The January 6th Capitol attack was the inevitable product of the Christian Right’s hatred of America

Journalist and researcher Bruce Wilson discusses how religious hatred for a ‘fallen nation’ fueled a presidential coup attempt
A woman holds a sign with a stylized portrait of Jesus Christ wearing a "Make America Great" hat during the January 6, 2021 far-right invasion of the U.S. Capitol Building. The picture also has an acronym associated with the QAnon conspiracy movement. Photo: Tyler Merbler/Flickr

Episode Summary

It’s now been a full year since a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol with the intent of overthrowing the 2020 election so that then-president Donald Trump could illegally remain in office against the wishes of the American people.

During the intervening 12 months, while hundreds of people have been indicted and convicted for their role in the events, almost nothing has emerged from the law enforcement investigations as to what Trump and his inner circle of aides were doing that tragic day. And that’s because federal investigators can only reveal information connected to a formal criminal indictment.

What is very clear, however, is that the tens of thousands of people who came to Washington that day were doing it for something much more important to them than the grievances of a snobby New York investor. For many of the people who entered Capitol that day, invading the building was striking a blow for God against a wayward America they despised.

Unfortunately, this information was out there well before the Capitol invasion, but it wasn’t reported much by the mainstream press, which spends most of its time obsessing over political gossip instead of actually understanding politics.

Joining the program to discuss all this with me is Bruce Wilson. He is a researcher and journalist who has studied Christian nationalist movements for decades and has tracked their ever growing influence on Republican politics. In the show — which was recorded on January 6, 2022 — we go through a number of specific moments to show that the attack on America was building for years and why the extremists who did it want to come back for more.

The video of our conversation is below, the transcript of the edited audio follows.



Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here today, Bruce.

BRUCE WILSON: Sure.

SHEFFIELD: This is such a large story, there’s a lot of context, that is difficult for mainstream journalists whose primary job is to chase politicians around. So it’s kind of hard for them to tell this full story. And even in a one hour podcast, roughly it’s hard for us to do that. So we’re going to tell the story through the lens of a guy who is a member of a radical anti-abortion movement group.

Let’s talk about the group first a little bit, if you could. Talk about that briefly, if you will, for a second.

WILSON: Well, it’s a number of decades old founded by Randal Terry, later picked up by Flip Benham, and now it’s got shared leadership. It was a more legitimate wing of what amounted to probably the biggest domestic terrorism phenomenon in the United States in the 20th century. There was nothing else like it, and the targets extended more than abortion doctors or abortion clinics. There was Eric Rudolph who blew up a bunch of people at the World’s Fair because he hated gays the United Nations. There was a whole list. He was concerned about the “new world order,” but anyway, so the ideology extends a lot further than you might think of.

And underpinning it tends to be the Christian Reconstructionist movement, which is where, more than not, the anti-abortion movement came out of. So there’s a whole totalitarian, if you will, vision of how to radically restructure society that lays behind the anti-abortion movement. So ultimately the Christian reconstructionists want to radically pare down government and to impose Biblical law at the local level.

SHEFFIELD: Because they see that government has somehow intruded upon the rights of the church. And that the church should be in control of society, not the government.

WILSON: Yeah. The Christian reconstructionists divide things into three separate spheres. There’s the government sphere, the family sphere, which is the most immediate, and essentially the church sphere. And that’s pretty much it. So most justice would be administered through biblical law at the local level.

SHEFFIELD: So we’re going to center the discussion around this guy who was a member of this movement and his name is Ante Pavkovic, he’s a far right pastor based out of North Carolina. Mostly what he does is he travels the country and screams at people and stalks them outside of abortion clinics. That’s his, seems to be his primary occupation, if you will. So I’m going to play some footage of him, denouncing people and denouncing America.

(Begin clip)

ANTE PAVKOVIC: Most of the people today in America that go to church do not know God. Half of the churches in America are fake. The ministers are fake. They don’t know God. It’s a job to them, it’s a vocation. It’s a way to make money. They don’t preach the true gospel.

There’s plenty of pastors in America that tell their congregants that abortion is all right. Those are not men of God. Those are servants of the devil!

So it doesn’t matter how many people go to church in our nation. Most of our nation is lost. Look at it!

(End clip)

SHEFFIELD: And the clip goes on for ad infinitum, frankly. We don’t need to play all of it.

But basically, the core things to take away from it are that this is a far right movement that sees America as ultimately, fundamentally, illegitimate. That hates fellow Americans, thinks that it’s God’s personal servants, and that anyone who criticizes them is Satan’s little helper, if you will.

It’s a movement that blends racism, that blends misogyny, that blends religious fanaticism all in into one, just this noxious cocktail. And there’s something that’s kind of interesting and unfortunate about a lot of people when they observe far-right politics, is that they tend to think it’s all just one thing. It’s all sexism, or it’s all racism, or it’s all religious fanaticism, but the reality is that it’s all a different mix for different people. The idea of a divine imprimatur is perhaps the biggest motivator, but it certainly isn’t the the only one.

