America's Holy Warriors
[the radical Christian Right]
by Chris Hedges, Truthdig
www.alternet.org, January 4, 2007
The radical Christian Right is coming
dangerously close to its goal of taking over the country's military
and law enforcement.
The drive by the Christian right to take
control of military chaplaincies, which now sees radical Christians
holding roughly 50 percent of chaplaincy appointments in the armed
services and service academies, is part of a much larger effort
to politicize the military and law enforcement. This effort signals
the final and perhaps most deadly stage in the long campaign by
the radical Christian right to dismantle America's open society
and build a theocratic state. A successful politicization of the
military would signal the end of our democracy.
During the past two years I traveled across
the country to research and write the book "American Fascists:
The Christian Right and the War on America." I repeatedly
listened to radical preachers attack as corrupt and godless most
American institutions, from federal agencies that provide housing
and social welfare to public schools and the media. But there
were two institutions that never came under attack -- the military
and law enforcement. While these preachers had no interest in
communicating with local leaders of other faiths, or those in
the community who did not subscribe to their call for a radical
Christian state, they assiduously courted and flattered the military
and police. They held special services and appreciation days for
all four branches of the armed services and for various law enforcement
agencies. They encouraged their young men and women to enlist
or to join the police or state troopers. They sought out sympathetic
military and police officials to attend church events where these
officials were lauded and feted for their Christian probity and
patriotism. They painted the war in Iraq not as an occupation
but as an apocalyptic battle by Christians against Islam, a religion
they regularly branded as "satanic." All this befits
a movement whose final aesthetic is violence. It also befits a
movement that, in the end, would need the military and police
forces to seize power in American society.
One of the arguments used to assuage our
fears that the mass movement being built by the Christian right
is fascist at its core is that it has not yet created a Praetorian
Guard, referring to the paramilitary force that defied legal constraints,
made violence part of the political discourse and eventually plunged
ancient Rome into tyranny and despotism. A paramilitary force
that operates outside the law, one that sows fear among potential
opponents and is capable of physically silencing those branded
by their leaders as traitors, is a vital instrument in the hands
of despotic movements. Communist and fascist movements during
the last century each built paramilitary forces that operated
beyond the reach of the law.
And yet we may be further down this road
than we care to admit. Erik Prince, the secretive, mega-millionaire,
right-wing Christian founder of Blackwater, the private security
firm that has built a formidable mercenary force in Iraq, champions
his company as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military. His
employees, in an act as cynical as it is deceitful, take an oath
of loyalty to the Constitution. These mercenary units in Iraq,
including Blackwater, contain some 20,000 fighters. They unleash
indiscriminate and wanton violence against unarmed Iraqis, have
no accountability and are beyond the reach of legitimate authority.
The appearance of these paramilitary fighters, heavily armed and
wearing their trademark black uniforms, patrolling the streets
of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, gave us a grim taste of
the future. It was a stark reminder that the tyranny we impose
on others we will one day impose on ourselves.
"Contracting out security to groups
like Blackwater undermines our constitutional democracy,"
said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional
Rights. "Their actions may not be subject to constitutional
limitations that apply to both federal and state officials and
employees -- including First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights
to be free from illegal searches and seizures. Unlike police officers
they are not trained in protecting constitutional rights and unlike
police officers or the military they have no system of accountability
whether within their organization or outside it. These kind of
paramilitary groups bring to mind Nazi Party brownshirts, functioning
as an extrajudicial enforcement mechanism that can and does operate
outside the law. The use of these paramilitary groups is an extremely
dangerous threat to our rights."
The politicization of the military, the
fostering of the belief that violence must be used to further
a peculiar ideology rather than defend a democracy, was on display
recently when Air Force and Army generals and colonels, filmed
in uniform at the Pentagon, appeared in a promotional video distributed
by the Christian Embassy, a radical Washington-based organization
dedicated to building a "Christian America."
The video, first written about by Jeff
Sharlet in the December issue of Harper's Magazine and filmed
shortly after 9/11, has led the Military Religious Freedom Foundation
to raise a legal protest against the Christian Embassy's proselytizing
within the Department of Defense. The video was hastily pulled
from the Christian Embassy website and was removed from YouTube
a few days ago under threats of copyright enforcement.
Dan Cooper, an undersecretary of veterans
affairs, says in the video that his weekly prayer sessions are
"more important than doing the job." Maj. Gen. Jack
Catton says that his being an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff
is a "wonderful opportunity" to evangelize men and women
setting defense policy. "My first priority is my faith,"
he says. "I think it's a huge impact. ... You have many men
and women who are seeking God's counsel and wisdom as they advise
the chairman [of the Joint Chiefs] and the secretary of defense."
Col. Ralph Benson, a Pentagon chaplain,
says in the video: "Christian Embassy is a blessing to the
Washington area, a blessing to our capital; it's a blessing to
our country. They are interceding on behalf of people all over
the United States, talking to ambassadors, talking to people in
the Congress, in the Senate, talking to people in the Pentagon,
and being able to share the message of Jesus Christ in a very,
very important time in our world is winning a worldwide war on
terrorism. What more do we need than Christian people leading
us and guiding us, so, they're needed in this hour."
The group has burrowed deep inside the
Pentagon. It hosts weekly Bible sessions with senior officers,
by its own count some 40 generals, and weekly prayer breakfasts
each Wednesday from 7 to 7:50 a.m. in the executive dining room
as well as numerous outreach events to, in the words of the organization,
"share and sharpen one another in their quest to bridge the
gap between faith and work."
If the United States falls into a period
of instability caused by another catastrophic terrorist attack,
an economic meltdown or a series of environmental disasters, these
paramilitary forces, protected and assisted by fellow ideologues
in the police and military, could swiftly abolish what is left
of our eroding democracy. War, with the huge profits it hands
to businesses and right-wing interests that often help bankroll
the Christian right, could become a permanent condition. And the
thugs with automatic weapons, black uniforms and wraparound sunglasses
who appeared on street corners in Baghdad and New Orleans could
appear on streets across the U.S. Such a presence could paralyze
us with fear, leaving us unable to question or protest the closed
system and secrecy of an emergent totalitarian state and unable
to voice dissent.
"The Bush administration has already
come close to painting our current wars as wars against Islam
-- many in the Christian right apparently have this belief,"
Ratner said. "If these wars, bad enough as imperial wars,
are fought as religious wars, we are facing a very dark age that
could go on for a hundred years and that will be very bloody."
Chris Hedges is the former Middle East
bureau chief for The New York Times and the author of "War
Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."