August 28, 2004
Club of the Most Powerful Gathers in Strictest Privacy
By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK – The New York Times

The Council for National Policy

Three times a year for 23 years, a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country have met behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference, the Council for National Policy, to strategize about how to turn the country to the right.

Details are closely guarded.

"The media should not know when or where we meet or who takes part in our programs, before of after a meeting," a list of rules obtained by The New York Times advises the attendees.

The membership list is "strictly confidential." Guests may attend "only with the unanimous approval of the executive committee." In e-mail messages to one another, members are instructed not to refer to the organization by name, to protect against leaks.

This week, before the Republican convention, the members quietly convened in New York, holding their latest meeting almost in plain sight, at the Plaza Hotel, for what a participant called "a pep rally" to re-elect President Bush.

Mr. Bush addressed the group in fall 1999 to solicit support for his campaign, stirring a dispute when news of his speech leaked and Democrats demanded he release a tape recording. He did not.

Not long after the Iraq invasion, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld attended a council meeting.

This week, as the Bush campaign seeks to rally Christian conservative leaders to send Republican voters to the polls, several Bush administration and campaign officials were on hand, according to an agenda obtained by The New York Times.

"The destiny of our nation is on the shoulders of the conservative movement," the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, told the gathering as he accepted its Thomas Jefferson award on Thursday, according to an attendee's notes.

The secrecy that surrounds the meeting and attendees like the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly and the head of the National Rifle Association, among others, makes it a subject of suspicion, at least in the minds of the few liberals aware of it.

"The real crux of this is that these are the genuine leaders of the Republican Party, but they certainly aren't going to be visible on television next week," Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said.

Mr. Lynn was referring to the list of moderate speakers like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York who are scheduled to speak at the convention.

"The C.N.P. members are not going to be visible next week," he said. "But they are very much on the minds of George W. Bush and Karl Rove every week of the year, because these are the real powers in the party."

A spokesman for the White House, Trent Duffy, said: "The American people are quite clear and know what the president's agenda is. He talks about it every day in public forums, not to any secret group of conservatives or liberals. And he will be talking about his agenda on national television in less than a week."

The administration and re-election effort were major focuses of the group's meeting on Thursday and yesterday. Under Secretary of State John Bolton spoke about plans for Iran, a spokesman for the State Department said.

Likewise, a spokesman for Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta confirmed that Mr. Acosta had addressed efforts to stop "human trafficking," a major issue among Christian conservatives.

Dr. Frist spoke about supporting Mr. Bush and limiting embryonic stem cell research, two attendees said. Dan Senor, who recently returned from Iraq after working as a spokesman for L. Paul Bremer III, the top American civilian administrator, was scheduled to provide an update on the situation there.

Among presentations on the elections, an adviser to Mr. Bush's campaign, Ralph Reed, spoke on "The 2004 Elections: Who Will Win in November?," attendees said.

The council was founded in 1981, just as the modern conservative movement began its ascendance. The Rev. Tim LaHaye, an early Christian conservative organizer and the best-selling author of the "Left Behind" novels about an apocalyptic Second Coming, was a founder. His partners included Paul Weyrich, another Christian conservative political organizer who also helped found the Heritage Foundation.

They said at the time that they were seeking to create a Christian conservative alternative to what they believed was the liberalism of the Council on Foreign Relations.

A statement of its mission distributed this week said the council's purposes included "to acquaint our membership with those in positions of leadership in our nation in order that mutual respect be fostered" and "to encourage the exchange of information concerning the methodology of working within the system to promote the values and ends sought by individual members."

Membership costs several thousand dollars a year, a participant said. Its executive director, Steve Baldwin, did not return a phone call.

Over the years, the council has become a staging ground for conservative efforts to make the Republican Party more socially conservative. Ms. Schlafly, who helped build a grass-roots network to fight for socially conservative positions in the party, is a longstanding member.

At times, the council has also seen the party as part of the problem. In 1998, Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family spoke at the council to argue that Republicans were taking conservatives for granted. He said he voted for a third-party candidate in 1996.

Opposition to same-sex marriage was a major conference theme. Although conservatives and Bush campaign officials have denied seeking to use state ballot initiatives that oppose same-sex marriage as a tool to bring out conservative voters, the agenda includes a speech on "Using Conservative Issues in Swing States," said Phil Burress, leader of an initiative drive in Ohio, a battleground state.

The membership list this year was a who's who of evangelical Protestant conservatives and their allies, including Dr. Dobson, Mr. Weyrich, Holland H. Coors of the beer dynasty; Wayne LaPierre of the National Riffle Association, Richard A. Viguerie of American Target Advertising, Mark Mix of the National Right to Work Committee and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.

Not everyone present was a Bush supporter, however. This year, the council included speeches by Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party and Michael A. Peroutka of the ultraconservative Constitution Party. About a quarter of the members attended their speeches, an attendee said.
Nor was the gathering all business. On Wednesday, members had a dinner in the Rainbow Room, where William F. Buckley Jr. of the National Review was a special guest. At 10 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, members had "prayer sessions" in the Rose Room at the hotel.

From Tim LaHaye to Tom DeLay. (From:

Since 1995, Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series has sold over 65 million copies, making it one of the best-selling adult fiction series in history. While the novels are sold as fiction, according to LaHaye and an increasing number of Americans, the story they tell is nothing less than biblical prophecy born from the Book of Revelation. As LaHaye's theology has gained popularity over the last several decades, so has his access to powerful politicians including President Bush.

