From the Archive: The death of Rev. Sun Myung Moon at 92 ends the long personal saga of a Korean theocrat whose life intertwined his bizarre religion with threads into organized crime and right-wing politics. Moon also showed how a fortune spent on media could change Washington’s political dynamic, as Robert Parry wrote in 2010.
By Robert Parry (Published on May 1, 2010)
As an investigative journalist, I’m not much for catchy political metaphors, but the revelation that snakes and rodents are infesting the Washington Times building as the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s newspaper sinks into a financial swamp does have some poetic justice about it.
After all, for several decades, the right-wing Washington Times has sent disinformation slithering through the U.S. political system while creating a nest for propagandists who have befouled American democracy with irrationality and dirty tricks. Indeed, one could say that Moon’s newspaper pioneered the modern style of deceptive “journalism” that is the daily fare on Fox News, angry talk radio and right-wing blogs.
The immediate cause of the Washington Times’ financial plight was the bitter succession fight among children of the aging Unification Church founder who was no longer capable of maintaining personal control over his global religious-political-business empire.
That empire had split into competing factions, with one of Moon’s children, Justin Moon, who was in charge of the Asian operations, deciding to slash the church’s massive subsidy to the Washington Times headed by another son, Preston Moon. Staffers who have survived a series of draconian layoffs reported that snakes and mice had slipped into the newspaper’s building because the owners couldn’t afford exterminators to combat the infestations.
“There was a three-foot-long black snake in the main conference room the other day,” said reporter Julia Duin. “We have snakes in the newsroom.”
A Curious Case
It has long been amazing that Official Washington has been so blasé about the curious case of the Washington Times, where a Korean theocrat known for brainwashing his followers and for maintaining close ties with international drug cartels and foreign intelligence agencies has been allowed to spend billions of unregulated dollars to influence U.S. political decision-making.
The fact that Moon wrapped himself in “conservative” political garb and was quick to denounce any investigations of his organization as “religious bigotry” helped fend off inquiries into exactly where his money was coming from.
But what proved most important was how Moon made himself useful to Ronald Reagan, the Bush Family and other Republican heavy-hitters often by putting into play propaganda smearing their political enemies. These Republicans, in turn, helped protect Moon, at least since the late 1970s.
During the Carter administration, the congressional “Korea-gate” probe into South Korean influence-buying in Washington revealed Moon’s foreign intelligence ties and some of his criminal activities, leading to his conviction on tax fraud charges in 1982.
In that same year, however, Moon took steps to insulate himself from further inquiries, most notably by launching the Washington Times. Since then, Moon’s empire from its local fundraising scams to its international money-laundering has escaped any serious government examination.
It didn’t even matter when Church insiders, including Moon’s former daughter-in-law Nansook Hong, provided first-hand evidence of systematic criminality. In an era dominated by Republican control of the federal government, U.S. authorities never seemed to put two and two together.
Though Moon’s operations in both Asia and South America were linked to major crime syndicates including the Japanese yakuza and Latin American cocaine cartels, federal prosecutors and congressional committees chose to look the other way.
That way Moon was allowed to continue pouring an estimated $100 million a year into his newspaper and other pro-Republican media outlets. Additional millions went to fund right-wing political conferences; to pay speaking fees to world leaders, including George H.W. Bush; and to bail Republican political allies out of financial troubles.
When I was investigating Moon’s activities in the mid-1990s, I interviewed former church insiders who explained how Moon’s U.S. business operations, such as restaurants and real estate deals, served to launder overseas money that his followers would first sneak past U.S. Customs, a practice confirmed by Moon’s ex-daughter-in-law.
In her 1998 memoir, In the Shadow of the Moons, Nansook Hong alleged that Moon’s organization had engaged in a long-running conspiracy to smuggle cash into the United States and to deceive U.S. Customs agents.
“The Unification Church was a cash operation,” Nansook Hong wrote. “I watched Japanese church leaders arrive at regular intervals at East Garden [the Moon compound north of New York City] with paper bags full of money, which the Reverend Moon would either pocket or distribute to the heads of various church-owned business enterprises at his breakfast table.
“The Japanese had no trouble bringing the cash into the United States; they would tell customs agents that they were in America to gamble at Atlantic City. In addition, many businesses run by the church were cash operations, including several Japanese restaurants in New York City. I saw deliveries of cash from church headquarters that went directly into the wall safe in Mrs. Moon’s closet.”
