In the movie Casino Jack, based on the life of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, we are introduced to some of the players in the massive corruption scandal, that took down two Republican senators, and nine high profile lobbyists.
One character in the movie was Ralph Reed, played by Christian Campbell, who assures Abramoff that he is ready to play his part in the casino fraud.
For an enormous fee, 'Casino Jack' set out to destroy the gambling operation of a competing tribe, for his clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
This was not the first time that Abramoff had used questionable tactics for this client, but he couldn't have done it without the help of the "squeaky clean" and "morally corrupt" Ralph Reed, then head of The Christian Coalition.
In 1999, the Choctaw needed to defeat a bill in the Alabama State Legislature that would allow casino-style games on dog racing tracks, resulting in competition for their casino business. It was at about this time that Reed had contacted his old friend Abramoff, asking for his help in establishing his new business, Century Strategies.
"Hey, now that I’m done with electoral politics, I need to start humping in corporate accounts! I’m counting on you to help me with some contacts." (Ralph Reed to Jack Abramoff, via email, November 12, 1998)When asked what he could do to assist with this situation, Reed said that he could access "3,000 pastors and 90,000 religious conservative households" in Alabama, as well as "the Alabama Christian Coalition, the Alabama Family Alliance, the Alabama Eagle Forum, [and] the Christian Family Association." And he would do this for a retainer of $20,000 a month.
Souls don't come cheap. Just ask the devil.
The firm that Abramoff was then with, Preston Gates, hired Reed as a subcontractor, and Abramoff told Reed to "get me invoices as soon as possible so I can get Choctaw to get us checks asap."
"By May 10, 1999, the Choctaw had paid $1.3 million to Reed via Preston Gates, for various grassroots activities relating to the dog-track bill, as well as opposing an Alabama state lottery." (2) Eventually they broke their business ties with Preston Gates, and began dealing directly with Abramoff, using Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform as a conduit. (Norquist had done work for them in the past)
However, what Abramoff was hoping to pull off this time, was much bigger and riskier than dog tracks and state lotteries.
In October 2001, Abramoff began to suggest to the Louisiana Coushatta that the Texas legislature was "one vote away" from legalizing certain forms of gambling in Texas. The Alabama Coushatta - a related but competing tribe to the Louisiana Coushatta - also sought to open a casino in eastern Texas in 2001. Abramoff told the Louisiana Coushatta that if the Tigua succeeded in their court case, then Texas would be forced to allow the Alabama Coushatta to open their casino. Many of the Coushatta's casino customers traveled over the border from eastern Texas to Louisiana, so this could pose a grave threat to their livelihood. (2)Abramoff then suggested to the Choctaw that they should support Christian evangelical conservatives, who were prepared to oppose gaming expansion in Texas, and Reed was again on the payroll. "Reed worked with Houston pastors and church congregations to make demands on the state government to prevent the casinos from opening." (2)
According to the director of the movie, Alex Gibney, in response to Reed suggesting that the work he did for Abramoff was "outstanding" and something he was "proud of":
Let's say it plain: Ralph Reed is a fraud ... there was probably nothing illegal about what Reed did. But, he was engaged in a kind of spiritual fraud: telling his supporters that he was opposed to gambling when, in fact, gambling was making him rich. (3)Though Reed still denies that he knew that the millions of dollars paid him came from casino profits, there are numerous email exchanges that prove otherwise. And if that deception isn't bad enough, he also implied that he was "fully investigated by John McCain's Senate Committee on Indian Affairs", and cleared. However, according to Gibney:
Reed correctly notes that he has never been charged with a crime and implies that he had been fully investigated by John McCain's Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. But the implication is deceptive. According to one very famous, disgraced former lobbyist, Reed was supposed to have been called before McCain's committee but Karl Rove intervened and pressured McCain not to call Reed. To Reed, Abramoff committed the unpardonable sin of getting caught, and that's why Reed prays for him. Well, Abramoff did his time and now seems to be willing to speak the truth. Reed should pray for himself. (3)Touché!
Leo Strauss Would Have Been Proud
In her book: Leo Strauss and the American Right, Shadia Drury of the University of Calgary, reveals that Strauss suggested that the exploiting of religion by the "right thinking elite" was necessary.
The key is to use the most artful and most reliable techniques that history has made available. And in Strauss's view, nothing has ever proved to be more effective than the influence of religion. (4)Karl Marx called religion the "opium of the people", but to Ralph Reed and most other "elite" in the movement, it is pure gold.
