What about antisemitism?

Joyce Herman, in Rochester NY, responded to what I have been posting about Christian Nationalism. She focuses, especially, on White Nationalism and the antisemitism that accompanies it. Her comments deserve a wider audience than a “reply” at the bottom of a post. With her permission, I am posting what she wrote:

Thank you for adding your voice to the conversation about the radical White Nationalist Christian Right. As we know, they have morphed from what seemed like a fringe group into a large force that is tolerated, if not embraced, by the Republican Party.

Comparisons to the tactics and rhetoric of Germany in the 1930’s are hard to ignore. (See Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny, written originally in 2017, Graphic Edition 2021).  As we look at the underlying and sometimes slyly hidden bedrock of their beliefs, antisemitism is more than the elephant in the room. In their intergroup communications they explicitly blame Jews as the all powerful force promoting the “Great Replacement” plan.  This Great Replacement narrative, actually a version of the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion, now serves as code for directing blame onto Jews for white people’s feared loss of power.

Eric Ward, senior consultant for Southern Poverty Law Center and the founder of the Western States Movement opened a lot of eyes, including mine, as to just how central antisemitism is to the White Nationalist movement in Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism I highly recommend his article for anyone seeking to understand the underlying dynamics.  Also, you can read about Eric Ward here.

As antisemitism has exploded in the last couple of years, and until this week, I had noted the curious dynamic of invisibility that had muffled antisemitism reports. In retrospect, even after Charlottesville, where marchers carrying tiki torches yelled “Jews will not replace us” as they went back and forth in front of a synagogue on shabbat, most media reported that they were “racists,” as if that covered it … without mentioning antisemitism. I find even folks who want to be allies to Jews tend to talk about “hate” without specifically mentioning anti-semitism, or Jews.

I was pleased to see that you did mention antisemitism early in your talk, although Jews were only assumed included when you report that speaking of “the enemy” was central to their talks.  White Nationalists vitriol for the hated “enemy” is likely to conjure an image of Jews in their followers’ minds.  Barbara Love, another Black liberation leader (Ward is Black) has pointed out that failure to talk about antisemitism is part of the problem and increases the chance of it escalating. 

Invisibility and erasure are indeed part of many oppressions. Our Black siblings speak of “erasure,” when their obvious and horrendous history is not taught. LGBTQ+ folks history and treatment has been hidden.  It seems to me that allies not naming and condemning acts of antisemitism is a similar hurt.  Further, as Ward understands, not exposing the various ways antisemitism is perpetrated is ultimately a threat to everyone. He says that racism will never be solved so long as antisemitism is unaddressed.  The “oldest hate” has long been used by tyrants to derail progressive movements.

I am aware that even as I write this, the picture is changing, with more coverage of the most egregious antisemitic rants, which then cite the huge rise in antisemitic incidents. New York Times columnist Bret Stevens “thanks” Ye (Kanye West) for bringing antisemitism out in the open.

I appreciated your thoughtful suggestions about how to proceed If we are to meet the challenges that our country and the world face now and in the near future. God knows we need to be vigilant and active on many fronts as our society is collapsing. I’d like to suggest adding the following strategies against the rising threats.

  1. Stay awake and aware.  Notice both what is in plain sight and what is lurking beneath the surface.  Do not allow yourself to be hoodwinked by insinuations and dog whistles and other tricks that are designed to point blame and scapegoat Jews or others.
  2. Do not go silent:  Be vocal about what you see 
  3. Seek ways to build alliances across identities. Reach out to those who are different. Form common cause with them. 
  4. Stay in the room with allies even if if gets uncomfortable.  This is not a time to be defensive, compare oppressions, or leave if things get tricky.
  5. Affirm goodness, kindness, connection, beauty… and love …  and bring them into relationships as widely as possible.

Stop the violence

We hear shouts of “stop the steal” everywhere, based on the proven lie that the 2020 election was stolen from President Trump. At public marches, on the Reawaken America Tour, in videos circulated widely, in the daily news, people push the lie.

Violence accompanies the lies. From the January 6 attack on the Capitol to this week’s violent attack on Mark Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. He was attacked at home with a hammer by a man shouting, “Where’s Nancy?” – echoing the sing-sing horror chants in the Capitol.

Too many politicians and news sources on the Right ignore what happened, as Donald Trump did in the first day, at least. Or they downplay it because the attacker had a personal history of delusion and violence. There are many more like him, though, and many sane, rational men (mostly men) ready to take up arms against other Americans for the cause, just as they did on January 6.

Federal agencies have issued a renewed warning that domestic violent extremists pose a heightened threat to midterm elections.

