yoke of bondage [to] the LGBTQ movement…and the abor­tion move­ment.”

    Typ­i­cal of Rapert’s polit­i­cal views, in Decem­ber, NACL called on Con­gress to reject the Respect for Mar­riage Act, which now requires all states hon­or the mar­riage licens­es of same-sex cou­ples. Rap­ert con­demned the act as “Satan dressed up as a fam­i­ly man” argu­ing the law “demands respect for every kind of mar­riage except the only accept­able one — the sacred union of one man and one woman.”

    ...

    The­o­log­i­cal­ly, Rap­ert is a domin­ion­ist, who believes that Chris­tians are charged by God to remake the world accord­ing to Old Tes­ta­ment man­dates. “God told us to go out there, fill the Earth … sub­due it and have domin­ion over every­thing,” he said on a recent episode of his broad­cast. “The rea­son this coun­try is strug­gling … is because the Chris­tians in Amer­i­ca have failed to take author­i­ty.”

    To join NACL, leg­is­la­tors must agree to a “state­ment of faith” that anchors them on the fun­da­men­tal­ist fringe. It calls the bible the “supreme and final author­i­ty” and pro­claims belief in the ”immi­nent return of our Lord and Sav­ior Jesus Christ,” as well as the “bod­i­ly res­ur­rec­tion of the just and the unjust” and the “ever­last­ing con­scious pun­ish­ment” of the lat­ter.

    NACL leg­is­la­tors must also agree to a mis­sion state­ment that inveighs against the “spir­i­tu­al decay of our cul­ture (includ­ing church­es).” It blasts the aggres­sion of “athe­ists and anti-Chris­t­ian groups” and it blames these “god­less” enti­ties for “tram­pling on the Chris­t­ian lib­er­ty we have enjoyed in this coun­try for cen­turies.” Despite this decried down­fall, it pro­pos­es that “the fer­vent prayer and action of the Chris­t­ian rem­nant in Amer­i­ca can make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence.”

    As a mat­ter of pol­i­cy, NACL mem­bers must pledge to “uphold the sanc­ti­ty of human life” from the “moment of con­cep­tion” to “nat­ur­al death”; to define mar­riage as the “sacred union exclu­sive­ly between one man and one woman”; and to oppose “unhealthy influ­ences such as alco­hol abuse, drug addic­tion, pornog­ra­phy, pros­ti­tu­tion, vio­lence, gam­bling and crime.” Iron­i­cal­ly, NACLs web­site is “Pow­ered by GoDad­dy,” a web ser­vice firm that sells .sex and .porn domains.

    NACL is a nat­ur­al out­growth of Rapert’s own his­to­ry as a mem­ber of the Arkansas state Sen­ate from 2011 until he retired this year, due to term lim­its. Rap­ert has a nose for con­tro­ver­sy — and intol­er­ance. At the begin­ning of his career, he was caught on tape rant­i­ng that then-Pres­i­dent Oba­ma “didn’t rep­re­sent the coun­try that I grew up with” and vow­ing to his con­stituents: “We’re not going to let minori­ties run roughshod over what you peo­ple believe in.” (Today, Rap­ert insists that NACL stands “pub­licly against racism and anti­semitism.”)

    In 2013, Rap­ert spear­head­ed pas­sage of what was then the nation’s first “heart­beat” anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tion, pro­hibit­ing the pro­ce­dure after fetal car­diac activ­i­ty is detectable. (That law was ruled uncon­sti­tu­tion­al). In 2015, Rap­ert suc­cess­ful­ly got a rev­o­lu­tion­ary war ban­ner, fea­tur­ing a pine tree and the words “An Appeal to Heav­en,” raised over the state Capi­tol in Lit­tle Rock. The flag-rais­ing was nom­i­nal­ly an homage to George Wash­ing­ton. But the Appeal To Heav­en banner’s rev­o­lu­tion­ary and God­ly sen­ti­ment have been adopt­ed by Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ists who believe a Chris­t­ian Amer­i­ca is fat­ed to remake the world, bib­li­cal­ly, in advance of Jesus’ Sec­ond Com­ing.

    Tak­ing a page out of Roy Moore’s hand­book, in 2017 Rap­ert passed a bill to install a 10 Com­mand­ments mon­u­ment at the state Capi­tol in Lit­tle Rock. (The mon­u­ment was almost imme­di­ate­ly destroyed by a van­dal dri­ving a Dodge Dart, but lat­er rebuilt.) Last year, Rap­ert set­tled a relat­ed legal case, after being sued for block­ing athe­ist con­stituents on his offi­cial social media accounts.

    The June 2022 Supreme Court deci­sion Dobbs legal­ized direct lim­its on repro­duc­tive free­dom. That deci­sion, in turn, acti­vat­ed pre­vi­ous­ly-passed, state-lev­el leg­is­la­tion known as “trig­ger laws.” These bills spec­i­fied that if Roe were to fall, abor­tions would imme­di­ate­ly be banned. The lead spon­sor of the trig­ger law in Arkansas was one Jason Rap­ert, and he brags: “Now the Lit­tle Rock sur­gi­cal abor­tion clin­ic has com­plete­ly shut down.”

    Rap­ert found­ed NACL because, he believes “ungod­ly lead­ers have led to ungod­ly results.” He calls his orga­ni­za­tion “the strongest force for good this nation has seen since the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.” Even the group’s acronym is bib­li­cal: NaCl is the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion for salt. It is meant as an allu­sion to the bib­li­cal instruc­tion that Chris­tians should act as the “salt and the light” to pre­serve and puri­fy holi­ness on Earth. To Rolling Stone, Rap­ert insists: “I am sim­ply a child of God who under­stands that Psalm 33:12 says, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.’”

    In a sign that NACL is not just tar­get­ing state leg­is­la­tures, but also gov­er­nors’ man­sions, a top mem­ber of the group’s gov­ern­ing board, Hunter Lundy, recent­ly launched his bid to become the gov­er­nor of Louisiana, promis­ing to be a fight­er for “Faith, Fam­i­ly and Free­dom.”. (Lundy, in a legit­i­mate excuse for a man from South­ern Louisiana, was unavail­able to be inter­viewed due to Mar­di Gras.)

    Apart from his lead­er­ship of NACL, Rap­ert has recent­ly made waves seek­ing friends in high places — and even on the high court. Dur­ing a recent trip to Tal­la­has­see, Rap­ert vis­it­ed with Flori­da state leg­is­la­tors and left a a hand-writ­ten note on the desk of Ron DeSan­tis, telling the GOP gov­er­nor, “We’re proud of your stand for God and Coun­try.” (Rap­ert lat­er praised DeSan­tis as “one of the best gov­er­nors in Amer­i­ca,” call­ing him a “Proven leader” with a “Back­bone of steel.”)

    While in Flori­da, Rap­ert also bragged about meet­ing Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice John Roberts. Rap­ert said he approached the jus­tice “after a din­ner meet­ing,” say­ing he “shook his hand” and told the con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tice “we have been pray­ing for them” before telling Roberts about the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian law­mak­ers and hand­ing the jus­tice “our NACL card.” (A spokesper­son for Roberts has described the encounter as a pass­ing greet­ing of a stranger.)

    Rap­ert is a para­dox­i­cal fig­ure, a man who wraps him­self in lan­guage of Chris­t­ian love while preach­ing a doc­trine that sounds a lot like hate. Rap­ert calls gay mar­riage a “stench in the nos­trils of God.” He sees the grow­ing rights of trans Amer­i­cans, whom he calls the “trans­gen­ders,” as a mor­tal threat: “Now is the time to fight to save the coun­try,” he’s said. “Do you think that Amer­i­ca is going to be free with a bunch of drag queens run­ning this place?

    ...

    ————-

    “The Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist Machine Turn­ing Hate Into Law” By Tim Dick­son; Rolling Stone; 02/23/2023

    Thanks to Rap­ert, the Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist move­ment now com­mands a bur­geon­ing polit­i­cal pow­er­house, the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers. A first-of-its-kind orga­ni­za­tion in U.S. his­to­ry, NACL advances “bib­li­cal” leg­is­la­tion in America’s state­hous­es. These bills are not mere stunts or mes­sag­ing. They’re dark, free­dom-lim­it­ing bills that, in some cas­es, have become law.”

    Yes, thanks to Jason Rap­ert, the Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism move­ment has a pow­er­ful new tool in the form of Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers (NACL). But Rap­ert prob­a­bly should­n’t take all the cred­it. Found­ed in August 2020, the NACL’s advi­so­ry board includes a num­ber of lead­ing theocrats: Mike Huck­abee, Texas Lt. Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick, Tony Perkins, and Matt Staver. Rap­ert, Staver, and Perkins are CNP mem­bers, with Perkins serv­ing as CNP pres­i­dent in 2018. Again, recall that 2016 report about the leaked 2014 CNP mem­ber­ship list that list­ed Staver a CNP board mem­ber, along­side fel­low CNP board mem­bers like the League of the South’s Mike Per­out­ka who is an open advo­cate of the theo­crat­ic impo­si­tion of the Old Tes­ta­ment. So while Jason Rap­ert may have found­ed the NACL, this is clear­ly a CNP-backed ini­tia­tive:

    ...
    Found­ed in Aug. 2020, NACL is tied to top Chris­t­ian spir­i­tu­al and polit­i­cal lead­ers. The group’s advi­so­ry board includes one­time pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mike Huck­abee — the for­mer gov­er­nor of Arkansas and father of the new gov­er­nor Sarah Huck­abee Sanders — Texas Lt. Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick, Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil pres­i­dent Tony Perkins, and Mat Staver, pres­i­dent of Lib­er­ty Coun­sel. (Lib­er­ty Coun­sel is a fre­quent lit­i­gant before the Supreme Court; the head of its min­istry, Rolling Stone exposed, bragged of pray­ing with SCOTUS jus­tices.)

    ...

    The­o­log­i­cal­ly, Rap­ert is a domin­ion­ist, who believes that Chris­tians are charged by God to remake the world accord­ing to Old Tes­ta­ment man­dates. “God told us to go out there, fill the Earth … sub­due it and have domin­ion over every­thing,” he said on a recent episode of his broad­cast. “The rea­son this coun­try is strug­gling … is because the Chris­tians in Amer­i­ca have failed to take author­i­ty.”

    To join NACL, leg­is­la­tors must agree to a “state­ment of faith” that anchors them on the fun­da­men­tal­ist fringe. It calls the bible the “supreme and final author­i­ty” and pro­claims belief in the ”immi­nent return of our Lord and Sav­ior Jesus Christ,” as well as the “bod­i­ly res­ur­rec­tion of the just and the unjust” and the “ever­last­ing con­scious pun­ish­ment” of the lat­ter.

    ...

    Rap­ert found­ed NACL because, he believes “ungod­ly lead­ers have led to ungod­ly results.” He calls his orga­ni­za­tion “the strongest force for good this nation has seen since the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.” Even the group’s acronym is bib­li­cal: NaCl is the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion for salt. It is meant as an allu­sion to the bib­li­cal instruc­tion that Chris­tians should act as the “salt and the light” to pre­serve and puri­fy holi­ness on Earth. To Rolling Stone, Rap­ert insists: “I am sim­ply a child of God who under­stands that Psalm 33:12 says, ‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.’”
    ...

    And as we can see from the var­i­ous ‘suc­cess­es’ tout­ed by Rap­ert and the NACL, the “mod­el leg­is­la­tion” approach — ALEC for theoc­ra­cy — is part of what makes the ongo­ing Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist cap­ture of indi­vid­ual states like Texas so pow­er­ful. Texas pass­es an unprece­dent­ed theo­crat­ic law, and NACL mem­bers in states around the US sud­den­ly put for­ward their own copy­cat leg­is­la­tion:

    ...
    NACL’s impact has already been felt nation­al­ly. The group played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the legal fight that cul­mi­nat­ed in the Supreme Court over­turn­ing Roe v. Wade. NACL mem­ber Bryan Hugh­es, who serves in the Texas leg­is­la­ture, led pas­sage of S.B. 8, the boun­ty-hunter bill that all-but out­lawed abor­tion in Texas by allow­ing pri­vate cit­i­zens to sue women who ter­mi­nate preg­nan­cies after six weeks, and their doc­tors, in civ­il court.

    By the time that bill passed in Texas in Sept. 2021, it had been adopt­ed by NACL as mod­el leg­is­la­tion. The repro­duc­tive-rights group NARAL lat­er tracked copy­cat leg­is­la­tion in more than a dozen states. Rap­ert takes sub­stan­tial cred­it for that spread: “NACL was the first and only para-leg­isla­tive orga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try to adopt the Texas method­ol­o­gy as a mod­el law,” he tells Rolling Stone, “and we pro­mot­ed it to be passed in every state.”

    ...

    Today, NACL has leg­isla­tive mem­bers in 31 states, and touts a dozen “mod­el laws” that its mem­bers can intro­duce “in leg­isla­tive bod­ies around the coun­try.” NACL pre­vi­ous­ly made four of its mod­el laws pub­lic — includ­ing the Texas-style anti-abor­tion bill and a bill to man­date the dis­play of “In God We Trust” in pub­lic build­ings.

    ...

    With a nation­al agen­da and a state-by-state focus, NACL is emu­lat­ing the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil. An infa­mous cor­po­rate front group, ALEC pio­neered the strat­e­gy of push­ing for nation­al polit­i­cal goals by advanc­ing car­bon-copy bills through state leg­is­la­tures. But where ALEC serves far-right bil­lion­aire mas­ters and pol­lut­ing spe­cial inter­ests, NACL sees itself as serv­ing the Lord on high. Rap­ert has tout­ed NACL as “basi­cal­ly ALEC from a bib­li­cal world­view.”

    ...

    Final­ly, note the praise deliv­ered to Ron DeSan­tis. It’s long been clear that Ron DeSan­tis is one of the CNP’s favorite can­di­dates. And it’s no sur­prise why. DeSan­tis’s brand of pol­i­tics — like his ide­o­log­i­cal purge of New Col­lege — is basi­cal­ly a pre­view for what full blown Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism is going to look like:

    ...
    Apart from his lead­er­ship of NACL, Rap­ert has recent­ly made waves seek­ing friends in high places — and even on the high court. Dur­ing a recent trip to Tal­la­has­see, Rap­ert vis­it­ed with Flori­da state leg­is­la­tors and left a a hand-writ­ten note on the desk of Ron DeSan­tis, telling the GOP gov­er­nor, “We’re proud of your stand for God and Coun­try.” (Rap­ert lat­er praised DeSan­tis as “one of the best gov­er­nors in Amer­i­ca,” call­ing him a “Proven leader” with a “Back­bone of steel.”)

    While in Flori­da, Rap­ert also bragged about meet­ing Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice John Roberts. Rap­ert said he approached the jus­tice “after a din­ner meet­ing,” say­ing he “shook his hand” and told the con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tice “we have been pray­ing for them” before telling Roberts about the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian law­mak­ers and hand­ing the jus­tice “our NACL card.” (A spokesper­son for Roberts has described the encounter as a pass­ing greet­ing of a stranger.)
    ...

    Yes, Ron DeSan­tis — long seen as the can­di­date of choice for the GOP mega-donors — is the theocrats’ can­di­date of choice too. Which is more or less what we should expect by now. DeSan­tis has basi­cal­ly tai­lored his polit­i­cal brand to cham­pi­on the CNP’s cul­ture wars. Cul­ture wars that are no longer being fought to sim­ply win elec­tions, but instead to end them once and for all. It’s soci­etal cap­ture for God’s glo­ry. Or, well, some­one’s glo­ry.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 10, 2023, 6:43 pm
  2. It’s a bad look. But a nec­es­sary one if the insti­tu­tion is to sur­vive. Hence the bad act and non­sense excus­es. That’s a brief sum­ma­ry of the awful update to the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion’s (SBC) sex­u­al abuse cri­sis we got this week, stem­ming from a case before the Ken­tucky Supreme Court that, on the sur­face, has noth­ing to do with the SBC. Instead, the case is cen­tered around a woman who is suing the Louisville Police Depart­ment, argu­ing that they knew about the abus­es her father — a police offi­cer con­vict­ed of abus­ing her as a child in 2020 — was inflict­ing on her for years, and had a duty to report it.

    So how did the SBC get involved in this case? An ami­cus brief filed back in April, but first pub­licly revealed in Octo­ber, oppos­ing expan­sion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for law­suits against third par­ties, includ­ing reli­gious insti­tu­tions. The brief that the SBC denom­i­na­tion has a “strong inter­est in the statute-of-lim­i­ta­tions issue” in the case, and argues that a 2021 state law allow­ing abuse vic­tims to sue third-par­ty “non-per­pe­tra­tors” was not intend­ed to be applied retroac­tive­ly.

    It was a legal argu­ment eeri­ly rem­i­nis­cent of the US gov­ern­men­t’s legal argu­ments in the Mohawk Moth­ers law­suit over the sys­temic abus­es of indige­nous chil­dren as part of the Cana­di­an wing of the MKUl­tra pro­gram. But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle excerpt describes, it’s a legal argu­ment that also direct­ly under­cuts the years-long efforts by reform­ers inside the SBC and its rough­ly 47,000 local church­es who are try­ing to put a stop to these abus­es. And it more or less con­firms the worst sus­pi­cions of the vic­tims. Sus­pi­cions that at the SBC lead­er­ship is intent on thwart­ing their work and keep­ing the abuse going.

    So what’s the SBC’s expla­na­tion for this brief? Here’s where it gets extra sleazy. The expla­na­tion is basi­cal­ly, ‘oops, we did­n’t mean to do this’, or some­thing along those lines. That’s basi­cal­ly was SBC Pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber com­mu­ni­cat­ed when he issued a state­ment tak­ing “full respon­si­bil­i­ty” for the SBC join­ing the brief. As he put it, the SBC legal team approached him ask­ing for approval and he gave that approval with­out giv­ing it the atten­tion he should have. And yet, in the same state­ment, Bar­ber kind of jus­ti­fies the brief by adding “I am not sure exact­ly what I think about statutes of lim­i­ta­tion. I think they are a mixed bag...I am uncom­fort­able with the harm statutes of lim­i­ta­tions can do, but I also think that they play a valid role in the law some­times.” So kind of ‘oops, but it was basi­cal­ly the right thing to do’ expla­na­tion.

    Also note that one of par­ties sign­ing onto the brief is the South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. Recall how for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son was forced to resign from his posi­tion as the Pres­i­dent of the South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in May of 2018 after he after he said he want­ed to meet alone with a female stu­dent who said she was raped so he could “break her down,” accord­ing to a state­ment from sem­i­nary trustees. Pat­ter­son and his wife are both mem­bers of the CNP.

    We also get some com­ments from Jonathan White­head, described as a lawyer who often rep­re­sents reli­gious insti­tu­tions in court. White­head sug­gest­ed that, while try­ing to stop abus­es is a noble cause, it may be too much to expect the SBC denom­i­na­tion to assist vic­tims in their ques­tion for jus­tice while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly pro­tect­ing its own exis­tence. It turns out White­head­’s name also shows up on the CNP’s leaked mem­ber­ship lists. Sur­prise!

    So that’s the bomb­shell the SBC com­mu­ni­ty has been grap­pling with in recent weeks. A kind of con­fir­ma­tion of the worst sus­pi­cions. As as Rus­sell Moore, the for­mer head of the SBC’s Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion, put it, “I’ve nev­er seen such unmit­i­gat­ed and jus­ti­fied anger among South­ern Bap­tists”:

    The New York Times

    Why South­ern Bap­tists are Furi­ous Over a Sex Abuse Case in Ken­tucky

    A brief filed in a Ken­tucky case has infu­ri­at­ed mem­bers of the denom­i­na­tion across the coun­try, just as it grap­ples with an abuse scan­dal.

    By Ruth Gra­ham
    Ruth Gra­ham writes about faith and val­ues, and has writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion.
    Nov. 7, 2023

    For six months, almost no one took notice of the brief filed qui­et­ly by South­ern Bap­tists in a case wind­ing its way to the Ken­tucky Supreme Court.

    At the cen­ter of the case is a woman whose father, a police offi­cer, was con­vict­ed in 2020 of sex­u­al­ly abus­ing her over a peri­od of years when she was a child. The woman lat­er sued sev­er­al par­ties, includ­ing the Louisville Police Depart­ment, say­ing they knew about the abuse and had a duty to report it. Now, the state’s high­est court is con­sid­er­ing whether sex abuse vic­tims can have more time to sue “non-per­pe­tra­tors” — insti­tu­tions or their lead­ers that are oblig­at­ed to pro­tect chil­dren from such abuse.

    None of it appeared to have any­thing to do with the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, the nation’s largest Protes­tant denom­i­na­tion. But in April, lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the denom­i­na­tion filed an ami­cus brief oppos­ing expan­sion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for law­suits against third par­ties, includ­ing reli­gious insti­tu­tions.

    The brief, report­ed by The Louisville Couri­er-Jour­nal in Octo­ber, land­ed like a bomb­shell in South­ern Bap­tist cir­cles. The orga­ni­za­tion has spent the last sev­er­al years grap­pling with rev­e­la­tions that its nation­al lead­ers sup­pressed reports of abuse and resist­ed reform for decades. The brief, abuse sur­vivors and those crit­i­cal of the church say, offers the first clear look at the church’s true posi­tion on whether its lead­ers can be held account­able for abuse.

    It has led to a flur­ry of blis­ter­ing reac­tions and efforts by S.B.C. lead­ers to dis­tance them­selves from the brief, which they char­ac­ter­ize as a deci­sion dri­ven by lawyers. The brief says that the denom­i­na­tion has a “strong inter­est in the statute-of-lim­i­ta­tions issue” in the case, and argues that a 2021 state law allow­ing abuse vic­tims to sue third-par­ty “non-per­pe­tra­tors” was not intend­ed to be applied retroac­tive­ly.

    “I’ve nev­er seen such unmit­i­gat­ed and jus­ti­fied anger among South­ern Bap­tists,” said Rus­sell Moore, the for­mer head of the denomination’s Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion, who is now the edi­tor in chief of Chris­tian­i­ty Today.

    The brief has dis­rupt­ed con­tin­u­ing reform efforts in the denom­i­na­tion, which have gained momen­tum since an inves­ti­ga­tion by The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle and The San Anto­nio Express-News in 2019 revealed that hun­dreds of South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers had plead­ed guilty or had been con­vict­ed of sex crimes in recent decades.

    Since then, the denom­i­na­tion has passed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing abuse both a sin and a crime, com­mis­sioned and pub­lished a third-par­ty inves­ti­ga­tion into its han­dling of abuse and pledged to cre­ate a search­able data­base of peo­ple who have been cred­i­bly accused of abuse in South­ern Bap­tist set­tings.

    The denomination’s pres­i­dent, Bart Bar­ber, who has sup­port­ed abuse reforms, said in a state­ment that he takes “full respon­si­bil­i­ty” for the denom­i­na­tion join­ing the brief. He said he was asked for approval by the S.B.C.’s legal team and regrets not giv­ing it the atten­tion he should have. “I know that my cred­i­bil­i­ty with you is harmed by this, per­haps irrepara­bly,” he wrote in an open state­ment to South­ern Bap­tists.

    Yet, in that same state­ment, he said he is unde­cid­ed on the mat­ter. “I am not sure exact­ly what I think about statutes of lim­i­ta­tion. I think they are a mixed bag,” he wrote. “I am uncom­fort­able with the harm statutes of lim­i­ta­tions can do, but I also think that they play a valid role in the law some­times.”

    States includ­ing Cal­i­for­nia and New York have expand­ed the statutes of lim­i­ta­tions for fil­ing civ­il suits in abuse cas­es. About a dozen Catholic dio­ce­ses in the Unit­ed States are cur­rent­ly in bank­rupt­cy pro­ceed­ings.

    Vic­tims and their advo­cates say that the brief under­cuts the inten­tions of the thou­sands of local pas­tors and oth­er del­e­gates at the denomination’s annu­al meet­ing who have con­sis­tent­ly sup­port­ed reform efforts.

    In the last sev­er­al years of votes on the meet­ing floor, “abuse reform is unde­feat­ed,” said Mike Keah­bone, a pas­tor in Okla­homa who is on the denomination’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee and its Abuse Reform Imple­men­ta­tion Task Force, estab­lished last year.

    Mr. Keah­bone said that mem­bers of the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee, the denomination’s top lead­er­ship body, were not informed about its lawyers’ inten­tions to join the brief.

    Jules Wood­son, who has said her youth pas­tor sex­u­al­ly assault­ed her at a Texas church in the 1990s, said she and oth­er abuse sur­vivors felt the denom­i­na­tion seemed to be act­ing behind closed doors to oppose what it cham­pi­oned in pub­lic.

    “This is exact­ly what us sur­vivors have been say­ing all along,” Ms. Wood­son said, describ­ing the denom­i­na­tion as an insti­tu­tion that, when push comes to shove, oper­ates as cold­ly as a busi­ness.

    ...

    The par­ties sign­ing onto the brief include Life­way Chris­t­ian Resources, the denomination’s pub­lish­ing arm, and the South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. Both are defen­dants in a suit filed in Ken­tucky by a woman who says that her father, a Bap­tist pas­tor, abused her for years and that employ­ees of var­i­ous insti­tu­tions failed to pro­tect her.

    Al Mohler Jr., the seminary’s pres­i­dent, said in a state­ment that in “ques­tions of law” the sem­i­nary must defer to legal coun­sel. A Life­way spokes­woman did not respond to a request for com­ment.

    Jonathan White­head, a lawyer who often rep­re­sents reli­gious insti­tu­tions in court, said that while the goal of rec­ti­fy­ing abuse is a noble one, it may be too much to expect the denom­i­na­tion to pro­vide pas­toral sup­port to vic­tims, to accept legal respon­si­bil­i­ty for past abus­es and to pro­tect its own exis­tence.

    “It’s awful­ly hard to be the par­ty of care and the par­ty of respon­si­bil­i­ty at the same time.”

    ...

    “We’re absolute­ly alien­at­ing women, and we’re alien­at­ing gen­er­a­tions like mil­len­ni­als,” said Kei­th Myer, a pas­tor in Mary­land who orga­nized a fund-rais­er to help abuse vic­tims attend the annu­al meet­ing this sum­mer. “It can’t just be about pre­serv­ing our insti­tu­tions. You have to think about pre­serv­ing the mem­ber­ship and pre­serv­ing what we stand for.”

    ———-

    “Why South­ern Bap­tists are Furi­ous Over a Sex Abuse Case in Ken­tucky” By Ruth Gra­ham; The New York Times; 11/0/2023

    “At the cen­ter of the case is a woman whose father, a police offi­cer, was con­vict­ed in 2020 of sex­u­al­ly abus­ing her over a peri­od of years when she was a child. The woman lat­er sued sev­er­al par­ties, includ­ing the Louisville Police Depart­ment, say­ing they knew about the abuse and had a duty to report it. Now, the state’s high­est court is con­sid­er­ing whether sex abuse vic­tims can have more time to sue “non-per­pe­tra­tors” — insti­tu­tions or their lead­ers that are oblig­at­ed to pro­tect chil­dren from such abuse.

    Should the insti­tu­tions that pro­tect sex­u­al preda­tors also be brought to jus­tice? That’s the ques­tion that was before Ken­tuck­y’s Supreme Court in a case that did­n’t seem to have any­thing to do with the SBC. And then an ami­cus brief was sub­mit­ted argu­ing against the expan­sion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for law­suits against third par­ties, includ­ing reli­gious insti­tu­tions. Sub­mit­ted by the SBC’s lawyers. All of a sud­den, this case was about the SBC and the sex­u­al abuse mega-scan­dal it’s still grap­pling with. In the worst pos­si­ble way:

    ...
    None of it appeared to have any­thing to do with the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion, the nation’s largest Protes­tant denom­i­na­tion. But in April, lawyers rep­re­sent­ing the denom­i­na­tion filed an ami­cus brief oppos­ing expan­sion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for law­suits against third par­ties, includ­ing reli­gious insti­tu­tions.

    The brief, report­ed by The Louisville Couri­er-Jour­nal in Octo­ber, land­ed like a bomb­shell in South­ern Bap­tist cir­cles. The orga­ni­za­tion has spent the last sev­er­al years grap­pling with rev­e­la­tions that its nation­al lead­ers sup­pressed reports of abuse and resist­ed reform for decades. The brief, abuse sur­vivors and those crit­i­cal of the church say, offers the first clear look at the church’s true posi­tion on whether its lead­ers can be held account­able for abuse.
    ...

    And note the dis­turb­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties between this case and the ongo­ing law­suits in Cana­da being waged by the Mohawk Moth­ers over the decades of sys­temic abus­es of indige­nous chil­dren as part of the Cana­di­an branch of the MKUl­tra pro­gram. In that case, argu­ments about the retroac­tive applic­a­bil­i­ty of a Cana­di­an law passed in 1982 that allows for the suing of for­eign gov­ern­ments were made by the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment to make the case that the 1982 law did­n’t retroac­tive­ly apply to crimes com­mit­ted before 1982. And in this case, we have the SBC lawyers argu­ing that the 2021 Ken­tucky state law allow­ing for “third-par­ties” to be sued also can­not be applied retroac­tive­ly:

    ...
    It has led to a flur­ry of blis­ter­ing reac­tions and efforts by S.B.C. lead­ers to dis­tance them­selves from the brief, which they char­ac­ter­ize as a deci­sion dri­ven by lawyers. The brief says that the denom­i­na­tion has a “strong inter­est in the statute-of-lim­i­ta­tions issue” in the case, and argues that a 2021 state law allow­ing abuse vic­tims to sue third-par­ty “non-per­pe­tra­tors” was not intend­ed to be applied retroac­tive­ly.

    “I’ve nev­er seen such unmit­i­gat­ed and jus­ti­fied anger among South­ern Bap­tists,” said Rus­sell Moore, the for­mer head of the denomination’s Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion, who is now the edi­tor in chief of Chris­tian­i­ty Today.

    ...

    Jules Wood­son, who has said her youth pas­tor sex­u­al­ly assault­ed her at a Texas church in the 1990s, said she and oth­er abuse sur­vivors felt the denom­i­na­tion seemed to be act­ing behind closed doors to oppose what it cham­pi­oned in pub­lic.

    “This is exact­ly what us sur­vivors have been say­ing all along,” Ms. Wood­son said, describ­ing the denom­i­na­tion as an insti­tu­tion that, when push comes to shove, oper­ates as cold­ly as a busi­ness.
    ...

    And notice how this ami­cus brief was filed in such a way that even the SBC exec­u­tive com­mit­tee is claim­ing igno­rance. Instead, we have SBC pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber issu­ing some excuse about how he gave his con­sent to the lawyers’ plan with­out real­iz­ing what it was all about. But then he goes on to more or less agree that the stat­ue of lim­i­ta­tions prob­a­bly should­n’t be expand­ed. It’s not exact­ly a com­pelling expla­na­tion but prob­a­bly as good a cov­er sto­ry as they could come up with giv­en the cir­cum­stances:

    ...
    The brief has dis­rupt­ed con­tin­u­ing reform efforts in the denom­i­na­tion, which have gained momen­tum since an inves­ti­ga­tion by The Hous­ton Chron­i­cle and The San Anto­nio Express-News in 2019 revealed that hun­dreds of South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers had plead­ed guilty or had been con­vict­ed of sex crimes in recent decades.

    Since then, the denom­i­na­tion has passed a res­o­lu­tion call­ing abuse both a sin and a crime, com­mis­sioned and pub­lished a third-par­ty inves­ti­ga­tion into its han­dling of abuse and pledged to cre­ate a search­able data­base of peo­ple who have been cred­i­bly accused of abuse in South­ern Bap­tist set­tings.

    The denomination’s pres­i­dent, Bart Bar­ber, who has sup­port­ed abuse reforms, said in a state­ment that he takes “full respon­si­bil­i­ty” for the denom­i­na­tion join­ing the brief. He said he was asked for approval by the S.B.C.’s legal team and regrets not giv­ing it the atten­tion he should have. “I know that my cred­i­bil­i­ty with you is harmed by this, per­haps irrepara­bly,” he wrote in an open state­ment to South­ern Bap­tists.

    Yet, in that same state­ment, he said he is unde­cid­ed on the mat­ter. “I am not sure exact­ly what I think about statutes of lim­i­ta­tion. I think they are a mixed bag,” he wrote. “I am uncom­fort­able with the harm statutes of lim­i­ta­tions can do, but I also think that they play a valid role in the law some­times.”

    ...

    In the last sev­er­al years of votes on the meet­ing floor, “abuse reform is unde­feat­ed,” said Mike Keah­bone, a pas­tor in Okla­homa who is on the denomination’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee and its Abuse Reform Imple­men­ta­tion Task Force, estab­lished last year.

    Mr. Keah­bone said that mem­bers of the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee, the denomination’s top lead­er­ship body, were not informed about its lawyers’ inten­tions to join the brief.
    ...

    And then there’s the out­rage from the local con­gre­ga­tion lead­ers who have con­sis­tent­ly sup­port­ed anti-abuse reforms. Recall how ‘local church auton­o­my’ has long been the excuse SBC lead­ers used for explain­ing why the lead­er­ship was pow­er­less to do any­thing about the abuse. And here, we have the SBC lead­er­ship effec­tive­ly wag­ing a legal bat­tle that runs counter to the wish­es of many of those local lead­ers:

    ...
    States includ­ing Cal­i­for­nia and New York have expand­ed the statutes of lim­i­ta­tions for fil­ing civ­il suits in abuse cas­es. About a dozen Catholic dio­ce­ses in the Unit­ed States are cur­rent­ly in bank­rupt­cy pro­ceed­ings.

    Vic­tims and their advo­cates say that the brief under­cuts the inten­tions of the thou­sands of local pas­tors and oth­er del­e­gates at the denomination’s annu­al meet­ing who have con­sis­tent­ly sup­port­ed reform efforts.
    ...

    Final­ly, there’s the oblig­a­tory CNP angle here. First, not how the South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary — which a defen­dant in a Ken­tucky abuse case — signed the ami­cus brief. Recall how for­mer SBC Pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son was forced to resign from his posi­tion as the Pres­i­dent of the South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in May of 2018 after he after he said he want­ed to meet alone with a female stu­dent who said she was raped so he could “break her down,” accord­ing to a state­ment from sem­i­nary trustees. Pat­ter­son and his wife are both mem­bers of the CNP. And then there’s the com­ments from lawyer Jonathan White­head, who sug­gest­ed it may be too much to expect the SBC denom­i­na­tion to assist vic­tims in their ques­tion for jus­tice while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly pro­tect­ing its own exis­tence. It’s the kind of com­men­tary that should make it come as no sur­prise to learn that White­head­’s name also shows up on the CNP’s leaked mem­ber­ship lists. It’s more or less what we should expect at this point:

    ...
    The par­ties sign­ing onto the brief include Life­way Chris­t­ian Resources, the denomination’s pub­lish­ing arm, and the South­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary. Both are defen­dants in a suit filed in Ken­tucky by a woman who says that her father, a Bap­tist pas­tor, abused her for years and that employ­ees of var­i­ous insti­tu­tions failed to pro­tect her.

    Al Mohler Jr., the seminary’s pres­i­dent, said in a state­ment that in “ques­tions of law” the sem­i­nary must defer to legal coun­sel. A Life­way spokes­woman did not respond to a request for com­ment.

    Jonathan White­head, a lawyer who often rep­re­sents reli­gious insti­tu­tions in court, said that while the goal of rec­ti­fy­ing abuse is a noble one, it may be too much to expect the denom­i­na­tion to pro­vide pas­toral sup­port to vic­tims, to accept legal respon­si­bil­i­ty for past abus­es and to pro­tect its own exis­tence.

    “It’s awful­ly hard to be the par­ty of care and the par­ty of respon­si­bil­i­ty at the same time.”
    ...

    Jonathan White­head may not have intend­ed to put it in such stark terms, but he does have a point: an insti­tu­tion with a his­to­ry filled with unad­dressed sys­temic abus­es and an unre­formed lead­er­ship real­ly does have to make a choice. It can either help try to address those abus­es or it can pro­tect its own exis­tence. And sure, in the­o­ry, the insti­tu­tion should be sav­ing itself by try­ing to rec­ti­fy these injus­tices. But what if the abus­es are so per­va­sive, deep, and ongo­ing, that there’s no plau­si­ble way they could be exposed with­out result­ing in a com­plete loss of faith in the SBC’s lead­er­ship? What then? That appears to be the moral and legal conun­drums the SBC is wrestling with. And we can see the kinds of solu­tions the SBC lead­er­ship came up. At least for the legal conun­drum, at the cost of a much deep­er moral conun­drum that will pre­sum­ably be ‘solved’ with more cov­er ups.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 11, 2023, 6:19 pm
  3. There’s an abun­dance of under­stand­able alarm today in the wake of Don­ald Trump’s open­ly fas­cist Vet­er­ans Day speech­es that includ­ed threats to “root out ... the rad­i­cal left thugs that live like ver­min with­in the con­fines of our coun­try.” As many point­ed out, the kind of dehu­man­iz­ing lan­guage not only echoes the tac­tics used by Hitler and the Nazis, but it’s hap­pen­ing amidst the ongo­ing warn­ings we keep get­ting about the scope of the planned Sched­ule F/Project 2025 mass purge. So with the grow­ing use of dehu­man­iz­ing lan­guage elic­it­ing all this alarm, it’s worth keep­ing in mind how the dehu­man­iza­tion of the LBGTQ com­mu­ni­ty — and in par­tic­u­lar the trans com­mu­ni­ty — and the aggres­sive por­tray­al of them as sex­u­al preda­tors who pose a threat to chil­dren has been one of the ‘go-to’ polit­i­cal mantra of the GOP since at least 2016.

    And as we’re going to see in the fol­low­ing excerpt from a Jan­u­ary 2018 Rolling Stone arti­cle, it was the anti-LGBTQ activism of Jared Wood­fill, Steven Hotze, and their fel­low polit­i­cal activists at the Sec­ond Bap­tist Church in Hous­ton — led by Ed Young — where the tem­plate for this strat­e­gy of focused dehu­man­iza­tion of trans com­mu­ni­ty was first estab­lished. It was 2014, when the Hous­ton city coun­cil passed a robust anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion bill — the HERO bill — that set it all in motion. Wood­fill and Hotze soon formed the anti-HERO oppo­si­tion, draw­ing on the enor­mous sup­port of Ed Young’s the Sec­ond Bap­tist mega-church they attend along with Lt Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick.

    Imme­di­ate­ly after the HERO ordi­nance passed, Wood­fill and Dave Welch — for­mer nation­al field direc­tor for the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion — launched a peti­tion to force a ref­er­en­dum vote on the mea­sure. It was Wood­fill who report­ed­ly came up with the strat­e­gy of focus­ing the ref­er­en­dum on one par­tic­u­lar part of the new law: trans peo­ple and bath­room access.

    The city of Hous­ton pro­ceed­ed to inval­i­date thou­sands of the rough­ly 50,000 ref­er­en­dum sig­na­tures col­lect­ed by Wood­fil­l’s cam­paign, result­ing in a law­suit from Wood­fill. That law­suit, in turn, result­ed in the city of Hous­ton sub­poe­naing doc­u­ments from some of the local pas­tors, includ­ing their ser­mons. This legal move by the city got spun into an ‘attack on reli­gious free­dom’ nar­ra­tive, with the Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom (ADF) and Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil (FRC), play­ing a direct role in whip­ping it up into a nation­al sto­ry. Recall how the ADF received large dona­tions from the Bet­sy DeVos and Erik Prince and fun­neled that mon­ey into sup­port­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ments in Europe and backed a 2016 Belize law that pun­ished homo­sex­u­al sex with 10 years in prison. Also recall how the ADF has been play­ing a major behind the scenes role in shap­ing the cur­rent man­u­fac­tured anti-trans pan­ic. At the same time, the ADF shows up on the list of orga­ni­za­tions involved with the Sched­ule F/Project 2025 plot. CNP mem­ber Michael Far­ris, who co-found­ed the “Con­ven­tion of States” project designed to over­haul the Con­sti­tu­tion — has served as the Pres­i­dent and CEO of the ADF. And when it comes to the FRC, recall how the Pres­i­dent of the FRC, Tony Perkins, is list­ed on the leaked CNP mem­ber­ship lsits a being the CNP’s pres­i­dent in 2018. In fact, accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, he was the CNP’s Pres­i­dent from 2014 through at least 2018, cov­er­ing the peri­od of the events in this sto­ry.

    As the anti-HERO cam­paign­ing got under­way, fig­ures like Hotze would warn against the threat of “homo-fas­cists.” “Just like there was a Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, there’s a homo­sex­u­al man­i­festo,” As Hotze put it. “The hack­les will stand up on the back of your neck when you see what they have planned.”

    In the end, the cam­paign worked and Hous­ton vot­ers reject­ed the HERO poli­cies with 61 per­cent vot­ing to reject it. And a nation­al tem­plate was born. By focus­ing the alleged threat of trans child preda­tors in bath­rooms, a pow­er­ful polit­i­cal cud­gel was now avail­able nation­wide.

    And yes, it’s gross­ly cyn­i­cal and hyp­o­crit­i­cal that Jared Wood­fill — whose polit­i­cal rise can be attrib­uted to his rela­tion­ship to Paul Pressler who preyed on young men and teen boys for decades — is the fig­ure who report­ed­ly came up with the ‘trans bath­room preda­tor’ nar­ra­tive. Even more so giv­en how Wood­fill active­ly enabled the abuse through their law firm Wood­fill & Pressler, LLP.

    And while it was obvi­ous that this trend of whip­ping up dehu­man­iz­ing cam­paigns was a threat to the entire LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty, not the trans com­mu­ni­ty, it may not have been obvi­ous that this approach of cyn­i­cal­ly dehu­man­iz­ing an entire swathe of the pop­u­la­tion can be applied to much larg­er group than just the LGBTQ pop­u­la­tion. It may not have been obvi­ous at the time. But it should be obvi­ous now, mak­ing now a good time to review how this CNP net­work dis­cov­ered the pow­er of pol­i­tics of dehu­man­iza­tion:

    Rolling Stone

    Anti-Trans Bath­room Debate: How a Local Reli­gious-Right Fac­tion Launched a Nation­al Move­ment

    Chris­t­ian-right activists around the coun­try took note after strate­gic fear­mon­ger­ing in Hous­ton killed an equal-rights law

    Sarah Pos­ner
    Jan­u­ary 22, 2018

    In May 2015, the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy, an elite orga­ni­za­tion of con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers, held a strat­e­gy ses­sion at the Ritz-Carl­ton Hotel in Tysons Cor­ner, Vir­ginia, just out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The mood among con­ser­v­a­tives was bleak. A month lat­er, the Supreme Court would decide the case of Oberge­fell v. Hodges, which would estab­lish equal access to mar­riage as a con­sti­tu­tion­al right. “I don’t think any­body has an idea of the mag­ni­tude of what’s com­ing,” warned Kel­ly Shack­elford, a lawyer from Texas and the found­ing pres­i­dent of the First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute, a non­prof­it legal firm well-known in Chris­t­ian-right legal cir­cles. He co-authored an op-ed in 2015 that char­ac­ter­ized laws pro­tect­ing LGBTQ peo­ple from dis­crim­i­na­tion as just “anoth­er route for suing Chris­tians.” An unfa­vor­able rul­ing in Oberge­fell, Shack­elford sug­gest­ed that day, “is going to be a direct attack” on the reli­gious free­dom of every­one in the coun­try. “No one will escape it.”

    The Her­itage Foundation’s Ryan Ander­son, a lead­ing oppo­nent of LGBTQ rights, told the audi­ence that a deci­sion in Oberge­fell in favor of same-sex cou­ples would be a call to the bar­ri­cades: “Our mes­sage here needs to be that if the court tries to rede­fine mar­riage it will be doing the same exact thing that it did 42 years ago with Roe v. Wade.” That deci­sion, Ander­son remind­ed his audi­ence, “didn’t set­tle the abor­tion issue. It cre­at­ed a cul­ture war.”

    Pan­ic on the Chris­t­ian right had been per­co­lat­ing even before the high court agreed to hear the case in ear­ly 2015. Over the course of the pre­vi­ous year, four fed­er­al appel­late courts had struck down state laws ban­ning same-sex mar­riage, while just one such law was upheld. Observers on both sides began to view a Supreme Court deci­sion rec­og­niz­ing a con­sti­tu­tion­al right to mar­ry as inevitable. At the same time, local­i­ties across the coun­try were begin­ning to guar­an­tee LGBTQ peo­ple oth­er legal pro­tec­tions against dis­crim­i­na­tion. Blue cities, even in red states like Texas, were pass­ing ordi­nances bar­ring dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­ti­ty. Pres­i­dent Oba­ma had also tak­en action, issu­ing an exec­u­tive order pro­tect­ing LGBTQ peo­ple from dis­crim­i­na­tion in fed­er­al con­tract­ing and hir­ing, trig­ger­ing Chris­t­ian-right anx­i­eties about fed­er­al-gov­ern­ment over­reach and infringe­ment of Chris­tians’ reli­gious free­dom.

    The avalanche of change wasn’t just legal but cul­tur­al as well, with polls show­ing a seis­mic shift in atti­tudes: Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty was becom­ing increas­ing­ly accept­ed, even among a younger gen­er­a­tion of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. At stake in the new cul­ture war sparked by Oberge­fell, many con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cals and Catholics believed, was the future of Chris­tian­i­ty itself. “We are mov­ing rapid­ly towards the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty,” for­mer Arkansas gov­er­nor and then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mike Huck­abee warned pas­tors in a con­fer­ence call less than two weeks before announc­ing his pres­i­den­tial run.

    Fac­ing such polit­i­cal head­winds, Chris­t­ian-right activists des­per­ate­ly need­ed a fresh strat­e­gy. Pro­vok­ing fear of infringe­ment on reli­gious lib­er­ty would like­ly only gain trac­tion among fel­low believ­ers. They soon found an alter­na­tive in Shackelford’s home state, whose largest city was, at the time, led by a les­bian Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­or. There, in Hous­ton, a small band of well-con­nect­ed far-right activists was res­ur­rect­ing an approach from the old­est anti-LGBTQ play­book: to trans­form the civic debate about homo­sex­u­al­i­ty into a pan­ic about preda­tors. As nation­al activists fret­ted at the Ritz-Carl­ton, Hous­ton play­ers had already sketched out a plan to turn vot­ers against nondis­crim­i­na­tion ordi­nances by fram­ing the debate as one about safe­ty for women and girls. It proved so potent that it prompt­ed a shift in leg­isla­tive strat­e­gy across the coun­try.

    In the 2014 and 2015 leg­isla­tive ses­sions, in the run-up to Oberge­fell, Repub­li­can law­mak­ers were focused on “reli­gious free­dom” bills to grant reli­gious exemp­tions from serv­ing same-sex cou­ples or their wed­dings. In 2016, that strat­e­gy changed, says Cather­ine Oak­ley, senior leg­isla­tive coun­sel at the Human Rights Cam­paign. That year, she says, “was about going after trans peo­ple with bath­room bills.” The Nation­al Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures count­ed nine states that con­sid­ered bath­room bills in 2015; in 2016 that num­ber jumped to 19. The shift was a sign of a new strat­e­gy, post-Oberge­fell, of find­ing ways to wedge apart the grow­ing con­sen­sus for LGBTQ rights. Just like the Chris­t­ian right’s long march against abor­tion rights after Roe v. Wade, it will be a mul­ti-front war – in the courts, in state­hous­es, in pub­lic debate – per­sist­ing even while the ulti­mate prize, a Supreme Court rever­sal, is poten­tial­ly decades away. And like the long fight against Roe, this one would start not with legal argu­ments or even the­o­log­i­cal ones, but with a pure gut reac­tion: fear and dis­gust.

    In May 2014, the Hous­ton City Coun­cil passed a com­pre­hen­sive anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law, dubbed the Hous­ton Equal Rights Ordi­nance, or HERO, a mea­sure intro­duced by Houston’s first les­bian may­or, Annise Park­er, to out­law dis­crim­i­na­tion based not only on race, gen­der, age and eth­nic­i­ty, but also on sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­ti­ty. The bill, as intro­duced, would have also explic­it­ly per­mit­ted trans­gen­der peo­ple to use restrooms or lock­er rooms cor­re­spond­ing with their gen­der iden­ti­ty; though that spe­cif­ic pro­vi­sion was elim­i­nat­ed before pas­sage, the broad nondis­crim­i­na­tion lan­guage in the bill would have cov­ered it. The vocal oppo­si­tion against HERO – large­ly ginned up in the city’s con­ser­v­a­tive church­es – was led by Jared Wood­fill, a Hous­ton lawyer and Repub­li­can polit­i­cal activist, and Dr. Steven Hotze, a dietary-sup­ple­ments sup­pli­er and local right-wing radio host. Togeth­er, they run the influ­en­tial Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas, whose lit­er­a­ture habit­u­al­ly refers to LGBTQ peo­ple as “per­verts,” “deviants” and “sodomites,” and which has been called “a cesspool of extrem­ism and open hate” by the civ­il-rights group Texas Free­dom Net­work. Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas has called on Chris­tians to join a “cul­tur­al bat­tle” against the left in order to halt “the Islamiza­tion of Amer­i­ca,” “the killing of the unborn” and “accep­tance of the per­vert­ed homo­sex­u­al and so-called ‘trans­gen­der’ lifestyle.” With their anti-HERO bat­tle, they would trans­form what appeared to be a local dis­pute into a nation­al cause célèbre for the Chris­t­ian right.

    It’s unlike­ly that two local activists, on their own, would have been able to carve out such an influ­en­tial role for Hous­ton in a nation­al Chris­t­ian-right strat­e­gy. But Hotze and Wood­fill are part of a tight-knit cir­cle in Hous­ton, where they and many of their fel­low con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian activists attend the same megachurch, Sec­ond Bap­tist; the for­mer Chris­t­ian-right radio host and state sen­a­tor who in 2015 became Texas’ pow­er­ful lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, Dan Patrick, is also a parish­ioner. The church’s senior pas­tor, Dr. Ed Young, has used his plat­form to sway the polit­i­cal agen­da of his flock. As the cam­paign against HERO hit a fever pitch, he railed against the bill from the pul­pit and warned, “We will be dis­crim­i­nat­ed against” if LGBTQ peo­ple have equal rights. “It’s total­ly decep­tive and it’s dead­ly,” Young said. “It will car­ry our city fur­ther and fur­ther, fur­ther down the road of being total­ly, in my opin­ion, sec­u­lar and god­less.”

    “So many of the anti-gay folks in the state are from Hous­ton,” says Dan Quinn, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for the Texas Free­dom Net­work. One of Wood­fill and Hotze’s key allies is Dave Welch, head of the Hous­ton Area Pas­tors’ Coun­cil, a pow­er­ful alliance that works with the pas­tors of sev­er­al megachurch­es, includ­ing Young. Welch, Quinn says, “has become one of the big faces of the anti-LGBT move­ment” in the state.

    Wood­fill, raised in Hous­ton by a NASA engi­neer and a col­lege writ­ing instruc­tor, has deep roots on the Chris­t­ian right. Ear­ly in his legal career he worked in a law prac­tice with Paul Pressler, a cen­tral play­er in the 1970s in the “Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence” of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and its bur­geon­ing union with the GOP. (Pressler was recent­ly accused in a law­suit of repeat­ed­ly sex­u­al­ly assault­ing a young man he men­tored in Bible study in the 1970s and ’80s. Pressler denies the claims. As Pressler’s for­mer law part­ner, Wood­fill is also named in the suit, which he has called “absolute­ly false” and “an attempt to extort mon­ey.”)

    It was through Pressler that Wood­fill met Hotze, who in 2014 tapped Wood­fill to suc­ceed him as pres­i­dent of Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas. Hotze, a white-haired fix­ture on the fringes of the Lone Star State’s con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics, owns a health-and-well­ness cen­ter in Hous­ton, where he dis­pens­es advice on vit­a­mins, sup­ple­ments and oth­er “nat­ur­al approach­es to health” on the the­o­ry that Chris­tians need bet­ter health than oth­ers, “for the advance­ment of God’s King­dom.”

    Imme­di­ate­ly after the HERO ordi­nance passed, Wood­fill and Welch, a sea­soned for­mer nation­al field direc­tor for the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion, launched a peti­tion to force a ref­er­en­dum vote on the mea­sure. It was Woodfill’s piv­otal insight to latch onto one small aspect of the law: the ques­tion of bath­room access.

    ...

    As homo­sex­u­al­i­ty became cul­tur­al­ly more nor­mal­ized, it no longer sparked the same out­rage that had pro­pelled vot­ers to the polls in droves a decade or more ago to pass ref­er­en­da ban­ning same-sex mar­riage in more than a dozen states, includ­ing Texas. But Wood­fill had zeroed in on some­thing that he believed could make even vot­ers out­side his base deeply uncom­fort­able – trans­gen­der bod­ies. By stir­ring up that dis­gust, and spark­ing out­rage at the notion of “men” being giv­en access to girls’ bath­rooms, he gam­bled that he could mobi­lize con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians and oth­ers, form­ing a large enough coali­tion to reverse HERO at the bal­lot box.

    His efforts were bol­stered by a stroke of luck when a mis­step by the city also allowed him to stir up fears about gov­ern­ment oppres­sion of Chris­tians’ reli­gious free­dom. After the city ruled thou­sands of the 50,000 peti­tion sig­na­tures that Woodfill’s troops had col­lect­ed invalid, Wood­fill sued, rais­ing more than a half mil­lion dol­lars for legal fees from church­es and indi­vid­ual donors such as Hotze. In the course of the law­suit, the city sub­poe­naed records, includ­ing ser­mons, from five Hous­ton pas­tors whose con­gre­ga­tions had helped col­lect sig­na­tures. Although doc­u­ment requests are stan­dard dis­cov­ery pro­ce­dure in lit­i­ga­tion, the gov­ern­ment request for the ser­mons was like a match hit­ting gaso­line for Chris­t­ian-right activists who had spent years warn­ing that the gov­ern­ment aimed to infringe on the free speech and reli­gious free­dom of Chris­tians in order to advance LGBTQ equal­i­ty. Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, a ris­ing con­ser­v­a­tive legal advo­ca­cy group, accused the city of “engag­ing in an inqui­si­tion.” The city even­tu­al­ly mod­i­fied the sub­poe­nas – but a firestorm had already been unleashed.

    The local fight over a munic­i­pal ordi­nance quick­ly went nation­al, held up by lead­ers of the Chris­t­ian right as the real­iza­tion of their dark­est warn­ings: a real-life effort by the state to muz­zle church­es. For the reli­gious-right rank and file, the Hous­ton case both height­ened their anx­i­eties and gave urgency to their polit­i­cal mes­sag­ing – offer­ing proof that the gov­ern­ment did indeed aim to sur­veil pas­tors’ speech to serve the aims of the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty. “Hous­ton, we have a prob­lem” soon became a refrain of Chris­t­ian-right action alerts.

    “This is about polit­i­cal intim­i­da­tion,” Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil pres­i­dent Tony Perkins told Fox News’ Meg­yn Kel­ly in Octo­ber 2014. “This is unprece­dent­ed, and we’ve been hear­ing from pas­tors across the nation.”

    Over the course of the next year, as HERO’s oppo­nents won the right to a ref­er­en­dum vote, con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal lead­ers ham­mered the mes­sage home to church­go­ers. Dur­ing a “Faith, Fam­i­ly, and Free­dom” ral­ly host­ed by Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas in August 2015, which attract­ed such polit­i­cal pow­er­hous­es as for­mer House Major­i­ty Leader Tom DeLay, Hotze warned the audi­ence of the threat of “homo-fas­cists.” “Just like there was a Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, there’s a homo­sex­u­al man­i­festo,” he said. “The hack­les will stand up on the back of your neck when you see what they have planned.”

    The Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil, one of the nation’s most pow­er­ful Chris­t­ian-right advo­ca­cy groups, orga­nized an “I Stand Sun­day” event at a Hous­ton megachurch just days before the Novem­ber 2015 ref­er­en­dum vote; the vote was being so close­ly watched on the right that the event was simul­cast to more than 750 church­es around the coun­try. There, Erik Stan­ley, an attor­ney from Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, called the sub­poe­nas “just one front in a rapid­ly devel­op­ing con­flict. The phi­los­o­phy under­ly­ing this con­flict is that sex­u­al lib­er­ty trumps every­thing, includ­ing reli­gious lib­er­ty.” The sub­poe­nas had pro­vid­ed the Chris­t­ian right a per­fect bridge between the bath­room-focused strat­e­gy and the broad­er reli­gious-lib­er­ty cam­paign, prov­ing, in activists’ minds, that gov­ern­ment hos­til­i­ty to reli­gion and pro­mot­ing LGBTQ rights went hand in hand.

    ...

    Days lat­er, Hous­ton vot­ers went to the polls and defeat­ed HERO sound­ly, with 61 per­cent vot­ing for repeal. The Hous­ton strat­e­gy was offi­cial­ly a suc­cess, and activists in oth­er states quick­ly sought to repli­cate it, par­tic­u­lar­ly in North Car­oli­na, which the fol­low­ing year would pass the first law in the nation ban­ning trans­gen­der peo­ple from using the pub­lic restroom asso­ci­at­ed with their gen­der iden­ti­ty. Tam­mi Fitzger­ald, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the North Car­oli­na Val­ues Coali­tion, which spear­head­ed sup­port for the bill, acknowl­edged that her group was deeply influ­enced by Hous­ton. She recalled the moment she first saw a tele­vi­sion ad that Wood­fill and Hotze had run: It fea­tured images of a young girl in a bath­room stall, with a chill­ing voiceover warn­ing that a man could enter at any time. Fitzger­ald found it so effec­tive that her coali­tion con­tact­ed the same ad agency to recast it for a North Car­oli­na audi­ence. “The pas­tors in Hous­ton rose up and decid­ed they were not going to allow a may­or of their city to over­ride their free­doms,” Fitzger­ald says, “their free­dom to have access to bath­rooms and show­ers and lock­er rooms with­out wor­ry­ing about some­one of the oppo­site sex view­ing their daugh­ters or their grand­daugh­ters.”

    “We were win­ning big,” Wood­fill boasts, and “I do think that embold­ened a whole lot of oth­er folks.”

    ...

    The Fam­i­ly Pol­i­cy Alliance, an umbrel­la of state lob­by­ing groups affil­i­at­ed with Focus on the Fam­i­ly and the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil, sensed a change in the wind. “While the rad­i­cal agen­da of the homo­sex­u­al and trans­gen­der lob­by has rocked the nation in recent years, the ‘push­back’ is gain­ing real steam,” a May 2016 post on the organization’s site read. “It start­ed in Hous­ton last Novem­ber with the over­whelm­ing defeat of [HERO].”

    Beyond North Car­oli­na, a wave of bills fol­lowed in oth­er states that explic­it­ly sought to block equal access to bath­rooms and ther pub­lic facil­i­ties for trans­gen­der peo­ple. Although none passed, Trump deliv­ered a vic­to­ry by rescind­ing a Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion guid­ance, first put in place by Oba­ma in May 2016, to pro­tect trans­gen­der stu­dents in pub­lic schools from dis­crim­i­na­tion. And despite so many bath­room bills stalling in state­hous­es, the fear-mon­ger­ing strat­e­gy con­tin­ued to gain steam: In 2017, Repub­li­cans not only kept up the pres­sure for bath­room bills in Texas and else­where, intro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion in at least 16 states, but draft­ed oth­er bills pur­port­ing to pro­tect chil­dren from LGBTQ peo­ple. Laws per­mit­ting adop­tion and fos­ter-care agen­cies to refuse to place chil­dren with same-sex cou­ples passed in Texas, Alaba­ma and South Dako­ta.

    The strat­e­gy faced push­back when North Car­oli­na was forced to repeal its bath­room law, HB2, under pres­sure of busi­ness boy­cotts. But the repeal was hard­ly a vic­to­ry for LGBTQ rights: State law­mak­ers replaced HB2 with a law that pro­hibits munic­i­pal­i­ties from pass­ing nondis­crim­i­na­tion laws. The bath­room bill, then, end­ed up open­ing the door to broad­er dis­crim­i­na­tion against LGBTQ peo­ple.

    Last March, the Texas state leg­is­la­ture held a hear­ing on SB6, a bill that would require trans­gen­der peo­ple to use the pub­lic bath­room or lock­er room that cor­re­sponds with the gen­der list­ed on their birth cer­tifi­cate. The bill had become one of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties. The day before the hear­ing, Patrick held a press con­fer­ence inside the capi­tol to ral­ly sup­port. There, flanked by Wood­fill, Hotze and pas­tors and Chris­t­ian-right lead­ers from around the state, Patrick praised “our own city of Hous­ton,” where, he said, vot­ers “reject­ed the mayor’s poli­cies” and would ral­ly behind SB6. Lat­er in the day, he deliv­ered a bel­li­cose address to pas­tors, com­par­ing the fight to pass SB6 to the bat­tle at the Alamo. He urged them to “win this fight for Amer­i­ca” because “a strong Amer­i­ca depends on a strong Texas.”

    Patrick, who was elect­ed with a cru­cial $1.2 mil­lion elec­tion­eer­ing cam­paign from Hotze and Woodfill’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas, has become “the cen­ter of almost all activ­i­ty on the anti-LGBT front, par­tic­u­lar­ly on bills on trans­gen­der and so-called reli­gious free­dom,” says Quinn, of the Texas Free­dom Net­work.

    In his push for SB6, Patrick appeared to be set­ting his sights far beyond the state’s bor­ders. His nation­al pro­file was grow­ing, and SB6 was an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Texas to again lead the way. Though a num­ber of oth­er states had put bath­room leg­is­la­tion for­ward, so far only North Carolina’s ill-fat­ed bill had passed. Days before the press con­fer­ence, Patrick received a lauda­to­ry note of appre­ci­a­tion from Alan Sears, founder of Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, for a speech Patrick had deliv­ered to the influ­en­tial con­ser­v­a­tive umbrel­la group the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy, which had also pro­filed the SB6 cam­paign in its month­ly newslet­ter. In his note, Sears applaud­ed Patrick for his “desire to pro­tect our young peo­ple from the show­er and bath­room inva­sions.” Patrick was also inter­viewed by the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, where he extolled the bill as “a mod­el for oth­er states to fol­low and end this dis­cus­sion once and for all about men being able to walk into ladies’ rooms in pub­lic build­ings and to stop school dis­tricts from allow­ing boys and girls to show­er togeth­er.”

    /Nation­al Chris­t­ian-right fire­pow­er showed up in force to lob­by for the bill’s pas­sage. One of the first wit­ness­es at the SB6 hear­ing was Perkins, who is not only pres­i­dent of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil but has since 2014 served as pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy. (Perkins and Sears did not respond to inter­view requests.)

    Perkins hadn’t just flown to Austin to offer up his tes­ti­mo­ny to one state­house; he was using the Texas capi­tol as a com­mand cen­ter in the cul­ture war. A few hun­dred feet from the hear­ing room was an audi­to­ri­um the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil had reserved to train a gath­er­ing of Texas pas­tors on how to lob­by their state leg­is­la­tors. The pas­tors, who were tight-lipped about what had tran­spired inside the audi­to­ri­um, received talk­ing points in sup­port of SB6 and advice about how to influ­ence leg­is­la­tors to “sup­port bib­li­cal val­ues.”

    ...

    After SB6 stalled, Patrick urged Gov. Greg Abbott to call a spe­cial sum­mer ses­sion to make anoth­er attempt to pass it. On short notice, the Sen­ate State Affairs Com­mit­tee held a fresh hear­ing on the bill in July. As with the first one, the hear­ing drew more oppo­nents than sup­port­ers, includ­ing Kim­ber­ly Shap­p­ley, the moth­er of a trans girl who stunned the hear­ing room into rapt silence when she revealed she was a reg­is­tered Repub­li­can and a “born-again believ­er in Jesus Christ,” going on to admon­ish the law­mak­ers, “the Lord is on our side.” Again, the bill failed to pass the House, a set­back Wood­fill and Hotze blamed on the mod­er­ate Repub­li­can House speak­er, Joe Straus, who Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas has relent­less­ly tar­get­ed as a lib­er­al RINO. Wood­fill called for pri­ma­ry chal­lenges to Straus and “his lieu­tenants,” accus­ing him of hav­ing “proud­ly killed leg­is­la­tion that would keep bio­log­i­cal males, includ­ing reg­is­tered sex offend­ers, from enter­ing women’s bath­rooms, show­ers, and lock­er rooms.”

    ...

    Since tak­ing office last Jan­u­ary, Trump has made good on a vari­ety of oth­er com­mit­ments he made to Chris­t­ian-right lead­ers dur­ing the cam­paign. In addi­tion to his rever­sal of the DOE trans­gen­der guid­ance and his attempt to ban trans­gen­der ser­vice mem­bers from the mil­i­tary, he has stacked fed­er­al agen­cies, espe­cial­ly the Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices, with Chris­t­ian-right ide­o­logues. And he issued an exec­u­tive order last May, direct­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions to devel­op guid­ance for agen­cies on reli­gious-free­dom issues, which was released in Octo­ber. That guid­ance could open the door, accord­ing to the ACLU, to “wide­spread, reli­gious-based dis­crim­i­na­tion against women, LGBT peo­ple, peo­ple of minor­i­ty faiths and races, and oth­ers in a vari­ety of con­texts.”

    Reli­gious exemp­tions, such as the ones the DOJ green-lit in its Trump-ordered guid­ance, could, if broad­ly inter­pret­ed, turn anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion rules into “Swiss cheese,” says ACLU deputy legal direc­tor Louise Melling. The Supreme Court has said that same-sex cou­ples have a con­sti­tu­tion­al right to mar­ry, Melling says, but what does that right mean “when you then go to a store and you can be turned away because of who you are?”

    Last spring, when I met Wood­fill at his office, Trump had just signed an exec­u­tive order sig­nal­ing that his admin­is­tra­tion would stop enforc­ing the John­son Amend­ment, a 1954 addi­tion to the Inter­nal Rev­enue Code that allows the IRS to revoke a non-prof­it organization’s tax-exempt sta­tus if it uses tax-exempt resources – includ­ing a pastor’s pul­pit – to endorse polit­i­cal can­di­dates. (Although Repub­li­can law­mak­ers attempt­ed to include a pro­vi­sion to repeal the John­son Amend­ment in the recent­ly passed tax-reform leg­is­la­tion, it did not sur­vive in the final ver­sion of the bill.) Wood­fill declared Trump to be more engaged “than any pres­i­dent I’m aware of on issues that are impor­tant to evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians,” more even than Texas’ own evan­gel­i­cal son, George W. Bush. “A lot of can­di­dates talk the talk,” Wood­fill tells me, “but then to actu­al­ly walk the walk, and to actu­al­ly exe­cute on those cam­paign promis­es is a dif­fer­ent thing.”

    Wood­fill is relent­less in his con­tin­ued fight against the advance of LGBTQ rights, which he por­trays as a spir­i­tu­al call. He is lit­i­gat­ing a case, Pid­geon v. Park­er, chal­leng­ing a deci­sion by Park­er, while she was Houston’s may­or, to grant ben­e­fits to the same-sex spous­es of Hous­ton city employ­ees who mar­ried in oth­er states, at a time when Texas’ ban on same-sex mar­riage was still in place. That pol­i­cy was obvi­at­ed by Oberge­fell, but Wood­fill is still lit­i­gat­ing the case in the hopes of secur­ing a rul­ing that Oberge­fell‘s recog­ni­tion of mar­i­tal rights does not extend to spousal ben­e­fits.

    ...

    Wood­fill waves away the notion that Oberge­fell made his legal chal­lenge against Park­er moot; in the van­guard as always, pilot­ing new lines of attack in his urgent bat­tle against LGBTQ rights, he insists that Oberge­fell is lim­it­ed only to the mar­riage license itself and doesn’t extend to any of the atten­dant ben­e­fits of mar­riage. Com­par­ing the case to Roe, he hints at repli­cat­ing the Chris­t­ian right’s anti-abor­tion strat­e­gy: The Supreme Court may have decid­ed that abor­tion is a right, but the anti-abor­tion move­ment has spent decades hol­low­ing out that right in the courts, in Con­gress and in state leg­is­la­tures, which has result­ed in a pre­cip­i­tous drop in the num­ber of abor­tion providers since the ear­ly 1980s. “We’re nev­er going to stop fight­ing these bat­tles,” he says. “It’s a bat­tle for the heart and soul of our coun­try right now, and that battle’s being fought in leg­is­la­tures, that battle’s being fought in the courts, that battle’s being fought in the class­room.”

    Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick and Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton have joined forces to file an ami­cus brief in Woodfill’s case, argu­ing that “Oberge­fell‘s judg­ment does not include a com­mand that pub­lic employ­ers like the City of Hous­ton take steps beyond rec­og­niz­ing same-sex mar­riage – steps like sub­si­diz­ing same-sex mar­riages (through the allo­ca­tion of employ­ee ben­e­fits) on the same terms as tra­di­tion­al mar­riage.” Last year, Wood­fill won a key rul­ing from the Texas Supreme Court that allows him to con­tin­ue to lit­i­gate the ques­tion; the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, allow­ing Wood­fill to con­tin­ue his cru­sade in Texas’ courts.

    That goal – the grind­ing down of Oberge­fell’s reach – is already in full swing. In ear­ly Decem­ber, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argu­ments in Mas­ter­piece Cakeshop v. Col­orado Civ­il Rights Com­mis­sion, a case in which a bak­er claims he should be allowed to refuse to pre­pare a cake for a gay couple’s wed­ding because of his reli­gious objec­tions to same-sex mar­riage. The bak­er, Jack Phillips, is rep­re­sent­ed by Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, the same law firm that rep­re­sent­ed the Hous­ton pas­tors in the sub­poe­na fight; last Sep­tem­ber, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice weighed in to sup­port his posi­tion. And this month, the high court declined to review a rul­ing by the Fifth Cir­cuit Court of Appeals, allow­ing a Mis­sis­sip­pi law to stand that grants wide-rang­ing reli­gious exemp­tions to those who object to LGBTQ rights. Both Trump’s pack­ing of the courts with con­ser­v­a­tives and his will­ing­ness to do the Chris­t­ian right’s bid­ding make for opti­mism in con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cles that the anti-Oberge­fell strat­e­gy could suc­ceed.

