October 26, 2021 Editor

Reflections on “God, Trump and the Closed-Door World of a Major Conservative Group”

What internal recordings and documents reveal about the Council for National Policy — and the future of the Republican Party

Listen to this article

By Robert O’Harrow Jr.

October 25, 2021

image above: Nick Ogonosky

WN: There is a telling quote in the article highlighted below:

“We’ve got an amazing opportunity here,” [Jim DeMint, a former senator and tea party favorite] told them. “And it’s incredible with this president, who is the last person I ever thought would promote religious freedom, pro-life. I mean, the Lord confuses things!”

The last time I remember that “the Lord confused things,” was a story in Genesis 11:1 – 9. It was, according to verse 6, that the Lord feared humanity would unite not for its good, but (implied) for vast overreach through using their inventiveness to realize whatever their little hearts desired. We read in the earlier story of Noah and the flood, Genesis 6, something of those dark desires:

5Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was altogether evil all the time. 6And the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.

Likewise, in uniting to build a tower to thwart a second flood-judgment, God was alarmed, realizing that

. . . now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. (Genesis 11:6)

Unite the Right!” has ever been a foreboding cry; with corruption and violence waiting in the wings . . .

Please see also:

Of it, we read:

A new episode of CBSN Originals’ Reverb series reveals that as Christian nationalism attracts followers, traditional pastors fear for their faith and the country. Evangelical Christians are a powerful political force, but an extreme faction has divided the community. In the half-hour documentary, An (Un)Civil War: The Evangelical Divide, we hear from pastors on both sides and ask what this battle means for their faith and the future of American democracy. CBSN Originals is our premium documentary series that will challenge your views on this and other issues. See our full series library at http://cbsnews.com/cbsnoriginals

Another helpful video is:

Though I’m not a “Progressive.” It is a divisive term that immediately signals (even if unintended) a kind of superiority complex amongst those using it; and/or it evokes angry resistance.

We read here:

Evangelical preachers sure know how to twist themselves into a pretzel to cloak their racism and support an appeasement of fascism and anti-democracy into some scriptural relevance. Why do these charlatans support Donald Trump? The pastor of the Patriot Church outside of Knoxville Tennessee, Ken Peters, makes it clear.

“I want Trump to come back sooner than later,” Peters said. “But you know who’d be a lot better than Trump coming back? Jesus coming back with gusto. Biden, you trouble Israel. Leftists, you trouble Israel … See you, unvaccinated people, you are causing the trouble in the land … We just want to keep that in play. We just want to keep our roots alive and not let this reconstruction happen. This tearing up of our nation’s roots and a new set of values is being pushed on us. It literally is so that those values are being pushed on you. They are leftist worldly values. They can’t stand Christian culture. Why? Because we believe marriage is between a man and a woman. We believe that there are only two genders. We believe that life in the womb is actually human life and they’re murdering human life for money …

One thing I’ve learned about scripture and the Lord is God can use anybody in the Bible. He even used a donkey and if God could use a donkey, he can use President Trump … I think president Trump is a miracle. I think God picked Donald Trump, an imperfect vessel, to be the champion of his people.”

One could add to “… if God could use a donkey, he can use President Trump.”:

And tragically, Trump presents as a kind of Ultimate Ass[hole].

I’d encourage such pastors to read any number of posts on this website. Two especially stand out:

Please see on this as well: Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020, 356 pages

It is a highly disturbing–and informative–book.

In an interview with Religion & Politics, the author discusses how she came to its writing:

Yes! Since about 2010, I had been giving talks on evangelicalism and masculinity and had been approached by publishers, but there were two things at that point that made me a little hesitant to dive into a book project. For one, the things that I was uncovering were very depressing. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to live with that for the years that I knew it would take to write a book. For another, I wasn’t sure at first how mainstream it all was. As a Christian myself, I wanted to be careful about shining a bright light on this dark underbelly of American Christianity if it was merely a fringe phenomenon . . . However, just before the [2016] election, things clicked for me. The Access Hollywood tape came out, white evangelical elites continued to defend Trump, his support among white evangelical voters remained strong, and I thought, “Ugh, I think I know what’s going to happen and I think I know why.” That’s when I pulled some of that old research and wrote [a paper] “Donald Trump and Militant Evangelical Masculinity.”

And then the book was published in 2020.


For months after the event, Dannenfelser and some other CNP members were determined to stop Trump. While he solidified his lead as GOP front-runner, they denounced him as a “charlatan” in the conservative magazine National Review, blasted his prior support of abortion rights and implored Republican voters to choose another candidate.

“America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women,” Dannenfelser and other women wrote in an open letter to Iowa voters in January 2016. “We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either.”

Then came a great swerve that would upend politics in America: Millions of conservatives — Dannenfelser and other CNP members among them — got firmly behind Trump. Today, the Republican Party has been transformed, and Trump or one of his ideological heirs is likely to be the GOP nominee in 2024.

