The Ten Commandments And The 4,300-Year-Old Dinosaur: Michael Peroutka's Web Of Christian-Nation Influence
Two weeks ago, the Creation Museum — the anti-evolution themepark run by the advocacy group Answers in Genesis — received a huge gift: a $1 million dinosaur skeleton meant to help the museum illustrate its belief that dinosaurs were part of the original creation 6,000 years ago and coexisted with humans until well after Noah’s flood.
The benefactor that gave the museum Ebenezer the Allosaurus was the Elizabeth Streb Peroutka Foundation, a family foundation run by Maryland-based right-wing activists and brothers Michael and Stephen Peroutka and Michael’s daughter Elizabeth. Observers immediately noted that this dinosaur came with some contemporary human baggage: Michael Peroutka is an extreme right-wing activist who is a frequent supporter and former board member of the neo-Confederate League of the South and who believes that the Union’s victory in the Civil War brought on all of America’s ills, including “homo-sodomite unmarriage.”
But the Peroutkas’ influence extends far beyond fringe anti-gay, neo-Confederate activism and providing a real-life dinosaur to illustrate made-up science. Through a set of debt-collection businesses, the Peroutkas finance a host of anti-choice groups and promote a troubling Christian-Nation ideology in Maryland and throughout the country. Michael Peroutka, a 2004 Constitution Party candidate for president, is also largely self-financing his campaign for local office in Anne Arundel County.
Michael Peroutka runs the Institute on the Constitution, an “educational” group through which he promotes his Christian Reconstructionist viewpoint that “the function of civil government is to obey God and to enforce God’s law” — that is, Peroutka’s idea of what constitutes God’s law. Peroutka, for instance, claims that there are no such thing as “civil rights” enforceable by the government, because “rights come from God.”
The Institute on the Constitution, according to the group’s website, is “sponsored” by and shares an address with Peroutka and Peroutka, the debt-collection firm Michael runs with his brother Stephen, who was also a co-founder of the Institute.
It’s through the law firm and its debt-buying arm, Pasadena Recievables, that the Peroutka brothers finance the Elizabeth Streb Peroutka Foundation, which is named after their mother.
From its founding in 2003 through 2012, the last year for which tax records are available, the family’s foundation has been almost entirely financed by grants from the Peroutkas' pair of debt-collection businesses, along with investment income and a few personal donations from Michael and Stephen. Together, the family and its businesses have put $5.2 million into the foundation over nine years.
Its biggest asset, until now, has been the Allosaurus.
Ebenezer the Allosaurus was originally dug up in 2002 by a team of homeschoolers led by a conservative Christian family from Florida that ran a business providing anti-evolution excavation adventures. Also leading that expedition was Doug Phillips, a leader of the anti-feminist Quiverfull movement, who is now facing charges of sexual battery and assault against a young follower.
From the moment the bones were found, their discoverers vowed to keep them out of the hands of scientists, who estimate that the Allosaurus lived roughly 150 million years ago. “I am sure the evolutionists would love to get their hands on these bones," Phillips said at the time. “Who can blame them. It is like a gold mine for paleontologists.”
Peroutka cited those fears at the Creation Museum unveiling last month, when he told of how he came to purchase Ebenezer. He was determined to keep the dinosaur out of the hands of “anyone with a ‘millions of years’ mindset,” he said, and to keep it under the guardianship of those who believe the skeleton is just 4,300 years old:
While snatching the dinosaur from the evolutionists has been the Peroutka family foundation’s priciest project, Michael explained in his remarks at the museum that the foundation was “primarily intended to offer financial aid to groups who were dedicated to ending the holocaust of abortion.”
Of $3.6 million in grants that the Peroutka Foundation has dispensed over nine years, about one-quarter — $920,000 — has gone to the National Pro-Life Action Center, an anti-choice lobbying group chaired by Stephen Peroutka. (The Center is one of a tangled web of right-wing organizations run out of the same office in Washington). Stephen Peroutka was also the founder of National Pro-Life Radio, a network run out of the same building as the brothers’ law office that aired shows from anti-choice activists including Janet Porter, Jay Sekulow, Frank Pavone, Jesse Lee Peterson, and both Peroutka brothers.
The foundation has heaped much of its largesse on Maryland-based abortion clinic protest groups and crisis pregnancy centers, including contributing a total of $236,000 to the Baltimore-based abortion clinic protest group Defend Life, perhaps most infamous for organizing a protest outside the middle school attended by the daughter of an abortion provider’s landlord.
And although anti-choice groups have received the bulk of the foundation’s grants, it has also taken on some other causes close to Michael Peroutka’s heart.
Most notably, the foundation has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to groups associated with Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, one of the nation’s loudest proponents of Christian Reconstructionist ideology, who shot to fame in 2003 when he was ousted from his original position on the state supreme court for refusing to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse.
