In honor of the 2014 incarnation of the event known as The Gathering, I've given an interview with Jay Michaelson, writing for the Daily Beast, on what Michaelson has chosen to call The $1-Billion-a-Year Right-Wing Conspiracy You Haven't Heard Of.
The interview covers findings from my ongoing research, as Director of The Center Against Religious Extremism (a project Twocare.org), tracing the sources of funding for the ongoing culture wars and the spread of dominionism, creationism, and anti-LGBT hatred both in the U.S. but also internationally.
The source of much of that money appears to be The Gathering, the annual meeting of multimillionaire and billionaire hard-right wing evangelical funders whose foundations dole out upwards of $1 billion a year. This year, top New York Times and Washington Post op-ed columnists will address these The Gathering funders who bankroll a domestic and international campaign of anti-gay hate.
Recently, government-encouraged outbreaks of mob violence against LGBT persons in countries from Uganda to Russia, and draconian new anti-gay legislation in those countries too, have gained growing media notice -- some of which has focused on the role American evangelicals have played in inciting such hatred.
But the American culprits are not being funded from the margins. Tens of millions (possibly evens hundreds of millions) of dollars for that project is coming from the foundations whose representatives assemble yearly at an event known as The Gathering, where multimillionaire and billionaire evangelical funders of the culture wars from the families DeVos, Coors, Prince, Maclellan, Friess, Ahmanson, and others, and heads of the mammoth National Christian Foundation (the "cash cow" of the religious right per a recent Twocare.org report) -- gather, dine, and strategize.
New York Times op-ed writer and frequent National Public Radio commentator David Brooks has been criticized by his own NYT op-ed colleagues, such as economist Paul Krugman, for a recent column in which Brooks chided America's "Bonfire of The Vanities" crowd with, "Wealthy people have an obligation to try to follow a code of seemliness. No luxury cars for college-age kids. No private jet/ski weekends." This flap has followed on the heels of the controversy engendered by a Sunday NYT column that referred to television producer Shonda Rhimes as an "angry black woman".
Completing the trifecta, this Saturday September 27th, at a luncheon hosted by the Orlando, Florida luxury Ritz Carlton Hotel, David Brooks will regale a crowd of mostly white multimillionaire and billionaire financial patrons of the eliminationist anti-LGBT religious right (also see this Twocare.org story), whose funded concerns include the ministry of a white South African evangelist who characterizes the late, assassinated civil rights leader Martin Luther King,. Jr. as "Just a sexual degenerate with a Marxist agenda" who fronted a conspiracy to impose a "racial mixing program on America". So what's not to like for the Grey Lady's thoughtful, moderately conservative 'Bobo in Paradise' ?
And, in line with Brooks' cautionary advice, the would-be plutocrats of The Gathering are anything but ostentatious. Indeed, a survey commissioned by The Gathering, Inc. which hosts the event has shown that many participants consider The Gathering to be a "secret society". Proper wealth, it would seem, knows the value of discretion. Bonfires of the Vanities are fine, sure, but best held behind locked doors, protected by high hedges. And safely ensconced in private Orlando luxury hotel compounds.
This Thursday, September 25th commenced The Gathering 2014, the biggest funding confab of the Protestant religious right. It's very likely that a number of billionaires will be present. Scheduled to speak at the conference are David Brooks of the New York Times (also a National Public Radio commentator) and Michael Gerson of the Washington Post.
It's an invite-only event, reserved for speakers and heads of evangelical foundations that dole out over $200,000 a year. Foundations associated with The Gathering now dole out upwards of $1 billion dollars annually.
Helping lead a presentation Thursday evening was Terry Parker, co-founder of the National Christian Foundation which -- as I've been documenting in my capacity as Director of the Center Against Religious Extremism (a project of Truth Wins Out) -- is now the 12th biggest charity in America by one ranking. The NCF's anti-LGBT funding pattern is so extensive that I've written a small encyclopedia to profile some of the more egregious anti-gay groups NCF bankrolls.
Parker was listed, on the FRC's 2013 990 tax form, as a board member of the Family Research Council, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT hate group.
Also hosting a presentation Thursday evening at The Gathering 2014 was Fieldstead and Company, the unincorporated philanthropic vehicle of billionaire Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr.
Ahmanson is one of the original members of The Gathering and spent $1,395,000 (the second biggest donor, behind the Knights of Columbus) to pass California's anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8. Until 1995, Howard Ahmanson was also the principal financial benefactor of the Christian Reconstructionism movement whose leaders advocate imposing pre-Talmudic bibical law, including the death penalty for a range of offenses including adultery, homosexuality, idolatry, and witchcraft.
