Most Americans – even the most self-professed political junkies – probably have never heard of the CNP (the Council for National Policy) or would confuse it with countless other groups with similarly unremarkable names (including the Center for National Policy, a liberal group). But conservative activists would know what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has referred to as “the heart of a great conservative movement that helped to make America strong and prosperous in the twentieth century – and is now helping to ensure she remains free and secure in the twenty-first century,” or what Indiana Republican Governor and now Vice-Presidential candidate, Mike Pence, has called “the most influential gathering of conservatives in America.” But because CNP has been so successful at maintaining its secrecy it has managed to obscure the depth of its reach in conservative political organizations, political fundraising, the conservative media, and even the Republican National Committee itself.
For some thirty-five years now, this shadowy and intensely secretive group has operated behind the scenes, providing a venue three times a year for powerful American politicians and others on the right to meet privately to build the conservative movement.
The Council for National Policy (CNP) is, in the words of The New York Times, “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country,” an organization so tight-lipped that it tells its people not to admit membership or even name the group. It is important enough that last fall, according to an account in The National Review, Donald Trump and five other Republican presidential candidates each took thirty minutes to address the group; the conservative journal reported that Trump was by far the favorite candidate.
The names of many members and officers of the group have leaked over the years, and some of its officers are reported on the organization’s tax forms. But the last time long lists of its members was made public was in 1998. For the most part since then, members of the CNP – which can be joined only by invitation, at a cost of thousands of dollars – have managed to keep their identities secret.
Thanks to some startling intelligence work, the Southern Poverty Law Center made public an official 2014 membership directory of the secretive, far right, dominionist Council for National Policy. It was a startling intelligence coup. For years, fragmentary lists of the CNP had sporadically emerged. Now, here it was – the official CNP handbook.
The current crop of CNP members are paragons of the conservative establishment. They are business titans, Christian college presidents, owners and editors of right-wing media outlets, GOP mega-donors, government staffers and leading members of conservative think tanks. They are officials of organizations like the National Rifle Association and the Federalist Society. There are politicians and political appointees, anti-abortion activists and also some who are less known publicly as conservatives, like Linda L. Bean, who owns L.L. Bean Inc., an outdoorsy clothing company.
I have long been concerned about the ties between various GOP presidential hopefuls (such as Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, and Michele Bachmann) and the movement referred to as “dominionism.” Another term for “dominionism” is “Christian supremacy” – and another word for “Christian supremacy” is “theocracy.”
Now, the dominionists are running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. And that is something about which to be really concerned.
Donald Trump has just appointed Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to head his faltering presidential campaign.
No big deal, you say? Not until you realize that both Bannon and Conway are listed members of the most powerful and influential dominionist organization in America – the Council for National Policy.
While Stephen Bannon is listed as just a CNP member, Kellyanne Conway is listed as being a member of the CNP Executive Committee.
Joining Conway in that august group are Kenneth Blackwell, the Senior Fellow for Human Rights and Constitutional Governance at the (maliciously antigay) Family Research Council; Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council; and reigning matriarch of the religious right, Phyllis Schafly, who helped kick start the movement in the early 1970s with her scorched-earth campaign to stop the Equal Rights Amendment.
In October 2015, a number of 2016 election GOP nominee contenders addressed the CNP. Donald Trump, it seems, was invited and now the CNP through Bannon and Conway is running his presidential bid.
Here is what ABC news said of the CNP, in a hard-hitting story:
“When Steve Baldwin, the executive director of an organization with the stale-as-old-bread name of the Council for National Policy, boasts that “we control everything in the world,” he is only half-kidding.
“Half-kidding, because the council doesn’t really control the world. The staff of about eight, working in a modern office building in Fairfax, Va., isn’t even enough for a real full-court basketball game.
“But also half-serious because the council has deservedly attained the reputation for conceiving and promoting the ideas of many whom in fact do want to control everything in the world.”
