Miss Church Today? Maybe Your Pastor Would've Explained Anti-Semitism's Role In GOP Politics
Israeli politics are probably more insane than even Trumpist-era American politics. This report from Arutz Sheva-7 this morning is a classic example: On Saturday night, Knesset member Moshe Gafni, head of the far right Ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (UTJ) party, responded to another Knesset member, Avigdor Liberman's (Yisrael Beytenu) statement that he will send the haredi community (the mask-refusing Ultra-Orthodox, who are widely blamed for Israel's catastrophic pandemic)-- and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu-- to the "garbage." The Israeli election campaign is in full swing.
Liberman's exact quote was "I will send the haredim, together with Netanyahu, in one wheelbarrow to a garbage dump." And Gafni's was "His desperation in the fight against Netanyahu has led him to say such things. We, the haredim, have for a while already seen him as one who has lost his mind. He apparently knows the garbage dump well, and brings it to the public discourse. I expect the law enforcement authorities to handle this anti-Semitic statement." He was backed up by another Ultra-Orthodox member of the Knesset, Yisrael Eichler, who said: "The horrible Evet [something Liberman's enemies call him] is not the first who has suggested placing us on carts and wheelbarrows and sending us 'to a good garbage dump.' There were those who threatened it before him, and even [those who] did it. This is no longer simple racism from an insane enemy, but a real threat and calls to war that threaten lives. Israel Police and the Prosecutor's Office must interrogate him for the crime of serious incitement and encouraging the bloodshed of haredi Jews."
At least Israeli election campaigns are short. U.S. campaigns usually start the day after the last election and are interminable. And U.S. campaigns can and more recently do encompass shrill warnings about anti-Semitism, especially at a time when the far right is unabashed about what they have to say and can't be controlled by Republican politicians who have long wanted these sentiments banned-- or at least whispered-and-never-shouted.
The American 2022 midterm campaigns are ramping up-- and it isn't just politicians who are involved. Last week, Chauncey DeVega interviewed American religion-in-politics expert, Public Religion Research Institute (PPRI) CEO Robert Jones about the ties between QAnon, white supremacy, the Republican Party and the declining white evangelical population. Remember, QAnon has many sympathizers in Congress and two hard core, all-in believers, Lauren Boebert (CO) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA). DeVega wrote that "According to the fantastical, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory known as QAnon, a secret cabal of liberals, Hollywood celebrities and foreign governments is kidnapping and sexually abusing children before eating them. This ritual grants members of the evil global elite special powers they use to manipulate the world and oppress (white) Christians and other groups. In QAnon's alternate reality, a shadowy figure known as 'Q'-- who has been notably silent of late-- sends out secret 'drops' containing messages, clues and orders to true believers. As explained by Q, Donald Trump and his MAGA allies have led a resistance movement against the Deep State, preparing for a great cataclysm called 'the Storm,' in which Trump will seize full power (or, latterly, return to power) and all will be revealed. Ultimately, QAnon is an updated version of the infamous anti-Semitic libel 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion,' a conspiracy theory which has existed since the early 20th century and played a central role in the Holocaust. QAnon is also much more than a mere conspiracy theory. It is a cult that has destroyed families and relationships. It is a con that lures in the weak-minded and the vulnerable. It is a political force with ambiguous but substantial influence within the neofascist Republican Party. It could also be described as a live-action roleplaying game for lonely and socially alienated adults who are desperate for a sense of agency, meaning and community in their lives... As a new religion, the emergence of QAnon coincides with and has fueled the Republican Party and the Trump movement's embrace of right-wing terrorism and other political violence. Terrorism and extremism expert Colin Clarke told the Independent how white right-wing Christian evangelicals are being radicalized by the QAnon conspiracy theory into committing acts of terrorism."
I recall a post by evangelical pastor John Pavlovitz from late January, It Wasn’t Just Trump. The Republican Party is Monstrous.. His claim is that millions of Christians who profess to believe in the message of Jesus Christ-- basically love-- fooled themselves into thinking that if Trump, "this messianic monster was removed and severed from them, that those around him would begin to come to their senses and the thick haze of their sycophantic adoration would lift and they would slowly but certainly revert to their better natures. But now we’re realizing the most painful truth of all the lessons of these years: this is simply who they are. It turns out that the recently departed and disgraced madman was not the manipulative puppet master animating them into acts of viciousness and cruelty they’d otherwise refuse to consent to, they were the ones pulling the strings all along. What we’re seeing now is irrefutable evidence that these people were not altered by the presence of some singularly evil man-- but fully embodied in him."
