Azerbaijan Seeks To Co-Opt Western Religion Bloggers

An invitation arrives in my inbox:

Journey of Tolerance
30th August – 3 September 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

I hope you are having a good day.

My name is [redacted] and I am the Project Director for the Journey of Tolerance an initiative by the State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The Project aims at raising awareness about cultural and religious tolerance and dialogue in Azerbaijan and promoting Azerbaijani model of tolerance worldwide.

For this purpose the State Committee on Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan invites well-known and motivated blogger’s writing about religion, dialogue among religions and cultures, education and society to travel to the Republic of Azerbaijan in order to get acquainted with the environment of religious and cultural tolerance in Azerbaijan.

On behalf of the organizer of this very important initiative we would like you to take part in the Journey of Tolerance, taking part from 30th August – 3 September 2013 as our exclusive guest.

In frame of the project we will make a 5 days tour to the different regions of Azerbaijan where different religions and cultures co-exist. You will have an opportunity to meet and talk to the people with different religious and cultural background and you will learn more about the Azerbaijani model of religious tolerance. As part of the project you will also meet with representatives of Azerbaijani government.

All expenses (round trip air tickets, accommodation, local transfer and meal) will be covered by the organizers.

We are available to discuss the project with you in more detail, in a time convenient for you.

We truly hope that you will be able to join us and we look forward to our collaboration.

Kind regards,

Project Director
The Journey of Tolerance
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Changing reality in 30 countries!

T. [redacted]

I’ve redacted the name is the person concerned works for a marketing company rather than for the State Commission itself. There follows a long blurb about the religious history of the country, again emphasising the theme of “tolerance”.

Certainly, a free visit to such a fascinating part of the world is tempting – but might a trip for “well-known and motivated bloggers” turn out to be a one-way ticket? The Institute for War and Peace Reporting noted last year:

As Azerbaijan hosted a United Nations-backed internet forum this week, officials boasted of the freedom of the web enjoyed by citizens.

Bloggers, however, said the picture painted by officials was deeply misleading. Instead, they said, people in Azerbaijan could be jailed for writing the wrong thing online.

…But the blogger Emin Milli, jailed for two-and-half years in 2009 after posting a video online called “press conference with a donkey”, mocking the president, said free speech was as elusive  on the internet as it was in everyday life.

…Dunja Mijatovic, special representative on media freedom at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE… hailed the release of bloggers like Emin Milli, Adnan Hajizade, Jabbar Savalan, Zaur Gurbanli and Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, but noted that other bloggers and journalists are tortured, persecuted and arrested.

And what of religious freedom in the country? “Representatives of Azerbaijani government” may not be willing to share the full story; Forum 18 noted last year:

Ahead of Azerbaijan’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest, Forum 18 News Service notes that freedom of religion or belief and related human rights such as the freedom of expression and of assembly remain highly restricted. Among issues documented in Forum 18’s religious freedom survey are: state attempts to counter discussion of violations with claims of inter-religious harmony and religious tolerance; officials behaving as if the rule of law places no limitations on their actions; unfair trials lacking due legal process; steadily increasing “legal” restrictions on and punishments for exercising freedom of religion or belief, often prepared in secret, forming a labyrinth of restrictive state controls; “legal” denials of international human rights standards Azerbaijan has agreed to implement; a highly restrictive censorship regime; enforced closures of places people meet for worship; a ban on praying outside mosques; jailing of prisoners of conscience exercising the right to conscientious objection to military service; arbitrary deportations of foreign citizens exercising the right to freedom of religion or belief; and severe denials of human rights in the Nakhichevan exclave. Azerbaijan is likely to remain a place where fundamental human rights are violated with impunity, and the state tries to make exercising human rights conditional upon state permission.

Further, in October:

Following serious criticism of Azerbaijan’s Religion Law by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Ali Hasanov of the Presidential Administration blamed this on “translation errors” in an “unofficial translation” he claimed had been used for the legal Opinion. However, a Venice Commission spokesperson told Forum 18 News Service that the translation on which the Opinion was based was an official translation supplied by the Government…. Hasanov also claimed that the Venice Commission “now considers that the Law .. completely reflects European standards.” The Commission’s Opinion found that the Law contains “restrictive provisions which are against international standards”. The Venice Commission spokesperson told Forum 18 that it fully stands by its Opinion.

