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September 03, 2012 12:35 PM Sun Myung Moon and His Peculiar Empire

By Ed Kilgore

Some public figures become so durable a part of the political and cultural landscape that you barely notice they are still around. That’s the case (for me at least) with Sun Myung Moon, the bizarre but influential Korean cult leader who built a religious, political and business empire that will presumably survive his death yesterday at the age of 92.

There’s a long obituary on Moon up at the WaPo site, chronicling his controversial background in Korea itself, the invasion of America by his Unification Church in the early 1970s (I can remember “Moonies” appearing on my own college campus in sound trucks deploying the most obnoxious missionaries imaginable), his intermittently successful efforts to become a respectable force in right-wing U.S. politics, and his many grandiose self-deifying statements and stunts. Those who viewed him as the classic “cult leader,” whose dubious recruitment and “training” methods virtually created the cult deprogramming industry, may have missed the fact that his business investments were often amazingly successful:

In addition to South Korean businesses that ran the gamut from ginseng tea to machine guns, his sprawling empire included an automobile plant and hotel in North Korea and banks and vast tracts of real estate in South America. In Japan, an army of salespeople sold ornamental pagodas and other religious trinkets.
In the Washington area, the church and its affiliates owned more than $300 million in commercial, political and cultural enterprises, including the Kirov Academy of Ballet in the District, an Alexandria video production firm called Atlantic Video and the mall jewelry store chain Christian Bernard.
Mr. Moon’s groups owned a university in Bridgeport, Conn., a recording studio and travel agency in Manhattan, a horse farm in Texas and a golf course in California.
The preacher also built a vast seafood enterprise that includes fishing boats, processors and distributors from Alaska to Gloucester, Mass. According to a 2006 Chicago Tribune investigation, Mr. Moon’s True World Foods provided most of the raw fish consumed at sushi restaurants in the United States.

Glad I have the classic southern attitude towards sushi as “bait!”

Moon did a stint in the federal hoosegow for tax evasion in the early 1980s, and failed to achieve acceptance for his church as a legitimate Christian entity. His best-known political initiative, the foundation of the Washington Times (which blandly referred to Moon as a the leader of a “religious movement to help promote world peace” in its own obit today) as a conservative rival to the Post, did help promote the kind of radical right-wing media presence that is so ubiquitous today. But with the possible exception of its sports section, the Times never did particularly well in circulation or in influence.

In an era in which religious personages—real, bogus, and semi-bogus—became familiar presences in U.S. conservative politics, Moon served as a useful outlier, the scary person that other scary people could point to in order to look less scary. It’s odd that a man whose entire “movement” depended a great deal on deception and false flags would eventually become a pariah known for publicly outrageous behavior and statements. It will be interesting to see how many respectable figures in the conservative firmament find nice things to say about him now that he’s gone—and how many emulate his mendacity by denying they ever had a thing to do with him or his minions.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • c u n d gulag on September 03, 2012 1:11 PM:

    A very long story, for those interested enough to stick with me.

    In the fall of 1977, my 2nd year of college, and after the big hoo-haw about ※All the President*s Men,§ book AND movie, and investigative journalism, I decided to study that subject, hoping to find my career.
    So, while taking a course in journalism that fall, and after a couple of well-regarded articles by myself and other &newbies* in that year*s crop on my college paper, we new ※reporters§ were tasked to go with ※more veteran§ college reporters to write articles about other, local, colleges around the area of the Mid-Hudson valley.

    When everyone grabbed all of the ※cool§ local colleges, like Vassar, and New Paltz, and Bard, along side the local CC*s, there was no one left to cover Rev. Moon*s new college, situated between the Rhinebeck/Red Hook, and Hudson, NY.

    So, guess which schmuck volunteered to go to Rev. Moon*s college 每 alone?
    This Sophomre cub reporter 每 ME!
    And no ※veteran§ college reporter wanted to touch this story with me.

    So, alone, I went!

    I made my arrangements with the school, calling and explaining the purpose of my visit 每 to write an investigative piece about their school.
    And they ACCEPTED!
    This was a school not known for being open 每 to say the least.
    My BS must have been very powerful that day!

    And so, the next morning I took off on my own 每 planning to stay overnight.

    When I got there, early in the morning, the Moon folks had me scheduled to talk to their professors.
    AND WHAT A COLLECTION THAT WAS!
    Teacher*s, Doctorates, from NYU, Yeshiva, Columbia, MIT, Fordham, and other major Northeast colleges.
    Jayzoos H. Keeeeeeerist, with a nice salary and benefits 每 what an All Star Team of intellectuals, I thought!
    But when I talked to them, most of them admitted teaching there for the money. The salary for ONE Professor, for ONE semester, which I found out, was far higher than any Professors at my college 每 for the entire YEAR!
    I asked the ※Religious Studies§ Professor, an old and highly respected man from Yeshiva, how he could teach at a college whose leadership, at least at that time, denied The Holocaust, and was anti-Semetic 每 except for the killing of the Jews to save the Christians part, of course. He looked at me, naive schmuck that I was, and said ※I*m doing this for the money.§
    SHEEEEEEEEEE*T!!!!!!
    I was floored!
    ※Life*s Lessons Learned,§ might have been a play by Ol* Will Shakespeare, had he lived long enough.
    And most of the highly respected All Star team of professors said the same thing 每 just not so bluntly.

