Christian Nationalism

The Chilling Presence of a Post-Digital Anti-Kingdom in America with a White God on Its Side

One of the obstacles in building critical constituencies in our schools that could effectively over time challenge neoliberal capitalism and promote more humane socialist alternatives is the sweetheart deal historically consecrated between capitalism and religion.  Serving as a barrier to much needed debates in our classrooms about the economy, inequality, racism, gender discrimination, racial capitalism, war, disability and other issues fundamental to a social justice curriculum are current efforts by the far right to establish Christianity as the official religion of the country and the recognized national theology. We are living amid a continuing assault on the First Amendment by Christian-nation advocates who wish to legislate a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in the United States.

We are facing extraordinarily difficult times in America.   Food is out of the reach of millions of Americans, housing is nearly impossible for low-income families.  Gas prices are rising.  Americans are struggling within a Ponzi scheme capitalist economy at a time of growing racism, assaults on women’s rights over their own bodies, attacks on immigrants and people of colour by white vigilantes and militias armed with AR-15s, police shootings of black men, the threat of nuclear war, current and impending climate disasters. But the individuals and groups that are locating many of the problems within the capitalist system itself and urging that we consider socialist alternatives are marginalized and for the most part have been forced to debate outside of the public square. The educational system is not faring well.  Under Republican state leadership, it remains, in the words of James Kirylo, obsessed ‘with a test-centric schooling environment, punitive evaluation systems, low pay, overcrowded classrooms, school buildings wrought with neglect, outdated textbooks, poor working conditions, ill-informed attacks on tenure, the ongoing defunding of public education, the undermining of teacher professionalism, and the constant assault on public school teachers.’ As a result, Kirlyo writes that ‘teacher satisfaction is at an all-time low.’

Kirylo also warns that the current teacher shortage ‘is a symptom, a manifestation of a metastasized malignancy: the eroding of the profession itself through a political climate that disrespects educators.’ He writes that

Instead of attentively responding to the alarm bell and working toward building up the profession, policy makers all over the country have intensified the problem by questioning whether educators actually need a college degree; have relaxed state certification requirements; have long encouraged speedy, minimal training before one enters the classroom, exacerbating the attrition rate; have allowed for dictatorial, mayoral control of school systems; have appointed unqualified, unprepared, and unfit individuals for US Secretary of Education; have allowed the persistence of overcrowded classrooms and outdated facilities to persist, disproportionally affecting the poor; and have fostered the politicisation of education in such a way that attacks teachers, ultimately threatening the future of public education.

Critical educators have been placed in a particularly difficult position, given the unwarranted attacks on Critical Race Theory, state legislative initiatives designed to curtail the teaching of slavery, and the increasing numbers of parent groups denouncing teachers for promoting in their classrooms ‘woke’ ideologies involving the use of gender neutral pronouns and the inculcation of pro-LGBTQ initiatives. Is it any wonder there is a teacher shortage?

The political upheavals that have defined the Republican Party are wedded to the notion that their party is the party of God, and its politicians are the most worthy apologists for the security and prosperity of the American people. Who are we to argue with Almighty God?  Yes, the Republicans stand for trickle-down economics but we can always count on the rich coming to the rescue of those in need, so they tell us.

Kevin M. Kruse has written a powerful account of the origins of Christian America in his book, One Nation Under God, in which he argues that the idea of the United States as a Christian nation, consecrated by God, is not so much related to the founding of the United States or the writing of the Constitution as it is to the machinations of corporate and religious figures in the 1930s and 1940s opposed to President Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Industrialists and business lobbyists were opposed to regulations associated with New Deal governance, and so they brought together conservative religious leaders to preach free enterprise to the American people.   Business interests were linked to the imperatives of Christian faith and American Christianity was born.  President Dwight Eisenhower pushed for a civic religion of “one nation under God” in which capitalism and Christianity became pelvic affiliates, inextricably conflated, entangled in a loving embrace.  During the Cold War, Kruse argues, capitalists were more worried about the state power of New Deal governance that pushed for market regulation than about the threat of the Soviet Union and its dreaded atheism.  So the industrialists pushed hard to link Christianity with economic prosperity under free market capitalism.   Through organizations like the American Liberty League, they approached ministers across the country to make the case for free enterprise.  Kruse argues that they conscripted these ministers

