‘Warrior for God’
White-haired and 66, William "Jerry" Boykin is an old soldier who refuses to fade away. A popular speaker on the conservative Christian speaking circuit, Boykin is constantly on the road, crisscrossing the country from pulpit to pulpit, recruiting a Christian army to battle the forces of Satan, hell-bent, he says, on destroying America with such weapons as same-sex marriage, radical Islamists, gun control, abortion, and a “Marxist model” for world conquest.
SPARKS, Nev. — Retired three-star general William “Jerry” Boykin is the executive vice president of the anti-LGBT, archconservative Family Research Council, the FRC. He isby in charge of its day-to-day operations, but he is no desk jockey.
White-haired and 66, Boykin is an old soldier who refuses to fade away. A popular speaker on the conservative Christian speaking circuit, Boykin is constantly on the road, crisscrossing the country from pulpit to pulpit, recruiting a Christian army to battle the forces of Satan, hell-bent, he says, on destroying America with such weapons as same-sex marriage, radical Islamists, gun control, abortion, and a “Marxist model” for world conquest.
“You wonder why there’s so much religious persecution in America today,” he asked a Texas church audience two years ago. “It’s because we’re becoming a Marxist nation.”
Over the recent Fourth of July weekend — Boykin’s favorite time of the year except for Easter and Christmas — the self-described Warrior for God was on the road far from his Washington, D.C., office. Boykin was in the pulpit of an evangelical church in the scraggly brown hills of Nevada, not far from the neon lights and blackjack tables of Reno, “The Biggest Little City in the World.”
Boykin spoke at six separate services — upstairs and downstairs — at the Summit Christian Church on Saturday and Sunday, repeating his themes of peril, prayer and politics.
“Tyranny is returning to America,” he said at one session. “Tyranny, as we see our Constitution being shredded. Tyranny, as we see every liberty we have been provided being challenged.”
At another service he declared, “Our faith is under fire today like it has never been under fire.”
And as he prowled the pulpit like a talk-show host, a huge Bible in one hand, a pocket-sized copy of the United States Constitution in the other, and a wireless microphone strapped to his head, he announced, “I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat.”
“In fact,” he said, “the Republicans tried to get me to run for Senate this year. I said, ‘I can’t run [on the GOP ticket] because I’m an independent. And until you become the conservatives I expect you to be, until you start standing for my values, I’m not going to call myself a Republican.’”
The Republican Party of Cheney, Cruz and Coulter is not conservative enough for Jerry Boykin.
Listening to Boykin speak in Nevada last July, it quickly became obvious that persuading the grandfather of six to give up the ghosts of the Red Scare and the Cold War is a mission impossible. Boykin is not just stubborn. The barrel-chested, ordained minister with a shoulder-fired SA-7 rocket on his basement wall and “probably more guns than anybody in here” claims to have some well-connected back-up in his crusade to restore and save his version of America.
“Me plus the Holy Spirit,” he said, “is the majority.”
Theocracy and Islamophobia
Boykin’s far-right résumé since retiring from the military includes a seat on the board of the Christian Dominionist-leaning Oak Initiative, which, according to its website, promotes a grassroots movement to “mobilize and organize a cohesive force of activated Christians.” Dominion theology calls for Christians to implement a nation governed by Christians or by a conservative Christian interpretation of biblical law.
The general has made videos on behalf of the Oak Initiative. In one, he looks into the camera and — with a straight face — claims that President Obama is developing his own brown-shirt army to enforce Marxism under the guise of healthcare reform.
Boykin, who also teaches at Hampen-Sydney, a liberal arts college for men in Virginia, was named executive vice president of the FRC in 2012. His appointment left some longtime observers of the group, which has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010 as a hate group, scratching their heads. FRC is feverishly obsessed with the LGBT community, and it has regularly and baselessly made claims like LGBT people are promiscuous, unstable and dangerous to children and that gay men are prone to pedophilia. Yet, Boykin’s main concern — his grand obsession — is Islam, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, which he says is infiltrating the United States government and laying the groundwork for imposing Shariah religious law across the land.
“I’ve been outspoken about my concerns about radical Islam and I’ve been hammered for it,” he said in the Christian Summit Church sanctuary. “The interesting thing is there are more and more Americans who are beginning to wake up and realize there really is a threat from the Muslim Brotherhood inside America. Don’t think they aren’t here. They are here.
“I’m not talking about every Muslim,” he quickly added. “But I’ve been outspoken about the fact that we’ve got to stand up to the Muslim Brotherhood in America.”
Somewhere, Sen. Joe McCarthy is smiling.
When it comes to gay issues, Boykin’s is a softer, gentler, hate-the-sin, love-the-sinner form of bigotry. “I believe homosexuality is wrong biblically, but it’s no greater than my sins,” he told a Texas audience two years ago. “I’ve sinned, too. It’s just a sin like the sins I’ve committed.”
Boykin denies being a bigot of any kind. In Nevada, Boykin told the congregation that neither he nor the FRC hate gays as some of their critics claim. “On the contrary,” he said, adding that they simply believe in “natural marriage, marriage between a man and a woman.”
