The Consortium

Moon's Billions & Washington's Blind Eye

By Robert Parry

Somewhere, some political Einstein must have figured out a mathematical equation for computing how much money it takes to gain "respectability" in Washington. It would read something like "perceived respectability equals genuine decency or depravity (expressed in plus or minus numbers), plus money spent on favorable image-building minus money spent by detractors to boost the negatives, times some factor for the quality of the pro and con spinmasters."

Over the past quarter century, Rev. Sun Myung Moon is someone who has practiced the limits of this "theory of perceived respectability." He has spent billions of dollars in the United States to gain a political standing that would seem unthinkable without counting the money.

In Korea during his early years as a "messiah," Moon lustily took on the job of "blessing the wombs" of Korean women supposedly corrupted by Satan's seduction of Eve eons ago. Because of these "purification" rituals, he spent some time in jail on morals charges.

Since then, Moon has declared his goal of ruling the world through a Korea-based theocracy that would "digest" those foolish enough to try to retain their individuality. During Moon's first forays into the United States, hundreds of anguished parents charged that he was "brainwashing" their children into becoming robotic followers who hawked flowers and cheap toys.

Next, a congressional investigation in the late 1970s exposed Moon as an intelligence agent for the South Korean government which was engaged in a clandestine operation to penetrate the U.S. Congress, Executive Branch, news media and academia. U.S. intelligence files of the time showed that Moon had close connections, too, with leading Asian organized crime figures.

Expanding his unsavory connections in 1980, Moon's operatives rushed to congratulate right-wing military thugs who seized power along with drug lords in Bolivia, an event that became known as the Cocaine Coup and gave rise to the modern cocaine cartels. [For details on Moon's history, see our recent series, "Dark Side of Rev. Moon."]

But Moon must have understood the "respectability" equation well. With the election of Ronald Reagan, Moon began pouring hundreds of millions of dollars a year into conservative causes. He launched The Washington Times daily newspaper in 1982. He funded dozens of front groups. He bought political allies by the score with fat speaking fees and side business deals. His costly operations blasted anyone who crossed the Reagan-Bush administrations.

Justice Protection

Despite a brief stint in federal prison for tax fraud -- a prosecution which Reagan's Justice Department tried unsuccessfully to halt -- Moon saw his "respectability" climb through the 1980s. According to Justice Department documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act, Moon also won protection from the Reagan-Bush administrations from any new criminal investigation.

Federal authorities rebuffed hundreds of requests -- many from common citizens -- for examination of Moon's foreign ties and money sources. Typical of the responses was a May 18, 1989, letter from assistant attorney general Carol T. Crawford rejecting the possibility that Moon's organization be required to divulge its foreign-funded propaganda under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).

"With respect to FARA, the Department is faced with First Amendment considerations involving the free exercise of religion," Crawford stated. "As you know, the First Amendment's protection of religious freedom is not limited to the traditional, well-established religions."

A 1992 PBS documentary about Moon's political empire and its free-spending habits started another flurry of citizen demands for an investigation, according to the Justice Department files.

One letter stated, "I write in consternation and disgust at the apparent support, or at least the sheltering, of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, a foreign agent ... who has subverted the American political system for the past 20 years. ... Did Reagan and/or Bush receive financial support from Moon or his agents during any of their election campaigns in violation of federal law?" The names of letter writers were withheld for privacy reasons.

Another letter complained that "apparently Moon gave the Bush and Reagan campaigns millions of dollars in support and helped fund the [Nicaraguan] contras as well as sponsoring rallys [sic] in 50 states to support the Persian Gulf war. No wonder the Justice Department turns a blind eye?"

"I feel it is necessary to find out who is financing the operation and why other countries are trying to direct the policies of the United States," wrote another citizen. "If even one-half of the allegations are true, Moon and his assistants belong in jail rather than being welcomed and supported at the highest level of Washington."

The 'Green Card' Defense

As demands mounted for Moon and his front groups to register as foreign agents, the Justice Department added a new argument to its reasons to say no. In an Aug. 19, 1992, letter, assistant attorney general Robert S. Mueller dismissed a suggestion that the Moon-backed American Freedom Council should register under FARA because Moon, a South Korean citizen, had obtained U.S. resident-alien status -- or a "green card."

"In the absence of a foreign principal, there is no requirement for registration," Mueller wrote. "The Reverend Sun Myung Moon enjoys the status of permanent resident alien in the United States and therefore does not fall within FARA's definition of foreign principal. It follows that the Act is not applicable to the [American Freedom] Council because of its association with Reverend Moon."

The rote denials continued with little change into the Clinton years. But the legal situation with Moon may be in flux. As immigration laws were being toughened in 1996 to permit easier deportation of aliens convicted of past crimes, Moon -- a felon from his tax-evasion conviction -- relocated his base of operation from New York to Uruguay.

Citing privacy laws, U.S. officials declined to tell me if Moon has renounced his "green card." Moon's spokesmen also have not responded to questions about Moon's immigration status. A consular official at Uruguay's embassy in Washington told me that Moon does not now have residency status in Uruguay and still travels to Uruguay with a multiple-entry visa on his South Korean passport. But if Moon does shift his permanent residency to Uruguay, that could eliminate some obstacles to investigation of his political operations here.

Still, the Reagan-Bush administrations went beyond just blocking criminal investigations of Moon. Despite evidence of Moon's collaboration with South Korean intelligence in the 1970s and his high-profile support of the Bolivian Cocaine Coup regime in 1980, the Republicans seem to have shut down any significant intelligence collection about Moon's activities after taking power in 1981.