The racists, anti-Semites, white nationalists and conspiracy nuts at the base of the MAGA movement and the Republican Party-- nearly interchangeable now-- have begun their campaign to win back America in 2022/'24. DeVega's chat with Jones was meant to shine a light on "how white Christian evangelicals are being radicalized into terrorism and other forms of extremism [and] how Trump's insurrection and the Capitol attack should also be understood as expressions of white supremacy and Christian nationalist violence. He also details how white evangelicals actually believe that they are being oppressed and have become victims in America-- false beliefs which make them very susceptible to conspiracy theories such as QAnon, political extremism and, in the worst-case scenario terrorism and political violence such as we witnessed on Jan. 6."
DeVega started off with the key question: "How do we explain white Christian evangelicals' enduring devotion to Donald Trump, no matter what he does? He can encourage terrorism, attempt a coup, incite a lethal attack on the Capitol and engage in all manner of apparent crimes, and they still love him." And Jones came armed and prepared for it:
Polling shows that even after the insurrection on Jan. 6, there are still supermajorities of white evangelicals reporting that they hold favorable views of Donald Trump. There was a majority of evangelicals saying before the 2020 election that they saw President Trump as being called by God to be president. That has been true throughout Trump's presidency.
One of the most remarkable things about white evangelicals in terms of Donald Trump is how little their favorability toward him have changed. Two impeachments, major scandals-- including sex scandals involving sordid matters such as having affairs and paying hush money-- none of that really seems to have shaken their favorability towards Trump. It's been very stable, somewhere between two-thirds and 80% favorable of Trump during the entire four years he was president.
There are two likely reasons for this. The slogan "Make America Great Again" was supposed to be changed to "Keep America Great" [for 2020]. The Trump campaign very quickly pivoted away from that and just stayed with the old slogan. The power of Trump's appeal is a backward nostalgia which involves going to back to a previous time when white Christians had more power in the United States. "Making America Great Again" signals to that desire to "restore" that state of affairs.
During Trump's campaign speeches, and even on Jan. 6, Trump would say things such as, "If you're not ready to stand up and fight, America as you know it will be over. You're going to lose your country." But who is the "your"? Who is the "our"? Trump is appealing to a white Christian base. What he is communicating is, "I'm the person who's going to help you continue to hold onto your sense of ownership of this country."
For Trump's base of voters that is what it is all about. His appeal is not about policies. It's certainly not about abortion or same-sex marriage. The appeal is based around a single issue.
...America has such a long history of being dominated by Christianity that many people are reluctant to really see the connections between white supremacy and Christianity as part of American culture... The Ku Klux Klan targeted not just African Americans but also Jews and Catholics, because they considered the United States to be a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant country.
...I am from the South and understand how the idea of being under siege runs deep here. That is especially true in the culture of Southern evangelicalism. It goes way back to the Lost Cause mentality of the Civil War and as a backlash to the civil rights movement.
A proclivity to be the "victim" runs deep in terms of theology here as well. This is particularly true in white evangelical circles. Both Republicans and white evangelicals believe that they face more discrimination than other groups such as African Americans and gays and lesbians. That trend has been documented in the polling data and other research for several years. That sense of being under siege has become even stronger during the Trump years. It was certainly there before that, but it's become even stronger.
...By way of comparison, both white evangelicals and African American Christians share many similar theological beliefs. However, it is white evangelicals who are much more likely to be connected to QAnon and similar conspiracy theories. I do not believe that the answer lies in a common belief in something invisible. QAnon and other like beliefs are ultimately self-serving. At the end of the day, QAnon preserves white power.
We passed from being a majority white Christian country to one that is no longer majority white Christian. That happened proximate to Obama's time in office. With him, the first black president, there was a very vivid symbol of demographic change. That really has set off a desperate struggle where many white Christians are now in a bid to hold onto their group's power.
Weird things happen when you get desperate. Those white Americans are reaching for almost anything that will tell them that they are still the most important group in the country, that they still own the country, the country was created for their benefit. In many ways the bedrock of their worldview is crumbling.
...White evangelical Protestants are at a very dangerous place in their history today. They have been accustomed to being in the majority, as part of the mainstream of American culture. They find themselves increasingly out of step with the country in terms of their beliefs and their attitudes. Their children and grandchildren are disaffiliating from white evangelical churches. It is a shrinking movement.
The danger then becomes that if part of your worldview depends on the belief that America is a Christian nation-- and not just a Christian nation but really a Protestant nation-- and moreover that your group are rightful inheritors of that country, and you add in leaders telling you that your country is being unfairly taken away from you, it all becomes a very dangerous powder keg. Such beliefs can lead to extraordinary responses. I believe that the extremes of this view are violent. We should take that very seriously.