Lord-ing it over others: Local Think Tank Feels Right at Home

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (March 1994)

In May of 1990g, the Acton Institute was founded here in Grand Rapids by a catholic priest named Robert Sirico. Its stated purpose, to quote from their brochure, is “to familiarize the religious community, particularly students and seminarians, with the moral dimensions of liberty and the free market system.” Located at 161 Ottawa St, in the plush Waters Building, the Acton Institute functions on a meager annual budget of $500,000. They also publish a newsletter entitled “Religion & Liberty” that regularly includes interviews with giants such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, William F. Buckley Jr., Milton Friedman, and Margaret Thatcher. Sirico has publicly expressed his delight about being in Grand Rapids. In a February 1992g GR Press article, Sirico stated “This (GR) is the heartland, there’s such sanity here.” Of course, Sirico means there is such willingness on the part of a small elite to amass wealth in this community, that’s his definition of sanity. It’s no surprise that then that the Acton Institute has received significant financial support from Richard DeVos, his son Dick, and Peter Cook, executive director of the local Mazda Corp.

On several occasions I have heard Rev. Sirico speak and each time I am convinced that he is a very dangerous and arrogant man. He went to Nicaragua just before the 1990g elections there. At his presentation on his trip he had nothing but praise for the USA-backed UNO coalition and utter contempt for the Sandinistas. It was as if he was a representative from the State Department. Sirico is a staunch critic of Latin American liberation theology, which he contends is dead. For Sirico, the free market system, private property, and wealth are the “paths to Salvation” for the world.

Recently it has been made public knowledge that the Acton Institute is bringing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to town (May 5). A few local women’s groups (WAN & NOW) and other activists have expressed to me their outrage over this and are planning some sort of public protest. This I salute and hope to be a part of, but I would hope that the justice community in Grand Rapids doesn’t just single out Thomas’ visit as an occasion to confront the politics of the Acton Institute. What I will do for the remainder of this article is to point out some of the other people and institutions they work with and why it is important that those concerned with justice in GR not ignore the Acton Institute’s larger goals.

Rev. Sirico has taken his free market band wagon all over the world and sits on panels with other free market pundits at conferences. In August of 1993g, he spoke at a conference in West Virginia, with evangelical Doug Bandow. Bandow is the senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washing, DC. The Greenpeace Guide to Anti-environmental Organizations has this to say about the Cato Institute: “This right-wing think tank, founded in 1977, sponsors policy conferences and distributes publications on issues as diverse as the global economy, military intervention and ‘ecoterrorism.’ Cato views the environmental movement and the demands it places on industry as a major obstacle to its vision of small government and unregulated economy. Cato’s director of natural resource study, Jerry Taylor, wrote in USA Today, that ‘natural resources are better protected by individual owners with vested interests in their property’ than by the government. ‘Environmental treaties are biased against economic growth despite the proven correlation between wealthy economies and healthy environments.'” The Cato Institute receives funding from Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Philip Morris, Exxon, and Procter & Gamble to name a few.

In September of 1993g, Sirico spoke with Richard DeVos and others at Hillsdale College on “Morality and the Marketplace.” Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Michigan, is a little-known private college with strong right-wing ties. In 1985g, Hillsdale co-sponsored a seminar “with the State Department on US and Soviet Values” (see Russ Belant’s The Coors Connection). Jean Kirkpatrick was the keynote speaker, appearing with Melvin Laskey, editor of the CIA-funded London-based “Encounter” magazine. The college’s l990g books and tapes catalogue lists titles by John Birch Society’s Clarence Manion, former Nicaraguan dictator Somoza, Phyllis Schlafly, and Rhodesian prime minister Ian Smith. Hillsdale College president George Roche serves on the advising board of the US branch of the World Anti-Communist League, an organization with strong ties to Latin American death squads (see Russ Belant’s “Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party”).

In early February of this year, conservative writer Michael Novak was scheduled to speak, but that even was cancelled. Novak is from the American Enterprise Institute and is on the board of advisors for the Acton Institute. Also a critic of Latin American liberation theology, Novak, during the 1980g’s was a member of “the Nicaraguan Freedom Federation, established by the Moon-owned Washington Times and PRODEMCA, an organization that funded the Contras (The Coors Connection).

Scheduled to speak on March 7 in Grand Rapids is John Fund, senior editor of that bastion of truth-telling, the Wall Street Journal. Fund also assisted Rush Limbaugh with his first book, the Way Things Ought to Be.

Also scheduled for a future date is Edwin Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation. When Feulner signed on Dr. Roger Pearson, a well-known proponent of racialist theories that are circulated worldwide by Neo-Nazis and white supremacists was involved. Feulner even edited a Pearson study that was sympathetic to the Taiwanese one-party dictatorship in 1976g. In 1980g, the Heritage Foundation published “Mandate for Leadership” to guide the incoming Reagan administration and its transition team. The several thousand recommendations called for more money and latitude for the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, with reductions and restrictions on spending for education, welfare, health, and other social services. A number of the authors of the report were later hired by the Reagan administration to implement their recommended polices (Coors).” When Reagan was reelected in 1984g, Heritage published a sequel, “Mandate for Leadership II,” that called for cutbacks or elimination of programs which provide food stamps, Medicare, child nutrition, farm assistance, and legal services for the poor. The Heritage Foundation is also heavily funded by the Coors family.

It should also be mentioned that on the Acton Institute board of advisors is Ronald Nash. Nash is also a rabid critic of Latin American liberation theology and in 1992g, he co-wrote a book with Humberto Belli called Beyond Liberation Theology, published by baker book House of Grand Rapids. I talked to two different representatives from Baker Book House on their publishing of Belli’s book Beyond Liberation Theology. Both Jim Weaver and Alan Fisher said that they were not aware of the fact that Belli had his first book financed by the CIA. They both told me that they only had contact with Ronald Nash, the other author of the book. Upon asking them if they had known of Belli’s history with the CIA, would they still have published with him, I got slightly different responses. Jim Weaver said “we would have given some serious consideration if that was the case,” but Alan Fisher simply said “I’m not sure it would sway us in either direction.” The fact that those directly involved with the book knew nothing of Balli’s history alone is cause enough to question Baker Book House’s credibility as a publisher.

Belli is presently the Minister of Education n Nicaragua, but during the 1980g’s he was living in the USA acting as a political arm of the Contras. His major influence has been with the right-wing elements of the Christian church. In 1982g he started the Puebla Institute here in Michigan, to “educate” Christians about human rights in Nicaragua. The Puebla Institute worked closely with the Sword of the Spirit community, a fascist Christian organization financed by Domino’s Pizza owner Tom Monaghan (see Sarah Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare). Belli’s first book, Nicaragua: Christians Under Fire, was financed by the CIA and widely distributed among US Christians.

This is just a sampling of the Acton Institute’s bed-fellows. I would encourage readers to get on their mailing list to know when speakers come to town. Also tell people you know about Acton’s activities and politics. The justice community needs to know what it is up against in order to achieve its goals. It is important that we expose un-democratic organizations in our midst.

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Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org