From the Clinics to the Special Prosecutor: The Legitimization of the Inquisition
By Mike Doughney and Lauren Sabina Kneisly
This more than half-century-old quote has been cited recently in articles commenting on the recent activities of independent counsel Kenneth Starr. There’s only one small problem though: from inside Starr’s mind, as well as throughout the Biblical America movement that spawned him, President Clinton is both someone to "get" as well as someone who needs to be prosecuted. What’s alien to most Americans is the means by which individuals are to be selected by their leadership for "getting" and prosecution – means that some of us, who’ve been in the middle of, or carefully watched the struggle for reproductive freedom and abortion access, might find to be eerily familiar.
Let’s take a look at how they talk about it. One great example is the book published moments before the release of the Starr report, "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" by Ann Coulter – an individual who, like Starr, is connected with organizations financed by Richard Mellon Scaife. She says, right there on page 10: "It's enough for the president to be a pervert." There’s the reason to go "get" the President, and in their mind, that’s a perfectly legitimate motivation. He must be prosecuted – even if his so-called "perversion" is perfectly legal.
We’ve arrived here because for decades a well-financed and disproportionately influential movement has insisted that only "godly men" are eligible to govern. The Starr report didn’t just come out of nowhere; it’s the culmination of years of preparation, during which they've groomed, financed and placed hordes of talking heads like Coulter to present a legalistic, secular-sounding justification for a drive-by inquisition. Coulter's book is irrelevant, the cover photo summarizes the case: Clinton confronting a bible. Like the works of "Reconstructionist" thinkers Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony, her book is just a castle in the air of legalisms that follow from the basic assumption of "Biblical law."
It’s one thing, though, for obscure writers to talk in theological terms about the methods they’d like to use to take power in this country. What we’re seeing here today is a new phenomenon in American culture: the methods of religious inquisition being justified in secular-sounding terms and logic, as if they’ve always been a part of this nation’s fabric. It’s as if these methods were an inherent part of American history, the intent of a nebulous group of "founding fathers," and that a prosperous America would have been impossible without constant efforts to keep the ungodly out of government.
Sooner or later, though, a chink shows up in this façade set up by "Godly men." What they’ve really been doing is to set up a sorting method, with clear lines separating those who are "in" their group from those who are "out." Those lines are not based strictly on behavior, but in ritual participation, expression of faith, and membership. It is these practices that, they claim, "reconcile all men" to God. Repentance, redemption and forgiveness of behavior – almost any behavior, it seems – are part of the bargain.
The chink shows up on page 100 of Coulter’s book: "Suppose Starr and his deputies were drug-addicted sexual perverts. What does that have to do with whether Clinton committed perjury, suborned perjury, or obstructed justice?" In their minds behavior is secondary to the demonstrable fact that Starr is one of them, to put it in their terms, he has "accepted Jesus as Savior." Being a drug-addicted pervert in the closet would be just fine, as long as, publicly, Starr participates and professes, in the right kind of church, the right kind of faith, and outwardly seems to attempt to change his behavior and conform to their norms. Membership in the group also requires that one be in a right kind of Promise Keeper-style "accountability relationship" with at least one other man, be it one’s pastor or a small group.
We’re also witnessing the rise of networks of organizations designed to identify and attack designated targets, acting in parallel with people in government. In the Starr report, we can find an open admission of the necessity for one such organization to have played its role, by financing and supporting the Paula Jones civil case to set the stage for impeachment – the Rutherford Institute, headed by John Whitehead.
Whitehead has attempted to portray himself as something other than a Clinton-basher, and his January 1998 profile in the Washington Post shows him to be a master at recasting himself in the press as some kind of moderate, reasonable person. He insists that his 1992 video, "Religious Apartheid," no longer represents his thinking. While the video remains available for sale with his name on the cover, Frank Schaeffer, a longtime friend of Whitehead’s, a co-founder of Rutherford and producer of the video, spoke to Rutherford interns as recently as the summer of 1995. We also know that Schaeffer said in 1992 before a gathering of the Missionaries to the Preborn in Milwaukee:
Let us call Clinton and the Democratic party what they are. They are the spearhead of the new neo-Nazi eugenic movement.
I frankly do not care if his miserable wife bakes cookies or not.
Robert Jackson continued:
With the law books filed with a great assortment of crimes, a prosecutor stands a fair chance of finding at least a technical violation of some act on the part of almost anyone. In such a case it is not a question of discovering the commission of a crime and then looking for the man who has committed it, it is a question of picking the man and then searching the law books, or putting investigators to work, to pin some offense on him.
It is the Jones case - a case made possible by the most extreme, hard-core thinkers of Biblical America, with an explicit political agenda to take down the democratic political process - that set into motion the investigation that would lead to the production of the Starr report. Whitehead used Paula Jones to set up the conditions for a technical violation of the law, by deposing the President. For playing her role, it appears that Jones was compensated with a nose-job, paid for by an anonymous donor.
What’s more, if there’s one organization in this movement that’s going to take the role of enabling the take-down of a President, it’s going to be the Rutherford Institute. Its very name comes from that of Samuel Rutherford, the 17th century Scottish preacher who insisted that leaders follow "God’s law" or be overthrown, by revolutionary means if necessary.
Perhaps it was reasonable for Bill Clinton to assume that his testimony about private, sexual matters in a meritless case would stop there; that an Independent Counsel would not stoop to such levels to attempt to recommend impeachment to Congress. In another time, perhaps in the time of JFK, such a sequence of events would have been unlikely. But today we are decades into a period of history that has seen the rise of a political and social movement that thinks nothing of gathering and publicizing such information. It exploits the private, the personal weaknesses of each individual, each and every time with the aim of growing and strengthening the movement, to demand conversion and to give embattled nonbelievers the sense that there's no place to hide from their onslaught. Bill Clinton’s only crime has been his assumption that the playing field has not changed.
In what laboratory have the leaders and thinkers of Biblical America devised this attack? Where have their weapons been honed? We need only look to the conflict over abortion in this country to note that these same tactics are those that have been used against clinics, doctors, employees and patients for years; that the same people are involved; and it’s financed by the same groups. The intimate details of the private lives of those believed to be violating their Biblical precepts are publicized; addresses, phone numbers, cars and license plates, and every other detail imaginable. And through it all, this voyeuristic attention, the documenting of every possible and seemingly irrelevant detail, that appears in the Starr report can be found throughout the "anti-abortion" literature that pervades this movement, and the actions of their activists. Again, though the details may sometimes be "adult" in nature, no effort is made to shield their children. To the contrary, every effort is being made to be sure that their children are aware of it, as if exposing them to the minutiae of "sin" through their own channels somehow immunizes them and reinforces their own extremism.
This nation has allowed and even encouraged this movement to invade the private lives of countless citizens. We should not be surprised that, since the social aims of Biblical America must eventually be enforced through political means, that these tactics would eventually be aimed at the highest office in the land.
Originally webpublished January 20, 1999