Article — From the May 2009 issue

Jesus Killed Mohammed

The crusade for a Christian military

( 5 of 11 )

Mikey Weinstein, for his part, doesn’t mind being called demonic by officers like Boykin. “I consider him to be a traitor to the oath that he swore, which was to the United States Constitution and not to his fantastical demon-and-angel dominionism. He’s a charlatan. The fact that he refers to me as demon-possessed so he can sell more books makes me want to take a Louisville Slugger to his kneecaps, his big fat belly, and his head. He is a very, very bad man.” Mikey—nobody, not even his many enemies, calls him Weinstein—likes fighting, literally. In 1973, as a “doolie” (a freshman at the Air Force Academy) he punched an officer who accused him of fabricating anti-Semitic threats he’d received. In 2005, after the then-head of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, declared that people like Mikey made it hard for him to “defend Jewish causes,” Mikey challenged the pastor to a public boxing match, with proceeds to go to charity. (Haggard didn’t take him up on it.) He relishes a rumor that he’s come to be known among some at the Pentagon as the Joker, after Heath Ledger’s nihilistic embodiment of Batman’s nemesis. But he draws a distinction: “Don’t confuse my description of chaos with advocacy of chaos.”

A 1977 graduate of the academy, Mikey served ten years’ active duty as a JAG before becoming assistant general counsel in the Reagan White House (where he helped defend the administration during the Iran-Contra scandal) and then general counsel for Ross Perot. It is a surprising background for someone who has taken on the role of constitutional conscience of the military, a man determined to force accountability on its fundamentalist front through an assault of lawsuits and media appearances. Fifty-four years old, Mikey is built like a pit bull, with short legs, big shoulders, a large, shaved head, and a crinkled brow between dark, darting eyes. He likes to say he lives at “Mikey speed,” an endless succession of eighteen-hour days, both on the road and at the foundation’s headquarters—that is, his sprawling adobe ranch house, set on a hill outside Albuquerque and guarded by two oversized German shepherds and a five-foot-six former Marine bodyguard called Shorty. MRFF draws on a network of lawyers, publicists, and fund-raisers, but its core is just Mikey, plus a determined researcher named Chris Rodda, author of an unfinished multivolume debunking of Christian-right historical claims entitled Liars for Jesus.

[5] A spokeswoman for the Pentagon says the military has dealt with fewer than fifty reports of religion-related problems during the period since Mikey founded MRFF. But an abundance of evidence suggests that the Pentagon is ignoring the problem. I spoke to dozens of Mikey’s clients: soldiers, sailors, and airmen who spoke of forced Christian prayer in Iraq and at home; combat deaths made occasions for evangelical sermons by senior officers; Christian apocalypse video games distributed to the troops; mandatory briefings on the correlation of the war to the Book of Revelation; exorcisms designed to drive out “unclean spirits” from military property; beatings of atheist troops that are winked at by the chain of command.

Mikey has won some victories, such as when he forced the Department of Defense to investigate the Christian Embassy video, and intimidated the Air Force Academy into adopting classes in religious diversity, and harassed any number of base commanders into reining in subordinates who view their authority as a license to proselytize. Every time he wins a battle or takes to the television to plead his cause, more troops learn about his foundation and seek its help. He keeps his cell phone on vibrate while he’s exercising on his elliptical machine; he likes to boast that he’ll interrupt sex to take a call from any one of the 11,400 active-duty military members he describes as the foundation’s “clients.”[5] He hires lawyers for them, pulls strings, bullies their commanders, tells them they’re heroes. He offered to let one G.I., facing threats of violence because of his atheism, move in with his family.

is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine and the author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

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