WILSON: Yeah. Another way you can look at it is that, broadly speaking across the spectrum from the Christian Reconstructionists to the charismatics, who I spent an awful lot of time studying, they think that America has fallen away from God and God’s commandments. And there’s a palingenetic process. They feel like the nation has become almost impossibly corrupt, and it needs to be restored to some imagined future glory. It’s what was going on in Nazi Germany, that they had a similar vision of a national rebirth.

So that underlies this, even as much as the anti-abortion people will talk about how awful America is, there still will be this vision in the background. It’s always there in the Christian Reconstructionist vision that America has betrayed God’s commandments, and therefore we are cursed. But if we shape up and we prostate ourselves before God, we will again, receive God’s blessing and we will be great again.

SHEFFIELD: Make America great again. And that’s one of the things that we’ll see later on in the episode that Donald Trump, his campaign slogans and the things that he says are explicitly designed to parallel in some cases literally, the exact words that these people say.

So that’s the theology of these people and and their political outlook and they, in a lot of cases are the engine behind a lot of other right-wing movements as well. So like the militia movement is heavily affiliated with Christian Reconstructionists and people like that have this idea of: ‘Someday, we’re going to overthrow the government and return it to the way that God had made it in constitution.’

And the other thing also to note is that the January 6 insurrection it wasn’t the only time that we’ve had violence at the Capitol or interruptions on the floor of Congress by people trying to stop official duties. One of those that took place was an event that took place in 2007.

And at the time it got almost no media coverage. And it was involving Ante Pavkovic. Pavkovic. He and his Christian nationalists comrades decided they were outraged that Harry Reid, who just recently passed away, who was the Senate Majority Leader at the time, Harry Reid had invited a man who was a a Hindu religious leader to deliver the prayer in the Senate.

So they, every day they have an opening prayer of their session. Most of the senators never attend it, but I guess it’s a traditional formality that they’ve decided to just keep going. No non Christian or Jewish religious leader had ever done it up until this point in 2007.

And so, Well, actually I think in fact there was another incident that happened in 2000. So that was the first time when they actually did have a Hindu person do a prayer. And there was a lot of anger on the Christian right against them. But nothing really happened as a result of it.

But in 2007, there was a second moment where a Senate leader decided that they were going to invite in the name of religious pluralism, and the fact that this is an America for everyone, no matter what your faith or non faith is, to deliver a prayer.

And so, there was a man that was invited whose name is Rajan Zed. And he’s a Hindu religious leader based out of Nevada. So he got up on the dais at the Capitol and he was interrupted. And C-SPAN 2 actually captured the footage of that day, but to my knowledge has never aired on any television network.

(Begin clip)

SENATE STAFFER: Today’s opening prayer will be offered by a guest chaplain, Mr. Rajan Zed of the Indian Association of Northern Nevada

ANTE PAVKOVIC: Lord Jesus, forgive us Father for allowing the prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight!

SENATE STAFFER: The Sergeant at arms will restore order in the Senate.

PAVKOVIC: You have said that we shall have no other gods before you! You are the one true and living god!

SENATE STAFFER: The Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the chamber.

PAVKOVIC: Have mercy Lord!

RAJAN ZED: Let us pray.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: In Jesus’s name, I pray.

ZED: We meditate on that transcendental glory of the Deity Supreme.

WOMAN: We will keep saying your name, O Jesus! You are the only one who can save us!

SENATE STAFFER: The Sergeant at Arms will restore order in the Senate, in the chamber.

ZED: Let us pray. We meditate on the transcendental glory of that Deity Supreme, who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky, and inside the soul of the heaven. May he stimulate and illuminate our minds.

(End clip)

SHEFFIELD: And he went on with a very nice prayer to try to get people to think and respect each other. So there was certainly nothing objectionable to it and normal people were not offended by it.

But it was an important moment because— so at that time, so you heard two voices in the clip. Obviously the male voice was, he was identified by the police, as Ante Pavkovic .

But then also his wife, Katherine Pavkovic, was believed to be the woman who was in the clip as well. And they were carted off by the police and subsequently arrested for what they did and charged. But in the far right Christian community, there was no condemnation for what they did.

And there was no acknowledgement that it was a gross violation of all their rhetoric of pretending to be concerned about religious freedom. That’s something that you’ve looked at also that these movements often try to use the term “religious freedom” as kind of a cudgel to bash everyone else. But they themselves don’t actually believe, right?

WILSON: Yeah. They’re there they’re ultimately supremacists. No other religion other than their particular form of Christianity, which in this case, would be typically Protestant, which Christian Reconstructionism is. And this viewpoint extends over to the charismatic side of the equation. So even the fellow Protestant denominations: Methodists, and Episcopalians, and Presbyterians and so on, certainly Unitarians are seen as illegitimate and perhaps under sway of demons.

So that’s how extreme it is. And even though the Christian reconstructionist don’t do this, but among the charismatics, say the New Apostolic people, they will show up on stage quite happily with Catholics, but when they’re in private, they will make no bones about the fact that the Catholic Church is, at least, under the sway of demon influence.

