So, as some of our readers might know, I’m currently co-editing, with John Shuford, The Encyclopedia of Hate, and, yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Among my other duties is assembling a list of hate groups and identifying experts on those groups to write entries. I’m currently working on white supremacist groups who identify their ancient Norse religion as a source for their beliefs. (You might have heard a bit about Norse neopaganism inspiring, at least in part, groups such as Sons of Odin on NPR recently.)
While Norse neopaganism and white supremacy don’t have to go together, we have seen an increase in the number of executed or planned attacks against racial minorities in which some version of the religion has been cited. The most important (and deadly) case by far was the mass murders of Anders Breivik in Oslo, Norway. But these groups are in the US. Frazier Glenn Miller, who killed three people on an anti-Jewish rampage in Kansas, found meaning in the religion, for example. More recently, the murders of two men opposing the harassment of Muslims on a train in Portland, Oregon were committed by a man with connections to Norse neopaganism.
Above, a tattoo of the hammer of Thor, a symbol of Norse neopaganism used by white supremacists as a symbol of a violent religion.
Many of the adherents come from Christian backgrounds but reject Christianity as being too passive–and too closely related to Judaism. They are looking for a religion with its roots in clearly white cultures, not Middle Eastern ones. And Jesus’ “turn the other cheek”/””humble to the point of death” attitude doesn’t make sense for them. They’re committed, ideologically, to the idea that they are fighting a race war, that they are being threatened with “white genocide” and that they must fight back. Norse neopaganism venerates those who die in battle, not those who die on a cross.
That should sound antithetical to Christianity. But listen to this:
“And as you know, we’re under siege–you understand that. We will come out bigger and better and stronger than ever. You watch…. I have one goal: to fight for… America First…. The forgotten men and women will never, ever be forgotten again.”
That was Donald Trump, speaking on Thursday (while Comey was testifying to Congress) to the Faith and Religious Freedom Forum, an effort by the lying, cheating Ralph Reed to re-create the Moral Majority. The “we’re under siege” part certainly refers to widespread demand for an investigation into the president’s corrupt actions, including his relationship to Russia and his firing of James Comey. But it resonates with many white Christians’ sense that they as Christians (and as white people) are “under attack”–by gay rights activists, by subhuman Democrats, by multicultural threats to Christian hegemony.
Above, a video of Trump speaking to conservative evangelical Christians in Washington DC this week, telling them that they are “richly deserve” to have political power. He told them that they have an “unbelievable future.” He told them, “We are winners.” As evidence, he points to a “historic increases in military spending” and the continued militarization of the US border. He demands that “people who come to our country should love our citizens and embrace our values, our values, folks.” The appeals to white Christian hegemony continue for 35 minutes.
Trump’s speech focuses (as usual) on how he won the election, to the surprise of the mainstream media, and he thanks his audience for how they made that happen (“You picked a winner!” at 14:30)–in sum, telling them that they do have power. (He also tells the audience how much they should thank him for his work on their behalf. Check out his demands for gratitude at 13:10: “It [undermining the Johnson Amendment] was a very important thing for me to do for you.”)
At the same time, he tells them that their ideas will be heard in government, with the implication that, somehow, conservative Christians have previously been silenced. In a moment almost breathtaking in its mendacity, he invokes Isaiah 1:17, as if the members of his audience, gathered in DC with the president speaking to them, are somehow oppressed. He warns them that his enemies will “lie, obstruct, spread their hate and prejudice” (Oh, the projection!) in order to disempower them–but that they should never give up.
In the end, the faithful will be rewarded with cultural dominance: they will be “bigger and stronger,” “never forgotten,” and, most importantly (and, in Jesus’ perspective, dangerously), “first.”
Those words should make Christians protest, not cheer.
I put these two examples next to each other not because I think most of the Christian nationalists trotting behind Ralph Reed are violent extremists hoping to start a race war in order to establish an all-white nation.
But, they are racists, many of them at the individual level and all of them at the structural. They are power hungry. And they are building on the same frame as violent white extremists: fear and a promise to lord power over those they see as enemies. And some of them will hear in Trump’s words permission to use violence.