On Thursday, conservative televangelist Pat Robertson ranted on his daily television show, the 700 Club, that citizens of Dover who ousted a school board that tried to introduce intelligent design to high school science students should be prepared for God’s wrath. He suggested that they pray to Charles Darwin for help.
Robertson considers himself a Constitutionalist. Perhaps he should set up an altar to Hamilton, Madison and the rest when the next hijacked plane hurtles toward Virginia.
As Robertson goes, this is nothing new and not even specially vindictive. Last summer, he called for the assassination of Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez. And in 2003 he urged that the State Department be blown up with a nuclear device. He has speculated that Orlando might be hit by a meteor for allowing gay flags to be flown on city streets and that hurricanes are God’s judgment on sinful New Orleans.
Now, none of this would matter that much if he was just another unknown pulpit pounder. He would just be part of the protected ranks of true believers awaiting Judgment day, Sheol, Mahapralaya, Ragnarok, the Ascent of man or the Descent of Martians. On good days, I too can believe in any three of these simultaneously without a problem.
But Robertson is a problem. He’s not a mad mullah to be laughed off but someone with the ear of the most powerful man in America, a state which is in absolute and relative terms more powerful than any state that has ever existed and is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons.
And this man is a powerful figure in that state. His daily evangelical TV show broadcast out of Virginia, The 700 club, has an audience of about a million a day. It’s heard all over the world and is translated into over 70 languages.
The activist group he started, the Christian Coalition, has funded and driven a conservative Christian resurgence in Republican politics, even while in 1998 the IRS ruled that the Coalition was too partisan to enjoy its tax-exempt status.
Similarly, his Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) has been penalized (1986, 87) by the IRS for violating its tax exempt status by endorsing political candidates and distributing biased voter guides.
In 2004 he made personal contributions of over $20,000 to Republican candidates, including President Bush and Senators John Thune and George Allen. He started and funded the Center for American Justice which helps the President pick Supreme Court nominations.
Even his philanthropy is smeared with grime. His charity, Operation Blessing, got a lot of play on FEMA’s website after Katrina. But Blessing has a history as a front for the activities of the Robertson-owned African Development Corporation, a diamond-mining business in the Republic of Congo (Zaire), according to two pilots who worked for it. In 1997 one said that “only one or at most two” of forty flights there were for humanitarian purposes. The others were “mining-related.” The late Congolese dictator, the thuggish Mobuto Sese Seko, who wined and dined with Robertson, also gave the ADC extensive mining and forestry concessions. Note that the Republic of Congo was bankrupt and destitute when Sese Seko died.
The Blessing boondoggle led to a Virginia state investigation of Robertson’s charity exemption from the state’s 4.5% retail sales tax, the 3% motor vehicle tax, and the 2% aircraft sales tax. But the investigation was kept hush-hush and then stealthily dropped.
Could it be because Virginia Attorney General Mark Earley, and Governor Jim Gilmore both received campaign contributions from Robertson during the 1997 state election? Blessing is also said to plow back almost a million into Robertson’s TV ministry.
Far from being just another preacher man, Robertson is a political player and a big one. who needs to be held accountable for his loose lips. He’s also walking proof against intelligent design.
LILA RAJIVA is a free-lance journalist and author of “The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American media,” (Monthly Review Press). She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org