I join Chris Hedges and General Brent Scowcroft as a talking head for Al Jazeera’s new documentary news program, Faultlines, about religion in the military. I was invited to be on the show because of my recent Harper’s story on the subject, “Jesus Killed Mohammed,” in which I write about the growth of a militant Christian fundamentalism, contemptuous or ignorant of the First Amendment, within the U.S. Army, Airforce, and, to a lesser extent, the Navy. I didn’t write about the Marines. At the end of my interview with the show’s host, Josh Rushing — which took place in a former church in Washington, thought to be the first African American Catholic cathedral in the U.S., its cornerstone laid by Lincoln — I speculated on why the Marines weren’t a bigger part of the story, at Rushing’s prompting. “I don’t really know,” I said. “Maybe it’s because Marines are first and foremost killers, trained for combat above all.”
At which point Al Jazeera’s Rushing revealed that he had been a Marine, for 15 years. Suddenly, I recognized him — “You’re that guy!” I exclaimed. You might know him, too, as the accidental star of the 2004 documentary Control Room, for which Al Jazeera’s cameras followed Rushing in his capacity as flack for the Iraq War. I’d missed Control Room, actually, but I remember hearing about Rushing’s jump from the Marines to Al Jazeera, for which he became a correspondent, from my friend Matt Power. Rushing has been profiled by nearly every major media organization in America, but he recalled Matt’s profile. “GQ just ran this very short thing, but Matt posted his whole story on his website,” said Rushing. “And it was the best thing written about me.” It wasn’t Rushing’s vanity that Matt appealed to, but the former flack in him. “All the other press was either really positive or really harsh. The positive pieces would just take what I told them and print it. The harsh pieces would recognize that I was spinning them and dismiss the whole thing, me, Al Jazeera, as nothing but spin. Matt was the only guy who understood that I was spinning him, but also got that the real story, behind the official story, was still worth hearing.”
Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).