Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bob Hunter, Uganda, and Rachel Maddow

Bob Hunter, the Family/Fellowship associate who built the group's relationship with Uganda, appeared on MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show" tonight. I helped arrange it. That may surprise some readers of my book, The Family, but it shouldn't: transparency is the foundation of the democratic process the Family has so long sidestepped. Bob, who by his own admission is part of the group's small, relatively liberal faction, believes the time has come for greater transparency. I think he's about 75 years late -- the group should have been transparent from the beginning, in 1935 -- but better late than never.

Unfortunately, tonight was only a step in the right direction. Bob said he wanted to go public to set the record straight on the Family's relationship with Uganda. Instead, he opened by attacking me on trivial matter, arguing that my dislike for the cover my publisher chose for my book somehow invalidates everything in it. He continued by misrepresenting my views. In fact, I haven't acknowledged that the Family isn't political; just the opposite. Bob and I argued about it for awhile.

In the interest of transparency, I should add that I called him up after the show. He said he'd planned to talk about Senator Jim Inhofe, the fiercely anti-gay politician who is listed in Family documents as the "U.S. leader" responsible for working with Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni. Bob said he wants to see Inhofe take a bolder stand against this awful bill. But he got sidetracked.

So here's hoping we can all stay on message. I'll do my best when I get a chance to review clips from the show.


Tom Hickey said...

Thanks for the clarification, Jeff. I'm sure Rachel will have you on to set the record straight. I thought that Mr. Hunter performed well, however, and he cast a different light on the Family than the nut jobs present. I would be interested in knowing the relative proportion in the Family, if you have information on that. It seems that Mr. Hunter is at least sane.

robbaydj said...

Bob Hunter started NICO "National Insurance Consumer Organization" with Ralph Nadar after he left the Carter Administration. He's a bleeding heart liberal which proves that the "Family" is not conservative. Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, Mother Theresa and Bono have all been involved with this group as well as Sister Rose Marie of Northern Uganda who has help thousands of young teenage mothers get back on there feet and won the CNN hero's award. There is no conspiracy. Everyone trusted an untrue book, without checking the facts. In Uganda Bob Hunter has helped hospitals, and helped the "Lost Children" of Northern Uganda get edjucations and food and shelter. Bob has helped thousands of people who fall victim to big insurance all over this country and has supported Universal Health Care.

Jeff Sharlet said...

Robbaydj: Who said there was a conspiracy? Did you actually read the book you're trashing? The one that begins,"This so-called underground [Christian Right leader Chuck Colson's favorable term for the group] is
not a conspiracy. Rather, it’s a seventy-year-old movement of elite fundamentalism, bent not on salvation for all but on the cultivation of the powerful, “key men” chosen by God to direct the aff airs of the

Sounds like you didn't. Otherwise you'd know that my argument, based on hundreds of interviews and a review of tens of thousands of documents, is that the Family exists outside the conventional spectrum of left-right politics. In the beginning, it was entirely conservative; since the late 60s, it has included a few center-left, establishmentarian liberals. By Bob Hunter's own admission, it remains mostly conservative. Here's an excerpt from Bob's own transcript of our recent conversation:

Sharlet: can go down these membership lists over the decades, it’s an almost constant ratio [of liberals to conservatives]. one or two to ten. Always a couple liberals involved.

Bob Hunter:
Does that have to do with the numbers in society, do you think?

Jeff Sharlet:
Are we 80 percent conservative? I doubt it.

Bob Hunter:
No, I mean who are religious. People who really feel fervently religious, and I think the --

Jeff Sharlet:
Probably, yeah.

Bob Hunter:
-- is there -- there probably is a bias.

Bono has no significant relationship other than speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast. As I've made clear in the book and in interviews, that spot is reserved for a centrist figure. Mother Theresa was intended as such; instead, she used the opportunity to publicly scold the Clintons for supporting reproductive rights. Bill was furious; Hillary, in every way the more conservative member of the couple, saw it as an opportunity to win conservative friends by working with Mother Theresa. As Kathryn Joyce and I documented in Mother Jones with a grant from The Nation Institute Investigative Fund, Hillary cut through red tape to help create a Washington orphanage for Mother Theresa's organization, an alternative to abortion. Problem was Mother Theresa's organization promptly flipped the property at a profit and moved into small upper floor offices. I can't say whether they had some orphans tucked away up there; they refused to grant Joyce an interview. Al Gore's involvement is not deep, nor is he informed about the history of the group. It's also worth remembering that he began his career as a very conservative Democrat. As for Sister Rose Marie -- she sounds great. That's another point I make in the book and made in my interview with Hunter: the Family does do small scale good works. That's not the problem. The problem is their support and de facto lobbying for dictators such as Papa Doc Duvalier, Siad Barre, General Costa e Silva, Park Chung Hee, Suharto, and, now, Yoweri Museveni.

I'm glad Hunter acts on his conscience and admire his consumer advocacy work. I share his views on some other issues as well. Inasmuch as he seems to be leading a quiet insurrection within the Family -- or practicing what the late Family leader Richard Halverson called "benevolent subversion" -- he's on the side of the angels.

