Some of Them Are Merely Religious Fanatics

One of America’s leading villains is Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri. He’s well-educated and apparently smart. Nevertheless, he insists the election was stolen. That’s him giving a fist of solidarity to the seditionists before the riot.

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Katherine Stewart, who has studied the religious right for years, explains why he’s willing to tell big lies. In addition to his political ambition, he’s serving what he sees as a higher truth:

In today’s Republican Party, the path to power is to build up a lie in order to overturn democracy. At least that is what Senator Josh Hawley was telling us when he offered a clenched-fist salute to the pro-Trump mob before it ransacked the Capitol, and it is the same message he delivered on the floor of the Senate in the aftermath of the attack, when he doubled down on the lies about electoral fraud that incited the insurrection in the first place. How did we get to the point where one of the bright young stars of the Republican Party appears to be at war with both truth and democracy?

Mr. Hawley himself, as it happens, has been making the answer plain for some time. It’s just a matter of listening to what he has been saying.

In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius — a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago. In a 2019 commencement address at The King’s College, a small conservative Christian college devoted to “a biblical worldview,” Mr. Hawley denounced Pelagius for teaching that human beings have the freedom to choose how they live their lives and that grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.

The most eloquent summary of the Pelagian vision, Mr. Hawley went on to say, can be found in the Supreme Court’s 1992 opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Mr. Hawley specifically cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words: “At the heart of liberty,” Kennedy wrote, “is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” The fifth century church fathers were right to condemn this terrifying variety of heresy, Mr. Hawley argued: “Replacing it and repairing the harm it has caused is one of the challenges of our day.”

In other words, Mr. Hawley’s idea of freedom is the freedom to conform to what he and his preferred religious authorities know to be right. Mr. Hawley is not shy about making the point explicit. In a 2017 speech to the American Renewal Project, he declared — paraphrasing the Dutch Reformed theologian . . . Abraham Kuyper “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.” Mr. Kuyper is perhaps best known for his claim that Christianity has sole legitimate authority over all aspects of human life.

“We are called to take that message into every sphere of life that we touch, including the political realm,” Mr. Hawley said. “That is our charge. To take the Lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”

Mr. Hawley has built his political career among people who believe that Shariah is just around the corner even as they attempt to secure privileges for their preferred religious groups to discriminate against those of whom they disapprove. Before he won election as a senator, he worked for Becket, a legal advocacy group that often coordinates with the right-wing legal juggernaut the Alliance Defending Freedom. He is a familiar presence on the Christian right media circuit.

The American Renewal Project, which hosted the event where Mr. Hawley delivered the speech I mentioned earlier, was founded by David Lane, a political organizer who has long worked behind the scenes to connect conservative pastors and Christian nationalist figures with politicians. The choice America faces, according to Mr. Lane, is “to be faithful to Jesus or to pagan secularism.”

The line of thought here is starkly binary and nihilistic. It says that human existence in an inevitably pluralistic, modern society committed to equality is inherently worthless. It comes with the idea that a right-minded elite of religiously pure individuals should aim to capture the levers of government, then use that power to rescue society from eternal darkness and reshape it in accord with a divinely-approved view of righteousness [“be faithful to Jesus or to pagan secularism”].

At the heart of Mr. Hawley’s condemnation of our terrifyingly Pelagian world lies a dark conclusion about the achievements of modern, liberal, pluralistic societies. When he was still attorney general, William Barr articulated this conclusion in a speech at the University of Notre Dame Law School, where he blamed “the growing ascendancy of secularism” for amplifying “virtually every measure of social pathology,” and maintained that “free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people.”

Christian nationalists’ acceptance of President Txxxx’s spectacular turpitude these past four years was a good measure of just how dire they think our situation is. Even a corrupt sociopath was better, in their eyes, than the horrifying freedom that religious moderates and liberals, along with the many Americans who don’t happen to be religious, offer the world.

