A Pennsylvania Lawmaker and the Resurgence of Christian Nationalism

Doug Mastriano, a Republican state senator from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and components of neighboring counties, was a little-known determine in state politics earlier than the coronavirus pandemic. But, in the previous 12 months, he has led rallies towards masks mandates and different public-health protocols, which he has characterised as “the governor’s autocratic control over our lives.” He has turn out to be a pacesetter of the Stop the Steal marketing campaign, and claims that he spoke to Donald Trump at the very least fifteen occasions between the 2020 election and the insurrection at the Capitol, on January sixth. He urged his followers to attend the rally at the Capitol that led to the riots, saying, “I’m really praying that God will pour His Spirit upon Washington, D.C., like we’ve never seen before.” Throughout this time, he has forged the struggle towards each lockdowns and Trump’s electoral loss as a spiritual battle towards the forces of evil. He has come to embody a set of beliefs characterised as Christian nationalism, which heart on the concept that God supposed America to be a Christian nation, and which, when mingled with conspiracy theory and white nationalism, helped to gas the riot. “Violence has always been a part of Christian nationalism,” Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist and co-author of “Taking America Back for God,” informed me. “It’s just that the nature of the enemy has changed.”

Mastriano grew up largely in New Jersey, in a army household, and attended Eastern College, a Christian college outdoors Philadelphia. After he graduated, in 1986, he joined the army, and, as a junior intelligence officer, was stationed at the border of West Germany and Czechoslovakia. Mastriano, like many conservative Christians, got here to see the Cold War as a religious marketing campaign, making use of spiritual notions of good and evil to U.S. overseas coverage. “Seeing awful things in the East, and atheistic, communistic, socialist regimes oppressing people” satisfied him of the want for “protecting freedom, the free people of the West,” he informed “Crosspoint,” a Christian podcast, in 2018. While deployed, Mastriano usually carried a Bible underneath his arm. “It wasn’t for show,” he mentioned.

In 1991, as the Cold War was winding down, Mastriano was deployed to Iraq to struggle in the Gulf War. He believed that he was on the entrance strains of a brand new spiritual battle, this time towards radical Islam. Mastriano’s spouse, Rebecca, knew little about his posting, which was categorised, and gathered folks to interact in what she referred to as “spiritual warfare,” praying that he would prevail towards evil on the battlefield. In late February of that 12 months, Mastriano’s unit was about to face Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard, when a sandstorm struck. “Thunder and lightning and rain and sand, and it blinds the Iraqis. We can miraculously see through this silicon and moisture in the air, and we start picking off the enemy,” he mentioned, on the podcast. “Because of this, our small regiment, compared to the armored divisions we were facing, was able to break the back of the Iraqi line and therefore end the war rapidly.” Days later, a ceasefire was introduced.

Mastriano believed that this was a miracle, and proof that Rebecca’s religious warfare had tangible outcomes. “I believe I was saved by God, who answered the prayers of Pennsylvanians, “ Mastriano wrote to me in an email. “Rebbie played a significant role in leading those prayer efforts as she had more than twenty churches praying specifically for my unit.” For the subsequent three many years, he continued to serve in army intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the place he seems to have developed a dim view of Islam. In latest years, he has usually unfold Islamophobic memes on-line. In one, he unfold a conspiracy concept that Ilhan Omar, the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, directed fellow-Muslims to throw a five-year-old over a balcony. In one other, he shared a graphic that learn “Islam wants to kill gay rights, Judaism, Christianity and pacifism.” In one more, he inspired the concept that the hearth at the Notre-Dame cathedral, in Paris, was began by Muslims, captioning a photograph of two dark-skinned males grinning, “Something wicked this way comes.” (Mastriano didn’t reply to a request for touch upon these social-media posts.)

In 2019, after retiring from the army and educating at the U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Mastriano determined to run for workplace. “Our freedoms are being encroached,” he wrote to me, “and the precious lives of babies are eliminated without concern, while free speech is under attack by Orwellian-like ideologies that are taking over our public institutions.” Mastriano received a seat as a state consultant in Pennsylvania. He quickly started attending occasions held by a motion referred to as the New Apostolic Reformation, a loosely linked community of charismatics and Pentecostals that, over the previous decade, has performed an influential position in conservative American circles. (Mastriano denied working instantly with the group.) Many members consider that God speaks to them instantly, and that they’ve been tasked with battling real-world demons who management international leaders. Prominent members in the group go by the title Apostle or Prophet to hark again to early Christianity. The N.A.R.’s overarching agenda—to return the United States to an idealized Christian previous—is essentially constructed upon the work of the pseudo-historian David Barton, who has superior the concept that America was based as a Christian nation. “Mastriano’s significance, alongside that of the N.A.R., is that he is attempting to create a theonomy—a system of enacting God’s law on earth,” Frederick Clarkson, a analysis analyst at Political Research Associates, informed me. Bills that Mastriano supported in the legislature would have mandated educating the Bible in public faculties and would have made it authorized for adoption companies to discriminate towards same-sex {couples}, amongst different issues.

