Of all the right-wing figures who have promoted Mike Huckabee's extraordinary political rise from a backwater church to the national pulpit of a presidential campaign -- and there are many -- perhaps none know the former Arkansas governor and current Republican presidential front-runner better than Jay Cole. A Baptist minister based in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with a right-wing radio talk show of his own, Cole has been instrumental in inspiring Huckabee's rise over more than two decades. Indeed, when Huckabee was the governor of Arkansas, it was Cole who persuaded him to arrange the release from prison of a convicted rapist, Wayne Dumond, who had become a born-again evangelical in prison -- the most controversial act of Huckabee's career, which still dogs him on the campaign trail.
(above, Jay Cole with Mike Huckabee beside the governor's private jet in 1997)
I reported for The Nation on a lengthy telephone conversation I had with Cole a week before Huckabee's surprise victory in the Iowa caucuses on January 3. Cole was supremely confident that his saintly friend would prevail over the hosts of darkness. "Mike is one of the finest and most gracious individuals God has ever placed on Earth," Cole told me in his thick Southern drawl. "Not only does he have speaking ability, he has the Lord looking over him."
Some mainstream media pundits have attributed Huckabee's rising fortunes to his likable demeanor. New York Times political correspondent Adam Nagourney has praised Huckabee's "easy-going, self-effacing, jaunty style" as his chief political asset. The Times's liberal commentator Frank Rich explained Huckabee's ascent in similar terms, comparing the sudden swell of support for his campaign to the phenomenon surrounding Democratic senator and presidential front-runner Barack Obama. "Both men [Obama and Huckabee] have a history of speaking across party and racial lines," Rich wrote. "Both men possess that rarest of commodities in American public life: wit. Most important, both men aspire (not always successfully) to avoid the hyper-partisanship of the Clinton-Bush era." Rich, who only weeks earlier had predicted the imminent self-destruction of the religious right, now viewed Huckabee as a welcome departure from the divisive Republican candidates of the past.
But the Huckabee Cole has known and loved for decades contrasts sharply with the sunny figure the media's leading lights have conjured up. According to Cole, Huckabee has connected with voters -- specifically, evangelical voters -- not simply because he is a charismatic speaker, but also because he shares their apocalyptic world view. As Cole told me, "To date there's well over 139 prophecies that have come to pass exactly as the Lord says. Mike believes those things. Anyone with any Bible knowledge would have to say that this looks like the time. We're so close to the Lord's return."
During the period when Huckabee rose through the ranks of the Arkansas Republican Party to the governor's mansion, Cole became one of the state's most popular right-wing radio personalities. Cole volunteered to me the sectarian views that made his radio show a favorite of Arkansas's far-right fringe. Taking a potshot at Mitt Romney, who is a Mormon, Cole compared the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the Ku Klux Klan. "As you know from history, their original intent -- [Mormon founding fathers Joseph] Smith and Brigham Young--was to take over the United States of America," he said. "They weren't just far behind the KKK in their efforts."
Cole was no more kind to Muslims. "If you think communism's bad, just think what the Islamics are doing," Cole warned. "Those people have no -- they're just not human. They're just not human."
On the campaign trail, Huckabee has ventured some opinions that dovetail at least loosely with Cole's. Discussing Romney's Mormon faith with a reporter while stumping through Iowa, Huckabee asked darkly, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus is Satan's brother?"
Huckabee routinely warns of the threat of "Islamofascism" at campaign rallies and is perhaps the first major presidential candidate in American history to essentially call for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Huckabee declared during a New Hampshire fundraiser in October that a Palestinian state should only be established outside of biblical Israel, possibly in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, according to the Jewish Russian Telegraph. He reiterated this position during an appearance on Face the Nation in November.
For more on Huckabee's dark side, see my latest video, "Radical Cleric"
Israel and the Apocalypse
Huckabee's advocacy of forcibly transferring the Palestinians to other Arab nations reflects his close association with some of America's most prominent End Times theological proponents. Among Huckabee's leading evangelical backers is Pastor John Hagee, head of a Pentecostal congregation in San Antonio, Texas, with 18,000 members, and the executive director of Christians United for Israel, a national lobbying group that organizes against a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine crisis and in favor of a military strike on Iran.