Enmeshed in these efforts was the Council for National Policy. CNP may be the most unusual, least understood conservative organization in the nation’s capital. A registered charity, it has served for 40 years as a social, planning and communications hub for conservative activists in Washington and nationwide. One of its defining features is its confidentiality. In a town where people and groups constantly angle for publicity, CNP bars the press and uninvited outsiders from its events. All members — even such luminaries as former vice president Mike Pence, Ralph Reed and Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — agree to remain silent about its activities.

Other bastions of conservative influence — from policy groups like the Heritage Foundation to media outlets like Breitbart News — generally have clear missions. By contrast, CNP’s executive director, Bob McEwen, told me that the organization itself does not “do anything.” He and other CNP leaders will tell you it is merely an educational venue aimed at uniting its conservative members.

The Council for National Policy began taking root on Jan. 22, 1981, when six religious and social conservatives gathered for dinner at a home in Dallas. Most American conservatives were still jubilant about the inauguration of Ronald Reagan two days earlier. They rejoiced at the prospect that Reagan might make good on one of his campaign slogans: “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Over dinner, they resolved to bring together Christian activists, business interests and wealthy donors under one umbrella to cajole and pressure the new administration.

Details about CNP’s history have emerged periodically over the decades, as journalists, authors and left-leaning activists pieced together leaked internal documents and other material. In early June this year, Nick Surgey, executive director of a progressive watchdog group called Documented, reached out to say he had obtained a speech from a CNP meeting in May that celebrated the group’s 40th anniversary. Did I want it?

The speech offered a wealth of new information and context. And it supplemented dozens of hours of confidential conference recordings and documents that I obtained from Surgey and other sources. “I’m not going to crystal-ball-gaze about the way ahead,” speaker Ed Feulner told the crowd gathered behind closed doors in Naples, Fla., on May 21. “Rather, I’m focusing on the early days of CNP. How we started, who did what and how the foundations were laid for us now, four decades later.”

One of the organizers of the initial dinner was Tim LaHaye, an evangelical minister, writer and political activist. LaHaye later wrote the popular Left Behind series, books about the end of times and the Antichrist, using themes derived from the Bible. He thought the Christian right would have greater force if its components banded more tightly together. “This new organization could help bring America back to moral sanity,” he told Feulner, according to the speech.

LaHaye knew the endeavor would need funding, so he reached out to Cullen Davis, a wealthy Texas oil scion. Davis — who told me recently that the original organizers thought that communists were going to take over the U.S. government and that Christianity in America needed staunch defenders — agreed to host the dinner. He called his pal Nelson Bunker Hunt, another wealthy oil figure known for trying to corner the global market in silver. They also tapped Richard Viguerie, a fundraising pioneer and master of far-right persuasion campaigns who once said he mailed out 1.5 billion letters for more than 100 public policy groups.

From the start, CNP members cultivated political power at the highest levels in Washington. In an early letter to the Reagan White House, a CNP leader wrote that the group included “some of the most influential business, political and religious leaders in America” who wanted to “plan together the future of our country.” Their goal was a “moral rebirth” for our society.

CNP’s leaders had much experience in political fundraising, organizing and communication.Among them was a political operative named Tom Ellis, who had played on White racial fears as he helped build the career of the late former senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. (Helms, who became a revered member of CNP, was once described by The Post’s David Broder as “the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country.”) Others included televangelist Pat Robertson; Ed Meese, the attorney general under Reagan; Sam Moore, the nation’s largest Bible publisher; and Rich DeVos, billionaire co-founder of Amway and funder of conservative causes.

According to an audio recording of the session, [Oliver North, a member of the National Security Council staff from 1981 to 1986] told CNP members that Nicaragua’s leaders and their Soviet supporters had more than Central America in their crosshairs. “The real target is the United States,” he said. “This country is in great, great jeopardy from these people, who are truly godless communists.”

North sought financial support from CNP members, including a wealthy elderly woman named Ellen Clayton Garwood, whom he met at a CNP meeting. “With tears in his eyes,” a Senate report later recounted, “North explained to her that the Contras were hungry, poorly clothed, and in need of lethal supplies.” Garwood eventually gave about $2.5 million to support North’s off-books effort, according to the Senate report. Using old CNP directories and other documents, I determined that four CNP founders, members or funders were cited in the Senate report as contributors to North’s mission. (I reached out to North, but a spokesman declined my requests for an interview.)

In internal videos, audio and documents, the conservatism of CNP members often seemed linked to fear — not just of the godless foreign communists that North invoked but of liberal Americans as well. In September 2017, a guest of CNP was invited to discuss his efforts to map leftist organizations. “I almost think we might want to call it tracking and defeating evil,” an unidentified CNP leader said during the speaker’s introduction, according to an internal CNP audio recording. “The activists on the left and the people who fund them are out to destroy everything you hold dear,” the leader explained. “Your families. Marriage. Your businesses. Your freedom of speech. Your freedom of religion. Everything.”

