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PASSING ON THE RIGHT

CONSERVATIVE STRATEGISTS GEAR UP FOR THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY.RIGHT ON! EMPOWERMENT TO THE PEOPLE: CONSERVATIVES TUNE IN AND TURN ON.

The information highway begins with a sharp right turn just outside Windsor. From the roof of the Windsor Center, a small office building on the edge of this farm town fifty miles north of Denver, your brain will board a parabolic dish paid for by beer prince Jeffrey Coors and travel 23,000 miles above the planet to an orbiting satellite. An instant later you will beam back down to Earth and the Washington, D.C., studios of National Empowerment Television, the newborn brainchild of former Denver newsman Paul M. Weyrich, who years ago coined the term "Moral Majority" for Jerry Falwell.

Much to the chagrin of liberals, the only political lanes currently in use on the highway are on the right.

Weyrich himself has been interactive his entire life. A tireless fundraiser and networker, he's one of the primary people responsible for the dramatic growth of conservative think tanks, academicians, political operatives and electoral clout over the past twenty years. Now he's president of America's first 24-hour ideological channel. NET offers a raft of conservative talk shows and such fare as Modern War, the only TV show devoted to military strategy (including a segment during which viewers can phone in their solutions to tactical problems). Unlikely to be picked up by TCI or most other cable systems until the day of 500 channels actually arrives, for now NET can be plucked out of the ether for free by owners of satellite dishes.

The network, Weyrich likes to say, is "C-SPAN with an attitude." But then, he always was a phrasemaker. And on certain Tuesday nights, the combative Weyrich really cops an attitude. That's when, under the banner C-NET, he sends special live "action segments" over a narrower beam to hundreds of selected citizen "coalition groups" throughout the country. On this closed-circuit broadcast, the veteran political organizer uses guests such as Pat Buchanan to exhort middle-class Americans to take action on specific bills or issues facing Congress. Through C-NET, Weyrich also radiates practical information on how to raise liberal amounts of funds and conservative consciousness. His aides caution letter-writing citizens to "avoid such buzzwords as `New World Order' and `liberals.'" Like communist cell meetings, these C-NET shows aren't meant to be seen by everyone. As Weyrich tells his viewers: "We don't want to reveal all of our strategy."

If Weyrich's shows push your buttons, you can push his. Back in Windsor, animal scientist Richard Hergert, organizer of one citizen group, decides to do just that.

Hergert is a farm boy, a former Windsor High School quarterback who spent the Sixties getting an education in animal nutrition at Colorado State University and the University of California-Davis. "I was a not a flower child," he notes dryly. A friendly fellow who gets intensely engulfed in political talk, Hergert became involved with C-NET about a year and a half ago, when Weyrich began his broadcasts.

Hergert and his partner, Jim Frazier, a video producer with offices in the Windsor Center, were connected to Weyrich through a friend of a friend; they decided to host the C-NET meetings as a public service, renting space from Hergert's cousin, owner of the Windsor Center. Frazier and Hergert were already active in conservative politics in sprawling Weld County, the fourth largest agricultural county in the United States. Frazier is involved with the Christian Coalition, televangelist Pat Robertson's political arm. And Hergert's wife, Mary, chairs the Weld County Republican Party, although he says she's not involved in the C-NET venture. The partners have also set up a company called American Lyceum to encourage public discussions of politics. Not surprisingly, they have had difficulty finding the time to promote their C-NET meetings. On one recent Tuesday, only a handful of folks show up for the evening's broadcast. They enter a little room in the Windsor Center, help themselves to fig bars and hot cider, and settle back to stare at a TV screen.

There are technical problems, however, not to mention a C-NET schedule change, and the impatient gathering thins from five to two by the time Empowerment Outreach Live begins. Weyrich's first guest is David L. Caprara, president of The Empowerment Network (not to be confused with the National Empowerment Television network). When George Bush was president, Caprara was Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp's "point man for empowerment." (Kemp now heads Empower America, not to be confused with either National Empowerment Television or The Empowerment Network.)

Hergert, feeling empowered for some reason, decides to call Weyrich's show. He walks over to a phone at the back of the room and places a call to C-NET. Moments later Hergert's voice is on the air. His left hand cradling the phone and his right hand touching the remote-control device that monitors the sound of Weyrich's broadcast, Hergert ventures out onto the info highway to pass on a highly personal complaint about his powerlessness in the face of the government's mishandling of a custody situation involving one of his children.

"We've heard from a number of parents like you," Caprara tells Hergert as Weyrich nods sympathetically.

Hergert's call is a bit beside the point, adding to the generally ragged air of C-NET. But raggedness and confusion are to be expected in the early days of a new technology. Although he started C-NET in late 1992, Weyrich didn't launch the full-scale NET until last December.

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