Who are Jay and Betty Van Andel?

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (January 1995)

The Grand Rapids City Commission gave the [Van Andel] museum its new name because Jay and Betty Van Andel gave $3 million toward its new name because Jay and Betty Van Andel gave $3 million toward its construction, and later gave an additional $3 million to its endowment. That $6 million total is a little more than one-tenth of one percent of their total $4.5 billion (recently estimated) wealth.

Betty Van Andel, as far as most Grand Rapidians know (or probably care) is Jay’s wife. Period.

Jay Van Andel is a founder and chair of the board of Amway Corp. Amway is a huge multi-national corporation that, according to ex-distributor Steve Butterfield (writing in a 1985g book, “Amway: The Cult of Free Enterprise”), has systematically resisted efforts at unionization of its salaried employees and has set up a structure for most of its workforce that assure high profits for a select 1-2% while 98-99% “are not, nor can they ever be, at a level where they can make enough to replace the income of a single wage-earner in the family.” Amway has falsely advertised this scheme as providing more opportunity than it really does, and thus drawn in many unsuspecting people. It operates much like chain letters, which, for good reason, are illegal. Amway’s clout has apparently been sufficient to prevent most legal sanctions against its version of that old scam, though the Federal Trade Commission found the company guilty of price fixing in 1979g and ordered it to stop misrepresenting potential earnings to new salespeople.

Van Andel’s politics include support of various anti-labor organizations, and opposition to the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (Amway thrives on the desperation of recession and unemployment), the Consumer Protection Agency, and various other entities and policies that benefit the public at large.

This reactionary approach reaches the pathological at times, as evidence by a $300,000 gift for construction of a facility to house the “Creation Research Society,” which claims, in Jay’s words, to use “modern scientific research to validate the creation story as presented in the Bible.”

Van Andel was one of four top Amway people who denied guilt at first, then in the face of the evidence pled guilty in the early 1980g’s to criminal charges of having defrauded the Canadian government of some $148 million starting in the mid-1960g’s. A tipster in the case was threatened, and at one point reportedly beaten. Amway paid a $25 million dollar fine, and later worked out a deal in which it paid only $38 million to settle the civil case. Thus this fraud, the largest in the history of Canada, produced an estimated net revenue to Amway of $85 million. Jay, who as board chairperson oversaw (or should have overseen) the operations that produced the fraud, never served a single day in jail.

Jay, along with Amway partner Rich DeVos, has used the company’s clout to help elect reactionary politicians–Ronald Reagan for instance–to office. At times, government has directly supported these efforts. In addition, Amway has been able to write off many of its rallies, in which such politicians have been supported, as tax-deductible business expenses. These politicians have, in turn, supported the gross materialism that is one of Amway’s hallmarks.

Amway, which aggressively touts itself as a “green” company, is known in at least one case to have been forced to pay to help clean up one of the nation’s worst toxic waste dumps, to which it contributed. Given its mission to sell as many (expensive and mostly unnecessary) goods around the world as possible, this must be considered no more than the tip of an iceberg.

Amway’s selfishness has even taken precedence over some of its supposed friends at times. For instance, Amway repeatedly donated food to Nicaraguan terrorists (the “Contras”) in the 1980g’s; much of that food turned out to be extremely outdated, stale, in some cases rancid or buggy. Amway claimed tax write-offs at grossly inflated prices for this supposed generosity.

If the total wealth that Jay and cos partner Rich have amassed were put in an account that paid 7% interest, it would be enough to bring every household in Grand Rapids out of poverty – forever. Or if it were distributed to a million of the poorest families in nations exploited by policies supported by these two, it could literally save the lives of over a million innocent children who would otherwise die of starvation or disease. Think of the terrible anguish suffered by so many parents that could be averted by such a redistribution of wealth!

