The Family: A Documentary Series on the Fellowship Foundation Starts August 9 on Netflix

On August 9, Netflix will roll out a documentary series based on Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. I was interviewed for this series and will appear in one of the episodes. My part of the picture relates to my work against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill from 2009 to 2015. You can watch a trailer of the series below:

As part of my efforts against the Ugandan legislation, I attended the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast at the invitation of The Family (Fellowship Foundation). While there, I conducted one of four interviews with Fellowship Foundation leader, the late Douglas Coe. It was published in 2010 in Christianity Today.

Coe died last year and there has been some struggle for leadership. The Fellowship has been in the news  to due to their connection Russian agent Maria Butina. I will add  on the series as it progresses.

Prior articles on the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill can be viewed here. 

More recent articles on the Fellowship Foundation, including the case of Russian agent Maria Butina can be viewed here and here.

Eric Metaxas Sides with Russians over U.S. Dept of Justice in Maria Butina Case (UPDATED)

David Barton (left), Eric Metaxas (right)

Yesterday, Eric Metaxas tweeted this defense of admitted Russian agent Maria Butina (see my post about her case):

Butina was charged in July with attempting to advance Russian interests via the development of contacts within the Christian right, the National Rifle Association and the Republican party. Last week, she struck a plea agreement in which she admitted her guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. About 97% of such cases end up in a plea agreement.

Read Maria Butina’s Plea Agreement

In 2015, Metaxas interviewed Butina on his radio program. With the two tweets shown above, he has come to her defense. In doing so, Metaxas has adopted the position of the Russian government over his own. The only people espousing the view that Butina was kept in or threatened with solitary confinement and forced into a plea are Russian authorities and their sympathizers. According to the Voice of America fact checking website Polygraph, Butina and her attorney said in court that she was allowed visitation and time out of her cell.

During the hearing for the change of plea Butina and her lawyers denied any physical or psychological pressure telling the judge the decision to enter the plea deal was voluntary.

Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll told the court his client is allowed a “time out of her cell, daily activities and visitations, including those from the representatives of the Russian foreign ministry,” and that she is “doing well and competent.”

In addition to her own statement and her lawyer’s statement, we have a transcript of a pre-trial conference call where it is clear that Butina’s rights were respected. Not only did Butina get counsel about the nature of her right to a plea agreement, she had another attorney advise her when her own attorney thought there might be a conflict of interest. In the transcript, it is clear that Butina had been talking to other inmates and had been allowed to talk to others, including journalists, on monitored phone calls.

Metaxas’ tweet is interesting in that he implies he has information that isn’t public. “Wait until the whole truth comes out,” he pleads. Somehow he knows something about her faith he tells us. Has he spoken to her? He should enlighten us about his sources. The only sources I can find for the story that she has been kept in solitary confinement or threatened with any unusual treatment is Russia Today and the Russian Foreign Minister.* As noted above, those claims fly in the face of what Butina and her lawyer told the judge in the plea agreement hearing (although in November her attorney did claim she had been in solitary confinement at least some of her stay in jail. The U.S. Attorney’s office did not confirm or deny it).

Given what we have learned over the past year about Russian disinformation campaigns in the U.S., it doesn’t seem prudent or wise to trust the word of Russian authorities. While I don’t accept everything anyone tells me without examination, I reserve the highest level of skepticism for Russian claims. There is a high likelihood that these stories of torture and threats of unusual solitary confinement are aspects of an ongoing disinformation campaign the Russians have cultivated among conservative Christians (see this Christian Post article). Sadly, without providing any evidence, Metaxas is helping the Russians promote their position.

*(UPDATE: In November 2018, Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll claimed in court that Butina had been held in solitary confinement for 22 hours at a time for a combined 67 days. There was no confirmation of this claim by the Justice Department. In her plea agreement hearing, Driscoll and client told a different story.

Having come across this media report, I am prepared to revise my position. I will wait to get more information now that Maria Butina’s gag order has been lifted and her plea deal becomes clearer. I would also like to hear from the Justice Department. When I contacted the DOJ, the answer was “no comment.”

Also in Maria Butina’s request to remove the gag order (which was successful) her attorney wrote:

Importantly, the sentencing has not yet occurred, and the government holds in its sole discretion the determination of whether the defendant has offered “substantial assistance” to other investigations and will evaluate, as will the court, the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility. Thus, the defendant and her counsel have no incentive to publicly contradict the Statement of Offense or her guilty plea or otherwise take issue with the plea, nor to discuss any aspect of possible cooperation.

