A new report has detailed the role Christian Nationalism played in bolstering, justifying, and intensifying the January 6th attack of 2021 on the U.S. Capitol. Drawing on reporting, videos, statements, and images from the attack and its precursor events; the most comprehensive account to date of Christian Nationalism’s role in the January 6th Insurrection has been generated by members of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Christians Against Christian Nationalism, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, among others. Led by Andrew Seidel (Director of Strategic Response at the Freedom From Religion Foundation) and Amanda Tyler (Director for the Baptist Joint Commission for Religious Liberty, and Christians Against Christian Nationalism); this report brought together scholars, experts, researchers, and leaders who study Christian Nationalism through a variety of frameworks. The report includes a working definition of Christian Nationalism, a nuanced description of white Christian Nationalism, viewpoints from ‘black Christianity,’ responses to the Insurrection by American Christians from traditions outside of the nationalist vein of the faith, and a treasure trove of background and illuminating details of precursor events leading up to the Jan. 6th attack on the US Capitol – which occurred during Congress’ procedural session to formally count the electoral votes for POTUS per their Constitutional mandate after the free, fair, secure, lawful, and legitimate election of the previous November. The report was published on February 10th of 2022, and a link to the report as well as the video event with the authors on the same day as the report’s release is included below.
As with most events of historic exception, the attack on the US Capitol of Jan. 6th 2021 did not occur simply as a monolith. To wit, the roots of that day’s events could be traced back even before the founding of the United States as a Constitutional Republic. From the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth, to the Constitutional Convention, a bloody Civil War with slavery at the center of conflict, the revivalism of the 1950’s which resulted in things like mentions of God being added to the pledge of allegiance and the US dollar, and the inception of the ‘southern strategy’ to win national elections; America’s original sin of white supremacy and bent towards religious extremism have been intrinsic to the weaving of our story as a country across the centuries. This could make it difficult to pinpoint where the kindling for the fiery rage of the Jan. 6th rioters was sparked. As far as the modern era of the brand of politics that was on display at the Insurrection goes; it could well be said that the seeds were planted by such forerunners as Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, George Lincoln Rockwell, Lee Atwater, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and many others. Certainly; the lingering fallout of key American political figures such as Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn should not be underestimated either. Bridging the gap to our current political climate would be the conspicuous personalities of those such as Roger Stone, David Duke, Oral Roberts, and Pat Robertson. The groundwork laid by these and countless others has culminated to give us culprits of the contemporary radical right-wing movements such as Richard Spencer, Alex Jones, Greg Locke, and the modern fuhrer who managed to unite practically all the elements of right-wing extremism in America (and beyond) under a single banner of white evangelical grievance politics and xenophobic demagoguery – the disgraced and defeated ex-president, Donald J. Trump.
From the inception of the Trump campaign for POTUS in 2015; the Trump clan has been steeped in conspiracy culture, racial politics, and rabid religious right propaganda. Trump and those who wished to see him seek high public office were already laying the groundwork for a populist campaign by giving time and air to the conspiracy theory that then President Obama was a foreign-born Muslim from Kenya, and therefore an illegitimate POTUS. The campaign would go on to employ the strategies of self-described nationalists like Steve Bannon, and rely heavily on rising right-wing rock star-esque propagandists like Alex Jones and misinformation moguls like Roger Stone. Also; a darling of the religious right, former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, was added to the Republican presidential ticket as the VP candidate to shore up the evangelical vote and assure the religious base would work for the GOP’s presidential hopefuls and get out the vote in 2016. Their efforts paid off, and the Don of demagoguery ascended to the office of the POTUS in November of 2016 on a wave of votes characterized by a historic lopsided turnout of white evangelicals supporting their newfound political messiah.
