- Chris Hedges
Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for The New York Times who has reported from more than 50 countries over the last 20 years. Chris is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. He is author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Losing Moses on the Freeway. He has a master’s degree in theology from Harvard University and is the son of a Presbyterian minister. His new book is American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.
Chris Hedges’s new book examines how Christian dominionists are seeking absolute power and a Christian state. According to Hedges, the movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s. Hedges is the former New York Times Middle East bureau chief and author of "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the religious right and the rise of it in this country. A new book by Chris Hedges is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. It investigates the highly organized and well-funded dominionist movement. The book looks at their agenda, examines the movement’s origins and motivations and uncovers its ideological underpinnings. American Fascists argues that dominionism seeks absolute power in a Christian state. According to Hedges, the movement bears a strong resemblance to the young fascist movements in Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s.
Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times for many years, where he won a Pulitzer Prize. He’s also the author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Losing Moses on the Freeway. Chris Hedges has a master’s degree in theology from Harvard University and is the son of a Presbyterian minister. He is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and joins me in studio now. Welcome to Democracy Now!
CHRIS HEDGES: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Why did you write this book?
CHRIS HEDGES: Anger. I mean, I grew up in the church and, of course, as you mentioned, graduated from seminary, and I think these people have completely perverted and distorted and manipulated the Christian message into something that is the very antithesis of certainly what Jesus preached in the gospels.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are "these people"?
CHRIS HEDGES: These are — you know, they’re not — we use terms like "evangelical" and "fundamentalist" to describe them, and I think that those are incorrect terms. Traditional fundamentalists always called on believers to remove themselves from the contaminants of secular society, shun involvement in politics. Evangelical leaders like Billy Grahams always warned followers to keep their distance from political power. He, of course, was burned by Richard Nixon, came to Nixon’s defense, and then when it publicly came out that Nixon lied, it taught a lesson to Graham.
This is a new movement, as embodied by people like James Dobson or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, who call for the creation of a Christian state, who talk about attaining secular power. And they are more properly called dominionists or Christian reconstructionists, although it’s not a widespread term, but they’re certainly not traditional fundamentalists and not traditional evangelicals. They fused the language and iconography of the Christian religion with the worst forms of American nationalism and then created this sort of radical mutation, which has built alliances with powerful right-wing interests, including corporate interests, and made tremendous inroads over the last two decades into the corridors of power.
AMY GOODMAN: Why the term "dominionist"?
CHRIS HEDGES: It come out of Genesis, you know, where God gives humankind dominion over creation. It’s articulated by ideologues, such as Rousas Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer and others, and essentially is a new concept within the radical Christian right, and it’s used sparingly. And some dominionists don’t like the term, but I think it denotes or is probably a better term for denoting those people who want to take political power.
AMY GOODMAN: On the back of your book, Chris, is a quote from your professor at Harvard, Dr. James Luther Adams, who said that in a few decades we would all be fighting "Christian fascists." Who was he, and why did he think this?
CHRIS HEDGES: James Luther Adams was my ethics professor at Harvard Divinity School. He had spent the years 1935 and 1936 in Germany working with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the Confessing Church or anti-Nazi church and eventually was picked up by the Gestapo and told to leave the country. He came back — and this was in the early 1980s, when I was in seminary — and saw the articulation of this new political religion, this religion that talked about seizing control of mainstream denominations, as well as institutions, creating a parallel media empire through Christian radio and broadcasting, and ultimately taking control of the government itself.
And he understood, in a visceral way, how when countries fall into despair — of course, this began — it was the time that began the assault on the American working class, which has been accelerated and essentially left tens of millions of people within our own country dispossessed — he understood how demagogues use that despair. And I think we can say there, in many ways, has been a kind of Weimarization of the American working class. And he saw what we were doing through globalization, what we were doing to our working class and our middle class, coupled with the rise of these so-called Christian demagogues, as a frightening and toxic combination, which, if left unchecked, would destroy our democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Why do you begin with Umberto Eco? And explain who he is.
