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Bachmann, heavy-metal rocker represent unlikely alliance

Bradlee Dean, a rocker-turned-preacher, and Rep. Michele Bachmann together represent the most unlikely alliance of this campaign season.
/ Source: The New York Times

At first glance, Bradlee Dean seems straight out of a casting call for aging rockers — the hair cascading down his back, the arms wrapped in tattoos and the passing of years that have filled out his face, now in sharp contrast to the slender features in the soft-focus studio portrait from his younger days.

Look a little closer, and those tattoos are not the names of long-forgotten groupies. They are images of Moses and the Ten Commandments, the Crucifixion of Christ, a rendering of Abraham and the words “Bill of Rights” inside a star at his left elbow. And Mr. Dean, 45, is still wielding his drumsticks for his Christian rap/heavy-metal band, Junkyard Prophet (the group “feels as if the world is a junkyard which needs to be confronted with the Word of God,” it says on its Web site).

The band is just part of the fist-pumping multimedia Bradlee Dean machine — including a radio show with an avid following, “Sons of Liberty”; a Christian youth ministry, You Can Run but You Cannot Hide International; as well as books and DVDs — that he has built to spread his conservative, moral, spiritual and often-controversial messages (he has denounced homosexuality and said recently that President Obama had done more damage to the United States than Osama bin Laden).

He has counted among his fans Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman seeking the Republican presidential nomination. She has spoken at two of his fund-raisers (via videotape for the one in 2009), been a guest on his radio show and even sent a short letter to Mr. Dean in 2005, still posted on the ministry’s Web site, commending him for a book he wrote called “Man of War.”

“There is no question Michele Bachmann is an evangelical Christian and believes in the same values we do,” Mr. Dean said in an interview. “We therefore thought she would be sympathetic to our message.” He noted that at a 2006 fund-raiser, Mrs. Bachmann “prayed for us, and we appreciated that very much.”

And he said he would like to see Mrs. Bachmann become president. “She says what needs to be said whether people like it or not.”

It’s unclear how much Mrs. Bachmann still considers herself a fan of Mr. Dean’s (her campaign declined to comment), particularly after his incendiary comments about Mr. Obama and Bin Laden, among others.

They do get something out of being in each other’s orbit. Mr. Dean raises his profile with an association with a brand-name politician, and Mrs. Bachmann gets grass-roots followers who have been charged up on issues by Mr. Dean.

The tandem has won over people like Nate Kowalik, 35, of Plymouth, Minn., who is a big supporter of them both.

“When Bradlee says something on his show, it reinforces the message that she is trying to get out to the American voting public,” he said. “I just love it when one says something, and the other reiterates it.”

And he is such a fan of Mr. Dean’s ministry and radio show that he worked as a volunteer in summer 2009 on You Can Run’s street teams. “I like the fact that Bradlee and the others are so pro-family and that they reinforce purity and a healthy lifestyle,” Mr. Kowalik said.

Not that Mr. Dean always lived that way himself.

He has a five-part DVD series, “My War,” in which he recounts some of the self-destructive tumult of drugs, drinking and fighting that he lived through before finding God and that ultimately inspired the name of his ministry.

In a booklet he wrote about his life, titled “School of Hard Knocks,” Mr. Dean describes a religious epiphany he had at a sports bar in the 1990s, when a woman he had just met said: “Bradlee, many are called, but few are chosen. Bradlee, you are chosen.”

Mr. Dean said recently that he believed that the woman was prophesying “into my life.” He also said, “God was answering my prayers, and I needed to respond.”

His influences now can be found on the walls of his ministry’s headquarters here, about 55 miles outside Minneapolis, housed in part of what once was a firehouse. Mr. Dean, who, at 6 foot 5, has the imposing presence of a burly football player and is fond of wearing black tracksuits, gave a tour last month of the images that inspire him — figures like John Adams, the British preacher Charles Spurgeon, the American evangelist Dwight L. Moody, Martin Luther, the Salvation Army founder William Booth and Martin Luther King Jr. A copy of the Declaration of Independence is on a wall, and a large photo of a bald eagle.

“The basic themes of the office are heroes and faith,” Mr. Dean said. He and his family enjoy watching “Little House on the Prairie.” Mr. Dean said he appreciates the show because Michael Landon — “Pa” — “exemplified the family function.”

He shares other influences with Mrs. Bachmann and ties to some of the same figures and advocacy groups, including the Tea Party and Mr. Dean’s own lawyer, Larry Klayman, a well-known conservative/Libertarian activist (he says that he and Mrs. Bachmann have “traveled in the same ideological circles for years”). Mr. Dean and Mrs. Bachmann have quite a few views in common, as well. They both oppose gay rights and warn that Shariah law is a threat to the United States. They are dismissive of global warming and have backed the benefits of religion in public schools and home schooling. They even agree on what they see as overly invasive screening by federal airport personnel.

