Some Christian nationalist organizations love the limelight. Their leaders revel in appearing in the media. They give speeches at major events, write books and basically do all they can to keep themselves front and center. Think of the Rev. Jerry Falwell when he founded the Moral Majority in the late 1970s. For a time, he seemed to be everywhere.
Then there are groups that prefer to work behind the scenes, in the shadows. They shun scrutiny. The people who run them are far from household names. They work to be unknown.
These groups are probably more dangerous because nobody knows what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and how much money they’re spending to influence public policy in an attempt to force everyone to live by their beliefs.
The Council for National Policy (CNP) is probably the most dangerous group you’ve never heard of. Formed in 1981, in part by Religious Right activist and author Tim LaHaye, the CNP is an umbrella organization of religious and secular far-right groups whose leaders meet regularly to plot strategy and share information. They’ve been quietly pulling the strings of ultra-conservative politics for four decades.
Every now and then, a journalist lifts the veil on the group. In 2004, New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick got unprecedented access to the group and attended a CNP meeting in New York City. Kirkpatrick wrote that the CNP consists of “a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country” who meet “behind closed doors at undisclosed locations … to strategize about how to turn the country to the right.”
Later that year, I wrote about the CNP for Church & State, observing, “What amazes most CNP opponents is the group’s ability to avoid widespread public scrutiny. Despite nearly a quarter century of existence and involvement by wealthy and influential political figures, the CNP remains unknown to most Americans. Operating out of a non-descript office building in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fairfax, Va., the organization has managed to keep an extremely low profile – an amazing feat when one considers the people the CNP courts.”
Now another reporter, Robert O’Harrow Jr. of The Washington Post, has produced an article exposing the machinations of the CNP. O’Harrow’s piece, “God, Trump and the Closed-Door World of a Major Conservative Group,” examines in part how former President Donald Trump, a biblically illiterate figure of questionable personal morality, won over so many evangelical leaders in 2016. (Spoiler: The CNP had something to do with it.)
O’Harrow also provides an in-depth history of the group and information culled from recordings of CNP meetings. As O’Harrow notes, the CNP operates alongside a dizzying array of far-right groups, some of which backed Trump’s efforts to steal the 2020 election and are now involved in voter-suppression campaigns. The network O’Harrow describes is octopus-like in its reach and ambition. The CNP doesn’t just share Christian nationalists’ goal of a theocratic America, it seeks to roll back every bit of progress, social or economic, our country has made since the New Deal.
Near the end of the article, O’Harrow writes, “In their quest to remake our country – to purge it of the cultural and political decay they believe has sapped it of virtue – CNP members are looking backward to receding triumphs. But it’s clear they’re also looking forward – and they are as determined as ever to shape the nation’s future.”
From the shadows, the CNP has been working to remake America in its theocratic image for 40 years. Unfortunately, it has enjoyed many successes. The first step to reversing those is to throw a lot more light on this organization, its leadership, its tactics and its goals.