to make the case that Christianity and capitalism were soul mates. This case had been made before, but in the context of the New Deal it takes on a sharp new political meaning.  Essentially, they argue that Christianity and capitalism are both systems in which individuals rise and fall according to their own merits. So, in Christianity, if you’re good you go to heaven, if you’re bad you go to hell. In capitalism if you’re good you make a profit and you succeed, if you’re bad you fail. The New Deal, they argue, violates this natural order. In fact, they argue that the New Deal and the regulatory state violate the Ten Commandments. It makes a false idol of the federal government and encourages Americans to worship it rather than the Almighty. It encourages Americans to covet what the wealthy have; it encourages them to steal from the wealthy in the forms of taxation; and, most importantly, it bears false witness against the wealthy by telling lies about them. So, they argue that the New Deal is not a manifestation of God’s will, but rather, a form of pagan statism and is inherently sinful.

It was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who, using Christian principles to unite the nation under a misunderstanding of its link to the founding of the country, announced that the American government was based upon Biblical principles. It was Eisenhower who supported Congressional legislation that, in a bold stroke of ceremonial Deism, added the phrase ‘under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance while also embracing ‘In God We Trust’ as the nation’s official motto that was included – you guessed it – on the nation’s financial currency.

Since the election of Donald Trump, Christian Nationalism has experienced an unprecedented revival. Let me begin with a comprehensive description of Christian nationalism by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry:

Survey after survey finds that close to half of Americans are, at the very least, supportive of the fusion of Christianity with American civic life. These Americans believe that Christianity should influence our public policies, sacred symbols, and national identity. Scholars find, however, that the ‘Christianity’ of Christian nationalism brings with it a host of other assumptions about who are true and rightful citizens. Namely, that true Americans are white, culturally conservative, natural-born citizens. Regarding the Capitol insurrection specifically, national survey data collected in early February 2021 found that indicators of Christian nationalist ideology (specifically, believing the founding documents of the United States are divinely inspired or that the federal government should declare the US a ‘Christian nation’) were strongly associated with white Americans believing that Black Lives Matter and Antifa started the violence and that President Donald Trump was not to blame for the riots. As the figures on the next page illustrate, the more white Americans affirm indicators of Christian nationalism, the more likely they are to deny Trump’s culpability in the riots and the more likely they are to affirm debunked conspiracy theories about the involvement of Black Lives Matter or Antifa. Christian nationalism is also related to other conspiratorial views.

The authors also point out that white Christian nationalism is intimately linked to the febrile QAnon conspiracy and white supremacist ideology and generally subscribes to anti-Semitic views. In this time of ferment and tumult, recent national efforts to address the issue of racism and white supremacy have lost their potency for renewal and are about as ineffectual as a Victorian perfume atomiser for extinguishing a house fire or a bottle rocket for reaching Mars. A cultivated complacency surrounds the white Christian nationalist takeover of the Republican Party, accompanied by a motivated amnesia regarding the origins of America’s racial/class conflict.

The Republican Party that identifies itself overwhelmingly as Christian has declared war on identity politics that simultaneously functions as a form of repression and forgetting – a forced disavowal of the nation’s complicity in racial demonisation and a skewing of the narrative of settler colonialism while at the same time fomenting a cultural nostalgia for a manufactured age that only existed in 1950s Hollywood films. We bathe each day in a postmodern ambience of a retreat from reality, a structured silence surrounding the horrors of race and class warfare, preferring instead to look longingly towards a past of ‘greatness’ that never was so that we can writhe and wrangle over how to build walls and serve white entitlement in order to make America great (meaning, make America WHITE again) again. We invest our historical memory in a counterfeit democracy of lapel pin flags and emblems while the Christian Identity neo-fascist accelerationist movement prepares for a race war that will supposedly expedite the Great Tribulation and the Battle of Armageddon, the latter of which will manifest as a racial holy war, and will precede Christ’s return to earth.