Luis Palau: Bringing the Nations to Christ… and Under Control

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (November 1994)

To many, Grand Rapids, Michigan is known as the City of Churches. With a population of just over 190,000, Grand Rapids boasts an astonishing 650 churches. That’s roughly 1 church for every 300 people. These ecclesiastical statistics, however, are not the only thing that this Michigan City can boast. Grand Rapids is home to the Christian Reformed Church’s North American headquarters and its largest college in the country, Calvin College. More importantly the city is also a veritable breeding ground for religious right zealots. We have numerous churches, especially Assemblies of God, who host Operation Rescue rallies that have given birth to significant violence directed against local women’s clinics and Planned Parenthood. Zondervan Publishing Co., which has produced books by Ollie North and Dan Quayle, resides here. Another publisher, Baker Book House, recently released a book by Nicaraguan Minister of Education Humberto Belli, an anti-Sandinista intellectual who had his first book financed by the CIA and the Puebla Institute. For the more high-browed Christian we also have the Acton Institute, a sister organization to the Washington based Institute for Religion & Democracy (IRD), that promotes the marriage of capitalism and Christianity. Last, but not least, Grand Rapids is also the home stomping grounds for the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” Amway cofounders Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, whom Forbes magazine listed as tied for 5th place as the wealthiest MEN in the US. With this line-up of conservative Christians it is no wonder and no surprise that in September some 500 churches and several local businesses invited Argentine-born evangelist Luis Palau to town for a crusade.

Next to Billy Graham, Luis Palau is possibly the most globally known evangelist today. Latin America is his area of high notoriety, but in the past 2 decades he has made significant inroads in the US, Europe and even the former Soviet Union. So why would Christians in West Michigan, an area that is staunchly Christian/conservative, bring this Oregon based evangelist to town?

I went to hear him one of the nights he was in Grand Rapids and I must say that I was not impressed. Palau is not a flashy preacher nor particularly good with words. He does not strongly play on your emotions, therefore not attracting a large Pentecostal crowd. In fact, I found Palau to be down right boring, but that did not deter an average 8,000 people (mostly White) per night who came out to hear him. In many ways the event was purely entertainment, with a 100 head choir, a tonight show type band and an MC who got people excited by asking who was gonna win the football game that weekend. They had a “Blind” section for the visually impaired, as well as book displays and other tables by groups such as Compassion International. What was important about Palau, I believe, was that he represented the world vision of the power structure of West Michigan.

Palau is “clean” by certain evangelistic standards. He has no publicly known past sexual blemishes, nor has he been investigated for fraud or tax evasion. Palau even states that he is disgusted with the type of TV evangelists that have given his work a black-eye. Palau is an evangelist in the traditional Christian bible believing sense. He believes that accepting Jesus as your personal savior is paramount, but he also believes in capitalism and nurturing political connections when serves his purposes. Thus, more than anything, Palau affirmed the status quo attitudes of many West Michigan residents, especially in business and political circles.

The other reason that Palau may have been invited to the area was to theologically help assimilate the growing Latino/a population. West Michigan has one of the largest migrant populations in the country. Every year thousands of migrant workers come the area to work in the fields before heading back to Mexico or some other southern USA state. While Palau was in town he had 2 exclusively Spanish crusade nights out of 10 days here. As someone who has worked with Central American refugees in the area since 1987, it is quite probable that the conservative majority Christians here do not want their city infected with liberation theologies from base Christian communities that are in exile or traditional non-Christian religions that many from Latin America still practice. Surely we welcome their cheap labor, but we do not want any bothersome and disruptive ideologies.

The local coverage in the Grand Rapids Press certainly seemed to reflect the status quo message of the crusade. Their headlines gave an uncritical, almost applauding posture; “Ambassador with a commission arrives in GR”, “America desperately needs God’, Palau tells crowd”, “Palau crusade achieved most of its goals”. Again Palau was portrayed as nothing more than this unblemished evangelist bringing the message of the gospel. Nowhere in the GR Press articles is Palau’s deeper political connections touched on, and on only one occasion does the local monopoly paper refer to Palau’s overseas adventures.. Palau and his activities have been reported in over a dozen article in Christianity Today during the past 20 years. During that time Palau was in Somoza’s Nicaragua, where, unlike the community of Solentiname, a Nicaraguan Christian based community under persecution, he was welcome with open arms. In 1977, Palau was greeted and accompanied on his crusade by Colombian president Alfonso Michelsen, not particularly known for being a human rights advocate. Also in the 70’s Palau visited Bolivia with the help of an organization known as Food For the Hungry (FFH). According to Sara Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare, FFH “argues that poverty is rooted in individuals’ belief systems and by extension, in cultures supposedly conducive to underdevelopment and poverty.” (Diamond pg 226) The founder of FFH, Larry Ward, was also with Palau on that trip. Ward, a former overseas director of World Vision “was known to have a close relationship with South Vietnamese and US military leaders.” In 1982, Palau brought his crusade to Paraguay, under the brutal dictatorship of Alfredo Stoessner. According to recently released documents there was massive execution of civilians during Stoessner’s reign. (see Covert Action Quarterly, Fall 1994). Stroessner’s government gave Palau his approval to distribute 100,000 bibles and study courses to children nationwide.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Palau was crusading in the Soviet Union. In 1989, Palau was said to have brought the first open-air evangelism of its kind. The Christianity Today article quoted Kent Hill as a Soviet specialist who was pleased with the outcome of Palau’s crusade. Kent Hill is with IRD, who I mentioned earlier. In 1992, Palau was in Mexico and was given the title “Distinguished Visitor” by Mexican neoliberal president Carlos Salinas. In Mexico that title has previously been given only to the Catholic Pope and the Dali Lama.

