Yves here. Since this post contains some graphic details about parasites, you might not want to read it before a meal. Nevertheless, it describes an effective and therefore widely-used method for bending institutions to the will of outside parties. But there is a chicken and egg problem: did this mission-corruption success lead the shift in messaging and cultural values against bona fide progressivism, or did it first take shifting cultural norms first to give leverage over institutions, which then became force multipliers?
By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies
The parasital spider wasp. The female lays eggs on paralyzed spiders. When they hatch, the spider is food. (Source)
“A single egg is laid on the abdomen of the spider. … The egg hatches and the larva feeds on the spider. As the larva feeds on its host, it saves the vital organs, such as the heart and central nervous system, for last. By waiting until the final larval instar, it ensures the spider will not decompose before the larva has fully developed.”
—Wikipedia on the spider wasp
The seed for this piece is an article published at Juan Cole’s site, Informed Comment, and written by Ted Swedenburg. But the trees made from that seed are everywhere.
The article’s title is “Setting the Record Straight: Weaponizing Antisemitism to Cancel Academic Free Speech”. It starts:
As someone who believes deeply in human rights for all, who has spent a great deal of time in Palestine and Israel and cares a great deal about the people there, and who is very concerned and grieved about the loss of life in Israel on Oct. 7 and the subsequent massive deaths since that date in Gaza, I was very excited about the opportunity to participate in a forum on the Gaza conflict, sponsored by the University of Arkansas Honors College, that was to be held on Nov. 8.
Unfortunately, the event was canceled after charges of antisemitism were leveled against me and the other scheduled speaker, Professor Joel Gordon. Subsequently, due to the atmosphere created by such claims, not a single public event dealing with the Gaza Strip violence took place at the state’s flagship university in fall semester 2023.
On one level, this is about the all-too-common assaults on critics of Israeli genocide disguised as protection of liberal values and minority rights. There have been many such assaults.
But consider this:
The charge against us was made by Jay Greene, a former University of Arkansas professor now at the Heritage Foundation, with Fayetteville-based Conduit News. Greene’s accusations played a major role in the decision to cancel the event.
Investigative journalist James Bamford describes in The Nation the efforts of one of the most important organizations involved in this campaign, the well-funded Canary Mission. This organization, Bamford shows, is “a massive blacklisting and doxxing operation directed from Israel that targets students and professors critical of Israeli policies, and then launches slanderous charges against them — charges designed to embarrass and humiliate them and damage their future employability.”
So broadly, this is an op (I’m deliberately using NatSec State language) run by and through the Heritage Foundation and the Israeli-funded and directed Canary Mission.
These organizations act like parasites. Their host in this case is the University itself, whose political discourse they invade. What they kill are those parts of the university community friendly to the University’s mission but enemies of their own — protection of Israel at all costs.
Subverting the Southern Baptists
I’m not writing this to just trash the Right, though the Institutional Right is eminently trashable. I’m writing this to show how subversive operations like this work. Because there are many of them. And the rich, as you’ll see, on both sides use these tactics.
“Christian Leader Ralph Reed” (source)
George W. Bush and Karl Rove engineered an institutional takeover of faith communities. Note the roles of Ralph Reed, head of the unironically named Christian Coalition, and Richard Land in the passage below (emphasis added):
In 1997, Rove approached Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed with a deal that would make them the closest of political colleagues. “Ralph was very, very close to Rove,” recalls then-director of the Coalition, Marshall Wittman. “Ralph asked me in 1997 if I wanted to work on the  Bush campaign. Rove was operating everything. … Rove engineered a $380,000 contract for Reed at Enron, the heart of the oil-centered corporate engine driving the Bush campaign, through longtime Bush family friend Kenneth Lay. …
Reed understood that conservative Christians were largely moral absolutists — either you were with them or you were their mortal enemy. No middle ground. … This mindset worked perfectly for Rove, who himself is a confessed agnostic with no real religious faith, but [it] can and does manipulate Christian conservatives as part of his scorched-earth political strategizing.
But Reed understood that the actual divide that could be so effectively exploited was not just between the faithful and the “godless,” but within denominations and church hierarchies. The idea of Protestants vs. Catholics, Baptists vs. humanists, was superficial, Reed believed. The more fundamental divide, as exploited by Reed, Rove, and their operatives, was within religious America. Richard Land, a Christian scholar who began working in the Rove political machine in the 1980s, explains, “It depends on which side of this sort of great divide in American life you’re on.”
Richard Land was president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1988 to 2013. Land, through the ERLC, controlled the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was simultaneously part of the Rove machine.
The host in this case is the Southern Baptist Convention, the governing body of the “world’s largest Baptist denomination, … the largest Protestant and second-largest Christian denomination in the United States.” The parasite was the Rove machine. Ralph Reed and Richard Land, among others, were the eggs.
The machine subverted the organization’s mission from religious to political. The goal was to give power to men like George W. Bush.
One more example, so you can see the process. If you’re old enough to have seen the 1960s battles for civil rights and all those other freedoms (sexual, feminist, and so on), you remember the great religious leaders that movement produced and attracted.
Martin Luther King Jr., for example, was a Baptist minister (a reason for the subversion described above) and the first President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
As Frederick Clarkson writes of the Movement’s Protestant contingents:
For much of the 20th century, the mainline Protestant churches maintained a vigorous “social witness.” That is what these Protestants call their views on such matters as peace, civil rights and environmental justice. While there was certainly conservative opposition to the development of these views, and to the activities that grew out of them, the direction of mainline Protestantism was clear. The churches became powerful proponents of social change in the United States. They stood at the moral and political center of society with historic roots in the earliest days of the nation. Indeed, they epitomize the very idea and image of “church” for many Americans.
These mainline churches have been and are being subverted by institutions (predators) designed to subvert them from within:
In retrospect, it seems inevitable that powerful external interests would organize and finance the conservative rump factions into strategic formations intended to divide and conquer—and diminish the capacity of churches to carry forward their idea of a just society in the United States—and the world.
When the strategic funders of the Right, such as Richard Mellon Scaife, got together to create the institutional infrastructure of the Right in the 1970s and 80s, they underwrote the founding of the IRD [Institute on Religion and Democracy] in 1980 as a Washington, DC-based agency that would help network, organize, and inform internal opposition groups, while sustaining outside pressure and public relations campaigns.
The goal of the IRD is clear: to infiltrate, to neutralize, to control. The process, if you’re interested, is called “Steeplejacking.” For a book on this subject, the publisher says this (emphasis added):
An insider account by two ministers on the front lines of mainstream religion’s longtime shadow war against the religious right, Steeplejacking reveals how conservative renewal groups, backed by a right-wing organization called the Institute on Religion and Democracy [IRD], use social wedge issues like homosexuality to infiltrate mainline churches and stir up dissent among members of the congregation, with the goal of taking over the leadership of the church, and ultimately, the denomination. The book unmasks the covert methods that renewal groups and the IRD use to spread their propaganda[.]
Predators and Prey
What’s common in all of these examples, is the takeover of institutions by a disciplined, well-funded outside group, with the goal of subverting its power for non-institutional purposes.
The spider wasp lays eggs in spiders and uses them as host and food for its larvae. These groups do the same. The connection to religion is purely coincidental, as the first example shows.