Elizabeth Neumann, who resigned from the Trump administration in April 2020 after serving as assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention at the Department of Homeland Security, attributed Republicans’ reticence about Christian nationalism partly to a shift under President Trump that legitimized allegiance to Christian nationalist ideas as a pillar of Republicanism.
“Trump said in a 2018 speech that he’s a nationalist, so if you’re a really big Trump supporter, then think of yourself as a nationalist, too,” Neumann said. “So the idea that you’re merging Christian values with nationalism, it’s not a big leap.”
As a result, she added, “Elected officials are afraid of their base.”
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Her view is supported by a 2021 Pew Research survey, in which “Faith and Flag Conservatives” — a category Pew researchers call the organization’s attempt to assess hardline Christian nationalist views — make up 23% of those who identify themselves as Republican or lean toward the party. Faith and Flag Conservatives also reported the highest political activity of any conservative group, suggesting an outsize influence on GOP politics, likely including party primaries.
Neumann, who now works at the extremism analysis organization Moonshot CVE, said Republican silence is part of a larger pattern of conservatives demurring when presented with opportunities to condemn extremism, which can accelerate radicalization.
“You can do a whole lot before somebody has really radicalized,” Neumann said. “The key is early intervention, and the fact that you have lawmakers not willing to speak truth — whether it’s about an election, whether it’s about an FBI raid, or about Christian nationalism — it is allowing their constituents to be vulnerable to jargon, darker elements, persuading them to move into extremism.”
She added: “When leaders do not lead, there is a cost.”
Brian Hughes, co-founder and associate director of the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab at American University, agreed. “When they fail to speak out against this, they’re surrendering the future of their party to the Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world,” he said.
Some Republicans have made it a point to speak out. “I oppose the American Taliban,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said in a series of tweets posted in recent weeks, referring to Greene’s rhetoric. Kinzinger, who is not seeking reelection, tagged House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s Twitter handle followed by a question mark.
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Russell Moore, the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm and the newly named editor in chief of Christianity Today, who counts Kinzinger as a friend, said, “If anything, Adam is becoming more and more vocal, and will be in the years to come.”
According to Hughes, Trump’s loss of the White House as a bully pulpit has resulted in opportunistic extremist voices pivoting to Christian nationalism as a way to expand their influence on the Republican Party.
“Rather than a recruitment tool that’s bringing mainstream folks to the extreme,” he said, “what it’s actually more effective at doing is injecting the mainstream with extreme ideas.”
In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, right-wing figures such as Andrew Torba, head of the social media website Gab, a haven for extremists, and Nick Fuentes, the leader of America First, began ramping up their religious rhetoric and identifying as Christian nationalists.
Torba, who has feuded with Jewish groups over allegations of antisemitism, made headlines last month by saying Jewish people and non-Christians are not welcome in his vision for American conservatism, which he described as “an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country.”