Journalist and researcher John Gorenfeld has studied the political influence of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church for years. In his new book, Bad Moon Rising: How Reverend Moon Created The Washington Times, Seduced the Religious Right, and Built an American Kingdom (PoliPoint Press, 2008), Gorenfeld explains how Moon used his fortune to ingratiate himself with the Religious Right and influence the course of conservative politics in America.
Gorenfeld discussed the book recently with Church & State.
Q. What led you to begin studying the influence of Rev. Moon on American politics?
A. I couldn’t believe the absurd relationship between conservatives and the Rev. Moon wasn’t famous. Washington’s guardians of moral virtue had found a way to team up with an iconic ’70s megalomaniac.
If Moon didn’t exist, a James Bond movie would invent him. It’s not that his theology is odd, but that he gives these mad speeches about installing himself as world leader. In Washington it’s treated as a campy joke. Only it’s not, because he publishes a major newspaper.
I was drawn to the contradictions that ensue when Moon appears at fancy Beltway dinner parties and embarrasses the audience. Right-wing Republicans, keen on keeping the money flowing, will listen uncomfortably for 45 minutes to Moon as he chops the air with his hands and shouts things like, “Free sex is centered on Satan!” and, “No one can oppose me!”
Little did I know that it wasn’t just a story of wretched Washington amorality, but a haunting, 40-year epic of corruption. What hooked me was Robert Boettcher’s 1980 book Gifts of Deceit. Boettcher was a frustrated young congressional investigator, trying to warn America of Moon’s growing influence in Washington as part of a 1978 influence-peddling probe. Boettcher died a few years later, falling from his apartment, his book ignored.
There’s no one else in U.S. history like Moon. First he was accused of tricking tens of thousands of young Americans into joining a cult; in the Carter years, congressmen from both parties issued dire warnings about his apocalyptic agenda, involving a “Unification Crusade Army” that would topple democracy; and now he’s publishing The Washington Times, as if nothing ever happened.
Q. How pivotal have Moon and his money been to the rise of the Religious Right in America? Would the Religious Right be as powerful as it is today had Moon never come along?
A. The rise of the Religious Right is a complex historical backlash, owing to a whole lot of factors. That said, Rev. Moon is an important member of the coalition that brought the movement to where it is today, though no one will admit it.
To secure power in Washington in 1980, the idea was to build a rival world of think tanks, media and experts to topple the liberal establishment. The Washington Times was a big part of this. Has any one figure ever spent $3 billion in Washington, as Moon has on The Times? Moon also rescued crucial fund-raisers on the right during the lean years of the mid-1980s.
But that’s not to say that if Moon hadn’t come along, some other shady, right-wing foreign character would not have, offering tainted cash from afar. The early conservatives saw themselves as underdogs desperately in need of allies to save America in the Cold War. And so they gave Moon, who had an anti-Communist track record, a seat at the table, even inviting him to the Reagan inauguration party.
Q. Many Religious Right leaders have taken Moon’s money over the years. Can you touch on some of the more interesting connections? A. In 1978, the late Jerry Falwell told an Esquire reporter that Moon was “like the plague: he exploits boys and girls.” Years later, when Falwell was spending big to push “The Clinton Chronicles” – the videos accusing Bill and Hillary of leaving a trail of bodies – his Liberty University went into debt. He was bailed out to the tune of $3.5 million by Moon.
Richard Viguerie is known as the “founding funder” of the right. He built a direct-mail empire, a money geyser that helped push Reagan into office. The legend is that in 1964, after the failure of the Goldwater campaign, Viguerie had the foresight to build his company from the grass roots. But it turns out he was working with Moon as long ago as 1965, that he got in trouble in the ’70s for deceptive marketing on behalf of a Moon fundraising campaign and was bailed out in the 1980s by a $10 million purchase of a Virginia office building by Col. Bo Hi Pak, Moon’s aide.
Almost every conservative pioneer seems to show up in this story, including Ed Feulner, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation – but not his partner, Paul Weyrich, who found Moon horrifying. He said every American should be alarmed, because Moon opposes our entire system of government.
Q. Some analysts say Moon is a has-been and that the Religious Right is a spent force politically. What do you think about those claims?
A. The 1990s taught us never to count out the Religious Right. Journalists love to write romantic stories about fading empires, because it’s easier than discovering what’s still there. That said, evangelicals might be so burned from the Bush experience that this could be the end of this Great Awakening as we know it.
As for Moon: He’s recently achieved some of his biggest victories. Dominating the U.S. sushi industry with his seafood conglomerate, True World Foods; acquiring 1.5 million acres in Paraguay; opening a new palace near Seoul that looks like a cross between the White House and the Capitol Dome – and being coronated on Capitol Hill.
Q. Periodically, Moon announces he has had it with America and threatens to go elsewhere. His church owns large amounts of land in South America. Yet he always seems to return the focus to the United States. Is there something beyond the fact that the United States is the most powerful nation in the world that makes Moon so obsessed with this nation?
A. Because Washington is where the power is, Moon gets the biggest return on his investment by funding a newspaper in D.C. He also believes the U.S. has a special role to play in his destiny, claiming that 36 dead presidents have endorsed him from beyond the grave and that his travels with the Bush family portend spiritual victory.
Q. Moon’s newspaper, The Washington Times, has never turned a profit. Yet Moon has subsidized the paper since 1982. In your book you talk about the role The Times plays in the conservative media machine. Can you explain that for our readers?
A. It’s a hugely important paper with a tiny circulation but an absurd degree of influence. It’s quoted constantly on talk radio and Fox, as part of the right’s alternative media universe, and it sets the tone. The ACLU credited Times coverage with virtually inventing the Minutemen, for example.
Q. What is Moon’s view of the separation of church and state? A. He says, “The separation of religion and politics is what Satan likes best.”
Q. How has the Unification Church reacted to your work? A. They bought the Web domain “Gorenfeld.com” and put up, for some time, a bizarre “Journalism Hall Of Fame” site challenging me to write more responsibly, like Peggy Noonan. Also, I’ve received e-mail asking whether my sleep is haunted by visions of prophets being burned at the stake and informing me I’m headed for a “stinky place.”
Q. Barry Lynn wrote the Foreword to your book. We received an irate letter from Unification Church officials, implying that Lynn is a bigot for working with you. Most churches have an interest in political issues. Why do you believe heightened scrutiny of Moon and the Unification Church is warranted?
A. They love to compare scrutiny of the Unification Church either to anti-Catholic bigotry or anti-Semitism, missing some key distinctions.
First of all, Pope Benedict does not run around making speeches about how “the whole world is in my hand, and I will conquer and subjugate the world,” or “many people will die – those who go against our movement!”
Likewise, the whole deal with The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion – the anti-Semitic forgery in which Jews like myself allegedly plotted to rule the world – was that it was fake. If it was real, like Moon’s collected sermons, “Master Speaks,” I should hope we’d be open to criticism.
Here’s a little more “Master Speaks”: “If the U.S. continues its corruption, and we find among the Senators and Congressmen no one really usable for our purposes, we can make Senators and Congressmen out of our members.... I have met many famous, so-called famous, Senators and Congressmen; but to my eyes, they are just nothing. They are weak and helpless. We will win the battle. This is our dream, our project. But shut your mouth tight.”
Q. Moon, like many Religious Right leaders, is aging. Do you believe the empire he built can survive his passing? Who will run it?A. Moon has a leadership cadre of 36 “blessed families” ready to take over, led by his incredibly slick, Harvard-educated son, Preston.