Jerry Falwell's Deal with the Devil
The Rev. Jerry Falwell’s death will elicit scores of eulogies on the good the televangelist did, even while acknowledging some hurtful actions, such as blaming gays and civil libertarians for 9/11. But there is another little-known chapter of Falwell’s career: his collaboration with a Korean cult leader bent on transforming the United States into a theocracy.
Like other prominent Republican figures, Falwell entered into a behind-the-scenes alliance with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon even as the self-proclaimed Messiah was denouncing America as “Satan’s harvest” and vowing to incorporate the United States into a worldwide theocratic empire that would eradicate all individuality.
Falwell sought to conceal his relationship with Moon, sometimes denying (falsely) that he had benefited from Moon's financial help or that he had been photographed with the cult leader. Other times, Falwell sought to justify his acceptance of Moon’s largesse.
“If the American Atheists Society or Saddam Hussein himself ever sent an unrestricted gift to any of my ministries,” Falwell said in response to a question about Moon’s financial assistance, “be assured I will operate on Billy Sunday’s philosophy. The Devil’s had it long enough, and quickly cash the check.” [See “Moon-Related Funds Filter to Evangelicals,” Christianity Today, Feb. 9, 1998]
Falwell’s acceptance of Moon’s mysterious money was first disclosed at Consortiumnews.com in fall 1997. In a pattern common to Moon’s financial operations, the Korean cult leader stepped in when a leading American conservative, in this case Falwell, was facing potential financial ruin.
In 1995, the jewel of Falwell’s life’s work – Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia – was facing bankruptcy. Then, seemingly out of the blue, money became available through a small non-profit organization to buy up a large chunk of the school’s debt.
On Jan. 28, 1995, a beaming Rev. Falwell told his Old Time Gospel Hour congregation news that seemed heaven sent. Falwell hailed two Virginia businessmen as the financial saviors of debt-ridden Liberty University.
"They had to borrow money, hock their houses, hock everything," Falwell said. "Thank God for friends like Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas." Falwell's congregation rose as one to applaud. The star of the moment was Daniel Reber, who was standing behind Falwell. Thomas was not present.
Reber and Thomas earned Falwell's public gratitude by excusing the fundamentalist Christian college of about one-half of its $73 million debt. In the late 1980s, that flood of red ink had forced Falwell to abandon his Moral Majority political organization and the debt had nearly drowned Liberty University in bankruptcy.
Reber and Thomas had come to Falwell's rescue in the nick of time. Their non-profit Christian Heritage Foundation of Forest, Virginia, had bought a large portion of Liberty's debt for $2.5 million, a fraction of its face value. Thousands of small religious investors who had invested in church construction bonds through a Texas company were the big losers.
But Falwell shed no tears. He told local reporters that the moment was "the greatest single day of financial advantage" in the school's history. Left unmentioned in the happy sermon was the identity of Falwell’s real guardian angel, the person who actually was protecting Falwell's financial interests.
Falwell’s secret benefactor was Rev. Moon, who is controversial with many fundamentalist Christians because of his strange Biblical interpretations and his brainwashing tactics that have torn thousands of young people from their families. By the mid-1990s, Moon also had grown harshly anti-American.
So, covertly, Moon helped bail out Liberty University through one of his front groups which funneled $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas Christian Heritage Foundation, the non-profit that had purchased the school's debt.
I discovered this Moon-Falwell connection while looking for something else: how much Moon's Women's Federation for World Peace had paid former President George H.W. Bush for a series of speeches in Asia in 1995. I obtained the federation's Internal Revenue Service records but discovered that Bush's undisclosed speaking fee was buried in a line item of $13.6 million for conference expenses.
There was, however, a listing for a $3.5 million "educational" grant to the Christian Heritage Foundation. A call to the Virginia corporate records office confirmed that the foundation was the one run by Reber and Thomas.
In a subsequent interview, 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. "It was Dan Reber," she said. But she could not recall much else about the grant, even though it was by far the largest single grant awarded by the federation that year.
