President of the
Military Religious Freedom Foundation. (Photo: Stephanie Diani. All rights reserved.)
An Interview with Michael Weinstein
Founder and President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
-- Ben Burrows
Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein, is the Founder and President of the
Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He is a graduate of the Air Force Academy,
as are his brother-in-law, two sons, and daughter-in-law. His father graduated from the
United States Naval Academy. He served for 10 years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force
as a Judge Advocate. Weinstein has been a federal prosecutor and a defense attorney, and
spent more than three years with the Reagan Administration, in both the Office of
Management and Budget and as Assistant General Counsel in the Executive Office of the
President. After leaving government service, Weinstein practiced law and later became
the first General Counsel of Perot Systems Corp., owned by two-time Presidential candidate
Ross Perot. He Is the author of
God on Our Side: One Man’s War
Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military. In 2004, Weinstein founded the
Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
He recently filed suit against the Department of Defense for failing to protect the religious freedoms of our sailors, soldiers, marines, cadets and midshipmen.
PJV: You are a military man from a military family. Your children, like you, are graduates of the U.S. Air Force Academy. Was there a personal incident that brought you to found the Military Religious Freedom Foundation?
Well, yes, there was. For me, it started almost started to the day 47 months ago. It was the early part of February 2004 when the Mel Gibson movie came out – I forget the name of it by I refer to it as the "Jesus Chainsaw Massacre," or "Freddy vs. Jesus." Obviously this is "Passion of the Christ." I found out at that time, from Protestant members of the faculty who had reached out to me, that the administration was putting tremendous pressure on the 4,400 cadets and 6,000 staff to go see that movie. I was surprised that I had heard about this from my three children that were at the Academy at the time. So I asked them and they said, "Yeah, it is terrible. It is everywhere we look -- it’s in the academic buildings, when we stare down at our plates, when we march into Mitchell Hall," (the dining facility) "flyers are put on our plates, in the academic buildings the walls are covered with these posters exhorting us with this stuff."
I brought that to the attention of the senior general of the Academy, confident and secure in the fact that they would fix this. (My wife and I had been fairly prominent at the Academy for a number of years, supporting it with our blood, sweat, tears, money, etc.) About four or five months later, I was at the Academy for a conference, when my younger son (who had just finished the arduous one-month combat survival training) asked me if it would be possible to sit down and talk. It was June 29, 2004, and he was very troubled. He told me he had been called a "fucking Jew," and that he and the Jewish people had total complicity in the execution of Jesus Christ by numerous people up and down the chain of command at numerous places around the Academy.
I took that back to the administration and told them to fix this or I would go to war. I gave them a few months, and then I went to war against them. I’ve been at war against them ever since, in late November 2004.
Later, I found out this kind of harassment was not limited to the Air Force Academy – that this contagion of unbridled right-wing, Christian fundamentalism had spread not just to the Air Force Academy but throughout the entirety of the United States Air Force, United States Marine Corp, United States Navy and the United States Army.
The proselytizing mission has gone so far that there are formal organizations among officers and enlisted men. For the officers, it’s called the Officers’ Christian Fellowship; for the enlisted folks, it’s called the Christian Military Fellowship. And they have a three-level, or a tripartite goal, which goals they view as far more critically important than the oath, the blood oath, they all swore out to protect and preserve, support and defend the Constitution of the United States. There are now 737 U.S. military official installations -- it’s actually closer to 1,000 -- in 132 countries and we have variances of this Christian Taliban and the Christian al-Qaeda on every one of them.
It is on
A spiritually transformed military, with ambassadors for Christ in uniform, empowered by the Holy Spirit, living with a passion for God and compassion for the entire military society.
