A bipartisan Montgomery County news conference held yesterday to discuss "fringe candidates" in the Sept. 9 primary erupted into a shouting match when a handful of candidates rebuked the Democratic and Republican leaders for raising religion as an issue in the election and labeling their beliefs as "cults."
"This is unprecedented that the Republican and Democratic parties would get together and have a 'savage feast,' " to denounce primary candidates, said John E. Boehm, a Democratic congressional candidate who is a follower of political extremist Lyndon H. LaRouche Jr.
Boehm's remarks were directed at Republican Central Committee Chairman Albert Bullock and Democratic Central Committee Chairman Jay Bernstein, who said they called the news conference to encourage voters to come out for the primary and to talk about their concerns that candidates linked to radical or religious groups could take control of the parties.
Eleven candidates who are affiliated with LaRouche are running for state or local office. Twelve members of the Great Commission Church and seven members of the Damascus Community Church, fundamentalist congregations in Montgomery County, also are running for local office.
Both party leaders were careful not to name candidates, but Bernstein emphasized the political concept of the separation of church and state. "The views of a fundamentalist movement has no place in the political process," he said.
Bullock, by contrast, said that "fundamentalists and religious right groups" are important to the Republican Party, but later added that "no one had the right to threaten the integrity of the political process by using deceptive campaign tactics or religious intolerance."
Bernstein, a candidate for County Council, said he organized the news conference because the Montgomery Democratic Party "does not want ... [what] occurred in Illinois." Supporters of LaRouche won Democratic primary races for lieutenant governor and secretary of state there in March.
Bernstein also invited a representative of the Cult Awareness Network, a nonprofit group that monitors what it considers cults, to speak. Nancy Howell, president of a chapter of the group, charged that LaRouche's National Labor Caucus and Great Commission International, a nonprofit religious organization with a congregation in Silver Spring, are groups that have "cultic" natures. Her statements were derided by supporters of both groups.
Robert Highland Jr., a candidate for the Republican Central Committee who is a member of the Damascus congregation, said, "Their self interest is to keep themselves in office."
Tom Short, a member of the board of trustees of the Great Commission congregation, said he believed his church had been unfairly "labeled as a cult by innuendo. In reality, all of the allegations ... are untrue."