That this neo-medieval vision is incompatible with constitutional democracy is clear. But in case you’re in doubt, consider where some of the most militant and coordinated support for Mr. Txxxx’s post-election assault on the American constitutional system has come from. The Conservative Action Project, . . . which serves as a networking organization for America’s religious and economic right-wing elite, made its position clear in a statement issued a week before the insurrection.

It called for members of the Senate to “contest the electoral votes” from Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and other states that were the focus of Republicans’ baseless allegations. Among the signatories was Cleta Mitchell, the lawyer who advised Mr. Trump and participated in the president’s call on Jan. 2 with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state. . . .

Although many of the foot soldiers in the assault on the Capitol appear to have been white males aligned with white supremacist movements, it would be a mistake to overlook the powerful role of the rhetoric of religious nationalism in their ranks. At a rally in Washington on Jan. 5, on the eve of Electoral College certification, the right-wing pastor Greg Locke said that God is raising up “an army of patriots.” Another pastor, Brian Gibson, put it this way: “The church of the Lord Jesus Christ started America,” and added, “We’re going to take our nation back!”

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, a number of Christian nationalist leaders issued statements condemning violence — on both sides. How very kind of them. But few if any appear willing to acknowledge the instrumental role they played in perpetuating the fraudulent allegations of a stolen election that were at the root of the insurrection.

They seem, like Mr. Hawley himself, to live in a post-truth environment. And this gets to the core of the Hawley enigma. The brash young senator styles himself not just a deep thinker who ruminates about late-Roman era heretics, but a man of the people, a champion of “the great American middle” . . . and a foe of the “ruling elite” . . .

Yet Mr. Hawley isn’t against elites per se. He is all for an elite, provided that it is a religiously righteous elite. He is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School and he clerked for John Roberts, the chief justice. Mr. Hawley, in other words, is a successful meritocrat of the Federalist Society variety. His greatest rival in that department is the Princeton debater Ted Cruz. They are résumé jockeys in a system that rewards those who do the best job of mobilizing fear and irrationalism. . . .

Over the past few days, following his participation in the failed efforts to overturn the election, Mr. Hawley’s career prospects may have dimmed. Two of his home state newspapers have called for his resignation; his political mentor, John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, has described his earlier support for Mr. Hawley as “the biggest mistake I’ve ever made”; and Simon & Schuster dropped his book. On the other hand, there is some reporting that suggests his complicity in efforts to overturn the election may have boosted his standing with Mr. Txxxx’s base. But the question that matters is not whether Mr. Hawley stays or goes, but whether he is simply replaced by the next wannabe demagogue . . . 

Make no mistake: Mr. Hawley is a symptom, not a cause. He is a product of the same underlying forces that brought us President Txxxx and the present crisis of American democracy. Unless we find a way to address these forces and the fundamental pathologies that drive them, then next month or next year we will be forced to contend with a new and perhaps more successful version of Mr. Hawley.

Unquote.

Some of them believe white people, especially men, own America. Others believe lying isn’t a sin if it helps their religion own America. It’s important to know your enemy, but I can’t think of any other encouraging words.

Part 2: They Think They Own America

Philip Kennicott, a Washington Post critic, explains why it was predictable and yet quite easy for them to invade the Capitol: 

The whole drama, the body language, the flags and the onslaught, was borrowed from other dramas — genuine displays of revolutionary fervor against autocrats, authentic acts protesting illegitimate governments. But it was a charade. Not civic or selfless, but corrosive, destructive and illegal.

In real time, journalists and pundits expressed disbelief and wondered aloud: How can this be happening? There was a simple, terrible and chastening answer, and one that will sicken decent Americans for generations to come: It happened because we refused to believe it could happen.

Many Americans once considered this blindness to cataclysm latent in every democratic government, including ours, to be a peculiarly American form of strength. Our naivete was a talisman against disorder. The power of precedence, the comforting illusion of a stable history, the fantasy that our institutions were so just and well ordered that nothing could shake them, might well have seemed a bulwark against today’s attempted coup.

