Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network is already weighing legal action against two filmmakers over their documentary depicting the televangelist’s egregious misrepresentations of the activities of his charity, Operation Blessing.
An Operation Blessing spokesman told The Virginian-Pilot that they are “considering legal action” against Lara Zizic and David Turner, whose film “Mission Congo” will hold its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival, over the film’s supposed “false and defamatory” content.
CBN has a history of going after Robertson’s critics; for example, they recently embarked on an unsuccessful push to cover up a video of Robertson — first posted here on Right Wing Watch —arguing that gay men wear special rings that they use to infect random people they meet with HIV/AIDS.
Chris McGreal of The Guardian reports that the film depicts how Robertson diverted charitable activities to help mining projects that he owned and grossly exaggerated the work of Operation Blessing among Rwandan refugees.
The bulk of the thousands of doctors and nurses struggling to save lives – as about 40,000 people died of cholera – were volunteers for the international medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The Bible readers were hired by the American televangelist and former religious right presidential candidate, Pat Robertson, and his aid organisation, Operation Blessing International.
But on Robertson’s US television station, the Christian Broadcasting Network, that reality was reversed, as he raised millions of dollars from loyal followers by claiming Operation Blessing was at the forefront of the international response to the biggest refugee crisis of the decade. It’s a claim he continues to make, even though an official investigation into Robertson’s operation in Virginia accused him of “fraudulent and deceptive” claims when he was running an almost non-existent aid operation.
Mission Congo, by David Turner and Lara Zizic, opens at the Toronto film festival on Friday. It describes how claims about the scale of aid to Rwandan refugees were among a number of exaggerated or false assertions about the activities of Operation Blessing which pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in donations, much of it through Robertson’s televangelism. They include characterising a failed large-scale farming project as a huge success, and claims about providing schools and other infrastructure.
But some of the most damaging criticism of Robertson comes from former aid workers at Operation Blessing, who describe how mercy flights to save refugees were diverted hundreds of miles from the crisis to deliver equipment to a diamond mining concession run by the televangelist.
The documentary describes how dredges, used to suck up diamonds from river beds, were delivered hundreds of miles from the crisis in Goma to a private commercial firm, African Development Company, registered in Bermuda and wholly owned by Robertson. ADC held a mining concession near the town of Kamonia on the far side of the country.
The pilot said he joined Operation Blessing to help people. Of the 40 flights he flew into Congo, just two delivered aid. The others were associated with the diamond mining. “We’re not doing anything for those people,” he said. “After several months I was embarrassed to have Operation Blessing on the airplane’s tail.” He had the lettering removed.
Robertson’s activities in Congo were initially exposed by a Virginia newspaper, the Virginian Pilot, in the 1990s. The investigation by Bill Sizemore prompted the attorney general in Virginia, where Operation Blessing is registered, to order a probe by the state’s office of consumer affairs.
Its report concluded that Robertson made “fraudulent and deceptive” statements with claims to be ferrying doctors and medical aid to Goma when he was delivering diamond-mining equipment. It accused Operation Blessing of “misrepresenting” what its flights were doing, and of saying that the airstrip at Kamonia was part of the aid operation when it was “for the benefit of ADC’s mining operation”.
It also said Robertson had falsely portrayed the Dumi farm as hugely successful when it had already failed.
“Pat Robertson made material claims, via television appeals, regarding the relief efforts. These statements are refuted by the evidence in this case,” the report said.
Robertson has been embroiled in mining controversies elsewhere in Africa. He supported the then president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, during that country’s civil war without revealing at the time that he had an $8m investment in a Liberian gold mine. Taylor was already indicted by a UN war crimes tribunal at the time and was later convicted of crimes against humanity.
Full disclosure: The filmmakers conducted research in People For the American Way’s archives.