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Notes on the geopolitics of cults. Part 3: 12 Angry Men

Luigi Corvaglia


Let us play a mind game. If you, the reader, were a member of an association that protects bald people from discrimination by hair people, would you ever wear a toupee? I think the answer is no. However, if you did it for vanity and someone who knew the dirty secret (what could be dirtier than a toupee?) made it public, would you have the right and, more importantly, the face to threaten him with a libel suit? I do not think so. First, because it is not a slander, but the truth, and second, because if your declared struggle is to defend bald people against discrimination against the hair-equipped people, distancing yourself from your baldness as if it were something unworthy would constitute discrimination against bald people. This would be illogical or hypocritical. Well, the case occurred precisely in these conditions, when the Italian magazine Linkiesta published an article by Carmine Gazzanni in January 2016, which included an interview with me. In it it was claimed that the European Federation for Freedom of Belief (FoB), the association known to those who read the first two parts, was a pressure group (which FOB itself claims on its official website) and that some of its members, even high-ranking ones, were at the time members of very controversial cults and groups. One of the founders was a high-ranking Scientology follower. Interestingly, FOB immediately responded with a reply in the same magazine, threatening the author of the article and me with a libel suit. I responded on the same page:

"I do not believe that anyone, either inside or outside FOB, would have the gall to claim that Scientology is not a "controversial" organization. Yet the board of FOB, writes that this statement is "damaging". And why? If belonging to organizations, even controversial ones, is the right that FOB defends with all its strength, why would it be damaging to say that its members belong to it too?! Would an association that defends the rights of homosexuals feel offended if it were accused that some of its members are homosexuals? A strange twist of logic that can only be explained by the fear of the board of FOB that this could raise doubts about the true objectives of the association. That these are only doubts is true, that they are uncomfortable is understandable, but that they are legitimate is certain and is also proven by the fact that FOB itself is careful not to highlight such connections."

This episode is emblematic and exemplary of the current confrontation, as it has all the characteristic features of the situation: lobbing and ambiguity, front offices and back offices, double standards and logical entanglements. Therefore, it is now time to return to the scene where our journey began, namely the condemnation of the activities of FECRIS by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) (see first part).

Angry Men

Having clarified the scenario and the actors, it is of particular interest to lift the veil on the USCIRF.

USCIRF is, as its official website states, a 'U.S. federal government, commission', an advisory body whose vaunted independence is supposed to lie in the fact that it is 'bipartisan' i.e., not the expression of one party. It consists of only nine members, five from the president's party and four from the largest opposition party. According to USCIRF of 2020, scholars, activists, and associations advocating for the rights of victims of cults are conducting "hate campaigns" and restricting civil rights. The 2020 report also includes a recommendation to the U.S. President to combat propaganda against new religious movements, disseminated by the European Federation of Centres of Research and Information on Sectarianism (FECRIS) at the annual OSCE Human Dimensions Conference, sharing information on the continued involvement of individuals and entities acting as part of the anti-cult movement in the suppression of religious freedom (sic...). In practice, it is suggested that individuals (!!) and institutions active in the fight against abusive cults should be monitored...

At the time the 2020 report was written, Donald Trump was president. Knowing how the commission that wrote this document was composed offers surprises and curiosities.

Tony Perkins

The vice president was Tony Perkins. He is also chairman of the Family Research Council, a fundamentalist Protestant organization. The Family Research Council opposes pornography, embryonic stem cell research, abortion, divorce, and LGBT rights (such as anti-discrimination laws, same-sex marriage, and LGBT adoption). The FRC believes that "homosexual behavior is harmful to the people who practice it and to society in general, and can never be affirmed." It is therefore a vice and a sin. Pedophilia would be a problem associated with homosexuality. Questionable but legitimate positions, of course, but not the ones one would expect from someone who has to judge discrimination and 'hate speech'. In fact, in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center classified FRC as an anti-gay hate group because the group "makes false claims about the LGBT community based on discredited research and junk science" to block LGBT civil rights.

