"American Fascists: The Christian
Right and the War On America"
Amy Goodman interviews Chris Hedges
Democracy Now!, February 19th,
A new book by Chris Hedges called
"American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America"
investigates the highly organized and well-funded "dominionist
movement." The book investigates their agenda, examines the
movement's origins and motivations and uncovers its ideological
underpinnings. "American Fascists" argues that dominionism
seeks absolute power in a Christian state. According to Hedges,
the movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements
in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s.
Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent
for the New York Times for many years where he won a Pulitzer
Prize. He is also the author of "War Is a Force That Gives
Us Meaning" and "Losing Moses on the Freeway."
Chris has a Master's degree in theology from Harvard University
and is the son of a Presbyterian minister. He is currently a senior
fellow at the Nation Institute - and he is here with me now in
Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning
foreign correspondent for the New York Times who has reported
from more than 50 countries over the last 20 years. Chris is currently
a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He is author of "War
Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" and "Losing Moses
on the Freeway." Chris has a master's degree in theology
from Harvard University and is the son of a Presbyterian minister.
His new book is "American Fascists: The Christian Right and
the War On America."
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the religious
right and the rise of it in this country. A new book by Chris
Hedges is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the
War on America. It investigates the highly organized and well-funded
dominionist movement. The book looks at their agenda, examines
the movement's origins and motivations and uncovers its ideological
underpinnings. American Fascists argues that dominionism seeks
absolute power in a Christian state. According to Hedges, the
movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements
in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and '30s.
Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent
for the New York Times for many years, where he won a Pulitzer
Prize. He's also the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning
and Losing Moses on the Freeway. Chris Hedges has a Master's degree
in theology from Harvard University and is the son of a Presbyterian
minister. He is currently a senior fellow at the Nation Institute
and joins me in studio now. Welcome to Democracy Now!
CHRIS HEDGES: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with
us. Why did you write this book?
CHRIS HEDGES: Anger. I mean, I grew up
in the Church and, of course, as you mentioned, graduated from
seminary, and I think these people have completely perverted and
distorted and manipulated the Christian message into something
that is the very antithesis of certainly what Jesus preached in
AMY GOODMAN: Who are "these people"?
CHRIS HEDGES: These are -- you know, they're
not -- we use terms like "evangelical" and "fundamentalist"
to describe them, and I think that those are incorrect terms.
Traditional fundamentalists always called on believers to remove
themselves from the contaminants of secular society, shun involvement
in politics. Evangelical leaders like Billy Graham's always warned
followers to keep their distance from political power. He, of
course, was burned by Richard Nixon, came to Nixon's defense and
then when it publicly came out that Nixon lied, it taught a lesson
This is a new movement, as embodied by
people like James Dobson or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, who
call for the creation of a Christian state, who talk about attaining
secular power. And they are more properly called dominionists
or Christian reconstructionists, although it's not a widespread
term, but they're certainly not traditional fundamentalists and
not traditional evangelicals. They fused the language and iconography
of the Christian religion with the worst forms of American nationalism
and then created this sort of radical mutation, which has built
alliances with powerful rightwing interests, including corporate
interests, and made tremendous inroads over the last two decades
into the corridors of power.
AMY GOODMAN: Why the term "dominionist"?
CHRIS HEDGES: It come out of Genesis,
you know, where God gives humankind dominion over creation. It's
articulated by ideologues, such as Rousas Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer
and others, and essentially is a new concept within the radical
Christian right, and it's used sparingly. And some dominionists
don't like the term, but I think it denotes or is probably a better
term for denoting those people who want to take political power.
AMY GOODMAN: On the back of your book,
Chris, is a quote from your professor at Harvard, Dr. James Luther
Adams, who said that in a few decades we would all be fighting
"Christian fascists." Who was he, and why did he think
CHRIS HEDGES: James Luther Adams was my
ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School. He had spent the
years 1935 and 1936 in Germany working with Dietrich Bonhoeffer
in the Confessing Church or anti-Nazi church and eventually was
picked up by the Gestapo and told to leave the country. He came
back -- and this was in the early 1980s, when I was in seminary
-- and saw the articulation of this new political religion, this
religion that talked about seizing control of mainstream denominations,
as well as institutions, creating a parallel media empire through
Christian radio and broadcasting, and ultimately taking control
of the government itself.