We must challenge this movement that leads not only to extremism, but to violence. Midterm elections are already facing threats of violence, with armed men dressed military-style watching voters drop their ballots at designated sites in Arizona:

Two people armed with handguns and wearing tactical military gear, balaclavas masking their face and the license plates on their cars covered, stood watch over a ballot drop box during early voting last week in Mesa, Arizona.

Our national story says that we have free and fair elections in the United States. That has not always been true, of course. Our history includes threatening, even violent, poll watchers in the South who kept Black people from voting. It also includes intimidating poll watchers, threatening violence, in many cities where political “bosses” made sure people voted the way they were expected to. Do we really want our country to return to that?

More often than not, though, the U.S. has been a model for free and fair elections, without violence. That has certainly been my experience, and it continues to be where I live in Brighton, NY. Increasingly, that is not the case everywhere.

One in six election workers say that they have personally received threats …. [and] about 20% of election workers say they may not work in the next presidential election. Among those, about a third cited too many political leaders attacking the voting system, even though they know it is fair.

When will the intimidation and violence stop? Only when enough of us stand up, speak up, and challenge the lies and public threats against people who are just doing their job. When violent attacks on innocent people happen, and armed men are“watching” the polls, and public officials and “personalities” refuse to condemn it – in today’s America, we must stand up, speak out, and challenge it. STOP THE VIOLENCE!

What Can We Do?

Here is what I presented today as a panelist at a webinar sponsored by the New York State Council of Churches:

The question I hear the most about Christian Nationalism is “what can we do?” What can we do about a movement that believes in authoritarian power and mis-uses the Christian faith to get power and keep it? The first action is to learn all we can and seek to understand why. This is personal for me for two reasons:  Some family members are part of it – And I have spent over 50 years as a Christian minister; I am both angry and sad with what is happening. So I want to understand.

By birth I belong to a group that has always been a minority in this nation – white European heterosexual male and protestant Christian. Historically, this minority believed that privilege, power, and wealth were our birthright, even the divine order. This is the story we told, the narrative we crafted, the myth taught to our children. When we were challenged, we passed laws and used the courts – and violence if “necessary” – to enforce that privilege and power. It is not new.

Charlotte United the Right Rally 2017

The great replacement theory is rooted in this historical narrative.  Do these words sound familiar? …  “Civilization is going to pieces. … If we don’t look out, the white race will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff. It’s been proved. It’s up to us who are the dominant race to watch out, or these other races will have control of things.” – That’s from The Great Gatsby in 1925 (p.11) The historical roots of this theory go back at least to Virginia in the 1600s, with their slave laws, and to Reconstruction after the Civil War when Black men could first vote.

Robert P. Jones, in White Too Long, describes what became the southern myth: “Reconstruction… was generally represented as a time when white southerners were victimized by vengeful occupying federal forces who supported black politicians primarily as a way of humiliating their defeated enemies. Southern whites were victims who were dishonorably treated after fighting a noble war.”  –  They had lost the war, but they would not lose their culture and their home. They would not have Black people replace them or their enemies govern them.

Book Cover

The Reawaken America Tour, rooted in Christian Nationalism, continues that persecution narrative. In Batavia, NY in August, I heard one speaker after another build on that story of being victims who are being treated unfairly by “the enemy,” shouting that their culture, religion, and nation are being destroyed, and they must defend themselves and their country.

The language of one speaker was typical: “The storm is upon us…We win, they lose … We are at war, on a wartime basis … They are evil enemies of freedom… War has been declared….The media is aiding and abetting the enemy.” …  This was a call to arms – to rise up and fight for freedom. The organizers and leaders of this movement deny that they encourage violence, even though speakers regularly use the rhetoric of warfare and enemies and “the mission.” The main speaker and organizer was always referred to as “the general” – Gen. Michael Flynn – who PBS Frontline describes as raising “An Army of God” to fight “a holy war.”  

Christian Nationalism threatens our democracy by calling for “real Americans” – that is Christians who accept their “biblical worldview”- to get control of every level of government and every sphere of life …. all while saying “we the people” will take “our nation back.” – The language of “we” and they”, “them” and “us” is all I heard. The rhetoric and “jokes” and casual references to specific groups of people all made clear who does not belong – LGBTQ folks, Jews, liberals, Democrats – and “BLM” – that is black activists, or what some white people have called “uppity blacks.”

Mark Burns

Many speakers challenge the charge against them of promoting white supremacy and violence. They point out that a third of the dozens of speakers are Black (although 95% of the audience was white) and that there was no violence in and around the event (although there were personal bodyguards and armed security). However, the myth of a Christian nation, chosen by God, dominated the whole event – and this nation, of course, has historically been controlled by white men.

