Larry Jacobs on the WCF: “We’ve Never Said we’re Against Anything”

The Deseret News reports on a planning meeting for next year’s World Congress of Families event in Utah:

The managing director of the World Congress of Families said the group has no animosity toward anyone but simply wants to affirm and defend the natural family.

“We’ve always focused on the positive,” Larry Jacobs told the Deseret News. “We’ve never said we’re against anything. Our focus is about why the natural family is better for society.

“We never go in with an agenda of, ‘We’re against this.’ It’s always about what we’re for, which is beauty, goodness and truth, and the natural family is where those start.”

That would be same Larry Jacobs who is infamous for his support for authoritarian anti-gay measures in Russia. Here he is in 2013, expounding on his theme with “End Times” conspiracy theorist Rick Wiles:

Jacobs: The Russians might be the Christian saviors to the world; at the UN they really are the ones standing up for these traditional values of family and faith.

Wiles: Well look the city government of Moscow passed a 100 year ban on gay parades.

Jacobs: And the homosexual propaganda—the law in the Russian Duma it passed on first reading, it would ban propaganda to minors, preventing them from corrupting children. What a great idea and the rest of Europe is going the other way, legalizing LGBT propaganda.

How could anyone have formed the impression that Jacobs not in fact “always focused on the positive”?

The Deseret News also has a quote from the CEO of the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, which will be hosting next year’s meeting:

Acting Sutherland CEO Stanford Swim said the planning and the efforts of the World Congress of Families is “about as important a work as is being done anywhere.”

Swim took charge of the Sutherland Institute after “different visions” led to the departure of Paul Mero in August; Mero previously co-wrote The Natural Family: A Manifesto, with the WCF’s founder, Allan C. Carlson. Stanford is the son of the late Gaylord Swim, who founded the Institute, and he is the President of the GFC Foundation (“serving God, Family, and Country”), which provides grants to the Sutherland Institute. SourceWatch has some further background here, noting links to the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity; there’s also a rather more positive profile at Philanthropy Roundtable.

The WCF’s plan to meet in Utah has generated some controversy.

Abuse of Children Accused of Witchcraft in UK Cited in USA as Evidence of Witchcraft

From Jennifer LeClaire, news editor at Charisma News:

It started a little later than usual, but spiritual witchcraft is rising—and rising rapidly—in South Florida this October. My community is home to a large population of witches, pagans, Wiccans and other heathens who practice one form of witchcraft or another. Your community may not have palm trees and beaches, but it’s likely got a few witches, pagans, Wiccans and heathens practicing witchcraft.

A quick scan of the latest news reveals that reports of witchcraft-related child abuse are on the rise in London; two children were tortured and dumped on the streets over witchcraft in Akwa Ibom; a pastor who runs several churches in Kiambu and Meru was found practicing witchcraft; authorities have tied Texas drug smugglers to witchcraft, cartels and a house explosion; and seven people accused of witchcraft were burned to death in Tanzania.

It’s shame that LeClaire’s “quick scan” apparently didn’t involve any actual absorption of content, since  several of those articles are actually salutary warnings against the kind of scaremongering that she’s promoting.

Anyone who simply takes LeClaire at her word will come away from the article believing that witches are abusing children in London and Nigeria, when in fact what’s actually going on is that children are being abused and abandoned after being falsely accused of witchcraft. Further, many of these accusations are the result of teachings that have gained ground within African churches (most famously in Nigeria through the “ministry” of Helen Ukpabio). LeClaire would be better employed dealing with this urgent problem among her co-religionists, rather than attempting to whip up suspicion against harmless Wiccans in South Florida.

However, it is possible that LeClaire has been misled by some regrettably confusing headlines in the UK media. These include “Rise in cases of ritual child abuse linked to witchcraft beliefs reported, say police” (the PA); “Witchcraft and ritual child abuse cases rise in London” (the BBC); and “Ritual child abuse linked to witchcraft on the rise in the UK” (the Daily Mail).

Such headlines are accurate, insofar as children are indeed being subjected to abusive “deliverance” rites to supposedly “cure” them of witchcraft; but a casual and uninformed reader will assume that such statements in fact refer to rituals that are being performed by witches. Among LeClaire’s core readership, this in turn risks resurrecting the “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic of the 1980s that caused so much needless suffering.