    In Trump, Wood­fill says, “you have some­one who arguably had a Saul to Paul expe­ri­ence” – refer­ring to the deci­sive moment along the road to Dam­as­cus when the Apos­tle Paul rec­og­nized that Jesus was the Mes­si­ah. When I ask Wood­fill to iden­ti­fy Trump’s road-to-Dam­as­cus moment, he reacts, as he fre­quent­ly does, with a bois­ter­ous, boy­ish laugh. “That’s a great ques­tion,” he says, although the answer is ulti­mate­ly irrel­e­vant. “Trump’s like­ly to get anoth­er one or two Supreme Court appoint­ments,” Wood­fill mus­es. Those nom­i­nees, and Trump’s stack­ing of the low­er courts with life­time appointees who have anti-LGBTQ views, could prove deci­sive in whether Woodfill’s dream is even­tu­al­ly ful­filled. “Those appoint­ments,” Wood­fill says point­ed­ly, “are going to be one of the most impor­tant things he’s going to do.”

    ———–

    “Anti-Trans Bath­room Debate: How a Local Reli­gious-Right Fac­tion Launched a Nation­al Move­ment” by Sarah Pos­ner; Rolling Stone; 01/22/2018

    “The avalanche of change wasn’t just legal but cul­tur­al as well, with polls show­ing a seis­mic shift in atti­tudes: Homo­sex­u­al­i­ty was becom­ing increas­ing­ly accept­ed, even among a younger gen­er­a­tion of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians. At stake in the new cul­ture war sparked by Oberge­fell, many con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cals and Catholics believed, was the future of Chris­tian­i­ty itself. “We are mov­ing rapid­ly towards the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty,” for­mer Arkansas gov­er­nor and then-pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Mike Huck­abee warned pas­tors in a con­fer­ence call less than two weeks before announc­ing his pres­i­den­tial run.

    “We are mov­ing rapid­ly towards the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Chris­tian­i­ty.” That’s the deeply cyn­i­cal fram­ing being put to work with this anti-LGBTQ polit­i­cal theme. A kind of ‘it is us or them’ fram­ing. And based on this report, it was at a May 2015 CNP meet­ing where Kel­ly Shack­elford — Mike John­son’s men­tor — warned the audi­ence that a Supreme Court rul­ing on gay mar­riage “is going to be a direct attack” on the reli­gious free­dom of every­one in the coun­try. “No one will escape it.” By the next year, anti-trans ‘bath­room bills’ were the new hot polit­i­cal trend in con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics. A planned pan­ic about trans preda­tors was already under­way, with Shack­elford’s home city of Hous­ton as ground zero:

    ...
    In May 2015, the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy, an elite orga­ni­za­tion of con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers, held a strat­e­gy ses­sion at the Ritz-Carl­ton Hotel in Tysons Cor­ner, Vir­ginia, just out­side Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The mood among con­ser­v­a­tives was bleak. A month lat­er, the Supreme Court would decide the case of Oberge­fell v. Hodges, which would estab­lish equal access to mar­riage as a con­sti­tu­tion­al right. “I don’t think any­body has an idea of the mag­ni­tude of what’s com­ing,” warned Kel­ly Shack­elford, a lawyer from Texas and the found­ing pres­i­dent of the First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute, a non­prof­it legal firm well-known in Chris­t­ian-right legal cir­cles. He co-authored an op-ed in 2015 that char­ac­ter­ized laws pro­tect­ing LGBTQ peo­ple from dis­crim­i­na­tion as just “anoth­er route for suing Chris­tians.” An unfa­vor­able rul­ing in Oberge­fell, Shack­elford sug­gest­ed that day, “is going to be a direct attack” on the reli­gious free­dom of every­one in the coun­try. “No one will escape it.”

    ...

    Fac­ing such polit­i­cal head­winds, Chris­t­ian-right activists des­per­ate­ly need­ed a fresh strat­e­gy. Pro­vok­ing fear of infringe­ment on reli­gious lib­er­ty would like­ly only gain trac­tion among fel­low believ­ers. They soon found an alter­na­tive in Shackelford’s home state, whose largest city was, at the time, led by a les­bian Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­or. There, in Hous­ton, a small band of well-con­nect­ed far-right activists was res­ur­rect­ing an approach from the old­est anti-LGBTQ play­book: to trans­form the civic debate about homo­sex­u­al­i­ty into a pan­ic about preda­tors. As nation­al activists fret­ted at the Ritz-Carl­ton, Hous­ton play­ers had already sketched out a plan to turn vot­ers against nondis­crim­i­na­tion ordi­nances by fram­ing the debate as one about safe­ty for women and girls. It proved so potent that it prompt­ed a shift in leg­isla­tive strat­e­gy across the coun­try.

    In the 2014 and 2015 leg­isla­tive ses­sions, in the run-up to Oberge­fell, Repub­li­can law­mak­ers were focused on “reli­gious free­dom” bills to grant reli­gious exemp­tions from serv­ing same-sex cou­ples or their wed­dings. In 2016, that strat­e­gy changed, says Cather­ine Oak­ley, senior leg­isla­tive coun­sel at the Human Rights Cam­paign. That year, she says, “was about going after trans peo­ple with bath­room bills.” The Nation­al Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures count­ed nine states that con­sid­ered bath­room bills in 2015; in 2016 that num­ber jumped to 19. The shift was a sign of a new strat­e­gy, post-Oberge­fell, of find­ing ways to wedge apart the grow­ing con­sen­sus for LGBTQ rights. Just like the Chris­t­ian right’s long march against abor­tion rights after Roe v. Wade, it will be a mul­ti-front war – in the courts, in state­hous­es, in pub­lic debate – per­sist­ing even while the ulti­mate prize, a Supreme Court rever­sal, is poten­tial­ly decades away. And like the long fight against Roe, this one would start not with legal argu­ments or even the­o­log­i­cal ones, but with a pure gut reac­tion: fear and dis­gust.
    ...

    And as the arti­cle describes, by the time Shack­elford issued that warn­ing at the May 2015 CNP gath­er­ing, Hous­ton’s lead­ing con­ser­v­a­tives had already been engaged in a heat­ing anti-LGBTQ polit­i­cal cam­paign in response to HERO, a May 2014 Hous­ton City Coun­cil anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law. Specif­i­cal­ly, a cam­paign waged by Jared Wood­fill and Steven Hotze, who are both part of a tight-knit cir­cle cen­tered around Hous­ton’s Sec­ond Bap­tist mega-church led by Ed Young, where the parish­ioners include the vir­u­lent­ly anti-LGBTQ Lt Gov Dan Patrick. Iron­i­cal­ly, Wood­fill met Hotze via Paul Pressler, who is now at the cen­ter of an ongo­ing law­suit over decades of alleged sex­u­al abuse of young men and teen boys. A law­suit that cites Wood­fill as one of Pressler’s key enablers. It’s iron­ic, but also pro­found­ly cyn­i­cal. A bad faith polit­i­cal cam­paign waged by preda­to­ry hyp­o­crit­i­cal theocrats:

    ...
    In May 2014, the Hous­ton City Coun­cil passed a com­pre­hen­sive anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion law, dubbed the Hous­ton Equal Rights Ordi­nance, or HERO, a mea­sure intro­duced by Houston’s first les­bian may­or, Annise Park­er, to out­law dis­crim­i­na­tion based not only on race, gen­der, age and eth­nic­i­ty, but also on sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­ti­ty. The bill, as intro­duced, would have also explic­it­ly per­mit­ted trans­gen­der peo­ple to use restrooms or lock­er rooms cor­re­spond­ing with their gen­der iden­ti­ty; though that spe­cif­ic pro­vi­sion was elim­i­nat­ed before pas­sage, the broad nondis­crim­i­na­tion lan­guage in the bill would have cov­ered it. The vocal oppo­si­tion against HERO – large­ly ginned up in the city’s con­ser­v­a­tive church­es – was led by Jared Wood­fill, a Hous­ton lawyer and Repub­li­can polit­i­cal activist, and Dr. Steven Hotze, a dietary-sup­ple­ments sup­pli­er and local right-wing radio host. Togeth­er, they run the influ­en­tial Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas, whose lit­er­a­ture habit­u­al­ly refers to LGBTQ peo­ple as “per­verts,” “deviants” and “sodomites,” and which has been called “a cesspool of extrem­ism and open hate” by the civ­il-rights group Texas Free­dom Net­work. Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas has called on Chris­tians to join a “cul­tur­al bat­tle” against the left in order to halt “the Islamiza­tion of Amer­i­ca,” “the killing of the unborn” and “accep­tance of the per­vert­ed homo­sex­u­al and so-called ‘trans­gen­der’ lifestyle.” With their anti-HERO bat­tle, they would trans­form what appeared to be a local dis­pute into a nation­al cause célèbre for the Chris­t­ian right.

    It’s unlike­ly that two local activists, on their own, would have been able to carve out such an influ­en­tial role for Hous­ton in a nation­al Chris­t­ian-right strat­e­gy. But Hotze and Wood­fill are part of a tight-knit cir­cle in Hous­ton, where they and many of their fel­low con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian activists attend the same megachurch, Sec­ond Bap­tist; the for­mer Chris­t­ian-right radio host and state sen­a­tor who in 2015 became Texas’ pow­er­ful lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, Dan Patrick, is also a parish­ioner. The church’s senior pas­tor, Dr. Ed Young, has used his plat­form to sway the polit­i­cal agen­da of his flock. As the cam­paign against HERO hit a fever pitch, he railed against the bill from the pul­pit and warned, “We will be dis­crim­i­nat­ed against” if LGBTQ peo­ple have equal rights. “It’s total­ly decep­tive and it’s dead­ly,” Young said. “It will car­ry our city fur­ther and fur­ther, fur­ther down the road of being total­ly, in my opin­ion, sec­u­lar and god­less.”

    “So many of the anti-gay folks in the state are from Hous­ton,” says Dan Quinn, com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor for the Texas Free­dom Net­work. One of Wood­fill and Hotze’s key allies is Dave Welch, head of the Hous­ton Area Pas­tors’ Coun­cil, a pow­er­ful alliance that works with the pas­tors of sev­er­al megachurch­es, includ­ing Young. Welch, Quinn says, “has become one of the big faces of the anti-LGBT move­ment” in the state.

    Wood­fill, raised in Hous­ton by a NASA engi­neer and a col­lege writ­ing instruc­tor, has deep roots on the Chris­t­ian right. Ear­ly in his legal career he worked in a law prac­tice with Paul Pressler, a cen­tral play­er in the 1970s in the “Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence” of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and its bur­geon­ing union with the GOP. (Pressler was recent­ly accused in a law­suit of repeat­ed­ly sex­u­al­ly assault­ing a young man he men­tored in Bible study in the 1970s and ’80s. Pressler denies the claims. As Pressler’s for­mer law part­ner, Wood­fill is also named in the suit, which he has called “absolute­ly false” and “an attempt to extort mon­ey.”)

    It was through Pressler that Wood­fill met Hotze, who in 2014 tapped Wood­fill to suc­ceed him as pres­i­dent of Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas. Hotze, a white-haired fix­ture on the fringes of the Lone Star State’s con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics, owns a health-and-well­ness cen­ter in Hous­ton, where he dis­pens­es advice on vit­a­mins, sup­ple­ments and oth­er “nat­ur­al approach­es to health” on the the­o­ry that Chris­tians need bet­ter health than oth­ers, “for the advance­ment of God’s King­dom.”

    ...

    Patrick, who was elect­ed with a cru­cial $1.2 mil­lion elec­tion­eer­ing cam­paign from Hotze and Woodfill’s Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas, has become “the cen­ter of almost all activ­i­ty on the anti-LGBT front, par­tic­u­lar­ly on bills on trans­gen­der and so-called reli­gious free­dom,” says Quinn, of the Texas Free­dom Net­work.
    ...

    And it did­n’t take long for the ADF — Mike John­son’s old employ­er — to get involved, thanks to a law­suit filed by the city of Hous­ton that involved the sub­poe­naing of ser­mons from five Hous­ton pas­tors who helped to gath­er sig­na­tures, giv­ing the ADF an oppor­tu­ni­ty engage in more bad faith cyn­i­cal pol­i­tics by accus­ing the city of “engag­ing in an inqui­si­tion”. It was a like bad faith polit­i­cal man­na rain­ing down on the city of Hous­ton:

    ...
    Imme­di­ate­ly after the HERO ordi­nance passed, Wood­fill and Welch, a sea­soned for­mer nation­al field direc­tor for the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion, launched a peti­tion to force a ref­er­en­dum vote on the mea­sure. It was Woodfill’s piv­otal insight to latch onto one small aspect of the law: the ques­tion of bath­room access.

    ...

    As homo­sex­u­al­i­ty became cul­tur­al­ly more nor­mal­ized, it no longer sparked the same out­rage that had pro­pelled vot­ers to the polls in droves a decade or more ago to pass ref­er­en­da ban­ning same-sex mar­riage in more than a dozen states, includ­ing Texas. But Wood­fill had zeroed in on some­thing that he believed could make even vot­ers out­side his base deeply uncom­fort­able – trans­gen­der bod­ies. By stir­ring up that dis­gust, and spark­ing out­rage at the notion of “men” being giv­en access to girls’ bath­rooms, he gam­bled that he could mobi­lize con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians and oth­ers, form­ing a large enough coali­tion to reverse HERO at the bal­lot box.

    His efforts were bol­stered by a stroke of luck when a mis­step by the city also allowed him to stir up fears about gov­ern­ment oppres­sion of Chris­tians’ reli­gious free­dom. After the city ruled thou­sands of the 50,000 peti­tion sig­na­tures that Woodfill’s troops had col­lect­ed invalid, Wood­fill sued, rais­ing more than a half mil­lion dol­lars for legal fees from church­es and indi­vid­ual donors such as Hotze. In the course of the law­suit, the city sub­poe­naed records, includ­ing ser­mons, from five Hous­ton pas­tors whose con­gre­ga­tions had helped col­lect sig­na­tures. Although doc­u­ment requests are stan­dard dis­cov­ery pro­ce­dure in lit­i­ga­tion, the gov­ern­ment request for the ser­mons was like a match hit­ting gaso­line for Chris­t­ian-right activists who had spent years warn­ing that the gov­ern­ment aimed to infringe on the free speech and reli­gious free­dom of Chris­tians in order to advance LGBTQ equal­i­ty. Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, a ris­ing con­ser­v­a­tive legal advo­ca­cy group, accused the city of “engag­ing in an inqui­si­tion.” The city even­tu­al­ly mod­i­fied the sub­poe­nas – but a firestorm had already been unleashed.
    ...

    Even lead­ing CNP mem­ber Tony Perkins got in on the polit­i­cal the­atrics, using the sub­poe­nas to frame the whole debate as a ‘reli­gious lib­er­ties’ issue. This, as the same time Steven Hotze was warn­ing audi­ences, “Just like there was a Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, there’s a homo­sex­u­al man­i­festo”:

    ...
    “This is about polit­i­cal intim­i­da­tion,” Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil pres­i­dent Tony Perkins told Fox News’ Meg­yn Kel­ly in Octo­ber 2014. “This is unprece­dent­ed, and we’ve been hear­ing from pas­tors across the nation.”

    Over the course of the next year, as HERO’s oppo­nents won the right to a ref­er­en­dum vote, con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal lead­ers ham­mered the mes­sage home to church­go­ers. Dur­ing a “Faith, Fam­i­ly, and Free­dom” ral­ly host­ed by Con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans of Texas in August 2015, which attract­ed such polit­i­cal pow­er­hous­es as for­mer House Major­i­ty Leader Tom DeLay, Hotze warned the audi­ence of the threat of “homo-fas­cists.” “Just like there was a Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo, there’s a homo­sex­u­al man­i­festo,” he said. “The hack­les will stand up on the back of your neck when you see what they have planned.”

    The Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil, one of the nation’s most pow­er­ful Chris­t­ian-right advo­ca­cy groups, orga­nized an “I Stand Sun­day” event at a Hous­ton megachurch just days before the Novem­ber 2015 ref­er­en­dum vote; the vote was being so close­ly watched on the right that the event was simul­cast to more than 750 church­es around the coun­try. There, Erik Stan­ley, an attor­ney from Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, called the sub­poe­nas “just one front in a rapid­ly devel­op­ing con­flict. The phi­los­o­phy under­ly­ing this con­flict is that sex­u­al lib­er­ty trumps every­thing, includ­ing reli­gious lib­er­ty.” The sub­poe­nas had pro­vid­ed the Chris­t­ian right a per­fect bridge between the bath­room-focused strat­e­gy and the broad­er reli­gious-lib­er­ty cam­paign, prov­ing, in activists’ minds, that gov­ern­ment hos­til­i­ty to reli­gion and pro­mot­ing LGBTQ rights went hand in hand.
    ...

    Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of the polit­i­cal cam­paign, a new nation­al tem­plate was born, with groups like the Fam­i­ly Pol­i­cy Alliance cit­ing the suc­cess in Hous­ton as the start of a nation­al ‘push­back’ against LGBTQ rights. Note that Paul E. Weber — the Pres­i­dent & CEP of the Fam­i­ly Pol­i­cy Alliance and for­mer exec­u­tive of the ADF — also shows up on the CNP mem­ber­ship lists. Because of course his name shows up on those leaked mem­ber­ship lists. It would be weird if it did­n’t:

    ...
    Days lat­er, Hous­ton vot­ers went to the polls and defeat­ed HERO sound­ly, with 61 per­cent vot­ing for repeal. The Hous­ton strat­e­gy was offi­cial­ly a suc­cess, and activists in oth­er states quick­ly sought to repli­cate it, par­tic­u­lar­ly in North Car­oli­na, which the fol­low­ing year would pass the first law in the nation ban­ning trans­gen­der peo­ple from using the pub­lic restroom asso­ci­at­ed with their gen­der iden­ti­ty. Tam­mi Fitzger­ald, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the North Car­oli­na Val­ues Coali­tion, which spear­head­ed sup­port for the bill, acknowl­edged that her group was deeply influ­enced by Hous­ton. She recalled the moment she first saw a tele­vi­sion ad that Wood­fill and Hotze had run: It fea­tured images of a young girl in a bath­room stall, with a chill­ing voiceover warn­ing that a man could enter at any time. Fitzger­ald found it so effec­tive that her coali­tion con­tact­ed the same ad agency to recast it for a North Car­oli­na audi­ence. “The pas­tors in Hous­ton rose up and decid­ed they were not going to allow a may­or of their city to over­ride their free­doms,” Fitzger­ald says, “their free­dom to have access to bath­rooms and show­ers and lock­er rooms with­out wor­ry­ing about some­one of the oppo­site sex view­ing their daugh­ters or their grand­daugh­ters.”

    ...

    The Fam­i­ly Pol­i­cy Alliance, an umbrel­la of state lob­by­ing groups affil­i­at­ed with Focus on the Fam­i­ly and the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil, sensed a change in the wind. “While the rad­i­cal agen­da of the homo­sex­u­al and trans­gen­der lob­by has rocked the nation in recent years, the ‘push­back’ is gain­ing real steam,” a May 2016 post on the organization’s site read. “It start­ed in Hous­ton last Novem­ber with the over­whelm­ing defeat of [HERO].”
    ...

    Flash for­ward to March of 2017, and we find Lt Gov Dan Patrick mak­ing an anti-trans bath­room bill, SB6, one of his top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties, with enor­mous sup­port from groups like the CNP, ADF, and FRC. That includes sup­port from these groups’ lead­ers like ADF founder Alan Sears and FRC pres­i­dent Tony Perkins. Recall how Sears sits on the board of the CNP. And Perkins — the CNP Pres­i­dent start­ing in 2014–2018 — even showed up as one of the first wit­ness­es at the SB6 hear­ing. What was tran­spir­ing in Hous­ton had the back­ing of the CNP’s nation­al lead­er­ship:

    ...
    Last March, the Texas state leg­is­la­ture held a hear­ing on SB6, a bill that would require trans­gen­der peo­ple to use the pub­lic bath­room or lock­er room that cor­re­sponds with the gen­der list­ed on their birth cer­tifi­cate. The bill had become one of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s top leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties. The day before the hear­ing, Patrick held a press con­fer­ence inside the capi­tol to ral­ly sup­port. There, flanked by Wood­fill, Hotze and pas­tors and Chris­t­ian-right lead­ers from around the state, Patrick praised “our own city of Hous­ton,” where, he said, vot­ers “reject­ed the mayor’s poli­cies” and would ral­ly behind SB6. Lat­er in the day, he deliv­ered a bel­li­cose address to pas­tors, com­par­ing the fight to pass SB6 to the bat­tle at the Alamo. He urged them to “win this fight for Amer­i­ca” because “a strong Amer­i­ca depends on a strong Texas.”

    ...

    In his push for SB6, Patrick appeared to be set­ting his sights far beyond the state’s bor­ders. His nation­al pro­file was grow­ing, and SB6 was an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Texas to again lead the way. Though a num­ber of oth­er states had put bath­room leg­is­la­tion for­ward, so far only North Carolina’s ill-fat­ed bill had passed. Days before the press con­fer­ence, Patrick received a lauda­to­ry note of appre­ci­a­tion from Alan Sears, founder of Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, for a speech Patrick had deliv­ered to the influ­en­tial con­ser­v­a­tive umbrel­la group the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy, which had also pro­filed the SB6 cam­paign in its month­ly newslet­ter. In his note, Sears applaud­ed Patrick for his “desire to pro­tect our young peo­ple from the show­er and bath­room inva­sions.” Patrick was also inter­viewed by the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, where he extolled the bill as “a mod­el for oth­er states to fol­low and end this dis­cus­sion once and for all about men being able to walk into ladies’ rooms in pub­lic build­ings and to stop school dis­tricts from allow­ing boys and girls to show­er togeth­er.”

    /Nation­al Chris­t­ian-right fire­pow­er showed up in force to lob­by for the bill’s pas­sage. One of the first wit­ness­es at the SB6 hear­ing was Perkins, who is not only pres­i­dent of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil but has since 2014 served as pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy. (Perkins and Sears did not respond to inter­view requests.)

    Perkins hadn’t just flown to Austin to offer up his tes­ti­mo­ny to one state­house; he was using the Texas capi­tol as a com­mand cen­ter in the cul­ture war. A few hun­dred feet from the hear­ing room was an audi­to­ri­um the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil had reserved to train a gath­er­ing of Texas pas­tors on how to lob­by their state leg­is­la­tors. The pas­tors, who were tight-lipped about what had tran­spired inside the audi­to­ri­um, received talk­ing points in sup­port of SB6 and advice about how to influ­ence leg­is­la­tors to “sup­port bib­li­cal val­ues.”
    ...

    So as the use of dehu­man­iz­ing rhetoric by Don­ald Trump on the 2024 cam­paign heats up, it’s going to be impor­tant to keep in mind that Trump isn’t sim­ply using this lan­guage for his own ambi­tions. He’s dehu­man­iz­ing on behalf of his part­ners on the theo­crat­ic Right who have been stand­ing by his side the entire time. Yes, the Sched­ule F/Project 2025 is Trump’s planned purged. But it’s the CNP’s planned purge too. The kind of planned purge that can’t hap­pen with­out years of pre­emp­tive dehu­man­iz­ing rhetoric.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 13, 2023, 6:50 pm
  4. It’s going to be one cringe induc­ing anec­dote after anoth­er after anoth­er. Mike John­son, the new Speak­er of the House, is a Jesus freak of the worst vari­ety. The prob­lem isn’t his love of Jesus, of course. It’s the love of all of the things that seem to go direct­ly against Jesus’s teach­ings. Like a love of earth­ly pow­er and the pur­suit of domin­ion over all. That and all the gross anti-LGBTQ stuff. The per­son inhab­it­ing this pow­er­ful posi­tion in gov­ern­ment — sec­ond in line to the pres­i­den­cy — is, quite sim­ply, a wretched fol­low­er of the real teach­ings of his pro­fessed prophet. It’s an awful sit­u­a­tion.

    It’s not Mike John­son’s ques­tion­able reli­gios­i­ty that’s the prob­lem here. It’s his feal­ty. Because for all the talk of ‘lov­ing Jesus’, Mike John­son sure behaves like some­one who tru­ly wor­ships pow­er, damn the costs. Mike John­son fol­lows the lead of his fel­low trav­el­ers. Extra­or­di­nar­i­ly pow­er­ful fel­low trav­el­ers. Hence his close align­ment to groups like the Coun­cil for Nation­al (CNP).

    But as we’re going to see, Mike John­son’s author­i­tar­i­an allies include anoth­er very pow­er­ful group of CNP fel­low trav­el­ers: lead­ers of the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR) denom­i­na­tion of evan­gel­i­cal move­ment. A move­ment that aggres­sive­ly backed Trump’s attempts to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion and, as we’ve seen, fol­lows the ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ theo­crat­ic man­date for Chris­tians to take con­trol of the sev­en ‘moun­tains’ of pow­er: fam­i­ly, the church, edu­ca­tion, media, arts, the econ­o­my, and the gov­ern­ment. John­son may be a pro­fessed Bap­tist, but he very much aligned with the ‘Chris­tians must take con­trol of soci­ety’ the­ol­o­gy of the NAR. Because while that the­ol­o­gy is cer­tain­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the NAR, the ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ the­ol­o­gy isn’t an NAR pro­pri­etary con­cept. Instead, it’s the ani­mat­ing con­cept behind much of the CNP’s efforts which is why we should­n’t be sur­prised to find lead­ing CNP pseu­do-his­to­ri­an, and South Bap­tist, David Bar­ton also advo­cates the Sev­en Moun­tains the­ol­o­gy as part of his ‘and that’s how the Found­ing Fathers want­ed it’ pseu­do-his­tor­i­cal Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist ‘schol­ar­ship’. It’s that shared ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ the­ol­o­gy that we’re going to be look­ing at in the fol­low­ing pair of arti­cles.

    First, here’s a fol­low­ing Rolling Stone arti­cle excerpt about a video broad­cast of John­son back in Octo­ber — weeks before he became speak­er — dur­ing an appear­ance on Jim Gar­low’s World Prayer Net­work (WPN) event. John­son can be seen open­ly lament­ing the near Sodom-like state of Amer­i­can cul­ture, specif­i­cal­ly point­ing out the his­tor­i­cal­ly high per­cent of young peo­ple who iden­ti­fy on the LGBTQ spec­trum. As John­son puts it, the “cul­ture is so dark and depraved that it almost seems irre­deemable.” While the com­ments them­selves are quite news­wor­thy giv­en John­son’s new sta­tus, it’s the venue that’s the biggest sto­ry here. Gar­low, like John­son, was a promi­nent defend­er of Trump’s attempts to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion results and is quite open about his Sev­en Moun­tains the­ol­o­gy. And while Gar­low’s name may not show up on the CNP mem­ber­ship list, he is very much a fel­low trav­el­er:

    Rolling Stone

    Mike John­son: ‘Depraved’ Amer­i­ca Deserves God’s Wrath

    Cit­ing the increase in queer youth, John­son called Amer­i­can cul­ture “dark and depraved” on a call with a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist pas­tor

    By Tim Dick­in­son
    Novem­ber 15, 2023

    In an Octo­ber prayer call host­ed by a Chris­t­ian-nation­al­ist MAGA pas­tor, Rep. Mike John­son was trou­bled that America’s wicked­ness was invit­ing God’s wrath.

    Talk­ing to pas­tor Jim Gar­low on a broad­cast of the World Prayer Net­work, John­son spoke omi­nous­ly of Amer­i­ca fac­ing a “civ­i­liza­tion­al moment.” He said, “The only ques­tion is: Is God going to allow our nation to enter a time of judg­ment for our col­lec­tive sins? … Or is he going to give us one more chance to restore the foun­da­tions and return to Him?”

    The seg­ment was filmed Oct. 3, just weeks before Johnson’s unex­pect­ed rise to become speak­er of the House. Gar­low pressed the clean-cut Louisiana con­gress­man to say “more about this ‘time of judg­ment’ for Amer­i­ca.” John­son replied: “The cul­ture is so dark and depraved that it almost seems irre­deemable.” He cit­ed, as sup­posed evi­dence, the decline of nation­al church atten­dance and the rise of LGBTQ youth — the fact, John­son lament­ed, that “one-in-four high school stu­dents iden­ti­fies as some­thing oth­er than straight.”

    Dis­cussing the risk of divine ret­ri­bu­tion, John­son invoked Sodom, the Old Tes­ta­ment city destroyed by God for its wicked­ness with a rain of burn­ing sul­fur. John­son is a pol­ished ora­tor, but in a clos­ing prayer with Gar­low he grew tear­ful. John­son intoned, “We repent for our sins indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly. And we ask that You not give us the judg­ment that we clear­ly deserve.”

    Remark­ably, this was not the first time John­son brought up his fear of bib­li­cal ret­ri­bu­tion on a broad­cast with Gar­low. Dur­ing a WPN appear­ance last Decem­ber, John­son like­wise declared that he’d been “bur­dened” by the need for Amer­i­ca to “rec­og­nize there’s so much to repent for.” The future speak­er elab­o­rat­ed, “We’re vio­lat­ing His com­mands. We’re invent­ing new ways to do evil.” He added, “We have to ask our­selves: How long can His mer­cy and His grace be held back?”

    The prayer calls under­score the new House speaker’s alarm­ing align­ment with Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism — the extrem­ist move­ment that holds Amer­i­ca is not a sec­u­lar democ­ra­cy but was found­ed as a Chris­t­ian nation and should be gov­erned to uphold a fun­da­men­tal­ist moral­i­ty. They also pro­vide fresh evi­dence of Johnson’s apoc­a­lyp­tic world­view, in which he sees Amer­i­ca as exist­ing in “dis­as­trous, calami­tous” times and “hang­ing by a thread.” It rais­es ques­tions about whether the Repub­li­can, who’s now sec­ond in line for the pres­i­den­cy, is lever­ag­ing his pow­er not just to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down, but to appease an angry deity — and avoid a more per­ma­nent Heav­en­ly Shut­down.

    Pas­tor Jim Gar­low is not a house­hold name, but he’s a nation­al fig­ure. A Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist based out of the San Diego area, Gar­low is viewed as an “apos­tle” with­in the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion, a strain of Charis­mat­ic Chris­tian­i­ty that holds that gifts of the spir­it — includ­ing prophe­cy — are not bib­li­cal bygones, but alive in our time. NAR dif­fer­en­ti­ates itself from oth­er strains of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty in its obses­sion with earth­ly pow­er. NAR lead­ers embrace “domin­ion­ism,” the con­cept that Chris­tians are sup­posed to rise and rule over “the nations,” in order to bring the globe into a bib­li­cal align­ment, in prepa­ra­tion for the sec­ond com­ing of Jesus.

    To Gar­low, this trans­for­ma­tion is to be achieved through the “Sev­en Moun­tains Man­date” — with Chris­tians ascend­ing to the tops of sev­en cul­tur­al moun­tains (also referred to as “spheres of influ­ence”): reli­gion, fam­i­ly, edu­ca­tion, media, enter­tain­ment, busi­ness, and gov­ern­ment. “We’re the ones called the dis­ci­ple the nation,” Gar­low has said, teach­ing on the con­cept, “and we dis­ci­ple the nations through those sev­en spheres of influ­ence.”

    John­son is a pro­fessed Bap­tist. But the 51-year-old has known Gar­low for “two decades or more,” he revealed on a third WPN call from 2021. John­son calls Gar­low a “pro­found influ­ence” on “my life and my walk with Christ.” Gar­low, using sim­i­lar lan­guage, calls John­son “a spe­cial broth­er.” (Nei­ther the speaker’s office nor Gar­low have respond­ed to ques­tions from Rolling Stone.)

    In the prayer call videos, John­son appears unphased — in fact delight­ed — by the sho­far-bleat­ing the­atrics fea­tured on Garlow’s broad­cast. NAR Chris­tians not only fetishize the prac­tices of the Old Tes­ta­ment, they believe in spir­i­tu­al war­fare — an ongo­ing bat­tle between demons and angels that influ­ences cur­rent events. John­son speaks flu­ent­ly in this faith lan­guage on the call. He salutes the “prayer war­riors” in the audi­ence, and calls for “super­nat­ur­al inter­ven­tion” from God, to “with­hold the wrath of our ene­mies here on the Earth” and also to “restrain The Ene­my, the one that prowls around like a roar­ing lion.” John­son even offers a spe­cial shout-out for “all those who are lead­ing out in the field, in their spheres of influ­ence.”

    Matthew Tay­lor is a reli­gion schol­ar at the Insti­tute for Islam­ic, Chris­t­ian, & Jew­ish Stud­ies, as well as an NAR expert who first high­light­ed Johnson’s links to Gar­low. Tay­lor describes Gar­low as “one of the front­line peo­ple for the NAR.” But he con­fess­es it is chal­leng­ing to know what to make of Johnson’s invo­ca­tion of the movement’s argot. “Is he speak­ing the local ver­nac­u­lar when he’s hang­ing out with Jim Gar­low? Does he real­ly believe in spir­i­tu­al war­fare? I don’t know. Jim Gar­low real­ly believes this stuff.”

    ...

    Now in his mid-70s, Gar­low describes him­self as hav­ing received a “gov­ern­men­tal annoint­ing” when he was just a child, and has long preached pol­i­tics from the pul­pit. In 2008, he played a lead­ing role in pro­mot­ing the pas­sage of Prop 8 — a Cal­i­for­nia ini­tia­tive, root­ed in anti-gay big­otry that for a time out­lawed same-sex mar­riages in the state. In 2010, he joined on as chair­man of a Newt Gin­grich project called Renew­ing Amer­i­can Lead­er­ship, ded­i­cat­ed to “pre­serv­ing” America’s “Judeo-Chris­t­ian her­itage.” In 2018, Gar­low depart­ed his megachurch to focus on a new project, Well Versed, a group ded­i­cat­ed to min­is­ter­ing to mem­bers of Con­gress and the Unit­ed Nations. The min­istry car­ries an overt­ly Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist mes­sage, insist­ing that pol­i­tics “need to con­form to God’s Word, since He is the one who estab­lished gov­ern­ment and estab­lish­es nations.”

    John­son and Gar­low are fel­low trav­el­ers in many key respects — includ­ing in that they’re both unabashed Trump boost­ers and elec­tion deniers. John­son first won office in the 2016 elec­tion, the same year Trump took the pres­i­den­cy, and infa­mous­ly helped prop­a­gate the Big Lie about the 2020 elec­tion from inside Capi­tol Hill. Gar­low was part of a small cir­cle of pas­tors around Trump dur­ing his admin­is­tra­tion, even lay­ing hands on the pres­i­dent dur­ing Oval Office prayer. In Novem­ber 2020, Gar­low penned an op-ed for Charis­ma News endors­ing Trump, writ­ing, “God has put him in this posi­tion at this time. We need to keep him there.”

    In the Decem­ber after­math of that elec­tion, Gar­low was the lead author of an open let­ter to Trump declar­ing that “God’s ordained assign­ment remains unfin­ished,” because “God’s will is for you to serve for a sec­ond term.” The let­ter con­clud­ed with a prophet­ic call for vengeance: “Mr. Pres­i­dent, the Lord is telling you to pur­sue the ene­mies of our Repub­lic. Our ene­mies are God’s ene­mies. And with the pow­er of God and the glob­al pray­ing church behind you, you shall recov­er all that the ene­mies have stolen.” (Sep­a­rate­ly, Gar­low was dis­miss­ing the ide­ol­o­gy of the incom­ing Biden-Har­ris tick­et as “anti-Christ, anti-Bib­li­cal to its core.”)

    Dur­ing this post-elec­tion peri­od, Gar­low began a series of “Prayer Calls for Elec­tion Integri­ty” seek­ing divine inter­ven­tion to keep Trump in pow­er. These calls became a “hub of gath­er­ing, rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, and plan­ning,” recalls Tay­lor. The calls includ­ed bor­der­line-sedi­tious rhetoric in advance of the unrest at the Capi­tol, includ­ing a call by then-Penn­syl­va­nia state Sen. Doug Mas­tri­ano for MAGA Repub­li­cans to “seize the pow­er” on Jan 6.

    Garlow’s calls nev­er stopped when Biden took office. They mor­phed, instead, into a gen­er­al-pur­pose Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist broad­cast now labeled the World Prayer Net­work, cen­tered on “the Trans­for­ma­tion of Nations.” Despite reg­u­lar­ly fea­tur­ing GOP law­mak­ers, the online descrip­tion of the broad­cast insists it is not about Repub­li­cans vs. Democ­rats, insist­ing rather: “We ARE about God vs. Satan.” At the begin­ning of each call, Gar­low says he’s seek­ing “bib­li­cal jus­tice as opposed to social jus­tice.”

    Johnson’s link to Gar­low goes well beyond appear­ing on these prayer calls. In Feb­ru­ary, John­son, Gar­low, and Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil pres­i­dent Tony Perkins — whom John­son says “is like my big broth­er” — orga­nized a Nation­al Gath­er­ing for Prayer and Repen­tance at the Nation­al Muse­um of the Bible. The ear­ly-morn­ing event was attend­ed by lead­ing Charis­mat­ic fig­ures like the Mes­sian­ic Rab­bi Jonathan Cahn and for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Michele Bach­mann, as well as more than a dozen mem­bers of Con­gress — includ­ing then-Speak­er Kevin McCarthy and House Major­i­ty Leader Steve Scalise.

    The dole­ful day began with a bleat of a ram’s horn and intro­duc­to­ry words from Gar­low, who wel­comed “Amer­i­cans repent­ing for the sins of our nation.” Gar­low then pre­sent­ed a stark warn­ing, invok­ing two bib­li­cal king­doms of Israel that he said squan­dered heav­en­ly favor only to have God “take them out.” Amer­i­ca, he sug­gest­ed, was on that same path: “Present-day Amer­i­cans do not con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty that God could…” He stopped dra­mat­i­cal­ly ask­ing the assem­bly to “fin­ish the sen­tence.”

    Gar­low insists that his bib­li­cal call­ing is way past par­ti­san­ship. But he uses the Bible to blithe­ly sup­port stuff that Repub­li­cans want to do any­way. His web­site insists, for exam­ple, that frack­ing is holy because “ener­gy inde­pen­dence is a bib­li­cal issue” and “we are to have domin­ion over the earth, to ‘sub­due’ it, and to ‘stew­ard’ it for the Cre­ator.”

    In his con­ver­sa­tions with Gar­low, John­son like­wise express­es pride that the House GOP’s gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples — e.g., lim­it­ed gov­ern­ment, “peace through strength,” fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty, and free mar­kets — “are the prin­ci­ples of our Cre­ator.” John­son points to the sup­posed holi­ness of the Repub­li­can agen­da to insist: “That’s why we can be so fer­vent about it.”

    Yet even as he talks up divine sup­port for the Amer­i­can GOP, John­son makes clear he does not believe that many of his GOP col­leagues are true Chris­tians. On the Decem­ber 2022 call, he relates to lis­ten­ers how Gar­low “asked me the oth­er day, ‘How many do you think you would count as as tru­ly com­mit­ted Christ fol­low­ers?’” John­son reveals his count is less than a quar­ter of the GOP con­fer­ence. “I think in the House, I could col­lect, maybe 45, close to 50 peo­ple who I believe [are true] Christ fol­low­ers, and they live that every day,” John­son says.

    ...

    Ulti­mate­ly John­son voic­es some opti­mism that the “rem­nant” will be big enough — express­ing hope that, “He’ll guide us through,” because, “I don’t think God is done with Amer­i­ca.” John­son insists that’s only because of the God­ly found­ing of Amer­i­ca. “We are a nation sub­servient to Him,” he says, adding that “col­lec­tive­ly as a nation, we need to turn to Him. We need a revival.”

    ———-

    “Mike John­son: ‘Depraved’ Amer­i­ca Deserves God’s Wrath” by Tim Dick­in­son; Rolling Stone; 11/15/2023

    The prayer calls under­score the new House speaker’s alarm­ing align­ment with Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism — the extrem­ist move­ment that holds Amer­i­ca is not a sec­u­lar democ­ra­cy but was found­ed as a Chris­t­ian nation and should be gov­erned to uphold a fun­da­men­tal­ist moral­i­ty. They also pro­vide fresh evi­dence of Johnson’s apoc­a­lyp­tic world­view, in which he sees Amer­i­ca as exist­ing in “dis­as­trous, calami­tous” times and “hang­ing by a thread.” It rais­es ques­tions about whether the Repub­li­can, who’s now sec­ond in line for the pres­i­den­cy, is lever­ag­ing his pow­er not just to avoid a gov­ern­ment shut­down, but to appease an angry deity — and avoid a more per­ma­nent Heav­en­ly Shut­down.”

    We did­n’t exact­ly need fur­ther evi­dence of Mike John­son’s Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism. But here is it: an Octo­ber prayer call where John­son laments how dark, depraved, and near­ly irre­deemable Amer­i­can cul­ture is with all the LGBTQ youths run­ning around. Divine ret­ri­bu­tion is at hand. Amer­i­ca is Sodom. Dis­turb­ing sen­ti­ments made all the more dis­turb­ing by the fact that this con­ver­sa­tion took place dur­ing a prayer call host­ed by a Chris­t­ian-nation­al­ist MAGA pas­tor Jim Gar­low and broad­cast on Gar­low’s World Prayer Net­work. Mike John­son was shar­ing these sen­ti­ments with a pow­er­ful net­work of fel­low domin­ion­ist. John­son may be a Bap­tist, but that has­n’t pre­vent­ed New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR) domin­ion­ists preach­ers like Gar­low from being becom­ing a “pro­found influ­ence” on John­son. These are close polit­i­cal allies:

    ...
    The seg­ment was filmed Oct. 3, just weeks before Johnson’s unex­pect­ed rise to become speak­er of the House. Gar­low pressed the clean-cut Louisiana con­gress­man to say “more about this ‘time of judg­ment’ for Amer­i­ca.” John­son replied: “The cul­ture is so dark and depraved that it almost seems irre­deemable.” He cit­ed, as sup­posed evi­dence, the decline of nation­al church atten­dance and the rise of LGBTQ youth — the fact, John­son lament­ed, that “one-in-four high school stu­dents iden­ti­fies as some­thing oth­er than straight.”

    Dis­cussing the risk of divine ret­ri­bu­tion, John­son invoked Sodom, the Old Tes­ta­ment city destroyed by God for its wicked­ness with a rain of burn­ing sul­fur. John­son is a pol­ished ora­tor, but in a clos­ing prayer with Gar­low he grew tear­ful. John­son intoned, “We repent for our sins indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly. And we ask that You not give us the judg­ment that we clear­ly deserve.”

    Remark­ably, this was not the first time John­son brought up his fear of bib­li­cal ret­ri­bu­tion on a broad­cast with Gar­low. Dur­ing a WPN appear­ance last Decem­ber, John­son like­wise declared that he’d been “bur­dened” by the need for Amer­i­ca to “rec­og­nize there’s so much to repent for.” The future speak­er elab­o­rat­ed, “We’re vio­lat­ing His com­mands. We’re invent­ing new ways to do evil.” He added, “We have to ask our­selves: How long can His mer­cy and His grace be held back?”

    ...

    Pas­tor Jim Gar­low is not a house­hold name, but he’s a nation­al fig­ure. A Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist based out of the San Diego area, Gar­low is viewed as an “apos­tle” with­in the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion, a strain of Charis­mat­ic Chris­tian­i­ty that holds that gifts of the spir­it — includ­ing prophe­cy — are not bib­li­cal bygones, but alive in our time. NAR dif­fer­en­ti­ates itself from oth­er strains of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­i­ty in its obses­sion with earth­ly pow­er. NAR lead­ers embrace “domin­ion­ism,” the con­cept that Chris­tians are sup­posed to rise and rule over “the nations,” in order to bring the globe into a bib­li­cal align­ment, in prepa­ra­tion for the sec­ond com­ing of Jesus.

    To Gar­low, this trans­for­ma­tion is to be achieved through the “Sev­en Moun­tains Man­date” — with Chris­tians ascend­ing to the tops of sev­en cul­tur­al moun­tains (also referred to as “spheres of influ­ence”): reli­gion, fam­i­ly, edu­ca­tion, media, enter­tain­ment, busi­ness, and gov­ern­ment. “We’re the ones called the dis­ci­ple the nation,” Gar­low has said, teach­ing on the con­cept, “and we dis­ci­ple the nations through those sev­en spheres of influ­ence.”

    John­son is a pro­fessed Bap­tist. But the 51-year-old has known Gar­low for “two decades or more,” he revealed on a third WPN call from 2021. John­son calls Gar­low a “pro­found influ­ence” on “my life and my walk with Christ.” Gar­low, using sim­i­lar lan­guage, calls John­son “a spe­cial broth­er.” (Nei­ther the speaker’s office nor Gar­low have respond­ed to ques­tions from Rolling Stone.)

    ...

    Gar­low insists that his bib­li­cal call­ing is way past par­ti­san­ship. But he uses the Bible to blithe­ly sup­port stuff that Repub­li­cans want to do any­way. His web­site insists, for exam­ple, that frack­ing is holy because “ener­gy inde­pen­dence is a bib­li­cal issue” and “we are to have domin­ion over the earth, to ‘sub­due’ it, and to ‘stew­ard’ it for the Cre­ator.”

    In his con­ver­sa­tions with Gar­low, John­son like­wise express­es pride that the House GOP’s gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ples — e.g., lim­it­ed gov­ern­ment, “peace through strength,” fis­cal respon­si­bil­i­ty, and free mar­kets — “are the prin­ci­ples of our Cre­ator.” John­son points to the sup­posed holi­ness of the Repub­li­can agen­da to insist: “That’s why we can be so fer­vent about it.”
    ...

    As anoth­er exam­ple of how NAR lead­ers like Gar­low close­ly coor­di­nates with the broad­er net­work of polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed reli­gious lead­ers asso­ci­at­ed with this domin­ion­ist move­ment, note how John­son, Gar­low, and Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil pres­i­dent Tony Perkins (CNP Pres­i­dent from 2014–2018) orga­nized the Nation­al Gath­er­ing for Prayer and Repen­tance back in Feb­ru­ary. It’s a big domin­ion­ist tent:

    ...
    Johnson’s link to Gar­low goes well beyond appear­ing on these prayer calls. In Feb­ru­ary, John­son, Gar­low, and Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil pres­i­dent Tony Perkins — whom John­son says “is like my big broth­er” — orga­nized a Nation­al Gath­er­ing for Prayer and Repen­tance at the Nation­al Muse­um of the Bible. The ear­ly-morn­ing event was attend­ed by lead­ing Charis­mat­ic fig­ures like the Mes­sian­ic Rab­bi Jonathan Cahn and for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Michele Bach­mann, as well as more than a dozen mem­bers of Con­gress — includ­ing then-Speak­er Kevin McCarthy and House Major­i­ty Leader Steve Scalise.

    The dole­ful day began with a bleat of a ram’s horn and intro­duc­to­ry words from Gar­low, who wel­comed “Amer­i­cans repent­ing for the sins of our nation.” Gar­low then pre­sent­ed a stark warn­ing, invok­ing two bib­li­cal king­doms of Israel that he said squan­dered heav­en­ly favor only to have God “take them out.” Amer­i­ca, he sug­gest­ed, was on that same path: “Present-day Amer­i­cans do not con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty that God could…” He stopped dra­mat­i­cal­ly ask­ing the assem­bly to “fin­ish the sen­tence.”
    ...

    And so, giv­en this close alliance between Gar­low and John­son, we should­n’t be sur­prise to learn that Gar­low became one of the reli­gious lead­ers advo­cat­ing for the over­turn­ing of the 2020 elec­tion. Because of course he was. Gar­low is clear­ly part of the same CNP-affil­i­at­ed net­work of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist lead­ers who helped to for­mu­late the Trump White House­’s strat­e­gy that cul­mi­nat­ed in the Jan­u­ary 6 Capi­tol Insur­rec­tion. It’s the same group:

    ...
    John­son and Gar­low are fel­low trav­el­ers in many key respects — includ­ing in that they’re both unabashed Trump boost­ers and elec­tion deniers. John­son first won office in the 2016 elec­tion, the same year Trump took the pres­i­den­cy, and infa­mous­ly helped prop­a­gate the Big Lie about the 2020 elec­tion from inside Capi­tol Hill. Gar­low was part of a small cir­cle of pas­tors around Trump dur­ing his admin­is­tra­tion, even lay­ing hands on the pres­i­dent dur­ing Oval Office prayer. In Novem­ber 2020, Gar­low penned an op-ed for Charis­ma News endors­ing Trump, writ­ing, “God has put him in this posi­tion at this time. We need to keep him there.”

    In the Decem­ber after­math of that elec­tion, Gar­low was the lead author of an open let­ter to Trump declar­ing that “God’s ordained assign­ment remains unfin­ished,” because “God’s will is for you to serve for a sec­ond term.” The let­ter con­clud­ed with a prophet­ic call for vengeance: “Mr. Pres­i­dent, the Lord is telling you to pur­sue the ene­mies of our Repub­lic. Our ene­mies are God’s ene­mies. And with the pow­er of God and the glob­al pray­ing church behind you, you shall recov­er all that the ene­mies have stolen.” (Sep­a­rate­ly, Gar­low was dis­miss­ing the ide­ol­o­gy of the incom­ing Biden-Har­ris tick­et as “anti-Christ, anti-Bib­li­cal to its core.”)

    Dur­ing this post-elec­tion peri­od, Gar­low began a series of “Prayer Calls for Elec­tion Integri­ty” seek­ing divine inter­ven­tion to keep Trump in pow­er. These calls became a “hub of gath­er­ing, rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion, and plan­ning,” recalls Tay­lor. The calls includ­ed bor­der­line-sedi­tious rhetoric in advance of the unrest at the Capi­tol, includ­ing a call by then-Penn­syl­va­nia state Sen. Doug Mas­tri­ano for MAGA Repub­li­cans to “seize the pow­er” on Jan 6.
    ...

    Intrigu­ing­ly, in 2018, Gar­low start­ed a new project, Well Versed, that pur­ports to be a be a group ded­i­cat­ed to min­is­ter­ing to mem­bers of Con­gress and the Unit­ed Nations with overt­ly Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist mes­sages. It almost sounds like a new ver­sion of The Fel­low­ship (aka, “The Fam­i­ly”). So the pro-insur­rec­tion Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist lob­by has a spe­cial new group focused on lob­by­ing gov­ern­ment offi­cials. Great:

    ...
    Now in his mid-70s, Gar­low describes him­self as hav­ing received a “gov­ern­men­tal annoint­ing” when he was just a child, and has long preached pol­i­tics from the pul­pit. In 2008, he played a lead­ing role in pro­mot­ing the pas­sage of Prop 8 — a Cal­i­for­nia ini­tia­tive, root­ed in anti-gay big­otry that for a time out­lawed same-sex mar­riages in the state. In 2010, he joined on as chair­man of a Newt Gin­grich project called Renew­ing Amer­i­can Lead­er­ship, ded­i­cat­ed to “pre­serv­ing” America’s “Judeo-Chris­t­ian her­itage.” In 2018, Gar­low depart­ed his megachurch to focus on a new project, Well Versed, a group ded­i­cat­ed to min­is­ter­ing to mem­bers of Con­gress and the Unit­ed Nations. The min­istry car­ries an overt­ly Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist mes­sage, insist­ing that pol­i­tics “need to con­form to God’s Word, since He is the one who estab­lished gov­ern­ment and estab­lish­es nations.”

    ...

    Garlow’s calls nev­er stopped when Biden took office. They mor­phed, instead, into a gen­er­al-pur­pose Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist broad­cast now labeled the World Prayer Net­work, cen­tered on “the Trans­for­ma­tion of Nations.” Despite reg­u­lar­ly fea­tur­ing GOP law­mak­ers, the online descrip­tion of the broad­cast insists it is not about Repub­li­cans vs. Democ­rats, insist­ing rather: “We ARE about God vs. Satan.” At the begin­ning of each call, Gar­low says he’s seek­ing “bib­li­cal jus­tice as opposed to social jus­tice.”
    ...

    So in case it’s not entire­ly clear that Jim Gar­low is very much an active mem­ber of the CNP-led ‘edu­ca­tion reform’ move­ment, here’s an excel­lent piece by Jen­nifer Cohn in the Bucks Coun­ty Bea­con detail­ing the exten­sive ties between Moms for Lib­er­ty (M4L) — the CNP’s lat­est ‘edu­ca­tion reform’ front group — and domin­ion­ists like Jim Gar­low. And domin­ion­ists like promi­nent CNP pseu­do-his­to­ri­an David Bar­ton. Bap­tist. NAR. What­ev­er. Domin­ion­ism comes in many forms and the CNP is its umbrel­la:

    Bucks Coun­ty Bea­con

    Moms for Lib­er­ty and the Domin­ion­ist Assault on America’s ‘Edu­ca­tion Moun­tain’

    The “sev­en moun­tains” man­date is a strat­e­gy used by Chris­t­ian suprema­cists in order to achieve soci­etal domin­ion for God. They seek con­trol over these sev­en spheres: busi­ness, gov­ern­ment, fam­i­ly, reli­gion, media, edu­ca­tion, and enter­tain­ment.

    by Jen­nifer Cohn
    Novem­ber 5, 2023

    By now, many vot­ers have heard that Moms for Lib­er­ty, an anti-LGBTQ+ orga­ni­za­tion that seeks to take over pub­lic school boards nation­wide, has been des­ig­nat­ed as an extrem­ist group by the South­ern Pover­ty Law Cen­ter (SPLC).

    Few­er are aware that the “parental rights” slo­gan cham­pi­oned by Moms for Lib­er­ty derives from the Chris­t­ian home­school­ing move­ment led by Michael Far­ris, a high­ly influ­en­tial evan­gel­i­cal attor­ney who once wrote that Chris­tians will know they have suc­ceed­ed when their chil­dren “engage whole­heart­ed­ly in the bat­tle to take the land.” (I have pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed on Far­ris, includ­ing the leg­isla­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion between Moms for Lib­er­ty and a “parental rights” orga­ni­za­tion tied to Far­ris.)

    Like­wise, few are aware that Moms for Lib­er­ty col­lab­o­rates with influ­en­tial pro­po­nents of the so-called ““sev­en moun­tains” man­date, the belief that Chris­tians have a man­date from God to step out­side of their church­es and head into their com­mu­ni­ties to help claim the fol­low­ing “moun­tains” for God: busi­ness, gov­ern­ment, fam­i­ly, reli­gion, media, edu­ca­tion, and enter­tain­ment.

    The sev­en moun­tains man­date (some­times called the “sev­en spheres” or “sev­en pil­lars” of cul­tur­al influ­ence) was pop­u­lar­ized by Lance Wall­nau, a lead­ing apos­tle in the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR), as I report­ed here and here. The NAR is an under­re­port­ed and polit­i­cal­ly influ­en­tial world­wide move­ment and net­work of neo-charis­mat­ic Chris­t­ian author­i­tar­i­an zealots. Sev­er­al promi­nent NAR lead­ers were heav­i­ly involved with the eevents of Jan. 6, as I and a hand­ful of oth­ers (includ­ing reli­gious schol­ar Matthew Tay­lor and reli­gious extrem­ism researcher Bruce Wil­son) have warned repeat­ed­ly.

    The NAR was named and orga­nized by the late C. Peter Wag­n­er, who wrote in 2007 that the sev­en moun­tains had “become a per­ma­nent fix­ture in my per­son­al teach­ing on tak­ing domin­ion,” adding that “our the­o­log­i­cal bedrock is what has been known as Domin­ion The­ol­o­gy.” He explained that, “Domin­ion has to do with con­trol. Domin­ion has to do with ruler­ship. Domin­ion has to do with author­i­ty and sub­du­ing. And it relates to soci­ety. In oth­er words, what the val­ues are in Heav­en need to be made man­i­fest here on earth. Domin­ion means being the head and not the tail. Domin­ion means rul­ing as kings … So we are kings for domin­ion.”

    ...

    “The lead­er­ship of the Chris­t­ian Right has for decades been telling us that they want to demol­ish the pub­lic school sys­tem & replace it w/Christian schools fund­ed by tax­pay­er dol­lars...” Lis­ten to Edi­tor @cmychalejko’s full inter­view w/@kathsstewart: https://t.co/WI49fgpNEm pic.twitter.com/YhwTK67Lpv— BucksCoun­ty­Bea­con (@BucksCoBeacon) Octo­ber 25, 2023

    Domin­ion the­ol­o­gy (domin­ion­ism) and the sev­en moun­tains phi­los­o­phy are not, how­ev­er, exclu­sive to the NAR. The sev­en moun­tains, for exam­ple, has also been pro­mot­ed by the likes of Turn­ing Point USA founder Char­lie Kirk, as well as Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz (R‑TX).

    Unbe­knownst to most of the pub­lic, the NAR and oth­er sev­en moun­tains pro­po­nents have been involved in exten­sive efforts to take over pub­lic school boards: the so-called “edu­ca­tion moun­tain.” Kirk’s orga­ni­za­tion, for exam­ple, tar­gets pub­lic schools nation­wide, as report­ed by Doc­u­ment­ed, while Rafael Cruz has con­duct­ed week­ly Bible study class­es for Patri­ot Mobile, a Chris­t­ian cell­phone com­pa­ny that tar­gets pub­lic school boards in Texas, as report­ed by NBC News.

    Mean­while, NAR leader Lance Wall­nau sits on the board of the Truth and Lib­er­ty Coali­tion, which tar­gets pub­lic schools in Col­orado and beyond, as report­ed by Reli­gion Dis­patch­es.

    Truth and Lib­er­ty has also col­lab­o­rat­ed with Moms for Lib­er­ty in Col­orado, as report­ed by pub­lic school advo­cate Rob Rogers. Its web­site states that the orga­ni­za­tion seeks to “edu­cate, uni­fy and mobi­lize believ­ers in Jesus Christ to affect the ref­or­ma­tion of nations through the sev­en moun­tains of cul­tur­al influ­ence.” (Empha­sis added.)

    Truth and Lib­er­ty direc­tor Lance Wallnau’s involve­ment in school board takeovers should con­cern every­one who cares about pub­lic schools because, in addi­tion to his sev­en moun­tains phi­los­o­phy, Wall­nau has explic­it­ly stat­ed that Amer­i­ca must “destroy pub­lic edu­ca­tion before it destroys us” (as ini­tial­ly report­ed by Ellle hardy in her book, Beyond Belief: How Pen­te­costal Chris­tian­i­ty is Tak­ing Over the World).

    In March 2022, Wall­nau bragged to his fol­low­ers that “we” (an appar­ent ref­er­ence to like-mind­ed reli­gious zealots) had “flood­ed” South­lake, Texas with “one thou­sand peo­ple” who “took over the school boards… the city coun­cil… the mayor’s office.” He added that, “The media doesn’t know it because we nev­er said it was a church ini­tia­tive. We called it a com­mu­ni­ty ini­tia­tive.”

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    The stealth nature of this Chris­t­ian suprema­cist assault should con­cern sup­port­ers of pub­lic edu­ca­tion, as should the alliance that influ­en­tial sev­en moun­tains pro­po­nents have forged with Moms for Lib­er­ty, which has an esti­mat­ed “103,000 mem­bers across 278 chap­ters in 47 states,” accord­ing to a report ear­li­er this month by the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion.

    I first noticed this alliance in Novem­ber 2022, when I found that Moms for Lib­er­ty co-founder Tina Descovich had appeared on sep­a­rate shows host­ed by sev­en moun­tains pro­mot­ers Jim Gar­low (a promi­nent NAR leader) and David Bar­ton, a renowned oppo­nent of the sep­a­ra­tion between church and state. Bar­ton also sits on the board of Truth and Lib­er­ty with Wall­nau and found­ed an orga­ni­za­tion called Wall­Builders. (FN1)

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    Gar­low, who once called same-sex mar­riage a “demon­ic hap­pen­ing,” has express­ly pro­mot­ed the “sev­en spheres of influ­ence.” In a video clip post­ed by Right Wing Watch, he explained to his audi­ence that these “sev­en spheres” include “the home; the church; civ­il gov­ern­ment; busi­ness, which includes tech­nol­o­gy; arts and enter­tain­ment, which includes sports; edu­ca­tion, and … media.” He also pro­claimed that, “I’m not the one who came up with this. This has been giv­en by God for decades now.”

    As for Bar­ton, he and his son, Tim Bar­ton, explic­it­ly pro­mot­ed the “Sev­en Moun­tain Phi­los­o­phy” dur­ing a pan­el. You can hear him dis­cuss the sev­en moun­tains in a video post­ed by researcher @KiraResistance on X (for­mer­ly Twit­ter).

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    The old­er Bar­ton also sits on the board of Unit­ed in Pur­pose, a Chris­t­ian data min­ing out­fit tied to both a mas­sive vot­er data leak in 2015 and to mes­sag­ing and financ­ing of the Big Lie in 2020, as I report­ed last year. Unit­ed in Pur­pose was found­ed by Bill Dal­las, a con­vict­ed embez­zler who has said that Unit­ed in Pur­pose seeks to trans­form cul­ture in “‘what some peo­ple call the sev­en moun­tains.”

    As of 2019, Gar­low sat on the board of a relat­ed Unit­ed in Pur­pose enti­ty called Unit­ed in Pur­pose Edu­ca­tion.

    Start­ing today, Unit­ed in Pur­pose Direc­tor Bob McEwen and Chris­t­ian poll­ster George Bar­na (Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Cul­ture and Faith Insti­tute, a divi­sion of Unit­ed in Pur­pose) will attend a Lib­er­ty Pas­tors “train­ing camp” in Penn­syl­va­nia. This event was brought to my atten­tion by Bucks Coun­ty Bea­con reporter Jen­ny Stephens.

    [see screen­shot of Lib­er­ty Pas­tors web­site]

    ...

    Mean­while, the younger Bar­ton (who has said that “God nev­er intend­ed edu­ca­tion to be sec­u­lar”) spoke dur­ing the Moms for Lib­er­ty annu­al sum­mit in Penn­syl­va­nia ear­li­er this year.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    The Moms for Lib­er­ty sum­mit was spon­sored by, among oth­ers, the Penn­syl­va­nia Fam­i­ly Insti­tute, which is the state affil­i­ate of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil (FRC). The FRC’s strate­gic mod­el includes engag­ing church­es to pro­vide train­ing for con­gre­gants to invade local pol­i­tics, includ­ing school boards, via so-called “Cul­ture Impact Teams.”

    To give you an idea of what the FRC would like to do to Amer­i­ca, it tweet­ed last year that “abor­tion is nev­er med­ical­ly nec­es­sary to save the life of the moth­er.”

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    ...

    Accord­ing to PEN Amer­i­ca, Moms for Lib­er­ty has been “lead­ing the nation’s book ban move­ment,” as report­ed by jour­nal­ist Mau­rice Cun­ning­ham, writ­ing for the Bea­con.

    Dur­ing the 2023 sum­mit spon­sored by the PA Fam­i­ly Insti­tute (FRC’s affil­i­ate), Moms for Lib­er­ty bestowed a “Lib­er­ty Sword” upon Mor­ton Black­well, founder of the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, which employs Moms for Lib­er­ty co-founder Brid­get Ziegler and has trained legions of young Repub­li­can oper­a­tives that “moral out­rage is the most pow­er­ful moti­vat­ing force in pol­i­tics.”

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    The 2022 Moms for Lib­er­ty sum­mit was also spon­sored by the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute (which con­tributed $50,000 to the event and has assist­ed Moms for Lib­er­ty with train­ings), as well as the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, as report­ed by Cun­ning­ham..

    The sum­mit fea­tured Trump’s for­mer Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion, Bet­sy DeVos, who once said that, “There are not enough phil­an­thropic dol­lars in Amer­i­ca to fund what is cur­rent­ly the need in edu­ca­tion … Our desire is to con­front the cul­ture in ways that will con­tin­ue to advance God’s king­dom.” Dur­ing her tenure in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, DeVos allowed reli­gious groups to “pro­vide tax­pay­er-fund­ed ser­vices in pri­vate schools,” as report­ed by the Wash­ing­ton Post.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    DeVos “has also been a force behind the spread of char­ter schools in Michi­gan, most of which have record­ed stu­dent test scores in read­ing and math below the state aver­age,” accord­ing to a Decem­ber 2016 report by the Wash­ing­ton Post.

    Like­wise, DeVos is a big pro­po­nent of “school choice” in the form of vouch­ers, a strat­e­gy for redi­rect­ing tax­pay­er mon­ey from pub­lic schools to pri­vate (often reli­gious) schools, which get to choose which kids they will enroll and which they will turn away, unlike pub­lic schools.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    In March 2023, Texas Gov­er­nor Greg Abott gave away the Christo­fas­cist endgame by pro­mot­ing “school choice” only to Chris­t­ian schools, as report­ed by the Texas Observ­er.

    DeVos’s late father in law (Richard DeVos) and FRC pres­i­dent (Tony Perkins) are for­mer pres­i­dents of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP), a pow­er­ful umbrel­la and strat­e­gy group for the Chris­t­ian Right and wealthy donors. The CNP was heav­i­ly involved in efforts to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion, as report­ed by Shad­ow Net­work author Anne Nel­son. It has also advo­cat­ed the “vol­un­tary” replace­ment of pub­lic schools with pri­vate schools, church schools, and home schools as the nor­ma­tive Amer­i­can prac­tice .”(Ital­ics in orig­i­nal.)

    (DeVos’s father, Edgar Prince, helped start FRC, and her moth­er, Elsa Prince, has belonged to the CNP’s “gold cir­cle.”)

    The CNP is an “umbrel­la” in the sense that the lead­ers of many promi­nent Chris­t­ian Right orga­ni­za­tions belong to it, thus enabling them to coor­di­nate with each oth­er.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    Mor­ton Black­well (founder of the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute), Michael Far­ris (founder of ParentalRights.org, the Home­school Legal Defense Asso­ci­a­tion, and Patrick Hen­ry Col­lege), Char­lie Kirk (founder of Turn­ing Point USA), and Edwin Feul­ner (founder of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion) are all list­ed in the CNP’s Sep­tem­ber 2020 direc­to­ry, where­as sev­en moun­tains pro­po­nent Bill Dal­las (founder of Unit­ed in Pur­pose) is list­ed in the CNP’s 2014 direc­to­ry. Unit­ed in Pur­pose direc­tor Bob McEwen is the CNP’s cur­rent exec­u­tive direc­tor,

    Black­well (recip­i­ent of the 2023 Moms for Lib­er­ty “Lib­er­ty Sword”) sits on the CNP’s board of gov­er­nors, as does Far­ris. Black­well report­ed­ly helped found the CNP as well.

    The Lead­er­ship Insti­tute spon­sors the Moms for Lib­er­ty sum­mit. @MassProfs wrote abt LI’s rela­tion­ship w/ M4L & how its founder Mor­ton Black­well wants to abol­ish pub­lic schools & replace them w/“free-market pri­vate schools, church schools, & home schools.” https://t.co/ysLwkZWUa6 pic.twitter.com/5CRF7GldXO— BucksCoun­ty­Bea­con (@BucksCoBeacon) June 30, 2023

    Moms for Lib­er­ty seems to be the CNP’s lat­est weapon against pub­lic (sec­u­lar) edu­ca­tion.

    If you want to send a chill down your spine, take a look at what CNP co-founder Gary North (now deceased) had to say on the sub­ject of edu­ca­tion, as ini­tial­ly report­ed by Reli­gion Dis­patch­es:

    “We must use the doc­trine of reli­gious lib­er­ty to gain inde­pen­dence for Chris­t­ian schools until we train up a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who know that there is no reli­gious neu­tral­i­ty, no neu­tral law, no neu­tral edu­ca­tion, and no neu­tral civ­il gov­ern­ment. Then they will get busy in con­struct­ing a Bible-based social, polit­i­cal and reli­gious order which final­ly denies the reli­gious lib­er­ty of the ene­mies of God.”

    Below are some of the school board can­di­dates in Bucks Coun­ty, Penn­syl­va­nia who are sup­port­ed by Moms for Lib­er­ty. The list is almost cer­tain­ly incom­plete because some can­di­dates don’t want vot­ers to know that they are backed by Moms for Lib­er­ty, an SPLC-des­ig­nat­ed extrem­ist group.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    ...

    Foot­note 1

    Although this arti­cle focus­es on the so-called “edu­ca­tion moun­tain,” Chris­t­ian suprema­cists have also made alarm­ing progress scal­ing the “gov­ern­ment moun­tain.” NAR leader Jim Gar­low, for exam­ple, recent­ly gushed that new­ly elect­ed House Speak­er Mike John­son has had a “pro­found influ­ence” on his life, while Far­ris has said that John­son is the “high­est rank­ing, seri­ous bib­li­cal­ly trained per­son with a Chris­t­ian world­view gov­ern­ment offi­cial” in his life­time. “I’m very excit­ed about him,” he added.

    [see screen­shot of tweets]

    The new House Speak­er is also close with sev­en moun­tains pro­po­nent David Bar­ton. In 2021, John­son spoke dur­ing a Wall­builders event and said that Bar­ton had exert­ed a “pro­found influ­ence” on his life.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    ———–

    “Moms for Lib­er­ty and the Domin­ion­ist Assault on America’s ‘Edu­ca­tion Moun­tain’” by Jen­nifer Cohn; Bucks Coun­ty Bea­con; 11/05/2023

    “Like­wise, few are aware that Moms for Lib­er­ty col­lab­o­rates with influ­en­tial pro­po­nents of the so-called ““sev­en moun­tains” man­date, the belief that Chris­tians have a man­date from God to step out­side of their church­es and head into their com­mu­ni­ties to help claim the fol­low­ing “moun­tains” for God: busi­ness, gov­ern­ment, fam­i­ly, reli­gion, media, edu­ca­tion, and enter­tain­ment.”

