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On Pat Robertson His Defenders

In its February 2 issue, The New York Review published my article on Pat Robertson’s 1991 book, The New World Order.1 In it, I showed that the founder and the leader of the Christian Coalition proposes that modern world history has been largely determined by a two-centuries-old conspiracy by Bavarian Illuminati, Freemasons, Communists, and Wall Street financiers. Central to the conspiracy has been a succession of Jews, ranging from eighteenth-century Rothschilds in Frankfurt to Moses Hess and the American banker Paul Warburg.

Instead of responding immediately, the Christian Coalition initially remained silent, perhaps in order to avoid drawing further attention to my exposure of its leader’s bizarre views. I was attacked at once, however, by my former colleagues in conservative publications. The editors of National Review, in the February 6 issue, alleged that “the liberal establishment,” upset by the November election results, got me “to do a hit on Pat Robertson.” (For the record, I submitted my first draft as an unsolicited article to this magazine last summer, before anyone envisioned a Republican sweep of Congress; I had had no contact with its editors until that point.)

The editors of National Review went on to acknowledge that Robertson’s book was a “farrago,” but offered several reasons to excuse Robertson, whom they portrayed as a harmless eccentric with monetary obsessions—“Paranoia about bankers runs deep in the American mind.” According to National Review, “Robertson’s writings have…gotten a free pass because they are not part of his political pitch. Robertson did not mention them on the hustings of Iowa” when he ran for President in 1988.2 If, as a general rule, crackpot political figures should be immune from criticism when they manage to conceal their bizarre views, it follows that National Review and the national Republican Party were wrong to condemn David Duke’s campaign as a Republican for the Louisiana governorship a few years ago, because the former Klan leader, in his public statements, stressed only conventional Republican issues, not his views about race.

My former friend and mentor William F. Buckley, Jr., returned to these themes in a subsequent column, in which he described me as someone who, overreacting to the religious right, had done “everything to repudiate his own past except change his name”—something which he knows is not true.3 While doing his best to make me look unreasonable, Buckley tried to make Robertson appear reasonable, asserting that Robertson is not anti-Semitic. The latter point, Buckley assured his readers, has been established by Midge Decter, who absolved Robertson of anti-Semitism in a Commentary article of last year, the very article I discussed in my essay.4

In her Commentary article, Midge Decter claimed that Robertson, and the religious right in general, are the victims of a smear campaign by the Anti-Defamation League and adherents of the “liberal left.” Ms. Decter’s defense of Robertson was particularly surprising, when we consider that a few years ago, when the late conservative thinker Russell Kirk accused neoconservatives of confusing Tel Aviv with Washington, she accused Kirk of “a bloody piece of anti-Semitism.”5 Whatever one thinks of Kirk, nothing in all of his writings is as anti-Semitic as Robertson’s theories about the Rothschilds, Moses Hess, Paul Warburg, Jacob Schiff, etc. Why, then, is Decter defending Robertson? Perhaps she is doing so because Robertson, like many other evangelical conservatives, and unlike Kirk and many “paleocons,” has consistently supported the Israeli right wing over the years. (One of the leading neo-cons, asked by an acquaintance of mine what he thought of Robertson and his followers after reading my article, replied, “They’re good for Israel.”)

In the March issue of The New Criterion, the editor, Hilton Kramer, published an eight-page attack on me by James Bowman, who claims that by demonstrating the links of “Pat Robertson, the lightweight theorizer and evangelist, with a cabal of rightwing crazies and anti-Semites,” I am “playing the old Comintern game” (the reference is to the Communist International, which was dissolved in the 1940s). By his repeated references to my supposed “Marxian techniques,” “the generally Marxist quality of the analysis,” and “quasi-Marxian analysis,” Bowman shows that, though communism is dead, some conservatives are unwilling to give up the practice of smearing critics as “reds.”

Mainstream conservatives and neo-conservatives alike, then, have attempted to dismiss my article by describing me, most implausibly, it must be said, as a “quasi-Marxian” front for the “radical left.” At the same time, they have sought to characterize Robertson’s views as those of a mildly eccentric monetary crank who is otherwise a sound ally in the campaign against “the pagan left” (a label invented by conservative Irving Kristol’s son, William, the Washington political operative). Before rushing to Robertson’s defense, however, neither Buckley, Decter, nor Bowman appears to have read either The New World Order or any of the far-right literature on which the book draws—a fact that says as much about standards of intellectual rigor on today’s right as it does about the political power of the Christian Coalition.

