The 40th Anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire Speech

On Wednesday, March 8th, VOC hosted a commemoration event on the 40th Anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire Speech at the Victims of Communism Museum. This event was co-sponsored by the Institute of Religion and Democracy, the Religious Freedom Institute, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

Dr. Lee Edwards, Reagan biographer and co-founder of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation provided opening remarks followed by two panels comprised of distinguished scholars from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, the Institute of Religion and Democracy, the Religious Freedom Institute, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Institute of World Politics, and the Center for Religious Freedom.

The first panel, Ronald Reagan’s Impact on Ending the Cold War, opened with a video address from Anthony R. Dolan, the Chief Speechwriter at the Reagan White House, and focused on the key events of the Reagan administration and the paradigm shift in foreign policy that ultimately led to the demise of the Soviet Union. The second panel, Evangelicals and the Evil Empire, focused on the spiritual impact of President Reagan’s speech on American Christians as well as those living behind the Iron Curtain and around the globe.


Panelists included:

Elliott Abrams is an American politician and lawyer, who has served in foreign policy positions for presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. He is currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served as the U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela from 2019 to 2021 and as the U.S. Special Representative for Iran from 2020 to 2021. He served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director on the National Security Council for Near East and North African Affairs during George W. Bush’s first term. At the start of Bush’s second term, Abrams was promoted to be his Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, in charge of promoting Bush’s strategy of advancing democracy abroad.

Dr. Anthony Eames is the Director of Scholarly Initiatives for the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute and teaches at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University. He is also an affiliate scholar with the America in the World Consortium. Eames is the author of A Voice in Their Own Destiny: Reagan, Thatcher, and Public Diplomacy in the Nuclear 1980s (UMass, 2023) and co-author of Sharing Nuclear Secrets: Trust, Mistrust, and Ambiguity in Anglo-American Relations, 1939-Present (Oxford, 2023). His other work has appeared in Technology and Culture, Journal of Military History, War on the Rocks and several other journals. He earned his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University and holds an MA from King’s College London. Eames is now working on a book on conservative environmentalism. 

Dr. Lee Edwards is the Founding Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and recipient of the Foundation’s Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom in 2022. He is the Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought at the B. Kenneth Simon Center for American Studies at the Heritage Foundation, and an adjunct professor of politics at the Catholic University of America. Edwards is a leading historian of American conservatism and author or editor of over 25 books, including biographies of President Ronald Reagan, Senator Barry Goldwater, Attorney General Edwin Meese III, and William F. Buckley. He was the founding director of the Institute of Political Journalism at Georgetown University and a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and has also served as President of the Philadelphia Society and been a media fellow at the Hoover Institution. His awards and honors include the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary, the Millennium Star of Lithuania, the Cross of Terra Mariana of Estonia, the Friendship Medal of Diplomacy from the Republic of China (Taiwan), the John Ashbrook Award, the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media Award, Legend of YAF from Young America’s Foundation, and the Walter Judd Freedom Award. Edwards holds a Ph.D. in world politics from Catholic University and a Doctor of Humane Letters from Grove City College. He did graduate work at the Sorbonne and holds a B.A. in English from Duke University.

Dr. Elizabeth Edwards Spalding is Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) and Founding Director of the Victims of Communism Museum. She has served as a VOC Trustee since 2018. As Founding Director, Dr. Spalding was instrumental in the establishment of the Victims of Communism Museum, overseeing the extensive research, writing, and execution of the entire project. A third-generation anticommunist, she has devoted her career to scholarship and education about the history and horrors of communism. Dr. Spalding teaches subjects ranging from U.S. foreign policy, national security, and international relations to the presidency, religion, and politics as Senior Fellow at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy and Visiting Fellow at the Van Andel Graduate School of Government at Hillsdale College, and previously taught at Claremont McKenna College, George Mason University, and the Catholic University of America. A frequent public lecturer on numerous topics, especially communism and the Cold War, she is also a core faculty member in VOC’s National Seminar for Middle and High School Educators. She is the author of The First Cold Warrior: Harry Truman, Containment, and the Remaking of Liberal Internationalism and the co-author of A Brief History of the Cold War. Her scholarly and popular articles and reviews have been published widely, including in Journal of Church and StateOrbisThe Wilson QuarterlyProvidenceThe American MindLaw & LibertyH-Diplo, and Claremont Review of Books. Dr. Spalding holds a Ph.D. and an M.A. in international politics and political theory from the University of Virginia and a B.A. in politics from Hillsdale College. She lives with her family in Arlington, Virginia.