    Moms for Lib­er­ty — the CNP’s lat­est ‘edu­ca­tion reform’ front group — is a domin­ion­ist enti­ty. Sur­prise! And while none of this should actu­al­ly be sur­pris­ing, it’s also all bare­ly rec­og­nized by the pub­lic at large. A stealth move­ment that includes NAR lead­er­ship but is not lim­it­ed to the NAR. It’s like an umbrel­la Sev­en Moun­tains domin­ion­ist move­ment:

    ...
    Few­er are aware that the “parental rights” slo­gan cham­pi­oned by Moms for Lib­er­ty derives from the Chris­t­ian home­school­ing move­ment led by Michael Far­ris, a high­ly influ­en­tial evan­gel­i­cal attor­ney who once wrote that Chris­tians will know they have suc­ceed­ed when their chil­dren “engage whole­heart­ed­ly in the bat­tle to take the land.” (I have pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed on Far­ris, includ­ing the leg­isla­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion between Moms for Lib­er­ty and a “parental rights” orga­ni­za­tion tied to Far­ris.)

    ...

    The sev­en moun­tains man­date (some­times called the “sev­en spheres” or “sev­en pil­lars” of cul­tur­al influ­ence) was pop­u­lar­ized by Lance Wall­nau, a lead­ing apos­tle in the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR), as I report­ed here and here. The NAR is an under­re­port­ed and polit­i­cal­ly influ­en­tial world­wide move­ment and net­work of neo-charis­mat­ic Chris­t­ian author­i­tar­i­an zealots. Sev­er­al promi­nent NAR lead­ers were heav­i­ly involved with the eevents of Jan. 6, as I and a hand­ful of oth­ers (includ­ing reli­gious schol­ar Matthew Tay­lor and reli­gious extrem­ism researcher Bruce Wil­son) have warned repeat­ed­ly.

    The NAR was named and orga­nized by the late C. Peter Wag­n­er, who wrote in 2007 that the sev­en moun­tains had “become a per­ma­nent fix­ture in my per­son­al teach­ing on tak­ing domin­ion,” adding that “our the­o­log­i­cal bedrock is what has been known as Domin­ion The­ol­o­gy.” He explained that, “Domin­ion has to do with con­trol. Domin­ion has to do with ruler­ship. Domin­ion has to do with author­i­ty and sub­du­ing. And it relates to soci­ety. In oth­er words, what the val­ues are in Heav­en need to be made man­i­fest here on earth. Domin­ion means being the head and not the tail. Domin­ion means rul­ing as kings … So we are kings for domin­ion.”

    ...

    Domin­ion the­ol­o­gy (domin­ion­ism) and the sev­en moun­tains phi­los­o­phy are not, how­ev­er, exclu­sive to the NAR. The sev­en moun­tains, for exam­ple, has also been pro­mot­ed by the likes of Turn­ing Point USA founder Char­lie Kirk, as well as Rafael Cruz, the father of Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz (R‑TX).

    ...

    If you want to send a chill down your spine, take a look at what CNP co-founder Gary North (now deceased) had to say on the sub­ject of edu­ca­tion, as ini­tial­ly report­ed by Reli­gion Dis­patch­es:

    “We must use the doc­trine of reli­gious lib­er­ty to gain inde­pen­dence for Chris­t­ian schools until we train up a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple who know that there is no reli­gious neu­tral­i­ty, no neu­tral law, no neu­tral edu­ca­tion, and no neu­tral civ­il gov­ern­ment. Then they will get busy in con­struct­ing a Bible-based social, polit­i­cal and reli­gious order which final­ly denies the reli­gious lib­er­ty of the ene­mies of God.”
    ...

    And as we can see, Moms for Lib­er­ty isn’t the only domin­ion­ist group oper­at­ing in this ‘edu­ca­tion reform’ space on behalf of this ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ the­ol­o­gy. The Truth and Lib­er­ty Coali­tion — which has NAR leader Lance Wall­nau sit­ting on its board — is a Moms and Lib­er­ty col­lab­o­ra­tor. Stealth col­lab­o­ra­tor, giv­en how this whole ‘reform’ move­ment is a stealth oper­a­tion:

    ...
    Unbe­knownst to most of the pub­lic, the NAR and oth­er sev­en moun­tains pro­po­nents have been involved in exten­sive efforts to take over pub­lic school boards: the so-called “edu­ca­tion moun­tain.” Kirk’s orga­ni­za­tion, for exam­ple, tar­gets pub­lic schools nation­wide, as report­ed by Doc­u­ment­ed, while Rafael Cruz has con­duct­ed week­ly Bible study class­es for Patri­ot Mobile, a Chris­t­ian cell­phone com­pa­ny that tar­gets pub­lic school boards in Texas, as report­ed by NBC News.

    Mean­while, NAR leader Lance Wall­nau sits on the board of the Truth and Lib­er­ty Coali­tion, which tar­gets pub­lic schools in Col­orado and beyond, as report­ed by Reli­gion Dis­patch­es.

    Truth and Lib­er­ty has also col­lab­o­rat­ed with Moms for Lib­er­ty in Col­orado, as report­ed by pub­lic school advo­cate Rob Rogers. Its web­site states that the orga­ni­za­tion seeks to “edu­cate, uni­fy and mobi­lize believ­ers in Jesus Christ to affect the ref­or­ma­tion of nations through the sev­en moun­tains of cul­tur­al influ­ence.” (Empha­sis added.)

    Truth and Lib­er­ty direc­tor Lance Wallnau’s involve­ment in school board takeovers should con­cern every­one who cares about pub­lic schools because, in addi­tion to his sev­en moun­tains phi­los­o­phy, Wall­nau has explic­it­ly stat­ed that Amer­i­ca must “destroy pub­lic edu­ca­tion before it destroys us” (as ini­tial­ly report­ed by Ellle hardy in her book, Beyond Belief: How Pen­te­costal Chris­tian­i­ty is Tak­ing Over the World).

    In March 2022, Wall­nau bragged to his fol­low­ers that “we” (an appar­ent ref­er­ence to like-mind­ed reli­gious zealots) had “flood­ed” South­lake, Texas with “one thou­sand peo­ple” who “took over the school boards… the city coun­cil… the mayor’s office.” He added that, “The media doesn’t know it because we nev­er said it was a church ini­tia­tive. We called it a com­mu­ni­ty ini­tia­tive.”

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    The stealth nature of this Chris­t­ian suprema­cist assault should con­cern sup­port­ers of pub­lic edu­ca­tion, as should the alliance that influ­en­tial sev­en moun­tains pro­po­nents have forged with Moms for Lib­er­ty, which has an esti­mat­ed “103,000 mem­bers across 278 chap­ters in 47 states,” accord­ing to a report ear­li­er this month by the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion.
    ...

    And as we should expect to find, Moms for Lib­er­ty co-founder Tina Desco­v­ish has been mak­ing appear­ances on shows host­ed by promi­nent Sev­en Moun­tains pro­mot­ers Jim Gar­low and David Bar­ton, anoth­er one of fig­ures who has has a pro­found influ­ence on Mike John­son. It’s one big move­ment:

    ...
    I first noticed this alliance in Novem­ber 2022, when I found that Moms for Lib­er­ty co-founder Tina Descovich had appeared on sep­a­rate shows host­ed by sev­en moun­tains pro­mot­ers Jim Gar­low (a promi­nent NAR leader) and David Bar­ton, a renowned oppo­nent of the sep­a­ra­tion between church and state. Bar­ton also sits on the board of Truth and Lib­er­ty with Wall­nau and found­ed an orga­ni­za­tion called Wall­Builders. (FN1)

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    Gar­low, who once called same-sex mar­riage a “demon­ic hap­pen­ing,” has express­ly pro­mot­ed the “sev­en spheres of influ­ence.” In a video clip post­ed by Right Wing Watch, he explained to his audi­ence that these “sev­en spheres” include “the home; the church; civ­il gov­ern­ment; busi­ness, which includes tech­nol­o­gy; arts and enter­tain­ment, which includes sports; edu­ca­tion, and … media.” He also pro­claimed that, “I’m not the one who came up with this. This has been giv­en by God for decades now.”

    As for Bar­ton, he and his son, Tim Bar­ton, explic­it­ly pro­mot­ed the “Sev­en Moun­tain Phi­los­o­phy” dur­ing a pan­el. You can hear him dis­cuss the sev­en moun­tains in a video post­ed by researcher @KiraResistance on X (for­mer­ly Twit­ter).
    ...

    It’s one big move­ment oper­at­ing under the CNP’s umbrel­la. So when we see how David Bar­ton sets on the board of Chris­t­ian data min­ing firm Unit­ed in Pur­pose and Jim Gar­low sits on the board of the relat­ed Unit­ed in Pur­pose Edu­ca­tion, keep in mind that at Unit­ed in Pur­pose founder Bill Dal­las and direc­tor Bob McEwen are both CNP mem­bers along­side Bar­ton. McEwen is even the CNP’s exec­u­tive direc­tor. So while Gar­low’s name does­n’t show up on the CNP mem­ber­ship lists, he’s clear­ly part of this net­work:

    ...
    The old­er Bar­ton also sits on the board of Unit­ed in Pur­pose, a Chris­t­ian data min­ing out­fit tied to both a mas­sive vot­er data leak in 2015 and to mes­sag­ing and financ­ing of the Big Lie in 2020, as I report­ed last year. Unit­ed in Pur­pose was found­ed by Bill Dal­las, a con­vict­ed embez­zler who has said that Unit­ed in Pur­pose seeks to trans­form cul­ture in “‘what some peo­ple call the sev­en moun­tains.”

    As of 2019, Gar­low sat on the board of a relat­ed Unit­ed in Pur­pose enti­ty called Unit­ed in Pur­pose Edu­ca­tion.

    Start­ing today, Unit­ed in Pur­pose Direc­tor Bob McEwen and Chris­t­ian poll­ster George Bar­na (Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Cul­ture and Faith Insti­tute, a divi­sion of Unit­ed in Pur­pose) will attend a Lib­er­ty Pas­tors “train­ing camp” in Penn­syl­va­nia. This event was brought to my atten­tion by Bucks Coun­ty Bea­con reporter Jen­ny Stephens.
    ...

    And when we see how this year’s Moms for Lib­er­ty sum­mit was spon­sored by the Penn­syl­va­nia branch of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil — found­ed by promi­nent CNP mem­ber Pres­i­dent Tony Perkins — recall how this was the same sum­mit where North Car­oli­na Lt Gov Mark Robin­son quot­ed Hitler dur­ing his speech, and not the first Moms for Lib­er­ty Hitler quote scan­dal from this year. Which is anoth­er reminder of the val­ue of stealth for this move­ment. Reli­gious extrem­ism isn’t the only form of extrem­ism man­i­fest­ing here:

    ...
    Mean­while, the younger Bar­ton (who has said that “God nev­er intend­ed edu­ca­tion to be sec­u­lar”) spoke dur­ing the Moms for Lib­er­ty annu­al sum­mit in Penn­syl­va­nia ear­li­er this year.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    The Moms for Lib­er­ty sum­mit was spon­sored by, among oth­ers, the Penn­syl­va­nia Fam­i­ly Insti­tute, which is the state affil­i­ate of the Fam­i­ly Research Coun­cil (FRC). The FRC’s strate­gic mod­el includes engag­ing church­es to pro­vide train­ing for con­gre­gants to invade local pol­i­tics, includ­ing school boards, via so-called “Cul­ture Impact Teams.”

    To give you an idea of what the FRC would like to do to Amer­i­ca, it tweet­ed last year that “abor­tion is nev­er med­ical­ly nec­es­sary to save the life of the moth­er.”
    ...

    Final­ly, don’t over­look how the many promi­nent CNP mem­bers in this net­work of edu­ca­tion ‘reform­ers’ — from Bet­sy DeVos to Mor­ton Black­well — also includes promi­nent CNP mem­ber Michael Far­ris, the fig­ure behind the Con­ven­tion of States move­ment to trans­form the US Con­sti­tu­tion. It’s a reminder that the long-game they are play­ing is very long indeed. Like per­ma­nent­ly long:

    ...
    Dur­ing the 2023 sum­mit spon­sored by the PA Fam­i­ly Insti­tute (FRC’s affil­i­ate), Moms for Lib­er­ty bestowed a “Lib­er­ty Sword” upon Mor­ton Black­well, founder of the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, which employs Moms for Lib­er­ty co-founder Brid­get Ziegler and has trained legions of young Repub­li­can oper­a­tives that “moral out­rage is the most pow­er­ful moti­vat­ing force in pol­i­tics.”

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    The 2022 Moms for Lib­er­ty sum­mit was also spon­sored by the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute (which con­tributed $50,000 to the event and has assist­ed Moms for Lib­er­ty with train­ings), as well as the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, as report­ed by Cun­ning­ham..

    The sum­mit fea­tured Trump’s for­mer Sec­re­tary of Edu­ca­tion, Bet­sy DeVos, who once said that, “There are not enough phil­an­thropic dol­lars in Amer­i­ca to fund what is cur­rent­ly the need in edu­ca­tion … Our desire is to con­front the cul­ture in ways that will con­tin­ue to advance God’s king­dom.” Dur­ing her tenure in the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, DeVos allowed reli­gious groups to “pro­vide tax­pay­er-fund­ed ser­vices in pri­vate schools,” as report­ed by the Wash­ing­ton Post.

    ...

    In March 2023, Texas Gov­er­nor Greg Abott gave away the Christo­fas­cist endgame by pro­mot­ing “school choice” only to Chris­t­ian schools, as report­ed by the Texas Observ­er.

    DeVos’s late father in law (Richard DeVos) and FRC pres­i­dent (Tony Perkins) are for­mer pres­i­dents of the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP), a pow­er­ful umbrel­la and strat­e­gy group for the Chris­t­ian Right and wealthy donors. The CNP was heav­i­ly involved in efforts to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion, as report­ed by Shad­ow Net­work author Anne Nel­son. It has also advo­cat­ed the “vol­un­tary” replace­ment of pub­lic schools with pri­vate schools, church schools, and home schools as the nor­ma­tive Amer­i­can prac­tice .”(Ital­ics in orig­i­nal.)

    (DeVos’s father, Edgar Prince, helped start FRC, and her moth­er, Elsa Prince, has belonged to the CNP’s “gold cir­cle.”)

    The CNP is an “umbrel­la” in the sense that the lead­ers of many promi­nent Chris­t­ian Right orga­ni­za­tions belong to it, thus enabling them to coor­di­nate with each oth­er.

    [see screen­shot of tweet]

    Mor­ton Black­well (founder of the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute), Michael Far­ris (founder of ParentalRights.org, the Home­school Legal Defense Asso­ci­a­tion, and Patrick Hen­ry Col­lege), Char­lie Kirk (founder of Turn­ing Point USA), and Edwin Feul­ner (founder of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion) are all list­ed in the CNP’s Sep­tem­ber 2020 direc­to­ry, where­as sev­en moun­tains pro­po­nent Bill Dal­las (founder of Unit­ed in Pur­pose) is list­ed in the CNP’s 2014 direc­to­ry. Unit­ed in Pur­pose direc­tor Bob McEwen is the CNP’s cur­rent exec­u­tive direc­tor,

    Black­well (recip­i­ent of the 2023 Moms for Lib­er­ty “Lib­er­ty Sword”) sits on the CNP’s board of gov­er­nors, as does Far­ris. Black­well report­ed­ly helped found the CNP as well.

    ...

    Moms for Lib­er­ty seems to be the CNP’s lat­est weapon against pub­lic (sec­u­lar) edu­ca­tion.
    ...

    And that’s all part of the grim con­text of the com­ments Mike John­son made about the irre­deemable nature of Amer­i­can cul­ture, weeks before becom­ing the new Speak­er of the House and sec­ond in line for the pres­i­den­cy. John­son’s words word ugly, but it’s the con­text that is tru­ly chill­ing. Con­text that includes a pow­er­ful net­work of bad faith lead­ers of faith who nev­er seemed to quite learn the true teach­ings of Jesus but who def­i­nite­ly learned a lot from Machi­avel­li. A net­work that tried to secure a per­ma­nent grip on pow­er almost three years ago and is try­ing even hard­er to this day. A bad faith pow­er grab done in the name of Jesus. ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ cor­rupt­ed Bizarro Jesus. It’s a shock­ing­ly large stealth move­ment ded­i­cat­ed to coup­ing for Bizarro Jesus and it’s got prac­tice at this point.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 18, 2023, 8:50 pm
  5. You’re a lead­ing con­gres­sion­al mem­ber of a Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist pow­er grab and you’ve just ascend­ed to the Speak­er­ship of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. And now one of the close­ly allied Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist lob­bies just invit­ed you to give the keynote address at their upcom­ing gala even at the Muse­um of the Bible in Wash­ing DC. What are you going to talk about dur­ing your speech to this group? Do you come straight out and crow about how Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism is clos­er to per­ma­nent­ly grab­bing the reigns of pow­er than ever? Or stick with some sort of begin ue non-threat­en­ing pablum for pub­lic con­sump­tion?

    These are the kinds of ques­tions recent­ly elect­ed House Speak­er Mike John­son is fac­ing now that he’s accept­ing an invi­ta­tion to give the keynote address at the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers (NACL) annu­al event on Decem­ber 5. As we’ve seen, the NACL is basi­cal­ly ALEC for push­ing ‘tem­plate’ Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist leg­is­la­tion at the state lev­el under the ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR) Evan­gel­i­cal the­ol­o­gy. Found­ed in 2020 by CNP mem­ber, and domin­ion­ist, Jason Rap­ert, NACL already claims to have leg­isla­tive mem­bers in 31 states. And here we are, just three years after its found­ing, and the NACL has a close ally as Speak­er of the House about to give the keynote address at its annu­al event. You can’t say they haven’t made progress. It might be progress back into the Dark Ages, but it’s progress.

    And as we’re also going to see below, while John­son’s keynote speech as Speak­er is a pow­er­ful sym­bol of the suc­cess of the NAR move­men­t’s polit­i­cal ascen­dance, there’s anoth­er impor­tant sym­bol of the move­men­t’s suc­cess and it’s sit­ting right out­side Mike John­son’s con­gres­sion­al office. That would be the “Appeal to Heav­en” flag, a flag with roots going back to the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War but over the last decade has become adopt­ed as the kind of unstat­ed ref­er­ence to the ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ NAR vision for the cap­ture of soci­ety. Fig­ures like Rap­ert start­ed advo­cat­ing for Evan­gel­i­cals to adopt the flag as a ral­ly­ing sym­bol around a decade ago. But it was in 2016, when NAR lead­ers began to tru­ly embrace Don­ald Trump, when the flag because syn­ony­mous with MAGA pol­i­tics too. Flash for­ward to Jan­u­ary 6, 2021, and we can find dozens of instances of this flag among the insur­rec­tionary crowds that stormed the Capi­tol.

    And that’s the same flag now sit­ting out­side the House Speak­er’s con­gres­sion­al office. Which, all con­text con­sid­ered, is some pow­er­ful sym­bol­ism. Con­text made all the more pow­er­ful by the fact that the House Speak­er is going to give the keynote address to a group found­ed by these same domin­ion­ist:

    Rolling Stone

    Mike John­son to Keynote Far-Right Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist Gala

    The new Speak­er will speak to the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers — a group ded­i­cat­ed to giv­ing a right-wing “bib­li­cal world­view” the force of law

    By Tim Dick­i­son
    Novem­ber 29, 2023

    If any­one was trust­ing that Mike John­son would cool his Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist jets now that he’s risen to Speak­er of the House, that faith was mis­placed. John­son has been announced as the keynote speak­er of a Dec. 5 gala of the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers, host­ed at the Muse­um of the Bible in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

    The NACL is an overt Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist orga­ni­za­tion that seeks to give its “bib­li­cal world­view” the bind­ing force of law. The gala web­site touts NACL’s agen­da of “abol­ish­ing abor­tion,” pro­mot­ing “mar­riage between one man and one woman,” and “expos­ing the ungod­ly effort to under­mine our cul­ture by Left­ists.”

    NACL func­tions a bit like the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil, or ALEC — cre­at­ing with “mod­el leg­is­la­tion” that state leg­is­la­tures can then copy and pass across the nation. NACL mem­bers have played a key role in pro­mot­ing anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tion, includ­ing so-called “heart­beat” bills, and the infa­mous “boun­ty hunter” bill, SB 8, in Texas.

    The orga­ni­za­tion is also fierce­ly anti-LGBTQ. As NACL founder and for­mer Arkansas state leg­is­la­tor Jason Rap­ert told Rolling Stone ear­li­er this year: “For far too long we have allowed one polit­i­cal par­ty in our nation to hold up Sodom and Gomor­rah as a goal to be achieved rather than a sin to be shunned.”

    ...

    NACL’s acronym is an inten­tion­al play on words, invok­ing the chem­i­cal sym­bol for salt; Chris­tians nation­al­ist fre­quent­ly invoke the bib­li­cal exhor­ta­tion about being the “salt and the light” — or puri­fy­ing agents in the sin­ful world.

    The NACL gala will be emceed by Gene Bai­ley, the host of the Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist news show Flash­point, aired on tel­e­van­ge­list Ken­neth Copeland’s Vic­to­ry net­work. It will give a “Life­time Chris­t­ian Lead­er­ship Award” to Andrew Wom­ack, a Col­orado preach­er, linked to the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion, who is a top pro­po­nent of the “Sev­en Moun­tains Man­date,” a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist blue­print for seiz­ing con­trol of soci­ety.

    Rap­ert will also be speak­ing. He was the lead author of Arkansas’ first-in-the nation “heart­beat” abor­tion law, that in 2013 sought to lim­it abor­tion access to a then-extreme 12 weeks ges­ta­tion. Rap­ert also authored the trig­ger law that repealed abor­tion rights in Arkansas when the Supreme Court, stacked with Trump jus­tices, over­turned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Rap­ert found­ed NACL because “ungod­ly lead­ers have led to ungod­ly results.”

    Rap­ert and John­son are con­nect­ed by more than faith. They both fly the Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary “Appeal to Heav­en” flag. Rap­ert was an ear­ly adopter of the sym­bol, get­ting the flag hoist­ed over the Capi­tol in Lit­tle Rock in 2015. As Rolling Stone recent­ly report­ed, John­son keeps the flag on a pole out­side his office. The flag is cham­pi­oned by the Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist “apos­tle” Dutch Sheets — a fre­quent Flash­point pan­elist — who has also authored a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist decree that reads in part:

    “We, the Church, are God’s gov­ern­ing Body on the Earth.”

    “We have been giv­en legal pow­er and author­i­ty from Heav­en.”

    “We are … del­e­gat­ed by Him to destroy every attempt­ed advance of the ene­my.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Mike John­son to Keynote Far-Right Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist Gala” By Tim Dick­i­son; Rolling Stone; 11/19/2023

    “If any­one was trust­ing that Mike John­son would cool his Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist jets now that he’s risen to Speak­er of the House, that faith was mis­placed. John­son has been announced as the keynote speak­er of a Dec. 5 gala of the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers, host­ed at the Muse­um of the Bible in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

    Yes, Mike John­son is slat­ed to be the keynote speak­er for the upcom­ing Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers (NACL) event at the DC Muse­um of the Bible. It’s pre­sum­ably quite an hon­or for John­son, giv­en how the NACL is one of the CNP’s out­fits push­ing a ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ Domin­ion­ist agen­da:

    ...
    The NACL is an overt Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist orga­ni­za­tion that seeks to give its “bib­li­cal world­view” the bind­ing force of law. The gala web­site touts NACL’s agen­da of “abol­ish­ing abor­tion,” pro­mot­ing “mar­riage between one man and one woman,” and “expos­ing the ungod­ly effort to under­mine our cul­ture by Left­ists.”

    NACL func­tions a bit like the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil, or ALEC — cre­at­ing with “mod­el leg­is­la­tion” that state leg­is­la­tures can then copy and pass across the nation. NACL mem­bers have played a key role in pro­mot­ing anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tion, includ­ing so-called “heart­beat” bills, and the infa­mous “boun­ty hunter” bill, SB 8, in Texas.

    The orga­ni­za­tion is also fierce­ly anti-LGBTQ. As NACL founder and for­mer Arkansas state leg­is­la­tor Jason Rap­ert told Rolling Stone ear­li­er this year: “For far too long we have allowed one polit­i­cal par­ty in our nation to hold up Sodom and Gomor­rah as a goal to be achieved rather than a sin to be shunned.”

    ...

    NACL’s acronym is an inten­tion­al play on words, invok­ing the chem­i­cal sym­bol for salt; Chris­tians nation­al­ist fre­quent­ly invoke the bib­li­cal exhor­ta­tion about being the “salt and the light” — or puri­fy­ing agents in the sin­ful world.
    ...

    And when we see how the NACL gala will be emceed by Gene Bai­ly, host of a Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist news show aired on Ken­neth Copeland’s Vic­to­ry net­work, recall how Glo­ria Copeland, co-founder of he Ken­neth Copeland Min­istries in Texas, became Don­ald Trump’s Evan­gel­i­cal advi­sors. Which is more or less what we should expect at this point:

    ...
    The NACL gala will be emceed by Gene Bai­ley, the host of the Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist news show Flash­point, aired on tel­e­van­ge­list Ken­neth Copeland’s Vic­to­ry net­work. It will give a “Life­time Chris­t­ian Lead­er­ship Award” to Andrew Wom­ack, a Col­orado preach­er, linked to the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion, who is a top pro­po­nent of the “Sev­en Moun­tains Man­date,” a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist blue­print for seiz­ing con­trol of soci­ety.

    Rap­ert will also be speak­ing. He was the lead author of Arkansas’ first-in-the nation “heart­beat” abor­tion law, that in 2013 sought to lim­it abor­tion access to a then-extreme 12 weeks ges­ta­tion. Rap­ert also authored the trig­ger law that repealed abor­tion rights in Arkansas when the Supreme Court, stacked with Trump jus­tices, over­turned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Rap­ert found­ed NACL because “ungod­ly lead­ers have led to ungod­ly results.”
    ...

    And then we get to this inter­est­ing Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist sym­bol­ism used by both John­son and NACL founder Jason Rap­ert: the “Appeal to Heav­en” flag:

    ...
    Rap­ert and John­son are con­nect­ed by more than faith. They both fly the Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ary “Appeal to Heav­en” flag. Rap­ert was an ear­ly adopter of the sym­bol, get­ting the flag hoist­ed over the Capi­tol in Lit­tle Rock in 2015. As Rolling Stone recent­ly report­ed, John­son keeps the flag on a pole out­side his office. The flag is cham­pi­oned by the Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist “apos­tle” Dutch Sheets — a fre­quent Flash­point pan­elist — who has also authored a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist decree that reads in part:

    “We, the Church, are God’s gov­ern­ing Body on the Earth.”

    “We have been giv­en legal pow­er and author­i­ty from Heav­en.”

    “We are … del­e­gat­ed by Him to destroy every attempt­ed advance of the ene­my.”
    ...

    So is the new Speak­er of the House fly­ing a sym­bol of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism out­side of his con­gres­sion­al office? Or is this all just a big mis­un­der­stand­ing? Well, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle makes clear, it’s not a big misunderstanding...despite the attempts by John­son’s office to pass it all off as exact­ly that. While it is true the Appeal to Heav­en flag was­n’t always a sym­bol of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism, it is a sym­bol now thanks in large part to the efforts over the last decade of Jason Rap­ert and his fel­low NAR lead­ers:

    Rolling Stone

    The Key to Mike Johnson’s Chris­t­ian Extrem­ism Hangs Out­side His Office

    The new­ly elect­ed House speak­er has ties to the far-right New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion — which is hell-bent on turn­ing Amer­i­ca into a reli­gious state

    By Bradley Onishi, Matthew D. Tay­lor
    Novem­ber 10, 2023

    The Amer­i­can pub­lic has had much to learn about Mike John­son over the past two weeks. Until his sur­prise ele­va­tion to House speak­er, the Louisiana rep­re­sen­ta­tive was an obscure, mild-man­nered, and book­ish four-term back-bencher. He is a for­mer con­sti­tu­tion­al lawyer and hard­ly the type of polit­i­cal fig­ure who jeers dur­ing a State of the Union address, or gets caught in a Beetle­juice grop­ing scan­dal, or shows up on cable news to take a vic­to­ry lap after oust­ing the leader of his own par­ty. John­son is focused, method­i­cal, and up until now was hap­py to oper­ate behind the scenes.

    He’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Chris­t­ian con­ser­v­a­tive, and there’s a flag hang­ing out­side his office that leads into a uni­verse of right-wing reli­gious extrem­ism as unknown to most Amer­i­cans as John­son was before he ascend­ed to the speak­er­ship.

    ...

    John­son was also inte­gral to Don­ald Trump’s effort to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion. As The New York Times has report­ed, he col­lect­ed sig­na­tures for a brief sup­port­ing a Texas law­suit alleg­ing, with­out evi­dence, irreg­u­lar­i­ties in elec­tion results; served a key role in the GOP’s attempts to pre­vent the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of Joe Biden’s elec­tion; and tout­ed Trump’s con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about elec­tion fraud, even say­ing, “You know the alle­ga­tions about these vot­ing machines, some of them being rigged with this soft­ware by Domin­ion, there’s a lot of mer­it to that.”

    If this was all we knew about Mike John­son, we could accu­rate­ly say that he is a full-bore, right-wing Chris­t­ian and an elec­tion denier who dab­bles in con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries — qual­i­ties that might give one pause before putting him sec­ond in line to the pres­i­den­cy. But there is anoth­er angle to Johnson’s extrem­ism that has received less scruti­ny, and it brings us back to that flag out­side his office.

    The flag — which Rolling Stone has con­firmed hangs out­side his dis­trict office in the Can­non House Office Build­ing — is white with a sim­ple ever­green tree in the cen­ter and the phrase “An Appeal to Heav­en” at the top. His­tor­i­cal­ly, this flag was a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War ban­ner, com­mis­sioned by George Wash­ing­ton as a naval flag for the colony turned state of Mass­a­chu­setts. The quote “An Appeal to Heav­en” was a slo­gan from that war, tak­en from a trea­tise by the philoso­pher John Locke.. But in the past decade it has come to sym­bol­ize a die-hard vision of a hege­mon­i­cal­ly Chris­t­ian Amer­i­ca.

    To under­stand the con­tem­po­rary mean­ing of the Appeal to Heav­en flag, it’s nec­es­sary to enter a world of Chris­t­ian extrem­ism ani­mat­ed by mod­ern-day apos­tles, prophets, and apoc­a­lyp­tic visions of Chris­t­ian tri­umph that was cen­tral to the chaos and vio­lence of Jan. 6. Ear­li­er this year we released an audio-doc­u­men­tary series, root­ed in deep his­tor­i­cal research and ethno­graph­ic inter­views, on this sec­tor of Chris­tian­i­ty, which is known as the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR). The flag hang­ing out­side Johnson’s office is a key part of its sym­bol­o­gy.

    The New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion is a set of net­works of Chris­t­ian lead­ers that formed in the 1990s around a rene­gade evan­gel­i­cal sem­i­nary pro­fes­sor named C. Peter Wag­n­er. These net­works are part of the non­de­nom­i­na­tion­al charis­mat­ic seg­ment of Chris­tian­i­ty (“charis­mat­ic” here is a tech­ni­cal term of Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy and prac­tice describ­ing a spir­i­tu­al­i­ty built around mirac­u­lous man­i­fes­ta­tions and aim­ing to re-cre­ate the super­nat­u­ral­ly imbued envi­ron­ment of the ear­ly Chris­t­ian church). Wag­n­er and his cohort believed that they were at the van­guard of a rev­o­lu­tion in church lead­er­ship that Wag­n­er often described as “the most rad­i­cal change to the way of doing church since, at least, the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion.”

    The hun­dreds of lead­ers who joined Wagner’s move­ment and lead­er­ship-net­work­ing cir­cles almost all iden­ti­fy as apos­tles (enter­pris­ing church builders) or prophets (who hear direct­ly from God), though some iden­ti­fy as both. In the mid-2000s, these NAR net­works col­lec­tive­ly embraced a the­o­log­i­cal par­a­digm called the “Sev­en Moun­tain Man­date,” a prophe­cy that divides soci­ety into sev­en are­nas — reli­gion, fam­i­ly, gov­ern­ment, edu­ca­tion, arts and enter­tain­ment, media, and busi­ness. The “Man­date,” as they under­stand it, is giv­en by God for Chris­tians to “take domin­ion” and “con­quer” the tops of all sev­en of these sec­tors and have Chris­t­ian influ­ence flow down into the rest of soci­ety.

    Drawn into Amer­i­can pol­i­tics by this aggres­sive the­o­log­i­cal vision, many New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion lead­ers became very active in right-wing polit­i­cal cir­cles, includ­ing one of Wagner’s key dis­ci­ples, an apos­tle-prophet named Dutch Sheets. Sheets is not a house­hold name in Chris­t­ian pol­i­tics like Jer­ry Fal­well or Ralph Reed or James Dob­son, but he has real influ­ence. Sheets has writ­ten more than 18 pop­u­lar evan­gel­i­cal books, and his Inter­ces­so­ry Prayer has sold more than a mil­lion copies. He was an endors­er and faith advis­er to Newt Gingrinch’s short-lived can­di­da­cy for pres­i­dent in 2012, and he open­ly espoused the lie that Barack Oba­ma was secret­ly a Mus­lim.

    In 2013, Sheets was giv­en an Appeal to Heav­en flag by a friend who told him that, because it pre­dat­ed the Stars and Stripes, it was the flag that “had flown over our nation at its birthing.” Sheets describes this expe­ri­ence as rev­e­la­to­ry, and he seized upon the flag as a sym­bol of the spir­i­tu­al-war­fare dri­ven Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion he hoped to see in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. In 2015, he pub­lished a book titled An Appeal to Heav­en and rolled out a sys­tem­at­ic cam­paign to prop­a­gate this sym­bol in right-wing Chris­t­ian cir­cles. That same year Sarah Palin wrote an opin­ion piece in Bre­it­bart, endors­ing the Appeal to Heav­en cam­paign and thank­ing her “[s]pecial friends, Pas­tor Dutch and Ceci Sheets,” who had giv­en her the flag.

    Sheets and his fel­low New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion lead­ers were the tip of the spear of Chris­t­ian Trump­ism, endors­ing Don­ald Trump’s can­di­da­cy ear­ly on and cham­pi­oning his cause to their fel­low Chris­tians. Over the course of the 2016 cam­paign, the Appeal to Heav­en flag and the NAR’s vision of a Chris­tian­i­ty-dom­i­nat­ed Amer­i­ca became entwined with Trump, a potent-though-covert sym­bol.

    Since 2015, you can find these Appeal to Heav­en flags pop­ping up over and over: in the back­ground of pic­tures of far-right politi­cians and elec­tion deniers like Doug Mas­tri­ano; as wall dec­o­ra­tions in state leg­is­la­tors’ offices; at right-wing ral­lies. It even flew over the Illi­nois State Capi­tol for a time at the insti­ga­tion of the Illi­nois Apos­tolic Alliance, a local NAR activist group..

    We make the case in our audio-doc­u­men­tary series that the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion net­works were at the molten core of Chris­t­ian mobi­liza­tion for Jan. 6, with many NAR lead­ers in atten­dance that day, includ­inga hand­ful of C. Peter Wagner’s clos­est mentees. Dutch Sheets was inte­gral to this effort, pro­pelling the Appeal to Heav­en nar­ra­tive along­side the Stop the Steal nar­ra­tive through his pop­u­lar dai­ly prophe­cy pod­cast in the lead-up to the riot.

    This is why, if you look close­ly at the panop­ti­con of videos and pic­tures of the Capi­tol insur­rec­tion, Appeal to Heav­en flags are every­where. There are dozens, per­haps hun­dreds, of them punc­tu­at­ing the crowd, includ­ing even on the front lines of clash­es between riot­ers and Capi­tol police offi­cers — a pow­er­ful sig­nal of the spread of Sheets’ ideas and influ­ence.

    Hun­dreds of Chris­t­ian fig­ures sup­port­ed Trump’s effort to over­throw the 2020 elec­tion, but, hav­ing spent years research­ing and track­ing the direct influ­ences on Chris­tians who actu­al­ly showed up on Jan. 6, we con­tend that no sin­gle Chris­t­ian leader con­tributed more to this effort to mobi­lize Chris­tians against the very struc­tures of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy than Sheets. One case in point: Sheets and his team were report­ed­ly at the White House a week before the insur­rec­tion, strate­giz­ing with admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials, as we report­ed on Jan. 6, 2023:

    On Decem­ber 29, 2020 — eight days before the insur­rec­tion — Sheets and his team of prophets were in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., stay­ing at the Willard Hotel, the site of the var­i­ous war rooms over­seen by RRudy Giu­liani and Steve Ban­non. On that day, Sheets, along with 14 oth­er apos­tles and prophets, had a mul­ti-hour meet­ing inside the White House with Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. Who exact­ly among White House Staff attend­ed this meet­ing is unclear (and the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has made the White House Vis­i­tor Logs secret and invul­ner­a­ble to FOIA requests until 2026). But mem­bers of Sheets’ team post­ed pho­tos of them­selves (with White House vis­i­tor pass­es) both out­side and inside the build­ing.

    The Appeal to Heav­en flag was the ban­ner of this mobi­liza­tion, which brings us back to Mike John­son and the flag out­side his office. What does it sig­nal that the speak­er of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is pur­pose­ly fly­ing this sym­bol of Chris­t­ian war­fare?

    When Rolling Stone reached out to Johnson’s office for com­ment, a spokesper­son for his per­son­al office not­ed that all mem­bers have three flag posts out­side their office and that John­son flies the Appeal to Heav­en flag along­side the Amer­i­can and Louisiana flags. “Rep. Johnson’s Appeal to Heav­en flag was a gift to him and oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress by Pas­tor Dan Cum­mins, who has served as a guest chap­lain for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives over a dozen times, under Speak­ers from both par­ties,” the spokesper­son wrote, adding that John­son appre­ci­ates the “rich his­to­ry of the flag,” cit­ing its con­nec­tion to George Wash­ing­ton and John Locke.

    Accept­ing this back­sto­ry as true, it does not in any way refute our basic premise that this flag, since Dutch Sheets’ spir­i­tu­al-war­fare appro­pri­a­tion of it in 2013, con­notes an aggres­sive form of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism. In fact, Pas­tor Dan Cum­mins, whom John­son cred­its as the one who gave him the flag, is a mentee of anoth­er major NAR leader (and Trump evan­gel­i­cal advis­er) named Jim Gar­low. John­son has described Gar­low as hav­ing“a pro­found influ­ence” on his life and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.

    Gar­low and Cum­mins have long oper­at­ed as Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist activists tar­get­ing mem­bers of Con­gress. The Appeal to Heav­en Flag was flown over Garlow’s for­mer Cal­i­for­nia church begin­ning in 2017, and Gar­low him­self has cel­e­brat­ed how the flag “has recent­ly become an impor­tant flag in the present day spir­i­tu­al war­fare prayer move­ment.” If any­thing, Johnson’s office’s state­ment only high­lights anoth­er vec­tor of NAR and Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist influ­ence on the new speak­er.

    The Appeal to Heav­en flag isn’t Johnson’s only con­nec­tion to Sheets, either. John­son has spent his entire career in Con­gress link­ing arms with one of Sheets’ top acolytes, a Louisiana apos­tle named Tim­o­thy Carscad­den. Carscad­den leads a church in Johnson’s dis­trict called Chris­t­ian Cen­ter Shreve­port. John­son has spo­ken at the church, had Carscad­den come to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and expressed his close­ness to Carscadden’s views.

    For his part, Tim­o­thy Carscad­den speaks along­side Dutch Sheets, mim­ics Sheets’ the­o­log­i­cal ideas, and shares in Sheets’ vision to see Chris­tian­i­ty reign supreme in every sphere of Amer­i­can life. Carscadden’s Face­book pro­file page is a pho­to of him hold­ing an Appeal to Heav­en flag, and the Louisiana apos­tle post­ed his sup­port for the gath­er­ing crowds of pro­test­ers on Jan. 6, 2021, writ­ing: “We will be live in per­son and online as we stand with the mil­lion plus in Wash­ing­ton DC today. We Appeal To The Courts of Heav­en today!!!!”

    It is sim­ply unten­able to think that John­son is unaware of what the Appeal to Heav­en flag sig­nals today. It rep­re­sents an aggres­sive, spir­i­tu­al-war­fare style of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism, and John­son is a legal insur­rec­tion­ist who has deeply tied him­self into net­works of Chris­t­ian extrem­ists whose rhetoric, lead­er­ship, and war­fare the­ol­o­gy fueled a lit­er­al insur­rec­tion.

    ...

    ————-

    “The Key to Mike Johnson’s Chris­t­ian Extrem­ism Hangs Out­side His Office” by Bradley Onishi, Matthew D. Tay­lor; Rolling Stone; 11/10/2023

    “To under­stand the con­tem­po­rary mean­ing of the Appeal to Heav­en flag, it’s nec­es­sary to enter a world of Chris­t­ian extrem­ism ani­mat­ed by mod­ern-day apos­tles, prophets, and apoc­a­lyp­tic visions of Chris­t­ian tri­umph that was cen­tral to the chaos and vio­lence of Jan. 6. Ear­li­er this year we released an audio-doc­u­men­tary series, root­ed in deep his­tor­i­cal research and ethno­graph­ic inter­views, on this sec­tor of Chris­tian­i­ty, which is known as the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR). The flag hang­ing out­side Johnson’s office is a key part of its sym­bol­o­gy.”

    The “Appeal to Heav­en” flag, dat­ing back to the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War, may not not always have been a sym­bol of Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism. But it is now, thanks to the efforts of Jason Rap­ert and oth­er NAR lead­ers over the last decade:

    ...
    If this was all we knew about Mike John­son, we could accu­rate­ly say that he is a full-bore, right-wing Chris­t­ian and an elec­tion denier who dab­bles in con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries — qual­i­ties that might give one pause before putting him sec­ond in line to the pres­i­den­cy. But there is anoth­er angle to Johnson’s extrem­ism that has received less scruti­ny, and it brings us back to that flag out­side his office.

    The flag — which Rolling Stone has con­firmed hangs out­side his dis­trict office in the Can­non House Office Build­ing — is white with a sim­ple ever­green tree in the cen­ter and the phrase “An Appeal to Heav­en” at the top. His­tor­i­cal­ly, this flag was a Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War ban­ner, com­mis­sioned by George Wash­ing­ton as a naval flag for the colony turned state of Mass­a­chu­setts. The quote “An Appeal to Heav­en” was a slo­gan from that war, tak­en from a trea­tise by the philoso­pher John Locke.. But in the past decade it has come to sym­bol­ize a die-hard vision of a hege­mon­i­cal­ly Chris­t­ian Amer­i­ca.

    ...

    The New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion is a set of net­works of Chris­t­ian lead­ers that formed in the 1990s around a rene­gade evan­gel­i­cal sem­i­nary pro­fes­sor named C. Peter Wag­n­er. These net­works are part of the non­de­nom­i­na­tion­al charis­mat­ic seg­ment of Chris­tian­i­ty (“charis­mat­ic” here is a tech­ni­cal term of Chris­t­ian the­ol­o­gy and prac­tice describ­ing a spir­i­tu­al­i­ty built around mirac­u­lous man­i­fes­ta­tions and aim­ing to re-cre­ate the super­nat­u­ral­ly imbued envi­ron­ment of the ear­ly Chris­t­ian church). Wag­n­er and his cohort believed that they were at the van­guard of a rev­o­lu­tion in church lead­er­ship that Wag­n­er often described as “the most rad­i­cal change to the way of doing church since, at least, the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion.”

    The hun­dreds of lead­ers who joined Wagner’s move­ment and lead­er­ship-net­work­ing cir­cles almost all iden­ti­fy as apos­tles (enter­pris­ing church builders) or prophets (who hear direct­ly from God), though some iden­ti­fy as both. In the mid-2000s, these NAR net­works col­lec­tive­ly embraced a the­o­log­i­cal par­a­digm called the “Sev­en Moun­tain Man­date,” a prophe­cy that divides soci­ety into sev­en are­nas — reli­gion, fam­i­ly, gov­ern­ment, edu­ca­tion, arts and enter­tain­ment, media, and busi­ness. The “Man­date,” as they under­stand it, is giv­en by God for Chris­tians to “take domin­ion” and “con­quer” the tops of all sev­en of these sec­tors and have Chris­t­ian influ­ence flow down into the rest of soci­ety.
    ...

    And, of course, the last decade was­n’t just a ran­dom decade for Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism in Amer­i­ca. This was the decade when the move­ment made a deal with the dev­il in the form of an alliance with Don­ald Trump. And few were more influ­en­tial in cre­at­ing this theo­crat­ic fusion of move­ments than Dutch Sheets, one of the key dis­ci­ples of NAR founder C. Peter Wag­n­er. By the end of the 2016, the Ascend to Heav­en flag was syn­ony­mous with the MAGA move­ment. And as we should expect, it turns out Mike John­son has spent his polit­i­cal career glad hand­ing with a Sheets acolyte, Tim­o­thy Carscad­den:

    ...
    Drawn into Amer­i­can pol­i­tics by this aggres­sive the­o­log­i­cal vision, many New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion lead­ers became very active in right-wing polit­i­cal cir­cles, includ­ing one of Wagner’s key dis­ci­ples, an apos­tle-prophet named Dutch Sheets. Sheets is not a house­hold name in Chris­t­ian pol­i­tics like Jer­ry Fal­well or Ralph Reed or James Dob­son, but he has real influ­ence. Sheets has writ­ten more than 18 pop­u­lar evan­gel­i­cal books, and his Inter­ces­so­ry Prayer has sold more than a mil­lion copies. He was an endors­er and faith advis­er to Newt Gingrinch’s short-lived can­di­da­cy for pres­i­dent in 2012, and he open­ly espoused the lie that Barack Oba­ma was secret­ly a Mus­lim.

    In 2013, Sheets was giv­en an Appeal to Heav­en flag by a friend who told him that, because it pre­dat­ed the Stars and Stripes, it was the flag that “had flown over our nation at its birthing.” Sheets describes this expe­ri­ence as rev­e­la­to­ry, and he seized upon the flag as a sym­bol of the spir­i­tu­al-war­fare dri­ven Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist rev­o­lu­tion he hoped to see in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. In 2015, he pub­lished a book titled An Appeal to Heav­en and rolled out a sys­tem­at­ic cam­paign to prop­a­gate this sym­bol in right-wing Chris­t­ian cir­cles. That same year Sarah Palin wrote an opin­ion piece in Bre­it­bart, endors­ing the Appeal to Heav­en cam­paign and thank­ing her “[s]pecial friends, Pas­tor Dutch and Ceci Sheets,” who had giv­en her the flag.

    Sheets and his fel­low New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion lead­ers were the tip of the spear of Chris­t­ian Trump­ism, endors­ing Don­ald Trump’s can­di­da­cy ear­ly on and cham­pi­oning his cause to their fel­low Chris­tians. Over the course of the 2016 cam­paign, the Appeal to Heav­en flag and the NAR’s vision of a Chris­tian­i­ty-dom­i­nat­ed Amer­i­ca became entwined with Trump, a potent-though-covert sym­bol.

    Since 2015, you can find these Appeal to Heav­en flags pop­ping up over and over: in the back­ground of pic­tures of far-right politi­cians and elec­tion deniers like Doug Mas­tri­ano; as wall dec­o­ra­tions in state leg­is­la­tors’ offices; at right-wing ral­lies. It even flew over the Illi­nois State Capi­tol for a time at the insti­ga­tion of the Illi­nois Apos­tolic Alliance, a local NAR activist group..

    ...

    The Appeal to Heav­en flag isn’t Johnson’s only con­nec­tion to Sheets, either. John­son has spent his entire career in Con­gress link­ing arms with one of Sheets’ top acolytes, a Louisiana apos­tle named Tim­o­thy Carscad­den. Carscad­den leads a church in Johnson’s dis­trict called Chris­t­ian Cen­ter Shreve­port. John­son has spo­ken at the church, had Carscad­den come to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and expressed his close­ness to Carscadden’s views.

    For his part, Tim­o­thy Carscad­den speaks along­side Dutch Sheets, mim­ics Sheets’ the­o­log­i­cal ideas, and shares in Sheets’ vision to see Chris­tian­i­ty reign supreme in every sphere of Amer­i­can life. Carscadden’s Face­book pro­file page is a pho­to of him hold­ing an Appeal to Heav­en flag, and the Louisiana apos­tle post­ed his sup­port for the gath­er­ing crowds of pro­test­ers on Jan. 6, 2021, writ­ing: “We will be live in per­son and online as we stand with the mil­lion plus in Wash­ing­ton DC today. We Appeal To The Courts of Heav­en today!!!!”
    ...

    And as we should also expect, those Appeal to Heav­en flags were heav­i­ly scat­tered across the Jan­u­ary 6 crowds that descend­ed into an insur­rec­tionary mob. Because this was­n’t just Trump’s insur­rec­tion. It was God’s insur­rec­tion, thanks to the bless­ings of NAR lead­ers like Dutch Sheets:

    ...
    We make the case in our audio-doc­u­men­tary series that the New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion net­works were at the molten core of Chris­t­ian mobi­liza­tion for Jan. 6, with many NAR lead­ers in atten­dance that day, includ­inga hand­ful of C. Peter Wagner’s clos­est mentees. Dutch Sheets was inte­gral to this effort, pro­pelling the Appeal to Heav­en nar­ra­tive along­side the Stop the Steal nar­ra­tive through his pop­u­lar dai­ly prophe­cy pod­cast in the lead-up to the riot.

    This is why, if you look close­ly at the panop­ti­con of videos and pic­tures of the Capi­tol insur­rec­tion, Appeal to Heav­en flags are every­where. There are dozens, per­haps hun­dreds, of them punc­tu­at­ing the crowd, includ­ing even on the front lines of clash­es between riot­ers and Capi­tol police offi­cers — a pow­er­ful sig­nal of the spread of Sheets’ ideas and influ­ence.

    Hun­dreds of Chris­t­ian fig­ures sup­port­ed Trump’s effort to over­throw the 2020 elec­tion, but, hav­ing spent years research­ing and track­ing the direct influ­ences on Chris­tians who actu­al­ly showed up on Jan. 6, we con­tend that no sin­gle Chris­t­ian leader con­tributed more to this effort to mobi­lize Chris­tians against the very struc­tures of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy than Sheets. One case in point: Sheets and his team were report­ed­ly at the White House a week before the insur­rec­tion, strate­giz­ing with admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials, as we report­ed on Jan. 6, 2023:

    On Decem­ber 29, 2020 — eight days before the insur­rec­tion — Sheets and his team of prophets were in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., stay­ing at the Willard Hotel, the site of the var­i­ous war rooms over­seen by RRudy Giu­liani and Steve Ban­non. On that day, Sheets, along with 14 oth­er apos­tles and prophets, had a mul­ti-hour meet­ing inside the White House with Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials. Who exact­ly among White House Staff attend­ed this meet­ing is unclear (and the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has made the White House Vis­i­tor Logs secret and invul­ner­a­ble to FOIA requests until 2026). But mem­bers of Sheets’ team post­ed pho­tos of them­selves (with White House vis­i­tor pass­es) both out­side and inside the build­ing.

    The Appeal to Heav­en flag was the ban­ner of this mobi­liza­tion, which brings us back to Mike John­son and the flag out­side his office. What does it sig­nal that the speak­er of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives is pur­pose­ly fly­ing this sym­bol of Chris­t­ian war­fare?
    ...

    Final­ly, as an exam­ple of how deeply embed­ded the NAR move­ment is inside the halls of pow­er, note the rather absurd expla­na­tion Mike John­son’s office gave for the pres­ence of the Appeal to Heav­en flag out­side of his office: “Rep. Johnson’s Appeal to Heav­en flag was a gift to him and oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress by Pas­tor Dan Cum­mins, who has served as a guest chap­lain for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives over a dozen times, under Speak­ers from both par­ties.” It’s an expla­na­tion that ignores how Pas­tor Cum­mins is, him­self, a mentee of NAR leader (and Trump evan­gel­i­cal advis­er) Jim Gar­low:

    ...
    When Rolling Stone reached out to Johnson’s office for com­ment, a spokesper­son for his per­son­al office not­ed that all mem­bers have three flag posts out­side their office and that John­son flies the Appeal to Heav­en flag along­side the Amer­i­can and Louisiana flags. “Rep. Johnson’s Appeal to Heav­en flag was a gift to him and oth­er mem­bers of Con­gress by Pas­tor Dan Cum­mins, who has served as a guest chap­lain for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives over a dozen times, under Speak­ers from both par­ties,” the spokesper­son wrote, adding that John­son appre­ci­ates the “rich his­to­ry of the flag,” cit­ing its con­nec­tion to George Wash­ing­ton and John Locke.

    Accept­ing this back­sto­ry as true, it does not in any way refute our basic premise that this flag, since Dutch Sheets’ spir­i­tu­al-war­fare appro­pri­a­tion of it in 2013, con­notes an aggres­sive form of Chris­t­ian nation­al­ism. In fact, Pas­tor Dan Cum­mins, whom John­son cred­its as the one who gave him the flag, is a mentee of anoth­er major NAR leader (and Trump evan­gel­i­cal advis­er) named Jim Gar­low. John­son has described Gar­low as hav­ing“a pro­found influ­ence” on his life and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.

    Gar­low and Cum­mins have long oper­at­ed as Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist activists tar­get­ing mem­bers of Con­gress. The Appeal to Heav­en Flag was flown over Garlow’s for­mer Cal­i­for­nia church begin­ning in 2017, and Gar­low him­self has cel­e­brat­ed how the flag “has recent­ly become an impor­tant flag in the present day spir­i­tu­al war­fare prayer move­ment.” If any­thing, Johnson’s office’s state­ment only high­lights anoth­er vec­tor of NAR and Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist influ­ence on the new speak­er.
    ...

    And Dan Cum­ming has been the guest chap­lain for the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives over a dozen times. And if that seems like an alarm­ing num­ber of times for a domin­ion­ist pas­tor to be invit­ed as guest chap­lain, just wait until they com­plete the Sev­en Moun­tains takeover. Domin­ion­ist pas­tors are going to be doing a lot more than just show­ing up to con­gress to hand out his­tor­i­cal­ly mis­in­ter­pret­ed flags at that point.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 30, 2023, 10:42 pm
  6. The should be the year of the Flori­da GOP. Home to both Don­ald Trump and Ron DeSan­tis, Flori­da has become a kind of grav­i­ty well of Repub­li­can par­ty’s zeit­geist. For a brief moment there were three Flori­da Repub­li­cans in the 2024 GOP Pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, before Mia­mi may­or Fran­cis Suarez dropped out. And yet, in real­i­ty, the GOP’s pri­ma­ry is already just an extend­ed audi­tion to be Trump’s veep while DeSan­tis con­tin­ues to embar­rass him­self.

    And then this week hap­pened. A week that the Flori­da GOP isn’t going to for­get any time soon, one one of the young ris­ing star pow­er cou­ples saw their careers come crash­ing down. Or at least get very com­pli­cat­ed.

    Chris­t­ian and Brid­get Ziegler aren’t just ris­ing stars in Flori­da GOP pol­i­tics. They are increas­ing­ly the pub­lic face of Ron DeSan­tis’s anti-woke pol­i­tics. As one of the co-founders of Moms for Lib­er­ty and Sara­so­ta Coun­ty School Board Mem­ber since 2014, Brid­get Ziegler has made her­self syn­ony­mous with the kind of anti-LGBTQ pol­i­tics that has come to define DeSan­tis’s pub­lic cru­sade. When Ron DeSan­tis signed his “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law this year, Brid­get Ziegler was stand­ing there right behind him. Beyond that, she’s the salaried vice pres­i­dent of the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, the train­ing acad­e­my for con­ser­v­a­tive activists found­ed by CNP co-founder Mor­ton Black­well. The Inter­na­tion­al Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor for the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, Alex Van Anne, also shows up on the CNP mem­ber­ship list. Also, Marie Roger­son, who sits on the Moms for Lib­er­ty exec­u­tive board and the direc­tor of pro­gram devel­op­ment, is a Lead­er­ship Insti­tute grad­u­ate. You don’t become a salaried VP of the Leader Insti­tute if you aren’t a major con­ser­v­a­tive mover and shak­er. And then there’s her hus­band Chris­t­ian. He’s the chair of Florida’s Repub­li­can Par­ty, tasked this year with nav­i­gat­ing the state par­ty through the extra­or­di­nary chal­lenge of thread­ing the Trump/DeSantis pri­ma­ry nee­dle with­out trig­ger­ing Trump’s wrath.

    That’s the Flori­da Repub­li­can pow­er cou­ple who had a sto­ry about them break this week that had Ron DeSan­tis call­ing for Chris­tian’s res­ig­na­tion and Moms for Lib­er­ty offer­ing poor­ly phrased defens­es of Brid­get. A sto­ry that cuts right into the pub­lic image of a hap­py pious Chris­t­ian cou­ple serv­ing as pub­lic advo­cates for the gov­ern­ment enforce­ment of a con­ser­v­a­tive moral code: Accord­ing to police reports, Chris­t­ian Ziegler has been accused of rape. The vic­tim was a stranger but instead a woman who has known the cou­ple for the past 20 years. And who has been in a secret sex three-way rela­tion­ship with the Zieglers for the past three years. So it’s a rape accu­sa­tion that is reveal­ing a secret three-way sex­u­al rela­tion­ship main­tained by this Repub­li­can pow­er cou­ple who has become the pub­lic face for Ron DeSan­tis’s anti-LGBTQ cru­sade. Which is clear­ly too hot for DeSan­tis, hence his imme­di­ate calls for Ziegler to step down as state par­ty chair.

    But as we’re going to see, the Zieglers still have their defend­ers. Lee Coun­ty GOP Chair Michael Thomp­son Lee called the charges a “polit­i­cal hit job”. Moms for Lib­er­ty ini­tial­ly post­ed a tweet in sup­port of Ziegler, then delet­ed it, and then issued a sec­ond tweet with replies turned off “because we won’t be part of allow­ing the trolls to den­i­grate women any fur­ther today.” The group fol­lowed up with the idea that the rape accu­sa­tions are part of an attack against women by post­ing that “#Strong­Women scare those that seek to destroy our coun­try. We stand with (Ziegler) & every oth­er badass woman fight­ing for kids & Amer­i­ca.” So the rape alle­ga­tion is an attack against #Strong­Women, accord­ing to Moms for Lib­er­ty.

    It also sounds like the denials can only go so far because there’s already so much that has been admit­ted to police. Chris­t­ian admits he not only slept with the woman but insists it was con­sen­su­al. He also told police he secret­ly video­taped it. He then delet­ed the video, but undelet­ed it after hear­ing about the accu­sa­tions, and uploaded the video to Google Dri­ve. We are told the police have yet to obtain the video.

    The vic­tim has told police that she had a con­sen­su­al sex­u­al encounter with the Zieglers about a year ago and agreed to anoth­er one on Octo­ber 2 of this year. But Brid­get had to can­cel, so the vic­tim decid­ed to can­cel too since she was most­ly into Brid­get. Min­utes lat­er, she opened her apart­ment door to take her dog for a walk when she saw Chris­t­ian in the apart­ment hall­way. He entered her apart­ment and pro­ceed­ed to rape her. The vic­tim con­tact­ed her sis­ter after the assault, who drove her to Sara­so­ta Memo­r­i­al Hos­pi­tal where a sex­u­al assault kit was per­formed. Two days lat­er, a friend of the vic­tim con­tact the police request­ing a wel­fare check after her friend missed two days of work. Describ­ing a sui­ci­dal-sound­ing friend, she told the dis­patch­er that, “She hasn’t shown up for work the past two days and I just got off the phone with her and she sounds drunk and I know she has pain med­ica­tion on her and she told me that she doesn’t think she can do it any­more.”

    While those details make it sound like there were only a hand­ful of encoun­ters between the vic­tim and the Zieglers, we are also told by sources close to the inves­ti­ga­tion that they’ve had a secret sex­u­al rela­tion­ship for the last three years. It’s a hint that this is the kind of sto­ry that’s going to get a lot more com­pli­cat­ed, and sor­did, before it’s over. Either that, or it’s a very elab­o­rate attack on #Strong­Women.

    Also keep in mind that we have no idea about the iden­ti­ty of the vic­tim and there­fore have no idea as to whether or not there’s a pow­er dynam­ic between the two, like him being in a posi­tion to fire her or offer her new oppor­tu­ni­ties. Maybe that’s not the case but we don’t know yet. And if there is a pow­er dynam­ic between the two, that makes her appar­ent sui­ci­dal state that much worse look­ing for Chris­t­ian.

    Ok, first, here’s an AP report about how Chris­t­ian Ziegler is refus­ing to resign and insist­ing he’s inno­cent. And while it remains to be seen if he’s inno­cent of rape, it does­n’t appear he or is wife can still claim to not be involved in an LGBTQ rela­tion­ship since he’s already admit­ted to police that he secret­ly videoed the inci­dent, then delet­ed it, and then undelet­ed it:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Flori­da Repub­li­can chair­man won’t resign over rape alle­ga­tion, say­ing he is inno­cent

    By TERRY SPENCER
    Updat­ed 6:41 PM CST, Decem­ber 3, 2023

    FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The chair of Florida’s Repub­li­can Par­ty says he will not resign over a woman’s alle­ga­tion that he raped her, say­ing in an email to sup­port­ers that he is inno­cent. He did not address any specifics of the accu­sa­tion that has roiled the state’s con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics.

    Chris­t­ian Ziegler sent the state­ment to state Repub­li­cans on Sat­ur­day, say­ing that he and his wife, Brid­get Ziegler, are being tar­get­ed because they are “such loud polit­i­cal voic­es.” His wife co-found­ed the con­ser­v­a­tive group Moms for Lib­er­ty, which has led a cam­paign with Gov. Ron DeSan­tis to roll back sex edu­ca­tion in Flori­da schools.

    DeSan­tis said last week that while Chris­t­ian Ziegler is inno­cent until proven guilty, he should resign to avoid becom­ing a dis­trac­tion to their par­ty. Ziegler insists he won’t quit.

    “We have a coun­try to save and I am not going to let false alle­ga­tions of a crime put that mis­sion on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” wrote Ziegler, 40. A long­time GOP activist, he ascend­ed to the state party’s top post in Feb­ru­ary.

    No charges have been filed against Ziegler, but the Sara­so­ta Police inves­ti­ga­tion remains open. The accuser, who has known Chris­t­ian Ziegler for 20 years, told police in Octo­ber that he forced his way into her apart­ment and raped her, accord­ing to search war­rant affi­davits filed by police.

    In his Sat­ur­day email, Ziegler did not address hav­ing told detec­tives that he did have sex with the woman but that it was con­sen­su­al. He also didn’t address his wife telling detec­tives that the cou­ple and the woman had group sex once, more than a year ago.

    “My fam­i­ly is rock sol­id. My wife is behind me 150% and we have meth­ods in place to pro­tect our (three) chil­dren, just as we have with all pre­vi­ous attacks that we have faced,” Chris­t­ian Ziegler wrote. The Zieglers did not return calls and text mes­sages Sun­day seek­ing fur­ther com­ment.

    ...

    The police ava­davits say­ing that the Zieglers had group sex with a woman have led Democ­rats and gay rights lead­ers to accuse the cou­ple of hypocrisy, giv­en that an orga­ni­za­tion Brid­get Ziegler cofound­ed — Moms for Lib­er­ty — has joined DeSan­tis and the Flori­da GOP in push­ing back against LGBTQ+ caus­es.

    Brid­get Ziegler is also an elect­ed mem­ber of the Sara­so­ta Coun­ty school board and was appoint­ed by DeSan­tis to the board that now over­sees Walt Dis­ney World’s land devel­op­ment. DeSan­tis pushed through leg­is­la­tion last year dis­band­ing a Dis­ney-con­trolled board after the com­pa­ny opposed his bill that lim­its sex edu­ca­tion in schools.

    ...

    The accuser’s name is redact­ed in the doc­u­ments. The Asso­ci­at­ed Press does not name pos­si­ble vic­tims of sex­u­al assault with­out their per­mis­sion.

    Accord­ing to text mes­sages cit­ed in the affi­davit, the woman and the Zieglers had planned to again have group sex on Oct. 2, but the woman backed out after Brid­get Ziegler “couldn’t make it.”

    The woman says she found Chris­t­ian Ziegler in her apartment’s hall­way lat­er that day, that he pushed her inside and then raped her.

    In text and phone con­ver­sa­tions mon­i­tored by inves­ti­ga­tors, Ziegler offered the woman “finan­cial help” before becom­ing sus­pi­cious that they were being record­ed.

    In a Nov. 2 inter­view with detec­tives, Ziegler said the sex was con­sen­su­al and that he had record­ed it. He said he delet­ed the video, then recov­ered it after the rape alle­ga­tion sur­faced.

    Detec­tives seized Chris­t­ian Ziegler’s phone on Nov. 2, the affi­davits say. None of what they have found has been made pub­lic.

    ———–

    “Flori­da Repub­li­can chair­man won’t resign over rape alle­ga­tion, say­ing he is inno­cent” By TERRY SPENCER; Asso­ci­at­ed Press; 12/03/2023

    “Chris­t­ian Ziegler sent the state­ment to state Repub­li­cans on Sat­ur­day, say­ing that he and his wife, Brid­get Ziegler, are being tar­get­ed because they are “such loud polit­i­cal voic­es.” His wife co-found­ed the con­ser­v­a­tive group Moms for Lib­er­ty, which has led a cam­paign with Gov. Ron DeSan­tis to roll back sex edu­ca­tion in Flori­da schools.

    The co-founder of Moms for Lib­er­ty was caught in an abu­sive three­some, accord­ing to the alle­ga­tions that are cur­rent­ly roil­ing Flori­da’s GOP polit­i­cal scene. Because Brid­get Ziegler isn’t just an M4L co-founder and increas­ing­ly promi­nent pub­lic fig­ure in Ron DeSan­tis’s ‘war on woke’. She’s a long-time Sara­so­ta Coun­ty School Board mem­ber known for her ‘anti-woke’ cru­sades and the wife of Chris­t­ian Ziegler, the chair of the Flori­da GOP who was, until now, tasked with the del­i­cate chal­lenge of man­ag­ing a 20204 pres­i­dent pri­ma­ry that includes being the home state for both Ron DeSan­tis and Don­ald Trump. The Zieglers are a Flori­da ris­ing star pow­er cou­ple in both the church and pol­i­tics. And now Chris­t­ian Ziegler is accused of rap­ing the woman they in in a secret three­some with. It’s the kind of scan­dal that can’t be swept under the rug with a few pub­lic state­ments and a few months of lay­ing low. The Zieglers are going to have to refute these charges one way or anoth­er:

    ...
    “We have a coun­try to save and I am not going to let false alle­ga­tions of a crime put that mis­sion on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” wrote Ziegler, 40. A long­time GOP activist, he ascend­ed to the state party’s top post in Feb­ru­ary.

    No charges have been filed against Ziegler, but the Sara­so­ta Police inves­ti­ga­tion remains open. The accuser, who has known Chris­t­ian Ziegler for 20 years, told police in Octo­ber that he forced his way into her apart­ment and raped her, accord­ing to search war­rant affi­davits filed by police.

    In his Sat­ur­day email, Ziegler did not address hav­ing told detec­tives that he did have sex with the woman but that it was con­sen­su­al. He also didn’t address his wife telling detec­tives that the cou­ple and the woman had group sex once, more than a year ago.

    “My fam­i­ly is rock sol­id. My wife is behind me 150% and we have meth­ods in place to pro­tect our (three) chil­dren, just as we have with all pre­vi­ous attacks that we have faced,” Chris­t­ian Ziegler wrote. The Zieglers did not return calls and text mes­sages Sun­day seek­ing fur­ther com­ment.

    ...

    Brid­get Ziegler is also an elect­ed mem­ber of the Sara­so­ta Coun­ty school board and was appoint­ed by DeSan­tis to the board that now over­sees Walt Dis­ney World’s land devel­op­ment. DeSan­tis pushed through leg­is­la­tion last year dis­band­ing a Dis­ney-con­trolled board after the com­pa­ny opposed his bill that lim­its sex edu­ca­tion in schools.
    ...

    And note the extent of the already avail­able evi­dence. There’s no ques­tion as to whether or they were in a secret three-way. That’s all estab­lished in texts and record­ed phone con­ver­sa­tions. He’s even admit­ted to police that he secret­ly record­ed the sex dur­ing the encounter in ques­tion. They he delet­ed the video, and then undelet­ed the video in response to the rape accu­sa­tion. He told all that to inves­ti­ga­tors. The only thing real­ly in ques­tion at this point is whether or not Chris­t­ian Ziegler com­mit­ted the rape he’s accused of:

    ...
    Accord­ing to text mes­sages cit­ed in the affi­davit, the woman and the Zieglers had planned to again have group sex on Oct. 2, but the woman backed out after Brid­get Ziegler “couldn’t make it.”

    The woman says she found Chris­t­ian Ziegler in her apartment’s hall­way lat­er that day, that he pushed her inside and then raped her.

    In text and phone con­ver­sa­tions mon­i­tored by inves­ti­ga­tors, Ziegler offered the woman “finan­cial help” before becom­ing sus­pi­cious that they were being record­ed.