The ideas and language of systemic racism and white supremacy are anathema to this movement. Only individual responsibility matters to them, and racism only exists (in their minds) if an individual consciously hates a person of another color. That same core belief leads to a denial of “hate” being part of their movement. In their minds, they don’t “hate” their enemies – liberals, Democrats, LGBTQ folks, for instance – they just oppose them because “they are evil.” Strange reasoning to us, perhaps, but there it is.

So what are we to do? Perhaps most importantly, we must change the narrative and tell a story that persuades. In a NYT article, AnandGiridharadas  (gi-re-de-ha’-das), author of a new book, “The Persuaders,” wrote these words: “The right understands that the more one’s ideas are repeated, the more they seem to millions of people like common sense.” (5) Again … the more a story is told, the more it seems like “common sense.”

That’s why so many people watch Fox News. Their staff repeat the same thing so often that viewers are convinced it is true. For instance, a recent story spun the narrative that Critical Race Theory is being taught in public schools, although denied by “Democrats and the Media.” (6) And, of course, with the assumption that it is bad for our children and our country. And what do they say is being taught?

  • Systemic racism, unconscious bias
  • White people have white privilege …. And, also ….
  • America is a patriarchal society
  • Gender is an identity choice

My response was to say “and…?” They know their audience believes all those things are wrong – evil – because they have told them so repeatedly. … The dark narrative of Christian Nationalism and the larger authoritarian movement offers a false hope rooted in a false history. They want to go back to an imagined golden time when everything was good, but it never was – not for most people – not for those who never enjoyed the privilege, wealth, and power of white, heterosexual men, often professing Christians. It was never as good for them.

Our country will soon be majority non-white and non-Christian, and this movement stirs the fear and anger many people feel in this changing world. The leaders use this reality to persuade people it’s “common sense” that they must save themselves and their country, whatever it takes – including violence.  People who have now experienced some freedom and privilege refuse to go back. That’s what Christian Nationalists fear and fight against – the very idea of a true democracy in a diverse, empowered nation.

The power of persuasion lies in telling a story that will win the heart and soul of people. For us, it must be a narrative that instills hope in a better future because people do need hope. – We need to learn how to do what leaders of this movement have been doing for a long time – craft a story that motivates people and repeat it so often that it “sounds like common sense.” For us, though, it will be a story that inspires hope for a better future for everyone.

How can we do that? – Let me highlight three things we can do:

First: Listen and learn – Refuse to argue (It does no good) – Do not attack the person – Ask questions that demand thoughtful response (expect them to think and explain) – Learn (in order to understand) what this movement is all about

Second: Challenge the movement – Vote and elect people willing to speak out – Be public and confident in confronting lies and speaking truth with respect and compassion – refuse to be their “enemy”

Third: Tell a story of hope – Craft an alternative narrative, a story that includes them without excluding others – tell it repeatedly everywhere until it “feels like common sense.”

Listen and learn – challenge the movement – tell a story of hope. This is what we can do.

Another Account of the Tour

Rev. Jennifer Butler, founder in residence at Faith in Public Life, wrote about her experience at the ReAwaken America Tour in Batavia, NY, in a recent article published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. The tour is in Mannheim, PA, for two days this weekend, and her words are a call to action for Christians to stand against Christian Nationalism.

Rev. Jennifer Butler

“The ReAwaken America speeches touted antisemitic, racist, sexist, and homophobic beliefs in the name of Christianity. Speeches were rife with apocalyptic and polarizing predictions of God’s vengeance befalling a wide range of opponents, including the founder of the World Economic Forum, President Joe Biden, and New York Attorney General Leticia James, who had written a letter to the tour’s local host, Pastor Paul Doyle, voicing concern that this event could spur violence. In the parking lot, I spotted a bus painted with the words “Patriot Street Fighter,” along with an image of a man in body armor with a bludgeon in his hand and the words “Get in the Fight” written in the red font of horror movies.

“Booths outside the tent played to peoples’ appetite for conspiracy. As a mother, I was disturbed by a display selling a children’s book called The Plot Against the King — named “King Donald,” who is trying to “Make the Kingdom Great Again.”

Plot Against the King

Tour organizers and speakers deny charges of racism and violence. A third of the speakers in Batavia were African-American, and they point to that as they scoff at the idea. Yet the nation they imagine as a Christian nation was always governed by white men who made the laws to hold their privilege and power over anyone who was not white and male. And they resorted to violence if the laws failed them.  That’s the reality of our history as a nation. There was no actual violence connected to the event, and I think that has been true everywhere it has gone. However, as Jennifer points out, the “apocalyptic and polarizing” language of all the speakers and their demonizing of people they call “enemies” and blatant warnings of warfare kept a threat of violence at the core of the event. And as she writes in her article:

“Its recycled conspiracy theories have motivated recent deadly domestic terrorist attacks that targeted Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue, African Americans at a bible study in Charleston, S.C., and a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., Latinos shopping in El Paso, Texas, and Sikhs at worship in Oak Creek, Wisc.

