Are you worried about Muslim fundamentalism? Read about this. This has been around for a long time and until now very few Americans knew about this secretive group that admires the methods used by Hitler, Lenin, and the Mafia:
“Un-American theocrats can only fool patriotic American democrats when there aren’t critics like Jeff Sharlet around -- careful scholars and soulful writers who understand both the majesty of faith and the evil of its abuses. A remarkable accomplishment in the annals of writing about religion.”--Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
"Just when we thought the Christian right was crumbling, Jeff Sharlet delivers a rude shock: One of its most powerful and cult-like core groups, the Family, has been thriving. Sharlet's book is one of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes you'll ever read -- just don't read it alone at night!" --Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, and Dancing in the Streets
"Forget what you think you know about the Christian Right; Jeff Sharlet has uncovered a frightening strain of hidden fundamentalism that forces us to revise our understanding of religion and politics in modern America. A brilliant marriage of investigative journalism and history, an unsettling story of how this small but powerful group shaped the faith of the nation in the 20th century and drives the politics of empire in the 21st. Anyone interested in circles of power will love this book."--Debby Applegate, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
By Jeff Sharlet
They are the Family—fundamentalism's avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the new chosen—congressmen, generals, and foreign dictators who meet in confidential cells, to pray and plan for a "leadership led by God," to be won not by force but through "quiet diplomacy." Their base is a leafy estate overlooking the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, and Jeff Sharlet is the only journalist to have reported from inside its walls.
The Family is about the other half of American fundamentalist power—not its angry masses, but its sophisticated elites. Sharlet follows the story back to Abraham Vereide, an immigrant preacher who in 1935 organized a small group of businessmen sympathetic to European fascism, fusing the far right with his own polite but authoritarian faith. From that core, Vereide built an international network of fundamentalists who spoke the language of establishment power, a "family" that thrives to this day. In public, they host Prayer Breakfasts; in private, they preach a gospel of "biblical capitalism," military might, and American empire. Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao as leadership models, the Family's current leader, Doug Coe, declares, "We work with power where we can, build new power where we can't."
Sharlet's discoveries dramatically challenge conventional wisdom about American fundamentalism, revealing its crucial role in the unraveling of the New Deal, the waging of the cold war, and the no-holds-barred economics of globalization. The question Sharlet believes we must ask is not "What do fundamentalists want?" but "What have they already done?"
Part history, part investigative journalism, The Family is a compelling account of how fundamentalism came to be interwoven with American power, a story that stretches from the religious revivals that have shaken this nation from its beginning to fundamentalism's new frontiers. No other book about the right has exposed the Family or revealed its far-reaching impact on democracy, and no future reckoning of American fundamentalism will be able to ignore it.
1. Your exposé on The Fellowship, aka “The Family,” appeared five years ago. Has your understanding of the group changed?
When I was working on that story, I remember debating how much Hitler we should put in the piece. That is, we wondered how fair it was to dwell on The Family’s invocations of Hitler as a model of “total commitment.” As it turns out, it was quite fair. After I left Ivanwald, a team of researchers and I spent years combing through hundreds of thousands of documents in archives around the country. We discovered that as far back as the 1940s, when The Family began organizing congressmen, the group’s founder, Abraham Vereide, was praising Hitler’s “youth work” as a model to be adopted by Americans. He denounced Hitler himself, but he admired fascism’s cultivation of elites, crucial to what he saw as a God-ordained coming “age of minority control.”
The Family has put that concept, which they call “Jesus plus nothing,” into action for decades, from their early successes fighting the New Deal in the 1930s and 40s to their recruitment of war criminals such as Herman J. Abs, known as “Hitler’s banker,” into postwar European leadership, to their facilitation of U.S. support for dictators ranging from Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti to Suharto of Indonesia to Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, now their “key man” for Africa. The fetish for strongman leadership has continued with Vereide’s successor, Doug Coe, who leads the group today. Throughout his letters in the Billy Graham Center Archive at Wheaton College, I found references to the leadership model of Hitler. In one sermon, variations of which he’s given many times, Coe says: “Jesus said ‘You got to put Him before mother-father-brother-sister.’ Hitler, Lenin, Mao, that’s what they taught the kids. Mao even had the kids killing their own mother and father. But it wasn’t murder. It was for building the new nation. The new kingdom.”
2. Given the unbelievable amount of influence brokered by the Fellowship Foundation, and by Doug Coe, why have so few national media outlets have picked up on the story?
The problem is that we just don’t have a press that really wants to challenge power on issues they consider “personal.” Speaking at the 1985 Prayer Breakfast, Ronald Reagan said, “I wish I could say more about it, but it’s working precisely because it’s private.” That should have been an invitation for investigative reporting. Instead, the media, then and now, tends to acquiesce to elite secretiveness, not out of any conspiracy, but due to a culture of reverence for established power, liberal or conservative. Most journalists believe in meritocracy—not merely that it’s a good idea, but that it actually exists. They know some politicians game the system, but they’re committed to the idea that the system basically works. And it does, but not in favor of democracy.
3. It seems like the National Prayer Breakfast, which The Family administers, is a big part of why the press doesn’t pick up on the story. It seems inconceivable that a group that attracts so many powerful public figures from around the world to its annual event could be up to anything untoward.
It’s the Family’s only public event, but the few hours that the press is allowed to attend are the dullest thing imaginable, the blandest kind of ecumenical civil religion, with the main address presented by some figure distinct from the Christian Right—Joe Lieberman, or the Saudi Prince Bandar, or even Bono. How threatening is that? But internal documents tell a different story. “Anything could happen,” reads one, “the Koran could even be read, but JESUS is there. He is infiltrating the world.”