The Unification Church (known popularly as “the Moonies,” after its founder, Rev. Moon) is viewed with suspicion by the conspiracy-minded for three reasons: its links with the South Korean government and CIA, its legion front organizations, and its recruitment and indoctrination practices, the latter of which have consistently drawn charges of “brain-washing” and “mind control.”
Known officially as the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity (HSA-UCW), the Unification Church was founded in Seoul, Korea, on 1 May 1954. It spread through Korea over the course of the 1950s, was transplanted to Japan in 1958, and moved to the United States in 1959.
While the reach of the Unification Church would ultimately be global, these three nations remain its strongholds. The Church was relatively obscure in the United States until the early 1970s when it made its entry onto the political scene.
Anticommunism has always been an official part of Unification theology (the key text of which is Moon’s Divine Principle), which views communism as the legacy of Cain, who in turn is understood as the fruit of Eve’s coupling with Satan. According to this view, democracy is the legacy of Abel, who symbolizes humanity’s relationship with God.
Thus the struggle between communism and democracy is seen as no less than the struggle between the forces of God and the legions of Satan. Moonie theology asserts that those who support the HSA-UCW or reside within its fold are on the side of God; all others serve Satan.
More cynical interpretations suggest that Moon’s anticommunist politics were merely a ruse that allowed for the cultivation of powerful allies. The Unification Church’s first public and official foray into anticommunist activism—which was to continue throughout the following two decades—was with the founding of the Freedom Leadership Foundation (FLF) in the summer of 1969.
The FLF, synchronizing its activities with the Student Coordinating Committee for Peace with Freedom, organized a three-day fast in favor of the war in Vietnam, attracting broad media attention (Mickler).
The FLF was to be the first of many affiliated groups that would later include the International Federation for Victory over Communism, the Committee for Responsible Dialogue, American Youth for a Just Peace, the One World Crusade, and the Council for Unified Research and Education.
These varied groups were tied together by “interlocking boards of directors, personnel, and secret funding”. Critics of Moon assert that these satellite groups were used to pursue Moon’s political agenda(s) without endangering the tax-free status of the Unification Church.
One anticult website (www.trancenet.org) currently lists over 1,000 associated organizations or “front groups” internationally. One Moon media outlet that has drawn much attention is the District of Columbia–based Washington Times (whose parent company, News World Communications Inc., bought out the failing media organization UPI in 2000).
In the founder’s address presented on the occasion of the paper’s fifteenth anniversary, entitled “True Family and True Universe Centering on True Love,” Moon claimed among other things that all of the material that Radio Free Europe uses comes from the Washington Times; that he brought about the election of both Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr; and that the newspaper played a central role in the collapse of world communism.
Clearly such claims are debatable, but as support for assertions regarding the paper’s influence it should be noted that former President Bush, speaking at the launch party for Tiempos del Mundo (a Moon newspaper distributed throughout South America), commented on the Washington Times as “a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington, D.C.” (Reuters). Bush was allegedly paid an honorarium of $10,000 for his speech.
Following the public protests of the FLF in 1969, the next entrée into politics to capture widespread media attention was the Unification Church’s show of support for the beleaguered post-Watergate Richard Nixon. Beginning 30 November 1973, the Unification Church ran Moon’s “Answer to Watergate” as a full page ad in each of the twenty-one cities included in the itinerary of Moon’s Day of Hope tour.
The statement, asserting that “the crisis for America is a crisis for God” and calling for the United States to “Forgive, Love and Unite,” was ultimately to appear in one paper in every state save Hawaii. The statement was coupled with the formation of the National Prayer and Fast for the Watergate Crisis and Committee (NPFWC), which “organized vigils, rallies, letter-writing, and leafletting in all fifty states”.
On 22–24 July of the following year the NPFWC organized a 610-member, three-day fast on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. The fast received massive publicity. Moon quickly followed up on the Church’s increasing notoriety by embarking on another “Day of Hope” tour.
The Unification Church’s use of questionable recruitment and indoctrination practices constitutes a second area of concern for conspiracy theorists. These activities helped to raise the profile of the Unification Church dramatically, one result of which was increased criticism.
Aside from the theological and spiritual critiques launched by Christian organizations, some of the first elements of Unification practice to come under fire were its recruitment and indoctrination practices—inevitably referred to as “brainwashing” by its opponents.
It was the fear of mind control associated with the Unification Church (as well as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness) that gave rise to the practice of the abduction and “de-programming” of cult members.
The Unification Church and its deprogrammer döppelgangers created the impression that U.S. youth in the early 1970s were increasingly subject to seduction and virtual enslavement by cult organizations. In terms of recruitment, the Church has historically employed deceptive means, with potential recruits remaining unaware of the identity of their recruiters until several steps along in the process.
The process of indoctrination pursued by the Unification Church does include elements of “mind control,” but no more so than other “total institutions” such as the military or Christian convents and monasteries, which are usually above suspicion.
Deprivation (minimal sleep and diet), a constant focus on theology, the renunciation of material wealth, isolation from the larger society, and the use of chanting are some of the elements of indoctrination that have drawn criticism.
In addition to charges of “mind control,” the Unification Church has drawn fire for its ongoing ties to South Korea and its continual denial of those links. In keeping with the Church’s anticommunist theology and its origins in Korea, Moon’s teachings hold that the line separating North and South Korea is of tremendous world-historical importance: it constitutes nothing less than ground zero in the eternal battle between God and Satan.
The clearest evidence of ties, if not active collaboration, with the South Korean government and the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) concerns Moon’s connection with the Republic of South Korea under Park Chung Hee in the early 1970s.
One researcher into these activities notes that during the Church’s active support of the beleaguered President Nixon stateside, it was also holding massive demonstrations in Seoul at a time when such rallies had been banned by emergency decree; Moon also operated “an anticommunist indoctrination center for Korean government employees and military” within Korea, an activity that fell directly under the control of the KCIA.
Pak Bo Hi, Moon’s translator and chief aide throughout the 1970s, was retired from service in the Korean military and had served as assistant military attaché to Washington prior to establishing the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation—one of the Church’s many political front organizations. The title of military attaché generally implies some role in intelligence work.
Through the KCFF, the Unification Church had access to both the South Korean embassy’s diplomatic pouch and cable channel to Seoul, which “only goes to the foreign minister, director of the KCIA, prime minister, and the president”.
Pak Bo Hi is also president of New World Communications, which owns the Washington Times and the UPI, as well as heading up the Confederation of the Associations for Unity of the Societies of the Americas (CAUSA), a primary political arm of the Church.
According to a Fairness and Accuracy in Media report, “CAUSA was instrumental in providing aid to the Nicaraguan contras”. The controversy over links between Moon’s organization and both North and South Korea is ongoing.