The controversial right-wing Christ Church – and its pastor, Douglas Wilson – have led an uncompromising campaign to oppose public health measures against coronaviruses in Idaho, revealing the church’s powerful influence in its hometown from Moscow and beyond.
The campaign included face-to-face protests, disinformation, and encouragement of civil disobedience through church-owned media, which the Guardian reported is seeking to increase its power and influence in the city. for the purpose of creating a theocracy in America.
It also comes at a time when many far-right groups across the United States are taking action against the Covid-19 warrants, which have been echoed by calls for civil disobedience by more mainstream Republican figures, including including politicians in office.
With the Idaho health authorities recently rationing of hospital care In the face of serious infections that massively afflict the unvaccinated, Wilson has continued to speak out against mask and vaccination warrants on his blog, with other church members following suit in public forums.
It drew national attention on the right, especially from Donald Trump, who spurred a church protest against mask warrants on Twitter while his account was still active.
Despite this campaign against the restrictions, church-aligned organizations – including several founded by Wilson – as well as personalities and leaders from Christ Church, applied for and received federal PPP and PPS loans – programs designed to compensate businesses from the impact of coronavirus restrictions.
The loans came from the Trump and Biden administrations’ efforts to compensate small businesses for lost revenue during the pandemic.
Despite his influence, his previous condemnations of government largesse in the form of welfare, education, and foreign aid, and his characterization of the federal response to Covid as a government conspiracy, Wilson has not publicly criticized the ready, nor advised his supporters to solicit them.
Wilson himself has used his widely read blog to challenge public health restrictions imposed by the city of Moscow and to weave conspiracy theories on such measures. Wilson recommended that readers consider forging hypothetical government “vaccine passports” in order to cross state borders freely.
In another blog post, Wilson said that “the ruling elites are fighting, trying to stir up unrest, and doing so so that they can justify truly repressive measures.” Elsewhere, in a discussion where he told readers to demand religious exemptions from vaccinations, he wrote of governments and health authorities: “They want to be in charge of every detail of human existence. They crave control and power. They are totalitarians in spirit.
Along with this public rhetoric, the Guardian discovered that the campaign against the restrictions was also waged privately, in email campaigns targeting city officials and in private meetings granted to Wilson by Moscow Mayor Doug Lambert. .
Lambert did not respond to repeated requests for comment on his and the city’s relationship with Christ Church, including detailed questions on the subject of the July meeting.
In September last year, Wilson and other Christ Church employees sent Lambert emails urging him to end the town’s mask mandate.
Since the first local restrictions were imposed to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic last July, alumni of Christ Church and its local affiliate, Trinity Reformed, have sparked public protests against the measures.
Initial opposition to the restrictions peaked in September last year, when Christ Church promoted an unmasked “psalm chanting” protest against Moscow’s mask mandate.
The Psalm Sing protests continued throughout 2020, as Wilson promoted an increasingly uncompromising and sometimes conspiratorial line on his blog.
Christ Church elder Gabriel Rench was cited during the September protest for violating the mask’s warrant, then arrested after refusing to provide police with ID.
Wilson’s son and his two grandsons have been invoiced in October with 13 offenses for the placement of anti-mask stickers with the words “Soviet Moscow – In force because we care”.
At the time of his arrest in 2020, Rench was a candidate for the Latah County commission. In interviews with local media, he attributed his run in part to his belief that the city’s mask mandate was unconstitutional.
Rench, who is a deacon of Christ Church and has served on the board of directors of several organizations affiliated with Christ Church, lost the election.
Rench hosts a podcast with Christ Church associate pastor Toby Sumpter and another man, David Shannon, which they post on mainstream video sites like Facebook, as well as alternative tech sites like Rumble under the banner of a company, CrossPolitic Studios, which is controlled by an LLC owned by Rench.
On their podcasts and videos, and on a news aggregation service run by CrossPolitic, the men broadcast anti-mask and anti-vaccine messages, as well as the familiar, ultra-conservative church stance on gender and sexuality.
After his electoral defeat, Rench filed a lawsuit against the city for his arrest.
But Rench was only the most recent local political candidate aligned with the church. In 2019, two candidates affiliated with Christ Church, Kelsey Berends and James Urquidez, candidate for municipal council, but lost to more progressive candidates.
Funding statements from each candidate show that almost all of their donations came from prominent local business people who are also members of Christ Church.
Urquidez, in particular, has received a cumulative $ 2,000 from Christ Church Elder, former managing director of data analytics firm EMSI, and new real estate developer Andrew Crapuchettes.
Church members have also made inroads into local party organizations. Jesse Sumpter – the brother of associate pastor and podcaster Toby – is state youth president of the Latah County Republican Party. Wilson and Christ Church supported the Idaho state legislature candidates.
Sam Paul graduated from the church’s affiliated New Saint Andrews College (NSAC) in 2014, having already started working at EMSI under Crapuchettes, and as of 2016, according to his LinkedIn page, worked as an “advisor” for former Republican candidate Carl. Berglund.
Berglund has been described as “far right” by a local newspaper, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
On his blog, Wilson has compared the debt cancellation of the developing world on the fly; complained the idea of education and health as rights which “remind us that the reception of this right by the beneficiary is paid for by the enslavement of others”; and in another post he said that “all of this comes at a price and the payment will not be made by the right holder.”
But according to Small Business Administration (SBA) records, church-aligned organizations – including those founded by Wilson – and the businesses of prominent Christ Church office holders and spokespersons have not only taken out loans. funded by taxpayers, but in some cases do not seem to have paid them back.
The loans reveal a new dimension of the overlapping membership of Church of Christ members across a range of institutions with not only local but national reach.
The Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS), co-founded by Wilson in 1996 and still based in Moscow, is an advocacy and accreditation body for “classical Christian schools” such as the Logos School in Moscow, a private school. K-12 also co-founded by Wilson.
Recent tax declarations made available by ProPublica show that ACCS took out a PPP loan of $ 75,800 and then took out another PPS loan of the same amount in 2021, for a total of $ 151,600. Although SBA records show that the earlier loan was repaid, there is no indication that the later loan was repaid.
The growth of the ACCS and the founding of more colleges like the NSAC led to the formation of a company, Classic Learning Initiatives, which designed the Classic Learning Test as a means of standardized testing for Christian schools, to students seeking to enter Christian universities.
SBA records show that CLI received $ 282,479 in PPP loans. The company counts among its governing bodies Ben Merkle, president of the NSAC, and Daniel Foucachon, qualified there as “national leader of educational renewal”.
Daniel Foucachon, his father Francis and his mother Donna are all board members of Huguenot Heritage Ministries (HHM), a theological training ministry founded by both parents.
Francis Foucachon is an alumnus at Christ Church, and Daniel is a board member of the NSAC Alumni Association, having graduated from college before working for Canon Press, a church-aligned publisher.
HHM received two loans of $ 26,400, and SBA records show only one was repaid.
One of Daniel Foucachon’s companies, Roman Roads Media, which provides study programs and distance learning materials to Christian school children and classical Christian schools, received a loan of $ 16,600. The SBA documents did not disclose the status of this loan.
Rod Story, a member of the Church of Christ, has been running a medical practice in Moscow since his resignation from a nearby Pullman, Wash., hospital after she began offering vaginoplasties to transgender women.
Story, who resigned on the grounds that “genders are given by God,” offered an equivocal position on vaccines in church-aligned podcasts and in her own newsletters, stressing that vaccines work, but arguing , with Wilson, for “vaccine freedom” and the power of natural immunity.
Story’s practice received a loan of $ 27,100. The data did not reveal whether the loan had been repaid.