Category Archives: Death of Democracy

Blood and Apocalypse: Christian White Nationalism

 

Philip Gorski, a professor of sociology at Yale and the author of the book American Covenant: A History of Civil Religion From the Puritans to the Present, also noted that many of the insurrectionists at the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 made it clear by their actions and signs that they supported Christian nationalism. This is what he told Thomas Edsall of the New York Times in a personal email to him:

“Many observers commented on the jarring mixture of Christian, nationalist and racist symbolism amongst the insurrectionists: there were Christian crosses and Jesus Saves banners, Trump flags and American flags, fascist insignia and a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ hoodie. Some saw apples and oranges. But it was really a fruit cocktail: White Christian Nationalism.”

You put them all together and you get Christian Nationalism.

Professor Gorski did not claim that he could tell by watching that a majority of the insurrectionists were Christian nationalists. That would be very difficult to discern from a distance. Yet, there is no denying that they were a substantial presence. Professor Gorski told Edsall in his email that the Christian nationalist movement was a loose confederation of people and institutions that shared,

“a certain narrative about American history. In rough outline: America was founded as a Christian nation; the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians; the Nation’s laws and founding documents were indirectly based on “biblical” principles, or even directly inspired by God, Himself. America’s power and prosperity are due to its piety and obedience.”

 

Professor Gorski had some disturbing things to say about Christian Nationalists. He distinguished them from more traditional Christians. As he said in his email to Edsall,

“Christian nationalists use a language of blood and apocalypse. They talk about blood conquest, blood sacrifice, and blood belonging, and also about cosmic battles between good and evil. The blood talk comes from the Old Testament; the apocalyptic talk from the Book of Revelation.”

Anyone who watched and listened to the Christians on the hill during the insurrection would, I think, find the above description apt. And disturbing. That sounds more like Christian Nationalists than Sunday school at the local Baptist Church.

Is that your kind of Christianity? I don’t know about you, but I find it disturbing.

Authoritarian Christianity

Evangelical Christians rightly complain when their religious freedom is attacked. But trying to impose their religious is not freedom. That is authoritarianism.

Gerardo Marti, a professor of sociology at Davidson College, in an email to Edsall of the New York Times, said that modern American evangelicals have shifted to a more militant approach to imposing their religious views:

“the accumulated frustrations of not being able to ease their sense of religious decline, their continued legal struggles against abortion and gay marriage, and the overwhelming shifts in popular culture promoting much less religiously restrictive understandings of personal identity have prompted politically active religious actors to take a far more pragmatic stance.”

 

For that reason, Marti said revivalism has largely

“been abandoned as a solution to changing society. Their goal is no longer to persuade the public of their religious and moral convictions; rather, their goal has become to authoritatively enforce behavioral guidelines through elected and nonelected officials who will shape policies and interpret laws such that they cannot be so easily altered or dismissed through the vagaries of popular elections. It is not piety but policy that matters most. The real triumph is when evangelical convictions become encoded into law.”

In other words, many Christian Nationalists have moved towards authoritarianism. They want their religious views to be enshrined in laws. This is not freedom of religion. This is freedom to impose religion on others.

No better example could be found than the recent insurrectionists on Capitol Hill. What better example could one think of than rioting at the Capitol in a country that is still (to some extent) democratic? That is certainly not a case of trying to persuade; that is trying to impose. That is what authoritarianism is all about.

When Religion Becomes Evil

It must have been disconcerting to see the rioters a the Capitol in Washington on January 6, 2021.  Seeing Christians pray and then run through the halls yelling “Hang Mike Pence” must have been chilling. Yet, I am surprise how few Christians have mentioned those images. Why are they so  quiet? Do they still support Trump so steadfastly? Evangelical Christians are among his most fervent supporters.

I have always taken the position that when religion leads to hate, it is not genuine religion at all. Hate makes religion heretical.  However, my views are not mainstream. My views are far out on the fringes.

As Charles Kimball, a professor of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma-Norman, wrote a book called “When Religion Becomes Evil,” in which he said,

“History clearly shows that religion has often been linked directly to the worst examples of human behavior. It is somewhat trite, but nevertheless sadly true, to say that more wars have been waged, more people killed and these days more evil perpetuated in the name of religion than by any other institutional force in human history.”

 

I have heard such statements many times, but I am not sure such statements are accurate. It is undeniable that religion has produced many good things as well evil. It has been a force for both good and evil. Religion has often in the past led to violence and murder while it has also led to some of the best things humans have ever done.

