Category Archives: Extremism

A History of Christian Violence

 

The insurrection at Capitol Hill in January of 2021 was by no means the first act of Christian violence in the United States. According to Thomas Edsall, Samuel P. Perry, a professor at Baylor University and no relation to Samuel L. Perry who I quoted in early posts,  pointed out to Thomas Edsall that the invasion of the Capitol by insurrectionists reminded him of “past acts of Christian violence.” American history, he said, is crammed full with such acts but he mentioned one, the confrontation between federal law enforcement officials at Waco Texas in 1993 with a group of white supremacists that were part of an extremist Christian sect. Perry believes that was a seminal moment in which the hard Christian right were united with white supremacist militias. Many see that time  as the crucial moment  when militias in America “grew up.”  But they grew up to be monsters. From that moment they became dangerous. According to Perry, both groups saw themselves “as targeted by the government in the aftermath of the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco.” Christian fundamentalists and white supremacist militia groups both figured themselves “as targeted by the government in the aftermath of the standoffs at Ruby Ridge and Waco.” Numerous other similar incidents occurred in the US since then, including of course the occupying of the State Capitol in Michigan last year followed by the Trump insurrection.

 

The scholar of religion, Ann Burlein, concluded “Both the Christian right and right-wing white supremacist groups aspire to overcome a culture they perceive as hostile to the white middle class, families, and heterosexuality.”

Samuel Perry told Edsall this in an email to him:

“The insurrection or assault on the Capitol involved unlikely coalitions of people in one way. You do not necessarily think of religious evangelicals and fundamentalists being in line with Three Percenters or Proud Boys,” but, he continued, the narrative of chosenness and superiority made for broader group of support. I would not attribute Jan. 6 to Christian Nationalism alone, but I would not underestimate the involvement of the contingent of Christian Nationalists and the way the rhetoric of Christian Nationalism became a standard trope for Trump.”

The conjoining of Christian nationalism and politics in the US has produced a particularly nasty concoction. I think it is far from over. That is the real point. Where is this headed and when will it end?

 

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.

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!

Messiahs don’t come around every year.

 

Donald Trump called his followers to the Washington Capitol on January 6, 2021 and like dutiful followers they came. They came to put a wrecking ball to what they considered false government and fraud. Their spiritual leader called them, so Trumpists arrived from all over American to the Washington Capitol as he had asked. He asked them to “fight for their country.” Was he being metaphorical?

To his faithful followers they were on a religious mission. It was their sacred duty to come to the Capitol to defend the leader of the faith and the country. It was a holy cause. So, men and women who would normally be going to work, their Bridge club, or doing laundry, or sending their kids to school, turned up instead in Washington ready to riot. Many of them actually planned a riot. After all, as one of their posters said: “Jesus is my Savior; Trump is my president.”

 

And, like so many sacred causes in the past they were deceived by their leader. He told them to march to the Capitol and he would be right there with them. That was a lie. He stayed back at the White House where he could be safe to watch the action on his big screen TV instead. To his followers it was a sacred cause. To Donald Trump is was entertainment.

Now you might ask why would anyone believe a New York real estate developer who had a notorious aversion to the truth?  That didn’t matter to the true believers. The leader called; they came. After all, 2000 years ago,  who would believe a young man who appeared to be the son of a poor carpenter?

 

But Trump was no Jesus. In the case of Trump, the true believers were sad fools. We pity them. They made a horrible choice. Some of them like the QAnon Shaman with his wide grin, bare muscular chest, coon skin hat, horns, spear, and face painted with the colors of the American flag, came all the way from my “home” state of Arizona. He thought if he got into trouble, as he did, his spiritual leader and savior Donald Trump would pardon him or save him in some other manner. The Shaman was sadly deluded. That’s what his “true belief’ was—a sad delusion. Too late he realized he had been a fool.

That doesn’t mean all such beliefs are delusions. Not all prophets are false, but certainly enough of them are false to make us wary. We should recognize that and use some critical judgment. Messiahs don’t come around every year. Or even every four years

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.

 

Politics and Religion: A Strange Brew

 

When I watched live the insurrection at the Capitol in Washington D.C. on the afternoon of January 6, 2021 I was astonished. I witnessed rioting that I had contemplated, but actually never thought I would see. It was a shocking day.

