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Featured / Class War For Idiots / April 28, 2011

Really?

This is the year that the Republican right-wing, backed by corporate sponsors like the billionaire Koch brothers, have declared all-out war on public sector unions. It’s the culmination of a decades-long crusade against organized labor, which has only hit the national radar screen in recent months. The showdown in Wisconsin between Scott Walker and the unions has changed all that: suddenly, Americans had their eyes opened up to just how ruthlessly and cynically the Republican right was ready to fight to destroy public sector unions because they see it as a way to cripple the Democratic Party by killing off a major source of funding, as well as political muscle and votes.

If there’s some good to come out of the right-wing’s war on Wisconsin and other state employees, it’s that we now have a better insight into the Republican playbook against public sector unions, which boils down to this: 1) Manufacture a fake budget crisis in order to frighten the state’s residents; 2) PR the false-crisis hard enough until it breaks out of the right-wing/libertarian pipeline and into the mainstream media; 3) Blame the fake crisis on a fake villain“greedy” state employee unions — thereby pitting the public against state workers. That way, when Republicans pass new laws destroying teachers and firefighters unions, they’ll come off as heroes defending the public from greedy unions, rather than as sleazy mercenaries carrying out their corporate sponsors’ dirty work.

Republicans have used this playbook before, of course, it’s just that Wisconsin finally made us all too aware. Perhaps the most obvious example — and the least understood — is from last November, when the same basic strategy was used to wage war against the TSA’s 55,000 employees, who have been locked in a savage decade-long battle to gain the same collective bargaining rights that employees of all other federal agencies enjoy. Unlike in Wisconsin, the Republican right succeeded in burying the story about the TSA employees’ struggle for collective bargaining rights underneath a sophisticated, well-PR’d campaign demonizing TSA screeners as modern-day Gestapo agents, rapists and child molesters.

But lost in all the media hysteria vilifying the TSA was the appalling story of labor abuse against the agency’s screeners, a consequence of Republican anti-union policies. If anyone is wondering why collective bargaining rights are so important to public sector workers, look no further than the TSA, whose employees suffer the lowest morale and highest attrition rates of any federal agency, year after year. Complaints and lawsuits abound, accusing TSA management of rampant sexual harassment, racism, bullying, wrongful termination and abuse of power. If that didn’t make working in the TSA difficult enough, the recent campaign demonizing TSA agents as modern-day Gestapo-agents turned them into the most hated of all federal employees; passengers, encouraged by incendiary PR, hurled abuses in TSA screeners’ faces, and in a few cases even physically attacked screeners.

Last November, we published an article in The Nation questioning the media-driven anti-TSA campaign, which we argued smelled of AstroTurf. For one thing, it made little sense that an issue like TSA pat-downs, offensive as they were, could dominate headlines for two straight weeks at a time when America was suffering from unprecedented corruption, lawless evictions of homeowners, unheard-of inequality, and wars that barely make news.

Sure enough, we uncovered numerous Koch-linked libertarian activists spearheading the campaign to demonize TSA screeners, DC lobbyists specializing in fake-grassroots campaigns setting up “Opt Out” websites while posing as regular Joes, and sleazy Republican hacks who had shown little interest in protecting civil liberties suddenly getting their ACLU on over the TSA’s intrusive pat-downs and “porn scans.” Progressives were understandably drawn into the anti-TSA campaign and hysteria, as the PR campaign cleverly framed it not as a union-bashing operation, but rather, as a purely civil liberties issue.

The anti-TSA campaign was at its media-hysteria peak in the weeks after the Republican election sweep, spurred on by last year’s hero, John Tyner, who refused a pat-down, telling TSA agents, “You touch my junk and I’m going to have you arrested.” Tyner disappeared from the scene after he apologized on his blog, and admitted that he didn’t tell the whole story and had actively tried to erase it (Tyner did not return our call or answer our message requesting comment).*

But the slack was quickly picked up by waves of anti-TSA campaigns ever since, drawing together an alliance of rabid Christian homophobes and neo-Confederates, warmongering neocons and notorious DC union-busting front-groups, and even a few blasts-from-the-right-wing-past, like the Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead, a onetime Christian “reconstructionist” who all but vanished from the public eye after running Paula Jones’ sexual-harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Whitehead, whose outfit once advocated the death penalty for homosexuals, recently re-emerged in the public eye leading several high-profile lawsuits against the TSA.** (Update: Rutherford Institute has challenged this assertion, and we have written a response posted at the bottom of this article.) Bob Barr, onetime Republican Congressman and Libertarian Party presidential candidate, added the anti-TSA campaign to his client list in his new gig as a DC lobbyist, which joins an illustrious list of Barr’s clients including former Haiti dictator “Baby” Doc Duvalier as well as for-profit education. Others in this coalition of the wingers include Glenn Beck, who told viewers that Obama wants to unionize the TSA in order to turn the agency into his “private army”; the homophobic Public Advocate of the United States, a Reagan-era anti-gay group, whose leader accused the TSA of pursuing a “homosexual agenda” designed to turn children into future queers by patting them down and scanning them; and the leader of the equally insane anti-gay hate group Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, who called for a prohibition of gay TSA screeners because they “might get turned on” while patting down passengers.