Mrs. Moon even pressed her daughter-in-law into one cash-smuggling incident after a trip to Japan in 1992, Nansook Hong wrote. Mrs. Moon had received “stacks of money” and divvied it up among her entourage for the return trip through Seattle, Nansook Hong wrote.
“I was given $20,000 in two packs of crisp new bills,” she recalled. “I hid them beneath the tray in my makeup case. … I knew that smuggling was illegal, but I believed the followers of Sun Myung Moon answered to higher laws.”
U.S. currency laws require that cash amounts above $10,000 be declared at Customs when the money enters or leaves the country. It is also illegal to conspire with couriers to bring in lesser amounts when the total exceeds the $10,000 figure.
Moon “demonstrated contempt for U.S. law every time he accepted a paper bag full of untraceable, undeclared cash collected from true believers” who smuggled the money in from overseas, Nansook Hong wrote. Despite Nansook Hong’s revelations, which corroborated longstanding claims by other Moon insiders, no known criminal investigation ensued.
There is also the question of where the mysterious money originated. Some Moon watchers believe much of the cash came from scams of superstitious Japanese widows who were sold miniature pagodas and other ornaments dedicated to their dead husbands.
Yet, while the Japanese scams might explain part of Moon’s fortune, others who have looked into Moon’s operation suspect that a major source of money derived from Moon’s close relationships with underworld figures in Asia and South America.
Those ties date back several decades to negotiations conducted by one of Moon’s early South Korean supporters, Kim Jong-Pil, who founded the Korean CIA and headed up sensitive negotiations on improving bilateral relations between Tokyo and Seoul.
The negotiations put Kim Jong-Pil in touch with two important figures in the Far East, Japanese rightists Yoshio Kodama and Ryoichi Sasakawa, who had been jailed as fascist war criminals at the end of World War II. A few years later, however, both Kodama and Sasakawa were freed by U.S. military intelligence officials.
The U.S. government turned to Kodama and Sasakawa for help in combating communist labor unions and student strikes, much as the CIA protected German Nazi war criminals who supplied intelligence and performed other services in Cold War battles with European communists.
Kodama and Sasakawa also allegedly grew rich from their association with the yakuza, a shadowy organized crime syndicate that profited off drug smuggling, gambling and prostitution in Japan and Korea. Behind the scenes, Kodama and Sasakawa became power-brokers in Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Kim Jong-Pil’s contacts with these right-wing leaders proved invaluable to Moon, who had made only a few converts in Japan by the early 1960s. Immediately after Kim Jong-Pil opened the door to Kodama and Sasakawa in late 1962, 50 leaders of an ultra-nationalist Japanese Buddhist sect converted en masse to the Unification Church, according to Yakuza, a book by David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro.
“Sasakawa became an advisor to Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Japanese branch of the Unification Church” and collaborated with Moon in building far-right anti-communist organizations in Asia, Kaplan and Dubro wrote.
Moon’s church was active in the Asian People’s Anti-Communist League, a fiercely right-wing group founded by the governments of South Korea and Taiwan. In 1966, the group expanded into the World Anti-Communist League, an international alliance that brought together traditional conservatives with ex-Nazis, overt racialists and Latin American “death squads.”
Authors Scott Anderson and Jon Lee Anderson wrote in their 1986 book, Inside the League, that Sun Myung Moon was one of five indispensable Asian leaders who made the World Anti-Communist League possible.
The five were Taiwan’s dictator Chiang Kai-shek, South Korea’s dictator Park Chung Hee, yakuza gangsters Sasakawa and Kodama, and Moon, “an evangelist who planned to take over the world through the doctrine of ‘Heavenly Deception,’” the Andersons wrote.
WACL became a well-financed worldwide organization after a secret meeting between Sasakawa and Moon, along with two Kodama representatives, on a lake in Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, according to the Andersons. The purpose of the meeting was to create an anti-communist organization that “would further Moon’s global crusade and lend the Japanese yakuza leaders a respectable new façade,” the Andersons wrote.
Mixing organized crime and political extremism, of course, has a long tradition throughout the world. Violent political movements often have blended with criminal operations as a way to arrange covert funding, move operatives or acquire weapons.
Drug smuggling has proven to be a particularly effective way to fill the coffers of extremist movements, especially those that find ways to insinuate themselves within more legitimate operations of sympathetic governments or intelligence services.
In the quarter century after World War II, remnants of fascist movements managed to do just that. Shattered by the Allies, the surviving fascists got a new lease on political life with the start of the Cold War. They helped both Western democracies and right-wing dictatorships battle international communism.
Though some Nazi leaders faced war-crimes tribunals after World War II, others managed to make their escapes along “rat lines” to Spain or South America or they finagled intelligence relationships with the victorious powers, especially the United States.
