The born-again mastermind behind Nixon’s dirty tricks, Charles Colson, has died. He was 80 years old. Colson was serving time for a break-in and burglary of Daniel Ellsberg, one of the many people populating Nixon’s secret enemy’s list (Which Colson helped write), when he came to Jesus and went on to a sort of second life as a spokesperson for the evangelical right:
(Time) — Colson had begun to re-vision conservative Christian activism by the end of the first decade of the 21st century. He told TIME: “I don’t think the job of the church is to make people happy. I think it’s to make them holy … The problem is getting people to be serious about what they profess to believe.” A civil redemption took place in 2000 when he had his right to vote restored by then-Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, himself a famous convert to another branch of Christianity, Roman Catholicism.
Colson served seven months — of a one to three year sentence – in Alabama’s Maxwell Correctional Facility for the Ellsberg break in and was implicated in a long list of Nixon’s nastier activities. Not long after his early release in 1975 for family problems, reportedly involving a son arrested for intent to distribute marijuana, (I have to wonder how many underprivileged and/or minority inmates have been released that early for the same reason) he founded Prison Fellowship, a Christian outreach program for inmates.
Alas, Colson wasn’t universally bad, he did some solid legislative work for prison reform, not all of which involved proselytizing to a captive, desperate audience serving time behind bars. But Colson, like so many powerful right-wing evangelicals arising from disgrace, seemed to feel his crimes and penitentiary repentance somehow entitled him to lecture honest people 24/7 about their lack of ethics and morality. He was also utterly taken in by some of the worst wingnut propaganda, calling evolution Darwinism and blaming it for all manner of tragedy, opposing stem cell research, and writing regularly about the ‘evils’ of teh gay.
In short he was a complicated man, probably a brilliant one, and someone who definitely left a mark on society. He had a long, full rich life, much of it ensconced in luxury and privilege, far beyond what his fellow convicts could ever dream of. But surely anyone coming from a similar background, with the same elite education, enjoying his significant paygrade and vast influence over public policy, could have done as much if not more good for their fellow human than Charles Colson ever did. Especially if they threw themselves into that effort before doing a bunch of shit that would land them in prison. I’ll leave it at that.