It wouldn’t take long for Americans to get a taste of the violence inherent to the re-packaged brand of alt-right politics represented by Trump’s new coalitions both within and without the GOP. Attempting a ‘Unite the Right’ rally to help further coalesce the new movement during protests of the removal of old Confederate statues in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017; organizers and attendees burst onto the national stage and revealed the ugly underbelly of this latest version of right-wing politics in bombastic bloody fashion. One of the event attendees, James Alex Fields, drove his car into a group of counter-protesters – killing Heather Heyer, and wounding several more in a dramatic act of domestic terrorism. This wasn’t the first sign of how Trump’s base would take their brand of political violence mainstream, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Over the course of Trump’s shameful one term in the Oval Office, he would preside over a rise in right-wing domestic terrorism as had not been seen in America in decades, according to the FBI’s own tracking and that of other government as well as private agencies. And maybe not since the days when countless Confederate flags waved at ‘George Wallace for President’ campaign events, had the old ‘Stars & Bars’ been flaunted so publicly by so many to make a political statement in the public discourse. Trump would further shore up his extremist political coalitions with such overtures to radical evangelicals as insisting on recognizing Jerusalem and not Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel (a move seen as fulfilling prophecy among many ‘end of days’ revivalists), and using federal troops to clear protesters from in front of the White House in order to secure a photo-op with a Bible in his hand at the St. John’s Episcopal Church. All throughout Trump’s embarrassment of a presidential administration, rabid right-wing media lackeys were given unprecedented access inside the Trump reich and shown favor as long as they kept to a pro-Trump narrative in all coverage. Conspiracy-based partisan media was touted as superior and preferable to real/hard journalism, and practically all pretense to objectivity was sacrificed on the altar of Trump-ism. This was even reflected in the internal politics of the Republican Party, as the RNC in a historic move in 2020 failed to organize an official platform for their Convention in favor of simply supporting whatever was touted by the ‘dear leader’ at any given time. Constitutional crisis in the US government almost became a norm at the repeated behest of Trump’s whims over the duration of his reign. American politics became increasingly more polarized (certainly aided by online algorithms), and dangerously radicalized. Hindsight might suggest that the events of Jan. 6th 2021 were almost inevitable, if not foreseeable.
Throughout Trump’s re-election campaign of 2020, he early on took to foreshadowing the impending election with rhetoric about the likelihood his political enemies might try to steal the election from him. In one public appearance after the other, Trump would make the claim that there was no way he could possibly lose re-election; and if he did, it could only mean that there was election fraud and that a conspiracy to undermine his inevitable re-election had somehow succeeded. Crowds at his rallies would roar in approval as he would indict his foes for election fraud before the election could even take place. Trump had encouraged violence at his political rallies since the beginning of his campaign for President, and had even offered to pay the legal fees of those who bullied for him, suggesting he could even get away with murder in broad daylight – and Trump’s broader movement only ever seemed to embrace the boorish and brutish behavior, no matter how vitriolic and threatening it became. Former Vice President of the Trump Organization and lawyer/fixer for Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, testified in his sworn statements before the US Congress in 2019; “Given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020, there will never be a peaceful transition of power.” It then should come as no surprise that Trump immediately began to call the legitimacy of the election into question as soon as it was clear he’d lost – even in spite of the fact that his own appointee to the Cyber Security & Infrastructure Security Agency, Christopher Krebs, and the rest of the agency’s leaders had released official public documents claiming it had been the most secure election in American history and that; “there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
In the days between the nationwide general voting day in November 2020, and Congress’ procedural count on the 6th of January of 2021; the polarized American political camps of the right-wing and the left (as well as basically everyone else) seemed to live in two completely separate and disconnected realities. Whilst Democrats, independents, third party voters, and most everyone else recognized the lawful and legitimate election of former Delaware Senator and Obama’s Vice President – Joe Biden, as the new US president-elect; Trump and his cronies commenced in fabricating and peddling the ‘big lie.’ Now, across his formidable network of sycophants and loyal propagandists; Trump was able to abuse the modern phenomenon of online information silos and united right-wing networks to cast aspersions on the legitimacy of the election, and to build a narrative of a stolen election that would rally his most ardent and militant supporters to his cause – and ultimately, by his side. Culling through those gullible, deluded, and radical enough to still be loyal to Trump even after he began touting the big lie; Trump would find the people he’d need to gather a large enough crowd of ‘useful idiots’ to physically descend on DC for a “wild” demonstration resulting in enough chaos and confusion to give him an opening to seize power – opportunistic autocratic terrorism, much in the tradition of a tin-pot dictator presiding over a coup in a banana republic.
In the weeks after the national election and before the J6 Insurrection, many events related to a belief in the ‘big lie’ told by the defeated Trump took place in DC and all across the country. ‘Stop the Steal’ rallies and other such demonstrations like the ‘Jericho March’ (a reference to a genocide ordered by God in the Old Testament) were springing up to the dismay of everyone who wanted to move on from Trump and Trumpism after the election. These rallies and demonstrations were marked by their unmistakable alt-right, conspiratorial, religious, and racial nature. The report referenced in this article found that of the Republican voter base, white evangelicals were the most likely demographic to believe Trump’s election lies. Of that group, a full 73% profess to believe in QAnon conspiracies (generally, a belief that a satanic cabal of pedophile cannibal Democrats run the country and want to impose communism). And of those who embrace all of the above, most also believe in classic anti-Semitic tropes.
