Guerillas And Bodybags And Sharks...oh, My!

A Short History Of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition

TV preacher Pat Robertson founded the Christian Coalition in 1989 in the wake of his failed presidential campaign. Robertson's recent announcement that he will no longer be involved in the group means that its political influence will probably wane greatly. Americans United, which has monitored and challenged the organization since its inception, put together the following timeline highlighting significant events in the birth and life of the Christian Coalition.

For more detailed information about the Coalition, see Church & State Assistant Editor Rob Boston's 1996 book The Most Dangerous Man in America? Pat Robertson and the Rise of the Christian Coalition, which is available from Americans United.

'I Will Run!'

Robertson announces his campaign for the Republican nomination for president. Brandishing a list of 3 million supporters who signed petitions asking him to seek the office, Robertson announces that he has raised $11 million. (Oct. 1, 1987)

'I am not Going to Quit.'

Robertson drops out of the race after a poor showing in the "Super Tuesday" primaries. He vows to run again, telling members of a Denver church that God told him to run and adding, "It may not be in 1988...but I am not going to quit." (April 1988)

'Nonpartisan' Christian Coalition Formed

Robertson announces formation of the Christian Coalition, saying the non-partisan group will work to "make the government and the media responsive to our concerns." (October 1989)

'Take Back This Country'

Robertson hires Ralph Reed, a 29-year-old Republican activist, to run the Coalition. Reed tells the Los Angeles Times, "What Christians have got to do is take back this country, one precinct at a time, one neighborhood at a time and one state at a time. I honestly believe that in my lifetime, we will see a country once again governed by Christians...and Christian values (April 1990)

Money from the GOP

The Coalition accepts a $64,000 donation from the Republican Senatorial Committee and uses it to intervene in a North Carolina Senate race between Republican Jesse Helms and Democrat Harvey Gantt. At a closed-door meeting of Coalition activists in November of 1991, Reed brags that after Helms called Robertson for help, the Coalition blanketed the state with 750,000 "voter guides" and helped Helms win. Remarks Reed, "I had access to the internal tracking, and I know [Helms] was down by 8 points. So Pat called me up and said, 'We've got to kick into action.' Bottom line is...five days later we put three quarters of a million voters' guides in churches across the state of North Carolina, and Jesse Helms was re-elected by 100,000 votes out of 2.2 million cast." (November 1990)

Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists: 'Spirit of the AntiChrist'?

Robertson tells his "700 Club" viewing audience, "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and Methodists and this, that and the other thing. Nonsense! I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist. I can love the people who hold false opinions, but I don't have to be nice to them." (January 1991)

125 Chapters in 43 States

Reed claims the Coalition has 125 chapters in 43 states. He asserts that the group's goal is to be "the most powerful political organization of its kind by the year 2000." (May 1991)

'You're in a Body Bag'

In an interview with Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Reed outlines the Coalition's stealth political strategy -- which encouraged Religious Right candidates to hide their religious agenda and fool voters by putting forward popular stands such as lower taxes. "I want to be invisible," he says. "I paint my face and travel at night. You don't know it's over until you're in a body bag. You don't know until election night." (November 1991)

Guerrilla Warfare

Reed defends "stealth politics" in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "It's like guerrilla warfare," he says. "If you reveal your location, all it does is allow your opponent to improve his artillery bearings. It's better to move quietly, with stealth, under the cover of night." (March 1992)

President George Bush: Unwitting Dupe Of Lucifer?

Robertson's book, The New World Order, begins to attract attention. In the volume, Robertson asserts that a centuries-old conspiracy of worldwide leaders directed by Satan has engineered major events in human history. Robertson asserts that President George Bush may be "unknowingly and unwittingly carrying out the mission and mouthing the phrases of a tightly knit cabal whose goal is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the dominion of Lucifer and his followers." Critics point out that the book is based on long-discredited works of anti-Semitism from the 1920s. (June 1992)

Coalition Backs Bush For Re-election

Despite his charges about Bush being a dupe of Satan, Robertson supports the president's re-election bid and announces that the Christian Coalition will distribute 40 million voter guides. The Coalition effort is unsuccessful, however. Many analysts suggest that Bush lost in part because Robertson, Pat Buchanan and other far-right religious conservatives had dominated the GOP convention, turning off moderate voters. (November 1992)

