News Revelations

Leaked: DNC official wanted to smear Sanders’ religion (or lack thereof)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Santa Barbara, Calif., on May 28, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(RNS) A major Democratic Party official reportedly tried to throw then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders onto the third rail of American politics, attempting to paint him as an atheist.

That’s according to a report by the news site The Intercept, co-founded by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, which first reported the story based on one of 20,000 emails released Friday (July 22) by WikiLeaks.

On May 5, Brad Marshall, the Democratic National Convention’s CFO, sent an internal email to two DNC communications officials asking, “can we get someone to ask his belief.”

“Does he believe in a God,” the email reads. “He had (sic) skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist.”

The email does not name Sanders outright, but Sanders, who has said he is Jewish, was the only other Democratic candidate besides Hillary Clinton, who is a Methodist.

“This could make several points difference with my peeps,” the email continues. “My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.”

Reached by The Intercept, Marshall responded: “I do not recall this. I can say it would not have been Sanders. It would probably be about a surrogate.”

Pollsters and sociologists have reported that atheists are among the most reviled groups in America. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans said they would not vote for an atheist candidate, even if he or she were qualified for office, and a 2011 poll reported people trust atheists less than they trust rapists.

Sanders has never publicly proclaimed himself an atheist. During the campaign he said he was “proud to be Jewish” and described himself as having “very strong religious feelings.”



About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.


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  • “I can say it would not have been Sanders. It would probably be about a surrogate.”

    It was about some OTHER Jewish Atheist candidate!! THAT makes it okay!! /sarc

  • Sanders tried to warn everybody that Hillary was way too much in bed with the Democrat power brokers. Sanders tried to warn people that the Democrat playing field wasn’t level.

    Nobody listened and nobody investigated, least of all the libbie media. Who knows what OTHER games the Democrat power brokers have played to save Hillary’s sordid bacon ??

  • Has no one heard of opposition research? Every campaign and party does it, and that’s what political operatives are paid for – to identify vulnerabilities in opponents. Sanders’ campaign was doing the exact same thing. It bears mentioning that the Hillary campaign never used it or mentioned faith in regard to Sanders. It’s a non-issue. The only people who think there’s a scandal of any sort here are those who have no clue how politics works.

  • Bro, this wasn’t Hillary’s campaign, this was the “supposedly neutral until the votes come in” Democratic National Convention.

    “The only people who think there’s a scandal of any sort here are those who have no clue how politics works”

    All I’m hearing is that you think using a person’s atheism to make them lose an election is OKAY, because that’s “just how politics works”.

    Excuse me good sir, but have you considered that MAYBE the way politics works is immoral??

    Personally, I find you repulsive, as I would find anyone who accepts IMMORAL actions merely because they represent a status quo. You’re the kind of person who, two hundred years ago, would have backed the institution of slavery because “that’s just how this economy works.”

    You’re the embodiment of the banality of evil!!

  • I’m not a “Bro” or a “Sir”, but whatever. No, as an atheist myself I do not approve of using atheism to attack people. But I’m completely unsurprised that a political operative might mention it. This was a few lines in an email, which was ignored and never acted upon. It was not a fifteen page DNC strategy memo outline to attack atheists. Grow up. “You’re the embodiment of the banality of evil!!” And lighten up, Francis.

  • Bro, my name ain’t Francis.

    “I’m completely unsurprised that a political operative might mention it”

    Yet you think it’s okay because Status Quo. It SHOULD be a SCANDAL in and of itself that this is, as you say “how politics works.”

    Sorry, sir, I don’t think that just because something is politics as usual that it MAGICALLY doesn’t become evil. Leave that fairy-tale nonsense at home, son.