The “State Committee on Religious Associations”, also known as the “State Committee for Work with Religious Associations”, is run by a certain Elshad Isgandarov. He responded to the Venice Commission by arguing that

“It is wrong to make a speech only from an academic point of view. Azerbaijan takes into consideration the opinion of the Venice commission, analyses and gives reaction. But Azerbaijan is an independent in this and other spheres and pursuing the policy meeting its national interests and geopolitical position.”

According to a suggestive report in June:

Shortcomings are recorded in work of some religious communities which are eliminated as a result of the positive intervention by the state, Isgandarov noted.

In February, Isgandarov visited Saudi Arabia:

On 6 February, he met with the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Saleh bin Abdulaziz. At the meeting Elshad Iskandarov expressed satisfaction with the two countries.


Azerbaijan is not the only country to emphasise the cultural self-expression of religious minorities as a substitute for evidence of true political freedom – China is another example.

UPDATE: And here’s another example of how the country is run; the Washington Post noted a couple of days ago:

Khadija Ismayilova is known as one of the only investigative reporters — if not the only investigative reporter — in Azerbaijan, an energy-rich former Soviet state that Freedom House defines as “not free.” That has proven risky. For the second time in the year and a half since she began investigating possible corruption in the family of President Ilham Aliyev, a video recording of the female journalist at home with her boyfriend has surfaced online. The officially unexplained emergence is widely considered by rights groups are likely part of an intimidation campaign, common against journalists in Azerbaijan.

In March 2012, when Ismayilova began looking into questionable business investments by Aliyev family members, she received a letter that read only “Whore, behave. Or you will be defamed.”

Glenn Beck Promotes “Founding Faith Conference” With Gen. Jerry Boykin

Controversy over inclusion of pastor with links to League of the South – see update below

Glenn Beck has narrated an advert endorsing the “Founding Faith Conference 2013”, and highlighting the involvement of General William “Jerry” Boykin. The conflab – billed as “An ‘Impact Your Nation” event – will take place in Texas in September; according to the blurb:

Make no mistake, there is an agenda that has been marching across our America for many years and it is up to us to expose its forward progress.

It is not enough to simply know our Constitution.  We must not only learn how to more effectively communicate our message of American exceptionalism, but to deliver it with clarity, courage and conviction.  This two-day conference is designed to do just that! 

The impresario is a certain Margaret Andrews, who runs the “MTC Promotions Group“; in July last year she organised “Restore America and Restoring Love”, a warm-up event for Beck’s “Restoring Love” comeback rally. Andrews’ event included David Barton (more on him here) and  Shane Krauser, a lawyer endorsed by Beck as “the David Barton of the U.S. Constitution”. Andrews was formerly National Event Director at Krauser’s American Academy for Constitutional Education.

The speakers at the “Founding Faith Conference 2013” are familiar Tea Party blend of Christian conservatives and self-described Constituional “originalists”; alongside the ubiquitous Boykin (more on him here), other speakers include Timothy F. Johnson (“Founder and National President/CEO of the Frederick Douglass Foundation“; Sarah Posner has a critical profile here), Lieutenant Colonel Bill V. Cowan (“a highly decorated, retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and a commentator on terrorism and national security for Fox News Channel since 2002”; SourceWatch has more here); Clarence Henderson (civil rights activist in 1960 and now “a champion for freedom and conservative values”); David Whitney (“Pastor of Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church of Pasadena, Maryland. In addition, for twelve years he has been teaching the Christian heritage and history of our country with Institute on the Constitution where he serves as Senior Instructor”***);  Chad Hovind (son of creationist Kent Hovind and “the creator of the Fast Track bible DVD series and the Godonomics DVD curriculum series, which is endorsed by Focus on the Family’s Truth Project” – and also by Beck, who appears on the DVD covers); Chad Kent (“writer and award-winning speaker“); Ross Kecseg (“runs the [Dallas/Fort Worth] office for Empower Texans / Texans for Fiscal Responsibility”); and two speakers “to be announced”.