And he understood, in a visceral way,
how when countries fall into despair -- of course, this began
-- it was the time that began the assault on the American working
class, which has been accelerated and essentially left tens of
millions of people within our own country dispossessed -- he understood
how demagogues use that despair. And I think we can say there,
in many ways, has been a kind of Weimarization of the American
working class. And he saw what we were doing through globalization,
what we were doing to our working class and our middle class,
coupled with the rise of these so-called Christian demagogues,
as a frightening and toxic combination, which, if left unchecked,
would destroy our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you begin with Umberto
Eco? And explain who he is.
CHRIS HEDGES: Umberto Eco is the great
Italian writer -- I mean, he wrote that very popular book, The
Name of the Rose, and he had a nice little book of essays called
Five Moral Pieces, and in it he writes about the salient qualities
of what he calls "Ur-Fascism," or eternal fascism. And
I wanted to list those -- I thought it was probably as good a
list as I'd ever seen compiled on what the main tenets of fascism
are -- to begin the book, because my argument is that this is
not a religious movement. Although it certainly depends on the
support of many earnest, well-meaning, decent people who are religious,
I would argue that they are manipulated not only, of course, to
be fleeced for their own money, but essentially to give up moral
choice and surrender to the authoritarian demands of these leaders
to march forward and essentially dismantle our democratic state.
And I think that when we look closely at what it is that this
Christian right movement espouses, it does bear many similarities
to, you know, the main pillars of fascist movements: the cult
of masculinity, the war against --
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "the
cult of masculinity"?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the fact that, you
know, they elevate male figures within the megachurches, who cannot
be questioned, who speak directly for God. Any kind of questioning
or self-criticism becomes essentially battling the forces of Satan.
That power structure is to be replicated in the family. Much of
this movement is about the disempowerment of women. Children have
to be obedient. And so, that power structure of the family with
the dominant male and everyone else submissive is replicated in
the megachurches, which oftentimes -- and I've been in many over
the last two years -- revolve around cults of personality.
When we look at the sort of empires that
people like Pat Robertson run, you know, this man is worth hundreds
of millions, some people say up to $1 billion, surrounded by bodyguards,
flying around on private jets, investing in blood diamonds in
Sierra Leone. He has rock star status. I mean, if you've ever
been to an event where he appears, people are weeping and want
to be touched by him. There is no question. He essentially runs
a despotic little fiefdom.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the blood diamonds
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, he uses the money,
which he takes from, really, people who live on the fringes of
American society and should not be mailing him their checks, in
all sorts of very dirty investments in Africa. And one of them
was essentially getting involved in the trade of diamonds essentially
for weapons that rend Sierra Leone.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Chris Hedges.
He's a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for
the New York Times, went to seminary and has written a number
of books. His latest is called American Fascists: The Christian
Right and the War on America. We'll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Chris Hedges.
His latest book called American Fascists: The Christian Right
and the War on America. We were just talking about Pat Robertson.
I wanted to go back to that famous quote of his. This had to do
with foreign policy and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
0. PAT ROBERTSON: You know, I don't know
about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we're trying
to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and
do it. It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don't
think any oil shipments will stop, but this man is a terrific
danger. This is in our sphere of influence, so we can't let this
happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine. We have other doctrines that
we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy
to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us
very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the
time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another
$200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator.
It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives
do the job and then get it over with.
AMY GOODMAN: Pat Robertson. Your response, Chris Hedges?
CHRIS HEDGES: That's a deeply Christian
message, calling for assassination. You know, I covered the war
in Central America, and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell came down
to support the murderous rampages of Rios Montt in Guatemala,
the military dictatorship that were running death squads that
were killing 800 to 1,000 people a month in El Salvador, and,
of course, the Contras, whose main contribution in Nicaragua was
walking into towns drunk out of their mind, raping the women and
killing the men and burning the villages. And they describe these
battles as essentially a war against Satan, against Satanic forces,
godless communism that had to be defeated. There are no international
boundaries in Satan's kingdom, if you look at it from their ideology.
I think that the kinds of the wholehearted support for genocidal
killers in Central America, which Pat Robertson was one of the
stalwarts, is a tip-off as to, you know, without legal restraints,
what they would like to do within our own borders.
And I think that the quote or the clip
that you just played is a perfect illustration of how dark the
intentions of this movement is and how, if we don't begin to stand
up and fight back, if we believe that these people can be domesticated
and brought into the political arena where they will act responsibly,
we're very, very naive. And we should all sit down, and as unpalatable
as it is, and listen to Christian -- so-called Christian radio
and television to see the kinds of messages of hate and exclusion
that they are spewing out over the airwaves.
