Newt Gingrich’s Apocalypse

At Mother Jones, Tim Murphy gives us a rundown of Newt Gingrich’s planned visit to John Hagee, and what that might mean for his presidential campaign. As Mark Silk, who Murphy interviewed for the piece, notes, Hagee’s apocalyptic theology, and Republicans’ affection for him, is not exactly a new phenomenon.

As someone who has reported on Hagee — a.k.a. Pastor Strangelove — since 2006, Gingrich’s effort to kiss the ring of the controversial televangelist is no surprise, and it’s not just about theology, or evangelical outreach, but also about foreign policy. Gingrich has long had a relationship with Hagee and his Christians United for Israel. In my book, God’s Profits, I documented the historical roots of Republican outreach to Pentecostals like Hagee, despite all manner of controversy, including compelling tithes from his parishioners, his secretive, authoritarian church structure and bloated salary, controversial comments about other religions, apocalyptic war-mongering, and theologically-driven support for the Israeli occupation, even if it will — actually because he thinks it will — bring about the end of the world.

Perhaps of the newer sort of news variety (although possibly less sexy because it only involves a member of Congress, not a presidential candidate — but wait, there’s definitely more on that, so keep reading) is Alexander Carpenter’s report in the Seventh Day Adventist magazine Spectrum, about the bizarre survivalist theories of Maryland Republican Roscoe Bartlett. Carpenter offers us clips from the conspiratorial film Urban Danger, in which Bartlett, a Seventh Day Adventist, “shares his fear of impending threats to America and advocates that people move out of urban areas.” In addition to raising fears of mayhem and food shortages, this member of Congress makes reference to what he says is a feared strain of small pox that is present in the “Soviet Union.” (Oh, education!) About the survivalist strategies advocated in the film, Bartlett concludes, “as a member of Congress I would like everybody to do this.”

Carpenter notes, “This sort of ‘back to the country’ rhetoric is not news to Adventists familiar with fringe movements in the denomination. But is it professional and responsible for a member of Congress to mix his faith-based apocalypticism with fact-challenged scare-mongering about urban America?”

Bartlett is also the chief congressional fear-mongerer of an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP), and was the instigator of a controversial report by the congressionally-authorized EMP Commission. Bartlett claims the report he sponsored concluded that an EMP threat from “rogue states, China, Russia, and other nations” could have such a catastrophic effect that the “U.S. would cease to exist as a military superpower and as a modern society.”

How nutty is Bartlett? Well, just as nutty as Gingrich and other Republicans. As Matt Duss reported in 2009, Gingrich warned the American Israel Public Affairs Committee of his perceived threat of an EMP based on a fictional espionage thriller. Gingrich told the AIPAC audience, “This book was inspired by a report that Congressman Roscoe Bartlett got seven nuclear physicists of enormous experience in our nuclear weapons industry to jointly produce. It’s based on fact, it is accurate, and it’s horrifying, and we have zero national strategy to respond to it today.” And later that year, Gingrich, Bartlett, Mike Huckabee, and Frank Gaffney addressed a conference devoted to the supposed threat of an EMP, EMPACT.

Except that the dire, apocalyptic warnings tend to push the “margins of science fiction,” Sharon Weinberger wrote in a 2010 article Foreign Policy, “The Boogeyman Bomb,” noting, “the unlikely scenarios [its advocates] peddle lend themselves to caricature.” Rob Farley, assistant professor at the University of Kentucky’s Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce, wrote about the EMPACT conference, noting its strong Christian Zionist element, including that Hagee served on the organization’s board. (Indeed back in 2006 Hagee fretted that an EMP could cause “an American Hiroshima.”)  Farley observed that the EMPACT conference:

revealed the diverse array of rightwing factions that have united behind the effort to promote the EMP threat thesis. For example, several panels at the conference were led by missile-defense enthusiasts closely associated with neoconservatism, notably Cliff May of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy. Other presenters with a rightist ideological bent included Brigitte Gabriel and Guy Rodgers from Act for America, a hardline advocacy group preoccupied with “Islamofascism.”

(All those people should sound familiar from the Islamophobia conspiracy theory industry.) But experts not driven by ideological concerns have concluded that the EMP threat is hyped; as Farley concluded:

The fact that EMP is poorly researched and not well understood works in its favor as a scare tactic. Since evidence of EMP’s allegedly lasting impact is purely theoretical, EMP awareness advocates can make outlandish claims regarding the threat that even the smallest nuclear arsenal poses. They can also point to allegations made by the official EMP Commission, ignoring the fact that many outside experts dispute its findings.

So just how far out there are Republican apocalyptic theologies? In the 2012 campaign, they will probably be par for the course.