The Devil and Dan Webster

It’s very, very likely that Rep. Kevin McCarthy will succeed John Boehner as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. But it’s worth noting that the solon most likely to challenge him on behalf of disgruntled conservatives, Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL), is not just a bit to the right of Jimmy Dean Sausage, but has strong links to some of the more exotic and destructive of Christian Right cults. At TPM today, Sarah Posner reminds us of this bird’s strange plumage:

[Webster] has a decades-long affiliation with the Institute in Basic Life Principles, the controversial ministry whose founder, Bill Gothard, resigned last year after more than 30 women accused him of sexual harassment. As TPM reported earlier this month, IBLP subjected young followers to victim-blaming “counseling” for rape, as well as grueling work schedules at its facilities for little or no pay, requiring women to engage in gendered tasks that included scrubbing carpets on their hands and knees.

The IBLP, you may recall, is where young Josh Duggar was sent for counseling after he was caught sexually abusing little girls. You see how well that all turned out.

But as Posner explains, Webster’s association with IBLP–and more specifically with the group’s Advanced Training Institute for homeschooling–was a lot more intimate and ongoing than that of the Duggers.

In a 2003 speech at an IBLP conference, “Discover the True Qualities of Leadership,” Webster boasted of how he diligently conducts both his private and public life according to the “commitments” he made to the principles he learned at IBLP seminars. By his own account in the speech, and according to statements in ATI newsletters, Webster began his affiliation with IBLP when he attended a seminar for legislators at IBLP’s Northwoods Conference Center in Watersmeet, Michigan, in 1984. A few months later, Webster said during the speech, he attended an IBLP “basic seminar” in Tampa, Florida. His family later joined ATI, and his wife homeschooled their six children with the curriculum. (Webster’s first legislative achievement in Florida was a bill legalizing homeschooling, which became law in 1985.)

IBLP believes strongly in submission of women to men, and opposes not just abortion but virtually every form of birth control. And they are no slackers on the spiritual warfare front, either:

Webster has claimed that the “Hedge of Thorns” prayer he learned at the legislative seminar has protected him, his family, and his congressional district from Satan. A 1990 ATI newsletter also describes how Webster “began to pray in the name and through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, that God would rebuke Satan and all his principalities from any evil attack in his district.” Webster and his family were featured in a 2002 newsletter, which described how he “looked to the Lord for a campaign plan, studying the Scriptures in Psalms and Proverbs that relate to leadership and government.” He continued to speak at IBLP seminars, including in 2007 and 2010. A former ATI member recalled Gothard inviting the entire Webster family to the stage at the 2007 Nashville conference, declaring, “Wouldn’t it be great to one day have a President Webster?” That, she said, was met with “loud applause.”

Well, the devil is likely to win over Dan Webster in his Speakership campaign. But the fact that this guy isn’t hooted off the podium by House Republicans for the very idea he should join the leadership is yet another sign of the rightward drift of the GOP in recent years.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.