Why Evangelical White Christians Merged Extremism With Trump
The support among Trump loyalists, many of whom identify themselves as participants in a sort of holy war, has been turbocharged by a potent blend of grievance and religious fervor.
The Proud Boys marched into the U.S. before self-proclaimed members of the far-right party. On Wednesday, at the Capitol, they stopped kneeling in the street and prayed in the name of Jesus.
The party, whose members embraced misogynistic and anti-immigrant views, prayed for God to bring "reformation and revival." They gave thanks for "the beautiful nation in which we were all blessed to be." They asked God to restore their "value systems," and for "the courage and strength to represent you and our culture well."
They rose then. Their leader told a bullhorn that the media had to "get the hell out of my way." And then they marched to the Capitol.
On Wednesday in Washington, the presence of Christian traditions, icons and language was unmistakable. "In blue and red, there was a mock campaign banner, "Jesus 2020,"; a "Armor of God" patch on the fatigues of a man; a white cross in all capitals declaring "Trump won. All this was interspersed with references to the theories of the QAnon plot, Confederate flags, and anti-Semitic T-shirts.
A phenomenon that has been brewing for years now has been made apparent by the mix of cultural references, and the individuals who brought them, that the most intense corners of support for Mr. Trump have become inextricable from certain sections of white evangelical influence in America. These communities have been gradually fused together, rather than entirely different strands of help.
The support among a wide variety of Trump loyalists, many of whom, according to interviews, identify themselves as participants in a kind of holy war, has been turbocharged by this powerful combination of grievance and religious fervor. And several, floating in falsehoods about the presidential election and now the riot itself, said that only a deeper sense of victimhood and confusion was fuelled by the aftermath of Wednesday's case.
"An evangelical Christian from Texas, Lindsay French, 40, flew to Washington after receiving what she called God's "burning bush" sign to participate in following her pastor urging congregants to "stop the robbery.
We are battling good against bad, dark against light," she said, declaring that she had risen like Queen Esther, the heroine of the Bible who had saved her people from death."
She said, "We are tired of being made out to be these horrible people," admitting that there was some abuse, but insisting on the falsehood behind it that Antifa was.
Some religious leaders who have been most critical of Mr. Trump have distanced themselves and their religion from the rioters, including many Republicans in Congress. The attack on the Capitol "has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity," he said. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, called the violence "anarchy." "He based our support for President Trump on his policies."
But critics said it was too late to attempt to isolate the white Christian conservative culture that helped drive Mr. Trump from the violence in Washington last week to power.
"Without wrestling with Christian nationalism, you can't understand what happened today," Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, said Wednesday, adding that far-right populism has been accepted by white evangelical groups for a long time, even before Mr. Trump. "They provided the political and theological basis for this, and anarchy was allowed to reign."
Tennessee pastor Greg Locke referred to himself as part of the 'black robe regiment,' a nod to the American clergy who were participating in the American Revolution, in a Facebook video shot in Washington on Monday night. "Mr. Locke preached to a crowd of Trump supporters in Freedom Plaza at a rally the following night, predicting "not only a Great Awakening, but the biggest awakening we've ever seen.
In American Christianity, the riot on Wednesday, carried out by a predominantly white crowd, also demonstrated the racial divide.
The Rev. Raphael Warnock of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta had been elected to the United States hours before the attack on the Capitol. After many conservative white Christians, the Senate sought to paint him as a violent activist, even as his campaign was rooted in the Black church's traditional moral vision. And many Black Christians have been warning white believers for years that Mr. Trump's race rhetoric was going to end badly.
Our cries go unheeded," said Jemar Tisby, president of The Witness, a Black Christian collective."
"On display, this is authentic white American Christianity," he said of the case on Wednesday. "For white Christian America, the challenge is to examine what they have religiously done."
Within the Capitol, among the most influential conservative Christians in their faction, including Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and Cindy Hyde-Smith, were senators who objected to the election outcome.