In 2004, after the far-right Constitution Party failed to recruit Moore to run for president, Peroutka took his place as the party’s candidate. That same year, the Peroutka Foundation spent $120,000 bankrolling Moore’s nationwide speaking tour “regarding morality and the Ten Commandments” and gave $12,000 to the National Coalition to Restore the Constitution, a group that organized rallies backing Moore in an effort drum up support for a measure preventing federal courts from hearing many church-state separation cases .
In addition, the Peroutka Foundation has contributed a quarter of a million dollars to the Foundation for Moral Law, the group that Moore ran before returning to the Alabama Supreme Court, and which is now run by Moore’s wife. Under Moore’s leadership, the Foundation for Moral Law hosted a neo-Confederate “secession day” event, and the group employs John Eidsmoe, a Michelle Bachmann mentor who has white supremacist ties. One of Moore's activities at the group was representing protesters who had disrupted a Hindu opening prayer in the U.S. Senate. “It's a shame that not one U.S. Senator stood up to defend a tradition that goes back to the very first Continental Congress of acknowledging the one true God of the Holy Scriptures," he lamented.
In 2007 and 2008, the Peroutka Foundation contributed $60,000 to Moore’s now-defunct Coalition to Restore America. In the summer of 2007, Moore spoke at a conference in Maryland organized by Peroutka, where, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “he and a string of far-right activists peddled ‘Christian nation’ rhetoric, bashed Islam, belittled American culture and the federal government and displayed an alarming affinity for the neo-Confederate states’ rights cause.” Also speaking at the conference were Eidsmoe and Gordon Klingenschmitt, the former Navy chaplain who now supplies the world with an endless supply of YouTube rants about gay “demonic spirits.” At the end of the day, everyone gathered under a Confederate flag to dedicate part of the Peroutkas’ land as “Judge Roy Moore Field.”
In 2011, the Institute on the Constitution presented Moore with an award for “choosing to obey God, and acknowledging Him both in word and in deed, regardless of the consequences” and resisting “a government which thought it was God.”
The next year, when Moore successfully ran to reclaim his seat on the state supreme court, Peroutka provided the bulk of his campaign chest.
The affinity between Moore and Peroutka extends to the issue of evolution. Moore contends that the theory of evolution is incompatible with the Constitution; Peroutka insists the “promotion of evolution is an act of disloyalty to America”:
While anti-choice groups and Moore have been the biggest recipients of the Peroutka Foundation’s generosity — at least until Ebenezer moved into the Creation Museum — the foundation has also offered smaller grants to a smattering of extremist ministries and Confederate history enthusiasts.
The Foundation has given $24,000 over six years to Pass the Salt, the ministry of unhinged anti-gay extremist “Coach” Dave Daubenmire (the one who complained last year that he was "sick and tired of being sodomized by the left"). In 2012, it gave a $6,000 grant to “You Can Run By You Cannot Hide,” the ministry of Bachmann acolyte Bradlee Dean, who travels to unsuspecting public schools to give disturbing anti-gay “seminars.”
Since 2006, the foundation has given an annual $1,000 grant to restoring a Confederate cemetery in Maryland, a project organized by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that has cozied up to the racist extremists in its ranks. In 2004, it donated $2,250 to a Confederate reenactment troop for "education of the public as to the causes of the War between the States."
The Peroutkas are also frequent donors to state and local campaigns. According to Center for Responsive Politics data, Michael, Stephen and Stephen’s wife Deborah contributed $35,900 to their congressman, Rep. Andy Harris, between 2007 and 2011.
Not the least of the beneficiaries is Michael Peroutka himself, who has lent $30,000 to his own campaign for Anne Arundel County Council, about half of the $62,000 he has raised so far. His political ambitions may continue to run higher — it was rumored that he considered running for state attorney general this year before setting his sights on the county council.
Peroutka’s web of influence shows that he is more than, as one libertarian scholar put it, a "wackypants anti-gay crusader.” Peroutka's activism and philanthropy illuminate the connections between the Creationist movement, the Christian-Nation philosophy of people like Judge Moore, anti-choice agitators, fringe anti-gay extremists like Daubenmire and Klingenschmitt, and the network of Confederate nostalgists that can never quite hide its racist roots. All are striving for a biblical and constitutional purism that exists only in the minds of those who adhere to it, and a return to an imagined past where dinosaurs stowed away on Noah’s ark, the Constitution mandated an exclusively Christian nation, and the Civil War didn't turn out quite right.
Research contributed by Ian Silverstone
Organizations:National Pro-Life Action Center , You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, Pass The Salt, Institute on the Constitution, Defend Life, Answers in Genesis , Foundation for Moral Law
People:Dave Daubenmire , Gordon Klingenschmitt , Andy Harris, Bradlee Dean, John Eidsmoe, Michael Peroutka, Stephen Peroutka
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