The true danger of LaHaye's thinking, known as Premillennial Dispensationalism– exposed powerfully in a series of speeches and articles by Bill Moyers - is in the justification it provides to its followers for damaging policies from environmental degradation to the war in Iraq.

It may sound far-fetched that so outlandish an ideology could be exercising real power over our country and our future. The reality is anything but far-fetched – not when proponents of Dispensationalism hold sway over some of the nation's most powerful politicians, and not when tens-of-millions of Americans consider themselves adherents to its claims.

Let DefCon ( give you a little background:

· The Rapture: "One of the comments that we've heard that has really blessed us is people have been driven back to the Book of Revelation to prove us wrong only to find that what we said was there." Tim LaHaye.

Premillennial Dispensationalism was fathered by John Darby in 19th century Britain. Based on a literal interpretation of the books of Revelation and Daniel, Premillennial Dispensationalism states that time is divided into seven dispensations, the last of which will be the Millennial Kingdom: a thousand-year period where Christ will reign over a renewed world. According to Darby and LaHaye, the precursor to this "Glorious Appearing" will be a terrible seven-year period of tribulations. During this time, those on Earth, and the planet itself, will suffer death and destruction. There is hope for the faithful, however. LaHaye maintains that prior to the death and destruction, Jesus will collect all true believers, "Rapturing" them up to Heaven, where they will escape the terrible fate of the sinful Earth.

Dispensationalists welcome this period of death and destruction because it is inextricably connected to the Rapture. They look for signs of its coming, and many take steps to hasten what they believe to be biblical prophecy.

· Growing Popularity: Today, preachers and congregations across America have adopted this ideology. Beyond this fact, and the wild success of the "Left Behind" series, there are many signs of its growing support.

A 2004 Newsweek poll found that 55% of Americans believe "that the faithful will be taken up to heaven in the Rapture."

More than a third of Americans (36%) believe the Book of Revelation to be "true prophesy that predicts the end of the world as it will happen."
Websites like provide daily updates on the status of the "Rapture Index," while allows believers to "send an Electronic Message (e-mail) to whomever you want after the Rapture has taken place, and you and I have been taken to heaven."
And, leading religious right leaders publicly discuss the Rapture's imminence, preaching to an estimated 20 to 25 million evangelicals who share this, or a similar version, of end-times theology.

· Access to Power: "I'll tell you what is wrong with America. We don't have enough of God's ministers running the country." Tim LaHaye, 1984.

Beyond the influence Dispensationalism has through its electoral power – some estimate that followers of this ideology compose up to 15% of the electorate – the leading purveyors of this ideology are also very well connected. In 1981 Tim LaHaye founded the Council for National Policy, becoming the organization's first president. Attendees of the Council for National Policy's secretive tri-annual meetings – whose members include leaders of the religious right and top tier conservative organizers – have included President Bush, Sen. Bill Frist, John Ashcroft, Tommy Thompson, and Oliver North. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were featured speakers at one of the group's meetings only two months after the invasion of Iraq.

A 2004 New York Times article about the Council for National Policy called it "a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country," adding that for 23 years they "have met behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference…to strategize about how to turn the country to the right."

As's Michelle Goldberg wrote, "The point isn't that all these leaders are part of some kind of right-wing Illuminati. It's simply that the seemingly wacky ideology promulgated in the Left Behind books is one that important people in America are quite comfortable with."

· Justifying Policy: "God will destroy this earth that is so marred and cursed by Satan's evil." Tim LaHaye, 1973.

Dispensationalists' literal interpretation of the Bible means they look for, and often seek to create, the realization of biblical prophecy. Among the most direct results of this are support for abandoning environmental protections and for the war in Iraq.

· As then Secretary of the Interior James Watt stated in 1981, "That is the delicate balance the Secretary of the Interior must have: to be steward for the natural resources for this generation as well as future generations. I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns." (Secretary Watt, testifying before the House Interior Committee, February 1981.)

Dispensationalists' lack of support for environmental protection has two causes. First, the Earth will soon be destroyed, so who cares what we do to it? Secondly, Christ's second coming, and thus the Rapture, requires a scourged Earth. Therefore defiling the planet will only accelerate His return. This explains a large reoccurrence of this theology during the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation was omnipresent. See Jerry Falwell's "Nuclear War and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ" for an explanation of that phenomenon.

· "At church one day (DeLay) listened as the pastor (John Hagee), urging his flock to support the administration, declared that 'the war between America and Iraq is the gateway to the Apocalypse.' DeLay rose to speak, not only to the congregation but to 225 Christian TV and radio stations. 'Ladies and gentlemen' he said, 'what has been spoken here tonight is the truth of God.'"

LaHaye, John Hagee, and other Dispensationalists contend that the war in Iraq is biblical prophecy, supported by a literal reading of several of the Bible's verses referring to that region of the world. These individuals therefore support the war not for political or social reasons, but rather because it is a biblical requirement for the second coming of Christ, and thus the Rapture. This reality is argued openly by followers, including LaHaye.

The real threat posed by this growing movement is that it remains below the radar screen for most of mainstream America, which is unaware or fails to recognize its gravity. Instead of ridiculing its believers, those who are concerned by its implication and growing power need to begin to understand this theology and to develop strategies for countering its increasing influence.