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The evangelical grift in Donald Trump’s America


Erik’s genuinely heroic pilgrimage to Tammy Faye Bakker’s gravesite (keep those donations coming people) inspired me to ask, is Jim Bakker alive and if so what is he doing?

The answers are, respectively, “yes,” and “JFC on a cracker, this stupid country.” Here are some highlights of a quickie investigation:

(1) I had forgotten that back in the late 1980s Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison. Near the beginning of his sentence he shared a cell with Lyndon LaRouche, which is a really nice touch from the cosmic scriptwriter.

(2) The great bulk of Bakker’s sentence was tossed out by an appeals court on the ridiculous basis that the sentencing judge was prejudiced against Bakker because the judge’s own Christian sensibilities played too much of a role in sentencing of the biggest thieves and overall sleazeballs in American history to a long prison term. In his sentencing statement, the judge had said “those of us who do have a religion are sick of being saps for money-grubbing preachers and priests,” which seems like an eminently reasonable basis for throwing the Good Book at Bakker, but hey that’s what high-priced lawyers are for — to get wealthy scoundrels off the hook.

(3) Speaking of which, Bakker claims that the first time he actually read the Bible was when he was in prison, which sounds both like exactly what a grifter like him would say when making the inevitable comeback after the inevitable fall from grace, but also totally believable. Also speaking of which, Alan Dershowitz was Bakker’s lawyer when Bakker was trying to get paroled after the original sentence had gotten tossed. The Dersh personally guaranteed to the court “that Mr. Bakker would never again engage in the blend of religion and commerce that led to his conviction.” Spoiler alert: this guarantee turned out not to actually be a guarantee. Anyway Bakker got out after five years in the hoosegow, but he still owed a cool $6 million to the IRS. [Nicky Santoro voice] So . . .

(4) In 2003, he launched yet another evangelical TV mission, from Branson, Missouri, naturally. This was soon carried by the biggest cable and satellite outfits, because America. His new schtick was to condemn the prosperity gospel he had preached earlier in favor of apocalyptic survivalism, which guess what requires viewers who have taken this new evangel to heart to buy a lot of extremely overpriced survivalist products — freeze-dried food etc. — from Jim Bakker. A rich guy who believed the new version of Preacher Bakker has saved his marriage then invested $25 million [!] in a new ministry for Bakker, which was set up in 2008 in Blue Eye, Missouri, where it resides today.

And what I want to know is

How do you like your blue-eyed boy

Mr. Death?

(5) At the age of 81 Bakker is still very much on the grift, recently telling audiences that “God will punish” those that ridicule him, and making a bunch of the sorts of wacko predictions that are the bread and butter of the survivalist paranoia that is at the core of the whole classic ongoing American right wing conspiracy to separate you from your money. He blamed various hurricanes on Barack Obama, predicted that impeaching Donald Trump would start a second Civil War, and said that an Amtrak train derailment was a warning from God. Shortly after the Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting Bakker revealed to his TV audience that God visited had visited him in a dream, and that the Almighty Creator of Heaven and Earth was “wearing a camouflage, a hunting vest, and an AR-15 strapped to his back.” During this visit God told him that he (God) supported Donald Trump’s plan to arm teachers.

A mordantly amusing sidelight to this incredibly sordid tale is the vicious infighting between the Five Families of Christian Grifting over turf, which makes Mexican drug cartel conflicts look relatively polite. For example:

Bakker was succeeded as PTL head by the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Thomas Road Baptist Church in LynchburgVirginia. Bakker chose Falwell as his successor because he feared that fellow televangelist Jimmy Swaggart, who had initiated an Assemblies of God investigation into Bakker’s sexual misconduct, was attempting to take over his ministry.

Bakker believed that Falwell would temporarily lead the ministry until the scandal died down, but on April 28, 1987, Falwell barred Bakker from returning to PTL upon hearing of allegations of illicit behavior which went beyond the Hahn allegations. Later that summer, as donations declined sharply in the wake of Bakker’s resignation and the end of The PTL Club, Falwell raised $20 million to keep Heritage USA solvent and took a promised water slide ride at the park.  Falwell and the remaining members of the PTL board resigned in October 1987, stating that a ruling from a bankruptcy court judge made rebuilding the ministry impossible.

In response to the scandal, Falwell called Bakker a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and “the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history”. [Editorial comment: Three decades later Falwell’s own son and namesake would make a major run at seizing this title for himself] On CNN, Swaggart stated that Bakker was a “cancer in the body of Christ”.  In February 1988, Swaggart became involved in a sex scandal of his own after being caught visiting prostitutes in New Orleans

Oh and of course Bakker has gotten onto the alternative treatments for COVID gravy train, leading the New York attorney general, along with the FTC and the FDA, to take action against him for claiming on his show that the colloidal silver supplements he was slinging could cure the novel coronavirus. Just last month the Missouri attorney general settled a lawsuit against Bakker, after Bakker agreed to stop claiming that his silver solution could “diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure any disease or illness.” He — or rather his tax-exempt church — agreed to pay $157,000 in restitution to people who bought the solution in the spring of 2020.

Have a nice day.

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