Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mapping the Religious Right: the Arlington Group

The Religious Right is a powerful force in American politics and society, tipping elections and making themselves one of the most powerful voting blocs in the country. Their objectives are worn on their sleeves; their zeal unquestionable. Yet for everything that is known far more remains just out of common knowledge. In this series we will delve into this unknown tracking down more on their most powerful players, money, influence, and how they achieve their goals.

With a name so generic and mundane the Arlington Group would hardly be the first organization to come to one's mind when you think of the Religious Right. Organizations like the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Focus on the Family are the ones out in front grabbing the headlines and making the power plays. These groups share many things in common on matters of politics and ideology. They also share a less publicly-known bond: they are all alleged members of the Arlington Group.

The Arlington Group was founded in 2002 thanks largely to the efforts of prominent New Right activist Paul Weyrich and Donald Wildmon, then President of the American Family Association. The Arlington Group was founded to coordinate the efforts and resources of social conservatives to oppose gay marriage. Aside from their membership and their public goals not much is known about the Arlington Group. It is not registered as a political action committee in any state. There is no record of an organization called the Arlington Group in the IRS database of non-profit organizations, churches, and charities. Membership in the Group is by invitation only and they do not keep any records of what is discussed at Group events. Yet the membership list of this incredibly obscure group, care of a fax to the Bush White House sent in 2005, is a literal who's who of the most powerful people and organizations in the Religious Right.

The Group has a history shrouded in secrecy. Following their founding in 2002 the first major announcement made by the Group relating to an election was their support for propositions banning gay marriage in 2004. They briefly had a website in 2006 which included a list of organizations willing to declare their membership but since then it has been shut down for reasons unknown. This has not seen an end to their activities, far from it.

Behind this wall of secrecy the Arlington Group exercises considerable political influence and power. In 2004 the Arlington Group made their first major coup by organizing the drives to bans gay marriage by Proposition in eleven states. In 2005 they threatened to withold support for Bush's push to privatize Social Security if he did not push their fundamentalist objectives. Further campaigns in 2006 and 2008, spearheaded by members of the Arlington Group, would see continued electoral successes for the Christian Right's anti-gay crusade. In 2008 they privately interviewed each of the Republican Presidential candidates to determine who would be the best to advance their cause. The eventual choice of Sarah Palin as Vice Presidential candidate was a decision that was supported by the members of the Arlington Group who had refused to throw their support to any of the candidates during the primaries. This act which many believe cost John McCain the presidency was done to appease this incredibly powerful organization.

The Arlington Group is unique among the broad coalitions in the Religious Right for its secrecy. Previous groups that filled a similar role, such as the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, were filed with the IRS as religious non-profit organizations. Even the similarly secretive Council for National Policy has a legal paper trail. Their secrecy begs the question: what do they have to hide? The members of the Arlington Group have long openly campaigned against the so-called gay agenda. If the official reason for their existence is all there is to the Group then why operate in the dark? Whatever the rest of the agenda of the Arlington Group is clearly it is one they do not want the American people to know about.

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