Over seven days at the end of September to the first day of October, 2017, Stephen Paddock had 22 suitcases delivered to his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. Most of the suitcases contained arms and ammunition for the deadliest mass shooting in American history – fourteen specially-equipped AR-15 rifles, eight AR-10 rifles, a bolt-action rifle and a revolver – enough to kill 58 people and wound 413.
Reflecting on the mass murder, Abraham Hamilton III, host of Hamilton’s Corner on the American Family Radio network blamed, not Paddock or his ability to assemble such a stunning arsenal, but “Satan.”
Pardon my language, but this “God-whistle” wasn’t just theological soul-fishing, “Satan’s work” was offered in a specific political context and had a subterranean political message.
The context was an effort by Democrats to respond to the shooting with legislation outlawing the “bump-stocks” that multiplied Paddock’s casualty count and further restrain gun sales and use. Hamilton’s message was, defeat the Democrats – they can’t legislate against God’s will, or, in this case, Satan’s ill will.
This is a message perfectly in line with the arguments of the National Rifle Association, and it was so aligned to the judgments of American Family Radio that both messages were repeated across that radio network – the locution blaming the Devil, and the implicit argument defending the gun-makers and the NRA against regulation.
Radical Right political messages like this are frequently intertwined with the fundamentalist (fundamentally Southern Baptist) theology broadcast on the hundreds of radio stations affiliated with American Family Radio, the Bott Radio Network and the Salem Media Group.
Consider the three Christian radio groups as a single network and you have figured out part of the title of our guest Anne Nelson’s new book Shadow Network. It’s the first of three parts spelled out in the book’s subtitle: Media, Money and the Hub of the Radical Right.
The media part is that huge and growing Christian broadcasting, and multimedia network, which may not speak in a single voice, but does tend to sing in harmony, and today – and more than ever in the Trump-dominated part of today – they have the Republican Party singing their tune.
The money part of Shadow Network is an excellent updating and expansion of Jane Mayer’s great work in Dark Money, a bestseller of 2016, the network of very, very rich families, including the DeVoses and the Koch brothers and energy billionaires like Foster Fleiss and Harold Hamm that have financed the radicalization of Republican Party politics.
The third target of Anne Nelson’s book is the previously unexamined organization which ties the Christian broadcast networks not only to the Dark Money network of far-right funders, but to an elite cadre of the most successful political marketers of the Republican right. It’s where Salem Broadcasting and the NRA get together. The organization is called the Council for National Policy and Anne’s reporting on the CNP deserves the judgment in the last line of the of Shadow Network in Publishers Weekly “This is an absolutely momentous piece of investigative journalism.”
Anne Nelson is an adjunct associate professor at the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs, where she teaches “Writing on International Affairs” and is co-designing a new course called “New Media in Development Communications,” which will explore new media functions in areas of conflict, catastrophe and extreme poverty. Her new book is Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right.Nelson specializes in the area of media development, democratization and human rights. Her many publications include “The Media as a Non-State Actor in the Arena of Human Rights” (Columbia University Seminars/Columbia University Press), “The Demise of the War Correspondent?” (Columbia Journal of International Affairs), Murder Under Two Flags: the US, Puerto Rico, and the Cerro Maravilla Cover-Up (Houghton Mifflin), and (as co-author and editor) Twenty Years and Forty Days: Life in a Cuban Prison (Human Rights Watch). As Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (1988-1992) she was the author and executive editor of numerous publications on international press freedom, including the first Journalists’ Safety Guide to the Former Yugoslavia, the Attacks on the Press annual reports, and many regional media analyses. She was previously a war correspondent in Latin America, and also reported from Eastern Europe and Asia. Her journalism has been published in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Harper’s, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, Macleans, and many other periodicals, and broadcast on the BBC, the CBC, NPR and PBS. Her writing has won six awards, including the Livingston Award for international reporting.
As playwright and screenwriter, she is the author of “The Guys,” a play about the post-9/11 experience, which has been produced throughout the United States and in ten foreign countries. It was published by Random House and Dramatists Play Service, and was made into a feature film in 2002. Her play “Savages,” based on the true story of a court martial for war crimes during the US occupation of the Philippines, was produced off-Broadway in 2006 and will be published by Dramatists Play Service.
She is a graduate of Yale University and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.