Reed Stashes Body Bags In Locker Room

In a six-page letter to supporters, Reed recommends dropping war metaphors when describing political struggles. He suggests substituting sports metaphors because they "sound playful." (December 1992)

Roman Catholic Outreach

Reed announces that the Coalition will conduct an aggressive outreach to Roman Catholics. A few months later, Reed announces that the Coalition will shift its emphasis away from social issue and focus more on economic matters like tax cuts. The much-discussed switch is never actually implemented. (July 1993)

FEC Investigation Launched

The Federal Election Commission announces it is investigating the role the Coalition played in Helms' 1990 campaign. Reed tells reporters he has no memory of Helms asking Robertson for help. (June 1994)

Taking Credit for the GOP Congress

Reed appears on Robertson's "700 Club" and suggests the Christian Coalition should get the credit for the Republican takeover of Congress. Reed says the group distributed 33 million voter guides. Remarks Robertson, "It's an awesome win, Ralph, and much credit to you and all the members of the Christian Coalition and others who worked so hard." (November 1994)

Catholic Alliance Launched

After meeting with Pope John Paul II in New York City, Robertson announces formation of a new Coalition project called the Catholic Alliance. Less than two years later, the group, which never attracted significant Catholic support, is cut loose and quickly sinks into obscurity. (October 1995)

Membership Numbers Slip

Reed claims Coalition membership has hit 2 million. An analysis of postal records by Americans United shows the group's donor base actually dropped in 1995 -- to 310,000 -- a drop of 40,000 in less than a year (January 1996)

Death Penalty for Gays?

Despite Reed's call for Coalition activists to stop gay bashing, Americans United uncovers the fact that the Coalition's Christian American magazine is promoting and selling a book called Legislating Immorality, which says the Bible requires the death penalty for homosexuals. (January 1996)

Robertson Riled: Says AU's Lynn 'Lower Than a Child Molester'

After Americans United launches a national project opposing church-based electioneering, an enraged Robertson unleashes a tirade against the group on his "700 Club." The TV preacher tells his audience that the AU project is "fascistic" and proclaims AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn "lower than a child molester." AU's Lynn dismisses the name-calling and vows to prevent Robertson from turning churches "into cogs in his political machine." (March 1996)

Financial Officer Fired: 'Tadpole in a Tank of Sharks'?

Coalition financial officer Judy Liebert is fired after alleging a series of financial irregularities at the group. Of her relationship with Reed, Robertson and company, Liebert later tells the Virginian-Pilot, "I felt like a tadpole swimming in a tank of sharks." (May 1996)

Dirty Little Secrets of Coalition Voter Guides

Political science professor Larry J. Sabato and journalist Glenn Simpson analyze Christian Coalition voter guides from 1994 in their book Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics. Sabato and Simpson write that the guides were deliberately slanted to favor Republican congressional candidates. "Democrats who lost their re-election campaigns naturally and quite emotionally believe they were victims of a partisan hit, and a closer look at the voter guides confirms many of their charges," write the two. "Rather than simply seeking to inform voters of where candidates stood on the issues, the guides give every appearance of having been designed with the explicit intention of influencing voting decisions in favor of Republicans." (June 1996)

FEC Lawsuit Filed

The Federal Election Commission announces a lawsuit against the Christian Coalition for violating federal election law by coordinating its activities with Republican candidates. (July 1996)

CC Voter Guides: Racism in Black and White?

The Coalition is accused of racism after it releases a sample voter guide in Texas depicting a white candidate in agreement with the Coalition and a black candidate in opposition. (September 1996)

45 Million Voter Guides

The Coalition claims it will distribute 45 million voter guides. Americans United issues a memo to religious leaders warning that distribution of Coalition voter guides could result in loss of tax exemption by churches. At the same time, 30 clergy members in Texas issue a letter calling on pastors not to distribute the guides, saying they are partisan. (October 1996)

Reed's Reading: 'Satanically Empowered' Vatican?