In other words, Butina isn’t going to debate or dispute the governments account of her treatment or whether or not she was forced to enter a plea deal. She and her attorney already said she did so voluntarily.

Image: Twitter

Eric Metaxas Defends Russian Agent; Says Maria Butina’s Plea Agreement Was Forced

David Barton (left) Eric Metaxas (right)

Eric Metaxas is coming to the defense of an admitted Russian spy, Maria Butina. Apparently, Metaxas doesn’t believe his former talk show guest is a spy. Rather, he believes the government threatened her with a year in solitary confinement which led her to a forced plea agreement. No word from Metaxas how he knows any of this. Here is his tweet disputing Butina’s plea agreement (see my post about her admission to spying for the Russian government).

Read Maria Butina’s Plea Agreement

For Metaxas to believe Butina’s agreement was forced, he has to believe the Dept. of Justice is incredibly corrupt. Butina was represented by counsel and agreed that she was an agent of Russia in violation of federal law.  Her plea agreement refers to various documents which they have in their possession. They have text messages and emails with the information described in the plea agreement.

I don’t know how Metaxas will explain Butina’s agreement. Did the DOJ kidnap this girl and pin an espionage charge on her? Did the DOJ make up all of these events and communications? Did they really threaten to keep her in solitary confinement for a year if she refused to sign a false statement? Is her attorney in on the conspiracy too?

 

National Prayer Breakfast Russian Spy Maria Butina Admits Guilt

Surrounding the 2016 election, the Russian government was quite busy in the U.S. One component of their efforts was an effort to infiltrate the Republican party via the National Rifle Association. Alex Torshin and Maria Butina were point people on that effort. Today, the plea agreement with Butina was released by the Department of Justice. Butina has been in custody since her arrest in July.

My interest in Butina’s arrest was due to a minor aspect of the story. Butina also infiltrated the Fellowship Foundation and the National Prayer Breakfast. You can read my posts on Butina’s involvement in the NPB via the links at the end of the post.

The one mention of the NPB in the plea agreement is below:

The NPB is a perfect place to meet people of political influence. Making friends at the NPB is a first step toward making deals of all sorts. Butina hoped to make many friends for her bosses in Russia.

Although Fellowship leader Doug Burleigh joked about “Russian collusion,” it is now clear that the Russians were using the NPB for their aims. After the Butina plea agreement, there shouldn’t be anymore scoffing about the seriousness of the Russia investigation.

The NRA and Alleged Russian Operative Maria Butina

The Fellowship Foundation’s Doug Burleigh Jokes About Russian Collusion with Jesus

National Prayer Breakfast Organizer Doug Burleigh Predicted Trump and Putin Would Become Friends

 

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

The Fellowship Foundation’s Doug Burleigh Jokes About Russian Collusion with Jesus

In March of this year, one of the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast Doug Burleigh joked about Russian collusion with Jesus prior to delivering a sermon at a church in Tacoma, WA.  Then last week, in a federal indictment, it was alleged that Russian national Maria Butina used her connections with the NPB to carry out conspiracy activities. Although the prayer breakfast organizer was not named in the indictment, Mr. Burleigh is the NPB member responsible for coordinating with the Fellowship’s representatives from Russia.

Prior to his sermon, Burleigh told his audience that MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough found out the number of Russians attending the NPB in 2018. However, Burleigh dismissed any concerns about that as “fake news.”

Burleigh told the group that he had 61 Russians and 52 Ukrainians at the event this year. Then at 1:02, he said:

Thursday was the breakfast, the 8th of February, and I started getting texts from all over the country. ‘What’s the deal with the Russian collusion?’ Well, I’m going to personally share with you a little fake news okay that I ran into is the morning guy on MSNBC who hates Trump Joe Scarborough, he goes, ‘I hear that there’s more Russians than have ever come to the prayer breakfast before and that’s true. But what he didn’t know is that a lot of them were young professionals we invited to lift up Jesus and we had six wonderful times with them. He said, ‘there must be collusion, obviously there’s something going on, so I got friends from around the country going what’s the deal with the Russian collusion. And I said, ‘boy there’s big time collusion: it’s the Russians and Jesus, that’s the collusion.

