Friday, June 26, 2009

LTG 06/24/09 - No DNA test for you!

From the Omaha CityWeekly, June 24-July 01, 2009 (http://omahacityweekly.com/article/2009/06/24/law-talking-guy)

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Law Talking Guy
5-4=Catch 22

By: Patrick Runge
Issue: June 24, 2009

Here’s a puzzle for you numbers junkies. How does 5-4 lead to a Catch-22?

Last week, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the due process clause of the Constitution does not give a person convicted of a crime the right to access DNA evidence to prove his or her innocence. In this case from Alaska, awkwardly titled District Attorney’s Office for the Third Judicial District v. Osborne, the Supreme Court actually overruled the lower court’s decision granting Osborne the right to a DNA test to challenge his conviction for rape and murder.

A little procedural history is probably important. In this case, Osborne offered to pay for a more sophisticated DNA test of the evidence against him. The prosecutors agreed that the test would definitively demonstrate whether Osborne was guilty or not. But they still refused to allow the test, because Alaska is one of four states that do not have a law in place allowing post-conviction DNA testing.

Nebraska, thankfully, is not one of those four states. Go Big Red.

Osborne appealed, arguing that the due process clause of the Constitution should require the state to give him access to the testing. The Court of Appeals agreed with Osborne, but the prosecutors successfully appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, which started off sounding pretty good for Osborne. Roberts wrote of the “unparalleled ability” of current DNA testing to reach a factual determination of guilt or innocence in criminal cases, technology that was not available at the time many people were convicted.

But things quickly got worse for Osborne. Roberts went on to discuss how states across the country were actively pursuing various means of providing an avenue to use post-conviction DNA testing to guilt or innocence. Establishing a Federal constitutional right to DNA testing, Roberts wrote, would be “leaping ahead” of the states in their pursuit of justice.

Roberts never quite got around to explain why that was a bad thing, of course. But apparently it is.

The part of the majority opinion I found the most disturbing, however, was when Roberts discussed why focusing just on the actual guilt or innocence of those asking for post-conviction DNA testing wasn’t the most compelling thing.

“A criminal defendant proved guilty after a fair trial does not have the same liberty interests as a free man,” wrote Roberts (whom we will have to pardon for his unfortunately sexist choice of nouns). And because a defendant convicted of a crime does not have the same “liberty interests” as someone who was not convicted (see how easy it is to use more inclusive language?) states have more “flexibility” in deciding what rights to grant or deny to a person wanting to challenge their conviction and prove their innocence.

So, here’s the Catch-22. Let’s say for the purposes of this discussion that I have been wrongly accused of a horrible crime. I go to trial, and there’s DNA evidence out there that would prove I’m innocent. I’m convicted of the crime, and the day after my conviction a test is developed that would prove my innocence.

The test wasn’t available at the time of my trial, so I couldn’t use it then. But after I’ve been convicted – without the benefit of that DNA evidence, mind you – the fact that I’ve been convicted means I can’t use the DNA evidence to prove I shouldn’t have been convicted in the first place. Either way, it means that the Supreme Court is doing the judicial equivalent of sticking their collective fingers in their ears and shouting “LA LA LA LA LA” to the DNA evidence that could exonerate me as I make the slow walk towards Ol’ Sparky.

In fairness, Roberts was correct in telling us that a person convicted of a crime (gender neutrality is easy!) doesn’t have the right to continually re-try his or her (well, sometimes it’s a little awkward) case. The actual test as to how much post-conviction relief a convict should receive is that a denial of that relief “offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.”

Let’s see. We’ve got a person in prison. We have a scientific test that even prosecutors agree could definitively prove that person’s innocence, a level of certainty that cannot be gained from a trial without that evidence. In other words, we have an objective, scientific test that can tell us if this person is innocent – and could very well be executed by the state without that test.

And yet, according to Roberts, denying a person access to that test is not something that “offends some principle of justice.” I’m not sure what dictionary Roberts is using, but if “making sure we’re not executing the wrong person” isn’t justice in its purest form, then I don’t know what is.

But I will let Justice John Paul Stevens’ words in his dissent summarize the problem with Roberts’ opinion.

“[T]here is no reason to deny access to the evidence and there are many reasons to provide it, not least of which is a fundamental concern in ensuring that justice has been done.”

Patrick Runge has practiced law in the Omaha area since earning his degree from Creighton University in 1994. He has also written for the Omaha Pulp, Millard Avenues and UNO’s Gateway. E-mail him at thelawtalkingguy@gmail.com.

Monday, June 22, 2009

LTG 06/10/09 - There are terrorists, and there are terrorists

From the 06/10/09 issue of the Omaha CityWeekly (http://omahacityweekly.com/article/2009/06/11/law-talking-guy)

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Law Talking Guy
Terrorism in the Heartland
By: Patrick Runge
Issue: June 10, 2009

So, when is a terrorist not really a terrorist?

On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was murdered as he was handing out brochures at his church in Wichita, Kansas, as his wife was singing in the choir. Tiller was famous for being one of the few physicians in the country who would perform late-term abortions.

The suspect in custody for Tiller’s murder, Scott Roeder, is a long-time anti-abortion activist with a history of criminal behavior. If Roeder did in fact kill Tiller, and did it because Tiller was an abortion provider, then Roeder’s murder was to advance a particular political view through the use of violence. That, gentle readers, is the textbook definition of terrorism. And Tiller’s killing isn’t so much a murder as it is an assassination.

If Roeder did kill Tiller, it certainly wouldn’t be the first incident of anti-abortion violence. According to the National Abortion Federation, there have been 6,143 incidents of violence against abortion providers in the United States and Canada since 1977. Of that number, there were eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings and 175 arsons. Plus, Roeder has told the Associated Press that he knows of more people in the anti-abortion movement planning more violence in the near future.

Think about those numbers for a moment. Taken as a whole, it’s staggering. But what do you think the country’s response would be if those numbers were committed by al Qaeda in America rather than by anti-abortionists?

You know what would happen. We saw what happened in the wake of 9/11, with the passage of the PATRIOT act, the militarization of law enforcement, warrantless wiretapping, and indefinite detention of “suspected terrorists.”

We were told after 9/11 that we couldn’t possibly have a “law enforcement” reaction to terrorism. We were told that in a post-9/11 world, we had to surrender certain liberties and give the government certain powers to keep us safe. Trust us, we were told by those in power, as they used our fear to remain in power.

So, if that’s the proper response to terrorism, then where are the similar calls to such action in response to Tiller’s assassination? If terrorism can’t be stopped without resorting to – shall we say – extra-constitutional methods, then why haven’t we employed such methods to stop anti-abortion violence?

As soon as you stop and think about how that would work – employing Special Forces to “rendition” American citizens and black-op agents to kick down doors of American houses – you realize exactly why we don’t do that. Even the hardest of the security conservatives would realize that it would be completely unacceptable to allow American citizens to be swept off the streets and detained indefinitely on suspicion of being involved in terrorism.

But isn’t it interesting that we’re willing to accept exactly those kinds of police-state procedures for one kind of terrorist, but not at all willing to accept them for another? Why?

It certainly isn’t because we haven’t used law enforcement tactics before. After the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, law enforcement was able to locate and arrest everyone involved, locking them away in Federal prison and keeping us safe. When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in 1995, killing 168 people, law enforcement was able to locate and arrest him, locking him up before a death sentence was imposed in 2001.

And, of course, Roeder was arrested hours after Tiller’s assassination. By law enforcement. No black-ops, warrantless wiretaps, or any other nonsense was needed, just solid and smart police work.

Please, don’t understand me to be saying that all anti-abortionists are terrorists. Far from it. As I discussed in a previous column, I struggle with the ethical and moral issues surrounding abortion. Like President Obama told the graduating class at Notre Dame, there are reasonable people on both sides of the debate and we must all work to find what common ground we can on the issue.

Unfortunately, Roeder is right. We are likely to see more violence – more terrorism – targeted towards abortion providers. And we will continue to see law enforcement respond to prevent the violence they can, and prosecute the violence they cannot prevent.

Why, then, do we continue to tolerate a disregard of our basic liberties when it comes to the “War on Terror”? See, this is what happens when you attempt to declare war on a concept. If the war goes beyond metaphor, then the lines get blurred. People get scared, rules get changed, and we move step by step towards a totalitarian state and away from the very freedoms we claim to be fighting for.

We must always, I believe, remember what Benjamin Franklin told us, that “those who would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Patrick Runge has practiced law in the Omaha area since earning his degree from Creighton University in 1994. He has also written for the Omaha Pulp, Millard Avenues and UNO’s Gateway. E-mail him at thelawtalkingguy@gmail.com.

Is this terrorism?

Interesting article by Sara Robinson of Campaign for America's Future (http://www.alternet.org/media/140792/9_conservative_myths_about_right-wing_domestic_terrorism/), purporting to debunk the biggest myths about the recent spate of domestic terrorism. It's definitely got a slant, but I think a lot of the points are valid. It's a little overtly partisan when discussing the shooting of the military recruits, but I think the argument stands up pretty well. There's definitely some meat on the bone to the argument that the shooter was portrayed as a "left-winger" because he was anti-war and media outlets desperately were looking for the split-screen dualism that passes for balance and objectivity in today's journalism.

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It's been a wild couple of weeks for those of us in the wingnutology business. Our services have been in tremendous demand as the mainstream media try to sort out the meaning of what Scott Roeder and James von Brunn did.

I've done an average of one radio show every day for the past two weeks trying to help various lefty talkers around the country make some sense of it all; and I'm generally gratified at how seriously people are starting to take this.

At the same time, I'm also appalled (though, sadly, hardly surprised) by the conservative mythmaking that's going on around the very serious issue of right-wing domestic terrorism. So it's obviously time to pull together another "Firing Back" piece to give progressives what they need to separate fact from fiction when these talking points start flying.

I've actually had every one of the following myths pitched to me by on-air interviewers, phone-in callers and/or online commenters over the last two weeks. Most of them have come up over and over, which suggests to me that you're likely to encounter them, too. So let's walk 'em through:

1. These are just "lone wolf" psychos who are acting alone. You can't hold anybody else responsible for what crazy people decide to do.

True and false. But mostly false.

