What about violence?

Organizers and the host pastor of the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia vehemently denied that violence follows their events. In fact, they announced legal action against NYS Attorney General Letitia James for sending a letter suggesting there might be racial violence. You can read the letter here. And here is a public radio news story about what happened at the event.

To be fair, there was no outward violence, or hint of physical violence, at the event (other than bodyguards and armed security). I did not hear any speaker urge people to riot or join a militia or use guns against anyone. When a constant theme of speakers, however, is that “they are coming for us, and we have to be ready” and “our enemies must be destroyed before they destroy us,” some people will inevitably hear that as a call to take violent action against their enemies.

One speaker on Saturday morning did exactly that. John Michael Chambers is creator and founder of American Media Periscope (https://americanmediaperiscope.com/), which “has interviewed such patriot guests as General Michael Flynn, Sydney Powell, and Kash Patel.” His website says it is “America’s Patriot Only Network,” and everywhere he speaks  he claims to present “The News Behind the News.” His website, though, is more an online store for books and merchandise supporting Trump and various conspiracies.

His 15-minute speech began with prayer for “our president” and his family (meaning Donald Trump). “The storm is upon us,” he said – “Trump’s signal to patriots.” He uses the language of war and enemies – “We win, they lose … We are at war, on a wartime basis … Evil enemies of freedom.” As he repeated the “stolen election” lies, he even claimed that “all military branches documented it.” This means, he said, that “war has been declared.” If the “military steps in with midterm elections, we win.” And “the media is aiding and abetting the enemy.” This was a call to arms, to rise up for freedom.

This is how wars begin – with demonizing the other and stirring up hate toward “the enemy.” Words like “evil” and “demonic” were used throughout the event by multiple speakers, referring to President Biden, to LGBTQ persons, to “the government,” to the unspecified “them.” Organizers resist the charge that their events stir up fear and hate wherever they go. When speakers, however, constantly use the language of hate – evil, demonic – and call for “enemies” to be destroyed, that is the result. This event builds on a narrative of evil and enemies – a narrative that people in the audience hear and watch all the time on sites like Rumble (https://rumble.com/), One America News Network (https://www.oann.com/), Alex Jones’ Infowar (https://www.infowars.com/), and The Glenn Beck Program (https://www.glennbeck.com/st/podcast).

When speakers constantly use the language of enemies and war and evil, violence will inevitability follow – somewhere, sometime. Our nation must prepare for it.

Toward Authoritarian Rule

The movement toward authoritarian governance in our country, based on a narrative of America as a Christian and conservative nation, goes far beyond the Reawaken America Tour. Today’s post is about CNN and the dismissal of Brian Stelter, who I was only vaguely familiar with until now. His statement in his closing segment has been widely reported: “It’s not partisan to stand up for decency and democracy and dialogue. It’s not partisan to stand up to demagogues. It’s required. It’s patriotic. We must make sure we don’t give platforms to those who are lying to our faces.”

Robert Reich, who I do follow (but whose name you may not know), had a column yesterday about this (https://robertreich.substack.com/p/why-cnn-cancelled-brian-stelter?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email). Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration. He is a prolific writer, author of 17 books, founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and has created several documentaries. He knows what he’s talking about. (You can see his website at https://robertreich.org/.)

Robert Reich

He writes: “For several years, Brian Stelter’s Sunday CNN show, ‘Reliable Sources,’ has been a reliable source of intelligent criticism of Fox News, rightwing media in general, Trumpism, and the increasingly authoritarian lurch of the Republican Party. [Not all Republicans support today’s leaders of the GOP who are meant in this post.]  Last week, CNN abruptly canceled the show and effectively fired Stelter and his staff. Why?”

One of his common sayings is “follow the money.” CCN’s new chairman and CEO says he wants less criticism of political conservatives and more “straight news reporting” so that CNN can be “for everybody.” The new owner of CNN is Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc., and David Zaslav is the CEO. … If you’re thinking you never heard of these people, neither have I, but we need to know who they are.

Robert Reich poses these questions: “How is it possible to report on Trump or Rudy Giuliani or any number of today’s Republican leaders and not speak of the Big Lie, or say they’ve broken norms if not laws? The anti-democracy movement in America (as elsewhere) is among the biggest issues confronting us today. Is reporting on it considered “straight news” or “opinion?” Wouldn’t failing to report on it in a way that sounded alarms be a gross dereliction of duty?”

What we learn from Reich is that “the leading shareholder in Warner Bros. Discovery is John Malone, a multi-billionaire cable magnate…. [who] describes himself as a ‘libertarian’ although he travels in rightwing Republican circles. In 2005, he held 32 percent of the shares of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. He is on the board of directors of the Cato Institute. In 2017, he donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration. Malone has said he wants CNN to be more like Fox News because, in his view, Fox News has ‘actual journalism.’”

