Who is funding California's Prop 8, the country's most controversial ballot measure? The Mormons' donations are well known, and are a source of outrage among the church's more moderate elements. But little attention has been focused on two of the proposition's biggest individual donors: Elsa Broekhuizen, the mother of Blackwater founder Erik Prince, and Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., the reclusive theocratic millionaire who inherited $300 million from his philanthropist father at age 18.
When I profiled Ahmanson in a 2004 article for Salon.com, I became the first journalist in 20 years to interview him. Yesterday I resurrected my reporting for The Daily Beast, updating it to cover Ahmanson's recent machinations, particularly his role in Prop 8. As I wrote, Ahmanson few Americans have heard of Ahmanson -- and that's the way he likes it. His extreme politics and eccentric personality reveal the draconian underside of a ballot measure billed by its proponents as "pro-family."
During a 1985 interview with the Orange County Register, Ahmanson summarized his political agenda: "My goal is the total integration of biblical law into our lives."
Though Ahmanson's rhetoric has softened over the years, his politics are derived from the radical Christian Reconstructionist theology of R.J. Rushdoony, a far-right theologian who advocated replacing the US Constitution with biblical law. "God's government prevails," Rushdoony wrote, "and His alternatives are clear-cut: either men and nations obey His laws, or God invokes the death penalty against them." Those eligible on Rushdoony's long list for execution included disobedient children, unchaste women, apostates, blasphemers, practitioners of witchcraft, astrologers, adulterers, and, of course, anyone who engaged in "sodomy or homosexuality."
Rushdoony was the father Ahmanson never had, bringing him to radical right-wing Christianity not long after the anxiety-ridden, Tourette's-afflicted scion of wealth checked out of the Menninger Clinic. Ahmanson bankrolled Rushdoony's religious empire; in return, Rushdoony made Ahmanson a board member of his think tank, Chalcedon, which to this day advocates theocratic revolution in the United States. Ahmanson and his wife were at Rushdoony's bedside when he died in 2001.
(Read the full story on Ahmanson here).
My article is accompanied at the Daily Beast by a new video by Michael Wilson, creator of the brilliant documentary, Silhouette City. Wilson also co-produced my video documentary about Sarah Palin's belief in spiritual warfare, "In The Land Of Queen Esther."
On November 2, Wilson went to San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium to cover "The Call," an 80,000-strong Pentecostal rally for Prop 8. The Call organizer, Lou Engle, gathered his troops together for several days of fasting and prayer to stop what he called the "sexual insanity" of Prop 8 opponents. The rally culminated with Engle imploring his fervent crowd to become martyrs, to be willing to lay down their lives for the cause.
(Click here to see Wilson's video.)
The defeat of Prop 8 would be a nightmare for the Christian right. As Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said of the ballot measure, "It's more important than the presidential election... We will not survive [as a nation] if we lose the institution of marriage."
But behind the Christian right's panicked pleas for preserving "traditional marriage" lies a more deep-seated fear. California's rejection of Prop 8 would represent a decisive repudiation of the theocratic fantasy outlined by Rushdoony and mainstreamed by Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Lou Engle and countless evangelical minions. Ahmanson has spent what he could to keep his mentor's dream alive, but the movement's nightmare may arrive nonetheless.