Surely Americans, who are by our own fatuous self-definition fundamentally decent, would never attempt the unthinkable, no matter how angry. And so people who get paid to dither on television suddenly began talking at it, repeating again and again their disbelief, as if the arrival of this ugliness was as unexpected as an errant asteroid or alien invasion in a bad science-fiction flick.

But over the past four years, as Txxxx attacked again and again, dividing the country, inflaming anger, exacerbating every conflict and pouring salt into every wound, the unwillingness to see today’s events became more than a weakness. It became culpable.

We could muster the National Guard to defend bricks and mortar against the possibility that perhaps some angry protesters against police brutality might spill a little paint or hurl water bottles. But we couldn’t, or wouldn’t, defend the Constitution and the republic against open rebellion, a rebellion foretold by every act of a lawless president who has never been coy about his real intent.

One moment in today’s appalling mayhem was telling. As they filed through Statuary Hall, some of Txxxx’s thugs snapped selfies of themselves, as if they were merely tourists.

Meanwhile, windows were being broken, room trashed, historic spaces defiled. You might think it odd that the hardcore Make America Great Again crowd would damage a beloved symbol of the country they profess to support. But not if you understand the deeper dynamic. This was never about who wins elections and the right to govern. It has always been about ownership. Txxxx’s cult believes that they are the sole, legitimate owners of the country, and if that’s true, then there can be no sin in damaging what is rightfully yours, right?

Which explains why the nation’s capital went into a defensive crouch last summer and enlisted the military to put down peaceful demonstrations, when multiracial crowds gathered to demand that the country live up to the promise of its founding documents. These were outsiders, aliens, invaders. But when the Congress met to formalize the peaceful transference of power, suddenly one of the most fortified buildings on the planet was defenseless against amateur insurrectionists.

In the doctrine of white supremacy, articulated in the deeds, acts, executive orders and repellent speeches of the president himself, some people legitimately own America, while others are merely suffered to live here by the consent of men like Txxxx and his supporters. Police will mostly defer to the former with circumspection and polite restraint; they will beat down and gas the latter even before the hour of curfew has arrived.

In this most recent escalation of a four-year putsch — abetted by some of the same representatives and senators whose chambers were attacked by the mob — we see the last few threads of Trumpism that were never explicit now made manifest. Trumpism was never about governance or stewardship of the country. It was about a right to possess so deep that it includes the right to destroy.

That is what is so sickening today, what will sicken us for decades to come and what has shamed us before the world in perpetuity. There is only one way out of this, only one redemption. We must see what has happened today for what it is, with no mincing of words and no obfuscations. A minority of Americans, encouraged by a reckless, cornered and irresponsible lame-duck president, sought to take full possession of what they feel they, and they alone, legitimately possess, which is the right to run the country without a Constitution, without laws, without equal rights for all people.

We knew this was coming, we had the evidence, none of it was a mystery.

Those who claim otherwise, who pretend that this wasn’t the inevitable last act of a presidency grounded on white supremacy, now bear the shame of America. They aren’t blind or foolish, they are guilty. Let them retire from public life and reflect with penitence on what we have seen today. And then let us a remake a capital city that will never again leave itself open to this kind of tawdry insurrection.

Unquote.

Chris Hayes of MSNBC points out that Wednesday was worse than it looked:

There was a kind of selection bias to the live coverage: we had live shots of the least violent places (for good reason) but it’s now become so much clearer it was an extremely dangerous and volatile situation.

It is entirely possible that there were people in that crowd, looking to apprehend, possibly harm, and possibly murder the leaders of the political class that the President [and others] have told them have betrayed them.

White Christian Supremacy Is A Prime Motivator

I didn’t check his math, but Dana Milbank of The Washington Post highlights the importance  to the Republican Party of White evangelical voters:

White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but their share of the electorate was 28 percent, according to Edison Research exit polling, and 23 percent, according to the Associated Press version. Though exit polls are imprecise, it seems clear that White evangelicals maintained the roughly 26 percent proportion of the electorate they’ve occupied since 2008, even though their proportion of the population has steadily shrunk from 21 percent in 2008.