    And then, I got the chance to meet the student body.
    It was like walking onto the set of the ※Happy Days§ show.

    Everyone was in neat, pressed and pleated chino*s, or blue-jeans (and don*t get me started on THAT!), an ironed collared shirt, white socks, and either Chuck Taylor sneakers, or loafers.

    I talked to many, many of them, asking the same question, which they were MORE than happy to answer 每 ※How and why did you get involved in ※The Unification Church?§
    And they all told pretty much the same story.
    To make a long story short, there was an older Englishman, probably in his early 40∩s, who described it best to me.
    Read this, and try to do an English accent, ※It was a dark and rainy night (yeah, I know- but it*s what he said), and I was leaving the pub, drunk and lonely, having broken up with me girlfriend, and suddently I was sorrounded by these happy, joyful people, who started talking to me. And I talked back to them. And, after awhile, I asked them why how they could be so happy in such miserable times, and they said, ※Because of Rev. Moon, and his Unification Church.§ And so, I kept going with them, listening

  • c u n d gulag on September 03, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Well, you can't say I didn't say this was a LONG story - here's the end of it:

    And so, I kept going with them, listening to them, and finally decided, ※Hey, what have I got to lose 每 let me try joining in with them!§ And the rest is history, as they say, and here I am!§

    Like I said, this was pretty much the same story from everyone else.
    FYI 每 they had all pretty much taken a vow of poverty 每 hence the bobby-soxer look, at the height of the Punk/Disco/Hair-band, late 70∩s.

    I was too busy talking to students to eat during their lunch period at their nice cafeteria, so I kept on plodding along, talking to students.

    And, after hearing the same story about lonely people, meeting other, ※happier§ people, I asked a few of them, ※How do you reconcile yourselves to living a life in virtual poverty, when Rev. Moon and his family live in such opulance?§

    After I got the blinking stares, and a long pause, I heard the exact same thing from all of them 每 ※Well,§ they said, ※he spent years in North Korean Concentration Camps, so he and his family deserve all of the blessings the Good Lord heaped upon them!§

    Asshole that I am, I turned to them and said, ※Well, my parent*s, grandparents, and all of my relatives, though we*re not Jewish, spent time in HITLER*S Concentration Camps. Why don*t WE deserve to live in the same oppulance as the Moon*s?§
    Or, you?

    Needless to say, they had no answer for that.

    And, as it got to the dinner hour, and looking at these poor people caught-up in the religious con of some foreign, not even domestic, Christ-grifter, I decided against having dinner with them, and sleeping over.
    I, who had almost never been afraid, was terrified of what might be put in my food, and what happen during the middle of the night.

    I went to the Main Office, thanked the people who had allowed me access, and left, promising to send them a copy of my article.
    Needless to say, I*m sure when the received it, they weren*t pleased.
    Back in THAT day, they let us college student*s write whatever we wanted, and only WE, would suffer the consequences.

    And if I hadn*t learned the lesson BEFORE that day, I learned it then 每 &Beware of Geeks, believing grifts.*

    End of story.

    Now, don*t get me started on the story of the graft and corruption I uncovered in the building of the new athletic facility 每 it almost cost me the matching college grant on the more than generous NY State Regent*s Scholarship I*d earned 每 if not expulsion itself.

  • c u n d gulag on September 03, 2012 1:18 PM:

    Sorry about the formatting errors.

    I wrote this yesterday at "mahablog," and cut and pasted it over here

    None too well, may I say.

  • TCinLA on September 03, 2012 2:16 PM:

    Sun Myung Moon, L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, Ratzi the Nazi - all proof that Barnum was right.

  • Jackson in the Pines on September 03, 2012 2:39 PM:


    And let us not forget the 2004 "coronation" of Rev. Moon--attended by Lindsey Graham et al. (the et al. being some Dems too.

    http://www.salon.com/2004/06/21/moon_7/

  • skeptonomist on September 03, 2012 5:59 PM:

    Probably not all of Moon's wealth was from his business acumen: religious cult leaders, by which I mean all religious leaders, can pick up a lot of money in a hurry through donations. People think nothing of donating large fractions of their income to religious organizations, and when people join some sects they are expected to throw in all their material wealth.

  • Eli Rabett on September 03, 2012 8:11 PM:

    Moon's businesses were successful because they were full of moonies who worked for less than zerol

  • mark on September 03, 2012 8:40 PM:

    So the self-proclaimed "True Father and Messiah" is dead--should we be waiting for him to rise again?

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