    In a Nov. 2 inter­view with detec­tives, Ziegler said the sex was con­sen­su­al and that he had record­ed it. He said he delet­ed the video, then recov­ered it after the rape alle­ga­tion sur­faced.
    ...

    So are the Ziegler’s going to sur­vive these accu­sa­tions? Could Chris­t­ian Ziegler face charges? How might this impact ‘anti-woke’ polit­i­cal brand that’s come to define Ron DeSan­tis’s pol­i­tics? These are just some of the ques­tion that has the Flori­da GOP thor­ough­ly roiled. This was not the scan­dal they want­ed to be deal­ing with right now. But as we can see in the fol­low­ing Sara­so­ta Her­ald-Tri­bune arti­cle excerpt, while DeSan­tis might already be dis­tanc­ing him­self, the Ziegler’s still have polit­i­cal allies will­ing to stand by them, like Lee Coun­ty GOP Chair Michael Thomp­son Lee, who called the charges a “polit­i­cal hit job”. Or Moms for Lib­er­ty, sort of. The group ini­tial­ly post­ed a tweet in sup­port of Ziegler, then delet­ed it, and then issued a sec­ond tweet with replies turned off “because we won’t be part of allow­ing the trolls to den­i­grate women any fur­ther today.” The group fol­lowed up with the idea that the rape accu­sa­tions are part of an attack against women by post­ing that “#Strong­Women scare those that seek to destroy our coun­try. We stand with (Ziegler) & every oth­er badass woman fight­ing for kids & Amer­i­ca.” So if if you were won­der­ing how Moms for Lib­er­ty was going to respond, they respond­ed by call­ing the rape accu­sa­tions against Chris­t­ian Ziegler an attack against #Strong­Women:

    Sara­so­ta Her­ald-Tri­bune

    ‘The hypocrisy is just off the charts’: Zieglers face reck­on­ing after moral cru­sad­ing

    The Repub­li­can pow­er cou­ple emerged as lead­ing advo­cates in Flori­da for a new wave of con­ser­v­a­tive moral cru­sad­ing large­ly cen­tered around LGBTQ issues, espe­cial­ly in schools.

    Zac Ander­son
    Sara­so­ta Her­ald-Tri­bune
    Pub­lished 5:08 pm ETS Dec 1, 2023 | Updat­ed 5:27 pm ET Dec 1, 2023

    Ear­li­er this year, Brid­get Ziegler attract­ed atten­tion when she post­ed an image of her­self on social media wear­ing a shirt embla­zoned with “REAL WOMEN AREN’T MEN.”

    Ziegler, a Sara­so­ta Coun­ty School Board mem­ber and co-founder of con­ser­v­a­tive parental rights group Moms for Lib­er­ty, was respond­ing to a back­lash against Bud Light for a mar­ket­ing cam­paign fea­tur­ing a trans­gen­der influ­encer.

    It’s the quin­tes­sen­tial cul­ture war bat­tle that has become increas­ing­ly com­mon in recent years, and Ziegler has been at the fore­front of such clash­es, along with her hus­band, Flori­da GOP Chair Chris­t­ian Ziegler.

    The Repub­li­can pow­er cou­ple have emerged as lead­ing advo­cates in Flori­da for a new wave of con­ser­v­a­tive moral cru­sad­ing large­ly cen­tered around LGBTQ issues, espe­cial­ly in schools.

    Now, Chris­t­ian Ziegler has been accused of sex­u­al bat­tery by a woman who alleged­ly was in a long-term sex­u­al rela­tion­ship with both Zieglers.

    The Sara­so­ta Police Depart­ment released heav­i­ly-redact­ed doc­u­ments Thurs­day with few details about the crim­i­nal alle­ga­tion, which is still under inves­ti­ga­tion. Through his attor­ney, Chris­t­ian Ziegler adamant­ly denies any wrong­do­ing.

    Cit­ing anony­mous sources with knowl­edge of the case, the Flori­da Tri­dent – a pub­li­ca­tion of the Flori­da Cen­ter for Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty – wrote that the woman accus­ing Chris­t­ian Ziegler of sex­u­al bat­tery “alleged that she and both Zieglers had been involved in a long­stand­ing con­sen­su­al three-way sex­u­al rela­tion­ship pri­or to the inci­dent.” The police are inves­ti­gat­ing an inci­dent that occurred when Chris­t­ian Ziegler and the woman were alone at the woman’s house, the sources told the advo­ca­cy group.

    Yet even if no crim­i­nal charges are filed, the case is being close­ly watched to see what emerges because the Zieglers have made sex­u­al issues so cen­tral to their polit­i­cal brand.

    No doc­u­men­ta­tion has been released pub­licly con­firm­ing that one or both Zieglers were involved in sex­u­al activ­i­ty with oth­er part­ners, but there already has been a tor­rent of com­men­tary about the Zieglers’ alleged “hypocrisy,” espe­cial­ly because of their per­ceived anti-LGBTQ activism and the Tri­den­t’s report­ing.

    Moms for Lib­er­ty has been promi­nent nation­al­ly in debates around trans­gen­der school poli­cies and oth­er LGBTQ dis­cus­sions, while the Flori­da GOP has heav­i­ly pro­mot­ed these issues. Brid­get Ziegler stepped down from the Moms for Lib­er­ty board of direc­tors in 2021.

    “The hypocrisy is just off the charts and that’s why this has res­onat­ed,” said Ron Fil­ip­kows­ki, a for­mer GOP activist in Sara­so­ta Coun­ty who broke with the par­ty and now is a promi­nent social media fig­ure.

    Fil­ip­kows­ki has known both Zieglers for years. He remem­bers when Chris­t­ian Ziegler was a young par­ty activist just start­ing to make appear­ances at Sara­so­ta GOP meet­ings.

    Clear­ly ambi­tious, Fil­ip­kows­ki said, Ziegler “imme­di­ate­ly start­ed work­ing the room fig­ur­ing out who the pow­er play­ers and influ­encers were.”

    Ziegler worked for U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Long­boat Key Repub­li­can, and lat­er served on the Sara­so­ta Coun­ty Com­mis­sion. He has been active with the Flori­da GOP for more than a decade, serv­ing as the elect­ed GOP state com­mit­tee­man for Sara­so­ta Coun­ty and vice chair of the state par­ty before tak­ing over as chair in Feb­ru­ary.

    ...

    Brid­get Ziegler wad­ed into trans­gen­der restroom use issue

    Brid­get Ziegler had joined the Sara­so­ta Coun­ty School Board in 2014 and occa­sion­al­ly wad­ed into polar­iz­ing issues in the years lead­ing up to the pan­dem­ic, includ­ing a hot but­ton debate about trans­gen­der bath­room use in Sara­so­ta schools.

    The pan­dem­ic led to a wave of con­ser­v­a­tive activism around schools, and both Zieglers – who have young chil­dren they often high­light in debates about edu­ca­tion poli­cies – became lead­ing advo­cates for the edu­ca­tion cul­ture war agen­da cham­pi­oned by Gov. Ron DeSan­tis, which attract­ed the most nation­al atten­tion with a bill lim­it­ing dis­cus­sion of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­ti­ty in schools.

    Brid­get Ziegler stood behind DeSan­tis as he signed the leg­is­la­tion, derid­ed by crit­ics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – a nick­name that still irks its sup­port­ers. The gov­er­nor lat­er appoint­ed her to a board over­see­ing the spe­cial dis­trict that gov­erns Disney’s prop­er­ties in Cen­tral Flori­da. Dis­ney has been bat­tling with DeSan­tis over the company’s oppo­si­tion to the mea­sure, now in state law.

    ...

    “The alle­ga­tions that have been made are incred­i­bly seri­ous and deserve a full inves­ti­ga­tion,” said Bran­don Wolf, who fought against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as the for­mer press sec­re­tary for Equal­i­ty Flori­da, the state’s largest LGBTQ rights group.

    He added: “The Zieglers have spent years telling peo­ple how to live and who to be. They’ve been the tip of the spear for right wing extrem­ism in a state being hijacked by the anti-LGBTQ+ agen­da.”

    Chris­t­ian Ziegler has sparred with Wolf and oth­ers on the X social media plat­form, respond­ing to one of Wolf’s posts crit­i­ciz­ing DeSan­tis’ LGBTQ leg­is­la­tion with, “Leave the kids alone and there would be no issue.”

    ...

    Moms for Lib­er­ty post­ed on X in sup­port of Brid­get Ziegler, delet­ed the tweet, and then repost­ed with the replies dis­abled “because we won’t be part of allow­ing the trolls to den­i­grate women any fur­ther today.”

    “#Strong­Women scare those that seek to destroy our coun­try. We stand with (Ziegler) & every oth­er badass woman fight­ing for kids & Amer­i­ca,” the sec­ond post said.

    DeSan­tis says Ziegler should step down as state GOP chair

    Democ­rats aren’t the only ones speak­ing out: DeSan­tis called on Chris­t­ian Ziegler to resign as Flori­da GOP chair.

    “I think he should step aside and think he should attend to that,” DeSan­tis told reporters fol­low­ing his debate with Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som on Thurs­day. “He’s inno­cent until proven guilty, but we just can’t have a par­ty chair that is under that type of scruti­ny.”

    FOX News debate mod­er­a­tor Sean Han­ni­ty asked DeSan­tis and New­som about “parental rights” dur­ing the debate on Thurs­day night, and DeSan­tis pulled out a copy of a page from the book “Gen­der Queer,” which he said can be found in some Cal­i­for­nia schools.

    “Flori­da, this is not con­sis­tent with our stan­dards,” he said.

    The Ziegler scan­dal also could com­pli­cate efforts by DeSan­tis and oth­er Repub­li­cans to con­tin­ue cam­paign­ing on LGBTQ cul­ture war issues.

    But Lee Coun­ty GOP Chair Michael Thomp­son said the par­ty would con­tin­ue to push for tra­di­tion­al val­ues.

    “I don’t believe it’s going to stop any­thing the Repub­li­can par­ty is doing or advo­cat­ing for,” he said. “That’s the beau­ty of hav­ing a par­ty. It’s not one per­son every­one ral­lies around. It’s the entire par­ty.”

    And Thomp­son believes the Zieglers are the vic­tims of a “polit­i­cal hit job.”

    “You’ve got a great all-Amer­i­can fam­i­ly there in the Zieglers, so what do we do? Let’s destroy them,” he said. “They’re out there advo­cat­ing for chil­dren and tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can val­ues, so let’s give them a black eye.”

    ———-

    “ ‘The hypocrisy is just off the charts’: Zieglers face reck­on­ing after moral cru­sad­ing” by Zac Ander­son; Sara­so­ta Her­ald-Tri­bune; 12/01/2023

    “Cit­ing anony­mous sources with knowl­edge of the case, the Flori­da Tri­dent – a pub­li­ca­tion of the Flori­da Cen­ter for Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty – wrote that the woman accus­ing Chris­t­ian Ziegler of sex­u­al bat­tery “alleged that she and both Zieglers had been involved in a long­stand­ing con­sen­su­al three-way sex­u­al rela­tion­ship pri­or to the inci­dent.” The police are inves­ti­gat­ing an inci­dent that occurred when Chris­t­ian Ziegler and the woman were alone at the woman’s house, the sources told the advo­ca­cy group.”

    The rape did­n’t come out of the blue. Chris­t­ian Ziegler and the vic­tim weren’t strangers. Instead, they were in a long­stand­ing con­sen­su­al three-way sex­u­al rela­tion­ship pri­or to the inci­dent. It was this one inci­dent that lacked con­sent, accord­ing to the details emerg­ing. And there’s not deny­ing this secret three-way rela­tion­ship at this point. The rape is still being denied. But the secret long­stand­ing sex­u­al three-way rela­tion­ship is very much unde­ni­able at this point. Which is a prob­lem for a pow­er cou­ple that has made anti-LGBTQ con­tent cen­tral to their rise to polit­i­cal and pub­lic promi­nence. Brid­get Ziegler stood behind DeSan­tis as he signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill back in May of this year, while she was car­ry­ing on these secret bisex­u­al trysts:

    ...
    Yet even if no crim­i­nal charges are filed, the case is being close­ly watched to see what emerges because the Zieglers have made sex­u­al issues so cen­tral to their polit­i­cal brand.

    ...

    Brid­get Ziegler had joined the Sara­so­ta Coun­ty School Board in 2014 and occa­sion­al­ly wad­ed into polar­iz­ing issues in the years lead­ing up to the pan­dem­ic, includ­ing a hot but­ton debate about trans­gen­der bath­room use in Sara­so­ta schools.

    The pan­dem­ic led to a wave of con­ser­v­a­tive activism around schools, and both Zieglers – who have young chil­dren they often high­light in debates about edu­ca­tion poli­cies – became lead­ing advo­cates for the edu­ca­tion cul­ture war agen­da cham­pi­oned by Gov. Ron DeSan­tis, which attract­ed the most nation­al atten­tion with a bill lim­it­ing dis­cus­sion of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­ti­ty in schools.

    Brid­get Ziegler stood behind DeSan­tis as he signed the leg­is­la­tion, derid­ed by crit­ics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – a nick­name that still irks its sup­port­ers. The gov­er­nor lat­er appoint­ed her to a board over­see­ing the spe­cial dis­trict that gov­erns Disney’s prop­er­ties in Cen­tral Flori­da. Dis­ney has been bat­tling with DeSan­tis over the company’s oppo­si­tion to the mea­sure, now in state law.
    ...

    And while DeSan­tis is call­ing for Ziegler to step down as GOP state chair, Lee Coun­ty GOP Chair Michael Thomp­son called it a “polit­i­cal hit job” and Moms for Lib­er­ty char­ac­ter­ized the rape alle­ga­tions as an attack on #Strong­Women. Respons­es var­ied, from scared dis­tanc­ing to jad­ed ultra-cyn­i­cism:

    ...
    Moms for Lib­er­ty has been promi­nent nation­al­ly in debates around trans­gen­der school poli­cies and oth­er LGBTQ dis­cus­sions, while the Flori­da GOP has heav­i­ly pro­mot­ed these issues. Brid­get Ziegler stepped down from the Moms for Lib­er­ty board of direc­tors in 2021.

    ...

    Moms for Lib­er­ty post­ed on X in sup­port of Brid­get Ziegler, delet­ed the tweet, and then repost­ed with the replies dis­abled “because we won’t be part of allow­ing the trolls to den­i­grate women any fur­ther today.”

    “#Strong­Women scare those that seek to destroy our coun­try. We stand with (Ziegler) & every oth­er badass woman fight­ing for kids & Amer­i­ca,” the sec­ond post said.

    ...

    The Ziegler scan­dal also could com­pli­cate efforts by DeSan­tis and oth­er Repub­li­cans to con­tin­ue cam­paign­ing on LGBTQ cul­ture war issues.

    But Lee Coun­ty GOP Chair Michael Thomp­son said the par­ty would con­tin­ue to push for tra­di­tion­al val­ues.

    “I don’t believe it’s going to stop any­thing the Repub­li­can par­ty is doing or advo­cat­ing for,” he said. “That’s the beau­ty of hav­ing a par­ty. It’s not one per­son every­one ral­lies around. It’s the entire par­ty.”

    And Thomp­son believes the Zieglers are the vic­tims of a “polit­i­cal hit job.”

    “You’ve got a great all-Amer­i­can fam­i­ly there in the Zieglers, so what do we do? Let’s destroy them,” he said. “They’re out there advo­cat­ing for chil­dren and tra­di­tion­al Amer­i­can val­ues, so let’s give them a black eye.”
    ...

    So how long has the secret three-way been going on? Well, as we can see in the orig­i­nal Flori­da Tri­dent report that broke this sto­ry, the heav­i­ly redact­ed police report states the secret three-way has been going on for three years. That’s a seri­ous secret three-way. Also, as the report points out, Brid­get’s polit­i­cal includes her cur­rent posi­tion as the salaried vice pres­i­dent of the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, ded­i­cat­ed to train­ing and net­work­ing young con­ser­v­a­tive activists. Recall how the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute was found­ed by CNP co-founder Mor­ton Black­well. The Inter­na­tion­al Pro­gram Coor­di­na­tor for the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, Alex Van Anne, also shows up on the CNP mem­ber­ship list. Also, Marie Roger­son, who sits on the Moms for Lib­er­ty exec­u­tive board and the direc­tor of pro­gram devel­op­ment, is a Lead­er­ship Insti­tute grad­u­ate. Moms for Lib­er­ty isn’t the only orga­ni­za­tion with uncom­fort­able answers to give about its rela­tion­ship with Brid­get Ziegler:

    Flori­da Tri­dent

    Flori­da GOP Chair Chris­t­ian Ziegler, hus­band of Moms For Lib­er­ty cofounder, accused of sex­u­al assault by alleged menage a trois lover

    by Bob Nor­man | Nov 30, 2023 | Fea­tured News

    Chris­t­ian Ziegler, Florida’s GOP chair­man and hus­band of Sara­so­ta Coun­ty School Board mem­ber and Moms of Lib­er­ty co-founder Brid­get Ziegler, is under crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion after a woman filed a com­plaint with the Sara­so­ta Police Depart­ment alleg­ing the long­time Repub­li­can offi­cial had raped her, accord­ing to a heav­i­ly redact­ed police report obtained by the Flori­da Tri­dent.

    The com­plaint was filed on Octo­ber 4 and the alleged sex­u­al bat­tery occurred inside the woman’s home in Sara­so­ta on Octo­ber 2, accord­ing to the report. Among the few words that went unredact­ed in the report are “rape” and “sex­u­al assault com­plaint.”

    The woman, accord­ing to sources close to the inves­ti­ga­tion, alleged that she and both Zieglers had been involved in a three-year con­sen­su­al three-way sex­u­al rela­tion­ship. The inci­dent under inves­ti­ga­tion by Sara­so­ta police occurred when Chris­t­ian Ziegler and the woman were alone at the woman’s house, with­out Brid­get Ziegler present, the sources con­veyed.

    Sources also cor­rob­o­rat­ed that a search war­rant was exe­cut­ed on Chris­t­ian Ziegler’s cell phone and that inves­ti­ga­tors con­tin­ue to con­duct a foren­sic exam­i­na­tion of the elec­tron­ic device. Chris­t­ian Ziegler is also alleged to have secret­ly video­taped the sex­u­al encoun­ters between the cou­ple and the woman, sources said.

    There have been no charges filed in the case and the Tri­dent is unaware whether the woman’s alle­ga­tions have been sub­stan­ti­at­ed. A voice­mail was left with Mr. Ziegler for com­ment and a mes­sage was left at Brid­get Ziegler’s school board office. Nei­ther had been returned pri­or to pub­lish­ing this sto­ry.

    After our sto­ry was pub­lished, Chris­t­ian Ziegler’s attor­ney, Derek Byrd, issued a writ­ten state­ment say­ing that his client has been “ful­ly coop­er­a­tive with the Sara­so­ta Police Depart­ment” and pre­dict­ing Ziegler will be “com­plete­ly exon­er­at­ed.”

    “Unfor­tu­nate­ly, pub­lic fig­ures are often accused of acts that they did not com­mit whether it be for polit­i­cal pur­pos­es or finan­cial gain,” Byrd said in the state­ment. “I would cau­tion any­one to rush to judg­ment until the inves­ti­ga­tion is con­clud­ed. Out of respect for the inves­ti­ga­tion, this is all Mr. Ziegler or myself can say at this time.”

    The Zieglers are one of Florida’s top polit­i­cal pow­er cou­ples in the GOP. Chris­t­ian Ziegler is a long­time Repub­li­can Par­ty offi­cial who served as vice chair­man of the state par­ty pri­or to his elec­tion as chair in Feb­ru­ary. Pri­or to that he was a Sara­so­ta Coun­ty Com­mis­sion­er who ran on a “fam­i­ly val­ues” plat­form.

    Brid­get Ziegler has become a star with­in the MAGA move­ment who was per­son­al­ly endorsed for her school board seat by Flori­da Gov­er­nor and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ron DeSan­tis, who also appoint­ed her in March to the state board that over­sees the spe­cial dis­trict pre­vi­ous­ly over­seen by Dis­ney World pri­or to DeSantis’s polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed feud with the enter­tain­ment com­pa­ny.

    ...

    She is cur­rent­ly a salaried vice pres­i­dent at the con­ser­v­a­tive Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, which recent­ly opened an office in Sara­so­ta. At the Insti­tute she over­sees a school board train­ing pro­gram that she said “teach­es trains moms and dads how to run for school board, win, and then gov­ern!”

    Chris­t­ian Ziegler has long­stand­ing ties to both DeSan­tis and for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who called out Ziegler’s name in a recent speech ear­li­er this month dur­ing the “Flori­da Free­dom Sum­mit” in Kissim­mee and said he was doing a “fan­tas­tic job.” Ziegler, as the state’s GOP chair, has remained offi­cial­ly neu­tral on the race.

    ...

    ———

    “Flori­da GOP Chair Chris­t­ian Ziegler, hus­band of Moms For Lib­er­ty cofounder, accused of sex­u­al assault by alleged menage a trois lover” by Bob Nor­man; Flori­da Tri­dent; 11/30/2023

    The woman, accord­ing to sources close to the inves­ti­ga­tion, alleged that she and both Zieglers had been involved in a three-year con­sen­su­al three-way sex­u­al rela­tion­ship. The inci­dent under inves­ti­ga­tion by Sara­so­ta police occurred when Chris­t­ian Ziegler and the woman were alone at the woman’s house, with­out Brid­get Ziegler present, the sources con­veyed.”

    A three year-year con­sen­su­al three-way sex­u­al rela­tion­ship. That’s how sources close to the inves­ti­ga­tion describe it. And while the rape was obvi­ous­ly non-con­sen­su­al, note that the video-tap­ing was appar­ent­ly non-con­sen­su­al too since it was done in secret. And while we don’t know the num­ber of video-taped sex­u­al encoun­ters, its sounds like it’s more than one, accord­ing to these sources:

    ...
    Sources also cor­rob­o­rat­ed that a search war­rant was exe­cut­ed on Chris­t­ian Ziegler’s cell phone and that inves­ti­ga­tors con­tin­ue to con­duct a foren­sic exam­i­na­tion of the elec­tron­ic device. Chris­t­ian Ziegler is also alleged to have secret­ly video­taped the sex­u­al encoun­ters between the cou­ple and the woman, sources said.
    ...

    And, again, when we see how Brid­get Ziegler is cur­rent­ly the salaried vice pres­i­dent of the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, recall how the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute was found­ed by CNP co-founder Mor­ton Black­well. In addi­tion, Marie Roger­son, who sits on the M4L exec­u­tive board and the direc­tor of pro­gram devel­op­ment, is a Lead­er­ship Insti­tute grad­u­ate. The Ziegler’s were basi­cal­ly on the fast track for CNP mem­ber­ship if they were already secret mem­bers. Until now? Maybe. It remains unclear if Ziegler remains the Lead­er­ship Insti­tute’s vice pres­i­dent:

    ...
    Brid­get Ziegler has become a star with­in the MAGA move­ment who was per­son­al­ly endorsed for her school board seat by Flori­da Gov­er­nor and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ron DeSan­tis, who also appoint­ed her in March to the state board that over­sees the spe­cial dis­trict pre­vi­ous­ly over­seen by Dis­ney World pri­or to DeSantis’s polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed feud with the enter­tain­ment com­pa­ny.

    ...

    She is cur­rent­ly a salaried vice pres­i­dent at the con­ser­v­a­tive Lead­er­ship Insti­tute, which recent­ly opened an office in Sara­so­ta. At the Insti­tute she over­sees a school board train­ing pro­gram that she said “teach­es trains moms and dads how to run for school board, win, and then gov­ern!”

    Chris­t­ian Ziegler has long­stand­ing ties to both DeSan­tis and for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who called out Ziegler’s name in a recent speech ear­li­er this month dur­ing the “Flori­da Free­dom Sum­mit” in Kissim­mee and said he was doing a “fan­tas­tic job.” Ziegler, as the state’s GOP chair, has remained offi­cial­ly neu­tral on the race.
    ...

    Will one, or both, of the Zieglers man­age to keep an intact polit­i­cal career? That’s pre­sum­ably going to depend heav­i­ly on the details that fur­ther come out. But as we can see in the fol­low­ing report, the more we’re learn­ing, the more unde­ni­able the whole sit­u­a­tion looks. This was­n’t a casu­al one night stand.

    Although the exact nature of the sex­u­al rela­tion­ship over this three year peri­od remains a lit­tle mud­dled. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, The Zieglers had known this woman for 20 years. But the vic­tim told police, she “was sex­u­al­ly involved one time over a year ago” with Ziegler and his wife and they agreed to have a sec­ond sex­u­al encounter as a three-some on Octo­ber 2. So while some reports say they’ve been in a secret roman­tic sex­u­al rela­tion­ship for three years now, accord­ing to these details, there’s only been one sex­u­al encounter between the three, about a year ago, fol­lowed by this rape inci­dent. It’s the kind of mess that sug­gests we’re going to learn about a very com­pli­cat­ed roman­tic rela­tion­ship as more details come out.

    Inter­est­ing­ly, while we are told that Chris­t­ian Ziegler admit­ted to the police that he record­ed the sex­u­al encounter, ini­tial­ly delet­ed the video, but then uploaded it to his Google Dri­ve after learn­ing of the accu­sa­tions. But police say that they had not recov­ered the video. So there’s talk of secret video that’s been delet­ed and undelet­ed. But no video? Keep in mind no charges have been filed yet so it’s pos­si­ble it’s just a mat­ter of police not ask­ing for it yet.

    We also learned more about how the police got involved in the first place: they were con­tact on Octo­ber 4, after the vic­tim’s friend asked them to con­duct a wel­fare check, telling police, “She hasn’t shown up for work the past two days and I just got off the phone with her and she sounds drunk and I know she has pain med­ica­tion on her and she told me that she doesn’t think she can do it any­more.” But even before that, the vic­tim called her sis­ter after the assault and went to Sara­so­ta Memo­r­i­al Hos­pi­tal where a sex­u­al assault kit was per­formed. This was­n’t an instance were the vic­tim con­cludes it was rape days after the encounter. This was unam­bigu­ous. So the vic­tim went to the hos­pi­tal after the assault to have a sex­u­al assault kit per­formed and was sound­ing so psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­traught that a friend got the cops involved:

    Mia­mi Her­ald

    Rape accu­sa­tion details revealed in search war­rant records against Flori­da GOP chair­man

    By Max Green­wood and Alyssa John­son
    Updat­ed Decem­ber 02, 2023 3:48 PM
    This sto­ry was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished Decem­ber 2, 2023, 6:00 AM.

    The woman accus­ing Flori­da GOP Chair­man Chris­t­ian Ziegler of sex­u­al assault told police she had planned to have sex with him and his wife, Moms for Lib­er­ty co-founder Brid­get Ziegler, but called it off when Brid­get couldn’t make it, accord­ing to a new­ly released search war­rant affi­davit.

    The woman, whom Ziegler claimed to have known for 20 years in a mes­sage detailed in the war­rant, told Sara­so­ta police she “was sex­u­al­ly involved one time over a year ago” with Ziegler and his wife, a Sara­so­ta School Board mem­ber who helped start the con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tion that advo­cates for more parental con­trol and tra­di­tion­al val­ues in pub­lic schools.

    ...

    The vic­tim said she had agreed to have a sec­ond sex­u­al encounter with the cou­ple on Oct. 2, accord­ing to the affi­davit, which was first report­ed by the Orlan­do Sen­tinel and ABC Action News in Tam­pa. But when Brid­get Ziegler was unable to make it, the woman told inves­ti­ga­tors she can­celed the plans, tex­ting Chris­t­ian Ziegler that she was “most­ly in it for” his wife.

    Min­utes after the woman can­celed, she opened her front door to walk her dog, where she claims to have seen Chris­t­ian Ziegler stand­ing in the hall­way out­side of her apart­ment, accord­ing to the affi­davit. He then pro­ceed­ed to enter her apart­ment, where he alleged­ly raped her.

    With his attor­ney present, Chris­t­ian Ziegler told detec­tives that the Oct. 2 encounter was con­sen­su­al and that he record­ed it. He said he ini­tial­ly delet­ed the video but then uploaded it to his Google Dri­ve after learn­ing of the alle­ga­tion. Police said in the affi­davit that they had not recov­ered the video.

    Accord­ing to the affi­davit, the vic­tim called her sis­ter after the alleged assault and went to Sara­so­ta Memo­r­i­al Hos­pi­tal, where a sex­u­al assault kit was per­formed.

    The alleged assault was report­ed to police two days after the encounter on Oct. 4. Audio of a 911 call from that day reveals that a friend of the vic­tim had asked law enforce­ment to per­form a well­ness check on the woman after she report­ed­ly failed to show up to work for two days.

    “She hasn’t shown up for work the past two days and I just got off the phone with her and she sounds drunk and I know she has pain med­ica­tion on her and she told me that she doesn’t think she can do it any­more,” the caller told the dis­patch­er, accord­ing to audio of the 911 call that was obtained by the Flori­da Tri­dent, a watch­dog news out­let that first broke the news that police were inves­ti­gat­ing the sex­u­al bat­tery alle­ga­tion against Ziegler.

    The affi­davit then recounts a series of mes­sages and phone calls between Chris­t­ian Ziegler and the woman. Accord­ing to the affi­davit, the vic­tim said that Ziegler liked to con­tact her through Insta­gram because he “con­ceals the mes­sages using van­ish mode.” The calls were record­ed.

    In one call, the vic­tim expressed that Ziegler had “hurt her” and that she was deeply upset at what had hap­pened dur­ing the encounter. In a sep­a­rate call, she told Ziegler direct­ly that he had sex­u­al­ly assault­ed her.

    “ ‘Those are big words, please don’t, no I didn’t,’ ” Ziegler respond­ed, accord­ing to the affi­davit.“ ‘You invit­ed me in, that’s it. I did not at all, and I nev­er want you to feel that way.’ ”

    The inves­ti­ga­tion is ongo­ing and no charges have been filed against Chris­t­ian Ziegler. His lawyer Derek Byrd issued a state­ment on Thurs­day say­ing that Ziegler was coop­er­at­ing with inves­ti­ga­tors and pre­dict­ing that he would ulti­mate­ly be exon­er­at­ed of any wrong­do­ing.

    ...

    Chris­t­ian Ziegler, as Flori­da GOP chair­man, is tasked with guid­ing the par­ty through the state’s 2024 pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry, when two Florid­i­ans — for­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSan­tis — will be on the bal­lot.

    Ziegler’s future at the helm of the Flori­da Repub­li­can Par­ty, how­ev­er, is fac­ing a real chal­lenge. On Thurs­day, short­ly after a debate with Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Gavin New­som, DeSan­tis told reporters that Ziegler should step down from the chair­man­ship amid the inves­ti­ga­tion.

    “I don’t see how he can con­tin­ue with that inves­ti­ga­tion ongo­ing giv­en the grav­i­ty of those sit­u­a­tions, and so I think that he should step aside,” DeSan­tis said. “I think he should tend to that.”

    ————–

    “Rape accu­sa­tion details revealed in search war­rant records against Flori­da GOP chair­man” by Max Green­wood and Alyssa John­son; Mia­mi Her­ald; 12/02/2023

    “With his attor­ney present, Chris­t­ian Ziegler told detec­tives that the Oct. 2 encounter was con­sen­su­al and that he record­ed it. He said he ini­tial­ly delet­ed the video but then uploaded it to his Google Dri­ve after learn­ing of the alle­ga­tion. Police said in the affi­davit that they had not recov­ered the video.

    Ziegler told police the video exists, but they don’t have it yet. Are they ever going to get it? Have they even asked for it yet? It seems like an extreme­ly rel­e­vant piece of evi­dence to the case.

    Still, bit by bit we are learn­ing more about this case, like the fact that the woman has known the Zieglers for 20 years and told police she “was sex­u­al­ly involved one time over a year ago” with Ziegler and his wife. The Octo­ber 2 encounter was to be the sec­ond time, before Brid­get had to bail. Min­utes lat­er, Chris­t­ian stand­ing in the hall­way out­side her apart­ment, accord­ing to the affi­davit. The expe­ri­ence left the vic­tim so pal­pa­bly hurt her friend con­tact­ed police over fears of self-harm. That’s how the police got involved. But even before that, the vic­tim called her sis­ter after the assault and went to Sara­so­ta Memo­r­i­al Hos­pi­tal where a sex­u­al assault kit was per­formed. This was­n’t an instance were the vic­tim con­cludes it was rape days after the encounter. This was unam­bigu­ous:

    ...
    The woman, whom Ziegler claimed to have known for 20 years in a mes­sage detailed in the war­rant, told Sara­so­ta police she “was sex­u­al­ly involved one time over a year ago” with Ziegler and his wife, a Sara­so­ta School Board mem­ber who helped start the con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tion that advo­cates for more parental con­trol and tra­di­tion­al val­ues in pub­lic schools.

    ...

    The vic­tim said she had agreed to have a sec­ond sex­u­al encounter with the cou­ple on Oct. 2, accord­ing to the affi­davit, which was first report­ed by the Orlan­do Sen­tinel and ABC Action News in Tam­pa. But when Brid­get Ziegler was unable to make it, the woman told inves­ti­ga­tors she can­celed the plans, tex­ting Chris­t­ian Ziegler that she was “most­ly in it for” his wife.

    Min­utes after the woman can­celed, she opened her front door to walk her dog, where she claims to have seen Chris­t­ian Ziegler stand­ing in the hall­way out­side of her apart­ment, accord­ing to the affi­davit. He then pro­ceed­ed to enter her apart­ment, where he alleged­ly raped her.

    ...

    Accord­ing to the affi­davit, the vic­tim called her sis­ter after the alleged assault and went to Sara­so­ta Memo­r­i­al Hos­pi­tal, where a sex­u­al assault kit was per­formed.

    The alleged assault was report­ed to police two days after the encounter on Oct. 4. Audio of a 911 call from that day reveals that a friend of the vic­tim had asked law enforce­ment to per­form a well­ness check on the woman after she report­ed­ly failed to show up to work for two days.

    “She hasn’t shown up for work the past two days and I just got off the phone with her and she sounds drunk and I know she has pain med­ica­tion on her and she told me that she doesn’t think she can do it any­more,” the caller told the dis­patch­er, accord­ing to audio of the 911 call that was obtained by the Flori­da Tri­dent, a watch­dog news out­let that first broke the news that police were inves­ti­gat­ing the sex­u­al bat­tery alle­ga­tion against Ziegler.
    ...

    Again, either this is some sort of elab­o­rate attack against #Strong­Women, like Moms for Lib­er­ty sug­gest­ed above, or this was a very real rape that left a woman sui­ci­dal. And one of those sit­u­a­tions seems a lot more prob­a­ble than the oth­er one at this point.

    But, of course, thanks to the secret video tape Chris­t­ian told the police about, this should all be poten­tial­ly cleared up. Assum­ing the police even­tu­al­ly get the tape. So this seems like the kind of sto­ry where we should even­tu­al­ly get an answer. It may not be a pleas­ant answer, but the evi­dence is there. Might this come down to a ‘Is it rape?’ debate over some sort of sex­u­al rela­tions gray area? That sounds pos­si­ble. Either way, it’s awful pol­i­tics and career destroy­ing for this ris­ing Flori­da pow­er cou­ple.

    It’s hard to imag­ine their polit­i­cal careers sur­viv­ing this regard­less of the ulti­mate legal con­clu­sion. That said, Brid­get Ziegler is prob­a­bly going to be invit­ed to a lot more par­ties as a result of all this. Chris­t­ian hope­ful­ly not so much.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 4, 2023, 1:12 am
  7. Mike John­son is dan­ger­ous theo­crat who pals around with oth­er dan­ger­ous theocrats. It’s increas­ing­ly unde­ni­able with each new report on John­son’s extrem­ist asso­ci­a­tions. Like the recent report on John­son’s appear­ance back in Octo­ber on Jim Gar­low’s World Prayer Net­work where John­son laments the ris­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans who iden­ti­fy as LGBTQ, sug­gest­ing the “cul­ture is so dark and depraved that it almost seems irre­deemable.” As saw, Gar­low is lead­ing New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR) preach­er advo­cat­ing for the Domin­ion­ist “Sev­en Moun­tains” insti­tu­tion­al cap­ture of soci­ety. A move­ment with close ties to groups like Moms for Lib­er­ty push­ing anti-LGBTQ hys­ter­ics on pub­lic schools. And then there’s the fact that John­son agreed to give the keynote address at this year’s gala event for the Domin­ion­ist ori­ent­ed Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Law­mak­ers (NACL). There’s not hid­ing these asso­ci­a­tions with John­son, which is part of what makes his ele­va­tion to speak­er so dis­turb­ing. Mak­ing John­son the House Speak­er is like an act of mask-drop­ping.

    And as we’ve also seen, there’s no real divide between the groups advo­cat­ing this domin­ion­ist insti­tu­tion­al cap­ture of soci­ety and those who advo­cate for a vio­lent cap­ture of soci­ety. For exam­ple, recall the wild­ly dis­turb­ing reports we’ve had about Wash­ing­ton State Repub­li­can Matt Shea, who secret­ly penned a man­i­festo in 2016 call­ing for the wag­ing of Bib­li­cal War to takeover the US in 2016 and the exe­cu­tion of any adult males who refused to sub­mit to the new theoc­ra­cy. Shea also plot­ting with oth­er local mil­i­tants in com­ing up with a assas­si­na­tion list of left-wing lead­ers. The plan to was kill the Antifa lead­ers in their homes. Shea is an ardent domin­ion­ist with close ties to the Oath Keep­ers who has been work­ing on devel­op­ing a nation­al net­work of “Prayer Cau­cus­es” in asso­ci­a­tion with allies like extrem­ist preach­er Ken Peters. Peters not only attend­ed the Jan 6 insur­rec­tion, but he actu­al­ly spoke at one of the Jan 5 ral­lies at the Capi­tol. Anoth­er close Shea ally, Rev­erend Matthew Trewhel­la, came to nation­al atten­tion in the 1990s as one of three dozen sig­na­to­ries to a state­ment that declared that the mur­der of abor­tion providers is “jus­ti­fi­able homi­cide,” and lat­er became an advo­cate for church-based mili­tias. Trewhel­la’s son-in-law, Jason Storms, videos him­self at the Capi­tol on Jan 6 call­ing it a “rev­o­lu­tion”. Shea him­self attend­ed a Jan 6 ral­ly in Ida­ho where he urged peo­ple to “fight back in every sin­gle sphere we pos­si­bly can,” and to pre­pare for “total war.”

    It’s one big move­ment. So it should come as no sur­prise to learn that Mike John­son’s legal career at the Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom (ADF) is emblem­at­ic of how inter­twined vio­lent Chris­t­ian extrem­ists like Shea are to this larg­er polit­i­cal­ly pow­er­ful move­ment. Recall how the ADF received large dona­tions from the Bet­sy DeVos and Erik Prince and fun­neled that mon­ey into sup­port­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ments in Europe and backed a 2016 Belize law that pun­ished homo­sex­u­al sex with 10 years in prison. Also recall how the ADF has been play­ing a major behind the scenes role in shap­ing the cur­rent man­u­fac­tured anti-trans pan­ic. At the same time, the ADF shows up on the list of orga­ni­za­tions involved with the Sched­ule F/Project 2025 scheme. CNP mem­ber Michael Far­ris, who co-found­ed the “Con­ven­tion of States” project designed to over­haul the Con­sti­tu­tion — has served as the Pres­i­dent and CEO of the ADF. And as we’re going to see in the fol­low­ing Dai­ly Beast arti­cle excerpt, John­son’s ADF career is filled with the legal defense of the most vio­lent ele­ments of this domin­ion­ist move­ment.

    One exam­ple is John­son’s legal work on behalf of rad­i­cal anti-gay preach­er Grant Storms. It turns out it was John­son, work­ing on behalf of the ADF, who suc­cess­ful­ly per­suad­ed New Orleans offi­cials in 2003 to allow Storm­s’s group demon­strate against that year’s South­ern Deca­dence fes­ti­val, known local­ly as “gay Mar­di Gras.” A man end­ed up get­ting stabbed at the event and the stab­ber made clear in a record­ed con­fes­sion that he went to the event because “he want­ed to kill a gay man”. Lat­er that year, Storms gave a speech at the Inter­na­tion­al Con­fer­ence on Homo-Fas­cism in Wis­con­sin where he used rhetoric like, “It’s us or them. There’s no in between. There’s no hav­ing this peace­ful co-exis­tence.” Lat­er that year, John­son rep­re­sent­ed Storms in anoth­er legal case over per­mits for anti-abor­tion ral­lies in Jef­fer­son Parish.

    John­son’s rela­tion­ship with Storms appears to have end­ed by the time Storms became nation­al news in 2012 fol­low­ing his con­fes­sion to mas­tur­bat­ing in a van by a play­ground. But that was­n’t John­son’s only ties to the Storms fam­i­ly. As the head of Oper­a­tion Save Amer­i­ca (OSA), which has been called the US’s largest mil­i­tant anti-abor­tion group, Grant’s son Jason Storms is the kind of fig­ure the ADF exists to defend. And in 2009, that’s exact­ly what John­son did on behalf of the ADF, rep­re­sent­ing Jason Storms in his law­suit against the city of Mil­wau­kee over a court injunc­tion at abor­tion protests. Johnson’s Mil­wau­kee law­suit includ­ed affi­davits from none oth­er than Storm­s’s father-in-law, Rev Trewhel­la (Storms has­n’t exact­ly had the best father fig­ures in his life). 2009 also hap­pens to be the year abor­tion doc­tor George Tiller was mur­dered by an assailant asso­ci­at­ed with Oper­a­tion Res­cue.

    And, of course, all of this cul­mi­nates with Jason Storms, Ken Peters, and the rest of the insur­rec­tionary mob on Jan­u­ary 6 car­ry­ing out a coup attempt that had the theo­crat­ic Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP) and NAR Domin­ion­ist fin­gers all over it. Again, the selec­tion of some­one with John­son’s theo­crat­ic pedi­gree to be the next Speak­er of House real­ly was a kind of mask-drop­ping moment. Because the more we look at Mike John­son’s career arc, the more appar­ent it becomes that Mike John­son isn’t just a theo­crat. He’s a theo­crat ready and will­ing to do ‘what­ev­er is nec­es­sary’ to achieve that theo­crat­ic dream, and he’s just one per­son in a much larg­er army:

    The Dai­ly Beast

    The Vio­lent and Extreme His­to­ry of Mike Johnson’s Old Legal Clients

    BOOK OF REVELATION

    Speak­er Mike Johnson’s old clients include a man who spoke glow­ing­ly of killing gay peo­ple and anoth­er who said the gov­ern­ment “should be a ter­ror” to the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty.

    by Roger Sol­len­berg­er, Riley Roger­son, and Sam Brodey
    Updat­ed Dec. 05, 2023 10:11AM EST / Pub­lished Dec. 05, 2023 4:54AM EST

    Speak­er Mike John­son has spo­ken mod­est­ly about his career before Con­gress, iden­ti­fy­ing him­self as a hum­ble con­sti­tu­tion­al lawyer for con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­t­ian caus­es.

    “I’m so grate­ful for the min­istry and your faith­ful­ness,” John­son said in August, return­ing praise from evan­gel­i­cal leader Jim Gar­low. “It’s a great encour­age­ment to me and oth­ers who are serv­ing in these some­times rocky cor­ners of the Lord’s vine­yard.”

    ...

    The Dai­ly Beast’s review turned up one for­mer John­son client who said the gov­ern­ment “should be a ter­ror” to abor­tion providers and the LGBTQ com­mu­ni­ty, anoth­er who opposed the con­dem­na­tion of domes­tic ter­ror­ist attacks on abor­tion clin­ics, and anoth­er client who went on to record him­self endors­ing the hang­ing of gov­ern­ment offi­cials while in the thick of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capi­tol.

    That for­mer client now leads a mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tion tied to one of the dark­est chap­ters in the anti-abor­tion move­ment: the 2009 mur­der of a Kansas abor­tion doc­tor. And that plaintiff’s father also turned to John­son when he want­ed to secure a per­mit in 2003 for an anti-LGBTQ protest—a protest that end­ed in the attempt­ed stab­bing of a gay man.

    In that par­tic­u­lar case, Johnson’s client—anti-gay activist and for­mer rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian preach­er Grant E. Storms—later made nation­al news in 2012 when he con­fessed to mas­tur­bat­ing in his van by a play­ground in Metairie, Louisiana. Storms was con­vict­ed of inde­cent expo­sure and sen­tenced to three years pro­ba­tion.

    While John­son didn’t rep­re­sent Storms in that crim­i­nal mat­ter, Storms told The Dai­ly Beast in an inter­view on Mon­day that John­son had done reams of legal work for him in the ear­ly to mid-2000s, pro­vid­ing all of his ser­vices for free. Storms said he con­sid­ered John­son a friend.

    “We were broth­ers on the path,” Storms said. “He always had our back.”

    By all accounts, John­son indeed had their backs. While his caus­tic anti-abor­tion and anti-gay stances flew large­ly under the nation­al radar for years, they have been brought into pub­lic view since he clinched the speaker’s gav­el in Octo­ber. John­son has called abor­tion “a holo­caust” and once wrote in sup­port of crim­i­nal­iz­ing gay sex. He also has not been shy about bur­nish­ing his Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist cre­den­tials, recent­ly telling Fox News that the Bible dic­tates his beliefs on “any issue under the sun.”

    ...

    Attor­neys are, of course, not respon­si­ble for their clients’ actions or choices—particularly after their legal rela­tion­ship ends. But John­son chose to rep­re­sent clients and causes—often for free—with a remark­able ide­o­log­i­cal con­sis­ten­cy. While he could argue he took their cas­es on a First Amend­ment basis, John­son was pre­oc­cu­pied with clients who reflect­ed the same anti-gay and anti-abor­tion stances that he has held open­ly for decades. His clients’ embrace of vio­lent rhetoric appar­ent­ly did lit­tle to dis­suade John­son from tak­ing their cas­es at the time, and the speak­er did not avail him­self of the oppor­tu­ni­ty now to denounce their actions, words, or involve­ment with the insur­rec­tion.

    ...

    As this review of Johnson’s legal career shows, there is still more to learn about Johnson’s past and how tight­ly he was knit­ted into the fab­ric of some of the country’s most mil­i­tant reli­gious move­ments.

    Grant Storms told The Dai­ly Beast that he first con­nect­ed with John­son in the ear­ly 2000s through Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, an influ­en­tial activist group that seeks to cod­i­fy right-wing Chris­t­ian beliefs into law.

    While ADF styles itself as a phil­an­thropic foun­da­tion ded­i­cat­ed to pro­tect­ing reli­gious lib­er­ty, the group has engaged in a glob­al cru­sade to erode LGBTQ and abor­tion rights around the world. John­son land­ed at ADF after law school and worked there for near­ly 10 years as an attor­ney and spokesper­son.

    Storms recalled that he ini­tial­ly con­tact­ed John­son to help him force the removal of what Storms con­sid­ered “lewd” imagery from an adver­tise­ment he’d seen at a bus sta­tion, which he claimed fea­tured an image of men hav­ing sex. At the time, Storms was well-known in Louisiana as a bull­horn-wield­ing Chris­t­ian zealot. He was a tire­less French Quar­ter gad­fly, and he retained Johnson’s pro bono assis­tance in an array of legal matters—one of which drew nation­al atten­tion and end­ed in a hate crime.

    Accord­ing to Storms, it was John­son specif­i­cal­ly who per­suad­ed New Orleans offi­cials to grant a per­mit for his 2003 demon­stra­tion against that year’s South­ern Deca­dence fes­ti­val, the city’s annu­al Labor Day Bac­cha­nal cel­e­brat­ing gay cul­ture, known local­ly as “gay Mar­di Gras.” Storms, who had just con­vinced the Louisiana state leg­is­la­ture to pass stricter decen­cy laws—after hand­ing law­mak­ers videos that he per­son­al­ly record­ed of men hav­ing sex in public—had attained nation­al noto­ri­ety through his activism. He told The Dai­ly Beast that local offi­cials, as well as the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, had been opposed to his demon­stra­tion.

    The Asso­ci­at­ed Press cov­ered the protest at length. But the event was marred by vio­lence, when an anti-gay assailant attempt­ed to mur­der a man with a five-inch steak knife. Storms denied that the attack­er was a mem­ber of his orga­ni­za­tion, Chris­t­ian Con­ser­v­a­tives for Reform. But Storms him­self was charged with bat­tery in a sep­a­rate event that week­end, after get­ting into a push­ing match with a secu­ri­ty guard who refused to let him record video inside a night­club.

    Accord­ing to police, the stab­ber made clear in a record­ed con­fes­sion that he had gone to Storms’ event specif­i­cal­ly because “he want­ed to kill a gay man,” though it wasn’t clear whether the vic­tim he chose was, in fact, gay. The assailant was charged with attempt­ed first-degree mur­der and a felony hate crime, but he died pend­ing tri­al.

    In an inter­view with The Dai­ly Beast, Storms repeat­ed­ly denounced that attack and all vio­lence against the LGBTQ and abor­tion rights com­mu­ni­ties. Still, Storms acknowl­edged in ret­ro­spect that his fiery rhetoric at the time—including on his five-day-per-week radio show, which he said almost cer­tain­ly fea­tured John­son sev­er­al times—may have cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment that unin­ten­tion­al­ly acti­vat­ed a bad actor.

    “When every­thing was at the height—everything always on the news and every­one always talk­ing about it—well in the midst of our protest, a gay per­son got stabbed,” he said, admit­ting that some of his rhetoric around the event “didn’t come out right.”

    “Every per­son who’s a pub­lic fig­ure has to be care­ful with their rhetoric, and as you get old­er you have to be more and more care­ful,” Storms told The Dai­ly Beast, before again call­ing the LGBTQ lifestyle “a per­ver­sion.”

    But John­son did not dis­tance him­self from Storms after the vio­lence of the protest. In fact, he got clos­er to the preach­er. Eight months lat­er, John­son rep­re­sent­ed Storms in anoth­er legal case regard­ing per­mits, this time for anti-abor­tion ral­lies in Jef­fer­son Parish.

    In the mean­time, Storms made news again when he appeared to endorse the mass mur­der of gay peo­ple at a reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ist con­fer­ence in Wis­con­sin.

    The event—the “Inter­na­tion­al Con­fer­ence on Homo-Fas­cism”—was host­ed that Octo­ber in Mil­wau­kee by a group called Wis­con­sin Chris­tians Unit­ed, and fea­tured a vol­canic, hour-long address from Storms. He spoke at length about his “bat­tle” against the South­ern Deca­dence Festival—where weeks ear­li­er a man was stabbed—saying “the Lord gave us a great break­through.” He repeat­ed­ly invoked vio­lent imagery, warn­ing his Chris­t­ian audi­ence that gay peo­ple “want to kill you” and “have to elim­i­nate us,” liken­ing his per­son­al cru­sade to Jonathan’s bib­li­cal bat­tle against the Philis­tine army.

    “That first slaugh­ter which Jonathan and his armor bear­er made was about 20 men. Wheeeww! Come on. Let’s go. God has deliv­ered them all into our hands. Hal­lelu­jah!” Storms said, accord­ing to a tran­script of the speech. He then made the sounds “”boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

    “There’s 20. Whew. Ca-Ching. Yes. Glo­ry. Glo­ry to God. Let’s go through the dri­ve-thru at McDonald’s and come back and get the rest,” Storms said in the tran­script.

    After the event, LGBTQ rights group Fair Wis­con­sin accused Storms of mak­ing “sounds like gun­fire as if he were shoot­ing gay peo­ple” and “appar­ent­ly advo­cat­ing the mur­der” of gay peo­ple. Storms then sued Fair Wis­con­sin for defama­tion, which the Wis­con­sin Supreme Court lat­er ruled was friv­o­lous, uphold­ing $87,000 in sanc­tions against his attorney—who was not John­son.

    In an inter­view with The Dai­ly Beast, Storms ini­tial­ly recalled these events as “hilar­i­ous,” say­ing that “obvi­ous­ly it was sym­bol­ic of not lit­er­al­ly killing” gay peo­ple, but “killing the agen­da” through legal means, such as protests.

    When The Dai­ly Beast quot­ed some of his passages—for exam­ple, “It’s us or them. There’s no in between. There’s no hav­ing this peace­ful co-existence”—Storms allowed that he might have been “a lit­tle bit over-the-top.” Even­tu­al­ly, Storms said he could under­stand why an out­side group would have “mis­in­ter­pret­ed” his remarks as advo­cat­ing mass mur­der.

    “I got­ta live with what I said, live with the way peo­ple inter­pret it,” Storms said. “But I’ll fight for everyone’s right to life, lib­er­ty, and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness.”

    But if Storms’ rhetoric was beyond the pale, it did­n’t stop John­son from rep­re­sent­ing him.

    Months after Storms sued Action Wis­con­sin, John­son helped him sue Jef­fer­son Parish. The same month he filed that law­suit, John­son likened anoth­er reli­gious case he was work­ing on to “spir­i­tu­al war­fare.”

    “The ulti­mate goal of the ene­my is silenc­ing the gospel,” John­son told the Shreve­port Times in April 2004. “This is spir­i­tu­al war­fare.”

    Storms told The Dai­ly Beast that the two men lost con­tact some­time after Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, in 2005—several years before the play­ground mas­tur­ba­tion inci­dent that pro­pelled him again into nation­al ignominy.

    While Storms con­fessed, he still tried to fight the wit­ness account of the expo­sure charge—which he dis­put­ed again in his inter­view with The Dai­ly Beast. But the judge sen­tenced him to three years pro­ba­tion, and cit­ed his con­fes­sion that it was the third time he’d mas­tur­bat­ed in the park that week.

    If John­son did lose touch with Storms in 2005, how­ev­er, he some­how still stum­bled on a path to Storms’ son, Jason Storms, who John­son and the ADF rep­re­sent­ed in anoth­er Mil­wau­kee case in 2009.

    In that case, John­son argued that his plaintiffs—a cadre of anti-abor­tion extremists—had been “intim­i­dat­ed and imped­ed and chilled” in the exer­cise of their free speech rights by a fed­er­al court injunc­tion in the East­ern Dis­trict of Wis­con­sin against protests at abor­tion clin­ics.

    The suit point­ed to inter­ac­tions the plain­tiffs had with law enforce­ment, includ­ing arrests. A num­ber of those charges were dis­missed, but John­son argued that because they were dis­missed “with­out prej­u­dice,” pros­e­cu­tors could bring them again if they wished—which John­son char­ac­ter­ized as intim­i­da­tion.

    ...

    Jason Storms is the leader of Oper­a­tion Save Amer­i­ca, for­mer­ly Oper­a­tion Res­cue, which has been called the nation’s largest mil­i­tant anti-abor­tion group. Jason Storms also par­took in the Jan. 6 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol, post­ing a social media video of him­self on the building’s scaf­fold­ing short­ly after the breach.

    Oper­a­tion Res­cue shot to infamy when it was tied to the slay­ing of a Kansas abor­tion provider in 2009—the same year John­son filed the law­suit. Today, OSA and its mil­i­tant allies still believe women who get abor­tions should be charged with murder—a step up from more main­stream anti-abor­tion­ists who would only place that bur­den on the doc­tor.

    This sum­mer, Storms said abor­tion might only be end­ed in the U.S. through civ­il war. He rou­tine­ly draws wide­spread media cov­er­age for camp­ing out­side of abor­tion clin­ics and urg­ing women against end­ing their preg­nan­cies, fre­quent­ly along­side his wife and their 10 chil­dren.

    Ear­li­er this year, a mem­ber of OSA was charged in con­nec­tion with a bomb scare at a Mil­wau­kee-area Pride event, the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel report­ed. In Octo­ber, the Sixth Cir­cuit of Fed­er­al Appeals upheld a 2022 restrain­ing order against the group, after unruly demon­stra­tions in Ten­nessee.

    But in 2009, Johnson—on behalf of the ADF—represented Jason Storms along­side a group of vir­u­lent anti-abor­tion extrem­ists when they sued the city of Mil­wau­kee over a court injunc­tion at abor­tion protests. That crew includ­ed anti-LGBTQ activist Robert Breaud and Jim Soder­na, both of whom have their own sto­ried past.

    In 1999, Soder­na entered his name in the pub­lic record as oppos­ing a Mil­wau­kee city coun­cil res­o­lu­tion “against domes­tic ter­ror­ism in the form of vio­lence against health-care providers, espe­cial­ly those pro­vid­ing fam­i­ly plan­ning ser­vices.” Mean­while, Breaud—a self-described for­mer “homosexual”—ran a 1999 failed cam­paign for the Louisiana state House as a Repub­li­can. Per an arti­cle from The Times-Picayune, which is not pub­licly avail­able online but acces­si­ble through the Lex­is Nex­is pub­li­ca­tion data­base, Breaud said the gov­ern­ment “should be a ter­ror to the evildoer”—quoting the apos­tle Paul in the Bible—further spec­i­fy­ing, as Paul did not, that the evil­do­ers were gay men, les­bians, and abor­tion providers.

    Breaud, a nurse and musi­cian, spread his homo­pho­bic mes­sage via an orig­i­nal song called “It’s Not OK to be Gay.” A 2007 video of Breaud shows him strum­ming a gui­tar and singing, “It’s not OK to be gay. It’s not OK to be per­vert­ed. It’s not in your DNA. What you need is to be con­vert­ed.” A spo­ken-word inter­lude describes Breaud’s for­mer lifestyle as “unholy, unnat­ur­al, unsat­is­fy­ing, unful­fill­ing.”

    But in the 2009 abor­tion case, John­son rep­re­sent­ed Breaud regard­ing a dif­fer­ent piece: an anti-abor­tion com­po­si­tion called “Baby Song,” which Breaud had ren­dered at a “dis­turb­ing” vol­ume out­side of a clin­ic, draw­ing a police cita­tion.

    Breaud also went on to pub­licly boy­cott Star­bucks over CEO Howard Schultz’ 2013 sup­port of gay mar­riage, say­ing in a Chris­t­ian News Net­work inter­view that he would tell Schultz, “You’re pro­mot­ing sin. You’re help­ing destroy young people’s lives.”

    Johnson’s Mil­wau­kee law­suit was bol­stered by affi­davits from Jason Storms’ father-in-law, mil­i­tant anti-abor­tion­ist Rev. Matthew Trewhel­la. Trewhella—who two years pri­or was rep­re­sent­ed by ADF in a sep­a­rate mat­ter in Ohio—previously defend­ed the mur­der of abor­tion doc­tors as “jus­ti­fi­able homi­cide.” And in 1994, Trewhel­la was record­ed urg­ing par­ents to give their chil­dren firearms train­ing and advo­cat­ing for reli­gious con­gre­ga­tions to launch mili­tias, The New York Times report­ed.

    By 2009, Trewhel­la had served 14 months in prison for obstruct­ing clin­ics. He ran an Oper­a­tion Res­cue splin­ter group, called Mis­sion­ar­ies to the Pre-Born, which also fea­tured Jason Storms. Mis­sion­ar­ies to the Pre-Born has been described as “one of the most dan­ger­ous and vio­lent of the direct action anti-abor­tion groups active in the Unit­ed States.”

    The city set­tled the Mil­wau­kee suit. Johnson’s co-coun­sel, Fin­tan Doo­ley, told The Dai­ly Beast that he was hap­py with the set­tle­ment at the time, though they didn’t win fees. Doo­ley, a Demo­c­rat, also plead­ed igno­rance about any ties to vio­lent groups among the plain­tiffs and Trewhel­la.

    But the year of that law­suit, Oper­a­tion Res­cue was tied to the mur­der of Kansas abor­tion provider Dr. George Tiller. The killer had been in touch with a group offi­cial about Tiller’s where­abouts, and claimed to be a mem­ber. While the group denounced the slay­ing and the attacker’s claims to mem­ber­ship, Tiller was a top tar­get of Oper­a­tion Rescue’s ire for years—in 2002, they relo­cat­ed their head­quar­ters to Wichi­ta specif­i­cal­ly to pres­sure his clinic—and its leader at the time had pre­vi­ous­ly called the mur­der of abor­tion providers a “jus­ti­fi­able defen­sive action.”

    Twelve years lat­er, Jason Storms was part of anoth­er siege. On Jan. 6, 2021, Storms and two oth­er OSA mem­bers “set up the Lord’s beach­head” at Trump’s ral­ly in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., accord­ing to an OSA blog post two days after the attack. The post mar­veled that “many saints were encour­aged by the bold and plain dec­la­ra­tions of the Law/Word of God,” declar­ing that it was “a great and exhaust­ing time.”

    What the post did not men­tion, how­ev­er, was that Storms par­tic­i­pat­ed in the sack­ing of the Capi­tol. He post­ed a social media video of him­self on the scaf­fold­ing short­ly after the build­ing was breached, admir­ing the insur­rec­tion as “Rev­o­lu­tion 2.0” and crow­ing, “Yeah, baby!” in reply to a bull­horned call to “Hang ’em high!”

    Doo­ley, Johnson’s co-coun­sel, told The Dai­ly Beast that he was “dis­ap­point­ed but not sur­prised” to learn about Jason Storms’ involve­ment in the attack.

    Grant Storms told The Dai­ly Beast that he “sup­port­ed” his son attend­ing the ral­ly, but, like Doo­ley, he con­demned Trump and the Repub­li­cans who still sup­port him—specifically includ­ing John­son.

    “Trump went nuts,” Grant Storms told The Dai­ly Beast. “Any­one can see he tried to over­turn the elec­tion. He belongs in jail.”

    Like Grant Storms, Doo­ley spoke admirably about John­son, not­ing his intel­lect and the influ­ence he had on his own legal work.

    But asked what he would say to John­son regard­ing the speaker’s own unre­pen­tant efforts to over­turn the 2020 elec­tion and his con­tin­ued sup­port of Trump, Doo­ley soured.

    “Par­don me while I puke, Mr. John­son,” he said.

    ———-

    “The Vio­lent and Extreme His­to­ry of Mike Johnson’s Old Legal Clients” by Roger Sol­len­berg­er, Riley Roger­son, and Sam Brodey; The Dai­ly Beast; 12/05/2023

    “Attor­neys are, of course, not respon­si­ble for their clients’ actions or choices—particularly after their legal rela­tion­ship ends. But John­son chose to rep­re­sent clients and causes—often for free—with a remark­able ide­o­log­i­cal con­sis­ten­cy. While he could argue he took their cas­es on a First Amend­ment basis, John­son was pre­oc­cu­pied with clients who reflect­ed the same anti-gay and anti-abor­tion stances that he has held open­ly for decades. His clients’ embrace of vio­lent rhetoric appar­ent­ly did lit­tle to dis­suade John­son from tak­ing their cas­es at the time, and the speak­er did not avail him­self of the oppor­tu­ni­ty now to denounce their actions, words, or involve­ment with the insur­rec­tion.

    Defen­dants deserve legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. You can’t blame a lawyer for rep­re­sent­ing unseem­ly clients. And yet it’s hard to avoid the obser­va­tion that Mike John­son was­n’t defend­ing these clients out of some sort of sense that every­one deserves legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion. He was accept­ing ide­o­log­i­cal­ly aligned clients, often for free. Because of course those were the kinds of clients he was rep­re­sent­ing as a lawyer for Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom (ADF). Again, recall how the ADF received large dona­tions from the Bet­sy DeVos and Erik Prince and fun­neled that mon­ey into sup­port­ing Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist move­ments in Europe and backed a 2016 Belize law that pun­ished homo­sex­u­al sex with 10 years in prison. Also recall how the ADF has been play­ing a major behind the scenes roll in shap­ing the cur­rent man­u­fac­tured anti-trans pan­ic. At the same time, the ADF shows up on the list of orga­ni­za­tions involved with the Sched­ule F/Project 2025 scheme. CNP mem­ber Michael Far­ris, who co-found­ed the “Con­ven­tion of States” project designed to over­haul the Con­sti­tu­tion — has served as the Pres­i­dent and CEO of the ADF. Defend­ing Chris­t­ian extrem­ists like Storms is why the ADF exists. So when rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian preach­er Grant E. Storms John­son as a ‘broth­er on the path’ who ‘always had our back’, he could have added that the entire ADF had his back too. John­son was just doing his job as an ide­o­log­i­cal rad­i­cal:

    ...
    That for­mer client now leads a mil­i­tant orga­ni­za­tion tied to one of the dark­est chap­ters in the anti-abor­tion move­ment: the 2009 mur­der of a Kansas abor­tion doc­tor. And that plaintiff’s father also turned to John­son when he want­ed to secure a per­mit in 2003 for an anti-LGBTQ protest—a protest that end­ed in the attempt­ed stab­bing of a gay man.

    In that par­tic­u­lar case, Johnson’s client—anti-gay activist and for­mer rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian preach­er Grant E. Storms—later made nation­al news in 2012 when he con­fessed to mas­tur­bat­ing in his van by a play­ground in Metairie, Louisiana. Storms was con­vict­ed of inde­cent expo­sure and sen­tenced to three years pro­ba­tion.

    While John­son didn’t rep­re­sent Storms in that crim­i­nal mat­ter, Storms told The Dai­ly Beast in an inter­view on Mon­day that John­son had done reams of legal work for him in the ear­ly to mid-2000s, pro­vid­ing all of his ser­vices for free. Storms said he con­sid­ered John­son a friend.

    “We were broth­ers on the path,” Storms said. “He always had our back.”

    ...

    Grant Storms told The Dai­ly Beast that he first con­nect­ed with John­son in the ear­ly 2000s through Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom, an influ­en­tial activist group that seeks to cod­i­fy right-wing Chris­t­ian beliefs into law.

    ...

    Storms recalled that he ini­tial­ly con­tact­ed John­son to help him force the removal of what Storms con­sid­ered “lewd” imagery from an adver­tise­ment he’d seen at a bus sta­tion, which he claimed fea­tured an image of men hav­ing sex. At the time, Storms was well-known in Louisiana as a bull­horn-wield­ing Chris­t­ian zealot. He was a tire­less French Quar­ter gad­fly, and he retained Johnson’s pro bono assis­tance in an array of legal matters—one of which drew nation­al atten­tion and end­ed in a hate crime.

    Accord­ing to Storms, it was John­son specif­i­cal­ly who per­suad­ed New Orleans offi­cials to grant a per­mit for his 2003 demon­stra­tion against that year’s South­ern Deca­dence fes­ti­val, the city’s annu­al Labor Day Bac­cha­nal cel­e­brat­ing gay cul­ture, known local­ly as “gay Mar­di Gras.” Storms, who had just con­vinced the Louisiana state leg­is­la­ture to pass stricter decen­cy laws—after hand­ing law­mak­ers videos that he per­son­al­ly record­ed of men hav­ing sex in public—had attained nation­al noto­ri­ety through his activism. He told The Dai­ly Beast that local offi­cials, as well as the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty, had been opposed to his demon­stra­tion.

    ...

    But John­son did not dis­tance him­self from Storms after the vio­lence of the protest. In fact, he got clos­er to the preach­er. Eight months lat­er, John­son rep­re­sent­ed Storms in anoth­er legal case regard­ing per­mits, this time for anti-abor­tion ral­lies in Jef­fer­son Parish.

    In the mean­time, Storms made news again when he appeared to endorse the mass mur­der of gay peo­ple at a reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ist con­fer­ence in Wis­con­sin.

    ...

    In an inter­view with The Dai­ly Beast, Storms ini­tial­ly recalled these events as “hilar­i­ous,” say­ing that “obvi­ous­ly it was sym­bol­ic of not lit­er­al­ly killing” gay peo­ple, but “killing the agen­da” through legal means, such as protests.

    When The Dai­ly Beast quot­ed some of his passages—for exam­ple, “It’s us or them. There’s no in between. There’s no hav­ing this peace­ful co-existence”—Storms allowed that he might have been “a lit­tle bit over-the-top.” Even­tu­al­ly, Storms said he could under­stand why an out­side group would have “mis­in­ter­pret­ed” his remarks as advo­cat­ing mass mur­der.

    “I got­ta live with what I said, live with the way peo­ple inter­pret it,” Storms said. “But I’ll fight for everyone’s right to life, lib­er­ty, and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness.”

    But if Storms’ rhetoric was beyond the pale, it did­n’t stop John­son from rep­re­sent­ing him.

    Months after Storms sued Action Wis­con­sin, John­son helped him sue Jef­fer­son Parish. The same month he filed that law­suit, John­son likened anoth­er reli­gious case he was work­ing on to “spir­i­tu­al war­fare.”

    “The ulti­mate goal of the ene­my is silenc­ing the gospel,” John­son told the Shreve­port Times in April 2004. “This is spir­i­tu­al war­fare.”

    Storms told The Dai­ly Beast that the two men lost con­tact some­time after Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, in 2005—several years before the play­ground mas­tur­ba­tion inci­dent that pro­pelled him again into nation­al ignominy.
    ...

    And then there’s John­son’s ADF work on behalf of Grant Storm­s’s son, Jason, who hap­pens to be the leader of Oper­a­tion Save Amer­i­ca (OSA). Giv­en that Oper­a­tion Save Amer­i­ca used to be called Oper­a­tion Res­cue, result­ing in a bat­tle over the name “Oper­a­tion Res­cue” with anoth­er group, it’s worth not­ing that the leader of the oth­er Oper­a­tion Res­cue is CNP Troy New­man. And it was 2009, the year New­man’s Oper­a­tion Res­cue was tied to the mur­der of George Tiller, when John­son and the ADF rep­re­sent­ed Jason Storms and Oper­a­tion Save Amer­i­ca over the free-speech rights of these extrem­ist groups:

    ...
    If John­son did lose touch with Storms in 2005, how­ev­er, he some­how still stum­bled on a path to Storms’ son, Jason Storms, who John­son and the ADF rep­re­sent­ed in anoth­er Mil­wau­kee case in 2009.