So that’s how extreme it is. So it’s no surprise that these Operation Save America people were screaming out a Hindu prayer, which they saw as the worst form of sacrilege that was probably at some point going to break down God’s wrath. That’s the way it works.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And and they’ve, some of them, have explicitly talked about how that, I think Rushdoony actually talked— RJ Rushdoony who was the founder of Christian Reconstructionism— actually wrote about how religious freedom was something that they would use but didn’t believe in.

WILSON: I vaguely remember it, but it was also echoed by his sometimes second in command, Gary North, there was a break at some point, but North essentially said the same thing. He said, we will use democracy to get rid of it.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and it’s something that they have in common with other far right movements, whether it’s ones that tend to be more misogynist oriented, like the Proud Boys, or ones that tend to be more racially motivated, is that they see the vast majority of Americans as not real Americans. That only they and their political allies are Americans. That no one else actually deserves rights or freedom in their thinking. Is that accurate, would you say?

WILSON: Yeah. And I’ve been really surprised since the advent of Trump that the Republican Party has almost, they’ve walked right up to overtly acknowledging that they want to be a herrenvolk democracy. They want to a herrenvolk democracy, which is an ethnic democracy or for them, that would be a white, ethnic democracy, a democracy of the minority and that they would of course, find ways of excluding all other ethnicities from the vote.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And now I’m going to play a clip from a guy named John MacArthur. He’s a mega church pastor here in California. Extremely influential within far right Christianity, but most people have never heard of this guy, but he is rolling in money and actually was behind the lawsuit when he wanted to keep his church open in the pandemic, that the Supreme Court ruling.

So this is him talking about what he really thinks about religious freedom.

(Begin clip)

JOHN MACARTHUR: I read the other day that one of the evangelical publicists, whatever that is, said he’s happy to let us know that the new administration will uphold religious freedom. Really? The new administration will uphold religious freedom? Um, I don’t even support religious freedom, religious freedom is what sends people to hell.

To say I support religious freedom is to say I support idolatry. It’s to say I support lies. I support hell. I support the kingdom of darkness. You can’t say that! No Christian with half a brain would say: ‘We support religious freedom.’ We support the truth! (applause)

But if the new administration supports religious freedom, get ready, persecution will be ramped up. Because the more supportive they are of the devil’s lies, the less they’re going to tolerate the truth of scripture. (Break in audio)

We’re not going to lobby for freedom of religion. What kind of nonsense is that? We are in the world to expose all those lies as lies.

(End clip)

SHEFFIELD: And he goes on. That mentality that America is only for them. And they’ve had the increasing realization since Republicans have not won the popular vote in the presidential elections since 2004, that the hold that they think they deserve and that they’re entitled to on America, it’s slipping and they’re getting upset about it.

It’s really disturbing. So that’s kind of the background, the context here. We have the theology, which says that the far right are the only ones entitled to governance. Then we have the idea that they can just go ahead and disrupt anything that they want because they’re the servants of God.

And I think one example that at the time it did receive a lot of coverage, but people didn’t— I don’t think they paid attention fully to it. And that is Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, who in 2015, refused to perform marriages after the Supreme Court in Obergefell versus Hodges had said that same-sex marriage needed to be legal.

And so, people, were generally aware who followed the news that she was doing this, but they didn’t understand why I think. And a lot of that was because of the newspaper. They didn’t cover it much. So I’m going to just briefly play a clip of her talking to people when she was refusing to do the marriages.

(Begin clip)

Unidentified Man #1: Why are you not issuing marriage licenses today?

Kim Davis: Because I’m not.

Unidentified Man #2: Under whose authority are you not issuing the licenses?

Kim Davis: Under God’s authority.

Unidentified Man #1: Did the God tell you to treat us like this?

Unidentified Man #2: I don’t believe in your God.

Kim Davis: I’ve asked you all to leave. You are interrupting my business.

Unidentified Man #1: You can talk to police if you want us to leave. You can call the police.

SHEFFIELD: So that’s just a little short moment. But there’s a lot of doctrine there that I think a lot of people haven’t heard of. Tell us a little bit about that, Bruce.

WILSON: Well, it emerged out of the most extremely racist, white supremacist wing of the militia movement. And the doctrine was the doctrine of the lower magistrate. That if a lower authority were asked to do something which ran contrary to God’s law, or the perceived interpretation of the Constitution also, because there’s a lot of legalistic, mumbo jumbo attached to this basically crackpot interpretation of the Constitution. But should this happen, the lower magistrate- and they’ve walked this back to English common law. The idea is that some officials, especially county sheriffs who are almost sacred in this viewpoint, they can simply flip off state or federal government and this’ll be okay. But this ideology has been gaining ground to the point where we’re on the cusp of having county sheriffs openly deputize militias.

There is this character, Dar Leaf, in Michigan, who was friends with a couple of the characters who have been charged with plotting to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer and that’s not the only example. There are a lot of examples of county sheriffs across the country, it’s far from a majority, it’s still very much a minority, but still, there are lots of examples of county sheriffs who have become quite close to local militias.

