David Bahati, the MP for Ndorwa West constituency who is also the Minister of State of Finance for Planning is among the leading subjects of a new Netflix docu-series called `The Family’ which examines a mysterious religious network which operates in the shadows of political power in America and the world.
Released on Aug.09, the series was inspired by a book of the same name written by Jeff Sharlet, a journalist and former “member’ of The Family. Netflix is the world’s leading internet entertainment service with 130 million memberships in over 190 countries enjoying TV series, documentaries and features.
Sharlet says The Family believes in defending political power at any cost. They believe that people in power are more “chosen” than the rest of the population and deserve unwavering support. So they concentrate on introducing powerful men to Jesus, in order to affect important behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy around the world.
The contents of the docu-series have shocked viewers around the world who are questioning whether it is all conspiracy or reality.
The David Bahati character features in episode 4 when the series reveals how The Family created the “Kill-the-Gays” Bill in Uganda.
In the episode, the Bahati character cites as friends he made through The Family, Mitch McConnell, the current Senate Majority Leader and then Nevada Sen. John Ensign, a born-again Evangelical and rising star in the Republican party, and a possible presidential contender—a significant recruit for The Family.
Writing a thread on the episode on Aug.04, Jeff Sharlet who wrote the book which is the basis of the five-part mini-series adds bits of information, he says, viewers will not see because they could not fit into the show.
“It’s scary…,” writes Sharlet, a 47-year old American journalist and author who has written for publications like The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and the New Statesman.
He is best known for his two books: `The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power’ published in 2008 and `C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy’ of 2010. “C Street” is a three-story, brick row house in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington D.C., where a group referred to as The Family, or sometimes The Fellowship, convenes.
Sharlet says the members of the secretive religious group have an important first rule.
“The first rule of C Street is that you don’t talk about C Street,” he says.
Before writing these books, Sharlet was invited to live in Ivanwald, another Fellowship Foundation house in Arlington, Virginia in April 2002.
After leaving the facility, he undertook further research at the organization’s archive, of which he told a blogger that what he found there “both shocked and intrigued.”
In the thread he says TheFamily’s `Kill-the-Gays’ Bill moved by Bahati in Uganda was the most draconian in the world; Death penalty for homosexuality, prison for “promotion of homosexuality” and knowing a gay person and failing to report them.
In episode 4, Bahati is identified as a Fellowship Associate. He’s the head of the Ugandan branch, a frequent guest at the Cedars; a Family house in Arlington, Virginia USA.
Sharlet writes that some Americans assume Ugandan members of The Family are somehow “cruder or less educated” and points out that Bahati went to Wharton at Penn and the Leadership Institute outside Washington, a well-connected program of “political technology” for elite conservatives.
Bahati also started spending a lot of time with The Family, from which he learned at the National Prayer Breakfast that the greatest sin was not murder – it was democracy, “the human choice… to control one’s own life.”
Bahati has a Master of Business Administration degree from Cardiff University, an executive certificate in strategic management from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an executive certificate in campaign leadership from the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia that teaches “political technology.” Its mission is to “increase the number and effectiveness of conservative activists” and to “identify, train, recruit and place conservatives in politics, government, and media.”
It is here that he met a group of mainly influential social conservatives, including politicians. The group became a base of inspiration and technical support for Bahati’s anti-homosexuality bill. According to a story in The New York Times by Josh Kron, Bahati said the idea for the bill first sprang from a conversation with members of The Fellowship in 2008. Three American evangelicals who specialize in “sexual orientation correction” participated in a 2009 anti-homosexuality conference in Kampala.
But in the same Episode, Bahati sees another side of the Family when its leaders try to distance themselves from the Gays bill. In 2010 Hunter publicly called on Bahati to withdraw the Bill and by 2012, when the Bill was drawing criticism; Bahati said he felt abandoned by the Family.
“In Africa we value friendship,” Bahati reportedly told the journalist, “But the West is different.”
Richard Carver, who said he served as president of The Fellowship until August 2011, said members of his group were actively involved in Uganda but the group never took an official position on the Anti-gays Bill.
Bahati says Hunter had other concerns when they talked. “He was talking about the pressure the gay community is putting on the Fellowship… He was trying to do damage control.”
Bahati, who is constantly referred to as the “Ugandan Family leader,” reportedly emphasized to Sharlet that Hunter “has never said, ‘David, what you are doing (with Kill-the-Gays) is a problem.’”