 

To understand why such a diverse range of right-wing Republicans — many of whom had previously shown little interest in civil liberties, if not outright hostility to them — would suddenly unite last November to rage against the porn-scanner machine, a brief history on the TSA, unions, and their struggle for collective bargaining rights is in order:

Until 9/11, the task of managing America’s airport screeners was left to the private sector, which squeezed profits by hiring low-qualified, poorly-trained screeners willing to work for at or near minimum wages, making pre-TSA airport screeners among the lowest-paid security workers in the nation, according to one investigation.

After 9/11, the frightened and traumatized public demanded better security in the form of higher-quality, better-paid federal screeners. The private sector, as in so many instances, could not be trusted to put the public’s interests over the CEOs’ profit interests. But President Bush and the Republicans resisted the public’s demands: They worried less about security, and more about creating a brand new federal agency for airport screeners, whose employees would likely unionize. At a time when most Americans were still too traumatized to pay attention to such seemingly arcane bureaucratic issues, the Bush White House had Iraq invasions and union-busting hot on its mind.

Their logic then was the same as it is today: If TSA employees are allowed to unionize with collective bargaining rights, it would represent perhaps the single largest pro-unionization drive in decades, adding tens of thousands of dues-paying members to the public sector union rolls, reversing decades of decline and, most importantly, funnel money to pro-labor and predominately Democratic candidates. Former House Majority Leader and current FreedomWorks head Dick Armey, who voted against federalizing airport screeners, explained in 2001, ”It’s all about union membership in a union that imposes compulsory dues that fund their campaigns.” Of course, this is just another classic right-wing anti-union lie: dues aren’t compulsory as they like to allege. But Armey’s fixation on those union dues was real — the Republicans would rather staff airport security with rent-a-cops and burger-flippers than risk enabling unions to collect dues and spend them on political campaigns.

Robert Poole, co-founder of the Koch-sponsored Reason Foundation, took a leave of absence to serve as President Bush’s top advisor on airport security, laid out the White House’s opposition to federal screeners just a few weeks after the terrorist attacks:

“A federal workforce would resist the use of labor-saving technology, object to being reassigned freely, and almost certainly become unionized.” [italics ours]

According to the Koch-founded libertarian Cato Institute, a Republican bill banning TSA collective bargaining “doesn’t go far enough.” Oh, and if the TSA unionizes, it will murder you like SWAT team snipers.

Unfortunately for Republicans, the public wasn’t convinced: A Time magazine poll showed that 77% of Americans wanted federal workers in control of airport security. So the Republicans gave in and passed a law federalizing airport and baggage screeners, but with one unusual caveat: no collective bargaining rights for TSA employees, unless their boss, the appointed head of the TSA, gave the green light. Not surprisingly, Bush’s TSA chiefs were as opposed to TSA workers unionizing as Bush himself.

In early 2003, just as TSA workers were going through the first stages of organizing by the American Federation of Government Employees, the TSA’s boss, James Loy, signed an order “precluding collective bargaining.” Only now, instead of opposing unionized TSA workers on the grounds that they might become a base of Democratic Party support (which was too obviously cynical even for Republicans), Loy parroted the new official line, first put out by Reason’s Robert Poole, claiming that unionized screeners would threaten national security:

“Mandatory collective bargaining is not compatible with the flexibility required to wage the war against terrorism.

…Fighting terrorism demands a flexible workforce that can rapidly respond to threats. That can mean changes in work assignments and other conditions of employment that are not compatible with the duty to bargain with labor unions.”

Attempts to organize the TSA’s nearly 45,000 security screeners — who make up the majority of the agency’s approximately 55,000 employees — roughly went nowhere all throughout President Bush’s two terms. Even after the Democrats’ 2006 Congressional sweep, they failed to overcome opposition led by Sen. Jim DeMint, who urged President Bush to veto any Homeland Security bill that included collective bargaining rights for TSA employees, even if a veto meant defunding the Homeland Security Department and shutting it down. DeMint made no bones about which threat bothered him most; unions or terrorists:

“Unionizing the 43,000 security screeners at TSA could give labor unions a $17 million annual windfall in the form of new union dues,” he said. “This is a hearty payback to the unions for helping Democrats win the past election. These dues can then be kicked back to lawmakers in the form of political contributions without the consent of rank-and-file union members.”