As lockdowns took maintain, Mastriano railed towards what he noticed as the curtailment of God-given freedoms. “It says in John 8:36 that if Jesus set you free, you are free indeed,” he wrote to me. “This is why my motto is ‘Walk as Free People.’ ” On nightly Facebook hearth chats, he steered that his viewers discover new congregations if their pastors weren’t main in-person worship companies. He gained more and more excessive followers; final June, at a gun-rights protest on the steps of the state capitol, he posed for footage with white males in fatigues carrying AR-15s and a number of others in Hawaiian shirts, an indicator of the Boogaloo Bois, a white-nationalist militia. In July, Mastriano attended a rally on the Gettysburg battlefield, the place militia members gathered in response to a hoax circulated on social media that Antifa was going to topple Confederate statues. “A lot of people here just keeping an eye on stuff,” he mentioned. “Americans doing American things. Isn’t that beautiful?”

Many white evangelicals reject the Christian-nationalist label. “Christian nationalism doesn’t exist,” Franklin Graham, the evangelical chief, informed me, calling it “just another name to throw at Christians.” He added, “The left is very good at calling people names.” Mastriano additionally rejected the phrase, writing to me, “Is this a term you fabricated? What does it mean and where have I indicated that I am a Christian Nationalist?” But historians and sociologists have discovered the time period helpful to explain an undercurrent of nativist faith that runs via American historical past. “Christian nationalism was part of our cultural framework since the arrival of the colonists, who located what they were doing in the sacred, as part of God’s plan,” the creator Andrew Whitehead mentioned. John Winthrop, the seventeenth-century puritan chief, preached that Colonial America would turn out to be the “city on a hill” that Jesus described in his Sermon on the Mount. “In order to advance this Christian civilization, violence was required,” John Fea, a professor of historical past at Messiah College, informed me. “Winthrop regularly talked about killing Indians in a providential way, and, two hundred years later, this language leads directly into Manifest Destiny.”

Throughout U.S. historical past, a mixture of Christianity and patriotism usually served as a rallying cry towards a typical enemy. Following the Second World War, many Christians got here to consider, as Mastriano did, that the battle towards communism was a spiritual battle, partly in consequence of the Soviet Union’s massacres of clergy members. President Dwight Eisenhower inspired the pastor Billy Graham to stoke this fervor. Matthew Avery Sutton, a professor of historical past at Washington State University, informed me, “From President Truman to Ronald Reagan, American Presidents allied with the Vatican and orthodox Christian leaders to frame the crusade against communism and atheism in hyper-religious terms.”

By the nineties and two-thousands, many white evangelicals had come to know Islam to be the major risk to America. “White evangelicals were already worried about the growth of Islam, especially beginning in the seventies with the Arab-Israeli war and the rise of oil,” Sutton informed me. “What 9/11 shifts is that Muslims are no longer just a threat to Israel but a direct threat to the United States.” This hostility additionally turned on Muslim communities in America. At megachurches, pastors preached about the unfold of “sharia law.” Secular liberalism and actions for social justice had been additionally seen as threatening. “In the early two-thousands, among conservative pastors, you’d often hear that the gays are softening up our society in preparation for Islam,” Michelle Goldberg, the creator of “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism,” informed me.

The election of Donald Trump intensified sure strains of Christian nationalism. He fanned fears of pluralism with Islamophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. He usually invoked Christianity, albeit in phrases that had been largely about ethnic identification slightly than religion. “The greatest ethnic dog whistle the right has ever come up with is ‘Christian,’ because it means ‘people like us,’ it means white,” Samuel Perry, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma and co-author of “Taking America Back For God,” informed me. In 2019, Trump hosted Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister, at the White House, and praised him for constructing a border fence to maintain immigrants out, saying, “You have been great with respect to Christian communities. You have really put a block up, and we appreciate that very much.”

Those who espouse Christian-nationalist concepts additionally appeared to develop extra militant throughout this era. In the early years of Trump’s time period, membership in white-supremacist militias grew quickly, however the backlash to the Charlottesville rally, in 2017, proved damaging. “Since then, there has been a major shift among far-right groups, white nationalists, and militias toward espousing Christian nationalism, much like the Ku Klux Klan did,” Alexander Reid Ross, a geography lecturer at Portland State University, mentioned. Beginning in 2018, white supremacists donned fits and appeared at conferences held by the N.A.R. and comparable teams. “The tactic has been to use Christian nationalism to cool down the idea of fascism without losing the fascism,” Ross mentioned. For instance, after the white-nationalist group Identity Evropa was dissolved, a former chief aligned himself with America First, a motion to make America a “white Christian nation.” (America First was one of the most outstanding teams at the Capitol riot.)