But even if we allow an honest mistake here, what about her example from Tanzania? According to the source she cites (an AFP report):

A local rights group, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), has estimated as many as 500 “witches” are lynched every year, based on reports that counted some 3,000 people killed between 2005 and 2011.

Many of those killed were elderly women, the centre said.

The rights group said some are targeted because they have red eyes — seen as a feared sign of witchcraft, even if they in fact that is the result from the use of dung as cooking fuel in impoverished communities.

It’s grotesque that LeClaire would promote news of these deaths, not as a warning that witchcraft accusations are an absolute bane, but as evidence that “Your community… [has] likely got a few witches, pagans, Wiccans and heathens practicing witchcraft.”

No, 4-Year-Olds in Canada Are Not Being Taught “How to Behead”

A lurid headline at WND:

Canada Mosque Teaches 4-Year-Olds How To Behead

The obvious implication is that very young children are being recruited to perform what has now become the most notorious killing method of Jihadi fanatics in Syria and Iraq. As WND hack Chelsea Schilling explains:

Video footage of the Islamic Jaffari Center in Thornhill, Ontario, shows children as young as 4 years old watching and learning to conduct beheadings in a play that reportedly took place two years ago.

The video was featured on the Canada’s Sun News Network television program, “Byline with Brian Lilley.”

…News of the mock beheading comes only a week after a Muslim convert beheaded a woman at an Oklahoma company.

However:

Toronto Sun columnist and liberal activist Tarek Fatah, author of “The Jew is Not My Enemy: Unveiling the Myths that Fuel Muslim Anti-Semitism,” explained that the play depicts the martyrdom of Muhammad’s grandson and brother.

In other words, the character carrying out the beheadings is the villain of the story. And it’s clear from the video that the child actor has not in fact learnt “to conduct beheadings”: he stands poised next to the victim with a toy sword or stick, but the act itself is not depicted. This makes as much sense as saying that children playing Roman soldiers in a Passion Play have been taught how to nail someone to a piece of wood.

Fatah knows that the report’s premise is nonsense, but he doesn’t want to disoblige his conservative interviewer. As a compromise, he instead focuses on the general sanguinary nature of the subject matter:

Fatah said he doesn’t believe the parents and teachers at the Islamic Jaffari Center were “trying to make the kids into radicals.”

“After all, these are the victims of radicals,” he said. “Most Shiite Muslims today are being slaughtered by fellow Muslims. So that context has to be there. This was not some ISIS or al-Qaida or Taliban type of people”

Lilly interrupted, “They are acting out history. But you can see from Canadian eyes, though, why you look at this and go, this is strange, especially considering the history of this mosque.”

Fatah replied, “I know. I think – how do I put it most kindly? – I think somebody needs to talk to them and try to make them understand that celebrating death, no matter of whom [sic], is a bizarre experience. It desensitizes bloodshed among kids.”

That’s a valid opener for a debate – but it doesn’t support the headline’s claim. And the problem of “desensitization” is actually more in evidence in comments below the article:

 I suggest we take thousands of pigs and infect them with the Ebola virus and send them to all the muslim communities of the world and some goats too. They like goats and sheep, espescially the males. Hopefully the virus will spread throughout the muslim world. It’s the only way to get rid of them.

Etc…

Chinese “Angel” Used To Promote Nigerian Witch Hysteria

Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe has drawn attention to a Facebook post by a certain Pastor I.C. Ezeugwu, in which Ezeugwu describes an event he held in “a remote village in Edo State”:

I titled the crusade “Operation Kill the Witches”. This title was necessitated as a result of the activities of witches in that village which included destroying the destinies of young people.

…Ladies and gentlemen, JESUS rules the world. By the anointing of God upon my life and by the power in the Blood of Jesus, I release your destinies and your glory, and I command any hand holding your progress and advancement in life to wither in the name of Jesus. Any witches/wizards and any wicked uncle/aunties, any man/woman holding your destiny and glory, let the fire from heaven consume and destroy them one after the other in the mighty name of Jesus.

The post is dated from August 2013, although it continues to garner “Amen” comments. As of today, the post has 9,631 “Likes” and 3,775 “Shares”

Ezeugwu’s post is illustrated with a photo of what appears to be a dead human figure with wings; presumably, this is supposed “evidence” of the existence of witches:

Angel I.C. Ezeugwu

That’s not an image I have seen before, although apparently it’s been doing the rounds for a while; in May 2013, Pulse234 published it under the heading: “PHOTO: Witch Woman With Wings: Real or Fake?

