A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
It's sort of astonishing how many lobbyists and religious right operatives who claim to be these heroes of Christianity have worked so closely and become so entwined over the years with Reverend Moon, whose central message is that Jesus Christ was a failure, and that Moon had to be sent by God to make up for Jesus' bungling God's mission.
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Remember Rev. Moon? You know the one who presided over mass marriages between strangers who believed in his cult?
The bizarre religious leader who had himself anointed in a bizarre ceremony in a Congressional office building?
The man who has poured tens of millions of dollars into The Washington Times in order to provide a right-wing Republican propaganda newspaper for the GOP?
The man who presides over an international business empire, including being the "Sushi King"?
We could go on and on, but fiction could not be stranger than the life and times of Sun Myung Moon, a man of immense political power in the United States who knows how to keep a low but eccentric profile.
Former BuzzFlash night editor and Moon researcher John Gorenfeld fills out the profile of this self-described "Messiah" who is also an "expert" on "Godly" sexual positions.
"Bad Moon Rising" is as intriguing as it is disturbing.
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BuzzFlash: You have a new book: Bad Moon Rising, How Reverend Moon Created The Washington Times, Seduced the Religious Right, and Built an American Empire. For most Americans -- particularly people who go back a few years -- Reverend Moon is associated with the mass marriages of the Unification Church. The other thing that comes to mind was a rather bizarre ceremony he had in a Congressional office building a couple of years ago where he was anointed by Congressmen -- were there any Senators there?
John Gorenfeld: A Senator was responsible for booking the room, Senator John Warner, but it was mostly members of the House that were there.
BuzzFlash: How does one begin to summarize what the Reverend Moon is about? Can you rise to that challenge?
John Gorenfeld: It took a long time just to get a grip on that. It's such a massive subject with so many angles. The way I chose to start was with this bizarre ceremony that happened. Jon Stewart talked about it on "The Daily Show." It was a ritual coronation that they held for Reverend Moon at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, which is on Capitol Hill. I sort of start with the question, well, who is this guy that Congressmen can sit by while there's a crown put on his head, and he announces that he's the messiah?
It isn't something you really hear about a lot, especially if you're under forty years old. People just don't know about the Reverend Moon and what a controversial figure he was in the 1970s, 1980s, when he was sort of considered to be on a level of Jim Jones, or L. Ron Hubbard, or Charles Manson. He was on the nightly news as this threat to young people; he was known for aggressively recruiting people on college campuses to a cult, persuading them to sell flowers for the Reverend Moon, and holding these mass weddings where they were married to strangers.
So the task I take up in the book is explaining his bizarre transformation. How did this guy who was once considered a national nightmare become the publisher of the flagship conservative newspaper in Washington, D.C., The Washington Times? And what does it mean when that happens? How is it that this guy with a hard right, bureaucratic agenda fits in with the modern-day conservative movement? I try to look at the absurdities of that, and how is it that Reverend Moon can find common ground with the religious right.
BuzzFlash: Let's start with the background. I remember him during that period when he was known for being a cult, that he would have these mass marriages of maybe a thousand men and a thousand women, and he would arrange who would marry who.
John Gorenfeld: Right.
BuzzFlash: Of course, this went quite against the grain of a free society where people choose their own partners, for the short term or for marriage. He is Korean by birth, is that right?
John Gorenfeld: Yes.
BuzzFlash: He still goes back and forth between Korea and the United States. Is he a United States citizen?
John Gorenfeld: He's not a United States citizen, although he splits his time between South Korea, where he has this gigantic new palace that opened a couple of years ago -- it's so massive it looks like a cross between the White House and the Capitol Dome. But he also has mansions in upstate New York where he's spent quite a bit of his time in the past, where the old robber-barons used to live, up on the Hudson River.
BuzzFlash: Let's go back to this ritual that occurred in Congress that was bipartisan, where Democratic and Republican Congressmen basically participated in a coronation ritual in a House office building. Now that leads one to: What is a coronation? And that leads one to the Unification Church. He is the head founder of the Unification Church. What is that?
John Gorenfeld: The Unification Church is a political and religious and business movement founded in Korea in the 1950s that grew under a dictatorship that came to power in South Korea, where it was favored for having these fanatical anti-communist rallies. That really endeared Reverend Moon to the hard right in Japan and South Korea, where they were trying to rally students against communism.
