Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has clearly climbed aboard the religious right’s campaign to organize fundamentalist clergy in support of its political agenda. After talking to Texan and pseudo-historian David Barton, Beck announced at his recent Restoring Honor rally in Washington the formation of the so-called “Black Robe Regiment.” The name, Barton told him, harkens back to a group of evangelical ministers who supported the American Revolution.
Organizing fundamentalist clergy is not a new political strategy for the religious right. In 2005, for example, the Texas Restoration Project launched an effort to turn pulpits into campaign props for Gov. Rick Perry and like-minded politicians. You can read more about how the Texas Freedom Network helped expose the purpose and secretive funding behind the Texas Restoration Project here.
Barton was one of the organizers of the Restoration Project. Indeed, one of Barton’s responsibilities as a Republican Party functionary (as Texas GOP chair until a few years ago and working for the Republican National Committee in 2004) has been to recruit conservative clergy into the GOP and turn them into political activists in their own congregations. So it’s not surprising that he is helping Beck build a national clergy group to promote a far-right agenda now.
As MediaMatters reports, on his August 30 radio program Beck said he recently told a meeting of evangelical leaders that his new organization “has nothing to do with politics.” Yet at the same meeting, he said, he warned participants: “We’re about to lose our country, and we need to teach the principles of liberty and freedom.” Good grief.
Among those present at the meeting were conservative evangelical leaders active in the Christian Coalition, which was very successful in organizing and mobilizing religious fundamentalists to vote for Republicans in the 1980s early 1990s. Apparently, a number of participants were concerned by Beck’s Mormonism. But Beck suggests their hesitancy faded when Focus on the Family founder James Dobson spoke out in support of his effort. (Barton has also been defending Beck to skeptical conservative Christian evangelicals.)
Beck’s claim that the Black Robe Regiment project “has nothing to do with politics” is one of the most ludicrous yet by the Beck-Barton team. We’ve heard it all before. The Christian Coalition made similar disingenuous claims as a thinly veiled ally of the Republican Party — then the courts cracked down on Coalition voter guides that were clearly slanted toward GOP candidates.
Just as distasteful is how Beck continues to use faith as a weapon and plays the “fear card” to push his agenda. MediaMatters reports that on his radio program, Beck insisted that listeners send money to support his clergy group: “You must tithe because these people (the Black Robe Regiment) are going to be in trouble. They are going to come under attack.” He went on to describe opponents of his group as the “adversary,” a word evangelicals often use to refer to Satan. Much of this is Barton’s stock in trade: use clergy to push a political agenda and then employ hysteria to demonize opponents. Beck and Barton make quite a team, don’t they?
The folks at People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have more about Beck’s Black Robe Regiment.