Americans United criticizes Reed for endorsing an anti-Catholic prophecy book written by John Wheeler, former editor of the Coalition's Christian American newspaper. In the book, Earth's Two-Minute Warning, Wheeler speculates that someday "the Vatican may run amok" after becoming "satanically empowered" and says it is likely that soon "an active Satanist [will] ascend to the Papal throne...." In a cover blurb, Reed calls the book "compelling" and "an important contribution" to the discussion of end-times. (October 1996)

Bob Dole: 'Laconic Kansan with a Bad Arm'

Robertson, angry at the defeat of GOP presidential candidate Robert Dole, says religious conservatives must "coalesce very early and basically select a candidate" in 2000. A few months later, he criticizes the Republicans' choice of Dole, calling the disabled World War II veteran a "a laconic Kansan with a bad arm."(November 1996)

Samaritan Project

Reed announces yet another new focus for the Coalition -- a so-called "Samaritan Project" that will lobby to help the poor and reach out to African Americans. Ten months after its creation, the project is shut down. (January 1997)

Reed Departs Coalition

Reed resigns as executive director of the Christian Coalition and starts a Republican political consulting firm in Georgia called Century Strategies. The firm later works on George W. Bush's presidential campaign, and in 2001 Reed is elected chairman of the Republican Party of Georgia. (April 1997)

Hodel and Tate Appointed

Robertson announces that former Interior Secretary Don Hodel and former U.S. Rep. Randy Tate (R-Wash.) will run the Christian Coalition as president and executive director, respectively. Tate and Hodel promise to double the Coalition's membership, which they claim is 1.8 million. Research by Americans United shows the actual membership is about 340,000. (June 1997)

Distorted Voter Guides

The Christian Coalition issues a voter guide in a Republican primary race for Virginia attorney general designed to help candidate Mark Earley. Supporters of Earley's opponent Ken Stolle, a state representative previously supported by the Coalition, accuse the group of distorting Stolle's positions. One activist writes to local newspapers, "For years I have trusted the Christian Coalition and helped to distribute its voter guides. But never again. I believe the Christian Coalition knowingly distributed a voter guide for this past election that distorted Ken Stolle's beliefs and record." (June 1997)

Robertson To CC: Emulate Tammany Hall

Americans United releases a closed-door tape recording of Robertson speaking to Christian Coalition supporters about the need to get behind a GOP presidential candidate early and propel him to victory in 2000. During the speech, Robertson says the Coalition should emulate Tammany Hall, an infamously corrupt 19th-century political machine. 

Robertson tells the crowd, "We're not a bunch of ing\xe9nues anymore, we're a seasoned group of warriors.... We can't be swayed just by rhetoric.... I told [Coalition President] Don Hodel when he joined us, I said, 'My dear friend, I want to hold out to you the possibility of selecting the next president of the United States because I think that's what we have in this organization.' And I believe we can indeed." Robertson indicates that he will signal which candidate he prefers through some type of personal endorsement. Americans United sends a copy of the tape to the IRS and asks the tax agency to revoke the Coalition's tax-exempt status.(September 1997)


N.J. Catholics Excommunicate Voter Guide

The New Jersey Catholic Conference advises local churches not to distribute Coalition voter guides. Church officials take the action after the Coalition's state director falsely tells reporters the group has the bishops' support. (November 1997)

Merry Christmas!: CC Staffers Get the Axe

Days before Christmas, the Coalition fires 20 of its 110 employees and shuts down its flagship publication, Christian American magazine. The fired employees receive no severance package. (December 1997)

CC Constituents: Outside The Mainstream

In an interview with The Washington Times, Hodel asserts that a base of 7,000 to 8,000 activists do most of the Coalition's work and adds, "We have to be careful that we don't become so mainstream that our constituency leaves us." (January 1998)

Back to Basics

The Coalition announces a new project, "Families 2000," that will recruit 100,000 Christian churches to work with the Coalition in time for the November 2000 elections. At the same time, Coalition Executive Director Tate announces that the group will place renewed emphasis on social issues like abortion, gay rights and school prayer. (February 1998)

Tax Cheats: IRS Moves Against CBN

The Internal Revenue Service revokes the tax-exempt status of Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network retroactively for the years 1986-87, holding that the group engaged in improper partisan politicking. The IRS also revokes the tax exemption of two now-defunct Robertson groups, including the Freedom Council, a precursor to the Christian Coalition. (March 1998)

Pat Forecasts Orlando Hurricane, 'Possibly A Meteor'

Robertson asserts on his nationally broadcast "700 Club" program that the city of Orlando will face divine retribution for allowing a gay group to fly rainbow flags from light poles during an event at Disney World. Robertson asserts that the city could face terrorist attacks, hurricanes, earthquakes "and possibly a meteor."