A long-standing mistrust of instructional establishments and the mainstream media, coupled with a convention of anti-intellectualism, has additionally left white evangelicals susceptible to conspiracy concept. Many outstanding conspiracy theories draw closely on Christian-nationalist concepts; QAnon, which holds that America should be saved from a cabal of pedophilic Democrats, speaks of believers as an “elect,” and references Scripture and end-times theology. A recent study by the American Enterprise Institute discovered that twenty-seven per cent of white evangelicals, greater than some other spiritual group, consider that the fundamental tenets of QAnon are “mostly true.” (Mastriano denies any affiliation with QAnon, although he has made a number of appearances on QAnon-connected media retailers.)

As a consequence, throughout Trump’s Presidency, many white evangelicals got here to consider that his authorities, the one chosen by God, was underneath risk from an inside enemy: a shadowy conspiracy of leftists. And, when Trump began claiming that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, many evangelicals took up the name. According to Perry’s analysis, some sixty-seven per cent of evangelicals consider that the outcomes of the 2020 election had been “not at all fair.” Trump’s strongest evangelical allies, together with Franklin Graham, repeatedly undermined the outcomes of the election. “Was there funny business in this last election? Sure there was,” Graham informed me. “And there’s mountains of evidence.” Paula White, Trump’s spiritual adviser and a pacesetter of the New Apostolic Reformation, held a televised marketing campaign through which she led prayers towards these with a “demonic agenda” that included “trying to steal this election.” Mastriano has likened his political agenda to that of the Old Testament determine of Esther, a queen who stopped the historic Persians from massacring the Israelites; Mastriano mentioned that “if we get the call, we’re not going to stand away from our Esther moment.” “His trajectory is precisely what we see in white evangelicalism,” Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of historical past at Calvin University and the creator of “Jesus and John Wayne,” informed me. “Anti-communism from the late nineteen-forties to the nineteen-sixties was really the crucible in which this sense of ‘us versus them’ and militarism was formed. After 9/11, Islam became the new enemy.” She added, “Now, for some, the enemy has become the forces of secular democracy.”

As the effort to delegitimize the election heated up, Mastriano informed his supporters on Facebook, “You know, when things go wrong, oftentimes Christians will say, ‘Oh, it’s God’s will,’ and kind of throw their hands. That’s nonsense. What a cop-out. Please don’t do that. This isn’t His will.” He appeared on Steve Bannon’s radio present, “War Room,” in addition to on a right-wing Christian present referred to as “The Eric Metaxas Radio Show,” throughout which Trump referred to as in and mentioned, “Doug is a hero!” In Pennsylvania, Mastriano supported a barrage of lawsuits and a bid to nominate particular electors. On November 25th, he hosted a theatrical listening to in Gettysburg, that includes Rudy Giuliani as a pretend prosecutor. That afternoon, Mastriano and his son drove from Gettysburg to the White House at the President’s invitation. (Mastriano examined optimistic for COVID-19 and was reportedly ushered out of the assembly with Trump.)

On December 12th, Mastriano returned to Washington, D.C., to take part in a sequence of “Jericho Marches” organized by leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation through which conservative Christians, amongst a hodgepodge of QAnon followers and white nationalists, gathered to hope that God would hold Trump in workplace. Alex Jones, of Infowars, attended, as did members of the Oath Keepers militia. Participants wearing Colonial knickers, to evoke the American Revolution, or in animal skins, to evoke the Israelites. Jack Jenkins, a reporter for Religion News Service, informed me, “They blew on shofars”—ram’s horns that Israelite monks blew, in response to the Bible, to carry down the sinful metropolis of Jericho—“believing they could literally overturn the election results.” Mastriano exhorted his followers to “do what George Washington asked us to do in 1775. Appeal to Heaven. Pray to God. We need an intervention.” The phrase “appeal to heaven” comes from John Locke’s argument in assist of the proper to violent revolution in the face of tyranny. “An Appeal to Heaven” appeared on a flag {that a} squadron of George Washington’s warships reportedly flew, and has grown fashionable amongst N.A.R. members. Mastriano has hung an indication studying “An Appeal to Heaven” on his workplace door, and the flag typically seems behind him throughout his hearth chats. He informed his followers that legal guidelines and governments made by man needn’t at all times be revered, reminding them that Hitler, too, was an elected official.

Many who maintain Christian-nationalist beliefs suppose that God’s will ought to decide America’s course. “Christian nationalists take the view that because America is a ‘Christian nation,’ any party or leader who isn’t Christian in the ‘right’ way, or who fails to conform to their agenda, is illegitimate,” Katherine Stewart, the creator of “The Power Worshippers,” informed me. “Legitimacy derives not from elections or any democratic process but from representing an alleged fidelity to their version of the American past and what they believe is the will of God.” As a consequence, overthrowing an election, if it appears to have subverted God’s will, can be justified. “That kind of anti-democratic ideology made it very easy for these radicals to imagine they were being patriotic, even while they were attacking the most basic institutions of democracy: the U.S. Congress and the election process.”

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