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Rhodes: Papanicolaou and Jerry Boykin Induct Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff Into Chivalric Order

At Gates of Vienna, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff recounts a recent visit to Rhodes, where she was invested as a “Dame of Grace of the Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Knights of Malta — The Ecumenical Order”:

In March of this year, during the launch of “The United West”, I had the great pleasure of sitting next to the Grand Master of the Order of St. John, Nicholas Papanicolaou. After my speech, Mr. Papanicolaou invited me to join the Order in recognition of my efforts to inform the public about the Islamization of the West, in particular that of Europe. It was an invitation I immediately accepted.

Sabaditsch-Wolff spoke at an English Defence League rally in February, and in June she signed a letter rebuking Pamela Geller for (temporarily) repudiating the organisation; the EDL website is publicising the event under the headline “Friend of the EDL, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, Honoured by Knights Hospitallers in Rhodes”. Also in February, Sabaditsch-Wolff was found guilty by an Austrian court of  “denigrating the teachings of a legally recognised religion” for denouncing Muhammad as a paedophile.

Papanicolaou and his “Order” have featured on this blog previously: while he is the “Grand Master”, the “Grand Chancellor” is none other than General William “Jerry” Boykin, who back in August was boasting about how Rick Perry had “very humbly stood before” a group of evangelical leaders, which included himself, to explain that his high-profile “Response” prayer event was “not a political ploy” (Perry announced his Presidential bid a few days after the event). Boykin can be seen in a picture posted as part of the Gates of Vienna report, and his “Grand Chancellor” title appears in the order of service.

Another member of the Order, listed as “Deputy Member of the Supreme Council”, is the neo-Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner, and Joyner claims that his books are in part responsible for a “spiritual renewal” in the Order. Boykin and Papanicolaou are in turn both members of Joyner’s “Oak Initiative” Christian Right organisation, and Papanicolaou recently wrote a book for the Oak Initiative’s publishing house, called Islam vs the United States. Joyner is a neo-Pentecostal, and back in March,  following the Fukushima earthquake, he prophesied economic meltdown in the USA and an earthquake in California.

The “Ecumenical Order” has no connection with the better-known Roman Catholic Knights of Malta, properly known as the “Sovereign Military Order of Malta”. Sabaditsch-Wolff reports that

SMOM very recently lost a lawsuit in a United States court against the Order of St. John. Not only was the Order of St. John vindicated, but SMOM also lost all of its copyrights in the United States. 

The “International Headquarters of the Order, and Seat of the Supreme Council” is given as “Castello Dei Baroni Wardija SPB 07, Malta GC”, although the contact address is the less imposing “Grand Magisterial Chancery, 700 South Dixie Hwy, Suite 107, West Palm Beach, Fl. 33401”. The organisation has an Italian-language website here, and two English-language websites here and here.

I previously blogged on the world of “chivalric orders” here.

Footnote: A further odd connection is that Papanicolaou is also a co-founder of an organisation called the “World Public Forum”, which held a “Dialogue of Civilizations” conference on Rhodes just a few days after the investiture. Curiously, however, Papanicolaou was not listed as being involved in this event, despite being on the island at around the same time [UPDATE: A photo on the WPF shows that he was present].

The World Public Forum exists in a rather different milieu from the US Christian Right and “counter-jihad” polemics: it attracts international mainstream academic, religious, and political figures, and Papanicolaou’s fellow co-founder is Vladimir Yakunin, who runs Russia’s railways and is a confidante of Vladimir Putin. Yakunin made a speech at the conference, noting “incompatibility between the neo-liberal interpretation of the system of human rights and the system of human values”, and that “the universal urge to have the ‘freedom’ to say ‘anything and in any form’ has a temporary character and is beginning to fade away”.

Telegraph: “2,000 Terrorist Plotters” in UK, 200 “Actively Planning Suicide Attacks”

From Sean Rayment at the Telegraph:

At least 200 potential terrorists are actively planning suicide attacks while living freely in Britain, intelligence chiefs have warned ministers.

A senior intelligence source has revealed that the figure is a “conservative” estimate of the threat facing the country from UK-based Islamist suicide bombers.

The would-be killers are among 2,000 extremists who the security services have said are based in Britain and actively planning terrorist activity of some kind.

The figures are contained within a secret government report on the “enduring terrorist threat” facing the UK from al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations, The Sunday Telegraph has been told.

