A Civil Rights Battle Royale: Contending for the Soul of the Military

Truthout combats corporatization by bringing you trustworthy news: click here to join the effort.

No Snowflake in an Avalanche(Image: Roundtree Press)Truthout Advisory Board Member and Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s (MRFF) founder and president Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein recently released a new book, No Snowflake in an Avalanche, co-authored with Davin Seay, which recounts the history of MRFF’s creation and achievements. Weinstein recently responded to some email questions from Truthout’s Leslie Thatcher about the book and about the Foundation’s current work.

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: Mikey Weinstein, could you describe the Christian Dominionist movement and its infiltration of the military that has made the work of your foundation necessary?

Mikey Weinstein: “Dominionism” is to the Christian faith what “Wahhabism” is to the Islamic faith. Think “Christian Taliban,” and you’re right on the mark. I’m sorry to have to report that fundamentalist Christianity or “Dominionism” is inextricably intertwined into the very DNA of our United States armed forces today. Its unlawful and un-American tentacles of noxious unconstitutionality are systemically found in every unit of every branch of the US military. No Snowflake goes into far greater detail, of course, but the best way I can describe the actual magnitude of this extremely dangerous national security threat to our country recalls the famous warning given to America and the world by a prior US chief executive and commander-in-chief. It was President Eisenhower, in his now-famous farewell address, who had the temerity to pointedly advise and admonish his national and international audience to beware of the dangers of the so-called “military industrial complex.” Well, as a result of the swiftly metastasizing theocratic, democracy-poisoning grip of unbridled dominionism extant in today’s American Department of Defense (DoD), we at MRFF are compelled to fight absolutely nothing less than a “fundamentalist Christian, para-church, military, corporate, congressional proselytizing complex” of literally Jovian proportion. Dominionism has become an intractable alloy with the technologically most lethal organization ever created by humankind: the United States military. It is our military which vouchsafes and guards all of our most precious Constitutional rights. “Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?” (“Who will guard the guards?)? MRFF will. I, my family and MRFF will gladly give our collective last drops of blood (see much blood on the cover of No Snowflake) in this civil rights Battle Royale.

How did you first become aware of this work and what was your response?

When Mel Gibson’s movie (The Passion of the Christ or, as I call it, “The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre” or “Freddy vs. Jesus”) first came out in February of 2004, I was stunned when my two sons and future daughter-in-law (who were there at the Air Force Academy as cadets) told me the astonishing degree to which the Academy hierarchy was PUSHING the 4,400 cadets and 6,000 staff to go see that “snuff film” piece of anti-Semitic trash. There were official Academy flyers and posters up all over the academic building and many other Academy locations and on every plate in the cavernous Mitchell Hall Dining facility for multiple days in a row. Initially, I immediately contacted the Academy leadership to cry “foul” and had innocently thought that someone had just perhaps gotten a little over-zealous. I was wrong. After months of personally investigating, it became clear to me and my attorneys that there was a pernicious and pervasive pattern and practice of blatantly unconstitutional religious civil rights violations going on there. We found out that it had a name: “Dominion or Fundamentalist Christianity.” We tried to broach peace. But the Academy’s indifference demanded war. So war it was and has been ever since. We naively thought this fundamentalist Christian supremacy and exceptionalism was limited to the Air Force Academy. We were wrong. Very. It is as ubiquitous as gravity throughout all of the United States armed forces here in America and around the world.

What was it in your own background and that of your family members that made you feel such intense personal responsibility for the situation?