AMY GOODMAN: The quote of Jerry Falwell
right after September 11th that became quite famous: "I really
believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists
and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make
that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American
Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point
the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
He was speaking on September 13, 2001, on Pat Robertson's 700
CHRIS HEDGES: That's right. And, you know,
this is -- I mean, essentially, when you follow the logical conclusion
of the ideology they preach, there really are only two options
for people who do not submit to their authority. And it's about
submission, because these people claim to speak for God and not
only understand the will of God, but be able to carry it out.
Either you convert, or you're exterminated. That's what the obsession
with the End Times with the Rapture, which, by the way, is not
in the Bible, is about. It is about instilling -- it's, of course,
a fear-based movement, and it's about saying, ultimately, if you
do not give up control to us, you will be physically eradicated
by a vengeful God. And that lust for violence, I think that sort
of -- you know, the notion, that final aesthetic being violence
is very common to totalitarian movements, the belief that massive
catastrophic violence can be used as a cleansing agent to purge
the world. And that's, you know, something that this movement
bears in common with other despotic and frightening radical movements
that we've seen over the past -- throughout the past century.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about some of
the meetings you attended, from the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation
to the Evangelism Explosion that was a seminar taught by Dr. D.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the Evangelism Explosion
was a one-week seminar taught by Kennedy, was about certifying
people to be able to go out and teach this conversion technique.
And what was fascinating about it is how manipulative and dishonest
it was. You know, what they do is essentially they cook the testimonies.
They promise people that if they commit themselves to Christ,
they can get rid of the deepest existential dreads of human existence:
the fear of mortality, you know, grief, one of the -- we were
supposed to read testimonies. We would turn them into the teachers,
and they would send them back. And it was always about, you know,
I have 100% certainty that I know that if I die tomorrow, I will
go to heaven. Or, I lost my son -- one of the examples was --
in the war in Vietnam, but I don't grieve, because I know I'm
going to meet him in heaven.
And they talked about targeting people
who are vulnerable. They used a technique very common to cults.
It's called love-bombing -- it's a term taken from Margaret Singer
-- where you -- three or four people go and you sort of focus
intently on the person and are fascinated by everything that they
say. You build false friendships. And eventually, of course, the
goal is to draw them into these megachurches.
This movement talks about family, but
it is the great destroyer of family. And I would stand up in these
-- or I would be in these meetings and see people stand up weeping,
and they would be weeping for unsaved spouses or children, because
once you get sucked into these organizations, your leisure time,
your religious worship time, you end up becoming involved in groups,
you're essentially removed from your old community and placed
into this authoritarian community, where there is no questioning
of those above you. You're often assigned -- you're called a baby
Christian when you first come, and you're assigned spiritual guides
to teach you to think and act in the appropriate manner.
When I went to the National Religious
Broadcasters Association in California, the most interesting thing
about it was how these radical dominionists, these people who
have built an alliance around the drive to create a Christian
state, have taken over virtually all Christian radio and television
stations. And there are traditional evangelicals who would like
to step back from this political agenda, and they have been very
ruthlessly brushed aside.
You saw it in the purging of the Southern
Baptist Convention, when essentially dominionists like Richard
Land took it over in 1980. There were many ministers who were
very conservative and thought abortion was murder, were no friends
to sort of gays and lesbians, but they didn't buy into that political
agenda, which of course has been fused with rapacious capitalism.
I mean, this movement talks about acculturating
the society with a Christian religion. In fact, it's the inverse.
What they've done is acculturate the Christian religion with the
worst aspects of American imperialism and American capitalism.
And there's that kind of uneasy alliance with many of these corporate
interests. But it serves their turn. I mean, when you're creating
the corporate state, it's very convenient to have an ideology
that says, "Don't worry. You don't need health insurance,
because if you have enough faith, Jesus will cure you. It doesn't
matter if all of your jobs are outsourced and there are no labor
unions, because, you know, God takes care of his own. And not
only that, but God will make you materially wealthy." This
is, you know, the gospel of prosperity. So, essentially, what
we've seen is that fusion between those who want to build a corporate
state and this ideological movement that thrusts believers who
come out of deep despair into a world of magic and miracles and
AMY GOODMAN: And what are the corporations
that are part of this?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, DeVos, a guy who founded
Amway; Target; Sam's Club. You know, they bring in -- a lot of
these corporations like Wal-Mart and Sam's Club and others bring
in these sort of dominionist or evangelical ministers into the
plants as a way to mollify workers. Subscribing to this belief
system is essentially about disempowerment.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking to Chris Hedges.