Reich concludes with challenging words for us all: “When you follow the money behind deeply irresponsible decisions at the power centers of America today, the road often leads to rightwing billionaires. Sadly, there are still many in America — and not just billionaires like Malone — who believe that holding Trump accountable for what he has done (and continues to do) to this country is a form of partisanship, and that such partisanship has no place in so-called ‘balanced journalism.’ This view is itself dangerous.”

The Reawaken America Tour, even the larger movement of Christian Nationalism, is but one part of a much larger authoritarian movement, funded by billionaires and spanning the globe. That in itself may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it is not. Search names like Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie – key organizers of the movement in the U.S. in the 1970s and ‘80s – and do a quick read of the international movement at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Right. Paul Weyrich was one among many who have opposed the Separation of Church and State and organized Christian conservatives (Catholic and Protestant) for what is now called Christian Nationalism. How do we stop this movement? It won’t be easy, but it is essential.

A Comedian and a Doctor

Two characteristics of the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia NY were (1) a focus on conspiracies and (2) demonizing people. The dozens of speakers included high-profile people like Gen. Michael Flynn, Eric Tump, and Mike Lindell (“the pillow guy”), as well as preachers with a national “presence,” self-proclaimed prophets, business owners, attorneys, medical doctors, even a comedian who was a Saturday Night Live regular in the 1990s.

The comedian Jim Breuer (https://www.jimbreuer.com/home)  – who has also hosted specials on VH1 and Comedy Central and is on tour right now – was on stage because he “has decided not to perform at any venues that require the RNA-modifying nano-technology COVID-19 vaccines” (according to the program). Like most current comedians, he was rude and crude and dismissive of people. How that behavior can be considered Christian seems strange to me, but he was not alone in speaking that way at this event. Even worse, though, he demonized people like Bill Gates and Barack Obama whose faces were on the “Great Reset” graphic behind all the speakers – that being a major conspiracy at this event. At times, what he said was subtle, and I almost missed it. For instance, he talked about people with faith and morals “who can think for themselves,” and said these people reject the vaccine shots, as if people who do not are without such “faith and morals.” You can get a sense of his comedy routine in this video and of how the people there felt about it in the comments below the video. At the event, the response was a lot of laughter and shouts of affirmation and long ovations. (CLICK ON THE “WATCH ON YOUTUBE” LINK TO SEE IT)

One of the doctors, Jim Meehan, MD, spoke on “How to Fight Back Against Medical Corruption.” The program described him as a “leading Oklahoma medical doctor who has successfully treated 4,000 COVID-19 patients with 0 deaths.” He is an ophthalmologist MD, now licensed for general preventative medicine and nutrition, who also runs a company committed to “healing without harming your body with harsh chemicals or pharmaceuticals laden with negative side effects.” https://www.meehanmd.com/ His approach to holistic health, however, has been accompanied with anti-vaccination activism. He was sued by a pediatrician in 2017 for his aggressive attack on her for giving vaccines to children (https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/anti-vax-message-gets-meaner-social-media-n809166). And in September, 2020, he spoke at a state Public Health Committee hearing to say that “masks are ineffective at slowing the spread of the virus and that people of color need more vitamin D in their diets to prevent them from contracting COVID-19.” (https://www.readfrontier.org/stories/thehead-of-an-oklahoma-public-health-committee-invited-anti-vax-doctors-to-talk-with-lawmakers-about-the-coronavirus/)

As Dr. Meehan spoke at the event, he claimed that “friends and family are dying because of vaccines” and called Dr. Fauci a “domestic enemy.” He referred to the government’s efforts to control COVID with masks and vaccines as “luciferian” and said “they are coming for your children.” As with many speakers, he combined a wide array of his ideas as he continued: “They’re buying the fraudulent research they want. … They’re going after the children to control us. … They’re going to do something this fall to shut down elections. … They’re using COVID vaccines as bioweapons unleashed on us.” And at times, he used scripture quotes to “support” his ideas about all of this.

Among other ideas, he suggested putting Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on a science board to “help work against the deep state.” In 2019, before COVID, three Kennedys wrote an article in Politico where they said “he is part of a misinformation campaign that’s having heartbreaking—and deadly—consequences” because of his anti-vaccination stance. Numerous articles have been written about his high-profile opposition to masks and vaccines since then. You can read for yourself some of his ongoing work in this area on his Twitter feed – https://twitter.com/RobertKennedyJr?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor and his Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/rfkjr.

I do not doubt that people like Jim Breuer and Dr. Meehan are Christian, as they claim, in their hearts and minds. What troubles me as a fellow Christian is how that faith can be used to demonize human beings and spread disinformation and lies through conspiracy theories that cause fear and harm the lives of so many people.