For details on the grant, Fefferman referred me to Keith Cooperrider, the federation's treasurer. Cooperrider was also the chief financial officer of Moon's Washington Times and a longtime Unification Church functionary. Cooperrider did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Falwell and Reber also failed to respond to my calls.
But I was able to learn more about the secret Falwell-Moon relationship from a civil lawsuit that was on file in the Circuit Court of Bedford County, a community in southwestern Virginia. That evidence suggested that Falwell had solicited Moon’s help.
Two of Reber's former business associates alleged that Reber and Falwell flew to South Korea on Jan. 9, 1994, on a seven-day "secret trip" to meet "with representatives of the Unification Church."
The court document said Reber and Falwell were accompanied to South Korea by Ronald S. Godwin, who had been executive director of Falwell's Moral Majority before signing on as vice president of Moon's Washington Times.
Reber, Falwell and Godwin also had discussions at Liberty University in 1993 with Dong Moon Joo, one of Moon's right-hand men and president of The Washington Times, according to the court records.
Though Reber was queried about the purposes of the Moon-connected meetings, he settled the business dispute before responding to interrogatories or submitting to a deposition. He did deny any legal wrongdoing.
But Moon's secret financial ties to Falwell raised sensitive political questions. For instance, did the $3.5 million from Moon's front group give Falwell the means to become a national pitchman for "The Clinton Chronicles" and other conspiracy-mongering videos which fingered President and Mrs. Clinton in a wide range of serious crimes?
During the period of the Liberty bail-out, Falwell was using his expensive TV time to hawk the conspiracy videos. Many of the lurid right-wing conspiracy theories were later discredited, including allegations connecting the Clintons to the death of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster.
But the Falwell-promoted videos did feed a Clinton scandal fever that helped the Republicans seize control of Congress in 1994. The Clinton-scandal impetus eventually contributed to Clinton’s impeachment in the House in 1998 and ultimately created the conditions for George W. Bush’s hard-fought ascension to the presidency in 2001.
Moon's largesse was suspect, too, because Moon has never publicly accounted for his mysterious sources of wealth. Much of the money apparently comes from Asian and South American businesses with links to drug trafficking, money laundering and other criminal enterprises.
Falwell also may have been shy about disclosing his secret alliance with Moon because the Korean's theology upsets many Christians. Moon asserts that Satan corrupted mankind by sexually seducing Eve in the Garden of Eden and that only through sexual purification can mankind be saved. In line with that doctrine, Moon says Jesus failed in his mission to save mankind because he did not procreate.
Moon sees himself as a second Messiah who will not make the same mistake. He has engaged in sex with a variety of women over the decades, including some as part of sexual purification rituals. The total number of his offspring remains a point of debate inside his Unification Church.
Moon’s continuing practice of selecting the spouses of his followers and strictly controlling their sexual activities derives from Moon’s earlier more hands-on practices. [See Robert Parry, Secrecy & Privilege.]
In the 1990s, Moon's rhetoric also turned stridently anti-American, another problem for U.S. conservatives.
On May 1, 1997, for instance, Moon told a group of followers that "the country that represents Satan's harvest is America." In other sermons, he has vowed that his victorious movement will "digest" any American who tries to maintain his or her individuality.
Still, despite his controversial remarks, Moon continued to buy friends on the American Right – as well as others among African-American religious figures – by spreading around lots of money.
The totals are estimated in the billions of dollars, with much of it targeted on political infrastructure: direct-mail operations, video services for campaign ads, professional operatives and right-wing media outlets. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The GOP’s $3 Billion Propaganda Organ.”]
Through The Washington Times and its affiliated publications -- Insight magazine and The World & I -- Moon not only showcased conservative opinions, but he created seemingly legitimate conduits to funnel money to individuals and companies that he sought to influence.
In the early 1980s, for instance, The Washington Times hired the New Right's direct-mail whiz Richard Viguerie to conduct a pricy direct-mail subscription drive. The business boosted Viguerie's profit margin.
Another element of Moon's strategy was to approach a conservative leader who was in financial trouble. Moon quietly infused money, gaining the leader's gratitude.
