In April 2005, Pamela Arnold wanted to talk to her state senator, Michele Bachmann, who was then running for Congress. A 46-year-old who worked at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Arnold lived with her partner, the famed Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, on a farm in Scandia, Minnesota. Bachmann was then leading the fight against gay marriage in the state. She'd recently been in the news for hiding in the bushes to observe a gay-rights rally at the Capitol. So when members of the Scandia gay community decided to attend one of Bachmann's constituent forums, Arnold, wanting to make herself visible to her representative, joined them.I thought the old "Help, I'm being kidnapped" trick was something five-year-olds tried when they were in the car for a really long time. But the article goes further, exposing Bachmann's education by a teacher of dominion theology, i.e., the idea that Christians should be in charge of everything, while she was at Coburn School of Law at Oral Roberts University.*
A few dozen people showed up at the town hall for the April 9 event, and Bachmann greeted them warmly. But when, during the question and answer session, the topic turned to same-sex marriage, Bachmann ended the meeting 20 minutes early and rushed to the bathroom. Hoping to speak to her, Arnold and another middle-aged woman, a former nun, followed her. As Bachmann washed her hands and Arnold looked on, the ex-nun tried to talk to her about theology. Suddenly, after less than a minute, Bachmann let out a shriek. "Help!" she screamed. "Help! I'm being held against my will!"
Arnold, who is just over 5 feet tall, was stunned, and hurried to open the door. Bachmann bolted out and fled, crying, to an SUV outside. Then she called the police, saying, according to the police report, that she was "absolutely terrified and has never been that terrorized before as she had no idea what those two women were going to do to her." The Washington County attorney, however, declined to press charges, writing in a memo, "It seems clear from the statements given by both women that they simply wanted to discuss certain issues further with Ms. Bachmann."
At Coburn, Bachmann studied with John Eidsmoe, who she recently described as "one of the professors who had a great influence on me." Bachmann served as his research assistant on the 1987 book Christianity and the Constitution, which argued that the United States was founded as a Christian theocracy, and that it should become one again. "The church and the state have separate spheres of authority, but both derive authority from God," Eidsmoe wrote. "In that sense America, like [Old Testament] Israel, is a theocracy."This is the kind of stuff Bachmann takes seriously. Even better, there's the classic story of the homophobe whose anti-gay demagoguery strikes close to home with their own relatives.
Eidsmoe, who hung up the phone when asked for an interview, is a contentious figure. Last year, he withdrew from speaking at a Wisconsin Tea Party rally after the Associated Press raised questions about his history of addresses to white-supremacist groups. In 2010, speaking at a rally celebrating Alabama's secession from the Union, he claimed that Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun understood the Constitution better than Abraham Lincoln.
Reading Eidsmoe, though, some of Bachmann's most widely ridiculed statements begin to make sense. Earlier this year, for example, she was mocked for saying that the Founding Fathers "worked tirelessly" to end slavery. But in books by Eidsmoe and others who approach history from what they call a Christian worldview, this is a truism. Despite his defense of the Confederacy, Eidsmoe also argues that even those founders who owned slaves opposed the institution and wanted it to disappear, and that it was only Christian for them to protect their slaves until it did. "It might be very difficult for a freed slave to make a living in that economy; under such circumstances setting slaves free was both inhumane and irresponsible," he wrote.
In the statehouse, Bachmann made opposition to same-sex marriage her signature issue. Both she and her husband, by all accounts her most trusted political adviser, believe that homosexuality can be cured. Speaking to a Christian radio station about gay teenagers last year, Marcus, who treats gay people in his counseling practice, said, "Barbarians need to be educated. They need to be disciplined, and just because someone feels this or thinks this, doesn't mean that we're supposed to go down that road."But it's okay! Bachmann polled her family to see if they agreed with her that her own stepsister is "part of Satan."
In 2004, Bachmann gave a speech warning that same-sex marriage would lead to schoolchildren being indoctrinated into homosexuality. She wanted everyone to know, though, that she doesn't hate gay people. "Any of you who have members of your family in the lifestyle, we have a member of our family that is," she said. "This is not funny. It's a very sad life. It's part of Satan, I think, to say that this is gay."
She was clearly talking about her 51-year-old stepsister, Helen LaFave, who had lived with her partner, Nia Wronski, for more than 15 years. As Bachmann became the public face of opposition to same-sex marriage, her relationship with her stepsiblings grew strained. "Helen always liked Michele, always," says Linda Cielinski, one of Bachmann's other stepsisters. "They lived together as teenage girls. They were very close at that time." Bachmann's anti-gay activism, Cielinski says, "was a hit to the gut."
And so, in April 2006, when the Minnesota Senate judiciary committee met for a hearing on Bachmann's proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Helen LaFave, Wronski, and several relatives including Cielinski were all in the gallery. "I wanted Michele to put a face to this whole thing," says Cielinski. "These were family members she was hurting." They didn't intend to talk to the press—LaFave has always shied away from media attention—but journalists quickly learned who they were and surrounded them. (LaFave declined an interview request, citing concern about the effect of the controversy on her 87-year-old father, who is still married to Bachmann's mother.)Exactly how inhuman do you have to be to take a poll of your own family to see if they agree with you that your own stepsister is evil? This is what she means by "family values?" Her values are depraved. I always tell people that my family values are simple: I would walk through fire to help my family, especially my sister and my brother. Michelle Bachmann went on the radio and called her own stepsister a "barbarian," and then justified it by saying she'd called a vote, and most of the family agreed with her. What the hell is wrong with these people?
The ensuing brouhaha further tore at the family. In a Star Tribune story headlined "Bachmann, stepsister hold opposing views," Bachmann claimed that she'd polled her siblings and stepsiblings, and that six of the nine agreed with her. Her stepbrother Mike LaFave was horrified. "The reality was she hadn't taken a family vote count, nor would my family ever do such a thing," he says. "I just find it terrible that when Michele was taken by surprise by a question she wasn't prepared for, the first thing she did was throw not only my sister but her whole family under the bus."
How dare she lecture anyone about her so-called family values?
*The fact that Oral Roberts has a law school ought to be a minor national disgrace.