THE ALLIANCE BETWEEN WHITE NATIONALISM AND CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA: HOW WE GOT HERE by Damon T. Berry

Orthodoxy in Dialogue has published extensively on white supremacy and racism in the Orthodox Church, especially since our White Supremacy in the American Orthodox Church: An Open Letter to the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America on January 22. (See the full list of editorials, letters, and articles under White Supremacy and Racism in our Archives by Author.) Four months later we have yet to receive a response from any episcopal synod, individual bishop, or seminary. Dr. Berry’s book traces how we have gotten to the point where the “conservative” Christianities in the United States—including the Orthodox Church, as we have stated on our pages over and over again—have come to be seen as natural allies in the struggle for “white survival.” The American Orthodox Church ignores him at our own peril.

blood (1)The events at Charlottesville in August 2017 highlighted for many what had become apparent during the 2016 election—white nationalism was not extinct. Indeed, white nationalists like Richard Spencer seem to thrive in the current political climate. During the rally at Charlottesville to “unite the right,” David Duke, the former Klan leader who publicly supported Trump’s candidacy, claimed that he and his fellow white nationalists were going to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” and take the country back. The President’s equivocating remarks about the violence perpetrated by attendees of the rally made the appearance of acceptability of white nationalist ideals a greater possibility for white nationalists and their opponents alike, putting white nationalists at the center of debates about the place of racism in contemporary American life.

The rally at Charlottesville took place almost two months after the Southern Baptist Convention, whose membership is one of the most reliably Republican voting groups in the country, voted to “denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil intended to bring suffering and division to our society.” And readers may already be aware of the very public efforts which Russell Moore, a very important leader in the SBC, mounted to convince Evangelical voters not to vote for Trump—an effort that did not bear fruit as white Evangelicals voted for Trump by 81%, a percentage greater than voted for the self-professed Evangelical candidate George W. Bush in the 2000 election.

All of this took place as my Blood & Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism (Syracuse University Press, 2017) was in the final stages of publication. It seemed to highlight the general narrative arch that was established for me in what I found in my research on the relationships between religion and white nationalism in America. White nationalism as a particular form of white power activism in the United States emerged after World War II, in the wake of the defeat of state-centered fascisms. Two of the most important figures who laid the intellectual foundations for this new racist movement were an American named Francis Parker Yockey, author of the political manifesto Imperium (1948), and a rather interesting figure named Revilo P. Oliver. Oliver was a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign until 1977; but more importantly for our story, he was a contributor to National Review and a co-founder of the John Birch Society. That is to say that Oliver, though radical compared to William F. Buckley and his colleagues at National Review, was a defender of conservatism and of conservative interpretations of Christianity. He defended what he regarded as “historical Christianity” against liberal Protestantism in the pages of Buckley’s magazine, but was removed from his role in the magazine during the purges of Birch people in the early to mid-1960s. Oliver found himself in different company.

In 1969 Oliver spoke to a group called The National Youth Alliance. While holding up a copy of Yockey’s Imperium he declared that this text offered a better and vastly different path for young rightists—one that offered a racial nationalist alternative to the conservative movement as arcticulated by Buckley and company in the pages of National Review. It is worthy of note too that National Youth Alliance subsequently became National Alliance under former member of the American Nazi Party, William Pierce, who later came to author the notorious Turner Diaries as he led National Alliance to become one of the most significant white nationalist organizations in American history.

After his talk before National Youth Alliance, Oliver became even more vocal in his opposition to conservatism. At the same time he began to be more critical of all forms of Christianity, and not just liberal forms of Protestantism. He came to equate conservatism with Christianity as both culpable for endangering the future of the white race. By the time that Reagan won the 1980 election with the help of the overwhelmingly pro-Israel Religious Right, Oliver had completely rejected what he came to call “kosher conservatism” and Christianity as twin threats to the future survival of the white race—the protection of which was the very organizing principle for this new form of racial nationalist activism.

Contemporaries of Oliver, like William Pierce and Ben Klassen, who founded the violent white nationalist organization Church of the Creator, followed suit in condemning conservatives and Christians alike. At about the same time that National Alliance and Church of the Creator came into being in the mid-1970s, Odinism—a racialist interpretation of Norse Paganism—began to find its audience among the new white nationalists in America. While Aryan Nations and its form of racist and anti-Semitic Christianity remained, more white nationalists became increasingly anti-Christian, and critical even of racist forms of Christianity. At the beginning of the 21st century, more white nationalists seemed to favor the religious alternatives offered by Pierce, Klassen, and especially Odinists. Christianity and conservatism were by then firmly the enemies of the white race, all the more dangerous because of their hold on defining the political right for a majority of white Americans.

While this antagonism toward Christianity was the majority trend at the end of the millennium, more recently white nationalists have begun to reassess the efficaciousness of this position. Leaders among what is called the North American New Right and the white nationalists posting on frequented websites like Stormfront have come to believe that, though Christianity had indeed corrupted the instincts of the white race, as it is Jewish in its origins and propagated liberalism and socialism, religious tolerance among white nationalists was necessary for realizing the larger political goal of establishing a white homeland. To summarize, the argument is then that whatever religion one might adhere to, if one is committed to the survival of the white race, one is then a comrade.

There is certainly much more that one could say, but for the sake of brevity in connection with the events of the summer of 2017 is the following: as white nationalism emerged from the conservative movement, and most of its founding articulators rejected both conservatism and Christianity, the new white nationalism since 2010 has reassessed its standoffishness and opted for a reformation of the American right to be more racially nationalist. The rejection of Christianity so vocally advocated by Oliver, Pierce, Klassen, and others was now an obstacle to acquiring what many white nationalist leaders today see as potential allies in gaining more political influence through discourses of nationalism and anti-immigration. What is now called the “Alt-Right” is one of these newer forms of white nationalism seeking to reform the American right after its own racial nationalist image. It too has little investment in defining a religious vision, but rather a political one of white majoritarian control of America’s institutions. Representatives of the broader racialist activist milieu—from David Duke to Richard Spencer—have lauded the election of Donald J. Trump as the beginning of a new era of influence for their ideology. This even as Christian organizations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, are debating their support for the President, his policies on immigration, and their own racist past.

The essential question that I wanted to answer in my book was why white nationalists had so often vocally rejected Christianity, even in its most racist forms. Ultimately Christianity was a problem, said many white nationalists, because of its Jewish origins, its alleged ties to socialism, and otherwise because it imperils the white race as it advocates universal brotherhood rather than racial survival. But I discovered that opinions concerning Christianity among American white nationalists vary with the broader social and political trends within and without the movement, and this variation has made discussions of religion central to political activist strategies.

More recently these strategies have become a concerning question for the Republican Party, for Christians of all stripes, and perhaps in some ways for all Americans.

Blood & Faith: Christianity in American White Nationalism is available from the publisher and from Amazon.

Damon T. Berry holds a PhD in Comparative Studies from Ohio State University in Columbus. His research focuses on the imbrication of religious and racialized discourses that shape and inform logics of exclusion and violence. He is an associate professor in religious studies at St. Lawrence University in Canton NY, where he teaches courses in global Christianities, religion and race, religion and violence, religion in conspiracy theory, and American religious lives. See his faculty profile for additional information.

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