Probably the most revealing article was a May, 1983 interview that Chritianity Today did with Palau. In my mind it clarifies the theology and politics of this crusader. Palau had just returned from Guatemala when this interview was conducted. Christianity Today asked Palau “How much control does President Rios Montt have of the army? (Palau) To turn a nation around as he has, knowing Latin Americans and how independent we are, that has got to be the helping hand of God. Generally, it appears he’s given the right instructions urging the people to do the right thing, and putting it on the basis of righteousness. In the first weeks in office he said, ‘I will not lie, I do not cheat, and I do not abuse my powers.'” For anybody who knows anything about the history of Guatemala this statement is utterly scandalous.

Efrain Rios Montt became president in 1982 via a military coup. During his 18 months in power Montt presided over a genocidal campaign waged against the Indigenous and poor of that country. Americas Watch documented the atrocities in which women were frequently raped and children were bayoneted to death or smashed against rocks. Even one of Montt’s supporters in the church El Verbo said, “The Army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon possessed; they are communists.” (Diamond pg. 166)

Some of Palau’s connections have also helped to further these repressive policies in Guatemala and elsewhere. Frequently when Palau travels he is accompanied by a representative from Bible Literature International (BLI). In the early 1980’s BLI helped to distribute hundreds of thousands of bibles to army personnel and civil patrol units in Guatemala, for what was known as “Operation Whole Armor”, another counterinsurgency tactic developed by Rios Montt. BLI, which began in 1923, has been distributing bibles and bible literature throughout the globe as an attack communism, most notably in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In El Salvador they are said to have sent bibles to everyone in the Salvadoran telephone directory. As former president of Overseas Crusades, one of the largest US-based missionary organizations, Palau was able to utilize their connections as well. According to Sara Diamond, Overseas Crusades “said that at one time virtually all of its personnel were being debriefed by the CIA. Debriefings included questions by the CIA on the internal politics of remote Third World regions and detailed questions on Indigenous religious and political leaders.” (Spiritual Warfare pg. 207) So much for being a clean evangelist.

On the 100th anniversary of Protestantism in Guatemala (1982), Montt invited as the main speaker Luis Palau, who predicted that Guatemala would be the first majority Protestant country in Latin America. In many ways that was not just a prediction, but a promise. More than any other Latin American country Palau and his ministry team works diligently to spread their message in Guatemala. Guatemala is the distribution center for Palau’s radio and TV shows in Latin America. At least 17 radio stations and one TV station runs Palau’s message within the country. Palau also has a newspaper column in one of Guatemala’s largest dailies La Prensa Libre, where it is published twice a week. Palau also publishes 2 magazines Cruzada and Continente Nuevo. This all has a tremendous impact on the rise of evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Guatemala. Some estimates say that 35-40% of the population is now Protestant. Many analysts attribute this rise to what is referred to as salvation theology, a theology that focuses on personal salvation and hopes for a better life in the next world. In many ways much of Guatemala is ripe for this type of theology. In a country that has one of the worst human rights records in the Western Hemisphere this type of theology has a certain emotional and psychological appeal. As a way of dealing with the incredible pain and suffering that so many Guatemalans have endured, it is quite understandable that huge numbers of people would embrace this pie in the sky world-view. But lets not kid ourselves about the role that the US funded Guatemalan military has in helping this process along.