Religion can be a good thing, when it inspires, but can be lethal when it incites.
There is no doubt that religion often exerts a wholesome influence on human conduct. And it may even serve as a small protection against tyranny and the abuse of power because persons committed to the moral life may prefer to risk their lives than to collaborate with wicked schemes. But it is also the case that religious fervor often turns political and even militant. Religious groups are not always satisfied with the religious freedom that liberal society affords them. They are not content to gather together, worship, sing, play, and educate their children as they see fit. They are interested in imposing their vision of private morality on the rest of society. What they want is not freedom of religion, but conformity to their religious views. (4)Drury continues:
Their current mood is overtly political if not altogether militant. The Christian Coalition, founded by Pat Robertson and then led by his protégé Ralph Reed, is a case in point. Its "leadership school" does not waste much time on prayer, but on the political process and how best to manipulate it. Grassroots leaders in hundreds of counties in every state are instructed in the modern art of quick communication—phone, fax, and modem. These leaders are trained to mobilize their troops into rapid-response networks intended to "blitz" or bombard congressmen with the values of the coalition. (4)It is said that 26 Republican presidential hopefuls have sought out Reed for advice, with chequebook in hand, of course. And why not?
When [Pat] Robertson's campaign flamed out, political analysts served up a new round of obituaries for the religious right, but once again, the reports of its death proved premature. Even as Robertson nursed a wounded ego, he was hatching his organizational revenge, hiring a fresh-faced young doctoral student named Ralph Reed to build a grass-roots evangelical network, focusing first on the takeover of school boards and town councils before ultimately commandeering the machinery of the Republican National Committee itself. That institutional coup took place almost entirely beneath the media's radar, and by the time it finally caught their attention, Reed's Christian Coalition controlled both houses of Congress and would later play a major role in putting George W. Bush in the White House, not once but twice. (5)Their political goals include returning prayer to schools, recriminalizing abortion, stripping known homosexuals of their civil rights, teaching creationism in the schools, and censoring libraries and the press, all included in Reed's "contract with the American family", that was released right after Newt Gingrich's 'Contract with America".
American conservatives such as William Buckley and William Bennett fool themselves in thinking that the Christian right is simply interested in safe streets, good schools, strong families, nonintrusive government, and a chummy Communitarian atmosphere .... They are very much interested in governmental interference to uphold and enforce their own values and preferences, not only in matters pertaining to public morality, but in private morality as well. But their political tactics call their ethics into question. For example, Ralph Reed has defended the "stealth campaigns" of Christian Coalition candidates who have disguised their political agenda by campaigning on issues such as crime or taxes, but have revealed once in office that their real interests are in gay rights, abortion, and creationism.Touché again!
Reed justifies such deception as a type of "guerrilla warfare." He flatters himself into thinking that his stealth campaigns are a matter of using the tactics of a guerrilla war against Satan. Those who paint their political opponents as the forces of evil and regard themselves as the defenders of good, are inclined to justify any means as necessary to defeat their opponents. The urgency of vanquishing the satanic forces, and the sheer immensity of the task, blinds them to the fact that such mendacious and duplicitous conduct is a blatant disregard of Christian virtue. (4)
Ralph Reed in the Great White North
On May 5, 1996; the Albion Monitor reported on a group of Canadians, who had made the trek to Washington in the fall of 1995, to attend a conference of The Christian Coalition. Their visit resulted in the creation of the Canadian Christian Coalition, whose board members included Reform Party members, Ted and Link Byfield, and our own Jason Kenney.
... ominous for democratic rights in [British Columbia] is the recent hatching of the B.C. clone of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition ... The B.C. chapter is headed up by Operation Rescue activist Don Spratt, and claims among its founding board members former B.C. Premier and ardent anti-choicer Bill Vander Zalm. In an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun, Spratt insisted (somewhat oxymoronically) "We have no ties with our U.S. counterpart." However, according to news reports, The Christian Coalition of Canada materialized after dozens of conservative Christians in this country thronged to Washington, DC, last fall to attend a major convention of the U.S. organization.Touché, touché. touché, dammit!
"Advisors" to the new CCC reportedly include Ted and Link Byfield (owners of the ultra-conservative B.C. Report and Alberta Report magazines), Jason Kenny (head of the Canadian Taxpayers Association), and Alex Parachin (head of the Christian Broadcasting Associates in Toronto, the Canadian branch plant of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network). ...While Don Spratt may be telling readers "Nobody has anything to fear from Christian Coalition," progressive activists and journalists will have to make sure the electorate knows better. (6)
The B.C. branch was responsible for a ban on Planned Parenthood in Surrey. Stephen Harper has since expanded that, by cancelling all funding for PP, domestic and international. The Tea Party gang have also been instrumental in the organization's demise in the U.S.
