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    The Family Author Jeff Sharlet on His Time With The Fellowship, and Being Declared 'Evil'


    The author, journalist, and executive producer of the Netflix doc says the group is 'all in' on Donald Trump.

    By Gabrielle Bruney
    Sep 3, 2019
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    At the 1985 National Prayer Breakfast, Ronald Reagan praised the organization that mounted the event, a religious group known as the Family or the Fellowship. “Fellowships have begun to spring up throughout the Capitol,” he said. “They exist now in all three branches of the government, and they have spread throughout the capitals of the world, to parliaments and congresses far away.”

    “Since we met last year, members of the Fellowship throughout the world have begun meeting with each other,” he continued. “Members of our Congress have met with leaders and officials from other countries, approaching them and speaking to them, not on a political level, but a spiritual level. I wish I could say more about it, but it's working precisely because it is private.”

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    Mark Sanford and DC's Shadowy Religious Group


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    Doug Coe and Netflix's 'The Family,' Explained

    The group’s machinations aren’t quite as hidden these days, thanks in part to Netflix’s docuseries The Family. It tells a story spanning continents and decades, tracing the little-known but politically influential organization from its origins in the Depression-era anti-labor movement, through its associations with American presidents and global dictators. The group prizes secrecy, preaches a staunchly patriarchal, strongman-friendly variety of Christianity, and counts political figures like former Senators Tom Coburn and John Ensign, and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford among its members. It’s been at the center of American scandals and implicated in stoking violent homophobia abroad. The same National Prayer Breakfast, still held annually, functions as a lobbying bonanza and in 2018 hosted accused Russian spy Maria Butina.

    (In a statement responding to the docuseries, the Fellowship said that the program “mischaracterizes” the group’s work.)

    Journalist Jeff Sharlet, author of two books about the organization, The Family and C Street, served as one of the series’ executive producers. Sharlet hasn’t just investigated the Fellowship—he lived with the group at its Arlington headquarters in 2002, working and studying the Gospels alongside other young male members of the organization. While there, he began to learn the Fellowship’s unusual take on Christian theology, which abandons ministering to the poor or downtrodden in favor of focusing on the rich and powerful. We talked to him about his time living with the group, the Fellowship’s influence on American politics, and just what the organization thinks of President Donald Trump.


    Esquire: The Fellowship is famously secretive, so why did they allow a writer to live at Ivanwald? Did they think that you would become a true believer by the end?

    Sharlet: They never thought I'd become a true believer by the end. They thought after the first book that I was still going to come around! For an organization like this, made up of very privileged, very entitled people, operating at the center of power without much scrutiny for a long, long time—it didn't even really occur to them. They weren't so much hiding, because no one was looking. And it didn't occur to them that anyone would come asking tough questions.

    And to be honest, I didn't go to ask tough questions. I wasn’t an investigative reporter, I was writing about the varieties of religious experience. I told them I was working on a book called Killing the Buddha, which is a Buddhist expression. They may have interpreted it otherwise. I can't account for that.

    I took notes openly. And I wasn't undercover. I was there under my own name, introduced by a guy who'd known me for 12 years. They knew I was a Jew, they knew I was a writer, they knew the title of the book I was working on, and I took notes openly and asked questions.

    It was only after the publication of C Street that I earned an incredibly special designation in this movement. And I looked through half a century of their archives, working with some of the most monstrous killers around the world, murderers, dictators, and thieves. I alone have been declared evil.

    Does their willingness to forgive you even after the first book mean that you were considered to be among their elect?

    That's a good question, and I've never gotten a clear answer on it. For a long time, yes, I was a brother, but I was a bad brother. I was chosen by God. That's why I was there.

    Look, I've done two books about this, and now a series. You know, they've issued a statement in response to the series, and one thing that's clear is that in all this time, they've never disputed a fact. And in the series, they say that the mistake that I made, or the wrongdoing that I did, was to talk about the group. That's all. I wasn't supposed to talk about it. I was welcomed into this family, and then I spoke.

    So I don't know if, after 2010, when I got declared evil, if now we have fully transcended the kind of bastardized Calvinism by which they determine these ideas of chosen-ness. It's important to distinguish those ideas of chosen-ness—that's not mainstream Evangelicalism.

    How is a group this conservative able to sell themselves as being at all bipartisan and have presidents from both parties speaking at National Prayer Breakfasts? I mean, Doug Coe presumably wasn't telling Hillary Clinton his organization’s ideas about male hegemony.

    The turning point came in 1953, when they were able to launch the National Prayer Breakfast with [President Eisenhower]. Which they tried with FDR and Truman, and Truman showed them the door. He said, "Get the hell out of my office."