…The 200 British residents thought to be planning suicide attacks, either within the UK or overseas, represent one in 10 of the wider group of 2,000 terrorist plotters.

These figures have been widely repeated in other newspapers.

Unfortunately, the Telegraph tells us nothing about the “secret government” report’s methodology. Where has the figure of “2,000 terrorist plotters” come from? Is that another “estimate”, or are 2,000 persons currently under surveillance? If the latter, why haven’t there been more arrests? If the former, on what is the estimate based? And what’s the basis for extrapolating from this figure to “one in 10” extremists supposedly “planning suicide attacks”?

Of course, it would be foolish to dismiss the report out of hand. We’ve had one terrorist outrage in the UK already, and other plots have been disrupted: the “hook” for the above is six arrests in Birmingham. It’s also obvious that a journalist handling classified information has to take some care not to compromise security operations. But what we’ve been given is so vague as to be near useless: just enough information has been leaked to make us all feel alarmed, while denying us any context which would allow any kind of independent assessment (much less think sensibly about counter-measures).

One also wonders how much of Rayment’s report has come from the horse’s mouth and how much has perhaps come second-hand via a minister. Coming in the wake of so many duff media reports about terrorism (for example, “breast implant bombs“, “HIV bombs“, and “Terror Target Sugar“), this simply will not do.

UPDATE: Yorkshire Ranter points out that the “2,000” figure has in fact been in the public domain for at least four years. From the BBC on 5 November 2007:

There are at least 2,000 people in the UK who pose a threat to national security because of their support for terrorism, the head of MI5 has said.

Jonathan Evans said there had been a rise of 400 since November 2006.

So, either there’s the same number of terror-supporters now as there was then, which ought to be of interest in itself, or the Telegraph‘s figure is based on data that’s four years old and derives from a public speech rather than a secret report.

“CE” Purged from Daily Mail Article

That was spotted by Angry Mob, who observes:

Initially they updated it to BC, rather than AD…

Brilliant.

Although credited to “Daily Mail Reporter”, the article is actually a pared-down cut-and-pasted press release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

As readers may recall, the Mail on Sunday was just last week at the forefront of a campaign to denounce the willingness of BBC to allow the use of “BCE” and “CE” as being part of an atheist-Muslim plot against Christianity in Britain.

Warming to his earlier success on this topic, Mail hack Chris Hastings is now the paper’s BCE/CE-Finder General, and in a follow-up article he reveals the grim discovery that:

The Mail on Sunday has established that dozens of universities, museums, leading historians and even the retailer W H Smith have either dropped BC and AD entirely or they are using it alongside the alternative BCE and CE system.

Hastings quotes a “spokesman for the Department for Education” who prefers BC/AD, which apparently means “embarrassment” for the BBC and warrants the ludicrous headline “Government to save Year of our Lord from BBC’s ‘Common Era'”.

However, while the use of BCE/CE is to be generally deplored, the Mail‘s Melanie Phillips has decreed an exemption for Jews:

along with many other Jewish people I sometimes use CE and BCE since the terms BC and AD are not appropriate to me.

Interview with New EDL Jewish Division Leader

A website called European Son has an interview with James Cohen, the new head of the English Defence League’s Jewish Division (Roberta Moore stepped down in June, complaining of anti-Semitism, and links with the main EDL have been strained). Cohen expounds on how the British government has been plotting to destroy “British values”, and on the EDL’s support for Israel. As for the far-right element:

ES: Well, but, as I’m sure you know, there have been many, many photographs of EDL members giving Nazi salutes. Combat 18 [a violent neo-Nazi group] has turned up to some of their demonstrations. So, what do you say to that? That doesn’t seem to be a great environment for Jews.

JC: Some of that I’ve already covered. Certainly since the EDL is the only game there is, you’re going to get all kinds of Nazis that join it. I’m sure there are all kinds of communists in Labour. But, a lot of those pictures are just guys hailing taxis, and waving at friends.

ES: But some of them were certainly not that. Some of them were certainly people giving Nazi salutes.

JC: Yes, there certainly were.

ES: So, you don’t think that represents the EDL?

JC: I know it doesn’t. As I say, the EDL is a very loose group; it’s not like a country club. You look at certain neighborhoods in certain cities that are being rapidly transformed. They’re being utterly obliterated… there are two sets of laws in place [one being sharia, the other British law]…

In fairness, I’ve had doubts of my own about some of the photos which supposedly show EDL Nazi salutes, but, as Cohen concedes, there are also unambiguous examples of the gesture. The notion of the EDL as “neo-Nazi” is something of a red herring, but given the reality of at least some infiltration at EDL events a dismissive “hailing taxis and waving to friends” explanation is not going to inspire confidence.