Christian Identity developed out of John Wilson’s 19th-century theory of British Israelism that claimed Anglo-Saxons and Germans are the direct descendants of the biblical Lost Tribes of Israel who would eventually reunite and live in the United States. ShieldWall Network is busy ‘training and prepping’ white nationalists for the RaHoWa (Racial Holy War) battle to come, which includes a war on black people and on Jews, the latter who are described as belonging to the Synagogue of Satan. The whole purpose of Christianity, claims Christian Identity, is the preservation of the white race. Thom Hartmann notes that, throughout the 1950s, the John Birch Society erected billboards all across America demanding that Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren be impeached because he’d signed off on the Brown v Board decision that stipulated by law that public schools be racially integrated. Wealthy industrialists became donors to White churches across the country and warned Americans ‘that school integration was the first step to full-blown communism in America.’ It was, they claimed, against ‘God’s will.’ The religious right henceforth came into being – the ‘big bang’ of Christian fundamentalism and Biblical literalism whose necrotic power-laden ideology has been expanding ever since God apparently looked the other way when Brown vs. Board of Education was ratified.

Bob Jones, Jerry Falwell and other famous preachers started all-white schools ‘to defy the [Supreme Court] decision, often claiming that because their schools were “Christian” they were exempt from federal oversight and thus didn’t have to comply with the Supreme Court’s dictum.’ What has become lost amidst the rantings and ravings of the white Christian nationalists both then and now is that the Framers of the Constitution did not want the government corrupting the churches (James Madison) nor the churches corrupting the government (Thomas Jefferson). Article VI of the Constitution says: ‘[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.’ And the First Amendment says: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….’ Jefferson was convinced that this established ‘a “wall of separation between church and state” that would keep both our republic and our churches independent of each other.’ But, clearly, this hasn’t stopped white evangelical churches lobbying for restrictions on voting rights for African Americans so that the exercise of social and political control continues to advantage white financial power, all stage-managed under a fire and brimstone philippics that mocks wokeness, insults the teachings of Jesus and supports a post-Trump evangelical cult of white privilege, where preachers feel emboldened to dress down their congregations for failing to purchase them a private jet, and where the God-ordained trappings of private wealth signify holiness.

According to Robert Jones, ‘The historical record of lived Christianity in America reveals that Christian theology and institutions have been the central cultural tent pole holding up the very idea of white supremacy. And the genetic imprint of this legacy remains present and measurable in contemporary white Christianity, not only among evangelicals in the South but also among mainline Protestants in the Midwest and Catholics in the Northeast.’ Jones also reports that the White Jesus manufactured by the narrative construction of white evangelicals ‘demanded its defence and preservation as part of the natural, divinely ordained order of things.’ Views about slavery may have diverged among Southern and Northern Methodists, but both agreed ‘that black Methodists should hold a subservient place not just in society but even in Christian fellowship.’ Jones writes of ‘one zealous priest standing on the church steps with a bullwhip to discourage any blacks from attending services.’

White supremacist ideology is flourishing among disaffected white youth, the military, the police, social media influencers, politicians and MAGA Christian evangelicals, and among copious other groups and organisations. As Marc Boswell argues, ‘white racism is a discrete ideational, and material manifestation of the existential longings of particular human beings for a mechanism of social difference-making and marking that secures resources and goods for what they perceive as their own benefit and flourishing.’ White supremacists have created a generative social ontology through their discursive operations, unruly antagonisms and practical logics hospitable to the materialisation of specific and uneven racial formations emerging from America’s despoiled public sector and immiserated non-white populations. They have created a social universe of hate, distrust, paranoia and racial violence, as Trump gees on his base that the 2020 election was rigged.

The KKK is no longer recognised as a mob of stocky hirsute men in signature white robes smelling of cigarettes and reeking of stale beer, stuffing Blacks, Jews and gay men into the trunk of a rust-splotched old Buick in the heat of the night under the flickering cinders of a burning cross. You can find their rebranded version of hate swaddled in fashionable human form marching in in broad daylight, sporting custom-tailored seersucker and tweed suits. A case in point is Richard Spencer sporting a dapper three-piece Brooks Brothers suit attire or the UK’s regnant fascist, Nigel Farage, modelling a lord-of-the-manor, fuddy-duddy, slipper hero ‘heritage’ look that drips of upper-class pretensions. Today’s white hate mongers can be found breaking Black bodies not only at tiki torch gatherings but in suburban settings populated by clean-cut young white men in spiffy-looking attire designed to mirror the sartorial trends of the all-American white suburbanite crowd. Sleek New Balance sneakers have replaced over-the-ankle work boots, soles packed with blue mud, worn by 1950s foremen in the plantations of Mississippi and Arkansas. In fact, if you happen to approach a cluster of young men in Fred Perry gold-striped collar black polo shirts or dressed in JC Penney polos and khakis who display undercut, high-and-tight hairstyles, and sporting a hate-jacked Buc-ee’s Covid mask, you might consider turning on your heels and quickly heading the other way. Especially if you are Black. Such sartorial fashion choices help to give racists a demeanour of respectability, unlike the Duck Dynasty lookalikes in their camo and biker attire. But public fashion and cultural elan cannot hide racism – in fact, in the case of white supremacists, it can animate it. Amanda Marcotte rightly points to the association between ‘fascism enforcers’ and America’s youth:

[T]he face of rising fascism has been a young one. Or youngish, anyway, especially in a greying country like the United States. A lot of attention has been paid to the incel and 4chan communities, or other places where young men in their teens and early 20s are being radicalised. The 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ riot in Charlottesville, Virginia crystallised the image of modern fascists as college-aged men with floppy haircuts and polo shirts. A number of authoritarian groups have grown up under Trump, but by far the most attention has been paid to the Proud Boys, whose name and manner of dress cast an image of youthful streetfighters. In the American imagination, ‘fascists’ are young men, such as Hitler’s Brownshirts, who are believed to have the energy and stomach for the skull-cracking necessary to impose their will to power.

But Marcotte also warns that the most ‘pernicious’ threat to democracy are baby boomers: ‘older, retiree-age Trump fanatics.’ She reports that by far Trump’s ‘largest and most robust vein of support comes from people of retirement age. (People over 65 turned out for Trump in greater numbers than any other group of voters.) A veritable army of Fox News-drunk grandparents is forming, ready to interfere every step of the way with the systems that turn out, collect and count votes.’

The basic pathological substrate of today’s white supremacy and the fundament that anchors such an impetuous shift in evangelical Christianity among white constituencies is a fear of the rise of non-white nations who are mastering Western technology and advancing into positions that have given them increasing parity with the ‘white world’ – despite all the efforts of white nations to keep them in the thrall of a ‘third world’ dependency. The hallmark of such fear is an exercise of the most abhorrent forms of racist violence against immigrants from these countries. In order to meet what they see as a threat from non-white citizens, more precisely from non-European immigrants and from the ancestors of African slaves and from refugees from Latin America, those who seek to protect the Euro-American population of the United States must codify American identity in white Christian nationalist terms as a prophylactic against extinction. They must acknowledge their increasing vulnerability in the face of attack by other cultures, religions, languages, and values (meaning other ‘races’). In the midst of such paranoia baked into a false sense of entitlement as the custodians of America, perhaps leavened by a fear of becoming victims of black retribution, white nationalists have chosen to be seen as the ‘true’ bearers of the cross of Christ. In so doing, Christ must be established as a white God who rules over the standard bearers of white normativity and sacred hierarchies that favour Christianity’s European roots, glorified hierarchies under threat of replacement by leftist multiculturalists bent on forcing diversity onto America’s sacred order, multiculturalists who have inexorably failed to instil ‘American’ values into ‘immigrant’ children, infantilising them into compliance with the white rulers, regardless of how many generations their families have lived in the United States. What else could account for Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., losing by 14 points to the Trump-backed overnight sensation, Rep. Mary Miller, after her prideful declaration that the Supreme Court decision reversing Roe v. Wade was a ‘historic victory for white life’? How different is that ideologically from the necropolitical sentiment uttered in 1869 by Garrett Davis, a Democratic senator from Kentucky who would go on to say: ‘I want no Negro government; I want no Mongolian government; I want the government of the White man which our fathers incorporated.’

