Backward, Christian Soldiers
Should Klawonn’s case come to trial, a key witness on his behalf will likely be another victim of religious discrimination at Fort Hood. Zachary Arenz, an Army specialist who turned to MRFF in June, was subjected to sustained abuse not because he is a Muslim but because he is a Jew.
From 2007, when he first reported for duty at Fort Hood, to his departure from the service in June, Arenz was singled out by both flag and noncommissioned officers for his faith. His request for kosher meals in the field was denied, and he was ordered by his platoon sergeant to find a fatigue-colored yarmulke so as “to restrict its visibility.” In his cot after a day of field-training exercises, Arenz was reading Hebrew Scripture; his platoon sergeant loudly demanded to know why the Jews killed Jesus. On another occasion, Arenz returned to his barracks to find a swastika scrawled on the parchment from his mezuzah. At one point, his battalion commander told him that “all Jews make bad soldiers” and that Judaism was “incompatible with military service.” He was even ordered to give his mother’s telephone number to Fort Hood authorities so they could confirm that he was, in fact, Jewish. Eventually Arenz was found guilty in a court-martial of what he says were trumped-up charges of having a cellphone in the field and not being at an appointed place of duty.
During his struggle with the Army bureaucracy, Arenz, a native of Huntsville, Alabama, petitioned his senators and Congressman for assistance, with no success. “I just want my day in court,” he says. “I want to face my tormentors and I want them relieved.”
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In addition to his running skirmishes with religious discrimination, Weinstein can now add alleged predation to his casebook. In October he agreed to represent Jean Baas, who charged that directors of a nonprofit organization called Cadets for Christ prey on Air Force Academy cadets and manipulate them into marrying one another, a common cult practice known as “shepherding.” Baas based her accusations on her experience with her daughter, Lauren, who, she claims, was brainwashed into participating in CFC’s rituals, culminating in her September engagement to a fellow group member.
“They still dictate every move she makes,” Baas said by telephone from her Gulfport, Mississippi, home, where Lauren grew up. “It’s sickening to watch while the Air Force does nothing.”
According to her mother, Lauren was a strong-willed and devout Catholic who attended Mass regularly at Colorado Springs during her first year at the Air Force Academy. In August 2008 she was recruited by a friend and CFC member to participate in the group’s functions, which included weekend spiritual retreats, Wednesday night Bible study on the academy grounds and dinners at the home of group directors Donald and Anna Warrick. Soon, according to Baas, Lauren was disparaging her family members as irredeemable papists. During visits home for holidays and semester breaks, she was sullen and aloof, retreating deep into the fold of Scripture. By March 2009 she had forsaken her dream of becoming an Air Force pilot for the divinely inspired role of wife and mother. That Labor Day weekend, Lauren e-mailed her parents of her intention to marry a fellow CFC member, whom she knew only through Bible study meetings. (Lauren had already formally announced her engagement during a CFC gathering at the Warricks’ home.) In late June Lauren and her fiancé spent several days with her parents in Gulfport, poring over packages of materials provided by the Warricks that enumerated the spousal responsibilities of the “shepherd” and his “sheep.”
Reached by e-mail, Donald Warrick described Cadets for Christ as “a Bible-study group for interested cadets,” many of whom have received early promotions to flag rank. About a third of its members worship with the Warricks, he wrote, while the rest attend services elsewhere, and “all of them are free to come and go from our study as they choose.” The CFC board is aware of the allegations made by Jean Bass and Weinstein’s representation of her, according to Warrick, “and while their reality about what takes place and is taught in Cadets for Christ is far different from our own they are of course free to say what they want, and we wish them well.”
The Baases and their daughter, now stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, are completely estranged. “I’m not surprised this kind of evangelicalism exists,” says Baas. “But I am surprised at where it takes place. This is no accident. Someone is allowing these people to operate there.”
A current MRFF client corroborates Baas’s account of Cadets for Christ and indications of at least passive academy support for the group. In an e-mail made available to The Nation on the understanding that its author will remain anonymous, the client says her daughter was recruited by the Warricks, whom she describes as “dangerous and destructive individuals.” Just as disturbing, she writes, “is how these folks are at the academy, recruiting some of the brightest and the best, to carry out their mission…right under the unsuspecting or maybe the knowing, leaders of the academy. Then when it is pointed out to them, it is denied. Is that denial out of ignorance or is it to protect? This is why I say that this issue may be much bigger and broader than what appears.”
Asked for comment, Air Force Academy spokesman Lt. Col. John Bryan said the allegations relating to Cadets for Christ are not substantiated. Bryan also stated that “the academy remains committed to protecting an individual’s right to practice any religion they choose, or no religion, provided their practices do not violate policy or law or impede mission accomplishment.”
When Baas petitioned the academy for help, she was told by a chaplain to write a letter to the superintendent but to betray “no feelings, so as not to sound like a crying mother.” In the fall, she came across MRFF during an Internet search and, frustrated with what she regarded as academy inertia, contacted Weinstein. With signature alacrity, he fired off e-mails to senior Air Force officers in Washington—including a former Air Force chief of staff—and the media, landing an exposé in Truthout, the online general news site. He publicly expressed outrage that academy officials would allow a private religious group to proselytize at a government institution, a charge he said was corroborated by statements from dozens of cadets. “We are now in a state of war with the academy,” he told the weekly Colorado Springs Independent in September.
He was back in the ring, canines bared.