The Thin Line Between Christian Nationalism and Fascism is Getting Thinner
The thin line between Christian nationalism and fascism is getting thinner in 2021 America. Christian nationalism is not a new phenomenon. “Christian nationalism was part of our cultural framework since the arrival of the colonists, who located what they were doing in the sacred, as part of God’s plan,” the author Andrew Whitehead told The New Yorker magazine’s Eliza Griswold. In May, Griswold wrote that “Throughout U.S. history, a combination of Christianity and patriotism often served as a rallying cry against a common enemy.” And the election of Donald Trump “intensified certain strains of Christian nationalism,” Griswold wrote.
During a November 14 event at John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced former national security advisor, and the idol of many Christian nationalists and conspiracy theorists, said: “If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion, one nation under God and one religion under God.” How Flynn intends to get rid of people with unwelcomed faiths is unclear.
Christian nationalists believe that God intended America to be a Christian nation. When that belief is added to a stew of conspiracy theories, white nationalism, and support for violence, Christian nationalists’ prominent role in the January 6th insurrection is not surprising.
In a February 2020 Religion in Public website article titled “Christian Nationalism Talks Religion, But Walks Fascism,” authors Samuel L. Perry and Andrew L. Whitehead wrote: “Simply put, Christian nationalism—an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation—is a form of nascent or proto-fascism. Not full-blown fascism (yet), but a complex of ostensibly-religious ideologies, identities, and values that could potentially lead toward fascism given the right recipe of resources, political opportunities, and a population acclimated to its underlying ideals”
Perry and Whitehead cite the work of Yale Philosopher Jason Stanley who in his recent book, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, points out characteristics of fascism, which include:
* An ideology built on reference to a mythic past.
* Populist support for strongman demagogues.
* A culture of anti-intellectualism, including anti-education and anti-science beliefs.
* An ideology that views social hierarchies as normal and necessary.
* Idealization of patriarchal families.
* Peace maintained by authoritarian ‘law & order’ tactics.
* Strongly pro-nativist/anti-pluralism.
* Foments cultural anxiety about sexual deviance.
* Pervasive victim mentality.
All these attributes are “checked” in the current upsurge of Christian nationalism.
Comparisons of the current political landscape in the United States to events in Nazi Germany can be risky, but useful. Annika Brockschmidt’s new book Amerikas Gotteskrieger: Wie die Religiöse Rechte die Demokratie gefährdet (roughly translated as “America’s Godly Warriors: How Religious Right Endangers Democracy”) — released in mid-October in Germany – posits a relationship between Christian Nationalism in the U.S., and the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s. When asked by Religion Dispatches’ Andrew L. Seidel, if she thought that “analogies to 1930s Germany are overblown?,” she replied “I don’t think they’re overblown.”
Shortly after the January 6th insurrection, Tish Harrison Warren wrote for Christianity Today: “The responsibility of yesterday’s violence must be in part laid at the feet of those evangelical leaders who ushered in and applauded Trump’s presidency. It can also sadly be laid at the feet of the white American church more broadly.”
Seidel’s interview with Brockschmidt was aimed at getting a better understanding of her comment that, “January 6 helped argue the case for fascist tendencies in Christian Nationalism.”
As Seidel notes, according to Brockschmidt, the word Gotteskrieger “as used in the German press, refers to Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists such as the Taliban and al Qaeda. ‘I don’t assert this name on their behalf, this is the name American Christian Nationalists, particularly the more extreme ones, give themselves.’”
“Germans have had a hard time understanding what’s going on in the US; most probably don’t know about the homegrown fascist movement, and, in a sense, how could they? We remember a United States that fought the Nazis,” said Brockschmidt, a German author, journalist, and scholar.
While Brockschmidt’s book has already had a second printing in Germany, it has not yet been published in English.
Brockschmidt notes that the call for a muscular or militant Christianity, is a call that we’ve heard a lot from the Religious Right over the past few decades. She listed “several signals, structures and characteristics of American Christian Nationalism that overlap in worrying ways with fascism,” including the “myth of a golden past,” which calls for a return to “how the country used to be when in fact it’s a version that never was. It’s used to divide the country into us and them.”
There is the demonization of out-groups as the other, or “not real Americans.” Another marker is the veneration of “law and order, which really just means being tough on a certain portion of the population, not on crime.” Brockschmidt mentioned other “dog whistles used to stoke fear, resentment, and anger against outgroups [in order] to strengthen the feeling of togetherness of [the] ingroup.”
Anti-intellectualism is another factor as is the “creation of unreality or a separate reality.” Brockschmidt tells Seidel that because “QAnon is the 2021 version of the blood libel.”
“Blood libel refers to the false allegation that Jews used the blood of non-Jewish, usually Christian, children, for ritual purposes. The Nazis made effective use of the blood libel to demonize Jews,” according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Brockschmidt says, “This narrative is returning, being recycled.”
“Violence has always been a part of Christian nationalism,” Whitehead, a sociologist and co-author of Taking America Back for God, told The New Yorker magazine’s Eliza Griswold. “It’s just that the nature of the enemy has changed.” This time, as Christian nationalists are making clear, the enemy is not foreign, but within.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His Conservative Watch columns document the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.