During the scorched-earth campaign under the regime of Rios Montt many “model villages” were set up as an attempt to pacify the areas that had been traditionally more sympathetic to the guerrilla movement. Many of the Palau-type evangelicals were invited in to help pacify the people, often using USAID food to win them over, in what Montt called his “Beans and Guns” program.

In the recent elections in Guatemala, Rios Montt was elected to Congress (only 20% of the population voted). He attempted to change the law that would have allowed him to run for president in the Nov. 1995 elections. At present the Guatemalan constitution bars anyone from running for president who has participated in previous military coups. Montt was unsuccessful in his attempts to change the law, but ran a candidate that finished second in the voting with the slogan “Portillo for President, Montt to Power”.

For me all this background on Palau harkens back to my reasoning for bringing Palau to Grand Rapids. He could preach a gospel of passivity and tolerance to structural injustice to the Latino/a community. In the end Palau fulfills his role as a modern day crusader. Unlike the crusaders of old who butchered you on the spot if there was rejection of their plan, Palau has sophisticated his approach of theological imposition and imperialistic control. Palau’s invitation and huge support is in sharp contrast to the visit by Adolfo Perez Esquival, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and author of Christ in a Pancho, who came to town in 1983 and received a marginal welcome. I guess you need to be an endorser of mass murder to gain the approval of the larger religious community here in Grand Rapids.

Keep Your Charity, We Want Justice: International Aid and the Role of “Humanitarian” Assistance

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (March 1994)

In November, the Grand Rapids Press ran an article entitled “`Time for Healing,’ North Says of Americans’ Role in Vietnam.” Speaking at the Amway Grand Plaza, North promoted his newest mission and his newest book. The article state that “North contends it is time to lower barriers and build bridges in that battered nation of Indochina where 58,000 Americans were killed and a half million others wounded.” Wait a minute. It seems that the article conveniently failed to include the several million Southeast Asians who were killed and wounded during the USA war, as well as the incredible eco-cide that was wrought by USA bombers (the word eco-cide was coined during the USA war in Southeast Asia to describe the incredible ecological destruction done).

North’s newest book, “One More Mission,” published by Zondervan, is his latest attempt at justifying the intentionality of the USA military in the war in Southeast Asia. In fact, half the book is devoted to North’s feeble attempt to articulate USA foreign policy as well as taking occasional opportunities to plead innocent in the Iran/Contra scandal. The latter half of the book does deal with his return to Vietnam, but solely for the purpose of denouncing Communism, praising the “persecuted” Christian community, and defending the need for more free (for some) enterprising in the country. The book jacket has other endorsements from mental giants like Cal Thomas and Rush Limbaugh. The end of the book includes a message, “How Can You Help?” These two pages are a pitch for International Aid, a “humanitarian” group that facilitated some of North’s trip to Vietnam.

International Aid (IA) located in Spring Lake, Michigan, was an outgrowth of an old World Vision project that used the warehouse that IA now occupies. In September of 1980g, IA officially became a separate entity. IA literature states that they have 5 main program areas; Development, Medical, Emergency Relief, Domestic, and Mission assistance. This means providing food, clothing, medical supplies, training, educational material, and personal care items for missionaries abroad. IA’s 1992g Annual Report states that “The US efforts complement IA’s global work. We have partnered with many US agencies and provided supplies that give hope to needy families, encouraging them to regain self-worth.” Having researched the relationship between USA agencies and Private Volunteer Organizations (PVOs), I was immediately curious about the connections that IA has. The fact that they endorsed a book by Ollie North is enough to make any sane person think twice, but I decided to investigate further.

According to Deb Preusch and Tom Barry’s book, The Soft War: The Uses and Abuses of US Economic Aid in Central America, “The phenomenon of private groups aiding counterinsurgency and counterrevolutionary campaigns supported by the US government is not a new one. Many of the leading figures and organizations involved in Central America played a similar role during the Vietnam War. Groups active in Central America like World Medical Relief, Air Commandos Association, and Project Hope were also active in Southeast Asia (pg. 89).” IA is currently involved in places like Bosnia, Somalia, and some Eastern European countries. IN order to understand their role in these places, it seems necessary to critique their past involvement in other countries. I will use Central America as a focal point.