Argentina became a natural haven given the pre-war alliance that existed between the European fascists and prominent Argentine military leaders, such as Juan Peron. The fleeing Nazis also found like-minded right-wing politicians and military officers across Latin America who already used repression to keep down the indigenous populations and the legions of the poor.
In the post-World War II years, some Nazi war criminals chose reclusive lives, but others, such as former SS officer Klaus Barbie, sold their intelligence skills to less-sophisticated security services in countries like Bolivia or Paraguay. Other Nazis on the lam trafficked in narcotics. Often the lines crossed between intelligence operations and criminal conspiracies.
Auguste Ricord, a French war criminal who had collaborated with the Gestapo, set up shop in Paraguay and opened up the French Connection heroin channels to American Mafia drug kingpin Santo Trafficante Jr., who controlled much of the heroin traffic into the United States. Columns by Jack Anderson identified Ricord’s accomplices as some of Paraguay’s highest-ranking military officers.
Another French Connection mobster, Christian David, relied on protection of Argentine authorities. While trafficking in heroin, David also “took on assignments for Argentina’s terrorist organization, the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance,” Henrik Kruger wrote in The Great Heroin Coup.
During President Richard Nixon’s original “war on drugs,” U.S. authorities smashed the famous French Connection and won extraditions of Ricord and David in 1972 to face justice in the United States. However, by the time the French Connection was severed, powerful Mafia drug lords had forged strong ties to South America’s military leaders. An infrastructure for the multi-billion-dollar drug trade, servicing the insatiable U.S. market, was in place.
Trafficante-connected groups also recruited displaced anti-Castro Cubans, who had ended up in Miami, needed work, and possessed some useful intelligence skills gained from the CIA’s training for the Bay of Pigs and other clandestine operations. Heroin from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia soon filled the void left by the broken French Connection and its mostly Middle Eastern heroin supply routes.
During this time of transition, Moon brought his evangelical message to South America. His first visit to Argentina occurred in 1965 when he blessed a square behind the presidential Pink House in Buenos Aires, but he returned a decade later to make more lasting friendships.
Moon first sank down roots in Uruguay during the 12-year reign of right-wing military dictators who seized power in 1973. He also cultivated close relations with military dictators in Argentina, Paraguay and Chile, reportedly ingratiating himself with the juntas by helping the military regimes arrange arms purchases and by channeling money to allied right-wing organizations.
“Relationships nurtured with right-wing Latin Americans in the [World Anti-Communist] League led to acceptance of the [Unification] Church’s political and propaganda operations throughout Latin America,” the Andersons wrote in Inside the League.
“As an international money laundry, the Church tapped into the capital flight havens of Latin America. Escaping the scrutiny of American and European investigators, the Church could now funnel money into banks in Honduras, Uruguay and Brazil, where official oversight was lax or nonexistent.”
In 1980, Moon made more friends in South America when a right-wing alliance of Bolivian military officers and drug dealers organized what became known as the Cocaine Coup. Moon’s WACL associates, such as Alfred Candia, coordinated the arrival of some of the paramilitary operatives who assisted in the violent putsch.
Right-wing Argentine intelligence officers mixed with a contingent of young European neo-fascists as they collaborated with Nazi war criminal Barbie in carrying out the bloody coup that overthrew the elected left-of-center government. The victory put into power a right-wing military dictatorship indebted to the drug lords. Bolivia became South America’s first narco-state.
One of the first well-wishers arriving in La Paz to congratulate the new government was Moon’s top lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak. The Moon organization published a photo of Pak meeting with the new strongman, General Garcia Meza. After the visit to the mountainous capital, Pak declared, “I have erected a throne for Father Moon in the world’s highest city.”
According to later Bolivian government and newspaper reports, a Moon representative invested about $4 million in preparations for the coup. Bolivia’s WACL representatives also played key roles, and CAUSA, one of Moon’s anti-communist organizations, listed as members nearly all the leading Bolivian coup-makers.
Soon, Colonel Luis Arce-Gomez, a coup organizer and the cousin of cocaine kingpin Roberto Suarez, went into partnership with big narco-traffickers, including Trafficante’s Cuban-American smugglers. Nazi war criminal Barbie and his young neo-fascist followers found new work protecting Bolivia’s major cocaine barons and transporting drugs to the border.
“The paramilitary units conceived by Barbie as a new type of SS sold themselves to the cocaine barons,” German journalist Kai Hermann wrote. “The attraction of fast money in the cocaine trade was stronger than the idea of a national socialist revolution in Latin America.”
