Now available in home video, the documentary “Jesus Camp” puts the spotlight on rightwing evangelists and the children they have successfully indoctrinated. All in all, the film has the same kind of chilling effect as “Village of the Damned” or any other classic sci-fi film in which children are transformed into monsters. (The film was nominated for best documentary this year by the Academy Awards, but lost out to “An Inconvenient Truth”.)
The main figure in “Jesus Camp” is one Becky Fischer, a self-styled children’s pastor from the Kansas City suburbs who runs a “Kids on Fire summer camp” in North Dakota. The film focuses on the children getting ready for camp, their activities there, and concludes with them working the streets on behalf of various Christian rightwing causes.
I was not at all surprised that Kansas City is a hotbed of rightwing Christian idiocy. Back in 1978 leaders of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (an evangelical cult of sorts itself) ordered me to leave New York City and go to Kansas City (my birthplace) where I was supposed to get a factory job. Over the summer, I was selling the party newspaper in front of a grocery store not far from party headquarters when a middle aged woman came toward me, with a big grin on her face. “You see that car,” she asked, pointing to a late model Buick in the parking lot. “The lord provided me with that car.” I didn’t bother answering her, but I might have replied that it was late model Buicks, and the lust for them, that led me down the path of beatnik bohemianism in 1959, a path that finally would lead toward Trotskyism. Jesus could keep his Buicks, as far as I was concerned.
One will probably regard the children in “Jesus Camp” with a mixture of terror and pity. They certainly are scary as they mouth rightwing platitudes about the need to defend America from “extreme liberalism”. But you also feel sorry that they have had their innocence as children robbed from them, just as surely as the young African who is dragooned into a paramilitary. During an indoctrination session at the camp chapel, Becky Fischer warns the children against temptations like “Harry Potter”. There are no good warlocks, she warns the children. Of course, any sensible person would have reminded the children that there are no warlocks at all (nor devils, nor God, for that matter.)
Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Toward the end of the film, we see one of the kids, a handsome long-haired boy named Levi, singing and praying at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a city with more Christian fundamentalists per capita than any place else in the country. This mega-church is run by one Ted Haggard, who is seen railing against homosexuality from the pulpit. Less than two months after the release of “Jesus Camp,” Haggard admitted using a homosexual prostitute and getting high on methamphetamine.
It is doubtful that Haggard’s fall would have any impact on young Levi, who is thoroughly brainwashed as should be obvious from this youtube clip from “Jesus Camp”:
It is a testimony to the skills of the film’s directors, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, that they could get these people to hoist themselves on their own petards. Rather than being a recruiting film for Christian fundamentalism and rightwing politics, as Becky Fischer thought it would be, it has provoked a backlash–even in a red-state like North Dakota whose citizens raised a hue and cry about a “Kids on fire summer camp” in their midst. Fischer has announced that the camp is suspended for the time being on her website. She holds vandalism responsible, but it is safe to assume that bad publicity had more to do with it.
You can see a clip of Becky Fischer on youtube. Very scary.