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By: Frances Flannery

February 9, 2021


I wish to thank sincerely the Interfaith Scholars Colloquy (hosted in Detroit) and the Dept. of Philosophy and Religion at The University of Mississippi for the invited talks that formed the basis of this blog post. Their astute questions and interest sharpened my thinking and I am grateful.

PHOTO CREDIT: NY TIMES​

I. Some Basic Facts about January 6, 2021

On January 6 the world became fully aware of what those who study violent extremism had long known: the US is facing an increasingly motivated, organized, and well-funded network of disaffected groups on the radical right. To be clear, there is such a thing as the radical left, but even the most organized face of this, Antifa, is actually quite loosely organized and has not been responsible for much violence, including at BLM rallies. A new database by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a centrist thinktank, surveyed 900 politically motivated attacks since 1994. It found just one was perpetrated by anti-fascists, who were responsible for 0 deaths, as opposed to 329 deaths by the right-wing attackers.[1]


What I am calling "the radical right" is actually a wide assortment of various groups that are willing to commit violence in pursuit of their goals, including hundreds of right-wing militias (150-300), and an array of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, or Christian nationalist groups. While these differ in some aspects, there are definitely overlapping ideologies that persist from group to group, including a desire to resist or overturn the federal government, a tendency toward anti-Semitism and white supremacy, a belief that America is a God given country that needs to be rescued from dark forces so that white Christians can rule again, belief in a coming race war or civil war, and an attraction to conspiracy theories. While I will use the term "Christian nationalism" to explain a type of belief that associates itself with Christianity, especially through something called "Christian Identity" teaching, it is important to note that this set of beliefs has as little to do with Christianity as does radical Islamist extremism with Islam.


PHOTO CREDIT: WIN MCNAMEE-GETTY​

It's important to first establish the facts of January, since they are already being contested. Ahead of the protest, NBC news reported that the permit for the "Save America March" was for 10,000 persons but that three times as many responded that they would attend. Photos of the day show perhaps that many in attendance.[2] Not everyone who went to protest at the Capitol belonged to the "radical right." Many of us may have had friends, family or neighbors attend, and so it is important to accurately relate the facts of what actually happened.


It is true that only a minority of those at the protest were violent, but the numbers and behavior of those who were violent is alarming. Around 800 people broke into and entered the Capitol building (and about 400 have been identified by law enforcement so far). Some chanted "Hang Mike Pence" and some had weapons. Some, according to their own testimony, searched for Congresspersons to kidnap, punish, or kill. One well organized group that had practiced ahead of time planned to seal Congress in the tunnels below the Capitol and gas them, (although I am not sure how); one of their leaders was just arraigned for "seditious conspiracy," or conspiring to overthrow the government. By the end of the insurrection at the Capitol, five people had died, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick who died from his injuries. One hundred and forty police officers were injured (some severely, including with spinal damange). Two other officers committed suicide following the Capitol riot.[3] It could have been even worse: pipe bombs found outside the Democratic and Republican party headquarters were diffused without incident and a pickup truck with eleven more bombs and a weapons cache was discovered before causing damage.


The event was advertised for months on social media and attracted "lone wolves," a West Virginia lawmaker, a few former military, National Guard, and law enforcement personnel, and a mishmash of groups, including:

- neo-Nazi groups

- white supremacist groups, such as the Rise Above Movement (founded by Vincent James Foxx) and the Groyper Army (formed by podcaster Nick Fuentes)

- anti-government armed militias, like the Oath Keepers (Stewart Rhodes, founder, with 24,000 twitter followers) or the Three Percenters

- male empowerment, anti-federalist groups such as the Proud Boys or Boogaloo Bois

- conspiracy groups, such as QAnon

- Christian Identity or Identity related groups


Some of these persons or groups had already participated in the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville VA in 2017, which ended with the death of the counter-protestor Heather Heyer.


January 6 was a call to an even bigger mobilization of the disparate groups in the white nationalist movement around a common cause - in this case opposing what they saw as a fraudulent election that they believed Donald Trump had actually won. However, this is just the proximal cause. The ultimate goal for most of these groups is a Second Civil War or a Second American Revolution, which they believe would topple an unjust government, remove what they see as the corrupting influence of liberalism, people of color, Judaism, and a conspiratorial network of powerful persons. What is undeniable is that this stew of beliefs is steeped in a pseudo-Christian framework that understands America as a divinely given land that they must rescue.


II. Ziggurat of Zealotry and Schema of Radicalization

Susan Hasler and Cindy Storer, former CIA counterterrorism analysts, have coined a schema they call the "Ziggurat of Zealotry," which I have found to be a very helpful way of understanding how people in the radical right as well as other groups are radicalized (Hasler and Storer 2021). Their Ziggurat model applies both to domestic extremism and to transnational terrorism, such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, which had formally been the focus of the intelligence community.


Image and Content: SUSAN HASLER AND CINDY STORER​

Imagine a stepped pyramid of five rungs, in which everyone is radicalized, but to a different extent. Those at the top are the smallest group that is also the most radicalized and violent, and the goal of the movement as a whole is to move people up the rungs of radicalization without it backfiring in a way that causes a bunch of members to move back down. Members lower down the ziggurat may be genuinely unaware of what goes on at the top.


At the Bottom rung are members of the general public who support and legitimize those above.


On the next rung up are those who support the movement in more specific and personal ways, such as funding or providing supplies or housing or gathering spaces.


On the third rung up are the storytellers, which Hasler and Storer call the "Instigators and Grand Schemers." These may be radical media celebrities, or they may just speak to insiders, for instance by hosting a podcast or blog or youtube channel. On the radical right, the recent crackdown of these mainstream channels has driven these Instigators to smaller, isolated platforms, such as Telegram, Gab and Parler.


Second from the top are those who wish to overthrow the govt of the US or their own country, and at the very top are those who wish to change the global configuration of power due to apocalyptic concerns. In terms of Islamist extremism we might think of the second to the top spot being Afghanistan Taliban vs. the global ambitions of ISIS in the top spot. In terms of US domestic extremism, a group like the Three Percenters occupies the second to top tier vs. the upper tier of the global QAnon or neo-Nazi movements. Members float rather frequently from group to group, however, and a national cause can also become a global one, and vice versa.


It is important to remember that while those at the very top may be virtually immune to reason, dialogue, or deradicalization, those at the bottom who are members of the general public who are in support of the publicly proclaimed ideals of the movement are not only the most numerous, they also create the conditions for the top of the pyramid to receive funding, protection, and motivation. The members at the bottom are also susceptible to moving up in terms of radicalization and violence.