This means White evangelicals turned out in mind-boggling numbers. Because they maintained their roughly 80 percent support for Republicans (76 percent and 81 percent in the two exit polls) of recent years, it also means some 40 percent of Txxxx voters came from a group that is only 15 percent of America.

White evangelicals have, in effect, skewed the electorate by masking the rise of a young, multiracial and largely secular voting population. The White evangelicals’ overperformance also shows, unfortunately, why the racist appeal Txxxx made in this campaign was effective. White evangelicals were fired up like no other group by Txxxx’s encouragement of white supremacy.

A Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary graduate who now runs the Public Religion Research Institute, Robert P. Jones, argues that Txxxx inspired White Christians, “not despite, but through appeals to white supremacy,” attracting them not because of economics or morality, “but rather that he evoked powerful fears about the loss of White Christian dominance” . . .

The Republicans’ Southern strategy stoked White resentment for decades but never as overtly as Txxxx did. White evangelicals responded passionately: Pre-election, 90 percent said they were certain to vote, and nearly half of those voting for Txxxx said virtually nothing he could do would shake their approval. There was little evidence of differences among White evangelicals by gender, generation or education.

They are, as a group, dying out (median age in the late 50s), and their views are hardly recognizable to many other Americans. Majorities of White evangelical Protestants don’t see the pandemic as a critical issue (they’re less likely than others to wear masks), believe society has become too “soft and feminine,” oppose same-sex marriage, think Txxxx was called by God to lead and don’t believe he encouraged white supremacist groups.

White evangelicals have become, in essence, an offshore island, one whose inhabitants are slowly but steadily distancing themselves from the American mainland. The fading Island of White Evangelica will, eventually, lose its influence over America. In the meantime, its existence points to an unfortunate, larger reality. There is vanishingly little that Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) can do to persuade voters to switch sides, because race, and views on race, are the most important factors determining how people vote. Add to the White evangelicals’ turnout the votes of the smaller proportions of White mainline Protestants and Catholics with high levels of racial resentment, as defined by the American Values Survey, and you’ve accounted for the bulk of Txxxx’s coalition.

I was startled this week when, during a conversation with a prominent figure in Democratic circles, he blurted out to me: “People who want to live in a white supremacist society vote Republican. Those who don’t vote Democrat.” That’s hyperbolic, of course. Democrats are frustrated that four years of chaos and calamity and herculean efforts and expenditures by Democrats did so little to dent Txxxx’s share of the vote.

But his exaggeration contains a grain of truth. Americans are deeply, and for the moment immutably, divided by whether or not they’re nostalgic for what had long been a White-dominated country. Txxxx’s better-than-expected showing, particularly among White evangelicals, . . . shows that he turned out more of the nostalgic.

“Antifa” Stands for Anti-Fascist

Until a few days ago, I’d never heard the term “antifa”. It’s a word that refers to the anti-fascists, anti-racists who believe in direct action against fascists and racists, including violence at times. From an article in The Washington Post by the historian Mark Bray:

Antifa are autonomous anti-racist groups that monitor and track the activities of local neo-Nazis. They expose them to their neighbors and employers, they conduct public education campaigns, they support migrants and refugees and they pressure venues to cancel white power events.

The vast majority of anti-fascist organizing is nonviolent. But their willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly distinguishes them from liberal anti-racists.

Antifascists argue that. after the horrors of chattel slavery and the Holocaust, physical violence against white supremacists is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective. We should not, they argue, abstractly assess the ethical status of violence in the absence of the values and context behind it. Instead, they put forth an ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late… The first antifascists fought Benito Mussolini’s Blackshirts in the Italian countryside, exchanged fire with Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts in the taverns and alleyways of Munich and defended Madrid from Francisco Franco’s insurgent nationalist army….

