The rest of the interview can be read at:
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the religious right and the rise of it in this country. A new book by Chris Hedges is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. It investigates the highly organized and well-funded dominionist movement. The book looks at their agenda, examines the movement’s origins and motivations and uncovers its ideological underpinnings. American Fascists argues that dominionism seeks absolute power in a Christian state. According to Hedges, the movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s.
Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times for many years, where he won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s also the author of War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Losing Moses on the Freeway. Chris Hedges has a Master’s degree in theology from Harvard University and is the son of a Presbyterian minister. He is currently a senior fellow at the Nation Institute and joins me in studio now. Welcome to Democracy Now!
CHRIS HEDGES: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Why did you write this book?
CHRIS HEDGES: Anger. I mean, I grew up in the Church and, of course, as you mentioned, graduated from seminary, and I think these people have completely perverted and distorted and manipulated the Christian message into something that is the very antithesis of certainly what Jesus preached in the Gospels.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are “these people”?
CHRIS HEDGES: These are—you know, they’re not—we use terms like “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” to describe them, and I think that those are incorrect terms. Traditional fundamentalists always called on believers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society, shun involvement in politics. Evangelical leaders like Billy Graham’s always warned followers to keep their distance from political power. He, of course, was burned by Richard Nixon, came to Nixon’s defense and then when it publicly came out that Nixon lied, it taught a lesson to Graham.
This is a new movement, as embodied by people like James Dobson or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, who call for the creation of a Christian state, who talk about attaining secular power. And they are more properly called dominionists or Christian reconstructionists, although it’s not a widespread term, but they’re certainly not traditional fundamentalists and not traditional evangelicals. They fused the language and iconography of the Christian religion with the worst forms of American nationalism and then created this sort of radical mutation, which has built alliances with powerful rightwing interests, including corporate interests, and made tremendous inroads over the last two decades into the corridors of power.
AMY GOODMAN: Why the term “dominionist”?
CHRIS HEDGES: It come out of Genesis, you know, where God gives humankind dominion over creation. It’s articulated by ideologues, such as Rousas Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer and others, and essentially is a new concept within the radical Christian right, and it’s used sparingly. And some dominionists don’t like the term, but I think it denotes or is probably a better term for denoting those people who want to take political power.
AMY GOODMAN: On the back of your book, Chris, is a quote from your professor at Harvard, Dr. James Luther Adams, who said that in a few decades we would all be fighting “Christian fascists.” Who was he, and why did he think this?
CHRIS HEDGES: James Luther Adams was my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School. He had spent the years 1935 and 1936 in Germany working with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Confessing Church or anti-Nazi church and eventually was picked up by the Gestapo and told to leave the country. He came back—and this was in the early 1980s, when I was in seminary—and saw the articulation of this new political religion, this religion that talked about seizing control of mainstream denominations, as well as institutions, creating a parallel media empire through Christian radio and broadcasting, and ultimately taking control of the government itself.
And he understood, in a visceral way, how when countries fall into despair—of course, this began—it was the time that began the assault on the American working class, which has been accelerated and essentially left tens of millions of people within our own country dispossessed—he understood how demagogues use that despair. And I think we can say there, in many ways, has been a kind of Weimarization of the American working class. And he saw what we were doing through globalization, what we were doing to our working class and our middle class, coupled with the rise of these so-called Christian demagogues, as a frightening and toxic combination, which, if left unchecked, would destroy our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you begin with Umberto Eco? And explain who he is.
CHRIS HEDGES: Umberto Eco is the great Italian writer—I mean, he wrote that very popular book, The Name of the Rose, and he had a nice little book of essays called Five Moral Pieces, and in it he writes about the salient qualities of what he calls “Ur-Fascism,” or eternal fascism. And I wanted to list those—I thought it was probably as good a list as I’d ever seen compiled on what the main tenets of fascism are—to begin the book, because my argument is that this is not a religious movement. Although it certainly depends on the support of many earnest, well-meaning, decent people who are religious, I would argue that they are manipulated not only, of course, to be fleeced for their own money, but essentially to give up moral choice and surrender to the authoritarian demands of these leaders to march forward and essentially dismantle our democratic state. And I think that when we look closely at what it is that this Christian right movement espouses, it does bear many similarities to, you know, the main pillars of fascist movements: the cult of masculinity, the war against—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “the cult of masculinity”?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the fact that, you know, they elevate male figures within the megachurches, who cannot be questioned, who speak directly for God. Any kind of questioning or self-criticism becomes essentially battling the forces of Satan. That power structure is to be replicated in the family. Much of this movement is about the disempowerment of women. Children have to be obedient. And so, that power structure of the family with the dominant male and everyone else submissive is replicated in the megachurches, which oftentimes—and I’ve been in many over the last two years—revolve around cults of personality.
When we look at the sort of empires that people like Pat Robertson run, you know, this man is worth hundreds of millions, some people say up to $1 billion, surrounded by bodyguards, flying around on private jets, investing in blood diamonds in Sierra Leone. He has rock star status. I mean, if you’ve ever been to an event where he appears, people are weeping and want to be touched by him. There is no question. He essentially runs a despotic little fiefdom.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the blood diamonds part.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, he uses the money, which he takes from, really, people who live on the fringes of American society and should not be mailing him their checks, in all sorts of very dirty investments in Africa. And one of them was essentially getting involved in the trade of diamonds essentially for weapons that rend Sierra Leone.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Chris Hedges. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, went to seminary and has written a number of books. His latest is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Chris Hedges. His latest book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. We were just talking about Pat Robertson. I wanted to go back to that famous quote of his. This had to do with foreign policy and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
PAT ROBERTSON: You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop, but this man is a terrific danger. This is in our sphere of influence, so we can’t let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine. We have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
AMY GOODMAN: Pat Robertson. Your response, Chris Hedges?