It's true that every one of the nine right-wing terrorists who've made the news since Jan. 20 had a history of mental illness, domestic violence, and/or drug abuse. Several were military veterans who were having a really hard time adjusting to civilian life. None of these people could reasonably be considered sane; and, for whatever twisted reasons, they made a personal choice to do what they did.

But it's not true that they were acting alone. People who are dealing with these kinds of demons are often drawn into movements that offer a strong narrative that helps them make sense of a world that never seems to add up right for them. They're usually drawn into organizations like Operation Rescue or the Minutemen that are nominally nonviolent, but which also indoctrinate them into a worldview that justifies and motivates people to commit terrorist acts. They come to believe that they must do this to save the world, to serve God and to be the heroes they desperately want to be.

They're already walking sticks of dynamite. But it takes the heat of that apocalyptic, dualistic, eliminationist, pro-violence narrative to light their fuses and make them explode.

Unfortunately, these groups also make it easy to take that final step over the line, because they often have close ties to other, more secretive groups that do advocate and plan terrorist violence as a solution. Operation Rescue teaches that killing abortion doctors is justifiable homicide, and then feeds its most extreme members into the Army of God.

The Aryan Nations and several other white nationalist groups supplied the nine members of The Order, a racist terrorist group that killed two people (including left-wing talker Alan Berg) and stole over $4 million during a nine-month spree in 1984. Al-Qaida got many of its recruits from the nominally nonviolent (but still radical) Hizb al-Tahrir. Of course, when violence actually occurs, these groups always denounce it -- but they also usually have a very good idea of who was involved, because they've been hanging around with the perpetrators for quite a while themselves.

One of the things the public is finally beginning to understand is that the "lone wolf" story has never been accurate, because these guys are never really alone in the world. Every one of them was well-marinated in large, long-established subcultures that put them up to terrorism and promised to make heroes out of them if they succeeded.

2. These terrorists are really left-wingers, not right-wingers. Because everybody knows that fascism is a phenomenon that only occurs on the left.

False does not even begin to cover the absurdity of this claim.

Fascism has always been a phenomenon of the right. Every postwar academic scholar of fascism -- Robert Paxton, Roger Griffin, Umberto Eco and onward -- has been emphatically clear about this. Benito Mussolini admitted as much. It's part of the very definition of the word.

Jonah Goldberg has gotten a lot of traction on the right for his argument that fascism is somehow a left-wing tendency; but in his badly argued, barely researched tome Liberal Fascism, he gets here by taking logical leaps that no college professor would accept from the greenest freshman.

The worst, perhaps, is the way he conflates "fascism" with "totalitarianism." There is such a thing as left-wing totalitarianism: Stalinism and Maoism both qualify. But they were communist, not fascist, movements. It's only when totalitarianism happens on the right that we call it fascism.

Still, this idea has caught on like wildfire and is being widely promoted by right-wing talkers like Glenn Beck. If you want the full takedown on this, I refer you to Dave Neiwert's exhaustive series of debunking articles, which are linked to in the sidebar at Orcinus.

3. Public right-wing groups like Operation Rescue or the Minutemen don't advocate violence, so these acts have absolutely nothing to do with them.

As noted above: These groups may not engage in violence themselves, but they do provide the narrative and worldview that convinces people that terrorism is the only available means of getting what they want. As I wrote here, these narratives have a very specific structure that sets people up for terrorism:

Long before they turn dangerous, political and religious groups take their first step down that road by adopting a worldview that justifies eventual violent action. The particulars of the narrative vary, but the basic themes are always the same. First: Their story is apocalyptic, insisting that the end of the world as we've known it is near. Second: It divides the world into a Good-versus-Evil/Us-versus-Them dualism that encourages the group to interpret even small personal, social or political events as major battles in a Great Cosmic Struggle -- a habit of mind that leads the group to demonize anyone who disagrees with them. This struggle also encourages members to invest everyday events with huge existential meaning, and as a result sometimes overreact wildly to very mundane stuff.
Third: This split allows for a major retreat from consensus reality and the mainstream culture. The group rejects the idea that they share a common future with the rest of society, and curls up into its own insular worldview that's impervious to the outside culture's reasoning or facts. Fourth: Insiders feel like they're a persecuted, prophetic elite who are being opposed by wicked, tyrannical forces. Left to fester, this paranoia will eventually drive the group to make concrete preparations for self-defense -- and perhaps go on the offense against their perceived persecutors. Fifth: Communities following this logic will also advocate the elimination of their enemies by any means necessary in order to purify the world for their ideology.

Once people have accepted these ideas as truth, terrorist violence begins to seem like an unavoidable imperative -- and lone wolves, smelling blood, will start to hunt for targets.

4. This is just a minority movement that isn't really capable of changing anything. We don't really need to worry about it.

False, and evidence of tremendous denial.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups in the U.S. is up 54 percent since 2000, with nearly 1,000 such groups active across the country right now. Fueled by bone-deep racism, an unnatural terror of liberal government, frustration over the economic downturn, and fears about America's loss of world standing, they tell us, the militant right is rising again. You can find groups in every corner of the country, incidents of racist violence are rising; and the traffic on far-right Web sites is up, too.

Make no mistake: The right-wing radicals are angry, and there are enough of them out there to do some real damage. As noted, they're far more cohesive and better-connected than they've ever been. And they're only getting started.

5. It's not fair to hold right-wing media talking heads responsible for the things their listeners might do.

Riiight.

Advertisers will spend about $50 billion this year on TV ads, and $15 billion more on radio. That's a lot of money. These ads take up roughly one-third of every hour of airtime -- and sponsors pay up gladly, because long experience has shown that broadcast ads are a very powerful way to influence consumer behavior.

But this argument asks us to believe that what happens during the other 40 minutes per hour has absolutely no effect on anybody, ever. Got that? Ads: Powerful influences on behavior. Featured content: No influence whatsoever. Absurd.

Furthermore, conservatives have railed against Hollywood for decades, claiming that movies, TV shows, music and video games are a powerful corrupting influence on the country's morals. They've howled even louder in recent years about Al-Jazeera's perceived negative effect on the political discourse in the Middle East. But when it comes to their own media -- no, no, nothing to see here. Nobody's really listening to us, let alone acting on anything we might say. How could you even suggest such a thing?

As usual, they're trying to have it both ways. The religious right came to power almost exclusively on the persuasive (and fundraising) strength of cable-TV shows. The conservative grip on the country's red counties is largely attributable to right-wing talk radio and Fox News. Obviously, conservatives strongly believe that other people's media have tremendous power to undermine their preferred narratives; and there's no denying that they've been very aggressive in using it to promote their own worldview for decades.

But now they're turning around and insisting that nope -- nobody ever did anything because some talking head told them to. And that sound you hear? Don't worry -- it's just the head of the ad sales department quietly having a stroke because we've completely undermined her ability to ever sell another spot.

6. All that crazy stuff you hear on the right -- you can find the left wing saying things just as bad. They're equally culpable for how bad it all its.

False. There is no equivalency whatsoever to be drawn here.

It’s absolutely true that the commenters can get just as out of hand on liberal sites as they do on conservative ones. (And most of us who've been hanging around the Internet for a while have the flamethrower scars to prove it.) But the problem has nothing to do with the commenters. It has to do with the opinion leaders who are driving the conversation.

On the right, it's actually hard to name a single major voice who hasn’t called for the outright extermination, silencing, harassment or killing of liberals. Rush. Bill O’Reilly. Ann Coulter. Sean Hannity. Laura Ingraham. Michelle Malkin. Michael Savage. Glenn Beck. Bernard Goldberg, who has been cited by at least one assassin as the inspiration for his actions. Michael Reagan, just yesterday. This kind of eliminationist language is stock in trade on the right. A lot of them literally cannot get through the week without it.

And I’m sorry -- but you just don’t hear anything like this same murderous vitriol coming from any of the major voices on the left. Kos' commenters may engage in that, but Kos himself does not. Nor does Arianna [Huffington]. Ed Schultz talks tough, but he's never called for liberals to silence conservatives. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are flaming liberals -- but they would choke on air before actually threatening anyone with bodily harm. Both of them have said repeatedly that they regard that kind of thing as a grossly irresponsible use of a media soapbox. Every reputable left-wing leader or talker wholeheartedly agrees.

Furthermore, you don’t see Volvos and Priuses (Prii?) out there sporting "conservative hunting licenses," despite the fact that "liberal hunting licenses" have been a hot item on the right for years. We’re not the ones driving the huge surge in gun purchases, either. And most importantly: You don’t see us out there shooting up fundamentalist churches, crisis pregnancy clinics, conservative gatherings or cops.

You have to go all the way back to the 1970s to find anything like that kind of overt political terrorist violence coming from the left. But starting in the 1980s, we've had ongoing waves of it coming out of the right -- now including the nine violent right-wing attacks on innocent Americans since Barack Obama was inaugurated.

I agree that it’s time to dial this down. But since it's the right wing who gathers power by whipping up people’s fear and anger -- and it's the right wing (and only the right wing) that's now actually taking up arms and killing people -- then all I have to say is:

You first.

7. "Dial it down?" Don't you mean that you want to use the power of government to forcibly shut up right-wing hate talkers?

False. There are a few folks in Congress who tried to gin up support for some kind of legislation -- but progressives should resist this impulse and denounce it as the shameless grandstanding that it is. We believe in the First Amendment. And if we compromise it now, we're no better than the Bush-era conservatives who were so eager to shred the Constitution when they felt threatened. We are better than that -- or should be.

Besides, we've already perfected a tried-and-true method that actually works. Even better, it's grounded completely in conservative free-market philosophy; so when the right wing starts blustering about it, we get to fire right back and call them out as hypocrites. Big fun all around ... and so much more elegant than wantonly trampling on people's civil rights.

Short and simple: We take our appeal to the advertisers. We note who the hate talkers are, what they're saying, what date and time they said it -- and then we write letters to the CEOs of the companies that sponsored those shows. Do these people speak for you? Is this the kind of media you want your product associated with? If the answer is no, what do you intend to do about it?

