On Jan. 28, 1995, a beaming Rev. Jerry Falwell told his Old
Time Gospel Hour congregation news that seemed heaven sent. The televangelist
hailed two Virginia businessmen as financial saviors of debt-ridden Liberty
University, the fundamentalist Christian school that Falwell had made the
crown jewel of his Religious Right empire.
"They had to borrow money, hock their houses, hock everything,"
enthused Falwell. "Thank God for friends like Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas."
Falwell's congregation rose as one to applaud. The star of the moment was
Daniel Reber, who was standing behind Falwell. Thomas was not present.
Reber and Thomas earned Falwell's public gratitude by excusing
the Lynchburg, Va., school of about one-half of its $73 million debt. In
the late 1980s, that flood of red ink had forced Falwell to abandon his
Moral Majority political organization and nearly drowned Liberty University
Reber and Thomas came to Falwell's rescue in the nick of time.
Their non-profit Christian Heritage Foundation of Forest, Va., snapped up
a big chunk of Liberty's debt for $2.5 million, a fraction of its face value.
Thousands of small religious investors who had bought church construction
bonds through a Texas company were the big losers. But Falwell shed no tears.
He told local reporters that the moment was "the greatest single day
of financial advantage" in the school's history.
Left unmentioned in the happy sermon was the identity of the
bigger guardian angel who had been protecting Falwell's financial interests
-- from a distance and without publicity. That secret benefactor was the
Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed South Korean messiah who is controversial
with many fundamentalist Christians because of his bizarre Biblical interpretations
and his brainwashing tactics that have torn thousands of young people from
their families. Moon also has grown harshly anti-American in recent years.
Covertly, Moon helped bail out Liberty University through
one of his front groups which funnelled $3.5 million to the Reber-Thomas
Christian Heritage Foundation, the non-profit that had purchased the school's
I discovered this Moon-Falwell connection while looking for
something else: how much Moon's Women's Federation for World Peace had paid
former President George Bush for a series of speeches in Asia in 1995. I
obtained the federation's Internal Revenue Service records but discovered
that Bush's undisclosed speaking fee was buried in a line item of $13.6
million for conference expenses.
There was, however, a listing for a $3.5 million "educational"
grant to the Christian Heritage Foundation. A call to the Virginia corporate
records office confirmed that the foundation was the one run by Reber and
In a subsequent interview, the Women Federation's vice president
Susan Fefferman confirmed that the $3.5 million grant had gone to "Mr.
Falwell's people" for the benefit of Liberty University. "It was
Dan Reber," she said. But she could not recall much else about the
grant, even though it was by far the largest single grant awarded by the
federation that year.
For details on the grant, Fefferman referred me to Keith Cooperrider,
the federation's treasurer. Cooperrider is also the chief financial officer
of Moon's Washington Times and a longtime Unification Church functionary.
Cooperrider did not return several phone calls seeking his comment. Falwell
and Reber also failed to respond to my calls.
The full public record strongly suggests that Falwell solicited Moon's help
in bailing out Liberty University. In a lawsuit on file in the Circuit Court
of Bedford County -- a community in southwestern Virginia -- two of Reber's
former business associates alleged that Reber and Falwell flew to South
Korea on Jan. 9, 1994, on a seven-day "secret trip" to meet "with
representatives of the Unification Church."
The court document states that Reber and Falwell were accompanied
to South Korea by Ronald S. Godwin, who had been executive director of Falwell's
Moral Majority before signing on as vice president of Moon's Washington
According to Bedford County court records, Reber, Falwell
and Godwin also had discussions at Liberty University in 1993 with Dong
Moon Joo, one of Moon's right-hand men and president of The Washington Times.
Though Reber was queried about the purposes of the Moon-connected meetings
in the court papers, he settled the business dispute before responding to
interrogatories or submitting to a deposition. He did deny any legal wrongdoing.