To Hasler and Storer's Ziggurat of Zealotry, I would add another bottom layer - a wider societal environment provides a platform on which the pyramid can exist. Without this larger societal support, the base will be less attracted to radicalized ideology in the first place. A Reuters poll estimates that 12% of Americans supported the attack on the Capitol (Kahn 2021). Another poll by ABC news in 2017 found 9% of Americans say it is acceptable to hold Neo-Nazi views, which answers the question "How did we ever get here?" In addition to such political and social support, the churches have too often turned a blind eye to some of the extremism brewing in conservative circles.


Clearly understanding the goals and beliefs of the violent groups at the top of the pyramid can help the masses at the bottom and around the base of the pyramid to understand the ways in which their actions feed extremism. This understanding will also allow us to discuss the steps needed to deradicalize those at the bottom, without whose support the top is less effective and smaller.


III. Radical Apocalyptic Beliefs of White Nationalism

In my book Understanding Apocalyptic Terrorism (Flannery 2016) I identify a worldview of violent extremism that I call Radical Apocalypticism. Apocalyptic beliefs in themselves are not usually violent, but here I lay out the indicators that an apocalyptic group will succumb to violent extremism.


Apocalyptic groups, both violent and non-violent, believe that the world is in the grips of cosmic evil, and the good are suffering for it. A sense of persecution or oppression against the righteous is key to the apocalyptic worldview. Apocalyptic believers hold out hope that an endtime is coming which will be a cataclysmic change in which a divine savior will rescue the good and punish the evil. The Kingdom of God will reign in bliss, and all will be righted according to God's plan.


Radical apocalyptic groups also believe these things, but they add four indicators that change the ordinary apocalyptic beliefs of, say, Baptists and Jehovah's Witnesses, into the violent beliefs of groups such as Identity Europa or the KKK. While this post focuses on Christian nationalism and white nationalism in my examples, these four indicators of radicalization are found in extremists within Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, eco-activism, anarchism, and other ideological extremism on both the right and the left.


1. Active Eschatology: Triggering the End

All apocalyptic groups, both violent and non-violent, believe that the endtime is coming someday. Radical Apocalyptic groups not only believe that it is soon, they believe they can play a role in triggering it. On the radical right, they believe that America is a God given nation, a Christian nation, a City on a Hill that has come under the influence of Evil, which includes the federal government and persons of color, liberals, Jews, Muslims, and often various fictional conspirators, whether the Rothschilds, the Bildebergers, or even space aliens. They believe there is a coming civil war, a race war, in which true Christians and white persons will prevail. This is Armageddon and will return the country to the way God intended for it to be. Active eschatology goes beyond preparing for this or even desiring the end: it means the group seeks to play an active role in the unfolding, even bringing it about.


This idea has a long history on the racist right and is found in "The Turner Diaries," a fictional novel from 1978 that inspired Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber. McVeigh believed that by attacking the Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995 and killing 168 people, including 19 children in a daycare, and injuring more than 680, he was initiating the second American revolution. The extremist Christian group the Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord, had taught him this ten years earlier. They sought to initiate the race war through planning assassinations of political figures and judges and attacking water systems and electrical grids, and they significantly catalyzed the radical right by training 1500 or so persons in a militia style camp in their Endtime Overcomer Training School, in rural Bull Shoals, Arkansas.


Image Credit: Mike Theiler- Reuters

Now think about what we saw from Jan 6. The image of the Confederate Flag in the Capitol (for the first time in our history) in this context isn't just about Southern pride, or even Southern white pride. It is about a plan to instigate a revolution or the second civil war. It is about what the Proud Boys call "The Storm." It's the "Boogaloo" of the Boogaloo Bois. It's the Second American Revolution of the Three Percenters, who falsely believe that 3% of Americans fought the British in the American Revolution and therefore if 3% of Americans now fight the liberal federal government they can overthrow it and gain independence again.


2. Concretized Evil: "Othering"

Apocalyptic groups tend to believe in the existence of cosmic evil forces, such as the devil. Radical apocalyptic groups direct their fight against groups of people whom they believe embody those dark forces. A theology called "Identity" teaching, which has been around since the 1920s but which really surged from the 1980s until today, is a racist perversion of Christianity. Identity teaches that Adam and Eve, created the white races or line of Seth, but Eve and Satan, created the line of Cain, which gave rise to Jews and persons of color. This "Seedline" teaching is supported through pulling biblical quotes out of context and by pseudo-science resembling the Nazi science about Jews. This teaching, which permeates radical right groups from the KKK to neo-Nazi groups, thus views its enemies not just as being on the wrong political side, but as the literal spawn of Satan. This makes people of color, Jews, and their allies irredeemable, whereas the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Germanic, and Nordic peoples are "Adamic" and pure.


PHOTO CREDIT: MARK PETERSEN-REDUX​

QAnon shares much with this theology, although members at the bottom of the ziggurat may not realize it at first because it presents itself like a fun role-playing game. This internet conspiracy at first proliferated on sites like Reddit and Facebook, the latter of which saw 12.8 million interactions between January to September 2020 on 6500 pages or groups, 1500 of which were flagged for potential violence through ties to 300 militarized groups. It is a global conspiracy, with branches in Germany and the Netherlands. Q is supposedly a top government official in the Trump era who is leaving "breadcrumbs" of information all over the internet. Believers maintain that Q is exposing the existence of a "Deep State" run by the Jewish financier George Soros and Hilary Clinton. Believers in QAnon maintain that Soros, Clinton, and other Democrats operate a widespread, global child trafficking sex ring in which they and their co-conspirators, top Democrats, rape, mutilate, and kill children. Thus, the photos of a sign at the insurrection claiming that "Pelosi is Satan" is not just hyperbole, it is evidence of terrifying beliefs held in earnest by followers of QAnon that can lead to violence in defense of children. Another photo by Mark Petersen of Redux showed a female protestor with the shirt "WQKE" (Woke but to Q) and a sign that read "#GOD WINS / END HUMAN TRAFFICKING" followed by the Q slogan "#WWG1WGAWW" or "Where We Go One, We Go All" (worldwide?).


SCREEN GRAB BY DAN CLANTON, JR.​

Note that believers in QAnon as well as the other factions on the radical right don't believe that they are on the wrong side of history. On the contrary, they believe that they are defending the innocent, such as the children in a Satanic pedophile ring. Once the false narrative is accepted, the motivation is understandable.


3. Theology of Violence: Radicalization Blueprint

Even when the motive is revenge for a wrong done or defense of the innocent, radical apocalypticists require a theology of violence as a kind of imaginal blueprint to cross over into real violence. At one level they may reluctantly accept that violence is necessary for carrying out God's will. At a higher level of radicalization, they may glorify violence as being redemptive in and of itself, since it is on behalf of a persecuted group of righteous or to defend a good cause. Even though most members of the parent religion with which they identify, such as Christianity or Islam, reject violence as a perversion of the religion, radical apocalypticists see it as the most zealous and faithful interpretation of the religion.


