WASHINGTON - How did a routine stop at an awards reception on Capitol Hill turn into a bizarre coronation ceremony for a billionaire self-proclaimed messiah?
Two Maryland congressmen, facing questions about why they attended the event with several other lawmakers, say they have no idea. They never expected to see the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the publisher of The Washington Times and performer of mass weddings who says he has redeemed Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler.
On a busy Tuesday evening in March, say Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, and Roscoe G. Bartlett, a Western Maryland Republican, they did not set out to attend what Moon's Unification Church calls the crowning of "the King and Queen of the Second and Third Israel."
Still, the two find themselves struggling, along with other lawmakers, to explain their attendance at the March event in a Senate office building. At the event, which was recounted in news reports this week, Moon - wearing scarlet and gold velvet robes - was crowned by Rep. Danny K. Davis, an Illinois Democrat.
Cummings said that he made a routine, roughly 15-minute stop at the event to honor a constituent, Bishop Joseph Showell, and that he neither saw Moon nor knew he had any connection to the event until he read a newspaper article about it yesterday.
"We get invitations every week for one of our constituents being honored by somebody. ... If I've got a constituent being honored by a national organization, I stop by - I go to pay my respect," Cummings said. "I didn't have a clue that this had anything to do with Moon."
Cummings, quoted in recent news accounts of the event as praising Moon for "always standing up for what is right," was actually talking about Showell, he said yesterday.
Bartlett showed up because he was told he would be receiving an "Ambassador for Peace" award from The Washington Times, a newspaper he admires, said Lisa Wright, his spokeswoman.
Little did he know, Wright said, that the award would be presented by Moon himself. "It was not represented as a Reverend Moon event," she said.
As far as Bartlett knows, Moon did not voice any of the inflammatory opinions during the reception that have been attributed to him in the past, such as his claims about Hitler and Stalin. But his speech, Wright noted, was translated from Korean.