Again, Viguerie was an example of that tactic. When he fell on hard times in the late 1980s, Moon directed more business his way and had a corporation run by Moon's lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak, buy one of Viguerie's properties for $10 million. [ Orange CountyRegister, Dec. 21, 1987 / Washington Post, Oct. 15, 1989]
With Moon's timely intervention, Viguerie survived financially and remained an important fixture in conservative political campaigns. For some smaller enterprises, Moon-connected business represented a huge percentage of total income.
That was the case with Falwell's friends, Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas, who – besides their non-profit – ran a small for-profit company called Direct Mail Communications. According to court records, $5 million – more than one-third of its income in one year – came from a direct-mail subscription drive for Moon's Insight magazine.
From time to time, Moon's penetration of conservative ranks raised red flags among Republicans. In 1983, the GOP's moderate Ripon Society charged that the New Right had entered "an alliance of expediency" with Moon's church.
Ripon's chairman, Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, released a study which alleged that the College Republican National Committee "solicited and received" money from Moon's Unification Church in 1981. The study also accused Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media, an aggressive press watchdog group, of benefiting from low-cost or volunteer workers supplied by Moon.
Leach said the Unification Church has "infiltrated the New Right and the party it [the New Right] wants to control, the Republican Party, and infiltrated the media as well."
Leach's news conference was broken up when then-college GOP leader Grover Norquist accused Leach of lying. (In the nearly quarter century since then, Norquist emerged as a powerful right-wing lobbyist with close ties to leading Republicans, including White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove.)
For its part, The Washington Times dismissed Leach's charges as "flummeries" and mocked the Ripon Society as a "discredited and insignificant left-wing offshoot of the Republican Party."
Despite periodic fretting over Moon's influence, conservatives continued to accept his deep-pocket assistance.
When President Ronald Reagan and White House aide Oliver North were scratching for support for the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s, The Washington Times established a contra fund-raising operation. Moon's international group, CAUSA, also dispatched operatives to Central America to assist the contras.
By the mid-1980s, Moon's Unification Church had carved out a niche as an acceptable part of the American Right. In one speech to his followers, Moon boasted that "without knowing it, even President Reagan is being guided by Father [Moon]."
Yet, Moon also made clear that his longer-range goal was the destruction of the U.S. Constitution and America's democratic form of government.
"History will make the position of Reverend Moon clear, and his enemies, the American population and government will bow down to him," Moon said, speaking of himself in the third person. "That is Father's tactic, the natural subjugation of the American government and population."
Though Moon's money sources remained shrouded in secrecy, his cash gave the Right an important edge in attacking its enemies and defending its friends.
After the Iran-Contra scandal exploded in 1986, The Washington Times and other Moon operations battled aggressively to protect Reagan's White House and its key operative Oliver North.
Godwin, the link between Falwell's Moral Majority and Moon's Washington Times, raised funds for North through a group called the Interamerican Partnership, which was a fore-runner to North's own Freedom Alliance. [ Common Cause Magazine, Fall 1993]
Another Moon-connected group, the American Freedom Coalition, also went to bat for North and later George H.W. Bush. According to Andrew Leigh, who worked for a Moon front called Global Image Associates, AFC broadcast a pro-North video, "Ollie North: Fight for Freedom," more than 600 times on more than 100 TV stations.
Leigh quoted one AFC official as saying that AFC received $5 million to $6 million from business interests associated with Moon. AFC also bragged that it helped put George H.W. Bush into the White House in 1988 by distributing 30 million pieces of political literature. [Washington Post, Oct. 15, 1989]
Direct Mail Communications, the firm owned by Reber and Thomas, also aided North in building his mailing lists. The firm did direct-mail work as well for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican National Committee, and the National Rifle Association, The Roanoke Times & World News reported Nov. 2, 1994.
The Falwell-connected story of Direct Mail Communications, a small company based in a strip-mall shopping center off Route 221 in rural Forest, Virginia, further underscored how intertwined Moon's operations were with American conservatism.
