Washington, D.C., is home to a powerful secret organization that is hell-bent on hastening the return of Jesus.
A secret cult has infiltrated our nation's capital. Its members are among the most influential figures in the world. Its ultraconservative agenda is aimed at seducing members of Congress into promoting the organization's interests, dictating foreign policy and encouraging Armageddon.
Since 1952 the U.S. President, along with a host of lawmakers, military brass, foreign heads of state and spiritual leaders, has attended the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. It seems innocent enough. The affair gives the powerful and wealthy a chance to unite and share their faith. However, most Americans don't know that this very public event is sponsored by a secretive fundamentalist Christian organization operating from across the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia. Among its members are senators, congressmen and corporate executives who foster the link between the religious movement, the federal government and Big Business.
The organization's official name is the Fellowship Foundation, but it's more commonly known as the Fellowship or the Family. Its membership is a closely guarded secret, and there are no official dues. Members are told to keep silent about the group and its activities.
Since the mid-1930s the Fellowship has used weekly prayer meetings, National Prayer Breakfasts and powerful connections to champion an extreme religious and political agenda. Its founder, Abraham Vereide, was a Methodist evangelical from Seattle who believed that Communists were wrecking America.
As the story goes, Vereide had a vision one night. A bright light appeared, and a voice spoke to him. To bring people in power back to God, he organized weekly prayer meetings for local businessmen and government leaders. By 1942 the gatherings had spread to Washington, D.C., starting with invitations to members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Soon about 100 congressmen were attending.
In 1943 weekly prayer breakfasts were instituted for the Senate as well, and a year later nearly one-third of that body was showing up. In 1952 the National Prayer Breakfast began as a yearly gala. Next, Vereide began to organize prayer sessions for the United Nations.
As the Fellowship gained friends in high places, its influence spread around the globe. After World War II, Vereide traveled to Germany with General John Hilldring, the assistant secretary of state, to help formulate a list of men-including many former Nazis-to take part in reconstructing the ravished country.
By 1955, Vereide declared the Fellowship to be a "worldwide spiritual offensive" against the Soviet Union and communism. He also announced that it would ally with any group sharing that sentiment.
Today the Fellowship's inner circle includes a virtual who's who of right-wingers who either believe in Christian Dominionism or have joined for purely political purposes. Republican Tom DeLay of Texas, the House Majority Leader, is affiliated, as are GOP Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Vice President Dick Cheney, former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, Pentagon intelligence chief Lieutenant General William "Jerry" Boykin, Watergate-felon-turned-prison-minister Chuck Colson and antitax crusader Grover Norquist. Even Bill Clinton bragged about his perfect attendance at the National Prayer Breakfast.
Douglas Coe is the Fellowship's unofficial leader. Although publicity-shy, he does make appearances at the National Prayer Breakfasts. In early 2005 Time magazine included Coe among the top 25 most influential evangelicals. The article noted that even his friends call him "the stealth Billy Graham." According to Coe, the group's mission is to create an international "family of friends" by spreading the word of Jesus to those in power.
Beyond just fostering friendship, the Fellowship runs a virtual five-star Motel 6 on Capitol Hill, with one of its lavish townhouses located just two blocks away from the Capitol building, around the corner from the Republican National Committee. Elite guests also live, work and pray at a smattering of estates in the D.C. area. One retreat, known as The Cedars, is in an upscale neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. At the Capitol Hill townhouse, known as the C Street Center, several lawmakers are provided room and board for a paltry $600 per month, in an area where monthly rents exceed $2,000. In other words, civil servants-paid to represent the people back home-have accepted the offer of underpriced housing from adherents of the radical Religious Right. In all likelihood their hosts' extremist agenda conflicts with what the legislators' constituencies would like to see on the table.
Neighbors of the Fellowship Foundation call its brethren the "pod people." Nearly everyone who speaks about the group insists on anonymity-and there may be good reason. The Fellowship is said to be a covert player in many important political and diplomatic decisions. Palestinian Yassir Arafat visited its headquarters, as have various heads of state and more than one Saudi prince. While in town to perform a benefit concert for 9/11 victims, pop star Michael Jackson was an overnight guest, along with his children. It appears obvious that Fellowship compounds aren't ordinary religious retreats.
Katherine Yurica, an expert on fundamentalist religious groups, describes the Fellowship as postmillennial Christian Dominionist, a sect whose goal is to hasten the end of the world and Jesus's return. Many of the faithful believe this will come to fruition in the form of all-out nuclear war, which will lead to Armageddon-the final battle between Christ and the Antichrist.
Dominionists interpret the Bible literally. They fervently believe that Jesus cannot return to Earth until all Jews have returned to the Promised Land mentioned in the Old Testament. These Christian zealots insist that the end-of-the-world war will begin in Israel. This explains why the conservatives in power seek to control America's relations with the Middle East, particularly Israel.
A U.S. government higher-up claims, on the condition of anonymity, that the Fellowship (which operates as a nonprofit organization) is merely a tax dodge for Big Business interests. "They use religious members as dupes to further their nonreligious goals," says the official.
However, it's hard to ignore the multitude of powerful people in this country who are involved. Noting its close ties with the White House and the defense industry, some Beltway insiders have dubbed the Fellowship Foundation the "Christian Mafia." One senior Pentagon official disclosed that The Cedars has been used as a CIA safe house.
The Fellowship is supported entirely by private donations, and its members are champions of pro-Big Business, anti-environmental and pro-censorship legislation straight from the policy statements of the Christian Coalition. Although the group does notable charity work and professes a deep love for Jesus, many of its financial backers have made billions manufacturing weapons of war. One big-time donor is Tom Phillips, chairman and CEO of Raytheon, a major supplier of missiles and laser-guided bombs.
One of the Fellowship's most unifying platforms is abortion. Senator Tom Coburn, a former resident at The Cedars, has said, "I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life." And Senator Sam Brownback, another Cedars luminary, has been working to revive the Constitutional Restoration Act, which failed in 2004 and would have God's law trump the U.S. Supreme Court. In other words, he wants to institute a theocracy.Like his fellow right-wingers, George W. Bush believes that the nation's laws are superseded by God's dictates. In 2004 the President was asked by a reporter if he had sought the advice of his father with respect to Iraq. Bush replied that he was appealing to his "higher father." On that level, George W. and the Fellowship are aligned.
Jeffery Sharlet, a reporter for Harper's magazine, spent six months living at the group's Arlington compound. According to Sharlet, during one Bible study, Douglas Coe's son and protégé David Coe told the group: If you are a friend of Jesus, "you can go and do anything. When you leave here, you're not only going to know the value of Jesus, you're going to know the people who rule the world."
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, D.C.-based investigative journalist who has written for The Village Voice, The Progressive, Counterpunch and the Intelligence Newsletter. Madsen is the author of a forthcoming book on the Bush Administration's covert global activities on behalf of oil companies and defense contractors.