Blood & Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism by Damon T. Berry, Syracuse University Press, 268 pp.
When the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Va., occurred in August, the Religious Right was not fazed. Members of the movement continued to be President Donald J. Trump’s most loyal and complicit supporters – despite his divisive comments about how “both sides” (protesters and white supremacists) were to blame for the violence.
But aside from the Religious Right’s reaction that failed to oppose racial injustice in the United States, there was a very different religious connection to the vioence. Members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), who are white supremacists with a racist interpretation of Christianity, as well as others who espouse religion-based racist views, participated in various white supremacist marches that weekend.
The intersection between racism and religion has been the topic of research nationwide, and a new book adds to that scholarship. Blood & Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism by Damon T. Berry explores white nationalism’s relationship with religion after World War II, and in particular, with the most dominant religion in the United States – Christianity.
Berry notes that the marriage between the Religious Right and the Republican Party remains strong, observing, “Relationships between Christianity and right-wing politics were by that time hardly new in US history. Certain forms of Christianity have long shared space with the political and nationalist Right.”
Berry ponders whether the relationship between Christians and white nationalists may only strengthen as demographics in America change. As the population of people of color who were traditionally minorities in America increases, Berry suggests that far-right white evangelicals will feel increasingly disenfranchised and relate even more to white nationalist identity politics. A new generation of white nationalism could feature racialized Christianity more openly.
“Religious toleration among the newer white nationalists, aimed mainly at reconciling white nationalism with Christianity, signals renewed interest in participation in American conservatism,” Berry observes.
Looking at the rise of the “alt-right,” Berry notes that white nationalists who consider themselves a part of that movement share anxieties about multiculturalism and oppose the Black Lives Matter movement while supporting attempts to ban Muslims, refugees and other immigrants.
Trump’s xenophobic presidential campaign rhetoric appealed to “alt-right” and white supremacist figures like ex-KKK leader David Duke. This, Berry suggests, should prompt further research.
“Such overlap of support for Trump’s ideas between a large portion of the American public and white nationalists should signal the importance of studying the internal logics of white nationalism,” Berry writes. “American white nationalists’ efforts to access the political mainstream through popular racialized discourses on multiculturalism and immigration may point to the importance of studying the racist Right as more than an outlier in American public life.”
Berry adds: “To ignore the logic of the so-called extremists is not only foolish but also neglectful of the fact that extremism can easily become the norm if we are not vigilant in valuing human lives beyond our own closed notions of society.”
Berry’s inquiry is important, especially given white supremacy’s significant influence on current attacks on religious, racial and ethnic minorities. Some critics have argued that Trump’s presidency has empowered his “alt-right” and white nationalist supporters to promote a culture of Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The Religious Right, for the most part, has remained complicit by refusing to condemn the racism that Trump, as well as people within his administration, sometimes promote.
According to the Pew Research Center, 81 percent of evangelicals voted for Trump, overlooking his boasting about sexual assault and his racialized campaign promises targeting immigrants and refugees, including Muslims.
Berry cites a Public Religion Research Institute survey that “indicated that the majority of white Americans looked at this election as an opportunity to stave off what they considered to be American decline.”
A cultural war may hence be seen as an arena in which contemporary white nationalists, the “alt-right” and racist white Christians sometimes collaborate.
“These findings also perhaps point to the susceptibility of white Americans, white Evangelicals in particular, to Far Right ideology expressed by the Alt-Right and white nationalists,” Berry concludes. “As demographics continue to trend toward the decline of the white majority in the United States, a demographic decline of white Evangelicals in particular, we may see the increasing appeal of protectionist rhetoric as a radicalizing element for some white Americans, Christian and non-Christian alike.”
Berry notes that white nationalism wasn’t always as accepting of racist interpretations of Christianity. Before weaving in an analysis of contemporary white nationalism, his book is primarily a biographical historical narrative that highlights how and why some influential American white nationalist figures rejected Christianity.
For example, some white supremacists were attracted to religious alternatives such as Odinism, a pre-Christian religion sometimes referred to as Wotanism. Berry argues that racist Odinists (who, he emphasized, do not represent all followers of Odinism) reject Christianity “in an expression of a reimagining of white racial identity that takes as its central project the reclamation of an imagined essential, religious, pre-Christian white identity over and against so-called Jewish Christianity.”
The movement’s emphasis on anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions has essentially codified its rejection of Christianity.
Among one of the many viewpoints Berry cites in the book is a 2010 article published in the Occidental Observer, a far-right anti-Semitic publication, titled “The Christian Question and White Nationalism.” The viewpoints give readers insight into the mindset of some anti-Christian white nationalists.
“Christianity is one of the primary causes of the decline of the white race for two reasons,” the article read. “First, it gives Jews a privileged place in the sacred history of mankind, a role that they have used to gain their enormous power over us today.”
Some Christian leaders’ historical silence about and contributions to anti-Semitism, though with different goals, further stigmatized Jews as a socially inferior religious group.
In Blood & Faith, Berry criticizes religious figures like Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2005 spoke at a synagogue in Germany and blamed the anti-Semitic rhetoric that led up to the Holocaust on “neo-paganism.” This shift of blame, Berry argues, is an attempt at ridding Christian leaders of the roles they intentionally or unintentionally played in contributing to anti-Semitism.
“This assertion that ‘neo-paganism’ was responsible for the virulent anti-Semitism that led to one of the worst crimes of the twentieth century of course obscures the deadly history of Christian anti-Semitism that so significantly informed what happened,” Berry writes. “It also ignores Nazi collaboration with some members of the Catholic Church hierarchy.”
Alongside complicity, Berry notes, the white nationalist movement became more inclusive of Christian members to expand their vision for a white America.
Remarks Berry, “Where there was once a deep antagonism between American white nationalists who reject Christianity outright and those who still hold to an Aryanized version of Christianity, we are seeing now a move towards religious tolerance within the white nationalist movement to bring about political solidarity among white Americans in order to accomplish a deeper cultural change in favor of the white nationalist cause and thereby to exert political pressure in the conservative mainstream.”
Written in an academic tone, Blood & Faith provides an insightful and careful examination of alternative-Christian and anti-religion identities that helps readers understand where Christianity and racist interpretations of it fit into the white nationalist movement, and how various religious and non-religious racist entities are collaborating in a cultural war to preserve the majority white demographic.