Note that this is not a boycott -- just a call for moral accountability. Being associated with hate speech is so bad for business in so many ways that no boycott should be required. It taints the brand. It usually violates the sponsors' own human resources standards -- any employee who said that stuff at the office would be canned on the spot. It's horrible PR, especially if some enterprising blogger decides to make an issue out of it. Simply pointing that out has often been enough to convince executives that it's a bad idea, and they need to get out before it blows up in their faces.

Don Imus lost his show this way. So did KSFO's Melanie Morgan. (There's even a verb for it -- "spockoed" -- referring to the blogger who used this technique to get Morgan and several other California hate talkers off the air.) It turns out that advertisers actually read these letters -- especially when they're getting them by the hundreds. It doesn't take much of this before they pull back their ads; and when their major sponsors walk away, the talkers lose their shows. They may thrash a little -- but usually, it's all over in a matter of just a few weeks.

Note, too, that both TV and radio stations are already losing revenue year over year at a rate that's starting to rival newspapers, so they're probably even more exquisitely sensitive to this kind of pressure now than they were just a couple of years ago. If we want these people off this air, this is the way to get them gone for good -- and make the cultural point that this garbage is no longer acceptable on the nation's airwaves.

8. But what you're suggesting is censorship! You're trying to censor free speech!

Oh, please. Anybody who argues this with a straight face shouldn't be allowed into a voting booth until they're sent back to eighth-grade civics for a basic refresher, because they apparently know less about the Constitution than the average immigrant who's had to take a citizenship test.

Follow me here: "Censorship" is strictly defined as "government suppression of free speech."

When citizens appeal directly to advertisers, that's not censorship, because the government isn't anywhere in the mix. It's just the Almighty Divine Hand of the Unfettered Free Market at work, y'all. The sponsors are voting with their dollars -- which, in the conservative free-market utopia, is precisely how it's supposed to work.

9. What about that guy who shot the recruiters in Arkansas -- isn't that proof that the left wing is just as bad as the right?

False. I mean, really, really false.

Abdulhakim Mohammed's assassination of two military recruiters was an act of Muslim terrorism, no different than 9/11 or the London subway bombings or Richard Reid and his amazing explosive sneakers. He didn't have a pile of Thom Hartmann books in his apartment. There have been no reports that his computer bookmarks linked to Firedoglake and Crooks & Liars. Near as we can tell, Mohammed was radicalized after being held and abused in a Yemeni prison -- and had absolutely no association with the American left at all.

Yes, he said that he did it because he protested the war. (I actually fielded a radio caller who insisted that his opposition to the war was de facto proof that he's a raving liberal.) But here's a news flash, kiddos: You don't need to be a progressive to think the war was a bad idea. It may come as a surprise to learn that there are a lot of people in other parts of the world who also think it was a bad idea. An absolutely shocking number of them are Muslims and/or people who've spent time in the Middle East. Go figure.

It's a sign of how far detached from reality the right wing is that it no longer can tell the essential difference between Muslim terrorists and garden-variety American progressives. We're not wrong to ask: Should people who are that thoroughly blinded by their prejudices be issued driving licenses?

* * *

This is terrorism we're dealing with. We can't afford to let ourselves be distracted by spin. We will not be able to respond effectively until we're able to deal in facts. The sooner we shoot down these myths, the sooner we'll be able dispel fear, think clearly and start having some real, honest conversations about the actual threats we face.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Curbing hate speech?

Excellent article by Liz Halloran of NPR.org (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105625762&ft=1&f=1001) discussing what part, if any, incindiery rhetoric from the political extremes played in the three apparently politically motivated killings of the last few weeks (shooting of soldiers outside a recruiting center, at the Holocaust Museum, and Dr. Tiller's assassination). The article plays through some of the arguments for censorship, then quite rightly (in my opinion) concludes with the premise that governmental suppression of the speech would actually make the violence worse by creating more of a "victim" status and provide further justification for those who would be inclined to violence already.

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In Wake Of Killings, A New Look At Hate Speech
by Liz Halloran

NPR.org, June 19, 2009 · Eleven days. Three troubled extremists. Three hate-fueled killings.

It was enough to prompt U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week to propose new hate crime laws that would, he said, "not tolerate murder, or the threat of violence, masquerading as political activism."

But the recent fatal attacks on an abortion doctor, an Army recruiter and a guard at the nation's Holocaust Museum have also launched an intense national debate about what the spate of targeted killings mean.

One signal question: Do others — from Internet and talk-radio hate-mongers to right- and left-wing pundits and politicians who dabble in incendiary speech — bear some responsibility for the killings?

No matter where one's free speech and political beliefs may lie, the killings — allegedly carried out by an anti-abortion, anti-government zealot, an anti-military Muslim convert and a virulent anti-Semite — have provided a sobering reminder of what lurks in the nation's darker corners.

"We've seen in the last few weeks some pretty shocking violence in the United States," says political historian Donald Critchlow.

But what, or whether, anything should be done about the extremist rants and general threats emanating from those corners remains, as always, a stubborn constitutional free speech question.

And it raises another one the nation has long wrestled with: Would enforced silence of the most abhorrent speech prove a more dangerous enemy of the good?

A Climate Conducive To Violence

Brett Barnett is the author of Untangling the Web of Hate, a book about online hate sites and whether they are worthy of First Amendment protections.

"My conclusions then were, though the speech on hate sites may be repugnant, I found nothing unconstitutional," says Barnett, an assistant professor of communications at Slippery Rock University.

"But since I've written the book, rhetoric on the hate sites has changed drastically," he says. "The conclusions I drew four years ago may be different now."

The election of Barack Obama, the nation's first black president, has prompted an upswing in white supremacist activity online, according to a new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund.

The bad economy, anxiety over immigration, widening political polarization and a three-decade trend of growing mistrust of government have also contributed to a climate that is more conducive to extremist groups, says Critchlow, a professor at St. Louis University and author, most recently, of The Conservative Ascendancy.

"The distrust of the government has created a very unhealthy political climate," he says, "and we are seeing a political polarization where opponents are denouncing each other in deeply personal and moralistic terms."

"This is on top of a high moralism found on the extreme left and right that allows for individuals to take the law into their own hands to fulfill what they believe are 'God's purposes,' " Critchlow says.

Experts who track hate groups say a controversial April 7 Department of Homeland Security memo, which said the current economic and political climate was fueling a resurgence of right-wing extremism, including among far-right anti-abortionists and anti-Semites, accurately described general conditions.

But the memo stumbled by providing "conjectured conditions" about what might lead to violence, Critchlow says. DHS chief Janet Napolitano apologized to veterans' groups after conservatives reacted angrily to the identification of military veterans as vulnerable to extremist recruiting.

Networked Hate

Though major hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan no longer have the boots-on-the-ground organizations they once did, extremists have been mastering the art of online organizing.

The Leadership Conference report, which tracked activity over two decades, said social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook are being used by groups to bring together splintered and far-flung members.

Barnett says hate-site trackers estimate that there are more than 900 such sites now, including the neo-Nazi Stormfront, which launched in 1995 and is recognized as the first major hate site.

"The Internet has really given voice to groups that we thought were once dying," he says.

But some trackers are puzzling over whether the Internet, with its ease of communication and duplicative nature, may make hate movements seem larger than they actually are.

Free Speech In Peril?

Today's conditions mark a serious test for free speech, but the test is not unprecedented, says Monroe Freedman, a Hofstra University law professor.

Recalling the "red scare" and McCarthyism of the 1950s, Freedman warns that the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction. He remembers two brilliant scholars, twin brothers, who were a year behind him at Harvard Law School. David and Jonathan Lubell were pressured by Harvard to give up their top positions at the Law School Record and had to fight efforts to have them expelled.

Their offense? Called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee, they cited their constitutional right to free speech and due process, and refused to answer questions about their political activism.

"There's a lot of scary stuff going on out there now, no question about it," Freedman says, but he adds that he is suspicious about "mythical, nostalgic thinking" by those who would suggest that the climate is worse now than it's ever been.

"The bottom line is that we've seen it before," says Freedman, who served as the first executive of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which laid the groundwork for the museum.

Freedman and his Hofstra law school colleague Eric Freedman, no relation, co-edited the book Group Defamation and Freedom of Speech: The Relationship Between Language and Violence.

Speech can provoke violence, Eric Freedman says. But his co-editor says it is difficult, if not impossible, to draw a connection between provocative speech and action by the likes of James von Brunn, who is charged with killing the Holocaust Museum security guard.

Barnett puts it this way: "It could be argued that right-wing talk radio stokes some of these fires. But the fires were already burning."

The 'True Threats Test' Of Speech

A 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision addressed the issue of where the line of constitutionally accepted free speech should be drawn.

Then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's opinion in the case defined "true threats" as "statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals." The decision notes that the threat does not have to be acted on to fall under the definition.

Lower courts have not applied the standard uniformly, but Barnett says the true threats standard would naturally apply as a test of the constitutionality of extreme speech on the Internet.

But the professors Freedman both caution against pushing back too vigorously on any speech that doesn't rise to the level of "clear and present danger."

The clear and present danger standard dates to a World War I-era Supreme Court decision that limited the ability of government to regulate speech unless the words "are used in such circumstances to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that the United States Congress has a right to prevent."

It has been interpreted as a substitute for what was known as the "bad tendency" judicial test adopted by the court in the early 1900s, and strongly opposed by free speech advocates.

Under the bad tendency standard, Eric Freedman says, someone who says, for example, that he believes Judaism is the equivalent of astrology is someone who will kill Jews.

"Any attempt at repression will, as a practical matter, make things worse," he says. "We are taking a risk, a calculated risk, that repression would lead to far worse outcomes."

"Nothing is going to stop people who are insane from doing insane things," he says.

Monroe Freedman says the best antidote to hate speech is criticism, boycotts and "good speech."

"I just have to stick with my civil libertarian position, in part because I don't want any government official, including judges, deciding which hate speech qualifies for suppression short of a clear and present danger," he says.

As ugly as abhorrent speech is, its suppression would, the Freedmans argue, certainly be the enemy of the good.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A legacy of red ink

First-rate article by David Leonhardt of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/business/economy/10leonhardt.htm?_r=1) breaking down by percentage the sources of the current Federal budget deficit. My personal favorite part is the stimulus package that is so reviled by conservatives is a whopping seven percent of the deficit. The significant majority is a leftover from the previous eight years of Republican rule.