The effect of religion is complex. We should remember that. Life is rarely simple. But perhaps religion show stay away from politics. It might be good for both!

Where do Mennonites Stand on the War for Trump?

 

Many Christians, including Mennonites among whom I was raised, have always argued that Christians have a duty to turn the other cheek. They advocate for non-violence. In fact, many of them, like my father, conscientiously objected to World War II. He worked in what were called essential services. He worked in a mine in Flin Flon Manitoba during the war. Of course, I realize that many Christians, including many Mennonites have taken a different interpretation of their Christian duties, and have instead joined their fellow citizens in wars. It is all a matter of interpretation of the sacred text and conscience.

In the U.S., the president of the Family Research Council and a leading figure among conservative evangelicals, Tony Perkins, said the following in a Politico interview in 2018, when he was asked what happened to turning the other cheek:

“You know, you only have two cheeks. Look, Christianity is not all about being a welcome mat which people can just stomp their feet on.”

It is clear on what side of the divide many Trumpers reside.

This leads me to the next question: on what side do Mennonites stand?  Would they have joined the melee pummelling police and guards?

The Christian Holy War for Trump

 

Many American pastors, including particularly evangelical or fundamentalist pastors have endorsed Trump since 2015 and continue to do so,  reinforcing Trump’s view that he could kill people and not lose support. On January 6, 2021 that was clearly demonstrated. The only difference is that Trump did not have to do the actual killing or fighting. Like a true Mafia Don he just asked his followers to do it and they followed his instructions. Trump asked them to fight to defend the country and they did exactly that.

 

One of the American pastors was conservative evangelical pastor Greg Lock the founder of Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. He wrote this in his book This Means War, ““We are one election away from losing everything we hold dear.” The battle, Locke continued, is “against everything evil and wicked in the world.” Thomas Edsall of the New York Times interpreted these remarks this way: “It is a rallying of the troops of God’s holy army. This is our day. This is our time. This means something for the Kingdom. As a matter of fact, THIS MEANS WAR.”

The day before the riot at the capitol Greg Locke tweeted his faithful followers in a manner not unlike Trump but with religious language:

 “May the fire of the Holy Spirit fall upon Washington DC today and tomorrow. May the Lamb of God be exalted. Let God arise and His enemies be brought low.”

 Obviously, these are not the views of all Christians, but frankly I am shocked by how many feel this way. I wonder if police are considering charging  any of these pastors with inciting violence.  Their language is certainly incendiary.

Sometimes the marriage of politics and religion breeds monsters.

 

Fascism comes to America

 

It was not that long ago that I said, American is not fascist. That position is becoming more and more difficult to uphold.

Right now the Republicans are split between those who believe, based on plenty of evidence, that the rioters in the Capitol were guilty of sedition  and Trump’s fervent supporters, who think the riot was  justifiable as a way of denouncing Trump’s fraudulent defeat. In other words, they are split between people who believe what they saw in plain sight, and those who worship at the throne of Trump.

As Stephen Colbert said, “evidently, the only thing scarier to Republicans in Congress than a violent mob is the fear that the mob might not like you anymore.”

Perhaps the best example of impending fascism was the election of QAnon conspiracist Marjorie Taylor Greene to the American Congress in the last election. She was elected in one of the safest districts for Republicans in Georgia. It was another example of the America system that ensures the only way a person can win the Republican nomination is to move to the extremes and then when that is secured there is no contest in the safe ridings. It helps produce polarization. Republicans always win in her district in other words.  Sort of like Steinbach, that always votes Conservative, no matter what. Or at least has done so for many years.

Stephen Colbert said she has the “the homicidal vote on lockdown.” Recently it was revealed that she indicated  repeatedly on line that she  indicated support for executing Democratic politicians.  Here is a transcription of one of her engagements with a supporter on Facebook. One of her supporters asked Greene whether as follows about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama: “now do we get to hang them?” And Greene replied, “Stage is being set.  Players are being put in place. We must be patient.” Greene, like her mentor Trump, did not bother being subtle or discreet. Other posts indicated she thought Nancy Pelosi was a traitor and helpfully pointed out that treason was punishable by death.

It is little wonder that on January 27, 2021 the Department of Homeland Security, still with its acting head appointed by Trump, and  not exactly a left-wing organization, issued a bulletin for the first time of “a heightened threat environment across the United States…from homeland violent extremists.”  The extremists are driven by “objections to…the presidential transition, as well as perceived grievances fuelled by false narratives.” The Department made it clear that they see violence aimed at overturning the election of Biden as terrorism. That should not be  surprising.