Billionaire David Koch (right) rewards his favorite union-busting lapdog Jim DeMint (left)

With the GOP blocking all attempts at unionizaton, TSA employees had little recourse and almost no leverage against abuse at the hands of all-powerful TSA managers, whose abuse was clearly encouraged by an atmosphere in which it was clear that TSA employees would not have the same rights and protections as other federal employees. As numerous complaints of sexual harassment, illegal firings, and rampant bullying by TSA management piled up, the agency consistently ranked as suffering from the lowest morale among over 200 federal agencies and the highest turnover, with attrition rates over 10 times higher than other agencies. A shocking 30 percent of the workforce reported suffering from illnesses and injuries, a rate six times higher than other federal agency employees.

In Denver International Airport, over 20 former TSA screeners reported widespread sexual harassment and bullying. TSA worker Ingrid Cartinelle, targeted for harassment by management, found a dead rat in her employee locker, causing her to faint and vomit due to her phobia of rodents. Later, someone smashed her car windshield and spiked her tires, and shortly after that, she was attacked outside her workplace, pepper-sprayed, and dragged up a stairwell by the neck before fellow employees ran to her aid. Local police, and later Homeland Security investigated, but came up empty handed —  she filed suit against the TSA. “They were just allowed and permitted to do whatever they wanted to. To bully you, harass you, everything you could think of, they did,” Cartinelle told journalists.

In 2004, four top TSA managers at Seattle-Tacoma International were fired following an investigation into complaints of mismanagement and harsh working conditions. That same year, in Spokane International Airport, three top TSA managers were removed following a petition that TSA employees sent to Sen. Patty Murray, complaining that TSA “leaders intimidated workers and engaged in personal and unprofessional relationships with others.” At Pittsburgh International Airport in 2005, the top three TSA officials were forced to resign after being investigated for sexual harassment, fraud, and intimidation. One screener told PBS Newshour in 2003, “When you have a supervisor go in front of 200 employees and tell them he’s looking for blonde-hair leads and supervisors, I have problems. I don’t have blonde hair. I have graduated from college. There are no promotions for people of color.”

In Bush’s final year in office, the TSA inspector general issued an alarming report saying that employee morale was so rock-bottom that it was negatively impacting airport security.

A week before the 2008 presidential elections, Barack Obama sent a letter to AFGE union leaders pledging to support their drive to unionize the TSA if elected president. But as with so many issues, President Obama’s support turned out to be far more tepid than candidate Obama’s, while in the Republican camp, opposition hardened under the leadership of two Tea Party heroes, Jim DeMint and Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah.

Rep. Chaffetz’s first piece of legislation, which he introduced in April 2009, was a bill to limit the use of TSA body-imaging scanners on the grounds that it they were an “invasion of privacy.” Chaffetz’s bill attracted the support of the ACLU and Democrats from across the aisle. As soon as he was done crusading against the TSA’s civil liberties violations, Chaffetz hopped on a plane to Guantanamo Bay on a fact-finding mission, and reported that civil liberties were thriving like never before in the extra-legal internment camp: “Guantanamo Bay has been inaccurately portrayed as a site of  ongoing detainee torture and mistreatment – nothing could be further  from the truth,” Chaffetz wrote in an open letter to President Obama. “[C]ontrary to popular belief, waterboarding never happened at Guantanamo Bay.” As proof, Chaffetz’s letter cheerfully noted that Guantanamo inmates “have access to hundreds of movies such as Oceans 13, Liar Liar, and Finding Nemo.” Inmates were so pampered that even their hunger strikes tasted delicious: “We go to great lengths to see that their nutritional needs are met, even offering a variety of flavored liquid nutrients to detainees participating in hunger strikes.”

In September 2009, shortly after Chaffetz voted to prohibit TSA employees from unionizing, he made headlines in a bizarre airport incident in which he claimed he had been targeted for retaliatory harassment by Salt Lake City Airport screeners. But Chaffetz’s story started to fall apart after local news reported that Chaffetz himself acted aggressively and “escalated the situation” by cursing a TSA screener, throwing his card at one, and grabbing a TSA employee’s badge. But that did not stop Chaffetz: Last November, in the peak of the anti-TSA hysteria, the Congressman seized on a completely false story pushed by ultra-rightwing Hollywood clown Andrew Breitbart and the Drudge Report alleging that the TSA had forcibly strip-searched a young boy. Despite the fact that the boy’s father confirmed that it was not true, Chaffetz wouldn’t let it die, going as far as calling for a Congressional investigation.

Meanwhile in the Senate, Tea Party “king” Jim DeMint single-handedly staved off the threat of unionization by filibustering Obama’s nominees to head the TSA, ensuring that the agency created to prevent another 9/11 remained headless for nearly 1-1/2 years. Obama’s first nominee, Errol Southers, was held up by DeMint throughout all of 2009 because Southers refused to come out against collective bargaining.