A month after the coup, General Garcia Meza participated in the Fourth Congress of the Latin American Anti-Communist Confederation, an arm of the World Anti-Communist League. Also attending that Fourth Congress was WACL president Woo Jae Sung, a leading Moon disciple.
As the drug lords consolidated their power in Bolivia, the Moon organization expanded its presence, too. Hermann reported that in early 1981, war criminal Barbie and Moon leader Thomas Ward were seen together in apparent prayer.
On May 31, 1981, Moon representatives sponsored a CAUSA reception at the Sheraton Hotel’s Hall of Freedom in La Paz. Moon’s lieutenant Bo Hi Pak and Bolivian strongman Garcia Meza led a prayer for President Reagan’s recovery from an assassination attempt.
In his speech, Bo Hi Pak declared, “God had chosen the Bolivian people in the heart of South America as the ones to conquer communism.” According to a later Bolivian intelligence report, the Moon organization sought to recruit an “armed church” of Bolivians, with about 7,000 Bolivians receiving some paramilitary training.
But by late 1981, the cocaine taint of Bolivia’s military junta was so deep and the corruption so staggering that U.S.-Bolivian relations were stretched to the breaking point. “The Moon sect disappeared overnight from Bolivia as clandestinely as they had arrived,” Hermann reported.
The Cocaine Coup leaders soon found themselves on the run, too. Interior Minister Arce-Gomez was eventually extradited to Miami and was sentenced to 30 years in prison for drug trafficking. Drug lord Roberto Suarez got a 15-year prison term. General Garcia Meza became a fugitive from a 30-year sentence imposed on him in Bolivia for abuse of power, corruption and murder.
Ex-Gestapo official Barbie, known as the “butcher of Lyon,” was returned to France to face a life sentence for war crimes. He died in 1991.
But Moon’s organization suffered few negative repercussions from the Cocaine Coup. By the early 1980s, flush with seemingly unlimited funds, Moon had moved on to promoting himself with the new Republican administration in Washington. Yet, where Moon got his cash remained one of Washington’s deepest mysteries and one that few U.S. conservatives wanted to solve.
“Some Moonie-watchers even believe that some of the business enterprises are actually covers for drug trafficking,” wrote Scott and Jon Lee Anderson.
While Moon’s representatives have refused to detail how they’ve sustained their far-flung activities, Moon’s spokesmen have angrily denied recurring allegations about profiteering off illegal trafficking in weapons and drugs.
In a typical response to a gun-running question by the Argentine newspaper, Clarin, Moon’s representative Ricardo DeSena responded, “I deny categorically these accusations and also the barbarities that are said about drugs and brainwashing. Our movement responds to the harmony of the races, nations and religions and proclaims that the family is the school of love.” [Clarin, July 7, 1996]
Without doubt, however, Moon’s organization has had a long record of association with organized crime figures, including ones implicated in the drug trade. Besides collaborating with leaders of the Japanese yakuza and the Cocaine Coup government of Bolivia, Moon’s organization developed close ties with the Honduran military and the Nicaraguan contra movement, both permeated with drug smugglers. [See Robert Parry’s Lost History.]
On the Offensive
Moon’s organization also used the Washington Times and its political clout in the nation’s capital to intimidate or discredit government officials and journalists who tried to investigate Moon-connected criminal activities. In the mid-1980s, for instance, when journalists and congressional investigators began probing the evidence of contra-drug trafficking, they came under attack from the Times.
An Associated Press story that I co-wrote with Brian Barger about a Miami-based federal probe into gun- and drug-running by the contras was denigrated in an April 11, 1986, front-page Washington Times article with the headline: “Story on [contra] drug smuggling denounced as political ploy.”
When Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, conducted a Senate probe and uncovered additional evidence of contra-drug trafficking, the Washington Times denounced him, too. The newspaper first published articles depicting Kerry’s probe as a wasteful political witch hunt. “Kerry’s anti-contra efforts extensive, expensive, in vain,” announced the headline of one Times article on Aug. 13, 1986.
But when Kerry exposed more contra wrongdoing, the Washington Times shifted tactics. In 1987 in front-page articles, it began accusing Kerry’s staff of obstructing justice because their investigation was supposedly interfering with Reagan administration efforts to get at the truth.
“Kerry staffers damaged FBI probe,” said a Jan. 21, 1987, Times article that opened with the assertion: “Congressional investigators for Sen. John Kerry severely damaged a federal drug investigation last summer by interfering with a witness while pursuing allegations of drug smuggling by the Nicaraguan resistance, federal law enforcement officials said.”
