New report details influence of Christian nationalism on insurgency
(RNS) – A team of scholars, religious leaders and advocates on Wednesday (February 9th) unveiled a comprehensive new report that painstakingly documents the role Christian nationalism played in the January 6th attack on the US Capitol and the calls for a disturbing glimpse of things to come.
Christian nationalism was used to “support, justify and escalate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol,” said Amanda Tyler, head of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which sponsored the report with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Tyler’s group is behind an initiative called Christians Against Christian Nationalism.
The organizations presented the report as “the most comprehensive account to date of Christian nationalism and its role in the January 6 uprising”, compiled using “videos, statements and images of the attack and its precursor events”.
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The report, written primarily by Andrew L. Seidel, author and director of strategic response at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, details Christian nationalist rhetoric and symbols that arose during events leading up to the insurgency, such as the Million MAGA March and Jericho Marches. which took place in Washington in December 2020 and January 2021.
Christian nationalist symbols and references, Seidel writes, were ubiquitous at these rallies, as well as the insurgency itself: flags with American flags superimposed on Christian symbols; “A Call to Heaven” banners; prayers recited by members of the extremist group Proud Boys shortly before the attack or by others as they stormed the Capitol.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Seidel pointed to what he called the preponderance of “overtly militant” rhetoric that confuses religion with violence. He pointed to William McCall Calhoun Jr., a Georgia lawyer who allegedly claimed on social media that he was among those who “knocked on the door of Nancy Pelosi’s office” on January 6. (Calhoun later claimed in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution that he did not personally enter any offices.)
“God is on Trump’s side. God is not on the side of the Democrats,” Calhoun reportedly wrote in a social media post. “And if the patriots have to kill 60 million of these communists, it is the will of God. Think ethnic cleansing, but it’s anti-communist cleansing.
In the report, Seidel recounts a conversation with New York journalist Luke Mogelson, who recorded widely shared footage of insurgents attacking the US Capitol and praying in the Senate chamber.
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“Christianity was one of the surprises for me covering this stuff, and it was hugely underrated,” Mogelson told Seidel. “This Christian nationalism of which you speak is the engine and also the unifier of these disparate actors. It’s really Christianity that ties it all together.
The more than 60-page study also features a series of thoughts from scholars such as Andrew Whitehead, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis and co-author, with Samuel L. Perry, from “Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States.
On Wednesday, Whitehead described Christian nationalism as a “cultural framework” reinforced by “mutually reinforcing” elements that have spurred violence on Capitol Hill, such as the QAnon movement and the misguided belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.
It was picked up by Perry, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma. Citing data from their book and additional investigations conducted over the past year, Perry argued that Christian nationalism not only fueled the attack on the Capitol, but is also being used by some to radically reinterpret the January 6 attack in a way that obscures the facts or even elevates the participants.
Christian nationalism is a “powerful motivator for future violence,” Perry said.
Other contributors to the report include journalist Katherine Stewart, author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.” At Wednesday’s press conference, she argued that the Capitol attack is an expression of a larger and complex Christian nationalist network that trumpets a right-wing agenda.
“Christian nationalism is first and foremost a political movement,” Stewart said, saying Christian nationalist leaders are primarily concerned with power.
Anthea Butler, chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America,” was one of many authors to single out white Christian nationalism, a more which highlights, among other things, the role of white supremacy within the modern movement as well as its historical precursors.
“Slavery in America enabled white Christian nationalism by asserting that enslaved Africans were not human – in part using scriptural justifications to support it,” Butler wrote.
Another report author, Jemar Tisby, a historian and leader of the black Christian collective The Witness, differentiated white Christian nationalism from popular forms of patriotism among black Americans that often emphasize concepts such as racial equality and the right to vote.
Speaking at the press conference, Tisby said black Christians have “understood their faith as a motivation for multiracial democracy”, a view that has underpinned decades of activism.
Asked about the future of Christian nationalism – particularly its growing popularity among right-wing extremists – the authors adopted a somber tone.
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“Even as the movement tries to shake faith in elections the results of which they don’t like, their political allies are also stepping up their efforts in voter suppression and gerrymandering that seem intent on codifying minority rule,” Stewart said. .
Similarly, Tisby said the “manufactured controversy” over critical race theory in schools, local governments and church communities is part of a broader push by Christian nationalists to “use legitimate democratic processes and co-opt to create their version of a Christian America”. ”
Perry, for his part, explained that there had been a “slight decline” in Christian nationalism following the uprising. But the small group that remained, he said, became “more radicalized, more militant, more willing to respond to the threat to democracy with anti-democratic threats and deals.”
“Christian nationalism is powerfully associated – along with white Americans – with anti-democratic views,” he said. “Since he is a bit marginalized, I think we have to be careful of a backlash from anti-democratic efforts.”
Seidel said that if the January 6 insurgents “decide to get a little more serious, next time we will have more problems.” Regarding the 2022 midterm elections and the 2024 presidential race, he said the potential for violence provoked by Christian nationalists haunts him.
“I really hope people wake up and recognize him for the threat he poses,” he said.