Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich.
John Raoux/AP, Allison Joyce/Getty Images, AP
Trump and Pompeo were US politicians who appeared at a Unification Church-affiliated event in Seoul.
The Japanese government is currently examining its ties to the group following the assassination of Shinzo Abe.
The group has been described as a cult by former members and has ties to right-wing politicians.
Former President Donald Trump and ex-CIA chief Mike Pompeo spoke at an event affiliated with the Unification Church in Seoul, South Korea.
The Unification Church, formed in South Korea in the 1950s by self-declared messiah Sun Myung Moon, is known to have deep-rooted ties with conservative politicians worldwide. Its followers are often colloquially referred to as “Moonies.”
Former CIA director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spoke in person at a conference affiliated with the church in Seoul on August 12 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the death of Sun Myung Moon.
Pompeo and Gingrich’s speeches spoke about the value of religious freedom and the dangers of communism – a view they share with the church.
The controversial religious organization – formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification – has been in the spotlight following the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Former President Donald Trump recorded a video message played during the meeting, per Japanese outlet NTV News 24. During his speech, Trump said that Abe was a “good friend and a great man” and praised Reverend Moon’s widow Hak Ja Han, who now heads up the church.
Other billed speakers included former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former US ambassadors and generals.
According to Dr. Steven Hassan, an expert on cults and a former Moonie, the ties between right-wing politicians and the church are due to a shared hatred of communism and the group’s vast wealth and influence.
The Moon empire has been estimated to be worth billions of dollars and includes ownership of the conservative newspaper The Washington Times.
“It doesn’t shock me that Pompeo, the former head of the CIA and the State Department, spoke for them. I’m sure he got a lot of money. I’m sure Trump got a lot of money,” Hassan told Insider, speculating about their speaker’s fees. “I’m sure they don’t believe Moon was the Messiah.”
Rev. Moon and his wife perform a Blessing at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on July 1, 1982.
Former President George H.W. Bush donated his speaking fee after being scrutinized for appearing at a church-sponsored event in the 1990s, which was around $80,000, according to The Washington Post.
Representatives for Trump, Pompeo, and Gingrich did not respond to Insider’s queries about why they appeared at the conference and what compensation they received.
Hassan describes the church as a “dangerous, destructive cult,” citing allegations and lawsuits by former members claiming they were brainwashed. The church has denied the allegations and says members joined of their own free will.
The group gained notoriety for hosting mass weddings, and the church currently claims to have hundreds of thousands of members worldwide.
The Moonies-affiliated Network organizing last week’s Seoul conference, the Universal Peace Federation, did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Shinzo Abe’s assassination shines a light on Japan’s ruling party’s links to the church
Tetsuya Yamagami, Abe’s assassin, told police that he believed his mother’s donations to the church had caused her to become bankrupt and had ruined their family.
A candlelight vigil to pay tribute to the late former prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe.
Sam Panthaky/AFP via Getty Images
The church confirmed that Yamagami’s mother was a member of its Japanese branch but declined to comment on her donations.
In response to Abe’s killing, Japan’s ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), began re-examining its longstanding ties to the church. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has reshuffled the cabinet to remove ministers associated with it.
Japanese media have been actively shining a light on the LDP’s relationship with the church, and the church has responded by accusing coverage of being biased.
Hassan told Insider that the Japanese government’s moves to re-examine its ties with the group are positive but queries why US politicians are not doing the same.
“It’s an authoritarian cult. There’s behavior, information, thought, and emotional control. And there are a lot of people born into the Moonies from these mass weddings that are now exiting and talking about it. And it’s horrible.”