SHEFFIELD: So they believe that they can, any lower official, no matter how low level, like a county clerk, if they believe that a higher official has acted in violation of God’s law, that they can just overturn it, right? And so what is the idea behind that? Like where do they get that idea?

WILSON: Well, ultimately God’s laws supersedes man’s law. The ultimate authority is God. And if you’re really sticking to your guns, if you’re really true to your beliefs, you will stand by that now.

SHEFFIELD: Of course, but now how do they resolve, or do they even consider the problem of what if you’ve got two people who say they’re acting in God’s name, but have different ideas?

WILSON: Well, I think the idea is that we’ll take power first, and then we’ll work out those details later. The religious right is a vastly complex coalition and should they achieve complete control, the resulting in-fighting will be quite extreme. Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Jews can do this on and on. There will be lots of religious persecution, lots of internecine religious infighting. And so it will be, in short, a mess.

SHEFFIELD: They’ve resolved first, we have to destroy pluralism. And then after that, we can sort everything out subsequently. The problem with pluralism is that it’s something that almost everyone believes in, but most people don’t understand why it’s good and what the point of it is. So like in America’s founding, the creators of the constitution deliberately decided to keep religion out of it because they saw that it would be harmful to the people who were minorities, but they saw that it would be harmful to the majority as well. Basically, you could argue that this idea of America as a nation only for Christians, that’s the original “big lie.”

WILSON: Yeah. They kept that space open, but there were other things going on, like allowing for slavery, which eventually generated a whole new theological tradition in the South, which that’s the guy kind of codified by people like theologians like Robert Lewis Dabney, which in turn actually became the precedent for Christian Reconstructionism, which in its most extreme form, is wildly racist and validates some form of slavery.

SHEFFIELD: That was the point of it originally. And the other thing about the Kim Davis episode that I think is important in retrospect is that, so here you had a government official deliberately refusing to perform official duties. And it was something that built on what happened in 2007, with Rajan Zed.

First, that was only just three people screaming in the well of the Senate. But now with Kim Davis, you had, after she was held in contempt of court, she held a rally outside of her jail after she refused to even comply in any way with judicial orders and Mike Huckabee, who was a presidential candidate, Republican presidential candidate, was there and he literally built a stage for this woman and were treating her as a hero. And I’ve got a clip here of Rick Santorum, who was another Republican presidential candidate, who hailed her. And he did it on CNN.

(Begin clip)

RICK SANTORUM: The obligation of, I believe, of a president, of a Congress, when the court acts unconstitutionally, and I believe they have acted unconstitutionally, is to use the power that is inherent in the Constitution that they call checks and balances. When a president acts unconstitutionally, the court can slap down the president.

What happens if the Supreme Court acts unconstitutionally? Who has the— who gets the opportunity to challenge them?

JOHN BERMAN (CNN host): Do you think it’s Kim Davis? Do you think it’s a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky?

SANTORUM: I would agree that what, what Kim Davis did, in my opinion, was heroic. And she suffered the consequences from it. She, she was, she was, uh, uh, you know, obviously, I think the, the putting her in jail was ridiculous, as is an extreme position. But you know what? That’s sometimes what it takes for people, who, uh, stand up and conduct civil disobedience because the law is unjust, uh, to suffer the consequences of that.

And, uh, so I commend her for actually standing up for her principles.

(End clip)

SHEFFIELD: You could argue, I think, that in some sense, what Kim Davis was doing, was it that different than what Donald Trump wanted on January 6th the Congress to do? I don’t think—

WILSON: Yeah, if Kim Davis’s argument had any legal or constitutional merit, regardless of what Rick Santorum says, she could have filed a lawsuit and it would have plodded its way up tothe Supreme Court eventually, if it had some merit.

SHEFFIELD: She did appeal actually and they denied her.

WILSON: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: So that was it. So yeah, she lost through the court system and she refused to comply with lawful orders. And so, but this was, as I said, in the first insurrection, if you will, with Pavkovic and his family interrupting the Senate, people didn’t pay attention to it. And even on the Religious Right, only the most extreme people dared to say anything about it favorable.

There were some people in organizations, this far-right group called the American Family Association, which actually owns over a hundred radio stations across America, pumping out Christian supremacist stuff. They were in favor of them and a couple of other organizations that said something. But here with Kim Davis, she was being hailed at the national level by presidential candidates for defying the law.

And it’s important to remember also the court when they made that decision, the majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage. So this was something that everybody for the most part was in favor of.

But interestingly enough, one person who showed up for Kim Davis afterward, according to the Associated Press and several other publications that were out there was Ante Pavkovic. He showed up there at a rally, he stood in the lobby actually of the office. So after Davis was released from jail, she decided that she would have her deputies issue marriage licenses but not have her name on them. And so, Pavkovic, he showed up saying that the deputy clerks should be fired.