Rev. Butler acknowledges the appeal of this movement to “people in real pain,” but I agree with her that Christian Nationalism offers “a false sense of solution.”  As she says, “politicians and pastors under the ReAwaken America tent are touring the country, preying on the fear and anger of people — often white — who feel like today’s country is leaving them behind.” What they offer is a mix of religion and politics once touted as a movement of “values voters” and the “Moral Majority” which now lacks any coherent view of moral values supported by the Christian scriptures and the Gospel they claim to believe in.

Who Stole My Bible?

For people who reject the “biblical worldview” of this movement and wonder if the Bible can be taken seriously, Jennifer Butler has written a book called Who Stole My Bible: Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny. One summary of the book says:

“Scripture is replete with stories of those who followed God’s call to resist oppression and fearlessly pursue compassion, justice, and human dignity. Chapters focus on the liberating God of the Hebrews, the authoritarianism of King Solomon, the dream team of women in the Bible, and how Jesus came to bring truth and expose the lies of rulers. Each chapter illustrates the lessons of scripture with true stories of courageous religious communities countering authoritarianism and white supremacy in America today.”

Here is Rev. Butler’s call to people who call themselves Christians:

“As the Christian nationalist movement continues to expand, it is critical for Christians to speak out against this misrepresentation of faith, perhaps by joining the Christians Against Christian Nationalism movement. But we can’t do this work in isolation. We must demonstrate commitment to pluralism by building strong alliances across faith communities. …. Communities are being intentionally manipulated, divided, and conquered along lines of race, religion, and inequality in Christ’s name. This is not what Jesus stood for.”

Why the MyPillow Guy?

At the Reawaken America event in Batavia, Mike Lindell – “The MyPillow Guy” – was a star. When he came to the stage as a final presenter, the audience gave him a raucous standing ovation. Why? Most of us never heard of him until he became a public supporter and donor of Donald Trump. Now he’s almost a “hero” to people who follow this tour and the Christian Nationalism movement.

Mike Lindell with Donald Trump at the White House

MyPillow infomercials on late night TV since 2011 and national media attention helped him build a 1,500-employee manufacturing business of pillows, linens, slippers, and more in Chaska, Minnesota. Never one for politics until 2016, his meeting in Trump Tower that August made him a staunch supporter of Donald Trump, which is why most of us now know who he is.

As Lindell tells his own story, he was a gambler and cocaine addict for 30 years until 2009 (just two years before his company “took off”). As he tells it – mostly the only way we “know” much about his life – he prayed to be free of the addiction and the desire left. Maybe so, but he remains a man willing to lie and to use people to be in the spotlight. He did not publicly profess to be a Christian until 2017, yet now he is acclaimed as one used by God to help bring what he called “the greatest revival for Jesus Christ in history.”

Liberty University in 2019, while Jerry Falwell, Jr. was still president, invited him to speak and awarded him an honorary doctorate (a man who dropped out of college after a few months). Falwell said about him: “I can’t think of anybody else who epitomizes the principles that built this school more than Mike.” And in his speech, Lindell said, that “he sees his success in the business world simply as an afforded opportunity to share his Christian faith. … The pillow is just a platform for a much bigger thing. …. My calling is to speak out the word of Jesus.”

Mike Lindell at Liberty University

As he spoke in Batavia, I jotted down this question:

How can Christians lie so much?

In his presentation, Lindell spoke in detail about “the stolen election.” He blames cyber technology which he calls “an evil threat in our nation.” He says it is the work of the “deep state” and a “unigovernment.” He referenced the Georgia primary and how “one precinct reported no votes for one candidate until they looked in the machine” to find the votes (whatever that means) and told similar stories. He claimed that “54 countries have lost everything due to machines.” This wild, nonsensical claim got applause when he followed it with “machines have to go.” He also claimed that “a New York Citizens Audit found huge discrepancies between Secretary of State and County Boards of Elections … that names and identities have been changed … that people serving are not who the people elected.” Stuff and nonsense, as the saying goes.

When nonsensical claims, conspiracy theories, and fact-checked lies are believed and applauded at these events by people who claim to be Christians and Patriots, our nation is threatened and the reputation of all Christians is dishonored. Here’s more of what Mike Lindell said at a 2019 CPAC conference:

“Donald Trump invited me to meet him at Trump Tower in New York City. I walked into his office with high hopes on August 15, 2016. I walked out of that office after meeting with him, and I knew God had chosen him for such a time as this. … God answered our prayers, our millions of prayers, and gave us grace and a miracle happened on November 8, 2016. … We were given a second chance and time granted to get our country back on track with our conservative values and getting people saved in Jesus’ name.”

