United in Purpose1 is a shadowy right-wing Christian organization, bringing together major donors, political operatives and (evangelical) Christian leaders. The organization has been involved in a massive effort to map the US voter constituency, as well as priming sympathizing church leaders in spreading political propaganda, in order to persuade people to vote for the Republican party. Besides the potential illegality of United in Purpose’s large-scale data accumulation and exploitation endeavors, its major efforts towards a politization of churches raises serious issues about the separation of powers in the U.S.
United in Purpose is headed by the convicted felon William "Bill" Dallas,2 "who was sent to prison for two years for embezzlement of funds from his previous business, the real-estate company Lucas-Dallas, back in the early 1990s," according to a Forbes article.3 The activities of Dallas and United in Purpose are described in detail in chapter 8 of Katherine Stewart’s important publication on the rise of the religious Right, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.4
Profile of United in Purpose on GuideStar.
In a piece in The Guardian Stewart described how during his prison term Dallas became devoted to Christian politicking5:
As Dallas became acclimated to life in prison, and with the assistance of some of the “lifers” he met there, he deepened his connection to God. He got a job at the prison’s TV station, working his way up to being a producer and on-air host.
When he left prison, he says, he was in the best mental, physical and spiritual shape of his life. But he still hadn’t paid his debts. Dallas owed multiple fines and taxes – one fine alone was close to $750,000. He immediately looked for ways to make a living.
In March 1998, Dallas had a holy visitation, telling him to start a satellite network delivering ministry training programs to churches around the country. And he did – conceiving of a national network of evangelical pastors and other church leaders. As it turns out, this was exactly what the growing Christian nationalist movement needed.
With the help of Silicon Valley businessmen including Reid Rutherford and venture capitalist John Mumford, Dallas’s Church Communication Network grew with exponential velocity.
But Dallas had a bolder vision. Working with thousands of pastors allowed him to reach literally millions of congregants – and potentially millions of voters. With marketing and communications increasingly driven by data mining, he knew there had to be a better way to mobilize the nation’s conservative Christians.
Dallas soon established a fruitful partnership with George Barna, the California–based evangelical pollster. It was a match made in heaven. Dallas realized his vast network could collect data and use it to create more effective messaging. And now he had the resources to make it happen.
That was when United in Purpose, based in Southlake, Texas, came into play. The organization, whose principal officer is Dallas, was founded in 2009 "by two Silicon Valley venture capitalists, Reid Rutherford and Ken Eldred, and registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt 'non-partisan organization that actively supports Christian involvement in the civic arena,'" according to Anne Nelson, author of The Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right.6
By 2012 United in Purpose had compiled information on ca. 180 million Americans in a database, including psychometric data, allegedly by strategically buying existing constituent lists from unknown sources and synchronizing the data therein, according to a 2012 NPR report, among other reasons to identify non-voters, particularly non-voting Christians.7 Apparently United in Purpose also graded its constituents on the basis of relevant psychometric characteristics in order to single them out for targeting. According to NPR7:
You get points if you're on an anti-abortion list or a traditional marriage list. You get a point if you regularly attend church or home-school your kids. You get points if you like NASCAR or fishing. “If [your score] totaled over 600 points, then we realized you were very serious about your faith,” [William] Dallas says. “Then we run that person against the voter registration database. ... If they were not registered, that became one of the key people we were going to target to go after.”
The digital security specialist Chris Vickery discovered data from United in Purpose being accessible on a cloud storage in December 2015, basically every registered US voter (191 million voter records). “300GB of voter data, which includes names, home addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, party affiliations, and logs of whether or not they had voted in primary or general elections. The data appears to date back to 2000.”8 It has been speculated by Vickery and others familiar with the matter that this data set found its way into the Republican database, called Data Trust Voter Vault, as reported by a seminal 2020 documentary about the religious right and big data in the US, People You May Know, by Charles Kriel and Katharina Gellein Viken.9 According to Chris Vickery in People You May Know10:
There’s a company named Data Trust that is very close to the Republican Party, the GOP in America, so much to the point that I would say they could be considered the same entity. And then they add state voter files to, I assume, corroborate what’s in the RNC database. Then they add consumer purchasable data, such as from Experian. … Then they add lists that the candidate -- the campaign itself gives to them.
