THEISTWATCH FOR MAY 5, 1995 United States - A CHOICE OF DIFFERENT EVILS (Part 1 of 2) Unit

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THEISTWATCH FOR MAY 5, 1995 ____________________ ____________________ United States--A CHOICE OF DIFFERENT EVILS (Part 1 of 2) United States--EMBEZZLEMENT CASE REVEALS MORE CHURCH WEALTH District of Columbia--DOLE PROMISES TO BLOCK FOSTER VOTE New York--SET-BACK FOR GAYS IN NEW YORK Colorado--DOBSON TAKES THE GOP TO TASK Cyberspace--FEEDBACK FROM A READER ____________________ ____________________ A CHOICE OF DIFFERENT EVILS Victims Are Easy to Identify; But Finding Genuine Heroes in the Conflict Between the Feds and the Christian/Militia Right Poses is a Daunting Task for Secularists Concerned About Civil Liberties (Part One of Two) by Conrad F. Goeringer Somebody once said that there are few easy choices in life. Making choices in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing leaves people worried, angry, confused; it is certainly obvious that the tragedy which has claimed well over a hundred lives cannot be justified by any rational standard. No political statement was issued by the person or persons responsible for the blast -- something which is s.o.p (standard operating procedure) for "terrorists" or "freedom fighters" throughout the world, from the Irish Republican Army to the Hezbollah Militia. And the target was vague, ill-defined. It wasn't a draft board, a favorite of militant 1960s radicals. Was it the FBI office in Oklahoma City? Or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? Could it even have been the day care center, a symbolic revenge for the Waco shootout which happened two years prior to the Oklahoma City blast? Even now, no one is really sure -- except perhaps the person or persons who did it. If Timothy McVeigh is one of those people, he isn't talking. From Waco to Idaho But the links between McVeigh and the militia/survivalist right-wing in America has investigators, and at times the public imagination, working overtime. It is known that thousands --maybe even hundreds of thousands -- of mostly white males, are deeply immersed in a peculiar sub-culture. It is simplistic to say that it is based simply on "hatred. " There is elaborate, convoluted theo-political "weltenshauung" or world-view motivating these people, a view of the world mixing Bible fundamentalism with "Mad Max" scenarios of doomsday and post-apocalyptic utopias. It is described as "anti-government," which is like saying that tainted meat is "food." Anti-government may describe tens of millions of other Americans too, covering a wide waterfront of issues. No, this is a movement which while somewhat diffuse is nevertheless clearly marked in our culture's political topography. The watersheds for this movement are identified as two events -- the burning of the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993, and the shootout between federal agents and a man named Randy Weaver in 1991. In both cases, the targets were clearly outside of the cultural, political and even theological mainstream. Weaver and his family were "off the grid," survivalist types who had retreated to the mountains of Idaho and embraced a weird mix of self- sufficiency, survivalism, biblical fundamentalism, and the doomsday prophesies of groups like the Aryan Nation. Idaho was to become a "stronghold," a redoubt for white nationalists who wanted to segregate themselves -- get go "off the grid" in the words of N.Y. Times Magazine writer Philip Weiss -- and prepare for an immanent confrontation with invading U.N. troops who planned to subjugate America to a Jewish cabal. Guns, explosives, stores of food and a constant preparedness were the order of the day. The Branch Davidians wanted to get away as well, away from a secular, corrupt world which certainly did not accept the teachings and prophesies of the messiah, the incarnate Jesus Christ, a mediocre rock 'n roll musician who called himself David Koresh. What came to pass within the Davidian cult reads like a script from a sequel to "Guayana Massacre." It was Jim Jones all over again, complete with the segregation of followers in compounds and, eventually, dormitories, and a flock of available females for the charismatic leader. Both groups had remarkable similarities, but unless one accepts the rather outlandish scenario that paints the Jonestown suicides as some elaborate CIA plot, it was the Branch Davidians that really got the attention of a bungling, inept U.S. government. David Koresh was apparently wanted on a weapons possession charge (as was Randy Weaver). Unlike Jim Jones, Koresh was still sufficiently plugged into the real world to where he would drift into nearby Waco and surrounding towns and stroll into a local saloon -- some say a strip joint. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had other plans. They decided to raid the Branch Davidian compound, even after it was learned that the sect had been tipped-off. After weeks and months of Koresh-Davidian life-style, the compound dwellers probably thought that surrender was impossible, that they would be killed -- and the only alternative left was to fight. The feds, of course, like to talk about the children in the Waco stronghold. Were the parents convinced that the government would take the children from them if they surrendered? Probably. Was there child molestation or physical abuse? Doubtful. But there was the steady indoctrination of vulnerable children into a bizarre and apocalyptic religious cult. When the feds moved the first time, it was a "kill or get killed" scenario for the adult Branch Davidians. And by the time of the second and final assault, both sides were in a "can't back down" situation -- especially the feds. BATF had bungled the initial raid; even the local law enforcement folks claimed that they could have picked up Koresh and possibly other Branch Davidian leaders during one of the bar-trips into town. To many observers, BATF was a combination American Gestapo with the antics of the Keystone Cops, the botched segments that don't get shown on "Top Cops." They were the cowboys, the kick-the-door-in types who had watched too many Dirty Harry movies, or believed their own mythology. The FBI was called into Waco to take over the Branch Davidian operation and do spin-control -- if possible. By now the Davidians probably knew that there was no turning back. Caught between the blaring loudspeakers which broadcast everything from music to chanting, and the preaching of David Koresh that he was Jesus Christ, there wasn't much room for compromise or negotiations. Some of the Davidians may have been killed by Koresh's top lieutenants. Was there a revolt in the compound? Or was there a mutual suicide pact. We may never know. For Bill Clinton and Janet Reno, Waco was also a no-win situation. Backing off was something that Clinton couldn't do -- he had to project a position of strength and resolution if he hoped to overcome the image of a draft-dodging college kid who became president. Reno had to back the troops. Koresh needed his apocalypse, and the devout were along for the ride. The children had no say in the matter. Something died, though, in the Waco disaster. It was during the first BATF assault that heavily-armed federal agents armed with automatic weapons and flak jackets started to, in modern parlance, "get their asses kicked." These guys WEREN'T the "top cops." They made mistakes, bungled, got wounded and killed --and most symbolic of all, people were shooting back. It was a federal agent's worst nightmare come true -- it made shootouts with groups like the Black Panthers during the 1960s and 1970s a picnic by comparison. No wonder they brought in a tank. So in the Waco aftermath, a question overwhelmed the country which still hasn't been adequately answered to this day; who was "right"? The feds certainly weren't heroes despite the spin-doctoring of Janet Reno; not only had they bungled both assaults, but it is still not clear that the shootout was necessary or practical. And what about the Branch Davidians? Freedom of religion is a tenet of the U.S. Constitution, but the consequences of religious belief -- especially when children are involved -- raises other problems. How free were individuals to leave the Waco compound? In Jonestown, a point was quickly reached where no one was permitted to leave -- not even the party trying to escape the cult with Congressman Leo Ryan, who were massacred at the Georgetown, Guyana, airport. When the cyanide-laced kool-aid was being handed out, some Jones followers tried to flee. Their bodies were later found with bullets in the back. The situation in Waco may have been different, though, at least for adults. Kids inevitably follow their parents and guardians, and their tragic fate was sealed along with that of David Koresh. In Waco, there were only victims. The Davidians were a fringe religious group victimized not only by their own theology and the predation of David Koresh, but by an inept, bungling, perhaps frightened federal bureaucracy. Perhaps Clinton and Reno wish they could go back in time and alter their strategy, but they can't. The shootout at Waco left Americans -- and the survivalist-right -- with a image of buildings in flame beneath the wind-driven flag of the Branch Davidians. For the government, it was at best a hollow victory, and at most an embarrassment. For others, it was a "call to arms," a turning-point. (end of Part One) Next -- Randy Weaver and the Selkirk Mountains Shootout ____________________ ____________________ EMBEZZLEMENT CASE REVEALS MORE CHURCH WEALTH by Conrad F. Goeringer Skimming money requires two things: a competent and larcenous personality and enough cash "flowing through the system" so that no one notices. And often, the more money which "flows," the less impact stealing appears to have -- at least for a while. In the Episcopal church, the cash has indeed been flowing, and not all of it to the coffers. Some allegedly lined the pockets of Ellen F. Cooke, former treasurer of the church, who embezzled $2.2 million in a buying spree which included college tuition for the kids, jewelry, and a new home. Cooke has not been formally charged, though, and is cooperating with the investigation into church finances. She earned a hefty $120,000 salary as the treasurer of the denomination. But the two million came out of a yearly budget which totalled $42.6 million in 1995, and over $46 million in 1994. The stolen loot was funneled from church accounts in Washington and a New York City brokerage house to personal accounts. In addition, Cooke allegedly ran up another $325,000 on credit cards, and $225,000 from church checking accounts to third parties. The scam operated between February of 1990 and this past January. Tip of the Iceberg? The Cooke scandal gives the public some insight into the budget and holdings of one of the nations wealthier religious groups relative to its size -- it has only about 2.5 million members. According to news reports, the national office staff of the church was cut by about one-third during the past four years. But the annual budget does not reflect total church wealth, nor do the revelations from the Cooke affair reflect total church earnings, since large, institutional investors (like religious organizations) spread their holdings "across the board" through numerous banking and brokerage houses. There is no sure way of knowing exactly how much wealth a particular church has -- churches are tax exempt and do not have to file the types of rigorous paperwork and reports which other profit-making enterprises do. One of the few studies into church wealth, including the holdings of the Episcopalian religion, was done over 20 years ago in the book FREEDOM UNDER SIEGE by Madalyn Murray O'Hair. While the figures are by now out of date (and probably quite low), her research of public record sources indicated that the economic wealth of the Episcopalian church was considerable. And it was somewhat disproportionate compared to other religions. The Roman Catholic church, for instance, with over 40,000,000 claimed followers, had admitted real estate holdings in excess of $374 million; the Episcopalians, however, with less than 5 percent of that membership, boasted nearly $165 million in real estate. Per Capita, the church surpasses holdings for Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians as well, confirming the reputation of being an "establishment" religious organization. Total church wealth in America is a closely guarded secret; much is tied-up in stock investments, land, business operations, trusts and other financial instruments. And it's all tax free. ____________________ ____________________ DOLE PROMISES TO BLOCK FOSTER VOTE by Conrad F. Goeringer Following two days of emotional testimony before the Senate Labor Committee, Henry Foster still faces major obstacles in his quest to become the nation's next surgeon general. Foster has encountered considerable opposition since his name was first placed in nomination. Anti-choice groups targeted the Clinton administration nominee, especially when it was revealed that he had performed numerous abortions. With the new GOP majority in Congress, it even looked doubtful that Foster's name would clear committee. Now Presidential candidate and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas) promises to not even permit a floor vote, citing other nominations that died in committee during the Reagan and Bush eras. And even if Foster's name makes it to the Senate, another right-wing standard-bearer -- Phil Gramm of Texas -- threatens to filibuster. Any of these developments would be a victory for anti- abortion groups, and Foster's defeat would present the Clinton administration with a tough choice -- a surgeon general who is not pro-choice or the choice of no surgeon general at all. ___________________ ___________________ SET-BACK FOR GAYS IN NEW YORK Judge Removes "Sexual Orientation" from Job Discrimination Rules: State Senate says 'No' to "Domestic Partners" by Conrad F. Goeringer Responding to political pressure from right-wing Christian evangelicals, the New York State Senate has barred "domestic partners" from receiving health insurance benefits if one of them happens to be a Senate employee. Joseph Bruno, newly elected majority leader