Even some on the far right are backing away. Lindell bought three hours of airtime on OANN – One America News Network – “to broadcast Absolute Proof, a documentary that makes false claims about the election.. … OANN broadcast a lengthy disclaimer before the program saying the claims were Lindell’s alone, but that the 2020 election results ‘remain disputed and questioned by millions of Americans.’” That’s not much, but it’s a start.

In January 2022, “Lindell claimed that he possessed ‘enough evidence to put everybody in prison for life, 300-some million people’ for their part in the alleged 2020 election fraud, which, at the time, was about 91 percent of the U.S. population.”  Stuff and nonsense.

When I began to follow the growth of this movement 15 years ago, most people thought “the religious right” was losing its power. Now a far more extreme version of this Christian Nationalist movement holds events with thousands of people around the nation. They have a powerful network of social, broadcast, and print media. They know how to dominate the news and spread their “message” farther every day.

And here we are. Too many people still want to dismiss the “nonsense” and trust that enough people will recognize lies for what they are. Yet “election deniers” are elected to state offices and the U.S. Congress where they will hold power to manipulate election results. What can we do?

Know the facts.
Speak up.
Challenge lies.
Vote!

It is not too late. Do it now.

Michael Flynn’s “Holy War”

Associated Press reporters and a PBS Frontline crew were at the Reawaken America event in Batavia, NY. They reported in a PBS Newshour story that “The AP and Frontline bought tickets for the Batavia event after Clark invited ‘Frontline’ to attend one of the tour’s shows. Reporters spent two days listening to speakers and observing the events from inside. On the second day, security escorted a ‘Frontline’ reporter from the grounds because, he was told, Flynn believed he intended to cover the event unfavorably. When an AP reporter began interviewing people attending the event at the end of the second day, she was also reported to security.”

PBS Newshour

Since I bought a ticket and stayed quiet, I was able to experience the full two days so that I could write these posts. The article’s summary statement is absolutely true: “ReAwaken acts as a petri dish for Christian nationalism and pushes the idea that there’s a battle underway between good and evil forces. Those who are considered evil include government officials and Democrats.”

Michael Flynn

Their story is part of an ongoing investigation from The Associated Press and the PBS series “Frontline” that includes the upcoming documentary “Michael Flynn’s Holy War,” premiering Oct. 18 on PBS and online. I encourage you to watch it. I will. The AP article and the PBS documentary both describe how Michael Flynn is raising “an army of God”:

“The tour serves as a traveling roadshow and recruiting tool for an ascendant Christian nationalist movement that’s wrapped itself in God, patriotism and politics and has grown in power and influence inside the Republican Party. In the version of America laid out at the ReAwaken tour, Christianity should be at the center of American life and institutions. Instead, it’s under attack, and attendees need to fight to restore the nation’s Christian roots. It’s a message repeated over and over at ReAwaken — one that upends the constitutional ideal of a pluralist democracy. But it’s a message that is taking hold. A poll by the University of Maryland conducted in May found that 61% of Republicans support declaring the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

The article quotes Katherine Stewart, author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism,”who attended a March 2022 ReAwaken America show at a church in San Marcos, California. She said it was like entering a “parallel messaging universe.”

“The leaders of the ReAwaken America tour are really driving people into a fact-free echo chamber,” Stewart said. “They have been persuaded and manipulated into believing they’re doing what’s right for their country. But all of their good intentions are being harnessed in service of an agenda that’s dividing our country as never before and, frankly, leading to the potential destruction of our democracy. ”

Katherine Stewart

On Sunday, October 30 at 6:30 pm ET, I will moderate a public webinar with Katherine Stewart, sponsored by Rochester, NY organizations who share this concern for our democracy. You can find the event information and required registration link here. Anyone is welcome to register and join us for the evening.

This article and documentary are focused on the role of Michael Flynn in this movement. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier post of mine on Flynn:

Michael Flynn posted a video on the Fourth of July in 2020 where he recited an oath to the QAnon conspiracy theorists . After the election, Flynn “called on Donald Trump to suspend the constitution and declare martial law for the military to run a new election … and ran a full-page ad in The Washington Times that claimed the extraordinary executive actions were necessary to avoid the alternative of an imminent ‘shooting civil war’.” All of this qualifies him for hero status in this movement.