Despite the attacks, Kerry’s contra-drug investigation eventually concluded that a number of contra units both in Costa Rica and Honduras were implicated in the cocaine trade.
“It is clear that individuals who provided support for the contras were involved in drug trafficking, the supply network of the contras was used by drug trafficking organizations, and elements of the contras themselves knowingly received financial and material assistance from drug traffickers,” Kerry’s investigation stated in a report issued April 13, 1989.
“In each case, one or another agency of the U.S. government had information regarding the involvement either while it was occurring or immediately thereafter.”
Kerry’s investigation also found that Honduras had become an important way station for cocaine shipments heading north during the contra war. “Elements of the Honduran military were involved … in the protection of drug traffickers from 1980 on,” the report said. “These activities were reported to appropriate U.S. government officials throughout the period.
“Instead of moving decisively to close down the drug trafficking by stepping up the DEA presence in the country and using the foreign assistance the United States was extending to the Hondurans as a lever, the United States closed the DEA office in Tegucigalpa and appears to have ignored the issue.”
The Kerry investigation represented an indirect challenge to Vice President George H.W. Bush, who had been named by President Reagan to head the South Florida Task Force for interdicting the flow of drugs into the United States and was later put in charge of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System.
In short, Vice President Bush was the lead official in the U.S. government to cope with the drug trade, which he himself had dubbed a national security threat. If the American voters came to believe that Bush had compromised his anti-drug responsibilities to protect the image of the Nicaraguan contras and other rightists in Central America, that judgment could have threatened the political future of Bush and his politically ambitious family.
By challenging press and congressional investigations of this touchy subject, the Washington Times helped keep an unfavorable media spotlight from swinging in the direction of the Vice President and bought some cover for Moon’s drug-connected right-wing allies, too.
The resistance of the Reagan and the first Bush administrations prevented anything like a complete story of the contra-drug scandal from emerging in a timely fashion. However, the evidence eventually assembled by investigators at the CIA, the Justice Department and other federal agencies now indicates that Bolivia’s Cocaine Coup operatives were only the first in a line of clever drug smugglers who tried to squeeze under the protective umbrella of Reagan’s favorite covert operation, the contra war.
Other cocaine smugglers soon followed, sharing some of their drug profits with the contras as a way to minimize investigative interest by the Reagan-Bush law enforcement agencies. Based on official investigations, we now know that the contra-connected smugglers included Bolivians, the Medellin cartel, Panama’s government of Manuel Noriega, the Honduran military, the Honduran-Mexican smuggling ring of Ramon Matta Ballesteros, and the Miami-based anti-Castro Cubans with their connections to Mafia operations throughout the United States.
In some cases, U.S. intelligence officials bent over backwards not to take timely notice of contra-connected drug trafficking out of fear that fuller investigations would embarrass the contras and their patrons in the Reagan-Bush administrations.
For instance, on Oct. 22, 1982, a cable written by the CIA’s Directorate of Operations stated, “There are indications of links between [a U.S. religious organization] and two Nicaraguan counter-revolutionary groups. These links involve an exchange in [the United States] of narcotics for arms.”
The cable added that the participants were planning a meeting in Costa Rica for such a deal. When the cable arrived, senior CIA officials were concerned. On Oct. 27, CIA headquarters asked for more information from a U.S. law enforcement agency.
The law enforcement agency expanded on its report by telling the CIA that representatives of the contra FDN and another contra force, the UDN, would be meeting with several unidentified U.S. citizens. But then, the CIA reversed itself, deciding that it wanted no more information on the grounds that U.S. citizens were involved.
“In light of the apparent participation of U.S. persons throughout, agree you should not pursue the matter further,” CIA headquarters wrote on Nov. 3, 1982. Two weeks later, after discouraging additional investigation, CIA headquarters suggested it might be necessary to label the allegations of a guns-for-drugs deal as “misinformation.”
The CIA’s Latin American Division, however, responded on Nov. 18, 1982, that several contra officials had gone to San Francisco for the meetings with supporters, presumably as part of the same guns-for-drugs deal. But CIA inspector general Frederick Hitz when he investigated in the mid-to-late 1990s found no additional information about that deal in CIA files.
Also, by keeping the names of the participants censored when the documents finally were released in 1998, the CIA prevented outside investigators from examining whether the “U.S. religious organization” had any affiliation with Moon’s network of quasi-religious groups, which were assisting the contras at that time.