Responses to recent FOIA requests indicate that only scattered newspaper clips about Moon found their way into U.S. intelligence files during the Reagan-Bush years. In a recent interview, a senior U.S. official confirmed that there is little fresh intelligence about the secret sources of Moon's money or his possible collaboration in the foreign penetration of U.S. institutions.

Spying on Americans

Perhaps even more remarkable, the Reagan administration showed greater respect for Moon's constitutional rights than those of some U.S. citizens. Starting in 1981, the FBI cooperated with one of Moon's front groups during a five-year nationwide investigation of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), a domestic organization critical of Reagan's policies in Central America, according to FBI documents cited by The Boston Globe. [April 20, 1988]

In 1981, the FBI began collecting reports from Moon's Collegiate Association for the Research of Principles (CARP) which was spying on CISPES supporters. Those reports came from CARP members at 10 university campuses around the United States and included the purported political beliefs of Reagan's critics. One CARP report called a CISPES supporter "well-educated in Marxism" while other CARP reports attached "clippings culled from communist-inspired front groups."

The Globe reported that Frank Varelli, who worked for the FBI from 1981-84 coordinating the CISPES probe, said an FBI agent paid members of the Moon organization at Southern Methodist University while the Moon activists were raiding and disrupting CISPES rallies. "Every week, an agent I worked with used to go to SMU to pay the Moonies," Varelli said in an interview. Because of the CARP harassment, CISPES closed its SMU chapter.

Moon did not lose his inside track at the White House until Bill Clinton's election in 1992. But Moon continues to ride high in Washington. Moon sustains The Washington Times despite a never-ending hemorrhage of red ink and he keeps up close political ties with prominent Republicans. Moon's Washington Times Foundation flashed the cash again recently, with a $1 million-plus donation to George Bush's presidential library in Texas. [WP, Nov. 24, 1997]


Moon's news outlets also continue to pay dividends by keeping the Democrats on the defensive. In late November, Insight magazine and The Washington Times trumpeted charges that the Clinton administration had traded plots at Arlington National Cemetery for campaign donations. Though citing no named sources, the explosive charge reverberated through the conservative talk-radio echo chamber and bounced into the mainstream press.

The Clinton administration was forced to disclose the names of 69 people who had been granted burial in Arlington but who didn't meet the strict criteria. Some turned out to be Republicans (such as the wife of Chief Justice Warren Burger). Others were national luminaries (such as Justice Thurgood Marshall). Another was an ex-Marine-turned-policeman who died in a shootout.

Still, Republicans in Congress kept digging until they found one major Democratic contributor -- Larry Lawrence -- who was buried at Arlington after dying in office as U.S. ambassador to Switzerland. GOP congressmen found records suggesting that Lawrence had fabricated a claim that he suffered a wound aboard a World War II cargo ship.

Insight's managing editor Paul Rodriguez acknowledged that the cemetery-plots-for-cash story was only "allegations and suggestions." But the story was justified, he said, by "this horrible perception, rightly or wrongly, that this guy [Clinton] will sell anything." [WP, Nov. 25, 1997]

Inside Moon's church, however, other troubles have mounted. Hyo Jin, Moon's eldest son from his current marriage, was treated for a cocaine addiction, saw his wife flee claiming physical abuse and filed for bankruptcy to avoid court-ordered support payments. The Hyo Jin situation and other family crises strained the faith of longtime followers who were taught that Moon and his family were examples of human perfection. By most accounts, the number of U.S. church members has dropped to around 3,000.

The dwindling church membership could raise another legal question, if it becomes apparent that Moon's business-media-political empire is a giant tail wagging a smaller-smaller-and-smaller dog. In a two-part investigative series on Nov. 23-24, The Washington Post reported that even Moon acknowledges this disappearing church.

"Moon has declared that 'the period of religion is passing away' and his Unification Church must be dissolved," one article stated. It quoted Moon as telling his followers to "cut down" their church and work through the Moon-sponsored Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, a non-profit corporation. But non-profits do not carry the First Amendment protections that churches do.

'Dung-Eating Dogs'

The Post also quoted some new anti-American declarations by Moon. "Satan created this kind of Hell on Earth," Moon said about the United States. Moon also lambasted American women. They "have inherited the line of prostitutes," he declared. "American women are even worse because they practice free sex just because they enjoy it."

Lashing out again last May, Moon denounced America for tolerating homosexuals, whom he likened to "dirty dung-eating dogs." For Americans who "truly love such dogs," Moon said, "they also become like dung-eating dogs and produce that quality of life."

The Post series clearly touched a raw nerve. Dong Moon Joo, president of Moon's Washington Times, took out a full-page ad in the Post on Nov. 28 complaining that the criticism was inappropriate during "the Thanksgiving season." In a press release, the Unification Church said it was "exploring the possibility of legal action against The Washington Post and its writers for malicious persecution of a minority religion with intent to incite bodily injury."

But on Nov. 29, Moon's church weaknesses were on display again, with "Blessing '97" which Moon had touted as a mass wedding where he would pair up 3.6 million followers worldwide. Yet, at the main event at RFK Stadium in Washington only 1,300 brides and grooms could be rounded up for the ceremony. Moon's organizers padded the numbers with already married couples and non-church members who were lured to a music concert with free or discounted tickets.

The next day, The Washington Times led the paper with a glowing front-page story about the ceremony. The article accepted the 3.6-million-couple figure as fact. The story also quoted one participant declaring that the RFK event was "bigger than I thought it would be." Clearly, Moon still has the bucks to make his employees spin the stories the way he likes.

Over the past quarter century, Moon has been the master at spending billions of dollars to make the "respectability" equation work for him. ~

(c) Copyright 1997

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