The Alt-Right, Religious Right, And Donald Trump
Sarah Posner has finally published her article on Alt-Right Christians:
“Back in August 2015, when Donald Trump’s presidential ambitions were widely considered a joke, Russell Moore was worried. A prominent leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, Moore knew that some of the faithful were falling for Trump, a philandering, biblically illiterate candidate from New York City whose lifestyle and views embodied everything the religious right professed to abhor. The month before, a Washington Post poll had found that Trump was already being backed by more white evangelicals than any other Republican candidate. …
Until now, the alt-right has presented itself largely as an irreligious movement; Spencer, its outsize figurehead, is an avowed atheist. But with Trump as president, the alt-right sees an opening for its own religious revival. “A new type of Alt Right Christian will become a force in the Religious Right,” Spencer tweeted on the morning after the election, “and we’re going to work with them.”
To alt-right Christians, Trump’s appeal isn’t based on the kind of social-issue litmus tests long favored by the religious right. According to Brad Griffin, a white supremacist activist in Alabama, “the average evangelical, not-too-religious Southerner who’s sort of a populist” was drawn to Trump primarily “because they like the attitude.” Besides, he adds, many on the Christian right don’t necessarily describe themselves as “evangelical” for theological reasons; it’s more “a tribal marker for a lot of these people.”
Before the election, Griffin worried that white evangelicals would find his “Southern nationalist” views problematic. But Trump’s decisive victory over Russell Moore reassured him. “It seems like evangelicals really didn’t follow Moore’s lead at all,” Griffin says. “All these pastors and whatnot went in there and said Trump’s a racist, a bigot, and a fascist and all this, and their followers didn’t listen to them.”
There is no way of knowing how many Americans consider themselves to be alt-right Christians—the term is so new, even those who agree with Spencer and Griffin probably wouldn’t use it to describe themselves. …
For alt-right Christians, Russell Moore is the embodiment of where the religious right went wrong—by refusing to openly embrace racism. Throughout his youth, Griffin says, he felt alienated by Christians like Moore who were intent on “condemning racism.” He was only drawn back into Christianity when he married the daughter of Gordon Baum, a far-right Lutheran leader who co-founded the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a virulently racist group.” Griffin says he joined the CCC, as well as the white nationalist League of the South, because both groups embody the elements he views as integral to his faith: They are “pro-white, pro-Christian, pro-South.”
I was interviewed for this article several months ago. When it didn’t come out, I assumed the Narrative had moved on and the media had returned to its old pre-election strategy of “dynamic silence.” I knew Sarah Posner was working on an article about President Trump, the Alt-Right and Christianity, but I really had no idea where she was going with this.
Having read the article, I never said anything like the Religious Right is “a vehicle for white supremacy.” I certainly never said the Religious Right has “effectively become a subsidiary of the alt-right, yoked to Trump’s white nationalist agenda” or that it had returned to “its own origins” in segregation to “embrace its roots in racism.” I don’t believe the “alt-right supplied Trump with his agenda; the Christian right supplied him with his votes.” The Religious Right isn’t “now at the service of the alt-right.” This is Sarah Posner’s narrative. It doesn’t reflect our view of the subject.
In reality, President Trump is more of a dealmaker. He built a coalition that includes the Religious Right, the Alt-Right and mainstream conservatives. He has done a number of things like appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court to satisfy that wing of his coalition. He has done other things like work with Congress to repeal Obamacare to satisfy the conservative wing. Finally, President Trump has done other things like issue executive orders on immigration to satisfy the Alt-Right and block the Trans-Pacific Partnership to satisfy all those Midwestern Democrats who voted twice for Barack Obama.
Aside from the Religious Right is subordinated to the Alt-Right narrative, which is just an attempt to drive a wedge in Trump’s coalition, I don’t have a problem with the rest of the article. It’s true that there are Alt-Right Christians. It’s true that President Trump strongly appealed to religiously moderate nationalist voters. It’s true that we despise Russell Moore. We’re glad that he was decisively repudiated by millions of evangelical voters. We’re glad that he nearly lost his job last week.
Here in the South, I have long said that our religious identity and racial identity haven’t historically been at odds. They were both pillars of our ethnic and cultural identity. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, John C. Pemberton, Robert Lewis Dabney, and James Henley Thornwell were pious Christians. Evangelical Christianity, for example, was at the heart of the Lost Cause. While Russell Moore writes that “the cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire,” the truth of the matter is that they coexisted just fine at the time and for generations before and afterwards. The Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians even split along regional lines in the antebellum era because our religious identity was so interwoven with our sense of racial identity.
Perhaps fine distinctions like “Alt-Right” and “Religious Right” muddy our understanding of Trump’s electorate? The truth is that Trump’s Southern evangelical base is religious to somewhat religious while at the same time it is ethnocentric and culturally anxious about changing demographics. As I explained in the interview, maybe these people are just Southerners who have traditionally had a positive sense of racial and religious identity totally unlike what Russell Moore is offering them.