Meet Mel K

In the early afternoon of the first day of the ReAwaken America Tour in Batavia, NY, Mel K came to the stage. I had never heard of her, but the program described her much as her website does (https://themelkshow.com): “Mel K is a devoted lover of truth, facts, history, God, and America….focusing full time on exposing truth, uncovering hidden history…to inform the public of the embedded forces geopolitically and within America that are hell bent on a long planned One World Government where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will be replaced with surveillance, compliance, conformity, and control.”

She began with this – “JFK said there was a plot to enslave everyone in America, which is why he was killed….Trump tried to finish the job of exposing it.” I was even more startled by her claim that “David Rockefeller is behind a decades-long plot [to establish] a one-world government” – especially since he died at age101 in 2017, assuming she meant David Rockerfeller, Jr. Perhaps his lifelong friendships with people in the intelligence, banking, and foreign affairs communities – and his advocacy of political and economic cooperation among nations – is the reason. She also named the World Economic Forum, the International Monetary Fund, and the Council on Foreign Relations as part of this grand conspiracy. Mel K went on to explain this chart to us:

With the limited time each speaker had, Mel K moved to wrap up her presentation, with much of it accompanied by passionate amens and applause. [President] Biden “was installed by the ultra-wealthy,” and they are trying to divide us. Biden’s plan to Build Back Better, she said, is meant to “destroy what is.” George Soros is somehow involved in all of this and is “trying to destroy America and us.” And to a standing ovation, she ended with these lines: “If you’re a liberal … the army of the left … you are fighting against America. There will never be peace until these people are destroyed.”

If you have 11 minutes, and want to hear another presentation, click here and scroll down to Grand Rapids, MI and watch Mel K speaking at this tour event in August 2021. … https://themelkshow.com/articles/must-see-mel-k-speeches/

Meet Mark Burns

Today Heather Cox Richardson wrote “the current-day Republican Party needs chaos,” and the Lincoln Project tweeted that what remains is “an authoritarian nationalist cult dedicated only to Donald Trump.” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/august-16-2022?utm_source=email) Chaos and Cult was my experience at the Reawaken America Tour.

Over the next few weeks, I will introduce you to some of the speakers. Their influence often extends far beyond their thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. For instance, Mark Burns was labeled by Time Magazine as “Donald Trump’s Top Pastor” (https://time.com/trump-pastor/), and he has appeared on a wide array of news networks. (See https://www.markburns.org/ for more.)

When he stepped onto the stage, his rhetoric immediately cast him as either a “true believer” in the cause and mission of this tour or a consummate actor. “I am here to declare war on every demonic power in the state of New York,” he began. “We are here to take over for the Lord Jesus Christ.” He pivoted throughout his 15-minute spot from using specific Christian language one might hear in some pulpits to political and culture war topics.

“I’m tired of grown men wearing a dress and going into women’s bathrooms,” he shouted – and got a standing ovation. “They are using race to divide us.” Cheers. “They hate you because they hate Jesus.” He spoke about Martin Luther King, Jr. to (mis)use him to call the crowd to engage in a new civil disobedience movement aimed at taking over the country because “they’re trying to take God out of everything.”

From there he jumped to repeating the false claims of this movement like “a stolen election” and “The Democrats messed up when they raided Trump’s home,” and the boos filled the air. Then … “Do you believe Joe Biden is the president?” … then called for Biden to be arrested for treason and led the crowd in chants for Trump to be president now. Watch this clip from that moment, posted by Right Wing Watch:

This tour has attracted tens of thousands of people to multiple events, yet the tour itself is but one slice of a movement threatening our diverse, democratic nation. The religion espoused at these events does not represent mainstream Christianity. What they call “a biblical worldview” does not represent my understanding as a Christian minister of our scriptures and faith traditions. The movement has already amassed enough legislative and judicial power to begin a reversal of the movement toward civil and human rights so many have worked for. It must be stopped.

What comes out of our mouths

A frequent question I asked myself for two days was, “How can they say that?” Not just the conspiracy theories and proven lies, but the way they demean and threaten people. In the Scriptures frequently quoted at the Reawaken America event, Jesus says “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” and “the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart.” (Matthew 12:34; 15:18) With that in mind, I want to simply quote some words I heard.

Marty Grisham  (www.LoudMouthPrayer.org)

Covid mandates are a “decree of death.”)

[President[ “Biden is an evil, usurping man.”

Pastor Mark Burns (https://www.markburns.org/)

“They hate you because they hate Jesus.”

“We are here to take over for the Lord Jesus Christ.”

[They are] “using race to divide us.”

“I’m tired of grown men wearing a dress and going into women’s bathrooms.” (That got a standing ovation.)

“They’re trying to take God out of everything.”

Kash Patel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kash_Patel)

“We will do to them what they did to us.”