And then he said the following, and definitely this is not family friendly language, so I’m just going to read it here. But yeah, not, I wouldn’t recommend kids listening to it. So he said: “Thinking of what the sodomites have done should make you sick,” he told the deputy clerks.

Ante Pavkovic is kind of like the Forrest Gump of insurrection, he keeps turning up at all these things. And so does this Operation Save America. But he’s not the only person involved with this organization. So it was started by this guy named Randall Terry, and then later ended up being taken over by another guy named Flip Benham.

And the interesting thing about him, is that he kept all the same confrontational tactics of screaming at abortion doctors and clinic patients and also getting arrested numerous times. But another thing about him is that because a lot of the media doesn’t really report on the activities of these people, sometimes they are able to worm their way into mainstream media outlets, in a way that later surprises people.

And Benham actually has two sons who were given a show on HGTV, a real estate property show and it was starting his two sons. And they have all the same extreme views as their father, but nobody involved with the HGTV network seems to have done anything to investigate them at all.

And after people started watching the show, they started looking into well, who are these people that are starting in this program? And what are they all about? And they found out, wow, they were affiliated with the radical anti-abortion groups and have a lot of extreme ideologies.

While the Kim Davis episode certainly was an example of Christian supremacist ideas about disregarding the rule of law for their religious opinions was very influential on Republicans, it wasn’t the only time where that happened. The 2008 vice presidential nomination of Sarah Palin also brought these ideas into the Republican mainstream.

That was something that you and several other people did a great “Flux Capacitor” discussion for us, which is available exclusively to our Patreon subscribers. But if you could talk about it just briefly here for this episode, on “Theory of Change,” that would be great.

WILSON: You can walk it back further than Sarah Palin. The 2000 election was shut down by an acolyte of the New Apostolic Reformation. And the effect on our politics is almost hard to overstate, but Palin was far from the only,

SHEFFIELD: So what is the New Apostolic Reformation for people who have never heard of it?

WILSON: It’s basically something that’s emerging out of a hyper charismatic movement that’s global called the Third Wave which purports to do miracles, raised the dead, everything that Jesus was said to have done. It claims that eventually its followers can learn to do that.

So it’s very seductive. It’s sort of aligned with the prosperity gospel movement, but not exactly the same. It’s organizing out of this Third Wave movement, which was about 300 million strong by 2000 and at least twice as big now. So it’s kind of a big deal. And it’s essentially becoming organized as a new religion, but Palin grew up in essentially the heart of this New Apostolic Reformation’s effort to move into Alaska. Her church— they called that her church the beachhead.

So she she was groomed by one of the movement’s apostles and prophets, and grew up as a young woman trying to pray witches to death, and was subjected to all of the movement’s various propaganda.

And I can guarantee you that these people were out in considerable force, on January 6th. I’ve tracked some of them. One of them I’m not, I can’t positively say, but one of them seems to have been there, Larry Brock who is a guy who was seen in tack gear with a helmet and holding zip-ties on the floor of the House, apparently looking for people to zip-tie and a major newspaper discovered a Facebook photo of Brock and his wife and two children in front of Dallas’s Gateway Church, which is one of the biggest mega churches in the country right now. But the Gateway Church was where the New Apostolic Reformation really launched. In 1999, they put together essentially a dues paying organization of their so-called apostles who, they pretty much deem who is an apostle.

But anyway, this is a real organization, it’s still around, and they’ve got now a U.S. component. They’ve got an international component. They’ve got the apostles organizations and maybe a third of the countries on the planet, a lot of places, and nobody even knows this movement exists, but they were very much there on January 6th along with the Christian Reconstructionists.

SHEFFIELD: And the NAR organizing strategy is important also, because they target and try to work from the inside of other people’s congregations. To some degree, some of these pastors that they’re targeting have no idea that they may actually be referring people to an organization that is going to turn their members against the church.

So there were all these different constituencies who were there on January 6th. But the New Apostolic Reformation and the Christian Reconstructionists, besides their love of Donald Trump, they’re also linked to the prosperity gospel as well, which basically tells people: ‘If you give money to me, the pastor, then God will give you money in return,’ and things like that.

But anyway, these prosperity gospel preachers, they were really some of the very first people on the Christian Right to start supporting Donald Trump when he first declared his candidacy in 2015, isn’t that right?

WILSON: Yeah. Yeah. The charismatics, especially the New Apostolic people. Back in 2015, I started to notice a guy named Lance Wallnau. He’s an apostle, he’s an apostle in the U.S. Coalition of Apostolic leaders, a dues-paying organization which has regular meetings, yearly meetings, at least.

Back when I met him, I identified him as being in the New Apostolic movement, and he told me: ‘How do you know that?’

I said: ‘Well, people write articles, your name pops up.’

And he said: ‘Did I ever write a book?’

I said: ‘No.’

He said: ‘Yeah. That’s why, so you can’t pin me down.’

After the advent of Sarah Palin, he dropped that and start writing books. And he’s been in a lot of books, essentially ‘capture the Seven Mountains’ books, that sort of thing.

