From a Ugandan jail cell to the Iowa presidential campaign, secretive evangelist Peter Waldron is no stranger to conflict.
Peter Waldron’s journey from a jail cell in Uganda to the inner circle of Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign in Iowa did not follow a straight line.
An evangelical missionary with a penchant for secrets — he was caught with an assault rifle in Africa and accused of being a spy — Waldron popped up in Des Moines in early 2011 to participate in the GOP primaries. He thought he’d be working for insurgent Republican Herman Cain. Instead, he met a tough-talking, born-again congresswoman from Minnesota whom he regarded as a kindred maverick spirit.
“From that point on,” Waldron said, “I was absolutely committed to Michele Bachmann.”
Waldron, 65, is now the man behind a pair of inquiries by the Federal Election Commission and the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, raising allegations of campaign finance violations that have given the four-term congresswoman more bad publicity than anything lobbed her way by the political left.
Close Bachmann associates write Waldron off as a loose cannon and disgruntled employee. But for Waldron, a former radio evangelist, his actions are consistent with his decadeslong mission to spread the word of God and follow his Christian precepts.
It’s a quest that has taken him to hot spots around the globe and left even his best friends and family often wondering what he’s up to.
If his 2006 arrest in Uganda on weapons charges sounds like it could have been a movie, it nearly was. A movie trailer for a planned film on the 37-day episode poses the same questions that have dogged Waldron for the past seven years: “Was he a spy? Was he a missionary? A businessman? A mercenary? A bounty hunter? Who was Peter Waldron? What did he know that risked the lives of his own family and friends?”
Waldron still won’t answer that question, citing a promise made to an unnamed person or persons more than 40 years ago. That was shortly after he got out of the Army and took a job with a contractor doing business in Beirut, then at the height of Lebanon’s civil war. The only suggestion from the movie trailer that Waldron specifically denies is that he worked for the CIA.
Waldron also claims to have provided “soft aid” to the mujahedeen guerrillas fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and raised money for the contras in Nicaragua, both semi-clandestine projects of the Reagan administration.
Back in the United States, Waldron ran afoul of some officials in Tampa, Fla., who questioned the effectiveness of a publicly subsidized youth charity he ran there in the 1990s.
Waldron’s political résumé begins with the Reagan campaign and stretches into the 1990s and 2000s, when he worked on the campaigns of Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush. In 1999, he worked on the short-lived presidential campaign of evangelical Christian Gary Bauer.
In 2002, he was off to help distribute antiretroviral drugs to HIV-infected patients in Uganda, a project that was in concert with George W. Bush’s emergency plan for AIDS relief in Africa. That’s where Waldron got involved with a group of Congolese soldiers he said were pursuing a $2 million bounty for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a spiritually based cult that employed child warriors in a campaign of terror.
Kony was wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, though the organization has dismissed the notion of a reward for the guerrilla’s head. Waldron saw Kony’s capture as part of his Christian mission and freely admits to being in contact with Congolese soldiers who thought they had a bead on him. “My primary reason was to capture a murderer,” he said.
But that’s not the only thing that could have made the government of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni nervous. Waldron also was a frequent speaker at evangelical gatherings and was publishing a newsletter, the Africa Dispatch, which criticized the arrest of Museveni’s main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, and chronicled the urban rioting that followed.
In February 2006, two days before the nation’s first multiparty elections in 25 years, Waldron was arrested in his rented compound, where Ugandan police said they found a cache of assault weapons and ammunition.
According to an account in the Daily Monitor, Waldron and several Congolese men were held in connection with illegally possessing guns, to which authorities added accusations of terrorism and anti-government propaganda.
According to Reuters, Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, inspector general of police, told a news conference that Waldron was suspected of links to a group in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and that he “planned to set up a political party here based on Christian precepts.”
Waldron, on the advice of his lawyer, initially denied that there were any weapons. He now admits that he kept an assault rifle on hand for personal protection. “Who lives in a Third World nation without an AK-47?” he said.