On Jan. 6, 2021, in the middle of the assault of the United States Capitol, Jacob Chansley, the bare-chested man with Viking horns known as the QAnon Shaman, paused his fellow marauders in the Senate chamber to pray.
“Thank you Heavenly Father for gracing us with this opportunity … to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs,” he said. “Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn.”
The prayer, which was captured on film by New Yorker writer Luke Mogelson, was only one of hundreds that day that demonstrated how profoundly the insurgency was interwoven with Christian nationalism.
T-shirt and ball-cap slogans declared it over the sea of demonstrators inside and outside the building: “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president”; “God, Guns, Trump”; or, on the sweatshirt of a man helping construct the rough gallows erected on the Capitol lawn, “Faith, Family, Freedom.” (The gallows itself was quickly covered in handwritten notes — “as if it were a yearbook,” observed lawyer and author Andrew Seidel — reading “Hang them high” and “In God We Trust.)
So @NewYorker has footage of the prayer that was led on the Senate chamber floor by insurrectionists on Jan 6.
It was led by the so-called QAnon Shaman, and occurs roughly 2/3 into this video.
Here's a quick transcript. https://t.co/rPIfJYSzIH pic.twitter.com/vYNHxwIzIa
— Jack Jenkins (@jackmjenkins) January 17, 2021
Protesters others held massive images of Jesus and imitation sculptures of the Infant of Prague, or yelled about Jesus’ blood wiping Congress clean. A blond guy with long hair sung praise hymns into a microphone connected into a stack of amplifiers he was rolling around on a hand-truck.
A Nebraska priest conducted an exorcism on the Capitol building to drive out the demon Baphomet, whom he said was “dissolving the country” in order to “bring it back as something different.” Leo Brent Bozell IV, for example, comes from a long history of Christian right activists: L. Brent Bozell III, his father, created the right-wing Media Research Center, and his grandpa, L. Brent Bozell Jr., penned speeches for Joseph McCarthy and a manifesto for Barry Goldwater.
“It was evident to anyone watching that there was this religious character to what was going on, both in the Trump movement writ large but particularly in the leadership of the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement,” said religious studies scholar Jerome Copulsky, co-director of a new website, Uncivil Religion, dedicated to collecting “digital artifacts” of Jan. 6 religiosity and exploring what it means for, say, violent protesters to dress up like Captain Moroni — a legendary warrior from the Book of Mormon — or sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” alongside fellow protesters carrying Confederate flags. “It wasn’t just the Stop the Steal rally, then the assault,” Copulsky continued. “People really wanted to display their religious commitments, literally wearing them on their sleeves.”
The Uncivil Religion project grew out of a Twitter hashtag, #CapitolSiegeReligion, established by author and religious historian Peter Manseau, who felt that the religious subtext were “the narrative of what transpired” on Jan. 6. Religion, according to Manseau, was not an accidental feature, but rather the motivating motive that had drawn many individuals to the Capitol. Much of this had started much earlier, with Christian right leaders — both official and self-declared — casting the 2020 election and the rest of America’s split issues as an all-or-nothing battle between good and evil.
Some were household figures, such as Samaritan’s Purse head Franklin Graham, who warned in an August 2020 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network that if Trump lost, churches would shut and Christians would be persecuted. However, that narrative was so frequently replicated in both religious and secular conservative media, as well as in various fringe religious right organizations, that claims of “stolen” elections became nearly indistinguishable from themes of apocalyptic religion.
Much of this was on exhibit on Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington, when the Jericho March — widely seen as a prelude to Jan. 6 — brought together a variety of religious right organizations to reenact the biblical Battle of Jericho in praying to “bring down the walls of the Deep State.”
The macabre full-day protest, organized by two then-current federal government officials, included a strange blend of charismatic evangelicalism, Christian Zionism, and right-wing Catholicism, according to writer Sarah Posner.
There was modern Christian praise music with Virgin of Guadalupe imagery; a song of “Ave Maria” that ended with the vocalist yelling “Giddy up”; and the female pastor of a pro-cannabis church in New England wearing Catholic vestments while blowing on a Jewish shofar.
Eric Metaxas, the author of a best-selling biography of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a significant role in forging an alliance between conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics, emceed the event. Throughout Trump’s presidency, Metaxas’ views had gotten more extremist. He told TurningPoint USA founder Charlie Kirk the week before the Jericho March event that the 2020 election would be like “someone being raped or killed… times a thousand,” and that conservatives would have to “fight to the death, to the last drop of blood” to keep Trump in power.
That December rally showcased several prominent Catholic right figures, including a bishop from Texas who failed to acknowledge Biden as president-elect, a nun who conveyed a fiery pro-Trump speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention, and, most notably, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigan, a dissident Catholic figure who was once the Vatican ambassador to the United States but fell into shame after calling for Pope Francis’ resignation in 2018.
Since then, Vigan has become a sort of alternative pope for disaffected Catholic hardliners at odds with their more pragmatic pope, and in 2020, he published an open letter to Trump warning that a “deep church” was collaborating with the “deep state” to undermine his presidency by exploiting the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.
After Trump tweeted a link to the letter, Vigan gained so much traction on the right that when he emerged via video at the Jericho March, praying “for the conversion of public officials who have become accomplices in public fraud,” an audience largely made up of evangelical Protestants applauded alongside his Catholic supporters.
Evangelical speaker Lance Wallnau, who notably linked Trump to the biblical figure of Cyrus — a “heathen” ruler who yet acted as God’s instrument — raised the issue of intra-religious strife in 2016. “This is the beginning of a Christian populist uprising. There is a backlash coming,” he said. “And you’re going to see this wrecking ball of a reformation hit the church as well … because it’s going to divide between those who are awake and those that are asleep. … There is a great awakening coming, and this is the spark that is starting it right now.”
The rest of its legacy is more diverse, but no less distressing: Metaxas suggesting that developing COVID-19 vaccines is akin to dabbling “with the bodies of Jews we murdered in concentration camps,” or Vigan writing that COVID exists only as a “psycho-pandemic”; Wallnau calling “wokeness” the religion of the Antichrist and blessing a cartoon version of Trump on the eve of the Jan. 6 anniversary; Flynn announcing that if America is a religious nation, methodically, as Posner observes, much of the religious organizational energy that went into Stop the Steal has now been moved to rallying the Christian right on favor of voting suppression schemes.
According to Copulsky, a year later, none of the spiritual fervor that helped propel Jan. 6 has dissipated. “It’s built into the fabric of American life. There’s a radicality to it, but this didn’t come out of thin air. And it’s not going to go away. It’s incumbent on religious leaders and organizations to think about what that means.”