On Wednesday, before the rioting started, the fruits of the alliance between far-right parties, Christian and otherwise, became evident as thousands of Trump supporters gathered to protest the certification of the presidential election results, with Joseph R. Biden Jr. beating Mr. Trump definitively, even after attempts to undermine the election. There were white evangelicals in attendance who felt called to drive hundreds of miles to Washington from home.
Oren Orr, 31, an arborist from Robbinsville, N.C., where he goes to the Baptist Church of Santeetlah, rented a vehicle to go to Washington. He wore his American flag on the bleachers right below the police, and his wife had a Christian flag. Mr. Trump may be the last president, he said, to believe in Jesus. (Mr. Biden also talks about his lifelong Catholic faith and often attends church services, unlike Mr. Trump.)
Mr. Orr said he took to Washington a baton and a Taser but didn't get them out. "He said, "I know that the Lord has my back no matter what happens.
As for the ample proof that many were racist in the crowd, Mr. Orr said, "We're called white supremacists, and all of this." I've got lots of colorful friends. Some of my closest friends in this country are from Mexico.
Conservative Christian circles were profoundly infiltrated by the dissemination of falsehoods about the legitimacy of the election and now the origins of Wednesday's rioting. Apocalyptic evangelical views on the end of the world and the coming divine judgment blur with the theories of QAnon conspiracy that wrongly assert that deep-state bureaucrats and pedophiles rule the nation.
Abigail Spaulding, a 15-year-old stay-at-home mother who traveled from her church in South Carolina to the rally with relatives, broke down in tears as she spoke about her concerns for her children under the administration of Biden. "She said that her husband had explained to their children that "they should take the Bible and call it hate speech and throw it out when Mr. Biden is sworn in as president." And she had other doubts about Mr. Biden, taken from Facebook and Twitter, all of which were false.
On Wednesday, Laura Kloosterman, 34, attended mass in Kalamazoo, Mich. and prayed that Congress would fail to certify the victory of Mr. Biden. She had read online reports about Mr. Trump's undercounting votes on flawed voting machines. There is no evidence for these claims supported online by Mr. Trump and right-wing voices.
Ms. Kloosterman follows Eric Metaxas, the evangelical writer and radio host, who has repeatedly argued that the results of the election were fraudulent. In an interview in late November, Mr. Metaxas, who punched a protester outside the White House last summer, told Mr. Trump that he would "be happy to die in this fight," in a discussion about attempts to reverse the outcome of the election. "With us is God," he said.
Other supporters of the president spent months sowing suspicions regarding fraud among Christians. Even deeper links between white evangelicals and other conservative leaders were forged by these false beliefs.
A group called the March of Jericho, which led a series of "election integrity" protests, organized five days of events in Washington that ended on Wednesday. The party, which included speakers such as Mr. Metaxas and Mr. Trump's former national security advisor, Michael T. Flynn, marched around the Capitol seven times last month, modelling their protest on a biblical war in which the Israelites marched around the city of Jericho until its walls crumbled, allowing their armies to take over the city.
His supporters raised more than $100,000 for his legal defense on a Christian fund-raising website called GiveSendGo earlier this week, when Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, was arrested in Washington on suspicion of burning a Black Lives Matter banner ripped from a historic Black church.
Many people disagree with GiveSendGo allowing campaigns for people or organizations with which they disagree personally, as well as people disagree with the way Jesus showed love to the "sinners of society," said Jacob Wells, co-founder of the site. "We choose not to side at all and that causes us to be hated by a lot of both parties."
Since the riot, those who were sympathetic to its cause said they were furious at the expulsion from social media sites such as Twitter of Mr. Trump and others, and the deplatforming of the upstart conservative social media site Parler. It was seen by them as part of a larger plot to silence Christianity. And to make sure that their voices are heard, they are looking ahead.
The Lord just didn't see it fit," he said, "Adam Phillips, 44, a dry wall contractor from Robbinsville, N.C., had work and couldn't come to Washington on Wednesday, but since November, he had two protests, the Stop the Steal March and the Million MAGA March.
"For a while, it has been clear that Christians are under repression, that they are under scrutiny by all," he said. "All the things on which the nation was founded are under attack, trying to get the name of God out of all things, especially the name of Jesus."