IA states that they often provide “humanitarian assistance” to other USA PVOs working overseas. A report done by the Resource Center, base in New Mexico, says that “IA is primarily a warehousing and transportation operation, providing services to rightwing evangelical groups and occasional paramilitary groups.” The IA brochure entitled “Those we serve” lists literally hundreds of groups that do overseas work. It is impossible to investigate all of them, so I will choose to focus on two main groups and some brief information on connections to other groups.

World Vision

Started in the 1950s by Bob Pierce, World Vision has become the largest evangelical relief and development agency. Their 1987g budget was “over $145 million, with more than 20% coming from the US Agency for International Development (AID).” (Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right). IN 1982g the National Catholic Reporter investigated allegations that World Vision sometimes makes its fundraising objectives a higher priority than the needs of hungry people. Apparently World Vision aired a television documentary entitled “Crisis in the Horn of Africa” which, according to relief workers in Somalia, was “almost fraudulent” because World Vision was continuing fundraising appeals for emergency food aid months after Somalia’s food crisis had been alleviated.

In a 1979g issue of Christian Century, World Vision was charged with “having collected field data for the CIA in Vietnam.” This is quite possible since World Vision played a major role in the administration of refugee camps in the area.

Beginning in 1981g, World Vision was involved in an administrative role with the Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras. Two of the other refugee agencies—CDEN and Caritas—objected to incursions by the Honduran army into the camps, but World Vision has remained silent about repeated human rights violations. Refugees testified that World Vision staff provided the army with regular intelligence reports and obligated them to attend evangelical services. Elements of World Vision collaborated with the most conservative faction of CEDEN to install conservative leadership of the pre-1982g CEDEN. So distrusted was World Vision that 19 Honduran organizations called on the government to throw the organization out of the country.

Wycliffe Bible Translators (WBT)

Started in 1917g, the Wycliffe Bible Translators (also know as the Summer Institute of Linguistics) was formed for the purpose of translating the Christian bible into indigenous languages. Over the years, WBT’s close working relationship with USA government officials and allied foreign leaders has the missionaries a reputation as “assets” of the CIA. This is the case with their work in the Philippines in the 1950g’s and Vietnam in the 1960g’s. WBT was given grant money from US AID to train rural villagers to read and write. To practice their reading skills the CIA gave the new literates booklets on how to use M-16 rifles and blow up bridges.

In 1978g, WBT prepared a dictionary for the Tzotzil people of Mayan Indian ancestry. “Anthropologists noted that WBT’s Tzotzil/Spanish dictionary eliminated the Spanish and indigenous words for ideological concepts that threaten the status quo; class, community, conquer, exploitation, oppression, repression, revolution, revolutionary, rebellion, most of which do exist in the native language (Diamond).” This kind of ideological manipulation and cultural interference has led many Latin Americans to call for the expulsion of WBT from their countries. In 1979g, a commission from Mexico’s College of Ethnology and Social Anthropology had presented the government with a reported that concluded that WBT is “a covert political and ideological institution used by the US government as an instrument of control, regulation, penetration, espionage, and repression. The WBT supports the expansion of capitalism in areas rich in nature resources, opening these areas to the capital markets and turning the population into a docile and cheap labor force (Diamond).” The area that the Mexican committee speaks of is Chiapas, the site of the present uprising of Mexican Campesinos/as known as Zapatistas.

In Guatemala, during the Rios Montt regime, WBT re-entered the Ixil Triangle. While their work involved bible translation into indigenous languages, they also served to propagate a vigorously anti-communist ideology. According to WBT’s Helen Elliot “Rios Montt heard that we knew the language and helicoptered us into Nebaj, and then we started distributing blankets, food, and tin roofing as well as setting up schools.” She said WBT served as “a bridge between the military and the people” (Preusch & Barry). In 1986g, WBT signed a contract with AID for its Integrated Rural Development Program for the Mayan People. Among other things, the project translated government and military documents into Indigenous languages. It is well-known and documented that these “model villages,” established under Rios Montt’s regime, were nothing short of concentration camps. Montt had the support of many evangelical groups, like WBT, to implement his genocidal policies. A member of Montt’s own church, El Verbo, says this of the Indigenous, “The Army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon possessed; they are communists” (Diamond).