    In that case, John­son argued that his plaintiffs—a cadre of anti-abor­tion extremists—had been “intim­i­dat­ed and imped­ed and chilled” in the exer­cise of their free speech rights by a fed­er­al court injunc­tion in the East­ern Dis­trict of Wis­con­sin against protests at abor­tion clin­ics.

    The suit point­ed to inter­ac­tions the plain­tiffs had with law enforce­ment, includ­ing arrests. A num­ber of those charges were dis­missed, but John­son argued that because they were dis­missed “with­out prej­u­dice,” pros­e­cu­tors could bring them again if they wished—which John­son char­ac­ter­ized as intim­i­da­tion.

    ...

    Jason Storms is the leader of Oper­a­tion Save Amer­i­ca, for­mer­ly Oper­a­tion Res­cue, which has been called the nation’s largest mil­i­tant anti-abor­tion group. Jason Storms also par­took in the Jan. 6 insur­rec­tion at the U.S. Capi­tol, post­ing a social media video of him­self on the building’s scaf­fold­ing short­ly after the breach.

    Oper­a­tion Res­cue shot to infamy when it was tied to the slay­ing of a Kansas abor­tion provider in 2009—the same year John­son filed the law­suit. Today, OSA and its mil­i­tant allies still believe women who get abor­tions should be charged with murder—a step up from more main­stream anti-abor­tion­ists who would only place that bur­den on the doc­tor.

    This sum­mer, Storms said abor­tion might only be end­ed in the U.S. through civ­il war. He rou­tine­ly draws wide­spread media cov­er­age for camp­ing out­side of abor­tion clin­ics and urg­ing women against end­ing their preg­nan­cies, fre­quent­ly along­side his wife and their 10 chil­dren.
    ...

    And it was dur­ing that 2009 case when John­son and the ADF were rep­re­sent­ing Jason Storms and the OSA when affi­davits for Storm­s’s father-in-law, Rev. Math­ew Trewhel­la. Recall how Trewhel­la first came to nation­al atten­tion in the 1990s as one of three dozen sig­na­to­ries to a state­ment that declared that the mur­der of abor­tion providers is “jus­ti­fi­able homi­cide,” and lat­er became noto­ri­ous for advo­cat­ing the for­ma­tion of church-based mili­tias. Trewhel­la is also close to for­mer Wash­ing­ton state rep­re­sen­ta­tive Matt Shea, who was found in 2018 to have secret­ly penned a man­i­festo in 2016 call­ing for the wag­ing of Bib­li­cal War to takeover the US in 2016 and the exe­cu­tion of any adult males who refused to sub­mit to the new theoc­ra­cy. Shea also plot­ting with oth­er local mil­i­tants in com­ing up with a assas­si­na­tion list of left-wing lead­ers. The plan to was kill the Antifa lead­ers in their homes. Trewhel­la has been palling around with vio­lent extrem­ists for decades. And he was one of the peo­ple writ­ing affi­davits on behalf of Jason Storms in that at 2009 case rep­re­sent­ed by Mike John­son and the ADF:

    ...
    Ear­li­er this year, a mem­ber of OSA was charged in con­nec­tion with a bomb scare at a Mil­wau­kee-area Pride event, the Mil­wau­kee Jour­nal Sen­tinel report­ed. In Octo­ber, the Sixth Cir­cuit of Fed­er­al Appeals upheld a 2022 restrain­ing order against the group, after unruly demon­stra­tions in Ten­nessee.

    But in 2009, Johnson—on behalf of the ADF—represented Jason Storms along­side a group of vir­u­lent anti-abor­tion extrem­ists when they sued the city of Mil­wau­kee over a court injunc­tion at abor­tion protests. That crew includ­ed anti-LGBTQ activist Robert Breaud and Jim Soder­na, both of whom have their own sto­ried past.

    ...

    Johnson’s Mil­wau­kee law­suit was bol­stered by affi­davits from Jason Storms’ father-in-law, mil­i­tant anti-abor­tion­ist Rev. Matthew Trewhel­la. Trewhella—who two years pri­or was rep­re­sent­ed by ADF in a sep­a­rate mat­ter in Ohio—previously defend­ed the mur­der of abor­tion doc­tors as “jus­ti­fi­able homi­cide.” And in 1994, Trewhel­la was record­ed urg­ing par­ents to give their chil­dren firearms train­ing and advo­cat­ing for reli­gious con­gre­ga­tions to launch mili­tias, The New York Times report­ed.

    By 2009, Trewhel­la had served 14 months in prison for obstruct­ing clin­ics. He ran an Oper­a­tion Res­cue splin­ter group, called Mis­sion­ar­ies to the Pre-Born, which also fea­tured Jason Storms. Mis­sion­ar­ies to the Pre-Born has been described as “one of the most dan­ger­ous and vio­lent of the direct action anti-abor­tion groups active in the Unit­ed States.”

    The city set­tled the Mil­wau­kee suit. Johnson’s co-coun­sel, Fin­tan Doo­ley, told The Dai­ly Beast that he was hap­py with the set­tle­ment at the time, though they didn’t win fees. Doo­ley, a Demo­c­rat, also plead­ed igno­rance about any ties to vio­lent groups among the plain­tiffs and Trewhel­la.

    But the year of that law­suit, Oper­a­tion Res­cue was tied to the mur­der of Kansas abor­tion provider Dr. George Tiller. The killer had been in touch with a group offi­cial about Tiller’s where­abouts, and claimed to be a mem­ber. While the group denounced the slay­ing and the attacker’s claims to mem­ber­ship, Tiller was a top tar­get of Oper­a­tion Rescue’s ire for years—in 2002, they relo­cat­ed their head­quar­ters to Wichi­ta specif­i­cal­ly to pres­sure his clinic—and its leader at the time had pre­vi­ous­ly called the mur­der of abor­tion providers a “jus­ti­fi­able defen­sive action.”
    ...

    Flash for­ward to Jan­u­ary 6, 2021, and we find Jason Storms post­ing cel­e­bra­to­ry videos while in the mid­dle of the insur­rec­tionary mob. Recall how anoth­er rad­i­cal preach­er there on Jan­u­ary 6 asso­ci­at­ed with Storms, Trewhel­la and Matt Shea was Ken Peters, who actu­al­ly spoke at one of the Jan 5 ral­lies at the Capi­tol. Amus­ing­ly, even Jason’s father, Grant Storms, now rec­og­nizes it was an insur­rec­tion:

    ...
    Twelve years lat­er, Jason Storms was part of anoth­er siege. On Jan. 6, 2021, Storms and two oth­er OSA mem­bers “set up the Lord’s beach­head” at Trump’s ral­ly in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., accord­ing to an OSA blog post two days after the attack. The post mar­veled that “many saints were encour­aged by the bold and plain dec­la­ra­tions of the Law/Word of God,” declar­ing that it was “a great and exhaust­ing time.”

    What the post did not men­tion, how­ev­er, was that Storms par­tic­i­pat­ed in the sack­ing of the Capi­tol. He post­ed a social media video of him­self on the scaf­fold­ing short­ly after the build­ing was breached, admir­ing the insur­rec­tion as “Rev­o­lu­tion 2.0” and crow­ing, “Yeah, baby!” in reply to a bull­horned call to “Hang ’em high!”

    Doo­ley, Johnson’s co-coun­sel, told The Dai­ly Beast that he was “dis­ap­point­ed but not sur­prised” to learn about Jason Storms’ involve­ment in the attack.

    Grant Storms told The Dai­ly Beast that he “sup­port­ed” his son attend­ing the ral­ly, but, like Doo­ley, he con­demned Trump and the Repub­li­cans who still sup­port him—specifically includ­ing John­son.

    “Trump went nuts,” Grant Storms told The Dai­ly Beast. “Any­one can see he tried to over­turn the elec­tion. He belongs in jail.”
    ...

    Final­ly, when we see a ref­er­ence to Mike John­son exchanges prais­es with New Apos­tolic Ref­or­ma­tion (NAR) preach­er Jim Gar­low, recall Gar­low is a lead­ing advo­cate of the ‘Sev­en Moun­tains’ the­ol­o­gy call­ing for an Evan­gel­i­cal takeover of soci­ety at an insti­tu­tion­al lev­el. Gar­low calls John­son “a spe­cial broth­er” while John­son has described Gar­low as a “pro­found influ­ence” on “my life and my walk with Christ”. Which is a reminder that when we are talk­ing about net­works of Chris­t­ian extrem­ists plot­ting the vio­lent takeovers of soci­ety, this can’t be sep­a­rat­ed from the larg­er Domin­ion­ist move­ment:

    ...
    “I’m so grate­ful for the min­istry and your faith­ful­ness,” John­son said in August, return­ing praise from evan­gel­i­cal leader Jim Gar­low. “It’s a great encour­age­ment to me and oth­ers who are serv­ing in these some­times rocky cor­ners of the Lord’s vine­yard.”
    ...

    It’s one big move­ment, as Mike John­son’s resume makes clear. And now, after decades of legal­ly defend­ing some of the most dan­ger­ous vio­lent theocrats in the US, this ‘spir­i­tu­al war­rior’ is serv­ing as the Speak­er of the House. So when we hear about Mike John­son inten­tion­al­ly assert­ing his inten­tion of blur­ring the pho­to of Jan 6 riot­ers in videos before releas­ing them to the pub­lic in order to pro­tect riot­ers from law enforce­ment, it’s worth keep­ing in mind that, at least when it comes to theocrats in that mob, this may not be the first time John­son has come to their defense.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 7, 2023, 12:33 am
  8. It was always obvi­ous that the over­turn­ing of Roe v Wade was going to get ugly. It was­n’t obvi­ous it was going to get this ugly. Espe­cial­ly this quick­ly. But it’s hap­pen­ing. The state of Texas is oper­at­ing in an even more ghoul­ish man­ner than many cyn­ics expect­ed.

    It start­ed with a rul­ing by Travis Coun­ty Dis­trict Judge Maya Guer­ra Gam­ble that Kate Cox — a woman preg­nant with a fetus afflict­ed by a fatal genet­ic con­di­tion that could jeop­ar­dize Cox’s abil­i­ty to have more chil­dren — should receive a tem­po­rary restrain­ing order to pur­sue an abor­tion under the ban’s med­ical emer­gen­cies clause. Hours lat­er, Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton asked the Texas Supreme Court to inter­vene and block the waiv­er. Pax­ton went on to issued a state­ment promis­ing to pros­e­cute doc­tors per­form­ing the pro­ce­dure with felony charges, even if a court per­mit­ted the pro­ce­dure. The state Supreme Court ulti­mate­ly sided with Pax­ton the next day. As a result, Cox has been forced to flee Texas and get the pro­ce­dure else­where, a move that may not have been pos­si­ble had her med­ical con­di­tion worsened...or had she sim­ply been too poor to trav­el out of state.

    Why did this hap­pen? What con­sumed Pax­ton with the idea that this was good pol­i­tics, let alone decent pol­i­cy or humane behav­ior? Keep in mind some Pax­ton-spe­cif­ic con­text here: the guy only nar­row­ly sur­vived an impeach­ment vote less than three months ago over cor­rup­tion and bribery charges, with two Texas Repub­li­cans join­ing the Democ­rats in vot­ing to con­vict. And here he is, tak­ing the kind of extrem­ist abor­tion stance that only extrem­ists could love. What kind of game is he play­ing here with Cox’s life and health? What is the polit­i­cal log­ic here?

    And that brings us to anoth­er scan­dal cur­rent­ly roil­ing Tex­as­’s Repub­li­cans. Two scan­dals, actu­al­ly. One new, and one that’s been build­ing for decades. The fresh scan­dal involves a now-famil­iar name: Nick Fuentes. Yes, the same reac­tionary Catholic neo-Nazi who man­aged to secure that now noto­ri­ous din­ner with Don­ald Trump and Kanye West, was spot­ted back in Octo­ber spend­ing near­ly sev­en hours some­where he should­n’t have been spot­ted at all. The offices of Pale Horse Strate­gies, a polit­i­cal con­sul­tan­cy group owned by for­mer Repub­li­can state rep Jonathan Stick­land.

    Stick­land also hap­pened to be the head of Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee large­ly financed by two West Texas oil bil­lion­aires, one of whom is Tim Dunn. It turns out Dunn has man­aged to turn him­self into the Texas Repub­li­can Par­ty’s king­mak­er over the last cou­ple of decades. Dunn also hap­pens to be an ardent theo­crat who does­n’t believe Jews should be posi­tions of pow­er in the US, some­thing he per­son­al­ly told for­mer Jew­ish Repub­li­can Texas Speak­er of the House Joe Straus. Straus was report­ed­ly shocked by the whole con­ver­sa­tion. So Nick Fuentes spent almost sev­en hours at the polit­i­cal con­sul­tan­cy group’s office owned by the guy who was the head of one of pri­ma­ry PACs run on behalf of Tex­as­’s bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can king-mak­er. A king-mak­er who does­n’t think Jews should be any­where near posi­tions of pow­er in Amer­i­ca.

    Oh, and it also turns out that Matt Rinal­di, chair­man of the Texas GOP, was also seen enter­ing Pale Horse Strate­gies dur­ing Fuentes’s time there. Rinal­di claims he had no idea Fuentes was there. At the same time, Dunn acknowl­edges that Fuentes met with Stick­land, call­ing it a “seri­ous blun­der”. At least that was the state­ment from Dunn put out by none oth­er than Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick on behalf of Dunn. As we’re going to see, two of Tex­as­’s most promi­nent politi­cians owe their polit­i­cal for­tunes heav­i­ly to the mil­lions of dol­lars in dona­tion chan­neled to them from Dunn-con­trolled PACs: Dan Patrick and Ken Pax­ton. Defend Texas Lib­er­ty even pledged to go after any Repub­li­cans who vot­ed to con­vict Pax­ton.

    But Fuentes’s vis­it to one of the most influ­en­tial polit­i­cal con­sult­ing groups in the state of Texas is just part of the emerg­ing scan­dal. Anoth­er part has to do with the GOP’s response to the Fuentes sto­ry: in a 32–29 vote, the Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee vot­ed to reject a res­o­lu­tion that would have barred Texas Repub­li­cans from meet­ing with known Nazis and Holo­caust deniers. Rinal­di abstained from the vote. As we’re going to see, the reject­ed res­o­lu­tion had actu­al­ly been watered down sig­nif­i­cant­ly. The orig­i­nal res­o­lu­tion was to call for a break from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty. Yep. It was only after push­back that they changed it to barred asso­ci­a­tions with indi­vid­u­als or groups “known to espouse or tol­er­ate anti­semitism, pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies or Holo­caust denial.” Still, that gener­ic pro­posed ban, some Repub­li­cans argued, was akin to “Marx­ist” and “left­ist” tac­tics that could cre­ate guilt by asso­ci­a­tion and be prob­lem­at­ic for the par­ty, its lead­ers and can­di­dates.

    Repub­li­can House Speak­er Dade Phe­lan con­demned the Texas GOP’s rejec­tion of the anti-Nazi res­o­lu­tion, call­ing it “despi­ca­ble.” AS Phe­lan put it, the Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee “can’t even bring them­selves to denounce neo-Nazis and Holo­caust deniers or cut ties with their top donor who brought them to the dance...There is a moral, anti-Semit­ic rot fes­ter­ing with­in the fringes of BOTH par­ties that must be stopped.” After Phe­lan called for fel­low Repub­li­cans to redi­rect mon­ey from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, Lt. Gov Dan Patrick accused Phe­lan of politi­ciz­ing anti­semitism and demand­ed he resign.

    So we have the imme­di­ate scan­dal of the Texas GOP’s rejec­tion of a ban on meet­ing with Nazis and Holo­caust deniers. But it’s real­ly just an small part of much larg­er scan­dal. That being Tim Dun­n’s cap­ture of the Texas Repub­li­can Par­ty. A cap­ture that he did­n’t do alone. He had help. Exten­sive Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP) help. For exam­ple, in 1998, he joined the board of the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion (TPPF), found­ed by CNP mem­ber James Leininger. Recall how for­mer TPPF pres­i­dent and CNP mem­ber Kevin Roberts went on to become the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. Dunn still serves as the TPPF Vice Chair­man. In 2006, Dunn formed Empow­er Tex­ans, which has turned into one of main vehi­cles for exert­ing Dun­n’s polit­i­cal influ­ence. By 2018, the major­i­ty of the seats in the Repub­li­can cau­cus in the Texas Sen­ate were con­trolled by Empow­er Tex­ans and TPPF.

    This is also a good time to recall the dis­turb­ing sto­ries about Charles Hay­wood and his fas­cist ties to TPPF. Recall how Hay­wood was seen as a ris­ing right-wing media per­son­al­i­ty, until it was revealed that he was the per­son behind an online per­sona who long called for an ‘Amer­i­can Cae­sar’. Hay­wood is now open­ly plan­ning on becom­ing an Amer­i­can ‘war­lord’ oper­at­ing an ‘armed patron­age net­work’ in the event of the break­down of gov­ern­ment rule. Ans as we’ve also seen, Hay­wood was one of the fig­ures work­ing with the now-indict­ed John East­man in devel­op­ing the “79 Days Report” in 2020, where sce­nar­ios involv­ing mass polit­i­cal vio­lence that pre­vent­ed the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of the vote on Jan­u­ary 6 were gamed out. Oth­er par­tic­i­pants in this ‘exer­cise’ includ­ed Kevin Roberts, now the head of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. The whole ‘sim­u­la­tion’ was ran by the Clare­mont Insti­tute and TPPF. So the TPPF was run­ning fas­cist takeover sim­u­la­tions in the lead up to the 2020 and Dunn still serves as its Vice Chair­man.

    Anoth­er Dunn inter­est involves over­haul­ing the US con­sti­tu­tion. In fact, Dunn co-found­ed the Cit­i­zens for Self-Gov­er­nance (CSG) along with CNP mem­bers Mark Meck­ler and Michael Far­ris. Recall how it’s the CSG that runs the Con­ven­tion of States (COS) push to imple­ment a far right over­haul of the US Con­sti­tu­tion.

    Those are big ambi­tions. And not just Texas ambi­tions. Tim Dunn — a theo­crat who claims to believe the oil he drills was placed there by God 4,000 years ago — is quite sim­ply one of the most pow­er­ful men in Amer­i­ca. And Dunn now admits guy who was run­ning the main PAC Dunn used to exert that influ­ence, Jonathan Stick­land, met with an open neo-Nazi, and is insist­ing that every­one just pre­tend this nev­er hap­pened and its all an inno­cent mis­take. And, sure enough, a major­i­ty of Texas Repub­li­can cau­cus is fol­low­ing Dun­n’s lead. Even the watered down res­o­lu­tion could­n’t pass.

    That’s all part of the con­text of the remark­able deci­sion of Ken Pax­ton to take Tex­as­’s abor­tion pol­i­tics to a remark­able, and remark­ably unpop­u­lar, extreme. Why did Pax­ton’s office take the extreme posi­tion that fer­til­i­ty risks don’t qual­i­fy as a life-threat­en­ing con­di­tion that would allow a patient to get an abor­tion under Texas laws and that a fatal fetal abnor­mal­i­ty also would­n’t qual­i­fy? What role did Tim Dun­n’s reli­gious extrem­ism play in Pax­ton’s deci­sion-mak­ing? We don’t know. But we do know Tim Dunn has more influ­ence over Texas Repub­li­cans than any­one bar­ring, per­haps Don­ald Trump at this point. And that’s why we can’t real­ly sep­a­rate this sto­ry about Ken Pax­ton’s extrem­ist posi­tion on abor­tion from the extrem­ist views of the bil­lion­aire theo­crat lead­ing his par­ty:

    The New Repub­lic

    Texas Woman Bul­lied by Ken Pax­ton Forced to Flee State to Get Abor­tion

    “She’s been in and out of the emer­gency room and she couldn’t wait any longer.”

    Ellie Quin­lan Hough­tal­ing
    Decem­ber 11, 2023/3:36 p.m. ET

    A Texas woman who was plead­ing the courts for an emer­gency abortion—and who was per­son­al­ly and repeat­ed­ly tar­get­ed by Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Paxton—has been forced out-of-state in order to receive crit­i­cal care.

    Kate Cox has been the cen­ter of a con­tentious post-Roe rul­ing, rid­ing out a legal chal­lenge to the state’s near-total abor­tion ban after learn­ing that her fetus has a fatal genet­ic con­di­tion that could jeop­ar­dize her health and future fer­til­i­ty if car­ried to term. The law­suit is the first of its kind since Roe v. Wade was decid­ed in 1973.

    On Thurs­day, Travis Coun­ty Dis­trict Judge Maya Guer­ra Gam­ble ruled that Cox should receive a tem­po­rary restrain­ing order, allow­ing the 31-year-old moth­er of two to pur­sue an abor­tion under the ban’s med­ical emer­gen­cies clause. But hours after the rul­ing, Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton asked the state’s Supreme Court to inter­vene and issued a state­ment promis­ing to pros­e­cute doc­tors per­form­ing the pro­ce­dure with felony charges, even if a court per­mit­ted the pro­ce­dure. On Fri­day night, the state’s Supreme Court blocked the low­er court’s order and once again put Cox’s health in jeop­ardy.

    “This past week of legal lim­bo has been hell­ish for Kate,” said Nan­cy Northup, pres­i­dent and CEO at the Cen­ter for Repro­duc­tive Rights. “Her health is on the line. She’s been in and out of emer­gency rooms and she couldn’t wait any longer.”

    “This is why judges and politi­cians should not be mak­ing health­care deci­sions for preg­nant people—they are not doc­tors. This is the result of the Supreme Court’s rever­sal of Roe v. Wade: women are forced to beg for urgent health­care in court,” Northup said. “While Kate had the abil­i­ty to leave the state, most peo­ple do not, and a sit­u­a­tion like this could be a death sen­tence.”

    ...

    Vot­ers have made their posi­tions on the issue abun­dant­ly clear. Since Roe was reversed by the Supreme Court’s con­ser­v­a­tive super­ma­jor­i­ty in June 2022, abor­tion has become a non­stop los­ing streak for Repub­li­cans, turn­ing what was once antic­i­pat­ed to be a red wave in Novem­ber into a trick­le. That has led to a qui­et strip­ping of pro-life poli­cies from con­ser­v­a­tive plat­forms across the coun­try, with the par­ty attempt­ing to ditch the “pro-life” brand­ing alto­geth­er in an effort to skirt more elec­toral loss­es.

    ————

    “Texas Woman Bul­lied by Ken Pax­ton Forced to Flee State to Get Abor­tion” by Ellie Quin­lan Hough­tal­ing; The New Repub­lic; 12/11/2023

    “On Thurs­day, Travis Coun­ty Dis­trict Judge Maya Guer­ra Gam­ble ruled that Cox should receive a tem­po­rary restrain­ing order, allow­ing the 31-year-old moth­er of two to pur­sue an abor­tion under the ban’s med­ical emer­gen­cies clause. But hours after the rul­ing, Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton asked the state’s Supreme Court to inter­vene and issued a state­ment promis­ing to pros­e­cute doc­tors per­form­ing the pro­ce­dure with felony charges, even if a court per­mit­ted the pro­ce­dure. On Fri­day night, the state’s Supreme Court blocked the low­er court’s order and once again put Cox’s health in jeop­ardy.

    With­ing hours of a judge grant­i­ng Kate Cox per­mis­sion to get an abor­tion under the Texas med­ical emer­gency clause, Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton decides to sue to block the rul­ing, only to be backed up by the state Supreme Court. Leav­ing Cox only one option: flee­ing the state. An option that many women aren’t going to have, either for finan­cial or med­ical cir­cum­stances. It was a med­ical night­mare cre­at­ed by one of the state’s top elect­ed Repub­li­cans. The same Ken Pax­ton who was nar­row­ly acquit­ted on impeach­ment charges by his fel­low Repub­li­cans just a few months ago. And yet, Pax­ton’s move is bound to be a deeply polit­i­cal­ly unpop­u­lar move over­all and put the par­ty even more on the defen­sive over abor­tion at the same time the issue is turn­ing out to be polit­i­cal kry­ponite for Repub­li­cans:

    ...
    Vot­ers have made their posi­tions on the issue abun­dant­ly clear. Since Roe was reversed by the Supreme Court’s con­ser­v­a­tive super­ma­jor­i­ty in June 2022, abor­tion has become a non­stop los­ing streak for Repub­li­cans, turn­ing what was once antic­i­pat­ed to be a red wave in Novem­ber into a trick­le. That has led to a qui­et strip­ping of pro-life poli­cies from con­ser­v­a­tive plat­forms across the coun­try, with the par­ty attempt­ing to ditch the “pro-life” brand­ing alto­geth­er in an effort to skirt more elec­toral loss­es.
    ...

    Why did the polit­i­cal­ly imper­iled Pax­ton pull a stunt like this? Was this intend­ed to be a kind of showy pow­er play intend­ed to defy his crit­ics? Pax­ton does­n’t appear to be a very prin­ci­pled politi­cian. Hence the impeach­ment vote. So what was his rea­son­ing here? It’s a mys­tery. But when it comes to answer­ing the ques­tion of who Ken Pax­ton answers to, there’s anoth­er sto­ry about Texas Repub­li­can tur­moil that gives us a big clue: The Texas GOP just gave itself anoth­er self-inflict­ed wound in the same of extrem­ism. This time it came in the form of a Texas GOP Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee 32–29 vote on Sat­ur­day reject­ing a pro­pos­al to ban the par­ty from asso­ci­at­ing with known Nazi sym­pa­thiz­ers and Holo­caust deniers. The vote was­n’t in abstract. It was in direct response to unfold­ing scan­dal. The lat­est GOP/Nick Fuentes scan­dal.

    Yes, Nick Fuentes caught spend­ing near­ly sev­en hours at the offices of Pale Horse Strate­gies, the polit­i­cal con­sul­tan­cy group owned by for­mer Repub­li­can State Rep Jonathan Stick­land. It gets worse. It also turns out Matt Rinal­di, chair­man of the Texas GOP, was seen enter­ing the Pale Horse Strate­gies office dur­ing this peri­od when Fuentes was there. Rinal­di claims he had no idea Fuentes was there at the time.

    And we got con­fir­ma­tion that it was Stick­land him­self who met with Fuentes. Con­fir­ma­tion that came for Texas GOP king-mak­er Tim Dunn, a bil­lion­aire oil­man who has man­aged to turn him­self into one of the most pow­er­ful forces in Texas pol­i­tics, in part through the largess of his Defend Texas Lib­er­ty polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee. Stick­land was the head of Defend Texas Lib­er­ty at the time of his meet­ing with Fuentes. Dunn con­firmed the meet­ing, call­ing it a “seri­ous blun­der”, accord­ing to Lieu­tenant Gov Dan Patrick. Yes, Lt Gov Patrick was speak­ing on behalf of Dunn. It turns out Patrick and Pax­ton are both very close to Dunn. In fact, after Pax­ton nar­row­ly sur­vived an impeach­ment vote a few months ago, Defend Texas Free­dom pledged to go after the Repub­li­cans who vot­ed to con­vict. Dunn also hap­pens to be a Chris­t­ian fun­da­men­tal­ist. The kind of evan­gel­i­cal who claims God put oil in Texas 4,000 years ago for human­i­ty’s use. And he’s become one of the most fig­ures in Texas today, hav­ing spent the last decade purg­ing the Texas GOP of those unwill­ing to sub­mit to his will. So when we’re try­ing to under­stand why Ken Pax­ton did what he did, keep in mind you can’t under­stand Texas Repub­li­can pol­i­tics with­out under­stand­ing the pro­found influ­ence of Tim Dunn, a rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian fun­da­men­tal­ist and Ken Pax­ton’s key polit­i­cal patron. And an embar­rassed fel­low trav­el­er of Nick Fuentes, it seems:

    The Texas Tri­bune

    Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee rejects pro­posed ban on asso­ci­at­ing with Nazi sym­pa­thiz­ers and Holo­caust deniers

    Some mem­bers of the com­mit­tee said such a ban, pro­posed two months after a promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive activist was caught meet­ing with a famous white suprema­cist, might be a “slip­pery slope” or too vague.

    by Robert Dow­nen
    Dec. 2, 2023
    Updat­ed: Dec. 3, 2023

    Two months after a promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tive activist and fundrais­er was caught host­ing white suprema­cist Nick Fuentes, lead­ers of the Repub­li­can Par­ty of Texas have vot­ed against bar­ring the par­ty from asso­ci­at­ing with known Nazi sym­pa­thiz­ers and Holo­caust deniers.

    In a 32–29 vote on Sat­ur­day, mem­bers of the Texas GOP’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee stripped a pro-Israel res­o­lu­tion of a clause that would have includ­ed the ban. In a sep­a­rate move that stunned some mem­bers, rough­ly half of the board also tried to pre­vent a record of their vote from being kept.

    In reject­ing the pro­posed ban, the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee’s major­i­ty deliv­ered a seri­ous blow to a fac­tion of mem­bers that has called for the par­ty to con­front its ties to groups that have recent­ly employed or asso­ci­at­ed with out­spo­ken white suprema­cists and extrem­ists.

    In Octo­ber, The Texas Tri­bune pub­lished pho­tos of Fuentes, an avowed admir­er of Adolf Hitler who has called for a “holy war” against Jews, enter­ing and leav­ing the offices of Pale Horse Strate­gies, a con­sult­ing firm for far-right can­di­dates and move­ments.

    Pale Horse Strate­gies is owned by Jonathan Stick­land, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and at the time the leader of a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, that two West Texas oil bil­lion­aires have used to fund right-wing move­ments, can­di­dates and politi­cians in the state — includ­ing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton.

    Matt Rinal­di, chair­man of the Texas GOP, was also seen enter­ing the Pale Horse offices while Fuentes was inside for near­ly 7 hours. He denied par­tic­i­pat­ing, how­ev­er, say­ing he was vis­it­ing with some­one else at the time and didn’t know Fuentes was there.

    Defend Texas Lib­er­ty has not pub­licly com­ment­ed on the scan­dal, save for a two-sen­tence state­ment con­demn­ing those who’ve tried to con­nect the PAC to Fuentes’ “incen­di­ary” views. Nor has the group clar­i­fied Stick­land’s cur­rent role at Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, which qui­et­ly updat­ed its web­site in Octo­ber to reflect that he is no longer its pres­i­dent. Tim Dunn, one of the two West Texas oil bil­lion­aires who pri­mar­i­ly fund Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, con­firmed the meet­ing between Fuentes and Stick­land and called it a “seri­ous blun­der,” accord­ing to a state­ment from Patrick.

    In response to the scan­dal — as well as sub­se­quent report­ing from the Tri­bune that detailed oth­er links between Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and white suprema­cists — near­ly half of the Texas GOP’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee had called for the par­ty to cut ties with Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and its aux­il­iary groups until Stick­land was removed from any posi­tion of pow­er, and a full expla­na­tion for the Fuentes meet­ing was giv­en.

    The pro­posed demands were sig­nif­i­cant­ly watered down ahead of the party’s quar­ter­ly meet­ing this week­end. Rather than call­ing for a break from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, the fac­tion pro­posed gen­er­al lan­guage that would have barred asso­ci­a­tions with indi­vid­u­als or groups “known to espouse or tol­er­ate anti­semitism, pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies or Holo­caust denial.”

    But even that gen­er­al state­ment was too much for the major­i­ty of the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee. In at-times tense debate on Sat­ur­day, mem­bers argued that words like “tol­er­ate” or “anti­semitism” were too vague or sub­jec­tive. The ban, some argued, was akin to “Marx­ist” and “left­ist” tac­tics, and would cre­ate guilt by asso­ci­a­tion that could be prob­lem­at­ic for the par­ty, its lead­ers and can­di­dates.

    “It could put you on a slip­pery slope,” said com­mit­tee mem­ber Dan Tul­ly.

    Rinal­di abstained from vot­ing on the ban, but briefly argued that anti­semitism is not a seri­ous prob­lem on the right before ques­tion­ing what it would mean to “tol­er­ate” those who espouse it. “I don’t see any anti­se­mit­ic, pro-Nazi or Holo­caust denial move­ment on the right that has any sig­nif­i­cant trac­tion what­so­ev­er,” he said.

    Sup­port­ers of the ban dis­agreed. They not­ed that the lan­guage was already a com­pro­mise, didn’t specif­i­cal­ly name any group or indi­vid­ual and would lend cre­dence to res­o­lu­tions in which the Texas GOP has gen­er­al­ly con­demned anti­semitism and restat­ed its sup­port for Israel.

    ...

    Oth­er com­mit­tee mem­bers ques­tioned how their col­leagues could find words like “anti­semitism” too vague, despite fre­quent­ly lob­bing it and oth­er terms at their polit­i­cal oppo­nents.

    “I just don’t under­stand how peo­ple who rou­tine­ly refer to oth­ers as left­ists, lib­er­als, com­mu­nists, social­ists and RINOs (‘Repub­li­cans in Name Only’) don’t have the dis­cern­ment to define what a Nazi is,” com­mit­tee mem­ber Mor­gan Cis­neros Gra­ham told the Tri­bune after the vote.

    House Speak­er Dade Phe­lan sim­i­lar­ly con­demned the vote Sat­ur­day evening, call­ing it “despi­ca­ble.”

    The Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee “can’t even bring them­selves to denounce neo-Nazis and Holo­caust deniers or cut ties with their top donor who brought them to the dance,” Phe­lan wrote on X, for­mer­ly known as Twit­ter. “There is a moral, anti-Semit­ic rot fes­ter­ing with­in the fringes of BOTH par­ties that must be stopped.”

    For two months, Phe­lan and his staff have rou­tine­ly and pub­licly sparred with some in the par­ty – name­ly Rinal­di, a long­time polit­i­cal foe – over how to address the Fuentes scan­dal and extrem­ism more broad­ly. After the Tri­bune first report­ed on the Fuentes meet­ing, Phe­lan called on fel­low Repub­li­cans to redi­rect mon­ey from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty to pro-Israel char­i­ties, a request that quick­ly drew the ire of Patrick and oth­ers who accused Phe­lan of politi­ciz­ing anti­semitism and demand­ed he resign.

    After sub­se­quent report­ing by the Tri­bune on Defend Texas Lib­er­ty’s ties to white suprema­cists and oth­er extreme fig­ures, Patrick said he was “appalled” and that anti­semitism is “not wel­come in our par­ty.” He then announced that the he had invest­ed the $3 mil­lion he recent­ly received from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty in Israeli bonds.

    Patrick reit­er­at­ed that stance late Sat­ur­day night, call­ing the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee’s vote “total­ly unac­cept­able” and say­ing that he is “con­fi­dent” the board will recon­sid­er the ban at its Feb­ru­ary meet­ing.

    “This lan­guage should have been adopt­ed – because I know that is our posi­tion as a Par­ty,” Patrick wrote on X. “I, and the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Repub­li­cans in Texas, do not tol­er­ate anti­semites, and those who deny the Holo­caust, praise Hitler or the Nazi regime.”

    Saturday’s vote is the lat­est sign of major dis­uni­ty among the Texas GOP, which for years has dealt with sim­mer­ing ten­sions between its far-right and more mod­er­ate, but still deeply con­ser­v­a­tive, wings. Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and its bil­lion­aire back­ers have been key play­ers in that fight, fund­ing pri­ma­ry chal­lenges to incum­bent Repub­li­cans who they deem insuf­fi­cient­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, and bankrolling a sprawl­ing net­work of insti­tu­tions, media web­sites and polit­i­cal groups that they’ve used to incre­men­tal­ly pull Texas fur­ther to the right.

    The party’s internecine con­flict has explod­ed into all-out war since the impeach­ment and acquit­tal of Pax­ton, a cru­cial Defend Texas Lib­er­ty ally whose polit­i­cal life has been sub­si­dized by the PAC’s bil­lion­aire fun­ders.

    After Paxton’s acquit­tal, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty vowed scorched-earth cam­paigns against those who sup­port­ed the attor­ney general’s removal, and promised mas­sive spend­ing ahead of next year’s pri­ma­ry elec­tions. (Before the Sat­ur­day vote, exec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers sep­a­rate­ly approved a cen­sure of out­go­ing Rep. Andrew Murr, R‑Junction, over his lead role in the inves­ti­ga­tion and impeach­ment of Pax­ton.)

    News of the Fuentes meet­ing has only com­pli­cat­ed Defend Texas Lib­er­ty’s ret­ri­bu­tion plans, as infight­ing inten­si­fies and some Repub­li­cans ques­tion whether the group and its bil­lion­aire fun­ders should have so much sway over the state par­ty.

    ...

    Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty-backed Reps. Nate Schat­z­line, R‑Fort Worth, and Tony Tin­der­holt, R‑Arlington, briefly spoke to the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

    The day pri­or, Sen. Bob Hall — an Edge­wood Repub­li­can who has received $50,000 from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty — was also at the Austin hotel where exec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers were meet­ing, and in a speech con­demned attempts to cut ties with the group based on what he called “hearsay,” “fuzzy pho­tographs” and “nar­ra­tives.”

    “If you want to pass a res­o­lu­tion, I would make it pos­i­tive,” Hall said to exec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers on Fri­day. “We don’t need to do our enemy’s work for them.”

    Hall reit­er­at­ed that stance in an inter­view with the Tri­bune, call­ing the Fuentes meet­ing a “mis­take” but claim­ing that there was “no evi­dence” that Stick­land or Defend Texas Lib­er­ty are anti­se­mit­ic. “I’ve had meet­ings with trans­gen­ders, gays and les­bians,” Hall said. “Does that make me a trans­gen­der, gay or a les­bian?”

    Asked if he was com­par­ing gay peo­ple to white suprema­cists or Hitler admir­ers like Fuentes, Hall respond­ed: “I’m talk­ing about peo­ple who are polit­i­cal hot pota­toes.”

    ———-

    “Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee rejects pro­posed ban on asso­ci­at­ing with Nazi sym­pa­thiz­ers and Holo­caust deniers” by Robert Dow­nen; The Texas Tri­bune; 12/02/2023

    “In reject­ing the pro­posed ban, the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee’s major­i­ty deliv­ered a seri­ous blow to a fac­tion of mem­bers that has called for the par­ty to con­front its ties to groups that have recent­ly employed or asso­ci­at­ed with out­spo­ken white suprema­cists and extrem­ists.”

    That’s right, the fac­tion of the Texas GOP that just had a blow struck against it is the fac­tion try­ing to con­front the par­ty’s asso­ci­a­tions with Nick Fuentes. In a 32–29 vote, the Texas GOP’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee stripped out a ban bar­ring the par­ty from asso­ci­at­ing with known Nazi sym­pa­thiz­ers and Holo­caust deniers. And in a sep­a­rate move, rough­ly half of the com­mit­tee mem­bers tried to keep their votes off the record...it’s not hard to fig­ure out which half. This, of course, was­n’t the first ‘oop­sy’ meet­ing with Fuentes for the Repub­li­can Par­ty in recent years and not near­ly as high a nation­al pro­file as Fuentes’s din­ner with Don­ald Trump and Kanye West at Mar-a-Lago. But Fuentes’s vis­it to Pale Horse Strate­gies con­sult­ing firm back in Octo­ber was a very big deal for Texas Repub­li­cans, espe­cial­ly after this vote:

    ...
    In a 32–29 vote on Sat­ur­day, mem­bers of the Texas GOP’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee stripped a pro-Israel res­o­lu­tion of a clause that would have includ­ed the ban. In a sep­a­rate move that stunned some mem­bers, rough­ly half of the board also tried to pre­vent a record of their vote from being kept.

    ...

    In Octo­ber, The Texas Tri­bune pub­lished pho­tos of Fuentes, an avowed admir­er of Adolf Hitler who has called for a “holy war” against Jews, enter­ing and leav­ing the offices of Pale Horse Strate­gies, a con­sult­ing firm for far-right can­di­dates and move­ments.
    ...

    So why is Fuentes’s vis­it to a con­sult­ing group rock­ing the Texas GOP like this? Because Pale Horse Strate­gies is owned by for­mer state rep Jonathan Stick­land, who also hap­pened to run the Defend Texas Lib­er­ty polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee. And Defend Texas Lib­er­ty is no ordi­nary PAC. Financed by bil­lion­aire Tim Dunn, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty is a king-mak­er in Texas Repub­li­can pol­i­tics and close ally of about Lt. Gov Dan Patrick and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton. Dunn even con­firmed that it was Stick­land who held with meet­ing with Fuentes. It’s a polit­i­cal­ly sen­si­tive blun­der. And yet, we still find Lt Gov Patrick attack­ing fig­ures like Repub­li­can House Speak­er Dade Phe­lan for call­ing the Exec­u­tive com­mit­tee vote “despi­ca­ble”. Patrick actu­al­ly called on Phe­lan to resign over the “despi­ca­ble” com­ments and his demand that funds received from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty be redi­rect­ed at the same time Patrick was forced into dam­age con­trol over the vote and assur­ances that the $3 mil­lion he got from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty was invest­ed in Israeli bonds. It was just one dol­lop of bad faith spin on top of anoth­er:

    ...
    Pale Horse Strate­gies is owned by Jonathan Stick­land, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and at the time the leader of a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, that two West Texas oil bil­lion­aires have used to fund right-wing move­ments, can­di­dates and politi­cians in the state — includ­ing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton.

    ...

    Defend Texas Lib­er­ty has not pub­licly com­ment­ed on the scan­dal, save for a two-sen­tence state­ment con­demn­ing those who’ve tried to con­nect the PAC to Fuentes’ “incen­di­ary” views. Nor has the group clar­i­fied Stick­land’s cur­rent role at Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, which qui­et­ly updat­ed its web­site in Octo­ber to reflect that he is no longer its pres­i­dent. Tim Dunn, one of the two West Texas oil bil­lion­aires who pri­mar­i­ly fund Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, con­firmed the meet­ing between Fuentes and Stick­land and called it a “seri­ous blun­der,” accord­ing to a state­ment from Patrick.

    ...

    Oth­er com­mit­tee mem­bers ques­tioned how their col­leagues could find words like “anti­semitism” too vague, despite fre­quent­ly lob­bing it and oth­er terms at their polit­i­cal oppo­nents.

    “I just don’t under­stand how peo­ple who rou­tine­ly refer to oth­ers as left­ists, lib­er­als, com­mu­nists, social­ists and RINOs (‘Repub­li­cans in Name Only’) don’t have the dis­cern­ment to define what a Nazi is,” com­mit­tee mem­ber Mor­gan Cis­neros Gra­ham told the Tri­bune after the vote.

    House Speak­er Dade Phe­lan sim­i­lar­ly con­demned the vote Sat­ur­day evening, call­ing it “despi­ca­ble.”

    The Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee “can’t even bring them­selves to denounce neo-Nazis and Holo­caust deniers or cut ties with their top donor who brought them to the dance,” Phe­lan wrote on X, for­mer­ly known as Twit­ter. “There is a moral, anti-Semit­ic rot fes­ter­ing with­in the fringes of BOTH par­ties that must be stopped.”

    For two months, Phe­lan and his staff have rou­tine­ly and pub­licly sparred with some in the par­ty – name­ly Rinal­di, a long­time polit­i­cal foe – over how to address the Fuentes scan­dal and extrem­ism more broad­ly. After the Tri­bune first report­ed on the Fuentes meet­ing, Phe­lan called on fel­low Repub­li­cans to redi­rect mon­ey from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty to pro-Israel char­i­ties, a request that quick­ly drew the ire of Patrick and oth­ers who accused Phe­lan of politi­ciz­ing anti­semitism and demand­ed he resign.

    After sub­se­quent report­ing by the Tri­bune on Defend Texas Lib­er­ty’s ties to white suprema­cists and oth­er extreme fig­ures, Patrick said he was “appalled” and that anti­semitism is “not wel­come in our par­ty.” He then announced that the he had invest­ed the $3 mil­lion he recent­ly received from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty in Israeli bonds.

    Patrick reit­er­at­ed that stance late Sat­ur­day night, call­ing the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee’s vote “total­ly unac­cept­able” and say­ing that he is “con­fi­dent” the board will recon­sid­er the ban at its Feb­ru­ary meet­ing.

    “This lan­guage should have been adopt­ed – because I know that is our posi­tion as a Par­ty,” Patrick wrote on X. “I, and the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Repub­li­cans in Texas, do not tol­er­ate anti­semites, and those who deny the Holo­caust, praise Hitler or the Nazi regime.”
    ...

    And note how Dade Phe­lan was far from alone in his calls for the par­ty to cut ties with Defend Texas Lib­er­ty. Near­ly half of the Texas GOP’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee called for the par­ty to cut ties with Defend Texas Lib­er­ty. Again, we can eas­i­ly guess which half. And yet even those demands had been watered down before the vote to a more genet­ic bar­ring of asso­ci­a­tions with indi­vid­u­als or groups “known to espouse or tol­er­ate anti­semitism, pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies or Holo­caust denial.”. So when the Texas GOP Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee reject­ed the pro­pos­al, it was already a watered-down pro­pos­al and that was deemed to be too much of a slip­pery slope:

    ...
    In response to the scan­dal — as well as sub­se­quent report­ing from the Tri­bune that detailed oth­er links between Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and white suprema­cists — near­ly half of the Texas GOP’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee had called for the par­ty to cut ties with Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and its aux­il­iary groups until Stick­land was removed from any posi­tion of pow­er, and a full expla­na­tion for the Fuentes meet­ing was giv­en.

    The pro­posed demands were sig­nif­i­cant­ly watered down ahead of the party’s quar­ter­ly meet­ing this week­end. Rather than call­ing for a break from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, the fac­tion pro­posed gen­er­al lan­guage that would have barred asso­ci­a­tions with indi­vid­u­als or groups “known to espouse or tol­er­ate anti­semitism, pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies or Holo­caust denial.”

    But even that gen­er­al state­ment was too much for the major­i­ty of the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee. In at-times tense debate on Sat­ur­day, mem­bers argued that words like “tol­er­ate” or “anti­semitism” were too vague or sub­jec­tive. The ban, some argued, was akin to “Marx­ist” and “left­ist” tac­tics, and would cre­ate guilt by asso­ci­a­tion that could be prob­lem­at­ic for the par­ty, its lead­ers and can­di­dates.

    “It could put you on a slip­pery slope,” said com­mit­tee mem­ber Dan Tul­ly.
    ...

    There’s also the still unex­plained pres­ence of Texas GOP chair­man Matt Rinal­di the Pal Horse offices dur­ing Fuentes’s near­ly 7 hour vis­it. Rinal­di claims he had no idea Fuentes was there, and then went on to abstain from vot­ing on the ban after argu­ing that anti­semitism is not a seri­ous prob­lem on the right:

    ...
    Matt Rinal­di, chair­man of the Texas GOP, was also seen enter­ing the Pale Horse offices while Fuentes was inside for near­ly 7 hours. He denied par­tic­i­pat­ing, how­ev­er, say­ing he was vis­it­ing with some­one else at the time and didn’t know Fuentes was there.

    ...

    Rinal­di abstained from vot­ing on the ban, but briefly argued that anti­semitism is not a seri­ous prob­lem on the right before ques­tion­ing what it would mean to “tol­er­ate” those who espouse it. “I don’t see any anti­se­mit­ic, pro-Nazi or Holo­caust denial move­ment on the right that has any sig­nif­i­cant trac­tion what­so­ev­er,” he said.

    Sup­port­ers of the ban dis­agreed. They not­ed that the lan­guage was already a com­pro­mise, didn’t specif­i­cal­ly name any group or indi­vid­ual and would lend cre­dence to res­o­lu­tions in which the Texas GOP has gen­er­al­ly con­demned anti­semitism and restat­ed its sup­port for Israel.
    ...

    And then there’s the dement­ed attempts by some Texas Repub­li­cans to equate meet­ing an open neo-Nazi like Nick Fuentes with a meet­ing of LGBTQ advo­cates. They’re all just “polit­i­cal hot pota­toes” that one should­n’t be judged for meet­ing with:

    ...
    Ahead of Saturday’s vote, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty-backed Reps. Nate Schat­z­line, R‑Fort Worth, and Tony Tin­der­holt, R‑Arlington, briefly spoke to the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee.

    The day pri­or, Sen. Bob Hall — an Edge­wood Repub­li­can who has received $50,000 from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty — was also at the Austin hotel where exec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers were meet­ing, and in a speech con­demned attempts to cut ties with the group based on what he called “hearsay,” “fuzzy pho­tographs” and “nar­ra­tives.”

    “If you want to pass a res­o­lu­tion, I would make it pos­i­tive,” Hall said to exec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers on Fri­day. “We don’t need to do our enemy’s work for them.”

    Hall reit­er­at­ed that stance in an inter­view with the Tri­bune, call­ing the Fuentes meet­ing a “mis­take” but claim­ing that there was “no evi­dence” that Stick­land or Defend Texas Lib­er­ty are anti­se­mit­ic. “I’ve had meet­ings with trans­gen­ders, gays and les­bians,” Hall said. “Does that make me a trans­gen­der, gay or a les­bian?”

    Asked if he was com­par­ing gay peo­ple to white suprema­cists or Hitler admir­ers like Fuentes, Hall respond­ed: “I’m talk­ing about peo­ple who are polit­i­cal hot pota­toes.”
    ...

    Final­ly, giv­en Ken Pax­ton’s deci­sion to sue to block an abor­tion for a woman car­ry­ing a non-viable fetus, damn the con­se­quences, keep in mind who Pax­ton is ulti­mate­ly answer­ing to: Defend Texas Lib­er­ty is one of his top advo­cates. The group even vowed ret­ri­bu­tion against Repub­li­cans who sup­port­ed Pax­ton’s removal over cor­rup­tion charges. So when we are try­ing to under­stand Pax­ton’s polit­i­cal cal­cu­lus in mak­ing that deci­sion to sue a woman fac­ing a dead­ly med­ical emer­gency to pre­vent her from get­ting treat­ment, it’s impor­tant to under­stand just how behold­en Pax­ton is to the bil­lion­aires behind Defend Texas Lib­er­ty:

    ...
    Saturday’s vote is the lat­est sign of major dis­uni­ty among the Texas GOP, which for years has dealt with sim­mer­ing ten­sions between its far-right and more mod­er­ate, but still deeply con­ser­v­a­tive, wings. Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and its bil­lion­aire back­ers have been key play­ers in that fight, fund­ing pri­ma­ry chal­lenges to incum­bent Repub­li­cans who they deem insuf­fi­cient­ly con­ser­v­a­tive, and bankrolling a sprawl­ing net­work of insti­tu­tions, media web­sites and polit­i­cal groups that they’ve used to incre­men­tal­ly pull Texas fur­ther to the right.

    The party’s internecine con­flict has explod­ed into all-out war since the impeach­ment and acquit­tal of Pax­ton, a cru­cial Defend Texas Lib­er­ty ally whose polit­i­cal life has been sub­si­dized by the PAC’s bil­lion­aire fun­ders.

    After Paxton’s acquit­tal, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty vowed scorched-earth cam­paigns against those who sup­port­ed the attor­ney general’s removal, and promised mas­sive spend­ing ahead of next year’s pri­ma­ry elec­tions. (Before the Sat­ur­day vote, exec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­bers sep­a­rate­ly approved a cen­sure of out­go­ing Rep. Andrew Murr, R‑Junction, over his lead role in the inves­ti­ga­tion and impeach­ment of Pax­ton.)

    News of the Fuentes meet­ing has only com­pli­cat­ed Defend Texas Lib­er­ty’s ret­ri­bu­tion plans, as infight­ing inten­si­fies and some Repub­li­cans ques­tion whether the group and its bil­lion­aire fun­ders should have so much sway over the state par­ty.
    ...

    And that brings us to the fol­low­ing Decem­ber 2018 giant Texas Month­ly report on what was then Tim Dun­n’s ascen­sion as the most pow­er­ful fig­ure in Texas pol­i­tics. But as we’re going to see, while Dunn has indeed spent decades work­ing to cre­ate this influ­ence ped­dling net­work, he did­n’t do it alone. Dunn had help. From one promi­nent CNP mem­ber after anoth­er. Along with a bunch of Koch net­work dark mon­ey:

    Texas Month­ly

    The Pow­er Issue: Tim Dunn Is Push­ing the Repub­li­can Par­ty Into the Arms of God

    The social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive Mid­land oil man has been putting a lot of mon­ey into the fight for the GOP’s soul.
    By R.G. Rat­cliffe
    Decem­ber 2018

    In Novem­ber 2010, as he was ready­ing for his sec­ond term as Speak­er of the Texas House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Joe Straus invit­ed Mid­land oil­man Tim Dunn to break­fast. It was an attempt, after a bruis­ing elec­tion sea­son, to extend an olive branch. Dunn had helped bankroll the tea par­ty surge in Texas, and an orga­ni­za­tion he start­ed, Empow­er Tex­ans, had attacked Democ­rats and par­tic­i­pat­ed in ral­lies across the state protest­ing prop­er­ty tax­es and exces­sive gov­ern­ment spend­ing. Straus, a San Anto­nio busi­ness­man from a well-off Repub­li­can fam­i­ly, had been cho­sen as Speak­er in Jan­u­ary 2009 by a coali­tion that com­prised GOP fis­cal con­ser­v­a­tives like him­self and all the chamber’s Democ­rats.

    But in the 2010 elec­tion, the Democ­rats lost 24 seats. Dunn, in oth­er words, had done much to shrink the Speaker’s base of sup­port. Nev­er­the­less, Straus regard­ed him­self as fis­cal­ly respon­si­ble and thought he and Dunn might find com­mon ground on that sub­ject.

    With plates of eggs before them, Dunn and Straus sat at a table in the Speaker’s Con­fer­ence Room, sur­round­ed by dark pecan pan­el­ing, Audubon prints, and pho­tographs of Straus fam­i­ly mem­bers pos­ing with George H. W. Bush (a friend of Straus’s moth­er) and U.S. sen­a­tor John Tow­er. Dunn nev­er lift­ed his fork. He didn’t seem inter­est­ed in hear­ing what the Speak­er had to say. But he did have an agen­da. He demand­ed that Straus remove a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of com­mit­tee chairs and replace them with tea par­ty activists sup­port­ed by Empow­er Tex­ans. Straus refused. Then the con­ver­sa­tion moved on to evan­gel­i­cal social pol­i­cy, and, accord­ing to Straus insid­ers, Dunn aston­ished Straus, who is Jew­ish, by say­ing that only Chris­tians should be in lead­er­ship posi­tions.

    After the meet­ing, a stunned Straus told aides that he had nev­er been spo­ken to in that way. Though Straus’s aides con­sid­ered the state­ment anti-Semit­ic, it was more like­ly an expres­sion of Dunn’s pro-evan­gel­i­cal­ism. In ser­mons and oth­er pub­lic state­ments, Dunn has assert­ed a belief that born-again evan­gel­i­cals who fol­low bib­li­cal laws are graced by God and giv­en a duty of polit­i­cal lead­er­ship. “If you are an evan­gel­i­cal and you don’t vote, that means you are not doing your duty because you are the ones that God gave the author­i­ty to,” Dunn once said.

    “The real bib­li­cal approach to gov­ern­ment is—the ide­al is—a king­dom with a per­fect king,” Dunn told a Chris­t­ian radio audi­ence in 2016. (Dunn begins speak­ing 58 min­utes into the video.) “But pend­ing that, yes, the ide­al is a self-gov­ern­ing soci­ety.” Dunn’s notion of self-gov­ern­ment, though, is dif­fer­ent from that of most Amer­i­cans. He has stat­ed repeat­ed­ly that our democ­ra­cy must be brought into line with bib­li­cal laws. When sec­u­lar gov­ern­ments stray from the Ten Com­mand­ments and try to make their own rules, he says, “you have a false per­fect gov­ern­ment with a false mes­si­ah.”

    Dunn is prob­a­bly the most influ­en­tial donor oper­at­ing in Texas today. Since 2002, he has giv­en at least $9.3 mil­lion in pub­licly report­ed cam­paign dona­tions to Texas politi­cians. Fed­er­al can­di­dates and super PACs have received $3.2 mil­lion of Dunn’s mon­ey since 2010. Quite like­ly, a sim­i­lar amount of his mon­ey has flowed in obscu­ri­ty, through a maze of non­prof­it foun­da­tions, some of which he con­trols and many of which hide their true iden­ti­ty and nev­er report their donors.

    The dri­ving ide­o­log­i­cal forces behind Dunn’s orga­ni­za­tions are small-gov­ern­ment lib­er­tar­i­an­ism and a social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive agen­da, the lat­ter of which has been embraced by the tea par­ty in Texas. (While the tea par­ty began as a protest against big gov­ern­ment and cer­tain Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion pro­grams, as ear­ly as 2010 Texas tea par­ty groups had start­ed to morph into vehi­cles for social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive activism.) It wasn’t long after Dunn and Straus met for break­fast that tea party–style con­ser­v­a­tives around the state start­ed send­ing out emails and press releas­es push­ing for a House leader who was both right-wing and a Chris­t­ian; as one mem­ber of the State Repub­li­can Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee put it in a pri­vate note to anoth­er mem­ber of the com­mit­tee, “We elect­ed a House with Chris­t­ian, con­ser­v­a­tive val­ues. We now want a true Chris­t­ian con­ser­v­a­tive run­ning it.” Whether the email cam­paign was spon­ta­neous or coor­di­nat­ed remains unclear. In an inter­view with the Texas Observ­er, Empow­er Tex­ans’ direc­tor, Michael Quinn Sul­li­van, called the emails “vile and dis­gust­ing.” But he also seemed to take a swipe at Straus. “I’ve nev­er heard any­one talk about Mr. Straus’s reli­gion,” Sul­li­van told the mag­a­zine. “There is no place in the speak­er­ship race for dis­cus­sions of people’s reli­gion or lack there­of” [empha­sis added].

    Dunn is a pow­er­ful fig­ure in the ongo­ing strug­gle for the soul of the Repub­li­can par­ty, a fight that has been waged for years between the fis­cal con­ser­v­a­tives who built the mod­ern par­ty and the social con­ser­v­a­tives who want to claim it. He is rarely the pub­lic face of these efforts, pre­fer­ring instead to use his mon­ey and influ­ence behind the scenes. For more than a decade, Empow­er Texans—which encom­pass­es a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee and two foun­da­tions, all named Empow­er Texans—has chal­lenged Repub­li­can incum­bents in par­ty pri­maries, often using ques­tion­able meth­ods to sul­ly its tar­gets’ rep­u­ta­tions.

    Dur­ing the 2014 elec­tions, the Empow­er Tex­ans PAC spent $4.7 mil­lion to affect state elec­tions, includ­ing almost $2 mil­lion in loans and con­tri­bu­tions to two can­di­dates, now Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton and Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick. While Dunn’s allies have yet to seize con­trol of the House, their takeover of the Sen­ate Repub­li­can Cau­cus empow­ered Patrick to pri­or­i­tize gen­der-spe­cif­ic bath­room leg­is­la­tion over pub­lic school finance issues and prop­er­ty tax reform.

    But in the 2018 pri­maries, Empow­er Tex­ans’ tac­tics trig­gered a back­lash. Even the con­ser­v­a­tive web­site Bre­it­bart had by then soured on Dunn’s oper­a­tions, liken­ing his grip on state pol­i­tics to “a Russ­ian oli­garchy sit­u­a­tion where you have a bil­lion­aire who doesn’t even live here choos­ing who’s my leader because the guy didn’t kiss his ring.” Pay­back came from con­ser­v­a­tive busi­ness lead­ers across Texas who were wor­ried that Dunn’s agen­da was bad for the Texas econ­o­my. They poured more than $3 mil­lion into defeat­ing most of the leg­isla­tive can­di­dates backed by Empow­er Tex­ans and its ally, the antiabor­tion group Texas Right to Life. But Dunn is unde­terred, because he believes he has a duty to God.

    “Noth­ing comes easy to West Texas,” for­mer first lady Bar­bara Bush once said of liv­ing in the Per­mi­an Basin. “Every tree must be cul­ti­vat­ed, and every flower is a joy.” It’s a harsh envi­ron­ment where sand creeps under the barbed-wire fences and across the road­ways, ever threat­en­ing to erase civ­i­liza­tion. Here, the fleet­ing nature of life is evi­dent and reli­gion blooms. But beneath the brown desert lies an ancient seabed con­tain­ing some of the rich­est oil and gas deposits on earth. Oil is the rea­son peo­ple live there. With each boom, the rough­necks and geol­o­gists and petro­le­um engi­neers come; with each bust, most of them leave. The oil­men remain, hav­ing con­vert­ed some of those fos­sil fuels into gold.

    Amid this aus­tere land­scape, Dunn embraced evan­gel­i­cal faith and made a for­tune financ­ing wells to extract oil that he once told a British jour­nal­ist was deposit­ed beneath the earth’s sur­face by God a mere 4,000 years ago, not the 200 mil­lion years as deter­mined by earth sci­ence. He has been through boom and bust and has joked that Mid­land is “the eas­i­est place to lose mon­ey that you can ever imag­ine.”

    ...

    The youngest of four boys, whose father was a Howard Coun­ty Farm Bureau insur­ance agent, Dunn grew up in Big Spring, about forty miles from Mid­land. In high school he was an Eagle Scout and a gui­tarist in a rock band. He left home to study chem­i­cal engi­neer­ing at Texas Tech Uni­ver­si­ty, where he met his future wife, Ter­ri. They mar­ried in 1977, at the end of their junior year, and eight months lat­er she was preg­nant with the first of their six chil­dren. Dunn went to work for Exxon, then spent sev­er­al years work­ing in com­mer­cial bank­ing. The fam­i­ly moved to Mid­land, where he worked at a bank before join­ing Park­er & Pars­ley Petro­le­um as direc­tor and, even­tu­al­ly, chief finan­cial offi­cer. There, his deep involve­ment in the two anchors of Midland’s stark culture—the oil busi­ness and evan­gel­i­cal Christianity—would spur him to polit­i­cal activism.

    Already on a path to wealth, Dunn formed his own oil and gas com­pa­ny, now known as Crown­Quest Oper­at­ing LLC, in 1996, with wells in Texas, New Mex­i­co, and Utah. As a pri­vate­ly held com­pa­ny, Crown­Quest doesn’t have to make its finan­cials pub­licly avail­able, but over the years it has clear­ly done quite well; the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion lists Crown­Quest as the thir­ti­eth most pro­duc­tive Texas oil com­pa­ny in 2017, hav­ing pro­duced 6.6 mil­lion bar­rels of oil that year. At the aver­age price of West Texas Inter­me­di­ate crude for the year, that would trans­late into about $335 mil­lion in gross rev­enue.

    Dunn’s busi­ness career has informed his lib­er­tar­i­an think­ing. At Park­er & Pars­ley, he over­saw secu­ri­ties trans­ac­tions that were sub­ject to plain­tiff law­suits, an expe­ri­ence that made him a strong sup­port­er of tort reform. At Crown­Quest, he has fought against lim­its on methane emis­sions and the poten­tial list­ing of the dunes sage­brush lizard as endan­gered, a des­ig­na­tion that would have halt­ed drilling in parts of West Texas and east­ern New Mex­i­co.

    In 2006 he opposed a Texas tax reform pro­pos­al to cut prop­er­ty tax­es and off­set those loss­es by expand­ing the state busi­ness tax to include part­ner­ships, such as those used by doc­tors, lawyers, and oil com­pa­nies that finance wells through investors. He showed up at a hear­ing of the Texas Tax Reform Com­mis­sion in Mid­land and pre­sent­ed a 22-page report in which he argued that school prop­er­ty tax­es could be not just reduced but com­plete­ly elim­i­nat­ed in sev­en­teen years. He assert­ed that this could be done with­out rais­ing busi­ness tax­es if the state increased its share of spend­ing on pub­lic schools by draw­ing on sur­plus state tax rev­enue and restrict­ing spend­ing increas­es to no more than what was need­ed to keep up with pop­u­la­tion growth and infla­tion. Leg­is­la­tors passed their own pro­pos­al, but Dunn’s idea became dog­ma for con­ser­v­a­tive prop­er­ty tax oppo­nents. The Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­v­a­tive think tank where Dunn serves as vice chair­man, is push­ing the Leg­is­la­ture to adopt a ver­sion of the plan when it meets in 2019.

    It’s not clear what impact the 2006 tax reform has had on Crown­Quest; oil pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies and roy­al­ty own­ers were hit with new tax pay­ments, but these were sup­posed to be off­set by cuts in the tax­es paid on oil and gas prop­er­ties. (In 2017 Crown­Quest owned more than $2 mil­lion in tax­able real estate in five West Texas coun­ties.) When the tax reform passed, Dunn was unhap­py that the new busi­ness tax had been negotiated—as he saw it—behind closed doors by lob­by­ists doing what was best for their clients rather than the cit­i­zens at large. In short, inter­est groups had a seat at the table. It was then that he formed Empow­er Tex­ans, giv­ing his direc­tor Sul­li­van a clear direc­tive: “I don’t want you to get a seat at the table. I want you to get rid of the table.”

    But though it was born as an anti-tax orga­ni­za­tion, Empow­er Tex­ans would soon advo­cate for social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive posi­tions, in keep­ing with the evan­gel­i­cal reli­gion that has been the oth­er pil­lar of Dunn’s world­view.

    ...

    There are more Protes­tants in Mid­land than mem­bers of any oth­er faith, and evan­gel­i­cals out­num­ber main­line Protes­tants by a fac­tor of five to one. Dunn and his wife attend the non­de­nom­i­na­tion­al Mid­land Bible Church, where the Bible is viewed as inspired by God and with­out error. Along with sev­er­al oth­er fam­i­lies, they home­schooled their chil­dren; the old­er ones fol­lowed a course of instruc­tion that Dunn cre­at­ed, in which they would read great works of lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy and then be chal­lenged to square their read­ings with the Bible. At the urg­ing of friends, in 1998 Dunn turned that cur­ricu­lum into the basis for the pri­vate and unac­cred­it­ed Mid­land Clas­si­cal Acad­e­my. “It’s our job to give the kids a faith cri­sis every day and then lead them to what the true answer is and let them decide,” Dunn says in a pro­mo­tion­al video for the school.

    For Dunn, the inter­twin­ing of lib­er­tar­i­an ideas with Chris­t­ian-con­ser­v­a­tive ones didn’t start with Empow­er Tex­ans. His ear­li­est-known for­ay into state pol­i­tics, in the ear­ly nineties, was join­ing the board of direc­tors of the Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion of Plano, which before that had been called Chris­t­ian Cit­i­zens Inc. Found­ed by a retired real estate bro­ker named Richard Ford, it was intend­ed to oper­ate as the Texas chap­ter of Focus on the Fam­i­ly, a nation­al social-con­ser­v­a­tive advo­ca­cy group. Dur­ing Dunn’s ear­ly time on the board, the foun­da­tion trav­eled around Texas, teach­ing men how to become bet­ter par­ents through Christ and help­ing physi­cians prac­tice med­i­cine in a god­ly man­ner.

    In a recent inter­view, Ford fond­ly recalled the time he spent with Dunn. “He is very intel­li­gent. He has a very strong—very, very strong—spiritual com­mit­ment,” Ford said. “That’s his total moti­va­tion.” Ford said Dunn believes gov­ern­ment has improp­er­ly med­dled in mat­ters of faith and that the coun­try is in spir­i­tu­al decline.

    The Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion por­trayed itself as con­cerned with eco­nom­ic lib­er­ty but usu­al­ly aligned itself with groups like the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion and the Eagle Forum, oppos­ing gay rights and sup­port­ing the restora­tion of pub­lic school–sponsored prayer. Anoth­er hall­mark of Free Mar­ket, which Dunn would lat­er deploy at Empow­er Tex­ans, was vot­ing score­cards that allowed evan­gel­i­cals to rate can­di­dates for reelec­tion based on how much sup­port they’d giv­en to social-con­ser­v­a­tive caus­es.

    But the most sig­nif­i­cant tac­tic that Dunn would adopt as his own was that of con­cen­trat­ing on Repub­li­can pri­maries. After the 1998 elec­tions, it was appar­ent that Democ­rats were unlike­ly to win statewide office again any­time soon and that their grip on the Leg­is­la­ture was slip­ping away. “I felt like the real Achilles’ heel for con­ser­v­a­tives was the mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans,” Ford said. “And so we decid­ed we would go after them.”

    In 2002 the foundation’s take-no-pris­on­ers approach ignit­ed a statewide con­tro­ver­sy after it tar­get­ed six Repub­li­can incum­bents, includ­ing act­ing lieu­tenant gov­er­nor Bill Ratliff, with an incen­di­ary piece of direct mail, paid for in part with a $10,000 dona­tion from Dunn. Because Ratliff had sup­port­ed includ­ing “sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion” in a hate crimes bill, the mail­er denounced him as a sup­port­er of “the Homo­sex­u­al Agen­da” and includ­ed pho­tos of a man kiss­ing anoth­er man on the cheek, a man in a leather bondage out­fit, and two men in tuxe­dos cut­ting a wed­ding cake. All six incum­bents won reelec­tion, but a year lat­er Ratliff announced his res­ig­na­tion from the Sen­ate. The les­son learned was sim­ple: junk­yard polit­i­cal attacks may not work in a sin­gle elec­tion, but the prospect of such bat­tles scares peo­ple off. It’s a long-term strat­e­gy that keeps incum­bents won­der­ing whether a prob­lem­at­ic vote on the floor of the Leg­is­la­ture will draw them an oppo­nent in the next elec­tion.