Globalism is being attacked by authoritarian populist organisations who are also criticising multiculturalism and liberalism and championing supra-national associations and entities (globalists is a coded term used by the far right that often refers to a secret cabal of Jewish cosmopolitan elites headed by George Soros, who are in control of world financial markets). The ultra-nationalist populists are busy cultivating a hyper-patriotism engrafted into the ideals of the nation-state, facilitating the white state’s ability to manufacture iron-cast subjectivities out of its emplaced citizenry based on ethnic heritage while roundly rejecting the cosmopolitan subjectivities of those calling for diversity and a multi-polar world. And white Christian evangelicals are throwing diversity into the maw of the culture wars, calling for exclusionary nationalism, media concentration and securitised borders. In such a swamp of antagonisms, saviours can be found everywhere, and followers who are desperate for rescue. The public sphere has been concretised in oppressive ways, ensepulchred in a vault of political corruption, disallowing socio-cultural inclusion through gerrymandering and restrictive voting rights legislation. This has gone so far as to transform the entire civil service, ensuring it would be populated indefinitely by Trump loyalists. As Noam Chomsky describes it:

Right before Trump left office, he had a directive establishing what was called ‘Schedule F’ for civil servants, a plan to potentially remove the entire civil service system, at least the leading elements of it, and to replace them by Trump loyalists. The civil service bureaucracy has traditionally been basically nonpartisan, just keeps functioning whoever’s in office. But this was an effort to change it radically, to make sure that the leading elements are Trump’s loyalists, and they will run what’s left of the government as an organisation beholden to the ultimate leader. There’s a name for that. That’s outright Fascism, not proto-fascism. Well, when Biden came in, he rescinded the offer, the order, but the Republicans are probably coming back, and there’s now debate in Congress about what to do about it. The House passed a resolution calling for legislation to block it. Senate’s not going to accept it. GOP won’t accept it, because they want it to come back in.

Footage of the twenty thousand-strong racist rally at Madison Square Garden in 1929 of the German-American Bund is shocking to many not only because of its resemblance to one of Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies but because it is a warning that the United States is not far behind today in its openly militant exposition of its own hatred and white supremacy. One only has to refer to the spectacles of Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally and Trump’s own rallies. Even one of the right-wing Political Action Conference (CPAC 2021) conventions was condemned by The Hyatt Hotels Corporation when the design of its stage was discovered to be modelled on the Norse Othal or Odal rune featured in the insignia of at least two Nazi SS Nazi (Schutzstaffel) units during World War Two. And yes, this location was where one of the vilest Trump sycophants, Ted Cruz, screamed ‘Freedom’! echoing a speech by William Wallace in the film Braveheart (as a Scot whose clan fought in the battle of Culloden and likely fought alongside Wallace, I found this to be especially repugnant).

Christian school curricula have been under special scrutiny since Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as his US Secretary of Education. DeVos was and presumably still is on a mission to ‘advance God’s kingdom’ through education, and, for over 30 years, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to enrol their children in private and overwhelmingly Christian schools. De Vos famously used the $2 trillion coronavirus stabilisation law to millions of federal dollars initially slated for public schools and colleges to private and religious schools. Alice Greczyn identifies some quotations from schoolbooks in 1990s and 2000s that her mother used in Greczyn’s homeschooling experience that opponents to Critical Race Theory clearly avoid addressing. In fact, I am confident that they would find these factual atrocities comforting to white students.

A few slave owners were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slaveholders treated their slaves well (United States History for Christian Schools, A Beka Book).

Although the slaves faced great difficulties, many found faith in Christ and learned to look to God for strength. By 1860, most slaveholders provided Christian instruction on their plantations (America: Land I Love, A Beka Book).

To help His children endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave the Christian slaves the ability to spiritually combine the African heritage of song with the dignity and power of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is freedom from the bondage of sin (America: Land I Love, A Beka Book).

Only 6000 families in the entire South had over 50 slaves in 1850 (America: Land I Love, A Beka Book).

The story of slavery in America is an excellent example of the far-reaching consequences of sin. The sin, in this case, was greed – greed on the part of African tribal leaders, on the part of slave traders, and on the part of slave owners, all of whom allowed their love for profit to outweigh their love for their fellow man. The consequences of such greed and racism extended across society and far into the future. It resulted in untold suffering – most obviously for the black race but for the white race as well (United States History for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University Press).

Greczyn reports that these excerpts are from two of the most popular Christian school and homeschool curriculums in America: A Beka Book (now Abeka), which published several math, history, and civics textbooks; and Bob Jones University Press (BJU). In November of 2008, Bob Jones University issued an apology for their racism, which included a ban on interracial dating until the year 2000. Greczyn writes that ‘[i]t took a Black man winning the Presidency of the United States before BJU would publicly admit they were wrong.’ However, Abeka writes: ‘We present free-enterprise economics without apology and point out the dangers of Communism, socialism, and liberalism to the well-being of people across the globe.’ The following statements highlighted from three of the most popular religious curriculums nationwide: Abeka, Bob Jones University Press (BJU), and Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), which Greczyn highlights in bold and which read as follows:

The Abeka book said in a section on ‘evangelising black Americans’ that ‘the slave who knew Christ had more freedom than a free person who did not know the Saviour.’