In the United States and Canada, activists of the Anti-Racist Action Network (ARA) doggedly pursued Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other assorted white supremacists from the late 1980s into the 2000s. Their motto was simple but bold: “We go where they go.” If Nazi skinheads handed out leaflets at a punk show in Indiana about how “Hitler was right,” ARA was there to show them the door. If fascists plastered downtown Alberta’s Edmonton with racist posters, ARA tore them down and replaced them with anti-racist slogans.

Responding to small fascist groups may seem trivial to some, but the rise of Hitler and Mussolini show that resistance is not a light switch that can simply be flipped on in a crisis. Once the Nazi and fascist parties gained control of government, it was too late to pull the emergency brake.

In retrospect, antifascists have concluded, it would have been much easier to stop Mussolini back in 1919 when his first fascist nucleus had 100 men. Or to stamp out the far-right German Workers’ Party, which had only 54 members when Hitler attended his first meeting, before he transformed it into the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (the Nazi Party). Though the regimes that inspired their original protests are long dead, antifascists have devoted themselves to treating small fascist and Nazi groups as if they could be the nucleus of a murderous movement or regime of the future….

Years before the alt-right even had a name, antifascists were spending thankless hours scouring seedy message boards and researching clandestine neo-Nazi gatherings. They were tracking those who planted the seeds of the death that we all witnessed in Charlottesville….Behind the masks, antifa are nurses, teachers, neighbors, and relatives of all races and genders who do not hesitate to put themselves on the line to shut down fascism by any means necessary.

At The Atlantic, another professor, Peter Beinart, expresses concern about antifa’s occasional use of violence and threats of violence, but points out that there is no equivalence between the antifa movement and the neo-nazis they fight:

Antifa activists are sincere. They genuinely believe that their actions protect vulnerable people from harm. Cornel West claims they did so in Charlottesville. But for all of antifa’s supposed anti-authoritarianism, there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists … can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed. That kind of undemocratic, illegitimate power corrupts. It leads to what happened this April in Portland, Oregon, where antifa activists threatened to disrupt the city’s Rose Festival parade if people wearing “red MAGA hats” marched alongside the local Republican Party….

But saying it’s a problem is vastly different than implying … that it’s a problem equal to white supremacism. Using the phrase “alt-left” suggests a moral equivalence that simply doesn’t exist.

For starters, while antifa perpetrates violence, it doesn’t perpetrate it on anything like the scale that white nationalists do. It’s no coincidence that it was a Nazi sympathizer—and not an antifa activist—who committed murder in Charlottesville. According to the Anti-Defamation League, right-wing extremists committed 74 percent of the 372 politically motivated murders recorded in the United States between 2007 and 2016. Left-wing extremists committed less than 2 percent.

Second, antifa activists don’t wield anything like the alt-right’s power. White, Christian supremacy has been government policy in the United States for much of American history. Anarchism has not. That’s why there are no statues of Mikhail Bakunin in America’s parks and government buildings. Antifa boasts no equivalent to Steve Bannon [or] to Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, who bears the middle name of a Confederate general and the first name of the Confederacy’s president, and who allegedly called the NAACP “un-American.” It boasts no equivalent to Alex Jones, who Donald Trump praised as “amazing.” Even if antifa’s vision of society were as noxious as the “alt-right’s,” it has vastly less power to make that vision a reality.

And antifa’s vision is not as noxious. Antifa activists do not celebrate regimes that committed genocide and enforced slavery. They’re mostly anarchists. Anarchism may not be a particularly practical ideology. But it’s not an ideology that depicts the members of a particular race or religion as subhuman.

CNN has an article with a brief video. The video includes a reporter talking to a group of masked antifa people in Oregon. It’s CNN, and I didn’t read the whole article, but their treatment of the movement seems even-handed. Democracy Now! has an extended interview with Mark Bray, who I quoted above. Part 1 is here. The second part is here.

The New York Times has an article too:

Last weekend, when a 27-year-old bike messenger showed up at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., he came ready for battle. He joined a human chain that stretched in front of Emancipation Park and linked his arms with others, blocking waves of white supremacists — some of them in full Nazi regalia — from entering.