In the July 14 indictment it is alleged that in 2017 two of the Russians who were supposed to be “colluding with Jesus” at the prayer breakfast were Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin. In fact, both Butina and Torshin may have been working the religious group on behalf of the Russian government. Because Butina asked, according to the indictment, the NPB organizer offered to give Butina 10 Russian spots for the 2017 event. It is not clear if that happened or if there were any requests for the 2018 event.

His Tacoma speech wasn’t the first time Burleigh expressed a dim view of the U.S. media. At a Russian prayer meeting in May 2017, Burleigh spoke to a group affiliated with the American Fellowship. After the meeting, he spoke to writer Andrei Tyunyaev.

At about 2:25, Tyunyaev asked Burleigh a question:

Tyunyaev  – The fact that you are present here after a few years of a going down relationship between Russia and America and growing tension and so just for us it’s a good thing so what’s your impression, what’s your hope for the future?

Burleigh: I’m very hopeful. The reason I’m hopeful is Mr. Trump is a relational person. He’s a negotiator. He’s going to sit down with Putin and they’re going to talk. And I think, we have an expression in America – win-win. I think he wants a win-win situation. I’ll bet Mr. Putin wants a win-win situation. In other words, both sides win. So how’s that going to happen? When they get together and talk. You know in our country, it’s always strange to in divorces, the attorneys tell the husband and wife not to talk to each other. How can you possibly reconcile with somebody you can’t talk to? The real estate agent tells the seller not to talk to the buyer. You know why that is? He’s worried about losing his commission. He doesn’t care about them getting the best deal they can get.

So the reason I’m hopeful is I think our president really wants to talk to your president. I think they’re both intelligent people. Neither of them wants war. I know that. People always tell me Americans want war. No we don’t. And the reason I know you don’t is I’ve been coming here for 52 years. War to an American is going to Vietnam or Afghanistan. War to a Russian is the tanks coming down the streets of your house. You understand war far better than we do. And I tell my American friends that all the time, you don’t want war. So I’m hopeful.

By the way, some of my best friends are Russian. They’re loyal, faithful and loving. So some of my best friends are American, and they are loyal, faithful and loving. So we just gotta get them together.

Tyunyaev: So when we learned after the prayer breakfast that Mr. Trump would become the president of America, we were pretty cheerful and supportive of that fact. We can see the difficulties that he has to overcome to change the structure. We believe in Mr. Trump’s intelligent and smart approach to the issues, walking toward each other and not away from each other.

Burleigh: Yeah, and the problem in our country is press hates Trump, okay? And I think the press is so biased that you don’t get a true story from them. Let me give you an example from last week is the president said he would be honored to meet with the president of North Korea. I thought, ‘that’s the first time anybody’s ever said that.’ All the press could focus on was the word ‘honored.’ He said he be honored to meet with him!?

Tyunyaev: That’s a step of friendship

Burleigh: Of course it is. He went the extra mile to affirm him. What’s wrong with that?

National Prayer Breakfast: Non-Partisan?

Those close to the Fellowship Foundation that I have spoken to insist that the organization is non-partisan. In fact, one recently told me that if the Fellowship and NPB were perceived as pro-Trump (or pro anybody), the “group would self-destruct.”

In contrast, Burleigh portrays a positive stance toward Trump in these and other public statements. His criticisms of the press are startling and parrot the Trump talking points. In fact, the press coverage of Trump’s announcement in May 2017 about meeting Kim Jong-un was straightforward and only reported what Trump said. In reaction to Trump’s words, many pundits and experts criticized Trump which the press also reported. Furthermore, some raised the observation that conservatives criticized Obama when he offered to meet with our enemies without preconditions.

Has the Fellowship taken a pro-Trump, pro-Russia position? While I doubt it given some of the people still involved in it, I wonder what might happen over time now that leader Doug Coe has passed.

 

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

National Prayer Breakfast Organizer Doug Burleigh Predicted Putin and Trump Would Become Friends

With the indictment of Maria Butina for conspiracy and acting as an agent of the Russian government, public attention has come upon the Fellowship Foundation. Founded by the late Doug Coe, I crossed paths with the FF beginning in 2009 when Ugandan affiliates of that organization promoted the death penalty for GLB people in the Ugandan Parliament via the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I took a strong stand against that bill which eventually led to an invitation to the National Prayer Breakfast, hosted each year by the Fellowship. While there, the American leaders allowed me to interview Doug Coe — one of only four published interviews of the reclusive founder — so that he could tell the public in clear terms that he did not favor criminalizing homosexuality.