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s a deeply Christian message, calling for assassination. You know, I covered the war in Central America, and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell came down to support the murderous rampages of Rios Montt in Guatemala, the military dictatorship that were running death squads that were killing 800 to 1,000 people a month in El Salvador, and, of course, the Contras, whose main contribution in Nicaragua was walking into towns drunk out of their mind, raping the women and killing the men and burning the villages. And they describe these battles as essentially a war against Satan, against Satanic forces, godless communism that had to be defeated. There are no international boundaries in Satan’s kingdom, if you look at it from their ideology. I think that the kinds of the wholehearted support for genocidal killers in Central America, which Pat Robertson was one of the stalwarts, is a tip-off as to, you know, without legal restraints, what they would like to do within our own borders.
And I think that the quote or the clip that you just played is a perfect illustration of how dark the intentions of this movement is and how, if we don’t begin to stand up and fight back, if we believe that these people can be domesticated and brought into the political arena where they will act responsibly, we’re very, very naive. And we should all sit down, and as unpalatable as it is, and listen to Christian—so-called Christian radio and television to see the kinds of messages of hate and exclusion that they are spewing out over the airwaves.
AMY GOODMAN: The quote of Jerry Falwell right after September 11th that became quite famous: “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’” He was speaking on September 13, 2001, on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club program.
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right. And, you know, this is—I mean, essentially, when you follow the logical conclusion of the ideology they preach, there really are only two options for people who do not submit to their authority. And it’s about submission, because these people claim to speak for God and not only understand the will of God, but be able to carry it out. Either you convert, or you’re exterminated. That’s what the obsession with the End Times with the Rapture, which, by the way, is not in the Bible, is about. It is about instilling—it’s, of course, a fear-based movement, and it’s about saying, ultimately, if you do not give up control to us, you will be physically eradicated by a vengeful God. And that lust for violence, I think that sort of—you know, the notion, that final aesthetic being violence is very common to totalitarian movements, the belief that massive catastrophic violence can be used as a cleansing agent to purge the world. And that’s, you know, something that this movement bears in common with other despotic and frightening radical movements that we’ve seen over the past—throughout the past century.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about some of the meetings you attended, from the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation to the Evangelism Explosion that was a seminar taught by Dr. D. James Kennedy?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the Evangelism Explosion was a one-week seminar taught by Kennedy, was about certifying people to be able to go out and teach this conversion technique. And what was fascinating about it is how manipulative and dishonest it was. You know, what they do is essentially they cook the testimonies. They promise people that if they commit themselves to Christ, they can get rid of the deepest existential dreads of human existence: the fear of mortality, you know, grief, one of the—we were supposed to read testimonies. We would turn them into the teachers, and they would send them back. And it was always about, you know, I have 100% certainty that I know that if I die tomorrow, I will go to heaven. Or, I lost my son—one of the examples was—in the war in Vietnam, but I don’t grieve, because I know I’m going to meet him in heaven.
And they talked about targeting people who are vulnerable. They used a technique very common to cults. It’s called love-bombing—it’s a term taken from Margaret Singer—where you—three or four people go and you sort of focus intently on the person and are fascinated by everything that they say. You build false friendships. And eventually, of course, the goal is to draw them into these megachurches.
This movement talks about family, but it is the great destroyer of family. And I would stand up in these—or I would be in these meetings and see people stand up weeping, and they would be weeping for unsaved spouses or children, because once you get sucked into these organizations, your leisure time, your religious worship time, you end up becoming involved in groups, you’re essentially removed from your old community and placed into this authoritarian community, where there is no questioning of those above you. You’re often assigned—you’re called a baby Christian when you first come, and you’re assigned spiritual guides to teach you to think and act in the appropriate manner.
When I went to the National Religious Broadcasters Association in California, the most interesting thing about it was how these radical dominionists, these people who have built an alliance around the drive to create a Christian state, have taken over virtually all Christian radio and television stations. And there are traditional evangelicals who would like to step back from this political agenda, and they have been very ruthlessly brushed aside.
You saw it in the purging of the Southern Baptist Convention, when essentially dominionists like Richard Land took it over in 1980. There were many ministers who were very conservative and thought abortion was murder, were no friends to sort of gays and lesbians, but they didn’t buy into that political agenda, which of course has been fused with rapacious capitalism.
I mean, this movement talks about acculturating the society with a Christian religion. In fact, it’s the inverse. What they’ve done is acculturate the Christian religion with the worst aspects of American imperialism and American capitalism. And there’s that kind of uneasy alliance with many of these corporate interests. But it serves their turn. I mean, when you’re creating the corporate state, it’s very convenient to have an ideology that says, “Don’t worry. You don’t need health insurance, because if you have enough faith, Jesus will cure you. It doesn’t matter if all of your jobs are outsourced and there are no labor unions, because, you know, God takes care of his own. And not only that, but God will make you materially wealthy.” This is, you know, the gospel of prosperity. So, essentially, what we’ve seen is that fusion between those who want to build a corporate state and this ideological movement that thrusts believers who come out of deep despair into a world of magic and miracles and angels.
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