European Son appears to be broadly supportive of the EDL while maintaining some distance – in the wake of the Norway massacre, it posted an article called “the EDL needs to come clean”, although this has since been deleted. The site is run by the Hudson Institute’s A. Millar, although he downplays references to himself. In one article for the Hudson Institute, Millar calls on the EDL “to express support for reformist Muslims”, which is a rather overoptimistic hope. Like Cohen, Millar has also written for the International Free Press Society.

An Open Letter to Jim Wallis from Writers about American Religion and Politics

I was recently asked, and agreed, to add my name to the following letter, in response to an article by Jim Wallis published here. My name’s position at the top of the list of signees is purely an accident of alphabetization.

I previously blogged on Mark Pinsky, who is discussed in the letter, here

Dear Jim Wallis,

We are writing in response to your e-mail to the Sojourners list on September 29th, and your similar piece on The Huffington Post, in which you claim that “some liberal writers” — whom you do not name — are broad brushing evangelical Christians as “intellectually-flawed right-wing crazies with dangerous plans for the country.” You characterize unnamed writers — writers like us — as people who are “all too eager to discredit religion as part of their perennial habit and practice.” This charge is as unfair as it is unsubstantiated.

You may recognize some of us as people who have written in recent years about such tendencies in modern Christian evangelicalism as dominionism, apocalyptic demonization, Christian Reconstructionism, and the New Apostolic Reformation. We see these forces as playing a significant role in our religious and political lives.

We are concerned about your recent attacks for three main reasons.

Our first concern is your claim that writers who are critical of these tendencies are making broad, unfair claims about “most or all evangelicals.” This is just not so. We understand and try to reflect in our work the idea that some, but certainly far from all, evangelical Christians embrace or are influenced by these important movements.

We agree with you that evangelicals are highly varied; are not all politically conservative; and that certainly not all are Republicans. None of us has ever thought or written that they are. Indeed, some of us are evangelicals ourselves. We know that former Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are evangelical Christians. And some of us have written about how elements of the above-mentioned movements and tendencies are also involved in the Democratic Party.

We understand that there are complexities in life, religion, and politics. We take seriously the need for and the extraordinary privilege of constantly learning. As writers, we are quite varied among ourselves. We are religious and non-religious; Christian and non-Christian. We have different histories and emphases in writing about religion, theology, and politics. We do not always agree with one another. But we all do agree on this much: These exclusionary Christian movements and tendencies are real, overlapping, and significant in evangelicalism specifically and in our political and electoral culture at large. We invite our readers to consider that there are aspects to these movements and tendencies that are profoundly problematic, and we invite you to consider that as well.

Second, we are concerned that you have endorsed the essay by Mark I. Pinsky that appeared recently in USA Today. That piece attacked some of us by name and all of us by implication. Pinsky’s is but the latest in a series of prominently published smears against those of us who write about these subjects and their ties to powerful political interests. We are disturbed that you would cheer on these ad hominem attacks.

Finally, Pinsky tries to blame much of the published criticism of these elements of evangelicalism on left-wing Jews. We, including the majority of us who are not Jews, view this as a transparent effort to intimidate Jewish writers. We are shocked that you are endorsing and promoting Pinsky’s attack on these writers, whose work is well-sourced and painstakingly researched.

We are also shocked that you equate these Jewish writers with “secular fundamentalists” whom you say “want to prove that evangelicals are stupid and dangerous extremists.” You do this by immediately following this claim by stating that Pinsky’s essay is one of “the best responses to the recent articles about evangelicals.”

We want to remind you that in his essay Pinsky goes so far as to compare the work of those four Jewish writers to some of the worst anti-Semitic smears in history, including false claims that Jews had “horns and tails, ate the blood of Christian children and poisoned the wells of Europe with plague.. [and] conspired to rule the world through our Protocols.”

Whatever one may think of any of our published work, the fact is that none of it is remotely analogous to the false claims in the various notorious anti-Semitic forgeries known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Pinsky ‘s equation of the work of the writers he names with the Protocols is despicable.