“Corruption at the highest levels of our government … Government gangsters at the DOJ and FBI… the Clinton Cartel”

Christie Hutcherson (https://wffa.win/about-us/about-me/)

“This administration is working with drug cartels and terrorists … and this Administration has murder, blood, and rape on its hands.”

“Trying to destroy America and make it socialist, communist.”

Mel K (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-mel-k-show/id1587492577)

“If you’re a liberal [you are in] the army of the left fighting against America … There will never be peace until these people are destroyed.”

This language is a sampling from the first day – and does not include multiple conspiracies and easy-to-prove lies. A movement that calls itself Christian is rightly judged by the words of the one they call “Lord.” So … what would Jesus say about this? What did he say? As a Christian minister, I think we can set his words alongside their words and discern what seems to be in their hearts toward people like me. And I don’t like it.

What happened at the Reawaken America Tour?

For eighteen hours over two days, I listened to the speakers at the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia, NY – a new one about every 15 minutes with no breaks. I took breaks, of course, and wandered through the carnival-like atmosphere of the grounds. Under the big tent, it was unapologetic Christian Nationalism with every speaker talking about God and Jesus, about being Christians in a Christian nation – and pleading with the 3,500 people there to “save America now.”

The formal title of this tour is “The Great ReAwakening vs the Great Reset.” One speaker used an old term for Upstate New York as “the burned-over district,” referring to the 2nd Great Awakening 200 years ago when people expected the fire of God’s Spirit to set the country ablaze with a new spirit. This crowd prayed for exactly that – for America to be a truly “Christian nation” again. Christian Nationalism to the core.

Unlike spiritual awakenings in the history of this country, this movement focuses on who is in control of the nation’s government, indeed who wants to control the world. Among the multiple conspiracy theories espoused was one they call “the Great Reset,” where “they” (always the nebulous “they”) used the pandemic – government-mandated restrictions and vaccines – to test “their” ability to control people everywhere. The cry of “freedom” was everywhere. “We” will not let “them” take away our freedoms.

In what sometimes felt like an alternate universe, I listened to the constantly-repeated claims of a stolen election and an illegitimate president – and how Trump will return. Joe Biden (they never called him our president) was called a traitor, along with everyone who stole the election and installed him as president.

Christian Nationalism threatens our democracy by calling for “real Americans”/Christians (only from within their “biblical worldview”) gaining control of every level of government, all while saying “we the people” will take “our nation back.” The rhetoric and “jokes” and casual references to specific groups of people all made clear who does not belong – LGBTQ, Jews, BLM, liberals, Democrats, for instance.

Many speakers challenged the charge against them of promoting white supremacy and violence, pointing 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 (historically controlled by white men) dominated the whole event. The idea of systemic racism and white supremacy is anathema to this movement. Only individual responsibility matters, and racism only exists (in their minds) if an individual consciously hates a person of another color. They also denied that they encourage violence, even though speakers regularly used the rhetoric of warfare and enemies and “the mission.” And the main speaker and organizer was always referred to as “the general” (Gen. Michael Flynn). It was not overt, but it was implicit throughout.

In the coming weeks, I will post about my experience at this event, with quotes, details, and reflections – and what people who recognize the threat can do to challenge it.

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It’s fear, not hate

A 40-year movement now called Christian Nationalism threatens democracy around the world. Especially dominant in U.S. politics in the past few years, this movement endangers our future as one nation. Many people opposed to it see it as hate-filled, but I believe it is driven by fear. And many people drawn into its influence are motivated not by hate, but by fear – although fear can drive people into hate. Here is one definition of it:

“Christian nationalism seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy. Christian nationalism demands Christianity be privileged by the State and implies that to be a good American, one must be Christian. It often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation.” (https://www.christiansagainstchristiannationalism.org/statement)

As a Baptist minister for 50 years, I am especially opposed to the movement’s rejection of the separation of church and state. Almost since the arrival of European colonists, “Christians” tried to establish their version of the religion as the basis for law and culture – just as Europeans had done for centuries – and the founders of this nation rejected that. The first amendment made it a constitutional principle.

Many Christians today are afraid. They fear losing the culture and nation they thought we were – although in reality we never were. Many see the establishment of our laws and government on the basis of their version of Christianity as the best way forward for the whole nation. We are a diverse nation, though, and no single religion or group of people has the right or the power to do that. The growing power of Christian Nationalism must be stopped.

Fear is the opposite of love, not hate. Only love / compassion can drive out the fear that motivates people in this movement. At the top levels of leadership, it is about money and power, but the majority of people caught up in the movement are driven by fear of losing what they believe is “right.”

While my gut wants to stop this movement any way we can, my heart says the only we can turn many people away from the movement is through compassion, respect, and nonviolence.

Click hear to learn more …. and I will keep writing about it.