Hagee's zealous support for Israel is kindled by his belief that Jesus will one day return to "biblical Israel" to usher in a kingdom of Heaven on Earth. "As soon as Jesus sits on his throne he's gonna rule the world with a rod of iron," Hagee told his congregation in a sermon this December. "That means he's gonna make the ACLU do what he wants them to. That means you're not gonna have to ask if you can pray in public school... We will live by the law of God and no other law."
Huckabee made a pilgrimage to Hagee's Cornerstone Church just one week after the pastor's anti-ACLU jeremiad. During the first of two sermons Huckabee delivered there, he was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation. The candidate returned the sentiment, hailing his gracious host, Hagee, as "one of the great Christian leaders of our nation."
Huckabee has also welcomed the endorsement of Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the bestselling Left Behind pulp fiction series, which tells of the coming apocalyptic battle between followers of Jesus and forces of Satan. Paige Patterson, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Huckabee once studied (he dropped out to work for a televangelist), is an outspoken believer in End Times theology as well. Patterson is one of the chief organizers of the right-wing takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Just as his surge in the polls began, Huckabee addressed the student body of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in November. There, he assured his enraptured audience that his sudden rise had nothing to do with his "easy-going" style. "There's only one explanation for [my surge] and it's not a human one," Huckabee insisted, inspiring gales of applause from the overflow crowd. "It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people."
Huckabee made his remarkable statement in response to a question from a student -- not a reporter. Political reporters with access to the candidate have so far shied away from asking him pointed questions about his theological beliefs. They have been especially reluctant to ask Huckabee how he thinks the world will end or how his Messiah will return. Consequently, the image of Huckabee as a transcendent, post-partisan politician has prevailed. He remains the affable, bass-playing Republican counterpart to Barack Obama, not the sectarian ideologue who sought the counsel of fringe characters like Cole.
Huckabee has burnished his likable sheen by replacing the ornery clergymen who propelled his early ascendancy in Arkansas politics with a cast of telegenic evangelical celebrities. His new boosters include Chuck Norris, a B-level action movie star who has converted to evangelical Christianity and become a fixture at Huckabee's side on the campaign trail.
Cole, for his part, told me he has not spoken to his old friend "Mike" in six months. "He's so busy it's an impossibility to get to him," Cole said. "I've been meaning to call him." Now 78 years old and afflicted with terminal heart disease, Cole has been left behind.
Yet back when Huckabee launched his preaching career in 1980, he went straight to Cole for assistance. "He's actually known me longer than I've known him," Cole said of Huckabee. Cole, who had operated a missionary supply organization that established Christian television and radio stations in the Third World, said he helped the young Huckabee when he started his own television show in Arkansas. Huckabee's show, Positive Alternatives, which first aired in the cities Pine Bluff and Texarkana in 1980, became his vehicle for statewide recognition. By 1989, with Cole's support, Huckabee had become the youngest-ever president of the 500,000-member Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
A Rapist's Release
When Huckabee leveraged his popularity in the Baptist community into a political career, declaring a run for lieutenant governor in 1993, Cole urged his listeners to vote for him, helping deliver him a narrow victory in the heavily Democratic state. Huckabee then replaced Jim Guy Tucker as Arkansas governor in 1996 after the Democrat announced he would resign while appealing his federal conviction in the Whitewater scandal. With Huckabee in the governor's mansion, Cole pressured his pal to act on a cause he had championed for almost a decade--the release of Wayne Dumond, accused of raping a 17-year-old cheerleader who happened to be Bill Clinton's distant cousin.
Dumond, a father of six and a Vietnam veteran, had been arrested twice during the 1970s for sexual assault and another time for attacking a man with a claw hammer. While awaiting trial in 1985 for raping Clinton's cousin, Dumond was allegedly attacked by two masked men who forced him to perform oral sex on them before they castrated him. The doctor who examined Dumond after the incident raised the possibility that his castration was self-inflicted. A half-gallon bottle of Jim Beam whiskey was found two-thirds empty at the scene of the crime. Meanwhile, according to investigators, no signs of a struggle were present.