Other “Impact Your Nation” events organised by MTC Promotions include a “Constitution Training” event with Krauser and Linda Johnston, an anti-Obamacare M.D.; and a “Freedom Extravaganza on Land & Sea 11-Day Cruise“, including a “VIP Dinner” with Rev C.L. Bryant.

***UPDATE (9 August)

As of 8 August, the Institute on the Constitution (IOTC) was also listed as a sponsor of the event. However, reference to its sponsorship had now disappeared, and Whitney, although still listed as a speaker, no longer has an accompanying advertising blurb. One detail of Whitney’s activism that the blurb failed to note has been brought to wider attention by Warren Throckmorton:

As I have noted previously, the IOTC’s founder, director and teacher Michael Peroutka is a board member of the League [of the South] and has pledged IOTC’s resources to the aims of the League. Senior teacher David Whitney is chaplain of the MD chapter of the League.

In addition to the course offered in many evangelical churches, the IOTC course is featured on the National Religious Broadcasters networkLiberty University’s television networkBradlee Dean’s the Sons of Liberty offers the course, and several mainstream evangelicals are speaking in September at a conference sponsored by IOTC and held at a major mega church in Texas.

Throckmorton draws attention to a complaint by a former League supporter who complains that it has experienced “radicalization” due to the presence of “white nationalists”.

Warren has now followed up:

I learned earlier this afternoon via a source at the Family Research Council (where Boykin is an executive vice-president) that Lt. General Boykin recently became aware of ties between the Institute on the Constitution and the League of the South and, as a result, has backed out of the conference.

However, Boykin is still listed and being used as the main draw for the event – presumably they’ve got him back on board by dumping Whitney (given that his blurb is gone, I suspect his continued listing will be removed in due course too). But that’s a bit awkward for Andrews, who has personally invested in Whitney; they recently appeared together on a TV chat programme hosted by Deborah Sweetin‘s “Battle Cry Ministries International“.

UPDATE 2: It seems Boykin’s definitely off the line-up; Alex Seitz-Wald reports at Salon:

Family Research Council executive vice president Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin has backed out of speaking at a conference promoted by Glenn Beck after learning that the event has ties to the League of the South, a neo-Confederate group.

“Yes, that is true. When it was brought to our attention that there were connections to this group that does not share our values, General Boykin withdrew from the event,” FRC’s vice president for communications, J.P. Duffy, said in an email to Salon, confirming an earlier blog report.

UPDATE 3: The advert has now been removed from YouTube, the event is no longer listed by MTC Promotions, and the conference website is now password protected.

Fringe Conspiracy Theories Promoted At “Prophecy Summit” Attended by Joseph Farah

The “Pikes Peak Prophecy Summit” – which I previewed a month ago – has now taken place. On one level, the event was a commonplace – Christian fundamentalists ruminating on the Rapture or claiming that the Bible can tell us about events in the modern middle east are hardly thin on the ground in parts of the USA. However, in this instance, the line-up represents a striking convergance of Tea Party conspiracy theories, fringe pseudo-scientific speculations (derived from pop science fiction), Biblical interpretation, and Christian Zionism. The event’s website lists the speakers who were streamed, and whose presentations remain available on-demand for the next month. Here’s the line-up, with extra information added:

1. Cris Putnam—ET Disclosure: The End Time Delusion?

Putnam is Thomas Horn’s collabator on projects that include Exo-Vaticana: Petrus Romanus, Project L.U.C.I.F.E.R. and the Vatican’s Astonishing Plan for the Arrival of an Alien Savior. I don’t think that title requires much further explanation, although I have a blog entry here.

2. Douglas Hamp—The Antichrist, Freemasons and the Third Temple

An example:

Only at the highest levels of his craft does the Mason discover who is the “Great Architect of the Universe” that they so often refer to. Whereas many lower level Masons are led to believe that he must be the Judeo-Christian God, the truth is that they are worshipping Lucifer.

…[A]ccording to researcher Dr. Stanley Monteith, Balfour was a high ranking Mason (we note, however, that God often allows and uses the wicked to bring about His own purposes i.e. He used the Assyrians to punish the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. see also 2 Kings 21:14). In fact, we will see that the Masons were centrally responsible for Israel’s reestablishment. 

