Guns and prophecy

Trumpism is now a movement with religious roots. This makes it much tougher and much more dangerous in ways the secular media completely misunderstand

There was a small riot of Donald Trump’s hard core supporters in Washington on Saturday. After it ended, four people were stabbed in a brawl outside Harry’s Bar, a hangout for the neofascist Proud Boys group, and most of the press coverage concentrated on that violence. The content of the rally that preceded the riot was hardly mentioned in the secular press.

The Guardian, for instance, ran some wire reports together to get this:

“An estimated 200 members of the Proud Boys, a violent far-right group, had joined the marches earlier on Saturday near the Trump hotel in the capital. Mixing with church groups who urged the faithful to participate in “Jericho Marches” and prayer rallies for the defeated president, the Proud Boys contingent wore combat fatigues and ballistic vests, carried helmets and flashed hand signals used by white nationalists.”

The rest of the report concentrated entirely on the outbursts of street brawling.

Compare and contrast the Orthodox writer Rod Dreher’s appalled livetweeting of the rally as he followed it on some cable network. Much was reproduced in his column for the American Conservative.

“I wanted to see how far the Christian Right — for the record, I am an Orthodox Christian, and a conservative — would go to conflate Trump politics and religion. Pretty far, as it turns out. Right over the cliff. You had to see it to believe it.”

“I began to think that all of this is the right-wing Christian version of Critical Race Theory, and various doctrines held by the woke Left. … we conservatives are allowing ourselves to be conquered by the same kind of unreality. We can’t look away from it, or fall back on whataboutism.”

[There is probably a grammatical term for this usage of “can’t” to mean “most certainly will”, but I don’t know it].

What’s important is that Dreher understood the pull as well as the grotesquerie of these people: the mainstream coverage of the rally focused on the neofascist Proud Boy thugs, and on Michael Flynn, one of the few Trump henchmen actually to have gone to jail (for lying to the FBI; Trump pardoned him).

But for Dreher, the meat of the show were the various charismatic evangelical “prophets” and the toppings were Alex Jones and Carlo Maria Viganò --- and he is undoubtedly right. Conspiracy theories and apocalyptic decodings use exactly the same heuristics and persuasive techniques. Both Jones and Viganò made their names pushing outlandish conspiracy theories. Viganò is pretty much as Dreher describes him: “ the world’s fiercest critic of Pope Francis.” and in a frightening note, he adds “It is hard to overstate how much credibility Vigano has with a large number of conservative Catholics.”

Alex Jones made his name and his fortune distributing comforting lies and selling quack cures. The period of his greatest fame came between 2012, when he claimed that a massacre of 19 primary school children never happened, but was instead as staged as the moon landings, and 2018 when all the major internet platforms finally banned him for saying this.

Noefacist thugs like the Proud Boys appeal to a very limited demographic. Men like Jones and Viganò are much more valuable propagandists. Jones, in particular, knows how to nourish – and profit from – a lasting culture of defiant delusion. In this he is no different from prosperity gospellers of every sort, and they, too, were represented at this rally. Prophecy has assured them that Trump will win; that he has in fact already won – by a landslide – and the faithful need only pray together until God reveals this fact to the world.

I look at the hideous strength of this alliance and remember the last verse of the little Auden song for which this place is named

Nothing your strength, your skill, could do
can alter their embrace
Or dispersuade the Furies who
At the appointed place
With claw and dreadful brow
Wait for them now.