The news website OpenDemocracy has published a list of U.S. religious right associations that have funded campaigns against sex education, contraception, abortion and LGBT rights in Africa, and FRC appears on that list.

Manhattan Declaration. "Under no circumstances shall we render unto Caesar what is God's".

Another USCIRF member was Gary L. Bauer, former president of FRC. In November 2009, Bauer signed an ecumenical statement known as the "Manhattan Declaration" which calls on evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians to disregard government regulations and laws that they believe would force them to go along with or simply allow abortion, same-sex marriage, and other issues that contradict their religious conscience.

It seems strange, to say the least, that someone who calls for disregarding the laws and is firmly against recognizing the rights enshrined in the Constitution should be a member of a commission that watches over respect for civil rights and freedoms.

Another member was Johnnie Moore. Moore was Trump's evangelical adviser and champion of American hegemony. He is president of the Congress of Christian Leaders, a group overseen by Right-Wing Watch, an independent body that monitors all right-wing subversive groups.

Nadine Maenza, another member of the committee, is executive director of Rick Santorum's Patriot Voices PAC for Defending Conservative Values. Of course, Santorum opposes abortion and same-sex marriage and has embraced the image of the 'cultural warrior' in the war on civil liberties during his tenure in the Senate. Santorum is a member of Regnum Christi, a group affiliated with the Legionaries of Christ, a highly controversial group at the center of a huge scandal. During his tenure as senator, Santorum authored the Santorum Amendment, which promoted the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in schools as opposed to the teaching of evolutionary theory.

Another member is Nury Turkel, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a U.S. think tank with conservative leanings.

If at least four - and in fact there are already five conservatives - out of nine members have characteristics that make them unfit to judge those who practice hate speech, discrimination or obstruction of civil rights, it means that a majority can be formed with just one more vote. It is also interesting to note that a respected member of USCIRF and its former vice president, Kristina Arriaga de Bucholz, resigned in 2019 because of "heavy interference by the Foreign Affair Committee of the U.S. Senate" in the commission's activities.

This represents a mortgage on USCIRF's autonomy. Paradoxically, however, Arriaga also lamented that the newly imposed rules expand USCIRF's mandate to monitor "the abuse of religion to justify human rights violations." This expansion would allow an eventual USCIRF composed of civil rights activists to denounce, for example, gender segregation during worship, genital mutilation, or religions that reject same-sex relationships.

It would also condemn the abuses that occur in totalitarian cults, the so-called "cults". " In other words, what Arriaga did not like was the idea that a commission defending one human right, namely the right to practice one's religion, should also defend all other rights in case they come into conflict with the privileged one (which is so privileged that it has three bodies to protect it). "Although surprised by his resignation, I share his concerns," Deputy Director Perkins wrote on Twitter. In short, it appears that the commission is interested in protecting religious freedom at the expense of all other rights.

Arriaga's fears were overblown if USCIRF continues to rely on people like its former president Elliott Abrams, a Christian fundamentalist convicted in the Iran-Contras scandal (see first part) and one of the commission's members at the time I am writing.

However, Chris Seiple, president emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), said Arriaga's resignation "raises questions about how USCIRF is being run," while members of both major parties believe USCIRF commissioners "lack common sense."

Eric Roux (Scientology) at the Parlament's of World's Religions with past and present USCIRF members in August 2023

That said, the irony with which the editors of FOB treated my book on "cult apologists",

given the fact that a supranational and unquestioned body such as USCIRF has since rendered its judgment (see the first installment), is probably unwarranted, . As for the accusation of affinity with "Nazi fascism", a smile would not be out of place after this review of enlightened progressives in defense of religious freedom.

In summary, we are dealing with a galaxy of neocons and theocons, not free of ties to the U.S. government itself, who appear to be teaming up with controversial groups to wage a war against scholars, activists, associations, and laws that denounce "cults" and protect citizens from the dangers of these abusive cults. What is not clear in the report so far is why. We will try to answer this crucial question in the next parts.

Go to the fourth part


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