There’s little surprise in the news that Pat Robertson has threatened to sue the filmmakers behind the devastating new documentary Mission Congo. After all, the film, unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival, actually beats Robertson himself at the one thing he’s long been best at: making Pat Robertson looking like a scammy dope. Directors Lara Zizic and David Turner lay out a thorough, patent case arguing that Robertson isn’t just the demagogic bilker of the 700 Club flock that most reasonable folks have long suspected.
Robertson here is painted as a fraudster of the highest order, as the ringleader in a scam to solicit hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable contributions from his audience, all purportedly earmarked for the million or so refugees of the Rwandan genocide languishing in camps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But, as Bill Sizemore revealed in an expose in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper, the money donated to Robertson’s Operation Blessing were mostly going to an on-the-downlow diamond mining operation, the African Development Company, which has but one shareholder: Pat Robertson.
Robertson, on TV, showed his followers photos and video of what their contributions bought, including a runway carved into the jungle for his relief planes to land on; what he failed to mention is that that runway is almost 900 miles away from the refugee camps in Goma and is instead part of his Kinshasa diamond-mining infrastructure. The bibles and medical supplies– mostly aspirin, according to aid workers– that Operation Blessing actually managed to get to refugees had to be schlepped via truck across the Congo. Out of forty flights logged by Operation Blessing’s two cargo planes, only two, we’re told, could fully be named humanitarian rather than commercial.
And then there’s the question of just how Robertson won the chance to mine in the former Zaire, a concession that would have involved nothing less than securing the blessing of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko– certainly a possibility, considering Robertson has actively lobbied to have U.N. sanctions against Mobuto removed.
Grotesque evidence of Robertson’s misdeeds mounts. As his broadcasts claim that Operation Blessing is saving thousands of lives, we see him pallin’ around, as Sarah Palin might put it, with the perpetrators of Congo’s own genocide. We see a 700 Club broadcast that claims that footage of Doctors Without Borders physicians treating refugees actually shows Operation Blessing staff. We see the claims of an Operation Blessing website, still actively soliciting donations, soundly debunked: The school and 100,000-acre farm that Robertson and co. claim have improved life in Dumi have both gone kaput, the farm for reasons that directly contradict the happy-talk Robertson fed his viewers. We see grimly hilarious excerpts from Operation Blessing’s tax forms and learn that even in 2011 the charity pulled in north of two-hundred million dollars– while, on the ground in the Congo, the people that money is supposed to help report having seen little, if any, of it.
All this makes for a compelling, upsetting film. The early section documenting the humanitarian crisis is so tough to watch that the eventual appearance of Robertson is almost welcome: Here’s a monster we can understand, one we could maybe even do something about.
Hey, you could do worse than following Alan Scherstuhl at @studiesincrap on the Twitter thing.
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