Donald Trump: The politics of religion and the war machine

By Patrick Pillay

The new US administration has disturbed the slumber we so easily fall into when it comes to international geo-politics, uniting many parts of the world under a collective outrage never before witnessed. Now in unchartered waters on US-led global politics we cannot know what the next four years of world affairs will bring. But we must move beyond outrage to carefully connect the dots in understanding the ‘new world order’ from a South African perspective.

The evangelical Christian right-wing was the swing-constituency which brought the US to where it is now, this is an uncontroversial point. In any event, the composition of the new administration lays to rest any uncertainties still held on this issue. The who’s who of the Christian-Right have received their call of duty to Washington like never before in American history.

Although we had previously seen cracks in the Jefferson ‘Wall of Separation’ between ‘Church and State’, there are now clear signs that whilst there are threats of one other boundary wall being built, another wall which was foundational to the very Constitution of the United States of America is about to be torn down. But what are the global implications of this reality? And what is the nexus between religion and the war machine? Let’s not forget that South Africa has not gone ‘uncaptured’ by this American religious industrial complex.

Rewind; September 16, 2007, Nisour Square, Bagdad, Iraq. Seventeen Iraqi civilians killed by Americans. Rewind further; March 31, 2004, Fallujah, Iraq. Four Americans killed by Iraqi ‘insurgents’, an incident which sent shockwaves throughout America and launched the mass military assault on Fallujah, which is still regarded in many quarters as a war crime.

The common thread through these incidents and many others is the hand of Blackwater (Later named Xe and more recently Academi), the largest private military contractor to the US Government. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan witnessed a seismic shift in the way wars are constructed and prosecuted. War was privatised.

Get out your pencils. This is where we start to connect the dots.

Amidst the various private military contractors to whom large parts of the American war machine is outsourced, Blackwater stands out as having the strongest lobby within the American government and the Central Intelligence Agency in particular, with military contracts running into hundreds of billions of dollars. Blackwater is owned and micro-managed by ex-US Navy Seal, Erik Prince.

South Africans are all too familiar with the privatised war machine, with our very own Executive Outcomes being (dis)credited with having set the template for the proliferation of private military contracting internationally.

Erik Prince, from his resources and through the foundation set up by his father, Michigan billionaire Edgar Prince, constituted one of the largest financial backers of the Christian right-wing within the Republican Party. Even beyond the remarkable work of journalist and author Jeremy Scahill who uncovered the inner workings of Blackwater, Erik Prince is considered as a modern day Christian Crusader, a Republican Party ‘Knights Templar’. These tags are reflective of the broader Christian missionising efforts of the Prince family dynasty.

The seed money (Or venture capital, depending on one’s perspective) which founded key Christian right-wing organisations, the Family Research Council (US) and James Dobson’s, Focus on the Family (US), were provided by Edgar Prince Snr. These causes were supported fully by Erik Prince after his father’s death in 1995.

It is evident that although Erik Prince always held sway within the Pentagon, his investment in that legalised American system which goes under that euphemism of ‘campaign finance’, has finally paid off. He is now well secured as a key direct military adviser to President Donald Trump.

Add to the key dots of Edgar Prince Snr., the Family Research Council, Erik Prince and Blackwater, the next key dot, Betsy DeVos, the American Secretary for Education waiting in the wings. If there is anyone on Capital Hill right now whose Christian right-wing credentials stand out like the Washington Monument on the National Mall it has to be that of Betsy DeVos. If the picture of the politics of religion is starting to emerge, there’s more.

Betsy DeVos is Erik Prince’s sister. Betsy Prince married Richard ‘Dick’ DeVos and joined the family tree of the DeVos empire which owned Amway. The DeVos family is also known to be one of the largest funders of the Republican Party. Betsy DeVos is already on record as stating that between the Prince and DeVos families their campaign contributions and other financial support to the Republican Party runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

In effect, the Christian right-wing in America has found their saviour in the most unlikely figure of Donald Trump. Two key portfolios in the whole US government, that of the military and education are now well on the way to being truly ‘captured’.

Whilst there are several South African dots which fit into the web of the international US-led Christian religious industrial complex, few stand out more conspicuously for examination than The Family Policy Institute (FPI) based in Cape Town, founded and managed by one, Errol Naidoo.

Naidoo has personally declared publicly that the formation of FPI was inspired by The Family Research Council (US) (FRC) where he received his formative training for the establishment of the Family Policy Institute (SA) which, as it turned out, is a South African ‘carbon copy’ of the American FRC.

The work of The Family Policy Institute, together with their allied organisations, Watchmen on The Wall, and Freedom of Religion – South Africa (FOR-SA) are a mirror image of the lobbying objectives of Christian right-wing organisations such as the FRC (US). These efforts in South Africa are less about the protection of the freedom of religion, as they claim, and more about continuing the privileging of religion in the public sphere and in the shaping of public policy. The risks of re-entering a social order which harkens back to the era of Christian National Education and the religious normativity which so characterised Apartheid South Africa, particularly that of evangelical Christianity, are actually risks which strike at the very heart of our Constitution.

Not unlike the crossroads at which America now stands, preserving the rich diversity of religious and non-religious traditions with which South Africa has been so richly gifted will remain one of our clearest demonstrations of the values of human rights, equality, comity and justice embodied in our Constitution. Failure to do so is a truly frightening prospect, being brought to reality in present day America.

More stories in Issue 82

Contributors

Patrick Pillay

Patrick Pillay has enjoyed a diverse career and academic background and the evolution remains a work in progress. Following a long record of service within the Banking and Financial Services sector, mainly in Commercial Banking Management, including work as a Credit Specialist, Patrick established a Business Development Consultancy, Reference Point Consulting. Throughout what remains mainly […]

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