John Lenczowski served in the United States Department of State as Special Advisor to then Under Secretary for Political Affairs Lawrence Eagleburger. His highest priority was strengthening Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, so that it could overcome Soviet jamming and rapidly disseminate news of resistance to Soviet authority. Lenczowski succeeded in getting $2.5 billion authorized to modernize Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. In 1981, he became part of the newly founded Active Measures Working Group, which aimed to counter Soviet disinformation campaigns. Lenczowski encouraged the group to take a more proactive role in countering disinformation. From 1983 to 1987, Lenczowski was Director of European and Soviet Affairs at the United States National Security Council. In that capacity, he served as principal Soviet affairs advisor to U.S. President Ronald Reagan. He was involved in developing many of the policies that helped prompt the collapse of the Soviet empire. One such policy came from a memo Lenczowski wrote to President Reagan outlining America’s strength and promoting military deterrence by better publicizing the truth and goals of communism and the Soviet Union.

Eric Patterson is the President of the Religious Freedom Institute. He is past dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University and a Research Fellow at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. Patterson’s interest in the intersection of religion, ethics, and foreign policy is informed by two stints at the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, with work in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo, and Angola. He was an officer and commander in the Air National Guard for over twenty years and served as a White House Fellow working for the Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He has published Politics in a Religious World: Toward a Religiously Informed U.S. Foreign Policy, Military Chaplains in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Beyond as well as a number of books and articles. His most recent project is a co-edited volume on the theological underpinnings of religious freedom, tentatively titled, Protestant Theological Sources for Religious Freedom (forthcoming 2023). His academic work has been published in International Studies Perspectives, International Politics, International Relations, Review of Faith and International Affairs, Public Integrity, Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, International Journal of Religious Freedom, Survival, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and Security Studies, The Washington Post, Orange County Register, Washington Times, and WORLD Opinions and Providence: A Journal of Christianity and U.S. Foreign Policy. Patterson has provided briefings and seminars for France’s Ministry of Defense, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Naval War College, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and the U.S. military academies. Patterson holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California at Santa Barbara, a Master’s in International Politics from the University of Wales at Aberystwyth, and degrees from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri.

Nina Shea is a Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute, where she directs the Center for Religious Freedom, an entity she founded 35 years ago. She was appointed by the US House of Representatives to serve as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent government agency, for 13 years. A lawyer by training and based in Washington, DC, she produces analysis and takes on strategic advocacy for US policies to address egregious situations of religious persecution internationally. She helped build and lead the coalition to adopt the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. She was appointed as a U.S. delegate to the United Nations’ main human rights body by both Republican and Democratic administrations. She has authored or co-authored three books on religious persecution, genocide and the threat to freedom posed by Islamic blasphemy and hate speech bans. She authored or edited four widely publicized reports on extremist doctrine in Saudi state educational materials. In 2011, she directly discussed her findings with the ministers of Education, Justice and Islamic Affairs, in Riyadh, which eventually leading to reforms. She writes frequently on international religious freedom concerns in the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Foreign Affairs, and many other outlets. During the Soviet era, Shea’s first client before the United Nations was Soviet Nobel Peace Laureate Andrei Sakharov. Another career highlight was to brief President Ronald Reagan in a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office, on the religious freedom abuses of Nicaragua’s Sandinista regime. She has also briefed other American presidents, secretaries of state and Pope Francis, on the plight of Middle Eastern Christians and Jews, Nigerian Islamist terror, and ongoing atrocities against various religious minorities in China. She was involved in efforts to aid and rescue Christians and Yazidis targeted with genocide in Iraq (2015) and Christians and others, in Afghanistan (2021-22).

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and editor of IRD’s foreign policy and national security journal, Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy.  He worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency and is a graduate of Georgetown University.  In 1994 he joined IRD to found its United Methodist project (UMAction) and became IRD President in 2009. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church (2008), Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century: From William McKinley to 9/11 (2012), and The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War (2015). He has written for The Wall Street Journal, WorldLaw and LibertyNational Review and other publications.  He contributed chapters to several books: The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land (2016), Race and Covenant: Recovering the Religious Roots for American Reconciliation (2020), The Next Methodism: Theological, Social, and Missional Foundations for Global Methodism (2022), Just War and Christian Traditions (2022), and Social Conservatism for the Common Good: A Protestant Engagement with Robert P. George (2023).

Robert R. Williams is the Director of Academic Programs at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. Previously he had a 32-year career in the U.S. Army with the first sixteen years serving in the Infantry in combat arms units and the last sixteen years as a Russia Foreign Area Officer (FAO) with various assignments in Germany and Estonia to include being assigned as an instructor at the Baltic Defense College in Tartu. Other FAO assignments included attache and security cooperation positions in the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn Estonia and as a Treaty Compliance Officer in Germany. He had multiple assignments in the intelligence field to include the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Service Intelligence Center for the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. He earned his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Memphis and a M.A. in Russian and East European Studies from Florida State University.