Behind Closed Doors: Secretive Far-Right Umbrella Group Boasts An Extreme Membership

CNP is an umbrella organization composed chiefly of leaders of the nation’s Religious Right groups.

On Tuesday, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released the 2014 membership directory of the Council for National Policy (CNP), a conservative political pressure group. It’s an unusual breach for the group, whose thrice-yearly meetings are shrouded in secrecy.

A leaked memo published by The New York Times in 2004 shows just how serious the CNP is about its privacy. “The media should not know when or where we meet or who takes part in our programs, before or after a meeting,” the memo reportedly insisted.

CNP is an umbrella organization composed chiefly of leaders of the nation’s Religious Right groups. Membership is by invitation only, and its ranks are therefore packed with the cream of the conservative crop. Thanks to the SPLC, we now know that includes a number of the Religious Right’s most extreme adherents.

Tony Perkins, who heads the Family Research Council, also heads the CNP’s executive committee. The Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver is listed as a member, and so is Phillip Zodhiates, who will go on trial in September on charges that he helped “ex-lesbian” Lisa Miller flee to Nicaragua with her daughter to avoid sharing custody with her former partner. (Staver represented Miller during her custody battle and reportedly taught Liberty University law school students that the case was an example of justified civil disobedience.)

Michael Peroutka also appears in the directory. Peroutka, who currently serves as a member of the Anne Arundel County, Md., council, belonged to the League of the South, a neo-Confederate group, until 2014. He now heads the Institute on the Constitution (IOTC). According to evangelical blogger Warren Throckmorton, Peroutka and IOTC promote the teachings of Christian nation zealot David Barton and lionize the Confederacy.

In 2013, Throckmorton reported that the IOTC’s official blog regularly published Confederate apologia. In one post, Peroutka repeatedly referred to Confederate troops as “American troops” and bemoaned their loss at Gettysburg, writing, “When Lee lost at Gettysburg, no earthly force remained that could stand against the Washington leviathan.”

Peroutka, alas, has competition to be the extreme member of the CNP.  Frank Gaffney also belonged to the group; Gaffney advised U.S Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) until the latter suspended his presidential campaign and is infamous in D.C. circles for promoting anti-Muslim bigotry via his Center for Security Policy.

Austin Ruse, who heads the Center for Family and Human Rights, is also listed in the group’s directory. Right Wing Watch reported just this week that Ruse defended Russia, Sudan and Saudi Arabia at the United Nations for their advocacy for the “family.” The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has labelled the latter two nations “uniquely repressive” for their policies restricting freedom of belief and expression.

And while we’re on the subject of USCIRF: Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, formerly USCIRF’s vice chair, is listed as a member of the CNP. Jasser is no longer a USCIRF commissioner, but still served as vice chair during the period he’s listed as a CNP member. His participation in the CNP – alongside the likes of Ruse, Gaffney and Peroutka – raise serious questions about the brand of “religious freedom” he promoted during his tenure with USCIRF.

Last and certainly not least: The Rev. R.J. Rushdoony, whose brand of Christian Reconstructionism favored the literal application of Old Testament law, is honored in the directory’s “In Memoriam” section.

The directory provides more than a disturbing look at how the Religious Right has aligned itself with certain corporate interests to gain political power. It also provides important information about its policy priorities.

CNP members have the option of listing their policy concerns in their directory entries. Students for Life’s Kristan Hawkins, for example, listed “Radical Islam” alongside abortion, abstinence and religious freedom as matters of concern. Other frequent entries: School choice, charter schools, homeschooling. U.S. sovereignty and national security.

It should surprise no one that the CNP is so attractive to the fundamentalist fringe. Its vision statement, as reported by the SPLC, lays out borderline theocratic goals: “A united conservative movement to assure, by 2020, policy leadership and governance that restores religious and economic freedom, a strong national defense, and Judeo-Christian values under the Constitution.”

The SPLC’s release is particularly important now, as CNP members deliberate who they’ll support for president. CNN reported on Tuesday that its membership is slowly coalescing around Donald Trump, though it does not officially endorse candidates. 

Americans United has been tracking CNP for years. Given its power, it’s a good thing SPLC is also working to lift the group’s veil. CNP’s members ought to be held to account for their extremism – and any political candidate who seeks CNP’s blessing should be asked some tough questions about that.