Sean Eib of Graphika, who had been analyzing Vickery’s evidence, stated in the documentary11:
Are these records the same as the GOP data trust? This is supposed to be the GOP’s central location for all their data. If you look at their total number of profiles, they’re pretty much neck and neck. Well, you went up by five million, you went up by five million. You’re not acknowledging a connection, but it seems like you guys sure do seem to get records all at the same time. It does not seem like it makes a whole lot of sense that an evangelical group would need 191 million profiles. There aren’t that many evangelicals in America. I think it's somewhere a quarter of Americans identify as evangelical, which would be like 75 million. So there’s definitely a lot of people that are in there that didn’t sign up for it.
Besides the massive data gathering and psychometric grading efforts, reaching out to pastors and getting them to spread political messages has also become a major part of William Dallas' undertakings. According to a piece by Katherine Nelson in The New York Times, quoting Dallas12:
In a 2016 interview on Daystar TV, Mr. Dallas was even clearer: “We have a ministry consultant who will work with each church to help them get their people out to vote on Election Day.”
Furthermore, "United In Purpose is working with volunteers from organizations such as the Family Research Council to make calls and knock on doors," called "champions," according to NPR, presumably on the base of the data both organizations have gathered.7 Erik Prince's father Edgar Prince (1931-1995) had co-founded the Family Research Council, an ultra-reactionary anti-choice and anti-LGBTIQ hate group and lobby organization,13 together with the evangelical Christian leader James Dobson in 1983, where young Erik subsequently became an intern.14 The Family Research Council is currently headed by the ordained Southern Baptist pastor Tony Perkins, who is closely affiliated with former US Vice President Mike Pence, and had previously led the "plutotheocratic" supergroup Council for National Policy (CNP),6 an umbrella organization and networking group for high-level right-wing to far-right operatives. Bill Dallas, from 2014 to at least April 2020, was first a normal CNP member and then a "Gold Member."15
The CNP was co-founded by Paul Weyrich, from the 1970s until the 2000s arguably the most important éminence grise in the project to merge the secular and religious right in order to take over the Republican Party. The CNP is a big tent structure that consolidates many disparate elements of the secular and religious right and organizes meetings periodically to synchronize their various programs. A former Republican congressman, Bob McEwen, who also sits on the board of United in Purpose, is currently the president of the CNP.16
In the Trump era, Dallas became a key figure in rallying U.S. evangelical churches behind the future president and the MAGA campaign. According to Katherine Stewart17:
[Bill] Dallas has also become a behind-the-scenes power player; he took a lead role in organizing the June 21, 2016, closed-door gathering between then presidential hopeful Donald Trump and more than 1,000 evangelical leaders from around the country. That gathering, which took place at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan, marked a turning point in Trump’s political fortunes.
The author Anne Nelson specified in People You May Know18:
On June 21, 2016, they invited a thousand fundamentalist leaders to New York City to meet Trump on his home ground, and they cut a deal. And the deal was pretty transparently that they would lend their ground troops, their data operations, which were very advanced, and their strategists to the Trump campaign in exchange for three vital elements. One was allowing them to fully participate in the selection of federal judges. One was an evangelical council that was dominated by members of the Council for National Policy.
Katherine Stewart furthermore revealed that once Trump had won the presidential race, Dallas became a member of the steering team of Project Blitz, a massive effort to change legislation across the U.S. towards a right-wing Christian direction.19
In the run-up to the 2021 presidential campaign, The Intercept reported in 2020 that16
... United in Purpose received $75,000 from the Wellspring Committee, the same mysterious nonprofit that financed the television advertising campaign to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Another major donor to UIP is Maj. Gen. Vernon B. Lewis Jr., who retired from the military to found MPRI, a defense contractor sold to L-3 Communications, and another defense consulting firm called Cypress International.
All the negative press did not deter United in Purpose from its activities, however it further obfuscated its already opaque existence. As of 2021, United in Purpose is still active, although its two websites show only a single front page, without any content or information being accessible. The domain unitedinpurpose.events leads to a website with a front page stating simply: The Ziklag Group.20 [Thanks to @hiporadic for this clue.]