That, in turn, was responsible for Reverend Moon becoming an intriguing figure to American hard right politicians of the Seventies, who looked at this guy that was trying to gain entry into the United States and said, you know, this guy survived torture in a North Korean prison camp. He could be the inspirational figure. Sure, we'll let him in. Senator Strom Thurmond helped him out with his immigration problems. And he came.
He really was allowed to address a session of Congress in 1976, 1977 -- this was recorded in The New York Times -- I can't remember the year exactly. We all know Reverend Moon as this kind of cult leader. But one of the major discoveries of the book that's so fascinating is that before he was able to become such a sensation in American culture, he was already smiled upon by anti-communist politicians in Washington, D.C. They felt we should allow this guy to come in and rally people against communism. And he really took advantage of a variety of unsuspecting U.S. politicians.
I should probably point out, though, in regard to the coronation on Capitol Hill, that it was essentially set up by a religious right lobbyist, Gary Jarmin. And Representative Danny Davis, who's a liberal Democrat from your part of the world, from Illinois, did bring a crown to Reverend Moon's wife and put it on her head. A lot of the people involved in letting this thing happen on Capitol Hill were really important figures in the development of the religious right. It's sort of astonishing how many lobbyists and religious right operatives who claim to be these heroes of Christianity have worked so closely and become so entwined over the years with Reverend Moon, whose central message is that Jesus Christ was a failure, and that Moon had to be sent by God to make up for Jesus' bungling God's mission. In fact, Reverend Moon is, as he says, better than God and better than Jesus. Anyway, the coronation was a ceremony to replace Jesus set up by conservatives. They gave their help for years, and Reverend Moon made huge contributions.
BuzzFlash: Now getting back to the Unification Church -- is this an offshoot of some other church?
John Gorenfeld: That's a really interesting question. Some people who've studied the development of the Unification Church have called it an unoriginal concept. In South Korea, a variety of different groups were obsessed with a reading of the Book of Genesis in which a great man will come to become the perfect Adam, as Reverend Moon calls himself, to somehow make up for the failures of the Garden of Eden, and restore people from the fall of man. The Unification Church is a mish-mash of a wide variety of religious ideas. There's a little bit of the Bible. There's a little bit of numerology. There's this sort of Daoist idea that your body is a microcosm of the cosmos. A little bit of Buddhism. And pretty much whatever it takes for Reverend Moon to endear himself to people around the world as this guy, whatever your religion is, that you've been waiting for.
BuzzFlash: But this is a religion that he began. He says he was chosen to go forth as a messiah type of figure.
John Gorenfeld: He says that when he was a teenager growing up in what is now North Korea, that Jesus appeared to him while he was praying and said you're the one that I've been waiting for to complete my mission. The idea was that Reverend Moon was suddenly given this terrible awareness of how wrong history had gone, and that everything was screwed up. And that God was agonizing because Jesus had not completed his mission. And what Reverend Moon realized was that, in his view, the messiah wasn't supposed to die on a cross and sacrifice himself for humanity. What Reverend Moon claimed to have learned and began to preach was that the messiah was supposed to be powerful, and was supposed to go into the world, convince Rome to accept him as God. And Reverend Moon sees the United States as the new Rome. By developing contacts in the conservative world, and creating a Washington Times, and putting on all these sort of glorious multi-million-dollar parties and pageants in Korea and the United States, he is somehow proving that he is the messiah. When Congressmen take part in these ceremonies for him -- in fact, that wasn't really the first one, the one that happened on Capitol Hill in 2004 -- when Congressmen show up at his events, even if they're totally in the dark about this weird thing that they're showing up at, they're somehow fulfilling his prophesies.
BuzzFlash: What is his relationship to the Republican Party and the Bush family?
John Gorenfeld: Reverend Moon has had close ties to Republican administrations since Reagan, when he was a guest at the Inaugural. He has actually traveled to different countries with George Bush, Senior. This was reported in Reuters and by major newspapers that were trying to figure out why, in the mid-1990s during the Clinton years, why George H.W. Bush apparently thought it was worthwhile to go to Argentina and Japan, and take millions of dollars in support of Reverend Moon, publisher of the conservative newspaper.
Bush said he was doing it for the money. Bush went to Japan in support of Mrs. Moon, who had started this sort of phony women's federation for world peace, and was giving these speeches about her husband. At the time, one of the things was that the Reverend Moon church was struggling in Japan, which was trying to kick it out of the country, and had been swindling all these old people into giving it money. The premise was that if you gave Moon all this cash, you could save your dead husband from hell. They were ripping off all these widows and saying unless you give us a million yen, your husband will be doomed.
