DALLAS — Rafael Cruz has biography that seems made of Red-State American dreams: fleeing Cuba, coming to the United States, becoming a born-again Christian, falling hard for Reagan, and now trying to help his son, Ted, inspire an Evangelical resurgence in American politics.
It’s a compelling narrative, and it makes for a great Tea Party rally speech. Cruz was his son’s most beloved surrogate during the 2012 Texas Senate race, and the admiration he found from Tea Party crowds only grew.
But as Rafael Cruz’s star has risen, so have a multitude of myths about his life that Team Cruz doesn’t exactly discourage—like, for example, the one about how Cruz is a freedom fighter from a “hellhole” who stood up against communism turned Dallas-based pastor with his very own church.
So while Rafael himself and the Cruz campaign haven’t (to our knowledge) publicly said anything inaccurate about his personal history, they have left uncorrected some tales that members of the media and prominent conservative activists have woven about Cruz the Elder—including tales that are totally divorced from reality (and in some cases easily found on the Internet).
There’s Rafael the man—a fascinating and influential person in his own right—and there’s Rafael the myth, an odd duck who fought communism and pastors a church outside of Dallas.
It’s unclear where the Rafael Cruz mythologies came from and how much they benefit his standing in the Evangelical community. But it’s clear that the myths are pernicious, and that they’re impactful.
One of the first and most galling falsehoods about Rafael Cruz’s past is the notion that he fought communism. He didn’t, but that hasn’t stopped some of his most vocal backers from repeating, in contravention of all fact, that he suffered under communism and took on Fidel Castro.
In fact, Glenn Beck, one of Rafael Cruz’s biggest fans, argues as much in the forward to Rafael Cruz’s own book, A Time for Action: Empowering the Faithful to Reclaim America, released just this week (published by WorldNetDaily of “long form birth certificate, please” fame).
“[W]hen Rafael Cruz told his teenage son about the torture, the fighting, the oppression, the murder, and the communist hellhole he grew up in—there’s no doubt that imagery shook his young son to the core and burned an unforgettable image and feeling that would never, ever go away,” Beck wrote.
Cuba may have been a hellhole when Rafael Cruz was growing up there.
But there’s one thing it wasn’t: communist.
As Andy Kroll detailed in his National Journal profile of Rafael Cruz, the future senator’s father fought against the island-nation’s dictator, General Fulgencio Batista. And at one point, the general’s forces captured and tortured him.
“Behind every great man is an even greater father,” Beck adds. “And let it be stated for the record unequivocally: Rafael Cruz is one of the greatest freedom fighters of his generation.”
In reality, the Batista regime gave Rafael Cruz a student visa in 1957, which he used to travel to the U.S. Two years later, in 1959, Castro became prime minister of Cuba and the island-nation became a communist country.
And when it comes to literal fighting in armed conflict, Rafael Cruz fought on only one side: Fidel’s. But this false implication that he was on the other side of history still finds its way into the first pages of his very own book. This isn’t the only instance of Cruz World overlooking misperceptions about Cruz the Elder’s Cuban background. In 2011, when Ted Cruz was running for Senate, there was a controversy over whether the senator had perpetuated the myth that his father left Cuba after Castro took power. The Dallas Morning News determined that then-candidate Cruz had never made that particular false assertion. But they still criticized the candidate.
“Cruz, though, has remained silent as journalists and political activists incorrectly placed his father among the many Cubans who left the island nation after Castro took power, rather than as someone who fought on the same side as Castro to topple a rightist dictator, though he departed for Texas before the revolution succeeded,” the paper wrote.
That report notes that Kelly Shackleford, who introduced Cruz to the 2011 Value Voters Summit, said his family fled Castro’s regime. And Cruz didn’t correct him.
But there’s another persistent rumor multiple major publications have reported about Rafael Cruz: that he pastors a church in the suburbs of Dallas.
Except that he hasn’t. Ever.
Rick Tyler, a spokesman for Cruz’s campaign, told The Daily Beast that these reports are all wrong, and that Rafael Cruz has never pastored any churches.
He is an ordained minister, Tyler said, but has never led a congregation. Instead, Tyler said, Cruz’s ministry focuses on preaching sermons to groups of pastors, and that he was ordained through a program based in Texas called Minesterios Mundo de Fe.
Even Religion News Service made the same statement on Sept. 12, 2015.
“Now, Rafael pastors a church in Dallas and directs the Purifying Fire Ministries, ministering in the U.S., Mexico and Central America, and campaigns for Ted among pastors,” the outlet reported.
They were hardly alone.
The incorrect assertion was also part of a bio of Rafael Cruz for a Family Leadership Summit where he spoke.
“Today Rafael Cruz is a pastor at a church in Dallas and serves as the Director of Purifying Fire Ministries ministering in the U.S., Mexico, and Central America,” said an information page about the event.
Ralph Holland, who heads Mundo de Fe, emailed that his ministry ordained Cruz.
“Rafael has travelled to our network churches in Latin America and has been very effective in his ministry,” Holland wrote. “He is often solicited in the churches. I have personally accompanied him on many of those trips and witnessed firsthand his effectiveness.”
Holland added that Cruz is “very theologically versed.”
Any relation to “Purifying Fire Ministries,” by the way, is another Cruz mythology. Tyler said Cruz initially branded his work preaching to pastors’ groups with that moniker, but ditched it when he realized that Suzanne Hinn—wife of famous and sketchy televangelist Benny Hinn—had a ministry with almost the identical name.
It’s an odd situation. And if his son’s rise continues at the rate it’s going, it could generate no dearth of confusion for people looking for the truth about the dad of the maybe-president.