    Dunn remained on the Free Mar­ket board after a young lawyer named Kel­ly Shack­elford took over Ford’s posi­tion and the foun­da­tion changed its name to the First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute. Under Shack­elford, the foun­da­tion shift­ed its focus to coor­di­nat­ing legal chal­lenges to per­ceived gov­ern­ment inter­fer­ence in reli­gious mat­ters. One of its best-known cas­es in Texas is a court vic­to­ry that allowed cheer­lead­ers in the small East Texas town of Kountze to paint reli­gious vers­es on spir­it ban­ners for the foot­ball teams. Although First Lib­er­ty clients have includ­ed the Falun Gong and Ortho­dox Jews, most of them are evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians.

    In 1998, short­ly after launch­ing Mid­land Clas­si­cal Acad­e­my, Dunn joined the board of the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion, which was found­ed by James Leininger, an advo­cate of law­suit reform and pri­vate school vouch­ers. Leininger, a San Anto­nio physi­cian turned busi­ness­man who, since 2000, has giv­en $10.3 mil­lion to con­ser­v­a­tive Texas can­di­dates and polit­i­cal com­mit­tees, is the Repub­li­can megadonor Dunn bears the most sim­i­lar­i­ty to.

    Long­time Texas Capi­tol observ­er Har­vey Kro­n­berg, the own­er of the Quo­rum Report polit­i­cal newslet­ter, says that the biggest dif­fer­ence between the two mil­lion­aires is that Leininger’s ambi­tions seem more mod­est: Leininger want­ed to pass pri­vate school vouch­ers, and when his vouch­er push died in the 2007 Leg­is­la­ture, he start­ed to with­draw from fund­ing Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry races. “He was a sin­gle-issue guy,” Kro­n­berg said. “With Tim Dunn, it’s a more per­va­sive lib­er­tar­i­an-style phi­los­o­phy, per­haps an extreme small-gov­ern­ment phi­los­o­phy.” And since the 2010 elec­tion cycle, when Empow­er Tex­ans ral­lied with local tea par­ty groups, Dunn has been con­nect­ed to a potent base of activists. “They’ve mas­tered social net­work­ing, and they’ve got a vol­un­teer cadre out there,” Kro­n­berg said. “They’re play­ing every­thing from bond elec­tions to school board elec­tions.”

    Ever since the rise of the cell­phone and inter­net broad­casts of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the gallery of the Texas House has been less crowd­ed with lob­by­ists than it once was; nowa­days, lob­by­ists can sit in their offices on Con­gress Avenue and call a mem­ber direct­ly if they wish to prompt a vote. But Michael Quinn Sul­li­van, Dunn’s right-hand man, is often at the Capi­tol, gath­er­ing his leg­isla­tive allies into a gag­gle out­side the cham­ber. He is a law­mak­er whis­per­er, advis­ing mem­bers of the House Free­dom Cau­cus—a bloc of hard-line conservatives—on how to vote and what amend­ments to offer.

    At six feet four inch­es tall, Sul­li­van tow­ers over most peo­ple, though his cheru­bic cheeks give him a friend­ly look. As a one­time news­pa­per reporter and for­mer aide to con­gress­man Ron Paul, Sul­li­van is a pol­i­cy wonk and can turn a glib phrase, but he also has a rep­u­ta­tion for cyn­i­cism and a shame­less dis­re­gard for fair play. In a riff on his ini­tials, MQS, oppo­nents deri­sive­ly call him “mucus.” In 2012 Texas Month­ly’s Paul Bur­ka wrote that Sul­li­van would win a con­test as the most tox­ic per­son at the Capi­tol and be proud of it.

    Fort Worth Star-Telegram colum­nist Bud Kennedy has been watch­ing Empow­er Tex­ans for years. He told me that the group is often less inter­est­ed in major pieces of leg­is­la­tion than in “poi­son pill” amend­ments that can be used against incum­bents in a future elec­tion. “They pick one lit­tle vote and say it was against pup­pies or what­ev­er, and then they blow that up to say that so-and-so hates pup­pies,” Kennedy said. “It real­ly has noth­ing to do with whether that per­son was mak­ing good deci­sions for the future of Texas.”

    Empow­er Tex­ans pro­duces tip sheets telling leg­is­la­tors how to vote, and then, come elec­tion time, Sul­li­van, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Texas Right to Life pres­i­dent Jim Gra­ham, pro­duces leg­is­la­tor score­cards to sway vot­er opin­ion. The score­cards are so mis­lead­ing that they have been denounced by the Texas Catholic Con­fer­ence of Bish­ops, the Tex­ans for Life Coali­tion, and the Texas Alliance for Life. Law­mak­ers allied with Empow­er Tex­ans intro­duce hot-but­ton bills and amend­ments “just for the pur­pose of their score­card, know­ing that the peo­ple who aren’t just lick­ing their boots all the time are going to vote against them,” says Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Char­lie Geren, a Fort Worth busi­ness­man and Repub­li­can who has often been a tar­get of Empow­er Tex­ans because of his sup­port for Straus as Speak­er.

    Spin is noth­ing new in pol­i­tics. Yet Dunn, Sul­li­van, and Empow­er Tex­ans car­ry spin to an extreme, label­ing any Repub­li­can politi­cian who doesn’t fol­low Empow­er Tex­ans’ direc­tions as “lib­er­al” or part of the “Austin estab­lish­ment” or a RINO—a Repub­li­can in name only.

    Take, for exam­ple, Kel Seliger, a burly man in his mid-six­ties who likes to ride Harley-David­sons. He made his liv­ing man­ag­ing a Pan­han­dle steel com­pa­ny but is bet­ter known for his years in pol­i­tics. In 2004, after serv­ing as the first Jew­ish may­or of Amar­il­lo, Seliger won a seat in the Texas Sen­ate as a Repub­li­can, rep­re­sent­ing a sprawl­ing West Texas dis­trict that stretch­es from Amar­il­lo to Mid­land. Around the time he took office, Seliger met Dunn for the first time. “He’s real­ly smart and ami­able,” Seliger recalled. “Not par­tic­u­lar­ly gar­ru­lous, but ami­able.” Dunn asked Seliger about his posi­tion on pri­vate school vouch­ers, and Seliger told him that he was a pub­lic school sup­port­er.

    For the bet­ter part of the next decade, there were no signs of polit­i­cal ani­mos­i­ty. Seliger estab­lished him­self as a bit of a mav­er­ick in the state Sen­ate, but one with sol­id con­ser­v­a­tive cre­den­tials. He served on the board of the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Council—viewed by the left as a nation­al bill fac­to­ry for big business—and in 2011, as chair of the Sen­ate Redis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee, he drew the cur­rent ger­ry­man­dered con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts that Democ­rats and minori­ties have since chal­lenged in fed­er­al court.

    But dur­ing the years that Seliger was earn­ing his con­ser­v­a­tive stripes in the Sen­ate, Dunn was pour­ing mon­ey into Empow­er Tex­ans, which would fash­ion its own def­i­n­i­tion of what a con­ser­v­a­tive was sup­posed to be. Seliger nev­er had any rea­son to sus­pect that Dunn had turned on him until late 2011, when he was blind­sided by an Empow­er Tex­ans attack. The group slammed Seliger for vot­ing for the busi­ness tax that Dunn had opposed in 2006 and for favor­ing an increase in gaso­line tax­es to pay for high­way projects in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, which Sul­li­van had called “boon­dog­gles.”

    Fol­low­ing the attack, Seliger and Geren passed a bill to require non­prof­its like Empow­er Tex­ans to dis­close their source of funds when­ev­er they spent more than $1,000 in an elec­tion. Gov­er­nor Rick Per­ry vetoed the bill. Empow­er Tex­ans recruit­ed oppo­nents to run against Seliger in his next three elec­tions. And though he won them all, his 2018 pri­ma­ry was par­tic­u­lar­ly tough. Seliger faced two oppo­nents: one a for­mer mem­ber of the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion and the oth­er a for­mer Mid­land may­or who received $350,000 from the Empow­er Tex­ans PAC. The dou­ble-team­ing may have been an attempt to force Seliger into a runoff, where he like­ly would have been at a dis­ad­van­tage. It almost worked—Seliger squeaked by with 50.4 per­cent of the vote, nar­row­ly avoid­ing a runoff.

    The com­bi­na­tion of dark mon­ey and hard­ball tac­tics has had a defin­ing impact on state pol­i­tics. “Here’s where things become omi­nous, as Empow­er Tex­ans and TPPF fig­ure out what polit­i­cal pow­er they can buy,” Seliger said. “Empow­er Tex­ans has a 501(c)(4) [an IRS-des­ig­nat­ed non­prof­it that can par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics], so they don’t have to tell where the mon­ey came from. And right now, the major­i­ty of the seats in the Repub­li­can cau­cus in the Sen­ate are con­trolled by Empow­er Tex­ans and TPPF.”

    A phys­i­cal reminder of that clout is a 42,000-square-foot build­ing on Con­gress Avenue, two blocks from the Capi­tol grounds, which TPPF moved into in 2015. (Its 2017 mar­ket val­ue was $15.1 mil­lion, but because TPPF is a non­prof­it, it didn’t have to pay an esti­mat­ed $336,204 in real estate tax­es on its prime down­town prop­er­ty.) “That you’ve got a very few, very wealthy peo­ple who essen­tial­ly own the seats in the Leg­is­la­ture is the very def­i­n­i­tion of Russ­ian-style oli­garchy, and they even have their own Krem­lin on Con­gress,” Seliger said, echo­ing Breitbart’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Empow­er Tex­ans. “And I think that is a bad form of gov­ern­ment. I think it’s dan­ger­ous.”

    House Free­dom Cau­cus chair­man Matt Schae­fer, a Repub­li­can from Tyler, denied to me that the cau­cus takes its orders from Sul­li­van or Empow­er Tex­ans. All sorts of lob­by groups keep score­cards of leg­is­la­tors’ votes and put out mail­ers in their dis­tricts filled with dis­tor­tions, he said. And Schae­fer had high praise for Dunn: “The first thing that you’re going to pick up from him is he is deeply involved in his fam­i­ly, a man of faith, and a man who looks at the big pic­ture.”

    But there also are Empow­er Tex­ans apos­tates. State rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gio­van­ni “Gio” Capriglione, of South­lake, orig­i­nal­ly won office in 2012 with the help of Empow­er Tex­ans, but he sep­a­rat­ed him­self from the group because he got tired of being told how to vote. Empow­er Tex­ans is “very good about nev­er accu­rate­ly telling the truth,” Capriglione says. As an exam­ple, he point­ed to House Bill 550 from the 2017 ses­sion. The bill was intend­ed to bring Texas into com­pli­ance with fed­er­al law by requir­ing all canoes, kayaks, pad­dle­boards, and oth­er water­borne ves­sels to have sound-pro­duc­ing devices, such as whis­tles. Fail­ure to pass the bill would have endan­gered mil­lions of dol­lars in fed­er­al funds for the state, but Empow­er Tex­ans decid­ed that vot­ing for it would be a blow to indi­vid­ual free­dom and put the vote on its score­card. The bill died. “Holy crap, this became like the hill to die on for the tea par­ty and for some of the Free­dom Cau­cus mem­bers,” Capriglione said.

    Empow­er Tex­ans also some­times uses assumed names. In this year’s elec­tion, the group mailed an attack piece to homes in Geren’s dis­trict accus­ing him of hav­ing a “rela­tion­ship” with a lobbyist—namely, his wife. Point­ing out that Geren’s spouse is a lob­by­ist is fair game. But Empow­er Tex­ans attacked Geren using one of its alter­nate names, the Texas Ethics Dis­clo­sure Board, and the let­ter it sent to vot­ers mim­ic­ked an offi­cial gov­ern­ment doc­u­ment, pos­si­bly vio­lat­ing a law that pro­hibits any­one from pos­ing as a gov­ern­ment author­i­ty. At least one Texas coun­ty pros­e­cu­tor reviewed a com­plaint against the mail­ing, though no case has been brought.

    Joe Poj­man, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Texas Alliance for Life, told me that many tra­di­tion­al estab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans whom his group regards as “extreme­ly pro-life” have been labeled as “not Repub­li­can” because they haven’t done exact­ly what is expect­ed of them by the Empow­er Texans/Texas Right to Life machine. Their score­cards are “disin­gen­u­ous and dis­hon­est,” Poj­man says. “It’s [done] to deceive vot­ers, to deceive Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry vot­ers.”

    Ahead of the 2012 elec­tion Dunn tar­get­ed mul­ti­ple Straus lieu­tenants in the House, among them Repub­li­can rep­re­sen­ta­tive Vic­ki Tru­itt, of Keller, who a few years ear­li­er had briefly thought about run­ning for Speak­er her­self but ulti­mate­ly joined Straus’s team and retained her chair­man­ship of the House Pen­sions, Invest­ments, and Finan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

    The first shot was fired in Decem­ber 2011, by Agen­da Wise, a non­prof­it that Dunn helped form along with a Wis­con­sin lib­er­tar­i­an named Leslie Graves. Agen­da Wise oper­at­ed under the Empow­er Tex­ans umbrel­la and pub­lished a newslet­ter that was sharply crit­i­cal of Speak­er Straus and his allies in the Leg­is­la­ture, and it denounced the con­ser­v­a­tive pro-busi­ness group Tex­ans for Law­suit Reform for endors­ing Tru­itt, because, accord­ing to Agen­da Wise, she “had con­sis­tent­ly been assailed by con­ser­v­a­tives.” But the unhap­py con­ser­v­a­tives assail­ing her were none oth­er than offi­cials at Empow­er Tex­ans, Agen­da Wise’s sib­ling orga­ni­za­tion.

    Tru­itt then came under the scruti­ny of a group called Texas Watch­dog. Set up by Dunn’s ally Graves and a lib­er­tar­i­an jour­nal­ist named Trent Seib­ert as a self-described “inde­pen­dent inves­tiga­tive and enter­prise jour­nal­ism orga­ni­za­tion,” Watch­dog ran a sto­ry that was quick­ly picked up by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram imply­ing that Truitt’s physi­cian-recruit­ing busi­ness had received no-bid con­tracts from the Tar­rant Coun­ty Hos­pi­tal Dis­trict because of her role in the Leg­is­la­ture. Sul­li­van fol­lowed up on the Empow­er Tex­ans web­site with a col­umn crit­i­ciz­ing the con­tracts, and Agen­da Wise con­tin­ued the pile-on two weeks lat­er with an arti­cle called “Vic­ki Truitt’s Trou­ble.”

    Tru­itt respond­ed with an op-ed in the Star-Telegram, demand­ing an apol­o­gy. She not­ed that her con­tract with the hos­pi­tal dis­trict was award­ed in the ear­ly nineties as the result of a bid­ding process, years before she entered the Leg­is­la­ture. And she claimed that there were finan­cial ties between Texas Watch­dog and Sul­li­van and Dunn. “These men wish to con­trol the agen­da and the votes of mem­bers of the Texas Leg­is­la­ture. I refuse to be intim­i­dat­ed by their threats,” Tru­itt wrote, adding, “I am a tar­get because I stand up to these bul­lies.”

    Empow­er Tex­ans par­tial­ly financed Truitt’s opponent—future apos­tate Gio­van­ni Capriglione—spending $33,900 on design and postage for direct mail and $437 for robo­calls to the dis­trict. In May of 2012, Tru­itt lost the pri­ma­ry elec­tion. Along with fel­low Repub­li­can law­mak­er Jim Kef­fer, she filed an ethics com­plaint in 2012 accus­ing Sul­li­van of lob­by­ing with­out reg­is­ter­ing as a lob­by­ist and the Empow­er Tex­ans foun­da­tion of act­ing as a polit­i­cal com­mit­tee with­out dis­clos­ing its donors. Near­ly sev­en years lat­er, those com­plaints are still tied up in lit­i­ga­tion. Sul­li­van claims he does not have to reg­is­ter as a lob­by­ist, because he is a jour­nal­ist.

    Dur­ing a recent inter­view, Tru­itt, who now works as a lob­by­ist, was hes­i­tant to speak, still fear­ing the pow­er of Dunn’s orga­ni­za­tion. I asked her why Dunn and Empow­er Tex­ans spent so much time and mon­ey try­ing to break Straus’s lead­er­ship of the House. She hes­i­tat­ed, took a breath, and then said, “Because they can’t tell him what to do, and I think they real­ly have not liked [hav­ing] a Jew­ish Speak­er.”

    In Texas, the non­prof­its Dunn has set up move mon­ey from place to place, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to keep track of who is pay­ing for what. At the nation­al lev­el, Dunn has ties to a net­work of lib­er­tar­i­an-lean­ing mil­lion­aires whose polit­i­cal spend­ing is sim­i­lar­ly secre­tive.

    Two key U.S. Supreme Court deci­sions made that pos­si­ble. The first, NAACP v. Alaba­ma (1958), ruled that the con­sti­tu­tion­al right of free asso­ci­a­tion meant that the NAACP could keep its mem­ber­ship rolls pri­vate and there­fore refuse to turn them over to the state of Alaba­ma. More recent­ly, Cit­i­zens Unit­ed v. FEC (2010) over­turned large por­tions of fed­er­al cam­paign finance law while giv­ing cor­po­ra­tions and non­prof­its the right to par­tic­i­pate as indi­vid­u­als in elec­tions. While the court specif­i­cal­ly upheld laws requir­ing trans­paren­cy in polit­i­cal financ­ing, right-wing groups imme­di­ate­ly weaponized the decades-old NAACP rul­ing, argu­ing that they could with­hold the source of their fund­ing on the grounds that trans­paren­cy would vio­late their right of free asso­ci­a­tion.

    As a result, the amount of dark money—spending by orga­ni­za­tions that don’t dis­close their donors—in U.S. elec­tions has soared. Accord­ing to a study by the Cen­ter for Respon­sive Pol­i­tics, the amount of undis­closed spend­ing jumped from $5.2 mil­lion in 2006 to more than $178 mil­lion in 2016. “The pro­lif­er­a­tion of dark mon­ey in elec­tions absolute­ly has the poten­tial of play­ing a cor­rupt­ing role in democ­ra­cy,” says John Dun­bar, the chief exec­u­tive of the Cen­ter for Pub­lic Integri­ty, a non­prof­it jour­nal­ism orga­ni­za­tion. “Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we can’t say for sure, because we don’t know who is giv­ing how much to sup­port whom.”

    In Texas, Dunn had already set up a bifur­cat­ed sys­tem for Empow­er Tex­ans, with a pub­lic PAC and pri­vate foun­da­tions. Dunn and four wealthy oil fam­i­lies have open­ly donat­ed 95 per­cent of the $11.4 mil­lion raised by the Empow­er Tex­ans PAC since 2010. The two Empow­er Tex­ans foun­da­tions, by con­trast, have not report­ed the source of the $13.9 mil­lion they raised between 2010 and 2016. Empow­er Tex­ans, doing busi­ness as Tex­ans for Fis­cal Respon­si­bil­i­ty, is a non­prof­it that can spend mon­ey to affect elec­tions, and Empow­er Tex­ans is an issues edu­ca­tion­al foun­da­tion.

    Nation­al­ly, Dunn has affil­i­at­ed him­self with his Agen­da Wise cofounder Leslie Graves and her hus­band, Wis­con­sin investor and polit­i­cal activist Eric O’Keefe, and Tea Par­ty Patri­ots cofounder Mark Meck­ler. (Agen­da Wise no longer exists, but Dunn helps Graves direct Bal­lot­pe­dia, an infor­ma­tion­al polit­i­cal wiki that some­times puts an Empow­er Texans–style spin on the facts.) Graves, O’Keefe, and Meck­ler are all linked to the con­ser­v­a­tive net­work of high-dol­lar donors tied to lib­er­tar­i­an polit­i­cal heavy­weights Charles and David Koch. This cross-pol­li­na­tion between Dunn’s oper­a­tion and out-of-state groups began in earnest in 2010, the same year the tea par­ty took off and Texas Democ­rats suf­fered major defeats in the state’s leg­isla­tive elec­tions.

    For exam­ple, in 2011 a foun­da­tion called Donors Trust con­tributed $185,000 to the Empow­er Tex­ans edu­ca­tion­al foun­da­tion and $162,500 to Agen­da Wise—more than 90 per­cent of its oper­at­ing bud­get at a time when Graves was the chair, Sul­li­van the pres­i­dent, and Dunn a board mem­ber. Donors Trust, based in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, was set up in 1999 to “safe­guard the char­i­ta­ble intent of donors com­mit­ted to the prin­ci­ples of lim­it­ed gov­ern­ment, per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, and free enter­prise,” accord­ing to the trust’s web­site. Koch fam­i­ly foun­da­tions were major donors to the trust. “Donors Trust is basi­cal­ly a front for donors to right-wing caus­es who want to be anony­mous,” Dun­bar says.

    In 2014, when the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion was rais­ing mon­ey for its new build­ing, twelve dona­tions adding up to more than $554,000 flowed to it from Donors Trust—the kind of dona­tions that Dunn, by then serv­ing as TPPF’s vice chair­man, might be more like­ly to make than the Koch broth­ers.

    The web of finance can get dizzy­ing. Dur­ing the 2014 Texas elec­tions, one of Dunn’s non­prof­it foundations—Empower Tex­ans doing busi­ness under the name Tex­ans for Fis­cal Responsibility—disclosed spend­ing $1.5 mil­lion in dark mon­ey to influ­ence state leg­isla­tive races. And that was on top of the $4.7 mil­lion that the Empow­er Tex­ans PAC spent. If Empow­er Tex­ans has its way, this sort of thing will become even eas­i­er. In a three-year-old law­suit, the orga­ni­za­tion has demand­ed that state courts strip the already-tooth­less Texas Ethics Com­mis­sion of any abil­i­ty to reg­u­late cam­paign finance.

    Dunn’s largesse has not been con­fined to state races. Dur­ing this year’s elec­tions, he gave $2.2 mil­lion to the Sen­ate Reform Fund, a Super PAC run by Meck­ler that was sole­ly ded­i­cat­ed to defeat­ing the re-elec­tion bid of Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. Sen­a­tor Jon Tester of Mon­tana. Despite the mon­ey arrayed against him—and Pres­i­dent Trump’s vocal opposition—Tester won by a com­fort­able three-point mar­gin. The Sen­ate Reform Fund essen­tial­ly spent $8.98 on every vote against Tester, and lost.

    Along with O’Keefe and Hous­ton busi­ness­man Leo Lin­beck III, Dunn was also part of the Cam­paign for Pri­ma­ry Account­abil­i­ty, a super PAC that spent about $3 mil­lion and tar­get­ed fif­teen incumbents—eight Repub­li­cans and sev­en Democrats—in con­gres­sion­al pri­maries around the coun­try. It man­aged to defeat three Democ­rats and two Repub­li­cans. This spend­ing was not so much ide­o­log­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed as it was a tac­ti­cal demon­stra­tion project: because con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts are ger­ry­man­dered to strong­ly favor one par­ty, the CPA believes that the most effec­tive way to change gov­ern­ment is to knock out incum­bents in pri­ma­ry elec­tions. CPA want­ed to prove that this could be done. (As it hap­pened, one of the Democ­rats that CPA helped take down was El Paso incum­bent Sil­vestre Reyes—who was defeat­ed by a young and ambi­tious pol named Beto O’Rourke.)

    In an inter­view, Lin­beck praised Dunn for his intel­lect, his deter­mi­na­tion to trans­fer pow­er from Wash­ing­ton to state and local gov­ern­ments, and his desire to make politi­cians more account­able to cit­i­zens. “I nev­er got the sense that he was doing this for per­son­al self-aggran­dize­ment or per­son­al gain,” Lin­beck said.

    Per­haps Dunn’s most ambi­tious endeav­or is his attempt to rewrite the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. In 2010 Dunn, Sul­li­van, and O’Keefe start­ed yet anoth­er orga­ni­za­tion, Cit­i­zens for Self Gov­er­nance. Between 2010 and 2016, CSG raised $21.1 mil­lion, includ­ing $748,000 from Donors Trust. As part of its agen­da, CSG aims to call a con­ven­tion of the states to revise the Con­sti­tu­tion. In its pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als, CSG usu­al­ly claims that the con­ven­tion would address bal­anc­ing the fed­er­al bud­get and imple­ment­ing term lim­its for mem­bers of Con­gress. But its aims are broad­er than that. CSG wants to give states the pow­er to over­turn fed­er­al laws, such as envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, and Supreme Court deci­sions on issues like abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage. Though pulling off major changes in the Con­sti­tu­tion seems like the longest of long shots, the move­ment reflects the deep ani­mus against the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in right-wing cir­cles.

    CSG, like Dunn’s oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, has an evan­gel­i­cal side. Its web­site has a sec­tion titled “The Bible & Pol­i­tics,” which links to Wall­builders, a Chris­t­ian-right orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to pre­sent­ing Amer­i­can his­to­ry in a reli­gious con­text. Last year the head of CSG, Mark Meck­ler, explained in an inter­view on the Faith Radio Net­work that Chris­tian­i­ty “informs vir­tu­al­ly every­thing we do.”

    ...

    This year, Dunn and his net­work were in posi­tion to pro­found­ly increase their influ­ence in the Texas Leg­is­la­ture. Although can­di­dates backed by Empow­er Tex­ans had, since 2010, won slight­ly less than a third of the time, the group helped defeat five com­mit­tee chair­men who were allies of Speak­er Straus. And a sixth, Jim Kef­fer, of East­land, fend­ed off an Empow­er Tex­ans oppo­nent in 2014 only to see his seat fall under its con­trol when he retired in 2016. Mean­while, the Empow­er Tex­ans coali­tion defeat­ed sev­er­al main­stream Repub­li­cans in the state Sen­ate, giv­ing Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Patrick a near-absolute com­mand of the upper cham­ber. If it had picked up some key seats in the House in this year’s pri­maries, Dunn’s allies in the Leg­is­la­ture would have become a dom­i­nant pow­er at the Capi­tol. But Dunn and Sul­li­van went too far. A com­bi­na­tion of ques­tion­able tac­tics and angst in the busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty caused by Patrick’s bath­room bill cre­at­ed a back­lash against Empow­er Tex­ans and Texas Right to Life.

    One seem­ing­ly unlike­ly tar­get of those groups was Natal­ie Lacy Lange, of Bren­ham. Lange would seem to be the epit­o­me of a mod­ern, small-town Repub­li­can woman; she owns a pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness, attends church reg­u­lar­ly, and serves as the pres­i­dent of the local school board. Once a teacher her­self, Lange believes firm­ly that pub­lic schools are the future of a thriv­ing Texas work­force.

    On the Sat­ur­day before ear­ly vot­ing began in this year’s Repub­li­can pri­maries, pol­i­tics was far from Lange’s mind. She had spent part of the day play­ing with her sons—a first-grad­er and a three-year-old—and their new res­cue pup­py. That evening, after she’d put her sons to bed and was prepar­ing to watch a movie with her hus­band, a fel­low school board mem­ber texted Lange a pho­to­graph of a let­ter that had been sent to vot­ers in Bren­ham, head­ed, “Sub­ject: Is school board pres­i­dent Natal­ie Lange break­ing the law?”

    The let­ter, sent by Empow­er Tex­ans, ques­tioned whether Lange and the Bren­ham school board had vio­lat­ed state law by approv­ing a “Cul­ture of Vot­ing” res­o­lu­tion urg­ing stu­dents and teach­ers to vote. Empow­er Tex­ans claimed the res­o­lu­tion was pro­mot­ed by “lib­er­al activists” who might be ille­gal­ly using school dis­trict tax dol­lars to get stu­dents and teach­ers to vote against con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates.

    Lange had nev­er heard of Empow­er Tex­ans or Dunn, but being called a lib­er­al in Bren­ham could be a polit­i­cal kiss of death, even to some­one serv­ing in a non­par­ti­san posi­tion. How many of her neigh­bors now thought she was lib­er­al or per­haps a crim­i­nal? She was mor­ti­fied. At that moment, Lange felt very alone and a lit­tle bit fright­ened. Who would want to destroy her rep­u­ta­tion?

    She was not alone, though. Sim­i­lar let­ters had been sent out assail­ing school board pres­i­dents in Sealy, Ned­er­land, Mar­shall, and Cop­pell. The let­ters came on the heels of an ear­li­er one ask­ing teach­ers to “blow the whis­tle” on fel­low edu­ca­tors who might spend dis­trict mon­ey get­ting peo­ple to the polls to vote. Empow­er Tex­ans’ like­ly moti­va­tion was clear: though the orga­ni­za­tions that pro­mot­ed the vot­er dri­ve were non­par­ti­san, the dri­ve was fueled by teach­ers’ groups that were angry about the Legislature’s fail­ure to pass school finance reform and its attempt to cre­ate pri­vate school vouch­ers, for which many blamed Patrick and the Empow­er Tex­ans crowd.

    Edu­ca­tors across the state respond­ed to the mys­te­ri­ous let­ters by tak­ing to Twit­ter to cas­ti­gate Empow­er Tex­ans and cel­e­brate teach­ers who’d gone above and beyond for their stu­dents. One tweet read, “I just want to #blowthe­whis­tle on all my sup­port staff in my class­room that come in ear­ly, stay late and spend their own mon­ey help­ing me make sure our stu­dents have every­thing they need.” Anoth­er called out a spe­cif­ic teacher by name, “This amaz­ing teacher pours out her heart every­day into mak­ing learn­ing fun!” Some pulled at heart­strings: “@EmpowerTexans I’ve got to #blowthe­whis­tle on a teach­ing staff that has pro­vid­ed Christ­mas gifts for a student’s fam­i­ly who was in hard times, helped pay for a student’s med­ical bills, and buy shoes/clothing for stu­dents who need­ed it.” The tweet-sham­ing of Empow­er Tex­ans went on for days.

    After the Dal­las Morn­ing News pub­lished an edi­to­r­i­al crit­i­cal of Dunn and Empow­er Tex­ans’ tac­tics, Dunn respond­ed with an op-ed defend­ing the orga­ni­za­tion. Empow­er Tex­ans’ spend­ing in the pri­maries, he wrote, was minus­cule com­pared with the mon­ey that lob­by­ists and the busi­ness estab­lish­ment put into Texas pol­i­tics. “Most Tex­ans know there is a swamp in Austin as well as in DC,” Dunn wrote. “That’s why the con­cept of term lim­its is so pop­u­lar. But we have term lim­its in Texas: the pri­ma­ry elec­tions. If all of us out­siders stick togeth­er, we can drain the Austin Swamp.”

    Edu­ca­tors turned out to vote in those pri­maries, and main­stream Repub­li­can busi­ness orga­ni­za­tions poured more than $3 mil­lion into defeat­ing the social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive can­di­dates backed by Dunn’s net­work. Out of six­teen chal­lenges to House incum­bents, Empow­er Tex­ans knocked off only two and won just three of eight open races. The clos­est Sul­li­van came to admit­ting that his tac­tics had been a mis­take was at a con­ser­v­a­tive con­fer­ence this past sum­mer. “We’ve got­ten more right than we’ve got­ten wrong,” Sul­li­van said, “but don’t con­fuse being the least drunk per­son at the bar with being a mod­el of sobri­ety.”

    The day after the Empow­er Tex­ans let­ter arrived, rais­ing ques­tions about whether Lange had bro­ken the law, she met with her min­is­ter to pray for strength and then wrote angry respons­es to Dunn and Empow­er Tex­ans that she post­ed on Face­book, where they were wide­ly shared. Attack­ing vol­un­teer school board mem­bers with “slick pro­pa­gan­da meant to stir false dis­cord sinks to a new low,” she wrote, “even for an orga­ni­za­tion known for ruth­less­ness and bul­ly­ing.”

    “It’s dan­ger­ous to our democ­ra­cy,” Lange told me when we met in the Bren­ham School Dis­trict offices in April. “[Dunn] may be a Chris­t­ian, but his tac­tics are not very Christ­like.” Lange has a com­mand­ing pres­ence and self-assur­ance. She was still indig­nant about the attack on her integri­ty. When I asked her if she had any­thing to say to Dunn, she replied, “How do you sleep at night?”

    ...

    ———–

    “The Pow­er Issue: Tim Dunn Is Push­ing the Repub­li­can Par­ty Into the Arms of God” by R.G. Rat­cliffe; Texas Month­ly; Decem­ber 2018

    Dunn is prob­a­bly the most influ­en­tial donor oper­at­ing in Texas today. Since 2002, he has giv­en at least $9.3 mil­lion in pub­licly report­ed cam­paign dona­tions to Texas politi­cians. Fed­er­al can­di­dates and super PACs have received $3.2 mil­lion of Dunn’s mon­ey since 2010. Quite like­ly, a sim­i­lar amount of his mon­ey has flowed in obscu­ri­ty, through a maze of non­prof­it foun­da­tions, some of which he con­trols and many of which hide their true iden­ti­ty and nev­er report their donors.”

    Dunn was prob­a­bly the most influ­en­tial donor oper­a­tion in Texas in 2018 when this Texas Month­ly report was first pub­lished. And there’s no indi­ca­tion that influ­ence has waned. In oth­er words, Dunn is arguably the most influ­en­tial per­son in Texas pol­i­tics today. And he’s a theo­crat­ic lunatic. The kind of theo­crat who does­n’t think Jews or any non-Chris­tians should even be allowed to have lead­er­ship roles in the soci­ety he is try­ing to form. Yes, Dunn actu­al­ly told the Jew­ish Repub­li­can Speak­er of the Texas House that only Chris­tians should be in lead­er­ship posi­tions. Pre­sum­ably fel­low Chris­tians who, like Dunn, insists the earth is only a few thou­sand years old:

    ...
    With plates of eggs before them, Dunn and Straus sat at a table in the Speaker’s Con­fer­ence Room, sur­round­ed by dark pecan pan­el­ing, Audubon prints, and pho­tographs of Straus fam­i­ly mem­bers pos­ing with George H. W. Bush (a friend of Straus’s moth­er) and U.S. sen­a­tor John Tow­er. Dunn nev­er lift­ed his fork. He didn’t seem inter­est­ed in hear­ing what the Speak­er had to say. But he did have an agen­da. He demand­ed that Straus remove a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of com­mit­tee chairs and replace them with tea par­ty activists sup­port­ed by Empow­er Tex­ans. Straus refused. Then the con­ver­sa­tion moved on to evan­gel­i­cal social pol­i­cy, and, accord­ing to Straus insid­ers, Dunn aston­ished Straus, who is Jew­ish, by say­ing that only Chris­tians should be in lead­er­ship posi­tions.

    After the meet­ing, a stunned Straus told aides that he had nev­er been spo­ken to in that way. Though Straus’s aides con­sid­ered the state­ment anti-Semit­ic, it was more like­ly an expres­sion of Dunn’s pro-evan­gel­i­cal­ism. In ser­mons and oth­er pub­lic state­ments, Dunn has assert­ed a belief that born-again evan­gel­i­cals who fol­low bib­li­cal laws are graced by God and giv­en a duty of polit­i­cal lead­er­ship. “If you are an evan­gel­i­cal and you don’t vote, that means you are not doing your duty because you are the ones that God gave the author­i­ty to,” Dunn once said.

    “The real bib­li­cal approach to gov­ern­ment is—the ide­al is—a king­dom with a per­fect king,” Dunn told a Chris­t­ian radio audi­ence in 2016. (Dunn begins speak­ing 58 min­utes into the video.) “But pend­ing that, yes, the ide­al is a self-gov­ern­ing soci­ety.” Dunn’s notion of self-gov­ern­ment, though, is dif­fer­ent from that of most Amer­i­cans. He has stat­ed repeat­ed­ly that our democ­ra­cy must be brought into line with bib­li­cal laws. When sec­u­lar gov­ern­ments stray from the Ten Com­mand­ments and try to make their own rules, he says, “you have a false per­fect gov­ern­ment with a false mes­si­ah.”

    ...

    “Noth­ing comes easy to West Texas,” for­mer first lady Bar­bara Bush once said of liv­ing in the Per­mi­an Basin. “Every tree must be cul­ti­vat­ed, and every flower is a joy.” It’s a harsh envi­ron­ment where sand creeps under the barbed-wire fences and across the road­ways, ever threat­en­ing to erase civ­i­liza­tion. Here, the fleet­ing nature of life is evi­dent and reli­gion blooms. But beneath the brown desert lies an ancient seabed con­tain­ing some of the rich­est oil and gas deposits on earth. Oil is the rea­son peo­ple live there. With each boom, the rough­necks and geol­o­gists and petro­le­um engi­neers come; with each bust, most of them leave. The oil­men remain, hav­ing con­vert­ed some of those fos­sil fuels into gold.

    Amid this aus­tere land­scape, Dunn embraced evan­gel­i­cal faith and made a for­tune financ­ing wells to extract oil that he once told a British jour­nal­ist was deposit­ed beneath the earth’s sur­face by God a mere 4,000 years ago, not the 200 mil­lion years as deter­mined by earth sci­ence. He has been through boom and bust and has joked that Mid­land is “the eas­i­est place to lose mon­ey that you can ever imag­ine.”

    ...

    It’s a polit­i­cal influ­ence empire. But it did­n’t pop up overnight. Dunn has been build­ing his influ­ence for decades. In 1998, he joined the board of the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion (TPPF), found­ed by CNP mem­ber James Leininger. Recall how for­mer TPPF pres­i­dent and CNP mem­ber Kevin Roberts went on to become the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion. The TPPF is a sig­nif­i­cant polit­i­cal force, and not just in Texas. Dunn still serves as the TPPF Vice Chair­man. But it was 2006 when Dunn formed Empow­er Tex­ans, which has turned into one of main vehi­cles for exert­ing Dun­n’s polit­i­cal influ­ence. By 2018, the major­i­ty of the seats in the Repub­li­can cau­cus in the Texas Sen­ate were con­trolled by Empow­er Tex­ans and TPPF:

    ...
    In 2006 he opposed a Texas tax reform pro­pos­al to cut prop­er­ty tax­es and off­set those loss­es by expand­ing the state busi­ness tax to include part­ner­ships, such as those used by doc­tors, lawyers, and oil com­pa­nies that finance wells through investors. He showed up at a hear­ing of the Texas Tax Reform Com­mis­sion in Mid­land and pre­sent­ed a 22-page report in which he argued that school prop­er­ty tax­es could be not just reduced but com­plete­ly elim­i­nat­ed in sev­en­teen years. He assert­ed that this could be done with­out rais­ing busi­ness tax­es if the state increased its share of spend­ing on pub­lic schools by draw­ing on sur­plus state tax rev­enue and restrict­ing spend­ing increas­es to no more than what was need­ed to keep up with pop­u­la­tion growth and infla­tion. Leg­is­la­tors passed their own pro­pos­al, but Dunn’s idea became dog­ma for con­ser­v­a­tive prop­er­ty tax oppo­nents. The Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­v­a­tive think tank where Dunn serves as vice chair­man, is push­ing the Leg­is­la­ture to adopt a ver­sion of the plan when it meets in 2019.

    It’s not clear what impact the 2006 tax reform has had on Crown­Quest; oil pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies and roy­al­ty own­ers were hit with new tax pay­ments, but these were sup­posed to be off­set by cuts in the tax­es paid on oil and gas prop­er­ties. (In 2017 Crown­Quest owned more than $2 mil­lion in tax­able real estate in five West Texas coun­ties.) When the tax reform passed, Dunn was unhap­py that the new busi­ness tax had been negotiated—as he saw it—behind closed doors by lob­by­ists doing what was best for their clients rather than the cit­i­zens at large. In short, inter­est groups had a seat at the table. It was then that he formed Empow­er Tex­ans, giv­ing his direc­tor Sul­li­van a clear direc­tive: “I don’t want you to get a seat at the table. I want you to get rid of the table.”

    But though it was born as an anti-tax orga­ni­za­tion, Empow­er Tex­ans would soon advo­cate for social­ly con­ser­v­a­tive posi­tions, in keep­ing with the evan­gel­i­cal reli­gion that has been the oth­er pil­lar of Dunn’s world­view.

    ...

    In 1998, short­ly after launch­ing Mid­land Clas­si­cal Acad­e­my, Dunn joined the board of the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion, which was found­ed by James Leininger, an advo­cate of law­suit reform and pri­vate school vouch­ers. Leininger, a San Anto­nio physi­cian turned busi­ness­man who, since 2000, has giv­en $10.3 mil­lion to con­ser­v­a­tive Texas can­di­dates and polit­i­cal com­mit­tees, is the Repub­li­can megadonor Dunn bears the most sim­i­lar­i­ty to.

    Long­time Texas Capi­tol observ­er Har­vey Kro­n­berg, the own­er of the Quo­rum Report polit­i­cal newslet­ter, says that the biggest dif­fer­ence between the two mil­lion­aires is that Leininger’s ambi­tions seem more mod­est: Leininger want­ed to pass pri­vate school vouch­ers, and when his vouch­er push died in the 2007 Leg­is­la­ture, he start­ed to with­draw from fund­ing Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry races. “He was a sin­gle-issue guy,” Kro­n­berg said. “With Tim Dunn, it’s a more per­va­sive lib­er­tar­i­an-style phi­los­o­phy, per­haps an extreme small-gov­ern­ment phi­los­o­phy.” And since the 2010 elec­tion cycle, when Empow­er Tex­ans ral­lied with local tea par­ty groups, Dunn has been con­nect­ed to a potent base of activists. “They’ve mas­tered social net­work­ing, and they’ve got a vol­un­teer cadre out there,” Kro­n­berg said. “They’re play­ing every­thing from bond elec­tions to school board elec­tions.”

    Ever since the rise of the cell­phone and inter­net broad­casts of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the gallery of the Texas House has been less crowd­ed with lob­by­ists than it once was; nowa­days, lob­by­ists can sit in their offices on Con­gress Avenue and call a mem­ber direct­ly if they wish to prompt a vote. But Michael Quinn Sul­li­van, Dunn’s right-hand man, is often at the Capi­tol, gath­er­ing his leg­isla­tive allies into a gag­gle out­side the cham­ber. He is a law­mak­er whis­per­er, advis­ing mem­bers of the House Free­dom Cau­cus—a bloc of hard-line conservatives—on how to vote and what amend­ments to offer.

    ...

    Empow­er Tex­ans pro­duces tip sheets telling leg­is­la­tors how to vote, and then, come elec­tion time, Sul­li­van, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Texas Right to Life pres­i­dent Jim Gra­ham, pro­duces leg­is­la­tor score­cards to sway vot­er opin­ion. The score­cards are so mis­lead­ing that they have been denounced by the Texas Catholic Con­fer­ence of Bish­ops, the Tex­ans for Life Coali­tion, and the Texas Alliance for Life. Law­mak­ers allied with Empow­er Tex­ans intro­duce hot-but­ton bills and amend­ments “just for the pur­pose of their score­card, know­ing that the peo­ple who aren’t just lick­ing their boots all the time are going to vote against them,” says Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Char­lie Geren, a Fort Worth busi­ness­man and Repub­li­can who has often been a tar­get of Empow­er Tex­ans because of his sup­port for Straus as Speak­er.

    Spin is noth­ing new in pol­i­tics. Yet Dunn, Sul­li­van, and Empow­er Tex­ans car­ry spin to an extreme, label­ing any Repub­li­can politi­cian who doesn’t fol­low Empow­er Tex­ans’ direc­tions as “lib­er­al” or part of the “Austin estab­lish­ment” or a RINO—a Repub­li­can in name only.

    ...

    The com­bi­na­tion of dark mon­ey and hard­ball tac­tics has had a defin­ing impact on state pol­i­tics. “Here’s where things become omi­nous, as Empow­er Tex­ans and TPPF fig­ure out what polit­i­cal pow­er they can buy,” Seliger said. “Empow­er Tex­ans has a 501(c)(4) [an IRS-des­ig­nat­ed non­prof­it that can par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics], so they don’t have to tell where the mon­ey came from. And right now, the major­i­ty of the seats in the Repub­li­can cau­cus in the Sen­ate are con­trolled by Empow­er Tex­ans and TPPF.”
    ...

    And who do we find as two of the biggest recip­i­ents of Empow­er Tex­an­s’s polit­i­cal sup­port? Dan Patrick and Ken Pax­ton. These are Dun­n’s polit­i­cal crea­tures:

    ...
    Dunn is a pow­er­ful fig­ure in the ongo­ing strug­gle for the soul of the Repub­li­can par­ty, a fight that has been waged for years between the fis­cal con­ser­v­a­tives who built the mod­ern par­ty and the social con­ser­v­a­tives who want to claim it. He is rarely the pub­lic face of these efforts, pre­fer­ring instead to use his mon­ey and influ­ence behind the scenes. For more than a decade, Empow­er Texans—which encom­pass­es a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee and two foun­da­tions, all named Empow­er Texans—has chal­lenged Repub­li­can incum­bents in par­ty pri­maries, often using ques­tion­able meth­ods to sul­ly its tar­gets’ rep­u­ta­tions.

    Dur­ing the 2014 elec­tions, the Empow­er Tex­ans PAC spent $4.7 mil­lion to affect state elec­tions, includ­ing almost $2 mil­lion in loans and con­tri­bu­tions to two can­di­dates, now Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton and Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor Dan Patrick. While Dunn’s allies have yet to seize con­trol of the House, their takeover of the Sen­ate Repub­li­can Cau­cus empow­ered Patrick to pri­or­i­tize gen­der-spe­cif­ic bath­room leg­is­la­tion over pub­lic school finance issues and prop­er­ty tax reform.
    ...

    And as an indi­ca­tion of Dun­n’s ties to the larg­er CNP net­work of theocrats, notice how, before he start­ed Empow­er Tex­ans in 2006, he joined the board of direc­tors of the Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion of Plano in the ear­ly 90s, which was orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed to oper­ate as the Texas chap­ter of Focus on the Fam­i­ly, the group found­ed by CNP found­ing mem­ber James Dob­son. Oth­er Focus on the Fam­i­ly CNP mem­bers include Tim Goe­glein, Tom Min­nery, Faye Bott, and Kevin B. Brown. Beyond that, Dunn remained on the board of the Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion after CNP mem­ber Kel­ly Shack­elford took over the lead­er­ship. Recall how House Speak­er Mike John­son has called Shack­elford his per­son­al men­tor. Whether or not Dun­n’s name shows up on the CNP’s leaked mem­ber­ship lists, he’s obvi­ous­ly a close fel­low trav­el­er:

    ...
    There are more Protes­tants in Mid­land than mem­bers of any oth­er faith, and evan­gel­i­cals out­num­ber main­line Protes­tants by a fac­tor of five to one. Dunn and his wife attend the non­de­nom­i­na­tion­al Mid­land Bible Church, where the Bible is viewed as inspired by God and with­out error. Along with sev­er­al oth­er fam­i­lies, they home­schooled their chil­dren; the old­er ones fol­lowed a course of instruc­tion that Dunn cre­at­ed, in which they would read great works of lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy and then be chal­lenged to square their read­ings with the Bible. At the urg­ing of friends, in 1998 Dunn turned that cur­ricu­lum into the basis for the pri­vate and unac­cred­it­ed Mid­land Clas­si­cal Acad­e­my. “It’s our job to give the kids a faith cri­sis every day and then lead them to what the true answer is and let them decide,” Dunn says in a pro­mo­tion­al video for the school.

    For Dunn, the inter­twin­ing of lib­er­tar­i­an ideas with Chris­t­ian-con­ser­v­a­tive ones didn’t start with Empow­er Tex­ans. His ear­li­est-known for­ay into state pol­i­tics, in the ear­ly nineties, was join­ing the board of direc­tors of the Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion of Plano, which before that had been called Chris­t­ian Cit­i­zens Inc. Found­ed by a retired real estate bro­ker named Richard Ford, it was intend­ed to oper­ate as the Texas chap­ter of Focus on the Fam­i­ly, a nation­al social-con­ser­v­a­tive advo­ca­cy group. Dur­ing Dunn’s ear­ly time on the board, the foun­da­tion trav­eled around Texas, teach­ing men how to become bet­ter par­ents through Christ and help­ing physi­cians prac­tice med­i­cine in a god­ly man­ner.

    In a recent inter­view, Ford fond­ly recalled the time he spent with Dunn. “He is very intel­li­gent. He has a very strong—very, very strong—spiritual com­mit­ment,” Ford said. “That’s his total moti­va­tion.” Ford said Dunn believes gov­ern­ment has improp­er­ly med­dled in mat­ters of faith and that the coun­try is in spir­i­tu­al decline.

    The Free Mar­ket Foun­da­tion por­trayed itself as con­cerned with eco­nom­ic lib­er­ty but usu­al­ly aligned itself with groups like the Chris­t­ian Coali­tion and the Eagle Forum, oppos­ing gay rights and sup­port­ing the restora­tion of pub­lic school–sponsored prayer. Anoth­er hall­mark of Free Mar­ket, which Dunn would lat­er deploy at Empow­er Tex­ans, was vot­ing score­cards that allowed evan­gel­i­cals to rate can­di­dates for reelec­tion based on how much sup­port they’d giv­en to social-con­ser­v­a­tive caus­es.

    ...

    Dunn remained on the Free Mar­ket board after a young lawyer named Kel­ly Shack­elford took over Ford’s posi­tion and the foun­da­tion changed its name to the First Lib­er­ty Insti­tute. Under Shack­elford, the foun­da­tion shift­ed its focus to coor­di­nat­ing legal chal­lenges to per­ceived gov­ern­ment inter­fer­ence in reli­gious mat­ters. One of its best-known cas­es in Texas is a court vic­to­ry that allowed cheer­lead­ers in the small East Texas town of Kountze to paint reli­gious vers­es on spir­it ban­ners for the foot­ball teams. Although First Lib­er­ty clients have includ­ed the Falun Gong and Ortho­dox Jews, most of them are evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians.
    ...

    Beyond that, there’s Dun­n’s close ties to CNP mem­ber Mark Meck­ler, of the key fig­ures behind the Con­ven­tion of States (COS) push to imple­ment a far right over­haul of the US Con­sti­tu­tion. Dunn co-found­ed Cit­i­zens for Self-Gov­er­nance (CSG), which is the group that actu­al­ly runs the COS project. Yes, Tim Dunn is one of key fig­ures behind the COS scheme, along with peo­ple like Meck­ler and fel­low CNP mem­ber Michael Far­ris. Again, if Dunn isn’t a secret CNP mem­ber, he’s a very close ally:

    ...
    Per­haps Dunn’s most ambi­tious endeav­or is his attempt to rewrite the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion. In 2010 Dunn, Sul­li­van, and O’Keefe start­ed yet anoth­er orga­ni­za­tion, Cit­i­zens for Self Gov­er­nance. Between 2010 and 2016, CSG raised $21.1 mil­lion, includ­ing $748,000 from Donors Trust. As part of its agen­da, CSG aims to call a con­ven­tion of the states to revise the Con­sti­tu­tion. In its pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als, CSG usu­al­ly claims that the con­ven­tion would address bal­anc­ing the fed­er­al bud­get and imple­ment­ing term lim­its for mem­bers of Con­gress. But its aims are broad­er than that. CSG wants to give states the pow­er to over­turn fed­er­al laws, such as envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, and Supreme Court deci­sions on issues like abor­tion and same-sex mar­riage. Though pulling off major changes in the Con­sti­tu­tion seems like the longest of long shots, the move­ment reflects the deep ani­mus against the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment in right-wing cir­cles.

    CSG, like Dunn’s oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, has an evan­gel­i­cal side. Its web­site has a sec­tion titled “The Bible & Pol­i­tics,” which links to Wall­builders, a Chris­t­ian-right orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to pre­sent­ing Amer­i­can his­to­ry in a reli­gious con­text. Last year the head of CSG, Mark Meck­ler, explained in an inter­view on the Faith Radio Net­work that Chris­tian­i­ty “informs vir­tu­al­ly every­thing we do.”
    ...

    Final­ly, note anoth­er one of the ‘usu­al sus­pects’ fuel­ing this influ­ence ped­dling net­work: Donors Trust, the pri­ma­ry dark mon­ey vehi­cle for the Koch net­work. Tim Dunn may have built the most pow­er­ful influ­ence ped­dling net­work in Texas, but he did­n’t build it alone:

    ...
    Nation­al­ly, Dunn has affil­i­at­ed him­self with his Agen­da Wise cofounder Leslie Graves and her hus­band, Wis­con­sin investor and polit­i­cal activist Eric O’Keefe, and Tea Par­ty Patri­ots cofounder Mark Meck­ler. (Agen­da Wise no longer exists, but Dunn helps Graves direct Bal­lot­pe­dia, an infor­ma­tion­al polit­i­cal wiki that some­times puts an Empow­er Texans–style spin on the facts.) Graves, O’Keefe, and Meck­ler are all linked to the con­ser­v­a­tive net­work of high-dol­lar donors tied to lib­er­tar­i­an polit­i­cal heavy­weights Charles and David Koch. This cross-pol­li­na­tion between Dunn’s oper­a­tion and out-of-state groups began in earnest in 2010, the same year the tea par­ty took off and Texas Democ­rats suf­fered major defeats in the state’s leg­isla­tive elec­tions.

    For exam­ple, in 2011 a foun­da­tion called Donors Trust con­tributed $185,000 to the Empow­er Tex­ans edu­ca­tion­al foun­da­tion and $162,500 to Agen­da Wise—more than 90 per­cent of its oper­at­ing bud­get at a time when Graves was the chair, Sul­li­van the pres­i­dent, and Dunn a board mem­ber. Donors Trust, based in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, was set up in 1999 to “safe­guard the char­i­ta­ble intent of donors com­mit­ted to the prin­ci­ples of lim­it­ed gov­ern­ment, per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, and free enter­prise,” accord­ing to the trust’s web­site. Koch fam­i­ly foun­da­tions were major donors to the trust. “Donors Trust is basi­cal­ly a front for donors to right-wing caus­es who want to be anony­mous,” Dun­bar says.

    In 2014, when the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion was rais­ing mon­ey for its new build­ing, twelve dona­tions adding up to more than $554,000 flowed to it from Donors Trust—the kind of dona­tions that Dunn, by then serv­ing as TPPF’s vice chair­man, might be more like­ly to make than the Koch broth­ers..
    ...

    And, of course, when we’re talk­ing about groups like the CSG and COS, we aren’t just talk­ing about Texas. These are groups with nation­al ambi­tions. Tim Dunn isn’t just Tex­as­’s theo­crat­ic headache. He’s got big­ger ambi­tions. And many fel­low trav­el­ers. Some of those fel­low trav­el­ers are focused on Texas. Some on DC. And some, like Nick Fuentes, are focused on rais­ing the kind of youth armies of Nazi thugs are will be required to pro­vide the street mus­cle and threat of vio­lence need­ed to cement Dun­n’s vision in place when the time comes. A time that is pre­sum­ably com­ing soon­er rather than lat­er, in Dun­n’s esti­ma­tion. And he should know.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 11, 2023, 10:21 pm
  9. The Unit­ed States is no stronger to being a democ­ra­cy in name only, efec­tive­ly speak­ing. And yet it’s hard to ignore the accel­er­at­ing trans­for­ma­tion of the US from a covert­ly cor­rupt­ed oli­garchy into quite an overt one. Heck, that trans­for­ma­tion into an overt author­i­tar­i­an style of gov­ern­ment is more or less what Don­ald Trump is cam­paign­ing on in his 2024 reelec­tion cam­paign. But that author­i­tar­i­an lurch is far from a Trump exclu­sive. The pow­er­ful Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy (CNP) is deeply involved with those evolv­ing plans for author­i­tar­i­an rule, and well posi­tioned to make it a real­i­ty should Trump — or any oth­er Repub­li­can — win in 2024, thanks in large part to a far right Supreme Court major­i­ty seem­ing­ly will­ing to make real­i­ty the CNP’s vision for a form of theo­crat­ic fas­cism. Amer­i­cans are, quite sim­ply, expect­ed to get used to gov­ern­ment by theocrats. At least that’s pre­sum­ably the long term plan giv­en that a com­plete cap­ture of soci­ety is also part of the plan.

    But no one said cap­tur­ing a plu­ral­is­tic democ­ra­cy and putting it under your theo­crat­ic thumb would be easy. As a result, we are get­ting reports like the fol­low­ing Politi­co arti­cle about some rather sig­nif­i­cant warn­ings to Repub­li­cans com­ing from some unex­pect­ed sources. Warn­ings about the polit­i­cal death trap Repub­li­cans might be walk­ing into over the pol­i­tics of not just abor­tion but con­tra­cep­tion. As we’ve seen with the stun­ning treat­ment of a preg­nant woman fac­ing a non-viable preg­nan­cy by Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton and the Texas Supreme Court, the GOP can’t seem to help itself, in part, because the CNP runs much of the par­ty and the CNP can’t seem to help itself either. The CNP isn’t just an elit­ist orga­ni­za­tion. It’s an extrem­ist elit­ist orga­ni­za­tion with some very unpop­u­lar views of how the world should oper­ate that it intends on impos­ing on the pub­lic whether it likes it or not. Domin­ion­ism isn’t exact­ly inter­est­ed in what’s pop­u­lar, after all.

    And that brings us to the group of con­ser­v­a­tives sound­ing an alarm about the stun­ning­ly low lev­els of sup­port among even con­ser­v­a­tive vot­ers for an issue that the CNP can’t pos­si­bly resist impos­ing its will upon: con­tra­cep­tion. It turns out access to con­tra­cep­tion is extreme­ly pop­u­lar across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. So pop­u­lar that a recent poll found that near­ly half of con­ser­v­a­tive women “would con­sid­er vot­ing for a can­di­date from a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal par­ty” if Repub­li­cans back birth con­trol restric­tions. A poll car­ried out by none oth­er than Kellyanne Con­way’s polling firm. Con­way, along with lob­by­ist Susan Hirschmann and Inde­pen­dent Women’s Voice CEO Heather Hig­gins, are now going pub­lic with their warn­ing to con­ser­v­a­tives about the tox­ic nature of restrict­ing access to con­tra­cep­tion. It’s quite a find­ing, made all the more sig­nif­i­cant by the fact that Con­way and Heather Hig­gins both show up on the leaked CNP mem­ber­ship list. Susan Hirschman­n’s name does­n’t show up the mem­ber­ship lists, but she did used to work as Chief of Staff for for­mer Repub­li­can House Major­i­ty Leader Tom DeLay, him­self a CNP mem­ber. So this is kind of an intra-CNP mes­sage we’re all get­ting exposed to here.

    It points towards what will pre­sum­ably be one of major chal­lenges for this big author­i­tar­i­an push we see the CNP and MAGA forces prep­ping for fol­low­ing the next elec­tion. Because it’s hard enough for a minor­i­ty par­ty to impose an agen­da on a nation that is at least pop­u­lar with the par­ty’s base. But it’s anoth­er thing when even the author­i­tar­i­an base isn’t on board with the plan.

    How is the CNP plan­ning on thread­ing that nee­dle? Con­way has a pro­pos­al: the GOP needs to advo­cate for greater access to con­tra­cep­tives. A rea­son­able sound­ing plan, until you learn that almost all of the GOP vot­ed down the Right to Con­tra­cep­tion Act that passed the House in July of 2022 but was ulti­mate­ly blocked by Repub­li­cans in the Sen­ate.

    Now, it is the case that Repub­li­cans have already pro­posed a bill that would do a lit­tle bit to expand over-the-counter access to oral con­tra­cep­tion, the OTC (Oral­ly-Tak­en Con­tra­cep­tive) Act. The bill was even co-spon­sored by Rep Mar­jorie Tay­lor-Greene, which some sus­pect was due to the fact that the bill would­n’t expand access to Plan B, which Greene has pre­vi­ous­ly decried as an abor­ti­fa­cient that “kills a baby in the womb once a woman is already preg­nant.” It’s the kind of bill that feels like an attempt to threat a polit­i­cal nee­dle. And yet it ‘s not clear that will actu­al­ly hap­pen, with a 2022 poll show­ing 62 per­cent of con­ser­v­a­tives sup­port­ing “emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion like Plan B.”

    The GOP’s pol­i­tics around abor­tion and con­tra­cep­tion aren’t just unpop­u­lar. They’re even more unpop­u­lar than many con­ser­v­a­tive lead­ers expect­ed in the post Dobbs polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment. In fact, con­ser­v­a­tive vot­ers even came out over­whelm­ing­ly in sup­port of access to con­tra­cep­tives regard­less of the cost. As Con­way put it, “I’ve been doing this for over three decades and I’m very sur­prised that over 8 in 10 inde­pen­dents and over 8 in 10 pro-lif­ers would agree with that...Because some peo­ple say: ‘You may have a right to con­tra­cep­tion but why am I pay­ing for it?’ That’s the clas­sic lib­er­tar­i­an argu­ment.” Yes, con­ser­v­a­tive vot­ers appear to back gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies to con­tra­cep­tives at the same time con­ser­v­a­tives are talk­ing about even more abor­tion restric­tion.

    And now the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that could end nation­al access to the ‘abor­tion pill’ Mifepri­s­tone. The case, of course, was brought by the CNP-backed Alliance Defend­ing Free­dom (ADF). The same group House Speak­er Mike John­son worked for as a lawyer for a num­ber of years. That’s all part of the con­text of what amounts to an intra-CNP debate over how to thread this author­i­tar­i­an nee­dle:

    Politi­co

    Con­tra­cep­tion is a win­ning issue, con­ser­v­a­tive strate­gists tell GOP

    For­mer Trump con­fi­dante Kellyanne Con­way and oth­er strate­gists are cit­ing poll data show­ing strong demand among GOP vot­ers for birth con­trol after the fall of Roe.

    By Alice Miran­da Oll­stein
    12/13/2023 05:00 AM EST

    Kellyanne Con­way is going to Capi­tol Hill on Wednes­day with a mes­sage for Repub­li­cans: pro­mote con­tra­cep­tion or risk defeat in 2024.

    The for­mer senior coun­selor and cam­paign man­ag­er for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is part of a group set to brief Repub­li­cans on how they might get ahead of Democ­rats’ attacks that the GOP is anti-woman by talk­ing more about pro­tect­ing con­tra­cep­tion and less about ban­ning abor­tion.

    The vis­it comes as GOP pres­i­den­tial and con­gres­sion­al can­di­dates have strug­gled to craft a salient mes­sage on the fall­out from the Supreme Court over­turn­ing Roe v. Wade.

    Trump him­self has blamed anti-abor­tion groups and the strict laws they sup­port for elec­toral defeats in 2022 and 2023. And sev­er­al promi­nent con­ser­v­a­tives have implored Repub­li­cans in the post-Roe era to focus on issues such as con­tra­cep­tion and mater­nal care to improve per­cep­tion of the GOP’s approach to women’s health as Democ­rats have wield­ed the issue to notch sev­er­al elec­tion wins.

    Con­way, lob­by­ist Susan Hirschmann and Inde­pen­dent Women’s Voice CEO Heather Hig­gins hope to back up these calls with fresh polling data. On Wednes­day, they plan to meet with GOP mem­bers and staff in the House and Sen­ate, as well as the Repub­li­can cam­paign arms fight­ing to hold the House and flip the Sen­ate, to warn that if they don’t talk about birth con­trol and work to make it more acces­si­ble, they risk los­ing vot­ers and con­firm­ing argu­ments from the left that the par­ty that out­lawed abor­tion in much of the coun­try is com­ing next for con­tra­cep­tion.

    Mean­ing­ful action on con­tra­cep­tion, they argue, could help Repub­li­cans with their own base and with Democ­rats dis­sat­is­fied with Pres­i­dent Joe Biden.

    “You’ve got a fair num­ber of Democ­rats say­ing that they want an alter­na­tive to Biden and Har­ris, or they may sit it out,” Con­way said in an inter­view. “He’s espe­cial­ly bleed­ing young vot­ers, who you would think would be ani­mat­ed and inter­est­ed to hear about [con­tra­cep­tion], and who are in the prime of their years and choos­ing to con­ceive or not to con­ceive.”

    The group will share polling com­mis­sioned by Inde­pen­dent Women’s Voice and con­duct­ed by KA Con­sult­ing, Conway’s firm, that shows over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port — includ­ing from Repub­li­cans and peo­ple who iden­ti­fy as “pro-life” — for poli­cies that make con­tra­cep­tion cheap­er and more avail­able, includ­ing implantable long-act­ing ver­sions like IUDs that some con­ser­v­a­tives view as akin to abor­tion.

    ...

    “Repub­li­cans are like your uncle, who real­ly loves you and loves the women in his fam­i­ly, but he’s bad about show­ing it,” Hig­gins said in an inter­view. “It’s just not in their nat­ur­al vocab­u­lary. And we’re try­ing to help them learn how to make this be more part of their vocab­u­lary and tell them that they need to talk about these things that their con­stituents all sup­port, and be more vis­i­ble and vocal.”

    None of the group brief­ing mem­bers on the poll are work­ing for any pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Con­way, a Fox News con­trib­u­tor, remains friend­ly and in con­tact with Trump but has no for­mal role in his White House bid, accord­ing to a per­son close to both her and the cam­paign.

    The long­time GOP poll­ster told POLITICO that while it’s no shock that con­tra­cep­tion is pop­u­lar, par­tic­u­lar­ly as states move to out­law most abor­tions, she was struck by some of the poll results, includ­ing how many con­ser­v­a­tives believe Con­gress should ensure access to con­tra­cep­tion regard­less of cost.

    “I’ve been doing this for over three decades and I’m very sur­prised that over 8 in 10 inde­pen­dents and over 8 in 10 pro-lif­ers would agree with that,” she said. “Because some peo­ple say: ‘You may have a right to con­tra­cep­tion but why am I pay­ing for it?’ That’s the clas­sic lib­er­tar­i­an argu­ment.”

    Con­way plans to tell Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­cans that they “will lose pre­cious polit­i­cal cur­ren­cy and votes” if they do noth­ing or take steps to put con­tra­cep­tion fur­ther out of reach — point­ing to the poll’s find­ing that near­ly half of con­ser­v­a­tive women “would con­sid­er vot­ing for a can­di­date from a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal par­ty” if Repub­li­cans back birth con­trol restric­tions.

    But pro­gres­sives prepar­ing for bat­tles in 2024 to hold the Sen­ate and White House are skep­ti­cal Repub­li­cans can cast them­selves as cham­pi­ons of birth con­trol head­ing into 2024.

    “It won’t work,” said Sara Spain, the spokesper­son for the group EMILYS List, which funds and coach­es can­di­dates who sup­port repro­duc­tive rights. “Actions speak loud­er than words and vot­ers know which law­mak­ers stand with the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans and which don’t. So efforts like this attempt­ed rebrand won’t do much, because we’ve all seen their record and we’ve seen they are will­ing to ban abor­tion and con­tra­cep­tion.”

    Orga­ni­za­tions like EMILYS List plan to keep that record firm­ly on vot­ers’ radar going into next year.

    For exam­ple, House Repub­li­cans’ spend­ing bills, set to come up for a vote ear­ly next year, would elim­i­nate fund­ing for the Title X fam­i­ly plan­ning pro­gram and the Teen Preg­nan­cy Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram — both of which pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion to mil­lions of peo­ple who might not oth­er­wise be able to afford it. And last sum­mer, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans blocked the House-passed Right to Con­tra­cep­tion Act, which would have enshrined the right to con­tra­cep­tion into fed­er­al law.

    Democ­rats have also high­light­ed Jus­tice Clarence Thomas’ call for the high court to “recon­sid­er” the decades-old fed­er­al prece­dent guar­an­tee­ing the right to con­tra­cep­tion. And con­ser­v­a­tive groups aligned with the GOP, includ­ing Turn­ing Point USA, have urged women to stop tak­ing birth con­trol pills, claim­ing they “are actu­al­ly abor­ti­fa­cients.”

    Hig­gins hopes the sur­vey con­vinces Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress that these efforts do not reflect their con­stituents’ views and play right into Democ­rats’ hands.

    “If any con­ser­v­a­tives believe that this is what the pro-life world actu­al­ly wants, it might help break through to them and explain to them that even among the most pro-life con­ser­v­a­tives, you find this strong sup­port for safe, mod­ern, effec­tive, acces­si­ble con­tra­cep­tion ... avail­able for every­one,” she said.

    ...

    ————-

    “Con­tra­cep­tion is a win­ning issue, con­ser­v­a­tive strate­gists tell GOP” By Alice Miran­da Oll­stein; Politi­co; 12/13/2023

    “Con­way plans to tell Capi­tol Hill Repub­li­cans that they “will lose pre­cious polit­i­cal cur­ren­cy and votes” if they do noth­ing or take steps to put con­tra­cep­tion fur­ther out of reach — point­ing to the poll’s find­ing that near­ly half of con­ser­v­a­tive women “would con­sid­er vot­ing for a can­di­date from a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal par­ty” if Repub­li­cans back birth con­trol restric­tions.”

    Near­ly half of con­ser­v­a­tive women are telling poll­sters they “would con­sid­er vot­ing for a can­di­date from a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal par­ty” if Repub­li­cans back birth con­trol restric­tions. Beyond just guar­an­tee­ing access to con­tra­cep­tion, con­ser­v­a­tives over­whelm­ing­ly sup­port the idea that the gov­ern­ment should ensure access regard­less of cost. Or as Kellyanne Con­way put it, “I’ve been doing this for over three decades and I’m very sur­prised that over 8 in 10 inde­pen­dents and over 8 in 10 pro-lif­ers would agree with that...Because some peo­ple say: ‘You may have a right to con­tra­cep­tion but why am I pay­ing for it?’ That’s the clas­sic lib­er­tar­i­an argu­ment.

    It’s the kind of poll results that some might con­sid­er that a dire warn­ing for the Repub­li­can Par­ty. Hence, this warn­ing to fel­low Repub­li­cans. A warn­ing from a group that, inter­est­ing­ly, has a num­ber of CNP ties. Con­way and Heather Hig­gins both show up on the leaked CNP mem­ber­ship list. And while Susan Hirschman­n’s name does­n’t show up the mem­ber­ship lists, it’s worth not­ing she used to work as Chief of Staff for for­mer Repub­li­can House Major­i­ty Leader Tom DeLay, who him­self hap­pens to be a CNP mem­ber. This is a warn­ing to fel­low theocrats from fel­low theocrats:

    ...
    Con­way, lob­by­ist Susan Hirschmann and Inde­pen­dent Women’s Voice CEO Heather Hig­gins hope to back up these calls with fresh polling data. On Wednes­day, they plan to meet with GOP mem­bers and staff in the House and Sen­ate, as well as the Repub­li­can cam­paign arms fight­ing to hold the House and flip the Sen­ate, to warn that if they don’t talk about birth con­trol and work to make it more acces­si­ble, they risk los­ing vot­ers and con­firm­ing argu­ments from the left that the par­ty that out­lawed abor­tion in much of the coun­try is com­ing next for con­tra­cep­tion.