Colbert asked: “will the GOP finally take a stand against the man who legitimized fascism?” Colbert has not been shy about using the F word to describe Trump. Those are strong words. Are they over blown?  In the light of what happened in the American Capitol who can say that?

That is not all. Newly elected Greene has for awhile denied the school shootings in places like Newtown. Guess what?  She was recently appointed by the Republicans to the House Education Committee. That is like the Gaddafi regime in Libya being appointed to the UN Committee on Human Rights. Only yesterday she was voted out of that post  with only 11 Republicans voting in favor of her ouster.

In 2018, before she became a Congress woman, Greene posted this on Facebook during the California wild fires that devastated that state:  “the real and hidden  culprit behind the [California fire] was a laser from space triggered by some nefarious groups of people.” Not only that but they were Jewish. Greene and other QAnon supporter are resurrecting the old Nazi conspiracy theory that the world is run by a cabal of Jewish bankers. This longtime QAnon adherent is now in Congress and Trump has said she is a “future star of the Republican Party.”

Who continues to think that saying Fascism is on the rise in America is far-fetched? Who continues to think that because Trump has left the White House all is in order?

 

When Reason sleeps tyranny follows

 

Goya, the famous Spanish painter was well known for dark art.  No one ever accused him of seeing only the sunny side of life. Goya inscribed one of his works with the following words: “The sleep of reason brings forth monsters.” I find that profoundly true. If we give up reason, we open ourselves up to nightmares, and much worse.

Voltaire, the father or the child of the Enlightenment, and one might say a Fundamentalist Enlightenment thinker, said it best when he said,: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” I would put it this way, “If I can get you to believe something without any evidence it is true, I can convince you to kill your friend.” Voltaire also understood that when truth was no longer respected there was a slippery slope to tyranny. That is why reason is so important. Reason is our best defence against tyranny. Credulity is our worst enemy.

 Historian Timothy Snyder, an expert of European fascism recently said, “Post-truth is pre-fascism.”

Tyranny is one of the worst monsters born out of the sleep of reason. The tyrant knows he is safe when he can convince people to believe the absurd.

 

F bombs

F bombs

 

For quite some time I was reluctant to call Donald Trump and some of his followers fascists. That was then; this is now.

After the attack on the Capitol when after Trump’s urging the mob invaded the Capitol and while chanting “Hang Mike Pence” over and over again, I started to re-think.  When CNN reported that many of the rioters were intent on catching police officers and killing them, I began to change my mind. Some of the rioters in the Capitol said, they “were invited here by the president.” Now, that I see Republican leaders in Congress sucking up to Trump again and once more endorsing his phoney claims of a stolen election in order to keep his base of supporters fired up, I think “fascist” is the right word to describe them.

It reminds me of what happened in Germany in the 1930s when the Nazis who had been elected used the fire in the Reichstag to begin hunting Jews and curtailing freedoms. We must always remember Hitler and the Nazi’s were elected.

Fascists is what they are. The only question is how many of the Trumpists would go that far. It seems to me a lot of them were willing to go that far.

Fascism with a Flag and a Cross

It was either Huey Long or Sinclair Lewis who said, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.

Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), was one of America’s many great novelists. They included, classics such as Main StreetElmer Gantry, and Babbit. But he also wrote one about fascism coming to America. Sadly I must admit I have not read it, but I have heard it discussed so often I know a little bit about it. As faithful readers of this blog will know, ignorance on a subject has never stopped me from blogging about it. So why start now?

The book is called It Can’t Happen Here, and was published in 1935 when populist and authoritarian demagogues were achieving a lot of popularity in Europe. I intend to blog more about that era because I think it was very important for the birth of fascism. Americans, always thinking (wrongly) that this could never happen in the land of the free, were grossly overconfident that they had nothing to worry about. Until the invasion of the Capitol by rabid Trumpists that is. Now some people know better.

Sinclair Lewis showed in his persuasive book that this confidence was not justified. He believed, as do I, and as did Philip Roth in his book, the Plot to Destroy America, which I have blogged about, that the United States could easily slip into fascism.

I learned this about the book: The main character, Buzz Windrip, appeals to voters with a mix of crass language and nativist ideology. Once elected, he solidifies his power by energizing his base against immigrants, people on welfare, and the liberal press. The novel has been called “frighteningly contemporary” in the wake of the Trump campaign and election.

Does this not sound eerily familiar?