It  in fact shows an art piece called Angel. It was created in 2008 by two Chinese artists, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. The photo was taken while the model was on display at the Saatchi Gallery in London. It’s a “life size sculpture in fibre-reinforced polymer and silica gel”.

Ted Cruz Tells Middle East Christians To “Stand With Israel”

From Tristyn Bloom at the Daily Caller:

Sen. Ted Cruz was booed offstage at a conference for Middle Eastern Christians Wednesday night after saying that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”

…”If you will not stand with Israel and the Jews,” he said. “Then I will not stand with you. Good night, and God bless.” And with that, he walked off the stage.

The report also includes a short video.

Cruz was speaking at the Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner of In Defense of Christians, a new initiative to highlight the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East and Sudan. The organisation groups “Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories” together as “the Holy Land”; its president is a Lebanese businessman named Toufic Baaklini, and the Board of Advisors ranges from James Zogby through to John Ashcroft. According to Cruz’s own account:

“I told the attendees that those who hate Israel also hate America,” Cruz said. “That those who hate Jews also hate Christians. And that anyone who hates Israel and the Jewish people is not following the teachings of Christ. These statements were met with angry boos. I went on to tell the crowd that Christians in the Middle East have no better friend than Israel. That Christians can practice their faith free of persecution in Israel. And that ISIS, al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, along with their state sponsors in Syria and Iran, are all part of the same cancer, murdering Christians and Jews alike. Hate is hate, and murder is murder.”

Baaklini has now issued a statement about the disruption:

“As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few wedding crashers.’ In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.

“Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles.  They were made no longer welcome…”

Prior to the event, the Washington Free Beacon had already drawn attention to “pro-Hezbollah and pro-Assad speakers” billed to appear, also including quotes from Rai.

The fiasco brings into sharp relief some of the tensions around support for Christian minorities in the Middle East. For a large segment of US Christianity, support for Israel and philo-Semitism are now central to religious belief and activism: but these priorities reflect a particular ideological/political and cultural outlook that reflects American society today. But this is very different from the context of Christians living in traditional Middle Eastern societies,  particularly those belonging to local denominations and churches less connected with the West. Strands of historic Christian anti-Jewish discourse are less likely to have been expunged, and even where ancient religious prejudice against Jews is not an operative factor, there’s no reason why the automatic support for Israel we find with Christian Zionism would follow.

There’s also a more pertinent explanation for why Cruz’s speech was not well received; as the Daily Caller article (perhaps surprisingly) notes:

Many Christians in the Middle East take issue with Israeli military policy, which has made life for Palestinian Christians in their homeland very difficult, and driven many from their homes. “Israel’s policies have led to demographic pressure that’s made the West Bank and Gaza far more Muslim than in 1948,” explained one Middle East analyst.

I’m reminded of an incident from 2006, when Reps. Joseph Crowley and Michael McCaul withdrew a draft resolution on the plight of Palestinian Christians, rather than acknowledge Palestinian complaints about the occupation as a factor in their decline.

So who will Middle East Christians turn to, if Americans demand a form of Christian Zionism in return for solidarity? A 2013 report from Vatican Insider, describing “Russia’s ‘Protectorate’ over Middle East Christians“, has the obvious answer.

UPDATE: I’ve just come across an article in the Algemeiner by CAMERA’s Dexter Van Zile that appeared a couple of days ago; Van Zile draws attention to concerns from the Middle East Christian Committee (MECHRIC) that the conference will “promote support for Assad in Syria and normalization with the Mullahs in Iran”, and claims that a weak section on Iran was added to the IDC site only after CAMERA noted its absence. Further:

The conference has also attracted the attention and generated some criticism in a French language newspaper, L’Orient Le Jour. On August 28, the paper published an article asking if the summit was intended to promote the interests of Tehran and Damascus.

The paper reported that one of the backers of IDC’s conference was Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese businessman who was born in Nigeria and made his fortune in that country.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Chagoury was close to Nigeria’s military dictator Sani Abacha, and that because of his association, Abacha, “helped him land lucrative business contracts in construction and other areas.” After Abacha’s death, Chagoury was forced to return $300 million to that country to unfreeze his bank accounts.

The article is headlined “Has Pro-Christian Conference Been Hijacked by Pro-Iran/Hezbollah Dhimmis?” The word “Dhimmi” here is of course polemical hyperbole, deployed to suggest that the participants are making choices due to internalized oppression or coercion.

