Say you're a congressman who's just been caught attending an event where a notorious cult leader declares himself the Messiah. You say you were fooled into attending the "awards dinner," but you learn that the Messiah has been going from church to church having Christian crosses torn down and offering poor deacons gold watches to switch saviors from Jesus to himself.
Then, you hear that he's been making speeches like this: "If the U.S. continues its corruption, and we find among the senators and congressmen no one really usable for our purposes, we can make senators and congressmen out of our members. ... I have met many famous - so-called "famous' - senators and congressmen, but to my eyes they are just nothing. They are weak and helpless before God."
Is it time to stop attending the multibillionaire's flashy "world peace" symposiums in South Korea? After all, the hosts were probably less interested in your "Beyond Missiles to Global Culture" talk - the one that culled a $3,000 honorarium in 2002 - than in using you to make their family-shattering organization look respectable. Is it time to demand to know why a man who wants to bulldoze traditional Christian values is warmly received on Capitol Hill? And who invited him into the building, anyway?
Well, when it comes to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the office of U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon is speaking with a definitive - uhh, well, not so fast.
While Weldon vows that Moon will never again dupe him, his chief of staff, Michael Conallen, won't rule out Weldon's attending future events held by Moon's front group, the International and Interreligious Federation for World Peace (IIFWP), which apparently tricked several members of Congress into attending the March 23 "Crown of Peace" awards at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.
After I broke the story on Salon.com last week, subsequent publicity centered around legislators who claimed they were duped into attending the meeting. (The usual method of the IIFWP and Washington Times Foundation - Moon owns the paper - is to invite VIP speakers for Day 1 of the conference, photograph them and keep them in the dark about what's to be discussed Day 2.)
"I can definitively say," adds Conallen, "the congressman will never speak at any event where anything remotely like what happened on March 23 occurred."
As the leader of the Unification Church, the ex-con's speeches call for a global government with him in charge. Once empowered, he'd cleanse the world of gays - he calls them "dung-eating dogs" - in a Stalinist "purge on God's orders."
By many accounts, last week wasn't the first time Capitol Hill saw its leaders bowing down to Moon, wearing white gloves and bringing him a bejeweled crown on a velvet cushion. (According to the IIFWP, the crowning meant that America has now asked Moon to "please become my king.") Moon's Unification News claimed that another ceremony happened Feb. 4 in the Ronald Reagan Building, involving 40 members of Congress and two senators. His church was recently selling videos of the event online.
If I knew about this stuff while blogging about it from California, shouldn't Weldon have heard rumors that Moon was using Congress members for his world-domination tour? Conallen says they'd never had a single conversation about Moon. Weldon, who represents the suburbs of the 7th District, attended because "they'd asked the congressman to come give a presentation on his most recent trip to Libya," Conallen says. "He was trying to speak to just about anyone."
As a senior member of the house Armed Services Committee, Weldon had recently helped secure Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's promise to scrap his weapons of mass destruction. That information helped explain the photographs I found of Weldon under Moon's Mar. 23 "Ambassadors for Peace" banner, appearing next to a photograph of himself placing a pin on Gadhafi's chest. If not for these and other pictures from Moon's Web site, the world - and maybe even Weldon - would never have known that the Republican congressman was used to legitimize a ritual looking more like something from Masters of the Universe than C-SPAN. But thanks to the tireless linking of bloggers such as Philadelphia's mysterious Atrios, the shocking images are no longer confined to the minds of insane conspiracy theorists. Instead, there's a slick sales reel explaining that the U.S. Congress has inaugurated "a new world of peace, without national boundaries, so longed for by all people and nations."
According to Conallen, I was unfair to write that Weldon's appearance was "when things got weird." He's probably right. It wasn't until the representative left, his office says, that a rabbi leapt on stage and declared that the Messiah who the Jewish people had longed for was right here in the taxpayer-funded conference room. He was also gone before Moon declared that Hitler and Stalin had been born again through him as people you would probably like to know.
Through it all, Weldon's office was slow to consider my photographic evidence. After all, what small-government Republican wants to be associated with Moon, who preaches that "individualism is what God hates most"? When I called his office, press secretary Angela Sowa said that Weldon wasn't anywhere near Moon that day, even while she agreed to see pictures of Weldon at the festivities. Along with links to the pictures - which have since been removed from Moon's Web site - I passed along a Washington Times article claiming Weldon was an organizer.
Sowa and I experienced compu-confusion for a while - the photos wouldn't go through - so she wasn't going to be able to help me beyond offering a new version of the story. "Congressman Weldon was scheduled to be a speaker but was not able to attend the actual event when the time came for it," she wrote.
After the pictures finally went through, the story changed to "apparently he was there, but we really had nothing to do with it. & We may have been a Congressional co-host, but we have nothing to do with the agenda, the organization, the scheduling, and our role would be limited explicitly to the attendance of the Congressman."
Not so, as it turned out. While Weldon's office maintains there was no way of knowing Moon would be there, a March 8 invitation stated that Moon and his wife "will also be recognized that evening for their lifelong work to promote interfaith cooperation and reconciliation," according to the Washington Post.
Seoul, mid-February 2002: The U.S. is at war, but Weldon is at the IIFWP's Assembly 2002 festivities, according to several Unification Church Web sites. His appearance, says his office, was related to his historic delegation to North Korea, though it wasn't on the same trip.
Speaking there was Chung Hwan Kwak, the president of the UPI wire service, the man who was in charge, according to estranged Moon daughter-in-law Nansook Hong, when members of the D.C. church were imprisoned and beaten by a man Moon believed to be the reincarnation of his son. Kwak tells the Seoul audience about a "culture of true love." Moon then gives a speech identifying the "Four Conditions for World Peace." The next day, Weldon speaks at the event, which, like most Moon events, is an exercise in making the founder look like the greatest man on earth.
"For decades," says Steve Hassan, a former group member who's now a self-described cult counselor, "Moon recruiters have deceptively lured people to isolated workshop settings and indoctrinated them to believe that they should renounce their own family and become a member of the "True Family.'"
On Nov. 22, 2002, Weldon was a keynote speaker at the IIFWP's U.S.-U.N. symposium, according to the IIFWP site. The site claimed the speech foreshadowed Weldon's partnership with U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis, a Democrat from Illinois, which would see both praising the IIFWP's "Ambassadors for Peace" on the floor of Congress on June 19, 2003.
In April 2003, while the country's eyes were on Iraq, two things happened. One, a remarkable new edition of the church's Unification News came out. Two, Weldon spoke at an IIFWP symposium in New York.
The church newsletter described cross-removal hitting its stride, declaring that the painful symbol (painful because it prevents religions from uniting under Moon) was gone from 123 church walls. ("The Congressman does not accept or support any of Rev. Moon's teachings or beliefs," explained Conallen cautiously. "That statement certainly applies to any specific attacks or insults against the Christian faith.") And at the conference, held at the Moon-owned New Yorker Hotel, Weldon spoke about the United Nations.
Money from these events, according to Conallen, wasn't pocketed by Weldon, but went to pay for the Michael Horrocks Playground Fund, named for a 9/11 pilot. Today, Weldon remains listed on the Pennsylvania Parents Day nominating committee of Moon's American Family Coalition. As the Washington City Paper revealed in its 1995 story "Honor Thy Parents: How the Unification Church Convinced the U.S. Government to Endorse Its Holiday Honoring the Rev. and Mrs. Moon as the True Parents of Mankind," Parents Day is yet another way to glorify Moon, while pretending to honor others.
Which, of course, is exactly what happened March 23.