Other Connections

According to the Resource Center study, International Aid provided supplies to Operation Blessing, a project of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Operation Blessing is said to have a close relationship with the Navy’s Operation Handclasp, a project designed to enhance the image of the Navy. CBN also was notorious for supporting the Nicaraguan terrorist forces known as the Contras throughout the 1980g’s.

Another Michigan based organization that works with International Aid is World Medical Relief (WMR), based in Detroit. WMR was a CIA conduit in its secret war against Laos. The key player in this connection was Harry Aderhodt, a retired Air Force officer, who was head of the Air Commando Association. The Air Commandos have been known to supply weapons to the Contras and the Salvadoran military. The Resource Center’s report quotes an Air Commando newsletter in regards to International Aid, “they have been responsive to our every request.” It should be mentioned that Harry Aderhodt is the editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine.

Marantha Campus Ministries – This organization has worked heavily in Guatemala and El Salvador. During the 1980g’s they organized 70 pro-Contra demonstrations on USA campuses before a key Congressional vote.

Gospel Crusade – Between 1985g and 1987g this group transported over 100 tons of “humanitarian” supplies to the Contras. Gospel Crusade worked closely with FDN military leader Enrique Bermudez, a top ranking Somocista National Guardsman, who has been implicated as a conspirator in the 1980g assassination of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero.

End Time Handmaidens – This organization worked with the mercenary group RENAMO in Mozambique.

Church of the Rock – Based in Texas, this group works with Paralife Ministries. Paralife has been known to provide ideological training to Salvadoran soldiers, encouraging them to massacre their own people. On one mission, Paralife evangelist John Stern toured eight military bases and spoke to over 3,700 soldiers. He told them that “killing for the joy of it was wrong, but killing because it was necessary to fight against an anti-Christ system, communism, was not only right but a duty of every Christian” (Diamond).

In early January I went to International Aid’s office in Spring Lake to talk with them about their activities and connections. I spoke with Dr. Jack Henderson who has traveled extensively with International Aid and is part of their executive staff. I told him that I had noticed a billboard they were running in Grand Rapids for aid to Bosnia. At that point International Aid had sent 21 containers of supplies to the war-torn former Yugoslavia. When I asked him about endorsing North’s book and his recent trip to Vietnam, he replied, “North is one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met.” He also said that he had no problem endorsing a man involved in the illegal activities that led to the Iran/Contra scandal.

I asked Dr. Henderson about some of the allegations made from the Resource Center study of their organization. He told me that they did work with Air Commando “just once, but not anymore.” He also stated that the other allegations were “not accurate” as far as the other agencies mentioned earlier are concerned. I asked him if International Aid had any particular political position and he said “no, we have no particular political bent.” When asked about accountability to the groups they gave supplies to, I got no answer. It should be noted that the resource Center study also has a quote from the Christian reformed Church, “We believe that support of the contras is immoral, and are deeply disturbed by reports that International Aid, soliciting donations as ‘an interdenominational relief and mission service organization,’ serves groups terrorizing civilians and our own CRC relief projects in Nicaragua.”

International Aid also has quite a list of corporate donors. Among them are Meijers, Spartan Stores, Baker Book House, Eli Lilly & Co., K-Mart, Dow Corning Corp., Gerbers, and Amway. In fact, Amway is the largest donor. Apparently Amway provides a lot of cleaning and personal care items to International Aid in support of missionaries overseas. Amway’s connections go a little deeper, however. The vice president of communications for Amway is Nan Van Andel, the daughter of Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel. Recently, Nan was given the position of Chairman (sic) of the Board for International Aid.

The title for International Aid’s 1992g Annual Report is “enabling those who serve.” The question should be asked, who is International Aid enabling and what are they serving? Is their real goal to provide relief, training, and development assistance, or are they cooperating with USA counterinsurgency campaigns and pacification programs which subvert democracy and make people dependent? From all the research I have done, the latter seems to be the case. But don’t take my word for it, investigate for yourself. You can contact International Aid @ 17011 Hickory, Spring Lake, MI, 49456. Maybe you can get a copy of North’s newest book, like I did, for your library. I think I’ll put mine next to the Chomsky books.

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.