Common teachings and popular beliefs among the post-election Trump loyalists centered heavily on Christian identity theology, white grievance politics, and Seven Mountain Dominionism – a belief that Christianity must be the dominant force in family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. The ‘patriot church’ movement swept across evangelical America, and the prevailing themes of the preaching from the pulpits were of Christian crusade and conquest. Messages were becoming littered more and more all the time with opposition to interracial marriage, opposition to same-sex marriage, xenophobic immigration rhetoric, and verbal assaults on science and modern medicine – and even on those professionals who practice it. Religious right charlatans pontificated that America was founded as a Christian Nation, as opposed to the secular Constitutional Republic that is the reality of our revolutionary founding. They fear-mongered their audiences about impending bans on their sacred book, the Bible. They brazenly slandered their enemies and listed them as secularists, atheists, Satanists, Muslims, homosexuals, liberals, leftists, socialists, communists, and demonic Democrats, among others. As in classic fashion, ‘red scare’ tactics have been a long-time staple of right-wing rhetoric and hyperbole.
In the days after Trump’s creation of the big election lie, White House spiritual advisor, Paula White, preached that; “we override the will of man with the will of God.”
American Christian Dominionist Lance Wallnau declared, “fighting with Trump is fighting with God.”
Former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., sent in a video prayer to the Jericho March demonstration that began by greeting all of those “who love the Lord” and “who love this country” and came “to Washington, D.C., in obedience to the Lord to do the Jericho March.” She declared that they were there to turn “faith to action” and to “go on offense for our nation, on the Jericho March,” which she said was a duty to God and which would result in a miracle. At the same event, Father Greg Bramlage performed his version of an exorcism, commanding demons to flee and to God and Trump be the victory.
And even in the months since all of these events; some religious leaders in the Trump election lies movement have openly embraced the label of Christian Nationalist, such as Stephen Baker – a supporter of the white supremacist group, the Red Elephants. A seditious insurrectionist who helped kick in Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol office door, William McCall Calhoun Jr., has been quoted in subsequent court documents as saying; “God is on Trump’s side. God is not on the Democrats’ side. And if patriots have to kill 60 million of these communists, it is God’s will. Think ethnic cleansing, but it’s anti-communist cleansing.”
And certainly, the seditious rioters were prepared with the means to carry out their violent fantasies on the day of the Insurrection itself. In a pre-trial detention memo for rioter Eric Munchel (the guy dressed in black with gloves and his face covered and carrying zip ties in Congressional chambers during the Insurrection); listed items seized from the crowd of rioters that day included assault rifles, sniper rifle with tripod, shotguns, pistols, an ammo drum, and several hundreds of rounds of ammunition. A gallows had been erected on the grounds, many people had signed the structure with religious messages, and a group of rioters continued chanting for Mike Pence and others to be hanged there, and for members of Congress to be dragged through the street. We also now know that the Oath Keepers claim to have had an armed QRF (Quick Reaction Force) stationed in a hotel close by to respond if called as reinforcements during the Insurrection. And we shouldn’t forget that part of the day’s events included bomb devices being placed and found at both the headquarters of the Republican as well as the Democratic National Committees.
Among the religious iconography prevalent alongside the weapons and violence of the day of the Insurrection at the Capitol were at least two life-size large wooden crosses, multiple Christian flags and other religious flags, banners printed with Bible verses and popular Christian Nationalist tropes, signs with pictures of Jesus and other religious iconography, and even Bibles carried by some in the crowd throughout the event. Although religious symbols seemed to dominate the visual message of the crowd; Confederate flags, Gadsden flags, Trump flags, Thin Blue Line flags, Oath Keepers and III%’ers swag, countless QAnon shirts and signs, and Proud Boys symbolism was found everywhere as well. At least one person wore a shirt suggesting that the 6 million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust wasn’t enough, and other neo-nazi symbolism was also present in the crowd. Contrary to popular conspiracy theories touted by sympathizers with the Insurrection, nobody was found to have been infiltrating the crowd for AntiFa or Black Lives Matter groups.
