Brussels. Istanbul. Ankara. Paris. San Bernardino. Beirut.
These cities are famous for their history and their culture. More recently, they’re also known for the suffering they’ve experienced at the hands of radicalized Muslims.
Terrorism by Islamic extremists is real, but the fringe of that faith holds no exclusive provenance on religiously motivated hate. The sad truth is that in the United States, domestic terrorists have bombed abortion clinics and LGBT-themed venues, murdered minorities and agitated for the overthrow of the federal government.
Many use a warped version of Christianity to justify their violence. These groups represent the furthest fringe of the Religious Right, but although their views are idiosyncratic, many have little-known ties to more mainstream fundamentalist figures.
Some of the more prominent movements are profiled here.
The Army of God: There is little public information available about the Army of God (AOG)’s genesis and current structure. What is known, however, is that it first appeared around 1984. As Political Research Associates’ Frederick Clarkson wrote in a 1998 piece for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), abortion clinic bomber Michael Bray left a sign reading “AOG” at the site of his Norfolk, Va., attack. Clarkson also reported that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun – who authored the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade – received a threatening letter signed “AOG” in the 1980s.
The AOG also produced an influential manual for would-be militants. Excerpts reveal a sophisticated strategy: Brothers and sisters in arms are referred to by code names, and the group’s internal structure is left deliberately vague. That’s because the manual explicitly urges readers to commit violent acts against abortion providers.
“The Editors of this manual hope and pray that the information contained herein will be useful to those who are committed to pro-life activism, and may perhaps provide the catalyst to inspire others to such a commitment,” it begins. It goes on to tell sympathizers that they belong to a special “remnant” of true believers. “[W]e, the remnant of God-fearing men and women of the United States of Amerika (sic), do officially declare war on the entire child-killing industry,” it declares.
In chapters omitted from its online version, the manual provides detailed instructions on how to construct and plant bombs in abortion clinics. According to Clarkson, the manual also encourages militants to “maim doctors” by “removing their hands, or at least their thumbs below the second digit.”
Copies of the manual have been found in the homes of several militants, including Shelley Shannon, who attempted to murder Dr. George Tiller in 1993.
AOG’s status is unclear today.
Operation Rescue: Operation Rescue (OR) brands itself as “one of the leading pro-life Christian activist organizations in the nation” on its website, and at first glance it appears to be more mainstream than AOG. But it’s known for extreme tactics. Founded in the 1980s by Randall Terry, its activists became famous for physically blocking abortion clinic doors and launching extended occupations at clinics in Wichita, Kan., and Buffalo, N.Y.
Its current leaders also have deep ties to anti-abortion militancy.
According to Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog, OR’s Senior Policy Advisor Cheryl Sullenger served time in federal prison for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic in San Diego. Although Sullenger claims she now regrets her violence, she corresponded regularly with Scott Roeder before he murdered Tiller, and OR posted Tiller’s home address on its website. (OR says that it does not endorse Roeder’s actions.)
OR’s president, Troy Newman, also condemned the 2003 execution of Paul Hill, who murdered a Pensacola, Fla., abortion provider, calling it “another example of the judicial tyranny gripping our nation.” Hill had claimed his act was “justifiable homicide.”
Newman also sat on the board of the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). CMP’s doctored video “exposés” of Planned Parenthood’s alleged sale of fetal tissue to biomedical researchers failed to turn up any evidence of wrongdoing by the health- care provider, but Robert Dear cited the videos as an influence for his Colorado Springs attack. CMP’s founder, David Daleiden, now awaits trial in Texas for violating federal law in the process of conducting his investigation; Newman recently left the organization’s board.
Abiding Truth Ministries: Pastor Scott Lively calls himself an “international human rights consultant” on his blog. The truth is rather more sinister: Lively travels the world advocating for extreme legal measures that criminalize homosexuality. His Springfield, Mass.-based group, Abiding Truth Ministries, serves as a sort of home base to support his extreme activities in the United States and overseas.