I tell people also this is not a Christian-Jewish issue, it is a fundamentalist Christian versus the Constitution issue. I am not at war with Christianity, I’m not at war with evangelical Christianity: we have a number of evangelical Christians that are not just clients but big supporters of ours, including David Iglesias, one of the eight U.S. Attorneys fired a year ago. He was U.S. Attorney in New Mexico, he’s a right wing, born-again, evangelical Christian Republican, one of my closest friends, but we are at war with a small subset of evangelical Christianity – about 12.6% of the American public, about 38 million Americans – the Premillenial, Dispensational, Reconstructionist Dominionist, Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians who believe they have an unlimited right to push their particular biblical worldview (the gospel of Jesus Christ) irrespective of time, place and manner, regulation by our Constitution of any other type of law. That is to say, if we were not talking about the freedom of religion, but we were talking about the freedom of speech, they would believe they had the right to scream "fire" in a crowded theater.
By last week, over 6,800 active duty members of the United States Marine Corp, Navy,
Army and Air Force have come to our foundation pretty much as spiritual rape victims/tormentees and the shocking thing is 96% of them coming to us are Christians themselves. Roughly
three-quarters are traditional Protestants, like Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodist. We get Mormons, we get Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Southern Baptist. One-fourth of that 96% percent of that total universe of 6,800 --- more each day --- one-quarter of that 96% are Roman Catholic. About 4% will be Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu, Wiccan, Jain, Shinto, Native American spirituality or atheist or agnostic.
But this is basically fundamentalist Christians who are praying (actually preying)
on fellow Christians, telling them you may have thought you were Christian enough, but we are here to tell you you are not Christian enough and as a result, you will burn eternally in the fires of hell, along with all the Jews.
My wife and I looked at the other organizations out there – the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress, People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Southern Poverty Law Center – all good organizations, and we belong to them all. But there was no entity that directly confronted, what we saw as the loss of the command and control to these underground religious fanatics.
Now, I remind you, Hitler never had more than eight percent of the German citizenry in the Nazi party; I don’t think Stalin ever had more than 2.9 percent of his closest association. So, this is plenty, particularly when you are talking about a command and control structure like the U.S. military. The frightening prospect that our conventional and nuclear forces--technologically the most lethal organization ever created by humankind—was falling into the hands of a Christian Taliban. There was nobody focusing directly there.
We are done trying to influence politicians, either Democrats or Republicans. It was useless to make phone calls or send email, or smoke signals or carrier pigeon. All that does is beat these people back for three or four days like a weed-whacker. You have to go to court, and we did that three or four months ago. The Military Religious Freedom Foundation and one of our members filed a massive lawsuit against the Pentagon on September 17 in Federal District Court in Kansas City. We are going before the Federal judge to show a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional religious rape of freedoms of our U.S. military.
PJV: As an Air Force Judge Advocate General, had you personally encountered the kind of proselytizing that you’ve seen in today’s military?
When I was in the Air Force, I never saw this. I did have a very ugly incident that happened, which is detailed in Chapters 18 through 20 of my book--a very ugly incident of anti-Semitism that happened to me my first semester at the Air Force Academy--but as far as I knew that was an anomaly. That was not the way it was when I was there, but it clearly is the way it is now.
PJV: You’ve had several children in the military, and you’ve mentioned the recent Mel Gibson experience of your youngest son. Were your other children in these kinds of encounters?
My eldest son, Casey, graduated from the Air Force Academy in the class of 2004, as did his wife, Amanda, a Christian. They both experienced this, both of them did. My daughter-in-law was "asked" by the commanding general, the commandant of cadets at the Air Force Academy, to go out an essentially harvest non-Christian cadets and bring them to the New Life Church, where they had those shootings a couple weeks ago. Ted Haggard, the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, headed that organization until it came out that he had a homosexual liaison in Denver.
She was asked by the general to harvest non-Christian cadets and bring them to their Easter-time passion play called the The Thorn out there. Both of my sons went through this, absolutely. But the moment we brought this war -- before people were terrified to come forward -- now there is a place they can go. In the U.S. military, if you are even being gently evangelized by your military superior, up and down the chain of command, because of the draconian vector of command influence, "get the hell out of my damn face sir or ma’am," is just not an option for you. So they come to our foundation and we fight for them.
And I am telling Jews, who will mostly read your newspaper, that I am sick and tired of being reminded how wonderful the evangelicals and fundamentalist are to us, how much they love Israel, and if my wife was here right now, she would tell you about
what she calls the First Thanksgiving Theory.