On the radical right in particular, violence is glorified by references to America's past revolutionary history and wrapped up in the Second Amendment, which is construed as a constitutional (and thus a God-Given) right to bear arms and constitute a militia in defense against a tyrannical government (such as the Obama or Biden administrations, in the radical right framework). Violence is celebrated because it is seen as a defense of the innocent (real Americans, children, the unborn) or to defend something good (which they would identify as Christianity, liberty, the purity of the white race). Notably, if violence on the Radical Right continues to grow and follows the pattern of other radical apocalyptic groups, they will eventually not only direct such violence at their enemies (liberal politicians, persons of color, Jews) but also at those who belong to their social groups but whom they deem to be traitors. That's what we saw on January 6 when the mob attacked police officers and when some wanted to kill all of Congress save for a few of their heroes.


4. Secret, Authoritarian Revelation: Conspiracies Galore

All radical apocalyptic groups subscribe to the idea that only they have the real truth and that all others are being duped. Thus, the more outlandish the claims, and the more that society at large rejects the claims, the more the groups believe the claims must be true, particularly if they are dispensed by an authority figure. Some of these revelations are small, but some are large and global, and involve a vast conspiracy. Since revelation comes only to the righteous few, in the eyes of the radical apocalyptic group, the more that unbelievers reject the revelation, the more true it must be.


In the case of the radical right there was widespread belief that President Trump was a revelatory, authoritarian dispenser of truth. QAnon speculates that he is Q. Many religious leaders on the far right thought he was divinely guided. More moderate religious leaders on the right maintained that even though Trump was a serial adulterer, liar, and general sinner, God was using him to enact a plan: to stack the Supreme Court with judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion in the US. Whatever their motives, their support of Trump as an instrument of God functioned to support the more radical members who made up the bottom of the ziggurat.


IV. Trump's Contribution to the Rise of the Radical Right

The present inability of most people to recognize the danger of all these four factors related together has brought us to the state we are in, one in which the Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning of impending violence from domestic extremism in the next few weeks and months. While I seek to be non-partisan in my analysis, it is vitally important to discuss the ways in which President Trump fed all of these four indicators of radical apocalyptic violence over four years. If we cannot recognize when these indicators are being cultivated by a leader, we will not recognize what is happening when the next figure arises to feed extremism, whether on the Right or the Left. Thus, whether you are a Conservative or a Liberal, a Republican or a Democrat or neither, we as a country need to understand how "Trumpism" became linked to radicalization on the right or we are doomed to repeat this cycle.

PHOTO CREDIT: LEAH MILLS, REUTERS​

First, Trump has often supported the "Active Eschatology" of the Radical Right since at least September 30, 2019 when he tweeted a quote by Pastor Robert Jeffress stating "If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal" (McCord 2019).


Second, from the start of his presidential campaign, Trump's message has skillfully promoted a deep "Othering." He has appealed to white identity politics by casting asylum seekers and immigrants as dangerous criminals, threatening to send US troops to the border to turn back an "invasion" of migrants, signing an executive order banning all immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, and using language about "evil" too many times to count in creating a pervasive Us vs. Them narrative between conservatives and liberals. He has called the press "The Enemy of the People."


Consider the speech that Trump gave to the mob who stormed the Capitol on Jan 6 to get them to leave and pay close attention to the way he creates two opposing sides of Good and Evil through his use of pronouns. "I know your pain, I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us." He repeated the false claims that had brought the mob to DC, saying "This was a fraudulent election," and added "but we can’t play into the hands of these people ". . . “We have to have peace. So go home, we love you, you’re very special, you’ve seen what happens, you’ve seen the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel, but go home and go home in peace” (C-SPAN 2021). The side of "Good" is equated with Trump and the victimized, and the side of Evil with Trump's enemies, including Democrats. Remember that Trump gave this speech after 800 people had violently stormed the Capitol building, committed property damage, and attacked police, yet Trump paints them as persecuted, loved, and special.


Third, Trump has repeatedly created a culture or "Theology of Violence" among some of his followers. (While they are too numerous to list here, I would point you to a timeline published by Vox called "Donald Trump is the Accelerant" by Cineas, 2021). Perhaps the most famous incident before January 6 was when he refused at first to condemn the white nationalists and neo-Nazis at the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, saying "there are very fine people on both sides." This was shocking to the nation, and to my neighboring city, which saw armed protestors chanting Nazi slogans, brandishing torches, and surrounding a Jewish synagogue, eventually culminating in a violent attack on counter-protestors that killed Heather Heyer. During the presidential debates, Trump told one group known to be violent, the Proud Boys, which is now designated a terrorist group by Canada, to "stand down and stand by," which they took as a sign that soon they would be called on to fight on his behalf. His military speak is not accidental - a website called armyfortrump.com takes one directly to the official reelection website Donald J. Trump for President Inc., where Trump is pictured saluting an officer in military uniform. On this site, followers are invited to "enlist."


Indeed, February 9 signaled that Trump will likely be impeached (a second time) for inciting violence on January 6 because of what he said to an angry mob, some of whom were armed and dressed in paramilitary uniforms. In urging them to march on the Capitol, he said "And we fight. We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore." What I wish to point out is not simply that Trump speaks in violent ways, but that he often casts violence as completely necessary for the basic defense of dignity of those who follow him.

Fourth, and above all, Trump fed the idea of "Authoritarian Revelation," the idea that only he would tell his followers the truth. He proclaimed in his speech at the Republic convention, "I am your voice . . . I alone can fix it." His loose relationship with facts led to four years of claiming that all news media that challenged or opposed him (which was all mainstream news media except for Fox News, and sometimes Fox News) was "Fake News." The Washington Post's Fact Checker found that by Nov. 5 2020, Trump had made 29,508 misleading or false claims, to he added repeated claims that the election was fraudulent. Counter-intuitively, this fog of disinformation played a big role in propping up the idea that only Trump told the truth, because it was so at odds with the perspectives of other information sources.


Every single one of nearly sixty of the Trump team's lawsuits failed to prove any fraud, often in front of Trump appointed judges, due to a complete lack of evidence. Nevertheless, President Trump and his media team relentlessly repeated that the election had been stolen, based on information that they would soon reveal (but never did). Although evidence never materialized, after the election on November 4 and before the riot on January 6, a Quinnipiac poll on December 10 found that a whopping 77% of Republicans believed that there had been election fraud (Keating). The deluge of misinformation that had continued unabated for four years had created an epistemological crisis that propped Trump up to be the sole authoritarian source of revelation in an environment that was construed to be evil (i.e., cast as an unrelenting attack by vast news media run by liberals). In terms of the Ziggurat of Zealotry, he functioned at the middle, as an Instigator of an unending deluge of misinformation that eroded credibility from trustworthy sources, which Trump called "Fake News." This storytelling also opened the way for other Instigators, such as the anonymous "Q" or podcasters such as Baked Alaska and Red Ice, who radicalized those at the bottom of the pyramid and who pushed them up the ladder.