What we do know about those whose actions in the crowd have been well-documented from that fateful day of domestic terrorism in our nation’s Capitol is that they were overtly religious; and they conducted their violent activities under a mountain of prayer, worship, and other demonstrations of religiosity. Throughout the speeches earlier in the day, to the march to the US Capitol building, and even during the assault on police, and the invasion of the Senate floor; the name of Jesus was invoked time and time again in prayerful supplication, and classic Christian Nationalist tropes were repeated over and over again. People marching to the Capitol broke out in impromptu prayers, others sang religious hymns such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and references to this all being the will of God were common refrains of individual participants.
Once the Senate chambers had been taken by the Insurrectionists, some of them formed together at the dais to offer a group prayer. Led by Jacob Chansley (the shirtless guy with the funny horned hat), the invocation was as follows:
“Let’s all say a prayer in this sacred space. Thank you Heavenly Father for gracing us with this opportunity. Thank you our Heavenly Father for this opportunity to stand up for our God-given unalienable rights. Thank you Heavenly Father for being the inspiration needed to these police officers to allow us into the building; to allow us to exercise our rights; to allow us to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists, and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs. That we will not allow the America — the American way of the United States of America, to go down. Thank you divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God, for filling this chamber with your white light of love, with your white light of harmony. Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. Thank you divine, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent creator God for blessing each and every one of us here and now. Thank you divine creator God for surrounding and filling us with the divine omnipresent white light of love and protection, peace and harmony. Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn. Thank you for allowing us to get rid of the communists, the globalists, and the traitors within our government. We love you and we thank you. In Christ’s holy name we pray! Amen!”
New Yorker Journalist, Luke Mogelson, was filming inside the US Capitol that day, and captured the events on video as they unfolded. As a seasoned journalist who once might have thought that he had seen it all, after the Insurrection he stated; “The Christianity was one of the surprises to me in covering this stuff, and it has been hugely underestimated,” he said. “That Christian nationalism you talk about is the driving force and also the unifying force of these disparate players. It’s really Christianity that ties it all together.” Other longtime journalists on the scene that day, such as Lisa Desjardins of PBS, would later be interviewed about the experience – and noted the seeming disconnection from reality that was a prevalent characteristic of Trump’s Jan 6th crowd, fraught with conspiracy theories and misinformed perspectives.
One of the authors of the aforementioned report, Constitutional scholar and attorney Andrew Seidel, says in this report;
“Many Americans have underestimated the movement’s influence on our politics, in part because we often hear predictions of the movement’s imminent demise — usually accompanied by reporting on the rising numbers of the so-called “nones.” These predictions overlook the fact that you don’t need to win the support of a majority of Americans to dominate in election cycles or to transform society through the courts. In a country where around 40 percent of people don’t vote, an organized and committed minority that turns out to vote in disproportionate numbers can dominate in election cycles. The politics of minority rule are further entrenched through flaws in the American electoral system, such as voter suppression, gerrymandering, and other antidemocratic practices that many of the movement’s political allies are intent on promoting. The leadership of the Christian nationalist movement conveys messaging to their followers through a wide range of means. Among the most important is the targeting and exploitation of the nation’s conservative houses of worship. The faith communities may be fragmented in a variety of denominations and theologies, but movement leaders have had considerable success in uniting them around their political vision and mobilizing them to get out the vote for their chosen candidates. Leaders of the movement know that members of the clergy can drive votes. They also understand that if you can get congregants to vote on a small handful of issues, you can control their vote. And so they draw pastors into conservative networks focused on political engagement and offer them sophisticated tools that they can use to deliver the “correct” messages about the issues that they wish to emphasize in election cycles. Notwithstanding the generally toothless regulations that the Federal Election Commission imposes on religious organizations, movement leaders have effectively turned many conservative houses of worship into a tax-advantaged way of promoting candidates and promoting a political party. Some prominent pastors have delivered explicitly partisan political messages from the pulpit. Most, however, avoid directly endorsing political candidates themselves; instead, they may distribute materials, such as voter guides, that leave little doubt about which issues ought to matter in election cycles and which political candidates are aligned with the supposedly “biblical” worldview. It is fair to say that the coup attempt started with the actions of Mr. Trump, who very few people identify directly with the “family values” that Christian Nationalists frequently claim to support. But this misses the point about the way this kind of movement operates. Once the movement laid the basic groundwork for an antidemocratic politics, others in Mr. Trump’s position could have done what he did. The movement threw its support behind Mr. Trump at a critical moment, delivering to him the Republican Party’s most reliable slice of electoral votes. He in turn gave the movement everything he had promised them: power and political access, access to public money, policies favorable to their agenda, and above all the appointment of hard-right judges. At the 2021 Road to Majority conference, a gathering of religious right activists, strategists, and political leaders, Senator Lindsey Graham said, “Bottom line is President Trump delivered, don’t you think?” No doubt things might have played out differently had a different Republican politician come to power in 2016. But as we look to the future, it would be false comfort to imagine that the entire episode can be written off to the actions of a single bad leader. With or without Mr. Trump, the movement will remain committed to the illiberal, antidemocratic politics that the former president so ably embodied.”
