After posting the article, The USA is a Christian nation, I stumbled upon a reference to something called The Christian Identity Movement. Not being familiar with the term, I decided to look into it.
Though there are important differences, I could not help but be struck by at least some similarities to those I hear who insist we are a Christian Nation, and who cry out concerning ‘taking America back’. (Vicki brought this point up in her comment under the post, ‘The USA is a Christian Nation)
-The belief that sections of the U.S. Constitution were divinely inspired
-That America was divinely established as a Christian Republic
-The talk, activism, and open rebellion coming from some quarters of society (sadly, some Christians are involved) concerning a plan to overthrow our current government.
There are others but I’ll stop and let you the reader, take note of any others you may notice.
The title for this post was chosen because of the eerie similarities between the old CIM and the Christian political conservative movement and even the Patriot movement, in the last few years.
This has left me questioning if there is not a ‘new type’ of Christian Identity movement in the US–one that is not (like the old) made up of white supremacists who adhere to the beliefs surrounding Anglo Israelism, but nevertheless, is made up of those who believe America was and is, intended to be ‘set apart’ (as was Israel in the old testament) as a theocracy.
You could say I’m just musing outloud in this post, hoping if I put it in type, I may see something more clearly.
Below are a few interesting excerpts from online resources.
Founder: Some think it to be Wesley Swift, born in the 1800’s. Others claim it can be traced back to the 1600’s.
Origins: This movement has its origins in the 1800’s America where it grew in the shadow of this country’s developing and successful conquering of the American continent combined with racial prejudices. Many of the whites believed that North America was ordained by God and blessed by Him to be supreme in the world. All other racial groups were considered inferior. Early contributing movements to C.I.M. were the Nativist movement and Anglo Israelism.
Nativism was a philosophy that those not born in America (excluding American Indians) and were not Protestant, were harmful to the American System. In particular, a strong anti-catholic disposition was advocated. Manifestations of this philosophy resulted in physical persecutions of many Catholics in New York.
Anglo Israelism (also known as British Israelism) is the belief that the British and, therefore, the Americans and Canadians, are the true descendants of the 10 lost tribes.
- Structure – The movement does not have a centralized organizational structure but has groups in most every Western nation.
- Recruitment – through extreme right-wing churches, survival groups, and word of mouth.
- Adherents – generally are Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation, Nazi Party, White Separatists groups, etc.
- Texts: Old and New Testaments of the Bible; some think sections of the U.S. Constitution were divinely inspired.
Christian Identity adherents believe that America was divinely established as a Christian Republic.
This is a nuanced but important component to Identity political theory, because in a republic, it is the individual who is sovereign, not the majority as in a democracy.
They believe that the proper place of the government is under the auspices of the Church. As Bill Gale, a noted Identity preacher, wrote,
the ‘Church’ is comprised of the many membered body of Jesus Christ… Is our Christian Constitutional Republic a government “of the people by the people for the people [sic].” If so, then are not the people the government. Government is then the business of the Church, since the Church and the People are synonymous… The government is nothing but an expansion of the Christian Church” (quoted in Zeskind 1986 25, 36).
Identity theology states that the people cannot serve both God and human beings. Because the government is the province of humans, it must be subjugated to obedience of God. On the other hand, Identity theology also claims that there should be no conflict between obedience to God and obedience to the government. The laws of the country should reflect God’s law; therefore, as the country has slowly shifted toward democratic, rather than republican form of government, it has erred against God’s law and must be corrected (Zeskind 1986, 36-37).
Modern Christian Identity ideology is often associated with Protestant Fundamentalism because of their shared interest in eschatology and End-Time scenarios.
Both promote a dispensationalist view of history. That is, they believe in a specific ordering of time decreed by divine will. Each of these periods in history begins with a divine revelation and ends with a divine judgement. Both the Christian Right and the Identity movement also tend to be Pre-millennialists. They believe that, before the Second Coming, there will be a period of Tribulation in which the world will be overtaken by evil, after which Christ will return to rule in peace for a thousand years (Zeskind 1986, 22).
Politics of Christian Identity
Unfortunately, Christian Identity isn’t a small, isolated ideology with no political or social consequences for the rest of society. The fact of the matter is, CI adherents have big plans for society..
The two activities are the effort to bring the American legal system into accord with the basic legalisms in the Bible and to campaign for support of political candidates who advocate Identity positions. The hope of biblicizing American law is not unique to Christian Identity – they share it with the Christian Reconstructionists, an ideology which is related but not identical.