It was only when the “underwear bomber” tried blowing up a passenger jet over Detroit that the TSA, and its lack of a leader, suddenly became an issue. But in a strange twist of logic, DeMint used the occasion to prove his point, telling reporters that the underwear bomber was “a perfect example of why the Obama administration should not unionize the TSA.” Rather than apologizing for keeping the TSA leaderless that year, he scolded Obama to “put the interests of American travelers ahead of organized labor.”

Like Reason’s Robert Poole, FreedomWorks’ Dick Armey, and numerous other right-wing Republicans and libertarians, DeMint played the “national security threat” card to justify his opposition to collective bargaining rights for TSA screeners, claiming it would “significantly undermine TSA’s ability to respond to threats and protect the nation.”

It’s a false line of reasoning: Other law enforcement agencies within the Department of Homeland Security, including Customs and Border Protection guards, are unionized, as are police department employees across the nation. The real threat to security, of course, comes from the savage workplace conditions that TSA screeners endure. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who brought this issue before Congress in 2009, said, “If you have someone stabbing you in the back, if you have sex harassment charges against you, your mind is not going to be on the job. And this is a job where you have to be alert. All the time.”

The only people who saw unions as a threat to their existence were, of course, the Republicans. As if to illustrate this, one of Tom Ridge’s earliest acts in office at the newly-created Homeland Security Department in 2002 was to denounce a Longshore workers’ strike in Oakland as a threat to national security, and demand they call off the strike immediately.

But DeMint, to whom David Koch personally awarded a “George Washington Prize” for leading the fight to kill Obama’s health insurance reform plan, laid out the stakes in his 2009 book Saving Freedom: “Labor unions are one of the most powerful forces in Washington, and they support Democrats almost exclusively,” he wrote. Cheerfully noting that private sector unions have long since declined to the point of near-irrelevancy, DeMint ominously observes, “more than 35 percent of government workers are members of a union.” That means union dues for Democratic candidates, and in return, “The Democratic Party reciprocates by shamelessly promoting the union agenda in Congress.”

Just as Bush and the rest of the GOP prioritized politics over security concerns in 2001, DeMint chose to hold up and eventually defeat Obama’s first two nominees, both African-Americans, to head the TSA. It wasn’t until Obama nominated someone with solid conservative credentials — the FBI’s number two, John Pistole — that DeMint finally relented. Pistole was a crapshoot. Neither labor nor the anti-labor right was pleased, yet neither side knew exactly where he would come down on unionization.

And then last November, everything suddenly came to a head. First, the Republicans swept Congressional elections, and they wasted little time in setting the new agenda. Then, on November 12, after years of setbacks and disappointments, the Federal Labor Relations Board issued a surprise ruling (even to labor organizers) finally giving TSA employees the green light to unionize.

But Labor barely had time to celebrate: the very next day, November 13, Matt Drudge posted and promoted the famous “Don’t Touch My Junk” video, which quickly turned into the media sensation of the season, hogging headlines for nearly two straight weeks. Almost no one found it strange that the cause of civil liberties was suddenly taken up, in almost perfect unison, by the whole range of right-wing waterboarding-cheerleaders like Glenn Beck, George Will and his colleague Charles Krauthammer, who declared:

“Don’t touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man,  the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter…This time you have gone too far, Big Bro’. The sleeping giant awakes. Take my shoes, remove my belt, waste my time and try my patience. But don’t touch my junk.”

Indeed.

Neocon Charles Krauthammer takes a commercial break from his relentless pro-torture, pro-Gitmo, pro-war propaganda to bring you this message of liberty from his sponsor.

In hindsight, now that we understand the Republican playbook and their political goals, what happened last November makes a lot more sense. It all starts with a political goal: prevent the TSA screeners from unionizing. The strategy: 1) concoct and magnify fake government oppression at the hands of the TSA;  2) Demonize and blame the crisis on your political target, TSA screeners, so that the public turns against them; 3) Push and PR the message, focusing on valid but largely trivial aspects of the problem; and 4) Now you can appear, not as cruel union-buster, but as a hero defending the public.

The reason why last November’s anti-TSA AstroTurf campaign was so successful was because it  was based on valid criticisms of TSA policies and tapped into real anger, while deviously redirecting that anger against an innocent target. The con succeeded in duping many progressives, who allowed themselves to be caught up in the euphoria of what seemed like a genuine mass-conversion among right-wingers to the cause of civil libertarianism. But over on the Republican side, there was never a doubt about what the anti-TSA campaign was about — even if they couldn’t get their numbers straight — as this blog post in Erik Erickson’s website RedState, headlined “TSA Unionization: A $30 Million Annual Gift to Union Bosses” shows:

In a significant victory for federal employee unions, the Federal Labor Relations Authority decided Friday that Transportation Security Administration staffers will be allowed to vote on union representation. The decision clears the way for a campaign by the government’s two largest labor organizations, the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, to represent some 50,000 transportation security officers.

