Religious Extremism: A Growing Threat To American Values

  Rob Boston

A common rhetorical trick of white Christian nationalists is the false equivalency: When far-right activists are accused of doing something heinous, like, say, forming a mob, overrunning the U.S. Capitol and killing and assaulting police officers, Christian nationalists assert that progressives have done similar things.

Putting aside the fact that no U.S. progressive group ever tried to overturn the results of a democratic election by fomenting a violent insurrection, we now have statistical evidence proving that the most domestic terrorism in the United States springs from the far right, not the far left.

The Washington Post, working with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, conducted an analysis of domestic terrorism and put it starkly: “Domestic terrorism incidents have soared to new highs in the United States, driven chiefly by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right. … The surge reflects a growing threat from homegrown terrorism not seen in a quarter-century, with right-wing extremist attacks and plots greatly eclipsing those from the far left and causing more deaths, the analysis shows.”

Reported The Post, “Since 2015, right-wing extremists have been involved in 267 plots or attacks and 91 fatalities, the data shows. At the same time, attacks and plots ascribed to far-left views accounted for 66 incidents leading to 19 deaths.”

The analysis shows that common targets for far-right terrorists are Black churches, mosques, abortion clinics and government buildings. But it’s not just structures that are attacked. As The Post noted, individual victims “represent a broad cross-section of American society, including Blacks, Jews, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, Asians and other people of color who have been attacked by right-wing extremists wielding vehicles, guns, knives and fists.”

Not all supporters of the political movement we have for decades called the Religious Right are violent or have embraced racist views. But some clearly espouse white Christian nationalism, a poisonous ideology that blends extreme fundamentalism with views that are often anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ and anti-pluralism – and pushes to have those views inserted into our secular laws and public policy. These extremists were out in force during the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, hoisting crosses and “Jesus Saves” signs alongside insurrectionists who waved the Confederate battle flag and flashed neo-Nazi signs.

Leaders of Religious Right groups haven’t denounced these extremists. In fact, they egged them on by embracing Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories of a stolen election and, after the Jan. 6 attack, by spreading the lie that the coup was really the work of antifa and Black Lives Matter.

About two months after the insurrection, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon.”

Some of the people involved in these movements are religious extremists who hate separation of church and state and the idea that we live in a multi-faith, multi-philosophy, pluralistic society. Their efforts to terrorize the rest of us into submission will not succeed as long as we lift up the thing they fear the most: a secular government backed by a high, firm wall of separation between church and state that protects the right of all to believe or not as guided by our own consciences, as long as we don’t harm others.  

Photo: Right-wing insurrectionists attack the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Screenshot from NPR. 

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