"We're not in any way, shape or form hating anybody," said Robertson. "This is not a message of hate; this is a message of redemption. But if [pause] a condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation, if it'll bring about terrorist bombs; [if] it'll bring earthquakes, tornadoes and possibly a meteor, it isn't necessarily something we ought to open our arms to. And I would warn Orlando that you're right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don't think I'd be waving those flags in God's face if I were you." Americans United circulates the comments to the news media, leading to national press coverage, widespread ridicule of Robertson and a cartoonists' field day. (June 1998)

Hodel Forced Out

Hodel resigns as president of the Christian Coalition. Media reports say Robertson requested his resignation after Hodel sent him a memo suggesting that the controversial TV preacher take a less high-profile role in the organization. (January 1999)

'21 Victory' Club Launched

At a Washington press conference, Robertson announces the "21 Victory" project, a plan to raise $21 million to be spent over 21 months to "mobilize" conservative Christian voters for the November 2000 election. Critics call the move an effort to aid the candidacy of Republican George W. Bush, son of the man Robertson identified a few years earlier as an unwitting agent of Lucifer. (March 1999)

Bush and Robertson Meet

The New York Times reports that Bush has met with Robertson. Bush said it was a "very frank discussion" in which he talked about "my heart, what my beliefs are." (April 1999)

IRS Denies Coalition Tax Exemption

News that the Internal Revenue Service has denied the Christian Coalition tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(4) organization leaks out. (Under a 501(c)(4) designation, groups can engage in politicking, but electioneering can't be their primary activity.) Robertson announces that the group will split into two entities -- a for-profit arm and a non-profit arm that will continue to operate as a 501(c)(4) group using the tax-exempt status of the Christian Coalition of Texas. (June 1999)

Robertson Takes the Helm

Robertson demotes Tate from executive director to "executive vice president" and sends him to Washington to oversee the Coalition's lobbying efforts. Robertson announces that he will personally oversee the group's day-to-day operations. (August 1999)

FEC Loses Case

Despite volumes of evidence that the Coalition worked on behalf of Republican candidates, a federal judge dismisses the bulk of the Federal Election Commission's case against the Christian Coalition, holding that there was insufficient proof of illegal coordination. However, the judge does note that Coalition voter guides clearly favor some candidates over others, writing, "[T]hese materials made clear which candidates the Coalition preferred...." (August 1999)

Coalition in Disarray

The New York Times reports that the Coalition is in disarray, with active chapters down from 48 to seven. The newspaper also quotes Dave Welch, an ex-official, who says claims that the group distributed 40 million voter guides in 1998 are false. To appear busy, the group sometimes hired temporary workers when television crews visited. (August 1999)

Robertson: Assassinate World Leaders

Robertson calls for changing U.S. foreign policy to permit assassination of world leaders. Asserts Robertson, "It would just seem so much more practical to have that flexibility.... I just think it's the intelligent thing to do and I don't see anything un-Christian about it." (August 1999)

Bush Addresses CC Gathering

GOP presidential contender Bush addresses the Coalition's annual gathering in Washington. Also speaking are other top-ranking Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. (October 1999)

CC Chapters Collapse

Numerous other media organizations report that many Coalition state chapters have collapsed. Reports surface that the group is $2.5 million in debt. The Coalition announces plans to move its entire operation from Chesapeake, Va., to Washington, D.C. (November 1999)

Ta-Ta To Tate: Randy Steps Down

Tate resigns. The Virginian-Pilot reports that the Coalition is being sued for nearly $400,000 by a direct-mail vendor with a past-due bill. Officials admit the group is $2 million in debt. (December 1999)

GOP Looks Elsewhere

Republican Party officials announce they will give money to anti-abortion groups to organize voters at the grassroots and express concern that the Coalition is no longer able to do the job. (December 1999)