Yes, the right-wing fundamentalists, dominionists, evangelical Christians love us Jews in Israel, to the same extent, and this is why my wife and I call it the "First
Thanksgiving Theory," the Pilgrims loved the turkey the night before the first Thanksgiving. It is all about fattening the herd for the slaughter that is coming, according to the Book of Revelation. And whether Jews like it or not, whether you’re a Lubavitcher, devout Orthodox Jew or assiduously secular or agnostic or even atheistic Jew, Jews tend to be, whether we like it or not, the miner’s canary for the morality of the communities in which we live. And that is to say that when we start to asphyxiate, Houston, we’ve got a problem. Well we’re asphyxiated.
PJV: As a counsel for the White House in the Iran-Contra investigation, your conservative Republican credentials are probably as impeccable as anyone’s. Have you been pressured by the party to back off defending your faith so aggressively?
Oh, constantly. I’ve had people constantly come to me, "What is it with you, Mikey.
You are a good Republican; you are from a conservative, military family." They don’t understand why – "why are you stopping us from bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the troops. The troops will not be raptured if you do that."
And I have looked at them and I have said, "You need to understand something. I always want to reach out to them." My point is, listen to me very carefully. They
will come and they will mean business. They’ve used the names of Jack Benny and Danny Kaye, Burt Lancaster, Dr. Seuss, Gandhi, Einstein, little Anne Frank, the two million children under the age of 12 that were slaughtered in the Holocaust. They will say, "Look Mikey, they’re all burning eternally in the fires of hell for rejecting Jesus Christ because they all were Jewish. We do not want that to happen to you and your family, so back off, stop it."
My response is then, "Look, all of you. If you want to believe that those two million babies that walked into the gas chambers at Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Auschwitz
--- hermetically sealed gas chambers -- when the Nazi’s Zyklon B gas turned their little juvenile bodies into purple and blue convulsed polka-dotted corpses which were then shoved into the crematorium (including Anne Frank) --- if you want to believe they are all burning eternally in the fires of hell, then I would give my last drop of blood, and I would give my last breath, and commend my three children in the U.S. military – two of them Jewish and one of them Christian – to give their last drop of blood and their last breath to support your right to believe that, because that is American. That is a right we have under our beautiful U.S. Constitution. But I will not do that when my government tells me who are the children of the greater God and who are the children of a lesser God."
Been there; done that. Whenever a virulent form of any religious faith --- in this
case Christianity --- has engaged the machinery of the state --- and those are not
my words, they are the words of our U.S. Supreme Court. By that I don't mean the
Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Health and Urban Development. I mean where all the sticks and stones are that break our bones, the armed forces -- whenever that has happened, we have seen that train leave the station before over the last 2,000 years. It goes to a one-town Slaughterville, because we do not end up with little creeks, rivers creeks, ponds and lakes. We end up with oceans and oceans of blood, usually beginning with Jewish blood.
Now I can look on the calendar, I can see that it’s January 2008 and I can make a strong case that it is January 1937. It is happening over again. We are about a Tiger Woods’ two-inch putt away from a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in this country. It is starting with the completely controlling U.S. military.
PJV: Do you still consider yourself a conservative and a Republican?
I definitely consider myself a Republican, but in the Jacob Javits tradition, in the Barry Goldwater tradition. I do not consider myself to be a member of God’s Own Party, that’s what this GOP looks like now. This is a warped, religious party. This is not the Republican party of limited government and personal responsibility. This is a terrible, bludgeoned, tortured, sickening version of a fascist theocracy. And like I said before, I was not just a lawyer for President Reagan. I was general counsel for two-time Presidential candidate and billionaire Ross Perot, who ran twice also.
So I am very careful when I use these words. Very, very careful. But for the last 47 months, I’ve been running through hell in a gasoline suit, trying to fight these people. Now I know why that poor guy set himself on fire in front of Robert McNamara’s office in front of the Pentagon back during the Vietnam War. I mean, what is it going to take to get the attention of Americans -- even Jewish Americans who could be most affected? Everyone gets excited -- they’re ready to spend three chilly nights on an air mattress in front of Circuit City to make sure they get their Playstation 3. But if someone starts ripping our Constitution to shreds, no one seems to care.