Two other aims which lie in a legal grey area are the development of survivalist communities insulated from the rest of the world and the establishment of far-right organizations which express the view that only the most local political organizations are actually legitimate. Although local governments certainly are legitimate, the idea that state and federal governments are not legitimate carries with it the possibility of resistance against governmental actions, even violent resistance.
In addition, radical withdrawal from the outside world into an insular community can easily engender a siege mentality – regarding everything outside their narrow system as the realm of Satan, not worthy of either respect or legitimacy. Their very preparations for Armageddon can bring them into direct confrontation with civil authorities, as we saw with the fiasco with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Self-fulfilling prophecies tend to be the worst kind.
The radical localism advocated by Identity supporters is not unique to them – indeed it is common theme we can find among a wide variety of far-right groups. In fact, this particular theme is a common one which provides an entry point for many people into Identity politics. People who share CI ideals of localism and taxes may, over time, be brought to adopt other Identity ideologies.
Posse Comitatus is a movement of many loosely associated groups and means, literally, “power of the country.” Technically it refers to the individual citizens called in by a local sheriff to aid in dealing with lawbreakers. As interpreted by the movement, the Posse and the local sheriff are the only legitimate political and legal authorities in existence – anything above county level is flatly rejected. Although Posse Comitatus is not a part of Christian Identity, the same people are often prominent in both.
With an independent group of citizens in each county acting as a law unto itself, interpreting what it saw as “God’s Law” on its own in any particular time and place, we all enter a dangerous area. Heavily armed vigilantes answerable to no one but themselves are exactly what a legal system is designed to prevent. Although the radical localism of Identity followers might take on a purely rhetorical form with no serious content, it might also be something which some extremists will attempt to enforce. In an armed confrontation, there will be no real winners.
Beyond the Law
The final two aims which clearly lie beyond the limits of the law are the planning, organizing and actual efforts to overthrown our current government and the attempt to effect territorial secession..
Christian Identity borrows paranoid conspiratorial beliefs from reactionary groups such as the John Birch Society.
Birchers claim that secret cabals run most world governments under orders from wealthy elites such as the Rockefeller family acting through groups such as the Trilateralist Commission, the Bilderberger banking conference, the Council on Foreign Relations, and officials of the Federal Reserve Bank.
From ultra-right Christian fundamentalists comes the idea of a secular humanist conspiracy involving liberal elites such as radical academics, teachers union leaders, journalists and network television programmers and gay men and lesbians who pave the way for leftists, socialists and communists.
These are the core beliefs of persons such as the late Reed Irvine of Accuracy in Academia and Accuracy in Media, and Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum. Pat Robertson, leader of the Christian Coalition, recently wrote a book attacking president Bush’s New World Order and echoing many paranoid conspiratorial charges of the reactionary right. Robertson also throws in a discussion of sinister networks of Masonic lodges and the shadowy Illuminati group.
White supremacists add to the bizare brew a list of racial enemies such as Jews, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Indians, indeed all non-Aryans. The Posse Comitatus also sees as agents of the conspiracy all state and national elected politicians, and all law enforcement officials above level of county sheriff such as game wardens, Internal Revenue Service agents, federal marshalls, and the FBI.
Christian Identity wraps all the conspiracy theories together and adds the myth that white Christian Americans are God’s Chosen People fighting a religious war. Identity combines the worst aspects of Hitlerian racial theories, the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades.
The bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City opened a window on the previously invisible subculture of militias, survivalists and conspiracy theorists. This radical right-wing subculture has existed for more than a quarter century, and its roots extend back to manifestations of nativism, racism and anti-Semitism earlier in this century.
Many of the subculture’s current denizens portray themselves as asserting individual rights against federal government encroachment.
Their hot issues are gun control, taxation, and the federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. They interpret the Constitution through a kind of “legal fundamentalism.” For example, some claim to have discovered the essence of the Constitution in doctrines that raise individual gun possession above the powers of the national government. As one widely circulated militia manual puts it:
Our constitutional liberties are systematically being eroded and denied. The fact that officials are infringing gun rights on every front is simply a manifestation of their inner tendency to empower themselves. Left unchecked, this power will lead to genuine tyranny… The more citizens that own guns, the less willing the government will be to threaten us.