Home Christian News How the Capitol Attacks Helped Spread Christian Nationalism in the Extreme Right

How the Capitol Attacks Helped Spread Christian Nationalism in the Extreme Right

“God will watch over us as we become proud,” the man said. Proud Boys joined him in shouting “We love you, God!” to the sky.

Alex Bradley Newhouse, deputy director of Middlebury College’s Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, said three Christian nationalist movements have grown or enhanced their visibility since 2019: “Deseret nationalists,” a primarily Mormon group based in Utah; the inherently racist “Christian Identity” movement; and “dominionists,” a term used to describe Christians with theocratic political goals that now overlaps heavily with Christian nationalism.

After the Capitol attack, the latter two have become markedly more popular, Newhouse said. “Post-insurrection, we have 100% tracked the emergence of this Christian — revolutionary Christian — framework imposed or adopted by communities that have lost faith in the government.”

A month before the insurrection, Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was arrested on sedition charges on Jan. 13 related to the Capitol attack, gave a speech at a faith-themed “Jericho March” event in Washington, D.C., where speakers espoused baseless claims about 2020 election fraud and trumpeted Christian nationalism.

Christian nationalism has also become common among anti-vaccine activists and the QAnon movement, which has prospered in evangelical Christian congregations.

Elizabeth Neumann. Video screengrab via C-SPAN

Elizabeth Neumann. Video screengrab via C-SPAN

Elizabeth Neumann, who served as assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration, told RNS the religious turn in extremist groups would have surprised her several years ago, but not anymore.

Neumann resigned her government post in April 2020, claiming President Trump was dismissive of domestic terrorist threats, and now works with the Moonshot CVE Group, which studies violent extremism. Raised evangelical (she now rejects the label, preferring “follower of Christ”), she has expressed concern about radicalization in Christian communities and worked to combat it.

“The whole concept of ‘We need to secure our nation within its Christian heritage’ … It’s heretical,” she said. “If that is where you’re going to put your focus, I’m concerned for your soul and you might have missed the point of the Gospel. But it is also not without precedent that when people think that something is allowable because their religion calls for it, we do see violence come out of that.”

People who join violent groups are often searching for “belonging and significance,” said Neumann, explaining that modern versions of Christian nationalism can fill that vacuum for some.

Besides faith, a strong unifying force has been social media, scholars said, which in turn fortifies adherence to Christian themes. “This unification is pretty unprecedented,” said Newhouse. “The infusion of Christian nationalism throughout that unification process has been particularly interesting and, in my opinion, is going to end up being pretty dangerous.”

Part of the danger, he explained, is that broader appeals to Christian nationalism may “disguise a much more dangerous uptick in adoption of Christian Identity” — an ideology that claims, among other things, that Jesus was a white Aryan and that the End Times will come about through a racial holy war.