Here’s some informal statistics for you:

Number of TSA employees eligible for unionization: 50,000

·         TSA budget for FY 2010: $7.8 billion

·         Estimated Union Dues TSA unionization will provide union bosses at $50 per month:$2,500,000 per month or $30,000,000 per year.

·         Number of Americans whose Fourth Amendment rights have allegedly been violated:Thousands and still counting.

·         NUMBER OF TERRORISTS CAUGHT BY THE TSA: 0

Unfortunately for the union-busters and their hired DC operatives working the media, the “grassroots” outrage against the TSA’s screeners, which was supposed to take shape in a much-hyped  Thanksgiving Holiday “Opt-Out” campaign of mass civil disobedience in airports across the nation—a kind of libertarian “Days of Rage”—never materialized as promised, leaving countless journalists looking foolish and puzzled. The media regurgitated a well-oiled PR message promising mass spontaneous people’s action against the “police state.” Instead, not a single airport experienced anything remotely newsworthy or unusual; it was as though the entire campaign was a hoax. A hoax that the media showed absolutely no curiosity in recognizing or solving: For two weeks, every major television and media outlet talked up this alleged grassroots anti-government rage sweeping the country, a tidal wave of liberty about to crash into America’s security checkpoints. But nothing happened; and no one asked the most obvious question: “Was the outrage even real, or did the media get played?”

Now we know: the media, and the country, got played.

Fortunately for TSA employees, this story ends on a marginally less depressing note. John Pistole, Obama’s TSA chief, finally granted the TSA workforce the right to unionize. However, Pistole’s order, like so many Obama Administration policies, barely qualifies as an improvement: the TSA’s union will only be allowed to negotiate peripheral issues such as shift bids, awards, transfers, and uniform allowances. Unlike other federal employees, the TSA union will still be prohibited from negotiating more important matters like disciplinary standards and job qualifications. As has been the pattern for decades, the Democrats are granting labor the bare minimum promised.

Employees voted overwhelmingly to unionize this April — 84% said “yes,” despite the restrictions. There will be a second round of voting beginning in May and closing June 23 to decide between the two unions vying to represent TSA employees — the AFGE and the smaller National Treasury Employees’ Union.

*“To those of you who feel duped, I apologize”—so writes John Tyner in a contrite blog post headlined “The ‘Whole’ Truth”  dated November 30, 2010. A week earlier, he was the biggest media sensation in America, freeing us from state tyranny; by the time he apologized to America, America had already lost interest and moved on. (Read our full update on John Tyner’s deception: The Real John Tyner: Anti-Labor Extremist, Anti-Gay Marriage, Pals With Neo-Confederates and John Bircher Conspiracy Theorists, And Deceives America)

**Update:

Our response to Rutherford Institute

On Tuesday May 3, a lawyer for the rightwing Rutherford Institute sent a threatening letter to The eXiled because we reminded our readers about the dark, extremist homophobic ideology behind the early years of the Rutherford Institute and its co-founder, John Whitehead. The Rutherford Institute has waged a 15-year public relations campaign to recast itself as a “civil liberties” outfit similar to the ACLU, yet this same “defender of civil liberties” wants to crush The eXiled’s First Amendment rights to free speech for the crime of reminding readers that the outfit was co-founded by one of the most extreme anti-Semitic, homophobic American monsters of our time, a Holocaust denier and eugenicist named R. J. Rushdoony.

Rutherford’s attorney sent us a letter objecting to two fully-sourced and documented statements in our April 28 article, Did You Fall for It? America’s Outrage Over TSA “Porn Scanners” Was Right-Wing PR to Prevent Workers from Unionizing:

1) Characterizing Rutherford Institute president John Whitehead as “a one-time Christian Reconstructionist,” which is true;

2) That his “outfit once advocated the death penalty for homosexuals,” which is true.

Rutherford’s lawyer, Tom Neuberger, wrote, “Neither The Rutherford Institute nor Mr. Whitehead, its president, have ever subscribed to Christian ‘reconstructionist’ ideologies. … And the outrageous assertion that the Institute ‘once advocated the death penalty for homosexuals” is clearly a complete fabrication.”

This is an outrageous, baseless and disgusting attack on independent journalism. An outfit that claims to be for civil liberties yet threatens journalists who print the truth, simply because the Rutherford Institute is trying to whitewash its past, is the height of hypocrisy and reveals that the Rutherford Institute has not changed one bit from its beginnings as an attack dog for far-right Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites and neo-Confederate fascists whose one goal was to intimidate and crush any opposition to their plan to turn America into a fundamentalist Christian nation along the lines of the Taliban.

We will report more about the Rutherford Institute’s threats to The eXiled, and the dark sordid history of the Institute’s founders and beliefs. And we will be asking for our readers’ support.