What can we do to oppose this movement and minimize its power in our nation? First – learn as much as possible about Christian Nationalism and the larger anti-democracy movement. Read my posts. Watch the PBS documentary. Read the many articles available online. Attend the October 30 webinar. That’s a start. Second – talk with people in churches and community organizations. Tell them what you’re learning, and encourage them to find out more. And third – Take action. Vote for people at every level of our government who are not part of this movement, who are publicly opposed to it – people who will deny it the power it seeks to destroy democracy as we’ve known it. Together, we can do it.

Intrigue of the Movement

Patrick Byrne intrigued me as one of the final presenters at the Reawaken American Tour in Batavia, NY. He stirred my curiosity. Byrne holds graduate degrees in Philosophy from Cambridge and Stanford. He founded a company (Overstock.com) with $2.5 billion in 2020 revenue. His father and Warren Buffett (a rare multi-billionaire who lives humbly in Lincoln, Nebraska) are friends and in business together. His manner of presentation drew me in to listen, but what he said appalled me.

Patrick Byrne

His 15-minute talk focused on Frederick Douglass, a former slave and abolitionist, and referred to Douglass’ famous Fourth of July speech on July 4, 1852, in Rochester, NY. Why would he do that, I wondered. How does Frederick Douglass fit the context of this event? He didn’t quote the speech, directly, of course – or anything Douglass said. Rather, he abused his legacy of fighting for true freedom and misconstrued the meaning of his words to make Douglass sound like he belonged to the MAGA movement. Douglass, he said, “urged us to protect our rights.” Byrne claimed that “we are about consent – the consent of the governed” and called him a “defender of constitutional rights.” He even styled himself to be “a Frederick Douglass Republican.”

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass would be appalled at this abuse of his name and legacy. Some of his words might sound to this crowd as if they meant the same thing:

“To side with the right, against the wrong,
with the weak against the strong,
and with the oppressed against the oppressor! …
With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression.”

That’s only because the MAGA movement twists reality and the meaning of language to claim they are on the side of “the right, the weak, and the oppressed”! They speak of tyranny of government as if it is 1776, and they are patriots fighting against the British, when they actually are fighting on the side of the Confederacy in 1860. And that’s what Douglass would say to them.

Byrne claimed that systemic racism is nonsense, that U.S. “history is the exact opposite of what people demonstrating (and CRT) are claiming,” and that “there is not a shred of white identity in this movement” – and the crowd applauded. I can imagine the crowd’s angry, vitriolic, even violent reaction Douglass would invoke with his actual words:

“American justice is bound by the law to hear (only) the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, to hear only his accusers!” … For my part, I would say, Welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything—in preference to the gospel, as preached by those divines. They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty. …. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation—a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God.”

Intrigue has a second meaning, other than curiosity and fascination. It also can refer to people making secret plans which are illicit and detrimental to others. The second meaning describes the leaders of these events and of The America Project, and would-be leaders of this nation – Michael Flynn and Patrick Byrne, for instance. Claiming to be patriots working to “save America,” they boldly and publicly undermine all trust in our elections and elected officials. They praise the January 6 insurrection. They threaten violence in the streets if the FBI and DOJ – and Congress and the Courts – continue to investigate Trump for criminal behavior. And all the while, they cloak themselves in the language and symbolism of the Christian religion. But what I experienced at this event is in the words of Frederick Douglass: “a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God.”

Saving America from Evil

Two Saturday speakers at the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia NY acted out a specific form of Christianity at the heart of Christian Nationalism. Amanda Grace, founder of Ark of Grace Ministries, claims to receive prophecies directly from God. So did Hebrew prophets. So have many people through time. As we hear words of “prophecy” from people who claim a spiritual gift and “a window into the supernatural,” even for those of us who accept that such mysteries can be reality-based, the question is whether it “rings true” or “comes true.”

Amanda Grace

She spent much of her 15 minutes on stage “speaking words of prophecy,” sometimes with speaking in tongues and mostly in a loud voice. One claim was that there is “a spirit sitting on the Empire State Building” and that New York State “wants to destroy Trump and anyone who loves this nation.” As if they are one and the same.  Since such a supernatural being would necessarily be invisible, no one can prove it’s not there anymore than she can prove it is. Many people in the audience under the tent evidently believed her claim and applauded what she had to say about New York wanting to destroy both Trump and “those who love this nation” – meaning, of course, people like them.

Another of her prophecies was that there would be “a complete overthrow of the system in the next three months.” Putting a deadline on a word of prophecy does make it easier for other people to know if “came true,” but how does anyone know what “overthrow of the system” actually means. It’s open-ended enough to deny the meaning someone else might give the phrase to say it didn’t happen. This kind of “word,” though, spoken to a receptive audience of thousands of like-minded people stirs up their antagonism toward “the system” (however they define it) and their hope that it will be destroyed.

