“Taking a hike on the Appalachian Trail” was never the same after June 24, 2009.
On that Wednesday, an uncomfortable South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) told TV cameras that he had not been out for a jaunt on the historic trail for the previous week, as his staff and the entire political world had thought. Instead he was gallivanting around South America with his mistress.
“The bottom line is this: I’ve been unfaithful to my wife,” Sanford told reporters that day, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve developed a relationship with a dear, dear friend from Argentina.”
The incident was also the latest in a string of bad press that would befall the residents past and present of 133 C St. SE, a religious commune of sorts for Christian lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Just eight days before Sanford took to the mics, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), a current C Street resident, copped to an affair with the spouse of an ex-staffer. Ex-Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), who had also lived in the Capitol Hill group house until he decided not to run for re-election in 2008, was accused of infidelity in 2009 divorce filings by his now ex-wife.
But it’s the occasion of Sanford’s announcement that author Jeff Sharlet uses to start off “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy,” a book that suggests there is a paternalistic Christian plot under way by lawmakers and members of the military.
Starting with Sanford, Sharlet begins his book by detailing the torrid extramarital relationships of the lawmakers who lived there and how the secretive benevolent organization that owns the house, dubbed “The Family,” as well as fellow lawmakers, allegedly attempted to cover up misdeeds. “The Family sees itself as a ministry for the benefit of the poor, by way of the powerful. The best way to help the weak, it teaches, is to help the strong,” Sharlet writes. “In 2008 and 2009, the Family did so by helping Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC), and former representative Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) cover up extramarital affairs, and in Ensign’s case secret payments.”
He continues: “Not to avoid embarrassment for the Family, an organization that until 2009 denied its own existence, but because the Family believes that its members are placed in power by God; that they are his ‘new chosen’; that the senator, the governor, and the congressman were ‘tools’ with which to advance his kingdom, and ambition so worthy that beside it all personal failings pale.”
Sharlet’s new allegations follow 2009’s “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.”
His new book also provides a list of current lawmakers who are allegedly affiliated with the group: Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), as well as Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.).
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.