    And to his credit, that was Eisenhower's first response, too. And so they used Billy Graham, with whom they had a pretty deep relationship. And Billy Graham had been instrumental in organizing a Southern vote for Eisenhower, which is the beginning of the Republican turn. It didn't really take off there, but it dented the solid Democratic hold on the South.

    And he said, “Okay, I did something for you, Ike, and in return, I want you to go to the Prayer Breakfast.” And Ike said, "All right, I'll go, but I don't want any press there." He knew this was a First Amendment violation, because it will become a precedent. It did become a precedent. And once that happened, it sort of transcends partisanship, right?

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    And then comes Kennedy. And there was some consternation, and Jackie Kennedy actually refused to go. But Kennedy was already under suspicion as a Catholic, so he has to go. Well now you've got Ike and Kennedy. LBJ is the one who's going to turn on this? Not a chance. And it becomes an institution, and no president is not going to go.

    I wrote a piece about [Hilary Clinton's] involvement with a reporter named Kathryn Joyce. And it is a little bit deeper than you would think, not because she's a member, but because this is sort of the channel through which you deal with conservative religious power in Washington. That was the irony, Hillary was actually the devout, pious candidate [in 2016]. And always has been—she's a conservative Methodist.

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    Former Fellowship leader Doug Coe, standing behind Ronald and Nancy Reagan.
    Netflix
    You get Democrats who say, "Yeah, sure! I like prayer, and I'll go to a banal little Bible study with other congressmen every week. They're not going to get into any politics there." And then you've got their name on the letterhead. And you're able to maintain this veneer. One former member explained to me, he said, "Look. The reason that we never sort of organized around any legislation is because we felt we had more influence as long as we can keep a couple Democrats in the fold. And so we have access to everybody. And we have access internationally."

    How does the Fellowship feel about Trump? His administration’s chaotic style feels like it could be at odds with their quiet, seamless style of wielding power.

    They're going all in for Trump, with some dissenters within the organization. And there has been an embrace, and the embrace sort of pivots around Mike Pence. By putting Pence on the ticket, Trump signaled—not just to the Family, because Pence has many different Christian Right sort of currents running into him—he signaled to the whole Christian right he's willing to make a deal.

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    I don't make political predictions, I'm not a pundit, but the one time I got it right is in the book I wrote in 2010, C Street, which had a section about Sanford and Ensign. I said, “Okay, so Sanford and Ensign, these two once presidential contenders are obviously not going to make it.” And I looked at a couple of other figures who I could imagine. Senator John Thune from South Dakota, for instance, who's a member. I said, “Or maybe it will be a little-known congressman from Indiana named Mike Pence in The White House.” So I got it pretty close. Off by a seat, but pretty close.

    When Senator Chuck Grassley, who is currently the senator from Iowa—it’s a story I tell in the book—was dealing with Somalia, the dictator there at the time was named Siad Barre. The United States became his backer, largely through the Family. That is a case where they played a pivotal role in the destruction of a country. He laid wreckage to his country. And that kind of relationship, I think, sort of gives you a sense of what they're working with, and who they're willing to make deals with. So then when people say, "How can they support Trump?" I mean, they've got to be looking at Trump and saying, "You kidding? He's a buttercup, compared to the guys we work with."
     
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  3. Prospector

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    The paranoia of gun rights activists


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    This is a military rifle. It is designed to kill and maim. Do not let anyone tell you any different.
    This past week, Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke put gun rights activists into a tizzy. He has proposed a ban on all assault weapons, a mandatory buyback of said rifles, and a voluntary buyback of handguns.

    Beto O’Rourke called Friday for gun licensing and a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons, expanding on a controversial gun control platform he advanced in his return to the presidential campaign the previous day.

    Part of a proposal to address gun violence and white nationalism, O’Rourke said that, if enacted, anyone who failed to forfeit a banned assault weapon would be fined.

    In addition to banning assault weapons and requiring their forfeiture, O’Rourke said he would work to implement a voluntary buyback program for handguns. He proposed increasing the excise tax on gun manufacturers and fines on gun traffickers to fund buybacks.
    Gun rights activists are sputtering all over Twitter, saying that every Democratic presidential candidate is in favor this proposal (which is not not true). The gun lovers also claim that this would entail confiscation of their firearms. That’s another obvious lie: If you are being given compensation for something, it is not confiscation.

    I have no sympathy for gun rights activists. They have turned our world upside down, without regard for the consequences. These are selfish people, only caring for their wants and treating gun ownership as an absolute right. It is not, and that part of the Second Amendment is often overlooked in regards to the debate over firearms. The entire text reads:

    "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    This is not talking about individual gun rights. It is talking about a militia, a militia that today is known as the National Guard. It also speaks of it being well-regulated. To argue that no laws can be imposed to restrict gun ownership is absurd.

