The Unification Church Infiltrated Japan’s Government. Now Its Sights Are Set on the U.S.

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It was 11.29 a.m. beneath pewter skies in Japan’s southern city of Nara when Shinzo Abe was handed the microphone. The nation’s former prime minister, wearing a navy blue jacket and crisp white shirt, stepped atop the small, red dias outside Yamato-Saidaiji railway station to muted applause. Some 15 meters away stood Tetsuya Yamagami, face mask slung below his nostrils, hands on hips, looking disinterested. As Abe began his campaign speech in support of his local Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) colleague, Yamagami drifted away, only to reappear seconds later directly behind the entourage. Some two minutes and 25 seconds after Abe had picked up the mic, a gunshot rang out, blanketing the scene in thick white smoke. Abe looked around in confusion. Another shot three seconds later caught Abe in the neck and chest. He collapsed. Yamagami was tackled by security and arrested. A homemade firearm was recovered from the street.

The facts of July 8, 2022, are as indisputable as they are shocking. Abe was taken by medical helicopter to Nara Medical University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Yamagami, 41 at the time, has been charged with his murder and awaits trial later this year. He claims that he was motivated by Abe’s support for the controversial Unification Church, which by convincing his mother to donate over 100 million yen ($670,000) drove his family into bankruptcy and destitution. “In some ways, this young man is a victim rather than an aggressor,” says Tark Ji-Il, a professor and expert on the Unification Church at Busan Presbyterian University.

In the months following Abe’s assassination, an internal investigation revealed that half of LDP lawmakers had ties to the church, prompting a slew of resignations from the highest levels of the Japanese government. But why did a religious curiosity—cutely dubbed the “Moonies” and best known for mass weddings and anticommunist fervor—spark such murderous rage? And how did it burrow so deep into the governing elite of the then world’s third-largest economy that a purge was necessary?

The truth of the Unification Church goes far deeper than one assassination and Japan. It is a web of political and business interests that sprawls over every continent, claiming some two million members (although that figure is highly disputed) and over $1 billion in assets. It owns the Washington Times newspaper, the UPI news wire, the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, a ballet company, and True World Foods, the single largest supplier of fresh fish to the American sushi industry. According to U.S. intelligence reports, it helped fund third-world coups. It courts leading Republicans and Democrats with events promoting conservative causes. U.S. presidents including Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Donald Trump have been outspoken supporters.

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