The article does, however, chastise both Obama and the current GOP for not taking serious action to address the deficit. While I think the likelihood of foreign governments ceasing to lend money to the United States is slim (China needs American consumers, after all), the underlying point of the article is very sound, and worth the read.

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Economic Scene
For U.S., a Sea of Perilous Red Ink, Years in the Making
By DAVID LEONHARDT
There are two basic truths about the enormous deficits that the federal government will run in the coming years.

The first is that President Obama’s agenda, ambitious as it may be, is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits, despite what many of his Republican critics are saying. The second is that Mr. Obama does not have a realistic plan for eliminating the deficit, despite what his advisers have suggested.

The New York Times analyzed Congressional Budget Office reports going back almost a decade, with the aim of understanding how the federal government came to be far deeper in debt than it has been since the years just after World War II. This debt will constrain the country’s choices for years and could end up doing serious economic damage if foreign lenders become unwilling to finance it.

Mr. Obama — responding to recent signs of skittishness among those lenders — met with 40 members of Congress at the White House on Tuesday and called for the re-enactment of pay-as-you-go rules, requiring Congress to pay for any new programs it passes.

The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.

You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.

The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.

About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.

Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.

About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

If the analysis is extended further into the future, well beyond 2012, the Obama agenda accounts for only a slightly higher share of the projected deficits.

How can that be? Some of his proposals, like a plan to put a price on carbon emissions, don’t cost the government any money. Others would be partly offset by proposed tax increases on the affluent and spending cuts. Congressional and White House aides agree that no large new programs, like an expansion of health insurance, are likely to pass unless they are paid for.

Alan Auerbach, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of a widely cited study on the dangers of the current deficits, describes the situation like so: “Bush behaved incredibly irresponsibly for eight years. On the one hand, it might seem unfair for people to blame Obama for not fixing it. On the other hand, he’s not fixing it.”

“And,” he added, “not fixing it is, in a sense, making it worse.”

When challenged about the deficit, Mr. Obama and his advisers generally start talking about health care. “There is no way you can put the nation on a sound fiscal course without wringing inefficiencies out of health care,” Peter Orszag, the White House budget director, told me.

Outside economists agree. The Medicare budget really is the linchpin of deficit reduction. But there are two problems with leaving the discussion there.

First, even if a health overhaul does pass, it may not include the tough measures needed to bring down spending. Ultimately, the only way to do so is to take money from doctors, drug makers and insurers, and it isn’t clear whether Mr. Obama and Congress have the stomach for that fight. So far, they have focused on ideas like preventive care that would do little to cut costs.

Second, even serious health care reform won’t be enough. Obama advisers acknowledge as much. They say that changes to the system would probably have a big effect on health spending starting in five or 10 years. The national debt, however, will grow dangerously large much sooner.

Mr. Orszag says the president is committed to a deficit equal to no more than 3 percent of gross domestic product within five to 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office projects a deficit of at least 4 percent for most of the next decade. Even that may turn out to be optimistic, since the government usually ends up spending more than it says it will. So Mr. Obama isn’t on course to meet his target.

But Congressional Republicans aren’t, either. Judd Gregg recently held up a chart on the Senate floor showing that Mr. Obama would increase the deficit — but failed to mention that much of the increase stemmed from extending Bush policies. In fact, unlike Mr. Obama, Republicans favor extending all the Bush tax cuts, which will send the deficit higher.

Republican leaders in the House, meanwhile, announced a plan last week to cut spending by $75 billion a year. But they made specific suggestions adding up to meager $5 billion. The remaining $70 billion was left vague. “The G.O.P. is not serious about cutting down spending,” the conservative Cato Institute concluded.

What, then, will happen?

“Things will get worse gradually,” Mr. Auerbach predicts, “unless they get worse quickly.” Either a solution will be put off, or foreign lenders, spooked by the rising debt, will send interest rates higher and create a crisis.

The solution, though, is no mystery. It will involve some combination of tax increases and spending cuts. And it won’t be limited to pay-as-you-go rules, tax increases on somebody else, or a crackdown on waste, fraud and abuse. Your taxes will probably go up, and some government programs you favor will become less generous.

That is the legacy of our trillion-dollar deficits. Erasing them will be one of the great political issues of the coming decade.

E-mail: Leonhardt@nytimes.com

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A crusader military?

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this article by Jeff Sharlet of Harpers (http://harpers.org/archive/2009/05/0082488), detailing the evangelical movement inside the military. There's a part of me that really doesn't want to believe people we entrust with guns and bombs and tanks can have a hard-right Christian mindset. But there's been enough stories about such soldiers, and we now find out that President Bush was getting war briefings dressed up in Biblical terms.

I can't tell you how wrong this is, both on a spiritual and a political level. Politically, it's obvious. We can't have a Christian army any more than we could have a Jewish or Hindu or (gasp) Muslim army. We're all supposed to be Americans, uniting people of different faiths to defend our country. And, of course, if there are soldiers and commanders who view their service in the military as a "mission field," how much does that help al Qaeda's recruiting? Between this and Guantanamo, you'd think we run Osama bin Laden's PR department.

Spiritually, it's just as distressing. While I think you can be a person of faith and a soldier, to zealously become a "warrior for Christ" seems to me the ultimate dichotomy. If Christ teaches us anything, it is not to kill. He certainly teaches not to use the barrel of a gun to "win souls" for Him. I thought we figured this whole thing out after Torquemada, but apparently not.

I wonder if this story is going to get more traction outside of the lefty echo chamber. I hope so, I think it's a discussion the nation needs to have. I'm just not sure we're ready for it.

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Jesus killed Mohammed:
The crusade for a Christian military
By Jeff Sharlet

From the May 2009 issue. Jeff Sharlet is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine and the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.
When Sergeant Jeffery Humphrey and his squad of nine men, part of the 1/26 Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division, were assigned to a Special Forces compound in Samarra, he thought they had drawn a dream duty. “Guarding Special Forces, it was like Christmas,” he says. In fact, it was spring, 2004; and although Humphrey was a combat veteran of Kosovo and Iraq, the men to whom he was detailed, the 10th Special Forces Group, were not interested in grunts like him. They would not say what they were doing, and they used code names. They called themselves “the Faith element.” But they did not talk religion, which was fine with Humphrey.

An evenhanded Indianan with a precise turn of mind, Humphrey considered himself a no-nonsense soldier. His first duty that Easter Sunday was to make sure the roof watch was in place: a machine gunner, a man in a mortar pit, a soldier with a SAW (an automatic rifle on a bipod), and another with a submachine gun on loan from Special Forces. Together with two Bradley Fighting Vehicles on the ground and snipers on another roof, the watch covered the perimeter of the compound, a former elementary school overlooking the Tigris River.

Early that morning, a unit from the 109th National Guard Infantry dropped off their morning chow. With it came a holiday special—a video of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and a chaplain to sing the film’s praises, a gory cinematic sermon for an Easter at war. Humphrey ducked into the chow room to check it out. “It was the part where they’re killing Jesus, which is, I guess, pretty much the whole movie. Kind of turned my stomach.” He decided he’d rather burn trash.

He was returning from his first run to the garbage pit when the 109th came barreling back. Their five-ton—a supersized armored pickup—was rolling on rims, its tires flapping and spewing greasy black flames. “Came in on two wheels,” remembers one of Humphrey’s men, a machine gunner. On the ground behind it and in retreat before a furious crowd were more men from the 109th, laying down fire with their M-4s. Humphrey raced toward the five-ton as his roof shooters opened up, their big guns thumping above him. Later, when he climbed into the vehicle, the stink was overwhelming: of iron and gunpowder, blood and bullet casings. He reached down to grab a rifle, and his hand came up wet with brain.

Humphrey had been in Samarra for a month, and until that day his stay had been a quiet respite in one of the world’s oldest cities. Not long before, though, there had been a hint of trouble: a briefing in which his squad was warned that any soldier caught desecrating Islamic sites—Samarra is considered a holy city—would fall under “extreme penalty,” a category that can include a general court-martial and prison time. “I heard some guys were vandalizing mosques,” Humphrey says. “Spray-painting ’em with crosses.”

The rest of that Easter was spent under siege. Insurgents held off Bravo Company, which was called in to rescue the men in the compound. Ammunition ran low. A helicopter tried to drop more but missed. As dusk fell, the men prepared four Bradley Fighting Vehicles for a “run and gun” to draw fire away from the compound. Humphrey headed down from the roof to get a briefing. He found his lieutenant, John D. DeGiulio, with a couple of sergeants. They were snickering like schoolboys. They had commissioned the Special Forces interpreter, an Iraqi from Texas, to paint a legend across their Bradley’s armor, in giant red Arabic script.

“What’s it mean?” asked Humphrey.

“Jesus killed Mohammed,” one of the men told him. The soldiers guffawed. JESUS KILLED MOHAMMED was about to cruise into the Iraqi night.

The Bradley, a tracked “tank killer” armed with a cannon and missiles—to most eyes, indistinguishable from a tank itself—rolled out. The Iraqi interpreter took to the roof, bullhorn in hand. The sun was setting. Humphrey heard the keen of the call to prayer, then the crackle of the bullhorn with the interpreter answering—in Arabic, then in English for the troops, insulting the prophet. Humphrey’s men loved it. “They were young guys, you know?” says Humphrey. “They were scared.” A Special Forces officer stood next to the interpreter—“a big, tall, blond, grinning type,” says Humphrey.

“Jesus kill Mohammed!” chanted the interpreter. “Jesus kill Mohammed!”

A head emerged from a window to answer, somebody fired on the roof, and the Special Forces man directed a response from an MK-19 grenade launcher. “Boom,” remembers Humphrey. The head and the window and the wall around it disappeared.

“Jesus kill Mohammed!” Another head, another shot. Boom. “Jesus kill Mohammed!” Boom. In the distance, Humphrey heard the static of AK fire and the thud of RPGs. He saw a rolling rattle of light that looked like a firefight on wheels. “Each time I go into combat I get closer to God,” DeGiulio would later say. He thought The Passion had been a sign that he would survive. The Bradley seemed to draw fire from every doorway. There couldn’t be that many insurgents in Samarra, Humphrey thought. Was this a city of terrorists? Humphrey heard Lieutenant DeGiulio reporting in from the Bradley’s cabin, opening up on all doorways that popped off a round, responding to rifle fire—each Iraqi household is allowed one gun—with 25mm shells powerful enough to smash straight through the front of a house and out the back wall.

