Moon Over Washington

Why are some of the capital’s most influential power players hanging out with a bizarre Korean billionaire who claims to be the Messiah?

Should Americans be concerned that on March 23rd a bipartisan group of Congressmen attended a coronation at which a billionaire, pro-theocracy newspaper owner was declared to be the Messiah – with royal robes, a crown, the works? Or that this imperial ceremony took place not in a makeshift basement church or a backwoods campsite, but in a Senate office building?

The Washington Post didn’t think so. For a moment on April 4, a quote from the keynote speech was in the Web version of its “Reliable Sources” column. The speaker: Sun Myung Moon, 84, an ex-convict whose political activities were at the center of the 1976-8 Koreagate influence-peddling probe. That’s when an investigation by Congress warned that Moon, after having befriended Richard Nixon in his darkest hour, was surrounding himself with other politicians to overcome his reputation: as the leader of the cult-like Unification Church, which recruited unwary college students, filled Madison Square Garden with couples in white robes, wed them in bulk and demanded obedience.

That was before he launched the Washington Times – “in response to Heaven’s direction,” as he would later say – and a 20-year quest to make his enemies bow to him. He has also claimed, in newspaper ads taken out by the Unification Church, that Jesus, Confucius, and the Buddha have endorsed him. Muhammad, according to the 2002 ad, led the council in three cries of “mansei,” or victory. And every dead U.S. president was there, too – because Moon’s gospel is inseparable from visions of true-blue American power.

Now, this March, Moon was telling guests at the Dirksen Senate Office Building that Hitler and Stalin, having cleaned up their acts, had, in a rare public statement from beyond the grave, called him “none other than humanity’s Savior, Messiah, Returning Lord and True Parent.”

But not long after it appeared on the Post‘s web site, the paper erased the quote. Columnist Richard Leiby told me via e-mail that it shouldn’t have gone out in the first place. The paper replaced it with breaking news about “Celebrity Jeopardy!” with Tim Russert.

The Return of the King

So no one covered this American coronation, except Moon’s own Times, which skipped the Messiah part. It wasn’t in other newspapers, which only wink at the influence of Moon’s far-right movement in Washington, when they cover it at all.

In fact, the only place you could read about the new king, unless you bookmarked Moon’s Korean-language website, was in the blog world. There, dozens of the most CSPAN2-hardened cynics reacted to the screenshots with a resounding “WTF,” the sound of dismay and confusion at a scene that news coverage hadn’t prepared them for. The images might as well have come fromStar Trek‘s Mirror Universe.

First, we’re shown a rabbi blowing a ram’s horn. Most Jews would hold off on this until the High Holy Days, but it probably counts if the Moshiach shows up in a federal office building at taxpayer expense. Then we see the man of the hour, Moon, chilling at a table at the Dirksen in a tuxedo, soaking all this up. He claps. He’s having a ball.

Cut to the ritual. Eyes downcast, a man identified as Congressman Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) is bringing a crown, atop a velvety purple cushion, to a figure who stands waiting austerely with his wife. Now Moon is wearing robes that Louis XIV would have appreciated. All of this has quickly been spliced into a promo reel by Moon’s movement, which implies to its followers that the U.S. Congress itself has crowned the Washington Times owner.

But Section 9 of the Constitution forbids giving out titles of nobility, setting a certain tone that might have made the Congressional hosts shy about celebrating the coronation on their websites. They included conservatives, the traditional fans of Moon’s newspaper: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA.), Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) and Republican strategy god Charlie Black, whose PR firm represents Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. But there were also liberal House Democrats like Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) and Davis. Rep. Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) later told the Memphis Flyer that he’d been erroneously listed on the program, but had never heard of the event, which was sponsored by the Washington Times Foundation.

Rep. Curt Weldon’s office tenaciously denied that the Congressman was there, before being provided by The Gadflyer with a photo depicting Weldon at the event, found on Moon’s website. “Apparently he was there, but we really had nothing to do with it,” press secretary Angela Sowa finally conceded. “I don’t think it’s quite accurate that the Washington Times said that we hosted the event. We may have been a Congressional co-host, but we have nothing to do with the agenda, the organization, the scheduling, and our role would be limited explicitly to the attendance of the Congressman.”

The spokeswoman for one senator, who asked that her boss not be named, said politicians weren’t told the awards program was going to be a Moon event. The senator went, she said, because the Ambassadors promised to hand out awards to people from his home state, people who were genuinely accomplished. When the ceremony morphed into a platform for Moon, she said, people were disconcerted.

“I think there was a mass exodus,” she said. “They get all these senators on the floor, and this freak is there.”

A new world order

The last time someone declared himself Emperor of the United States, it was the Gold Rush’s Joshua Norton, a sort of failed dot-commer of the 1850s. But he was broke, whereas a random sampling of Moon’s properties might include a healthy chunk of the U.S. fishing industry, the graphic tablet company Wacom, and swaths of real estate on an epic scale. The money-losing Times is paid for by the $1 billion he’s sunk into it, along with untold funding for conservative policy foundations like the American Family Coalition.

