Understanding the Role of White Christian Nationalism in the January 6th Insurrection
A conversation, a column, and a cache of religious images from January 6, 2021
Dear #WhiteTooLong readers,
Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of former president Donald Trump’s attempt to stay in power by inciting an insurrection on January 6, 2021. The images of the violence that erupted that day in our nation’s capital—not far from my home and just a few blocks from PRRI’s downtown DC offices—remain vivid in my mind. And I still feel the loss of no longer being able to say proudly that a distinction of American democracy is that we have always managed a peaceful transition of power.
Today, I’m sharing three things related to the anniversary of that dark day:
A Conversation. My interview yesterday with Sheilah Kast from WYPR about the threat white Christian nationalism poses to American democracy today.
A Column. Reflections I recorded the day after the insurrection, which were originally published by Religion News Service on January 7, 2021.
A Cache. Images and video related to religion on January 6, 2021, collected at the “Uncivil Religion” website, a project jointly hosted by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama and the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the newsletter for some representative images, and don’t miss the chilling video of some Christian music deployed that day.
As I think about the challenges we are facing in 2024, I’m bracing myself. But I’m buoyed by the example of the intrepid people I’ve encountered in places like Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Minnesota while conducting the field research for Hidden Roots, by the company of the fellow travelers I met at speaking events last year, and by all of you who have found your way here—people who are committed to repairing the damage of our troubled past and protecting the future of our fragile democracy.
With gratitude and in solidarity,
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A Conversation: Understanding the Threat White Christian Nationalism Poses to Democracy
Yesterday, I was honored to join host Sheila Kast on WYPR to talk about the danger white Christian nationalism poses to American democracy. I’m featured in the first half of the 30-minute segment. Keep listening to hear my friend Matthew Taylor, senior scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, talk about his forthcoming book, The Violent Take It By Force: The Christian Movement that is Threatening our Democracy (October 2024).
Here’s the full program description of the show:
Ahead of the third anniversary of the Capitol Riot, we look at the threat Christian nationalism poses to American democracy. Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute shares survey data on who holds Christian nationalist beliefs. Jones' most recent book is, The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future. Read the full report. View the results.
Then, the new documentary, “Spiritual Warriors: Decoding Christian Nationalism at the Capitol Riot,” explores the modern roots of Christian nationalism. We speak with Matthew Taylor, senior scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies. The documentary will be screened January 31st at the Senator Theatre. Taylor's forthcoming book is, The Violent Take it by Force: The Christian movement that is threatening our democracy.
A Column: Taking the White Christian Nationalism Symbols at the January 6 Insurrection Seriously
Below is a link to the column I wrote on the evening of January 6, 2021. Here’s a key quote from the piece:
This seditious mob was motivated not just by loyalty to Trump, but by an unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and Christianity that has plagued our nation since its inception and is still with us today…. The willingness among those in the crowd Wednesday to believe outlandish conspiracy theories and the unwillingness to accept the election results are born from the same source: a desperate desire by some white Christians to hang onto ownership of a diversifying country. As many have rightly declared, the violent disregard for the rule of law we witnessed is not the best of who we are. But if we’re going to heal our nation, we need to confess that it remains, still today, a troubling part of America’s political and religious heritage.
A Cache of Images from January 6, 2021: The Uncivil Religion Project
Finally, I’m sharing a link to the Uncivil Religion Project, an important collaborative endeavor by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama and the Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. This website contains the largest public archive of religious images and videos from the January 6th insurrection.
Here’s what you can find on this site:
Religious symbols, rituals, identities, banners, signs, and sounds suffused the events surrounding the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. This project begins to trace the thread of religion that wound throughout that day through pieces of digital media. It does this in two ways. First, there is a collection of essays that analyze individual pieces of media from January 6 in order to explain the role religion played that day. Second, there is a series of galleries that contain pieces of media that represent the variety of ways religion "showed up" on January 6.
Here are just a few examples of still shots and a video from the Uncivil Religion archives.
Finally—don’t miss this one—here’s a video of a group singing “We are the People of the Lord,” a contemporary Christian chorus that is popular in white evangelical churches.
Here are the lyrics.
There is one body.
We have one Lord.
United in the spirit,
We are going forth
With His praises on our lips
And a sword in our hands,
We are marching on with power
As we possess this land.
We are the people of the Lord.
We're a holy nation,
A chosen generation,
Called to show forth His praise.
We are the people of the Lord.
We're a holy nation,
Believers in Jesus,
Lifting up our voices to the Lord.
In these few bars, we hear the corrosive Christian nationalist claims of domination and chosenness. In a single frame, we also see the ubiquitous Trump flags and clothing, the racist “Blue Lives Matter” flag (center right), and the Christian flag (center left). And we hear the refrain—“with His praises on our lips and a sword in our hands, we are marching on with power as we posses this land”—sung against the backdrop of the National Museum of the American Indian, a monument to the people on whose lands they are standing.
More than evern, I am convinced that this unholy amalgamation of white supremacy and Christian dominionism presents the most dire threat to the American ideals of democracy and pluralism we face today.