“I don’t really see white nationalism as a rising threat around the world.”
Donald Trump remarks at the White House – Friday, March 15, 2019
So many issues in America today are based on the differences found in society, not what draws us together as a nation of equals. Power does that to men and women if only to stroke their damaged egos and give them a sense of otherness when it comes to the masses of Americans from all walks of life. Fear plays into the equation pitting white against black, Christianity against other religions, and politically, conservatives against liberals. No longer can we turn our backs on these ills. We either find a cure for our conflicts or a balanced position that keeps from tearing us apart as American citizens and the fragile democracy we have held dear in the past.
Standing in the way of that goal is the specter of nationalism in all of it iterations. The issue with nationalism is its multifaceted makeup. In America today, we face at least three distinct types of nationalism including pure and most basic (and not all together bad) Nationalism, White Nationalism, and White Christian Nationalism. Paul D. Miller writing for Christainity Today makes an important distinction about nationalism writing,
“Patriotism is the love of country. It is different from nationalism, which is an argument about how to define our country.”
This is the kind of patriotism that makes one’s heart swell when attending a sporting event, and the national anthem is sung. It’s what makes Texans proud of their state, and Nevadans feel pride when “Home is Nevada” is played at the beginning of each biennial meeting of the state legislature. It is what makes the Olympics a cause for national pride. When, as children, we are taught the Pledge of Allegiance, it is the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the idea of patriotism as a source of national pride and identity.
As Miller states, nationalism is the act of people who want to define the country’s zeitgeist for their own personal agenda. Often times, nationalism is based on language, culture, heredity, location, and yes, religious affiliation. It is often accompanied by a deep-seated need to spread a certain national vision beyond their territorial borders. Israel and Palestine are good examples. Religion, location, and language all come into play when the two clash over their belief in what “homeland” means. Israel, led by its ultra conservative government, works to undermine any claims the Palestinians make about land taken illegally from them in the 1967 war. The Palestinians turned to terrorist acts (not unlike the Israelis) to even the score between the two nations creating a nationalistic quagmire that continues unchecked since it began. Nations like Saudi Arabia with its extensive royal family structure works to ensure the constancy of the monarchy’s nationalistic goals. Without it, the government would spiral into chaos.
The cancerous American brand of nationalism is best seen in the form of White Nationalism. It is the foundation for other forms of nationalism that will be dealt with later. White Nationalism, however, is somewhat misleading. “Kathleen Belew is an American tenured associate professor of history at Northwestern University, and an international authority on the white-power movement. (She) argues “white power” is a more appropriate term, because “white nationalism” refers to only a section of people who are in the “white power movement,” or “the social movement that brought together members of the Klan, militias, radical tax resisters, white separatists, neo-Nazis, and proponents of white theologies such as Christian Identity, Odinism, and Dualism” (Robert Farley The Facts) When considering the long history of white power/nationalism, Belew makes an important point that America’s current impasse surrounding the issue is not an easy one to define. However. for this post I will use the term White Nationalism simply because it best describes the issue in today’s media references.
Experts agree with Farley that White Nationalism and White Supremacy are on the rise, not just in America but around the world. Farley cites the Southern Poverty Law Center which states the number of U.S. chapters of white hate groups rose from 100 in 2017 to 148 in 2018. The same holds true with attacks against Jews, Asians, and minority groups in general. It, however, would be disingenuous to blame all such attacks only on White Nationalism, but it seems obvious that the climate they have engendered has seeped over into other groups. These groups feel marginalization is not just the cause célèbre of angry white people but to others as well. Regardless, White Nationalism’s power of recruitment and appeal to young white Americans defines the white angst that has infiltrated many pockets of discontent in the United States and increased membership across the nation.
