Why is Senator Inhofe Supporting Laurent Gbagbo?

James Inhofe: “I am probably the most knowledgeable person about Africa in the U.S. Senate.”

That comes from a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which Inhofe suggests that Laurent Gbgabo, not Alassane Outtara, is the rightful winner of the disputed election in Ivory Coast last November.   That would put the self-described most “knowledgeable person about Africa in the U.S. Senate” firmly in the pro-Gbagbo camp, while the United States, the European Union, the African Union, ECOWAS, the United Nations and pretty much every other sentient observer of the crisis is backing Ouattara.

Meanwhile, Gbagbo and his forces are responsible for all sorts of human rights violations. That includes this massacre of women staging a peaceful protest three weeks ago; firing artillery shells into a crowded market last week; and repeated attacks on the United Nations, among others.

Why would Senator Inhofe make such a bold claim?  (About Gbagbo, that is. Not his African bonafides) Apparently, they share a powerful religious bond. Justin Elliot of Salon has the scoop.

Gbagbo, along with his influential wife Simone, are evangelical Christians who are known for lacing their speeches with religious rhetoric. “God is leading our fight. God has already given us the victory,” Simone Gbagbo, who is both first lady and politician in her own right, said at a rally in January. Both Gbagbos have attended the National Prayer Breakfast, a big annual Washington event run by the secretive Christian group known as the Family, or the Fellowship.

The Fellowship, founded in 1935, cultivates relationships with people in positions of power in both the United States and abroad (it has long been active in Africa) to promote conservative evangelical values. It has drawn controversy for, among other things, running the C Street House, where several members of Congress live, and its ties to proposed legislation in Uganda that would provide for the death penalty for the “crime” of homosexuality…

Inhofe has been traveling to Africa regularly since the late 1990s and, while the trips are paid for by the taxpayer and typically involve some official business, the senator also engages in missionary work. He has been to Ivory Coast nine times and knows Gbagbo personally. That’s why, early on in the post-election crisis, when the State Department was frantically looking for intermediaries to reach out to Gbagbo to try to convince him to leave the country peacefully, the Obama administration asked Inhofe to talk to Gbagbo. But, according to a source familiar with the situation, Inhofe declined to do so…

The other wrinkle in all this is that Inhofe and Gbagbo share a connection to the Fellowship. Inhofe has said that he began taking his missionary trips to Africa at the request of Doug Coe, the so-called “stealthy Billy Graham” who leads the Fellowship. Ivory Coast has long been one of a handful of African countries that is “of special interest” to the Fellowship, according to Jeff Sharlet’s book about the group.

Inhofe’s director of African affairs, who accompanies the senator on his trips to the continent, is also a missionary. And the senator has spoken of visiting presidents of countries including Ivory Coast in order “to meet in the spirit of Jesus.” That religious relationship may help explain Inhofe’s support for Gbagbo in the current crisis.

Incidentally, it is not just the christian right that is supporting Gbagbo. The anti-Muslim agitators like Pamela Geller are in the tank for him as well.