Over the past quarter century as Moon invested heavily in prominent Republicans this pattern of government disinterest in his illicit operations remained one consistency. That disinterest wasn’t even shaken when disenchanted Moon insiders went public with confessions of their own first-hand involvement in criminal conspiracies.
Besides Nansook Hong’s account of money-laundering, other disaffected Moon disciples told similar stories. For instance, Maria Madelene Pretorious, a former Unification Church member who worked at Moon’s Manhattan Center, a New York City music venue and recording studio, testified at a court hearing in Massachusetts that in December of 1993 or January of 1994, one of Moon’s sons, Hyo Jin Moon, returned from a trip to Korea “with $600,000 in cash which he had received from his father. … Myself along with three or four other members that worked at Manhattan Center saw the cash in bags, shopping bags.”
In an interview with me in the mid-1990s, Pretorious said Asian church members would bring cash into the United States where it would be circulated through Moon’s business entities as a way to launder it.
At the center of this financial operation, Pretorious said, was One-Up Corp., a Delaware-registered holding company that owned many Moon enterprises including the Manhattan Center and New World Communications, the parent company of the Washington Times.
“Once that cash is at the Manhattan Center, it has to be accounted for,” Pretorious said. “The way that’s done is to launder the cash. Manhattan Center gives cash to a business called Happy World which owns restaurants. … Happy World needs to pay illegal aliens. … Happy World pays some back to the Manhattan Center for ‘services rendered.’ The rest goes to One-Up and then comes back to Manhattan Center as an investment.”
In 1996, the Uruguayan bank employees union blew the whistle on another Moon money-laundering scheme, in which some 4,200 female Japanese followers allegedly walked into the Moon-controlled Banco de Credito in Montevideo and deposited as much as $25,000 each.
The money from the women went into the account of an anonymous association called Cami II, which was controlled by Moon’s Unification Church. In one day, Cami II received $19 million and, by the time the parade of women ended, the total had swelled to about $80 million.
It was not clear where the money originated, nor how many other times Moon’s organization has used this tactic known as “smurfing” to transfer untraceable cash into Uruguay. Authorities did not push the money-laundering investigation, apparently out of deference to Moon’s political clout and fear of disrupting Uruguay’s banking industry. However, other critics condemned Moon’s operations.
“The first thing we ought to do is clarify to the people [of Uruguay] that Moon’s sect is a type of modern pirate that came to the country to perform obscure money operations, such as money laundering,” said Jorge Zabalza, who was a leader of the Movimiento de Participacion Popular. “This sect is a kind of religious mob that is trying to get public support to pursue its business.”
While Moon’s criminal enterprises may have been operating at one level, Moon’s political influence-buying was functioning at another, as he spread around billions of dollars to the top echelons of Washington power.
For instance, when the New Right’s direct-mail whiz Richard Viguerie fell on hard times in the late 1980s, Moon had a corporation run by his lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak, buy one of Viguerie’s properties for $10 million. [See OrangeCounty Register, Dec. 21, 1987; Washington Post, Oct. 15, 1989]
Moon also used the Washington Times and its affiliated publications to create seemingly legitimate conduits to funnel money to individuals and companies. In another example of Moon’s helpful largesse, the Washington Times hired Viguerie to conduct a pricy direct-mail subscription drive.
Another case of saving a right-wing icon occurred when the Rev. Jerry Falwell was facing financial ruin over the debts piling up at Liberty University. But the fundamentalist Christian school in Lynchburg, Virginia, got a last-minute bail-out in the mid-1990s ostensibly from two Virginia businessmen, Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas, who used their non-profit Christian Heritage Foundation to snap up a large chunk of Liberty’s debt for $2.5 million, a fraction of its face value.
Falwell rejoiced and called the moment “the greatest single day of financial advantage” in the school’s history, even though it was accomplished at the disadvantage of many small true-believing investors who had bought the church construction bonds through a Texas company.
But Falwell’s secret benefactor behind the debt purchase was Sun Myung Moon, who was kept in the background partly because of his controversial Biblical interpretations that hold Jesus to have been a failure and because of Moon’s alleged brainwashing of thousands of young Americans, often shattering their bonds with their biological families.
Moon had used his tax-exempt Women’s Federation for World Peace to funnel $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation, the non-profit that purchased the school’s debt. I stumbled onto this Moon-Falwell connection while examining the Internal Revenue Service filings of Moon’s front groups.