It is not easy to define fascism. Many definitions have been proposed. A friend of mine told me a number of years ago that the US was infested with fascists.  I thought he was exaggerating. I did not think Trump was a fascist. I thought he was an authoritarian—sort of a fascist light.  Now I think he was right.

As Bill Maher said on his television show, “Yes there are many definitions of fascism, but if you can’t call the people who wanted to undo an election that even a lot of judges appointed by Trump said was basically fair, then I don’t know what fascism is.” When you not only try to undo the election but encourage your supporters to storm the Capitol to overturn the election by force—that is fascism.

A while ago, I said fascism was the philosophy of the bully. You could say it is the philosophy of might is right. Is that not exactly what we saw on January 6, 2021 at the insurrection of the Capitol in Washington? People who don’t accept a democratic election. That is what all fascists have in common. A lot people forget that Adolf Hitler was originally elected, before he destroyed democracy in Germany.

And don’t get lulled into a false sense of security that this problem has gone away because Trump is ensconced in Mar-a-Lago. Right after it happened, 45% of Republicans approved of the rampage! After the riot was quelled, a large majority of Republican Senators and Congressmen and Congress women voted for exactly what the rioters were demanding—i.e. that the election be ignored!

Did you notice all the flags and signs that referred to Jesus and Trump? Maybe Sinclair Lewis or Huey Long were right? And this battle is not over.

Fascism is alive and well in America.

 

 

Left or Right extremists: who is more dangerous?

Recently some of my friends suggested that Antifa is more dangerous than White Supremacists. Is this true?

 

To some extent for each of us it depends on whom we fear. If you are a well-to-do white guy, you likely tend to fear those left wing radicals who threaten to take away stuff from you. If you are one of the poor people, especially poor people of colour, you likely fear those white supremacists. Where does the truth lie?

One of my trusted sources of information is The Guardian a newspaper or magazine (The Guardian Weekly) based in England. Most of their revenue comes from a trust fund established many decades ago.  I have been reading it since 1982 and find their journalism stellar. I think it is the best in the world. They are not perfect, but they are very good.

Recently I read a very interesting article in The Guardian Weekly by one of their respected reporters- Ed Pilkington.

First Pilkington noted that Chad Wolf the acting secretary of Homeland Security in the US released his department’s annual assessment of violent threats to the United States.  It was written before the recent riot at the Capitol. In the introduction Wolf wrote that he is:

 “particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years. [They] seek to force ideological change in the United States through violence, death, and destruction.”

 

This was also written just before the FBI in Michigan arrested 13 rightwing extremists who allegedly organized a plot to kidnap and try the Democratic Governor, Gretchen Whitmer.

Earlier in the year in February , the FBI Director Christopher Wray  (not exactly a left-wing radical) told the American Congress

“racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists” have become the “primary source of ideologically motivated lethal incidents” in the US. The danger overshadowed the jihadist threat that has dominated the security debate since 9/11.”

White supremacists in other words.

According to the Guardian, 2018 was the deadliest year on record for domestic extremist violence (it may have been surpassed by 2020) and that year

 

White supremacists were responsible for most of that bloodshed in 2019 – 39 out of 48 deaths, including 23 people who died at the hands of an anti-Hispanic racist in El Paso, Texas, and a Jewish worshipper murdered at Poway Synagogue in California.”

 

That means that other terrorists including Muslim Jihadis and Antifa only accounted to 9 out of 48!

 According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, whom The Guardian described as a terrorism and extremism expert from the Brookings Institute in the US, White Supremacy is “by far the most serious domestic danger in the US on many levels – the frequency of attacks, the level of recruitment, the scope of ambition of the groups and the wider political capital they are building.”

The most telling information though comes from FBI data (again not a left wing organization). This is how Pilkington described it after noting that the FBI spent much more money attacking international terrorism where it spent 80% than domestic terrorism where it spent 20%:

 

“The bureau’s own figures compiled for 2008 to 2018 indicate that the balance of threat is the exact reverse – some 73% of all extremist murders in the US in that period were by far-right terrorists, only 23% by Islamist terrorists.”

 

In other words 96% of domestic terrorist murders in the US were carried out  by what it called far right terrorists, again leaving Antifa, Islamic fundamentalists and others together being responsible for only 4%!

I think it is fair to say that the left wing terrorists are pretty small beer compared to the rightwing terrorists. And remember all these figures are before the  astounding invasion of the Capitol by Trump supporters who are hardly left-wing radicals.