But that doesn't mean we don't have to give the devil his due. And in this case, that means an accounting for the Family's long support for killers.

What puzzles me is why people of good conscience, as I take you to be (even if you don't grant me as much, despite knowing nothing of my actual arguments) wouldn't be interest in taking responsibility for the movement they're a part of. The Family talks a lot about accountability. You've displayed every bit as much as Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and Chip Pickering (not to mention Ed Meese, Chuck Colson, Oliver North, etc., etc.)

amanda said...

I'd love to hear your comments.


akopsa said...

I read your book and caught this interview. I am particularly interested - at this point - In the WallBuilders organization. You mention David Barton only once in your book. Do you find them to be a real threat?

Thanks for your time.

Andy Kopsa

robbaydj said...

Bob Hunter has been trying to kill the Bill in Uganda and all Jeff Sharlet can do is go on Rachel Maddow and attack him about a word blunder. Now is the time to work together but that isn’t in Jeff’s interest. As we try to stop this anti gay legislation all Jeff can do is attack the people trying to stop it. It’s not helping the cause Jeff! The page about Bob Hunter in Jeff’s book is almost completely wrong and Jeff has admitted it! If he got that page wrong what else did he get wrong? I’m sure some things are true but some things aren’t! This isn’t journalism we should trust and this is coming from a Liberal! Let’s work to stop this bill! Not blame a group of people who not only have nothing to do with it but are trying to stop it.
Before this bill Bob Hunter has never been involved in any other Bill in that Uganda, the Ugandans view outside negotiations to legislation neocolonialism. Unfortunately the majority of Ugandans support the bill, but in this case obviously the majority of Uganda is wrong. But good news!
it looks like the Ugandan Government Minister says gay death penalty unnecessary. Well that’s a start but there is still a long road ahead to work to stop the bill, for Gay Rights in Uganda and around Africa. The Fellowship should have a Gay Speaker at the Prayer Breakfast). But if that happened I’m sure Jeff would attack the Fellowship by saying “ITS TO LATE”! because he wants to keep his spot on Rachel Maddow to sell books.

Jeff Sharlet said...

Here's a hint, "robbaydj" -- when defending secretive organizations, you have more credibility if you don't hide behind a pseudonym. I notice you've just signed on to blogger. Well, I'm flattered. But, "robbaydj," I'm also puzzled. To what are you referring?

Moreover, I'm wondering why you keep attacking me, since you insist you're interested in all working together toward a common goal. Because here's how this ridiculous little debate happened: I spoke out on Fresh Air. Bob came forth to denounce the bill. He and I sat down for three hours, during which I did NOT admit that I got anything all wrong -- as it sounds like you ought to know, "robbaydj," since you apparently have access to the transcript -- but I did say I was glad to clarify the record with the new information Bob gave me, contradicting an account from Family leader Doug Coe. I did so. All's well. Then Bob went on Fresh Air. I disagreed with some of his points, but overall I thought it was fair. In fact, I thought we were working together to stop this bill. So I helped arrange for him to be on Maddow. And what's Bob do? Why, he opens with a very lengthy, and very inaccurate attack on me. I was stunned and told Bob so. Setting the record straight was necessary. I don't think I attacked Bob.

For a follower of Christ, "robbaydj," you sure seem like you've got a rocks in your pocket and a ready arm. Why don't you email me and continue this conversation like an adult? jeff dot sharlet @ gmail dot com

Last and least: I'm not making a dime from royalties and am not likely to. But you got me, "robbaydj" -- I'm in this to make money for Rupert Murdoch! You've discovered my evil plan.

Erich said...

Thank you Jeff for covering this issue. I caught you on Fresh Air, Hunter's follow up. I am gay and live in Iowa and was surprised to learn of Sen. Grassley's involvement.

Your work on this means a lot, to a lot of people. The Nation noted a local Iowa grass roots group as the most effective in the country, and I am getting more involved with them. Never know where something might lead in the future. People need to get involved.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of royalties, how much do you owe Dan Brown, Jeff?

Jeff Sharlet said...

Andy -- Wallbuilders' falsification of history probably does represent a challenge and perhaps even a threat to the possibility of real democratic debate, especially given the number of followers Barton claims in Congress. Fundamentalists who want to debate the interpretation of history are participating in the democratic process; but people like Barton, who essentially erase history, are trying to make an end run around it.

"Anonymous" -- never read Dan Brown, but from what I understand, it's poorly written and possibly anti-Catholic pulp. There is, sadly, a long tradition of that kind of thing.

akopsa said...

Thanks a lot for taking the time to respond. I am working on a piece about David Barton and his current roll as "expert" for the Texas Education Association in reviewing the state's Social Studies curriculum. This is where I think the danger is - aside from his political connections - in his being able to effect what we teach kids. If you ever have the inclination I encourage you to read his review of the current Texas Social Studies curriculum on the TEA website. It is chock-a-block with false statements and Christian rhetoric. Awful.

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