UPDATE 2: Interesting commentary from Matt K. Lewis, drawing on Russ Douhat:

Douthat is suggesting that the crowd wasn’t booing Israel, instead, they were booing Cruz for playing politics — for having the audacity to lecture them about their own business.

Remember that Republican debate where the crowd booed a gay soldier? The optics were horrible, but here’s what I always suspected. I always suspected that they weren’t booing the soldier so much as they were booing the media for setting them up.

They were booing the media for the unseemly way they were using this soldier to advance the notion that conservatives are anti-gay. They were booing the media for focusing on this one wedge issue when there are so many important issues. They were booing the media for framing the debate when it should really be up to Republicans to select their nominee. They were booing because they were being used as a pawn — as a backdrop — to make a larger point (at their expense, no less).

Yakunin Outfit Hides Involvement of Larry Jacobs and Don Feder in Conference Committee

At Mother Jones, Hannah Levintova has an interesting detail about what happened when she asked the World Congress of Families about its involvement with a “Large Families: The Future of Humanity” conference currently taking place in Moscow:

 WCF managing director Larry Jacobs and WCF communications director Don Feder were listed on the forum’s seven-member organizing committee.

As of last Friday, when Mother Jones asked WCF for comment, Jacob and Feder were still on the list of organizers. By Sunday, the committee list had disappeared from both the English and Russian versions of the website of the Istoki Fund, an endowment run by Vladimir Yakunin, a close adviser to President Vladimir Putin who codirects several of the conference’s sponsoring organizations. The original page, including the committee list, is archived here. A copy of the original press release on the site of another Yakunin-affiliated conference sponsor has also vanished. (Here’s the Russian original.)

Levintova previously noted the members of the committee here; they include the billionaire businessman Konstantin Malofeev (blogged here) and Archpriest Dmitri Smirnov, who heads the Moscow Patriarch’s commission on the family.

The conference had originally been scheduled as a WCF event, although the WCF formally withdrew due to the “geopolitical situation”. Jacobs issued a statement a few days ago:

The Russian Organizing Committee determined they wanted to go ahead a conference anyway. We understand, as they do, that the conference that convenes this week in Moscow is not a part of the World Congress of Families.

A few World Congress of Families personnel plan on attending the conference as individuals and supporting our Russian civil society friends who are working to protect the unborn child and the natural family. Though we will be present, as was agreed by the International Planning Committee many months ago, the WCF is not financially supporting the conference in Moscow this week and we have not lent our name to what should be a very interesting conference.

So why the need to scrub the details from the Istoki Fund? Levintova notes a problem with Yakunin and with one of the other organisers, Elena Mizulina:

Yakunin and Mizulina are currently on [Office of Foreign Assets and Control]‘s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list. Once someone is on the list, American citizens and businesses “are generally prohibited from dealing with them,” according to OFAC, which administers economic and trade sanctions.

The Human Rights Campaign (the USA’s “largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization”) has called on the US Treasury to investigate.

Mizulina previously featured on this blog last year, after she became the inspiration for a sexually explicit painting by Konstantin Altunin. The AP describes her as “Vladimir Putin’s new morality crusader, spearheading efforts to curb gay rights, punish online cursing and impose a tax on divorce.” Yakunin, meanwhile, has appeared on numerous occasions; alongside his links to US religious conservatives through the WCF, his World Public Forum initiative has built links with international academics, religious figures, and some other more eccentric characters.

The Moscow Times has some details of the conference itself; there are few surprises:

In choosing conservative values, Russia represents “the final hope” for the modern world, which has been corrupted by the Western debauchery of individualism, consumerism and globalization, participants of a Moscow forum agreed Wednesday.

…Participants lashed out against abortion, same-sex marriage and gay pride parades as threats to Russia’s traditional spiritual core.

President Vladimir Putin sent a greeting to participants via an official from his administration. In his message, Putin spoke about the “large-scale demographic crisis” that civilization faces and “the erosion of moral values” around the world.

UPDATE: Right Wing Watch has some further details, including a link to the schedule. RWW notes in particular the presence of Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, and the far-right French politician Aymeric Chauprade.

