29 July 2007

Talking behind our backs

British journalist Johann Hari meets Red America.

I am standing waist-deep in the Pacific Ocean, both chilling and burning, indulging in the polite chit-chat beloved by vacationing Americans. A sweet elderly lady from Los Angeles is sitting on the rocks nearby, telling me dreamily about her son. “Is he your only child?" I ask. “Yes,” she says. “Do you have a child back in England?” she asks. No, I say. Her face darkens. “You'd better start,” she says. “The Muslims are breeding. Soon, they'll have the whole of Europe.”

I am getting used to these moments—when gentle holiday geniality bleeds into ... what? I lie on the beach with Hillary-Ann, a chatty, scatty 35-year-old Californian designer. As she explains the perils of Republican dating, my mind drifts, watching the gentle tide. When I hear her say, “Of course, we need to execute some of these people,” I wake up. Who do we need to execute? She runs her fingers through the sand lazily. “A few of these prominent liberals who are trying to demoralise the country,” she says. “Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that's what you'll get.” She squints at the sun and smiles. “Then things'll change.”

I am travelling on a bright white cruise ship with two restaurants, five bars, a casino—and 500 readers of the National Review. Here, the Iraq war has been “an amazing success”. Global warming is not happening. The solitary black person claims, “If the Ku Klux Klan supports equal rights, then God bless them.” And I have nowhere to run.

From time to time, National Review—the bible of American conservatism—organises a cruise for its readers. I paid $1,200 to join them.

Mind you, we're talking about the National Review, the undisputed leading magazine of American conservatism, founded by the witty and brilliant William F. Buckley, Jr., not the internet fever swamps of Little Green Footballs, FreeRepublic.com, or worse.

Not that I have any illusions about the National Review, after Brad DeLong has done us the service of digging through their archives.

Meanwhile, Max Blumenthal has been showing up at conservative events with a video camera, talking to participants. He turned up for the Christians United for Israel summit, which truly has to be seen to be believed. Among other things, it actually made me hate Joe Lieberman even more.

I attended Christians United for Israel's annual Washington-Israel Summit. Founded by San Antonio-based megachurch pastor John Hagee, CUFI has added the grassroots muscle of the Christian right to the already potent Israel lobby. Hagee and his minions have forged close ties with the Bush White House and members of Congress from Sen. Joseph Lieberman to Sen. John McCain. In its call for a unilateral military attack on Iran and the expansion of Israeli territory, CUFI has found unwavering encouragement from traditional pro-Israel groups like AIPAC and elements of the Israeli government.

But CUFI has an ulterior agenda: its support for Israel derives from the belief of Hagee and his flock that Jesus will return to Jerusalem after the battle of Armageddon and cleanse the earth of evil. In the end, all the non-believers—Jews, Muslims, Hindus, mainline Christians, etc.—must convert or suffer the torture of eternal damnation. Over a dozen CUFI members eagerly revealed to me their excitement at the prospect of Armageddon occurring tomorrow.


I have covered the Christian right intensely for over four years. During this time, I attended dozens of Christian right conferences, regularly monitored movement publications and radio shows, and interviewed scores of its key leaders. I have never witnessed any spectacle as politically extreme, outrageous, or bizarre as the one Christians United for Israel produced last week in Washington.

Don't kid yourself, this isn't a weird sideshow, any more than the National Review cruisers are. This is central to the conservative movement, and to the shape of American foreign policy. Evangelicals' belief that Israel is pivotal in fulfilling Biblical prophecies of Armageddon is far more responsible for the US supporting Israel than any Jewish or Israeli lobbying.

Almost as chilling, but much funnier, is Blumenthal's encounter with college Republicans. And less frivolously, his piece on CPAC, the conservative Political Action Committee, shows a very odd assortment of characters saying some odd and troubling stuff.

Blumenthal is becoming a bit like Michael Moore: smart, crafty, gutsy, and funny ... but with a badly compromising inability to resist the occasional cheap shot, as in his followup to the CPAC piece. That criticism of Blumenthal's style aside, he and Hari offer a scary look into the conservative mind. And don't forget that folks are the movement that gave us the Bush administration.

1 comment:

T. Thorn Coyle said...

Red America?

I was all set to read a nice little jaunt through contemporary US Communism, or something on Red Diaper babies and social security. Imagine my disappointment...