“I hate Barack Obama…God wants me to hate Barack Obama…I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to hell. You think I’m just saying that…when I go to bed tonight, I am going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell.”
-Pastor Steven L. Anderson, Fundamentalist Baptist Preacher
-Pastor Steven L. Anderson, Fundamentalist Baptist Preacher
The American public cannot help but be aware of terrorism as a perpetual and daily threat, here and around the world. Terrorism has had the average American’s attention since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Media has covered mass shootings and terrorist attacks such as the Boston Marathon bombings to the attack on Fort Hood, always searching for a link between the perpetrators and radical Islam, and only occasionally finding it. When a new ISIS video or other Islamic terror threat presents itself, media attention is focused on which fundamentalist Islamic group is to blame. Yet numerous examples abound of violent acts carried out by American citizens. When the attacker is a white male Christian American, the national conversation tends to label the suspect a ‘lone wolf’, unaffiliated with any terror network, and rarely turns to religion. Whether the breaking news is about shootings at a movie theater, or the killing of two Las Vegas police killed by supporters of ‘Sovereign Citizen’ Cliven Bundy, or the two police murdered recently in New York City, or the two police officers wounded in a shooting even more recently in Ferguson, Missouri, the religious background of the alleged perpetrator seems to rarely matter, unless the suspect is of some vague Arabic descent.
Why these apparently random shootings happen cannot truly be answered; yet the violent, anti-government rhetoric which contributes to these violent acts can be analyzed and the correlation to vitriolic religious interpretations of Biblical law are clear. Many domestic terror incidents, particularly since the election of America’s first Black President, can be traced to an aberrant interpretation of Christianity which targets the secular civic government as the biggest threat to God’s returning Kingdom on Earth. The motivating ideologies can also be seen in right-wing politics today which are aimed at ‘drowning government in a bathtub.’
The motivation behind most acts of domestic terrorism, whether the actors are from the Ku Klux Klan, neo-nazis, or even militia or survivalist groups, comes from the teachings and beliefs of the Christian Identity movement (Sharpe 2000). Other authors, specifically Michael Barkun and James Aho, have noted that the Christian Identity movement is heavily influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. Whether they call themselves Juris Christian Assembly, or the Montana Freemen, or Sovereign Citizens, makes little difference, as these self-applied labels only serve to differentiate each group’s focus within the Identity movement. As we see, there are many precursors to today’s domestic Christian terrorism; most fall into the ‘tax protestor’ category, all are anti-government (Theret 2012).
Sharpe points out a belief system that shows a “common link among these fragmented groups.” Christian Identity explicitly names white Aryans as the only people chosen for grace by God, teaches that Jewish people are the spawn of Satan, and that the entire secular world, because it was not given to God for His rule, is soon to be in the Last Days. Additionally, these domestic terror groups use Dominionist theology, which is to say they believe the complete takeover of American Government and society by biblical law is necessary to give authority back to God where it belongs (Sharpe 2000).
At a closed-door, inauguration night meeting in 2008, journalist Robert Draper witnessed more than fifteen influential Republicans in attendance. He noted that they were preparing a plan to interfere with the newly-elected President’s Executive duties and proposed policy agenda. California Representative Kevin McCarthy, now in House Republican leadership, who was present that night, is quoted as saying, “If you act like you’re in the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority...We’ve got to challenge [the Democrats] on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign” (Draper qtd. in Stein 2012). Intentional or otherwise, the absolute refusal of Congressional Republicans to work with the President-elect, and their subsequent thwarting of the Democratic Party’s policy initiatives, appealed to the modern domestic Christian terrorist and gave legitimacy to their Identity ideology.
It seems that many people who fall on the Right hold these same views, as nearly one quarter of Republicans thought President Barack Obama to be the Antichrist, according to an online poll conducted by Harris Interactive (Schlesinger 2010). This ideological rhetoric culminated in a 2011 assassination attempt on President Obama, committed by Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez. At least one bullet struck a White House window from more than seven hundred yards away; luckily, the President was in San Diego at the time. When questioned by authorities, Ortega-Hernandez reasoned that he attempted to take the President’s life because he believed Obama was the Antichrist.
The Southern Poverty Law Center shows that Christian violence is a very real social problem. There are more than 800 verified hate groups throughout the United States, and many if not most of these groups adhere to the religious philosophies found within the Christian Identity Movement (Popich 2007). Christian terrorists practice leaderless resistance tactics, and this may make individuals within the group more prone than others to commit acts of violence (Chermak 2012).