Reber and Thomas founded the company in September 1989, roughly the same time that Falwell's Liberty University began trying to refinance its worsening debt. Also, in 1989, Charles P. Keith, Roger M. Ott and Ronald Godwin – all Washington Times executives – created another firm called Mail America.
According to court records, Godwin introduced Keith and Ott to Reber and Thomas. The get-to-know-you quickly led to a deal. Keith, Ott and Godwin – executives on Moon’s payroll – bought Direct Mail Communications [DMC] for $2.5 million on Oct. 6, 1989, even though the company had existed for only one month. Reber and Thomas were retained to run the business.
Inside the firm, however, tensions grew. In 1991, Godwin left, selling his share of the business to Keith and Ott.
Reber, who was getting a salary of $1,000 a day or $365,000 a year, spent too much time on discount work for conservative causes, Keith and Ott later complained. In one court filing, they alleged that a paid DMC staffer was sent to help a conservative Republican named Gene Keith run for Congress in Florida.
Falwell's Liberty University, Old Time Gospel Hour and Liberty Alliance also got discounts on their direct-mail solicitations, the owners charged. "Reber and Thomas never even collected an amount sufficient to pay all of DMC's actual postage expenses," Keith and Ott stated.
By summer 1993, Reber began long absences from DMC while working on the bail-out of Liberty University, according to the court papers. Keith and Ott alleged that Falwell, Reber and Godwin met with The Washington Times' publisher Dong Moon Joo in Lynchburg in 1993 and flew to South Korea in January 1994 for other meetings with Moon's representatives.
Reber's travels took him to "South America, Montana, Europe, Russia and the Republic of Korea," Keith and Ott said. Meanwhile, DMC was sliding into "extreme financial distress."
So, after Reber returned from the South Korean trip, Keith and Ott fired him. That prompted Reber to file a wrongful termination suit in Bedford Country Circuit Court on July 20, 1994. Keith and Ott countered by filing a fraud case against Reber and Thomas in Roanoke federal court in September 1994.
In Moon’s Orbit
For his part, Falwell, who once boasted that he had spurned a $1 million speaking fee from Moon in the mid-1980s, now found himself caught in Moon's orbit.
On July 26, 1994, Falwell prominently sat at the head table for Moon's inauguration of yet another front group, the Youth Federation for World Peace. Falwell posed for a group photo with Moon and other dignitaries. Next to Falwell stood Ronald Reagan's daughter, Maureen.
Despite the DMC court battles, Oliver North still sent the direct-mail company some business during his 1994 Senate campaign. According to FEC records, North paid DMC $138,561 for its direct-mail work.
DMC also extended North the most credit of any vendor. When the $19 million campaign ended with North's narrow defeat, his largest single debt – $89,033 – was to DMC.
At about that same time, in January 1995, Reber and Thomas were completing their purchase of about one-half of Liberty University's debt, much of it for a fraction of the face value.
The big losers included 2,500 bondholders who invested in the Texas-based Church & Institutional Facilities Development Corp., which had owned $12 million of the school's debt. Reber and Thomas scooped up the bonds at a bankruptcy fire sale for about 20 percent of their value, or $2.5 million.
Many bondholders were "mom and pops cashing in their IRA money because their local minister and Falwell's letters said they'd be doing God's work," said Doug Hudman, a lawyer in the case. "The true victims are the mom-and-pop believers who think their money was going to a good cause. All it was doing was going to fund Mr. Falwell's continued indebtedness. It's kind of sickening."
But Falwell told reporters that it was just a question of luck. "When the bankruptcy trustee called in all the notes and put them up for sale, anyone could have bought them," Falwell said. "That was fortunate for us."
After months of complicated legal maneuvering, Dan Reber also seemed fortunate enough to win out in the DMC power struggle. He took over the direct-mail factory in Forest, Virginia, under the name, "Mail America."
But behind the good fortune that blessed the Rev. Falwell and his friends was a timely contribution of $3.5 million from the Rev. Moon's Women's Federation for World Peace.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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