While the relatively few mainstream media and alternative media covers of the CNP have typically described the group as merely “conservative,” that hardly sums things up.
Over the years, these would-be masters of the world have included a number of leaders from the Christian Reconstructionism movement, a fundamentalist Calvinist theconomic group, founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, that has had an important influence on the Christian Right in the United States. Christian Reconstuctionists advocate the imposition of strict biblical law including execution for adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality, and witchcraft (and a much longer list of offenses).
The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware that they hold Reconstructionist views. Because as a theology it is controversial – even among evangelicals – many who are consciously influenced by it avoid the label. This furtiveness is not, however, as significant as the potency of the ideology itself. Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with the theocratic elite who would govern by imposing their interpretation of “Biblical Law.” Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy, but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth, home, and bedroom. Inadequate Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps even executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things: blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality. And you thought Islamic Sharia Law was oppressive!
Reconstructionism has expanded from the works of a small group of scholars to inform a wide swath of conservative Christian thought and action. While many Reconstructionist political positions are commonly held conservative views, what is significant is that Reconstructionists have created a comprehensive program, with Biblical justifications for far right political policies. Many post-World War Two conservative, anticommunist activists were also, if secondarily, conservative Christians. However, the Reconstructionist movement calls on conservatives to be Christians first, and to build a church-based political movement from there. Remember Ted Cruz’s words: “I’m a Christian first, American second, conservative third, and Republican fourth…I’ll tell ya, there are a whole lot of people in this country that feel exactly the same way.”
For much of Reconstructionism’s short history it has been an ideology in search of a constituency. But its influence has grown far beyond the founders’ expectations. As Reconstructionist author Gary North observes, “We once were shepherds without sheep. No longer.”
Reconstructionism arose out of conservative Presbyterianism (Reformed and Orthodox), which proposes that contemporary application of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or “Biblical Law,” is the basis for reconstructing society toward the Kingdom of God on earth.
Reconstructionism argues that the Bible is to be the governing text for all areas of life – such as government, education, law, and the arts, not merely “social” or “moral” issues like pornography, homosexuality, and abortion. Reconstructionists have formulated a “Biblical world view” and “Biblical principles” by which to examine contemporary matters. Reconstructionist theologian David Chilton succinctly describes this view: “The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God’s law.”
More broadly, Reconstructionists believe that there are three main areas of governance: family government, church government, and civil government. Under God’s covenant, the nuclear family is the basic unit. The husband is the head of the family, and the wife and children are “in submission” to him. In turn, the husband “submits” to Jesus and to God’s laws as detailed in the Old Testament. The church has its own ecclesiastical structure and governance. Civil government exists to implement God’s laws. All three institutions are under Biblical Law, the implementation of which is called “theonomy.”
In effect, the CNP is command central for the culture wars that have since the mid-1970s wracked America; it is the organizational center for a movement engaged in a slow-motion “soft revolution” to “reclaim” America and return it to its alleged “Judeo-Christian” roots. Is this what Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” really means?
The time is long overdue for mainstream media to stop pooh-poohing this movement; especially because that crass dereliction of journalistic duty has helped pave the way for the rise of such political figures as Pat Buchanan, Ted Cruz – and Donald Trump.
And, in the event that “The Donald” loses, that will not be the end, nor will he be the last “Trump” to plague national politics.
The CNP will continue, and it will orchestrate an attempted replay of the 2010 election, when the Tea Party movement helped power the Republican recapture of the House of Representatives.
But be warned. There will be more Trumps, Bannons, and Conways to come. Now that “The Donald” has established the electoral power of the brand of populist paleo-conservatism (paleo, meaning “ancient” or “old”), pioneered by Pat Buchanan in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections, the future Trumps will triangulate on a less abrasive style – more refined, more effective, and even more deadly to pluralist democracy than anything we have seen before.
Remember, you heard it here first.
Because of space considerations, I will have more to say about the CNP in future posts. Stay tuned.