But first, there are so many credible sources backing our statement in our article characterizing John Whitehead as “a onetime Christian ‘reconstructionist’… whose outfit once advocated the death penalty for homosexuals” that they are too numerous to list. Here we provide a small sample of sources which repeat, expand upon, and/or support this:

* From American University Professor Alan Lichtman’s book White Protestant Nation, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Critic’s Award for Non-Fiction:

“A movement known as Christian Reconstruction or Dominion Theology, led by Rousas John Rushdoony of the Chalcedon Foundation, Gary North of the Institute for Christian Economics, and John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, extended Schaffer’s absolutist thinking. Dominion leaders aimed to make America a Christian nation. They desired to ‘take back government from the state and put it in the hands of Christians.’ This meant replacing secular ‘self-law’ with ‘God’s law,’ which meted out harsh punishments, including death penalty for adulterers and homosexuals.” [pp 349, Atlantic Monthly Press, hardcover edition]

* David Brock’s bestselling book from 2002, Blinded By The Right:

“When various settlement offers were rejected by [Paula] Jones [the woman who sued President Bill Clinton for sexual harassment], Davis and Cammarata quit the case and were replaced by lawyers working with the right-wing Rutherford Institute, which had been founded with the support of Christian Right reconstructionist R. J. Rushdoony, who was an early board member.* …The Reverend R. J. Rushdoony believed that civil law should be replaced by Biblical law ‘to suppress, control, and/or eliminate the ungodly.’ He advocated the death penalty for abortion, adultery, sodomy, and incest as well as for blasphemers and ‘propagators of false doctrines.’ Rushdoony was also a Holocaust denier.” [pp 201. Three Rivers Press. 2002 paperback edition.]

* Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family, a 2008 New York Times bestseller:

“John W. Whitehead, a constitutional lawyer who counts Rushdoony as one of his greatest influences [pp. 349]…Rushdoony is best known as the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, a politically defunct but subtly influential school of thought that drifted so far to the right that it dropped off the edge of the world, disavowed as ‘scary’ even by Jerry Falwell. Most notably, Rushdoony proposed the death penalty for an ever-expanding subset of sinners, starting with gay men and growing to include blasphemers and badly behaved children.” [pp.347. Harper Perennial. 2008 paperback.]

* Mark Crispin Miller’s 2004 book, published by W.W. Norton, Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney’s New World Order:

“John Whitehead, an ex-student of Rushdoony’s, and introduced by him once at the council as a man ‘chosen by God,’ directs the Rutherford Foundation, a legal arm of the Chalcedon Foundation (which until his death was run by Rushdoony and funded by Howard Ahmanson). Rutherford’s important mission is to fight the legal battles on behalf of Reconstructionism.” [pp. 263]

* Frederick Clarkson, journalist, author and activist, in a chapter from the 1999 book Eyes Right: Challenging The Rightwing Backlash edited by Chip Berlet:

“The Rutherford Institute’s John Whitehead was a student of both Schaeffer and Rushdoony, and credits them as the two major influences on his thought. … [I]t is not surprising that Whitehead goes to great lengths to deny that he is a Reconstructionist. Rushdoony, introducing Whitehead at a Reconstructionist conference, called him a man ‘chosen by God.’ Rushdoony then spoke of ‘our plans, through Rutherford, to fight the battle against statism and the freedom of Christ’s Kingdom.’” … “The Rutherford Institute was founded as a legal project of R. J. Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation, with Rushdoony and fellow Chalcedon director Howard Ahmanson on its original board of directors. Whitehead credits Rushdoony with providing the outline for his first book, which he researched in Rushdoony’s library. ” [p.69]

* Chris Hedges, writing about Whitehead’s mentor and partner in the Rutherford Institute in his 2006 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America:

“The racist and brutal intolerance of the intellectual godfathers of today’s Christian Reconstructionism is a chilling reminder of the movement’s lust for repression. The Institutes of Biblical Law by R. J. Rushdoony, written in 1973, is the most important book for the dominionist movement. Rushdoony calls for a Christian society that is harsh, unforgiving and violent. The death penalty is to be imposed not only for offenses such as rape, kidnapping and murder, but also for adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality, astrology, incest, striking a parent, incorrigible juvenile delinquency, and, in the case of women, ‘un-chastity before marriage.’ The world is to be subdued and ruled by a Christian United States.  Rushdoony dismissed the widely accepted estimate of 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust as an inflated figure, and his theories on race often echo those found in Nazi eugenics, in which there are higher and lower forms of human beings. Those considered by the Christian state to be immoral and incapable of reform are to be exterminated.” [pp.12-13]

* The Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine Intelligence Report called Rushdoony “a racist and a holocaust denier.” The SPLC describes the Rushdoony-founded Chalcedon Foundation, for which the Rutherford Institute was set up to act as its legal arm: “Rushdoony supported the death penalty for homosexuals, among other ‘abominators.’ He also opposed what he called ‘unequal yoking’ — interracial marriage — and ‘enforced integration,’ insisting that “[a]ll men are NOT created equal before God” (the Bible, he explained, ‘recognizes that some people are by nature slaves’). Rushdoony also denied the Holocaust, saying the murder of 6 million Jews was ‘false witness.’”

