C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy

Jeff Sharlet’s C Street is an exposé of the radical fundamentalism of C Street and its network of D.C. lawmakers, lobbyists and foreign leaders. The book tells how fundamentalist Christians in the government and the military have promoted intolerance, revisionist American history, free market fundamentalism, and war against Islam.

Early chapters focus on a semi-secretive cluster of fundamentalist religious organizations (“C Street”) that cater to conservative lawmakers in D.C. and around the world. They believe in Dominionism, the idea that America should be governed by Christian leaders following Biblical principles. They’re the ones who run the National Prayer Breakfast. Believing that they were “chosen by God” to lead the nation towards Christian governance, C Street people feel justified in ignoring certain laws and customs.

Citing the example of King David in the Old Testament — King David seduced the wife of a Jewish soldier and then had the soldier killed — C Streeters believe that the normal rules don’t apply to them.

All sorts of sex scandals occurred at their retreat homes, involving Mark Sanford, Sen. Ensign, and others. It’s like a big club for powerful politicians who protect each other and provide moral and financial support.

C Street leaders such as Robert Hunter and Doug Coe prefer working behind the scenes. Most of their powerful members are Republicans, but some Democrats, such as Hillary Clinton, are also involved. The aim of C Street and related groups is to fill Congress, the military, and foreign countries with Jesus-inspired leaders.

The book describes how the group melds Christianity with free market fundamentalism, providing cover to make right wing policies appear moral.They believe that Christians like them are oppressed and aggrieved (by homosexuals, Jews, and atheists). They give training seminars in which they turn to Hitler and Mao as examples of strong leadership. (Really, they do.) Onward Christian soldiers, indeed, in the quest to spread free market ideology and destroy government and taxation.

The scary thing is that they believe their own crazy rhetoric.

Mixing American imperialism with crusading Christianity and savvy business dealing, members of this cabal have aided Suharto in Indonesia, Marcos in the Phillipines, and gay haters in Uganda. C Street-related organizations fund overseas trips to countries in Africa and elsewhere. Fundamentalist religious organizations often do “charity work” overseas. They produce videos showing the good white men helping the natives. America gets oil; fundamentalists get donations, influence and “souls”; overseas dictators get foreign aid and cover.

There’s a long chapter about how Ugandan politicians connected to C Street proposed a bill in the Ugandan legislature to make homosexuality punishable by death. The bill also imposed prison sentences on non-gays who fail to notify authorities about gay friends. One Ugandan politician, who considered himself a good Christian, argued this way: Hillary Clinton believes it’s OK to murder babies, so why do Americans oppose punishing gays? When the story broke in the international press and foreign governments threatened to withdraw financial and military support for the oil-rich east African nation, Ugandan lawmakers relented and pursued life in prison as an acceptable compromise. Uganda and neighboring countries have a history of genocide. So the gay-bashing laws are particularly scary.

C Street people also worked to stop condom distribution in Uganda.

Sharlet’s interviews of politicians and gays in Uganda were eye-opening. He has a knack for getting people to reveal themselves.

Sharlet is brilliant at interviewing people and gathering information . He’s an assistant professor of English, at Dartmouth College, with an interest in creative fiction. His penchant for creative writing sometimes get in the way of clarity. But his interviews, story telling and fact-gathering are usually top notch.

Another chapter covers Christian ideologists’ large presence in the US military, especially the Air Force. Many high-ranking officers openly evangelize at assemblies and denounce non-Christians. Christian texts ridicule Darwin, Marx, and Islam. Gen. David Petreaus came under criticism for endorsing a Christian polemic.

Sharlet tells of one atheist who was forced to leave the military because the U.S. Army concluded it couldn’t protect him from fundamentalist extremists.

Another sad case is that of “a deeply disturbed young man named David Winters, “who was allowed to enlist despite a history of institutionalization because the Marine Corps needed bodies. He snapped after intense anti-Semitic hazing.” He was repeatedly spat upon. One officer smashed his boot onto the back of his head while Winter was doing push-ups, bloodying his face.

Some Christian soldiers emblazoned an armored vehicle with Arabic writing ridiculing Mohammed. Many senior military officers are openly anti-Islam. Talk about promoting religious war!

A tough Jewish soldier named Mikey Weinstein — he’s a boxer who once “punched an officer who accused him of fabricating anti-Semitic threats he’d received” — has gone on his own “crusade” to expose religious bias in the military. He works with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and has written the book Liars for Jesus, “which, at 532 pages, is only the first entry in a multivolume-debunking of Christian Right historical claims.”

Up until the Vietnam War, mainstream Christian churches were most influential in the military. But opposition to the Vietnam War led them to lose influence, and more evangelical churches took their place.

In 1966, Billy Graham used the pulpit of the Presidential Prayer Breakfast to preach a warrior Christ to lead the troops in Vietnam: “I am come to send fire on the earth!” he quoted Christ. “Think not that I am come to send peace but a sword!” Other fundamentalists took from Vietnam the lessons of guerrilla combat, to be applied to the spiritual fight through the tactic of what they called infiltration, filling the ranks of secular institutions with missionaries both bold and subtle. That same year, one Family [C Street] organizer advised inverting the strategy of the Vietcong, who through one targeted assassination could mobilize thousands. Winning the key “soul men” in the military could mobilize many more for spiritual war.

Evangelicals have succeeded quite well in taking over the soul of the military, and of the Republican Party, too.

The thing is. The fundamentalists really believe that they are serving God, that they are oppressed and that those who oppose them are servants of the devil. As Blaise Pascal said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

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