Humphrey was stunned. He’d been blown off a tower in Kosovo and seen action in the drug war, but he’d never witnessed a maneuver so fundamentally stupid.

The men on the roof thought otherwise. They thought the lieutenant was a hero, a kamikaze on a suicide mission to bring Iraqis the American news:

jesus killed mohammed.


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When Barack Obama moved into the Oval Office in January, he inherited a military not just drained by a two-front war overseas but fighting a third battle on the home front, a subtle civil war over its own soul. On one side are the majority of military personnel, professionals who regardless of their faith or lack thereof simply want to get their jobs done; on the other is a small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officer corps. There’s Major General Johnny A. Weida, who as commandant at the Air Force Academy made its National Day of Prayer services exclusively Christian, and also created a code for evangelical cadets: whenever Weida said, “Airpower,” they were to respond “Rock Sir!”—a reference to Matthew 7:25. (The general told them that when non-evangelical cadets asked about the mysterious call-and-response, they should share the gospel.) There’s Major General Robert Caslen—commander of the 25th Infantry Division, a.k.a. “Tropic Lightning”—who in 2007 was found by a Pentagon inspector general’s report to have violated military ethics by appearing in uniform, along with six other senior Pentagon officers, in a video for the Christian Embassy, a fundamentalist ministry to Washington elites. There’s Lieutenant General Robert Van Antwerp, the Army chief of engineers, who has also lent his uniform to the Christian cause, both in a Trinity Broadcasting Network tribute to Christian soldiers called Red, White, and Blue Spectacular and at a 2003 Billy Graham rally—televised around the world on the Armed Forces Network—at which he declared the baptisms of 700 soldiers under his command evidence of the Lord’s plan to “raise up a godly army.”

What men such as these have fomented is a quiet coup within the armed forces: not of generals encroaching on civilian rule but of religious authority displacing the military’s once staunchly secular code. Not a conspiracy but a cultural transformation, achieved gradually through promotions and prayer meetings, with personal faith replacing protocol according to the best intentions of commanders who conflate God with country. They see themselves not as subversives but as spiritual warriors—“ambassadors for Christ in uniform,” according to Officers’ Christian Fellowship; “government paid missionaries,” according to Campus Crusade’s Military Ministry.

As a whole, the military is actually slightly less religious than the general population: 20 percent of the roughly 1.4 million active-duty personnel checked off a box for a 2008 Department of Defense survey that says “no religious preference,” compared with the 16.1 percent of Americans who describe themselves as “unaffiliated.” These ambivalent soldiers should not be confused with the actively irreligious, though. Only half of one percent of the military accepts the label “atheist” or “agnostic.” (Jews are even scarcer, accounting for only one servicemember in three hundred; Muslims are just one in four hundred.) Around 22 percent, meanwhile, identify themselves as affiliated with evangelical or Pentecostal denominations. But that number is misleading. It leaves out those attached to the traditional mainline denominations—about 7 percent of the military—who describe themselves as evangelical; George W. Bush, for instance, is a Methodist. Among the 19 percent of military members who are Roman Catholics, meanwhile, there is a small but vocal subset who tend politically to affiliate with conservative evangelicals. And then there is the 20 percent of the military who describe themselves simply as “Christian,” a category that encompasses both those who give God little thought and the many evangelicals who reject denominational affiliation as divisive of the Body of Christ. “I don’t like ‘religion,’” a fundamentalist evangelical major told me. “That’s what put my savior on the cross. The Pharisees.”

Within the fundamentalist front in the officer corps, the best organized group is Officers’ Christian Fellowship, with 15,000 members active at 80 percent of military bases and an annual growth rate, in recent years, of 3 percent. Founded during World War II, OCF was for most of its history concerned mainly with the spiritual lives of those who sought it out, but since 9/11 it has moved in a more militant direction. According to the group’s current executive director, retired Air Force Lieutenant General Bruce L. Fister, the “global war on terror”—to which Obama has committed 17,000 new troops in Afghanistan—is “a spiritual battle of the highest magnitude.” As jihad has come to connote violence, so spiritual war has moved closer to actual conflict, “continually confronting an implacable, powerful foe who hates us and eagerly seeks to destroy us,” declares “The Source of Combat Readiness,” an OCF Scripture study prepared on the eve of the Iraq War.

But another OCF Bible study, “Mission Accomplished,” warns that victory abroad does not mean the war is won at home. “If Satan cannot succeed with threats from the outside, he will seek to destroy from within,” asserts the study, a reference to “fellow countrymen” both in biblical times and today who practice “spiritual adultery.” “Mission Accomplished” takes as its text Nehemiah 1–6, the story of the “wallbuilder” who rebuilt the fortifications around Jerusalem. An outsider might misinterpret the wall metaphor as a sign of respect for separation of church and state, but in contemporary fundamentalist thinking the story stands for just the opposite: a wall within which church and state are one. “With the wall completed the people could live an integrated life,” the study argues. “God was to be Lord of all or not Lord at all.” So it is today, “Mission Accomplished” continues, proposing that before military Christians can complete their wall, they must bring this “Lord of all” to the entire armed forces. “We will need to press ahead obediently,” the study concludes, “not allowing the opposition, all of which is spearheaded by Satan, to keep us from the mission of reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”


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Every man and woman in the military swears an oath to defend the Constitution. To most of them, evangelicals included, that oath is as sacred as Scripture. For the fundamentalist front, though, the Constitution is itself a blueprint for a Christian nation. “The idea of separation of church and state?” an Air Force Academy senior named Bruce Hrabak says. “There’s this whole idea in America that it’s in the Constitution, but it’s not.” 1
1. That’s technically true; it’s in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
If the fundamentalist front were to have a seminary, it would be the Air Force Academy, a campus of steel and white marble wedged into the right angle formed by the Great Plains and the Rockies. In 2005, the academy became the subject of scandal because of its culture of Christian proselytization. Today, the Air Force touts the institution as a model of reform. But after the school brought in as speakers for a mandatory assembly three Christian evangelists who proclaimed that the only solution to terrorism was to “kill Islam,” I decided to see what had changed. Not much, several Christian cadets told me. “Now,” Hrabak said, “we’re underground.” Then he winked.

“There’s a spiritual world, and oftentimes what happens in the physical world is representative of what’s happening in the spiritual,” an academy senior (a “firstie,” in the school parlance) named Jon Butcher told me one night at New Life, a nearby megachurch popular with cadets.2
2. See my story “Soldiers of Christ: Inside America’s Most Powerful Megachurch,” May 2005. Butcher is wiry and laconic, a former ski bum from Ohio who went to the academy to be closer to the slopes. “For me, it was always like, a little bit of God, a little bit of drinking, a little bit of girls.” He prayed for admission to the academy, though, pledging to God that he’d change his ways if he got in. As far as he was concerned, God delivered; so Butcher did, too, quitting alcohol and committing himself to chastity.

But that commitment took him only so far. He was pure, but was he holy? He needed direction. He found it in Romans 13: “There is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” It was like a blessing on the academy’s hierarchical system, and Butcher took it to heart, turning his body and spirit over to the guidance of older Christian cadets. A Christian, he explained in full earnestness, “is someone who chooses to be a slave, essentially.” He took time off to be a missionary, and when he returned he realized God had already given him a mission field. “God has told me to become an infantry officer,” Butcher said, explaining his decision to transfer from the Air Force to the Army upon graduation. A pilot has only his plane to talk to; an infantry officer, said Butcher, has men to mold, Iraqis to convert. “Everything is a form of ministry for me,” Butcher said. “There is no separation. I’m doing what God has called me to do, to know Him and to make Him known.”

At the academy, Butcher made his God known by leading what one member described to me as an underground all-male prayer group. I was allowed to attend but not to take notes as around twenty-five cadets discussed lust and missionary work, the girlfriends whose touches they feared and the deceptions necessary for missionary work in China, where foreign evangelism is illegal. Butcher asked me not to disclose the group’s name; those who do believe in separation of church and state might interfere with its goal of turning the world’s most elite war college into its most holy one, a seminary with courses in carpet bombing. He couldn’t imagine military training as anything other than a mission from God. “How,” he asked, “in the midst of pulling a trigger and watching somebody die, in that instant are you going to be confident that that’s something God told you to do?” His answer was stark. “In this world, there are forces of good and evil. There’s angels and there’s demons, you know? And Satan hates what’s holy.”

Following the 2005 religion scandal at the academy, its commander, Lieutenant General John Rosa, confessed to a meeting of the Anti-Defamation League that his “whole organization” had religion problems. It “keeps me awake at night,” he said, predicting that restoring constitutional principles to the academy would take at least six years. Then he retired to become president of the Citadel. To address the problems, the Air Force brought in Lieutenant General John Regni, a tall, broad-shouldered man with a dome of hair streaked black and silver, the very picture of an officer, calm and in command. When I spoke to Regni, I began our phone conversation with what I thought was a softball, an opportunity for the general to wax constitutional about First Amendment freedoms. “How do you see the balance between the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause?” I asked.

There was a long pause. Civilians might reasonably plead ignorance, but not a general who has sworn on his life to defend these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

“I have to write those things down,” Regni finally answered. “What did you say those constitutional things were again?”

Sometime early this summer, a general named Mike Gould will succeed Regni as head of the academy. A former football player there, Gould granted himself the nickname “Coach” after a brief stint in that capacity early in his career. Coach Gould enjoys public speaking, and he’s famous for his “3-F” mantra: “Faith, Family, Fitness.” At the Pentagon, a former senior officer who served under Gould told me, the general was so impressed by a presentation Pastor Rick Warren gave to senior officers that he sent an email to his 104 subordinates in which he advised them to read and live by Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life.3
3. Warren’s bestseller sometimes displaces Scripture itself among military evangelicals. In March 2008, a chaplain at Lakenheath, a U.S. Air Force–operated base in England, used a mandatory suicide-prevention assembly under Lieutenant General Rod Bishop as an opportunity to promote the principles of The Purpose-Driven Life to roughly 1,000 airmen. In a PowerPoint diagram depicting two family trees, the chaplain contrasted the likely future of a non-religious family, characterized by “Hopelessness” and “Death,” and that of a religious one. The secular family will, according to the diagram, spawn 300 convicts, 190 prostitutes, and 680 alcoholics. Purpose-driven breeding, meanwhile, will result in at least 430 ministers, seven congressmen, and one vice-president. “People thought it was weird,” recalls the former officer, a defense contractor who requested anonymity for fear of losing government business. “But no one wants to show their ass to the general.”