of the State Senate, declared: "It was never the intent of the state to provide health care benefits to homosexual lovers. The intent was to have it for individuals, married couples, parents and their children." Meanwhile, New York's newly elected Republican attorney general has removed "sexual orientation" from the list of protected categories governing employment in his office. Dennis Vacco has been sharply critical of the gay community; he defeated a lesbian candidate in last November's election. According to the New York Post, Vacco will now be able to fire "political appointees who happen to be gay" without risking what were termed "groundless 'civil rights' lawsuits." ____________________ ____________________ DOBSON TAKES THE GOP TO TASK The Republican party is "insulting" Christians, according to James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, the Christian conservative.In a letter sent on May 1 to Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee, Dobson claimed that 43 percent of the votes for Republican nominees in the 1994 election were from "evangelical Christians" -- and that bill had to be paid. The letter was sent in response to a recent fund appeal letter distributed by the Republican National Committee which included voter survey on various issues such as economics and taxation. What's wrong with that? According to Dobson, "Virtually none of the items dealt with the great moral issues of our time." Saying that it was "simplistic" to think that voters find economic issues to be the most pressing concern, Dobson attacked "safe-sex ideology," "homosexuality in the military, the killing of unborn babes, fetal tissue experimentation, and the assignment of women to combat situations." But most important of all, according to Dobson, is that voters "want religious liberty restored to the nation's schools, and they demand the right to acknowledge God in the public square." The last was an obvious reference to the proposed "religious liberty amendment" which purports to "guarantee" students the right to pray in school. Alienating even 5 percent of such voters, Dobson warned, "could prove fatal in 1996." ____________________ ____________________ FEEDBACK FROM A READER [The following was sent in response to the "Message from the Moderator" in the May 4 (National Day of Prayer) mailing. The debate concerning TheistWatch our correspondent mentions concerns a complaint made on alt.atheism.moderated that TheistWatch should not have included an article on a comment made by an anti-choice legislator that women who were "really" raped could not become pregnant. The complainer felt that the abortion right controversy was not relevant to an Atheist discussion group.] From: To: (Theistwatch-l) Date: Thu, 4 May 1995 21:43:40 -0600 Subject: Re: TW: May 4, 1995 Theistwatch is a superb service! I have been very happy with the coverage and focus so far and would prefer to continue to receive it as a unit rather than as separate articles. In regard to the recent debate about Theistwatch on alt.atheism moderated, I would just like to say that I am primarily interested in the dangers presented when the xian right and its allies try to force their values down everyone else's throat. As far as I am concerned, the issues of the existence of god and the validity of the bible were settled in the nineteenth century and do not need to be rehashed for an atheist audience. The xians are a political, not an intellectual threat. Keep up the good work. Regards, Bill Stouffer __________________ __________________ TheistWatch is a regular news survey on religion and religious belief, and the foibles and follies of religion, as reported from an Atheist standpoint. TheistWatch originates from the headquarters of American Atheists, Inc., in Austin, Texas, as a service to members and potential members and all Atheists concerned about the problems created by organized and unorganized superstitions. Unless otherwise noted, articles appearing in TheistWatch are contributed by the staff of American Atheists. *********************************************************************** * * * American Atheists website: * * PO Box 140195 FTP: * * Austin, TX 78714-0195 * * Voice: (512) 458-1244 Dial-THE-ATHEIST: * * FAX: (512) 467-9525 (512) 458-5731 * * * * Atheist Viewpoint TV: * * Info on American Atheists:, * * & American Atheist Press include your name and mailing address * * AANEWS -Free subscription: * * and put "info aanews" in message body * * * * This text may be freely downloaded, reprinted, and/other * * otherwise redistributed, provided appropriate point of * * origin credit is given to American Atheists. * * * ***********************************************************************


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