Washington -- U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton thought he was simply doing a good turn on March 23 when he stopped by a Capitol Hill event honoring a Minnesota woman with an "Ambassadors for Peace" award.
Dayton, D-Minn., ducked in for a few minutes, got his photo taken during an awards ceremony, then left. Yet that brief drop-in has caused a growing headache for Dayton and his staff, who were angry to later discover that the event was linked to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the controversial Korean religious leader who calls himself a messiah, and who is known for conducting mass weddings.
Aides say Dayton was duped -- and so were dozens of other lawmakers who innocently attended the event, including U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.
Thanks to the Internet, Christian Web sites, e-mail and Web logs, there's a growing mass of information -- and misinformation -- that has begun swirling in cyberspace over the incident. And as the claims grow, Dayton's staff has begun shooting down and shooting back.
"This is the M.O. (method of operation) of the Moon organization," fumed Chris Lisi, Dayton's spokeswoman. "This is their history. When people found out that this had happened, no one was surprised that the Moon organization had duped members of Congress intentionally, because this is what they do."
Asked whether Dayton adheres to Moon's beliefs, Lisi replied, "Absolutely not. He's a Presbyterian, for heaven's sake. He didn't even know who Reverend Moon was when I first brought it up."
The event invitation made no mention of Moon, his Unification Church or any religious affiliation whatsoever. Nor did it say that Moon himself would appear. After most lawmakers had left, Moon was reportedly wheeled out on stage, crowned, and proclaimed, "I am God's ambassador, sent to Earth with his full authority."
A spokesman for the event, Archbishop George Stallings, who says he is not a member of Moon's church, detailed what he called "the facts" of the March 23 event.
"The one-page letter that the senator received did not state that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was at that event," Stallings said. "Senator Dayton was not even in the room when Reverend Moon appeared. He has never met Reverend Moon, he has had no involvement with Reverend Moon, he was not there to support any theology."
For his part, Coleman's version of events parallels Dayton's: "We went to greet constituents," Coleman said Monday. "We weren't present for any strange activities that took place."
Dayton's role has become more prominent, largely because he was mentioned on numerous Web sites and because there's a photograph of Dayton on stage.
Lisi gives a clipped recitation of Dayton's role: "He goes to the event, he sees numerous of his House and Senate colleagues.... He says hello to the Minnesotan, they tell Dayton and the Minnesotan to come up on stage, they present the Minnesotan with the award, they take pictures, Dayton leaves."
Stallings, the event spokesman, contends it wasn't really a Moon event anyway. "The primary purpose of the event was to honor and pay tribute to outstanding citizens around the country who have distinguished themselves as peacemakers at home and abroad."
The crown, robe and honors for Moon, Stallings said, were peacemaking awards to Moon for "having worked tirelessly over 50 years."
In any case, Stallings said, "We apologize profusely to the senator."