It's a hot day on Indiantown's Brady Ranch. And pastor Doug Giles has his hands on a gun. A wiry man in fatigues and a crumpled cowboy hat, he crouches between two fat oak trees. Then he locks his sight on a 500-pound nilgai antelope and pulls the trigger.
The bullet hits with a force so fierce that the animal sails four feet into the air. Then for a moment it regains its footing and tries to scramble away. But a shattered front leg flops like a jelly-filled sack. When the minister fires again, the antelope tumbles to the ground.
Giles sells a video of the hunt after Sunday services at his Aventura Clash Christian Church, along with his new book, The Bull Dog Attitude: Get It or Get Left Behind a treatise on muscular Christianity. In Giles's view, the church has grown soft and lazy. And its traditions have become increasingly effeminate. As a result, men have fled the pews, America has lost its moral bearings, and secular forces are "hacking away at our religious roots like Paul Bunyan on crystal meth." Giles aims to fix the problem by injecting testosterone back into the church. And his message is as brash and politically incorrect as it is macho.
He regularly bashes Muslims, undocumented immigrants, feminists, metrosexuals, and liberals of all stripes. And this approach has earned him a modest measure of fame. Each month, he says, more than 300,000 people tune to his Internet show, Clash Radio, where guests have included conservative luminaries like Ann Coulter, Oliver North, and Katherine Harris. He also has a syndicated column on Townhall.com. Three million people visit the site each day, and it publishes screeds from dozens of conservative icons, among them Michelle Malkin and William F. Buckley.
Giles, now 43 years old, has always been something of a rabble-rouser. The Lubbock, Texas native says he began smoking pot at age twelve. During his teens, he stole, dealt drugs, and spent almost as much time in the principal's office as in class. His college years weren't much better. He flunked out and then drifted for a while. "His rebelliousness took its toll on the family," says his sister, Paula Winger. "All those nights they stayed up worrying really aged my parents."
Then at age 21, Giles found Christ, and his life changed. He enrolled in Texas Tech University and graduated. Then, after dabbling in business for a while, he launched a church called Covenant Christian Fellowship in his hometown.
In some ways, though, he remained the same. "He never lost that radical streak," explains Winger. "He doesn't worry what the fallout is going to be, who he's going to offend. He has a fierce, no-compromise attitude."
Giles moved to Miami in 1996, along with wife Mary Margaret and daughters Regis and Hannah. New Times has requested interviews with him four times since October 2005, but each time he declined. He did provide some basic information via e-mail, including the reason he chose Miami. "Great place for ministry," he wrote. "Wild and multicultural."
Four years after arriving in the Magic City, Giles launched Clash Christian Church (originally called His People Christian Church). Around the same time, he founded Clash Radio. Initially it aired on Miami's WMCU-FM (89.7) and a Texas transmitter. The program had a number of dedicated fans, but it also drew droves of complaints. And eventually WMCU dropped it.
It's not difficult to understand why some believers might object to Giles's message. During a recent service, he told parishioners: "You couldn't drag me into most churches even if you used meat hooks and wild horses." In his columns, he dismisses most Christian music as "saccharine-laced slush" and calls for an "end to the preaching by whiny, quiche-eating, preening nancy boys."
Some liberal groups have taken issue with Giles's approach. "He uses ridiculous hyperbole," says Paul Waldman, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, a watchdog organization that monitors Giles's column. "This kind of talk isn't about convincing anybody. It's about defining who the enemy is and shutting down reasoned dialogue. And that's dangerous."
But Giles's unvarnished style has also opened doors for him. Each episode of Clash Radio begins with a blast of heavy metal followed by a Giles monologue and an interview with a prominent conservative. Jonathan Garthwaite was among the guests on the show in February 2004. Before his interview, he caught one of Giles's rants. It railed against the "media elite," a.k.a. the "wannabe-Euro-socialist-talking-heads that carp, fart, and blather anti-American sentiments."
Garthwaite liked what he heard. "Doug discusses cultural and religious issues in a way that appeals to the common person," he explains. "And he never minces words." He asked Giles to submit a version of his anti-media screed as a sample column for Townhall. It ranked third among all columns on the site the week it appeared, according to Giles.
Garthwaite wouldn't confirm this claim. "I'm not in the business of ranking," he says. But the experiment was successful enough that he offered Giles a permanent spot. And today he notes, "Doug's column is consistently among the top ones on the site."
Townhall, a branch of the Heritage Foundation, also syndicates Giles's column to other conservative publications like the Washington Times. What's more, Giles has been tapped as a pundit by CNN's Anderson Cooper 360¬ and the Dennis Prager Show.
The Aventura minister uses his column to lash out against liberals, who he says "spit on the Word of God." He also bashes gender-bending. In his view, the "antagonistic metrosexual 'thang'" is just another " bigger-than-Dallas-sized sign that America could be headed down the toilet." As for feminists, they "live to walk on our flag" and "hate anything that's decent."
Giles has also argued, "It would be better for some kids to have been aborted," than to be born into this "cruddy culture." And he has dubbed Islam a religion of "unmitigated murderous madness." To remedy the problem, he says, the U.S. government should send a "first-world military shock wave through their quaint, archaic culture."
Illegal immigrants are also on his target list. In fact he recently offered them this warning: "Our legal citizens are getting increasingly fed up with your criminal relocation dreams."
Giles's tough talk is welcomed by the 200 members of his church. The group meets in the Royal Palm conference room of Aventura's posh Residence Inn amid bismuth pink carpeting and mahogany trim. On a recent Sunday morning, slumping teenagers, aging housewives, and muscular twentysomethings with camouflage Bibles gathered there to hear him preach.
The service began with some rocky Christian hymns. Then Giles sauntered up to the front of the room and placed his hands on his hips. "Why are you so quiet?" he asked. "You turn into Quakers?" Then he leaned over the lectern and growled, "If there's any place to make noise, it's Clash Christian Church."
But the silence lingered.
Finally a burly man with Jesus tattoos yelled, "Yeah, come on!"
"Not you," Giles jeered. "If you say, 'Come on,' again, I'm going to stuff potatoes in your mouth."
Part of the goal of his aggressive style and message is to "jerk the slack out of" slacking Christians. He urges followers to toughen up, quit complaining, and take action by stepping into the public square. This is because, like many members of the religious right, Giles believes America was founded as a Christian nation. "My ultimate goal," he wrote by e-mail, "is to help the U.S., via my little influence, retain the traditional Judeo-Christian values that have made this nation great."
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And this means injecting biblical principles into government. To underscore this point, he regularly airs a "Moment in American History" segment on his show. It's hosted by David Barton, a controversial evangelical historian who advocates razing the wall between church and state. (Barton is also vice chair of the Texas GOP and a consultant to the Bush administration.)
What's more, Giles pushes people to take command of their personal lives. And this is a large part of his appeal. Sam Hacman, a 30-year-old commercial real estate broker, first attended Clash Christian Church after hearing Giles's WMCU program. "I grew up in the Christian faith," he says. "But I'd never heard anything like his message. He was really challenging people to get off their ass."
At first Hacman was surprised by Giles's appearance. The pastor's sinewy build doesn't seem to square with his baritone voice. And he's better preened than his macho message would suggest. But Hacman was drawn in by the minister's charisma. "It energizes you," he explains. "When you leave, you feel alive."
Others say Giles's get-tough formula helps them weather life's trials. Eric North, a 31-year-old firefighter, began attending Clash Christian Church after his wife left him in 2004. He says the ministry helped him through the ordeal. "A lot of us come from very broken lives," he explains. "Doug shows us how to put them back together how to strap on the cojones and be a man God's way."