May 27, 1995 in Features

Militia Theologies Outside Mainstream Conspiracy Theory Opposite Of Conservative Call For Civic Activism

Laurie Goodstein The Washington Post
 

Those who study the extreme right say it is unfair to associate the “religious right” with the militias that label themselves “Christian.”

They stock Bibles along with their ammunition and call themselves “Christian Patriots” or adherents of the “Christian Identity” movement. They say they are “agents of God” engaged in a holy battle to recapture the nation from a “demonic” government dominated by Jews, liberals and unwitting black and Hispanic allies.

Some far-right militia groups in the United States speak a language laced with Christian references. But theirs is a Christianity that few churchgoers would recognize as that of Jesus, son of a loving God.

On the surface they sound some of the same themes heard from the contemporary “religious right”: They abhor homosexuality, feminism and abortion; feel threatened by a government they believe is overwhelmingly secular and hostile to religion; and issue dire warnings about the impending “New World Order.”

But those who study the extreme right say it is unfair to associate the “religious right” with the militias that label themselves “Christian.” Unlike the mainstream Christian right, they say, the militias are rooted in white supremacy and anti-Semitism and are fed on bizarre biblical interpretations.

“What we’re hearing from militias is a conspiracy theory that the government is the enemy, and it is best to withdraw from the civic process,” said Mike Russell, spokesman for the Christian Coalition.

“That is not what the Christian Coalition or the religious conservative-policy organizations are doing.

“They are working within the system, not trying to extricate from it. It’s 180 degrees in the opposite direction from what the militias or the ultrafringe organizations are trying to do.”

The militia movement, now active in 34 states according to the Treasury Department, is too diverse and decentralized for generalizations to be made about every group’s ideology. Many militia members say they are motivated more by contempt for the federal government than fear of satanic influences.

But for those who consider themselves religiously motivated, much of their vision is derived from the New Testament Book of Revelation, with its vision of a final violent clash between good and evil, played out on a battlefield with dragons and beasts, angels and a rider on a white horse.

“You go to the Book of Revelation, and Jesus turns out to be the lamb with the sword,” said John Helgeland, professor of religion at North Dakota State University. “The whole of Revelation is Satan attacking God’s kingdom.

“The militias perceive that their world is under attack and that conspiratorial forces are involved. They see Satan in the New World Order, Jewish conspiracies, the Trilateral Commission - it doesn’t matter. They believe a final war is coming, and if they fight and are faithful, they get the martyr’s crown.”

North Carolina militia leader Albert Esposito urged his group in a pamphlet to stock up immediately on the “Four B’s: Bibles, bullets, beans and bandages” for the imminent battle “to resist the coming New World Order.”

Ray Southwell, former spokesman for the Michigan Militia, said last year, “I’d guess that within the next two years, you will see the Constitution suspended. … Christian fundamentalists will be the first to go under fascism this time. just like the Jews were the first last time.”

The biblical teachings to love one’s neighbor and turn the other cheek are inconsistent with some militia interpretations.

“Our God is not a wimp,” said Norman Olson, former leader of the Michigan Militia and a lay pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, which severed its ties last year with the General Association of Regular Baptists denomination. “He’s the God of righteousness and wrath. Our way of looking at God and country is not passive Christianity.”

The Book of Revelation’s apocalyptic themes also were central to the theological outlook of David Koresh, the Branch Davidian leader who died along with more than 80 of his followers in their compound outside Waco, Texas, two years ago.

In his final days Koresh told FBI negotiators that he was the “Lamb of God” capable of decoding the cryptic apocalyptic passages called the Seven Seals in the Book of Revelation, triggering the end of the world.

Few militia members subscribe to Branch Davidian theology. Nevertheless, the militias latched onto the government’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound as evidence of government persecution of the Christian community.

“The Branch Davidian people kept to themselves and harmed no one outside the compound prior to the federal assault,” said an editorial in the June-July 1993 issue of Farmers & Consumers Report/Son Times, a militant, far-right tabloid published in North Dakota.

“Government agencies often create provocations to justify their existence. The willingness of the American media to parrot the government line is an indication of the low esteem in which they hold individuals who form a community for the expression of Christian values.”


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