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The major role of Christian nationalism on Jan. 6

While some in the religious right treat the term as pejorative, there's more and more evidence the ideology was key to the attempted coup.
Image: A flag at a protest rally reads,"Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president".
Trump supporters near the U.S. Capitol following a "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021 Selcuk Acar / NurPhoto via Getty Images file

Christian nationalism “is a political ideology and cultural framework that seeks to fuse American and Christian identities,” explained Amanda Tyler, executive director of Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, at a House Oversight subcommittee meeting on political extremism Tuesday. “It suggests that ‘real’ Americans are Christians and that ‘true’ Christians hold a particular set of political beliefs.” And, Tyler emphasized, it “helped fuel the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, uniting disparate actors and infusing their political cause with religious fervor.”

None of the three Republicans present for the hearing — South Carolina’s Nancy Mace, Arizona’s Andy Biggs and Florida’s Byron Donalds — followed up on the topic with Tyler that day. But if they want more information, they could just ask one of their fellow GOP congressmen: Rep. Rick Allen, R-Ga.

Newly revealed texts between Allen and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, published while the hearing was in progress, dramatically show how deeply Christian nationalist ideology runs through the Republican Party, and how it continues to underlie Republicans’ ongoing denial that Jan. 6 was a violent attempt to overthrow the government.

The guise of Christianity is being used as cover for ongoing assaults on our democracy.

The texts, turned over to the Jan. 6 committee and published Tuesday by Talking Points Memo, encapsulate Tyler’s warning that the guise of Christianity is being used as cover for ongoing assaults on our democracy. Allen, reports TPM, was “one of the members of Congress who worked most aggressively behind the scenes to reverse President Trump’s loss in the 2020 election.” Among other claims, he promoted a conspiracy theory about Romanians stealing the identities of 50 million Americans to carry out an expansive voter fraud scheme. In late November, Allen assured Meadows in a text unveiled by TPM that the election was the result of “high tech and foreign governments in collusion.” He continued, “Tell the President to hang in there, so many are praying for God’s revelation and a miracle!”

Even after Jan. 6, Allen continued to insist that Trump and his supporters should not give up because God was on their side. On Jan. 8, Allen sent Meadows a message lamenting that Trump’s attempted power grab had failed. “Our Nation is at war, it is a Spiritual War at the highest level,” Allen wrote. “This is not a war that can be fought conventionally, this is God’s battle and He has used President Trump in a powerful way to expose the deceit, lies and hypocrisy of the enemy.”

Allen was invoking a core element of Christian right ideology: that patriotic Christians are engaged in a “spiritual” battle with evil forces, which include the Democratic Party, the left more broadly, or any other political adversary they say undermine America as a “Christian nation.” They claim Trump was anointed by God to save the Christian nation from attacks by its enemies. The Trump supporters who organized the Jericho March rallies between the 2020 election and Jan. 6 maintained that it was God’s will that Trump retain power. They even enlisted Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers founder recently convicted of seditious conspiracy for his role in Jan. 6, to help rally the troops.

Allen wanted to ensure Trump knew he needed a spiritual army behind him. “This is his opportunity to confess that he can no longer fight this battle alone, he must give it to Christ,” Allen told Meadows, “and Gid [sic] almighty will show him the way to victory.”

The Trump supporters who organized the Jericho March rallies between the 2020 election and Jan. 6 maintained that it was God’s will that Trump retain power.

Meadows replied with three words: “God bless you.”

These exchanges were similar to Meadows’s text conversation, first reported earlier this year by The Washington Post, with Ginni Thomas, the right-wing activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Then, it was Meadows who brought up themes of spiritual warfare, framing the quest to overturn the election results as “a fight of good versus evil.” Evil, he went on, “always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs.” Meadows then drew from language in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, telling Thomas, “Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues.”

As Tyler told lawmakers, “Christian nationalism uses the language, symbols and imagery of Christianity — in fact, it may look and sound like Christianity to the casual observer.” Meadows cited language from the New Testament to encourage a political ally to persist in overturning a democratic election on behalf of a would-be autocrat. As Tyler noted, though, “closer examination reveals that it uses the veneer of Christianity to point not to Jesus the Christ but to a political figure, party, or ideology.”

Some Republicans, notably far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ga., have embraced the term “Christian nationalist.” Others have called it a pejorative lobbed at them by the left. At Tuesday’s hearing, Greene’s Republican colleagues merely ignored the ideology. But the more we learn about Jan. 6 — not just from the trove of Meadows’ text messages, but from the committee’s final report and the various advancing criminal investigations — we are likely to see more evidence of its leading role.