07/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Newsweek: Military Chaplains Using Armed Forces to Spread Christianity

A breaking Newsweek story by journalist Kathryn Joyce, "Christian Soldiers: The growing controversy over military chaplains using the armed forces to spread the Word", explores the role of a highly connected, retired US Colonel and military chaplain endorser at the center of a recently exposed scheme to distribute Arabic language Bibles in Afghanistan: chaplain endorsement agency head Jim Ammerman, who claims friends in the US Congress and Senate and states that his agency works with three and four star generals in the Pentagon.

Joyce's story expertly covers the foreign policy dimensions of the story as well as the religious freedom issues defended by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which defends freedom of worship, and fights improper evangelizing, in the United States Military.

But another aspect is only hinted at in the Newsweek story:

Through the late 1990's and up into the 2008 presidential election, Retired Colonel Jim Ammerman has been engaged in a pattern of seditious incitement against the United States government and has promoted overtly anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the type that experts who study the relationship between conspiracy theory and right wing violence, such as Political Research Associates Senior Analyst Chip Berlet, suggest feed a cultural climate that can provoke acts of violence that target demonized groups in society.

In a speech he gave in January 1997 during a national speaking tour, broadcast across America on scores of radio and television stations, Jim Ammerman called for the execution of then-President Bill Clinton, for treason. For over a decade Ammerman, and one of his top chaplains noted in the Newsweek story, James Linzey, have aggressively incited the American anti-government militia movement -- sometimes by promoting overtly racialist, anti-immigrant conspiracy theories.

As Joyce's story describes, Jim Ammerman and his chaplain endorsement agency are unabashedly Christian supremacist, and that posture often spills over into domestic politics:

Department of Defense policy says that chaplain-endorsing agencies should "express willingness" for their chaplains to cooperate with other religious traditions. But Schulcz claims that Ammerman, who is not a paid government official, and his chaplains, who are, are entitled to say whatever they want unless they're advocating insurrection.

On this point, MRFF charges they come close. Ammerman and chaplain Linzey have espoused conspiracy theories about "Satanic forces" at work in the U.S. government facilitating a military takeover by foreign troops; Ammerman even appears in a video favored by militia groups titled The Imminent Military Takeover of the USA. In 2008, Ammerman implied that four presidential candidates should be "arrested, quickly tried and hanged" for not voting to designate English America's official language, and speculated that Barack Obama would be assassinated as a secret Muslim.

[note: Ammerman appeared in two videos with similar titles, "Imminent Military Takeover of the United States", based on a 1996 speaking tour, and "Imminent Military Takeover of the United States II", based in a 1997 speaking tour.]

As Kathryn Joyce frames the foreign policy aspect of her Newsweek story,

Ever since former President George W. Bush referred to the war on terror as a "crusade" in the days after the September 11 attacks, many have charged that the United States was conducting a holy war, pitting a Christian America against the Muslim world...

A May article in Harper's by Jeff Sharlet illustrated a military engaged in an internal battle over religious practice. Then came news about former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Scripture-themed briefings to President Bush that paired war scenes with Bible verses... Later in May, Al-Jazeera broadcast clips filmed in 2008 showing stacks of Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari at the U.S. air base in Bagram and featuring the chief of U.S. military chaplains in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, telling soldiers to "hunt people for Jesus."

At the center of the Bible distribution scheme was Jim Ammerman who, through his military chaplain endorsing agency, The Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches, wields power, over his chaplains, to terminate their jobs by pulling his agency's endorsement. All active duty military chaplains must carry such endorsements as a precondition to their employment.