We beat them. Yeah for us. (sigh)
However, while Jason Kenney may have been among the first to transport Ralph Reed's "faith for profit and righteous indignation" to Canada, he was by no means the last. Two members of Stockwell Day's team, Brian Rushfeldt and Roy Beyer ("Families for Day"), visited Reed to solicit his help in getting Day elected as Alliance leader in 2000.
Both men were graduates of Charles McVety's Canadian Christian College.
In 2005, McVety invited Reed to speak at that institution, making sure that his protégé was in attendance: Jim Flaherty.
His very attentive listeners were challenged by Reed to “get on your work boots and tennis shoes and go out there like it all depends on you, pray like it all depends on God and let’s usher in the greatest victory in the history of this country.” (7)Mcvety had already worked with Flaherty in his bid for leadership of the Ontario conservatives, but ironically, Flaherty was considered to be too right wing. It was probably just the company he kept.
A Christian Manifesto Revisited
Francis Schaeffer, whose book A Christian Manifesto became the blueprint for the Religious Right, apparently regretted his involvement with the movement that he grew to detest. According to his son, Francis Jr. (Frank), in his book Crazy for God:
Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, and others would later use their power in ways that would have made my father throw up. Dad could hardly have imagined how they would help facilitate the instantly corrupted power-crazy new generation of evangelical public figures like Ralph Reed, who took money from the casino industry while allegedly playing both sides against the middle in events related to the Abramoff Washington lobbyist scandal.Rick Salutin was fired as a columnist for the Globe and Mail, because he reminded Canadians of Harper's links to Leo Strauss. His only error in the column was calling him the "last" Straussian. Those guys breed like rabbits.
... Long before Ralph Reed and his ilk came on the scene, Dad got sick of "these idiots," as he often called people like [James] Dobson in private. They were "plastic," Dad said, and "power-hungry They were "Way too right-wing, really nuts!" and "They're using our issue to build their empires." (9)
In March of 1995, former leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning, was invited to speak to the editorial board of the Washington Post. Newt Gingrich had been singing Manning's praises with the American media, as an important factor in his 1994 election victory.
Naturally they wanted to meet the Canadian neocon guru.
The late Dalton Camp, wrote a column about the visit, under the heading: Mr. Manning Goes to Washington.
"The Reform agenda includes a host of issues with American analogs—opposition to abortion rights, gun control and gay rights"—and lower taxes, less government, fewer rights for consumers, and "family values."
This does remind me once again of Senator James M. Inhofe* (R. Oklahoma), who has said he campaigned last fall, and won, on "God, gays, and guns."** No doubt Preston could arrange through Newt to meet with Inhofe, who is a great admirer of Jesse Helms who is a good friend of Al D'Amato who knows Dick Armey who needs no introduction to Ralph Reed of The Christian Coalition warmly supported by Pat Buchanan who knows Pat Robertson.
Knowing our man Manning has direct access to those guys makes you feel warm all over, doesn't it? (9)
1. God's Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, By Sarah Posner, PoliPoint Press, 2008, ISBN: 0-9794822-1-6
2. Wikipedia: Jack Abramoff Indian lobbying scandal
3. The Deceptions of Ralph Reed, By Alex Gibney, The Atlantic, September 26, 2010
4. Leo Strauss and the American Right, By Shadia B. Drury, St. Martin's Press, 1999, ISBN: 0-312-12689-1, p. 19-21
5. The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, By: Marci McDonald, Random House Canada, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-307-35646-8 3, p. 5
6. The Christian Coalition Comes to Canada, by Kim Goldberg, The Albion Monitor, May 5, 1996
7. US Political Wiz Ralph Reed Urges Canadian Social Conservatives to “Make History” This Election, LifeSite News, December 2, 2005
8. Whose Country is This Anyway? Mr. Manning Goes to Washington, By Dalton Camp, Douglas & McIntyre, 1995, ISBN: 1-55054-467-5, Pg. 185
9. Crazy For God: How I Grew Up a One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take it All (or Almost All) of it Back, By Frank Schaeffer, Carroll & Graf, 2007, ISBN: 13-978-0-7867-1891-7, p. 299-300
10. Where Does the Reform Party Go From Here, By Stephen Harper, Globe and Mail, March 21, 1995