And this is some of the money that funds the mysterious newspaper that they operate in Washington, D.C. But the relationship between the Bush family tree and the conservatives and Reverend Moon is really interesting. They show their gratitude for this reliable, loyal conservative voice in the capitol that wasn't there when there was only The Washington Post.
BuzzFlash: How much money has he put into The Washington Times? And what do you feel was his motivation for starting it? And how long ago was it started?
John Gorenfeld: It was 1982. Reverend Moon's motivation was he wanted to cultivate a position of influence for himself, to protect himself from prosecution. He went away for tax evasion in the Eighties, and the government at one point was trying to deport him. And Reverend Moon's motivation for starting The Washington Times was to go from being this fringe figure that was considered a menace to American youth, to reinventing himself and suddenly being the guy that publishes the President's favorite newspaper.
In fact, just a few years after The Washington Times began publishing, Reagan said it was the newspaper he read every day, and it was his favorite, because it was so much friendlier to him than was The Washington Post. So it's a cynical partnership where the conservatives would rather you not pay attention to the guy printing their newspaper. They obviously don't buy into his belief, but they take his money, which comes to between $2 and $3 billion, depending on different estimates that are out there. For this money-losing newspaper that's widely quoted on Fox News, and on conservative radio.
I think liberals really underestimate the reach of The Washington Times. Its circulation isn't that big, but if you're someone who listens to conservative radio, Christian talk radio, watches Fox, they're continually quoting the hard right reporting from The Washington Times. It's just shoddy and unreliable. They come up with stories saying Saddam Hussein actually did have weapons of mass destruction, but they were smuggled across the border at the last minute by Russian agents to Syria. Stories like that start in The Washington Times.
In the case of the Minutemen, there was a study that showed that The Washington Times was responsible for basically taking a small group of fringe border-watchers who were obsessed with stopping Mexicans from crossing the border, and really driving coverage across the United States. They had wildly exaggerated reports claiming that this gigantic movement of thousands of people with their own air force was going to come and secure the border, when in fact it really wasn't that.
BuzzFlash: Okay, he has this newspaper. Right-wingers, Republicans, owe him favors because he's subsidizing it. Hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars over the years, to get out the message that the Republicans and the right wing want to get out. But are there other ways that they owe favors to him? As a foreign national, I assume he can't contribute to campaigns.
John Gorenfeld: Right. Reverend Moon doesn't contribute directly to campaigns, but to the political scaffolding behind campaigns. He gives money to people like Richard Viguerie, who's the direct mail king of the right.
John Gorenfeld: People who are really important operatives in building up the right. Sort of think Moveon.org, only on the right -- the sort of campaign organizations that have been so effective in building up the modern-day conservative revolution that has taken over the Republican Party.
And also one important role Moon has played is bailing out people from debt. In the mid-1990s, Jerry Falwell got heavily into debt around the time that he was spending a lot of money on the Clinton Chronicles -- you remember that? The videotape charging Bill Clinton with a string of dead bodies essentially. And Jerry Falwell, who had painted Reverend Moon as the plague, and had said that he preys on young people -- he turned around and took $3.5 million from the church. That kind of connection tends to be discovered by investigative journalists probing tax forms and things. It's not out in the open like regular campaign contributions. They've funneled money to a wide variety of right-wing campaigners and their organizations.
BuzzFlash: Okay, so The Washington Times is sort of a go-to outlet, along with Fox News, owned by Murdoch, The New York Post, owned by Murdoch, and Drudge, and Rush Limbaugh -- these are kind of the go-to places when the right wing and the Republicans want to get their message out. Although, of course, The Washington Times has a little bit more of an imprimatur than Drudge, but not by much. What sort of circulation does it have?
John Gorenfeld: The circulation is not very impressive, though. But what is impressive is the rate that it gets quoted. That is what demonstrates the importance of The Washington Times. You know, another newspaper started, The Washington Examiner, owned by a hard-right owner, but still a pretty respectable newspaper in that the coverage is measured and balanced, and it's the number-two paper in Washington, D.C. Yet the number-three paper now, The Washington Times, is still far more quoted than The Examiner because it's used to float whatever story that the right wants to get out.