CHRIS HEDGES: Umberto Eco is the great Italian writer — I mean, he wrote that very popular book, The Name of the Rose, and he had a nice little book of essays called Five Moral Pieces, and in it he writes about the salient qualities of what he calls "Ur-Fascism," or eternal fascism. And I wanted to list those — I thought it was probably as good a list as I’d ever seen compiled on what the main tenets of fascism are —- to begin the book, because my argument is that this is not a religious movement. Although it certainly depends on the support of many earnest, well-meaning, decent people who are religious, I would argue that they are manipulated not only, of course, to be fleeced for their own money, but essentially to give up moral choice and surrender to the authoritarian demands of these leaders to march forward and essentially dismantle our democratic state. And I think that when we look closely at what it is that this Christian right movement espouses, it does bear many similarities to, you know, the main pillars of fascist movements: the cult of masculinity, the war against -—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, "the cult of masculinity"?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the fact that, you know, they elevate male figures within the megachurches, who cannot be questioned, who speak directly for God. Any kind of questioning or self-criticism becomes essentially battling the forces of Satan. That power structure is to be replicated in the family. Much of this movement is about the disempowerment of women. Children have to be obedient. And so, that power structure of the family with the dominant male and everyone else submissive is replicated in the megachurches, which oftentimes — and I’ve been in many over the last two years — revolve around cults of personality.
When we look at the sort of empires that people like Pat Robertson run, you know, this man is worth hundreds of millions, some people say up to $1 billion, surrounded by bodyguards, flying around on private jets, investing in blood diamonds in Sierra Leone. He has rock star status. I mean, if you’ve ever been to an event where he appears, people are weeping and want to be touched by him. There is no question. He essentially runs a despotic little fiefdom.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the blood diamonds part.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, he uses the money, which he takes from, really, people who live on the fringes of American society and should not be mailing him their checks, in all sorts of very dirty investments in Africa. And one of them was essentially getting involved in the trade of diamonds essentially for weapons that rend Sierra Leone.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Chris Hedges. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, went to seminary and has written a number of books. His latest is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Chris Hedges. His latest book called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. We were just talking about Pat Robertson. I wanted to go back to that famous quote of his. This had to do with foreign policy and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
PAT ROBERTSON: You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it. It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war. And I don’t think any oil shipments will stop, but this man is a terrific danger. This is in our sphere of influence, so we can’t let this happen. We have the Monroe Doctrine. We have other doctrines that we have announced. And without question, this is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil that could hurt us very badly. We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.
AMY GOODMAN: Pat Robertson. Your response, Chris Hedges?
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s a deeply Christian message, calling for assassination. You know, I covered the war in Central America, and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell came down to support the murderous rampages of Rios Montt in Guatemala, the military dictatorship that were running death squads that were killing 800 to 1,000 people a month in El Salvador, and, of course, the Contras, whose main contribution in Nicaragua was walking into towns drunk out of their mind, raping the women and killing the men and burning the villages. And they describe these battles as essentially a war against Satan, against Satanic forces, godless communism that had to be defeated. There are no international boundaries in Satan’s kingdom, if you look at it from their ideology. I think that the kinds of the wholehearted support for genocidal killers in Central America, which Pat Robertson was one of the stalwarts, is a tip-off as to, you know, without legal restraints, what they would like to do within our own borders.
And I think that the quote or the clip that you just played is a perfect illustration of how dark the intentions of this movement is and how, if we don’t begin to stand up and fight back, if we believe that these people can be domesticated and brought into the political arena where they will act responsibly, we’re very, very naive. And we should all sit down, and as unpalatable as it is, and listen to Christian — so-called Christian radio and television to see the kinds of messages of hate and exclusion that they are spewing out over the airwaves.
AMY GOODMAN: The quote of Jerry Falwell right after September 11th that became quite famous: "I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'" He was speaking on September 13, 2001, on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club program.