But anyway, he was maybe the earliest, one of the earliest people to jump on the Trump as a king Cyrus figure—

SHEFFIELD: And who was King Cyrus for people who don’t know?

WILSON: King Cyrus was a king who essentially released the Jews from captivity. He didn’t believe in the Jewish faith in any way. But he did that.

SHEFFIELD: And he’s a character in the Bible Book of Esther.

WILSON: He’s seen as a righteous figure, not a believer, but a righteous figure who, ultimately, is somehow being influenced by God to do the right thing.

So by making Trump a Cyrus figure, they allowed for all of his personal faults, while suggesting yeah, he’s kind of wretched personally, but he will do the right thing. And, for the movement, he did. Those Supreme Court justices are an amazing contribution to the movement. And there’s so much else we don’t know and may never know about how he influenced the federal government. So really it was a good bargain for them to overlook his wretched personal life.

SHEFFIELD: One of the other precursor events to January 6th took place in 2020 in Michigan.

And you, can you bring, you mentioned it for a second there. But so much happened in those few months that people kind of forget about it. It’s easy to forget. So in Michigan they had a protest in which they have people from different militia movements come into their capitol with all kinds of weapons, body armor, and then they started pounding on the doors, and demanding to be let in.

And Trump, he responded: “These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again. See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

That’s pretty much what he essentially tried to do on January 6th.

WILSON: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: People invade the Capitol pound on the door demanding something, and Trump wanted them to get what they wanted.

WILSON: Yeah. One thing I want to add about the Michigan thing is that since 2009, there was established across from the state building in Lansing, a House of Prayer. This is where charismatics, usually kids in their teens or twenties, will basically live and pray nonstop. And they’ll be hanging out in front of the Capitol praying a lot too. And this is part of a charismatic initiative called “Transformation Michigan,” which has been running since 2009. And there’s a relationship to that and the militia movement. I can guarantee not all the people in the militia movement are of that particular brand of Christianity. Some of them will be, but there’s this, it has the function of once again, sacralizing opposition to government and they’re right across the street.

SHEFFIELD: And then they subsequently, the militia movement then other people were, contemplating the idea of kidnapping Governor Gretchen Whitmer as well.

WILSON: Mmm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: So these people we’re talking about are even further to the right than your average, typical conservative Christian Republican. Like these are genuine reactionaries. I think it’s fair to use that label. And after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election and was looking around for any possible way to stay in office despite losing, he filed all these court cases and lost pretty much all of them.

But after that, by the end of December, after all the legal options had collapsed, or as they were collapsing, Trump and his White House started going for the plan B, which was an intimidation campaign on the Congress.

Because people forget that for the longest time, there were no members of the Senate that were actually going to challenge the votes of the different states. On the days leading up to January 6th, they were actually refusing to do it. So Trump and his minions really started to try to drum up any possible way to get these senators to knuckle under. And so naturally they went for the people who supported them the hardest at first.

And that was the reactionary Christian Right. They came up with this campaign, which they called “Save America.” Which is interesting when you think about it. Because, of course, that is the exact name of the same organization that we’ve been talking about here today. “Operation Save America.”


Photo
Then-president Donald Trump gestures toward the sky as he speaks at a rally complaining about his loss of the 2020 election, surrounded by signage saying “Save America.”

And of course, when they say “save America,” who do they want to save it from? That was a question I never really heard anybody in the mainstream press ask people. Why are you calling it Save America. And why are you using that exact phrase from another group. What’s the larger context here?

So it was a very real and direct attempt to sort of adopt the actual slogans of these far right groups. And Donald Trump himself literally was using that symbology as he was going across the country on his loser tour, putting it on his podiums and banners behind him.

They even released a picture of him pointing upward toward the sky with that Save America signage all around him and the light shining on his face. So it’s a very deliberate adoption of their imagery, really.

WILSON: At a later stage, there came the rallying for the actual coup, which I interpreted as that the Jericho March events, and there were a number of those. There was the one on 12/12, which was pretty big. And you had a number of people who were directly associated with the apparent coup attempt up onstage with, well, predominantly the biggest block at that one, it was called of course, ecumenical. There are Catholics but the biggest Christian block were the New Apostolics, but since nobody, really covers them, that was not identified.

But anyway, that’s when the language turned really militant. They were talking about the “Black Robe Brigade,” and well, the very concept of the Jericho March, we’re gonna march around Jericho, the walls will fall down, and then as Joshua’s army did, to slaughter everyone inside. Christians know this story, it was very deliberately picked.

SHEFFIELD: And also, they were going even further than just telling the story or taking the label, they were taking the traditional Jewish trumpet, the shofar, and blowing it at their ceremonies.

WILSON: Well, that’s a New Apostolic thing, by the way. That’s coming out the Messianic Jewish wing of the movement, and they tend to pull out the shofars, bring in the Messianics, and pull out the shofars, at big events. There was one stadium event back in 2007, probably by Lou angle, where they had 200 people going, 200 shofars marching into a baseball stadium. And Senator Sam Brownback was there. The shofars are, there’s a context for them.