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Christian fundamentalism, like all fundamentalisms, is a narcissistic faith, concerned most of all with the wrongs suffered by the righteous and the purification of their ranks. “Under the rubric of free speech and the twisted idea of separation of church and state,” reads a promotion for a book called Under Orders: A Spiritual Handbook for Military Personnel, by Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William McCoy, “there has evolved more and more an anti-Christian bias in this country.” In Under Orders, McCoy seeks to counter that alleged bias by making the case for the necessity of religion—preferably Christian—for a properly functioning military unit. Lack of belief or the wrong beliefs, he writes, will “bring havoc to what needs cohesion and team confidence.”

McCoy’s manifesto comes with an impressive endorsement: “_Under Orders _should be in every rucksack for those moments when Soldiers need spiritual energy,” reads a blurb from General David Petraeus, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq until last September, after which he moved to the top spot at U.S. Central Command, in which position he now runs U.S. operations from Egypt to Pakistan. When the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) demanded an investigation of Petraeus’s endorsement—an apparent violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, not to mention the Bill of Rights— Petraeus claimed that his recommendation was supposed to be private, a communication from one Christian officer to another.

“He doesn’t deny that he wrote it,” says Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, president of MRFF. “It’s just, ‘Oops, I didn’t mean for the public to find out.’ And what about our enemies? He’s promoting this unconstitutional Christian exceptionalism at precisely the same time we’re fighting Islamic fundamentalists who are telling their soldiers that America is waging a modern-day crusade. That _is _a crusade.”

Petraeus’s most vigorous defense came last August from the recently retired three-star general William “Jerry” Boykin—a founding member of the Army’s Delta Force and an ordained minister—during an event held at Fort Bragg to promote his own book, Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom. “Here comes a guy named Mikey Weinstein trashing Petraeus,” he told a crowd of 150 at the base’s Airborne and Special Forces Museum, “because he endorsed a book that’s just trying to help soldiers. And this makes clear what [Weinstein’s] real agenda is, which is not to help this country win a war on terror.”

“It’s satanic,” called out a member of the audience.

“Yes,” agreed Boykin. “It’s demonic.”4
4. 4 After 9/11, Boykin went on the prayer-breakfast circuit to boast, in uniform, that his God was “bigger” than the Islamic divine of Somali warlord Osman Atto, whom Boykin had hunted. “I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol,” he declared, displaying as evidence photographs of black clouds over Mogadishu: the “demonic spirit” his troops had been fighting. “The principality of darkness,” he went on to declare, “a guy called Satan.” Under fire from congressional Democrats, Boykin claimed he hadn’t been speaking about Islam, but in a weird non sequitur he insisted, “My references to. . . our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable.” These strategic insights earned Boykin promotion to deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, a position in which he advised on interrogation techniques until August 2007.

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Mikey Weinstein, for his part, doesn’t mind being called demonic by officers like Boykin. “I consider him to be a traitor to the oath that he swore, which was to the United States Constitution and not to his fantastical demon-and-angel dominionism. He’s a charlatan. The fact that he refers to me as demon-possessed so he can sell more books makes me want to take a Louisville Slugger to his kneecaps, his big fat belly, and his head. He is a very, very bad man.” Mikey—nobody, not even his many enemies, calls him Weinstein—likes fighting, literally. In 1973, as a “doolie” (a freshman at the Air Force Academy) he punched an officer who accused him of fabricating anti-Semitic threats he’d received. In 2005, after the then-head of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, declared that people like Mikey made it hard for him to “defend Jewish causes,” Mikey challenged the pastor to a public boxing match, with proceeds to go to charity. (Haggard didn’t take him up on it.) He relishes a rumor that he’s come to be known among some at the Pentagon as the Joker, after Heath Ledger’s nihilistic embodiment of Batman’s nemesis. But he draws a distinction: “Don’t confuse my description of chaos with advocacy of chaos.”

A 1977 graduate of the academy, Mikey served ten years’ active duty as a JAG before becoming assistant general counsel in the Reagan White House (where he helped defend the administration during the Iran-Contra scandal) and then general counsel for Ross Perot. It is a surprising background for someone who has taken on the role of constitutional conscience of the military, a man determined to force accountability on its fundamentalist front through an assault of lawsuits and media appearances. Fifty-four years old, Mikey is built like a pit bull, with short legs, big shoulders, a large, shaved head, and a crinkled brow between dark, darting eyes. He likes to say he lives at “Mikey speed,” an endless succession of eighteen-hour days, both on the road and at the foundation’s headquarters—that is, his sprawling adobe ranch house, set on a hill outside Albuquerque and guarded by two oversized German shepherds and a five-foot-six former Marine bodyguard called Shorty. MRFF draws on a network of lawyers, publicists, and fund-raisers, but its core is just Mikey, plus a determined researcher named Chris Rodda, author of an unfinished multivolume debunking of Christian-right historical claims entitled Liars for Jesus.

Mikey has won some victories, such as when he forced the Department of Defense to investigate the Christian Embassy video, and intimidated the Air Force Academy into adopting classes in religious diversity, and harassed any number of base commanders into reining in subordinates who view their authority as a license to proselytize. Every time he wins a battle or takes to the television to plead his cause, more troops learn about his foundation and seek its help. He keeps his cell phone on vibrate while he’s exercising on his elliptical machine; he likes to boast that he’ll interrupt sex to take a call from any one of the 11,400 active-duty military members he describes as the foundation’s “clients.”5
5. A spokeswoman for the Pentagon says the military has dealt with fewer than fifty reports of religion-related problems during the period since Mikey founded MRFF. But an abundance of evidence suggests that the Pentagon is ignoring the problem. I spoke to dozens of Mikey’s clients: soldiers, sailors, and airmen who spoke of forced Christian prayer in Iraq and at home; combat deaths made occasions for evangelical sermons by senior officers; Christian apocalypse video games distributed to the troops; mandatory briefings on the correlation of the war to the Book of Revelation; exorcisms designed to drive out “unclean spirits” from military property; beatings of atheist troops that are winked at by the chain of command. He hires lawyers for them, pulls strings, bullies their commanders, tells them they’re heroes. He offered to let one G.I., facing threats of violence because of his atheism, move in with his family.


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But as Mikey’s client base grows, so too do the ranks of his enemies. The picture window in his living room has been shot out twice, and last summer he woke to find a swastika and a cross scrawled on his door. Since he launched MRFF four years ago, he has accumulated an impressive collection of hate mail. Some of it is earnest: “You are costing lives by dividing military personnel and undermining troops,” reads one missive. “Their blood is on your hands.” Much of it is juvenile: “you little bald-headed fag,” reads an email Mikey received after an appearance on CNN, “what the fuck are you doing with an organization of this title when the purpose of your group is not to encourage religious freedom, but to DENY religious freedom?” Quite a bit of it is anti-Semitic: “Once again, the Oy Vey! crowd whines. This jew used to be an Air Force lawyer and got the email”—a solicitation by Air Force General Jack Catton for campaign donations to put “more Christian men” in Congress, which Mikey made public—“just one more example of why filthy, hook-nosed jews should be purged from our society.”

The abuse has become a regular feature of Mikey’s routine in public appearances. There’s a sense in which Mikey likes it—not the threats, but the evidence. “We’ve had dead animals on the porch. Beer bottles, feces thrown at the house. I don’t even think about it. I view it as if I was Barry Bonds about to go to bat in Dodger Stadium and people are booing. You want a piece of me? Get in line, buddy. Pack a lunch.” Mikey sees things in terms of enemies, and he likes to know he’s rattling his.

Central to Mikey’s worldview are two beatings he suffered as an eighteen-year-old doolie at the academy, retaliations for notifying his superiors about a series of anti-Semitic notes he’d received. Both beatings left him unconscious. Mikey put them behind him, graduating with honors; but his anger reignited in 2004, when his son Curtis, then a doolie himself, told Mikey he planned to beat the shit out of the next cadet—or officer—who called him a “fucking Jew.” In 2005, when he created the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, he ornamented its board with a galaxy of retired generals, the stars on their shoulders meant to make clear that the foundation’s enemy is not the military. His enemy, he says, is “weaponized Christianity,” and his foundation is a weapon too: “We will lay down withering fire and open sucking chest wounds. This country is facing a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of the religious rights of our armed forces members,” he says. He calls this “soul rape.”

It’s a strong term that at first sounds like typical over-the-top Mikey, but his struggle goes to the very heart of America’s First Amendment freedoms, dating back to the seventeenth century and Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island. Williams was a devout Christian, but based on his encounters with Native American leaders, whom he deemed honest men, and his dealings with the leaders of the Massachusetts colony, who sent him into exile, he concluded that outward religion—the piety of the Puritans—was no guarantee of inner virtue. What mattered most, he thought, was the ability to seek the good. So if the state restricted that search (through mandatory prayer, for instance, or discrimination against minority faiths), it violated the most basic freedom, that of individual conscience. Without the freedom to choose one’s own beliefs, Williams believed, no other freedom is really possible. Freedom of religion is thus bound to freedom from religion.

“In the military,” Mikey told me one night in Albuquerque, “many constitutional rights that we as civilians enjoy are severely abridged in order to serve a higher goal: provide good order and discipline in order to protect the whole panoply of constitutional rights for the rest of us.” One of those rights is free speech: a soldier in uniform can’t endorse a political candidate, advertise a product, or proselytize. That rule is for the good of the public—no one wants men with guns telling them whom to vote for—and for the military itself. An officer can tell a soldier what to do, but not what to believe; conscience is its own order.


