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Thursday, 6 October 2011

1.4 – Christian extremism in the USA: The Christian Identity Movement and Dominionism. The roots of hatred?

There are many radical Christian groups active in the United States but the most extreme schools of thought operating under the banner of the Christian Right are the Christian Identity Movement and the followers of Dominion Theology, whose philosophies provide the theological justification for violence committed by right-wing extremist groups. This article will address each in turn to provide a generalised understanding of the radical ideologies that are defined as the motivation behind outbursts of Christian-inspired terrorist violence.

The Christian Identity
The Christian Identity Movement (or Israel Identity), evolved from 19th century British-Israelism and is a militant religious movement that promotes a volatile ideology of spiritual, racial and political concerns that have been rapidly adopted by a variety of ‘extremist, anti-Semitic, [and] Neo-Nazi’ organisations. These include: the growing militia movement, which offered guidance and support to Timothy McVeigh; white supremacist groups as characterised by The Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan; American Patriot paramilitaries, extremist sects such as The Covenant, The Sword, and The Arm of the Lord; and an ever-expanding number of hate groups.  Dominion theology is characterised by militant anti-abortion organisations. The radical Reconstructionist movement represents the far right of Dominionism and aims to revive the church’s significance and reinstate it in a position of theocratic power.

The scope of the Christian Identity ideology is very broad and aims to repel the advancing ‘new world order’ and promote racial and religious purification:

[It] encompasses a shared hostility to any form of government above the country level; the vilification of Jews and non-whites as “the literal children of Satan”; an obsession with achieving the religious and racial purification of the United States; a belief in a conspiracy theory of powerful Jewish interests controlling the government, banks, and the media; and advocacy of the overthrow of the United Stated government of “Zionist Occupation Government” (ZOG), as they disparagingly refer to it.[1]

Adherents believe the Parousia is dependant on God’s law being re-established on earth, which can only be accomplished through the Aryan race gaining control and dominance on earth and attending to the necessary social reordering and ethnic cleansing.

The basic tenets of the Identity movement include the beliefs that Jesus Christ was not a Semite, but an Aryan; that the Lost Tribes of Israel are composed not of Jews, but of "blue eyed Aryans"; that white Anglo-Saxons and not Jews are the true "Chosen People"; and, that the United States is the "Promised Land".[2]

Members of the Aryan Nations organisation, which is at the centre of the white supremacist movement, believe society is living in disobedience of God for allowing the proliferation of religious and racial diversity and are responsible for building a new and all-white nation to stop multiplicity and impiety spreading. The movement emphasises the need for a racial and religious Armageddon and encourages factions to ignite holy war between God’s Aryan race, and the Jews, race traitors, and other ‘mud people’ (a category that encompasses blacks, Asians, Hispanics etc), in which the second group must be exterminated. In 1987 a splinter group of the KKK produced a point system for assassinations in their declaration of war. ‘The hit list included government officials, media executives, Jews, blacks, homosexuals and immigrants. Abortionists were right up at the top with a score of twenty.’[3] This ideology is presented as being a religious obligation for the faithful and theologically justified and legitimate – religious extremist Masker claims, ‘All scripture demands it!’[4]

Dominion Theology is the second prominent school of religious thought employed by the Christian Right. During the first half of the twentieth century, Christian faith was ‘compartmentalised rigidly into two spheres of life, the religious and the secular…Catholicism became “restricted to the religious sphere, while Americanism was restricted to the secular sphere”’.[5] Whilst the majority of Catholic thought has accepted the schism between church and state and does not consider it defiance of God’s will,  adherents to the school of Dominion Theology strongly contest it and believe that Christianity must reassert the domination of God over everything through the creation of a Christian Theocratic state. The radical Reconstructionist movement believes, as the name suggests, that Christianity must be reconstructed from its fragmented status and reinstated as the basis for a new social order, in which it would govern legal, political, economic and social life. The Dominion ideology states:

America should “function as a Christian nation” and opposed such “social moral evils” or secular society as “abortion on demand, fornication, homosexuality, sexual entertainment, state usurpation of parental rights and God-given liberties, statist-collectivist theft from citizens  through devaluation of their money and redistribution of their wealth, and evolutionism taught as a monopoly viewpoint in the public schools”.[6]

Adherents to these schools of thought claim to be ultra religious and quote Biblical and historical references to concretely set their struggle in terms of faith. However, does this religious basis withstand investigation – does the Bible really advocate firebombing abortion clinics and murdering people of different races? Like any other religious extremist organization, scriptural reinterpretation and a charismatic leader are imperative, but over the course of this series of articles I hope to draw a conclusion as to whether religion is really the driving force for violence, or whether politics and a general rage against ‘them’ – everyone they oppose – play the key roles.   

[1] Hoffman (1993), p. 6
[2] Ibid, pp. 6-7
[4] Hoffman (1993), p. 8
[5] Casanova (1994), p.181
[6] Juergensmeyer (2003), p. 27

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