In an article titled “White Nationalism” that appeared in the Explainer online, the authors offer readers a thumb nail look at the core beliefs to the White Nationalism movement. First and foremost, “There is a “white race,” and it is genetically and culturally superior to other “races.” Of course, as might be imagined, this is the core tenet that fuels all other beliefs. Second, “White people should have their own nations, where they hold the power.” Like much of what White Nationalists believe, this belief has been around for some time now. The Civil War and slavery was the perfect storm of hate, opportunism, and cynicism that gave some whites (particularly in the Southern states) the false sense of superiority they still pedal today. The movement is adept at parsing out stances that would not hold up to scrutiny of a larger audience who see democracy as an equalizing factor when it comes to determining who is accepted as contributing members of society and who is not. The lack of understanding of America’s diversity and complex society makes many of their beliefs seem nonsensical and impossible to realize. Still, members continue to espouse these beliefs with no explanation how they will come to fruition.
The article continues with one of its most bizarre declarations stating, “Majority white countries are suffering (economically and culturally) because of non-white immigration and increased civil rights for women, religious minorities, LGBTQ people, and people of color.” Whether this is an example of the toxic prejudice members embrace or a true barometer of the fear they feel collectively is hard to determine. Much of what they believe is based on fear of losing what little “power” they hold in light of the changing demographics of the country. It is hard not to discern a healthy dose of paranoia that permeates the beliefs and ideology that are at the movement’s core.
Finally, two points that can be looked at in tandem. Both targets are believed to be villains by White Nationalism – Jews and women. Jews have had a long history of persecution at the hands of their enemies basically centering on the fear that Jews have infiltrated national and international institutions and are conspiring “to bring about the downfall of white people”. This is an age-old trope that both vilifies and degrades the Jeswish people with little support or actionable proof that it is so.
The White Nationalist’s beef with women is both sad and expected. On the one hand, the ego driven religiosity that underscores a fear of women can be seen in the Bible and in the beliefs of White Nationalism. Biblical teaching places women under the stewardship of men keeping them in the home, and to use a hackneyed expression, “barefoot and pregnant”. Expansion of the gene pool is crucial to spreading White Nationalist propaganda by supplying an ever-present growing “family” of believers. Women are both the opposition and the salvation of the White Nationalists, a paradox among many others that flow through the movement.
Where things get really weird is the intersection between Christianity and the White Nationalist movement, and the church’s attempt to distance itself from the more odious actions of their secular peers. Their protestations that the January 6 rioters were not indicative of the acts of the Christian church ring hollow when the history of Christianity tells a different story all together. Author Carey Wallace writes in Time Magazine that the church (in this case the Catholic Church) justified actions that are contrary to their claims of a loving institution. She wrote,
“Hundreds of years ago, the Church laid the foundation for the theft of the Americas, enslavement of Africans and Native Americans, and centuries of brutal colonization worldwide, with the doctrine that it was O.K. to take land and liberty from people who were not Christian.”
The “doctrine” came in the form of a Papal Bull issued by Alexander VI titled “Inter Caetera”. The document gave legitimacy to the union of the Church and Spain, ceding them the right to claim all lands and bounty in the New World at the expense of the indigenous peoples they encountered. “The Bull stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers . . . ” Setting aside the arrogance and hypocrisy of the text, Spain went about establishing an empire that resulted in the death of millions of people whose only sin was not being Christian.
Once slave trade got underway, the doctrine allowed good Christians the “right” to claim people from Africa as mere possessions to be picked up and shipped to the New World. The white ruling class in America used them to build a vibrant economy based on cotton that became both wildly lucrative, but at the same time, morally and ethically abhorrent. The Catholic Church continues to struggle with the Bull as seen in the1990s and 2000s, but rescinding a Papal Bull is something the church wants little to do with in today’s world. Rome takes the stance that the Bull has no legal power and prefer to move on to newer horizons rather than out right rescission. Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University, stated:
“In the Catholic Church, there is no formal mechanism for rescinding a past teaching,” he said. Instead, the Catholic Church will focus on “teaching something new that’s different from what was taught before.” CBC
While modern day Catholics have made great strides to ameliorate the damage the Bull created, the foundation for racism and distrust of non-whites remains in the Church’s past and present, and its refusal to issue a full-throated condemnation of the document.