We would like to believe that despite our differences with you, you share with us a common desire for a just and peaceful world. We value honest disagreement and debate, and hope that you value these as well. Indeed, as writers we know how essential they are to clarifying and even resolving differences, correcting errors of fact — and dare we say, perspective. These are necessary ingredients for democracy itself. We invite you take issue with any specific facts or characterizations in our work. Then we will have something to talk about. But we will not be silent in the face of smears and intimidation tactics — which are so very far from the values of the faith traditions from which many of us hail, and the civic values of free speech and respect for religious pluralism that we all share.

We call on you to stop making false characterizations of our work and stop promoting the false characterizations of others. We also specifically ask that you rethink your support for Pinsky’s smear and withdraw it.

Richard Bartholomew
Blogger, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion

Russ Bellant
Journalist and author of The Religious Right in Michigan Politics

Chip Berlet
Journalist, blogger, co-author of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort

Bill Berkowitz
Independent journalist. Contributor to BuzzFlash, AlterNet, and Z Magazine

Rob Boston
Assistant Editor, Church & State Magazine
Columnist, The Humanist Magazine

Frederick Clarkson
Journalist, blogger, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy; editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America

Joe Conn
Editor, Church & State Magazine

Barry W. Lynn
Publisher and Columnist, Church & State Magazine
Host, CultureShocks Radio Show

Greg Metzger
Independent journalist. Contributor to Christian Century, Commonweal, Books & Culture and Touchstone

Rev. Dr. Bruce Prescott
Blogger at Mainstream Baptist
Host of Religious Talk radio show

Sara Robinson
Journalist, blogger, Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future

Adele M. Stan
Washington Bureau Chief, AlterNet

Rachel Tabachnick
Researcher and featured writer, Talk to Action

Bruce Wilson
Co-founder and featured writer, Talk to Action

Pat Robertson Lapin Up 9/11 Bible Prophecy Nonsense

A double-whammy of stupidity from Rabbi Daniel Lapin, in conversation with Pat Robertson:

The Torah, in ancient Jewish wisdom the Bible, actually explains something which we have lived through which is one of the great mysteries: the plot of 9/11… Not only do we find references in Zachariah to four mysterious crafts that come through between two mountains made of metal, in biblical terminology mountains can be natural mountains or also anything tall that grows up like two buildings, also the idea that the plot was hatched not in Mecca or Medina or Riyadh or anywhere else in Saudi Arabia, that plot was hatched in Hamburg, Germany…

Lapin is making a garbled and absurd reference to Zechariah 6: 1-8:

I looked up again, and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze. The first chariot had red horses, the second black,  the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?” The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.” When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth. Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

There are no “mysterious crafts”: instead, the author is obviously describing symbolic chariots for the four “spirits of heaven”. The “mountains of bronze” are not buildings: the image has been taken from Babylonian mythology to represent the gateway into heaven. It should be further noted that the chariots are “coming out from between” the two mountains, rather than crashing into them, and that their drivers are spirits sent to do God’s work around the world, rather than terrorists sent to the USA to massacre people. Lapin is either a fool or a fraud: but either way, it’s clear from this that he doesn’t give a damn about interpreting the Bible with any kind of integrity. And the same goes for Robertson, for endorsing such a farrago of nonsense.

But while we’re still trying to swallow that, Lapin serves up a dessert. 9/11, he explains,

… was based on a dream that Adolf Hitler had in 1943 which was to fly suicide Luftwaffe German air force bombers into the towers of Manhattan… That was a Hitler dream described in a book called ‘Spandau Diary’ written by one of the Nazis who was captured after the war and who witnessed, and actually I’ve seen drawings, and I don’t doubt for a moment that the Muslim plotters, in the mosque in Hamburg who laid out the plans for 9/11, I don’t doubt for a moment that they encountered those same plans. I don’t think they thought of this themselves. This was the fulfillment of a dream that was really put in place early on in World War II.

Lapin is referring to Spandau: The Secret Diaries, by Albert Speer. In his entry for 18 November 1947, Speer recalls that

I never saw [Hitler] so worked up as toward the end of the war, when in a kind of delirium he pictured for himself and for us the destruction of New York in a hurricane of fire. He described the skyscrapers being turned into gigantic burning torches, collapsing upon one another, the glow of the exploding city illuminating the dark sky. Then, as if finding his way back to reality from a frenzy, he declared that Saur must immediately carry our Messerschmitt’s scheme for a four-engine long-range jet bomber. With such range we could repay America a thousand-fold for the destruction of our cities.

