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"We're Dealing with a Christian Taliban"

Interview with Mikey Weinstein

09/07/07 - --- WASHINGTON, Sep 7 (IPS) - Last month, the Pentagon pulled the plug on a plan to dispatch so-called "freedom packages" to U.S. troops in Iraq that included Bibles, proselytising materials in English and Arabic, and an apocalyptic computer game in which "soldiers for Christ" battle satanic "Global Community Peacekeepers".

The scheme was derailed in part because of the efforts of Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which seeks to protect the wall separating church and state in the United States armed forces.

Weinstein, in his own words, is no "bleeding-heart liberal". He is a 1977 honor graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and spent 10 years in the Air Force as a "JAG" or military attorney serving as both a federal prosecutor and criminal defence attorney.

A registered Republican, he also spent over three years in the Ronald Reagan administration as legal counsel in the White House, where he helped investigate the Iran-Contra scandal.

St. Martins Press in New York recently released Weinstein's new book, "With God On Our Side," an expose on the systemic problem of religious intolerance throughout the United States armed forces.

Eli Clifton recently spoke with Weinstein about Operation Straight Up, which designed the "freedom packages", and the Pentagon's growing coziness with fundamentalist evangelical religious groups.

IPS: What is it about the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs that has made it a breeding ground for Christian Dominionists?

MW: Well, first we thought it was that there was this nexus of what I refer to as the "Protestant Vatican" -- in fact many people refer to it as that. Colorado Springs has over 100 of this nation's largest evangelical fundamentalist Christian organisations centred right there for some reason. Just like a moth to a flame these organisations have been attracted there. That was our initial theory before we found out that this imperious contagion of constitutional triumphalism, this fanatical Dominionist Christianity had swept like a tsunami all the way through all 737 US military installations that the Pentagon admits that we have -- but it's really closer to a thousand -- in 132 countries around the world. Seventy of those are in Europe of and 11 of those house nuclear weapons.

Let me make this clear. I'm doing this Q&A with you guys today as a man at war with the gun smoke in my face. We are not at war with Christianity or evangelical Christianity. We have many evangelical or non-evangelical Christians who massively support what our organisation, the Military Religious Freedom Centre, is doing. We are at war with a small subset of evangelical Christianity [known as] "Dominionist Christianity" and it represents about 12.6 percent of the American public or about 38 million people.

And at every one of those 737 US military installations that are scattered in 132 countries around the world -- as we garrison the globe -- we have one or more of those organisations. They're called the "Officers Christian Fellowship" for the officers and "The Christian Military Fellowship" for the enlisted folks and these organisations have a tripartite, or three level goal, which they view as much more important than the oath that they all swear to protect and preserve, support and defend the constitution of the United States.

The first goal -- and they're unabashed about it, it's right on their website -- is they want to see a "spiritually transformed U.S. military..."

Second, "...with ambassadors for Christ in uniform..." which, parenthetically, hasn't worked out too well for the world for the past 2,000 years.

And then thirdly, "...empowered by the Holy Spirit."

IPS: Could you talk a bit about Operation Straight Up and the Christian Ministry? How do they gain access to soldiers in Iraq or film promotional videos in the halls of the Pentagon?

MW: Well we hope to have the full answers to these questions shortly as we are nearing the filing of our massive lawsuit against the Pentagon for these very reasons.

The Christian Embassy was a little known, under the radar, extreme right-wing fundamentalist organisation that was operating in Washington DC and ministering, if you will, only to the glitterati and cognoscenti -- that is to say the senior people at the State Department, members of Congress, and political appointees, specifically in the Pentagon.

If you go MilitaryReligiousFreedom.org you'll see their slick, 11-minute video. It opens up with the Christian Embassy stating that there are 25,000 men and women in the corridors and rings of the Pentagon and through the use of daily prayer breakfast and bible studies and outreach events the Christian Embassy is "mustering all of them into an intentional relationship with Jesus Christ." It's really astonishing to see. To see senior members of the U.S. military and political appointees prostituting themselves with regard to the oath they took to the constitution and supporting the biblical worldview of just this one particular group.

IPS: What steps has the Defence Department taken to limit proselytising within the ranks? Where has the DoD fallen short?

MW: They are encouraging this. They aren't stopping it. The report that the DoD IG (Inspector General) came out with was ludicrous. It immediately exempted itself from something called DoD directive 1300.17 which is entitled "Accommodation of Religious Practices within the Military Services". They say that anyone who appeared in that video was not really trying to proselytise or express their religious views. They say that the directive is just dictating when you may or may not wear your uniform.

This is a complete lie. If you look at that video again you'll see that if the people at the Pentagon had been doing a video like that for the Ford Mustang there'd be no doubt in your mind that these people were pushing Ford Mustangs as the best cars around. So the IG report is terrible. It doesn't provide any remedial action.

Let me make it clear. We are dealing with a Christian Taliban. They hate when I say that but that's too bad. If you look at Chris Hedges Book "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" you'll see that the Christian Right is a fascistic organisation. And remember, I'm not a bleeding heart liberal -- not that there's anything wrong with that. I know the Christian Right would love it if I were a tree-hugging, Chardonnay-sipping, Northern California Democrat. I'm not. I come from a conservative military family. My youngest son just graduated three months ago from the Air Force Academy. He's the sixth member of my family to go there including myself. We have three consecutive generations of military academy graduates and over 128 years of combined active duty military service in my immediate family. I spent three and half years in the West Wing of the Reagan White House as one of his lawyers. I've been Ross Perot's general counsel. I didn't want to have to get into this fight. But when I say the Christian Taliban I frickin mean the Christian Taliban.

IPS: What consequences do whistleblowers within the armed forces face?

MW: They're terrified. Look, in many aspects the military controls their lives. We are closing in on having our 6,000th active member of the U.S. military contact us not as claimants but as tormentees. And the amazing thing is that it stays remarkably constant that roughly 96 percent of these tormentees coming to us are Christian themselves.

Roughly three-fourths of that group are going to be traditional Protestant -- that is to say Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists and Episcopalians. We even get Assemblies of God, Church of Christ, Baptists and sometimes Southern Baptists. The other one-fourth of that 96 percent are generally Roman Catholic. And that leaves four percent who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Shinto, Jain, Wickan and atheists and agnostics.

Basically what we're facing are Fundamentalist, Dominionist Christians that are preying --- P-R-A-Y and P-R-E-Y -- on non-Fundamentalist Christians including in many respects other evangelical Christians that are just not fundamentalist Christians, telling them that, "you may think you were Christian enough for us but you're not. And as a result, you will burn eternally in the fires of Hell along with the Jews."

And that's why I've got to be here to take the calls around the clock from our troops. Many times they will not give me their name, sometimes they will. Often times they will give me the contact information for their supervisors or their commanders and what unit they're in. Then my job is I go call these people and make it clear that this is happening and suggest they make it stop or make them the next star on CNN.

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