Race And Religion

A New Book Examines Christianity’s Place Within White Nationalism In The United States

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.