    ...

    The group will share polling com­mis­sioned by Inde­pen­dent Women’s Voice and con­duct­ed by KA Con­sult­ing, Conway’s firm, that shows over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port — includ­ing from Repub­li­cans and peo­ple who iden­ti­fy as “pro-life” — for poli­cies that make con­tra­cep­tion cheap­er and more avail­able, includ­ing implantable long-act­ing ver­sions like IUDs that some con­ser­v­a­tives view as akin to abor­tion.

    ...

    The long­time GOP poll­ster told POLITICO that while it’s no shock that con­tra­cep­tion is pop­u­lar, par­tic­u­lar­ly as states move to out­law most abor­tions, she was struck by some of the poll results, includ­ing how many con­ser­v­a­tives believe Con­gress should ensure access to con­tra­cep­tion regard­less of cost.

    “I’ve been doing this for over three decades and I’m very sur­prised that over 8 in 10 inde­pen­dents and over 8 in 10 pro-lif­ers would agree with that,” she said. “Because some peo­ple say: ‘You may have a right to con­tra­cep­tion but why am I pay­ing for it?’ That’s the clas­sic lib­er­tar­i­an argu­ment.”

    ...

    Hig­gins hopes the sur­vey con­vinces Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress that these efforts do not reflect their con­stituents’ views and play right into Democ­rats’ hands.

    “If any con­ser­v­a­tives believe that this is what the pro-life world actu­al­ly wants, it might help break through to them and explain to them that even among the most pro-life con­ser­v­a­tives, you find this strong sup­port for safe, mod­ern, effec­tive, acces­si­ble con­tra­cep­tion ... avail­able for every­one,” she said.
    ...

    And it’s a warn­ing that comes after Repub­li­cans in the House and Sen­ate have not only come out against fam­i­ly plan­ning pro­grams but Sen­ate Repub­li­cans blocked the House-passed Right to Con­tra­cep­tion Act last year. And then there’s groups like Turn­ing Point USA — led by CNP Char­lie Kirk — active­ly con­flat­ing con­tra­cep­tion with abor­tion. Kellyanne Con­way has her work cut out for her:

    ...
    Orga­ni­za­tions like EMILYS List plan to keep that record firm­ly on vot­ers’ radar going into next year.

    For exam­ple, House Repub­li­cans’ spend­ing bills, set to come up for a vote ear­ly next year, would elim­i­nate fund­ing for the Title X fam­i­ly plan­ning pro­gram and the Teen Preg­nan­cy Pre­ven­tion Pro­gram — both of which pro­vide con­tra­cep­tion to mil­lions of peo­ple who might not oth­er­wise be able to afford it. And last sum­mer, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans blocked the House-passed Right to Con­tra­cep­tion Act, which would have enshrined the right to con­tra­cep­tion into fed­er­al law.

    Democ­rats have also high­light­ed Jus­tice Clarence Thomas’ call for the high court to “recon­sid­er” the decades-old fed­er­al prece­dent guar­an­tee­ing the right to con­tra­cep­tion. And con­ser­v­a­tive groups aligned with the GOP, includ­ing Turn­ing Point USA, have urged women to stop tak­ing birth con­trol pills, claim­ing they “are actu­al­ly abor­ti­fa­cients.”
    ...

    So is the GOP going to need Con­way’s warn­ings? Maybe. Sort of, assum­ing the Repub­li­cans’ OTC (Oral­ly-Tak­en Con­tra­cep­tive) Act sat­is­fies all those con­cerned vot­ers. But observers point out, the pro­posed bill specif­i­cal­ly aims to expand access to over-the-counter hor­mon­al birth con­trol, and not Plan B, which could be seen as a fea­ture in the bill by back­ers like Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene who has con­demned Plan B as an abor­ti­fa­cient. In fact, Green claimed back in June that “Plan B pill kills a baby in the womb once a woman is already preg­nant.” This was the same months of the Turn­ing Points USA con­fer­ence, where con­ser­v­a­tive pod­cast­er Alex Carp made the case that women should stop tak­ing hor­mon­al birth con­trol because, “it is com­plete­ly alter­ing your per­son­al­i­ty” and that “many birth con­trol pills are actu­al­ly abor­ti­fa­cients.” In oth­er words, even the cur­rent GOP pro­pos­al to expand access to con­tra­cep­tives is in line with the par­ty’s anti-abor­tion pol­i­tics.

    And yet, polls show 62 per­cent of con­ser­v­a­tives even sup­port “emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion like Plan B.” The GOP inten­tion­al­ly mod­er­at­ed stances on abor­tion remain wild­ly unpop­u­lar even with the par­ty’s base:

    Politi­co

    The GOP’s com­pli­cat­ed con­tra­cep­tive dance

    By SOPHIE GARDNER
    10/13/2023 11:00 AM EDT

    The GOP is man­ag­ing an emerg­ing inter­nal strug­gle: dif­fer­ing opin­ions on con­tra­cep­tion.

    For years, many anti-abor­tion groups have con­demned con­tra­cep­tion – often forreli­gious rea­sons or because they believe it to be a form of abor­tion. But in recent months, that rhetoric has been heat­ing up, get­ting air-time in the most con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tions of the GOP — and stir­ring up fears that access to con­tra­cep­tion might not be safe.

    At a Turn­ing Point USA women’s sum­mit held in June, pod­cast host Alex Clark encour­aged women to stop tak­ing their hor­mon­al birth con­trol, because, she said, “it is com­plete­ly alter­ing your per­son­al­i­ty” and that “many birth con­trol pills are actu­al­ly abor­ti­fa­cients.” The same month, Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene false­ly claimed that the “Plan B pill kills a baby in the womb once a woman is already preg­nant.” And in his con­cur­ring opin­ion to the Dobbs deci­sion, Clarence Thomas sug­gest­ed that the court recon­sid­er oth­er cas­es, includ­ing Gris­wold v. Con­necti­cut, the 1965 case that grant­ed mar­ried cou­ples the right to buy and use con­tra­cep­tives.

    But that’s not the opin­ion of the major­i­ty of the par­ty, says Court­ney Joslin, res­i­dent fel­low at the R Street Insti­tute, a cen­ter-right think tank. And she’s wor­ried about the optics of hav­ing a fringe minor­i­ty get­ting atten­tion for denounc­ing con­tra­cep­tion.

    “Some of these peo­ple speak­ing on this issue [against con­tra­cep­tives], who are con­ser­v­a­tives or Repub­li­cans, are sort of infer­ring that they’re rep­re­sent­ing the major­i­ty of con­ser­v­a­tives and Repub­li­cans on this issue, when time and time again, sur­vey data shows that’s not true,” Joslin tells Women Rule.

    Birth con­trol is over­whelm­ing­ly sup­port­ed with­in the GOP, with a 2022 FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll show­ing that 93 per­cent of Repub­li­cans sup­port birth con­trol pills in “all or most cas­es.” A slight­ly small­er num­ber of Repub­li­cans sup­port oth­er forms of con­tra­cep­tion, with 82 per­cent sup­port­ing IUDs and 62 per­cent sup­port­ing “emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion like Plan B.”

    Some of those num­bers are actu­al­ly high­er than the gen­er­al pub­lic, of which 89 per­cent sup­port birth con­trol pills, 81 per­cent sup­port IUDs and 70 per­cent sup­port emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion. But those num­bers also show that con­tra­cep­tion is over­whelm­ing­ly pop­u­lar across par­ty lines.

    ...

    Things get a lit­tle more com­plex when you look to Con­gress.

    In July 2022, Sen­ate Repub­li­cans blocked the Demo­c­rat-led Right to Con­tra­cep­tion Act – which would have enshrined the right to con­tra­cep­tion into fed­er­al law. The act passed in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which was then con­trolled by Democ­rats — with only eight Repub­li­cans vot­ing for it.

    Now, House Repub­li­cans have intro­duced their own bill that they say is intend­ed to expand access to con­tra­cep­tion, called the OTC (Oral­ly-Tak­en Con­tra­cep­tive) Act. The Act would require the FDA to send guid­ance to man­u­fac­tur­ers on how to sub­mit suc­cess­ful appli­ca­tions to get their own over-the-counter birth con­trol pills approved.

    The act was co-spon­sored by Greene, among oth­er Repub­li­can women, per­haps because it specif­i­cal­ly aims to expand access to over-the-counter hor­mon­al birth con­trol, and not Plan B, which she has con­demned as an abor­ti­fa­cient. That’s inac­cu­rate, accord­ing to the FDA. Mary T. Jacob­son, OB-GYN and chief med­ical offi­cer at Hel­lo Alpha, tells Women Rule “bot­tom line is that emer­gency con­tra­cep­tive pills do not stop or harm an ongo­ing preg­nan­cy.”

    The FDA has already approved an over-the-counter hor­mon­al birth con­trol pill, called Opill. Joslin says the OTC Act could encour­age oth­er man­u­fac­tur­ers to sub­mit appli­ca­tions – mean­ing more choic­es on phar­ma­cy store shelves.

    “What we don’t want to see is women switch­ing to a method just because it’s more read­i­ly avail­able to them, even if they don’t real­ly like side effects that come with it,” Joslin says.

    But crit­ics of the act say that it’s just meant to draw atten­tion away from Repub­li­cans’ unpop­u­lar abor­tion posi­tion — and that there are more effec­tive ways to sup­port con­tra­cep­tion access — like sup­port­ing the Right to Con­tra­cep­tion Act, which has been rein­tro­duced in the House and Sen­ate (and blocked by Repub­li­cans again in the Sen­ate), and the Afford­abil­i­ty is Access Act, which would require most pri­vate health insur­ance plans to cov­er over-the-counter birth con­trol with­out out-of-pock­et costs to the patient.

    ...

    ———–

    “The GOP’s com­pli­cat­ed con­tra­cep­tive dance” By SOPHIE GARDNER; Politi­co; 10/13/2023

    “Birth con­trol is over­whelm­ing­ly sup­port­ed with­in the GOP, with a 2022 FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll show­ing that 93 per­cent of Repub­li­cans sup­port birth con­trol pills in “all or most cas­es.” A slight­ly small­er num­ber of Repub­li­cans sup­port oth­er forms of con­tra­cep­tion, with 82 per­cent sup­port­ing IUDs and 62 per­cent sup­port­ing “emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion like Plan B.”

    Yes, birth con­trol is over­whelm­ing­ly pop­u­lar with the US pub­lic. Even con­ser­v­a­tives. But not so much for con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cians. It’s a kind of cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance for the par­ty that won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly be easy to paper over. But that won’t stop them from try­ing, lead­ing to leg­isla­tive gim­micks like the OTC (Oral­ly-Tak­en Con­tra­cep­tive) Act, a bill seem­ing­ly designed to thread this polit­i­cal nee­dle, where hor­mon­al OTC con­tra­cep­tives will, poten­tial­ly be me more avail­able but not ‘abor­ti­fa­cients’ like Plan B:

    ...
    At a Turn­ing Point USA women’s sum­mit held in June, pod­cast host Alex Clark encour­aged women to stop tak­ing their hor­mon­al birth con­trol, because, she said, “it is com­plete­ly alter­ing your per­son­al­i­ty” and that “many birth con­trol pills are actu­al­ly abor­ti­fa­cients.” The same month, Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene false­ly claimed that the “Plan B pill kills a baby in the womb once a woman is already preg­nant.” And in his con­cur­ring opin­ion to the Dobbs deci­sion, Clarence Thomas sug­gest­ed that the court recon­sid­er oth­er cas­es, includ­ing Gris­wold v. Con­necti­cut, the 1965 case that grant­ed mar­ried cou­ples the right to buy and use con­tra­cep­tives.

    But that’s not the opin­ion of the major­i­ty of the par­ty, says Court­ney Joslin, res­i­dent fel­low at the R Street Insti­tute, a cen­ter-right think tank. And she’s wor­ried about the optics of hav­ing a fringe minor­i­ty get­ting atten­tion for denounc­ing con­tra­cep­tion.

    “Some of these peo­ple speak­ing on this issue [against con­tra­cep­tives], who are con­ser­v­a­tives or Repub­li­cans, are sort of infer­ring that they’re rep­re­sent­ing the major­i­ty of con­ser­v­a­tives and Repub­li­cans on this issue, when time and time again, sur­vey data shows that’s not true,” Joslin tells Women Rule.

    ...

    Now, House Repub­li­cans have intro­duced their own bill that they say is intend­ed to expand access to con­tra­cep­tion, called the OTC (Oral­ly-Tak­en Con­tra­cep­tive) Act. The Act would require the FDA to send guid­ance to man­u­fac­tur­ers on how to sub­mit suc­cess­ful appli­ca­tions to get their own over-the-counter birth con­trol pills approved.

    The act was co-spon­sored by Greene, among oth­er Repub­li­can women, per­haps because it specif­i­cal­ly aims to expand access to over-the-counter hor­mon­al birth con­trol, and not Plan B, which she has con­demned as an abor­ti­fa­cient. That’s inac­cu­rate, accord­ing to the FDA. Mary T. Jacob­son, OB-GYN and chief med­ical offi­cer at Hel­lo Alpha, tells Women Rule “bot­tom line is that emer­gency con­tra­cep­tive pills do not stop or harm an ongo­ing preg­nan­cy.”
    ...

    The CNP can’t afford to lose the con­ser­v­a­tive women on board with its agen­da. At least not before it man­ages to seize enough pow­er that it no longer has to wor­ry about win­ning elec­tions. But even author­i­tar­i­an soci­eties rely on pub­lic sup­port on some lev­el. They can’t become too unpop­u­lar. And that’s part of what it’s going to be very inter­est­ing to see how the rest of the GOP responds to Con­way’s warn­ings. The over­turn­ing of Roe is more unpop­u­lar than the CNP expect­ed at the same time the GOP is grow­ing more open­ly author­i­tar­i­an by the day. Some­thing has got to give here. It will prob­a­bly be the prin­ci­ple of major­i­ty rule that ulti­mate­ly gives, but it’s got to be some­thing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 14, 2023, 2:09 am
  10. It can always get worse. It’s one of those lessons we should­n’t have to learn over and over, but that’s kind of how humans work. We keep being forced to relearn that it can always get worse. Either by for­get­ting and blun­der­ing into an even worse sit­u­a­tion. Or just by active­ly work­ing to make things worse. Les­son learned either way. Learned and then gen­er­al­ly for­got­ten.

    It was a les­son res­i­dents of Okla­homa got to learn again this week after the vot­ers of Dis­trict 32 elect­ed Dusty Deev­ers to the state sen­ate. A pas­tor run­ning on an overt­ly Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist plat­form, Deev­ers has called for mea­sures includ­ing the ban­ning of pornog­ra­phy and end­ing no-fault divorce. Beyond that, Deev­ers called for pub­lic sham­ing dur­ing divorces. Deev­ers won with 55 per­cent of the vote.

    But it’s Deev­ers’ abor­tion stances that have received the most atten­tion, in part because they are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what has been a rad­i­cal­iza­tion inside the ‘pro-life’ move­ment since the Dobbs deci­sion and the over­turn­ing or Roe v Wade. Deev­ers isn’t just pro-life. He’s an “abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist” who views life begin­ning at con­cep­tion and any attempts to end that life as an act that should be pun­ished as mur­der. This would include not just pun­ish­ing the doc­tors who per­form abor­tions for mur­der but also the women receiv­ing them.

    While the “abor­tion abo­li­tion” seg­ment of the anti-abor­tion com­mu­ni­ty does­n’t yet appear to be a major­i­ty, it does appear to be grow­ing fast, in part as a response to all the con­tra­dic­tions and jux­ta­po­si­tions laid clear with the over­turn­ing of Roe. If abor­tion is mur­der, as so many politi­cians love to tell audi­ences, then how can abor­tion to be allowed for up to 6 weeks, let alone 15 weeks? And how can the women choos­ing these acts of mur­der not be charged as mur­der­ers? These are exam­ples of the kind of moral gray zones that now have to be grap­pled with and, as we should expect, a lot of the Chris­t­ian right has adopt­ed a ‘black or white’ approach to in response. Deev­er­s’s elec­tion is a reflec­tion of that. But just one exam­ple. Leg­is­la­tors in at least nine states intro­duced bills that would advance ‘abor­tion abo­li­tion’ poli­cies this year alone. Dusty Deev­ers is only going to have more and more allies as these trends con­tin­ue.

    But Deev­ers’ extrem­ist posi­tions aren’t just an imme­di­ate issue for Okla­homans. As we’re going to see in the fol­low­ing set of arti­cle excerpts, Deev­ers has­n’t just been pur­su­ing lead­er­ship posi­tions in the Okla­homa state capi­tol. Deev­ers ran for the posi­tion of “first vice pres­i­dent” of SBC in this year’s elec­tions. He did­n’t win, and ulti­mate­ly only got 20 per­cent of the vote. But it was 20 per­cent of the vote rep­re­sent­ing a grow­ing fac­tion of what has become known as the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence: an ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive wing of the SBC lead­er­ship that insists the group is cur­rent­ly far too pro­gres­sive and needs to be more con­ser­v­a­tive on a range of issues. For exam­ple, the per­son who nom­i­nat­ed Deev­ers for the posi­tion of first vice pres­i­dent was Allen Nel­son, a pas­tor from cen­tral Arkansas who has spent the last sev­er­al years pop­u­lar­iz­ing the “take the ship!” phrase to describe the move­men­t’s intent with the SBC. A phrase that comes with a real pirate flag. Yes, as Nel­son makes clear with his now sym­bol­ic noto­ri­ous black flag — that fea­tures a Skull and crossed swords that he likes to unfurl when describ­ing the plan — he is advo­cat­ing for an ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive SBC takeover. But it’s obvi­ous­ly much more than that when we are talk­ing about domin­ion­ism and well-oiled Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist machines. Dusty Deev­ers may not have won that SBC lead­er­ship posi­tion, but he is an Okla­homa state sen­a­tor now. One elec­tion at a time.

    As we’re also going to see, while the cur­rent pres­i­dent of the SBC, Bart Bar­ber, is deemed to be ‘too pro­gres­sive’ by the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence crowd, the divide between Bar­ber and the ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tion is a great exam­ple of just how far to the right the SBC’s lead­er­ship is these days. Start­ing off as a Chris­t­ian blog­ger in 2006, Bar­ber had long been ful­ly on board with the kind of Bib­li­cal fun­da­men­tal­ism advo­cat­ed by SBC lead­ers like Paul Pressler and Paige Pat­ter­son, both of whom are, of course, the sub­ject of a range of sex­u­al abuse/cover up alle­ga­tions. In 2008, Bar­ber even wrote a post enti­tled “Why I Love Dr. Paige Pat­ter­son”. But by 2018, Bar­ber found him­self in a posi­tion where he could no longer sup­port Pat­ter­son, which appears to have been the ori­gin of his split with the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence fac­tion of the SBC.

    What was it that forced Bar­ber to pub­licly break with Pat­ter­son? Well, recall how Pat­ter­son, in May of 2018, was oust­ed as pres­i­dent of the South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth, Texas, fol­low­ing the rev­e­la­tions around how he tried to “break down” a stu­dent who claimed she was raped. It turns out Bar­ber was on the board of trustees for the sem­i­nary and there­fore in posi­tion where he need­ed to vote on whether or not Pat­ter­son should resign. Ini­tial­ly, Bar­ber was one of two trustees to vote against ask­ing Pat­ter­son to resign. But then the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished an arti­cle describ­ing Pat­ter­son­’s role “break­ing down” the rape vic­tim. A new vote was held and the board of trustees vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly to ask Pat­ter­son to resign. The vote led to a wave of out­cry by the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gent crowd. Because that crowd was Pat­ter­son­’s crowd. And used to be Bar­ber’s crowd. Flash for­ward to 2022, Bar­ber gets elect­ed SBC pres­i­dent, and has end­ed up hav­ing to spend­ing his time in office deal­ing with an ongo­ing cam­paign to “take the ship!” and push the SBC into an even more con­ser­v­a­tive direct­ly. Except now, that Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence is tur­bo-charged with the abor­tion abo­li­tion move­men­t’s grow­ing res­o­nance among evan­gel­i­cals in the post-Roe era.

    In 2023, Bar­ber was again chal­lenged in his run for the SBC pres­i­den­cy post by mem­ber of this Chris­t­ian Resur­gence crowd close to Pat­ter­son: Mike Stone, who chal­lenged Bar­ber despite the SBC prece­dent that pres­i­dents run­ning for reelec­tion not be chal­lenged. What were the issues divid­ing the two? Not the­ol­o­gy. Bar­ber and Stone are both extreme­ly con­ser­v­a­tive Chris­tians. The dif­fer­ence was how to pro­ceed on the sex abuse reforms, with Stone push­ing for a less aggres­sive approach that empha­sized ‘local authon­o­my’ over some sort of nation­al­ly enforced denom­i­na­tion.

    That’s all part of the con­text of Dusty Deev­ers’ new role as an open­ly Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist Okla­homa state sen­a­tor. Thanks in part to the increas­ing­ly pow­er­ful fac­tion of theocrats who have their sites set on the SBC’s lead­er­ship too...seemingly large­ly so they can go eas­i­er on sex­u­al abusers among oth­er awful things. Things are get­ting worse in the Okla­homa sen­ate. And if Deev­ers’ allies suc­ceed in their cam­paign to retake the lead­er­ship of the SBC, they’ll be get­ting worse for the fate of those sex­u­al abuse reforms. But Deev­ers’ vic­to­ry appears to be also thanks in part to an “abor­tion abo­li­tion” extrem­ist move­ment inside the anti-abor­tion com­mu­ni­ty that is only grow­ing in response to the over­turn­ing of Roe. It’s a con­ver­gence of unpleas­ant fac­tors.

    Ok, first, here’s a look at this week’s big bad news for Okla­homans in need of decent rep­re­sen­ta­tion in their state sen­ate. Instead, they got Dusty Deev­ers’ parade of open Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ism. The kind of parade increas­ing­ly seen in state cap­i­tals across the US:

    The Guardian

    An ‘abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist’ became an Okla­homa sen­a­tor. The fringe is cel­e­brat­ing its big vic­to­ry

    The hard­line frag­ment of the anti-abor­tion move­ment is gain­ing trac­tion in the wake of Roe v Wade’s fall

    Carter Sher­man
    Thu 14 Dec 2023 06.00 EST
    Last mod­i­fied on Thu 14 Dec 2023 10.31 EST

    When Dusty Deev­ers won his race to become an Okla­homa state sen­a­tor on Tues­day night, he wast­ed no time in mak­ing sure his new con­stituents knew what he stood for.

    “Here in Okla­homa, it’s time to abol­ish abor­tion, abol­ish pornog­ra­phy, abol­ish the state income tax and give pow­er and equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion back to the peo­ple!” the Repub­li­can post­ed on X, the plat­form for­mer­ly known as Twit­ter.

    Deev­ers’ use of the term “abol­ish abor­tion” is no mere rhetor­i­cal flour­ish. On his cam­paign web­site, Deev­ers has iden­ti­fied him­self as an “abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist” – an adher­ent of a hard­line, fringe seg­ment of the anti-abor­tion move­ment that, in Okla­homa and else­where, is grow­ing in the wake of the fall of Roe v Wade.

    Oppo­si­tion to abor­tion is root­ed in the belief that fetus­es are peo­ple, wor­thy of rights and pro­tec­tions. But the main­stream “pro-life” move­ment posits that abor­tion patients should not be pun­ished, since they are seen as the bam­boo­zled vic­tims of nefar­i­ous doc­tors and the “abor­tion indus­try”. Typ­i­cal­ly, abor­tion bans tar­get abor­tion providers, not patients.

    Abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ists,” on the oth­er hand, hold what they believe to be a more ide­o­log­i­cal­ly con­sis­tent stance: if a fetus is a per­son, then abor­tion is tan­ta­mount to mur­der. And patients should be pun­ished accord­ing­ly.

    Roe’s over­turn­ing has made a broad­er range of anti-abor­tion ideas look accept­able, as well as cast a spot­light on the con­tra­dic­tions and lim­its in cur­rent anti-abor­tion law, said Mary Ziegler, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis School of Law pro­fes­sor who stud­ies the legal his­to­ry of repro­duc­tion. In turn, that’s embold­ened the abo­li­tion­ists.

    ...

    Over the last sev­er­al years, “abor­tion abo­li­tion­ists” and their ide­ol­o­gy have qui­et­ly amassed pop­u­lar­i­ty in church­es, state leg­is­la­tures and online. Sev­er­al abo­li­tion­ist orga­ni­za­tions filed an ami­cus brief in the deci­sion that over­turned Roe. Abo­li­tion­ists Ris­ing – which fea­tures a video of Deev­ers on its web­site – has almost 200,000 sub­scribers on YouTube, with at least one video with more than half a mil­lion views. (Deev­ers did not imme­di­ate­ly reply to an inter­view request.) The YouTube account of Apolo­gia Stu­dios, which is run by promi­nent abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ist” and pas­tor Jeff Durbin, has more than 500,000 sub­scribers.

    In 2023, leg­is­la­tors in at least nine states intro­duced bills that would advance the abor­tion abo­li­tion cause, such as by eras­ing pro­vi­sions in laws that explic­it­ly pro­tect preg­nant peo­ple from being pros­e­cut­ed for hav­ing abor­tions. At least two of those bills explic­it­ly cite the 14th amend­ment, which was orig­i­nal­ly passed to ensure that for­mer­ly enslaved peo­ple had equal rights, to extend rights and pro­tec­tions to fetus­es.

    The anti-abor­tion move­ment has a long his­to­ry of draw­ing com­par­isons between their cause and that of pre-civ­il war abo­li­tion­ists try­ing to end US slav­ery, as well as civ­il rights cru­saders. For decades, they have tried to use the 14th amend­ment to estab­lish fetus­es’ right to per­son­hood, a push that is see­ing renewed inter­est post-Roe.

    How­ev­er, anti-abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ists” often draw a line between their work and that of the main­stream pro-life move­ment. Not only do they fre­quent­ly dis­dain the pro-life label, but while the pro-life move­ment has increas­ing­ly sought to por­tray its mis­sion as sec­u­lar, anti-abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ists” are staunch­ly and open­ly Chris­t­ian.

    “I think that the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment is a lit­mus test for how much the anti-abor­tion move­ment needs to win or wants to win in demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics ver­sus oth­er means,” Ziegler said. “If you need to win with vot­ers, abo­li­tion­ists are not going to get any­where, ever.”

    There is lit­tle sup­port for severe pun­ish­ments for peo­ple who get ille­gal abor­tions. Although 47% of US adults believe that women who have ille­gal abor­tions should face some form of penal­ty, just 14% think they should serve jail time, accord­ing to a 2022 poll by the Pew Research Cen­ter. “Abo­li­tion­ists” don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly believe that peo­ple should face the death penal­ty for abor­tions. “I do believe that the unjus­ti­fied tak­ing of human life, if prov­able, ulti­mate­ly, just­ly, ought to be cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment,” Durbin told the New York Times last year. “How­ev­er, I don’t trust our sys­tem today to deal that out.”

    None of the “abolitionist”-style bills ulti­mate­ly advanced very far in state leg­is­la­tures this year. Still, they can be some­thing of a PR night­mare for Repub­li­cans and the main­stream pro-life move­ment. After a host of news arti­cles about South Carolina’s Pre­na­tal Equal Pro­tec­tion Act, which would allow peo­ple who have abor­tions to face the death penal­ty, 10 Repub­li­can state leg­is­la­tors asked to remove their names as spon­sors of the bill.

    That bill died in com­mit­tee.

    While these bills tech­ni­cal­ly focus on abor­tion seek­ers, in real­i­ty they would prob­a­bly also be used to penal­ize peo­ple of col­or or poor peo­ple who have unin­tend­ed preg­nan­cy loss­es, accord­ing to Farah Diaz-Tel­lo, senior coun­sel and legal direc­tor of If/When/How, a legal advo­ca­cy group for repro­duc­tive jus­tice.

    ...

    Deev­ers won his seat in the Okla­homa state leg­is­la­ture after its for­mer occu­pant resigned for anoth­er job. On his cam­paign web­site, Deev­ers says that he sup­ports Oklahoma’s ver­sion of the Pre­na­tal Equal Pro­tec­tion Act, which was intro­duced in 2023. That bill elim­i­nates lan­guage that would block Okla­homa pros­e­cu­tors from tar­get­ing preg­nant peo­ple for “caus­ing the death of the unborn child”. Its spon­sor, whose 2020 elec­tion was sup­port­ed by the abo­li­tion­ist group Free the States, did not imme­di­ate­ly reply to a request for com­ment.

    ...

    ———-

    “An ‘abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist’ became an Okla­homa sen­a­tor. The fringe is cel­e­brat­ing its big vic­to­ry” by Carter Sher­man; The Guardian; 12/14/2023

    “Deev­ers’ use of the term “abol­ish abor­tion” is no mere rhetor­i­cal flour­ish. On his cam­paign web­site, Deev­ers has iden­ti­fied him­self as an “abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist” – an adher­ent of a hard­line, fringe seg­ment of the anti-abor­tion move­ment that, in Okla­homa and else­where, is grow­ing in the wake of the fall of Roe v Wade.

    Dusty Deev­ers’ elec­tion to the Okla­homa sen­ate was­n’t just the elec­toral vic­to­ry of a pas­tor-turned-politi­cian. As an open “abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist”, Deev­ers’ vic­to­ry rep­re­sents the rise of a anti-abor­tion fringe that’s only grown in strength since the over­turn­ing of Roe. A move­ment that calls for the crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion of women who seek abor­tions. For the crime of mur­der. In 2023, nine states saw leg­is­la­tion that would do exact­ly that intro­duced as bills. None of the bills passed. But, again, this move­ment is only grow­ing:

    ...
    Oppo­si­tion to abor­tion is root­ed in the belief that fetus­es are peo­ple, wor­thy of rights and pro­tec­tions. But the main­stream “pro-life” move­ment posits that abor­tion patients should not be pun­ished, since they are seen as the bam­boo­zled vic­tims of nefar­i­ous doc­tors and the “abor­tion indus­try”. Typ­i­cal­ly, abor­tion bans tar­get abor­tion providers, not patients.

    Abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ists,” on the oth­er hand, hold what they believe to be a more ide­o­log­i­cal­ly con­sis­tent stance: if a fetus is a per­son, then abor­tion is tan­ta­mount to mur­der. And patients should be pun­ished accord­ing­ly.

    Roe’s over­turn­ing has made a broad­er range of anti-abor­tion ideas look accept­able, as well as cast a spot­light on the con­tra­dic­tions and lim­its in cur­rent anti-abor­tion law, said Mary Ziegler, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis School of Law pro­fes­sor who stud­ies the legal his­to­ry of repro­duc­tion. In turn, that’s embold­ened the abo­li­tion­ists.

    ...

    Over the last sev­er­al years, “abor­tion abo­li­tion­ists” and their ide­ol­o­gy have qui­et­ly amassed pop­u­lar­i­ty in church­es, state leg­is­la­tures and online. Sev­er­al abo­li­tion­ist orga­ni­za­tions filed an ami­cus brief in the deci­sion that over­turned Roe. Abo­li­tion­ists Ris­ing – which fea­tures a video of Deev­ers on its web­site – has almost 200,000 sub­scribers on YouTube, with at least one video with more than half a mil­lion views. (Deev­ers did not imme­di­ate­ly reply to an inter­view request.) The YouTube account of Apolo­gia Stu­dios, which is run by promi­nent abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ist” and pas­tor Jeff Durbin, has more than 500,000 sub­scribers.

    In 2023, leg­is­la­tors in at least nine states intro­duced bills that would advance the abor­tion abo­li­tion cause, such as by eras­ing pro­vi­sions in laws that explic­it­ly pro­tect preg­nant peo­ple from being pros­e­cut­ed for hav­ing abor­tions. At least two of those bills explic­it­ly cite the 14th amend­ment, which was orig­i­nal­ly passed to ensure that for­mer­ly enslaved peo­ple had equal rights, to extend rights and pro­tec­tions to fetus­es.

    ...

    Deev­ers won his seat in the Okla­homa state leg­is­la­ture after its for­mer occu­pant resigned for anoth­er job. On his cam­paign web­site, Deev­ers says that he sup­ports Oklahoma’s ver­sion of the Pre­na­tal Equal Pro­tec­tion Act, which was intro­duced in 2023. That bill elim­i­nates lan­guage that would block Okla­homa pros­e­cu­tors from tar­get­ing preg­nant peo­ple for “caus­ing the death of the unborn child”. Its spon­sor, whose 2020 elec­tion was sup­port­ed by the abo­li­tion­ist group Free the States, did not imme­di­ate­ly reply to a request for com­ment.
    ...

    And as pro­fes­sor Mary Zei­gler observed, this move­ment is grow­ing in strength inside the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty at the same time it’s becom­ing clear­er and clear­er that “abor­tion abo­li­tion” is, for the most part, a polit­i­cal los­er. As Zei­gler puts it, “I think that the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment is a lit­mus test for how much the anti-abor­tion move­ment needs to win or wants to win in demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics ver­sus oth­er means.” It points towards one of the iron­ic ele­ments of Deev­ers’ vic­to­ry: it’s a sign of a deep­en­ing com­mit­ment with­in the anti-abor­tion move­ment to pri­or­i­tiz­ing abor­tion restric­tions over electability...which is a recipe for win­ning through ‘oth­er means’:

    ...
    The anti-abor­tion move­ment has a long his­to­ry of draw­ing com­par­isons between their cause and that of pre-civ­il war abo­li­tion­ists try­ing to end US slav­ery, as well as civ­il rights cru­saders. For decades, they have tried to use the 14th amend­ment to estab­lish fetus­es’ right to per­son­hood, a push that is see­ing renewed inter­est post-Roe.

    How­ev­er, anti-abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ists” often draw a line between their work and that of the main­stream pro-life move­ment. Not only do they fre­quent­ly dis­dain the pro-life label, but while the pro-life move­ment has increas­ing­ly sought to por­tray its mis­sion as sec­u­lar, anti-abor­tion “abo­li­tion­ists” are staunch­ly and open­ly Chris­t­ian.

    “I think that the abo­li­tion­ist move­ment is a lit­mus test for how much the anti-abor­tion move­ment needs to win or wants to win in demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics ver­sus oth­er means,” Ziegler said. “If you need to win with vot­ers, abo­li­tion­ists are not going to get any­where, ever.”

    There is lit­tle sup­port for severe pun­ish­ments for peo­ple who get ille­gal abor­tions. Although 47% of US adults believe that women who have ille­gal abor­tions should face some form of penal­ty, just 14% think they should serve jail time, accord­ing to a 2022 poll by the Pew Research Cen­ter. “Abo­li­tion­ists” don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly believe that peo­ple should face the death penal­ty for abor­tions. “I do believe that the unjus­ti­fied tak­ing of human life, if prov­able, ulti­mate­ly, just­ly, ought to be cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment,” Durbin told the New York Times last year. “How­ev­er, I don’t trust our sys­tem today to deal that out.”
    gal advo­ca­cy group for repro­duc­tive jus­tice.
    ...

    And in case it’s not obvi­ous that extreme abor­tion penal­ties aren’t the only part of this move­men­t’s plat­form that is going to be very unpop­u­lar with the gen­er­al elec­torate, note the oth­er extrem­ist posi­tions cham­pi­oned by Deev­ers. Like abol­ish­ing pornog­ra­phy. Or the end to no-fault divorce to be replaced with pub­lic sham­ing for divorces. This isn’t just Deev­ers’ posi­tion. It’s the posi­tion of his fel­low trav­el­ers. Like House Speak­er Mike John­son:

    Newsweek

    Repub­li­can Can­di­date Wants ‘Pub­lic Sham­ing’ for Peo­ple Who Divorce

    Dec 01, 2023 at 1:42 PM EST
    By Matthew Impel­li

    A Repub­li­can Okla­homa Sen­ate can­di­date said this week that those at fault in a divorce should face “pub­lic sham­ing.”

    In a video post­ed to X, for­mer­ly Twit­ter by @RightWingWatch, Dusty Deev­ers, a pas­tor and Repub­li­can Sen­ate can­di­date in Okla­homa’s 32nd Dis­trict, spoke about some of the issues he is focused on includ­ing pornog­ra­phy and no-fault divorce.

    I want to see pornog­ra­phy abol­ished, I want to see no-fault divorce come back to at-fault in divorce and even pub­lic sham­ing for those who are at fault in divorce,” Deev­ers says in the clip. “I want to see abor­tion abol­ished. These are the kinds of moral­i­ty and gov­ern­ment issues that we need to get back to.”

    Dusty Deev­ers is a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist pas­tor run­ning for a seat in the Okla­homa state Sen­ate in order to apply “the word of God to every issue” by abol­ish­ing abor­tion, pornog­ra­phy, no-fault divorce, and even insti­tut­ing the pub­lic sham­ing of adul­ter­ers. https://t.co/5vIvsVfnbU pic.twitter.com/TbsvKUNEUz— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) Novem­ber 30, 2023

    ...

    Deev­ers’ remarks this week come as some oth­er con­ser­v­a­tives have also dis­cussed the idea of end­ing no-fault divorce laws, which are cur­rent­ly in place across all 50 U.S. states. These laws allow for a per­son in a mar­riage to file for a divorce with­out cit­ing a spe­cif­ic rea­son or behav­ior, such as abuse or adul­tery, as a rea­son for their deci­sion.

    The Repub­li­can-led state of Louisiana dis­cussed the removal of no-fault divorce laws ear­li­er this year. How­ev­er, no deci­sion was made, and these laws remain in place.

    House Speak­er Mike John­son also pre­vi­ous­ly spoke about no-fault divorce laws in a 2016 ser­mon, where he said they have led the nation into a “com­plete­ly amoral soci­ety,” CNN report­ed.

    ...

    Some Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress are cur­rent­ly divorced, includ­ing Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene and Lau­ren Boe­bert. For­mer Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump divorced twice before mar­ry­ing his cur­rent wife, Mela­nia Trump.

    Paulette Rigo, a cer­ti­fied divorce coach, pre­vi­ous­ly spoke to CNN about no-fault divorce laws and how these laws are sup­port­ed by wom­en’s rights groups.

    ...

    ———-

    “Repub­li­can Can­di­date Wants ‘Pub­lic Sham­ing’ for Peo­ple Who Divorce” By Matthew Impel­li; Newsweek; 12/01/2023

    Deev­ers’ remarks this week come as some oth­er con­ser­v­a­tives have also dis­cussed the idea of end­ing no-fault divorce laws, which are cur­rent­ly in place across all 50 U.S. states. These laws allow for a per­son in a mar­riage to file for a divorce with­out cit­ing a spe­cif­ic rea­son or behav­ior, such as abuse or adul­tery, as a rea­son for their deci­sion.”

    Again, Deev­er­s’s isn’t just lone out­lier here. He’s part of a move­ment. He’s not alone in call­ing for an end to things like no-fault divorces. Just ask House Speak­er Mike John­son, who claimed back in 2016 that no-fault divorce laws led the nation into a “com­plete­ly amoral soci­ety”:

    ...
    I want to see pornog­ra­phy abol­ished, I want to see no-fault divorce come back to at-fault in divorce and even pub­lic sham­ing for those who are at fault in divorce,” Deev­ers says in the clip. “I want to see abor­tion abol­ished. These are the kinds of moral­i­ty and gov­ern­ment issues that we need to get back to.”

    ...

    The Repub­li­can-led state of Louisiana dis­cussed the removal of no-fault divorce laws ear­li­er this year. How­ev­er, no deci­sion was made, and these laws remain in place.

    House Speak­er Mike John­son also pre­vi­ous­ly spoke about no-fault divorce laws in a 2016 ser­mon, where he said they have led the nation into a “com­plete­ly amoral soci­ety,” CNN report­ed.
    ...

    But Deev­ers isn’t just cham­pi­oning posi­tions that are on the fringes of Amer­i­can soci­ety. His extrem­ist views were sharply cri­tiqued by none oth­er than SBC pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber in 2022, who warned that, “Unless you 100% agree with every jot and tit­tle of Deevers’s obses­sion with send­ing 16-year-old girls to prison for suc­cumb­ing to the coer­cion of their par­ents to have an abor­tion, he will label you ‘against the inno­cent pre­born.’” What prompt­ed Bar­ber’s harsh words? The fact that Deev­ers had accused staunch anti-abor­tion advo­cate Brent Leather­wood — then the pres­i­dent of the SBC Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion — of not oppos­ing abor­tion strong­ly enough. It’s the kind of absur­dist cri­tique that would have sug­gest­ed Deev­ers was just a troll, if he was­n’t such a sin­cere zealot:

    Bap­tist

    Abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist pas­tor run­ning for state Sen­ate in Okla­homa

    News­Mark Wing­field | Octo­ber 16, 2023

    An ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive Bap­tist pas­tor has won the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry nom­i­na­tion to rep­re­sent part of South Cen­tral Okla­homa in the state Sen­ate, if he wins the Dec. 12 gen­er­al elec­tion.

    The pre­vi­ous occu­pant of the Dis­trict 32 Sen­ate seat, John Mont­gomery, is a Repub­li­can who resigned in August to become pres­i­dent of the Law­ton Fort Sill Cham­ber of Com­merce. Mont­gomery had won the seat with 64% of the vote last fall.

    Dusty Deev­ers, the new Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, serves as bivo­ca­tion­al pas­tor at Grace Com­mu­ni­ty Church of Elgin, Okla., which is locat­ed north of Law­ton. Law­ton is home to Fort Sill, a large Army base.

    This sum­mer, Deev­ers was nom­i­nat­ed for elec­tion as the South­ern Bap­tist Convention’s first vice pres­i­dent but lost that race to Jay Adkins, a pas­tor from New Orleans. Deev­ers drew 20% of the vote.

    Deev­ers holds extreme anti-abor­tion views, known as abo­li­tion­ist, and last year drew sharp cri­tique from SBC Pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber, who lat­er apol­o­gized for his angry tone.

    Bar­ber had writ­ten: “Unless you 100% agree with every jot and tit­tle of Deevers’s obses­sion with send­ing 16-year-old girls to prison for suc­cumb­ing to the coer­cion of their par­ents to have an abor­tion, he will label you ‘against the inno­cent pre­born.’”

    One of the oth­er rea­sons Bar­ber lashed out at Deev­ers was because the Okla­homa pas­tor had been crit­i­cal of Brent Leather­wood, elect­ed last year as pres­i­dent of the SBC Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion. Deev­ers accused Leather­wood, who is known as a staunch anti-abor­tion advo­cate, of not oppos­ing abor­tion strong­ly enough or con­sis­tent­ly enough.

    With­in the SBC, there is a small but vocal minor­i­ty that wants to abol­ish the ERLC because they believe it is “divi­sive” and not con­ser­v­a­tive enough.

    Deev­ers is part of the Calvin­is­tic move­ment with­in the SBC. His church pre­vi­ous­ly was known as First Bap­tist Church and Grace Com­mu­ni­ty Church but since 2016 has been called Grace Reformed Bap­tist Church of Elgin.

    If elect­ed to the state Sen­ate, Deev­ers would plan to con­tin­ue as pas­tor. He already man­ages a prop­er­ty com­pa­ny in addi­tion to his pas­toral work. The church, in a Reformed tra­di­tion, is over­seen by a team of male elders.

    ...

    He is a 2001 grad­u­ate of Okla­homa City Uni­ver­si­ty and a 2008 grad­u­ate of South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, where he earned the mas­ter of divin­i­ty degree.

    In an inter­view with the online pub­li­ca­tion The Sen­tinel, Deev­ers said his con­gre­ga­tion asked him to take up this polit­i­cal call­ing.

    ...

    One of Oklahoma’s cur­rent U.S. sen­a­tors also is a Bap­tist pas­tor. James Lank­ford also is a grad­u­ate of South­west­ern Sem­i­nary and pre­vi­ous­ly worked for the Bap­tist Gen­er­al Con­ven­tion of Okla­homa.

    ————-

    “Abor­tion abo­li­tion­ist pas­tor run­ning for state Sen­ate in Okla­homa” by Mark Wing­field; Bap­tist; 10/16/2023

    “This sum­mer, Deev­ers was nom­i­nat­ed for elec­tion as the South­ern Bap­tist Convention’s first vice pres­i­dent but lost that race to Jay Adkins, a pas­tor from New Orleans. Deev­ers drew 20% of the vote.”

    Yes, Deev­ers was nom­i­nat­ed to posi­tion of first vice pres­i­dent for the SBC in the 2023 elec­tions. He only got about 20% of the vote. It’s sign of the rel­a­tive strength of this fringe Calvin­is­tic fac­tion with­in the SBC. A fac­tion that appar­ent­ly wants to abol­ish the SBC Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion because it is “divi­sive” and not con­ser­v­a­tive enough:

    ...
    Dusty Deev­ers, the new Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, serves as bivo­ca­tion­al pas­tor at Grace Com­mu­ni­ty Church of Elgin, Okla., which is locat­ed north of Law­ton. Law­ton is home to Fort Sill, a large Army base.

    ...

    Deev­ers holds extreme anti-abor­tion views, known as abo­li­tion­ist, and last year drew sharp cri­tique from SBC Pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber, who lat­er apol­o­gized for his angry tone.

    Bar­ber had writ­ten: “Unless you 100% agree with every jot and tit­tle of Deevers’s obses­sion with send­ing 16-year-old girls to prison for suc­cumb­ing to the coer­cion of their par­ents to have an abor­tion, he will label you ‘against the inno­cent pre­born.’”

    One of the oth­er rea­sons Bar­ber lashed out at Deev­ers was because the Okla­homa pas­tor had been crit­i­cal of Brent Leather­wood, elect­ed last year as pres­i­dent of the SBC Ethics and Reli­gious Lib­er­ty Com­mis­sion. Deev­ers accused Leather­wood, who is known as a staunch anti-abor­tion advo­cate, of not oppos­ing abor­tion strong­ly enough or con­sis­tent­ly enough.

    With­in the SBC, there is a small but vocal minor­i­ty that wants to abol­ish the ERLC because they believe it is “divi­sive” and not con­ser­v­a­tive enough.

    Deev­ers is part of the Calvin­is­tic move­ment with­in the SBC. His church pre­vi­ous­ly was known as First Bap­tist Church and Grace Com­mu­ni­ty Church but since 2016 has been called Grace Reformed Bap­tist Church of Elgin.

    If elect­ed to the state Sen­ate, Deev­ers would plan to con­tin­ue as pas­tor. He already man­ages a prop­er­ty com­pa­ny in addi­tion to his pas­toral work. The church, in a Reformed tra­di­tion, is over­seen by a team of male elders.
    ...

    And, again, Deev­ers isn’t alone. He has a lot of allies. He got 20% of the vote, after all. Allies like Allen Nel­son, the fig­ure who actu­al­ly nom­i­nat­ed Deev­ers for the first vice pres­i­dent role:

    Bap­tist Press

    Bar­ber leads slate of offi­cers elect­ed at SBC annu­al meet­ing

    By Tim­o­thy Cock­es, post­ed June 14, 2023 in SBC Annu­al Meet­ings

    NEW ORLEANS (BP) – New­ly reelect­ed SBC Pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber leads a slate of offi­cers elect­ed dur­ing the 2023 SBC Annu­al Meet­ing in New Orleans, which includes two oth­er reelect­ed can­di­dates.

    Bar­ber was elect­ed to a sec­ond term after receiv­ing just over 68 per­cent of mes­sen­ger votes. Four oth­er offi­cer posi­tions were elect­ed, two by mes­sen­ger bal­lot votes and two by accla­ma­tion as the can­di­dates ran unop­posed.

    Pres­i­dent

    Bar­ber, a Texas pas­tor, was reelect­ed to a sec­ond term as pres­i­dent of the SBC on Tues­day, June 13, at the 2023 SBC Annu­al Meet­ing in New Orleans.

    Out of 11,014 mes­sen­ger votes, Bar­ber received 7,531 votes (68.38 per­cent) while Geor­gia pas­tor Mike Stone received 3,458 (31.40) per­cent. There were 25 bal­lots dis­al­lowed.

    Bar­ber was nom­i­nat­ed by Jar­rett Stephens, senior pas­tor of Cham­pi­on For­est Bap­tist Church in Hous­ton. Stone was nom­i­nat­ed by Willy Rice, pas­tor of Cal­vary Church in Clear­wa­ter, Fla.

    First Vice Pres­i­dent

    Jay Adkins, pas­tor of First Bap­tist West­wego in New Orleans, was elect­ed after receiv­ing 63 per­cent of cast mes­sen­ger bal­lots.

    Adkins received 2,393 (63.27 per­cent) out of 3,782 votes cast. He was nom­i­nat­ed by Fred Luter, for­mer SBC pres­i­dent and pas­tor of Franklin Avenue Bap­tist in New Orleans.

    Dusty Deev­ers, pas­tor of Grace Com­mu­ni­ty Church of Elign, Okla., received 784 votes (20.73 per­cent). Deev­ers was nom­i­nat­ed by Allen Nel­son, an elder at Per­ryville Sec­ond Bap­tist Church in Per­ryville, Ark.

    Gevan Spin­ney, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Louisiana Bap­tist Con­ven­tion and pas­tor of First Bap­tist in Haughton, La., received 587 (15.52 per­cent) of the votes cast. He was nom­i­nat­ed by Eric Thomas, pas­tor at First Bap­tist Nor­folk, Va.

    ...

    ———-

    “Bar­ber leads slate of offi­cers elect­ed at SBC annu­al meet­ing” By Tim­o­thy Cock­es; Bap­tist Press; 06/14/2023

    “Dusty Deev­ers, pas­tor of Grace Com­mu­ni­ty Church of Elign, Okla., received 784 votes (20.73 per­cent). Deev­ers was nom­i­nat­ed by Allen Nel­son, an elder at Per­ryville Sec­ond Bap­tist Church in Per­ryville, Ark.

    Dusty Deev­ers clear­ly has a lot of allies in this move­ment, with Allen Nel­son being one of them. And as the fol­low­ing June 2021 NY Times arti­cle describes, Nel­son’s goals are a lot more ambi­tious than get­ting Deev­ers elect­ed as the SBC’s first vice pres­i­dent. Nel­son is part of what is described as an ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive pop­ulist upris­ing of pas­tors across the US on a quest to take over the SBC’s lead­er­ship. Or as Nel­son put it, it’s time to “take the ship”. If that sounds like pirate talk, it’s because that’s exact­ly what it is in spir­it. Includ­ing the black skull & crossed swords pirate flag Nel­son has cho­sen to sym­bol­ize it:

    The New York Times

    ‘Take the Ship’: Con­ser­v­a­tives Aim to Com­man­deer South­ern Bap­tists

    The insur­gents, some adopt­ing a pirate motif, believe that the denom­i­na­tion has drift­ed too far to the left on issues of race, gen­der and the strict author­i­ty of the Bible.

    By Ruth Gra­ham and Eliz­a­beth Dias
    June 12, 2021

    Allen Nel­son IV walked to the front of his small church in cen­tral Arkansas, stopped in front of the com­mu­nion table with three large cross­es behind him, and unfurled a giant black flag with a white skull and crossed swords.

    For sev­er­al years, the pas­tor and father of five had felt that too many of his fel­low Chris­tians were drift­ing unmis­tak­ably left­ward on issues of race, gen­der and the strict author­i­ty of the Bible. The flag was a gift from a friend, ener­gized — like Mr. Nel­son — by the idea of hero­ical­ly reclaim­ing the faith.

    It was time, he believed, to “take the ship.”

    “We’re fight­ing for the very heart of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion,” Mr. Nel­son said in an inter­view. “For a long time what I thought a good South­ern Bap­tist pas­tor should do was to send mon­ey and trust the sys­tem. We can’t do that any­more.”

    Mr. Nel­son is not alone. He is part of an ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive pop­ulist upris­ing of pas­tors from Louisiana to Cal­i­for­nia threat­en­ing to over­take the country’s largest Protes­tant denom­i­na­tion.

    Next week more than 16,000 South­ern Bap­tist pas­tors and lead­ers will descend on Nashville for their first annu­al meet­ing of the post-Trump era. It is their most high-pro­file gath­er­ing in years, with atten­dance more than dou­ble the most recent meet­ing in 2019, after a pan­dem­ic can­cel­la­tion last year. It caps months of vicious infight­ing over every cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal divi­sion fac­ing the coun­try, par­tic­u­lar­ly after the mur­der of George Floyd.

    The out­come has the poten­tial to per­ma­nent­ly split an already divid­ed evan­gel­i­cal Amer­i­ca. Like the Trump move­ment with­in the Repub­li­can Par­ty, a pop­ulist groundswell with­in the already con­ser­v­a­tive evan­gel­i­cal denom­i­na­tion is try­ing to install an anti-estab­lish­ment leader who could wrench the church even fur­ther to the right, while oppo­nents con­tend that the church must broad­en its reach to pre­serve its strength. For three days, thou­sands of del­e­gates known as “mes­sen­gers” — most of them white men — will fight over race, sex and ulti­mate­ly the future of evan­gel­i­cal pow­er in the Unit­ed States.

    The large increase in atten­dance this year is “not an influx of the woke,” said Tom Buck, a pas­tor in Texas and a leader of the upstart con­ser­v­a­tive wing, who has been fund-rais­ing for like-mind­ed pas­tors to get to Nashville to vote. “It’s an influx of the awak­ened to what the woke have been advanc­ing.”

    An event that has his­tor­i­cal­ly been com­pared to a fam­i­ly reunion may look more like a brawl. In the past sev­er­al weeks, Bap­tists have pored over leaked bomb­shell let­ters and whis­tle-blow­er record­ings, and trad­ed accu­sa­tions of racism, apos­ta­sy and sex­u­al abuse cov­er-ups. Lead­ers have tak­en barbed pot­shots at each oth­er. Oth­ers have head­ed for the door.

    Rus­sell Moore, the denomination’s influ­en­tial head of ethics and pub­lic pol­i­cy, left on June 1. The pop­u­lar author and speak­er Beth Moore, who is not relat­ed to Mr. Moore, announced in March that she is no longer a South­ern Bap­tist, cit­ing the “stag­ger­ing” dis­ori­en­ta­tion of see­ing the denomination’s lead­ers sup­port Don­ald J. Trump, and lament­ing its treat­ment of women. Some con­ser­v­a­tives tri­umphant­ly cel­e­brat­ed both depar­tures.

    ...

    Those hop­ing to “take the ship” main­tain that pira­cy is noth­ing more than a cheeky metaphor for a dry, demo­c­ra­t­ic process. Still, the swash­buck­ling imagery has tak­en hold. There are “Take the Ship” T‑shirts and pirate car flags, GIFs and memes; many sup­port­ers attach a pirate flag emo­ji to their Twit­ter han­dles.

    In Alas­ka, the pas­tor Nathaniel Jol­ly post­ed pho­tographs to Twit­ter of a pirate-themed frozen yogurt shop he used to own with his wife. “Now, for the SBC!” he wrote, append­ing a flag emo­ji to the mes­sage.

    Mr. Jol­ly, who will attend his first annu­al meet­ing, watched with alarm as pub­lic schools in his area have begun to teach what he describes as crit­i­cal race the­o­ry. And he was shocked when high-pro­file lead­ers in his own denom­i­na­tion endorsed aspects of the sprawl­ing racial protest move­ment last sum­mer. “I think C.R.T. is one of these destruc­tive here­sies that have snuck in,” he said, refer­ring to a pas­sage in the New Tes­ta­ment book of 2 Peter about false teach­ers who bring “swift destruc­tion on them­selves.”

    ...

    The denom­i­na­tion has about 14.5 mil­lion mem­bers but has been steadi­ly shrink­ing for the past decade. In 2014, about 85 per­cent of South­ern Bap­tists were white, 6 per­cent were Black and 3 per­cent were Lati­no, accord­ing to the Pew Research Cen­ter.

    South­ern Bap­tists split from their north­ern coun­ter­parts in 1845 in sup­port of slav­ery. After the denom­i­na­tion repu­di­at­ed its role in slav­ery in the 1990s, a por­tion of its nation­al lead­ers have attempt­ed to diver­si­fy its church­es and sem­i­nar­ies. At its 2019 meet­ing, the con­ven­tion affirmed that crit­i­cal race the­o­ry could be an “ana­lyt­i­cal tool” use­ful to faith­ful Chris­tians, a move that many con­ser­v­a­tives describe as alarm­ing. Its cur­rent pres­i­dent, J.D. Greear, urged South­ern Bap­tists last sum­mer to declare that “Black lives mat­ter.”

    Some high-pro­file South­ern Bap­tists have also pushed back on some stric­tures against female church lead­er­ship. One of the denomination’s largest con­gre­ga­tions, Sad­dle­back Church in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, qui­et­ly ordained three women as staff pas­tors in May, a move that out­raged con­ser­v­a­tives.

    Con­ser­v­a­tives have spent months drum­ming up turnout. The Con­ser­v­a­tive Bap­tist Net­work, an increas­ing­ly influ­en­tial group found­ed last year, released a recent video urg­ing Bap­tists to “stop the drift” by com­ing to Nashville. Some Bap­tists planned to gath­er at ral­ly­ing sites before the big event. Out­side Dal­las, 1,600 peo­ple reg­is­tered for Wok­e­ness and the Gospel, a con­fer­ence that warned of the per­ils of what orga­niz­ers call “the new moral­ism.”

    The most high-pro­file vote at the meet­ing will be the elec­tion of a new pres­i­dent, a race whose lead­ing can­di­dates are Mike Stone, a Geor­gia pas­tor who is the favorite of many con­ser­v­a­tives, includ­ing Mr. Nel­son and Mr. Jol­ly; Ed Lit­ton, an Alaba­ma pas­tor who has large­ly avoid­ed cul­ture war bat­tles and has the sup­port of the denomination’s first Black pres­i­dent; and Albert Mohler Jr., a lion of the denom­i­na­tion who helped ush­er in a con­ser­v­a­tive rev­o­lu­tion decades ago and is now in the awk­ward posi­tion of being labeled a mod­er­ate “com­pro­mise can­di­date.” Mr. Stone, a one­time under­dog, is con­sid­ered a seri­ous con­tender.

    No mat­ter which side emerges tri­umphant from the meet­ing next week, a schism looms.

    “A lot of us will know if this con­ven­tion is for us once it is over,” said Dwight McKissic, pas­tor of Cor­ner­stone Bap­tist Church in Arling­ton, Texas, who has been lead­ing antiracism efforts in the denom­i­na­tion. If Mr. Mohler or Mr. Stone wins the pres­i­den­cy, or if res­o­lu­tions are passed that affirm racism, in his view, he will leave. Sev­er­al oth­er Black pas­tors have announced their depar­tures with­in the past year.

    Hos­til­i­ty over crit­i­cal race the­o­ry among the South­ern Bap­tists, which came to the fore­ground after Thanks­giv­ing when sem­i­nary pres­i­dents denounced it, is inter­wo­ven with its weaponiza­tion by the G.O.P., he said.

    “The lit­mus test now for being a Bap­tist is you have to denounce C.R.T. as they do?” he said. “We would be com­plete­ly off our rock­ers to sub­mit, give that kind of pow­er to a white denom­i­na­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly on the sub­ject of race.”

    The con­ven­tion has his­tor­i­cal­ly reflect­ed divi­sions in the coun­try. The most recent meet­ing, two years ago in Birm­ing­ham, Ala., focused on sex­u­al abuse in evan­gel­i­cal church­es. The year before, ten­sions were polit­i­cal. Mike Pence, then the country’s vice pres­i­dent, gave a keynote address to ral­ly evan­gel­i­cal sup­port for Mr. Trump ahead of the midterm elec­tions.

    The denom­i­na­tion vowed at its con­ven­tion two years ago to address sex­u­al abuse in its con­gre­ga­tions, but many vic­tims’ advo­cates have warned that lit­tle has changed. South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers have also not pub­licly addressed an alle­ga­tion of abuse at one of its most promi­nent megachurch­es, the Vil­lage Church in Texas.

    In one of two fiery let­ters that leaked after his depar­ture, Mr. Moore accused lead­ers includ­ing Mr. Stone of imped­ing the denomination’s attempts to root out abusers, and of “bul­ly­ing and intim­i­da­tion” toward sur­vivors of sex­u­al abuse. (Mr. Stone respond­ed in a video state­ment, call­ing the let­ter “as inflam­ma­to­ry as it is inac­cu­rate.”) Lat­er, an ally of Mr. Moore released audio record­ings of meet­ings that includ­ed Mr. Moore, Mr. Stone and oth­ers debat­ing how to han­dle abuse, with anoth­er high-placed leader, Ron­nie Floyd, say­ing his pri­or­i­ty was not to wor­ry about sur­vivor reac­tions but rather to “pre­serve the base.” (In a state­ment, Mr. Floyd apol­o­gized and said his remarks were mis­char­ac­ter­ized.)

    Oppo­nents of the con­ser­v­a­tive cam­paign are not as cen­tral­ly orga­nized, with a less tar­get­ed vot­er turnout oper­a­tion. Last month, their pre­ferred can­di­date, Mr. Lit­ton, held ques­tion-and-answer ses­sions for about 30 pas­tors in West Vir­ginia over take­out Chick-fil‑A, and anoth­er for a sim­i­lar group in Baton Rouge, La.

    No mat­ter what hap­pens in Nashville, the con­ser­v­a­tives are press­ing on to strength­en their insti­tu­tion­al and cul­tur­al pow­er. Tom Ascol, who leads Founders Min­istries, an influ­en­tial con­ser­v­a­tive group, has been host­ing reg­u­lar calls with fel­low pas­tors who are new­ly engaged in the fight.

    ...

    ———-

    “‘Take the Ship’: Con­ser­v­a­tives Aim to Com­man­deer South­ern Bap­tists” by Ruth Gra­ham and Eliz­a­beth Dias; The New York Times; 06/12/2021

    “Mr. Nel­son is not alone. He is part of an ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive pop­ulist upris­ing of pas­tors from Louisiana to Cal­i­for­nia threat­en­ing to over­take the country’s largest Protes­tant denom­i­na­tion.”

    It’s not just a move­ment. It’s a hos­tile takeover, as Nel­son’s black pirate flag should make clear. And while it’s a hos­tile takeover that’s, at this point, still reliant on the demo­c­ra­t­ic process to suc­ceed, the pirate themes under­score how deep the schism is inside the denom­i­na­tion. Not a schism between pro­gres­sive and con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tions, but instead between tra­di­tion­al con­ser­v­a­tives and ultra­con­ser­v­a­tives:

    ...
    Allen Nel­son IV walked to the front of his small church in cen­tral Arkansas, stopped in front of the com­mu­nion table with three large cross­es behind him, and unfurled a giant black flag with a white skull and crossed swords.

    For sev­er­al years, the pas­tor and father of five had felt that too many of his fel­low Chris­tians were drift­ing unmis­tak­ably left­ward on issues of race, gen­der and the strict author­i­ty of the Bible. The flag was a gift from a friend, ener­gized — like Mr. Nel­son — by the idea of hero­ical­ly reclaim­ing the faith.

    It was time, he believed, to “take the ship.”

    “We’re fight­ing for the very heart of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion,” Mr. Nel­son said in an inter­view. “For a long time what I thought a good South­ern Bap­tist pas­tor should do was to send mon­ey and trust the sys­tem. We can’t do that any­more.”

    ...

    Those hop­ing to “take the ship” main­tain that pira­cy is noth­ing more than a cheeky metaphor for a dry, demo­c­ra­t­ic process. Still, the swash­buck­ling imagery has tak­en hold. There are “Take the Ship” T‑shirts and pirate car flags, GIFs and memes; many sup­port­ers attach a pirate flag emo­ji to their Twit­ter han­dles.

    In Alas­ka, the pas­tor Nathaniel Jol­ly post­ed pho­tographs to Twit­ter of a pirate-themed frozen yogurt shop he used to own with his wife. “Now, for the SBC!” he wrote, append­ing a flag emo­ji to the mes­sage.
    ...

    But also note a major ele­ment of con­text here: this 2021 SBC elec­tion was tak­ing place amid a string of bomb­shells relat­ed to the sex­u­al abuse coverups that con­tin­ue to rock the SBC to this day. This was fol­low­ing the depart­ment of Rus­sell Moore as the SBC’s head of ethics and pub­lic pol­i­cy over the denom­i­na­tions hard turn to the right and sup­port of fig­ures like Don­ald Trump. It effec­tive­ly came down to a race between Mike Stone — the can­di­date backed by the ultra­con­ser­v­a­tives like Nel­son and some­one accused of cov­er­ing up the sex­u­al abus­es — and Ed Lit­ton who was rep­re­sent­ing the more tra­di­tion­al con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tion. Lit­ton even­tu­al­ly came out on top in the 2021 elec­tions for SBC pres­i­dent, but that did­n’t end this ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tle. It just pushed the bat­tle for SBC lead­er­ship off for anoth­er year:

    ...
    The large increase in atten­dance this year is “not an influx of the woke,” said Tom Buck, a pas­tor in Texas and a leader of the upstart con­ser­v­a­tive wing, who has been fund-rais­ing for like-mind­ed pas­tors to get to Nashville to vote. “It’s an influx of the awak­ened to what the woke have been advanc­ing.”

    An event that has his­tor­i­cal­ly been com­pared to a fam­i­ly reunion may look more like a brawl. In the past sev­er­al weeks, Bap­tists have pored over leaked bomb­shell let­ters and whis­tle-blow­er record­ings, and trad­ed accu­sa­tions of racism, apos­ta­sy and sex­u­al abuse cov­er-ups. Lead­ers have tak­en barbed pot­shots at each oth­er. Oth­ers have head­ed for the door.

    Rus­sell Moore, the denomination’s influ­en­tial head of ethics and pub­lic pol­i­cy, left on June 1. The pop­u­lar author and speak­er Beth Moore, who is not relat­ed to Mr. Moore, announced in March that she is no longer a South­ern Bap­tist, cit­ing the “stag­ger­ing” dis­ori­en­ta­tion of see­ing the denomination’s lead­ers sup­port Don­ald J. Trump, and lament­ing its treat­ment of women. Some con­ser­v­a­tives tri­umphant­ly cel­e­brat­ed both depar­tures.

    ...

    Con­ser­v­a­tives have spent months drum­ming up turnout. The Con­ser­v­a­tive Bap­tist Net­work, an increas­ing­ly influ­en­tial group found­ed last year, released a recent video urg­ing Bap­tists to “stop the drift” by com­ing to Nashville. Some Bap­tists planned to gath­er at ral­ly­ing sites before the big event. Out­side Dal­las, 1,600 peo­ple reg­is­tered for Wok­e­ness and the Gospel, a con­fer­ence that warned of the per­ils of what orga­niz­ers call “the new moral­ism.”

    The most high-pro­file vote at the meet­ing will be the elec­tion of a new pres­i­dent, a race whose lead­ing can­di­dates are Mike Stone, a Geor­gia pas­tor who is the favorite of many con­ser­v­a­tives, includ­ing Mr. Nel­son and Mr. Jol­ly; Ed Lit­ton, an Alaba­ma pas­tor who has large­ly avoid­ed cul­ture war bat­tles and has the sup­port of the denomination’s first Black pres­i­dent; and Albert Mohler Jr., a lion of the denom­i­na­tion who helped ush­er in a con­ser­v­a­tive rev­o­lu­tion decades ago and is now in the awk­ward posi­tion of being labeled a mod­er­ate “com­pro­mise can­di­date.” Mr. Stone, a one­time under­dog, is con­sid­ered a seri­ous con­tender.

    No mat­ter which side emerges tri­umphant from the meet­ing next week, a schism looms.

    ...

    In one of two fiery let­ters that leaked after his depar­ture, Mr. Moore accused lead­ers includ­ing Mr. Stone of imped­ing the denomination’s attempts to root out abusers, and of “bul­ly­ing and intim­i­da­tion” toward sur­vivors of sex­u­al abuse.(Mr. Stone respond­ed in a video state­ment, call­ing the let­ter “as inflam­ma­to­ry as it is inac­cu­rate.”) Lat­er, an ally of Mr. Moore released audio record­ings of meet­ings that includ­ed Mr. Moore, Mr. Stone and oth­ers debat­ing how to han­dle abuse, with anoth­er high-placed leader, Ron­nie Floyd, say­ing his pri­or­i­ty was not to wor­ry about sur­vivor reac­tions but rather to “pre­serve the base.” (In a state­ment, Mr. Floyd apol­o­gized and said his remarks were mis­char­ac­ter­ized.)

    Oppo­nents of the con­ser­v­a­tive cam­paign are not as cen­tral­ly orga­nized, with a less tar­get­ed vot­er turnout oper­a­tion. Last month, their pre­ferred can­di­date, Mr. Lit­ton, held ques­tion-and-answer ses­sions for about 30 pas­tors in West Vir­ginia over take­out Chick-fil‑A, and anoth­er for a sim­i­lar group in Baton Rouge, La.
    ...