The plan for a “jet bomber” is mentioned again in passing in the entry for 2 November 1953. There is no mention of Manhattan, and no concept of a suicide mission: the “jet bomber” was obviously envisioned as dropping bombs on New York, rather than as being a bomb itself.

Last year, Lapin took part in Glenn Beck’s “Divine Destiny”, as one of Beck’s “Black Robe Regiment” of conservative pastors. A subsequent Media Matters post, drawing on earlier Washington Post reports, notes Lapin’s links to Jack Abramoff, whom I previously discussed here.

(H/T Right Wing Watch)

Geller and Spencer Downplay John Jay Links

John Joseph Jay has become God’s lonely man:

…i am despised by the left.  toxic to my friends, those who remain.  and, seemingly either ridiculous or not of interest to all others, just not relevant in any particular, it would seem.

[….] i have no editorial, nor intellectual, nor administrative connection with either “f.d.i.” or “s.i.o.a.” nor have i ever. […] i support what they do, … , but, i apparently add nothing to it, & detract from it.

Jay is referring to the controversy which has followed a recent post on his blog in which he called for the killing of “talking head media”, of “every self avowed socialist and communist in congress”, and of “the faculty senates at harvard, yale, columbia, nyu and university of california at santa barbara”. This was of wider interest due his formal association with Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer: he was a co-founder of their American Freedom Defense Initiative, and according to Spencer (in a statement he has since retracted) he was also a board member of Stop Islamization of America.

Geller and Spencer have known about Jay’s sanguinary views for some time: in 2008, Jay left a comment on Geller’s blog on the need for “old fashion war with wholesale slaughter including indiscriminate death of innocents and babes. down to the last muslim, if necessary.” In 2010, a statement about the need to kill liberals and Muslims came to general attention thanks to the Daily Kos – Spencer’s response was to claim that Jay had been misrepresented in some unspecified way by “Hamas-linked CAIR and dhimmi Leftist jihad-enablers”.

That, though, was before the Anders Brevik massacre; Geller and Spencer are today rather more circumspect about being linked to someone who fantasises publicly about mass killings. Think Progress has a new quote from Geller:

Jay helped me out so I could get the incorporation papers filed, but was never a Board member or a part of the organizational structure in any way. He was gone almost as soon as he was there, and is not a member of AFDI.

This contrasts with a 2010 reference made by Geller to “my associate, the attorney John Jay”.

Spencer, meanwhile, has backtracked from the claim that Jay was ever a SIOA board member:

“He was never a board member. I don’t recall saying he was, but if I did, it was in error.” That was “was a mistake on my part,” Spencer wrote in another email after ThinkProgress provided a link to his post.

This belated cutting of ties following bad publicity fits a pattern – Spencer and Geller formerly worked with the Christian Action Network, and broke with the group only when its anti-gay rhetoric caused political embarrassment to Gert Wilders.

(Hat tip: Little Green Footballs)

Oslo Police Prosecutor “Would Like to Speak To” Alan Lake

From Reuters:

Police in Oslo say they want to interview Alan Lake, whom they believe is a key figure in Britain’s anti-Islamist English Defence League EDL, to find out if he may have been an ideological source of inspiration to Breivik.

“Alan Lake is an obvious person we would like to speak to,” Oslo police prosecutor Paal-Fredrik Hjort Kraby told Reuters.

He added: “At this point in the investigation there is no indication that anyone knew about his (Breivik’s) plans.”

The English Defence League said in an email to Reuters that Lake had “absolutely nothing to do with the EDL”. Lake could not be reached for comment but has previously denied being a senior member of the EDL.

Breivik has claimed to have had a mentor named “Richard the Lionhearted”, and the prosecutor’s request has come just a few days after Norwegian police interviewed Paul Ray: Ray, who was one of the founders of the EDL before being sidelined, has an interest in Templarism and blogs under the name “Lionheart”.

More background comes from a Telegraph report from July:

…One group of individuals who do not doubt Richard exists are the past and present leaders of EDL.

When The Daily Telegraph contacted them this week, rather than dismissing “Richard” as a figment of Breivik’s imagination, they all began pointing the finger at each other. Stephen Lennon (who also calls himself Tommy Robinson) and Kevin Carroll, the current joint leaders of EDL, denied being Richard or ever having met Breivik, but Mr Lennon pointed to a blogger who uses the name “Lionheart”.