CHRIS HEDGES: That’s right. And, you know, this is — I mean, essentially, when you follow the logical conclusion of the ideology they preach, there really are only two options for people who do not submit to their authority. And it’s about submission, because these people claim to speak for God and not only understand the will of God, but be able to carry it out. Either you convert, or you’re exterminated. That’s what the obsession with the end times, with the rapture, which, by the way, is not in the Bible, is about. It is about instilling — it’s, of course, a fear-based movement, and it’s about saying, ultimately, if you do not give up control to us, you will be physically eradicated by a vengeful God. And that lust for violence, I think that sort of — you know, the notion, that final aesthetic being violence is very common to totalitarian movements, the belief that massive catastrophic violence can be used as a cleansing agent to purge the world. And that’s, you know, something that this movement bears in common with other despotic and frightening radical movements that we’ve seen over the past — throughout the past century.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about some of the meetings you attended, from the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation to the Evangelism Explosion that was a seminar taught by Dr. D. James Kennedy?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the Evangelism Explosion was a one-week seminar taught by Kennedy, was about certifying people to be able to go out and teach this conversion technique. And what was fascinating about it is how manipulative and dishonest it was. You know, what they do is essentially they cook the testimonies. They promise people that if they commit themselves to Christ, they can get rid of the deepest existential dreads of human existence: the fear of mortality, you know, grief, one of the — we were supposed to read testimonies. We would turn them into the teachers, and they would send them back. And it was always about, you know, I have 100 percent certainty that I know that if I die tomorrow, I will go to heaven. Or, I lost my son — one of the examples was — in the war in Vietnam, but I don’t grieve, because I know I’m going to meet him in heaven.
And they talked about targeting people who are vulnerable. They used a technique very common to cults. It’s called love bombing — it’s a term taken from Margaret Singer — where you — three or four people go, and you sort of focus intently on the person and are fascinated by everything that they say. You build false friendships. And eventually, of course, the goal is to draw them into these megachurches.
This movement talks about family, but it is the great destroyer of family. And I would stand up in these — or I would be in these meetings and see people stand up weeping, and they would be weeping for unsaved spouses or children, because once you get sucked into these organizations, your leisure time, your religious worship time, you end up becoming involved in groups, you’re essentially removed from your old community and placed into this authoritarian community, where there is no questioning of those above you. You’re often assigned — you’re called a baby Christian when you first come, and you’re assigned spiritual guides to teach you to think and act in the appropriate manner.
When I went to the National Religious Broadcasters Association in California, the most interesting thing about it was how these radical dominionists, these people who have built an alliance around the drive to create a Christian state, have taken over virtually all Christian radio and television stations. And there are traditional evangelicals who would like to step back from this political agenda, and they have been very ruthlessly brushed aside.
You saw it in the purging of the Southern Baptist Convention, when essentially dominionists like Richard Land took it over in 1980. There were many ministers who were very conservative and thought abortion was murder, were no friends to sort of gays and lesbians, but they didn’t buy into that political agenda, which of course has been fused with rapacious capitalism.
I mean, this movement talks about acculturating the society with a Christian religion. In fact, it’s the inverse. What they’ve done is acculturate the Christian religion with the worst aspects of American imperialism and American capitalism. And there’s that kind of uneasy alliance with many of these corporate interests. But it serves their turn. I mean, when you’re creating the corporate state, it’s very convenient to have an ideology that says, "Don’t worry. You don’t need health insurance, because if you have enough faith, Jesus will cure you. It doesn’t matter if all of your jobs are outsourced and there are no labor unions, because, you know, God takes care of his own. And not only that, but God will make you materially wealthy." This is, you know, the gospel of prosperity. So, essentially, what we’ve seen is that fusion between those who want to build a corporate state and this ideological movement that thrusts believers who come out of deep despair into a world of magic and miracles and angels.
AMY GOODMAN: And what are the corporations that are part of this?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, DeVos, a guy who founded Amway; Target; Sam’s Club. You know, they bring in — a lot of these corporations like Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club and others bring in these sort of dominionist or evangelical ministers into the plants as a way to mollify workers. Subscribing to this belief system is essentially about disempowerment.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Chris Hedges. He has written the book, American Fascists. How does this fit into the race for president in 2008?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, certainly this movement has tremendous reach within the Republican Party, Amy, and I think we could argue it all but controls the Republican Party at this point. We see it with John McCain, who in 2000 called Falwell and Robertson "agents of intolerance" and is now sort of falling all over himself to court this movement.
