A P.R. Firm for a Christian Nation

Today the family, friends, and admirers of the Reverend Jerry Falwell will gather on the campus of Liberty University, part of the Falwell fundamentalist enterprise, to pay their last respects to the man who is being lauded as the founder of the religious right.

Surely, nearly all of the right-wing politicians that now proliferate in the Republican Party, not least among them the current president of the United States, owe Falwell a debt of gratitude. And so I was not surprised to find this statement from President Bush arrive in my inbox yesterday:

Laura and I are deeply saddened by the death of Jerry Falwell, a man who cherished faith, family, and freedom. As the founder of Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, Jerry lived a life of faith and called upon men and women of all backgrounds to believe in God and serve their communities. One of his lasting contributions was the establishment of Liberty University, where he taught young people to remain true to their convictions and rely upon God's word throughout each stage of their lives.

Today, our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Macel and the rest of the Falwell family.

Nothing remarkable about the statement, really. What is remarkable is the source. This statement was sent to me by the Christian Newswire, which lists on its Web site such clients as Operation Rescue, Feminists for Life, the Abstinence Clearinghouse and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX). Better-known right-wing clients listed include Focus on the Family, the Traditional Values Coalition, and the White House. Yup. The White House -- that White House. (The Christian Newswire folks have helpfully built the link to www.whitehouse.gov right into the citation on their client list.)

Even if you were okay with your tax dollars being sent to an outfit called "Christian Newswire," which bills itself as "the nation's leading distributor of religious news releases," you might have a few issues with your tax dollars going into the pocket of a trusted aid to domestic terrorists, which is precisely what Gary McCullough, director of Christian Newswire's parent company, the Christian Communication Network, is.

If McCullough's name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it's likely because of his role, shared with Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, as a spokesman for the parents of Terri Schiavo, who permitted themselves to be used as tools of the right wing when their daughter's husband sought to remove her feeding tube 15 years into her diagnosis as being in a "persistent vegetative state." But McCullough has a background as a spokesperson for far less savory characters, like Paul Hill, the killer of a Florida doctor who performed abortions and the doctor's bodyguard. (Hill was convicted and executed.) McCullough also, according to veteran investigative reporter Fred Clarkson, praised as "a hero" murderer Michael Griffin, who killed Dr. David Gunn, another doctor who performed abortions.

McCullough himself had ties to the radical anti-abortion group Army of God, which advocated the killing of "abortionists," as well as the militia-style outfit Missionaries to the Pre-Born. Until the mid-1990s, McCullough maintained the list, Prisoners of Christ, which raised money in defense of violent anti-abortion activists.

It seems as though McCullough's militancy hasn't hurt him with the more "establishment" figures of the religious right. Indeed his business relationships with mainstream activists fuel his thriving communications business. During the last days of the Terri Schiavo affair, Randall Terry, right-wing priest Fr. Frank Pavone, and McCullough were standing with Schiavo's parents, the Schindlers, as they sought Supreme Court intervention in their daughter's end-of-life care. 

Leaders of the religious right's more respectable outfits generally like to keep their distance from the violent loonies, but McCullough's entry into respectable right-wing society suggests the distance to have been created with smoke and mirrors. And what of Jerry Falwell? Surely, the man being lionized today as a champion of the Bible would have brooked no business with the likes of McCullough, an apologist for murderers? Well, think again. On the client list of Christian Newswire, under the heading "ministries," one finds the name, Jerry Falwell.

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