Christian Nationalism combines two historical traditions in the Christian religion. One tradition believes that if “true” Christians are in charge of the nation, it will become the nation God wants it to be. The other tradition builds on the image of the ark – Noah’s ark – as a place of refuge from the evil world to be destroyed by God – or by the “people of God.” These two speakers build their work especially on the foundation of this second tradition. The world is full of evil when Christians – in their particular, limited view of that faith – are not in power. Until they are, God cannot be in control, and evil and darkness will continue to destroy the nation. While that continues to happen, “we” must stay in “the ark” together for safety.

Amanda Grace proclaimed that “God is not done with this evil nation.” She also called it God’s covenant nation – a core tenet of Christian Nationalism. The next speaker carried that theme further. Bernadette Smith, co-pastor with her husband of The Eternal Word Church in Grandville, MI, said that “we are God’s anointed people … to eradicate the darkness in this nation.” She urged the audience to “be liberated with the truth.” One danger of this movement is that their “truth” is very specific and limited to what they are convinced is a “biblical worldview” – which a great many Christians deny as truly “biblical,” rooted in Scripture and the Gospel. The danger comes out of the merging of that “worldview” with an authoritarian, political power, willing to use violence if necessary.

Several speakers, including this African-American speaker, attacked CRT (Critical Race Theory) as an attempt to divide “us.” Pastor Smith embraces the idea that “we are all one people” and that anti-racist education that talks about systemic racism is wrong because it divides us – as if our nation has not been divided. A third of the speakers at the event were Black and understandably denied charges of white supremacy against this movement. Systemic racism, however, is undeniably a historical reality of our American history. It is also a reality of the role of the Christian Church in this country because it supported slavery in the South and separation of races in the North. It still does in many places. To dismiss the evil of racism as an attempt to divide us is a willful denial of these realities.

This reversal of historical realities characterizes the movement. People in the audience and all of the speakers were absolutely convinced that they are being persecuted. For two days, we were told that a nebulous “they” want to destroy them, to rob them of their freedom. Liberals, the “woke,” Democrats, progressive Christians, social justice advocates – everyone considered to be part of these groups – are part of the “they.” People at this event feel deeply that “they” are destroying our nation, and they must stop it and change it and make Christian America great again.

Cloaked in Religion

Michael Flynn drives the movement behind the Reawaken America Tour, organized by Clay Clark. General Flynn’s military career, including counterterrorism and special operations in the Middle East, positioned him to start the Flynn Intel Group in 2014 that provided intelligence services globally. In 2016 he became national security advisor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and in January 2017 was appointed National Security Adviser. Three weeks later, he resigned and eventually pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. – and was pardoned by President Trump a few weeks before he left office.

Michael Flynn

To some in this movement, Michael Flynn is a hero – “America’s General” – and he plays that role well. On Saturday of this event, inside the church building next to the vendor displays, Flynn held what he called a press conference. Positioned in front of a huge backdrop with his image and the U.S. flag, and joined by a few other speakers, he was “interviewed” by The Epoch Times. Flynn said “our purpose is education for people with hope, helping them to be involved in our country. America has been reawakened, and we will continue with our mission.” Flynn was joined in this press conference by three men: Patrick Byrne, Kash Patel, and Aaron Lewis.

Together their “mission” became clear – to oppose the “tyranny” of an “out of control” government. “Even the Republican party is being infiltrated by the enemy,” Patrick Byrne said. “Our elections are junk. Both parties are corrupt.” On his website (https://americaproject.com), he talks about the Deep State and the stolen 2020 election. He claimed that “DHS just released a report saying election machines are flawed, casting real doubt on the 2020 election.” In fact, DHS has said the opposite.

Kash Patel

Kash Patel’s first comments included the debunked claim that the government will hire 87,000 armed IRS agents. He talked about how “the federal government cannot decide how our elections are run because of states’ sovereign rights,” and added that “people don’t trust our election system.” That’s true for some people, of course – people in this movement where everything they hear undermines any remaining confidence in our government. His attack includes writing children’s books like this one – The Plot Against the King, which Trump just this week said should be read by every schoolchild.

Aaron Lewis, a Black pastor from Connecticut, more subtly challenged the government. “Martin Luther King is my hero because the FBI deemed him an enemy – for the same reason we are being opposed.” In his 15-minute spot later in the day, he continued his theme. “The overwhelming majority of leadership needs to be replaced,” he shouted, and “we refuse to co-sign a narrative that does not work for our people, for humanity.” He meant the narrative of Critical Race Theory which he says claims this movement is white nationalist,, white supremacist, racist. “They use lies against us,” he shouted.