Being Jewish, I knew all too intensely what it felt like to be a “minority.” When I was in 3rd grade, my beloved teacher, Mrs. Nation, stopped regular class for two days in March of 1964 to very carefully explain to my class about the wretched assault, rape and murder of young Kitty Genovese in Queens, NY. This horrible crime had drawn the sad attention of the whole world. Thirty-eight New Yorkers had witnessed this attack and had done NOTHING, thus, giving rise to the so-called “Genovese” or “Bystander” Syndrome. Mrs. Nation challenged my class to NEVER be like those 38 bystanders. That affected me profoundly. To the damn core of my being. I was changed forever. My wife and my two Academy grad sons, my Academy grad daughter-in-law, my Academy grad son-in-law all feel exactly the same. We are totally resolute that we will NOT stand by and watch this suffering. As Ogden Nash said, “Do not befriend the oppressed unless you are prepared to take on the oppressor.” MRFF now has over 100 paid and mostly volunteer staff. We represent over 30,000 active duty United States marines, sailors, soldiers, airman, cadets and midshipmen, national guard and reservists and veterans; 96 percent are actually practicing Christians being told that they “are not Christian enough.” We have 5 Nobel Peace Prize (NPP) Nominations, including one for next year, 2013. Our last 2 NPP nomination have come from prior winners of the NPP. Guess we’ve come a long way now through the years. All thanks to Mrs. Nation and my parents, who reinforced her guidance to never sit back and “take it.” An attack on even ONE innocent is an attack on us ALL!

In Snowflake you describe many of MRFF’s successes. Could you describe here the one that meant the most to you personally, and – although I know you never admit to failure or defeat – a situation where the results of MRFF’s intervention were disappointing to you?

We have had tens of thousands of success stories. Many of them have gone viral in the national and international media like the “Jesus Rifles” and Jesus Nukes successes and getting the Air Force to issue the first-ever regulation criminalizing unconstitutional proselytizing via Air Force Instruction 1-1, Aug. 7, 2012. However, the vast majority of them we cannot comment on publicly due to the fervent confidentiality restrictions which our clients request. They always come first. But there is one I always recall every day of my life. We had helped a young Native American sailor on a huge US Navy aircraft carrier who had been the victim of just horrendous religious tyranny visited upon him by his fundamentalist Christian chain of command. I can’t give you the specifics, but we were able to significantly help this brave young United States sailor. About a week and a half after we forcefully intervened, he sent me a very simple email which left me thunderstruck by its poignant simplicity yet profound humanity. It said only, “Thank you Mikey and MRFF for being the voice we are not allowed to speak with.” Blew me away, literally. Ever since, his moving, stirring and beautiful words have become my and my family’s and MRFF’s mantra. As to the second question, I am still very disappointed in the fact that, to date, not a single member of the Department of Defense has EVER been prosecuted via trial by courts martial for the brazen religious civil rights violations that occur every day and night within DoD. The only way to change this noxious bigotry is punish it very visibly. The Romans had it right; if you lop off some heads and stick them high on poles for all to see, it DOES change behavior swiftly. Well, we don’t chop off heads anymore, but we do court martial criminals every hour of every day in the US armed forces. It’s way more than merely “about time” that unconstitutional fundamentalist religious predators face that degree of institutional Pentagon rigor.

I have to confess my favorite character in the book is your wife, Bonnie Weinstein. Would you tell our readers a little bit about what she has had to endure and how she has responded.

Bonnie is truly my very best friend and my love for her is boundless. My admiration for her courage is even larger. She has Multiple Sclerosis and, of course, stress is one of the worst things to have to encounter when having MS. And she gets a lot of stress. There’s having to live with me for one thing. I may think I’m a “day at the beach,” but she describes me as sometimes being a “day at the beach during a tsunami.” She sees and endures the constant stream of filthy death threats and hate calls and emails that I get. She gets her own. Hers are often worse. She’s endured the attacks on our house. The windows being shot out and the crosses and swatikas being marked on our home. And the dead animals left at our front door. I really don’t know how she literally soldiers on sometimes. She has an innate sense that if WE don’t fight this religious oppression monster, no one else will do so. She carries a weapon – as do I and other family members – and is careful not to let complacency lull her or any of us into a false sense of security. When I sometimes am consumed by doubt and frustration and sadness, she is the rock that I turn to to keep going. People think I’m tough? She’s a hundred times tougher. I often feel guilty for taking her into this maelstrom of extreme danger, loneliness and financial distress. But she dissuades me from this pain by always reminding me about Kitty Genovese. It always comes back to Kitty.

If we can connect these foreign policy issues with domestic needs and climate change, if we can follow the powerful examples of mass direct action movements from Chile to Egypt, and if enough people practice democracy daily rather than waiting until the next presidential election, then maybe–just maybe—we’ll be able to push the arc of Obama’s second term in the direction of peace and justice.