In 2004, Ahmanson -- one of the most dedicated and strategic anti-LGBT rights funders in America [see: 1, 2, 3, 4] told the Orange County Register that "I don't think it's at all a necessity" to "stone people for the same thing that people in ancient Israel were stoned" but that "It would still be a little hard to say that if one stumbled on a country that was doing that, that it is inherently immoral, to stone people for these things"
"[H]omosexuality is wrong, unhealthy, should be illegal, and, frankly, is un-American -- because of its inherent selfish character and obviously self-destructive tendencies... ...gay politics or, in other words, organized homosexuality, is a group manifestation of the homosexual's pathological need to justify his existence. It's nothing more." -- speaker at anti-LGBT presentation at The Gathering 1997, organized by Howard Ahmanson's Fieldstead & Company, on how to combat "organized homosexuality".
"I think we're at great threat, externally, from radical Islamists who want to destroy us and our way of life... The second greatest threat I think this nation faces is internally, and it's from the radical homosexuals that want to destroy the underpinnings of our nation." -- Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaking at The Gathering 2006. Perkins' FRC is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an antigay hate group.
"[I]n the course of the now hundreds of cases the Alliance Defense Fund has now fought involving this homosexual agenda, one thing is certain: there is no room for compromise with those who would call evil 'good.' " -- From speech by Alliance Defending Freedom President Alan Sears presented to the anti-LGBT World Congress of Families VI, Madrid 2012. Sears was a featured speaker at The Gathering 2013. According to Human Rights Campaign Vice President Fred Sainz, the ADF is "easily the most active antigay legal group".
"Maturity is moving from the close-up to the landscape, focusing less on your own supposed strengths and weaknesses and more on the sea of empathy in which you swim, which is the medium necessary for understanding others, one's self, and survival." -- David Brooks, featured The Gathering 2014 speaker.
Judging by its website and roster of event speakers, The Gathering might seem to the average onlooker to be a politically moderate, forward looking gathering of concerned evangelicals who simply want to make the world a better place. Not to this observer.
As Director of Truth Wins Out's new project, the Center Against Religious extremism, I've been closely studying The Gathering, including listening to audio recordings of The Gathering conference sessions going back to 1996 -- audio that was wiped from The Gathering's website early in 2014.
Through that audio record, The Gatherings' still-available trove of newsletters, and from my background of ten years' intensive study of the American religious right, I've pieced together a radically different profile of what's going on at the event.
Over a half century ago, folk singer Bob Dylan penned the song line, "The executioner's hand is always well hidden", and it's as true now as it was when Dylan wrote the immortal line.
Could leading New York Times, Washington Post, and National Public Radio columnists and commentators really be planning to speak at an annual event that, in financial and legal terms, is probably the epicenter of anti-gay rights evangelical activism from the U.S. to Uganda to Russia ? The answer is yes.
Are they aware of what they're participating in (and implicitly supporting by lending their names to the event) or have they been conned ? We may never know the truth but we can safely assume the answers will lie on the "ignorance" side of the dilemma.
But such high profile mainstream media patronization of The Gathering raises the question: if such esteemed NYT, All Things Considered and Washington Post columnists and commentators -- who have been granted their big and influential media platforms because of their supposed penetrating level of insight, can't parse mainstream evangelicalism from what's going on at The Gathering, why should we -- or Washington and New York elites -- pay attention to their opinions on religion and politics ?
Although one could consider The Gathering to be the beating financial heart of the culture wars, and the financial epicenter of Protestant evangelical funding of anti-LGBT activism, The Gathering's ideological agenda goes far beyond militant opposition to gay rights. The Gathering is also close to the epicenter of religiously-based global warming denialism in America.
For example, from 2001 to 2012 the National Christian Foundation gave over $140,000,000 to evangelical organizations that refuse to recognize human activity which is releasing gasses such as CO2 and Methane is driving climate change. These organizations have even banded together in a PR effort that depicts environmentalism as a demonic "green dragon" which is "one of the greatest deceptions of our day" and that is bent on imposing a tyrannical one-world government.
Participants in that "Green Dragon" PR effort include the heads of anti-gay organizations which have been prominent at The Gathering, including Tom Minnery of Focus On The Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
read more on this story, NYT"s David Brooks, WaPo's Michael Gerson to Speak at Top Antigay Funding Confab, at TwoCare.org.