It would be negligent of me here to omit the fact that Christian Nationalists do not speak for all Christianity. As you will find in reading the report, there is a separate viewpoint in Christianity to those of the nationalist vein of the faith. In the report, there are other perspectives offered by traditionally black institutions within American Christianity, and even efforts among the broader Christian church in general to combat Christian Nationalism in their midst – with groups such as Christians Against Christian Nationalism. But one of the questions moving forward has to be; ‘what will become of the struggle between these competing groups to claim the faith as their own, and to brand the faith with their own version of it?’ In the wake of the Insurrection, popular themes currently being preached in the Christian Nationalist movement have become even more centered on martyrdom, perceived persecution for their beliefs, ‘victimology,’ and yet more militant rhetoric at the edges of the most extreme elements of their movement.
In conclusion, I would make a point here about the state and the need for transformative change. Even before the election of Donald Trump to POTUS, polling and surveys had been increasingly pointing to Americans’ frustration and disillusionment with our own government. ‘Right track – wrong track’ polling, and the all-time low approval ratings of the US Congress, among other indicators, were major red flags pointing to the fact that Americans wanted a radical departure from the same old ‘business as usual’ in politics and government. But it is one thing to believe in and advocate for major reforms, and another thing to embrace reactionary extremism in militant fashion.
I would even consider myself a radical of sorts – one who would like to see a major shift in the way we organize our society. I find the current state to be often incompetent, and even contemptible on many levels. But this is not a rationalization for attempting to break down the larger civil society with lies and violence. To the contrary; those who seek liberty in our lifetime and justice for all should be the first to eschew political violence. If we remain faithful to first principles; then consistency would have us promote the changes we seek in fidelity to the sanctity and preservation of human life, with liberty, justice, and equality as our guideposts on the road to a more perfect union. Before our hands should ever be lifted to violence, all the machinations of peaceful resistance and non-violent non-cooperation should first be exhausted. Civil discourse and civil disobedience are tools we may use in the struggle against any state power we find repugnant before we ever even consider lifting a hand to violence. And even if one is so radical as to advocate for statelessness altogether, we must be careful not to employ violent measures perpetrated by a group of statists who are out of power just to overthrow the statists currently in power. In some cases, it really is better to have the devil you know than the devil you don’t. And when it comes to the brand of statism represented by Christian Nationalism, the devil is most assuredly in the details.
While I could go on about the possibilities of an impending American Civil War based on propagating events such as the Jan. 6th Insurrection, and the current trajectory of electoral politics currently being played out in the individual states and their election reform endeavors; I will just say that Trump’s attempted coup is ongoing – as is the clear and present danger to our Constitutional Republic posed by Christian Nationalism. And in this American country that may only continue to enjoy a measure of freedom if preserved by a vigilant population, it is up to you and me and all our fellow Americans how this all plays out from here. It will be because of an involved citizenry acting with honor and integrity if we are to head off autocracy and civil war from plunging the US into a dark and violent chaos. And it will be accountability for Trump and his violent crowd of useful idiots that will deter future attempts to reduce Americans under a despot. If we fail to hold the violent authoritarians accountable; it will not be a matter of ‘if’ we ever find ourselves under the thumb of a dictator, but ‘when.’ And if we want to avoid normalizing a modern movement in America similar to the domestic terrorist violence of the old Irish Republican Army, we must see authoritarian movements like Christian Nationalism for what they are – and push back against them now.
I’ll see the threatening tyranny of your Christian Nationalism, and raise you a country full of anti-authoritarian patriots.