Several other Republican politicians in Minnesota, including a former gubernatorial candidate and a former Minnesota secretary of state, have supported Mr. Dean. As for Mrs. Bachmann, Mr. Dean likes to characterize their relationship, perhaps to create some distance between them in the campaign season, as little more than a handshake five years ago at a ministry fund-raiser.

He said he met Mrs. Bachmann in 2006 after his ministry invited her to speak about the federal No Child Left Behind law and “the importance of protecting our next generation” at an organization fund-raiser. He said he knew that Mrs. Bachmann had been “vocal” in her criticism of the law, which they both considered an encroachment on local education.

She attended the event, delivering an address that lasted more than 40 minutes, and included her view that the separation of church and state was a “myth,” and she praised the ministry for impressing this idea on public school students.

Not long before the 2006 fund-raiser, for instance, Mrs. Bachmann went on the air, over the phone, with Mr. Dean, he said, to talk about the ills of federal education policy.

And Mr. Dean has stood up for her. In July, he and his ministry filed a defamation and false-light lawsuit against NBC, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, The Minnesota Independent and one of its writers. The lawsuit reads at times as if it were written on behalf of Mrs. Bachmann. It mentions her name 15 times and states that the defendants and others “did willfully and maliciously harm the presidential campaign of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann” through their coverage of Mr. Dean.

Seeking more than $50 million, the lawsuit asserts that they set out to damage Mr. Dean and, “by extension,” Mrs. Bachmann. The document said, in reference to the candidate, that Ms. Maddow and MSNBC had sought to hurt the “ ‘big political prize,’ which they loathe.”

The lawsuit focuses on remarks Mr. Dean made on the radio last year — and referenced by MSNBC and others — that “Muslims are calling for the executions of homosexuals in America” and that Muslims “seem to be more moral than even the American Christians.”

Mr. Dean said his statements were taken out of context, and notes that a disclaimer on his ministry’s Web site says, “We have never and will never call for the execution of homosexuals.”

NBC and the American Independent News Network, which publishes The Minnesota Independent, said the complaint was baseless.

Mr. Dean has spoken often against homosexuality, as has Mrs. Bachmann. When she was a state senator, she fought, albeit unsuccessfully, for an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. She also referred to homosexuality as “sexual dysfunction,” and has stated that public school students were at risk of being taught that gay and lesbian lifestyles were normal.

Mr. Dean, talking on his radio show last month, said that teachers were trying to “queerify” public elementary school students and that youths are under attack “through a radical homosexual agenda.”

“We simply try to tell kids that this is not a healthy lifestyle that should be embraced as normal,” Mr. Dean said later in an interview. “We raise the issue because there is an increasing trend among teachers to discuss and promote homosexuality and transgender as a normal healthy lifestyle.”

Mr. Dean said that the broader goal of his ministry was “reformation,” and “going back to what our founding fathers established.”

“It is clear to see America has a desperate need to go back to the old paths of ethics, morality and respect for religion,” he said.

Mr. Dean has taken his ministry’s message and music on the road, performing for school assemblies until several years ago (he generally charged $1,500 and up per event).

The ministry’s Web site contains about 80 written testimonials from school officials and students that praise the positive impact the assemblies had by stressing the importance of good choices and using a band to grab attention. A number of teachers and principals said the letters were solicited by Mr. Dean.

But Annie Laurie Gaylor, a president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a national church-state watchdog group of atheists and agnostics, said her organization had received complaints in past years about You Can Run’s assemblies from teachers and parents.

“We get a lot of complaints about these groups, but Bradlee Dean is one of the worst because he is so extreme and overtly proselytizes,” Ms. Gaylor said.

Two teachers at Eureka Springs High School in Arkansas, where You Can Run held an assembly in 2005, recalled that they were expecting a drug awareness program. But to their dismay, they said, Mr. Dean had a religious agenda. Some students were angry about the presentation. School officials later apologized to parents and teachers.

“They seemed to be promoting religion, unfortunately, and that makes me uncomfortable because of the separation of church and state,” said Linnea Koester, a Spanish instructor at Eureka. “I feel that the group misrepresented itself to us and was promoting intolerance.”

Mr. Dean said his ministry had been very clear about the programs it had presented to students: “It’s all in the contract before we drive 15 hours or so to a school. There is nothing in the dark about who we are.” He added, “If I say anything with any sense of morality, it is viewed as religious.”

On his ministry’s Web site, readers are told that his “My War” series includes this tantalizing footage: “And last but not least, see the YCRBYCHI crew being kicked out of schools, even being escorted by police, for hitting on the topics above!”

The topics include “Our Founding Fathers,” “What our kids are being taught in public schools,” and “The lies in the media and much more.” 

This article, “Michele Bachmann and the Making of an Acolyte,” first appeared in The New York Times.