One of the things that struck me that day was the proliferation of signs carried by rioters that made it clear that to many of them the insurrection was a religious act. They felt they were defending the faith.  The insurrection was a religious event. I now realize that is exactly what they were doing. They were defending the faith of Trumpism. That was their religion. These people believed in Trump without reservation.

 

As New York Times opinion columnist Thomas B. Edsall said, “It’s impossible to understand the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol without addressing the movement that has come to be known as Christian nationalism.”

Trump had said that during the first election campaign that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue in broad daylight and he would not lose any supporters. Now I know that for once he was telling the truth. That was literally true. That is what it means to have religious devotion to a leader. Trump started a riot. & people died as a result.  Yet Trumpers still support him. Trump was right.  I think that is pretty clear by now. He summoned his followers to Washington on January 6, 2021 and thousands showed up. Then he filled them with rage and asked them to march to the Capitol. He even said he would walk with them. He exactly said  that.  It was a lie but there is nothing unusual about that. Then he filled them with hatred for his Vice-President who had been his faithful disciple for 4 years and they marched on the Pentagon shouting “Take the Capitol,” “Hang Mike Pence,” and other insurrectionary statements.  His followers rampaged the Congress looking for politicians like Pelosi and Pence and looked like they wanted to kill them. They built a gallows with a noose hanging from it.

Many of them carried signs like “Jesus and Trump. 2020.” They actually prayed in the House Chambers that they were occupying.

This was a religious event. Is this not what religious devotion is all about?

 

 

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?

 

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.

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.

The Smoking Gun

 

I will never forget how as a young lad going to law school the Watergate case was unraveling. Watching the hearings on television was mesmerizing. even when things started getting rough for Nixon, I thought he would survive the onslaught. There was evidence leading to deep suspicions that he had been involved in a cover-up, but there was never a smoking gun. Never that is until the tapes were discovered. President Nixon had amazingly tape-recorded for posterity all his discussions with his henchmen. When that was discovered the sharks starting circling. When people listened to the tapes there was a smoking gun. Nixon’s gig was up. He was done.

I got exactly the same feeling this week when I heard parts of the tapes released by Bob Woodward as a result of 18 taped interviews with President Trump. I thought this was the smoking gun. Trump was done.

Donald Trump admitted that he did not tell the truth to Americans as thousands were dying. They could have avoided thousands of deaths had they known the truth. Yet, since then has there been an uprising as there was for Richard Nixon? Not yet.

Why have more Americans not called this out? Frankly I am stunned. How could Americans countenance their president lying to them about the dangers of Covid-19 while people—particularly young people—were going out and taking chances they should not have taken and likely would not have taken had they known the truth that their president already knew, but had assiduously hidden from them for the sake of protecting his own political fortunes at the expense of American lives? Surely this would do it! The people would rise up in fury. Even his own supporters would abandon him. I really felt that last week. Yet it did not happen. Now I feel like a fool (again).

Why did that not happen? With some introspection I think I know. The critical difference between now and 1972 when Nixon was under examination consisted of two facts.

First, in 1972 the American political world was not as strictly divided into 2 polar opposite camps as it is today. In 1972 when Republicans looked at the damning evidence against Nixon, a couple of Republican Senators visited Nixon at the White House and said he had no alternative but to resign. Nixon’s support among Republicans had vanished. The game was over. That could never happen now. Today, most believe, “our side” can do not wrong.

Secondly, in 1972 Nixon was originally a popular president. He had won the election in a landslide. But—and here is the critical difference—Nixon was not worshipped. Nixon attracted no theological devotion. That is not the case with Trump. Trump was right when he said he could go to Times Square, commit a murder, and loose no support! This is not absurd; it is the truth. That is devotion that only beloved religious leaders receive. Trump attracts true believers!

Just like no free-thinker, no matter how wise, smart, or profound could ever hope to defeat the resolution of a religious followers of Christ, or Mohamed, no one could persuade a Trump follower to forsake him. His position is secure. Theological devotion is rock solid. Political support is far from that.

That is a pity. Truth does not matter any more. The world has changed. That means a leader like Trump can do almost anything and still count on the support of his devoted followers. That is a terrible thing for democracy and freedom. Truth should still matter.