In this Oct. 14, 1982 photo, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, left, and his wife Hak Ja Han, are shown during the traditional invocation of a blessing at a mass wedding in Seoul’s Chamsil gymnasium where 6,000 couples from about 80 countries were married. Moon, self-proclaimed messiah who founded Unification Church, died at age 92 Monday, Sept. 3, 2012, church officials said. (Anonymous/AP)

Although the church, now headed by the founder’s son, Hyung Jin Moon, has millions of followers in the East, particularly in South Korea and Japan, only a few thousand members are in the United States. Many in the West considered him a cult leader whose followers participated in odd-seeming customs. Believers passed out flowers on street corners and held mass weddings, with thousands of couples taking their vows in stadium-size venues such as Madison Square Garden.  

Moon, who preached a mixture of “fundamentalist Christianity, anti-communism and self deification,” was first noticed in political Washington during spring 1974,  syndicated columnist Jack Anderson reported the following year, when Moon’s disciples “blitzed Capitol Hill, begging congressmen to forgive and forget any transgressions then-President Nixon may have committed.”

In this Saturday, June 25, 2005 photo, Unification Church leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon speaks during his "Now is God's Time" rally in New York. (John Marshall Mantel/AP)

Park fled the country to avoid an indictment, and although the “Moon Organization” was strongly implicated in the House report, Moon survived the scandal.  He was eventually charged with conspiracy and filing false federal income tax returns and served 13 months in prison.

The religious leader remained in the United States, where his church had run its headquarters for almost three decades. His organization acquired valuable real estate and founded the Washington Times newspaper. Purchasing a former Mormon temple church in the District, he established the Unification Church on prime real estate at 16th St. NW and Columbia Road. In a series on cults, The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher and Jeff Leen reported in 1997 that Moon’s empire had become “a robust, diverse business — especially in the Washington area.”  At that time, the movement controlled “more than $300 million in commercial, political and cultural enterprises.”

Although he once sponsored a rally of 300,000 by the Washington Monument, by the mid 1990s, Moon  declared that “the period of religion is passing away.” He returned to South Korea more than 15 years ago but maintained close relationships with American conservative political figures throughout his life.  

In Washington, his influence is still being felt.