The line-up also includes other Americans, such as Austin Ruse (who has his own links with Yakunin and Malofeev) and Evelyn Beahr of Movieguide (Ted Baehr’s daughter), and participants from western Europe, Africa, China, and Iran. There are also two speakers from Ukraine: Sergey Belyakov of the Parents’ Committee of Ukraine, will speak on “Family Policy in Ukraine: Conclusions and Warnings for Russia”, while Bishop Panteleimon Povoroznyuk will discuss “Family Crisis in the Modern Ukraine”.

Keeping the British end up are Ben Harris-Quinney of the Bow Group, and Thomas Ward of the National Association of Catholic Families and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Christian Zionist Elvis Drama Sees Poor Reviews and Box-Office Takings

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Faith-based Elvis musical drama The Identical bombed at the North American box office, falling outside the top 10 with $1.91 million. The independent movie cost more than $32 million to make and market.

Identical is playing in 1,956 theaters. If the theater count was rounded up, its debut would mark the third-worst opening of all time for a film playing in 2,000 or more locations, not accounting for inflation…

The story concerns not Presley himself, but rather a fictional “Drexel Hemsley” character whose twin brother is adopted by a Tennessee preacher played by Ray Liotta.

The film currently has 53 “rotten” reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, versus just two “fresh” positive assessments. And the positive reviews damn with faint praise: the Hollywood Reporter itself describes the film as “passably palatable”.

The film has, however, been heavily promoted by Drew Zahn at WND. In a piece last week, Zahn described it as a “Hollywood Hit”, and highlighted a scene set in 1967 in which Ray Liotta, playing a Tennessee preacher, urges support for Israel during the Six-Day War:

Liotta’s character tells his 1967 congregation why the war a world away is so important: “What does that have to do with the Christian church in the state of Tennessee? Everything! It has to do with everything! We are commanded by the Word of God to give Him no rest from our prayers. For who? Today for Israel. If we love God we must love what God loves, and God loves his chosen people!”

The article includes an embedded video, in which executive producer Yochanan Marcellino (the director’s father) expands portentously on the same theme:

…It is our responsibility now as it was then [in 1967] for Zion’s sake, not to be silent. We are commanded in Scripture to give God no rest from our prayers for Israel. I encourage you to hear God’s heart for his chosen people, and the miracle he performs for Israel during the Six-Day War.

Alas, however, Zahn’s follow up piece on the “Hollywood Hit” is less up-beat: under the headline “Christians Sabotage Gospel in Hollywood”, the author rebukes Christians for failing to support the film, and warns that the church needs to “get serious about culture war”:

The moviemakers spent tens of millions marketing this film – a budget most Christian movies could only dream about – through churches, Christian radio and other key outlets. The movie stars big Hollywood names like Ashley Judd, Seth Green and Ray Liotta… It also delivers a profoundly Christian message in the context of a story that you don’t have to be a pew-sitter to love.

In other words, it’s just the kind of film that could take Christ outside the church walls. All it needs to succeed and to see more films like it made, to see the candle become a blaze in our culture, is for Christians to go see it. That’s it.

But even Zahn is forced to concede that the film “has some flaws”.

The film is produced by City of Peace Films, of Nashville. Marcellino also has an associated company, City of Peace Media, which in 2012 brought together various Christian singers for a CD called iStandforIsrael (tagline: “for love of God and country”).

Helen Ukpabio: Spiritual Lawfare

From the British Humanist Association:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) are being sued by the wealthy evangelical preacher and ‘witch hunter’ Helen Ukpabio who has dubbed herself a ‘Lady Apostle’. Mrs Ukpabio claims to have expertise in identifying children and adults who are possessed with witchcraft spirits and in how they can be ‘delivered’ from those spirits. Her lawyers have informed the BHA and WHRIN that she is launching a legal case against them due to their criticism of her teachings and methods.

…Her legal case against the BHA is based on Mrs Ukpabio’s stating that she wrote that a child ‘under the age of two’ who is ‘possessed with black, red and vampire witchcraft spirits’ can be identified by features such as s/he ‘screams at night, cries, is always feverish, suddenly deteriorates in health, puts up an attitude of fear, and may not feed very well.’ Her teachings are to the effect that babies under the age of two who exhibit signs of illness or standard, entirely normal childhood behaviour (such as crying, not feeding well, screaming at night, having a fever) may be possessed by vampire witchcraft spirits. She also teaches that children who stamp their feet may be ‘trying to make signs… to communicate with gnomes, the witchcraft spirit in charge of the earth.’ Ukpabio claims that the BHA misrepresented her by saying that she ascribed these symptoms to Satanic possession and hence has damaged her reputation and livelihood to the sum of half a billion pounds.

…Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN, commented, ‘This court case is the latest in a long line of unsuccessful legal actions that Helen Ukpabio has pursued against me and other human rights activists. Previous cases were thrown out of court in Nigeria but this time she is looking to take action in a UK court. I have no doubt that a judge in the UK will reach the same conclusion as those in Nigeria.’

(Actually, Ukpabio doesn’t just “dub herself” an apostle; she was consecrated in a special ceremony in 2010, which I wrote about here).

I discussed Ukpabio’s previous court cases here and here; her targets have included the actress Sophie Okonedo, because she narrated the Channel 4 documentary about child-witch accusations in Nigeria that brought Ukpabio to wide international attention in 2008.

As far as I am aware, the largest libel payout in British legal history remains the £1.5 million that was awarded to Lord Aldington in 1989 – and that was in an age before measures were taken to prevent excessive awards. Ukpabio’s claim is more than 300 times that amount, and if successful would be most sensational libel award in British (and perhaps world) legal history. So, which distinguished libel specialist is Ukpabio using? Carter-Ruck, perhaps? Or Schillings, maybe?

The Independent has the details:

In a letter sent to the BHA’s lawyers last Thursday, solicitors acting for the controversial preacher accused the charity of causing “members of the public to regard our client as an evil woman” with the damage to her reputation resulting in a “huge loss of incomes to her churches”. The letter, from London-based Graceland Solicitors, claims Mrs Ukpadio is “a Christian leader of international repute known and respected in many countries of the world”.

Graceland has an office above a beauty salon in Woolwich, and also shop-front premises in Lewisham – an image of the Lewisham chambers can be seen here. According to the company’s website, it was founded in 2006 and specialises in “Immigration Matters, Housing, Employments [sic], Family / Divorce, Crime, Traffic Offences”. The site does not name the actual solicitors at the offices, although other sites indicate that the proprietor is a certain Adolph Okoro.

Putin Confidant Vladimir Yakunin and Helga Zepp-LaRouche Attend “Cultural Roundtable” In China

Vladimir Yakunin, who runs Russia’s railways, is currently banned from many countries in the west due to his membership of Putin’s inner circle. No such trouble in China, though:

On the morning of 24th August, “One belt one road” cultural roundtable conference hosted by China Song Ching Ling Foundation and Lanzhou University opened. Nearly a hundred of experts and scholars from 21 countries including Russia, the United States, Japan, India, Thailand, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria, Norway, Australia attended. They expressed their views on the way to mobilize the local organizations and colleges and universities in order to promote the exchange and cooperation among countries along the silk roads and reached common ideas towards a peaceful development, exchange, mutual learning, cooperation and win-win situation among the related countries. 

…Experts and professors at home and abroad delivered keynote speeches after the opening ceremony. … ‘Economic Belt Across the Eurasian’ by Yakunin, the president of JSC Russian Railways, chairman and founder of public forum of World Civilization…

Yakunin’s “World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations” has featured on this blog a number of times;  it has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures), and it devotes its energies to “dialogue” and promoting a “multi-polar world”. For some reason, the views and analysis it promotes always seems to coincide with Russian interests.

Yakunin’s presence in China appears to be part of an ongoing association; a WPF event in Rhodes in 2012 included a delegation of Chinese academics, again organized through the Soong Ching Ling Foundation.

Among those present at Lanzhou, curiously, was Helga Zepp-LaRouche, wife of Lyndon LaRouche. According to LaRouchePac:

Helga Zepp-LaRouche, the founder and head of the Schiller Institute in Germany, was a significant participant in an international conference on the New Silk Road that was held Aug. 25 and 26 at Lanzhou University in Gansu province in northwest China, on the subject of the New Silk Road.

…Mrs. Zepp-LaRouche addressed the conference on the subject of “The Silk Road in the 21st century is the cornerstone of peace and order.”

Zepp-LaRouche’s presence may have been facilitated by Yakunin; she has spoken at World Public Forum events, and in 2009 LaRouchePac claimed that Yakunin had endorsed and promoted Lyndon LaRouche’s economic views:

Vladimir Yakunin, the CEO of Russian Railways and a long-time associate of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said in an October 16 interview with the Baltic Information Agency (BaltInfo), that American economist Lyndon LaRouche’s warnings of a systemic global crisis prepared him and his company for what has happened during the past three years.