Sharlet says the Anti-gays Bill was not conceived at TheFamily’s C St House or its Arlington mansion— The Cedars in Arlington. The Ugandan branch of the Family launched the bill.
“The Family didn’t pull the trigger; it provided the gun. The weapon was an idea, God-led government in lieu of democracy…,” Sharlet writes.
Museveni meets the Family
In episode 4 viewers meet a Family member named Bob Hunter who tells a story about how they came to Uganda simply through prayer. But in two memos he submitted to then-leader of the Family, Doug Coe, Sharlet says Hunter told a much more complicated story.
Hunter describes working with other Family members; Sen. Chuck Grassley and Chester Crocker, an Assistant Secretary of State in U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s administration to bring President Yoweri Museveni (whom Sharlet describes as the Ugandan dictator) then a “left-wing fanatic” into the American sphere – through Jesus.
The goal wasn’t love. It was, according to Hunter’s memos to Doug Coe, to use American power to ensure that Uganda, “the most Christian country in Africa does not go in the wrong ideological direction.”
TheFamily also raised money for two Ugandan hospitals and was, according to Sharlet, pleased with an administrator who told the 400 employees “that no corruption or sin would be tolerated and that a pregnant, non-married nurse would be fired.
In the same episode, Hunter acknowledges introducing Museveni to friends in Washington D.C; including Presidents Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, and World Bank officials, who convinced Museveni to abandon socialism.
Hunter saw the Ugandan work was part of a plan to digitalise the network of the Family, with databases of embassy contacts in every country, “key men, all led by the head, which gives it purpose and direction.”
“TheFamily saw Uganda as what it called an `opportunity nation’ to install an “invisible central nervous system, with “key men responsible for maintaining efficiency behind the scenes,” Sharlet writes.
Hunter; according to Sharlet, recruited Andrew Young – once a top aide to Martin Luther King, to be the draw for a meeting of powerful Ugandans. Young was a means of opening the door for soft-sell evangelism. “So soft you don’t even notice it,” Hunter reportedly told Sharlet.
Sharlet writes: “I asked him why he brought Andrew Young and other American politicians to meet Uganda’s elite, and he was blunt: “They were bait.” Bait to bring the Ugandans, Christians all, into a relationship with the American Jesus.”
“I’ve never asked Museveni – the Ugandan dictator who became The Family’s key man in the region-to do anything,” Hunter reportedly told Sharlet, meaning he didn’t need to.
When Hunter then toured his new spiritual protégé, Museveni, around Washington to build support, he concentrated not so much on big names as the aides who actually write the legislation.
“There are times when you have to have secrecy,” Hunter reportedly told Sharlet, explaining why he – with no official position – was negotiating the American relationship with a nation that would become a U.S.
`The Family’ is such a secretive group that it does not even have a name. Instead it has operated under several guises over the years, including the National Leadership Council, the Fellowship Foundation, and the International Foundation.
The Netflix series look at the ways in which the organisation has remained largely unknown through a web of nonprofits, and how the group has, for decades, used its proximity to power to influence policy-making around the world—without the public’s knowledge. The series connects the group to anti-LGBT legislation in Romania and Uganda.
The family is a faith-based group with headquarters near Washington, D.C., where it seeks to share the teachings of Jesus. Members say it’s not about spreading Christianity, but about the word of Jesus, specifically.
One way it does this is by forming relationships with powerful politicians: it hosts small, bipartisan prayer groups in the Capitol and has put on the National Prayer Breakfast since 1953. The group’s current spiritual leader is believed to be with Doug Burleigh, son-in-law of its influential former leader Doug Coe who died in 2017.
The group was founded in the 1930s by Abraham Vereide who died in 1969, and his little-known understudy from Oregon named Doug Coe took over.
Coe was interested in working with political leaders. Time magazine named Coe one of the most influential Evangelicals in the world in 2005, and perhaps his greatest impact was his hand in organizing the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual religious event in Washington D.C. that has been attended by every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower in 1853. He also believed that privacy is paramount.
“The more you can make your organisation invisible, the more influence it will have,” Coe says in old video footage that appears in the Netflix series.
The Netflix series comes at a significant time for the former governor and congressman Mark Sanford, as he decides whether or not to run for president, challenging fellow Republican Donald Trump. Sanford is former governor of South Carolina. As Trump leads the most fundamentalist administration in U.S. history and another election looms, the Netflix series begs the question: What is the state of The Family now?