For a month, the Christian Coalition allowed mainstream conservatives to do the work of attacking my findings. This strategy was abandoned when Frank Rich quoted my review of The New World Order extensively in a New York Times column of March 2.6 The day that Rich’s column appeared, Robertson faxed a letter to The New York Times, which published an abridged version of it on March 5.7 In his letter, Robertson alluded only to Rich and his column, not to me or The New York Review. In The New World Order, Robertson wrote to the Times, “I dealt with a topic that heretofore has been the domain of conspiracy theorists on the right and Pollyannas on the left,” namely, the “connection between the world of high finance and the United States foreign policy establishment.” As proof that he was drawing on respectable scholarship, Robertson wrote: “In my book, I relied heavily on the pioneering work of Carroll Quigley, Bill Clinton’s professor and mentor at Georgetown.” (This must be the first time that the leader of the Christian Coalition has invoked the President as, in effect, a character witness.)8

The reference to Quigley in itself is a damaging admission, for Quigley’s attempt to explain twentieth-century US foreign policy as being dominated by a secret Anglo-American conspiracy, including the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, has been discredited by diplomatic historians even as it has been taken up by the rightwing lunatic fringe. At any rate, in The New World Order Robertson draws far less on Quigley than on a British anti-Semitic writer of the 1920s, Nesta H. Webster. As Jacob Heilbrunn demonstrates below, the passages in The New World Order on which Robertson’s conspiracy theory is based were lifted almost verbatim from Webster’s writings.

In addition to describing conspiracies by Illuminati, Freemasons, and Jews, in one of her books she discusses the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a possibly authentic document. (Like me, Heilbrunn, far from being a radical leftist, is both a former conservative and a former employee of Irving Kristol; during the 1980s, he was president of the College Republicans at Oberlin.) It will be interesting to see how William F. Buckley, Jr., Midge Decter, James Bowman, Hilton Kramer, William Kristol, and Ralph Reed respond to the revelation that a principal source of the most comprehensive book by the leader of the Christian Coalition, cited approvingly as a scholarly authority by Reverend Robertson, is an interwar conspiracy theorist who identified, behind half a dozen other conspiracies, the ultimate conspiracy: “Jewish power.”

  1. 1

    Michael Lind, “Rev. Robertson’s Grand International Conspiracy Theory,” The New York Review, February 2, 1995, pp. 21–25.

  2. 2

    The Week,” National Review, February 6, 1995, p. 10.

  3. 3

    Should GOP Worry About the Christian Coalition?” The New York Post, February 15, 1995.

  4. 4

    Midge Decter, “The ADL vs. the ‘Religious Right,’ ” Commentary, September 1994.

  5. 5

    John Judis, “The Conservative Crack-Up,” The American Prospect, Fall 1990, p. 33.

  6. 6

    Frank Rich, “Bait and Switch,” The New York Times, March 2, 1995, p. A23.

  7. 7

    The day before, the Times alluded to the controversy for the first time in a curiously one-sided article which failed to mention my name or the title or date of my New York Review piece, while devoting a great deal of space to Robertson and his apologists. The subtitle, “A leading religious conservative responds to criticism by a Jewish group,” gave the misleading impression that controversy derived mainly from Jewish opposition to the religious right, rather than from concern about a crackpot conspiracy theorist who has accumulated great political power while also attacking Jews for their sinister influence on history. (For the record, I am not Jewish.) Although the Times quoted Robertson’s irresponsible view that he had been attacked by the “radical left,” its writer did not bother to ask the author of the New York Review article to comment on the accuracy of Robertson’s accusations. See Gustav Niebuhr, “Pat Robertson [sic] Says He Intended No Anti-Semitism in Book He Wrote Four Years Ago,” The New York Times, March 4, 1995, p. 10.

  8. 8

    Pat Robertson, letter, “Our Foreign Policy Should Put U.S. First,” The New York Times, March 5, 1995, p. E14.

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