The BJU text said, ‘God provided’ North America as a place for the Protestant church to flourish, keeping Catholics in Central America and South America.

The ACE curriculum supports the values the school believes are important, CEO Bill Keith said. Other schools teach ‘revisionist’ history, he added, promoting Malcolm X and communism.

She provides some other excerpts from Christian schoolbooks about race:

Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel.… Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write (Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, A Beka Book).

[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities, it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians (United States History for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University Press).

While the end was a noble one – ending discrimination in schools – the means were troublesome. Liberals were not willing to wait for a political solution (Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University Press).

This is what millions of children and teenagers are being taught. This is the programming they carry with them into adulthood: pro-slavery ways of reading the Bible. The locus of observation of slaves was determined from theology.

This is what has shaped the minds of evangelical politicians and untold numbers of others in power. And it hardly seems like the kind of education that would be an ally of a movement called #BlackLivesMatter. And, of course, there are numerous examples from the Old and New Testaments that white Christians have used to justify slavery. Greczyn offers the following:

Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property (Exodus 21: 20–21).

Slaves, in reverent fear of God, submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this, you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:18–21).

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive (Titus 2:9–10).

Boswell asserts that ‘the conquering, colonisation and so-called Westward march of white civilisation was explicitly understood to be the providential plan of God, making whites the agents of God’s (whitened) kingdom throughout all corners of the globe. The status of non-whites in this eschatological scheme was contested, but most white Christians and white secularists agreed on the supremacy of white civilisation and the necessity of expanding and establishing its domain.’ If this is true, then the God of whiteness is clearly a racist God.  A foundation belief of white Christian nationalism is that the United States was founded by white European Christians who have a special claim to this day to the privileges afforded to ‘legacy’ Americans. The bizarre, Americanist interpretation of white nationalism is one of the outstanding challenges facing the evangelical community in the United States. It is imperative that we rescue it from the misinterpretations and misrepresentations of Christian teaching that have been foisted on the laity since Reconstruction. 

Self-styled militia groups, radical Christian Nationalist organisations, and white supremacist groups have been working together, fastened to an aggressive defensiveness that labels ‘woke’ culture as a deadly threat to the values of White Christian America. Aggressive defensiveness is little more than a species of political delusion used to justify political violence, providing an ‘Other’ to blame for all that is going wrong with white America; it occurs when individuals or groups – think of the Oath Keepers – believe that violence must be used in the service of defending America from tyranny and dictatorship. The irony cannot be lost when these groups personalised their support for ‘strongmen’ such as Donald Trump and engaged as foot soldiers in the January 6 insurrection, actions which actually helped to foment the political tyranny they profess to challenge. The irony has not been lost on the fact that right-wing militia groups are currently attacking with brackish bloviations about freedom, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, because the FBI raided Trump’s Berghof, known as his Mar-a-Lago estate, to retrieve top secret documents Trump was not entitled to have in his possession. The FBI is arguably the most culturally conservative and traditionally white Christian Republican institution in the entire US government. It’s an institution so culturally conservative, even by the standards of law enforcement, that only white male Republicans have served as its leader. J. Edgar Hoover, who prosecuted and persecuted black activists and artists, amassed a 1,800-page file on author James Baldwin and spied upon and harassed Martin Luther King. Conditions are much worse now in what Shoshana Zuboff calls the era of ‘surveillance capitalism’ with its ‘smart’ and ‘connected’ information technology which is used both in commercial and law enforcement surveillance. Information from a ‘smart’ utility device, an iPhone 6S Plus and audio files captured by an Amazon Echo device succeeded in identifying a police suspect. That’s how bad it is in our new post-digital anti-Kingdom. In addition, information extracted from a Fitbit wristband was used in a personal injury case while an individual was charged with arson on the basis of data taken from his pacemaker. Not only does GoFeedia specialise in keeping track of protesters and activists such as Greenpeace and union activists, but it also specialises in computing individualised ‘threat scores’ using data from social media. Palantir is a company heavily invested in ‘predictive policing technology’ designed to predict whether you are likely to be a victim of a crime or a perpetrator – all based on your social media history. One can only shudder at what Hoover would have done, had he had access to such technology. To label the FBI as a ‘woke’ institution is humorous at best.