It’s about the appropriation of Jewish identity. It’s done because this Messianic Judaism, it’s meant to sort of woo and also supplant Judaism. So that’s why. And the shofar has also carried this very aggressive, symbolic meaning of that, that we’re gonna, we’re gonna conquer. Pull out a shofar, and people know the story.

SHEFFIELD: So in the Joshua and Jericho story, they were doing the shofars in the days leading up to the big battle of Jericho. And so it was preparation for the battle that they were going to enter into the city and take it over.

WILSON: Yeah. They marched around Jericho for seven days, presumably blowing on the shofars, and on the seventh day, they blew the shofars again, the walls came down. Interestingly, the New Apostolic s, they got a number of permits around the Capitol and they had a thin perimeter of their people with shofars.

They commenced lowering those shofars at just about the same time as the onslaught on the Capitol commenced. Not saying that it was an army of New Apostolics, and it was quite a mix of different people from the Operation Save America types, the antiabortion Christian Reconstructionists, there are New Apostolics. There were lots of, much more secular anti-government types, but they were the ones who are sacralizing the attack with those shofars.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. They turned it into a religious ceremony—

WILSON: Yeah, yeah.

SHEFFIELD: —with what they were doing, and their many days of praying up onstage. And so January 5th in a lot of ways, was when you saw the motivations of the people who were actually there. Like sometimes they actually would take people out of the crowd and put them up on the stage at some of these events. And so, whereas, the Trump January 6th rally, it was tightly controlled and being limited to people in his inner circle .

But even there, you have the violent language where Trump said that people have to ‘fight like hell or you won’t have a country anymore.’ And then you had people like Mo Brooks, the Alabama Republican congressmen who talked about how we’re going to start ‘kicking asses and taking names.’

When you add that type of rhetoric to these days and days of telling people, this is your moment to be a Bible character.

WILSON: Mmm-hmm.

SHEFFIELD: You can be part of the Bible. That’s what this is basically. And for a lot of people who don’t believe in the Bible or let’s say they do believe in the Bible, but they don’t believe those stories are real.

There’s a temptation to think: ‘Oh, that’s just stupid. These people are dumb.’ But they’re more than dumb. They’re very determined and extreme. And if you just dismiss them as that, then you’re being naïve.

WILSON: To return to the Joshua- Jericho tale. Part of that tale is before the attack, Joshua sends a couple of spies into Jericho and they’re put up by a prostitute named Rahab, who was the only person who is spared after the sack of Jericho? So in the January 6th attack, what happens is shofars blow, the swarms of people from various factions start to attack. And at the same time, Michele Bachmann, who very much it’s taken me a while, but I’ve identified her as part of the New Apostolic Reformation. She saunters up to a door of the Capitol knocks, she’s got her ID. So he has the credentials to go in, and identifies herself. They let her in, lock the door again.

And she walks up. She makes her way to Kevin McCarthy, and has some sort of powwow with Kevin McCarthy. This is by her own description, by the way. I’ve got that. I got the audio of her talking about it. And she talked about it on a podcast. But she talks to Kevin McCarthy and then she makes her way to a room in the Capitol that’s some sort of prayer room. But it just happens to be almost adjacent to Nancy Pelosi’s office, and by her own account, she stands there watching people flee Nancy Pelosi’s office.

So think about this, the context of Joshua Jericho narrative. Well, they’ve got a handy spy on-hand.

And then eventually, she makes her way to a late afternoon appointment with the secretary of state. So make of it what you will.

SHEFFIELD: There have been some allegations that Lauren Boebert, who also is a far-right evangelical, had allegedly been giving tours to some of the people who went into the building as well beforehand.

And some other individuals were accused of that as well. But at this point according to the committee they haven’t seen any evidence that substantiated that allegation yet. I think we should point that out.

Just to continue the story though, Ante Pavkovic, he also was there again at another insurrection.

So he was there, and on their website, Operation Save America, they filed that report from Washington DC. And obviously you can’t see it on the screen here, so I’ll zoom in, in a second, but they acknowledged that they were there and they said: “Ante Pavkovic, Frank Campagna and the assistant director of OSA (that’s Operation Save America), Jason Storms set up the Lord’s beachhead at this immense gathering.”

And so, they were there by their own admission. And there was some other details about what they did there, what Operation Save America did that are also worth noting. The website Prism worked with a couple of organizations to track some footage that came out of that day.

And they talked about specifically how anti-abortion activists were there. And Jason Storms, who I mentioned is the assistant director. He videotaped himself standing on the scaffolding, outside the Capitol and calling it a revolution. So he was there to cheer it on. He was there to participate, he was not just there to minister to the wayward protesters.

And then further on, in the piece, they talked about other anti-abortion people who were there, John rock Hoff who’s convicted abortion clinic, set off a bomb in 1985 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then was convicted of planning to do another bomb in Pensacola, Florida.

