FOR CHRIST'S SAKE: Leonard Leo's network is trying to reshape the world into the Kingdom of God.

AuthorChristophi, Helen

David Daleiden is the anti-abortion activist from California who, six years ago, released undercover videos accusing Planned Parenthood of running a "criminal baby body parts enterprise."

In these videos, released in the summer of 2015, Planned Parenthood doctors around the country were shown casually discussing fetal-tissue donation pricing and presenting Daleiden with the remains of a freshly aborted fetus, thinking he was a buyer with a biomedical company. The resulting blowback threatened to cost Planned Parenthood its federal funding.

All of this went according to a plan that GOP lawmakers were in on from the start, determined to "permanently damage Planned Parenthood's brand." The videos launched more than a dozen Congressional and criminal probes into the reproductive health-care provider ahead of the 2016 election that gave the nation Donald Trump.

The videos, as it turned out, were heavily doctored and swiftly discredited. Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrongdoing, and authorities in two states ended up filing criminal cases against Daleiden, one later dismissed by a Texas judge and one still pending in California. But a civil jury in 2019 found that Daleiden and other activists affiliated with his anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, violated laws against racketeering, wiretapping, trespassing, and fraud. They were ordered to pay Planned Parenthood $2.4 million in damages and $13.8 million in attorneys fees and costs, money they still owe.

Now, newly unsealed court records from Planned Parenthood's 2016 civil suit against Daleiden and his co-defendants show that those politicians were bit players in a broader drama. The documents indicate that three dozen religious-liberty lawyers, conservative consultants, and Washington insiders worked with Daleiden to bring his video campaign against Planned Parenthood--dubbed the Human Capital Project--to fruition, some since 2013.

When Daleiden proposed a shock-and-awe campaign against Planned Parenthood to some of these lawyers in mid-2013, suddenly everyone wanted a piece of the action. They ran his proposal up to the highest levels of the Republican Party, and they seemingly ignored the law to get the result they wanted, as expressed by the Christian nationalist writer Gary North: to construct "a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God."

Enshrining Christian precepts in the law has been a goal of the religious right for a long time. Rightwing Christian legal advocacy groups are doing it through the courts; they're launching religious-liberty cases and advancing conservative judges to give them the rulings they want. They almost got the Supreme Court to rule that businesses have a Constitutional right to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people based on religious beliefs, and they convinced it to let private-sector employers shirk responsibility to provide women with federally mandated birth control coverage.

At the heart of this transformative effort is a man named Leonard Leo, a conservative Catholic activist and co-chair of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group. Leo has been called "one of the most powerful conservatives in the country." Leo and the Federalist Society have played a key role in putting 234 conservative judges on the federal bench and flipping three federal appeals courts for Republicans during the Trump Administration. The group has been involved in appointing and confirming five of the current Supreme Court's six conservative justices, including Amy Coney Barrett, whom Leo "hand-picked" to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last October.

Leo has done this by fundraising an estimated $400 million from undisclosed donors and funneling millions of these funds through a sprawling network of tax-exempt nonprofits to CRC Public Relations, a conservative public relations firm in Alexandria, Virginia. It's run by Leo's friend and business partner Greg Mueller, who also worked on the Human Capital Project.

According to the unsealed records, Leo and Jonathan Bunch, also a Federalist Society alum, advised Daleiden in June and July 2015 on "how to ensure successful prosecutions" against Planned Parenthood, and gave him legal advice regarding his undercover methods. They also appear to have discussed coordinating the Texas criminal probe with state law enforcement officials, who were shown video footage before...

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