A prominent Christian direct-mail guru — who for years helped conservative groups market themselves to subscribers of a blatantly anti-Semitic publication — has been implicated for harboring a woman who ran away with her biological daughter after losing custody to a former lesbian partner.
According to an FBI affidavit, Lisa Miller and her daughter — missing since 2009 — have been living at a beach house in Nicaragua owned by Philip Zodhiates, who runs the marketing company Response Unlimited in Waynesboro, Va.
Miller’s custody battle with her former partner, Janet Jenkins, has received widespread publicity because of the questions it raised about the rights of non-biological parents in same-sex unions. Miller, who renounced homosexuality and became an evangelical Baptist, lost custody of her daughter after failing to grant Jenkins her court-required visits, citing her objections to Jenkins’ “homosexual lifestyle.” The two had been joined in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Miller was artificially inseminated and gave birth to her daughter, Isabella, in 2002.
Zodhiates’ alleged involvement in the case was reported by The New York Times on Saturday.
In 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that Zodhiates’ company was charging $100 for the rental of every 1,000 names of subscribers to The Spotlight newspaper. Founded by Willis Carto, The Spotlight carried anti-Semitic and wildly conspiracist articles interspersed with ads for Klan, neo-Nazi and related hate groups. According to Response Unlimited’s website at the time, purchasers of the subscriber list included the Republican Governors Association, the National Right to Work Foundation, U.S. English and the Washington Times.
Zodhiates also peddled lists of subscribers to the American Free Press, which replaced The Spotlight when that tabloid was shut down amid legal and financial troubles surrounding Carto. The Free Press began immediately after The Spotlight fizzled in 2001 and picked up many of its predecessor paper's propagandists. The Free Press has carried stories on Zionism, secret "New World Order" conspiracies, American Jews and Israel. Mixed in have been advertisements for outfits like Pete Peter's Scriptures for America and Kingdom Identity Ministries — practitioners of Christian Identity, a theology that claims that Jews are the literal descendants of Satan.
The Miller case has thus far resulted in the arrest last week of a Tennessee pastor who is accused of aiding in the “international parental kidnapping” of Miller’s daughter. Pastor Timothy David Miller of Crossville, Tenn., allegedly helped Miller flee the country after a Vermont court in 2009 granted Jenkins primary custody of the girl, now 9.
On Friday, Zodhiates told The Advocate magazine that the pair were not living at his house in Nicaragua and called the accusations “absurd.”
According to the FBI affidavit, last June an unnamed person called one of Jenkins’ lawyers and told her that the mother and daughter were hiding in Zodhiates’s Nicaraguan beach house. Using court-approved searches, the FBI found E-mails from Pastor Miller that appear to arrange their flight to Nicaragua. They also indicate that Zodhiates arranged to send them supplies.
Zodhiates’ connection to Lisa Miller appears to come through Liberty University, the Christian evangelical university founded by the late Jerry Falwell. He has close ties to the university, according to The Times, and his daughter works in the law school there. Liberty lawyers, including the dean of the law school, represented Miller in court appeals. They argued that Jenkins had no parental rights in Virginia, where Miller moved from Vermont in 2003, because that state bans same-sex unions.