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Rapture Ready: The Unauthorized Christians United for Israel Tour

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On July 16, I attended Christians United for Israel's annual Washington-Israel Summit. Founded by San Antonio-based megachurch pastor John Hagee, CUFI has added the grassroots muscle of the Christian right to the already potent Israel lobby. Hagee and his minions have forged close ties with the Bush White House and members of Congress from Sen. Joseph Lieberman to Sen. John McCain. In its call for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israeli territory, CUFI has found unwavering encouragement from traditional pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and elements of the Israeli government.

But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc. - must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow. Among the rapture ready was Republican Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. None of this seemed to matter to Lieberman, who delivered a long sermon hailing Hagee as nothing less than a modern-day Moses. Lieberman went on to describe Hagee's flock as "even greater than the multitude Moses commanded."

Throughout CUFI's Israel Summit, videographer Thomas Shomaker and I were hounded by PR agents seeking to prevent us from interviewing attendees about the End Times. The conference, we were told, was about "one message" - evangelical Christians supporting Israel. We were instructed to only interview CUFI leaders capable of sticking to the talking point that their support for Israel has, as Hagee declared, "nothing to do with the End Times." But I was forbidden from asking Hagee about statements he made in his book, "Jerusalem Countdown," that appeared to blame Jews for their own persecution. After doing just that during a press conference, I was removed from the conference by off-duty DC cops summoned by members of Hagee's family.

I have covered the Christian right intensely for over four years. During this time, I attended dozens of Christian right conferences, regularly monitored movement publications and radio shows, and interviewed scores of its key leaders. I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington. See for yourself.

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