walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Jeff Sharlet, _The Family_

On kindle, bought because R. heard Sharlet on NPR, and we've been pretty confused about Mark Sanford and this whole King David thing. Seemed odd, and there was also such a strong pattern of people really getting brutalized sticking it out after getting caught (Vitter, Craig, Ensign, Sanford, etc.).

Sharlet went to Ivanwald, which employs/houses young men to do the upkeep for the retreat for powerful men run by a somewhat mysterious group led by Doug Coe currently called The Family or The Fellowship. Started by a Scandinavian immigrant, Abraham (Abram) Vereide, a parasite on businessmen and other powerful men in the chaos of the 1930s, the group creates an identity between conservative and elitist ideas of social order and What Jesus Wants, then adds to that identity the tactics of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, the Mafia, etc. It's difficult to know how much power they have had or might currently have. The National Prayer Breakfast (formerly known as the Presidential Prayer Breakfast) is one of their more conspicuous operations. Their members include Ensign, and R. says Sanford as well, altho that isn't in the book.

The focus of The Family is on creating intense relationships among men of power, and men likely to have power. From there on, it's largely a you-scratch-my-back kind of arrangement. There's some collective ego (they like to add international/overseas Friends, and are pretty much willing to do anything to create relationships with dictators and similar). The emphasis on power + obedience, imo, does a nice job explaining why members don't quit when they have power, and are willing to sacrifice their dignity, family, etc. to hanging on to that power. I'm assuming the group doesn't want them to bail out, especially since in the current environment, they're going to have trouble re-establishing their influence.

While Ms. Clinton clearly has had some connection to members of this group, Sharlet is conspicuous in saying she isn't a member, or a Friend or anything else. Because Obama rose to power quickly, and through a network of poor and/or people of color and/or urban/city networks, I suspect the Family (and organizations like it, which Sharlet emphasizes are suburban and exurban in character) has virtually no influence with the people Obama brought in with him. Certainly, they must have many connections burrowed into the bureaucracy at this point. The tiff over Obama dissing the prayer breakfast makes a whole heckuva lot more sense once some of the underpinnings are exposed.

_The Family_ is not, however, just about _The Family_. Sharlet wanders around the fundamentalist/evangelicalists of the US, visiting New Life in Colorado City and Imago Dei in Portland. He talks some about Sam Brownback. He reviews Suharto's evil deeds, and The Family's connection to them. In describing Vereide's history, Sharlet covers a chunk of labor history, including the closing of the port of SF in the 1930s. There's some great stuff about labor bosses in Seattle and SF and, inevitably, a fair amount about the close connections between fundamentalists in the US and the Nazis in Germany.

Sharlet spends a few pages at the end trying to make the case that liberals and fundamentalists have some things in common. It didn't impress me very much. If you want to make _that_ case, it might be worth bringing in the whole eugenics thing. Seems like everyone wanted to see something glorious in Hitler's crazy endeavor.

It's an interesting book, and I did not know much of what he covered, which leaves me completely unable to assess whether he got it right or not. But I'm inclined to believe him. Probably worth your time.
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