George Soros has recently gotten lots of coverage as a supposedly eccentric billionaire influencing U.S. politics. But Soros is no Moon. In Moon’s speeches, a “peace kingdom” is envisioned, in which homosexuals – whom he calls “dung-eating dogs” – would be a thing of the past. He said in January: “Gays will be eliminated, the three Israels will unite. If not, then they will be burned. We do not know what kind of world God will bring, but this is what happens. It will be greater than the communist purge but at God’s orders.”

And ignoring every mainline Christian denomination’s rejection of the idea of Jewish collective guilt, Moon’s latest world tour calls on rabbis to repent for betraying Christ, the Jerusalem Post reported last week. Speaking in Arlington, VA in 2003, Moon said Hitler killed six million Jews as a penalty for this rejection. And he’s frank about calling for democracy and the U.S. Constitution to be replaced by religious government that he calls “Godism,” calling the church-state separation the work of Satan. “The church and the state must become one as Cain and Abel,” he said in the same sermon.

Towards this end, Moon’s “Ambassadors for Peace” have been promoting his goal of a “Religious United Nations” organized around God, not countries. In the June 19, 2003 Congressional Record, Rep. Davis joins Rep. Weldon in thanking Moon and the Ambassadors for “promoting the vision of world peace.” He praises their plan to “support the leaders of the United Nations” through interfaith dialogue. Much of the dialogue has consisted of getting Moon’s retinue of rabbis, ministers and Muslim clerics to hug each other, and be photographed handing out awards to politicians. The Ambassadors have addressed the United Nations and the British House of Lords. They have also honored at least one neo-Nazi, William Baker, former chair of the Holocaust-denying Populist Party.

And far from the free lunches that Emperor Norton received in San Francisco, Moon’s groups have taken home grant money from the Bush Administration, which has given his anti-sex missionaries $475,000 in Abstinence-Only dollars to bring Moon’s crusade against “free sex” to both black New Jersey high-schoolers and native Africans. The Centers for Disease Control briefly announced that another Moon foundation was the only group qualified to receive another, no-bid grant for HIV education in Africa. Only after a competitor raised objections did the CDC cancel the grant program entirely. Meanwhile, one of Moon’s top political movers, David Caprara, has been appointed by George W. Bush to head AmeriCorps VISTA; and another former church VIP, Josette Shiner, was given a senior trade position.

Friends in high places

In the early stages of the Reagan Revolution that embraced the Washington Times and Moon’s anti-Communist movement, it was embarrassing to be caught at a Moon event. Until George H.W. Bush appeared with Moon in 1996, thanking him for a newspaper that “brings sanity to Washington,” famous guests often spoke at front groups that concealed ties to the Unification Church. Bill Cosby was horrified to discover he’d agreed to speak at one. The reputation of future “Left Behind” author Tim LaHaye suffered after his wife accidentally gave Mother Jones a recording of him dictating a fond letter to Moon’s lieutenant Bo Hi Pak, plotting to replace Vice-President Bush with Jerry Falwell on the 1988 ticket. To many Christians, Moon was offensive, preaching that Jesus failed and that he would clean up the mess.

But now that he’s forged unbreakable ties with conservative Christians, Moon has moved on to African-American ministers, and, through them, allies in the Democratic Party. This has been below the radar of the press, but not for lack of outlandishness. Moon celebrated Easter Sunday, 2003 by launching a coast to coast series of “tear down the cross/Who is Rev. Moon?” events, targeting pastors in poor neighborhoods. From the Bronx to L.A., Moon’s people were convincing pastors to pull the crosses off their walls and replace them with his Family Federation flag. An old hymn was invoked: “I’ll trade the old cross for a crown.”

To Congressmen attending earlier stops in this roadshow, all this mysticism may have seemed too murky and exotic to understand. But the storyline is simple enough, if you take a step back.

Moon’s newest followers were invited to tear down the traditional symbol of Christianity, told they could swap it for a crown. But unlike the crown in the hymn, it wasn’t for them. It was the one that Congressmen gave, March 23 at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, to a wealthy right-wing newspaper owner, one described by Time magazine in 1976 as “megalomaniacal,” not much of an exaggeration for someone who claims to be the Second Coming. Unless of course he actually is.

The next day, according to a speech posted to a Moon mailing list and Usenet by a Unification church webmaster, Damian Anderson, Moon said he was leaving the country. “True Father spent 34 years here in America to guide this country in the right way,” he told followers. “Yesterday was the turning point.” But you can’t buy Moon’s high opinion of your country so easily (he’s called the U.S. “Satan’s harvest”).

America, he said, was on the road to its doom. Why? “Homo marriage.”

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