The influence of Reconstructionist philosophy on Christian Identity groups towards an extreme anti-government sentiment would be hard to overstate. A quick overview is necessary. Christian Reconstructionism is a fundamentalist worldview of the Christian religion, hinged on the concept that only God has the authority to govern man, and the current secular society is infected with all sorts of demons and generational curses. To truly understand the influence of Reconstructionism on the Identity movement, a quick look at the movements’ leading thinker, Rousas John Rushdoony, will be useful. Now deceased, RJ Rushdoony gained a small amount of infamy late in his life for his book, ‘The Institutes of Biblical Law’ which endorsed stoning of incorrigible children, as well as adulterers and other sinners. His interpretation of biblical law and the ‘spheres of authority’ is most valuable in understanding the worldview of the modern domestic Christian terrorist.
Rushdoony wrote that there are five legitimate spheres of government, and each of of these spheres gets their legitimate authority from God. The five spheres are: Individual, Family, Business, Church, and Civil government. Each, says today’s domestic Christian terrorist, is wrongfully under the authority of man and so the world is bewildered by earthquakes and drought and poverty. The rightful authority, the belief goes, belongs solely to God. Give the nation and society back to Him, they believe, and the End Times will finally be here. Jesus will finally return, bringing an end to all of those illegitimate institutions.
Plainly stated, in Christian philosophy it is God who determines what functions an individual, family, church, business unit, civil government and so-forth is to serve. God sets the boundaries on their activities—He determines what they can do, what they can’t do, and what they must do. These boundaries are revealed completely and perfectly to humanity through God’s law contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. Rushdoony spent a considerable portion of his life’s work explaining that the source of a society’s law is the god of that society (Fort).
The anti-government stance of most domestic terrorists can be traced to this set of beliefs.
Terrorism is often an act designed to use public reaction and fears to elicit change within the institutional structure (e.g. a government), with the end goal of changing a law or policy (Furlow 2012). The hope is that government will bend to the terrorist’s will. What makes the modern domestic Christian terrorist different is their goal of ending secular government, and replacing it with theocracy. The practice of biblical law through existing law, theonomy, is the end-run around democracy America is currently experiencing. Understanding dominionism is necessary.
Dominionist theology, the driving force behind Reconstructionism, which is a massive influence on Christian Identity movement actors, is not a simple tax protest. Dominionism is a soft Revolution, the literal usurping of America’s secular Constitutional law. The main idea behind Dominionism is that God has given man dominion over the earth, but only God has the authority to govern man, and man has usurped God’s authority by creating and depending on governments. The problem is that in this view, Christianity is forever at odds with democracy.
This is the oath of office Congressional Members take on inauguration day:
I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: so help me God.”
Note the phrase “without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion…”
This is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, signed by hundreds of state and federal elected officials:
I, the undersigned, pledge to the taxpayers of the fill in the blank district, of the state of fill in the blank, and to all the people of this state, that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.
On the Americans for Tax Reform website, the organization is clear that even referring a tax referendum to the ballot, direct democracy, is a violation of the pledge (which is signed in front of a witness): “There is nothing subjective about the determination that voting to refer higher taxes to the ballot is a violation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. A vote to put tax hikes on the ballot is clearly and indisputably a failure to “oppose and vote against any and all efforts to raise taxes.”
This anti-taxation pledge in direct contradiction to their oaths of office; when public officials openly and enthusiastically embrace this particular ideology, it adds fuel to the fervor of would-be Christian Identity terrorists. But it doesn’t stop there; recently, the Republican Congress invited a foreign leader, seeking re-election in his home country, to speak in the House Chamber without following existing protocol (i.e., asking the Executive Office to issue an invitation). Perhaps most dangerous is the letter the Iranian Ayatollah signed by forty-seven Republican senators, which a reasonable eye can see was designed to interfere with sensitive Executive diplomatic relations, far outside the Constitutional scope of Congressional authority.
Chermak, Steven, Joshua Freilich, and Michael Suttmoeller. “The Organizational Dynamics of Far-Right Hate Groups in the United States: Comparing Violent to Non-violent Groups.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 36:193-218, 2013.
Popich, Jennifer. “Because the Bible Tells Me So: Violence and the Christian Identity Movement in the United States.” Westminster College, 2007.
Fort, S. Michael. “Humanist, Dominionist, and Reconstructionist Views of Authority Compared.” Reformed-Theology.org, date unknown.
Furlow, R. Bennett. “Extremism and Violence in the U.S. Context.” Report Number 1204. Center for Strategic Communication, Arizona State University, 2012.
Schlesinger, Robert. “Party of Nuts: Poll Shows GOP Thinks Obama is Muslim, Socialist.” U.S. News and World Report, March 24, 2010.
Sharpe, Tanya Telfair. “The Identity Christian Movement: Ideology of Domestic Terrorism.” Journal of Black Studies, 30:604-623, 2000.
Stein, Sam. “Robert Draper Book: GOP's Anti-Obama Campaign Started Night of Inauguration.” Huffington Post, April 25, 2012.
Theret, Michelle. “Sovereign Citizens: A Homegrown Terrorist Threat and Its Negative Impact on South Carolina.” South Carolina Law Review, 63:853-886, 2011-2012.