V. Peacebuilding: What We Must Do There are a number of steps that law enforcement, intelligence, and the courts can take to curb right-wing radicalization, including identifying those who violently stormed the Capitol, arresting them, and designating them as domestic terrorist groups. Those 800 persons and some of their groups fit the definition of terrorism: "The unlawful use of violence or the threat of violence, often motivated by religious, political, or other ideological beliefs, to instill fear and coerce individuals, governments, or societies in pursuit of terrorist goals" (JP 3-26). Indeed, Canada has just named the Proud Bois (founded by Canadian founder of VICE news, Gavin McInnes) a domestic terrorist group, but the US only has designations for FTOs or Foreign Terrorist organizations. In the US, Domestic Terrorism is defined in the Patriot Act, but it is not a chargeable offense.


This is a huge oversight, because not only does defining a group in this way cut off funding from banks, or limit where they can buy property, it also deters those at the bottom of the pyramid who may join without fully understanding the scope of violence involved at higher levels. Some analysts are suggesting that, alternatively, the creation of an apparatus for charging Domestic Insurrectionists may be more even helpful. Given that eleven groups on the radical right recently received PPE funds, either designation would be an improvement.


But what I hope to have made clear is that this is not a problem that government or law enforcement alone can solve. There is a societal context, including a social media context, that has proliferated just enough to enable the radicalization pyramid to take hold. Fixing this and healing our nation will take all of us recognizing the four indicators of radicalization and rejecting them wherever we encounter them, even when a leader or storyteller who supports our interests or side is the one who advances them. Furthermore, we must all find creative solutions to create a society that actively diminishes the ability of these four indicators to flourish.


How do we counter Authoritarian Revelation? We need reliable news sources that most of us can agree on, which are non-partisan. We need to build information literacy and critical thinking skills. We need to educate ourselves on the history of dictatorship. We need to improve our own media skills and reject a diet of biased, sensationalist, snarky media - even when it's juicy or fun.


How do we counter Othering? We need all kinds of grassroots community and religious programs that promote positive intragroup communication - in interfaith, interethnic and interpartisan settings. We need to really cultivate diverse friend groups - and that also means spending time doing deep and compassionate listening to those from different political persuasions.


One of the issues that causes the biggest social divide and vilification of the "other side" in our country is abortion. There is a huge need/opportunity for the churches to step up to help the country have a compassionate discussion about abortion that promotes understanding on both sides. We're nowhere close to being able to have a civil social debate about this. Yet I believe that above all other issues, this is the one that drives many on the right to ignore what they call Trump's "antics" and "bad behavior" and that drives many on the left to believe that women's very lives and basic autonomy are at stake. This is one of the toughest national conversations we need to have, but until we do, Othering will continue around this issue.


How do we counter Redemptive Violence? All of us need to examine the ways that we accept and promote violence when we believe that the ends justify the means. As just one example, violent communication proliferates on social media, where the snarkiest and often the cruelest comment gets the most likes or forwards. How is each of participating in an environment in which we deepen the cleft between Us vs. Them?


How do we counter Active Eschatology? Every social justice effort or program that shows that we can improve the world and that includes those who feel left behind works against the idea that the world can only be fixed by a divine clearing of the gameboard. For those Christians who do embrace a peaceful apocalyptic ideology, please remember that even Jesus was agnostic about when the endtime would occur: "Of that day and hour no one knows, no one knows, not the angels of heaven, not even the Son, but only the Father" (Mt 24:36; Mk 13:32; Acts 1:7).


It might also be time to begin to challenge the root idea that feeds active eschatology: the notion of American exceptionalism and the idea that we are more divinely ordained than other countries in the world. We do have so much to be proud of as a nation - especially our liberties and freedoms - but we also have a legacy of European colonialism of indigenous land, murder and slavery of indigenous and African people, and civil war. Knowing that the radical right believes a second Civil War is coming, we need to remember that civil war is a tragedy and a painful blight on a nation. Notably, this position is not incompatible with either recognizing the pain of slavery or the pride that white Southerners take in the Confederacy as a way of honoring their past. It's simply an honest appraisal of war and the fragility of democracy.


In BioEarth, I am fortunate to learn from my co-founder Rodrigue about the aftermath of a real civil war. Being from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he knows what it is like when a nation loses 6-8 million people. There is nothing to glory in. There is only sadness, trauma, broken families, broken lives.


To stem the current rise of the radical right, we have to keep thinking as a society about why those on the bottommost rung of the pyramid of radicalization respond to messages of radicalization in the first place. Not always, but often, these are white men who are angry, and they feel persecuted and disrespected. They feel a loss of dignity and power in a world that is changing quickly and de-centering them. The Christian Church has a big role to play, as do moderate Republicans, not only in denouncing radical extremism, but also in rejecting all hints of active eschatology, authoritarian revelation, othering, and redemptive violence.


Finally, anti-racism allies of persons of color and persons of color themselves also have a role to play in making sure that we who have historically been marginalized aren't lifted up at the expense of others being torn down. It is true that at its root, the radical right is fighting against a loss of historical systemic privilege because of changing US demographics and attitudes. Yet if anti-racism advocates and those who won this last election simply turn the tables and belittle or mock those who lost, they only confirm the experience of persecution that persons on the bottom tier of the radicalization ziggurat are feeling. Without some measure of outreach or compassion, and without creating a welcoming space even for white nationalists to exit their previous racist views and social ties, then those who are susceptible to radicalization will only gravitate more firmly toward a community that empowers them, bolsters their masculinity, and gives them a feeling of belonging and pride. To counter this, we require a very simple remedy that is difficult to implement: to create a society in which all people are able to find their dignity.


Works Cited


Brewster, Jack. Sept. 4, 2020. "Trump-Backed QAnon Candidate Posts Meme Showing Off Gun and Urging 'Going on the Offense" Against AOC, The Squad. Forbes.

< https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackbrewster/2020/09/03/trump-backed-qanon-candidate-posts-meme-showing-off-gun-and-urging-offense-against-aoc-the-squad/?sh=271ecd556aca>.


Cineas, Fabiola. Jan. 9, 2021. "Donald Trump is the accelerant: A comprehensive timeline of Trump encouragnig hate groups and political violence." Vox. < https://www.vox.com/21506029/trump-violence-tweets-racist-hate-speech.>


CSIS Briefs (Center for Strategic and International Studies). Oct. 22, 2020. "The War Comes Home: The Evolution of Domestic Terrorism in the United States." < https://www.csis.org/analysis/war-comes-home-evolution-domestic-terrorism-united-states>.


CSPAN. Jan. 6, 2021. "President Trump Video Statement on Capitol Protestors." < https://www.c-span.org/video/?507774-1/president-trump-claims-election-stolen-tells-protesters-leave-capitol.>


Flannery, Frances. 2016. Understanding Apocalyptic Terrorism: Countering the Radical Mindset. New York: Routledge.