He has written the book, American Fascists. How does this fit
into the race for president in 2008?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, certainly this movement
has tremendous reach within the Republican Party, Amy, and I think
we could argue it all but controls the Republican Party at this
point. We see it with John McCain, who in 2000 called Falwell
and Robertson "agents of intolerance" and is now sort
of falling all over himself to court this movement.
I think it's a mistake to think that George
Bush somehow embodies the movement. I think there's a great deal
of frustration with Bush, remember, on the issue of immigration,
and there is a tension, an uneasy alliance between these corporate
interests and this radical movement, and I think, you know, we
should also say, as Robert Paxton points out in his book, Anatomy
of Fascism, that fascist movements always build alliances with
conservative or industrial interests, and oftentimes these alliances
are not seamless. But on the issue of immigration, Bush sided
with the corporations, who want illegal immigrants for cheap labor.
There's a huge nativist element, a huge hostility towards immigrants
within the movement, and that angered the Christian right.
I think they're going to go searching
for another candidate -- maybe Brownback, I don't know -- who
they feel -- I mean, it boils down to the fact that they feel
Bush was not radical enough. And they're going to go searching
for a candidate that is going to swing further right, further
towards the radical agenda that they have at their core. And this
clip from Robertson, I think, is a public display of -- you know,
unleashed how far they would like to go.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, Iran. Let's
talk about Iraq, Iran, war, and what you call the American fascists.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, that's a really important
point, because none of these movements can take power unless there
is a period of prolonged instability or a crisis. They can make
creeping gains, and they have made tremendous gains, including
taking hundreds of millions of dollars of American taxpayer money
through the faith-based initiative program. But I think, as weak
as our democracy is, we can hold them off, unless we enter a period
From my reading of the Bush White House,
I think there's a very strong possibility that before the end
of the Bush administration, they will make a strike against Iran.
I think that what they've done is -- or what Karl Rove has done
is essentially adopt a corruption of Leon Trotsky's notion of
a permanent revolution -- only, it's permanent war. Now, you know,
the military-industrial complex, which is making huge profits
off the war in Iraq, let's not forget, is essentially driving
this administration. I think these people live in an alternate
reality. I think they really do believe that they dropping cruise
missiles and bunker busters and making conventional air strikes
against supposed sites that they've targeted in Iran -- 700 to
1000, according to Sy Hersh -- will bring the Iranian regime down.
Having spent seven years in the Middle East, a lot of that time
in Iran and Iraq, I'm quite certain that they will have no more
success in Iran than the Israelis had in Lebanon.
The problem with striking Iran is that
it has the potential to create a regional conflict. I mean, we're
already fighting a proxy war with Iran through Hezbollah in Iraq
-- there's no question that the Iraqi Shiites are getting assistance
from Iran and always have been -- and to a certain extent with
the conflict with Hamas, which probably gets some help from Iran,
as well. But a strike against Iran would be, in the eyes of Shiites
throughout the Middle East, a strike against Shiism. You have
two million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, many of whom work in the
oil sector, Bahraini Shia, huge Shia minority in Pakistan, and,
of course, most of Iraq is Shia. And I think that that kind of
a hit would -- has the potential to unleash a regional conflict.
I think we should remember that Iran does
not have the conventional capacity to do anything to the United
States, but they could very well strike Israel, especially. Of
course, there's talk of Israeli involvement in some kinds of air
strikes. That would provoke a retaliation. Hezbollah would not
sit by quietly. I think that in sort of unconventional weapons
-- I don't know what those would be -- I mean, you know, Iran,
it's an unprovoked attack. I mean, under international law, Iran
has a right to strike back, and I think that they would. And that
could really create a spiral, a kind of death spiral that frightens
me deeply. And I think what really frightens me is that no one
in the Democratic Party is speaking up, with the exception of
Kucinich. Nobody has spoken out against hitting Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about
this latest headline that we read today. You have, what came out
in the last few weeks, reporters in Baghdad getting this unusual
briefing where there weren't allowed to name names or even take
in their video cameras, being told that Iran was supplying --
what was it? -- highest levels of the Iranian government sending
sophisticated roadside bombs to Iraq that have killed 170 coalition
troops since 2004. I wanted to ask about Michael Gordon, your
former colleague at the New York Times, the person who was so-called
breaking the story, who was deeply involved with the weapons of
mass destruction myths also in his writings with Judith Miller,
and now this latest today, the Iranian government accusing the
US and Britain of being involved in an attack last week that killed
eleven members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Start with Michael
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, that's probably the
best reason to watch Democracy Now!, rather than read the New
York Times, about the war in Iraq. It's almost -- one's left sort
of speechless. I guess it's proof that some people never learn
anything. I mean, I was on the investigative team and got briefly
sort of tarnished with that dirt. I was based in Paris covering
al-Qaeda but did get sucked into one of these sort of sham Chalabi
AMY GOODMAN: Which one?