The Women Federation’s vice president Susan Fefferman confirmed that the $3.5 million grant had gone to “Mr. Falwell’s people” for the benefit of Liberty University. [For more on Moon’s funding of the Right, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
Moon also used the Women’s Federation to pay substantial speaking fees to former President George H.W. Bush, who gave talks at Moon-sponsored events. In September 1995, Bush and his wife, Barbara, gave six speeches in Asia for the Women’s Federation. In one speech on Sept. 14 to 50,000 Moon supporters in Tokyo, Bush said “what really counts is faith, family and friends.”
In summer 1996, Bush was lending his prestige to Moon again. The former President addressed the Moon-connected Family Federation for World Peace in Washington, an event that gained notoriety when comedian Bill Cosby tried to back out of his contract after learning of Moon’s connection. Bush had no such qualms. [Washington Post, July 30, 1996]
In fall 1996, Moon needed the ex-President’s help once more. Moon was trying to replicate his Washington Times influence in South America by opening a regional newspaper, Tiempos del Mundo. But South American journalists were recounting unsavory chapters of Moon’s history, including his links to South Korea’s intelligence service and various neo-fascist groups.
Some newspaper articles noted that in the early 1980s, Moon had used friendships with the military dictatorships in Argentina and Uruguay which had been responsible for tens of thousands of political murders to invest in those two countries. There also were allegations of Moon’s links to the region’s major drug traffickers.
Moon’s disciples fumed about the critical stories and accused the Argentine news media of trying to sabotage Moon’s plans for an inaugural gala in Buenos Aires on Nov. 23, 1996. “The local press was trying to undermine the event,” complained the church’s internal newsletter, Unification News.
Given the controversy, Argentina’s elected president, Carlos Menem, decided to reject Moon’s invitation to attend. But Moon had a trump card: the endorsement of an ex-President of the United States, George H.W. Bush. Agreeing to speak at the newspaper’s launch, Bush flew aboard a private plane, arriving in Buenos Aires on Nov. 22. Bush stayed at Menem’s official residence, the Olivos.
As the headliner at the newspaper’s inaugural gala, Bush saved the day, Moon’s followers gushed. “Mr. Bush’s presence as keynote speaker gave the event invaluable prestige,” wrote the Unification News. “Father [Moon] and Mother [Mrs. Moon] sat with several of the True Children [Moon’s offspring] just a few feet from the podium” where Bush spoke.
“I want to salute Reverend Moon,” Bush declared. “A lot of my friends in South America don’t know about the Washington Times, but it is an independent voice. The editors of the Washington Times tell me that never once has the man with the vision [Moon] interfered with the running of the paper, a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington, D.C.”
Bush’s speech was so effusive that it surprised even Moon’s followers. “Once again, heaven turned a disappointment into a victory,” the Unification News exulted. “Everyone was delighted to hear his compliments. We knew he would give an appropriate and ‘nice’ speech, but praise in Father’s presence was more than we expected. … It was vindication. We could just hear a sigh of relief from Heaven.”
While Bush’s assertion about Moon’s Washington Times as a voice of “sanity” may be a matter of opinion, Bush’s vouching for its editorial independence simply wasn’t true. Almost since it opened in 1982, a string of senior editors and correspondents have resigned, citing the manipulation of the news by Moon and his subordinates.
The first editor, James Whelan, resigned in 1984, confessing that “I have blood on my hands” for helping Moon’s church achieve greater legitimacy. But Bush’s boosterism was just what Moon needed in South America.
“The day after,” the Unification News observed, “the press did a 180-degree about-turn once they realized that the event had the support of a U.S. President.” With Bush’s help, Moon had gained another beachhead for his worldwide business-religious-political-media empire.
After the event, Menem told reporters from La Nacion that Bush had claimed privately to be only a mercenary who did not really know Moon. “Bush told me he came and charged money to do it,” Menem said. [La Nacion, Nov. 26, 1996]
But Bush was not telling Menem the whole story. By fall 1996, Bush and Moon had been working in political tandem for at least a decade and a half. The ex-President also had been earning huge speaking fees as a front man for Moon for more than a year.
Throughout these public appearances for Moon, Bush’s office refused to divulge how much Moon-affiliated organizations have paid the ex-President. But estimates of Bush’s fee for the Buenos Aires appearance alone ran between $100,000 and $500,000. Sources close to the Unification Church told me that the total spending on Bush ran into the millions, with one source saying that Bush stood to make as much as $10 million from Moon’s organization.
The senior George Bush may have had a political motive, too. By 1996, sources close to Bush were saying the ex-President was working hard to enlist well-to-do conservatives and their money behind the presidential candidacy of his son, George W. Bush. Moon was one of the deepest pockets in right-wing circles.