So these are, and then there were other people there who that you had noticed as well. And I guess we can maybe talk about that in a second, but one of the other things that was in that Prism article was that the woman who got shot by the Capitol police, as she was trying to enter the Capitol’s secure room, Ashli Babbitt, supposedly pro-life individuals just sat there filming her, as she bled to death. And nobody bothered to try to administer to her wounds or anything like that. They just sat there and watched her die. And these are people who say that they care about life. So it was an interesting illustration of what they actually seem to think.

WILSON: Oh yeah. Well, among the New Apostolic leaders, what was interesting to me was somebody like Lance Wallnau, who was there, he marched over after Trump’s stump speech. He went on a podcast the day after and said: ‘Gee, the media is painting it as if we were some sort of rampaging army. That’s not what I saw. I saw the intercessors. Yes, they were getting tear gas, but the people who are really behind the violence were antifa.’

And he had a whole bunch of obviously pre-memorized details to regurgitate about that. And he was not the only one that, that was the line coming out of a lot of New Apostolic leadership, not all the ones, specific factions. And right after January 6th, there was a big push to try to blame antifa, even though the evidence wasn’t there.

And meanwhile, there was absolutely no recognition of the fact that the mob was viciously beating Capitol police with clubs and flags and, they’re using bear mace, and all sorts of fun items of assault. So there was absolutely zero recognition of violence that went on. There was an attempt to totally invert reality because, well, it was clear to me that they’re going to hope that antifa would actually show up and be a pretext, and nobody from the left did show up. So they were left hanging. And it’s not fitting that well a year later.

SHEFFIELD: And one of the people that I mentioned, Jason Storms, you sent me before the show, so he’s another Operation Save America guy. But he is also married to the daughter of a Christian reconstructionist named Matthew Trewhella. Do you want to talk about him a little bit?

WILSON: He’s been convicted of various forms of anti abortion clinic violence, but he’s also very much a Christian Reconstructionist. Even people seeking abortions should be executed, so he’s fairly far out.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and it’s important to note that this is the theology that we’re talking about here, that when you believe that you are God’s servant, your opponents are Satan’s servants, they are murderers who of themselves deserve to be killed. And also you have the right to disobey any law that you want. That’s a recipe for insurrections pretty much.

So that’s what we saw and this is a movement that in the hours and days afterward, they were proud of what they did to a large degree. So some of the more media savvy ones started realizing, oh, this is a bad look for us. The shock troops, the cannon fodder, they were happy with what they did. And they want to do it again. I think that’s fair to say.

WILSON: Yeah. And parenthetically, Jason Storms, one of his operations, he runs a ministry for rehabilitating veterans with PTSD. So this is not the only operation like that in the Christian Right. There are a number of them. It’s a way of inducting ex-military people in their viewpoint.

SHEFFIELD: And so all of this is the context of January 6th. And it’s important for people who do know the truth, the full truth about these movements, and how much power they have within mainstream Republican politics, you need to spread the word about it.

Tell people when you see a good article or a good podcast. Share it on your social networks or with your friends and family to let them know. Because as somebody who used to be involved in Republican politics myself, I had no idea how horrible these people were and who I was helping. So there are some people out there who can be educated and learn about what’s going on.

So it’s worth the effort. Even if you can’t convince a lot of these reactionary fundamentalists to mend their ways, at least you can help people not help them.

WILSON: Yeah, well actually in my experience, the people who sometimes get it the most are former moderate Republicans. One year I worked part of the year or Mikey Weinstein, he runs the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. He flew me down to Stone Mountain, Georgia, where I recorded a B1 bomber pilot saying that: ‘Yes, there will come a day where I’m going to have to buck the command chain and work for Jesus.’

I have no idea what happened with that, but anyway, Mikey Weinstein was a former lawyer for Ross Perot, and he was a moderate Republican, until he found out what was going on at the Air Force Academy, because his kids were going there and they were Jewish and they’re getting beaten up. And there were predatory evangelism efforts going on against them too.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, it’s important to spread this knowledge. And so I do really appreciate you coming on the show today, Bruce.

WILSON: Yeah, sure.

SHEFFIELD: I always love talking to you and tapping your brain about all this stuff. So for those in the audience who are on Twitter, Bruce is also on Twitter, he is just simply @brucewilson on Twitter. I guess that’s the best way to find you. And you’ll probably be sharing some freelance stuff here and there as well, right?

WILSON: Not for a while, but I may be getting back into it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I hope you do. And you’re certainly welcome to publish something for us at Flux as well. I definitely love that. So thanks for being here today, Bruce. I wish it was a better occasion, but you’re definitely somebody who knows about how we got to January 6.

WILSON: Yeah. Thanks a lot. I enjoyed it.

About This Podcast

Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? History is filled with stories of people and institutions that spent big and devoted many resources to effect change but have little to show for it. By contrast, many societal developments have happened without forethought from anyone. And of course, change can be negative as well as positive.

In each episode of this weekly program, Theory of Change host Matthew Sheffield delves deep with a solo guest to discuss larger trends in politics, religion, media, and technology.