Hasler, Susan and Cindy Storer. January 2021. "The Ziggurat of Zealotry: Applying Lessons Learned from Fighting Al Qaeda to Right Wing Extremism." RANE Risk Assistance Network Exchange. <https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/ziggurat-zealotry-applying-lessons-learned-fighting-al-qaeda-right-wing-extremism>.


Department of Defense and Joint Publication 3-26. Dec. 2020. DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. < s.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/dictionary.pdf>.


Kahn, Chris. Jan. 8, 2021. "Majority of Americans Want Trump Removed Immediately after U.S. Capitol Violence - Reuters/Ipsos poll." Reuters. < https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-trump-poll/majority-of-americans-want-trump-removed-immediately-after-u-s-capitol-violence-reuters-ipsos-poll-idUSKBN29D2VG>.


Keating, Christopher. Dec. 10, 2020. "Quinnipiac Poll: 77% of Republications believe there was

widespread fraud in the presidential election; 60% overall consider Joe Biden's victory legitimate." Hartford Courant. <https://news.yahoo.com/quinnipiac-poll-77-republicans-believe-204100654.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAFGfeJo6aMxhfQx1Ju1vgq9zBNXxXmBm2OFYie5Zn3qyJhDwNNrmOTC5bZ0h8phJ4HUTXlcQu09U6MlI6HHOuKEm8LCDl-QQtJQi2t-NRZTueiVcMHVzrBQtQtoGA81VmZIsgwYBiDdC_nce4UjpVnzvoiQ4VFwz1sSa2RihX-4B>.


Langer, Gary. Aug 21, 2017. "1 in 10 say it's acceptable to hold neo-Nazi views." ABC News. < https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/28-approve-trumps-response-charlottesville-poll/story?id=49334079>.


McCord, Mary. Oct. 2, 2019. "Armed Militias are Taking Trump's Civil War Tweets Seriously." Lawfare. < https://www.lawfareblog.com/armed-militias-are-taking-trumps-civil-war-tweets-seriously>.

[1] Violence on both sides is on the rise, but at different levels. Since 2010 there have been 21 victims killed in left-wing violence and 117 in right-wing violence in the US (CSIS 2021). [2] However, President Trump claimed in his speech addressing the crowd that there were hundreds of thousands present, which does not appear to have been the case. [3] These were DC Police Officer Jeffrey Smith and Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood.

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Updated: Jan 14

As a scholar of religions who has extensively researched Christian Nationalism and violent extremism, I was wholly unsurprised at the deadly events that unfolded at the nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021. I am angered, I am saddened, but I am not surprised. In fact, I think many of you who have followed the news closely were also unsurprised, given that Trump supporters among the radical right (two groups that, notably, should not be lumped together automatically), have telegraphed for months that they would rather engage in violence than accept an election result that went against Trump. They even made t-shirts.



Insurrectionists storm the Capitol Jan. 6, 2021 Photograph: Leah Millis/Reuters

Still, as a nation we are reeling from the events and searching for the correct response. Many steps are necessary for our safety and integrity—holding the rioters responsible criminally, holding the instigators, all the way up to President Trump, responsible legally, revisiting security measures—but we have not yet begun to talk deeply and thoughtfully about the roots of the problem. However, without grasping why this extremist ideology has taken hold with so many, we will never be able to successfully stem the cycle of the continuing rise of the radical right and this kind of violence, even after Trump is no longer President.


In my book Understanding Apocalyptic Terrorism: Countering the Radical Mindset (Routledge, 2016), I distilled my research on hundreds of examples of radical apocalypticism, a worldview that cuts across religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, New Age religions) and some ideologies (eco-activism, anarchism, to name a few). The violence from January 6, wrought by many different groups, included the violent Christianist version of radical apocalypticism, which has as little to do with mainstream Christianity as does violent Islamist extremism with Islam, and which is distinctive for its level of embracing the ideology of white supremacy.



While a full analysis of the insurrection requires a different format and more time, a few important points that I learned in my research are worth mentioning now as they seem to be lost in the current responses to the insurrection. These are points everyone should understand, so that our responses do not worsen an already dangerous situation.


1) Religious and ideological extremism feeds on a sense of oppression and grievance. Those on the radical right perceive themselves to be persecuted, even if they objectively belong to groups who enjoy privilege. Their sense of oppression drives their anger and desire for vindication. I have seen already multiple published opinion pieces bemoaning both the desire of the radical right “to be heard” as well as statements on social media that seem to wish for a more violent police response of the sort that Black and Brown people would have received. (To be clear, I agree that had 30,000 BLM supporters or 30,000 Muslims attacked the Capitol they would have been met with far more force. However, wishing such force on the white rioters supporting Trump does not solve the problem of violent police overreach!).


However, if we do not want to stoke more participation in the radical right, this is what we must grasp. The ideology of the radical right is embraced by those who feel disempowered and aggrieved, so there is a simple feedback loop: mocking them or attacking them makes them feel more aggrieved, which only reinforces their premises and draws more to their cause. The starting point of their mindset (and this goes for the various male empowerment groups as well on the radical right), is that their way of life is under assault, the rest of the nation is against them and their principles, and the government is out to get them and to disempower them. Again: the kind of mockery that is rampant right now on social media against the rioters may feel good for a moment to the rest of us, but it only strengthens the worldview of those on the radical right and it will cause their movement to grow and/or for those involved to become more radicalized.


Add to this that the ideology of most of the groups anticipates a coming civil war, a race war, and you can easily see that the more governmentally sponsored violence and social mockery that we may heap upon them, the more we fan the flames of their movement. Every person who dies in their movement in this cause is a martyr. The most dangerous of the groups aim to start this civil war, which is why a confederate flag in the Capitol is chilling on every level.


2) Discredited information and outlandish conspiracy theories empower them. I found in my research that when a group believes it has access to revealed information (i.e. revelation) and most people outside of the group reject this knowledge, the insider group feels more powerful, because only they have access to the secrets (in their view, that is). Therefore, the more outlandish the theory and the more that mainstream society says that the theory is false, the more a group doubles down on believing it. Even beyond the online RPG like charm of QAnon, it is this access to being part of a special group that knows secrets which gives the ridiculous, completely fake movement its intoxicating quality. A Satan worshipping, Democratic, pedophilic cabal traffics children and controls government and business? The fact that QAnon’s central claims are patently outlandish is part of the allure for its followers, who must discover the shocking secrets by piecing together “breadcrumbs” that must be decoded across the internet. The fact that most people reject the information is part of what makes the movement addictive to those who participate in it.


