Religious Minorities

One Year After The Horrific Assault On The Capitol, Christian Nationalists Are Trying To Rewrite What Happened

  Rob Boston

Today marks a grim anniversary: It was one year ago that a frenzied mob of supporters of former President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol, assaulted police officers and vandalized the building.

To their eternal shame, many Christian nationalists were among the marauders that day. Video footage and photos show members of the crowd waving crosses and other symbols of the Christian faith. Since then, leaders of prominent Christian nationalist organizations have either downplayed the insurrection or expressed sympathy for those who took part, portraying them as patriots.

Christian nationalists tell many lies about what transpired on Jan. 6, 2021. You’ll likely hear them again, so here are five replies to keep in mind:

Christian nationalists say Trump wasn’t to blame – he was: One thing should be crystal clear about the assault on the Capitol: Trump bears much of the blame for it. Trump urged people to come to D.C. on Jan. 6, promising them a “wild” time. On the morning of the event, Trump gave an incendiary speech, repeating the lie that he had won the election and telling the crowd, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, and congressmen and women. We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

Trump did not join the march on the Capitol. Instead, he returned to the White House and watched the chaos he had spawned unfold on television. For hours he ignored pleas to call off the mob. When Trump finally did issue a statement, it was after the rioters had breached the Capitol, and it was tepid. He repeated the claim that the election had been stolen and told the insurrectionists, “We love you. You’re very special.” (Several police officers are suing Trump over his role in inciting the violence.)

Christian nationalists insist that left-wing groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter were behind the attack – they were not: Even as the attack on the Capitol was unfolding, evangelist Franklin Graham issued a tweet insisting that the rioters were members of Antifa. In the days that followed, other Christian nationalist leaders made similar claims. This is an absurd lie. Trump supporters took selfies and made videos of themselves inside the Capitol. Many were festooned with MAGA gear. As the arrests began, every single person charged was, without exception, a right-wing supporter of Trump. Yet despite this clear evidence, a poll taken five months after the insurrection showed that 73% of Republicans still maintained that left-wing groups were responsible.

Christian nationalists say the assault wasn’t so bad – it was: Several Republicans have tried to argue that the insurrection, which millions of Americans watched unfold on television, wasn’t so bad. U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) even compared the rioters to tourists. These “tourists” did $30 million in damage to the Capitol and in related costs, mauled approximately 1,000 police officers and threatened to murder several politicians. Four people in the crowd died, and five police officers who were there died in the days and weeks afterward.

Christian nationalists assert that the insurrectionists were merely expressing their anger in a legal way – they were not: The members of the Jan. 6 mob were whipped into a frenzy by the Big Lie that Joe Biden had stolen the election from Trump; they reacted with violence and terrorism. In no way was this a lawful demonstration. Groups with grievances come to Washington all the time to hold rallies, hear speeches, march and speak out. All these activities are protected by the First Amendment. If the Trump hordes had limited themselves to lawful actions, Jan. 6 would have been just another day. But they didn’t – they overran the Capitol, mauled police officers, stole things, committed acts of vandalism and threatened lawmakers. That’s why 725 of them have been charged with crimes that include assault with a deadly weapon, destroying private property (mainly cameras and other items that belonged to members of the media), entering restricted areas and possession of dangerous weapons. That’s why 165 rioters have already pleaded guilty.

Christian nationalists claim that their own people weren’t prominent in the insurrection – they were: Video taken the day of the insurrection clearly exposes this claim for the lie that it is. People in the crowd can be seen hoisting crosses and other Christian symbols and signs. Some held prayer huddles during the event. Their presence was so prominent that Daniel Hodges, an officer with the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department who was assaulted by the mob, remarked on it while testifying before Congress in July, observing, “It was clear the terrorists perceived themselves to be Christians. I saw the Christian flag directly to my front. Another read, ‘Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president.’ Another: ‘Jesus is king.’”

Several scholars and journalists have analyzed the Christian nationalist presence during the insurrection. Scholars affiliated with Uncivil Religion, a collaborative project between the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama and the National Museum of American History, put it succinctly: “Religious symbols, rituals, identities, banners, signs, and sounds suffused the events surrounding the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.”

The lies embraced by Christian nationalists, Fox News and others on the far right may sound confounding to anyone who lives in the real world. After all, we saw the Jan. 6 insurrection unfold on live TV. We know what happened. The evidence is clear.

But if the Trump years taught us anything, it’s that for millions of Americans, truth has become elastic – a thing that can be twisted into whatever shape one desires as long as it serves a partisan end.

Of course, such a twisted tangle isn’t truth at all – but that doesn’t mean Christian nationalists won’t embrace it. Our task on this somber anniversary is, frankly, to make Christian nationalists uncomfortable by reminding them, over and over if need be, of what really happened, how their poisonous ideology helped bring it about and why all Americans of goodwill are determined to see that it is never repeated.

(Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

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