…In February of this year, Yakunin took the same message to a conference at the London School of Economics, where he again named LaRouche as the “very rare” economist who predicted the collapse of the world financial bubble.

… LaRouche and his wife, Schiller Institute founder Helga Zepp-LaRouche, were speakers at the 7th annual Rhodes Forum, held last week.

FBI Files On Paul Crouch Prompt Sensationalised Reports

Muckrock has posted FBI files relating to the late televangelist Paul Crouch:

Requested by long-time MuckRock user RobbyD, the file reveals the laundry list of Crouch’s activities the FBI was monitoring or even investigating. Though the file is heavily redacted, it’s intact enough to describe the FBI’s investigations into some of his exploits, whose findings are mostly based on a host of phone calls to and from Trinity Broadcasting Network with some pretty sketchy players.

The files show that in 1997 the Italian Revenue Service (the GDF) was investigating Teletevere, TBN’s Italian operation, over “possible violation of the Italian Mammi Law which prohibits majority foreign ownership of Italian broadcasting companies” and “the legality of religious broadcasts promoting healing powers followed by the solicitation of donations from viewers”. The FBI provided the GDF with various background details, including the claim that an apparent subsidiary, called CHLC, had allegedly made false financial statements in the early 1980s relating to “pre-billing” (Muckrock incorrectly suggests this was revealed as part of the GDF’s investigation).

Further, however:

The file mentions phone contact between TBN and the Sons of Italy Lodge in the Bronx, NY. You might be thinking that this is pretty shaky evidence to suggest Crouch was in contact with the mob, but considering the fact that the phone record was included in a subsection of the infamous Bronx mobster Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s FBI file, it’s pretty clear that the FBI was drawing some kind of connection.

MuckRock links this rather obscure and tenuous connection to Gigante with TBN’s business affairs in Italy, although there’s nothing in the original documents to justify doing so. But that’s just the start of it:

Numerous sections of the document mention TBN’s phone communications with an unnamed agent who was “recruited by the East German Intelligence Service.” The file later describes that the man believed to have been recruited by East Germany was a New York attorney who called TBN repeatedly between April and September of 1986… Other sketchy phone calls that went in and out of TBN over the years were from a Hungarian computer programmer whom TBN sponsored for U.S. citizenship, and phone calls from a number in Omaha to the TBN line which were documented in a separate FBI narcotics transfer investigation. 

We don’t know who made or took these calls at TBN, or what they were about. The New York attorney’s day job would have brought him into innocent contact with hundreds of individuals and businesses – does that mean they were all involved with “East German spying”?

One document provided to Italian authorities for background notes a number of subjects, and includes the following:

199H-LA-3499: Paul Crouch is the subject of this case which is an IT-PLO investigation. [REDACTED] was was initiated 8/11/87 based on reporting that Paul Crouch, along with Reverend Earl Paulk, [REDACTED] and Oral Roberts, were anti-Semitic and white supremacists. Crouch and the others were supposedly receiving funds from the PLO to “run guns.” The closing serial for this case is serial 6 and is dated 10/8/87.

A handwritten note under this adds: “NOT UPLOADED! NO NEW LEADS”! The second page of the document adds that

TBS [sic] was also the subscriber of a number provided in response to a Balitmore airtel dated 12/16/85, captioned ISLAMIC EDUCATION CENTER (IEC); IT-IRAN.

This particular detail seems to have been mentioned because the IEC was of interest to the FBI in 1985 for some other reason (apparently to do with Iran); the Muckrock article links this to the alleged “gun running”, although again the source itself doesn’t do so.

But the whole story lacks credibility. How exactly would TBN “run guns”? And the “anti-Semitic and white supremacist” accusation is completely off-base; I expect the anonymous accuser was inspired by an outdated and stereotypical view of white fundamentalist preachers derived from the likes of Gerald L.K. Smith. It’s unsustainable in all three cases, and Crouch in particular was an ardent Christian Zionist who strongly supported Israel.

It’s frequently intriguing and informative to see private files that reveal how the authorities gathered intelligence on a public figure; but the temptation to get carried away and sensationalise ought to be resisted. MuckRock‘s piece has also been picked up by Raw Story, under the headline “FBI Files Link Christian TV’s Paul Crouch to Italian Mob, Palestinian Gun Trafficking.”