There were four or five famous Cold War movies that came out, --- Dr. Strangelove, Fail Safe, On the Beach --- The one that brings goosebumps when I see it today was Seven Days in May. It was about a military takeover of this country. What called that up for me: the second highest ranking general in the U.S. Air Force Chaplains Corp (recently nominated
by President Bush to be the highest), claims it is now United States Air Force policy to "reserve the right to evangelize anyone it determines to be unchurched." This is a national security threat internally in this country every bit as much in width, breadth and magnitude as that which now challenges us externally by a resurgent Islamist Taliban and al-Qaeda that a recent intelligence estimate tells us is at least as strong as it was on 9/11.
You know, it is not just the
Separation of Church and State and the
First Amendment (which the Religious Right believes is a myth like the
Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot) which protects religious freedom. It is
Clause 3, Article 6 of the Constitution, the body of the Constitution, which went into effect in December 1789. The First Amendment didn’t even go into effect until March 1791. The Clause 3, Article 6 states that we will never have a religious test for any issue in the federal government.
So Americans are going to sit back and do nothing when the United States Air Force states it will now conduct a religious test on anyone. And if comes back that you are now "unchurched," whatever the hell that means, why they reserve the right not to Judaize you or Islamasize you or Buddhaize or Hinduize or atheize or agnostisize you, but to evangelize you. It’s literally mind-gripping, and that’s why we’re in federal court and why we are trying our very best to lay down the law and kick ass, take names and leave sucking chest wounds on this unconstitutional heart of darkness.
I wanted to say one more thing. You know, we do not talk about this a lot, but our family has a lot of stress. We get death threats practically every day. We’ve had the largest windows in our house shot out, we’ve had dead animal sacrifices put on our front door. We’ve had feces and beer bottles thrown at the house. My wife and I have a group of what we presume are fundamentalist Christian women who call about every eight to 10 days, for most of the last 34 months, and they just chant on the phone, "Mikey Weinstein, bullet in the head, praise the Lord, he’s finally dead." We’ve got little children, three or four years of age, call and say, "Now we lay you in your grave, there was no way you could be saved; you hate our Lord and he can tell, which is why you burn in hell." And that’s not the worst part. The worst part is listening to the adult males and females in the background telling them what to say and how to do this.
We get threats wherever we go, constantly, and we’re not going to stop doing this. We will never going to stop doing this, so we can sure as hell use some help.
A personal family impact from this fight (I will never forget) occurred in the summer of 2005, about a year after my youngest son was called "a fucking Jew" and accused of murdering Jesus. The matriarch of our family -- this was within a few days of her passing away here in Albuquerque -- she was a Holocaust survivor. She never really talked about it; the first time she ever opened up about it was when she gave her testimony, her four-hour video testimony to Steven Spielberg. Her part of the Nazi kingdom, empire, was liberated by the Russians, so she was stuck under their rule for five years before she finally escaped to San Francisco and found her way back here to Albuquerque. It wasn’t too long before she passed away that she asked me to come see her. I went to see her and she was very ill. But she was a tough woman, very, very tough woman.
She had been seeing in the press about our site and she said to me in her strong German/Yiddish accent, "Don’t give up this fight, because I remember living in Berlin in the late 1930's when the first pronouncements came down from the Third Reich, that the Jews had to have all the same alphanumerics on their license plates, and no one did anything. And then Jews could not congregate in groups greater than 100, and no one did anything. And they dropped the number down to 60, and no one did anything. Jews could not congregate in groups greater than 30, 20 and pretty soon, before we knew it, all was lost."
And it made me think of that famous T.S. Elliot quote, "The end of the world shall come, the end of the world shall come, the end of the world shall come not with a bang but a whimper." And I promised her I would never do that. I would never stop, I would never, ever stop.
