Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Conspiracy Skeptic #11, Turnover, GIVE!

                                  The Bradford Family           
the family

On Monday I got down to business and listened to This Week In Tech followed by Autoline Detriot, and while they had some interesting bits, both were off their game being a bit rambling filled with off topic discussions.  Then, later on Monday night Conspiracy Skeptic was uploaded, and I decided to start listening to it before bedtime and then finish it the next morning while driving into work.  As I should have guessed, once I started listening to the show, I couldn't stop.  I listened to the entire show and theb went to bed late.  The show’s topic, The Family.  No.  Not the Bradford family from “Eight is Enough,” “the Partridge family,” or even the Huxtables.  We’re talking the Family which has been making the skeptical podcast circuit in the last few months.  The Family is a fundamentalist fellowship in Christ.  It’s most known activity is the Presidential prayer breakfast each year that included noted speakers including Mother Teresa,  Prime Minister Tony Blair, and rock star Bono.  Multiple members of the United States Congress belong to the fellowship, and congregate at a building on C Street in Washington, D.C.  The Family is a mostly secret organization dating back to the 1930’s, and has connections with overseas leaders, captains of industry, members of the ruling elite, as well as the already mentioned members of Congress.  They hit the news lately for giving solace to Senator Ensign and Governor Sanford after they were found having sexual liaisons. (Not with each other -edit)  I have not read the book by Jeff Sharlet “The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.”  I have listened to discussion about the Family on Point of Inquiry and Reasonable Doubts.  The guest on the Conspiracy Skeptic was Jeff Cleghorn. Who is that you might ask?  Cleghorn is one lucky fan of Mamer’s podcasts who is a U.S. ex-patriot residing in Hong Kong who emailed this as a suggested topic before it became the latest rage for skeptics to ponder. 

In a preamble to the show Mamer suggests that the listener first listen to the Point of Inquiry with D.J. Grothe’s interview of Sharlet to get the necessary background on the Family to make sense of the upcoming show.  It is advice worth heeding.  I believe Mamer wished to tackle the question on whether the Family is a conspiracy, or is it just a group with a religious/political agenda.  It is an interesting question.  Unfortunately, following in the footsteps of TWIT and AD, while there were some good points made and interesting bits, the show never reached its stride. 

I am not sure where things went off track.  I believe it is that Cleghorn was not deeply enough immersed in the topic other than reading Sharlet’s book (I'll stipulate that there is not a whole lot in public about the family) which was combined with talking in a continuous stream of conscious that took the discussion off into varied directions.  Cleghorn seems like a pleasant enough fellow.  I am sure he would be an interesting bar companion to discuss all manner of topics and events.  I just get the idea he had a lot to say, and just wanted to say it. 

Here’s my take on the Family for what it is worth, and from what little I have learned about it from my stable of podcasts.  Is the Family a conspiracy?  Not to be a weasel but it depends on your definition of conspiracy.  I think by the general evil diabolical plot definition, it is probably not a conspiracy to most people.  In the end, it is just a religious-based group that wishes to influence the national discourse by wooing and coddling fundamentalist Christians in power.  In a sense, it is probably no more of conspiratorial organization than MoveOn or the folks at the National Review Online.  Granted, both of these groups are in the business of outreach for their diametrically opposed world views, but I would not consider them conspiratorial.  The Family seems to be a bunch of guys who have big political egos that like to have them catered to by being told how the elites are the chosen people, and keep those egos well pumped.  It seems to me that the institution of the Family enjoys having the connections to all sorts of politicians and popular leaders.  They might be planning an overthrow of the government, and if so I’ll change my view if such evidence comes to light.  I have not seen any such evidence at this point.  I do get nervous that they have connections to overseas leaders.  The show discusses possible violations of the Logan Act which was passed during the Quasi War with France in the 1790’s, but regardless it does give pause.  The Family's choices of hero worship (other than a Jesus who caters to the rich, and the meek be damned) of Hitler and Mao is just plain stupid.  I see them more as a group of egotistical idiots than a cabal, but I have an open mind.

The episode is worth the listen, (I did forgo about 45 minutes of sleep to listen to it in its entirety so keep that in mind with my comments,) but be prepared for some meandering discussions off topic about Cleghorn’s religious views and desires for President Obama to do something. 

Also, word has come out that a great institution of our society is unfortunately about to get its third leader in little over a year.  I am not talking about General Motors.  I am talking about the James Randi Educational Foundation.  Randi himself stepped down as President to hand over the reigns of sweet, sweet power to Dr. Phil Plait.  Plait has announced due to large scale time commitments for a desired television project that he is stepping down and handing over the reigns to none other than D.J. Grothe of Point of Inquiry fame.  Grothe appears to be a very good choice.  He has experience with nonprofit organizations, such as CFI, and like the master himself is a magician.  I have not been able to track down if Grothe will continue with POI.  I wish both Plait and Grothe the best of luck and success in their new ventures.  My only concern is that such rapid turnovers at the helm may adversely affect the next Buick or TAM. 

Be sure to donate during this season of giving to your favorite scientific skeptical organization.  While the economy may be down, the woo is not.  Clink on a link and break out your pay pal account: JREF, The Skeptic ZoneThe New England Skeptical Society or SGU to Australia. Or buy cool skeptical swag as gift to fill the coffers of rationalism. Last year, I gave Hermione a super cool SGU hoodie, and now she no longer has to fear the earlier morning chill.         


  1. This popped up on google alert. Thanks for taking it seriously. In the introduction of my book, The Family, and throughout, I say plainly that the Family is not a conspiracy. P. 7. I think -- "this so-called underground [Christian Right leader Chuck Colson's term for the group] is not a conspiracy."

    Can't make it any plainer than that. They don't seek the overthrow of the government. They seek its transformation along lines shaped by their sectarian understanding of Jesus as a messiah with distinct messages for the masses and elites.

  2. As I note I have not read your book, but I do appreciate the clarification. I do not know if you have listened to Mamer's podcast, but Mamer and guest do come to a conclusion that The Family is basically a secret well funded and connected lobbying group.

  3. Hey Nigel,

    An entirely fair review of my podcast. I think among our rambling the key points were:

    Those of us on the left or middle find a lot of emotioanlly juicy markers to label this a conspiracy. But one needs to sort of step back and go "are they really doing anything different from what the Pork Producers of America or any lobby group does?" They all grab favorable members of congress and in smokey rooms try to bring them over to their side

    The Family is a good example that in the fullness of time if their agenda is totally wacked, they'll out themselves. You can't push Jesus, politics, the divine right of rulers, and then countenance sexual immorality as Americans view it. Even the American press is eventually going to take notice and out you.

    Secrecy != conspiracy. Sometimes people just don't want to be part of the story. The anonymous donator is a classic example.

    Regardless of who has the ear of politicians, the voters ultimately get to vote. If voters like an American that supports dictators, bang their press secretaries, think Hilter was a shining example of loyalty, etc, then that's the kooky nutty American voters are making for themselves and they have to lie in that bed they make.

    American politics is about extremes and the middle fighting it out. America will always have those extremes. Ultimately, that fight gets stuff done and moves the USA forward.

    Thanks for popping in Mr. Sharlet. Let me assure you despite the name of the podcast, my guest and I don't think the family is a conspiracy and didn't promote the idea.


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