Over fifty lawsuits that claimed election fraud were overturned for lack of evidence, often by a Trump appointed judge, yet we still saw a mob attack the Capitol because they believed Trump’s claim that the election was fraudulent. It is the nature of conspiracy theories that the more others reject a claim, the more tightly some people will cling to it. The widespread rejection of Trump’s claim is construed as proof of the conspiracy.


3) They will not give up and move on. Yes, public shaming on social media and elsewhere will change the minds of a few fringe members who didn’t really know what they were getting into, who went to protest in D.C. based on false information they have been fed continuously for months (actually, for years). However, the hard core believers, those who cannot be convinced that the election was fair, will only double down as a result of their cognitive dissonance. (And since people got on a bus or plane and booked a hotel room and showed up, everyone there is probably a pretty fervent believer). They have invested so much of their self identity, time, and resources into believing that Trump has won the election that no evidence to the contrary will get them to change their minds—not even when Biden becomes President on January 20. They will come up with a way to make the false idea that Trump is the fairly elected President appear to be true, even after Biden is certified as the next President. They will do this by believing that our entire government and presidency is false, and this will spur them on to fight and to believe that Trump (or perhaps someone with his name) can be President again.


A similar phenomenon happens in apocalyptic groups that predict a date for the end of the world. Social science studies tells us that when the eagerly anticipated endtime doesn’t occur, rather than giving up and going home, this is the point when the group typically goes full-tilt into its missionizing phase (see L. Festinger, The Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, 1956). With each new convert, the group’s initial belief system is affirmed, and they develop a rationale for the apparent disconfirmation of the endtime. We can see this occurring already with January 20: the swearing in of Biden is illegitimate, or it is all part of “the plan” by Trump or by Q.


4) Some of them will become more violent, especially after President Trump is removed from office, and they will do so out of a sense of conviction. Many of the responses I have been seeing in the media involve disbelief at the behavior of the mob on January 6, with commentators shaking their heads and saying “they must be crazy.” Yet studies show that terrorists are not usually mentally ill, rather, they are people who have been taught that violence is acceptable in service of a higher goal. Their starting premises about the world are false, as they have false information (about the election, about the government, about their enemies), but once those false assumptions are accepted, their behavior is entirely predictable. They are already circulating posters for the “Million Martyr March” and “Million Militia March” on January 20 in D.C.


If people accept a theology that violence is warranted, good, and redemptive and necessary for what they see as a higher good, then otherwise normal, dedicated people will commit violence to attain what they deem to be right. The radical right and Trump himself have treated violence as necessary, praiseworthy, and patriotic. At this point, we risk a serious rise in domestic terrorism, and the National Guard needs to be prepared for January 20.


5) Some who commit violence will do so not just for their ideals, but also out of a sense of belonging. Establishing an Us vs. Them identity and dehumanizing/demonizing the outsiders is a basic tactic of violent radical apocalyptic groups.

President Trump incited the violence at the Capitol by telling a group of furious protestors, which included obvious armed members of white nationalist groups, that they should “walk down to the Capitol,” adding “You will never take back our country with weakness.” Playing to the mob, Donald Trump Jr. had threatened Republican members of Congress who did not ally with them by yelling, “We’re coming for you!” After hours of violence ensued, which Trump reportedly happily watched on television, he was forced to reluctantly speak to the rioters to send them home, and he began by repeating his false claims, saying “This was a fraudulent election . . . .”


What I wish to emphasize is that what he said next was calculated to justify violence and reinscribe an Us vs. Them identity, the hallmark of his entire Presidency. Trump first excused the mob’s violence by blaming it on others, “. . . but we can’t play into the hands of these people.” He next reinforced an Us vs. Them identity by drawing the lines around his supporters, including the violent ones: “We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. You’re very special.” Immediately thereafter he drew the lines around the outsiders and demonized them: “You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil.” Then he placed himself on the inside once more, “I know how you feel.”

That the Christianist radical right calls its opponents evil is not mere flourish. They mean it literally, which is why a rioter’s sign saying “Pelosi is Satan” isn’t comical, it’s a cause for concern. Demonizing our enemies means they are irredeemable. Demonizing and dehumanizing the “Other” is a tactic of violent groups, since those aligned with cosmic evil deserve nothing less than destruction. This is clear from another rioter’s sign that read “Jer. 4:7,” evoking this quote from Jeremiah: “The lion is come up from his thicket, and the destroyer of the Gentiles is on his way; he is gone forth from his place to make thy land desolate; and thy cities shall be laid waste, without an inhabitant.” That is a sign to be worried about. That is a sign that says that the one carrying it does not care who gets killed from the other side.

As the following excerpt shows, many radical right groups have been influenced by some variant of racist Christian Identity teaching, which maintains that violence is necessary to instigate a national civil war (usually a race war), which will bring about Armageddon. That’s why we saw the confederate flag (symbol of a nation that would have maintained the institution of slavery) next to signs saying “Jesus 2020” (apocalyptic appeals to Jesus’ coming), next to a scaffold with a noose (the threat of judgment and violence). In the ideology of such groups, punishing the wicked with violence is in service to God’s will.


For all of these reasons, we must step carefully and thoughtfully in our response as a nation to this attempted coup, which originated from the top all the way down, or we will continue to see the violence grow. The way forward involves a cultural reckoning, peacebuilding, and societal transformation, which I address in the last chapter of my book. I offer the excerpts below to explain some aspects of the violent movement that we saw on January 6, because understanding the mindset of the movement is but the first step to solving the problem.


Excerpts from Chapter 6, “The Lord God is a Man of War”: Christian Identity Teaching and Radical Apocalyptic Terrorism, in Understanding Apocalyptic Terrorism.

“. . . two distinctive beliefs separate Christian Identity preaching from other denominations, including Fundamentalism, with which it is sometimes inappropriately lumped because of the other similarities. First, as [Michael] Barkun has astutely noted, Christian Identity strongly rejects the Christian Fundamentalist doctrine of a rapture or rescue of Christians before the time of tribulation. While various Identity groups differ in their accounts of what will precisely occur in the endtime, Barkun writes, “Identity’s hostility to the [theology of the] rapture is unwavering and cuts across organizational lines” (Barkun 2007, 103–106).

Second, as its name suggests, Christian Identity teaching involves a central revelation about the true identity of the righteous and the wicked. The revelation is a racial one, namely that “the White, Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and kindred people [are] God’s true, literal Children of Israel” (KIM 2014). Since they also believe that these are the last days and that only the white race inherits the blessings of the biblical covenants promised to Israel, the pressure is on. They believe they must keep the white race pure, separate from the world, and empowered to win the battles that will ensue in the time of tribulation. This expectation accounts for their rejection of the rapture doctrine, since Christians need to be around to fight their enemies in the endtime. Thus, it is pre-millenialist with a violent Active Eschatology [a doctrine I discuss in which a group believes its actions trigger the endtime or Jesus’ return]. This racial revelation is easily woven into an anti-Semitic, apocalyptic worldview of reality that leans heavily towards radical apocalypticism; in fact they often believe that the Antichrist is Jewish. By contrast, many Fundamentalists have a positive attitude towards Jews and acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew. They hold out hope that a remnant of Jews will convert in the last days (Rom. 9:11).