According to The Intercept, United in Purpose16:
... was crucial in connecting Trump to evangelical leaders in 2016, and it promises to be one of the most vital weapons in Trump’s reelection arsenal this year. At first, the effort may seem like a throwback. Participants in the group include televangelist preachers and anti-gay activists. David Barton, a historian that serves on the board of UIP, sells box sets of DVDs arguing that America was founded as a fundamentalist Christian nation with no separation of church and state. But the group, whose supporters include major donors to conservative causes, pastors, and political operatives with decades of winning elections, is serious about serving as the tip of the spear to maintain control of the White House. UIP’s 2020 election plan — which it calls “Ziklag,” a town referenced in the Bible — is a multipronged effort to connect Trump with evangelical leaders and increase support among minority voters through appeals to faith-based messages and church outreach.
Front page of unitedinpurpose.events as of 2021.
- United in Purpose, https://www.unitedinpurpose.org.
- United in Purpose, https://unitedinpurpose.events/
- 1. United in Purpose, https://www.unitedinpurpose.org.
- 2. “United in Purpose,” GuideStar, https://www.guidestar.org/profile/26-2495973.
- 3. Thomas Brewster, “Right-Wing Company Of Convicted Embezzler Turned Christian Linked To Huge Leaks Of US Voter Records,” Forbes, January 4, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2016/01/04/191-million-leak-bill-dallas-christian-anti-abortion/.
- 4. Katherine Stewart, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism (Bloomsbury, 2020), https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Power_Worshippers/Vd2yDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0.
- 5. Katherine Stewart, “How a data-backed Christian nationalist machine helped Trump to power,” The Guardian, March 3, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/mar/03/bill-dallas-christian-nationalist-right-donald-trump.
- 6. a. b. Anne Nelson, The Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right (Bloomsbury, 2019). (unpaged digital edition).
- 7. a. b. c. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, “To Get Out The Vote, Evangelicals Try Data Mining,” NPR, February 27, 2012, https://www.npr.org/2012/02/27/147504999/to-get-out-the-vote-evangelicals-try-data-mining.
- 8. Thomas Brewster, “191 Million US Voter Registration Records Leaked In Mystery Database,” Forbes, December 28, 2015, https://www.forbes.com/sites/thomasbrewster/2015/12/28/us-voter-database-leak/.
- 9. Charles Kriel & Katharina Gellein Viken, People You May Know, Documentary, UK, 2020, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12606876/?ref_=fn_al_tt_3. [ca. 0:13:46].
- 10. Kriel & Gellein Viken, People You May Know, [ca. 0:13:48].
- 11. Kriel & Gellein Viken, People You May Know, [ca. 0:21:00].
- 12. Katherine Stewart, "God’s Red Army," November 2, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/02/opinion/midterms-christian-right-election-day.html.
- 13. Catherine Brown and Ulrich Boser, "The DeVos Dynasty: A Family of Extremists," Center for American Progress, January 23, 2017, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/default/news/2017/01/23/296947/the-devos-dynasty-a-family-of-extremists/.
- 14. “Erik Prince,” Militarist Monitor, https://militarist-monitor.org/profile/erik-prince/.
- 15. "April 2020 Membership Directory," Council for National Policy, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/7241474/CNP-Membership-Directory-April-2020.pdf.
- 16. a. b. c. Lee Fang, “Inside the Influential Evangelical Group Mobilizing to Reelect Trump,” The Intercept, May 23, 2020, https://theintercept.com/2020/05/23/coronavirus-evangelical-megachurch-trump/.
- 17. Stewart, The Power Worshippers, https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/The_Power_Worshippers/Vd2yDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=%22more+than+1,000+evangelical+leaders+from+around+the+country%22&pg=PT159&printsec=frontcover.
- 18. Kriel & Gellein Viken, People You May Know, [ca. 1:02:40].
- 19. Katherine Stewart, “A Christian Nationalist Blitz,” The New York Times, May 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/26/opinion/project-blitz-christian-nationalists.html.
- 20. "The Ziklag Group," https://unitedinpurpose.events/.