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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.

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