Now via the documents describing the indictment of alleged Russian operative Maria Butina, the National Prayer Breakfast is again in public focus. The documents refer to an organizer of the prayer breakfast and various individuals who Butina contacted. While I don’t know for certain in each case who she contacted, a source close to the Fellowship told me that Doug Burleigh, the son-in-law of Doug Coe, is the person at the organization who handles networking with the Russian affiliates.

Burleigh Predicted Trump and Putin Would Have a Breakthrough

Almost exactly a year ago at the Russian version of the prayer breakfast, Doug Burleigh made a prediction. A news article from the Russian Evangelical Alliance tells the story:

On another note, Doug Burleigh from Washington’s National Prayer Breakfast forecast that “a breakthrough in relations between Russia and the USA is about to occur. The greatest possible hope for Russia and the USA is friendship between our nations. I believe that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will yet become friends.” (Reverse translation from the Russian.)

I wonder how Burleigh knew such a breakthrough was about to happen. Prophecy? Or perhaps he was on the inside of efforts to make it so.  According to the indictment documents, the National Prayer Breakfast organizers were aware of a desire to bring Vladimir Putin to the event. Butina also promised to keep them apprised of new developments in the effort to improve relations between the two nations and the two presidents.

The refusal of Donald Trump to criticize or hold Vladimir Putin accountable has puzzled numerous observers. Behind the scenes, an effort to craft a friendship between Trump and Putin has been in operation for several years.

Were the Russians using the National Prayer Breakfast as a ploy to advance political goals? Is the talk of faith a means to a darker end? Butina will have her day in court and I hope evangelicals who went along for her ride will watch and listen carefully.

READ THE AFFIDAVIT AND THE COMPLAINT.

Read Today’s Filing Asking the Court to Prevent Butina’s Flight

Jeff Sharlet’s book on the Fellowship can be found here.

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

The NRA and Alleged Russian Operative Maria Butina

The NRA has been in the news repeatedly in connection with the Mueller probe of U.S. ties to Russian operatives. Back in April, Rolling Stone published a lengthy article by Tim Dickinson which detailed the efforts of Russian nationals connected to Vladimir Putin to infiltrate the NRA under the guise of supporting gun rights in Russia. A key event reported in that article was a trip to Russia arranged for NRA executives and donors and accompanied by Maria Butina, recently indicted by the Justice department for conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.  From Tim Dickinson’s Twitter feed, here is photo of Butina and two NRA leaders in Moscow.

Read the affidavit and the complaint.

To read Tim Dickinson’s Twitter thread on Butina’s Republican contacts, click here.

Maria Butina Got Around

According to the indictment documents, Butina cultivated relationships within Republican party, the NRA, the National Prayer Breakfast, and other Christian right circles (including Eric Metaxas) in order to further the political ends of the Russian government.

In April, the NRA admitted receiving donations from Russians but denied any foreign money went to election ads for Trump. Butina’s indictment has raised new suspicions about why the NRA developed such a friendly relationship with an adversary of the U.S. And then just today, a new filing in federal court alleges that Butina was in a cohabitation relationship with Republican operative with close ties to the NRA (identified by the Rolling Stone and other news outlets as possibly Paul Erickson) as a part of her cover.

President Trump has denied any collusion with the Russian government. However, this indictment and others recently filed paint a picture of relentless activity on the part of the Russian government to infiltrate organizations friendly to Trump and his wing of the Republican party.

I have leaned conservative all my life and I can’t imagine trusting Russians who want to get this close to political power in the U.S. Once upon a time, it was progressives who were accused of being duped by the Russians. Now it appears that Trump Republicans have a special gullibility.

Read Today’s Filing Asking the Court to Prevent Butina’s Flight

Like this article and want to see more like it? Support this blog at Patreon.com.

UPDATE (8/1/18) – An earlier version of this article referred to a possible connection to BN Media and Joe Gregory. I learned today from Joe Gregory’s attorney that Gregory sold his interest in BN Media in 2013 and therefore has no involvement with BN Media. I regret the misinformation and apologize to Mr. Gregory for any problem this may have caused. I have corrected this post to reflect this new information.