Evidence continues to mount that Glenn Beck's supposedly non-political Black Robe Regiment is, predictably, just a thinly-veiled attempt to boost conservative candidates in the upcoming midterm elections (and beyond).
As we detailed last week, two Black Robe members indicated that part of the group's mission is to boost voter involvement. And Beck, though he claims he would leave any church that "preach[ed] who to vote for," formed the Black Robe Regiment with the help of James Dobson, who has a long history of using churches to attempt to influence elections.
Now it appears that members of Beck's Black Robe Regiment -- including David Barton, whom Beck credits with helping form the idea for the group -- are closely tied to former Speaker of the House and putative 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and his "Renewing American Leadership" group.
As described on their "Who We Are" page, the mission of Renewing American Leadership (ReAL) is to "preserve America's Judeo-Christian heritage by defending and promoting the three pillars of American civilization: freedom, faith, and free markets." They explain that they are "dedicated to educating, organizing, training, and mobilizing people of faith to renew American self-government and America's role in the world."
In a U.S. News article from last year on the launch of ReAL, Gingrich spokesperson Rick Tyler - who doubles as "Founding Director" of ReAL - describes the group in explicitly political terms, saying that he wants to "prove" to Republican donors that "that mobilizing evangelical voters leads to the best economic policies."
David Barton - described in the article as having "spearheaded the Republican National Committee's rigorous outreach to pastors in 2004" -- is quoted expressing his hope that the group can help cease the "circular firing squad" between social and economic conservatives.
Gingrich has launched an organization devoted to bringing conservative evangelicals and Catholics into the political process and to strengthening the frayed alliance between economic and religious conservatives. Called Renewing American Leadership, the group is led by Gingrich's longtime communications director and includes some of the country's top conservative Christian activists on its board.
This spring, Gingrich will speak to a handful of large gatherings for politically conservative clergy that have been organized by David Barton, an influential evangelical activist who spearheaded the Republican National Committee's rigorous outreach to pastors in 2004.
And this fall, Gingrich is planning to release a movie about the role that Pope John Paul II's 1979 trip to Poland played in bringing down the Soviet Union.
"In the last few years I've decided that we're in a crisis in which the secular state, if allowed, will fundamentally and radically change America against the wishes of most Americans," Gingrich said in a phone interview on Thursday. "You've had such rising hostility to religious belief that I wanted to reach broadly into the country and dramatically raise public awareness of threats to religious liberty."
Just this week, Gingrich's new group partnered with the American Family Association--the conservative evangelical organization headed by Don Wildmon--to encourage churches and religious groups to participate in no-more-taxes rallies across the country on April 15. Rick Tyler, who served as Gingrich's spokesman before becoming founding director of Renewing American Leadership, says that on the first day of the largely Web-based organizing effort, 5,000 people signed up to attend the rallies.
The antitax rallies illustrate the new group's quest to unite religious and fiscal conservatives, two flanks of the Republican base that have squabbled with one another since Election Day. "There's too much finger-pointing between economic conservatives who say we're losing ground because of social conservatives and social conservatives who say the opposite," says Barton, who sits on Renewing American Leadership's board. "Instead of having a circular firing squad, we need to start identifying real allies and the real opponents."
To accomplish the goal, Renewing American Leadership has prepared a PowerPoint presentation it plans to show conservative economic groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Tax Reform, laying out the case for taking religious conservatives more seriously.
The PowerPoint slides list Republican senators and congressman with the highest ratings from the National Right to Life Committee and juxtapose them with ratings for the same elected officials from Americans for Tax Reform. The conclusion: politicians with the strongest socially conservative records also have the strongest antitax records.
"Secular conservatives often operate from a perspective that says, 'Why should I care about evangelical voters?' " says Tyler. "And I show them why: because when you turn out evangelical voters who support socially conservative candidates, you also get conservative economic policies." Tyler says the rift between religious and economic conservatives helped nominate Arizona Sen. John McCain to lead the GOP ticket in 2008 because the two constituencies split between the socially conservative Mike Huckabee and the fiscally conservative Mitt Romney in the presidential primaries.
Gingrich's group is also planning to take its presentation to Republican Party donors, who tend to be less religious and focused more on economic issues than the party's rank-and-file. "A lot of donors have been out to lunch on this issue," says Tyler. "If I can prove to them that mobilizing evangelical voters leads to the best economic policies, I don't have to convert them into Catholics or Protestants. It's pretty straightforward."
Barton, who is identified as a "Board Member" at ReAL, is not the only link between the group and Beck's Black Robe Regiment. Dr. Jim Garlow, Senior Pastor of Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego is listed as the Chairman of the group. In addition to giving the Glenn Beck Morning Prayer on August 19, Garlow was one of the "leaders in the faith community" that Beck exhorted to "start standing up" on his Fox News show in July.
During his Glenn Beck Morning Prayer, Garlow plugged the website "PrayandAct.com" several times. This initiative also appears to be closely linked to Gingrich's ReAL group -- including having a prominent banner across the top of ReAL's website.
The banner links to an internal page at the ReAL site that describes the mission of the "pray and act" movement. An abbreviated version of the same mission statement doubles as the "About" page at PrayandAct.com, to which ReAL also links directly.
So what is PrayandAct.com's mission? To encourage faithful Christians to fight for the "three foundational principles of justice and the common good," and use these principals as the "guiding force in every local, state and national election - year after year - including this year's election."
For these reasons, we call on all faithful Christians to join us in the fight to defend life, protect and revitalize marriage, and preserve religious liberty and the rights of conscience. We must work tireless in all the "seven spheres of cultural influence:" (1) the home, (2) the church, (3) civil government / law / military, (4) business / technology, (5) education, (6) media, and finally (7) arts / entertainment / professional sports.
The foundational moral principles of life, marriage, and conscience need to be preached in our churches, affirmed in our daily conversations, and demonstrated in our private decisions and our personal lives. They must become a guiding force in every local, state and national election - year after year - including this year's election. In fact, they need to be supported in everything we do and say, and in the way we live.
In addition to Garlow, Black Robe Regiment members James Robison and Richard Land are listed on "The People" section of PrayandAct.com. Land previously explained to Media Matters that one of his plans is "energizing all of our members to register to vote."
Though Beck implored his followers last week to "run from any pastor, priest or rabbi" advocating "that any one policy God says is the right thing," one of the ways the "Pray & Act" movement is asking people to act is through "being consistent by voting in all elections only for candidates who affirm the sanctity of life in all stages and conditions, the integrity of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and religious liberty and respect for conscience."
It's becoming increasingly clear that by "Restoring Honor," many members of Beck's Black Robe Regiment mean "Restoring the GOP to Power."
Barton and Gingrich have quite a cozy relationship. As Kyle at Right Wing Watch documented, Gingrich told Barton last week that if he decides to run for president, "we're promptly going to call you and say 'we need your help, and we need your advice, and we need your counsel.' It's more than a voting matter. If we decide to run, David, we're going to need you."