But Moon's secret financial ties to Falwell raise some sensitive
political questions, particularly amid congressional hearings on foreign
money influencing U.S. politics: For instance, did the $3.5 million from
Moon's front group give Falwell the means to become a national pitchman
for "The Clinton Chronicles" and other conspiracy-mongering videos
which fingered President and Mrs. Clinton in a wide range of serious crimes,
including murder? During the period of the Liberty bail-out, Falwell was
using his expensive TV time to hawk the videos.
When The Roanoke Times & World News interviewed Falwell
about the bail-out, the televangelist sat at his desk in front of two life-size,
full-color cutouts of Bill and Hillary Clinton, whom he jokingly called
his "advisers." The cut-outs were gifts from Liberty staffers
in recognition of Falwell's success in distributing the Clinton-hating videos.
[RT&WN, Feb. 6, 1995]
Many of those lurid right-wing conspiracy theories have since
been discredited, including allegations connecting the Clintons to the death
of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster. But the Falwell-promoted videos
did feed a Clinton scandal fever that helped the Republicans seize control
of Congress in 1994.
Moon's largesse is additionally suspect because Moon has never
publicly accounted for his mysterious source of wealth. Much of the money
apparently comes from shadowy Asian industrialists, some with links to organized
crime and fascist political circles. But Moon has refused to open his books,
even in the late 1970s when a congressional investigation identified his
church as a front for the South Korean CIA, which was then engaged in a
secret political influence-buying scheme known as "Korea-gate."
Better than Jesus?
Falwell also might have been shy about disclosing his alliance with Moon
because the Korean's theology upsets many Christians. Moon asserts that
Satan corrupted mankind by sexually seducing Eve in the Garden of Eden and
that only through sexual purification can mankind be saved. In line with
that doctrine, Moon says Jesus failed in his mission to save mankind because
he did not procreate.
Moon sees himself as a second messiah who will not make the
same mistake. He has engaged in sex with a variety of women over the decades.
The total number of his offspring is a point of debate inside the Unification
Moon's rhetoric has turned stridently anti-American, another
problem for the Religious Right and its strongly patriotic positions. On
May 1, 1997, Moon told a group of followers that "the country that
represents Satan's harvest is America." [ Unification News, June 1997]
In other sermons, he has vowed that his victorious movement will "digest"
any American who tries to maintain his or her individuality. He especially
has criticized American women who must "negate yourself 100 percent"
to be a receptacle for the male seed. [For details of Moon's speeches, see
The Consortium, July 28, 1997]
Still, despite his controversial remarks, Moon continues to
buy friends on the American right -- as well as among African-American religious
figures -- by spreading around vast sums of money. The totals are estimated
in the billions of dollars, with much of it targeted on political infrastructure:
direct-mail operations, video services for campaign ads, professional operatives
and right-wing media outlets.
Through The Washington Times and its affiliated publications
-- Insight magazine and The World & I -- Moon has not only showcased
conservative opinions, but he has created seemingly legitimate conduits
to funnel money to individuals and companies he seeks to influence. In the
early 1980s, for instance, The Washington Times hired the New Right's direct-mail
whiz Richard Viguerie to conduct a pricy direct-mail subscription drive.
The business boosted Viguerie's profit margin.
Another element of Moon's strategy is to approach a conservative
leader when he's financially down. Moon quietly infuses money and gains
the leader's gratitude. Again, Viguerie is an example of that tactic. When
he fell on hard times in the late 1980s, Moon directed more business his
way and had a corporation run by Moon's lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak, buy one of
Viguerie's properties for $10 million. [ Orange County Register, Dec. 21,
1987 / Washington Post, Oct. 15, 1989]
With Moon's timely intervention, Viguerie survived financially
and remains an important fixture in conservative political campaigns to
this day. When Iran-contra figure Oliver North ran for the U.S. Senate in
Virginia in 1994, his principal direct-mail contractor was Viguerie's company,
according to Federal Election Commission records.
For some smaller enterprises, Moon-connected business can
be a huge percentage of total income. That was the case with Falwell's benefactors,
Dan Reber and Jimmy Thomas, who ran a small company called Direct Mail Communications
of Forest, Va. According to court records, $5 million -- more than one-third
of its income in one year -- came from a direct-mail subscription drive
for Moon's Insight magazine.
