In June of 2002, Jerry Boykin stepped to the pulpit at the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., and described a set of photographs he had taken of Mogadishu, Somalia, from an Army helicopter in 1993.
The photographs were taken shortly after the disastrous "Blackhawk Down" mission had resulted in the death of 18 Americans. When Boykin came home and had them developed, he said, he noticed a strange dark mark over the city. He had an imagery interpreter trained by the military look at the mark. "This is not a blemish on your photograph," the interpreter told him, "This is real."
"Ladies and gentleman, this is your enemy," Boykin said to the congregation as he flashed his pictures on a screen. "It is the principalities of darkness It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy."
That's an unusual message for a high-ranking U.S. military official to deliver. But Boykin does it frequently.
This June, for instance, at the pulpit of the Good Shepherd Community Church in Sandy, Ore., he displayed slides of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and North Korea's Kim Jung Il. "Why do they hate us?" Boykin asked. "The answer to that is because we're a Christian nation We are hated because we are a nation of believers."
Our "spiritual enemy," Boykin continued, "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus."
Who is Jerry Boykin? He is Army Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin. The day before Boykin appeared at the pulpit in Oregon, the Pentagon announced that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had nominated the general for a third star and named him to a new position as deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence.
In this newly created position, Boykin is not just another Pentagon apparatchik or bureaucratic warrior. He has been charged with reinvigorating Rumsfeld's "High Value Target Plan" to track down Bin Laden, Hussein, Mullah Omar and other leaders in the terrorism world.
But Gen. Boykin's appointment to a high position in the administration is a frightening blunder at a time when there is widespread acknowledgment that the position of the United States in the Islamic world has never been worse.
A monthlong journalistic investigation of Boykin reveals a 30-year veteran whose classified resumé reads like a history of special operations and counter-terrorism. From the failed Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980 to invasions in Grenada and Panama, to the hunt for drug lord Pablo Escobar in Colombia, to Somalia and various locales in the Middle East, Boykin has been there. He also was an advisor to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno during Waco.
He has risen in the ranks, starting out as one of the first Delta Force commandos and going on to head the top-secret Joint Special Operations Command. He has served in the Central Intelligence Agency and, most recently, he commanded Army Special Forces before being brought into the Rumsfeld leadership team.
But Boykin is also an intolerant extremist who has spoken openly about how his belief in Christianity has trumped Muslims and other non-Christians in battle.
He has described himself as a warrior in the kingdom of God and invited others to join with him in fighting for the United States through repentance, prayer and the exercise of faith in God.
He has praised the leadership of President Bush, whom he extolled as "a man who prays in the Oval Office." "George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States," Boykin told an Oregon congregation. "He was appointed by God."
All Americans, including those in uniform, are entitled to their views. But when Boykin publicly spews this intolerant message while wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army, he strongly suggests that this is an official and sanctioned view — and that the U.S. Army is indeed a Christian army.
But that's only part of the problem. Boykin is also in a senior Pentagon policymaking position, and it's a serious mistake to allow a man who believes in a Christian "jihad" to hold such a job.
For one thing, Boykin has made it clear that he takes his orders not from his Army superiors but from God — which is a worrisome line of command. For another, it is both imprudent and dangerous to have a senior officer guiding the war on terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan who believes that Islam is an idolatrous, sacrilegious religion against which we are waging a holy war.
And judging by his words, that is what he believes.
In a speech at a church in Daytona, Fla., in January, Boykin told the following story:
"There was a man in Mogadishu named Osman Atto," whom Boykin described as a top lieutenant of Mohammed Farah Aidid.
When Boykin's Delta Force commandos went after Atto, they missed him by seconds, he said. "He went on CNN and he laughed at us, and he said, 'They'll never get me because Allah will protect me. Allah will protect me.'
"Well, you know what?" Boykin continued. "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Atto later was captured.
Other countries, Boykin said last year, "have lost their morals, lost their values. But America is still a Christian nation."
The general has said he has no doubt that our side is the side of the true God. He says he attends prayer services five times a week.
In Iraq, he told the Oregon congregation, special operations forces were victorious precisely because of their faith in God. "Ladies and gentlemen I want to impress upon you that the battle that we're in is a spiritual battle," he said . "Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army."
Since 9/11, the war against terrorism has become almost exclusively a special operations war, melding military and CIA paramilitary and covert activities with finer and finer grained integrated intelligence information. Hence, the creation of Boykin's new job as deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence.
The task facing Boykin, Rumsfeld insiders say, is to break down the wall between different intelligence collectors and agencies and quickly get the best information and analysis for American forces in the field.
But even as he begins his new duties, Boykin is still publicly preaching.
As late as Sept. 27, he was in Vero Beach, Fla., speaking on behalf of Visitation House Ministries.
In describing the war against terrorism, President Bush frequently says it "is not a war against Islam." In his National Security Strategy, Bush declared that "the war on terrorism is not a clash of civilizations." Yet many in the Islamic world see the U.S. as waging a cultural and religious war against them. In fact, the White House's own Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World reported this month that since 9/11, "hostility toward America has reached shocking levels."
"Arabs and Muslims respond in anger to what they perceive as U.S. denigration of their societies and cultures," the report stated.
The task for the U.S., the report said, is to wage "a major struggle to expand the zone of tolerance and marginalize extremists."
Appointing Jerry Boykin, with his visions of holy war in the Islamic world, to a top position in the United States military is no way to marginalize extremism.
William M. Arkin is a military affairs analyst who writes regularly for The Times.
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times