That should go down well at the next Christian Zionist conflab. Hamp has an MA in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East fromthe Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and “has served as an assistant pastor at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.”

3. S. Douglas Woodward—The Final Babylon: An American Nightmare

Woodward is “author of five books on Bible prophecy, the apocalypse, alternative history, the history of doomsday, 2012, and apocalyptic topics.” He has also “written extensively on the impact of spiritualism and occult ideologies on American history,” and he apparently has a career as a business consultant.

4. Jonathan Cahn—The Harbinger Continues & The Mystery of the Malkosh

Cahn has achieved fame and bestseller status in a very short period of time by showing how events in the history of ancient Israel can be applied to the modern USA, thus explaining natural disasters and 9/11 as the consequences of the USA’s immorality. Going on about “mysteries” is one of his trademark hooks. More here.

5. L.A. Marzulli—On the Trail of the Nephilim: The Mysterious Skulls and Skeletons of Peru

Website here. Short version: artificially elongated skulls in Peru are actually the remains of aliens, which in turn proves the Bible. He “received an honorary doctorate from Pacific International University for his work on the Nephilim Trilogy.”

6. Ken Johnson—The Ancient Book of Enoch: The First Prophecy of the Tribulation

According to a blurb on Amazon: “Ken Johnson is the author of Ancient Post-flood History, Ancient Seder Olam, and the websites, and” He has a doctorate from the Christian College of Texas and is a “minister and educator” in Kansas City.

7. Dr. Stan Monteith—Secret Agenda

Monteith’s “Radio Liberty” specialises in “stories of globalism and federal conspiracies”. He is best known for his theory that HIV has been spread deliberately, and for his Ssempa-like conflation of homosexuality with coprophilia.

8. Joseph Farah—After the Harbinger: The Prophecy Continues

Farah, of course, needs no introduction: through his birther website WND he’s a key lynch-pin between Tea Party conservatives and the religious right. The Harbinger is Cahn’s book, and Farah is its chief promoter. Terry Krepel’s ConWebWatch is the best site keeping tabs on Farah and all his works.

9. Paul McGuire—The Luciferian Elite: The Secret Plan For America and Prophecy

McGuire is a fairly boilerplate conspiracy theorist, although he seems to have a thing against Britain in particular; here’s a taste:

The Fabian Socialists, who were the architects of the emerging global government and New World Order, were an eclectic group of writers, philosophers, economists, poets and political leaders… It should be noted that the ideas of these so-called atheistic socialists were actually birthed out of occult beliefs…

Tavistock and other occult-based mind control operations were funded by the British Royalty, which is allegedly involved in all kinds of Illuminati and Satanic practices, In addition, the Rothschild’s helped finance the Illuminati. Rockefeller, the Federal Reserve, the City of London and Wall Street, reveal their occult connections by using Illuminati and Satanic symbols all over the monetary systems, governments and corporations. For example, the occult pyramid and the all-seeing eye of Lucifer on the back of the U.S. dollar is just one of thousands of open occult symbols….

Tavistock is very much active today, using things like depth psychology to create the Occupy movement, which is backed by Soros.

…The planned destruction of the dollar and the manufactured economic collapse is intended to bring in the coming one world economic system, by around 2018….

According to his bio: “at fifteen years old, Paul was demonstrating with radical activist Abbie Hoffman and made an honorary member of the Black Panther Party. However, while studying Altered States of Consciousness at the University of Missouri, Paul had a miraculous experience hitchhiking in a remote area similar to the movie Field of Dreams. Paul re-thought his socialist and humanist world view and rejected it as completely false. Paul has devoted his life to communicating truth to people.”

10. Russ Dizdar—Underground New York: A Clandestine Trip Inside the Enemy’s Camp

Dizdar is a 1980s-style purveyor of Satanic Panic, and a former police chaplain; he warns of the “Black Awakening”, which is when “satanic chosen ones… will be activated to unleash chaos and anarchy into the USA and other countries…… to cause collapse and pave the way for a ‘new world order’ and  the rise of the antichrist.” There’s a peculiarly distasteful element to his claims:

Q: Is it true that many victims of ritual abuse have psychic powers such as remote viewing and if so why?

