The Family is the sort of true crime series that makes you question everything

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Christobel Hastings
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A new Netflix documentary has put the spotlight on a top secret Christian organisation called The Family. But this is no obscure underground group, but a powerful movement that operates at the highest levels of American politics. 

Scary, strange or downright bewildering: whatever your true crime preference, 2019 has served up drama in spades. We’ve had Abducted in Plain Sight, a chilling documentary about a teenage girl who was kidnapped twice by her neighbour and family friend, The Act, which tells the story of Gypsy Blanchard, whose mother Dee Dee fabricated that her daughter suffered from severe medical illnesses, and Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a biopic of serial killer Ted Bundy from the perspective of his long-term girlfriend Liz Kendall.

Occasionally, though, a documentary comes along that confounds all expectations. The Family, the latest true crime docuseries from Netflix, definitely falls into category. 

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Based on the books, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy from Dartmouth College journalism professor Jeff Sharlet, The Family explores the history of a quietly powerful religious organisation with strong ties to US politics.

That organisation is a secretive Christian Conservative movement called The Fellowship Foundation, otherwise known as The Family. According to Sharlet, who began investigating the organisation in his 20s, The Family have been “hiding in plain sight for over 80 years”, spreading the word that “the real message of Christ is not so much love, as strength”.

That “strength” comes in the form of “invisible networks”, which includes influential senators, diplomats and religious leaders from around the world, and, significantly, a number of figures who wield enormous influence in Washington, D.C, in pursuit of the organisation’s global ambitions. Not only that, but there are dedicated “friends of the Family” operating in the American political system.

Netflix's new true crime docuseries The Family uncovers a secret Christian cabal with presidential links

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, documentarian Jesse Moss, who directed the five-part series, said he “just about fell out of [his] chair”, when he learned about how The Family had been influencing the American political system.

“I thought, here’s an organisation that exists at the intersection of faith and politics, that occupies, unbeknownst to a lot of people, this significant portion of the public square,” he recalled.

The Family, as Moss goes on to explain, isn’t just another story of an obscure underground movement. The group, whilst completely secretive, operates at the highest eschalons of American politics, wielding its power through events such as the National Prayer Breakfast, which every president since Eisenhower has attended over the past 50 years. No-one really knows the specifics of exactly what goes down at the event, but it’s where connections are forged and deals are made - and The Family are always present.

As the documentary points out, it’s worth recognising that a large number of members now align with President Trump. And the key to that alliance according to Sharlet, is down to the fact that The Family is “a movement that is willing to work with power.” 

Netflix's new true crime docuseries The Family explores the intersection of faith and power in American politics

By highlighting the intersection of faith and power at play in American politics, the documentary also raises the ultimate question: what does The Family mean for American democracy? 

“When you see alliances across international borders between religious right organisations and these authoritarian relationships…I think the consequences are enormous for all of us. It’s more than just the story of the Fellowship. It’s the story of our democracy,” Moss continued.

While we can certainly expect to see calls of “conspiracy theory” following its release, The Family deserves our serious consideration, not least because the documentary features a handful of Fellowship members who have agreed to speak on the record for the first time about the organisation. 

In the meantime, you can watch the trailer below.

Image: Netflix