A document prepared by Democrat James Socas's campaign to unseat Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R) in Virginia's 10th Congressional District alleges that Wolf is part of an "extremist" Christian group whose members "admire the strength and personal leadership" shown by Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Osama bin Laden.
"Bogus," Wolf said.
"Ludicrous," said Richard Carver, president of the group, the Fellowship Foundation, which puts on the National Prayer Breakfast attended by a bipartisan string of U.S. presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Bill Clinton.
"Words fail," said Michael Horowitz, a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute who has worked with Wolf on human rights issues. "Hitler? This is a man who spends his Christmas vacations holding dying children who are victims of religious wars in his arms. . . . The idea of tying Frank Wolf to Hitler is hate speech in its purest form."
Socas said his campaign relied on a published report last year critical of the Fellowship Foundation, adding: "All of this is publicly available, but it's never been talked about."
The Northern Virginia campaign has become one of dueling personal attacks, with harsh charges and countercharges broadcast, phoned and mailed across the region. Wolf has raised $1.17 million, twice what Socas has netted, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Wolf has run a radio spot, complete with surfing music, portraying Socas as a California carpetbagger because he moved to Virginia just last year, into a rented home in McLean. Wolf has accused Socas, a multimillionaire, of seeking to buy the seat.
Socas says Wolf is responsible for the negative tenor of the campaign and cites a Wolf campaign statement saying Socas's children do not attend public schools. His oldest son is 4.
"That's a very fundamentally different kind of attack, to bring my children into a debate about public education," Socas said. "There's a substantial difference between pointing out votes . . . and questioning a person's motivation's for running."
"I'm not attacking Frank Wolf," Socas said.
But Socas, and his campaign, have unleashed a broad array of charges against Wolf.
Socas blasted Wolf for voting against breast cancer research funding and dubbed him "anti-women." The vote Socas refers to, from the early 1990s, was part of a bill on the broader question of whether to allow research on fetal tissue, which Wolf opposed. Wolf, whose parents died of cancer, said Congress has, with his support, doubled funding for the National Institutes of Health over the past five years, boosting funding for all cancer research.
Socas slammed Wolf for accepting political contributions from Titan Corp., a contractor involved in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq. But Socas accepted donations from Titan employees.
The most far-reaching accusations were outlined in a 17-page document distributed by Socas's campaign titled, "Who is Frank Wolf? Moderate Republican or Leader of the Religious Right?"
Wolf is "a loyal and effective advocate for the political agenda of the Religious Right and is closely tied to its most extreme leaders," it says.
Some of the statements in the document are acknowledged by Wolf as true. Wolf has, for instance, urged freshmen members of Congress to watch a video produced by Focus on the Family's James Dobson that promotes Christian family values. Wolf said he was moved by the video and has shared it.
Other statements, such as the Fellowship Foundation claim, are unsupported even by the sources named in the paper's footnotes. The paper cites a 2003 Harper's magazine article as its basis for the statement that fellowship members "admire" figures such as Hitler.
The article quotes fellowship leader Doug Coe as explaining the importance of forming a "covenant" with Jesus and says Coe cited Hitler and the others as examples of men who had changed the world through the power of the covenants they developed with other men.
Carver said that only Coe could speak to the comments attributed to him but added that "the article was totally wrong." Coe did not return a phone call seeking comment. Wolf said he is not a member of the fellowship but has attended its prayer breakfasts and cannot believe anyone associated with the group would say anything that could be interpreted as praise for Hitler. Horowitz said the Socas campaign had mischaracterized the magazine article to taint Wolf.
"It's the ultimate guilt by association," Horowitz said. "I've never seen a purer instance of McCarthyism and religious bigotry in my life."