They’re making the law

Jeff Sharlet on Facebook:

I’d almost forgotten the time Dan Coats, Trump’s pick for National Intelligence Director — the man to whom 16 intelligence agencies report — called me an “enemy of Jesus.”

Well, I didn’t hear him do it, but the source seemed solid. It was, I think, 2004, and I’d been invited to speak at the University of Potsdam, near Berlin, in a series sponsored by the U.S. embassy. My subject was “the Family,” the secretive fundamentalist organization of which Coats, unbeknownst to me at the time, is a member. When I arrived, my German host told me there’d been a little problem: the ambassador — Dan Coats — had blocked funding for my talk. “He said,” my host said, in thickly accented English, “you are an ‘enemy of Jesus.'”

My host was one of those deadpan Germans. He didn’t smile. I said, “You’re joking.”

“Yes,” he said, still unsmiling, “that is what I thought, too.” Apparently, the Germans had gone back and forth a couple of times with the embassy, unable to believe this was serious. And apparently the embassy personnel were plenty embarrassed about it, too. But that was Coats’ ruling, so it stuck. Fortunately for me, the university picked up my tab.

Later I’d learn from the late David Kuo, a Bush official who’d also been a Family member, though ambivalent enough about it in his last years to be relatively open with me, that one of Coats’ Family initiatives, in collaboration with then Senator John Ashcroft — also a Family member, his entire career shaped by his affiliation — had been to insert the idea of “charitable choice” into the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, as I wrote in my 2008 book THE FAMILY,

“allowing religious groups to win government funding without separating out their religious agenda—into the 1996 welfare-reform bill. The theory behind faith-based initiatives grew out of the work of scholars and theologians schooled in traditions that could hardly be considered fundamentalist, or even conservative. But its implementation was in many senses the logical result of the Family’s decades of ministry to Washington’s elite combined with the increasingly established power of populist fundamentalism: a mix of sophisticated policy maneuvers and the kind of sentimentalism that blinded many supporters to the fact that faith-based initiatives, no matter how well intended, are nothing less than “the privatization of welfare,” as the faith-based theorist Marvin Olasky put it in a 1996 report commissioned by then-Governor Bush. Such an outcome satisfied elite fundamental- ism’s long-standing belief in the relationship between laissez-faire economics and God’s invisible, interventionist hand, and populist fundamentalism’s desire for public expressions of faith, preferably heartwarming ones. The goal, Senator Coats declared, was the ‘transfer of resources and authority . . . to those private and religious institutions that shape, direct, and reclaim individual lives.'”

That’s right — the man running the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus, working in concert with the new fundamentalist director of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, and the lunatic Islamophobe Gen. Mike Flynn, believes in the “transfer of resources and authority” to private religious institutions.

Like, for instance, the Family? Presiding over the 1987 National Prayer Breakfast, the strange annual ritual created by the Family to “consecrate” the nation to Jesus (and attended by the president, much of congress, and numerous heads of state), Coats declared “This is just the visible part of the prayer breakfast movement.” He seemed to think it a point of pride that an event of such civic importance was mostly, as the behind-the-scenes leader of the movement puts it, “invisible.”

Of course, I’m sure Coats, a longtime extreme culture warrior, supports many other religious organizations, too. Don’t worry — he’ll spread the “resources and authority” around.

It’s important to note, when one considers men such as Coats and organizations such as the Family, that this is not a conspiracy. They’re not breaking the law. They’re making the law. It is, as Coats says, “a movement.” One secularists and liberals have long ignored, misunderstood, or scoffed at. Now, under perhaps the most personally impious president since Eisenhower, it’s coming fully into its own.

But here’s the bright side. Our new National Intelligence Director may have big plans, but it’s very possible that he won’t be terribly effective at executing them. This is, after all, a man who considered Dan Quayle as his mentor. I’ve been told that Quayle, in turn, thought of Coats as very promising, but — how to say? — sometimes a little slow on the uptake.

Horrifying enough?

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