* Another co-founder of the Rutherford Institute, Rushdoony’s son-in-law, Gary North, has been described as a “bloodthirsty theologian” who “may actually be a psychopath” by Jeff Sharlet in his 2008 book The Family: “North […] may actually be a psychopath—he favors stoning as a method of execution because it would double as a ‘community project.’” [pp.348]. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Gary North advocates hiding the true agenda of the Christian Reconstructionist movement for obvious reasons: “Theonomists, and especially Reconstructionists, know their views are an anathema to most Americans. Reconstructionist ideologue Gary North, in fact, has written that Reconstructionists need ‘the noise of contemporary events’ to hide their goals. ‘If [non-believers] fully understood the long-term threat to their civilization that our ideas pose, they … would be wise to take steps to crush us.’” (“Confederates on the Pulpit” SPLC Intelligence Report. Spring 2001).

* From a Public Research Associates article:

“Whitehead believes, according to an article by Martin Mawyer published in the May 1983 issue of the Moral Majority Report, ‘That courts must place themselves under the authority of God’s law.’ Mawyer’s article explains, ‘The Institute states that ‘all of civil affairs and government, including law, should be based upon principles found in the Bible.’ That statement is a simplified definition of Christian Reconstruction, an important movement within evangelical Christianity.”

* Bill Moyers, interviewing R J Rushdoony in 1988, (six years after the founding of Rutherford Institute):

Moyers: You’ve written that the Bible calls for the death penalty, and I’m just running down a variety of things as you can see. You’ve written that the Bible calls for the death penalty of some 15 crimes: rape, sodomy, adultery.
Rushdoony: Adultery because in the Bible the basic institution is the family. There’s no law of treason against the state. The Bible doesn’t even imagine anything remotely like that. But the basic institution is the family. And so, several of the death penalties are associated with the family and its life.
Moyers: So adultery was considered a theft of the family.
Rushdoony: It was, yes, it was treason to the family.
Moyers: Homosexuality.
Rushdoony: Yes, it was treason to the family.
Moyers: Worthy of the death sentence?
Rushdoony: What?
Moyers: Worthy of the death sentence?.
Rushdoony: Yes.
Moyers: Deserving of the death sentence?
Rushdoony: Yes, that’s what [Apostle] Paul says.

Moyers: But you would re-instate the death penalty for some of these or all of these Biblical crimes?
Rushdoony: I wouldn’t—
Moyers: But the reconstructive society–
Rushdoony: I’m saying that this is what God requires. I’m not saying that everything in the Bible, I like. Some of it rubs me the wrong way. But I’m simply saying, this is what God requires. This is what God says is justice. Therefore, I don’t feel I have a choice.
Moyers: And the agents of God would carry out the laws.
Rushdoony: The civil government would, on these things.
Moyers: So you would have a civil government, based upon–
Rushdoony: Oh yes. I’m not an anarchist. I’m close to being a libertarian. But–
Moyers: But the civil law would be based on the biblical law. And so you’d have a civil government carrying out a religious mandate.
Rushdoony: Oh yes.

* Rushdoony and North were not only co-founders of the Rutherford Institute, but they were also regularly featured members of the “Rutherford Institute Seminars” speakers bureau. In other words, they were intimately tied to, part of, and speaking on behalf of the Rutherford Institute. Here is from a 1994 Anti-Defamation League report:

In the fall of 1986, the Traditional Values Coalition and Citizens for Excellence in Education advertised “Rutherford Institute Seminars” in which Rushdoony was a featured speaker — along with Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead. Rushdoony was described in the advertisement as a “theologian…who presents scriptural framework for building orderly structures in society [sic].”

Whitehead, one of the country’s leading conservative evangelical attorneys, has called Rushdoony one of the two major influences on his thought. Rushdoony wrote the introduction for Whitehead’s The Separation Illusion, and the reconstructionist patriarch is the most frequently cited author in the bibliography for Whitehead’s The Second American Revolution — a favored text among evangelical activists (The Institutes for Biblical Law is among the works cited).

Rushdoony reportedly helped Whitehead found the Rutherford Institute, and has been a director of the Institute and a participant in its speakers bureau.

[Source: The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America. A publication of the Anti-Defamation League. (1994). pp 111]

Finally, we are not surprised that the Rutherford Institute—which claims to defend civil liberties, but seemingly behaves more like a right-wing attack dog outfit trying to intimidate critics of its far-right Christian agenda— sends a letter from a lawyer to suppress journalists from exercising their first amendment rights. From its very beginning in the early Reagan years, as Whitehead explained in a 1983 interview, “We need to be very aggressive, not passive. Take the initiative. Sue rather than waiting to be sued. That’s where we’ve [the Christian far-right] been weak. We’ve always been on the defensive. We need to frame the issue and pick the court. The [Rutherford] institute, if necessary, will charge that government is violating religious freedoms rather than the church waiting for the government to charge it with violating the law.” [Institute for First Amendment Studies.]