Christian Identity as radical apocalypticism

The Identity preacher Pastor Comparet, among others, locates the central revelation about race in an interpretation of the Garden of Eden story (Gen. 2:3) that believes there are two “seedlines.” One seedline refers to those descended from Adam, a white man but not necessarily the first human, whose progeny make up the Christian white nations. Thus, in these sermons “Adam” is equivalent to “white man.” Identity adherents believe that the white nations are the true Israel and, though dispersed, they create the only civil governments based on biblical Law. The other seedline stems from the devil’s literal offspring or seed that was conceived when he mated with Eve and she gave birth to Cain. Cain’s descendents, that is, Satan’s descendants, are the Jews, who naturally hate and oppose the true Israel, the white race. [ . . . . ]

The “seedline” teaching fulfills the sixth reality proposition in our formula of radical apocalypticism [ a formula that I cover in chapter 3], Othering/Concretization of Evil. Jews are considered to be biologically Evil, demonic, and inferior to the white race, which they oppose. This depiction of the Jews is the central point in Identity teaching from which all other propositions of the radical apocalyptic worldview emanate, including:

[An element from my formula,] A secret about the nature of this world: The ordinary, mundane world is broken and unduly influenced by Evil of some kind, locked in a struggle with ultimate Good.

To adherents of Christian Identity teaching, there is a cosmic struggle going on between the races, especially between whites of European descent and the Jews. While the whites are Good, the Jews are the children of the Devil, “the Satanic Anti-Christ forces of this world” (KIM 2014). Kingdom Identity Ministries’ website symbolizes these “children of Satan” with a caricature of a big-nosed, curly-haired head of a Jew atop a Serpent’s body bedecked with stars of David, with a tail culminating in a larger star of David (“Seedline and Race,” KIM 2014). Clearly, the image is meant to convey that Jews are the embodiment of the Serpent Satan. The “secret about the world” thus entails a secret about the past derivation of the races.

[An element from my formula,] A secret about the state of the righteous: The righteous are oppressed, while the wicked flourish, although appearances may be to the contrary.

[An element from my formula,] A secret about another higher or future world . . . and a secret about the future: A time is coming when God’s kingdom will reign and defeat the rule of evil on the earth.

This revelation about primordial “history” and racial identity informs Identity’s interpretation of their present plight. Like many other radical apocalypticists, adherents of Christian Identity teaching feel persecuted and weak in the world as it is now. The doctrinal statement of Kingdom Identity Ministries states that the children of Satan are a “curse to the true Israel” and that there is a natural hatred between the white race and the children of Satan (“Doctrinal Statement,” KIM 2014). Race mixing is viewed as Satan’s plan to destroy the white race. The feeling of disempowerment is palpable. Some versions of Identity teaching display a paranoid fear that the white race will end if Christians do not take up adequate arms in the time of eschatological tribulation.

The KKK’s public positions consistently relate a similar strong feeling of persecution and oppression, envisioning that a race war is being perpetrated against white people. The National Director of The Knights, Pastor Thomas Robb, writes:

There is a race war against whites. But our people – my white brothers and sisters – will stay committed to a non-violent resolution ... [consisting] of solidarity in white communities around the world. The hatred for our children and their future is growing and is being fueled every single day.

(KKK 2015)

Such language of a world-wide war fills the doctrinal statements and motivational speeches of the KKK and similar groups of the Christian racist Right, including the Aryan Nations, Aryan Brotherhood, and the Christian Defense League.

In some groups on the racist Right, this sense of persecution can expand into elaborate conspiracy theories. Theories about secret, powerful, Jewish conspiracies abound amongst those on the racist Right, sometimes finding their way into fairly mainstream culture. [ . . . .]

[The Protocols of the Elders of Zion] and other conspiracy-laden texts feed the deep paranoia of the racist Right, including the racist Christian Right. Group solidarity is achieved through active “Othering” or creating a sense that the out-group is so distinctively different from the in-group that the two have nothing whatsoever in common. While Identity adherents view many groups with suspicion, including Catholics, Illuminati, Freemason, and non-white persons of color, Jews hold a special place of prominence as the targets of hate. Jews are portrayed as sub-human, the children of Satan, another species or collaborators with space aliens.

While speculations about UFOology and space aliens smack of the fantastic, alien conspiracy stories permeate the racist Right. They appeared in the thought of Timothy McVeigh, who believed that Jews and alien beings were working together with the federal government. In fact, McVeigh trespassed at Area 51, site of the supposed federal government cover-up of an alien spaceship landing. With a gun and a camera, he attempted to document the presence of UFOs and take a stand against governmental regulations (Michel and Herbeck 2001, 155–157). On death row, he was obsessed with the film Contact, which is about a scientist who connects with alien life (Barkun 2003, ix; Michel and Herbeck 2001, 156; Linder n.d.). As Michael Barkun has carefully shown, beliefs in UFOlogy, alien abduction, and government/Jewish conspiracy interweave throughout the beliefs of the racist Right in America, including groups both affiliated with and unassociated with Christianity Identity teaching. [. . . .]

This kind of esoteric, generally discredited “knowledge” appeals to those who hold the fourth reality proposition in the formula of radical apocalypticism, Authoritative Revelation/Interpretation. Identity preachers often claim to receive or understand a special revelation that other Christians do not. For instance, the Kingdom Identity Ministries website is one of the largest sources of Christian Identity teaching in America. It distributes an online Bible course called the “American Institute of Theology,” the total collection of writings by Comparet, and texts associated with Swift’s Church of Jesus Christ-Christian (KKK). While the website states that they are not in complete agreement with every point by these other authors, it assures the audience that the materials will provide “enlightenment through which the Holy Spirit will bring the reader or listener into knowledge of the truth with wisdom and understanding” (KIM 2014). Essentially, the church maintains that even if a small mistake in theology creeps in here or there, it is the authoritative conduit to the truth. Other Christian Identity venues display similar confidence in their revelations, which they believe are known only to a few. Barkun points out that “stigmatized knowledge” has tremendous appeal for those on the racist Right. This includes “forgotten knowledge,” such as the origins of the races, “rejected knowledge,” such as the role of space aliens, and “suppressed knowledge,” such as that involved in the conspiracies of the ZOG, the so-called Zionist Organized Government.

Given the presupposition that a nefarious set of enemies are plotting a global takeover leading to the demise of humans, some Christian Identity groups could quite easily become radicalized. Some seek political change through electing like-minded officials. For instance, former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, well acquainted with Identity teaching, successfully won the Republican nomination for the House of Representations in Louisiana in 1989 (Barkun 2003, 210–212). [. . . .]