CHRIS HEDGES: It was the one where they
supposedly had a defector in Lebanon. It wasn't my story, but,
I mean, it ended up -- you tend on investigative units to work
as teams. It was Lowell Bergman's story, which was broadcast on
Frontline, but he could not fly to Beirut to interview the guy,
so I did. But, I mean, it was my body. I was there. And --
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who he was, the person
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, he was an impostor.
Supposedly, he was a general, and he was talking about training
camps that were being run in Iraq for al-Qaeda. I think it's been
pretty well discredited. So I find it -- I mean, I find the tactics
-- and we see it, you know, ratcheting up with the rhetoric with
Iran. I mean, we see that they're familiar tactics and familiar
lies. And it's just stunning that people as bright as Michael
Gordon buy into it. I don't get it.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, it's not just
Michael Gordon. He writes the piece, and then the institution
of the Times, well, they put it on the front page --
CHRIS HEDGES: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: -- and they're the ones that
make it the big exclusive story based on unnamed sources. And
it beats this drum for war.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: What will you do if the US
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I'm not going to pay
my income taxes. I just am in such despair over the consequences
of that war and the fact that there just really is no -- seems
to be no organized opposition. And I think that I have a kind
of moral responsibility as someone who comes out of the Middle
East and has, I mean, directly, you know, friends throughout the
years that I spent there who would suffer tremendously from that.
And I sort of -- it may not change anything, and it may be sort
of futile, but I think that at least when it's over, I'll have
earned the right to ask for their forgiveness.
AMY GOODMAN: Christian Zionist Movement,
how does it fit into this?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the relationship between
this radical movement and the radical right in Israel is one that
really brings together Messianic Jews and Messianic Christians
who believe that they have been given a divine or a moral right
to control one-fifth of the world's population who are Muslim.
It's a really repugnant ideology. The radical Christian right
in this country is deeply anti-Semitic. I mean, look at what they
-- you know, when the end times come, except for this 144,000
Jews who flee to Petra and are converted -- I think this was a
creation of Tim LaHaye -- Jews will be destroyed, along with all
other nonbelievers, including people like myself who are nominal
Christians, in their eyes. You know, there is no respect for Judaism
in and of itself. It's an abstraction. It's, you know, Jews have
to control Israel, because that is one more step towards Armageddon.
And I find that alliance strange and very shortsighted on the
part of many rightwing Israelis and rightwing Jews in the United
AMY GOODMAN: This latest story, the Anti-Defamation
League calling on Georgia State Rep. Ben Bridges to apologize
for a memo distributed under his name that says the teaching of
evolution should be banned in public schools, because it is a
religious deception stemming from an ancient Jewish sect. The
memo calls on lawmakers to introduce legislation that would end
the teaching of evolution in public schools, because it's "a
deception that is causing incalculable harm to every student and
every truth-loving citizen."
CHRIS HEDGES: And there's a bill now in
the Texas state legislature that will abolish all mention of evolution
in school textbooks and make Bible study mandatory in public schools.
And the role of creationism is extremely important in this movement.
It's not just wacky pseudoscience. It is really a war against
truth. It is not about presenting an alternative. It's about saying
facts are interchangeable with opinions, that lies are true, that
we can believe whatever we want. And once they successfully elevate
creationism, which, of course, is a myth -- I mean, teaching creation
out of the Book of Genesis is an absurdity. The writers of the
Book of Genesis thought the earth was flat with rivers of above
and below us. But what it does is destroy the possibility or sanctity
of honest, dispassionate, intellectual and scientific inquiry.
And when they do that, they have made a huge step towards creating
a totalitarian state.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, I want to thank
you very much for being with us. Chris Hedges is the Pulitzer
Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times,
currently a senior fellow at the Nation Institute. His latest
book is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the
War on America. Thanks for joining us.
CHRIS HEDGES: Thanks, Amy.