What do Tulsi Gabbard, Stehekin and the Science of Identity Foundation have in common?

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Stehekin is a unique and lovely spot in central Washington state that’s very hard to get to, as it can only be reached by foot, boat or plane. It’s at the end of the lovely 55-mile-long Lake Chelan and about 95 people live there year-round.

So how does this isolated spot become a religion story involving Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress and one in a crowded field of Democrats vying for president?

I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Civil Beat, a website in Honolulu, but they came up with a pretty interesting story on this lady and went so far as to send a reporter to Washington state to try to track the story down. It begins:

STEHEKIN, Wash. — Deep in the Washington state wilderness, a highly paid political consultant is raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign.

It’s the kind of money usually spent on national name-brand political operatives with bustling offices and large staffs based in Washington, D.C., or New York.

But few people in the business have ever heard of Kris Robinson, the owner of Northwest Digital, a web design and internet marketing firm working for Gabbard’s campaign. His company address is a P.O. box here in Stehekin, a remote village in the Northern Cascades mountains that’s famous for its isolation.

After explaining how truly out-of-the-way this place is,

Yet in the first six months of 2019, federal campaign finance records show Gabbard paid Robinson and his company more than $259,000…Robinson is one of her top vendors.

Then the religion angle pops up.

Like her, he has ties to an obscure religious sect called the Science of Identity Foundation that’s based in Kailua and run by a reclusive guru whose devotees have displayed political ambitions. …

But Federal Election Commission records show that between 2013 and 2019 Gabbard’s congressional and presidential campaigns have paid out more than $531,000 to Robinson, (and his companies) Honu Creative and Northwest Digital.

He and his companies have never worked for another politician, records show.

That lack of a political resume makes Robinson stick out, particularly among other top dollar pollsters, vendors and consultants working in high stakes presidential politics…Gabbard and her campaign staff have refused to talk about Robinson and what specifically he has done to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially how effective he can really be on a presidential campaign while living and working in a remote Pacific Northwest village.

Well, it’s all a little weird, you must admit.

The point of this piece is that Gabbard is paying a totally unqualified person top money even though the only thing in his favor is they share the same religious beliefs.

I’ve been to Stehekin rather recently, by the way; in August 2017 when my daughter and I spent three days there. It is truly lovely and, although it’s in the middle of nowhere, a surprising amount of people show up there, most of them hiking the nearby Pacific Crest Trail.

Back to the religion angle in this piece:

The Science of Identity Foundation is an offshoot of Hare Krishna that was started in Hawaii by the surf-obsessed Butler in the 1970s, and has since spread to other parts of the U.S. as well as countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the Philippines.

(Founder Chris) Butler and his followers had clear political aspirations in Hawaii, launching their own party called the Independents for Godly Government that in 1976 fielded a slate of more than a dozen candidates for federal, state and local office.

Much has been written about Gabbard’s upbringing in the religious sect and speculation continues about how much Butler and the organization are influencing or involved in her presidential campaign.

The story goes on to describe how other devotees of this religion are somehow linked to Gabbard’s presidential campaign. It ends with this penultimate paragraph:

Tsuji similarly refused to comment on Robinson’s apparent connections to Butler and the Science of Identity Foundation, and instead provided a vague statement on Gabbard’s support of religious freedom.

Well, this is fascinating. Instead of one more of an exhausting pile of non-stop articles on how evangelical Protestants are/are not affecting politics, here we have a story of how an unusual religious group also has their hand in the till, as it were. And they’re taking a leaf from the evangelicals’ playbook in citing religious freedom if anyone threatens their wellbeing.

Also fascinating is the site’s essay on why they sent a reporter from Hawaii to central Washington to chase after this angle.

The subhed: “The story has nothing to do with religion. It’s all about what she’s doing with her supporters’ money.”

But is that true? Gabbard’s Science of Identity Foundation coterie isn’t in this only for the money. They must have other aims. If so, what are they?

I’m more than happy that a website like Civil Beat spent the time and airfare looking up Gabbard’s connections to these folks and the fact that she’s lavishing a lot of money on people who have no background in high-level campaigns. Unlike the national media, which isn’t spending the time looking into more obscure data surrounding the lesser candidates, a local media outlet, which knows where all the bodies are buried, is taking Gabbard on.

But is the story religion-free? Not by a long shot.

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