Moon’s pattern of putting into Bush family causes continued into George W. Bush’s presidency. In 2006, Moon again used money-laundering techniques to funnel a donation to the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.
The Houston Chronicle reported that Moon’s Washington Times Foundation gave $1 million to the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which in turn acted as a conduit for donations to the library. The Chronicle obtained indirect confirmation that Moon’s money was passing through the Houston foundation to the Bush library from Bush family spokesman Jim McGrath.
“President Bush has been very grateful for the friendship shown to him by the Washington Times Foundation, and the Washington Times serves a vital role in Washington,” McGrath said.
But Moon has earned the deepest gratitude of the Bush Family and the Republican Party via his multi-billion-dollar investment in the Washington Times, a powerful propaganda organ that helped the GOP build its political dominance over the past quarter century.
Over those years, the Times has targeted American politicians of the Center and Left with journalistic attacks sometimes questioning their sanity, as happened with Democratic presidential nominees Michael Dukakis and Al Gore. Those themes then resonated through the broader right-wing echo chamber and often into the mainstream media.
In 2000, the Washington Times was at the center of the assault on Al Gore’s candidacy highlighting apocryphal quotes by Gore and using them to depict him as either “Lyin’ Al” or delusional. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Al Gore vs. the Media.”]
Aiming at Obama
The intervention by Moon’s media outlets into U.S. presidential politics continued into Campaign 2008 when Moon’s online magazine Insight tried to sabotage Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign before it even got started. The Insight article cited opposition research supposedly dug up by Hillary Clinton’s campaign that Obama had attended a fundamentalist Muslim “madrassa” while a child and had sought to conceal his allegiance to Islam.
“He was a Muslim, but he concealed it,” a source supposedly close to Clinton’s background investigation of Obama told Insight. “The idea is to show Obama as deceptive.” Insight used no named sources for the allegations, nor did the magazine check out the facts about the school.
After Moon’s online magazine published the “madrassa” story, it quickly spread to the wider audiences of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media outlets, Fox News and the New York Post, and then into the mainstream press. To further the subliminal link between Obama and Islamic terrorism, the New York Post ran its story under the headline “‘Osama’ Mud Flies at Obama.”
“The allegations are completely false,” said Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs. “To publish this sort of trash without any documentation is surprising, but for Fox to repeat something so false, not once, but many times is appallingly irresponsible.” Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson termed the Insight article “an obvious right-wing hit job by a Moonie publication that was designed to attack Senator Clinton and Senator Obama at the same time.” [Washington Post, Jan. 22, 2007]
When CNN checked out the Insight article on Jan. 22, 2007, the story collapsed. The Indonesian school that Obama attended as a child turned out not to be some radical “madrassa” where an extreme form of Islam would be taught, but a well-kept public school in an upper-middle-class neighborhood of Jakarta.
The boys and girls wore school uniforms and were taught a typical school curriculum today as they were 39 years ago when Obama was a student there, while living with his mother in Indonesia, reported CNN correspondent John Vause. While most of the school’s students are Muslim Indonesia is a Muslim country, after all Vause reported that the religious views of other students are respected and that Christian children at the school are taught that Jesus is the son of God.
Though this Moon-financed propaganda may have been debunked, the subliminal doubt was planted about whether Obama might be a secret agent of radical Islam, a theme that has continued to resonate within the right-wing media and the Tea Party movement.
In 2010, however, it appeared that the days of Moon’s news outlets initiating or circulating smears against political enemies may have finally been nearing an end. What ultimately caused the crisis within Moon’s money machine besides the infighting of Moon’s children remained a mystery, at least to outsiders.
It was possible that Moon’s lucrative connections to the netherworld of right-wing extremism, drugs and money simply were dependent on his personal relationships and as they died off, so did his ability to access those financial channels. It was possible, too, that the value of Moon’s propaganda operation had been eclipsed by less problematic right-wing media moguls and self-made talk-show hosts who were now rich themselves.
Though Moon played a key early role in building the right-wing echo chamber, other wealthy individuals, from media titan Rupert Murdoch to newly minted multi-millionaires like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, could carry on quite well without the help of a Korean theocrat who believed he was the new Messiah.
Still, even the eventual passing of Moon’s Washington Times [and Moon’s own death on Monday] would not mean that the snakes and other vermin that Moon let loose in the American political system would soon disappear. In fact, they may be more prevalent than ever.
To read more of Robert Parry’s writings, you can now order his last two books, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, at the discount price of only $16 for both. For details on the special offer, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.