It's not every day that a onetime federal tax cheat gets an ornate crown placed on his head in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington before an audience of more than 300 while he explains that Hitler and Stalin, whose souls he claims to have posthumously redeemed, view him as the new Messiah. But then the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who has presided over mass weddings in Central Park, has always had a flair for the unusual.
The "international crown of peace awards" ceremony staged by Moon and his wife on March 23 - first disclosed by Salon.com writer John Gorenfeld and now being more widely reported - is not only a tribute to his entrepreneurial skills but it also offers a valuable lesson in how Washington works.
Ever since he started the Washington Times in 1982, Moon has sought ties to the Washington establishment. It took a while for the paper, which has a daily circulation of about 100,000 (compared with more than 700,000 for the Washington Post), to achieve respectability; not until 1996 did George H.W. Bush appear with Moon and declare that the paper "brings sanity to Washington." Numerous conservative writers, including David Brock, who has moved to the left, cut their teeth at the paper before moving on to bigger and better things.
With his conservative credentials burnished, Moon has sought to conquer new territory. In recent years, Moon has courted black preachers and jettisoned his old talk about the innate superiority of the Asian race. In 1999, he joined the Rev. Louis Farrakhan to host the Million Family March, and he has donated millions of dollars to black churches. His emphasis on family values and hostility to homosexuals have also earned him approbation from some ministers.
As the Dirksen Building ceremony indicates, Moon's efforts (and his money) have had a major effect. The Rev. Walter Fauntroy, who was the congressional delegate for Washington, D.C., for 10 years, oversaw the event. Congressional Black Caucus member Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) wore white gloves and held the pillow on which Moon's crown rested. Davis says he respects Moon's efforts on behalf of world peace and that his admiration is unconnected to Moon's donations to his campaigns.
The gathering was politically ecumenical. In addition to Davis, Republican Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota was there, as were conservative firebrands like Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett (R-Md.) and Curt Weldon (R-Pa.).
Still, there is someone left in Washington with a sense of embarrassment over Moon's antics: The name of the senator who gave permission for Moon to use the Dirksen Building remains a mystery.