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The evangelical transformation of the military began during the Cold War, in a new American “Great Awakening” that has only accelerated across the decades, making the United States one of the most religious nations in the world. We are also among the most religiously diverse, but as the number of Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and adherents of hundreds of other traditions has grown, American evangelicalism has entrenched, tightening its hold on the institutions that conservative evangelicals consider most American—that is, Christian.

“It was Vietnam which really turned the tide,” writes Anne C. Loveland, author of the only book-length study of the evangelical wave within the armed forces, American Evangelicals and the U.S. Military, 1942–1993. Until the Vietnam War, it was the traditionally moderate mainline Protestant denominations (Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians), together with the Catholic Church, that dominated the religious life of the military. But as leading clergymen in these denominations spoke out against the war, evangelicals who saw the struggle in Vietnam as God’s work rushed in. In 1967, the Assemblies of God, the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the world, formally dropped its long-standing commitment to pacifism, embracing worldly war as a counterpart to spiritual struggle. Other fundamentalists took from Vietnam the lessons of guerrilla combat and applied them to the spiritual fight through a tactic they called infiltration, filling the ranks of secular institutions with undercover missionaries.

“Evangelicals looked at the military and said, ‘This is a mission field,’” explains Captain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran pastor and former missile-launch commander who until 2005 was a staff chaplain at the Air Force Academy and has since studied and written about the chaplaincy. “They wanted to send their missionaries to the military, and for the military itself to become missionaries to the world.”

The next turning point occurred in the waning days of the Reagan Administration, when regulatory revisions helped create the fundamentalist stronghold in today’s military. A long-standing rule had apportioned chaplains according to the religious demographics of the military as a whole (i.e., if surveys showed that 10 percent of soldiers were Presbyterian, then 10 percent of the chaplains would be Presbyterian) but required that all chaplains be trained to minister to troops of any faith. Starting in 1987, however, Protestant denominations were lumped together simply as “Protestant”; moreover, the Pentagon began accrediting hundreds of evangelical and Pentecostal “endorsing agencies,” allowing graduates of fundamentalist Bible colleges—which often train clergy to view those from other faiths as enemies of Christ—to fill up nearly the entire allotment for Protestant chaplains. Today, more than two thirds of the military’s 2,900 active-duty chaplains are affiliated with evangelical or Pentecostal denominations. “In my experience,” Morton says, “eighty percent of the Protestant chaplaincy self-identifies as conservative and/or evangelical.”

The most zealous among the new generation of fundamentalist chaplains didn’t join to serve the military; they came to save its soul. One of these zealots is Lieutenant Colonel Gary Hensley, division chaplain for the 101st Airborne and, until recently, the chief Army chaplain for all of Afghanistan. Last year, a filmmaker named Brian Hughes met Hensley when he traveled to Bagram Air Field to make a documentary about chaplains, a tribute of sorts to the chaplain who had counseled him—without regard for religion—when Hughes was a frightened young airman during the Gulf War. Military personnel forfeit their rights to legal and medical privacy; chaplains are the only people they can turn to with problems too sensitive to take up the chain of command, anything from corruption to a crisis of courage. When Hughes went to Bagram, he was looking for chaplains like the one who’d helped him get through his war. Instead, he found Hensley.

In the raw footage Hughes shot, Hensley strips down to a white t-shirt beneath his uniform to preach an afternoon service in Bagram’s main chapel. On the t-shirt’s breast is a logo for an evangelical military ministry called Chapel NeXt, the “t” in which is an oversized cross slashing down over a map of Afghanistan. “Got your seat belts on?” Hensley hollers. He’s a lean man with thinning, slicked-back gray hair who carries a small paunch like a package, the size and shape of a turtle’s shell. “The Word will not fail!” he shouts. “Now is the time! In the fullness of time”— Hensley leans forward, two fingers on his glasses, his voice dipping to a growl—“God. Sent. His. Son. Whoo!” Then, as if addressing 33 million Muslim Afghans and their belief that Muhammad was a prophet as Jesus before him, he shouts, “There is no one else to come! There is no new revelation! There is no new religion! Jesus is it!” Amen, says the crowd. “If He ain’t it, let’s all go home!”

Hensley brings it back down. “I’m from the Jesus Movement,” he says, presenting himself as a prophet born of American history: “Haight-Ashbury. Watergate. Woodstock. And out of that mess? Came Hensley, glory to God!” He goes on to quote (without attribution) the British theologian C. H. Dodd: “By virtue of the resurrection,” he says, “Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father and is the messianic head of the New Israel.” Dodd was no fundamentalist; his ideas are still used by some liberal Christians to combat the apocalyptic fervor of fundamentalism. Not so with Hensley, who takes Dodd’s uncredited words as a battle cry. “That’s us!” he cries. “We are Israel. We are the New Israel!”

At this point, says Hughes, the Army media liaison sitting next to him put his head in his hands.

“There will come a day when there will be no more Holy Spirit!” Hensley shouts, hopping up and down on the stage, his speech no longer directed toward the pews but as if to some greater audience. “When the church shall be raptured up in the skyyy! And we shall be with Hiiim! And all of us shall be with Him!” He slows to an emphatic whisper like a warning: “Glory to God, that’s our message!” A little bit louder now. “The messianic Jesus is comin’ back!” Louder still. “And I expect him to come back before we go to the mess hall, you know that?” And the soldiers say, Amen.


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I found Lieutenant Colonel Bob Young after MRFF reported on an evangelical reality program, shown on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, that included tape of Colonel Young telling two wandering missionaries about his plan to pray for rain in Afghanistan. I reached him at home in Georgia late one evening. He said he was going to sit on his porch and look at the moon. In the background, I heard dogs barking. He talked for three hours, much of it about what he’d seen in the combat hospital under his command at Kandahar Air Base.

“Kids getting burned,” he recalled. “Bad guys floating in on helicopters. You wouldn’t know who they were.” The base hospital treated 7,000 Afghans that year, and Young, commander of the Army’s 325th Forward Support Battalion, lingered there, watching the bodies. “I want to tell you this. Triage area, guy strapped into gurney, Afghan guy. No shirt, skinny as a rail, sinewy muscle. Restraints on his ankles, his feet, dude is strapped into a wheelchair. He’s got a plastic shield in front of his face because he’s spitting.” A doctor wants to sedate him. “I say, ‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong with him. The guy has demons.’” Young decides to pray over him. “Couple minutes later the general’s son-in-law—the Afghan general’s son-in-law, our translator—comes in. I said, ‘What’s wrong with this guy?’ He says, ‘How do you say in English? He has spirits.’ I say, ‘Doc, there’s your second opinion!’”

On the phone, Young laughed, a harsh “Ha!” Then his voice broke. “I’m telling you, it’s real. Evil is real.”

In the Christian reality show, Young extended that thought to the weather. “Interestingly,” he says, “the drought has been in effect since the Taliban took over.” Young has a high mouth and a low brow, his features concentrated between big ears. “People of America,” he tells the camera, “pray that God sends the rain to Kandahar, and they’ll know that our God answers prayers.”

I asked Young if he wanted to contextualize these remarks, since they seemed, on the surface, to radically transcend his mission as a soldier. “Okay!” he said. “Are you ready?” I said I was.

He told me to Google Kandahar, rain, January 2005. The result he was looking for was an article in Stars and Stripes entitled “Rainfall May Signal Beginning of the End to Three-Year Drought in Afghanistan.” Three and a quarter inches in just two days.

“That’s some real rain,” I admitted.

“That’s what I’m saying, brother!”

I asked him about an allegation made to MRFF by a captain who served under Young: that Young had made remarks that led him to be relieved of his command. It was true that he had been relieved of command, he admitted, but he had appealed and won. And the remarks? “All that was, I was speaking in reference to inner-city problems and whatnot. I said that the irony is that it would be better for a black to be a slave in America—I’m thinking now historically—and know Christ, than to be free now and not know Christ.”

With that cleared up, I then asked Young about another of the captain’s allegations: that he had given a presentation on Christianity to some Afghan warlords. Absolutely not, he said. It was a PowerPoint about America. He emailed it to me as we spoke, and then asked me to open it so he could share with me the same presentation he had given “Gulalli” and “Shirzai.” Since it had been President’s Day, Young had begun with a picture of George Washington, who, he explained, had been protected by God; his evidence was that, following a battle in the French and Indian War, when thirty-two bullet holes were found in Washington’s cloak, the general himself escaped unscathed. Young wanted to show the Afghans that nation-building was a long and difficult journey. “I did stress the fact that in America we believe our rights come from God, not from government. Truth is truth, and there’s no benefit in lying about it.”

There were slides about the Wright brothers, the moon landing, and NASCAR—Jeff Gordon, “a Christian, by the way,” had just won the Daytona 500. And then, the culmination of American history: the twin towers, blooming orange the morning of September 11, 2001. Embedded in the slide show was a video Young titled “Forgiveness,” a collage of stills, people running and bodies falling. Swelling behind the images was Celine Dion’s hit ballad from Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On.” Following the video was a slide of the Bush family, beneath the words: “I believe that God has inspired in every heart the desire for freedom.”


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At the heart of Young’s religion is suffering: his own. Before his battalion deployed for Afghanistan, he tried to armor them with prayer. To do so, he offered up his own testimony, the text that is in truth at the heart of his religion. He told them there were two kinds of phone calls a soldier in a combat zone was likely to encounter. One was from his wife, calling to say she was raising him up in prayer. The other was also from his wife, calling to say she was leaving him. Young had experienced both calls. In 1993, he was a Ranger, a member of the Army’s most elite special forces, away on deployment to Korea. He asked his best friend, the best man at his wedding, to watch over his wife and his two toddlers. And when that worst of all calls came—his wife, telling him the car was packed, that she, his kids, and his friend were leaving—that was when Young found the Lord.

First, he tried to respond like an officer. “Military course of action development,” he lectured himself. “Course of action one: kill him. Two: kill them both. Three: kill myself.” Somebody, he decided, had to die. In the end, somebody did: Young, to the flesh. Raised nominally Catholic, he had never read Scripture. Now, every page seemed to speak to him. I can’t go on, he thought. He opened his Bible and found Matthew 6:34. Do not worry about tomorrow. An eye for an eye, Young thought, then flipped the pages: Love your enemies. I have nothing to go home to, he thought, and then he came to Mark. _Let us go over to the other side. _They did, in a ship, and “a great windstorm arose,” Young read, the murder in his mind subsiding as the story overcame him. “And then Jesus said, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.”

