Tuesday, July 13, 2010

fighting christian supremacists in the military

truthout | In his fight against British imperialism, Mahatma Gandhi described the life cycle of successful civil disobedience: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mikey Weinstein, the 55-year-old founder of the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), likes to quote it, knowing full well he's crossed the line into a bloody-knuckle brawl. Over the past year, Weinstein and his organization have recorded a tremendous string of victories in the fight against Christian supremacists inside the armed forces.

In January, the MRFF broke the story on the Pentagon's Jesus Rifles, where rifle scopes used in Afghanistan and Iraq were embossed with New Testament verses. In April, he got the military to rescind its invitation to the Reverend Franklin Graham to speak at May's National Prayer Day because of Islamophobic remarks. Most shockingly, MRFF received its second nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in late October. These high-profile victories have earned him the enmity of the hardcore Christian Right and the mentally unstable. And the crazies are getting crazier. Weinstein and his family are bombarded with hate mail, from the grammatically incorrect and easy to dismiss - "I hope all your kids turn out gay as hell, take it in the ass, and get aids and die!!!!" - to the kind of threats that immediately make you leap out of your chair and double-check that the doors and windows are locked. (MRFF has referred multiple death threats on Mikey, his family, and MRFF employees to the FBI.)

Unlike Gandhi, Mikey's no pacifist. Aggression rises up in his voice like a white shark's fin breaks the waves. In a recent conversation, Mikey bragged how a punk wouldn't shut up in a movie. When a confrontation ensued and the man took a wild swing, Mikey put him down. None of this is surprising. Weinstein boxed during his Air Force days, his face marked by a strong jawline sitting below a bald head on top of a stocky body - a cross between Rocky Marciano and Butter Bean. Simply put: Mikey Weinstein can be a brute and a zealot. He knows this and admits it freely. But he believes it's the only position a reasonable person can take when confronted with a faction dedicated to mutating the U.S. military into "a weaponized Gospel of Jesus Christ."

But for all of his rhetorical excesses and bravado, Weinstein's fight is simple and correct. The United States military cannot favor one religious sect over another, staying true to the Constitution's establishment clause that service members pledge to defend. More pragmatically, the military cannot favor one religious sect over another because it's destructive of good order and discipline, creating divisions between service members when they must rely on the guy next to them to survive in a firefight. Yet inside the U.S. military a small, determined, and fanatical clique wants to abuse its power and prosetlyze to service members below them in the chain of command. Through this captive market, they can inject their peculiar ideology into the most powerful institution on earth. As Weinstein likes to say, this isn't just a civil rights issue, it's a national security threat of the gravest magnitude. The description sounds hyberbolic, but according to Weinstein there's a pervasive Christian supremacist milieu inside the U.S. military that's a danger not only to constitutional order, but to the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. What's ironic about Mikey's fight is that he never thought about becoming "a civil rights activist." He discovered his calling by rising up like a grizzly bear for his son. Fist tap Davera.