The shrink questioned Boykin for two hours. “Could you spend several days alone in a sniper position with a homosexual?” he asked.
“It was his first question,” Boykin writes. “In 1978, it was also a weird question, and it got my attention.”
So Boykin gave his answer some thought.
“If it was my mission, I could,” Boykin says he replied. “But he’d better understand that I’m not like that.”
The Darkness Spreads
Boykin’s sermons are sprinkled with war stories, examples, he says, of God’s grace and the power of prayer. Boykin spent 36 years in the Army, including 13 as a commando and, later, leader of the Delta Force, despite the concerns of the chubby shrink who tried to keep Boykin out of the unit.
The psychiatrist told Boykin that “from my analysis of your test data, I believe you rely too much on your faith and not enough on yourself. I’m going to recommend against your being part of this organization.” The words hit Boykin like “a bullet.” But the doctor’s concerns were overruled by the Delta Force commanders and Boykin was signed up.
Before retiring from the military in 2007 as a three-star lieutenant general, Boykin — “a warrior’s warrior,” as NBC News once called him — was twice wounded and took part in some of the most high-profile missions of his generation, from the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980 to the invasion of the Caribbean island nation of Grenada to the infamous Black Hawk Down firefight in the dusty streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, that left 18 of his soldiers dead, 84 wounded and Boykin questioning his faith.
“I’m a knucklehead,” Boykin told the Nevada congregation. “I question God all the time. I even get angry at Him.”
From 2002 to 2007, Boykin was the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence in the Bush administration, part of the team hunting down Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and other “high-value targets” in the so-called “war on terror.” Boykin also worked for the CIA; he was a soldier and a spook. Yet, despite his long and distinguished military career in uniform and out, Boykin is best known for his inflammatory statements about Muslims over the years.
Salon, the online magazine, described Boykin as “a highly controversial anti-Islamic activist,” who once said that Islam “should not be protected by the First Amendment” because it “is not just a religion, it is a totalitarian way of life.” CBS News said Boykin has been called “a national embarrassment, a religious fanatic and a three-star bigot.”
For such an experienced soldier, Boykin has made himself an easy target with his mouth. “The continent of Europe is dark, it is hopelessly lost and it’s going to get worse,” he said at FRC’s Watchmen on the Wall conference in 2012. “Every expert will tell you that by the middle of this century, the continent of Europe will be an Islamic continent, and they can’t reverse it, they can’t stop it. It is because they took Jesus out of their societies and it’s been replaced by darkness.”
Darkness is also spreading across America, according to Boykin. “Our government is infiltrated and the Muslim Brotherhood has so much influence in this country, it is incredible,” he said during an interview on a right-wing radio station , WND Radio America, in 2012.
That same year, Boykin was scheduled to give a talk at a prayer breakfast at West Point. His participation was abruptly canceled, according to The New York Times, after “a growing list of liberal veterans’ groups, civil liberties advocates and Muslim organizations called on the Military Academy to rescind the invitation.”
Votevets.org, one of the veterans’ groups, demanded that Boykin be disinvited from the breakfast, saying in a letter to West Point officials that the retired general’s remarks were “incompatible with Army values” and would “put our troops in danger” by making Muslims think the war on terror was really a crusade against Islam.
Two years later, in the hills of Nevada, Boykin was still feeling the sting of the anti-Boykin coalition. He mentioned the West Point controversy from the pulpit, an example, he said, of religious and ideological persecution. “Getting criticized hurts,” he told the Summit Church congregation. “I can tell you from personal experience. But it doesn’t hurt enough not to do it. Our ultimate accountability is not to anybody on this earth.”
He held his big black Bible over his head.
“If it’s in this book,” he said. “I believe it.”
Islam as Satan
For more than 30 years, Boykin served the military — like most of the young American men and women sent to fight and die around the world — in quiet honor and obscurity.
Then, in 2003, the newly minted three-star general and Bush administration deputy undersecretary came under fire for remarks he made, dressed in full uniform, with a chest full of medals and ribbons, to several church groups. During those presentations, Boykin referred to the United States as a “Christian nation” joined in “spiritual battle” against Satan. He cast Islam as the enemy and couched the war on terror in religious terms. He told a religious group in Oregon that Islamic extremists hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian.”
There was a loud outcry about his comments from Democrats and Republicans, including President Bush, who publicly distanced himself from the general, saying his remarks did not reflect the sentiments of the administration. The New York Times called Boykin “The General Who Roared” and said he should be fired.
“Not only did a high-ranking government official make remarks that espoused a single religious view and denigrated others,” the Times said in an editorial, calling for his resignation, “but he damaged the national security policy of the United States.”
But with the firm backing of his boss, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Boykin kept his job. He did, however, receive a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand after a Defense Department investigation concluded he had violated three internal regulations, including failing to obtain clearance for his remarks.
‘Relying on God’
Boykin was born and raised in rural North Carolina, where growing and picking tobacco put food on many a table. But it was God and country that held the number one spot in the hearts and minds of most of his kin and friends. His mother, Katie, a devout evangelical, raised him in church, “starting with a plain little country church way off in the sticks,” he writes in his memoir.
