MRFF Highlights its Own Lack of Credibility. Again.
Michael Weinstein and his associates in his self-founded and awkwardly named Military Religious Freedom Foundation frequently rely on anonymous anecdotes, unsubstantiated accusations, or claims they cannot publicly support beyond vague innuendo.
In short, Weinstein’s credibility relies immensely on “trust me.”
Unfortunately for him, he’s long since lost any semblance of credibility, thanks in part to his researcher, Chris Rodda, who has had some issues with this in the past.
Rodda once belittled supporters of a Christian group at USAFA, claiming their support was a manufactured letter-writing campaign — despite public evidence contradicting her characterization. After her conduct was exposed here, she “updated” her accusations (contrary to her prior claim she doesn’t “change something after [she] write[s] it”). However, had a local paper not written an article on the same topic, no one would have known Rodda had sensationalized her story without any facts to support her claims.
This is a common trait for Rodda’s MRFF tales: She frequently makes accusations without any supporting evidence, as when she accused a military officer of being “in violation of military regulations” — without ever saying what or how any regulations were violated. Those who take the time to actually read the publicly available regulations may find her characterizations a bit…inaccurate.
In another example, in June of 2008, Rodda went on a fundraising push claiming a need for money so dire that Michael Weinstein, the President of his own charity, “doesn’t even pay himself a salary.” Unfortunately for her, Weinstein’s publicly available tax forms for that year show he not only did pay himself a salary, he paid himself a substantial one: more than a quarter million dollars, or nearly half of what donors contributed to his “charity.”
Despite making firm and confident statements, Rodda has repeatedly misstated facts, even with easy-to-find public documents showing her factual errors.
And, for the record, MRFF does not, and has never had, a position called “CIO.”
Now, if that were the case, why would anyone think they did? Well, if Rodda, as the MRFF researcher, had spent a few minutes researching her own organization, she would have seen that Michael Weinstein listed the “officers” in his “organization” this way:
There are two possibilities: either Michael Weinstein is wrong, or Chris Rodda is wrong. As a paid staff member of the MRFF, Rodda may actually have the appropriate access to be telling the truth. Weinstein has consistently been the only paid officer of his “foundation” which, for the most part, seems to consist only of himself, Chris Rodda, and a few volunteers. Michael Weinstein is the founder and President of his own charity, and he pays only one officer: himself. He keeps the books himself, and appears to be the only staff member who lives anywhere near the MRFF ‘headquarters,’ which seem to be his home office. Thus, the MRFF has never been portrayed as having an organizational officership structure — just its President.
So maybe Rodda is right, and Weinstein has never had a CIO. But if she is right, Weinstein would have to be lying to the IRS. (This wouldn’t be the first time Rodda put her foot in her mouth by second-guessing Weinstein’s IRS filings.)
Alternatively, Chris Rodda may be wrong — again — about information any person with a computer can verify in just a few minutes. Rodda’s attempt to play “gotcha” backfired in more ways than one.
But wait! There’s more: Rodda made a point of not only denying Baker’s role, but also saying the MRFF “has never had” such a position.
Care to know how Weinstein described his own organization the year before Rick Baker’s stint as the “non-CIO” of the MRFF?
Each year prior to that is the same, with David Antoon named the “CIO” of the MRFF. Contrary to Rodda’s authoritative statement the MRFF “has never had” a CIO, the MRFF has actually always had a CIO, save its first month of existence in December 2005 when it had no officers.
It doesn’t matter one whit whether the MRFF had a CIO or not. What does matter is Rodda’s inability to convey a simple fact accurately. Her actions appear to represent either willful falsehood or gross incompetence.
If Rodda and the MRFF cannot be trusted to publish truthful information when public documents are available to show their misrepresentation or outright falsehood (especially over such a benign issue as a staff title), how can they possibly be “trusted” to be truthful about the anonymous, secretive, or unsubstantiated accusations upon which they so often rely?
And they strongly rely on such rhetoric. To be fair, Rodda is hardly the only member of the MRFF “group” to believe people should just take her at her word. Frequent MRFF defender (and MRFF CIO, apparently) Rick Baker repeatedly asserts the Navigators, Officers’ Christian Fellowship, Focus on the Family, etc, etc, are “dominionist,” but he provides no proof to support his claim — just his personal feelings. In just a single example, Michael Weinstein was once cited as categorically claiming a group of officers had ‘strong Christian beliefs.’ He provided no support for that claim; in fact, he never even proved he knew those officers’ names, never mind their religious affiliation or strength of religious conviction.
In a similar vein, Weinstein and his friends have even repeatedly made the claim Weinstein is a “registered Republican,” while neglecting to mention that public records indicate he has financially supported Democratic candidates since he fundraised against his Republican representative in 2006. Even he admitted
I’m a Republican but I’m a Republican who voted for Clinton twice, Gore, Kerry and Obama.
If that’s how he defines “Republican,” how can anyone “trust him” when he uses terms like…”Christian?”
Rodda’s role in this is particularly ironic because she has made an extensive hobby of “correcting” others who may have played loose with the facts, from Christian historians to presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. (Interestingly, the URL for Rodda’s article on Bachmann is “michele-bachmann-lies-abo…”, though she never uses the word “lies” in her title or article.)
To the point, if Rodda isn’t truthful (or competent) in her rebuttals over an issue as benign as officers in the MRFF, how can anyone trust her, Weinstein, Baker, or anyone else who claims to speak for the MRFF when they make sensational accusations about religion in the US military?
In short, they can’t.
As the MRFF “group” has yet to learn, simply making a statement, no matter how assertively, doesn’t make it true. Implying something is true on its face, failing to provide evidence, or claiming some secretive threat prevents publicizing the ‘smoking gun’ — all the while claiming their accusations are ‘good enough’ and should just be believed — leads to precisely where the MRFF has gone: They’re little more than fringe conspiracy theorists. They don’t support most of their wild, Christians-are-taking-over-the-world accusations for a simple reason: They can’t.
The Colorado Springs Gazette once (accidentally) did an accurate job of describing the methodology of Weinstein’s group:
[Conspiracy] theories revel in their vagueness — they often lack details about who did what, when and where. This makes them fundamentally difficult to disprove with evidence to the contrary — especially to true believers.
Oh sure, there is often copious evidence to counter any popular conspiracy theory, but because these theories are vague, a true-believer can always come up with a way to either discount that particular piece of evidence or — even more cleverly — to show that the counter-evidence is in fact proof of an even wider conspiracy to cover up the truth — your basic “conspiracy wrapped in a deep-fried cover-up.”
When Seymour Hersh was taken to task earlier this year for his unsupported accusations (which are similar in theme to Weinstein’s), his critics said
The plural of anecdote is not data — and acknowledging there are devout Christians in the military and implying that top military leaders are embarking on a “crusade” against Muslims are two very different things.
The same is precisely true for the accusations coming from Weinstein and his crew, when they present wild accusations unsupported by any valid evidence, data, or “research.”
Thanks in part to Rodda’s work, neither she nor Weinstein (nor their MRFF) have any credibility. (They seem to know this, as it seems their last few “big breaks” have been on the coattails of other organizations.) So the next time Weinstein or his “staff” make a broad accusation of religious malfeasance in the military, you may want to take it with a grain of salt — and find out the real story.
Or, like the US military has sometimes done, it may be easier just to ignore them.