“As soon as they got close,” said the young man, who declined to give his real name and goes by Frank Sabaté after the famous Spanish anarchist, “they started swinging clubs, fists, shields. I’m not embarrassed to say that we were not shy in defending ourselves”….

The closest thing antifa may have to a guiding principle is that ideologies it identifies as fascistic or based on a belief in genetic inferiority cannot be reasoned with and must be physically resisted. Its adherents express disdain for mainstream liberal politics, seeing it as inadequately muscular, and tend to fight the right through what they call “direct actions” rather than relying on government authorities.

“When you look at this grave and dangerous threat — and the violence it has already caused — is it more dangerous to do nothing and tolerate it, or should we confront it?” Frank Sabaté said. “Their existence itself is violent and dangerous, so I don’t think using force or violence to oppose them is unethical.”

By the way, ThinkProgress reports that, despite the widespread violence in Charlottesville last weekend, only eight people were arrested in connection with the white supremacist rally. That’s two more than were arrested for public drunkenness. A member of the antifa movement would almost certainly argue that those numbers show why we can’t rely on the authorities to fight fascism. 

Darkness in America

I suppose it’s possible there were some “very fine people” who chose to march with the Nazis and Klan in Charlottesville, chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Perhaps they were seriously misinformed about the nature of the event. But as Chris Rock said today: “If 10 guys thinks it’s ok to hang with 1 Nazi then they just became 11 Nazis”.

The good news is that the president* sunk so low today that more of our fellow citizens will turn against him, finally seeing him for what he is. His angry defense of white supremacy even generated disgusted reactions from a few of the right-wingers on Fox (order has probably been restored by now).

Congresswoman Gwen Moore, a Democratic Congresswoman who represents Milwaukee, called for his impeachment:

“As we once again hear [the president*] defend those responsible for the deadly riot in Charlottesville and receive praise by hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis, the time has come for Republicans and Democrats to put aside our political differences and philosophical debates for a higher cause. For the sake of the soul of our country, we must come together to restore our national dignity that has been robbed by [his] presence in the White House. My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history.”

Of course, impeachment is unlikely, given the Republican majority in the House, but perhaps the House and Senate will vote to censure him. I could see our not-as-terrible-as-some Republican Congressman voting for that. 

Perhaps being censured would finally give our president* the heart attack or stroke he so richly deserves (after his new chief of staff told him what “censure” means). 

Meanwhile, the sun, earth and moon are speeding toward the locations in space that will give America a solar eclipse on Monday. The “totality – the area where the sun is completely blocked by the moon – will be 70 miles wide and will travel from Oregon in the morning to South Carolina in the afternoon. The rest of the country will see a partial eclipse. 

Vox has a cool eclipse tracker that allows you to see when the eclipse will occur in your zip code and how much of the sun will be hidden. At its peak here in New Jersey, 72% of the sun will be hidden at 2:44 p.m. I don’t plan to use the special glass or glasses you need in order to avoid permanent eye damage, but I’ll certainly take a quick look. Coincidentally, I have an appointment with our optometrist at 3 p.m. I can experience the eclipse from his parking lot and then he can tell me if I’m blind.

I’m just brainstorming here, but I wonder if someone could convince our president* that the eclipse will be a Message telling him his presidency is over. Eclipses have often made a big impression on the ignorant and/or simple-minded. Assuming he’s in Washington, however, the moon will only block 81% of the sun. That might not be enough. But the Secret Service could tell him he’s got a rally to attend in South Carolina (they like him down there) and arrange him to be outside at just the right time. It’s a long shot, but one can dream.

PS: Another Democratic Congresswoman, Jackie Speier, who represents the area south of San Francisco, has called for the president* to be removed because he is mentally unfit: “[He] is showing signs of erratic behavior and mental instability that place the country in grave danger. Time to invoke the 25th Amendment”.