On May 18, 2016, Trump greatly boosted his prospects when he released the list of judges. The next month, he convened a faith advisory board of conservative evangelicals at Trump Tower. Reed and James Dobson, a Christian activist who had been with CNP from the early days, were on the board, according to Reed’s book. The meeting was followed by an extraordinary closed-door conclave at a Times Square hotel for nearly a thousand conservative Christians.

The Religion News Service account asked in a headline: “Could conservative Christian leaders rescue a Republican presidential candidate whose personal lifestyle and religious bona fides have been punchlines more than a testimonial?” But something else in that story popped out at me: It said a chief organizer of the Times Square conclave was CNP member Bill Dallas.

Dallas was an unusual figure. He had been convicted two decades earlier on felony embezzlement charges. He was sent to San Quentin State Prison, where a newfound commitment to Christianity deepened, according to his book, “Lessons From San Quentin.” Now he was a data entrepreneur who headed a nonprofit called United in Purpose, which gathered and parsed information about Christianvoters. Among the board members was CNP executive director Bob McEwen, who is also a former House member from Ohio.

United in Purpose’s network of allies and clients included other CNP members from groups such as the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, according to Anne Nelson, a research scholar at Columbia University and author of “Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right,” a book that examines CNP. Dallas’s operation seemed a perfect complement to other initiatives by groups affiliated with CNP members. “What the CNP has done is convene these forces in a highly strategic way and create an environment in which they can collaborate and leverage each other’s work off the radar,” Nelson told me. “It’s a well-oiled machine.”

In a chat with me, Dallas said he is no longer a member of CNP and is stepping back from political activism. He expressed pride about the 2016 Times Square event and recalled one remark there that he believes won over the Christian activists. It was when Trump told them not to be ashamed of their own religious culture and beliefs. “He said, ‘Christians should not be afraid to say Merry Christmas at Christmastime,’ ” Dallas told me. “I think that was a turning point.”

Surgey, the director of Documented, who first obtained the internal CNP videos I reviewed for this story, said he “started studying CNP because it seemed like its members were becoming a power base, in terms of their public support of the Trump administration.” He added, “I was surprised by just how many leading Trump advocates appear on the videos.”

Activist David Horowitz spoke at a CNP meeting later in 2017. Horowitz, leader of a nonprofit group called the David Horowitz Freedom Center,captured the sense of desperation expressed by many on the right — a feeling that had drawn them to Trump. “For all of Donald’s faults, and everybody knows them, he stood on the right side. We are in a civil war,” he said. “This is the standard-bearer for us in this war.”

Meanwhile, Ginni Thomas, then a CNP Action board member, praised rallygoers in tweets: “LOVE MAGA people!!!!” Ultimately, Stop the Steal organizers urged protesters to “take to” the Capitol steps “to make sure that Congress does not certify the botched Electoral College” on Jan. 6, according to webpages that have since been removed.

Thomas did not respond to a request for comment. She wrote a note on social media stressing that her encouragement came before the violence. Kirk, Martin and other CNP members who helped the rallies condemned the subsequent events at the Capitol. “We are shocked, outraged, and saddened,” Martin told me in an e-mail in January.

McEwen also condemned the insurrection, saying CNP had no role in the events or its members’ activity. “What they do on their own time — I won’t say I don’t care — we have no interest or capacity to monitor,” McEwen told me earlier this year.

In March, two months after Biden’s inauguration, a CNP leader named Kelly Shackelford hosted a private Zoom session organized by CNP Action. Shackelford is president of First Liberty Institute, a legal organization that promotes religious liberties. The call focused on H.R. 1, sweeping reform legislation that Democrats promised would, among other things, make it far easier for Americans to vote. Shackelford said the bill represented “the existential threat for our country.”

“The number one priority of the Nancy Pelosi Democrats was to change the rules for our elections to ensure that the Democrats would never, ever, ever lose again,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), according to someone participating on the call. “This bill is a partisan power grab at an order of magnitude we have never seen.”

For nearly an hour, speakers urged CNP members and their allies to coordinate their efforts to pressure Congress and sway regular Americans. They recommended the use of billboards, websites, social media, Internet memes and “on the street” videos of people opposed to H.R. 1. They suggested organizing protests at the homes of certain Democratic lawmakers.

“Urban art is another really exceptional strategy, both for the media and for actually awakening the American people with a visceral campaign,” one official on the call said. Instead of a Stop the Steal movement, “we want to establish ‘Stop the Pigs’ or ‘Stop the Corrupt Politicians,’ ” as social media themes. It was vital, the official said, to “kill this bill” without getting “trapped in a voter suppression conversation.”

That will be a tall order. Some conservatives I interviewed for this story said that Trump had effectively fractured the movement. Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center who was previously a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, said the conservative movement was in a long decline by the time Trump was elected. “The conservative movement, I think it was already sort of stuck in a time warp,” he said. “It was like every day was January 20th, 1981.”

Please click on: God, Trump and the Council for National Policy

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.