I think it’s a mistake to think that George Bush somehow embodies the movement. I think there’s a great deal of frustration with Bush, remember, on the issue of immigration, and there is a tension, an uneasy alliance between these corporate interests and this radical movement, and I think, you know, we should also say, as Robert Paxton points out in his book, Anatomy of Fascism, that fascist movements always build alliances with conservative or industrial interests, and oftentimes these alliances are not seamless. But on the issue of immigration, Bush sided with the corporations, who want illegal immigrants for cheap labor. There’s a huge nativist element, a huge hostility towards immigrants within the movement, and that angered the Christian right.
I think they’re going to go searching for another candidate — maybe Brownback, I don’t know — who they feel — I mean, it boils down to the fact that they feel Bush was not radical enough. And they’re going to go searching for a candidate that is going to swing further right, further towards the radical agenda that they have at their core. And this clip from Robertson, I think, is a public display of — you know, unleashed how far they would like to go.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, Iran. Let’s talk about Iraq, Iran, war, and what you call the American fascists.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, that’s a really important point, because none of these movements can take power unless there is a period of prolonged instability or a crisis. They can make creeping gains, and they have made tremendous gains, including taking hundreds of millions of dollars of American taxpayer money through the faith-based initiative program. But I think, as weak as our democracy is, we can hold them off, unless we enter a period of instability.
From my reading of the Bush White House, I think there’s a very strong possibility that before the end of the Bush administration, they will make a strike against Iran. I think that what they’ve done is — or what Karl Rove has done is essentially adopt a corruption of Leon Trotsky’s notion of a permanent revolution — only, it’s permanent war. Now, you know, the military-industrial complex, which is making huge profits off the war in Iraq, let’s not forget, is essentially driving this administration. I think these people live in an alternate reality. I think they really do believe that they dropping cruise missiles and bunker busters and making conventional airstrikes against supposed sites that they’ve targeted in Iran — 700 to 1,000, according to Sy Hersh — will bring the Iranian regime down. Having spent seven years in the Middle East, a lot of that time in Iran and Iraq, I’m quite certain that they will have no more success in Iran than the Israelis had in Lebanon.
The problem with striking Iran is that it has the potential to create a regional conflict. I mean, we’re already fighting a proxy war with Iran through Hezbollah in Iraq — there’s no question that the Iraqi Shiites are getting assistance from Iran and always have been — and to a certain extent with the conflict with Hamas, which probably gets some help from Iran, as well. But a strike against Iran would be, in the eyes of Shiites throughout the Middle East, a strike against Shiism. You have two million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, many of whom work in the oil sector, Bahraini Shia, huge Shia minority in Pakistan, and, of course, most of Iraq is Shia. And I think that that kind of a hit would — has the potential to unleash a regional conflict.
I think we should remember that Iran does not have the conventional capacity to do anything to the United States, but they could very well strike Israel, especially. Of course, there’s talk of Israeli involvement in some kinds of airstrikes. That would provoke a retaliation. Hezbollah would not sit by quietly. I think that in sort of unconventional weapons — I don’t know what those would be — I mean, you know, Iran, it’s an unprovoked attack. I mean, under international law, Iran has a right to strike back, and I think that they would. And that could really create a spiral, a kind of death spiral that frightens me deeply. And I think what really frightens me is that no one in the Democratic Party is speaking up, with the exception of Kucinich. Nobody has spoken out against hitting Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this latest headline that we read today. You have, what came out in the last few weeks, reporters in Baghdad getting this unusual briefing where there weren’t allowed to name names or even take in their video cameras, being told that Iran was supplying — what was it? — highest levels of the Iranian government sending sophisticated roadside bombs to Iraq that have killed 170 coalition troops since 2004. I wanted to ask about Michael Gordon, your former colleague at The New York Times, the person who was so-called breaking the story, who was deeply involved with the weapons of mass destruction myths also in his writings with Judith Miller, and now this latest today, the Iranian government accusing the U.S. and Britain of being involved in an attack last week that killed 11 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Start with Michael Gordon.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, that’s probably the best reason to watch Democracy Now!, rather than read The New York Times, about the war in Iraq. It’s almost — one’s left sort of speechless. I guess it’s proof that some people never learn anything. I mean, I was on the investigative team and got briefly sort of tarnished with that dirt. I was based in Paris covering al-Qaeda but did get sucked into one of these sort of sham Chalabi stories.