We’ve answered the Rutherford’s outrageous, anti-Constitutional threats and attempts to crush our First Amendment rights, and to bury their pasts. Now we would like the Rutherford Institute to explain to us and to AlterNet readers why it failed to successfully challenge the statements made by the authors in passages cited above.

—Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
May 6, 2011

This story was first published on Alternet.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

Click the cover & buy the book!

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62 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Gamewarden Gator  |  December 7th, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    PS–On Trollanus, we don’t have TSA scanners, they’re all private screeners and so it’s not a violation of the Fourth Amendment when on Trollanus our private free-market pat-downs include spiked throat-probes that come out of your anus. Hence, Trollanus.

    God it’s fun being a Libertarian fool!

  • 2. Gamewarden Gator  |  December 7th, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    The NUMEROUS examples of terrorists boarding planes in the US ever since airport screening duties were taken away from the failed private sector screeners and handed to government screeners is…oh wait a minute, I’m having a kabuki theater cognitive dissonance meltdown that I will acknowledge in in…..10,9,8,7,6…..oh wait…..never…Libertarians are a cult, after all–to say that we fucked up is as crazy as saying that Master Charles Koch’s anus doesn’t taste delicious

  • 3. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Yeah man. Word up!

    we should all be suckers to PR campaigns that we think are all about our constitutional liberties

  • 4. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Also, I’m not a weirdo, I swear

  • 5. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Troul Brothuh

  • 6. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    Someone forgot to feed me my meds, sorry everyone

  • 7. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Still no meds, as you can see

  • 8. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    Thought my meds came in. False alarm. Keep ignoring me please.

  • 9. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Still fighting for freedom and liberty on behalf of the Koch brothers, woo=hoo!

  • 10. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    Zzzzzzzzzzzz

  • 11. Janet N Softball Insertion  |  March 19th, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I’m boring I’m sorry

  • 12. hellomarkandyasha  |  April 11th, 2012 at 1:32 am

    The exiled response to this issue is telling of a major flaw in the left. You are reacting to the stupid “libertarian” dupes cannibalizing their own failed agency by defending the workers and saying they need a union! The TSA is essentially the detritus of the Bush administration’s raging fascist boner. Its a bunch of Republican fascist nonsense they ushered in in the aftermath of 9/11 on the pretext of ‘security’, its a division of US HOMELAND SECURITY! It was created in November 2001, remember how all that shit happened? When those fucking fascist idiots ushered in all that authoritarian BS in the moment of collective vulnerability? Those fuckers sure knew how to strike when the iron was hot, didn’t they? The TSA is the legacy of THAT, guys! 95% of the time I’m right on page with you and you’re among the few progressives that are really on-the-ball (so many shills out there…) but you lost the plot on this one. Somehow you’ve confused yourselves into defending a bunch of George W Bush horseshit. The issue is not whether the TSA should be privatized or unionized, the TSA SHOULD NOT EXIST AT ALL. its not about how we should manage their culture and cirumstances of employment, NOBODY should be able to make a decent living carrying out the Bush company’s bullshit legacy! fuck this shit guys!

    And honestly, commenters, I’m surprised and disappointed that nobody has even mentioned anything about what I’m talking about for 61 comments.

    Of course, the truth is that the Bush Administration and Republicans all across the board tried everything in their power to prevent the TSA from being formed because as they said openly and repeatedly, they feared that the TSA would become unionized and that those union dues would work against the Republicans and corporate power, as this article proves (follow the links). So that pretty much completely undermines my whole bullshit theory that the TSA is an agent of oppression. Like, yeah man, it’s just like what happened in Auschwitz you know? It started with pat-downs and x-rays of people rich enough to fly, and the next thing you know, there’s a Holocaust.

    Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is that despite the fact that 71% of Americans demanded that airports switch from crap private security to a government agency which would work better and not be all about profits, despite that, I think that that my own view that there should be NO airport security AT ALL because any airport gate security–just one person patting down an air traveler, or one x-ray machine–represents a Nazi fascist Holocaust and gas chambers–because of that belief of mine, I think that democracy or public opinion should have have played a role in this decision, and that there should be no government or private airport security, and that way we would all be free. Free, man! Free!

    Oh, and in case you think what I’m doing is not addressing this article’s point by lamely shifting the debate to a non-issue pseudo-moralizing about getting rid of all security, which everyone knows will never happen–in case that’s what you think, well, that only proves you’re a Gestapo fascist who would gas 6 million Jews if you had the chance. Myah!


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