At times, Moon's penetration of conservative ranks has raised red flags
among Republicans. In 1983, the GOP's moderate Ripon Society charged that
the New Right had entered "an alliance of expediency" with Moon's
church. Ripon's chairman, Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, released a study which
alleged that the College Republican National Committee "solicited and
received" money from Moon's Unification Church in 1981. The study also
accused Reed Irvine's Accuracy in Media of benefitting from low-cost or
volunteer workers supplied by Moon.
Leach said the Unification Church has "infiltrated the
New Right and the party it [the New Right] wants to control, the Republican
Party, and infiltrated the media as well." Leach's news conference
was broken up when then-college GOP leader Grover Norquist accused Leach
of lying. (Norquist is now head of Americans for Tax Reform and a prominent
ally of House Speaker Newt Gingrich.)
For its part, The Washington Times dismissed Leach's charges
as "flummeries" and mocked the Ripon Society as a "discredited
and insignificant left-wing offshoot of the Republican Party." [WP,
Jan. 6, 1983]
Despite periodic fretting over Moon's influence, conservatives
continued to accept his deep-pocket assistance. When President Reagan and
Oliver North were scratching for support for the Nicaraguan contras, The
Washington Times established a contra fund-raising operation. Moon's international
group, CAUSA, also dispatched operatives to Central America to assist the
By the mid-1980s, Moon's Unification Church had carved out
a niche as an acceptable part of the American right. In one speech to his
followers, Moon boasted that "without knowing it, even President Reagan
is being guided by Father [Moon]."
Yet, Moon also made clear that his longer-range goal was the
destruction of the U.S. Constitution and America's democratic form of government.
"History will make the position of Reverend Moon clear, and his enemies,
the American population and government will bow down to him," Moon
said, speaking of himself in the third person. "That is Father's tactic,
the natural subjugation of the American government and population."
As Andrew Ferguson wrote in the right-wing American Spectator,
Moon's church attracted U.S. conservatives by advocating a muscular anti-communism.
"There is little else in Unificationism that American conservatives
will find compelling," Ferguson noted -- except, of course, the money.
"They're the best in town as far as putting their money with their
mouth is," one Washington-based conservative told Ferguson. [AS, Sept.
Though Moon's money sources remained shrouded in secrecy, his cash gave
the right an important edge in attacking its enemies and defending its friends.
After the Iran-contra scandal exploded in 1986, The Washington Times and
other Moon operations battled aggressively to protect Reagan's White House
and Oliver North. Godwin, the link between Falwell's Moral Majority and
Moon's Washington Times, raised funds for North through a group called the
Interamerican Partnership, which was a fore-runner to North's own Freedom
Alliance. [ Common Cause Magazine, Fall 1993]
Another Moon-connected group, the American Freedom Coalition,
also went to bat for North. According to Andrew Leigh, who worked for a
Moon front called Global Image Associates, AFC broadcast a pro-North video,
"Ollie North: Fight for Freedom," more than 600 times on more
than 100 TV stations. Leigh quoted one AFC official as saying that AFC received
$5 million to $6 million from business interests associated with Moon. AFC
also bragged that it helped put George Bush into the White House in 1988
by distributing 30 million pieces of political literature. [WP, Oct. 15,
Direct Mail Communications, the firm owned by Reber and Thomas,
also aided North in building his famous mailing lists. [The firm has done
direct-mail work as well for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican National
Committee, and the National Rifle Association, according to The Roanoke
Times & World News in a story dated Nov. 2, 1994.]
Indeed, the story of Direct Mail Communications, a small company
based in a strip-mall shopping center off Route 221 in rural Forest, Va.,
underscores how intertwined Moon's operations have grown with American conservatism.