    Gun rights activists could have avoided talk of gun buybacks and making certain weapon types illegal, had they just agreed to modest proposals about firearm safety. Had they not pushed and pushed for ever more lax laws, ee would not be at this point, where this is even a question. The rise in mass shootings is not because of mental health issues, it is not because of violent video games, nor is it because parents did not discipline their children. It is because of lax firearms laws, and easy access to guns that should not be in the hands of civilians.

    Gun rights activists will argue that the AR-15 and AK-47 rifles sold to the civilian market are not military firearms, as they do not fire fully automatic. Bullshit. I carried the M-16A1, and M-16A2, and have fired AK-47s. Their rate of fire, the ability to quickly change magazines, and the fact that their magazines can carry up to 100 rounds: those weapons aren’t something you use to hunt rabbits. That is a weapon that has one purpose: to kill and maim human beings. If you argue you need an AR-15 for hunting, you need a new hobby. Because you do not fire off 30 rounds in less than 30 seconds to shoot a rodent.

    If you want to argue that you need your AR-15 to protect yourself against a tyrannical U.S. government, I give you the M1A2 Abrams


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    Trust me, your little peashooter isn’t even going to chip the paint on one of these.
    I promise you, you are no match for that with your AR-15, or against the infantry that support it.

    The other argument that gun rights activists like to use is that criminals do not follow the law. I am not a lawyer, and I do not pretend to understand the nuances of law in society. So I asked Joe Patrice at Above the Law about what laws are for, over and above preventing crime. This was his response:

    Someone is going to break every law. Criminals don’t follow laws against murder and no one suggests that’s a reason to legalize murder.

    There are a few schools of thought here but basically laws are just there incentivize/disincentivize certain behaviors in the best interest of society. In this model, a critic might say that if the law doesn’t succeed in convincing someone to obey then it failed. But it should be measured more broadly — how many people followed the law that wouldn’t have but for the law? The guide should be whether or not, on balance, the law produces more good behavior than bad. If 10% of cars on the road are driving irresponsibly that’s safer overall than if you have a Thunderdome world of abject chaos.

    And this doesn’t just have to be about “making a criminal not want to be a criminal.” When the country banned lawn darts that law didn’t make everyone want to stop playing lawn darts — but when the game stopped being on the shelves, a class of people who might have wanted it couldn’t get it and shrugged their shoulders and moved on. So fewer lawn dart matches regardless of what the individuals may have wanted. And there’s a whole other class of people who never would’ve ever cared about the game if they hadn’t seen it on the shelf in the first place.

    If we’re talking about gun regulations, how many people never get access to the gun because Walmart isn’t selling it or the manufacturers aren’t flooding the market with it?

    Another school of thought is that laws are just the reflection of the morals of society. In that model, murder is illegal because that’s what we aspire to and it doesn’t matter if it convinces anyone. Personally I don’t think that explains enough — what’s the moral code of parking tickets? But this is the philosophy, I think, of the gun crowd. They don’t want regulations because they know that shifts the moral frame of the nation to one that puts them on the outside so they complain that laws don’t matter to try and convince people not to make the moral pronouncement that casts them to the fringe of society.

    But no matter how you look at it, laws can’t be judged by who breaks them — that would literally be letting inmates run society.

    When I was a child growing up in the 1970s, mass shootings were rare. What we used to see in a decade, we now see in a six-month period. At that time, we also never saw anyone open carrying inside a Walmart, a Kroger, or anywhere else, for that matter. Walmart is “discouraging” open carry in its stores, while Kroger has asked its customers not to open carry in their stores. This was something that just 20 years ago was unheard of. Now ,we are expected to see it as a legal right and nothing to fear? Really? How do I know the guy (and it is always a guy) carrying that AR-15 into McDonald’s is just there to buy a Big Mac? If your establishment allows open carry, I will no longer step foot in the door. This is where insurance companies need to step in: If you are a business and open to the public, and you allow open or concealed carry in your establishment, you should be paying astronomical insurance rates.

    In closing (and just to remind everyone why we are at this point), below is a list compiled by Wikipedia of all the mass shootings in the United States since 2012. In the 1970s, there were a total of 14 mass shootings, and one of them was Kent State. In the 1980s, the number was 21. It is now September 2019 and we have already had 12 this year, with four months to go.

    We have a problem in this country and we need to address it, with strict gun control laws. If the gun activist crowd does not like it, well, they only have themselves to blame. There have been numerous chances to support and enact reasonable gun control laws. I am done with reasonable. Their paranoia over any law that could have prevented even one of these shootings has gotten us to this point, where we need to outlaw and ban these weapons. If they don’t like it, well, fuck them. They had their chance.

    list of shooting hit link:https://www.dailykos.com/stories/20...noia-of-gun-rights-activists?detail=emaildkre
     
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