When he wasn’t in church or playing high school football, Boykin was strumming a guitar and singing. He was in a folk music trio with a future Miss North Carolina and a buddy who went onto a long professional career in show business. The trio performed “Puff the Magic Dragon” at every country fair and talent contest in a tri-county area. “I wanted to sing country music,” Boykin writes, but his bandmates “hated it and wouldn’t let me.”
Boykin attended Virginia Tech on a football scholarship and played for a coach, “a Southern Baptist so conservative he’d make Ronald Reagan look like a liberal.” But Boykin’s lifelong ambition had nothing to do with sports or singing. All he ever wanted to do was follow his four uncles and his father, Cecil, a wounded veteran of D-Day, who also served in the Korean War, into the military. “I never knew a time when I didn’t dream of being a soldier,” he writes. He attended Virginia Tech on a football scholarship and was overjoyed to be accepted into the Corps of Cadets, a military program that led to an army commission.
In the fall of 1967, the start of his sophomore year in college, Boykin married his high school sweetheart, Lynne Cameron, “a beautiful blonde who’d transferred into our country school from New Haven, Connecticut.” Everybody in his hometown thought the Yankee girl talked funny.
The day after Christmas, 1970, Boykin raised his right hand and swore his allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, fulfilling his boyhood dream by officially becoming a soldier in the United States Army. The road ahead wasn’t easy and Boykin says he began relying more and more on God. To get through basic training, he writes that he began working hard to “deepen my faith.” During rigorous Army Ranger training exercises in the freezing mountains of North Carolina, if he could keep his eyes open at the end of the day, he’d pull out a tiny copy of the New Testament he carried in small plastic bag. Then he’d pray for God to help him make it through another day. He says he began Ranger school “a colossal failure” and “ended it as an honor graduate.”
“For me,” he writes, “that was the beginning of a life lived relying on God moment by moment.”
War and its Discontents
Boykin pleaded with his superiors to send him to Vietnam. He got his wish in 1972, but for only a few months, as the war was winding down. In 1980, he was the Delta Force operations officer during the Iranian hostage rescue mission. The mission ended in fiery failure when eight soldiers were killed in a crash at the mission’s desert staging area.
In 1983, Boykin was badly wounded during Operation Urgent Fury, the invasion of Grenada. A bullet that hit the radio Boykin was operating, tore through his armpit and exited his shoulder. It appeared he might lose the arm, or use of it. But he recovered and claimed God had healed him.
Boykin was also badly wounded during the 1993 engagement in Mogadishu made famous by the book Black Hawk Down and the movie of the same title. By then, Boykin was the Delta commander. Drenched in despair and rage, he watched as CNN broadcast videos of the bodies of two of his fallen soldiers being dragged through the dusty streets by a rope attached to a jeep. Two days after the battle, Boykin was hit by shrapnel in his legs and feet when a mortar round landed in the Americans’ airfield. A sergeant was killed and the Delta Force surgeon was critically wounded.
Boykin often tells the story of what he says happened next. As the surgeon lay dying on a medical cot next to his, Boykin reached over and held the doctor’s hand.
And he prayed.
That dying doctor, Boykin said in Nevada as “amens” floated through the sanctuary, is practicing medicine today in the Shenandoah Valley.
Months after the battle, the Senate Armed Services Committee began an investigation into tactical and policy decisions that might have contributed to the American casualties. An anonymous letter, Boykin writes in his memoir, was sent to each of the committee members, accusing Boykin of fostering a tense and unlivable atmosphere at Delta and pointing to his poor leadership as the reason so many men died in Somalia.
For Boykin, “the aftermath of Mogadishu was already like an emotional grave.” The letter and the investigation, he writes, was “as if someone was standing up top, shoveling in the dirt.”
Boykin was cleared of any wrongdoing but he was still emotionally trapped. Just after Christmas, his wife, Lynne, walked into the house and said she wanted a divorce.
He has said she called him “a religious fanatic” and told him she was leaving.
After Lynne’s bombshell, Boykin lay across his bed and “plunged back into despair.”
“As I stared up at the ceiling,” he writes, “I prayed what Isaiah prayed: Lord, just take me. I am a total failure.”
Warriors for God
Boykin eventually remarried. His second wife, Ashley — “the love of my life” — gave him the small copy of the Constitution he carries with him whenever he speaks. He chokes up talking about her. Ashley, he says, is completely tolerant every time he brings home a new pistol to add to his large personal collection of weapons.
“I got a brother who owns a gun shop,” he said. “That’s probably the worst thing that could happen to a guy like me.”
Boykin sometimes muses about Jesus carrying an assault rifle to vanquish evil. So it was appropriate that the Summit Christian Church’s nine-piece rock band played a militaristic song of praise before Boykin was introduced.
Our God a mighty warrior
You’re a consuming fire
In victory you reign
We triumph in your name
Jesus the great commander
Bible in hand and the Constitution in his pocket, Boykin took the pulpit and began his long weekend in the hills talking about Jesus, guns and the coming “spiritual warfare” for the future of America.
“It’s time to put our faith into action and be what God calls us to be,” he said. “Warriors.”