Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011 | 2 a.m.
When Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a massive warehouse near McCarran International Airport a few weeks ago, he thought he was dedicating a new boat-manufacturing company’s facilities.
“They are creating 50 new jobs. They’ve developed this new craft that won’t sink if there’s an accident because the hull is filled with helium,” said Sisolak, who was joined by representatives from the governor’s office at the new Won Mo Boats facility.
But the building will also be home to something “far bigger and more significant” than a boat-manufacturing plant, according to the owners, the Unification Church, whose members are known as Moonies. The 135,000-square-foot warehouse will contain a marble-inlaid “Peace Palace,” a “state-of-the-art training facility for education and worship.”
The recent grand opening “was a public statement to the city’s establishment: the Unification Church has arrived in Las Vegas and it means business,” according to the website.
Why Las Vegas? The website says the leader of the Unification Church, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and his wife moved to the area three years ago after he “received revelations in recent years, while in Hawaii, that Las Vegas would be the hub of a new cultural and economic revival in America.”
The church’s U.S. president, the Rev. In Jin Moon, said her parents “are turning Las Vegas from a city of sinning to a city of giving.”
Calls placed to the church’s offices in New York and a project manager for the Peace Palace were not returned.
Sisolak said officials at the opening had no idea about the group’s grand religious designs for the facility, but it wouldn’t have mattered.
“I believe in freedom of religion,” he said. “I wasn’t there to promote a religion, I was there because they are bringing jobs.”
The Unification Church was founded by Moon in South Korea in the early 1950s. The church believes that Moon is the second coming of Jesus Christ and that they are creating heaven on earth. As it grew, the church became more involved in commercial and cultural endeavors, such as its ownership of the Washington Times.
But the church, which is perhaps best known for its mass weddings, has many critics who call it a cult and claim that it brainwashes followers.
Steve Hassan, a former Unification Church member-turned critic and director of the Freedom of Mind Center in Cambridge, Mass., said he was unaware of the church’s plans for Las Vegas. But he said the church has sought to become more mainstream over the decades.
“They are bigger than ever and more powerful than ever,” said Hassan, who says he was a church leader in the 1970s.
Hassan said the church practices “covert hypnosis” and uses techniques such as sleep deprivation and social psychology to control members, “to make you less able to think analytically.” The bad economy, in combination with the other stresses in people’s lives, have created, in Hassan’s view, “the perfect storm” for recruitment.
Other recent events suggest the church is attempting to raise its profile here. About a week before the ribbon-cutting, the church donated $50,000 to the local chapter of the Salvation Army, $10,000 to Galilee Camps — which has a summer camp for children on Lake Tahoe — and $10,000 to Safe Faith United, a women’s advocacy group.
As for the boat-facility opening, it isn’t the first time elected officials have participated in a Unification Church event without fully understanding its significance to the group.
In 2004, Moon was crowned “King of Peace” at a ceremony organized by the church and held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington. The crowning ritual — Moon and his wife wore tall gold crowns and robes — began “the era of the Eternal Peace Kingdom, one global family under God.”
About a dozen members of Congress were in attendance, according to media reports. Asked about it afterward, many of the lawmakers claimed they had been misled. Their understanding was it was to be a celebration of world peace.