All of this was captured on video by staff from The Epoch Times. They say that their “mission is to bring you a truthful view of the world free from the influence of any government, corporation, or political party. We aim to tell you what we see, not how to think; we strive to deliver you a factual picture of reality that lets you form your own opinions.” A quick review of their website or their ubiquitous newspaper will tell you otherwise. They operate in 35 countries with a media group including TV stations and YouTube channels, through which they have spread QAnon and other conspiracies, including anti-vaccine misinformation and claims of fraud in the 2020 election. That, of course, is why they were there, prominently involved.

Michael Flynn posted a video on the Fourth of July in 2020 where he recited an oath to the QAnon conspiracy theorists . After the election, Flynn “called on Donald Trump to suspend the constitution and declare martial law for the military to run a new election … and ran a full-page ad in The Washington Times that claimed the extraordinary executive actions were necessary to avoid the alternative of an imminent ‘shooting civil war’.” All of this qualifies him for hero status in this movement.

This side-event avoided religion, but the whole event was cloaked in it. Aaron Lewis is a pastor. Michael Flynn publicly claims to be a Christian. Patrick Byrne says he wants to protect “religious freedom,” a code word in this movement for traditional conservative Christianity. Kash Patel seems to be someone who uses this Christian Nationalist movement for his own purposes. These are sad times for those of us who are Christians who choose to follow the teachings of Jesus. They are dangerous times for this nation when 61% of Republicans (according to a story released today) favor “declaring the U.S. a Christian nation.” Join me in standing up to challenge this movement.

Rude and Crude

At the Reawaken American Tour in Batavia, “rude and crude” characterized the language and demeanor of some speakers. The program described one Saturday morning speaker, Doug Billings, as “the man who Glenn Beck and General Flynn have referred to as the next Rush Limbaugh.” For 37 years, Limbaugh set the tone for this radical right movement on his radio show, and he seemed to revel in being rude and crude day after day.

Rush Limbaugh

Doug Billings, host of The Right Side Show, was not as rude and crude as the two speakers who followed him, but he was dismissive of people who created “the nightmare” we live in. America right now, he claimed, has a “communist, socialist government…. and “we the people of God must take it back. – If we take it back, we win,” he shouted. “We are the party of life, liberty, and happiness.” This dismissive rhetoric dominated the whole event.

The next speaker brought the crowd to its feet with applause at his appearance on stage. I had not heard of most of the speakers at this event, but the audience had. On Charlie Ward’s website, his story gives no real clues to who he really is and what he does, but if you read his May 5, 2022 newsletter, you know why he was at this event:  

“Good day Patriot: This a very exciting week, the Quantum team are working extremely hard behind the scenes, nothing is in plain sight. This is a military operation, there will be NO telegraphing of information but also no reason to worry. Everything is under control, it’s important that the masses wake up to the truth. This is not an easy journey, people have been conditioned not to question what they see, hear and read. Hard for those who seek the truth to convince them they have been conned by people they believed they should trust.”

During Charlie Ward’s presentation, he was intense, loud, crude at times, building the crowd into a frenzy. Good thing it was only 15 minutes! To get a better sense of the experience, watch his TV segments – or just read the headlines and see the images from links on his website to his TV shows:

The third speaker reveled in being rude and crude. Scot McKay calls himself the Patriot Street Fighter and says he is “giving his voice to ‘we the people’, dedicating his time, effort, heart & soul to maintaining, through his platforms, the undeniable RIGHTS provided by our Lord & Savior- In other words, the beautiful freedoms all Americans enjoy! – Christian Nationalism in all its glory.

McKay came on stage with bodyguards, with video and sound like a wrestling event. In coarse language, he launched into the rhetoric of the “battle of our lifetime [against] the Satanic force out there circling this planet.” He talked about how his family opposed what he is doing and then said to the crowd: “Look around, this is your family.” He talked fast, moving from one idea to another:

  • School boards voting in policies allowing kids to identify as furries
  • Calling George H.W. Bush as a rapist and drug trafficker
  • Urging people to bring Christ consciousness into this world
  • Talking about the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab, and “government at every level doing what they want” – and how in Europe “they’re stand up by the millions” against it all
  • Talk of the military and Trump taking over, using survivalist language to urge people to get ready and saying “this is Christ’s call”

Christian Nationalism and the radical right movement it is part of seems caught in a web of conspiracies and lies, unsubstantiated accusations, and demonizing of “the other.” The mixing of Capitalism, Christianity, and Nationalism combines with aggressive militancy and toxic masculinity to create not only a rude and crude, but a dangerous, culture.