Cole, a vitriolic Clinton critic who calls the former president "trash" and says he helped produce the infamous anti-Clinton propaganda video The Clinton Chronicles, immediately embraced Dumond's cause, taking to the airwaves to paint him as the victim of a dark conspiracy. Cole claimed without evidence that a vindictive Clinton and his surrogates had framed Dumond and had possibly orchestrated his castration as well.
Besides antipathy toward Clinton, Cole's support for Dumond's freedom was influenced by religious motives. Cole pronounced Dumond a born-again Christian and frequently visited the rapist in prison as his "spiritual adviser." He claimed that Dumond and his wife had had a notable history in the Baptist community, heading the youth department of a church in Forrest City, Arkansas. "I talked to [Dumond's] pastor and the high school principal of the school -- not a single one of them said anything bad about him," Cole said.
As Dumond's 1996 date with the state parole board approached, Cole and Dumond's wife lobbied Huckabee on the rapist's behalf. Cole said he organized several "get-together parties," where he impressed on the governor his case for freeing Dumond. According to a state official who advised Huckabee on the Dumond case, Cole quickly convinced the governor to pressure the parole board for Dumond's release. "I don't believe that he had access to, or read, the law enforcement records or parole commission's files--even by then," the official told journalist Murray Waas. "He already seemed to have made up his mind, and his knowledge of the case appeared to be limited to a large degree as to what people had told him, what Jay Cole had told him...."
After persuading the parole board to commute Dumond's sentence, Huckabee congratulated the rapist upon receiving his liberty."Dear Wayne," Huckabee wrote in a letter to Dumond. "My desire is that you be released from prison. I feel that parole is the best way for your reintroduction to society to take place."
After Dumond relocated to Missouri upon his release in 1999, he was linked through DNA evidence to the rape and strangulation of a new victim, Carol Sue Shields. In 2005, months after being sentenced to life in prison for the killing, Dumond died in his cell. At the time state prosecutors were preparing to charge him with raping and murdering yet another woman. Despite the overwhelming evidence connecting Dumond to a spate of killings, Cole maintained that his friend was once again the target of a frame-up.
"What possibly could have happened," Cole mused, "is, as you know, the law enforcement people are under real pressure from the public to solve these crimes. In all probability they needed a victim real quick. They said, well, we got one here in our county, he fits the profile." And though Dumond's death was by all accounts a suicide, Cole insisted that "it's possible" he was killed by unknown parties who wanted revenge.
Huckabee's role in engineering Dumond's release became an issue in the weeks leading up to this year's Iowa caucuses. In December, the mother of Dumond's last confirmed victim, Shields, surfaced in a highly circulated YouTube video with a pointed message: "If not for Mike Huckabee, Wayne Dumond would've been in prison, and Carol Sue would've been with us this year for Christmas." Now Huckabee has gone from denying any part in securing Dumond's release to confessing his regret. "There's nothing you can say, but my gosh, it's the thing you pray never happens. And it did," he explained to Byron York, a columnist for the conservative National Review.
The mounting evidence that Huckabee orchestrated the release of a serial rapist and killer at the urging of a preacher has proven inconsequential to the evangelical ranks who vaulted him into the front of the Republican presidential pack. To Huckabee's swelling flock, he has emerged as the perfect candidate, blessed by "God's anointing and calling," Pentecostal televangelist Kenneth Copeland declared. Cole sees Huckabee in similarly wondrous terms, but questions whether a spiritually bankrupt nation like the United States deserves such a godly leader.
"We're living right on the edge of the Lord's return, I believe, and it may be that the Lord will give this country something that it really deserves," Cole remarked to me. "And that is a Hillary [Clinton] as president." The old minister went on: "We have turned our backs on the Lord. We've thrown the Ten Commandments out of every place that we could. Every effort in the world is being made right now to eliminate any mention of the name Jesus, and the Lord who's made such a sacrifice for his children is not going to tolerate it."
Huckabee would undoubtedly disagree with his old preacher friend that America "deserves" a Hillary Clinton presidency. He would not be running for president if he believed that. But when I asked Cole if Huckabee would agree with the rest of his statement-- that the world is "on the edge of" suffering God's wrath -- he gravely responded, "Our belief in what the word of the Lord says will match very closely."