…Mr Ray denied being his mentor, or ever meeting him, saying he was approached online by Breivik but rejected his Facebook friend request because he “didn’t like the look of him”. Mr Ray also suggested that Breivik could have met Alan Lake, a businessman who is said to finance EDL and who has in the past been interviewed on Norwegian television. Mr Lake, in turn, denied knowing Breivik, and suggested Mr Ray was a more likely candidate.

In fact, neither Lake nor Ray were Breivik’s mentor, even if such a person really exists: I explained here why Ray couldn’t have been, and there is no evidence implicating Lake, who has no interest in “Templar” fetishism. These counter-accusations may seem farcical, but it should be remembered that they are clogging up an extremely serious and distressing police investigation.

The claim that Lake has “nothing to do with” the EDL requires further comment. According to a statement made by Lake in July:

I have merely given equipment worth a few hundred pounds… I am not, and never have been, part of EDL management.  I directed the speeches and music on stage at several demonstrations, and gave a few speeches myself… I am not currently involved with the EDL, and have not been for 6 months.

Lake was also commended by Rabbi Nachum Shifren for making links with individuals in the USA, and Ray claims that he played a strategic role in setting up the group:

Alan Lake must have forgotten that I was at that first meeting in London, inside his flat, alongside others.

The EDL officially repudiated Lake in August, after bad publicity arising from some of his statements:

What is true is that Alan Lake “DID” have a role in the EDL during its early formation. He has always jumped on the bandwagon of the EDL when in reality all he has ever done is bring shame on our movement…

As regular readers will also know, one of Lake’s associates is an on-line thug who regularly posts threats about me and spams this blog with abusive messages.

USA Today Op-Ed Claims David Barton and John Hagee are “Marginal Figures”

Three completely marginal amigos

2006: At USA Today, Mark I Pinsky explains how John Hagee is a central figure in a new alliance between “Southern Jews and Evangelicals”:

…[I]n November 2005, more than 1,000 evangelicals from central Florida gathered at a local hotel and raised more than $100,000 to buy an ambulance for Magen David Adom, Israel’s Red Cross. Local rabbis delivered both the invocation and the benediction. As event sponsors promised, there was no effort to proselytize any of the estimated 200 Jewish guests. The Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio gave a thunderous keynote address supporting the Jewish state that he could easily have delivered at a rally for Israel’s hard-line Likud Party.

2011: At USA Today, Mark I Pinsky explains how John Hagee is an absolutely marginal figure in Evangelicalism, a bogeyman puffed up by liberal websites but in truth so irrelevant that we don’t even have to spell his name correctly:

These days, it’s hard to turn to liberal websites, public radio or MSNBC without encountering some “investigation” or “exposé” of a splinter, marginal figure, such as David Barton or John Haggee, from the evangelical world — followed by some tenuous if not tortured connect-the-dots link to a presidential or congressional candidate. 

As readers may recall, Hagee’s link to John McCain in 2008 was so “tenuous” that McCain was obliged to issue a  repudiation of Hagee’s endorsement after a sermon came to light in which Hagee referred to Hitler as a “hunter” sent by God to persuade Jews to move to Israel. That sermon was unearthed not by a professional religion writer such as Pinsky, but by an independent amateur researcher named Bruce Wilson.

Hagee as Forrest Gump: marginal figure appears on stage with John McCain

Pinsky complains that:

…beginning in 2006 and every two years since in the run-up to the presidential and off-year congressional elections, books and articles suddenly appear — often written by Jews — about the menace and weirdness of evangelical Christianity.

Though some of the writers hail from Brooklyn or Washington, D.C., the tone is what I’d call “Upper West Side hysteric,” a reference to the fabled New York City neighborhood.

…Chief among these are books such as Michelle Goldberg’s Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, Rabbi James Rudin’s The Baptizing of America, and several titles by Sara Diamond.

Bill Berkowitz has written a response:

The essence of the matter is this: A number of conservative writers and political pundits have taken to attacking left-wing investigative reporters, researchers and journalists over their reporting about Dominionism, Christian Reconstructionism and the New Apostolic Reformation – three little-known theological and ideological movements gaining ground on the Christian Right.

The subtext of [Pinsky’s] recent contribution to this newly minted genre appears to be a not-so-subtle message to Jewish writers, researchers and critics of the Religious Right: “Don’t rock the boat.”