Yes, they all seem to have powers. A long history of the placement of the demons and the training … for the drawing out the ‘powers in the blood’ of the chosen ones.  They have done many rituals and received transferred down powers from others who were old and dying.

Those who debunk stories of ritual abuse, he explains, are involved with the CIA and NAMBLA.

11. Chuck Missler—The Denizens of Metacosm

Missler is something of a link between what we might see as “mainstream” fundamentalism, which focuses on areas such as creationism and Biblical inerrancy, and more exotic speculations about subjects such as UFOs. He has endorsed Horn’s Exo-Vaticana claims.

12. Mark Biltz—Signs in the Heavens: Blood Moons Are Coming to Israel

Mark Biltz runs El Shaddai Ministries, and he believes that the date of Jesus’ return can be determined by considering the yearly dates of Jewish feasts and relating them to lunar eclipses. He hasn’t set a date for the main event, although 2015 appears to be strongly inferred.

13. Lennart Moller—The Exodus Case: In Search of the Mountain of God

Moller (sometimes with an umlaut over the “o”) claims to have evidence for the historicity of the Biblical story of the Exodus: the cover of his book includes a photo labelled “skeleton parts of Pharaoh’s army?” He is apparently a professor of medicine at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.

14. Bill Salus—The Future of Israel, Iran and the Arab States

I wrote about Salus here.

15. Gary Stearman—First Trump Last Trump: Defending the Rapture

Stearman runs “Prophecy in the News”, which was the host for the conference. According to a bio blurb:

Gary Stearman’s research and teachings are very unique and reach into areas of biblical prophecy few researchers delve into. He has been documented arguing that  key individuals in the Bible were transported through time and space and that UFOs/aeriel crafts were described in the ancient books. On one occasion, when Gary was a young man and flying a plane over Texas he had a life-altering experience and what he believes to be a UFO encounter. A disc around 100 ft. in diameter approached his plane. Somehow he felt his thoughts were being probed. Later, when he landed at the Lubbock airport, he discovered he’d been gone for six hours when his plane only had enough fuel for four hours. This event led him to seek out answers that only the God of the Bible could answer.

The result was a book: Time Travelers of the Bible: How Hebrew Prophets Shattered the Barriers of Time-Space.

16. Samuel Hoyt—The Judgment Seat of Christ

Hoyt is Professor of Systematic Theology at Liberty Theological Seminary, and protégé of the creationist John Whitcomb. According to a review of his book on the subject:

Hoyt rejects the prominent view of only one general judgment (pp. 17-22) espousing the understanding of most premillenialists that there are five major eschatological judgments (pp. 22-23).  The judgment seat of Christ is specific to the church-age believer and occurs between the rapture and the second-coming of Christ (pp. 47-54).


17. Bob Cornuke—Biblical Archaeology: A Police Investigator’s Perspective

Well, if a fire investigator can interpret the Copper Scroll, why not have a police investigator shake up the world of Biblical archaeology? But Cornuke actually has an archaeological qualification, from Louisiana Baptist University, and he claims to have found Noah’s Ark on Mount Suleiman in Iran.

18. Barrie Schworz—35 Years of Shroud Science: A Personal Perspective

Barrie M. Schwortz’s Turin Shroud website can be seen here. He’s a science photographer, and, somewhat unusually, he’s an Orthodox Jew.

19. Bill Koenig—The White House;s Role in Israel and the Middle East

Koenig runs World Watch DailyHe is particularly focussed on “the consequencies of dividing Israel”, by which is meant the natural and other disasters that will descend on the USA if it fails to accomodate the wishes of the Israeli right-wing.

20. David Olander—The Greatness of the Rapture

Olander is Professorof Biblical Languages at Tyndale Theological Seminary. According to a blurb for his book:

What is the rapture? What does it involve? When does it take place? How does it relate to other events in the last days? With insight and clarity, Dr. Olander answers these and other questions, while at the same time developing a new approach to an old subject.