AMY GOODMAN: Which one?
CHRIS HEDGES: It was the one where they supposedly had a defector in Lebanon. It wasn’t my story, but, I mean, it ended up —- you tend on investigative units to work as teams. It was Lowell Bergman’s story, which was broadcast on Frontline, but he could not fly to Beirut to interview the guy, so I did. But, I mean, it was my body. I was there. And -—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who he was, the person you interviewed?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, he was an impostor. Supposedly, he was a general, and he was talking about training camps that were being run in Iraq for al-Qaeda. I think it’s been pretty well discredited. So I find it — I mean, I find the tactics — and we see it, you know, ratcheting up with the rhetoric with Iran. I mean, we see that they’re familiar tactics and familiar lies. And it’s just stunning that people as bright as Michael Gordon buy into it. I don’t get it.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, it’s not just Michael Gordon. He writes the piece, and then the institution of the Times, well, they put it on the front page —
CHRIS HEDGES: Exactly.
AMY GOODMAN: — and they’re the ones that make it the big exclusive story based on unnamed sources. And it beats this drum for war.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: What will you do if the U.S. attacks Iran?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I’m not going to pay my income taxes. I just am in such despair over the consequences of that war and the fact that there just really is no — seems to be no organized opposition. And I think that I have a kind of moral responsibility as someone who comes out of the Middle East and has, I mean, directly, you know, friends throughout the years that I spent there who would suffer tremendously from that. And I sort of — it may not change anything, and it may be sort of futile, but I think that at least when it’s over, I’ll have earned the right to ask for their forgiveness.
AMY GOODMAN: Christian Zionist movement, how does it fit into this?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, the relationship between this radical movement and the radical right in Israel is one that really brings together Messianic Jews and Messianic Christians who believe that they have been given a divine or a moral right to control one-fifth of the world’s population who are Muslim. It’s a really repugnant ideology. The radical Christian right in this country is deeply anti-Semitic. I mean, look at what they — you know, when the end times come, except for this 144,000 Jews who flee to Petra and are converted — I think this was a creation of Tim LaHaye — Jews will be destroyed, along with all other nonbelievers, including people like myself who are nominal Christians, in their eyes. You know, there is no respect for Judaism in and of itself. It’s an abstraction. It’s, you know, Jews have to control Israel, because that is one more step towards Armageddon. And I find that alliance strange and very shortsighted on the part of many right-wing Israelis and right-wing Jews in the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: This latest story, the Anti-Defamation League calling on Georgia state Rep. Ben Bridges to apologize for a memo distributed under his name that says the teaching of evolution should be banned in public schools, because it is a religious deception stemming from an ancient Jewish sect. The memo calls on lawmakers to introduce legislation that would end the teaching of evolution in public schools, because it’s "a deception that is causing incalculable harm to every student and every truth-loving citizen."
CHRIS HEDGES: And there’s a bill now in the Texas state Legislature that will abolish all mention of evolution in school textbooks and make Bible study mandatory in public schools. And the role of creationism is extremely important in this movement. It’s not just wacky pseudoscience. It is really a war against truth. It is not about presenting an alternative. It’s about saying facts are interchangeable with opinions, that lies are true, that we can believe whatever we want. And once they successfully elevate creationism, which, of course, is a myth — I mean, teaching creation out of the Book of Genesis is an absurdity. The writers of the Book of Genesis thought the Earth was flat with rivers of above and below us. But what it does is destroy the possibility or sanctity of honest, dispassionate, intellectual and scientific inquiry. And when they do that, they have made a huge step towards creating a totalitarian state.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Chris Hedges is the Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. His latest book is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Thanks for joining us.
CHRIS HEDGES: Thanks, Amy.