The Separation of Church and State

Conspiracy theories can’t mask Christian Nationalists’ involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection

  Rob Boston

The nation recently observed the third anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and a poll done to mark the occasion includes a disturbing revelation: A quarter of U.S. adults believe the FBI orchestrated the attack. Republicans, viewers of Fox News and Trump voters believe this in higher numbers (34%, 39% and 44% respectively).

Results like this can perhaps be blamed in part on Americans’ fondness for conspiracy theories – and on Trump, who circulates this nonsense. But that tells only part of the story. Since that fateful day, a band of extreme conservatives, including many Christian Nationalists, has been trying to rewrite the script to persuade Americans that what they saw with their own eyes didn’t really happen.

Even as the insurrection was unfolding, evangelist Franklin Graham, with absolutely no evidence, tweeted that Antifa was responsible for the attack. The lie took hold for a time but was soon replaced by other outrageous claims, such as assertions that the insurrectionists were patriots or that they didn’t do much damage. Again, these lies were amplified by Christian Nationalist groups.

Jan. 6, 2021: The facts

Only facts can mow down this barrage of misinformation and lies. So here are some to keep in mind:

The people who planned, executed and led the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol were overwhelmingly supporters of Donald Trump: About 1,200 people were arrested after the riot. More than 700 people have pleaded guilty, and 467 have been sentenced to time in prison, with others put on probation.

The trials have made it clear that the mob consisted of Trump supporters. In a few cases, claims have been made about black-clad individuals seen on videos or in photos being antifa infiltrators. In every case, they’ve turned out to be members of the far right.

The insurrection had a heavy Christian Nationalist presence: Photos of the assault show numerous people hoisting crosses and Jesus-themed signs during the attack. But we have more evidence than those images. Several scholars have detailed the involvement of Christian Nationalist groups in the insurrection. Most notable among them is this report by the Baptist Joint Committee and the Freedom From Religion Foundation, to which AU Vice President of Strategic Communications Andrew L. Seidel contributed.

The insurrectionists assaulted police officers and did significant damage to the Capitol: About 140 officers with the U.S. Capitol Police and Washington, D.C., Metropolitan were assaulted, and some analysts believe that number is too low. During a recent news conference, Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, called Jan. 6, 2021, “likely the largest single-day, mass assault of law enforcement officers in our nation’s history.” One officer, Brian Sicknick, died a day later from his injuries; four other officers who were attacked died by suicide in the days and months that followed.

The Capitol Building itself sustained millions of dollars in damages. Last year, the General Accounting Office estimated the total costs of the Jan. 6 attack, including damage to the Capitol and grounds, policing costs to the various federal and local agencies, money spent to increase security after the attack and costs of the subsequent investigations, to be a staggering $2.7 billion.

Antifa and the FBI didn’t do it — religious extremists did

To sum up, a group of far-right rioters who believed lies about the outcome of the 2020 presidential election stormed the U.S. Capitol, vandalized it, threatened legislators and mauled the police who tried to stop them. They were not antifa. They were not FBI plants. They were extremists – often religious ones.

They and they alone must be held accountable for their assault on our democracy.

P.S. Next month, a documentary called “God & Country” will be released in theaters nationwide. This powerful piece, which exposes the threat of Christian Nationalism, features interviews with AU’s Seidel and myself as well as a host of other experts and critics of Christian Nationalism. We’ll have more to say about this film in the weeks to come, but for now, you can watch a trailer here.

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