Until we admit that Jan. 6 was primarily a Christian conservative coup attempt, we will never move forward as a country.
People are rightfully careful not to blame all right-wing Christians for the treachery that occurred at the U.S. Capitol. That would be unfair to the millions of evangelicals who do support freedom and democracy. Nonetheless, it would be terribly misguided to not admit that most of the leaders of the insurrection were evangelicals (or right-wing Catholics) who have come to believe that democracy is no longer useful in advancing what they consider “the Kingdom of God.”
Think about it. Most of the outspoken coup leaders are conservative Christians: Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz and too many others to name. Rep. Andrew Clyde made headlines by claiming that those who ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were there on a “normal tourist visit.” Clyde believes that Separation of Church and State, “doesn’t exist in the Constitution. Our current system of government is based on the Judeo-Christian ethic and is wholly insufficient to be based on anything else.”
When former President Donald Trump wanted to use the police and military to cow Black Lives Matter demonstrators, he had peaceful protesters forcibly removed from Lafayette Square in Washington to pose in front of a church holding a Bible. On the week leading up to the Jan. 6 anniversary, Trump shamefully endorsed Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, who brags that his illiberal form of government is a “Christian democracy.” Writer Shaun Walker observed that Orban’s messaging “comes in increasingly Christian packaging, both at home and abroad.” The American right’s love affair with Orban inspired FOX News host Tucker Carlson, a leading purveyor of The Big Lie, to travel to Hungary to interview (aka worship) the authoritarian leader.
Why are these right-wing Christians so angry with America that they are willing to destroy it? Well, evangelical leaders see that 70% of Americans now support same-sex marriage. They know that 59% of Americans are in favor of abortion in all or most cases. Sixty-percent of people believe that marijuana should be legalized for recreational use. Seventy-two percent of Americans are in favor of euthanasia for terminally ill patients.
Conservative evangelicals understand that the United States has become a center-left country on social issues. They stand by helplessly, fully realizing that the ballot box is no longer their friend. They loved voting as long as they were winning. Now that they are losing, they no longer have faith in the American people, and the contemporary American Dream has become their worst nightmare. Their contorted minds wonder, “How can we trust majority rule, when the Godless majority believes in promoting sin?”
If democracy is no longer useful, they reason, perhaps it should be replaced by a religiously oriented Putin-like dictatorship? There is one hitch: The only way to achieve this aim is by forcibly overthrowing the government or changing democracy’s rules to stage a bloodless coup. This is the twisted attitude that horrifyingly manifested itself on Jan. 6. Indeed, the foot soldiers who stormed the U.S. capitol were awash in conservative Christian symbols, revealing the underlying motivation for undoing democracy.
I’ve been covering right-wing conferences since at least 1993. They were always notable for their exaggerated nationalism, which included fiercely defending American institutions. The attitude back then was, “if you don’t love America, leave it.” These shindigs also included buckets of American exceptionalism, with attendees believing that “America is the greatest country in the world.” If someone pointed out that the country was lagging in certain social indicators, such as healthcare, infrastructure or happiness, they considered such naysayers disloyal or even communists.
The tenor of these confabs dramatically changed after Barak Obama was elected. It’s easy to forget that the Religious Right’s original issue was not homosexuality or abortion, but fervently opposing the federal government when it tried to take away tax-exempt status from southern segregation academies. From Day 1, the modern Religious Right was based on hardcore racism.
Not much has changed. With a Black man sitting in the Oval Office, the Religious Right became paranoid, despondent and bitter. Suddenly, they went from cheerleading America, to “fear-leading,” offering foreboding visions of our country’s pending doom. They no longer recognized a demographically changing United States, so they set about causing chaos, confusion and division in an unholy effort to unravel the nation.
The Religious Right’s new attitude was personified by Rev. Rick Joyner, of Morningstar Ministries, who declared at the 2010 Awakening conference in Lynchburg, VA, which I attended, “Our country has fallen to one of the lowest states of depravity that the Bible says a nation could.”
Why not destroy a nation if one sees it as hopelessly depraved and beyond redemption?
Joyner is a big supporter of “The Oak Initiative,” which wants fundamentalists to control the “seven areas of dominant influence,” which are listed as: Government, business, media, arts and entertainment, education, family services, and the church. In the ensuing years since this conference, this is exactly what the Religious Right has quietly done. We are now witnessing a not-so-quiet actualization of their patient plan coming to fruition.
Coup supporter Rep. Mo Brooks offered a similar worldview in 2017 when he said, “Great countries go wayward when they lose their moral compass, [which] guides you to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing with the power that your country has been blessed with.”
Political essayist Rebecca Solnit neatly summed up the religious-based attitudes of those peddling the Big Lie: “The world is moving on; those who’d rather it stand still are eager to push narratives depicting these shifts as degeneration and white Christian heterosexual America as profoundly imperiled.”
Another prevalent evangelical teaching that fed into the Jan. 6 insurrection is that conservative Christians don’t have to follow laws they don’t agree with. This corrosive attitude was typified at the Awakening conference in 2010 when Rev. Lou Engle declared, “We are not Republicans or Democrats, but subjects of a higher king.” Given this warped view, if Democrats are falsely portrayed as baby eating pedophiles, why wouldn’t good Christians have the authority to overthrow a government led by such evil-doers?
A final viewpoint embraced by many right-wing Christians that led to the coup attempt, is that raw power can be used to prevail over the will of the people. At the 2010 Lynchburg conference, Pastor Joyner said, “One hundred people can impact a city of one million. Let’s concentrate on those twelve who are true force multipliers.”
This is exactly what occurred on Jan. 6. Platoons of “force multipliers” entered the Capitol and tried to overthrow our government. It almost worked.
Unless we get real and acknowledge the religious roots of the insurrection, our democracy doesn’t stand a prayer.
Wayne Besen is an American LGBT rights advocate. He is a former investigative journalist for WABI-TV, a former spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, and the founder of Truth Wins Out. Besen’s coming out experience led to his founding of the organization Truth Wins Out.