To be fair, not every Christian, Catholic or Protestant, adopts the White Christian Nationalist banner. There are, however, enough who do to cause concern on the national level. Author Eric Martin published an article in Sojourners magazine titled “The Catholic Church has a Visible White-Power Faction” where he wrote,
“The Catholic Church harbors a culture sufficiently friendly to White Nationalism that people can comfortably embrace both the faith and the most extreme forms of racial hatred.“
Numbers wise, Catholics and Protestants enjoy similar numbers hovering around one billion adherents each with Catholics with a slight edge. The slight edge in numbers disguises the zeal that evangelical Protestants bring to the table. The development of the American nation gave Protestants a sense of ruggedness and pride in the New World. Native Americans, and later African slaves, yielded a sense of superiority to whites, and they dealt decisively with both groups subjugating them in an attempt to define white and non-whites in terms advantageous to the whites and detrimental to the non-white targets of their religious teachings.
An article by Philip Gorsk appeared on the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace & Foreign Affairs website titled, “White Christian Nationalism: The Deep Story Behind the Capitol Insurrection”. Gorsk gives a clear-eyed assessment of White Christian Nationalism, and a picture of the danger they hold for American democracy.
“White Christian nationalism (WCN) is, first of all, a story about America. It says: America was founded as a Christian nation, by (white) Christians; and its laws and institutions are based on “Biblical” (that is, Protestant) Christianity. This much is certain, though: America is divinely favored. Whence its enormous wealth and power. In exchange for these blessings, America has been given a mission: to spread religion, freedom, and civilization—by force, if necessary. But that mission is endangered by the growing presence of non-whites, non-Christians, and non-Americans on American soil. White Christians must therefore “take back the country,” their country” (Gorsk)
Flash back to 2016 and the emergence of Donald Trump on the political landscape. As a grifter, serial liar, and “user” of everyone he encounters, Trump conned the unsuspecting religious community of White Christian Nationalism to bow at his feet. They saw in Trump a useful vessel into which they poured their twisted version of Christianity to permeate many layers of the then president’s agenda. Aided by big name evangelical pastors like Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church, Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, disgraced Liberty University president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., San Antonio’s Cornerstone Church’s John Hagee, and of course, televangelist and spiritual advisor to the former president, Paula White. It seems obvious that with these dynamic and powerful leaders at the helm of their particular ministries possess an out-sized influence and command over millions of American worshipers.
The influence of White Christian Nationalists can best be seen on the grounds of the United States’ Capitol grounds on January 6, 2021. While White Nationalists were everywhere that day including inside the building and outside the Capitol, they were joined by a large contigent of White Christian Nationalists throughout the siege. In most cases it was hard to distinguish between the two. A full-size cross was on display along with signs and posters proclaiming “Jesus Saves”, “Make America Godly Again”, and impromptu prayer sessions were held across the lawn and in the Capitol itself. The unholy union of insurrectionists that day has not gone unnoticed.
Robert Jones, CEO of the independent nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute wrote, “The fact that we saw QAnon, white supremacy and white Christianity all carried together in a violent attack on the Capitol means that particularly white Christians have got some real soul-searching to do.” Huffpost
The arrogant actions of White Christian Nationalists runs deeply through the dogma of fundamentalism across religious affiliations and the nation if not the world. Religious fundamentalists believe that to show appreciation of God’s grace in the world they are bound to spread the gospel across the nation from the church pew to the government to the front lines of society’s social, moral, and ethical struggle to make the world over in their image. This image is intolerant, dismissive, and hell bent on claiming America for God and his/her agenda. The fact their actions can be harmful, and sometimes deadly, is overlooked in the quest for turning the country into a religious state regardless of the wants and needs of those who oppose them. And it shows no sign of diminishing.