Its companion magazine, sort of their version of Parade, is Insight magazine. And Insight was responsible for being the first publication to print the claim that Barack Obama had been educated in a hard-line, Islamic madrassa. And the amazing thing is, when you look at how all these stories play out, things that appear in The Washington Times get tremendous play all over the conservative blogosphere.
BuzzFlash: The Washington Times is sort of a like The Drudge Report, basically accomplishing the same goals.
John Gorenfeld: Yes. The thing is that even The Drudge Report can't link to itself. It has to link to somebody's story. And so The Washington Times is usually this sort of fake originator of supposedly respectable reporting that the other stations can now say, well, it's reported in The Washington Times.
Here's a great example. There was a story around the time that the Iraq war was starting that there was a human shield protester named Ken Joseph. The idea was that Ken Joseph was determined to use his body, and sacrifice himself if necessary, to stop the bombing of Iraq. He goes over to Iraq -- according to The Washington Times -- and to his surprise, he meets these Iraqis who say that they want the war, and they want it now, and if the bombing doesn't start, then they're going to commit suicide. He writes about how he was amazed, and he realized that the Iraqis want the shock and awe to start.
And lo and behold, after the story appeared in The Washington Times, it was all over, from Fox News to the White House website. Jeff Gannon, the White House prostitute-slash-reporter, talked about it. He had all these people in the conservative blogosphere talking about how they like these stories that match their view of reality. They were saying, look, these protesters are really starting to get it. They're starting to understand that it is going to improve the lives of the Iraqi people for this war to start.
So its reach is just tremendous, and the circulation is not the major factor.
BuzzFlash: It does have influence. They tend to place very significant pro-Republican, pro-right-wing headlines above the fold. And as we point out in our Media Putz of the Week column, they recently placed two pictures, which are called in press parlance "hangdog pictures," of Clinton and Obama above the fold. This was something that would be displayed in the news vending machines in Washington, D.C. for everyone who was walking around Washington to see.
John Gorenfeld: The newspaper is also hand delivered to thousands of people on Capitol Hill, so inside-the-Beltway, it's almost considered a message board.
BuzzFlash: Does everyone in Congress get it free?
John Gorenfeld: I'm not sure. I'd have to check that.
BuzzFlash: You mentioned Insight magazine, which is a very frequent source of mud-slinging on the part of the right wing. What is the relationship of Insight to The Washington Times?
John Gorenfeld: Insight magazine is published by the same parent company, News World Communications, and is sometimes distributed with The Washington Times. Insight is a source of scurrilous, by-line-free information. It provides a lot of baseless and bizarre scoops that the right-wing world will capitalize on. Not as important as The Washington Times, by any stretch. But again, what's so strange about these publications like The Washington Times and Insight, especially considering what we've heard in the last few years in terms of the war on Christmas, and these conservatives who are supposedly so offended by heretical liberals, is that both The Washington Times and Insight will not only distribute these sort of right-wing talking points, but they'll include plugs for Reverend Moon's openly blasphemous activities and rallies. The Washington Times has printed stories playing up the idea that Reverend Moon's clerics are rallying at the United Nations to imply that they want to lobby the United Nations, and give Reverend Moon some sort of special role inside the United Nations. The Washington Times' editors say, oh, we're not influenced by Reverend Moon. So it must be that they freely decide to print these promos for Moon's crackpot activities.
BuzzFlash: Well, as we've long argued about the corporate media -- basically, he is The Washington Times. You know who you work for. You know what the purpose of the publication is.
John Gorenfeld: You're so right. You're not going to cross General Electric if they own your media company, and these people clearly aren't going to upset the Reverend.
The media will always cite what the editors say about the newspaper as proof of its independence. But nobody ever reprints what Reverend Moon, the owner himself, says about the newspaper. You'll have the editors saying we really admire our owner's commitment to editorial independence. And then Reverend Moon will show up at these bizarre events where he will just rant and rave about how The Washington Times is his instrument for prophesy and for spreading God's word.
A wonderful videotape will be on my website when it launches in a few days, of a 1997 anniversary party for The Washington Times. All these sober, respectable conservatives are there. Senator Orrin Hatch is there, who's been close to Moon over the years, and he gives a speech about liberals who don't understand capitalism and so forth. The editor, Wesley Pruden, sort of a neo-confederate, raging right-winger, gets up and talks about how Reverend Moon is this person who respects objectivity. Then Reverend Moon himself gets up and everybody in the audience looks sort of uncomfortable and embarrassed, because Moon starts ranting about how The Washington Times was established to save the world. At one point, my favorite moment, he says that you journalists must do your part to eradicate free sex. Free sex is his term for promiscuity or basically any sex outside of his weddings. He says free sex is centered on Satan, and his tongue rolls out a little bit. And it's just remarkable.