Reber and Thomas founded the company in September 1989, roughly
the same time that Falwell's Liberty University began trying to refinance
its worsening debt. Also, in 1989, Charles P. Keith, Roger M. Ott and Ronald
Godwin -- all Washington Times executives -- created another firm called
According to court records, Godwin introduced Keith and Ott
to Reber and Thomas. The get-to-know-you quickly led to a deal. Keith, Ott
and Godwin bought DMC for $2.5 million on Oct. 6, 1989, even though the
company had existed for only one month. Reber and Thomas were retained to
run the business.
Inside the firm, however, tensions grew. In 1991, Godwin split,
selling his share of the business to Keith and Ott. Reber, who was getting
a salary of $1,000 a day or $365,000 a year, spent too much time on discount
work for conservative causes, Keith and Ott later complained. In one court
filing, they alleged that a paid DMC staffer was sent to help a conservative
Republican named Gene Keith run for Congress in Florida.
Falwell's Liberty University, Old Time Gospel Hour and Liberty
Alliance also got discounts on their direct-mail solicitations, the owners
charged. "Reber and Thomas never even collected an amount sufficient
to pay all of DMC's actual postage expenses," Keith and Ott stated.
A Falling Out
By summer 1993, Reber began long absences from DMC while working on the
bail-out of Liberty University, according to the court papers. Keith and
Ott alleged that Falwell, Reber and Godwin met with The Washington Times'
publisher Dong Moon Joo in Lynchburg in 1993 and flew to South Korea in
January 1994 for other meetings with Moon's representatives.
Reber's travels took him to "South America, Montana,
Europe, Russia and the Republic of Korea," Keith and Ott said. Meanwhile,
DMC was sliding into "extreme financial distress."
So, after Reber returned from the South Korean trip, Keith
and Ott fired him. That prompted Reber to file a wrongful termination suit
in Bedford Country Circuit Court on July 20, 1994. Keith and Ott countered
by filing a fraud case against Reber and Thomas in Roanoke federal court
in September 1994.
For his part, Falwell, who once boasted that he had spurned
a $1 million speaking fee from Moon in the mid-1980s, now found himself
caught in Moon's orbit. On July 26, 1994, Falwell prominently sat at the
head table for Moon's inauguration of yet another front group, the Youth
Federation for World Peace. Falwell posed for a group photo with Moon and
other dignitaries. Next to Falwell stood Ronald Reagan's daughter, Maureen.
Despite the DMC court battles, North still sent the direct-mail
company some business during his 1994 Senate campaign. According to FEC
records, North paid DMC $138,561 for its direct-mail work. But DMC extended
North the most credit of any vendor. When the $19 million campaign ended
with North's narrow defeat, his largest single debt -- $89,033 -- was to
At about that same time, in January 1995, Reber and Thomas
were completing their purchase of about one-half of Liberty University's
debt, much of it for a fraction of the face value. The big losers included
2,500 bondholders who invested in the Texas-based Church & Institutional
Facilities Development Corp., which had owned $12 million of the school's
debt. Reber and Thomas scooped up the bonds at a bankruptcy fire sale for
about 20 percent of their value, or $2.5 million.
Many bondholders were "mom and pops cashing in their
IRA money because their local minister and Falwell's letters said they'd
be doing God's work," recalled Doug Hudman, a lawyer in the case. "The
true victims are the mom-and-pop believers who think their money was going
to a good cause. All it was doing was going to fund Mr. Falwell's continued
indebtedness. It's kind of sickening."
But Falwell told reporters that it was just a question of
luck. "When the bankruptcy trustee called in all the notes and put
them up for sale, anyone could have bought them," Falwell said. "That
was fortunate for us." [RT&WN, Feb. 6, 1995]
After months of complicated legal maneuvering, Dan Reber also
seems to have been fortunate enough to win out in the DMC power struggle.
He now runs the direct-mail factory in Forest, Va., under the name, "Mail
But behind the good fortune that blessed the Rev. Falwell
and his friends appears to have been a timely contribution of $3.5 million
from the Rev. Moon's Women's Federation for World Peace. ~
Robert Parry is a veteran investigative reporter, who broke
many of the Iran-contra stories in the 1980s for The Associated Press and
Newsweek. Robert Parry's latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise
of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be purchased at
It's also available at
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