Apparently one of the easy roads to recognition among paranoid, fundamentalist wingnuts is being an “ex-terrorist”, and there is a number of converts from Islam to Christianity on the far right (after all, the distance between the religious right and Taliban-style Muslim fundamentalism is often short) who claim to be former terrorists but have seen the errors of their ways, and who are currently busy confirming wingnut misperceptions of Islam as well as vigorously fighting against religious freedom, secularism, gay rights and the science of evolution and climate change – just for good measure. Their “ex-terrorist” status never stand up to scrutiny, but dishonesty is only a sin if you are not doing the work of Jesus.
Ergun Michael Caner is a fine example. A Swedish-American Baptist minister, Caner rose to fame (and wealth) with his 2002 book Unveiling Islam, quickly co-authored with his brother Emir in the wake of 9/11, about Islam and his claims that he was a devout Muslim trained as a terrorist. He is currently the President of Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, GA – not a place you should take seriously as an educational institution – and has previously served as the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Arlington Baptist College as well as (and most famously) dean of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School of Liberty University (the perhaps most influential fake university in the US, if you were unaware) – he was invited by Jerry Falwell himself, apparently a fan of his book. He lost this position after, as Wikipedia laconically puts it, “it became clear to Liberty University faculty and the Liberty University Board that he contradicted himself while making factual statements.”
The background for his fall from grace were pretty well corroborated accusations, in the beginning by bloggers, that Caner had made up much of his life story, for instance his claims to have grown up in Turkey when he actually grew up in Ohio; being raised in a devout Muslim home, rather than a nominal one, having been trained as an Islamic jihadist, and having debated dozens of Muslims – sort of the whole story that initially made him famous post 9/11. Caner was quick to play the persecution card, lamenting that “I never thought I would see the day when alleged ‘Christians’ join with Muslims to attack converts,” whereas his fans were quick to call employers and associates of his critics to put pressure on them to take down their critical posts. Liberty University’s Elmer Towns, dean of the school of religion, initially responded that the university’s board was satisfied that Caner has done nothing “theologically inappropriate. It’s not an ethical issue, it’s not a moral issue,” i.e. they refused to address the charges. By May 10, 2010, however, heat was sufficiently turned up for Liberty University to announce a formal inquiry into allegations of discrepancies in his background stroy. Caner claimed to be “thrilled that Liberty University is forming this committee, and I look forward to this entire process coming to a close,” and was promptly removed from his position as Dean of the seminary in June after the committee found “discrepancies related to the matters such as dates, names and places of residence.” He kept his job as a full-time faculty member of the seminary for the 2010–2011 school year, though.
His fans didn’t seem to care all that much, and Caner remains a popular speaker among wingnut groups who are “aware of the controversy” but nevertheless appear to take his claims at face value (case in point: the Twin City’s 12th Annual Community Prayer Breakfast in Bristol, Virginia, where organizer Sid Oakley more or less dismissed the charges as irrelevant). Caner himself claims that his critics are simply “frustrated people in their basements,” which is not really addressing the charges.
In 2011 Caner left Liberty to become Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs for the Arlington Baptist College, best known for the anti-evolution crusades of its founder J. Frank Norris (whom Caner describes as “one of Christianity’s most courageous voices”) – the President, Dan Moody, stated that Caner’s controversy was in the past and the new Vice President had his full confidence. Caner is currently the President of Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon. That “college” stated that they needed “a warrior”, and that Caner “endured relentless and pagan attacks like a warrior” (i.e. because he lied about his background and was caught). Real universities, meanwhile, tend to at least pretend to care for truth, evidence, wisdom and moral integrity. Most of Caner’s critics, by the way, were evangelical Christians.
In 2013 Caner filed a lawsuit in the U.S. district court in North Texas claiming copyright infringement for reproducing, uploading and maintaining his videos without permission on youtube in order to silence (and punish) his critics. The lawsuits were ruled to be frivolous, partially because Caner never had the copyrights to the videos in question and partially because fair use is a sort of important legal concept (also here), but Caner’s behavior seems to have exhibited precisely the kind of “character” that Brewton-Parker Colleges was looking for.
Diagnosis: Perhaps more of a spineless opportunist than a loon, one wonders whether anyone – including Caner – would be able to live his life without at least believing that his actions are somehow justified by some higher goal. So, he’s probably a loon as well.
Note that we won’t give a separate entry to celebrity-of-questionable-character Jose Canseco for this, regardless of its weapons-grade lunacy.