Robertson Backs Bush

Robertson announces that he will endorse Bush for president and adds that the Coalition will sit out the election if U.S. Sen. John McCain gets the GOP nomination. In a remarkable interview on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," Robertson effectively concedes that the Coalition supposedly nonpartisan voter guides support certain candidates. "I do believe," said Robertson, "that if he became the nominee of the Republican Party John McCain that the Christian Coalition, which is a voluntary organization, would not put out 75 million voter guides, would not urge its membership to vote for anybody in the general election.... You know, we're not under the obligation to put out any literature for anybody. And I just think I can't buy that candidacy. So it's one of those things that I think they'd sit this one out." (February 2000)

Robertson Attacks McCain

Robertson is accused of undermining the McCain campaign. The Coalition releases a voter guide for the California primary that portrays McCain, who has a conservative voting record, as a liberal with views similar to Vice President Al Gore and former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley. (March 2000)

Women's Conference Bombs

The Coalition's first-ever conference for women, "Women Changing America," is a flop. Coalition officials predicted that thousands of women would attend, but attendance never tops 200. (March 2000)

Idaho CC Disavows Own Guide

After controversy erupts, leaders of the Idaho Coalition drop their own voter guide quizzing judicial candidates on their personal religious beliefs. (May 2000)

Satanic Panic: CC Activists Up Against The Devil

At the Coalition's "Road To Victory" Conference, Florida CC affiliate staffer Carolyn Kunkel tells caucus-goers that their Orlando office is under attack by Satan. In evidence, she notes that the photocopier and fax machine have been "acting up" and says the office sent an e-mail alert that contained a virus to 5,000 people. At a workshop, New Mexico Coalition executive director Paige McKenzie says Satan controls the nation's broadcast media, noting that the Bible describes Satan as the "prince of the air." (September, 2000)

Coalition Links with Moon

One day after Robertson attacked the Unification Church as a "cult" on his television program, Coalition representative Daniel Perkins represents the CC at a Washington, D.C., rally for Bush sponsored by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon (December 2000)

Back-Door Treatment: CC Employees Allege Racial Bias

Ten African-American Coalition employees allege a pattern of racial discrimination at the group's Washington offices. The staffers allege they were told to enter through the back door and denied use of the staff lunchroom. (February 2001)

Robertson Backs China Abortions

Conservatives blast Robertson for backing China's policy of forced abortions. Speaking on CNN, Robertson says the Chinese are "doing what they have to do" to keep the population down and adds, "Well, you know I don't agree with it, but at the same time, they've got 1.2 billion people and they don't know what to do." Several conservative leaders call on Robertson to resign. Observers say Robertson's business investments in China -- he wants to own the "Yahoo of China" -- may have provoked his defense of the communist regime's tactics. (April 2001)

2001 Conference Cancelled

Coalition leaders announce that the 2001 "Road to Victory" conference has been cancelled. The Washington Times reports that the group owes the Washington Hilton Hotel $84,148 from the 2000 event. The paper also reports that the group's budget has plummeted from $13 million to less than $3 million. (May 2001)

Failing The Color Test: Black Legislators Flunk CC Test

A black state senator in Alabama accuses the group of racism after it awarded an "F" to every African-American member of the state legislature in a CC "scorecard." (July 2001)

Robertson Blasted for Sept. 11 Remarks

Robertson is criticized for agreeing with Jerry Falwell that God punished Americans and gave them what they deserved through the terrorist attack of Sept. 11. Observed Robertson, "We have a court that has essentially stuck its finger in God's eye and said we're going to legislate you out of the schools. We're going to take your commandments from off the courthouse steps in various states. We're not going to let little children read the commandments of God. We're not going to let the Bible be read, no prayer in our schools. We have insulted God at the highest levels of our government. And then we say, 'Why does this happen?'" Concluded Robertson, "Well, why it's happening is that God Almighty is lifting his protection from us." (Sept. 13, 2001)

Va. and N.J. Efforts Fail

The Coalition announces it will distribute three million voter guides in Virginia and New Jersey. Despite the efforts, Republican gubernatorial candidates lose in both states. (November 2001)

Robertson Tied to Liberian Dictator

In a series of columns, Washington Post writer Colbert King outlines Robertson's business ties to Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. King blasts Robertson for conducting a gold-mining venture in Liberia and entering into a partnership with the corrupt Taylor. (fall 2001)

Robertson Resigns

Robertson announces his resignation from the Coalition and turns the group over to a longtime ally, Roberta Combs. Robertson says he plans to focus on ministry but adds that he will continue to address politics on "The 700 Club." (Dec. 5, 2001)