A group maintaining Christian Identity teachings is likely to be violent if it also believes in the two remaining reality propositions in our formula of radical apocalypticism:

Active Eschatology: Our actions are key to ushering in the new stage of the coming Good world. I, as a righteous person, can trigger the end of the Evil age through my actions, especially through eliminating Evil on earth.

Members of the Christian Identity movement are consoled by the conviction that their present state of oppression will end when they are finally able to fight in the eschatological Tribulation. This will trigger God’s Judgment and spell “the ultimate end of this evil race [Jews] whose hands bear the blood of our Savior (Matt. 27:25).” Unlike Fundamentalist Christians who look forward to the rapture, the Christian Identity members welcome the time of Tribulation “like no other” because it is their chance to right the wrong direction of the world. This is not passive eschatology, because they do not believe that God is completing this by Himself. Rather, Identity teaches that its armies are indispensable to God’s success. This is a violent, active eschatology.

With such an important “end” in mind, the “means” will likely be violent if an Identity group holds a theology of Redemptive Violence/Revenge. This can take the form of self-martyrdom or the killing of others. Identity terrorism has favored the latter, embracing idea that “Our vengeance is God’s vengeance.” [. . . .]

When [Timothy] McVeigh killed 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing, he did so as a radical apocalyptic terrorist who believed the innocent victims he killed were necessary collateral damage. He believed he was fighting a vast conspiratorial war waged by the government and evil Jews in the ZOG, or Zionist Organized Government. Fantasy informed his reality. He imagined himself fighting the Empire’s Stormtroopers as well as their clerical workers in order to bring down the Evil Empire, as in one of his favorite films, Star Wars. He also drew on historical revisionism, believing that he was starting the Second American Revolution, a divine pursuit (Noble 1998, 135; Michel and Herbeck, 2001, 224–228).

McVeigh saw the evidence for the government’s aggression and evil as manifested in at least three incidents that have resonated throughout the radical Right. The first incident was the 1983 killing of Posse Comitatus member Gordon Kahl, who had earlier murdered two federal marshals in North Dakota (Barkun 2003, 265–266). The other two events are referred to mythologically by their place names: Ruby Ridge and Waco. McVeigh was so invested in the siege at Waco that he visited during the standoff and stayed for days, handing out anti-federal government materials. He purposely timed his bombing for the anniversary of the fire at Waco, on April 19.

The Weaver family at Ruby Ridge followed the Christian Identity teaching in which McVeigh was steeped, but the community at Waco did not share the theology. Overall, in my assessment, both the Weavers and the Branch Davidians were fervently committed apocalypticists, but not yet radical apocalypticists who posed a threat, like McVeigh or the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord.

In part, I am writing this book to help avoid another needless tragedy like Ruby Ridge or Waco. Understanding the dynamics of the radical apocalyptic worldview that informs such situations can help prevent unintentional escalations of conflict. A genuine apocalypticist, like Vicki Weaver or David Koresh, will never be talked into backing down through threats, violence, and intimidation, which only exaggerate feelings of persecution and deepen the commitment to possibly die as a martyr.


Excerpt from Chapter 9, Creating Peace in an Apocalyptic Moment

Author’s Note: [While this section addresses how to reduce violent religious terrorism, many of these points also relate to the kind of cultural transformation required in the United States to stem the appeal of the ideology of the radical right].

A comprehensive cultural counter-terrorism strategy

[ . . . . ]. An effective long-term counter-terrorism effort to promote peace will require a change in approach. The old paradigm has been stretched to its limits (Kuhn 1962). We need a broad-based network that includes govern- mental agencies, NGOs, grass-roots organizations, and faith-based humanitarian programs working together and with local partners to address the contexts of discontent in which terrorism finds its appeal. The public in the US and allied countries need to be aware that outreach is not just ethical concern for people in far-away places, but also a pragmatic action to protect people “at home.” Such “cultural counter-terrorism” eliminates the appeal and explanatory power of terrorist ideology.

This direction requires the creative reorganization of current resources. For instance, Arthur Lundahl proposes creating a wholly transparent “White Center” that would marshal intelligence resources for human- itarian issues. It would utilize the digital mapping resources of the National Geo-spatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), the supercomputers of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the epidemiologists at the National Center for Medial Intelligence (NCMI) to predict humanitarian crises, direct rescue efforts in national disasters, predict environmental catastrophes and predict the spread of disease (Bamford 2015).

In the remainder of this chapter, I present a few examples of other organizations that are rethinking the approach to terrorism and peace. This sampling is only meant to be illustrative of the creative, new approaches taking place amongst hundreds of thousands of innovative academic centers, NGOs, grass-roots organizations and faith-based humanitarian programs. None of these efforts alone can solve the problem, but together they could form a potent comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy that focuses on preventing radicalization. [ . . . . ]

Numerous such programs operating simultaneously and strategically could stem the long-term rise of radicalism. An incomplete list includes programs that: promote greater dialogue within religions; promote intra-religious dialogue; create policies that promote humanitarian support for developing moderate, democratic societies (including in the form of Muslim democracies); facilitate grass-roots friendships amongst individuals in different religious communities through shared activities and projects; address problems of hunger, social inequality, disease, [unemployment] and displacement; and provide education for displaced children. It is also vital to address phobias of the “Other” through intra-group dialogue and education. Consider the long-term effects if all public school children in America, Western Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia learned just a few positive things about each of the world’s major religious traditions, as do the Jewish and Palestinian children at the Hand in Hand school in Jerusalem.

This broad, slow, systemic approach to terrorism is quite different than the “War on Terror.” It recognizes that all the collective tiny steps of governmental agencies, NGOs, and faith-based organizations to promote the physical, psychological, material, cultural, and ecological well-being of peoples add up to a long-term counter-terrorism strategy. Especially by thinking of children’s welfare first, cultural counter-terrorism works by weakening the explanatory power of the radical apocalyptic worldview that posits an evil “them” against an embattled “us.” This is accomplished through eliminating the roots of discontent and by reimagining inclusive relationships amongst nations and peoples. Nations are really just imagined communities, since none of us have met everyone else in our nation (Anderson 2006). More children across the world need to feel that they are a part of a global community that supports them.

Finally, no model of inclusion can be successful in a political climate that is bitterly divided. In the US, we must heal the embarrassing partisan differences that have become extreme. We need to foster respectful debate and discussion so that we can begin to live up to our own values and ideals. Instead of Republicans and Democrats fighting one another, we should unite against our common enemies: the suffering of children, societal injustice, and radical apocalyptic extremism. Can we converse respectfully if we understand what is at stake?”

- By Frances Flannery, Ph.D.; Co-Founder, BioEarth. January 8, 2021.


For more on this topic watch Root.ED Conversations Ep. 6: Understanding Insurrection on Jan 6 2021





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