    And that brings us to the fol­low­ing arti­cle excerpt from sev­er­al months about that ongo­ing SBC lead­er­ship bat­tle, with the SBC’s cur­rent pres­i­dent, Bart Bar­ber, cur­rent­ly serv­ing his sec­ond and final term as SBC pres­i­dent. As we’ve seen, it was Bar­ber who recent­ly had to deal with the uproar caused by the SBC’s deci­sion to file an ami­cus brief legal in a Ken­tucky court case. The case seem­ing­ly had noth­ing to do with SBC busi­ness, but instead cen­tered around a woman who is suing the Louisville Police Depart­ment, argu­ing that they knew about the abus­es her father — a police offi­cer con­vict­ed of abus­ing her as a child in 2020 — was inflict­ing on her for years, and had a duty to report it. The SBC brief opposed the expan­sion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for law­suits against third par­ties, includ­ing reli­gious insti­tu­tions, and added that the SBC has a “strong inter­est in the statute-of-lim­i­ta­tions issue” in the case and that a 2021 state law allow­ing abuse vic­tims to sue third-par­ty “non-per­pe­tra­tors” was not intend­ed to be applied retroac­tive­ly. Bar­ber took respon­si­bil­i­ty approv­ing the ami­cus brief with­out giv­ing it the full atten­tion it deserved. At the same time, Bar­ber hedged on whether or not the statute of lim­i­ta­tions should indeed be applic­a­ble retroac­tive­ly, adding “I am not sure exact­ly what I think about statutes of lim­i­ta­tion. I think they are a mixed bag...I am uncom­fort­able with the harm statutes of lim­i­ta­tions can do, but I also think that they play a valid role in the law some­times.”.

    It’s the kind of sto­ry that might make it sound like the ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tion final­ly man­aged to get one of their own as SBC pres­i­dent. But that’s not the case. While Bar­ber was indeed aligned with the ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tion at one point, he’s no longer in the club. That’s, in part, thanks to Bar­ber’s will­ing­ness to final­ly con­demn one of the SBC lead­ers who has become a focal point for out­rage over the coverup of sex­u­al abus­es: for­mer SBC pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son. Recall how Pat­ter­son was forced to resign from his posi­tion as the Pres­i­dent of the South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in May of 2018 after he after he said he want­ed to meet alone with a female stu­dent who said she was raped so he could “break her down,” accord­ing to a state­ment from sem­i­nary trustees. Pat­ter­son and his wife are both mem­bers of the CNP. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, Bar­ber was one of the sem­i­nary’s trustees at the time and also long one of Pat­ter­son­’s staunchest defend­ers. Bar­ber even ini­tial­ly vot­ed against an ini­tial res­o­lu­tion call­ing for Pat­ter­son­’s res­ig­na­tion. It was only after the rev­e­la­tions about Pat­ter­son­’s active role in try­ing to sup­press an alle­ga­tion of rape that Bar­ber dropped his sup­port for Pat­ter­son.

    And as the arti­cle also reminds us, when we’re try­ing to under­stand this ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment that’s try­ing to take the SBC in a more con­ser­v­a­tive direc­tion, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that this the same move­ment ded­i­cat­ed to ideals like Bib­li­cal inerran­cy and fun­da­men­tal­ism that Pat­ter­son has spent decades lead­ing. A “Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence”, as sup­port­ers call it. Cur­rent SBC pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber was ful­ly on board with the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence until the ongo­ing sex­u­al abuse scan­dal forced him to choose a dif­fer­ent path. And his for­mer allies have nev­er for­giv­en him:

    The Ten­nessean

    Bart Bar­ber defied the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence. How it is now shap­ing his SBC lead­er­ship.

    Liam Adams
    Nashville Ten­nessean
    Pub­lished 5:02 a.m. CT Sept. 18, 2023 | Updat­ed 9:05 a.m. CT Sept. 18, 2023

    Key Points
    * SBC Pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber, a Texas pas­tor, is enter­ing his sec­ond and final term amid a con­tentious moment in denom­i­na­tion over abuse reform and sta­tus of women pas­tors.
    * As a blog­ger and then trustee at South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth, Texas, Bar­ber was a loy­al sup­port­er of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence move­ment and lead­ers.
    * After sev­er­ing loy­al­ty with a Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence leader in a dra­mat­ic, pub­lic way, Bar­ber has wres­tled with how he propped up fig­ures who con­tributed to mess­es he’s deal­ing with as pres­i­dent.

    Bart Bar­ber defied the top brass.

    In May 2018, the Texas pas­tor and his fel­low trustees at South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth fired sem­i­nary pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son, the archi­tect of the fun­da­men­tal­ist takeover of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion. Fol­low­ing years of finan­cial-relat­ed con­tro­ver­sies, rev­e­la­tions about Pat­ter­son mis­han­dling reports of sex­u­al abuse pushed Southwestern’s board past a point of no return.

    Bar­ber, once a loy­al foot sol­dier in Patterson’s move­ment, was a deci­sive vote in Patterson’s dis­missal, there­by sev­er­ing his alle­giance. Two weeks lat­er, Bar­ber divulged the details of his defec­tion before thou­sands at the 2018 SBC annu­al meet­ing in Dal­las.

    “After that, it felt to me that I had become the hero of 10,000 peo­ple I didn’t know, while 1,000 peo­ple I spent the last 10 years with wouldn’t talk to me,” Bar­ber said in a recent inter­view.

    The break with Pat­ter­son is among the cen­tral moments that have shaped Bar­ber into the leader he is today with­in the nation’s largest Protes­tant denom­i­na­tion. Oth­er moments range from his unex­pect­ed deci­sion to run for SBC pres­i­dent to his elec­tion vic­to­ry at the 2022 SBC annu­al meet­ing and his reelec­tion this year just two days after his moth­er died.

    But those events in 2018 were the first major turn­ing points.

    Many South­ern Bap­tist del­e­gates, called mes­sen­gers, were embold­ened by Barber’s five-minute speech dur­ing the 2018 SBC annu­al meet­ing and respond­ed with a stand­ing ova­tion. Oth­ers who sup­port­ed Pat­ter­son were infu­ri­at­ed and some con­front­ed Bar­ber and his fam­i­ly in the lob­by of the con­ven­tion cen­ter.

    ...

    Today, Bar­ber is best known for his folksy friend­li­ness and a geeky love of Bap­tist his­to­ry. He’s a small-town pas­tor and farmer on the side, who posts pop­u­lar Twit­ter videos from his ranch where view­ers get to meet his cows (with pun­ny names such as Bul­ly Gra­ham) and he pon­tif­i­cates on SBC par­lia­men­tary pro­ce­dures.

    Bonus Bul­ly Gra­ham and Lot­tie Moooon footage at the end. pic.twitter.com/pn62RQBg65— Bart Bar­ber (@bartbarber) Novem­ber 3, 2022

    But behind that cheery per­sona is a sto­ry of the bat­tles that Bar­ber waged with peo­ple who fanned the flames of fac­tion­al­ism and cov­ered up cler­gy sex­u­al abuse. It con­tributed to the mess that Bar­ber is now try­ing to clean up as SBC pres­i­dent.

    Along with regret Bar­ber feels about his past actions and the alle­giances he held, he also sees learned lessons about what went wrong and how he could take a dif­fer­ent approach.

    “Bart went against that polit­i­cal jug­ger­naut. He was with­in it and then he stood against it,” said South­west­ern pro­fes­sor Mal­com Yarnell, who’s known Bar­ber for 20-plus years. “The only way that’s explic­a­ble is he jet­ti­soned per­son­al loy­al­ty because of his sense of loy­al­ty to Jesus Christ and to his church.”

    First respon­si­ble for lead­ing busi­ness at the convention’s two-day annu­al meet­ing, the SBC pres­i­dent is one of the most pub­lic faces for the Nashville-based denom­i­na­tion. Bar­ber has had addi­tion­al respon­si­bil­i­ties that revolve around sev­er­al task forces, one that’s imple­ment­ing abuse reform and anoth­er look­ing at the denomination’s stan­dards for affil­i­at­ing with church­es. The lat­ter group is a response to a debate about church­es with women pas­tors.

    The SBC Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee is gath­er­ing in Nashville this week and is expect­ed to dis­cuss busi­ness relat­ed to those task forces.

    The com­bi­na­tion of scan­dals, divi­sion over issues like abuse reform and women pas­tors, and declin­ing church mem­ber­ship has fueled an iden­ti­ty cri­sis in the SBC. Many are wrestling with the ques­tion about the denomination’s abil­i­ty to main­tain con­ser­v­a­tive ideals with­out being over­ly exclu­sion­ary.

    Bar­ber doesn’t have all the answers, but he knows what it’s like to read­just expec­ta­tions when old mod­els fail.

    “You’re not going to fool this man. He has seen things he wished he had not seen,” Yarnell said. “He knows what a real cri­sis is as opposed to a bump in the road. He now knows the right ques­tions to ask.”

    For­ay into the fun­da­men­tal­ist’s fight

    When Bar­ber ven­tured from his small Arkansas home­town in 1988 to Bay­lor Uni­ver­si­ty, he didn’t expect to find the fun­da­men­tal­ist fight for the SBC.

    Over time, it found him.

    “Bay­lor made me more con­ser­v­a­tive,” Bar­ber said. “I heard a lot of things I knew I didn’t believe.”

    For exam­ple, some Bay­lor pro­fes­sors didn’t affirm bib­li­cal inerran­cy, or the belief the Bible is with­out error. The crit­i­cism was shared by lead­ers of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence, the move­ment try­ing to pull the SBC fur­ther right.

    At the time, the move­ment was gain­ing momen­tum in its mis­sion of amass­ing South­ern Bap­tist vot­ing pow­er to gain con­trol of boards and com­mit­tees to change SBC gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments and edu­ca­tion­al cur­ricu­lum.

    One of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resurgence’s most well-known vic­to­ries was at South­west­ern, when the coali­tion stacked enough sym­pa­thet­ic trustees on Southwestern’s board to vote to fire its pres­i­dent, Rus­sell Dil­day. Ken Hemphill was Dilday’s replace­ment. Pat­ter­son then suc­ceed­ed Hemphill.

    At the time of Dilday’s ouster, Bar­ber was a stu­dent at the Fort Worth sem­i­nary, where he enrolled in a Mas­ter of Divin­i­ty pro­gram after grad­u­at­ing from Bay­lor. He embraced Southwestern’s new, more con­ser­v­a­tive tra­jec­to­ry and it inspired him to even­tu­al­ly pur­sue a Ph.D there in 2000. Around the same time, he start­ed pas­tor­ing First Bap­tist Church in Farm­ersville, Texas, where he still pas­tors today.

    Barber’s aca­d­e­m­ic inter­ests and his emerg­ing polit­i­cal com­mit­ments played off each oth­er. Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence lead­ers were cham­pi­oning the same ideals he was study­ing, such as reli­gious lib­er­ty and local church auton­o­my.

    “He (Bar­ber) is not a legal­ist. He’s dri­ven by prin­ci­ple, rather than law,” Yarnell said. “The prin­ci­ple of demo­c­ra­t­ic con­gre­ga­tion­al­ism and doing things in order and in a kind way is who Bart is.”

    Bar­ber went from being just a pupil of those ideals to a pur­vey­or with the emer­gence of Bap­tist blog­ging.

    A self-described “techy” who knows four cod­ing lan­guages, Bar­ber start­ed a blog in 2006 with low expec­ta­tions and a cool name: Praisegod Bare­bones. But that changed quick­ly as Bap­tist blog­ging increas­ing­ly influ­enced SBC pol­i­tics.

    “I start­ed pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly writ­ing stuff, almost all of which was a point to be scored against some­body else’s point,” Bar­ber said.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, his blog emerged as an antithe­sis to Okla­homa pas­tor Wade Burleson, who ran one of the most pop­u­lar Bap­tist blogs in a cru­sade against legal­ism and South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers mis­us­ing their author­i­ty.

    “My friends today were my ene­mies 15 years ago,” Burleson, who’s now retired from the pas­torate, said in an inter­view. “Bart Bar­ber was my ene­my 15 years ago because he thought I was a pro­gres­sive.”

    Burleson once sup­port­ed Pat­ter­son and the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence, but even­tu­al­ly became a vocal crit­ic of the move­ment and its lead­ers. Bar­ber took it upon him­self to fight back, writ­ing posts such as “Keep­ing Watch over the Estab­lish­ment” in 2007 and “Why I love Dr. Paige Pat­ter­son” in 2008.

    “Among those who have blogged in defense of Dr. Pat­ter­son against these attacks, I know of few who have labored hard­er than I have,” Bar­ber said in a 2009 post.

    To Bar­ber, an attack against Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence lead­ers was an attack against the ideas the move­ment stood for. He and oth­ers like him became col­lec­tive­ly known as the “Bap­tist Iden­ti­ty” blog­gers.

    “I very quick­ly hand­ed out team jer­seys to peo­ple, one side or the oth­er,” Bar­ber said. “Quick to decide these peo­ple are against these ideas.”

    It played out in-per­son, too. Bap­tist Iden­ti­ty blog­gers didn’t greet Burleson at SBC annu­al meet­ings, Burleson said. Burleson, mean­while, pub­licly opposed Barber’s nom­i­na­tion to Southwestern’s board at the 2009 SBC annu­al meet­ing.

    Bar­ber felt it went too far, he said in an inter­view. “The tone of my blog­ging increased par­ti­san­ship and decreased coop­er­a­tion in the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion.”

    Chal­leng­ing his com­mit­ment to the cause

    Barber’s com­mit­ment to the cause faced chal­lenges when he joined Southwestern’s board and began work­ing direct­ly with those whom he laud­ed in his online posts.

    “Bart had an awak­en­ing,” Burleson said. “I think he real­ized he had been fed a bill of goods.”

    It hap­pened incre­men­tal­ly and due to mount­ing con­tro­ver­sies. Ear­ly exam­ples were the stained-glass win­dows installed in Southwestern’s chapel hon­or­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence lead­ers and a pro­posed retire­ment home for Pat­ter­son and his wife on the seminary’s cam­pus.

    Donors des­ig­nat­ed funds for those projects, but it was bad optics at a time the sem­i­nary was cut­ting employ­ee ben­e­fits and lay­ing off staff.

    At first, Bar­ber stood with Pat­ter­son. “I went on the board as some­one who want­ed to imple­ment Paige Patterson’s vision for South­west­ern Sem­i­nary,” he said.

    One way he did that, like his blog, was pro­tect­ing Pat­ter­son from crit­i­cism.

    But Pat­ter­son didn’t ask Bar­ber to defend him, nor did Pat­ter­son show much appre­ci­a­tion when Bar­ber did. Bar­ber grew dis­il­lu­sioned and felt con­cerned less for Patterson’s lega­cy and more for Southwestern’s rep­u­ta­tion. “I was think­ing I’m going to try to save the sem­i­nary by sav­ing Paige Pat­ter­son,” he said.

    Bar­ber want­ed Patterson’s even­tu­al depar­ture to hap­pen with retire­ment, allow­ing him to leave on a pos­i­tive note and avoid ugly con­flict with the board.

    That all changed with rev­e­la­tions about Patterson’s response to reports of rape on sem­i­nary grounds and a woman’s dis­clo­sure about domes­tic vio­lence. In each of the three sce­nar­ios, Pat­ter­son respond­ed with a seem­ing lack of com­pas­sion for the women report­ing the abuse and showed def­er­ence to the accused.

    At that point, there was no ques­tion in Barber’s mind. “It got to the point where I was going to save the sem­i­nary by fir­ing Paige Pat­ter­son.”

    Let­ting go of loy­al­ty

    Southwestern’s board tried to fire Pat­ter­son dur­ing a marathon 13-hour meet­ing in May 22–23, 2018, but were unable due to two hold­outs. Bar­ber was one of them.

    Instead, the board decid­ed in that meet­ing to change Patterson’s title to pres­i­dent emer­i­tus and asked him to retire soon.

    After that May meet­ing, Pat­ter­son and his attor­ney fought back, which Bar­ber felt was “just plain insub­or­di­na­tion.” Also, a Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle detailed one of the instances in which Pat­ter­son dis­missed a female sem­i­nar­i­an who report­ed being raped.

    At that point, “there were two things I knew that shaped my vote to ter­mi­nate Paige Pat­ter­son,” Bar­ber said. “One was that I knew two peo­ple who had vot­ed against fir­ing him in the May 22–23 meet­ing whose opin­ion had changed.”

    “The oth­er thing was I had seen him (Pat­ter­son) fire peo­ple for far less and with­out so much atten­tion to process,” he added. So, the board recon­vened on May 30 and unan­i­mous­ly vot­ed to fire the pres­i­dent.

    Pat­ter­son sup­port­ers retal­i­at­ed swift­ly. Donors penned a let­ter express­ing dis­dain, while oth­er allies devised a plan for the upcom­ing SBC annu­al meet­ing in Dal­las to intro­duce a mea­sure that sought to oust South­west­ern trustees from the board.

    Bar­ber and his fel­low trustees knew they need­ed to find some­one to speak at the Dal­las meet­ing in the board’s defense. But those fel­low trustees, nor oth­er well-respect­ed South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers whom Bar­ber con­tact­ed, would vol­un­teer.

    With time run­ning out, Bar­ber took it upon him­self. He hun­kered down in the mez­za­nine of the Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Dal­las and start­ed writ­ing.

    “That was not some­thing I want­ed to do but it was some­thing that need­ed to be done,” Bar­ber said in an inter­view.

    When he deliv­ered the speech, he looked uncom­fort­able at first. He most­ly looked down at his pre­pared remarks as he described Patterson’s lead­er­ship issues. But his coun­te­nance changed when he piv­ot­ed to talk­ing about account­abil­i­ty and democ­ra­cy in the SBC — top­ics he pre­sent­ed with author­i­ta­tive enthu­si­asm and an intent gaze on the audi­ence.

    Barber’s two sis­ters watched the live stream. “We wept for him,” sis­ter Traci Smith said in an inter­view. “Because we knew this was a moment where he had to choose if he was going to do the thing that hon­ored God or hon­ored a per­son.”

    Min­i­miz­ing hurt, cul­ti­vat­ing health

    Five years after that Dal­las meet­ing, Bar­ber found him­self yet again prepar­ing anoth­er con­se­quen­tial speech with few­er than 48 hours to spare.

    This time, it was his pres­i­den­tial address for this year’s SBC annu­al meet­ing in New Orleans and he was writ­ing about his mom, who had died that morn­ing. It wasn’t a hard speech to write or deliv­er.

    ...

    The SBC annu­al meet­ing was con­tentious and emo­tion­al­ly charged, yet Bar­ber felt ground­ed.

    “It ratch­eted down the sense of how con­se­quen­tial the things I was doing there,” Bar­ber said in an inter­view. “I prob­a­bly would have had quite a bit of anx­i­ety and instead, my mem­o­ry of that week is just a sense of calm and sta­bil­i­ty.”

    It’s emblem­at­ic of his larg­er goals as SBC pres­i­dent, to low­er the tem­per­a­ture of debate and pro­mote com­pro­mise.

    Some feel he’s already done that, for exam­ple, with the divide between megachurch­es ver­sus small, rur­al con­gre­ga­tions. The dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber of megachurch pas­tors in SBC lead­er­ship has caused small-town pas­tors to feel under­rep­re­sent­ed. Barber’s job as a small-town pas­tor has chal­lenged that, Smith and Yarnell said.

    For oth­ers, Barber’s mes­sag­ing has its lim­its.

    “Bar­ber is good at talk­ing the talk on abuse reform,” said Christa Brown, an abuse sur­vivor and long­time advo­cate for reform, in a state­ment. “But I don’t see much dif­fer­ence in terms of walk­ing the walk.”

    As pres­i­dent, Bar­ber appoints the SBC Abuse Reform Imple­men­ta­tion Task Force, which is start­ing its sec­ond year of work. After deal­ing with some turnover and the appoint­ment of a new chair, the task force is still work­ing on projects that many expect­ed to be com­plete by now.

    “No mat­ter how sin­cere­ly spo­ken, emp­ty promis­es with­out sub­stan­tive actions fur­ther wound sur­vivors,” Brown said.

    Bar­ber agrees he has his work cut out for him.

    A new SBC Coop­er­a­tion Group that Bar­ber recent­ly appoint­ed has until June to find a com­pro­mise that con­vinces the SBC not to rat­i­fy a mea­sure that would enshrine a ban on women pas­tors.

    Among the sup­port­ers of that mea­sure and who want to see the SBC Coop­er­a­tion Group fail are peo­ple who Bar­ber once fought along­side.

    “I had done some things that con­tributed to the SBC being less healthy,” Bar­ber said. “And feel I have some oblig­a­tion to make the SBC health­i­er as a sort of penance.”

    ————

    “Bart Bar­ber defied the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence. How it is now shap­ing his SBC lead­er­ship.” by Liam Adams; The Ten­nessean; 09/18/2023

    “In May 2018, the Texas pas­tor and his fel­low trustees at South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in Fort Worth fired sem­i­nary pres­i­dent Paige Pat­ter­son, the archi­tect of the fun­da­men­tal­ist takeover of the South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion. Fol­low­ing years of finan­cial-relat­ed con­tro­ver­sies, rev­e­la­tions about Pat­ter­son mis­han­dling reports of sex­u­al abuse pushed Southwestern’s board past a point of no return.”

    It was 2018 when Bart Bar­ber effec­tive broke with the “Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence”, after years of being one of Paige Pat­ter­son­’s biggest fans and even pen­ning a “Why I love Dr. Paige Pat­ter­son” blog post in 2008. But Bar­ber is no pro­gres­sive. He was a long-time fel­low fun­da­men­tal­ist and believ­er in the inerran­cy of the Bible:

    ...
    Bar­ber, once a loy­al foot sol­dier in Patterson’s move­ment, was a deci­sive vote in Patterson’s dis­missal, there­by sev­er­ing his alle­giance. Two weeks lat­er, Bar­ber divulged the details of his defec­tion before thou­sands at the 2018 SBC annu­al meet­ing in Dal­las.

    ...

    But behind that cheery per­sona is a sto­ry of the bat­tles that Bar­ber waged with peo­ple who fanned the flames of fac­tion­al­ism and cov­ered up cler­gy sex­u­al abuse. It con­tributed to the mess that Bar­ber is now try­ing to clean up as SBC pres­i­dent.

    ...

    When Bar­ber ven­tured from his small Arkansas home­town in 1988 to Bay­lor Uni­ver­si­ty, he didn’t expect to find the fun­da­men­tal­ist fight for the SBC.

    Over time, it found him.

    “Bay­lor made me more con­ser­v­a­tive,” Bar­ber said. “I heard a lot of things I knew I didn’t believe.”

    For exam­ple, some Bay­lor pro­fes­sors didn’t affirm bib­li­cal inerran­cy, or the belief the Bible is with­out error. The crit­i­cism was shared by lead­ers of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence, the move­ment try­ing to pull the SBC fur­ther right.

    At the time, the move­ment was gain­ing momen­tum in its mis­sion of amass­ing South­ern Bap­tist vot­ing pow­er to gain con­trol of boards and com­mit­tees to change SBC gov­ern­ing doc­u­ments and edu­ca­tion­al cur­ricu­lum.

    ...

    A self-described “techy” who knows four cod­ing lan­guages, Bar­ber start­ed a blog in 2006 with low expec­ta­tions and a cool name: Praisegod Bare­bones. But that changed quick­ly as Bap­tist blog­ging increas­ing­ly influ­enced SBC pol­i­tics.

    “I start­ed pret­ty reg­u­lar­ly writ­ing stuff, almost all of which was a point to be scored against some­body else’s point,” Bar­ber said.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, his blog emerged as an antithe­sis to Okla­homa pas­tor Wade Burleson, who ran one of the most pop­u­lar Bap­tist blogs in a cru­sade against legal­ism and South­ern Bap­tist lead­ers mis­us­ing their author­i­ty.

    “My friends today were my ene­mies 15 years ago,” Burleson, who’s now retired from the pas­torate, said in an inter­view. “Bart Bar­ber was my ene­my 15 years ago because he thought I was a pro­gres­sive.”

    Burleson once sup­port­ed Pat­ter­son and the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence, but even­tu­al­ly became a vocal crit­ic of the move­ment and its lead­ers. Bar­ber took it upon him­self to fight back, writ­ing posts such as “Keep­ing Watch over the Estab­lish­ment” in 2007 and “Why I love Dr. Paige Pat­ter­son” in 2008.

    “Among those who have blogged in defense of Dr. Pat­ter­son against these attacks, I know of few who have labored hard­er than I have,” Bar­ber said in a 2009 post.
    ...

    But in 2018, Bar­ber, as a trustee of the South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, could no longer ignore Pat­ter­son­’s role in the sex­u­al abuse scan­dal that con­tin­ues to rock the SBC. Well, ini­tial­ly Bar­ber seemed to be will­ing to defend Pat­ter­son from the charges. But then the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished an arti­cle detail­ing an inci­dent where Pat­ter­son took a direct role in dis­miss­ing a rape alle­ga­tion and Pat­ter­son was sim­ply too tox­ic to con­tin­ue to defend:

    ...
    Barber’s com­mit­ment to the cause faced chal­lenges when he joined Southwestern’s board and began work­ing direct­ly with those whom he laud­ed in his online posts.

    “Bart had an awak­en­ing,” Burleson said. “I think he real­ized he had been fed a bill of goods.”

    It hap­pened incre­men­tal­ly and due to mount­ing con­tro­ver­sies. Ear­ly exam­ples were the stained-glass win­dows installed in Southwestern’s chapel hon­or­ing Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence lead­ers and a pro­posed retire­ment home for Pat­ter­son and his wife on the seminary’s cam­pus.

    ...

    Bar­ber want­ed Patterson’s even­tu­al depar­ture to hap­pen with retire­ment, allow­ing him to leave on a pos­i­tive note and avoid ugly con­flict with the board.

    That all changed with rev­e­la­tions about Patterson’s response to reports of rape on sem­i­nary grounds and a woman’s dis­clo­sure about domes­tic vio­lence. In each of the three sce­nar­ios, Pat­ter­son respond­ed with a seem­ing lack of com­pas­sion for the women report­ing the abuse and showed def­er­ence to the accused.

    At that point, there was no ques­tion in Barber’s mind. “It got to the point where I was going to save the sem­i­nary by fir­ing Paige Pat­ter­son.”

    Let­ting go of loy­al­ty

    Southwestern’s board tried to fire Pat­ter­son dur­ing a marathon 13-hour meet­ing in May 22–23, 2018, but were unable due to two hold­outs. Bar­ber was one of them.

    Instead, the board decid­ed in that meet­ing to change Patterson’s title to pres­i­dent emer­i­tus and asked him to retire soon.

    After that May meet­ing, Pat­ter­son and his attor­ney fought back, which Bar­ber felt was “just plain insub­or­di­na­tion.” Also, a Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle detailed one of the instances in which Pat­ter­son dis­missed a female sem­i­nar­i­an who report­ed being raped.

    At that point, “there were two things I knew that shaped my vote to ter­mi­nate Paige Pat­ter­son,” Bar­ber said. “One was that I knew two peo­ple who had vot­ed against fir­ing him in the May 22–23 meet­ing whose opin­ion had changed.”

    “The oth­er thing was I had seen him (Pat­ter­son) fire peo­ple for far less and with­out so much atten­tion to process,” he added. So, the board recon­vened on May 30 and unan­i­mous­ly vot­ed to fire the pres­i­dent.
    ...

    Would Bar­ber still be a full fledged mem­ber of the Con­ser­v­a­tives Resur­gence today had he not been serv­ing as a trustee of the South­west­ern Bap­tist The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary in 2018 and had the Wash­ing­ton Post not pub­lished that embar­rass­ing arti­cle? Who knows, but it sure looks like cir­cum­stances forced Bar­ber into split­ting with his old allies. And here we are today, five years lat­er, with Bar­ber now the pres­i­dent of the SBC, try­ing to find a com­pro­mise that can avoid the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of a mea­sure that would enshrine a ban on women pas­tors. A ban many of his old allies cur­rent­ly sup­port:

    ...
    A new SBC Coop­er­a­tion Group that Bar­ber recent­ly appoint­ed has until June to find a com­pro­mise that con­vinces the SBC not to rat­i­fy a mea­sure that would enshrine a ban on women pas­tors.

    Among the sup­port­ers of that mea­sure and who want to see the SBC Coop­er­a­tion Group fail are peo­ple who Bar­ber once fought along­side.

    “I had done some things that con­tributed to the SBC being less healthy,” Bar­ber said. “And feel I have some oblig­a­tion to make the SBC health­i­er as a sort of penance.”
    ...

    At the same time, also note the inter­est­ing jux­ta­po­si­tion here: the Chris­t­ian Resur­gence is hav­ing bet­ter elec­toral suc­cess at the bal­lot box than they do in the SBC’s own lead­er­ship elec­tions. Dusty Deev­ers could­n’t win the first vice pres­i­dent elec­tion but he’s an Okla­homa state sen­a­tor now. And this fac­tion has lost the SBC pres­i­den­cy three years in a row now. But in a way that’s not sur­pris­ing. The elec­torate for the SBC’s elec­tion con­sist of rough­ly thir­teen thou­sand vot­ing del­e­gates, who are sure­ly a lot more famil­iar with the agen­da of this ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive fac­tion than the pub­lic at large. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, the agen­da of this fac­tion — also called the Con­ser­v­a­tive Bap­tist Net­work (CBN) — for these recent SBC elec­tions real­ly does seem to large­ly be all about a desire to not turn over too many more rocks in rela­tion to the SBC’s ongo­ing sex­u­al abuse scan­dal. When Bart Bar­ber was run­ning for his sec­ond term as SBC pres­i­dent back in June against CBN/Conservative Resur­gence can­di­date Mike Stone, you could­n’t real­ly find any the­o­log­i­cal dis­agree­ment between the two. The only real dis­agree­ment was how to pro­ceed on sex abuse reforms:

    Reli­gion News Ser­vice

    Bart Bar­ber, Mike Stone — two con­ser­v­a­tive pas­tors — to square off for SBC pres­i­dent

    The two can­di­dates for SBC pres­i­dent hold many of the same beliefs but dis­agree sharply over how to han­dle the issue of sex­u­al abuse and over the direc­tion of the nation’s largest Protes­tant denom­i­na­tion.

    June 7, 2023
    By Bob Smi­etana

    (RNS) — Two years ago, Geor­gia pas­tor Mike Stone received near­ly 6,300 votes for pres­i­dent dur­ing the South­ern Bap­tist Convention’s annu­al meet­ing in Nashville, Ten­nessee — more than any can­di­date in a con­test­ed elec­tion in near­ly two decades.

    Except for one.

    His oppo­nent, Alaba­ma pas­tor Ed Lit­ton, got more than 6,800 votes, win­ning by a nar­row mar­gin of 4%.

    The loss was dif­fi­cult for Stone. Not long after the SBC’s annu­al meet­ing, Lit­ton got in hot water after crit­ics dis­cov­ered he’d used parts of anoth­er pastor’s ser­mons with­out attri­bu­tion, in a con­tro­ver­sy that became known as “Ser­mon­gate.” He’d lat­er apol­o­gize and decide not to run for a sec­ond year in office. Stone also end­ed up suing for­mer SBC ethi­cist Rus­sell Moore, a long­time rival, for alleged­ly ruin­ing his rep­u­ta­tion and cost­ing Stone the elec­tion. That suit was lat­er dropped.

    Next week, at the SBC’s annu­al meet­ing in New Orleans, set for Tues­day and Wednes­day (June 13–14), Stone will be nom­i­nat­ed for pres­i­dent again. He told Reli­gion News Ser­vice ear­li­er this year that he’d had no inten­tion of run­ning again but was asked to do so by sup­port­ers, despite the prece­dent of cur­rent SBC pres­i­dents run­ning unop­posed for their sec­ond terms.

    With his church’s approval, he agreed to jump in the race.

    ...

    The SBC pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, set for about 3 in the after­noon on Tues­day, will pit Stone against incum­bent Pres­i­dent Bart Bar­ber, a Texas pas­tor known for his exper­tise on denom­i­na­tion­al gov­er­nance and his folksy videos filmed from his cat­tle ranch, fea­tur­ing a cow named for famed SBC mis­sion­ary Lot­tie Moon.

    At first glance, lit­tle sep­a­rates the two can­di­dates. Bar­ber, pas­tor of First Bap­tist Church in Farm­ersville, Texas, believes the Bible is inerrant, cham­pi­ons the SBC’s mis­sion­ar­ies and defends the long-held Bap­tist beliefs that homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is a sin, abor­tion is evil and only men should be pas­tor. He prefers to dress in a suit while preach­ing.

    Stone, pas­tor of Emmanuel Bap­tist Church in Black­s­hear, Geor­gia, has the same view on the Bible and the­o­log­i­cal issues as Bar­ber, also sup­ports mis­sions — his daugh­ter is over­seas on a short-term mis­sion to Madrid — and, like Bar­ber, prefers a for­mal look when preach­ing.

    Despite their sim­i­lar­i­ties in doc­trine and prac­tice, the two pas­tors rep­re­sent an ongo­ing dis­pute over the SBC’s cur­rent direc­tion and future. That dis­pute has been fueled by the rise of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Bap­tist Net­work — a group with close ties to dis­graced for­mer SBC leader Paige Pat­ter­son — along with allies such as Flori­da-based Founders Min­istries. This fac­tion, which helped ignite the nation­al debate over crit­i­cal race the­o­ry, argues the SBC has become too lib­er­al, in par­tic­u­lar on issues of race and sex­u­al­i­ty — and for a while, had referred to itself as a group of pirates striv­ing to take con­trol of the denom­i­na­tion. Lead­ers allied with the CBN have also resist­ed sex­u­al abuse reforms.

    Can­di­dates backed by the CBN have lost the last two SBC elec­tions.

    Their oppo­si­tion, which lacks a brand name, large­ly believes the SBC, which has expe­ri­enced tur­moil and mem­ber­ship decline in recent years, is gen­er­al­ly head­ed in the right direc­tion on issues of doc­trine and mis­sion.

    The sharpest dis­agree­ment between the two can­di­dates is seen in their views of abuse reform. Bar­ber, in his role as pres­i­dent, appoint­ed a task force charged with imple­ment­ing a series of reforms, includ­ing set­ting up the “Min­istry Check” web­site that will include the names of abu­sive pas­tors, pro­vid­ing more staffing to help the com­mit­tee that deals with church­es accused of mis­han­dling abuse and cre­at­ing resources to help church­es bet­ter deal with the issue of abuse.

    Those reforms came on the heels of a major 2022 report on an inves­ti­ga­tion done by the con­sult­ing firm Guide­post Solu­tions, which found that Bap­tist lead­ers had mis­treat­ed abuse sur­vivors for years and tried to down­play the issue of abuse in the SBC. That inves­ti­ga­tion and report had been autho­rized a year ear­li­er by a vote of local church rep­re­sen­ta­tives, known as mes­sen­gers, dur­ing the SBC annu­al meet­ing.

    Among the lead­ers named in the report was John­ny Hunt, a for­mer SBC pres­i­dent and megachurch pas­tor, who alleged­ly assault­ed anoth­er pastor’s wife about a decade ago, accord­ing to Guide­post. Inves­ti­ga­tors from Guide­post inter­viewed Hunt as well as oth­er wit­ness­es and found the alle­ga­tions cred­i­ble. Hunt took time off from min­istry and then made a come­back ear­li­er this year, which Bar­ber denounced.

    ...

    Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, Stone’s feud with Moore played a role in the cre­ation of the Guide­post report. Local church pas­tors began call­ing for an inves­ti­ga­tion of SBC lead­ers after a let­ter from Moore, which detailed behind-the-scenes con­flicts between those lead­ers, includ­ing Stone, over issues of race and abuse, became pub­lic.

    Stone, a for­mer chair­man of the denomination’s Exec­u­tive Com­mit­tee, has argued that the Guide­post inves­ti­ga­tion was a mis­take and the report flawed and unbib­li­cal. The report, which men­tions his name in con­nec­tion to Moore’s let­ter, also includes com­plaints that Stone did not respond appro­pri­ate­ly when made aware of anoth­er pastor’s alleged mis­con­duct. Stone argues the report opened up the SBC to law­suits and includes false infor­ma­tion and argues the SBC should help church­es han­dle cas­es of abuse instead of tak­ing nation­al action.

    Stone has also denied any wrong­do­ing in regard to how he respond­ed to alleged mis­con­duct by his friend, who pas­tored at a dif­fer­ent con­gre­ga­tion.

    ...

    If elect­ed pres­i­dent, Stone has said he would appoint a new task force to address the issue of abuse that would focus more on empow­er­ing local church­es.

    Bar­ber has said on sev­er­al occa­sions that he asked the imple­men­ta­tion task force not to choose Guide­post, giv­en the con­cerns of some South­ern Bap­tists. He recent­ly told a Geor­gia Bap­tist news­pa­per that he want­ed to find solu­tions every­one could sup­port.

    “It is my prayer that, through all of these twists and turns, God will lead us to the best solu­tions to assist our church­es in pre­vent­ing abuse,” he said.

    ...

    While the role of SBC pres­i­dent is large­ly cer­e­mo­ni­al — the posi­tion is unpaid and the job requires the pres­i­dent to spend a great deal of time pro­mot­ing the SBC’s mis­sion and mes­sage — the role does have some pow­er. In the SBC, the pres­i­dent can influ­ence which lead­ers get nom­i­nat­ed to key com­mit­tees and the pres­i­dent mod­er­ates the denomination’s annu­al meet­ing.

    ———-

    “Bart Bar­ber, Mike Stone — two con­ser­v­a­tive pas­tors — to square off for SBC pres­i­dent” By Bob Smi­etana; Reli­gion News Ser­vice; 06/07/2023

    Despite their sim­i­lar­i­ties in doc­trine and prac­tice, the two pas­tors rep­re­sent an ongo­ing dis­pute over the SBC’s cur­rent direc­tion and future. That dis­pute has been fueled by the rise of the Con­ser­v­a­tive Bap­tist Net­work — a group with close ties to dis­graced for­mer SBC leader Paige Pat­ter­son — along with allies such as Flori­da-based Founders Min­istries. This fac­tion, which helped ignite the nation­al debate over crit­i­cal race the­o­ry, argues the SBC has become too lib­er­al, in par­tic­u­lar on issues of race and sex­u­al­i­ty — and for a while, had referred to itself as a group of pirates striv­ing to take con­trol of the denom­i­na­tion. Lead­ers allied with the CBN have also resist­ed sex­u­al abuse reforms.

    Yes, it can be rather dif­fi­cult to see what dis­tin­guish­es the lead­er­ship of Bart Bar­ber and his oppo­nent Mike Stone, who hails from the “Con­ser­v­a­tive Bap­tist Net­work”, which looks like a new label for the Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence. Bar­ton and Stone more or less have the same the­ol­o­gy. The only real dif­fer­ence appears to be loy­al­ty to Paige Pat­ter­son and the han­dling of the sex­u­al abuse scan­dals:

    ...
    At first glance, lit­tle sep­a­rates the two can­di­dates. Bar­ber, pas­tor of First Bap­tist Church in Farm­ersville, Texas, believes the Bible is inerrant, cham­pi­ons the SBC’s mis­sion­ar­ies and defends the long-held Bap­tist beliefs that homo­sex­u­al­i­ty is a sin, abor­tion is evil and only men should be pas­tor. He prefers to dress in a suit while preach­ing.

    Stone, pas­tor of Emmanuel Bap­tist Church in Black­s­hear, Geor­gia, has the same view on the Bible and the­o­log­i­cal issues as Bar­ber, also sup­ports mis­sions — his daugh­ter is over­seas on a short-term mis­sion to Madrid — and, like Bar­ber, prefers a for­mal look when preach­ing.

    ...

    The sharpest dis­agree­ment between the two can­di­dates is seen in their views of abuse reform. Bar­ber, in his role as pres­i­dent, appoint­ed a task force charged with imple­ment­ing a series of reforms, includ­ing set­ting up the “Min­istry Check” web­site that will include the names of abu­sive pas­tors, pro­vid­ing more staffing to help the com­mit­tee that deals with church­es accused of mis­han­dling abuse and cre­at­ing resources to help church­es bet­ter deal with the issue of abuse.

    Those reforms came on the heels of a major 2022 report on an inves­ti­ga­tion done by the con­sult­ing firm Guide­post Solu­tions, which found that Bap­tist lead­ers had mis­treat­ed abuse sur­vivors for years and tried to down­play the issue of abuse in the SBC. That inves­ti­ga­tion and report had been autho­rized a year ear­li­er by a vote of local church rep­re­sen­ta­tives, known as mes­sen­gers, dur­ing the SBC annu­al meet­ing.
    ...

    And note how Stone was chal­leng­ing Bar­ton, who was run­ning for his sec­ond term, despite the prece­dent of cur­rent SBC pres­i­dents run­ning unop­posed for their sec­ond terms. It’s a sign of just how earnest this fac­tion is about win­ning back in SBC lead­er­ship. It’s the kind of urgency that begs the ques­tion as to just many yet-to-be dis­closed sex abuse scan­dals there real­ly are wait­ing to be dis­cov­ered:

    ...
    Next week, at the SBC’s annu­al meet­ing in New Orleans, set for Tues­day and Wednes­day (June 13–14), Stone will be nom­i­nat­ed for pres­i­dent again. He told Reli­gion News Ser­vice ear­li­er this year that he’d had no inten­tion of run­ning again but was asked to do so by sup­port­ers, despite the prece­dent of cur­rent SBC pres­i­dents run­ning unop­posed for their sec­ond terms.

    With his church’s approval, he agreed to jump in the race.

    ...

    Can­di­dates backed by the CBN have lost the last two SBC elec­tions.
    ...

    And that’s all why, when we see news about Dusty Deev­ers’ elec­tion as an open and aggres­sive Chris­t­ian Nation­al­ist, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that Deev­ers isn’t some ran­dom fire­brand pas­tor who decid­ed to run for office. He’s a mem­ber of the “Con­ser­v­a­tive Resur­gence” exe­cut­ing the “take the ship!” plot to cap­ture the lead­er­ship of insti­tu­tions and dri­ve them even fur­ther to the right. A plot that has­n’t suc­ceed­ed quite yet when it comes to the SBC’s lead­er­ship, although time will tell if the ban on women pas­tors sticks. But as now-sen­a­tor Deev­ers’ elec­toral vic­to­ry reminds us, the SBC isn’t the only insti­tu­tion this move­ment has in its sights.

    At the same time, it’s not like anti-abor­tion extrem­ism has grown more pop­u­lar with the Amer­i­can elec­torate in gen­er­al. If any­thing it’s the oppo­site. That’s also part of the con­text of Deev­ers’ elec­toral win. He won a state sen­ate seat, but on a plat­form that is increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar with the evan­gel­i­cal fringe but increas­ing­ly unpop­u­lar with the rest of the elec­torate. So should the US once again find itself fac­ing a Don­ald Trump-led insur­rec­tionary force next year, intent on gain­ing polit­i­cal pow­er through any means nec­es­sary, don’t be sur­prise if Deev­ers and his many fel­low trav­el­ers on this grow­ing fringe are stand­ing there right beside him, fram­ing the insur­rec­tion in Bib­li­cal terms. While pre­sum­ably waiv­ing some sort of pirate flag. Because it can always get worse. Espe­cial­ly when pow­er­ful net­works are earnest­ly work­ing to make it worse in God’s name.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 22, 2023, 2:04 pm
  11. There’s a bat­tle for the soul of the Texas Repub­li­can Par­ty. The Nazis are unfor­tu­nate­ly gain­ing the clear upper hand. So clear they aren’t real­ly both­er­ing to hide it any­more in a strat­e­gy that’s part infil­tra­tion, part recruit­ment, and part assim­i­la­tion. That’s the dis­turb­ing real­i­ty of con­tem­po­rary Texas Repub­li­can pol­i­tics we got anoth­er reminder of in a recent stunt pulled off by a group affil­i­at­ed with the Defend Texas Free­dom net­work of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions and non-prof­its large­ly fund­ed by Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist oil bil­lion­aire Tim Dunn:

    Cary Cheshire, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Tex­ans for Strong Bor­ders, sent Christ­mas card mail­ers to the con­stituents of Repub­li­can Texas House Speak­er Dade Phe­lan ‘jok­ing’ about Phe­lan wish­ing “Hap­py Ramadan” and accus­ing Phe­lan of being pro-Mus­lim. The pri­ma­ry fun­der for Tex­ans for Strong Bor­ders is Defend Texas Free­dom. Mak­ing it the lat­est in a grow­ing feud between Dun­n’s Defend Texas Free­dom net­work and Phe­lan.

    Recall the recent blowup, with Phe­lan attack­ing the Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee for its 32–29 vote to reject a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing asso­ci­a­tions with indi­vid­u­als or groups “known to espouse or tol­er­ate anti­semitism, pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies or Holo­caust denial.” That reject­ed res­o­lu­tion was actu­al­ly watered down from an ear­li­er res­o­lu­tion call­ing for a break from Defend Texas Free­dom in response to the fact that its pres­i­dent, Jonathan Stick­land, also ran the Pale Horse Strate­gies con­sult­ing group that held that sev­en hour meet­ing with Nick Fuentes on Octo­ber 6. Also recall how Dunn is a Chris­t­ian nation­al­ist who once told Joe Strauss, then the Jew­ish Repub­li­can Speak­er of the Texas House, to resign because Dunn believed only Chris­tians should be in lead­er­ship posi­tions. Dunn is also deeply involved with both the CNP-backed push to rewrite the US Con­sti­tu­tion and the Texas Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Foun­da­tion where he serves as vice chair­man. He formed Empow­er Tex­ans in 2006, even­tu­al­ly replac­ing it with Defend Texas Free­dom which has become one of the most impor­tant enti­ties in Texas Repub­li­can pol­i­tics today, close­ly allied with Ken Pax­ton and Dan Patrick. In fact, a major­i­ty of Texas Sen­ate Repub­li­can cau­cus tak­ing mon­ey from Defend Texas Free­dom. The Texas GOP could­n’t imag­ine hav­ing to part ways with that Dunn mon­ey.

    But, of course, as this mail­er stunt also com­mu­ni­cat­ed to Texas Repub­li­cans in elect­ed office, if you mess with the Defend Texas Free­dom net­work it will come after you. On Christ­mas. Even if you are the Speak­er.

    This ongo­ing intra-GOP pow­er strug­gle is one part of the nasty Christ­mas mail­er attack ad sto­ry. There’s a nas­ti­er side. The kind of nasty we should expect at this point. For starters, Cary Cheshire and oth­er lead­ing fig­ures in Tex­ans for Strong Bor­ders appear to be Nazis. Or at least fel­low trav­el­ers. Yep. In fact, the group’s founder and pres­i­dent, Chris Rus­so, was seen chauf­feur­ing Fuentes to and from the Pale Horse offices on the day of that sev­en hour meet­ing.

    In addi­tion to Cary Cheshire, we find fig­ures like Ella Mauld­ing and Shel­by Griesinger. Mauld­ing, a social media coor­di­na­tor for Pale Horse Strate­gies, has praised Fuentes as the “great­est civ­il rights leader in his­to­ry.” Griesinger, the trea­sur­er of Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, used social media to call Jews the ene­my of Repub­li­cans.

    Griesing also sits on the board of a new pro-Sec­ond Amend­ment pact launched by Kyle Rit­ten­house back in August. Rit­ten­house appears to have grown been embraced by this net­work as he’s become a right-wing media star. It turns out Rit­ten­house was at Pale Horse Strate­gies dur­ing the sev­en hour meet­ing with Fuentes. Rit­ten­house claims to have left the office after learn­ing of Fuentes’s pres­ence. Mauld­ing was also seen at the Pale Horse offices on the day of Fuentes’s vis­it, help­ing to film a video for Tex­ans for Strong Bor­ders

    And then there’s Julie McCar­ty, founder of the True Texas Project, anoth­er group that has Defend Texas Lib­er­ty as its pri­ma­ry donor. McCar­ty open­ly sym­pa­thized with the motives Patrick Cru­sius in the wake of the El Paso Wal­mart attack. Three weeks before Fuents’s meet­ing at Pale Horse Strate­gies, the True Texas Project co-host­ed a “pass­ing the torch” event in Dal­las that fea­tured John Doyle and Jake Lloyd Col­glazier. Doyle has fre­quent­ly appeared along­side Fuentes at events. Recall how Doyle and Fuentes co-led a Lans­ing Michi­gan “Stop the Steal” ral­ly in the lead up to the Jan­u­ary 6 Capi­tol Insur­rec­tion. Col­glazier was one of the most promi­nent mem­bers of Fuentes’s ‘groyper army’.

    In 2019, Col­glazier, Fuentes, and Patrick Casey — the leader of Iden­ti­ty Evropa — were the head­lin­ers at a white nation­al­ist con­fer­ence where they advo­cat­ed a strat­e­gy of pulling the Repub­li­can Par­ty fur­ther to the right with a strat­e­gy of attack­ing Repub­li­cans for issues like being weak on immi­gra­tion or sup­port for Israel. A strat­e­gy that more or less describes what Defend Texas Lib­er­ty is doing right now.

    But attack­ing Repub­li­cans from the right on issues like immi­gra­tion was just part of this over­all strat­e­gy for pulling the GOP to the right. Back in 2018, Patrick Casey of Iden­ti­ty Evropa (since rebrand­ed as the “Amer­i­can Iden­ti­ty Move­ment”) was open­ly telling NBC News about the oth­er part of his plan: infil­trat­ing the Repub­li­can Par­ty, with an empha­sis on befriend­ing and win­ning over young col­lege Repub­li­cans.

    So when we read about what might be passed off as a taste­less polit­i­cal attack ad in the form of a Christ­mas Card mail­er, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind all that con­text. Con­text like the fact that this attack was part of a “attack and befriend” strat­e­gy designed to push the Repub­li­can Par­ty fur­ther to right. And con­text like the fact the founder and leader of the group that sent out these Christ­mas cards was chauf­feur­ing Nick Fuentes for his meet­ing with Pale Horse Strate­gies, the most influ­en­tial con­ser­v­a­tive con­sult­ing group in Texas. A scan­dalous meet­ing that prompt­ed an ini­tial failed attempt by the Texas GOP exec­u­tive com­mit­tee to call for the par­ty to dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves with Defend Texas Free­dom, and then a fol­lowup failed attempt to sim­ply pass a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing asso­ci­a­tions with indi­vid­u­als or groups “known to espouse or tol­er­ate anti­semitism, pro-Nazi sym­pa­thies or Holo­caust denial.” Defend Texas Free­dom won the bat­tle over the polit­i­cal fall­out of that meet­ing with Fuentes and now it’s in ‘pay back’ mode:

    The Texas Tri­bune

    Far-right activist blasts Speak­er Phe­lan for being “pro-Mus­lim” in polit­i­cal mail­er

    The card insin­u­ates that Phe­lan wants to wish his con­stituents a hap­py Ramadan instead of a mer­ry Christ­mas. Mus­lim Tex­ans say it’s Islam­o­pho­bic and some Repub­li­cans say it does­n’t reflect Chris­t­ian val­ues.

    by Poo­ja Sal­ho­tra and Robert Dow­nen
    Dec. 24, 2023
    3 PM Cen­tral

    A long­time Texas con­ser­v­a­tive activist mailed what appeared to be a bla­tant­ly anti-Mus­lim hol­i­day card to vot­ers in state House Speak­er Dade Phelan’s leg­isla­tive dis­trict, the lat­est polit­i­cal vol­ley in an ongo­ing feud between the Texas Repub­li­can Party’s far-right fac­tion and its more mod­er­ate wing.

    Pho­tos of the mail­ers cir­cu­lat­ed on social media plat­form X two days before Christ­mas. The mail­ers sar­cas­ti­cal­ly wish con­stituents a “Hap­py Ramadan,” even though the Mus­lim hol­i­day fell dur­ing the spring this year. It includes pho­tos of Phe­lan, who is Catholic, at an event cel­e­brat­ing Ramadan with Mus­lims in the state Capi­tol ear­li­er this year.

    The card insin­u­ates that the speak­er is Mus­lim. The event was host­ed by state Rep. Sule­man Lalani, D‑Sugar Land, who was one of the first two Mus­lims elect­ed to the Texas Leg­is­la­ture along with state Rep. Salman Bho­jani last year.

    “It’s prey­ing on Islam­o­pho­bic sen­ti­ments that exist in some people’s minds,” said Bho­jani, a Euless Demo­c­rat. “But in Texas we should cel­e­brate and pro­tect reli­gious prac­tices.”

    The cards were paid for by Cary Cheshire, a long­time right-wing activist who was pre­vi­ous­ly the vice pres­i­dent of Empow­er Tex­ans. Cheshire is cur­rent­ly the exec­u­tive direc­tor for Tex­ans For Strong Bor­ders, a right-wing group that has been increas­ing­ly influ­en­tial in push­ing law­mak­ers to crack down on legal and ille­gal immi­gra­tion. Tex­ans For Strong Bor­ders is led by Chris Rus­so, who the Tri­bune recent­ly report­ed was behind numer­ous, anony­mous social media accounts that were full of racist posts. Rus­so is also an ally of white suprema­cist and Adolf Hitler admir­er Nick Fuentes.

    “This is obvi­ous­ly a satir­i­cal card, but unfor­tu­nate­ly Dade Phelan’s pro-Mus­lim record is real,” the card states. “The only path to heav­en is through Jesus Christ. Mer­ry Christ­mas!”

    Cheshire con­firmed to the Tri­bune via text mes­sage Sun­day that he mailed out the cards. They include a dis­claimer say­ing they were paid for by the Texas Anti-Com­mu­nist League, a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee that was reg­is­tered last year but has not report­ed any dona­tions or con­tri­bu­tions. Cheshire is the group’s trea­sur­er, but told the Tri­bune he per­son­al­ly paid for the mail­er.

    “Dade Phe­lan is respon­si­ble for the most pro-Mus­lim ses­sion in the his­to­ry of the Texas Leg­is­la­ture,” Cheshire said.

    His rea­son­ing for that por­tray­al: The low­er chamber’s pas­sage of House Res­o­lu­tions 1069 and 1168, which both sim­ply rec­og­nized Eid al-fitr, a reli­gious hol­i­day mark­ing the end of Ramadan.

    “Texas is home to more than 400,000 Mus­lims, who con­tribute in myr­i­ad ways to the eco­nom­ic, cul­tur­al, and social fab­ric of our state, and it is indeed fit­ting to acknowl­edge the pro­found impor­tance of Ramadan to the mem­bers of this vibrant com­mu­ni­ty as they cel­e­brate with friends, fam­i­lies, and fel­low wor­ship­pers,” the res­o­lu­tions state.

    The House over­whelm­ing­ly passed the res­o­lu­tions, and it’s unclear why Cheshire sin­gled out Phe­lan for their pas­sage. Phelan’s office did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for com­ment about the polit­i­cal adver­tise­ments.

    Cheshire ques­tioned how the mail­er could be per­ceived as anti-Mus­lim, but did not say why acknowl­edg­ing a Mus­lim hol­i­day should be cause for con­cern.

    “My card ridicules Dade Phe­lan and his pro-Mus­lim record,” he said. “I think Tex­ans should be informed about the actions of their elect­ed offi­cials.”

    Bho­jani said he appre­ci­at­ed that Phe­lan par­tic­i­pat­ed in an iftar, or the break­ing of the dai­ly fast dur­ing Ramadan, and regret­ted that the action was being politi­cized months lat­er.

    Rep. Tom Oliv­er­son, a Cypress Repub­li­can, con­demned the cards on social media Sun­day, call­ing them both “stu­pid” and “bizarre.”

    ...

    The card comes as the speak­er faces sev­er­al attacks from with­in his own par­ty and months after The Texas Tri­bune report­ed that Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee with which Cheshire has ties, host­ed a meet­ing with Fuentes.

    In Octo­ber, Defend Texas Liberty’s for­mer leader, Jonathan Stick­land, was seen meet­ing with Fuentes for near­ly sev­en hours at the offices of Pale Horse Strate­gies, a con­sult­ing firm for far-right groups. Cheshire was seen at the office while Fuentes was on-site.

    The meet­ing unleashed a wave of infight­ing among Texas Repub­li­cans. Phe­lan demand­ed that elect­ed offi­cials who received dona­tions from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty — includ­ing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — donate that mon­ey to char­i­ty, a demand echoed by 60 mem­bers of the Texas House Repub­li­can Cau­cus.

    Patrick then accused Phe­lan of exploit­ing the con­flict “for his own polit­i­cal gain” and called on Phe­lan to resign as speak­er before the Texas House was sched­uled to meet for a spe­cial ses­sion on edu­ca­tion vouch­ers and oth­er leg­is­la­tion.

    Cheshire’s cards also come months after a fam­i­ly copy of the Quran that Bho­jani placed in the Capi­tol’s chapel went miss­ing. State police inves­ti­gat­ed that mat­ter and recov­ered the reli­gious text, but wouldn’t pub­licly say who took it.

    ...

    ———

    “Far-right activist blasts Speak­er Phe­lan for being “pro-Mus­lim” in polit­i­cal mail­er” by Poo­ja Sal­ho­tra and Robert Dow­nen; The Texas Tri­bune; 12/24/2023

    “The cards were paid for by Cary Cheshire, a long­time right-wing activist who was pre­vi­ous­ly the vice pres­i­dent of Empow­er Tex­ans. Cheshire is cur­rent­ly the exec­u­tive direc­tor for Tex­ans For Strong Bor­ders, a right-wing group that has been increas­ing­ly influ­en­tial in push­ing law­mak­ers to crack down on legal and ille­gal immi­gra­tion. Tex­ans For Strong Bor­ders is led by Chris Rus­so, who the Tri­bune recent­ly report­ed was behind numer­ous, anony­mous social media accounts that were full of racist posts. Rus­so is also an ally of white suprema­cist and Adolf Hitler admir­er Nick Fuentes.

    Well look at that: Cary Cheshire, the for­mer vice pres­i­dent of Empow­er Tex­ans and cur­rent exec­u­tive direc­tor for Tex­ans For Strong Bor­ders, sent out ‘Christ­mas Cards’ attack­ing Tex­as­’s Repub­li­can House Speak­er Dade Phe­lan. Part of the ongo­ing spat between Phe­lan and the extreme far right fac­tion of Texas Repub­li­cans aligned with Empow­er Tex­ans. A fac­tion that, as we’ve seen, now includes a major­i­ty of the Repub­li­cans in the Texas sen­ate. It’s key con­text to keep in mind in this sto­ry. This isn’t a spat between the Texas Speak­er and some obscure group. Empow­er Tex­ans is one of the most influ­en­tial enti­ties in Texas pol­i­tics today. Or at least was, before it was dis­solved and reformed as Defend Texas Free­dom, with which Cheshire is also affil­i­at­ed.

    And it was, of course, the now-for­mer head of Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, Jonathan Stick­land, who host­ed Nick Fuentes dur­ing a sev­en hour meet­ing at Pale Horse Strate­gies back in Octo­ber, prompt­ing Phe­lan’s demands that elect­ed offi­cials return dona­tions from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and all of polit­i­cal bick­er­ing that fol­lowed, includ­ing the calls by Lt Gov. Dan Patrick for Phe­lan’s res­ig­na­tion. Cary Cheshire appears to have a lot more friends in Texas GOP cir­cles than the Speak­er Phe­lan at this point:

    ...
    The card comes as the speak­er faces sev­er­al attacks from with­in his own par­ty and months after The Texas Tri­bune report­ed that Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee with which Cheshire has ties, host­ed a meet­ing with Fuentes.

    In Octo­ber, Defend Texas Liberty’s for­mer leader, Jonathan Stick­land, was seen meet­ing with Fuentes for near­ly sev­en hours at the offices of Pale Horse Strate­gies, a con­sult­ing firm for far-right groups. Cheshire was seen at the office while Fuentes was on-site.

    The meet­ing unleashed a wave of infight­ing among Texas Repub­li­cans. Phe­lan demand­ed that elect­ed offi­cials who received dona­tions from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty — includ­ing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — donate that mon­ey to char­i­ty, a demand echoed by 60 mem­bers of the Texas House Repub­li­can Cau­cus.

    Patrick then accused Phe­lan of exploit­ing the con­flict “for his own polit­i­cal gain” and called on Phe­lan to resign as speak­er before the Texas House was sched­uled to meet for a spe­cial ses­sion on edu­ca­tion vouch­ers and oth­er leg­is­la­tion.

    Cheshire’s cards also come months after a fam­i­ly copy of the Quran that Bho­jani placed in the Capi­tol’s chapel went miss­ing. State police inves­ti­gat­ed that mat­ter and recov­ered the reli­gious text, but wouldn’t pub­licly say who took it.
    ...

    We have a fig­ure asso­ci­at­ed with Empow­er Texas/Defend Texas Lib­er­ty launch­ing a Christ­mas attack on the Repub­li­can House speak­er. Which rais­es the ques­tion: so who will Texas Repub­li­cans sym­pa­thize with the most as this attack plays out? Speak­er Phe­lan or Cary Cheshire and Defend Texas Free­dom? Well, again, a major­i­ty of the Repub­li­cans in the Texas sen­ate has now tak­en mon­ey from the Defend Texas Free­dom net­work. That’s one clue as to who would win this pop­u­lar­i­ty con­test.

    But in case it’s not obvi­ous after the whole Nick Fuentes/Pale Horse Strate­gies fias­co that the pol­i­tics embraced by Nick Fuentes are the same pol­i­tics Defend Texas Lib­er­ty is cham­pi­oning, here’s a Texas Tri­bune arti­cle from back in Octo­ber describ­ing how Fuentes’s pol­i­tics are very much at home at the Defend Texas Lib­er­ty net­work. In addi­tion to Cary Cheshire, we find fig­ures like Ella Mauld­ing and Shel­by Griesinger. Mauld­ing, a social media coor­di­na­tor for Pale Horse Strate­gies, has praised Fuentes as the “great­est civ­il rights leader in his­to­ry.” Griesinger, the trea­sur­er of Defend Texas Lib­er­ty, used social media to call Jews the ene­my of Repub­li­cans.

    Griesing also sits on the board of a new pro-Sec­ond Amend­ment pact launched by Kyle Rit­ten­house back in August. Rit­ten­house appears to have grown been embraced by this net­work as he’s become a right-wing media star. It turns out Rit­ten­house was at Pale Horse Strate­gies dur­ing the sev­en hour meet­ing with Fuentes. Rit­ten­house claims to have left the office after learn­ing of Fuentes’s pres­ence. Mauld­ing was also seen at the Pale Horse offices on the day of Fuentes’s vis­it, help­ing to film a video for Tex­ans for Strong Bor­ders, anoth­er Defend Texas Lib­er­ty spin-off which, as we just saw, has Cary Cheshire as its exec­u­tive direc­to­ry and Chris Rus­so as its founder and leader. As we’re going to see, Rus­so was seen chauf­feur­ing Fuentes to and from the Pale Horse offices. So the founder and leader of the group that sent out these Christ­mas cards was chauf­feur­ing Fuentes for his meet­ing with Pale Horse Strate­gies, the most influ­en­tial con­ser­v­a­tive con­sult­ing group in Texas.

    There’s also Julie McCar­ty, founder of the True Texas Project, anoth­er group that has Defend Texas Lib­er­ty as its pri­ma­ry donor. McCar­ty open­ly sym­pa­thized with the motives Patrick Cru­sius in the wake of the El Paso Wal­mart attack. Three weeks before Fuentes’s meet­ing at Pale Horse Strate­gies, the True Texas Project co-host­ed a “pass­ing the torch” event in Dal­las that fea­tures John Doyle and Jake Lloyd Col­glazier. Doyle has fre­quent­ly appeared along­side Fuentes at events. Recall how Doyle and Fuentes co-led a Lans­ing Michi­gan “Stop the Steal” ral­ly in the lead up to the Jan­u­ary 6 Capi­tol Insur­rec­tion. Col­glazier was one of the most promi­nent mem­bers of Fuentes’s ‘groyper army’.

    In 2019, Col­glazier, Fuentes, and Patrick Casey — the leader of Iden­ti­ty Evropa — were the head­lin­ers at a white nation­al­ist con­fer­ence where they advo­cat­ed a strat­e­gy of pulling the Repub­li­can Par­ty fur­ther to the right with a strat­e­gy of attack­ing Repub­li­cans for issues like being weak on immi­gra­tion or sup­port for Israel. A strat­e­gy that more or less describes what Defend Texas Lib­er­ty is doing right now.

    It’s all key con­text for Cary Cheshire’s Christ­mas post­card attack on the Repub­li­can House Speak­er for being weak in immi­gra­tion: it was a polit­i­cal attack ad in the form of a Christ­mas card car­ried out by Tex­ans for Strong Bor­ders, a Defend Texas Lib­er­ty spin off run by open Nazis and close asso­ciates of Nick Fuentes, exe­cut­ing a strat­e­gy to fur­ther rad­i­cal­ize the Repub­li­can Par­ty that Fuentes has been advo­cat­ing for years:

    The Texas Tri­bune

    Nick Fuentes is just the lat­est white suprema­cist embraced by Defend Texas Lib­er­ty

    While Fuentes’ unapolo­getic hate mon­ger­ing has made him one of the nation’s best-known white suprema­cists, he was mere­ly the lat­est in a long line of peo­ple who have been embraced by Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and its close allies.

    by Robert Dow­nen
    Oct. 23, 2023
    Updat­ed: Oct. 24, 2023

    In recent weeks, allies of the deep-pock­et­ed con­ser­v­a­tive PAC Defend Texas Lib­er­ty have sought to down­play a meet­ing between the group’s for­mer leader, Jonathan Stick­land, and promi­nent white suprema­cist Nick Fuentes. They’ve cast the vis­it as a one-off mis­take — and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he accept­ed an expla­na­tion that it was a “seri­ous blun­der.”

    Respond­ing to calls for him to return the $3 mil­lion he received from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty this sum­mer, Patrick ini­tial­ly said he would not do so because there was “no hint of any links” between the group and any “anti­se­mit­ic orga­ni­za­tions or oth­er hate groups” when he took the funds in June.

    There were, how­ev­er, ample links.

    While Fuentes’ unapolo­getic hate mon­ger­ing has made him per­haps the nation’s best-known white suprema­cist, he was mere­ly the lat­est in a line of peo­ple who have been embraced by Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and its close allies despite pub­licly espous­ing anti­se­mit­ic views or part­ner­ing with extrem­ists. That includes, among oth­ers, Ella Mauld­ing, a social media coor­di­na­tor for Stickland’s con­sult­ing firm who has praised Fuentes as the “great­est civ­il rights leader in his­to­ry”; and Shel­by Griesinger, the trea­sur­er for Defend Texas Lib­er­ty who has claimed on social media that Jews wor­ship a false god and shared memes that depict them as the ene­my of Repub­li­cans..

    Defend Texas Lib­er­ty is a polit­i­cal action com­mit­tee and one of the state’s most influ­en­tial donors to con­ser­v­a­tive groups and can­di­dates, includ­ing Patrick and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton. It is a key part of a sprawl­ing net­work of non­prof­its, dark mon­ey groups, polit­i­cal cam­paigns and media com­pa­nies that have received more than $100 mil­lion from three West Texas oil bil­lion­aires, Tim Dunn and broth­ers Far­ris and Dan Wilks, as part of a decades­long project to push Texas to the far right.

    Ear­li­er this month, The Texas Tri­bune report­ed that Fuentes, an admir­er of Adolf Hitler who has called for a “holy war” against Jews, recent­ly met with Stick­land for near­ly sev­en hours at the offices of Pale Horse Strate­gies, a con­sult­ing firm for far-right groups that is owned by Stick­land and based just out­side of Fort Worth.

    While Defend Texas Lib­er­ty issued a brief state­ment denounc­ing Fuentes, the PAC has not offered any details about the meet­ing. Last week, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty also qui­et­ly updat­ed its web­site to note that Luke Macias, a long­time con­ser­v­a­tive con­sul­tant, had replaced Stick­land as pres­i­dent. But the clos­est thing to an expla­na­tion for the Fuentes vis­it has come from Patrick who said ear­li­er this month that he spoke to Dunn, who told him “mis­takes were made” but were being cor­rect­ed.

    Patrick did not respond to a request for com­ment for this sto­ry about the myr­i­ad Fuentes acolytes pre­vi­ous­ly and present­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Defend Texas Lib­er­ty. But on Mon­day, a day after his office was con­tact­ed by the Tri­bune, he issued a press release announc­ing that he is invest­ing $3 mil­lion — the same amount that he received from Defend Texas Lib­er­ty this sum­mer — in bonds for Israel.

    Patrick also said he has been appalled to learn “about the anti-Semit­ic activ­i­ties among some in Texas who call them­selves con­ser­v­a­tives and Repub­li­cans.”

    “Every Repub­li­can group in the state, no mat­ter how small or how large, includ­ing our State Par­ty, needs to root out this can­cer. Before any­one is hired or appoint­ed to a posi­tion of lead­er­ship, in addi­tion to their resume and work record, their social media needs to be reviewed,” Patrick said. “Those who are anti-Semit­ic are not wel­come in our par­ty.”

    ...

    Fuentes’ acolytes

    Led until last week by Stick­land, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Bed­ford whose polit­i­cal life was bankrolled by the West Texas oil bil­lion­aires, Defend Texas Lib­er­ty has in recent years emerged as a key play­er in an ongo­ing civ­il war between the Texas GOP’s far right and its more mod­er­ate, but still deeply con­ser­v­a­tive, wing.

    Fall­out from the Fuentes vis­it comes as Defend Texas Lib­er­ty and its allies gear up for a pri­ma­ry sea­son in which they’ve promised to spend big against those who sup­port­ed the impeach­ment of Pax­ton, a close ally who has received mil­lions of dol­lars from the group and its bil­lion­aire back­ers.

    But Fuentes wasn’t the only anti­se­mit­ic con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist on site at Pale Horse Strate­gies this month. Among the atten­dees was Mauld­ing, a Mis­sis­sip­pi native who recent­ly moved to Texa