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.

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.

How Strange

How strange could it get? I did sometimes wonder that during the Reawaken America Tour in Batavia. I have been in Christian circles for decades where people used the language of “spiritual warfare” and prayed against evil and the demonic. There was a lot of that, but it did not seem strange – not even mixed in with the language of political enemies. I knew that was coming.

Bo Polny (https://bopolny.com/), however, surprised me. Unknown to me – he has millions of views on YouTube and more than one website promoting his work as an “analyst” in the Gold, Silver, and Cryptocurrency markets. What does that have to do with a spiritual and political “Reawakening” in America? Then it got stranger.

Bo Polny

He packed a lot into 15 minutes, beginning with a video which included scriptures about vengeance and destruction of enemies and about the wealth of sinners being stored up for the righteous. This was the language of the video, not just my interpretation. There were dark images about war and judgment – and about Babylon – apocalyptic, end-times imagery and language wrapped up in a presentation by someone who works in the Gold, Silver, and Cryptocurrency markets. He portrayed Babylon (understood by many as the world economic power of “the last days”) as the Vatican and Washington controlling us “through a system of corruption and mind control.” Then he spoke like a prophet telling the future saying that “Babylon is coming down this year – the day of vengeance of our God.” That brought applause from the crowd.

The Fall of Babylon

From there it got stranger and stranger. He used bits and pieces of his “research,” abused isolated phrases and ideas from the book of Haggai, for instance, and drew on the language of “end times prophecy” to announce “September 24 as the day when everything, including the economy, will be overturned.” I guess we’ll see what happens in two weeks.

We could dismiss someone like Bo Polny as simply ignorant, maybe deluded, but he represents a part of Christian Nationalism which cannot be ignored. Books like Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,” by historian Nancy MacLean, tell the 60-year story of how a radical view of Capitalism captivated radical conservative Christianity. What appear to be disparate political and religious streams merged into one movement with the force of a river at flood stage. That’s what we are seeing now. Why would a gold and cryptocurrency marketer use the language and imagery of end-times prophecy to announce the fall of Babylon in the fall of 2022? Seems so strange.

Nancy MacLean

Christian Nationalism merges a specific “biblical worldview” with right-wing politics and claims that America is a Christian nation, with laws to be based in that worldview, and that only people who agree with this are “true Americans” and “patriots.” It also claims that the scriptures of both Jews and Christians – what they call the Old and New Testaments –  teach “capitalism” as a God-given economic system. Anything else – like “socialism” and “wealth redistribution” – are therefore evil. That’s why the movement puts people like Bo Polny on stage.

Their “biblical worldview” believes that God gives wealth to the righteous, therefore the wealthy are “righteous.” This is an ancient idea, and there are scriptures which could be used to support that. Not in the gospels, though. Not in the prophets. Not in the words of Jesus. Still, this unassailable “truth” (for them) is at the heart of their movement. That’s why people like preachers of the “prosperity gospel” and billionaire Donald J. Trump are heralded as prophets and leaders. And it’s why people like Charles Koch have funded this movement since the 1960s. And it’s why people like Bo Polny are speakers on the Reawaken America Tour.

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.

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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