We have in our semiotic inventory of justice the rhetorical means to demolish the ‘blood-and-soil rhetoric’ of the Oath Keepers, the white supremacists, and the far-right militias who are collaborating with extreme Christian nationalist groups in an unfolding saga of cumulative extremism and manufactured unrest – to hijack American democracy in the name of white justice. But we need more than displays of rhetorical jaw-breaking in the congressional buddle pits on Capitol Hill. We need a full-throated approach in our educational system to critical pedagogy. We need to approach questions of race critically and through an intersectional lens, beyond sedimented oppositional and binary standpoints, beyond the stale didacticism of current teaching practices that focus on sharing information rather than producing knowledge through an engagement with the world, producing a social universe of passivity and self-deception among students. Students need to challenge everyday systems of mediating reality by understanding the difference between holding an opinion and reasoning one’s way from empty assumptions to the realm of understanding, comprehension and justification. This stipulates engaging with dialectical reasoning through dialogical exchanges with others. When students are engaged in critical consciousness, they are able to make connections with the outside world and intervene within it; they are able to comprehend how the process of structuration creates ethical, epistemological and ontological barriers to becoming fully human and are filled with an urgent necessity to overcome them.

The change that needs to occur in white nationalist evangelical Christianity must come from the white evangelical population. Critical protagonistic agency among white Christians is disabled by the stereotypical and power-sensitive ways in which white subjectivities have been allegorised by historical discourses which have been gridded in the subject-positions white Christians take. These discourses differentially enable and constrain specific forms of practice. Yet while there is a logos immanent to the discourses that constitute white fundamentalist Christians as functionaries within modern technologies of power and privilege, this does not mean that white evangelicals cannot foster and realise potentialities that transcend the discursive and material conditions of their own communities. The constraints facing Christian nationalists do not prevent them from initiating ways of binding freedom to justice. Identities may thus be considered both mobile structures and structured mobilities and, as such, are dialectically re-initiating. We need spirited action in defence of equality and social justice for all, which is not easy at a time in which universities are functioning as credential agents, creating production chains for facilitating consumer citizenship, rather than creating vibrant critical citizens through an intersectional politics driven by anti-racism and challenges to racial capitalism. Such action will need Christians who have been up to now reticent in the main to speak out against the idea of a White God, let alone wreaking havoc on the very idea of such a God. To chasten politicians and demand reverence for our constitutional responsibilities is not enough; we need an unmasking of power and privilege. Action must take place amidst these troubling dynamics, even if it means undertaking the secular equivalent of rolling strikes against the White God and its eventual demolition in the manner of Thomas Merton’s liberatory anti-politics or James Cone’s ‘becoming black.’ It can be a contingent as well as a pre-planned strategy. We can build the car during the race, as well as before, or after. To exert an influence over cultural production, we must find ways of speaking and acting outside totalising systems of thought by creating metacritical and relational perspectives linked to new forms of organisation and activism. Educators need to get outside the admixtures and remnants of languages – the multiplicity of stereotypical voices that already populate their vocabulary and fill up all the available linguistic spaces – in order to find different ways of moving beyond subjectivities that simply reassert themselves as monadic forms of totality facilitated by consumerist ethics and marketplace logic locked within the prison house of Euro-American epistemologies and ontologies. This is what makes the fight against racism and white supremacy so challenging and why it demands a catalytic engagement with alterity and a more courageous way of facing the past, present and future, one that can awaken a fire within.

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Full Citation Information:
McLaren, P. (2022). Christian Nationalism: The Chilling Presence of a Post-Digital Anti-Kingdom in America with a White God on Its Side. PESA Agora.

Peter McLaren

Peter McLaren is Emeritus Professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. From 2013-2023 he served as Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies, Co-Director and International Ambassador for Global Ethics and Social Justice, The Paulo Freire Democratic Project, Attallah College of Educational Studies, Chapman University, USA.