And then I asked her something. She had gotten very angry at our family when she turned 88 three years before because we took her driver’s license away. She was just too old to drive. We drove her everywhere, she only lived 200 yards from my house, but she was really pissed about this. And I looked at her and asked her if she would please forgive the family. We all knew, she knew she was going to die in a few days, so I asked her if she would forgive the family for taking her driver’s license away, we were only doing it for her own safety. And I asked her why she got so angry at us. And it was at that point – she was on her deathbed and she got up on her elbows and she pointed at me and she had these piercing blue eyes and she had to be at least as tough as George Patton and I asked her why, why were you so angry. And I’ll never forget what she said. She said, "Because when you are a Jew, you always have to be ready to get away."
She was 91-years-old and she wanted to know she still had her car keys to get away if it happened again.
I will never forget what she said. The Jews have a special responsibility to stand up. And if Abe Foxman doesn’t think it’s important, or the American Jewish Congress doesn’t, or AIPAC, I do not care. I am amazed by the lack of support we get from
the mainline Christian and Jewish communities, for this is not just a Jewish issue;
it is not a Christian-Jewish issue; it is a Fundamental Christian versus the Constitution
It is also not a political spectrum left-or-right issue. It is a Constitutional right and wrong issue. People often ask me what it is I am really trying to do. It always calls to mind the scene at the end of the Constitutional Convention, when Benjamin Franklin was swarmed on his way out of Independence Hall. Asked, "What kind of government have you bequeathed to us?" Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." What we are trying to do is simply to preserve the republic that Franklin bequeathed to us. When people ask me, "Don’t you realize that attacking the leadership of our armed forces in time of war makes you a traitor?" I reply to them with the words of Howard Zinn, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."
Our Constitution represents the first time in human history that a nation-state created a governing document that did not invoke the name of a particular deity. Jews have never flourished as they have in this beautiful and wonderful country, so long as their religion was respected as an equal, and not as the guest of a Christian Nation.
- February 2008:
Rep. Steven Rothman (
Michael Weinstein, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
- January 2008:
Rep. Josh Shapiro
and Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston.
- October 2007: Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA)
- August 2007: Sen. Mike Gravel (AK),
Democratic Presidential Candidate
- June, July, December 2007: Democratic Presidential Candidates
Sen. John Edwards (NC),
Sen. Joe Biden (DE),
Sen. Chris Dodd (CT),
Sen. Barack Obama (IL),
Sen. Hillary Clinton (NY),
Gov. Bill Richardson (NM)
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (OH)
speaking at the NJDC
- November 2007: Ruth Damsker, Montgomery County Commissioner
and Elie Wiesel, author and Nobel Laureat.
- May 2007: Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA 7) speaking
at CAIR, and interviews with
Marc Stier and
Andy Toy, Philadelphia
City Council candidates.
- April 2007: Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA 13)
- March 2007: Judge Anne E. Lazarus
candidate for the PA Superior Court.
- February 2007:
Rep. Mark Cohen,
Democratic Caucus Chairman
- January 2007:
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN 5), first Muslim elected to Congress
- November 2006: Candidates Lois Murphy and Jim Gerlach,
Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- October 2006: Patrick Murphy, candidate
for Congress in Pennsylvania's 8th district.
- September 2006: Alan Schlesinger, Republican
Senate candidate in Connecticut.
- August 2006: Peter Edelman, President of the
New Israel Fund
- July 2006: Joe Sestak, candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 7th district.
- June 2006: Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY 2).
- May 2006: Charles Smolover, Vice-President
of the Philadelphia Jewish Voice
- April 2006: Ira Forman, Executive Director
of the National Jewish Democratic Committee
- March 2006: Alan Sandals, candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate
- February 2006: Matthew Brooks, Executive Director
of the Republican Jewish Coalition
- January 2006: Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA 2).
- December 2005: Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA 6).
- November 2005: Gov. Howard Dean, Chairman of
the Democratic National Committee
- October 2005: Bob Casey candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
- September 2005: Pennsylvania State Representative
- August 2005: Lois Murphy candidate for Congress
in Pennsylvania's 6th district.
- July 2005: Chuck Pennacchio candidate in the Democratic
Primary for U.S. Senate.
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