Bachmann Staffer Arrested for Terrorism in Uganda in 2006

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The charges were dropped after he spent more than a month in prison. Now he's rallying Bachmann's faith-based support and prepping for a movie about his ordeal.

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Updated 6:35 p.m.

The evangelical organizer who helped Michele Bachmann win the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa Saturday was previously charged with terrorism in Uganda after being arrested for possession of assault rifles and ammunition in February 2006, just days before Uganda's first multi-party elections in 20 years.

Peter E. Waldron spent 37 days in the Luriza Prison outside Kampala, where he says he was tortured, after being arrested along with six Congolese and Ugandan nationals for the weapons, which were described variously in news reports as having been found in his bedroom or a closet in his home. The charges, which could have led to life in prison, were dropped in March 2006 after a pressure campaign by Waldron's friends and colleagues and what Waldron says was the intervention of the Bush administration. He was released and deported from the east African nation, along with the Congolese. On Saturday, Waldron told The Atlantic in Ames that he was a staffer for Bachmann and responsible for her faith-based organizing both in Iowa and South Carolina. But he also declined repeatedly to give his name.

Asked about Waldron's role and background, Alice Stewart, the press secretary for the Bachmann for President campaign, replied in an email: "Michele's faith is an important part of her life and Peter did a tremendous job with our faith outreach in Iowa. We are fortunate to have him on our team and look forward to having him expanding his efforts in several states."

Waldron's ordeal and life are the inspiration for a film, "The Ultimate Price: The Peter E. Waldron Story," from Big Promise Production. Here's the synopsis of the film that accompanies the trailer released on YouTube earlier this year:

Lebanon. Iraq. Syria. Afghanistan. Pakistan. Uganda. India. For over thirty years, his family never knew where he went -- never knew what he did. Based on a true story, Dr. Peter Waldron was on a mission. Was he a businessman, a preacher, a spy? Tortured and facing a firing squad, he never broke his oath of silence. What secret was worth the ultimate price?

The trailer was removed from YouTube after The Atlantic posted this story.

Waldron, a Republican operative since the late 1980s, had been in Uganda since 2002 and was at the time of his arrest working for the "Africa Dispatch" newsletter and, according to reports in 2006, working on a pilot study of a new health-care information technology management system.

One Ugandan paper alleged he was working with Congolese rebel militia members to capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Ugandan guerrilla group the Lord's Resistance Army, and claim a $1.7 million bounty on his head being offered by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, but that planning for the operation was botched, leading police to Waldron's house and the guns. But the Kampala Monitor reported that the inspector general of police "told a news conference Waldron was suspected of links to a group in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and 'planned to set up a political party here based on Christian principles.'"

On his website, Waldron says he was "falsely accused of being a spy by the Uganda government's secret police," leading to his arrest. One man who knew Waldron in 2004 told The St. Petersburg Times in 2006 that Waldron had told him he used to work for the CIA, and the question of whether or not Waldron has worked as a spy is prominently teased in the trailer for the movie based on his life now being promoted on his personal website.

(Andrew Rice, the man who spoke with the Times about Waldron's purported history as a spook, on Wednesday said he had incorrectly recalled their conversation, but that his general impression of him was "that he was quite a vivid storyteller" and "a particularly flamboyant example of an archetypal character: the American who goes to Africa, a continent where a little money and a lot of talk can buy substantial power, in search of a position of influence.")

At the time of his arrest, Waldron was hailed on one blog as being ""the latest victim of Christian persecution in Africa." His allies seeking to free him said he was being persecuted for his reports in the "Africa Dispatch" newsletter about Ugandan opposition activities, and that he denied that he owned or was storing weapons.

Dave Racer, who worked to free Waldron in 2006, said Wednesday that he was uncertain as to the veracity of the allegations against him or the counter-claims. At the time, there was, as he understood it, "an allegation that Peter was involved in gun-running, I believe he was accused perhaps of fomenting some uprising against [Ugandan] President Museveni."

But, he said, "It's not possible from here to know what was fact. There's just no way to know. From here, it looked like he was a victim of political persecution."

The passage of the years has made him even less certain. "I have no knowledge of what really happened," he said, except that the detention "was very hard on him."

Waldron has been described at times as a leader of a wide variety of organizations, including Advancing American Freedom (co-founder); Christians Restoring America's Greatness (founder and president); Cities of Faith Ministries (founder); the Contact America Group, Inc. (president); and The Save The Family Foundation (president).

From 1995 to 1999 he ran the Rising Stars Education and Sports Foundation in Florida, according to The St. Petersburg Times, taking in $600,000 from state and local governments, and he later had an affiliation with "the Rocky Mountain Technology Group, a Montana software development company," according to the paper.

This year's was his third Ames Straw Poll organizing campaign, Waldron said Saturday. On his website, he says he also has worked for the Reagan/Bush; Bush/Quayle; Bauer; McCain; and Bush/Cheney presidential campaigns.

Waldron did not reply to emails seeking comment sent to three different addresses linked to his websites.

Image credit: PeterEWaldron.com

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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