On June 1, 2020, then-President Donald Trump walked through Lafayette Square in front of the White House, followed by a team of anxious-looking military advisers and aides. The group walked through the rubbish left by racial justice protesters after a frantic mass eviction carried out by police minutes before with batons, pepper balls and tear gas.
The dignitaries stopped in front of St. John’s Church, where presidents, including Trump, traditionally attend services on their inauguration day. St. John’s, which had suffered a minor fire the previous day, was closed. But Trump took a stand in front of his sign and turned to the cameras, a Bible held aloft.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump said. In the distance, sirens howled.
The Episcopal Bishop of Washington, whose diocese includes St. John’s, condemned Trump’s stunt, saying it “horrified” her. But White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said he was “never more proud” of the president than he was then, calling it a rejection of “the decay of our heritage or the burning of churches”. Trump’s evangelical Christian advisers were also enthusiastic, praising the photoshoot as “important” and “absolutely correct.”
In retrospect, the “symbolicTrump’s biblical photoshoot message, as he called it, functions as a bookend to the Christian nationalism on display in the attack on the U.S. Capitol seven months later. It communicated, even histrionically, that the president was waging an existential struggle against politically liberal enemies calling for a racial calculus, but at the center of which was an attack on the Christian faith.From this point on, Christian nationalism – in the broadest sense, a belief that the Christianity is an integral part of America as a nation and should remain so – provided a theological framework for the effort to strip Democrats of the White House.
As Trump’s polls plummeted in the same month as the photo shoot, his campaign redoubled its efforts to drum up support from his conservative Christian supporters. Then-Vice President Mike Pence embarked on a “Faith in America” tour, while Trump conducted interviews with conservative Christian media outlets and held rallies at white evangelical churches.
Referring to “American patriots,” Trump told attendees at Dream City Church in Phoenix, “We don’t back down from leftist bullies. And the only authority we worship is our God.”
In August 2020, at the Republican National Convention, Trump described America’s first heroes as people who “knew that our country is blessed by God and has a special purpose in this world.” Pence, in his speech, adapted the Christian Scriptures by replacing references to Jesus with patriotic platitudes.
Despite then-candidate Joe Biden’s public discussion of his Catholic faith and the overt religiosity of the Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump Jr. told the GOP crowd that “believers are under attack” in the United States , highlighting restrictions on large gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet it was Trump’s religious supporters who attacked the RNC’s final night. After leaving the fireworks-filled celebration of the convention at the White House, conservative Christian commentator and Trump loyalist Eric Metaxas was filmed knocking an anti-Trump protester off his bike and getting fleeing into the night, only admitting to the assault days later in an email to Religion Unplugged.
After Trump lost the election in November, a report by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Freedom From Religion Foundation concluded that Christian nationalismalso referred to as white Christian nationalism, was used to “support, justify and escalate the January 6 attack on the Capitol”, according to BJC’s Amanda Tyler.
In the days following the vote, Florida pastor Paula White, head of the White House religious office, preached a sermon from her home church in which she called on the “angels” of Africa and other nations to help nullify the election results. The following night, insisting that she was only addressing “spiritual” matters, White wavered between the ethereal and the electorate: She begged the Almighty to “keep the feet of POTUS in its purpose and in his position” and to denounce any “fraud” or “evil agenda” that “has been published during this election”.
“We are overriding the will of man for the will of God at this time, and we ask, through the mercy and blood of Jesus, that you will overthrow it, overthrow it, overthrow it, overthrow it, overthrow it, overthrow it , knock her down,” she said.
The religious rhetoric intensified with the “Stop Theft” effort. Thousands of Trump supporters descended on Washington in mid-November for the “Million MAGA March,” where Ed Martin, a conservative politician and Eagle Forum executive, flanked by signs that read “Jesus matters,” backed that the United States was “founded on Judeo-Christian values” and should not be run by “CNN…or fake news.” Martin called on God to “bless us in our work” and asked God to ” strengthen us in our fight” to defend Trump because the “powers of darkness are descending”.
Around the same time, activists began planning a series of “Jericho Marches” across the country, invoking the biblical story of the Israelites besieging the city of Jericho. In Pennsylvania, protesters marched around the state capitol waving Trump flags and blowing Jewish ritual horns called shofars. Verses from the anthem “How Great Is Our God” intertwined with chants about voter fraud.
The largest “Jericho March” on December 12 in Washington was hosted by Metaxas and included figures from the Trump circle such as disgraced former national security adviser General Michael Flynn and current Doug Mastriano, candidate for governor of Pennsylvania. Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the militant group Oath Keepers, who now faces sedition charges for his alleged role in the attack on the Capitol, called for the marchers to join him in a “bloody war” if the election results were not annulled.
Several groups have taken on a religious leaning as January 6 approaches. Members of the Proud Boys, a right-wing group known for clashing with left-wing protesters, prayed near the Washington Monument in December, likening their “sacrifice” to the crucifixion of Jesus. “God will watch over us as we grow proud”, a man shouted into a megaphone. (The next evening, the Proud Boys — after being begged by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — tore down “Black Lives Matter” signs from Washington-area churches, setting one on fire.)
The Jericho marchers were among thousands who descended on Washington in January, some traveling on buses paid for by Mastriano. On Jan. 5, a group marched around the U.S. Capitol, holding signs emblazoned with Trump’s face while again blowing shofars and chanting “How Great Is Our God.” That night, Tennessee pastor Greg Locke — in addition to raising prayers for the Proud Boys — preached to a raucous crowd, describing America as “the last bastion of Christian freedom” and declaring that Trump would stay. “for four more years in the White Loger.”
The next day, on the National Mall and the steps of the Capitol, Christian nationalist iconography was unmissable. Men and women waving flags that read “A Call to Heaven” or “Proud American Christian” drove past Capitol police as officers attempted to arrest those entering the Capitol building. When people dressed in oath-keeper outfits burst into the Capitol rotunda, they appealed to the Almighty to “let us defend our country.”
In the senate hallthe invaders invoked the name of Jesus and bowed their heads as a self-proclaimed “shaman” associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory movement thanking Jesus for “allowing them” to get rid of communists, globalists and traitors within our government. “
As District of Columbia Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who was crushed in a doorway by insurgents that day, said: “It was clear that the terrorists saw themselves as Christians.
This was certainly the case with Jenny Cudd, who was later tried and sentenced for his actions on Capitol Hill. In a video posted to Facebook on Jan. 6, Cudd, dressed in Trump-branded gear, said, “We were founded as a Christian country. And we see how far we’ve gotten away from that. … We are a godly country and we are founded on godly principles. And if we don’t have our country, nothing else matters.
“To me, God and country are linked – to me they are one,” Cudd said.