(RNS) — Starting today (Aug. 25) in North Las Vegas, disgraced former General Michael Flynn and Eric Trump, son of the former president, will headline a lineup of MAGA celebrities for resumption, after a summer break, of the ReAwaken America Tour. A political rally in the form of an apostolic revival, the tour is a multi-day Christian nationalist event that includes appearances by “Pastors for Trump,” praise music and even baptisms combined with election denial, COVID-19 disinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories.
Like many Christian-nationalist events, ReAwaken America also brings a bitter side of antisemitism.
The tour’s previous stop, at Miami’s Trump Doral Resort in May, drew attention when MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow exposed the disgusting pro-Hitler sentiments expressed by two regular tour speakers, Scott McKay and Charlie Ward, after which both men were removed from the lineup.
Their departure didn’t rid the tour of its antisemitism. Far from it.
Flynn and other speakers, including Pastor Jackson Lahmeyer and the tour’s organizer, Clay Clark, regularly send out antisemitic dog whistles from the stage, referring to opponents as “godless globalists,” a term the American Jewish Committee notes has long been conspiracists’ code to refer to prominent Jews, particularly philanthropist George Soros.
Flynn has also argued that America only needs “one religion” — a sentiment he shared while standing in a church known for its antisemitic founding pastor — making it very clear what he thinks of anyone who is not his brand of Christian.
In North Las Vegas, the usual ReAwaken America lineup is expected to be joined by Alex Jones, the founder of the conspiracy-theory outlet Info Wars, who, in addition to questioning the facts about the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, last year allowed the rapper Ye (formerly Kanye West) to air an extended antisemitic rant unchallenged. Also expected is controversial comedian Rosanne Barr, who, while Jewish herself, jokes about Holocaust-denial and “good Jew” jokes.
Flynn, Lahmeyer and Clark have identified themselves at ReAwaken events as “Christian nationalists” — adherents of a political ideology that says America should be a Christian nation where non-Christians receive fewer legal and political rights. Political scientists at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, have found that Christian nationalist sentiments are linked to agreement with antisemitic tropes.
This repugnant showcase of antisemitism, political violence, homophobia and reckless COVID-19 misinformation is not taking place in a vacuum. According to the ADL, one-fifth of Americans believe that “Jews are more willing than others to use shady practices to get what they want” and “Jews have too much power in the United States today.” Antisemitic incidents across the country have reached record levels. Antisemitism is like insidious white noise, so ingrained in the culture of the United States that many seldom notice it, even as it fuels white supremacy and Christian nationalism.
In this sense, antisemitism is a cornerstone conspiracy theory for many other expressions of hate and extremism that erode trust and undermine democracy. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that purveyors of hate try “to racialize Jewish people and vilify them as the manipulative puppet masters behind an economic, political and social scheme to undermine white people.”
Nowhere is antisemitism more prevalent than in right wing spaces. In 2020, a major academic survey conducted by researchers at Tufts and Harvard found that “antisemitic attitudes are far more prevalent on the right, particularly on the young far right.”
Even beyond its embrace of conspiracist lies and antisemitic tropes, the possibility for violence might be ReAwaken’s biggest threat. Tour speakers rarely make explicit calls to arms, instead providing their audiences with implicit permission to overturn elections by defending Jan. 6, dehumanizing and demonizing their opponents with language like “Team Jesus vs. Team Satan,” and convincing listeners that anything is justifiable if it’s for Jesus by using rhetoric such as “armor of God” and “spiritual warfare.”
As a pastor, I find these efforts both blasphemous and an existential threat to the country and our churches. The threat isn’t just hypothetical: Christian nationalism has already led to immediate, real-world violence, as it did on Jan. 6, 2021, and in numerous less-reported incidents since.
Hate peddled in the hijacked name of Jesus is too great a threat to our neighbors, our churches and democracy itself for Christians to remain silent. We cannot shy away from taking a stand against antisemitism and Christofascism, whether found on the ReAwaken America Tour, national presidential campaigns, apostolic sermons or local government meetings. The fear that we might lose church members or friends is not a sufficient excuse for allowing Christ’s name to be used as a weapon. Hate is not why we are here.
(The Rev. Nathan Empsall is an Episcopal priest and the executive director of Faithful America. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)