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Congress must look into the connection between Franklin Graham, Russia and Trump


Franklin Graham is one of the most vicious, dangerous rightwingers in America. A lifelong homophobe, he’s an ardent anti-liberal who longs to go back to the good old days of patriarchy and white authoritarianism—fascist leanings made all the more sinister by an evangelical Christian ideology that makes him an avenging Crusader against the enemies of Christ, whom he sees everywhere in our “disintegrating” culture.

 Theson of the late, famous evangelist Billy Graham—the “pastor to the Presidents,” who at the time of his 2018 death was “one of America’s richest pastors,” with a net worth of at least $25 million—Franklin followed in his father’s footsteps, inheriting the corporate-evangelical kingdom after his father died, last February. Although one of Franklin’s websites says that he was “raised in a log home in the Appalachian Mountains” (which makes him sound like the young Abe Lincoln), Billy owned a fabulous, resort-like compound near Ashville, NC, that was his family’s posh, exclusive retreat.

Nobody would care about Franklin Graham were it not for his power and fame. Without them, he would be just another nut bag. But he possesses enormous power over his flock, which translates into an outsized influence in Republican-conservative circles. These evangelicals are, of course, well known for their hatred of the LGBTQ community, an intolerance Franklin inherited from his father. NBC News reported on the “lasting damage”Billy Graham inflicted on the gay community. Graham was “a crusader against them,” and his efforts “shaped the religious right into an anti-LGBTQ political force.” The son, Franklin (who himself has a checkered sexual history), went much further than even his father, decrying “the great sin” of same-sex marriage, and the “wicked” nature of transgendered Americans. “We don’t need men and predators going into women’s bathrooms,” he fulminated.

Predators. Hmm, that’s pretty bad. Most sexual predators are straight white men, and the most infamous instances of homosexual male predation occur among the “celibate” priests of the Catholic Church. But the reason I’m writing about Franklin Graham today is because of something Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoir, What Happened. In her discussion of secret Russian interference in the 2016 election (meddling that, we now know, is ongoing), Hillary says, “The Kremlin has also cultivated leaders of right-wing American organizations such as the NRA, the National Organization for Marriage, and individuals like the evangelist Franklin Graham.” That led me to a Google search. How did Putin “cultivate” the homophobic, anti-Muslim religious fanatic, Graham?

Do you remember when Putin and Trump had that press conference in Helsinki when Trump played lapdog to Putin? Trump came under fierce criticism, even from some Republicans and Christians, for his cravenness, but not from Franklin Graham. “Let’s pray for @POTUS @realDonaldTrump in these key meetings,” Franklin said right before the meeting, and then, right afterwards, when the whole world had cringed watching Trump kiss Putin’s read end, “Graham declined to critique the president…only praising phim for‘pursuing peace above politics.’”

Graham’s connection to Trump and his admiration for Vladimir Putin goes back for years, at least to 2011, when he told ABC News, “The more you listen to (Trump), the more you say to yourself, ‘You know, maybe the guy’s right.’ “ The National Catholic Reporter wrote that “Trump’s foundation reportedly gave the organization named for Franklin Graham’s father, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a $100,000 check in 2012, while Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief group alsorun by Franklin Graham, received $25,000 the same year and $10,000 in 2013.”

According to MSNBC’s former program, The Ed Show (March 2014), Franklin Graham called Putin “a crusader for morality” for his “stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.” A year later, in 2015, Russia Insight, a Russian-government connected media site, reported on Franklin’s 45-minute visit to Putin, which included a session with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Krill, who praised Franklin’s “work promoting Christian values.” Franklin in turn told Krill, “I pray, and call on everyone to pray for President Putin.”

Part of Graham’s support of Russian interference in the 2016 election consisted of him telling his supporters that it was God, not Putin, who helped Trump win. “There’s been a lot of discussion as to how Donald Trump won the election,” Graham told a Trump rally shortly after the election. “I believe it was God. God showed up.”

This is Franklin Graham’s contribution to religious disinformation: instructing his low-informaton followers not to believe in the “witch hunt” because it was God, not Russia, who meddled in the election. In this, Franklin Graham simply inherited the pro-Russian attitude that has infected American religious conservatism for years. In 2014, Pat Buchanan, the Catholic white supremacist who helped push the Republican Party far to the extreme right, in an opinion piece asked “Whose side is God on now?”, and answered his own question: “In the culture war for the future of mankind, Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.”

But Graham wasn’t just praising Putin in speeches. One of the more sordid of Graham’s attempts appears to have been his role, as yet undefined (but may be spelled out by Mueller), in helping Maria Butina, the Russian spy who just pleaded guilty to conspiring to help Russia interfere with the election. Butina, who is cooperating with federal authorities, infiltrated an organization, the National Prayer Breakfast, which was founded in 1953 with help from Billy Graham; Butina hoped to use the National Prayer Breakfast “as a back channel for contacts between Russian and American faith leaders and politicians,” exactly the same kind of back channel Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, hoped to establish as a direct, clandestine line of secure communication from the White House to the Kremlin.

It’s impossible to trace all the social media bots and trolls that have worked on behalf of the Graham-Russia-Trump collusion. One of the most perfervid sites for such collusion has been Breitbart, which has given Graham unstinting visibility, especially his anti-Muslim bigotry and transphobia. These pro-Graham articles on Breitbart get the usual spate of hysterical, America-needs-Jesus-type comments, riling up Breitbart’s rightwing base and directing their rage against Democrats and liberals, exactly the way Putin wants it. Similarly, on his Twitter page, Graham predictably publishes posts celebrating Christmas, Jesus and the U.S. military—nothing wrong with that—but if you look closely you find him promoting only the most rightwing politicians—Mike Huckabee (another homophobic evangelical), Donald and Melania Trump, Greta Van Susteren—and bashing liberals, Apple’s Tim Cook, “secularists,” and even the Boy Scouts for allowing gay leaders.

There is a cadre of rightwing, religious extremists, neo-nazis, racists and homophobes actively working with Russia and the Trump regime, trying to destroy America’s traditional liberal democracy and replace it with a white, theocratic, authoritarian, intolerant plutocracy, much as we see in Russia. One of the lynchpins of this effort is Franklin Graham. As Trump’s power erodes and the Republican Party slips into panic mode, we can expect these people to redouble their efforts at disseminating fake news and stirring up hatred and resentment among the American people. We have to get ready, and one way is to uncloak Franklin Graham as the crackpot threat he really is.

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