Of course one should be careful not to conflate Evangelicalism or neo-Pentecostalism in general with the Christian Right. Evangelicals have a range of political and religious views, and a “top-down” research approach which concentrates on Christian Right ideologues and texts should not claim to have the full picture of Evangelicalism (I’ve previously complained about pseudo-research on Islam which suffers from just this failing). However, Fred Clarkson explains that the writers Pinsky attacks do know the difference between Evangelicals and the Christian Right:

I would ordinarily be glad to join Pinsky in criticizing people who make sweeping, factually unsupported generalizations about evangelicals. Good reporting and scholarship requires using fair terms, making reasonable distinctions, and drawing well-founded conclusions based on facts.  But I cannot join Pinsky in this case, because none of the writers he names engage in the behavior he complains about…

The fact is that the Christian Right is a part of Evangelicalism, whether or not Evangelicals or their supporters find this observation congenial. Evangelicalism is the context in which the Christian Right operates, and it is from Evangelicalism that the Christian Right draws most of its support and influence. And understanding the Christian Right increasingly means understanding the likes of Barton and Hagee, rather than cheesy televangelists from the 1980s.

Some religion journalists appear not to know much about trends such as the New Apostolic Reformation, and have complacently concluded that their ignorance indicates insignificance. There is also some scepticism due to the fact that many of those writing on the subject have an activist motivation – this motivation is often politically progressive, although various kinds of dissenting conservative Evangelicals have also made contributions. However, it should be needless to point out that what motivates someone to write about a subject is a different matter from the quality of the resulting research or analysis, which can be assessed independently.

But in Pinsky’s case, the 2006 quote above suggests another explanation for his dismissive attitude. Bill writes:

[Pinsky] being so off base about David Barton, and John Hagee, I originally figured that he might not really be paying attention to current developments.

But Rachel Tabachnick disabused me of that notion. In a conversation thread on her Facebook page, Tabachnick pointed out that Pinsky “has written repeatedly about Hagee in the Orlando Sentinel, in USA Today and in his own book. … This is not ignorance. This was willfully misleading readers.”

FBI Removes “All Training Materials Related to Religion and Culture” for Vetting

NPR has a follow-up to Wired‘s recent reports on problems with FBI training on the subject of Islam:

NPR has learned the FBI did two things to at least stem the damage the training controversy has wrought. Just last week, the bureau sent out an email requesting that all training materials that related to religion and culture be sent to headquarters and essentially taken offline until they could be vetted. Officials plan to go through each and every training module and look for instances of bias or inaccuracies that, until now, might have slipped through the cracks. The FBI has also asked all 56 of its field offices to do an internal scrub of all their counterterrorism training to look for hints of possible bias. The recall suggests that the FBI is not entirely sure what it is teaching in its counterterrorism curriculum.

Wired drew attention to a trainer named William Gawthrop, and to a presentation which correlated Muslim devoutness with violence. I discussed Gawthrop’s limitations and misuse of sources here.

A scholar named Steve Lundry discusses some of the consequences of poor-quality training at  the COMOPS Journal:

Not only did this story spread through US media, but it spread to extremists sites where it was touted as evidence that the US was actually at war with Islam; Gawthrop’s ideas are consistent with Islamist extremists’ narrative. It plays directly into the hands of Islamist extremists the world over, and bolsters their message that America’s desire to end Islamist terrorism is really a war on the religion of Islam itself.

…In Southeast Asia, Islamist extremists have picked up the story about Gawthrop and spread it, including on social media cites such as Facebook. Posted Wednesday, September 21, the ar Rahmah story on Gawthrop’s lecture had nearly 3000 hits by Thursday afternoon, and the link was recommended by 811 people on Facebook. On their Facebook posting of the same story, it was “liked” by 101 people, and 30 comments. Comments range from the hope that non-believers will find one day find Islam to agreeing that this is proof that the United States is at war with Islam. Some of these comments include violent rhetoric. 

NPR also reports that the FBI is conducting an “internal audit” to discover why poor-quality training was allowed to occur; apparently, “the counterterrorism training division has a lot of autonomy” and “the vetting process for the counterterrorism curriculum was minimal.”

Improper counter-terrorism training is a subject that has come under increasing scrutiny over the past year: a critical article appeared in the Washington Post last December, and there was a lengthy article in the Washington Monthly in March which prompted an expression of concern from Joe Lieberman, in his capacity as Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman, and from Ranking Member Susan Collins. A report by the progressive Political Research Associates also appeared in the spring, while the summer saw critical pieces on CNN and NPR, as well as Wired‘s first report.