The director of faith outreach for Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign was arrested in Uganda on terrorism charges and imprisoned for over a month before being released five years ago under mysterious circumstances.
Peter Waldron, an evangelist and Republican operative from Wyoming who spent four years in Uganda, was active in helping whip up evangelical support for the Minnesota Republican during last week’s Ames straw poll in Iowa, which Bachmann won in a victory that cemented her status as a top-tier GOP candidate.
But political analysts say Waldron, whose ordeal is being made into a movie that will be released in 2012, could become a distraction for Bachmann’s campaign in a race where her discipline and focus so far has been the key to her success.
“No campaign wants a distraction, and you don’t want your distraction to be your community organizer or own staff,” said David Roederer, who held the top Iowa posts in John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and George W. Bush’s 2000 bid. “I think they better try to explain this as fully as they can.”
“I think the problem is he’s trying to reach out on religious and spiritual values, and to the extent he’s implicated in some international politics, I think it detracts from his ability to perform that role effectively,” said Clyde Wilcox, a political scientist at Georgetown University, who has lectured abroad, including Uganda.
But the Bachmann campaign is standing firm behind Waldron.
“Michele’s faith is an important part of her life, and Peter did a tremendous job with our faith outreach in Iowa,” Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart said in an email to FoxNews.com. “We are fortunate to have him on our team and look forward to having him expanding his efforts in several states.”
Waldron could not be reached for comment. When Stewart was asked whether the campaign would make Waldron available for a comment, she didn’t respond further.
Waldron, who has six children and three grandchildren, lists a number of activities and interests on his personal website, which is now unavailable after a flurry of recent media reports on his arrest.
He has served in the U.S. army, hosted a national syndicated radio show in the 1980s and has worked on the presidential campaigns of several prominent Republicans, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Since he returned from Uganda, Waldron says he has worked on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and helped strengthen Zambia’s efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS.
Waldron said he was in Uganda “in an effort to facilitate the delivery of antiretroviral drugs to HIV infected patients.”
For four years, he worked as an information technology consultant for Uganda’s Health Ministry until he was arrested in February 2006, just three days before the East African nation’s first multi-party election in 25 years, Reuters reported. Waldron, who was 59 at the time, was charged with possessing four unlicensed AK-47 rifles and 180 bullets and faced up to life in prison.
Waldron’s lawyer told Reuters at the time that Uganda dropped the charges after he spent 37 days in a prison outside the nation’s capital because the government lost interest in the matter.
Waldron says he was falsely accused of being a spy by the Uganda government’s secret police and that his 37 days of imprisonment were marked by torture, intense interrogations and solitary confinement before the White House secured his release.
Reuters was not able to reach U.S. embassy officials. But they confirmed to NPR that Waldron was a U.S. citizen at the time of his arrest.
A scene in a YouTube trailer of the film, “The Ultimate Price: The Peter E. Waldron Story,” claims President Bush himself intervened.
“Apparently our president has gotten a call from your president of the U.S. and I was ordered to release you,” says one of his captors who is shown beating him with a stick. “But I don’t like to take orders!”
According to a 2006 article published in the Ugandan newspaper the Monitor, Waldron planned to use a Congolese rebel militia to capture Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a religious and military group that was waging an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government at the time. The group is known for horrific attacks against civilians, torturing others, and abducting children and forcing them to become recruits.
Waldron had hoped to claim the $1.7 million bounty on Kony issued by the International Criminal Court and share it with the militia, according to the newspaper.
But the effort backfired when two gun couriers involved in the high-stakes operation pulled a gun on a civilian near Waldron’s home. An NPR report said that the two men fled on foot but were pursued and caught by a group of scooter taxi drivers. A mob then emerged, wanting to lynch them, police told NPR, but the men pleaded for their lives and led them to Waldron’s house where sub-machine guns were found.
Wilcox said he doesn’t believe this story has legs.
“Uganda politics is really complicated and corrupt,” he said. “We really don’t know what’s going on here. There’s so many different ways he could have been arrested.”
But he added, “The average person never gets caught with guns in another country to conspire. This is a man of intrigue.”