What's most amazing to me is we hear about Rupert Murdoch, and we hear about, to a lesser extent, George Soros, who was represented in the 2004 election as this outrageous billionaire behind the scenes meddling in our politics. And for some reason, Reverend Moon has never become an iconic part of our media culture. And my mission was to try to figure out why.
It's like he's kitchy. He makes speeches that are much more outrageous than Don Imus's about women's sexual organs, and about wiping out gay people, and about pulverizing Christianity. And he's this notorious figure from the past. Yet almost nobody knows that he owns The Washington Times. People who remember him from the old days say, What? Get out of here! Reverend Moon owns The Washington Times. Are you serious?
And people under forty say, the Moonies -- who is that? So the book is about this incredible disappearing act that they've been able to pull off taking one of the most notorious people from the Seventies, putting him in charge of the newspaper, and still being able to get away with positioning themselves, the conservatives, as the people who are defending American tradition, and the family, and Christianity. It's just an incredible public relations feed.
BuzzFlash: Reverend Moon seems to be, at least in the United States nowadays, a somewhat lower-profile figure than he was twenty years ago. He's a behind-the-scenes guy.
John Gorenfeld: This is interesting. It's not for want of trying. He went away to prison in 1984, and then he came out and started this new PR blitz to rebrand himself a victim of religious and racial persecution. Since that time, he's definitely taken on a lower profile. He looks to influence people in more subtle ways in terms of trying to get high-profile celebrity endorsements and high-profile political endorsements, rather than the sort of very visible recruitment of young college-age kids that there was in the Seventies and Eighties, that got him so much bad press.
The trouble is he's constantly doing things like demanding to be recognized worldwide as the messiah and taking out full-page newspaper ads where he claims that dead U.S. presidents have endorsed him as the messiah. But he somehow has continued to be under the radar.
But conservatives try to keep this guy in the closet. You don't hear them saying, when they write history books about how they built the modern-day conservative movement, thank goodness Reverend Moon came along. He came through with the money for The Washington Times. They'll talk about building a direct-mail empire, and they'll talk about how they had to develop their own alternative media to challenge the liberal establishment. But Moon always goes missing as the guy who provided over $2 billion, massive amounts of money, to build what we know now as the modern-day conservative movement.
There were articles in the 1980s in mainstream papers where people said that the conservative movement was largely kept in business in some sectors, when they were running into hard times, by bailout from the Unification Church, for which money was no object. They were willing to spend anything in order to endear themselves to the right in Washington, D.C. There was this sort of shamelessness in conservatives turning a blind eye to some of the horrific stuff that was going on within the Moon organization, while they were taking their money.
BuzzFlash: You've explained a lot about his role in right-wing politics in the United States, particularly through The Washington Times. But what are his goals with all this? What does he get out of it?
John Gorenfeld: What Reverend Moon gets from his alliance with the American right is his high visibility when he chooses to market himself abroad. And, first, it's allowed him not to be deported from the United States as a foreign agent -- as an illegal alien. But what his alliance with the right has provided him with is this enormous amount of credibility when he comes to people in South Korea or in the Philippines, or even in North Korea, as I talk about, and says: Look, I'm a major player. You really should do business with me. There's an endless supply of photographs of Reverend Moon with George H.W. Bush, with Jerry Falwell, with a variety of influential people. As Jack Abramoff figured out, those photographs can be worth really a lot in opening up doors. It's allowed Reverend Moon's organization to survive in places like Japan, where they were able to call upon George H.W. Bush to allow them to keep their operation there, which was facing serious trouble for all this bad publicity for ripping off old people.
So it's really this back-scratching between Reverend Moon and the Republican Party that's allowed his church to avoid fading away as it very well may have, if not for the respect that they've conferred on him, or the illusion of respect. There's incredible prestige in being able to say, hey, I'm the guy who publishes the President's favorite newspaper. I'm not some fringe character. You should do business with me. He's able to go to other countries and say that he has the ear of George Bush Senior, and that's really worth a lot.
BuzzFlash: John, thank you for all your investigative work. We'll continue this conversation later to look at the business aspect of the Reverend Moon's empire.
John Gorenfeld: I appreciate it.
BuzzFlash interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
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