There is a modesty inherent in evangelicalism’s preference for personal stories, for every soul’s version of “I was lost, but now I’m found.” In a Protestant church without rank or reward, that story is democratic, radically so; my testimony is as important as yours, the poor man’s tale just as powerful as that of the rich man. But the marriage of evangelicalism to the military ethos turns public confession into projection, the creation of what the military calls a command climate. It is one thing for your neighbor in the pews to tell you that he was blind and now he sees; it is another for such vision to be described by your commanding officer.

Young has been a Christian soldier ever since that terrible phone call. The tension between war and faith does not disturb him. “We are to live with anticipation and expectation of His imminent return,” he told me. Look at the signs, said Young: nuclear Iran, economic collapse, President Obama’s decision to “unleash science” upon helpless embryos. He seemed to feel that the military was now the only safe place to be. “In the military, homosexuality is illegal. I don’t want to get into all the particulars of ‘Don’t ask,’ but you can’t act on homosexual feelings. And adultery is illegal. Really, arguably, the military is the last American institution that tries to uphold Christian values. It’s the easiest place in America to be a Christian.”


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In the weeks following Obama’s election, Mikey says, he almost went to Washington. He met with campaign staffers, submitted plans, gathered endorsements from powerful insiders. His dream was a post at the Pentagon from which he could prosecute the most egregious offenders. It didn’t seem entirely out of the realm of possibility. He could have been pitched as another gesture of bipartisanship, since Mikey is a lifelong Republican who probably would have voted for John McCain if, back in 2004, his sons hadn’t run afoul of the Air Force Academy’s burgeoning spirit of evangelism—a culture that McCain, hardly a friend to fundamentalism, showed no interest in challenging this time around.

Another veteran serving in the Senate, who asked that he not be named so as not to compromise his close connections to today’s top officers, offers a variation on Captain Morton’s analysis of the military’s turn toward religion. Although the military was integrated before much of the United States, he points out, it almost split along racial lines, particularly in the last days of Vietnam. If the military was to rebuild itself, the Southern white men at the heart of its warrior culture had to come to an understanding of themselves based on something other than skin color. Many, says the senator, turned toward religion, particularly fundamentalist evangelical Christianity—a tradition that, despite its particularly potent legacy of racism, reoriented itself during the post–civil rights era as a religion of “reconciliation” between the races, a faith that would come to define itself in the early 1990s with the image of white men hugging black men, tears all around, at Promise Keeper rallies. “They replaced race with religion,” says the senator. “The principle remains the same—an identity built on being separate from a society viewed as weak and corrupt.”

For decades, the military built a sense of solidarity out of a singular purpose, the Cold War struggle between free markets and state-planned economies—the shining city on a hill versus the evil empire. In that fight, pluralism, racial or religious, was ultimately on our side; and it meshed neatly with ideologies that might otherwise be challengers, easily subsuming both nationalism and fundamentalism, with Communism presented as the dark alternative should we fail to unite. Fundamentalism thrived not so much in opposition to the liberal state as in tandem with it, a neat, black-and-white theological correlate to a foreign policy—a vision of America’s place in the world, our purpose, you might say—embraced more or less across the mainstream political spectrum.

The end of the Cold War deprived militant evangelicals of that clarity. Absent a clear purpose, a common foe, pluralism itself began to look to some like the enemy. The emergence of “radical Islam” as the object of a new Cold War only complicated the matter. Rather than revealing a new enemy for us all to share, the idea of a monolithic radical Islam fractured pluralism from left to right. Many liberals abandoned even their rhetorical commitments to liberty of conscience, while the very conservatives who had favored arming militant Islamists since the Eisenhower Administration concluded that their universal embrace of religion in the abstract may have been naive. Perhaps pluralism—or at least the Cold War variety that sustained the rise of American empire in the second half of the twentieth century—was nothing but propaganda after all.

Today, fundamentalism, based as it is on a vigorous assertion of narrow and exclusive claims to truth, can no longer justify common cause with secularism. In its principal battle, the front lines are not in Iraq or Afghanistan but right here, where evangelical militants must wage spiritual war against their own countrymen. In a lecture for OCF titled “Fighting the War on Spiritual Terrorism,” Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg E. Metz gar explained that Christian soldiers must always consider themselves behind enemy lines, even within the ranks, because every unsaved member of the military is a potential agent of “spiritual terrorism.” Even secularists with the best intentions may be part of this fifth column, Air Force Brigadier General Donald C. Wurster told a 2007 assembly of chaplains, noting that “the unsaved have no realization of their unfortunate alliance with evil.” What is the nature of this evil? Some conservative evangelicals call it “postmodernism.” What they mean is the very idea of diversity, its egalitarianism—the conviction that my beliefs have as much right to speak in the public square as do yours; that truth, in a democracy, is a mediated affair.

Evangelicalism, the more zealous the better, is an ingenious solution, a mirror image of pluralism that comes with a built-in purpose. It is available to everybody. Its basic rules are easily learned. It merges militancy with love, celebrating the ferocity of spirit necessary for a warrior and the mild amiability required to stay sane within a rigid hierarchy. It’s a populist religion—anyone can talk to the top man—on a vertical axis, an implicit rank system of “spiritual maturity” that runs from “Baby Christians” of all ages straight up to the ultimate commander in chief.

Mikey Weinstein did not get his Pentagon job. In fact, the generals whom Mikey thought would face a reckoning under a Democratic administration remain in place or in line for promotion. Not only did Obama keep on Robert Gates as defense secretary; he retained the secretary of the Army, Pete Geren—another star of the Christian Embassy video, who also, in commencement remarks at West Point last year, characterized America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as struggles for religious freedom against the “darkness and oppression” of radical Islam—and also appointed as his national security adviser the retired Marine general James Jones, a regular on the prayer breakfast circuit. Nobody believes the new president shares Bush’s religious sentiments, but clearly he is willing to shave constitutional protections in exchange for evangelical peace. The new president appears to have adopted a hands-off approach not just to religion in the military but to the very relationship between church and state.


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The Air Force Academy chapel is the most popular man-made tourist attraction in Colorado, seventeen silver daggers rising above campus, veined with stained glass that suffuses the space inside with a violet and orange glow. But when one of the academy’s public-relations officers takes me on a tour, it’s empty. Very few cadets worship there anymore. Instead, they meet in classrooms and dorm rooms, at mountain retreats, and at the numerous megachurches that surround the academy.

One of the most popular services, called The Mill, takes place on Friday nights at New Life, in a giant, permanent tent that not long after academy dinnertime fills with fake fog and power chords and more than a thousand men and women ranging in age from their teens to their early twenties. I attended one Friday night in the company of Bruce Hrabak, the cadet who’d told me there was no separation of church and state in the Constitution. Broad-shouldered and broad-smiled, with color in his cheeks and excitable dusk-blue eyes, Hrabak says he’s at the academy both of his own free will and according to the strict Christian doctrine of “predestination,” that is, destiny chosen by God. It is this paradoxical mix, he explains, that allows him to serve both as an officer and as a missionary for the “Great Commission,” the evangelical belief that Christians must spread the Gospel to all nations. The academy, he explains, is a step on his spiritual journey.

The sermon at The Mill was painful—the pastor’s wife had recently delivered a stillborn baby, and he spoke in raw, awful terms about suffering and theodicy, the age-old question of why a loving God permits bad things to happen to good people. It is one of the central dilemmas of the Christian faith, and its persistence, its resistance to easy answers, is what has made Christianity the forge of so much of the world’s great art and philosophy. By the end of this hour-long service, though, everything turned out for the best; even the dead baby had been shoehorned into God’s inscrutable plan.

That cheered Hrabak up. Over dinner afterward, he told me he believed that all suffering, that which he endures and that which he inflicts, has a purpose. He felt this truth was of special solace for soldiers. I asked what he meant. “Well, you’re pulling a trigger, you know?” He thought about that a lot. Not the shot fired or the bomb dropped, but the bodies, the souls at the other end of his actions. In his classes, he watched videos of air strikes. At night, he pictured the dead. He was not as afraid of dying as he was of killing unjustly. He was afraid of sin. His double identity—as a spiritual warrior and as an officer of the deadliest force in the history of the world—was his redemption.

What would he do if he ever received an order that contradicted his faith?

Hrabak looked shocked. He giggled, then composed himself and took a big bite of pizza, speaking confidently through his food. “Impossible, dude. I mean, I guess it could happen. But I highly doubt it.”

What if he was ordered to bomb a building in which terrorists were hiding, even though there were civilians in the way?

He shook his head. “Who are you to question why God builds up nations just to destroy them, so that those who are in grace can see that they’re in grace?” A smile lit up half his face, an expression that might be taken for sarcastic if Hrabak wasn’t a man committed to being in earnest at all times. What he’d just said—a paraphrase from Romans—might be something like a Word of Knowledge, a gift of wisdom from God. It blew his mind so much he had to repeat it, his voice picking up a speed and enthusiasm that bordered on joy. “He”—the Lord—“builds up an entire nation”—Iraq or Vietnam, Afghanistan or Pakistan, who are you to question why?—“just to destroy them! To show somebody else”—America, a young man guided to college by God, distrustful of his own choices—“that they’re in grace.”

Grace, of course, means you’re favored by God, no questions asked, a blessing that you can neither earn nor deserve. To fundamentalists, it’s worth more than freedom, and they’re willing to sacrifice their freedom—and yours—for that glorious feeling. That’s a paradox, a box trap the fundamentalists have built for themselves. The first casualties of the military’s fundamentalist front are not the Iraqis and Afghans on the wrong side of an American F-16. They’re the spiritual warriors themselves, men and women persuaded that the only God worth believing in is one who demands that they break—in spirit and in fact—the oath to the Constitution they swear to uphold on their lives. “You’re laying down your life for others,” Hrabak says. “Well, there has to be some true truth to put yourself in harm’s way for.” True truth; truth that requires an amplifier. For the God soldiers, democracy is not enough.