Lively faces an ongoing lawsuit over his activities in Uganda. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) filed legal action against the minister with the assistance of the U.S.-based Center for Constitutional Rights in 2012. SMUG is relying on the little-known Alien Torts Statute to argue that Lively conspired with Ugandan pastors and politicians to promote legislation that would punish homosexuality with the death penalty. Although the so-called “Kill The Gays” bill never became law, it is credited for inspiring acts of vigilante violence against LGBT people, and homosexuality is still criminalized in the country.
Lively’s deeds aren’t limited to Uganda. He’s also been a frequent presence in Russia. According to The Advocate, the pastor toured 50 Russian cities in 2006 and 2007 and has taken credit for a recent spate of anti-LGBT legislation in the country. NBC News reported in 2013 that Lively told Russians that the gay rights movement is “the most dangerous political movement in the world.” When Russian President Vladimir Putin passed a law criminalizing gay “propaganda,” the pastor praised him as “the savior of Christian civilization.”
The controversial minister, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Massachusetts in 2014, is the author of The Pink Swastika, an incendiary tome that claims LGBT people orchestrated the Holocaust. Despite these extreme views, the Religious Right hasn’t disassociated itself from Lively: Liberty Counsel is currently handling his legal defense in SMUG v. Lively.
Generations With Vision: Kevin Swanson’s name might be unfamiliar to most Americans, but the radical Colorado preacher briefly captured national headlines last year thanks to the bizarre pronouncements he made at his highly-publicized National Religious Liberties Conference.
Shortly before introducing GOP presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Swanson announced that the Bible demands homosexuality be punished by death and said he would rather spread cow manure all over his body than watch a gay son or daughter get married in a church.
That’s not the first time Swanson has implied that the Bible merits death for gays. According to Right Wing Watch, he took to his radio show in 2012 to express longing for the days when the Pilgrims criminalized homosexuality. He has also insisted that LGBT people will inevitably burn Christians at the stake and that gays were somehow responsible for Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Swanson is no fan of birth control, either. In 2013, he claimed scientists had “compared the wombs of women who were on birth control pill versus those who were not on birth control pill, and they have found that with women who were on the birth control pill there are these little tiny fetuses – these little babies – embedded into the womb.
“And these wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies,” he added.
This is not a real scientific phenomenon. Nevertheless, Swanson wields some influence among Christian fundamentalists, especially those who homeschool their children. He is an avid proponent of homeschooling and his ministry, Generations With Vision, hosts well-attended conferences for homeschooling families.
World Congress of Families: Founded in 1997 by Hillsdale College history professor Dr. Allan Carlson, the Rockville, Ill.,-based World Congress of Families (WCF) explicitly calls for the criminalization of homosexuality in addition to the abolition of sex education in public schools, a total prohibition of abortion and “an end to the aggressive state promotion of androgyny.” Its vehement opposition to LGBT rights and women’s rights led the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to classify the organization as a hate group.
As previously reported by Church & State, WCF has been active overseas. By 2014, it had organized global gatherings in Prague, Geneva, Mexico City, Warsaw, Amsterdam, Madrid, Sydney and Moscow; these conferences were aimed at sympathetic legislators in conservative political parties and in some cases led them to propose bills that promoted the WCF’s extremist agenda. That includes restrictions on contraception and abortion access and measures that would criminalize homosexuality or otherwise harshly punish LGBT people.
WCF held its most recent conference in Salt Lake City. The state’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, opened the conference alongside his wife Jeannette. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also spoke at the conference, lauding the benefits of “traditional marriage.”
The Ku Klux Klan: Though its numbers are far reduced from its peak in the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) still exists. It has splintered into several affiliated factions: The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan appears to be one of its more active branches and is based in Harrison, Ark. The Knights’ leader, Thomas Robb, is a Christian minister who operates both the KKK and his Christian Revival Center on extensive property there.
According to the SPLC, the KKK has been weakened by internal conflicts. Its primary activities appear to be marches and the dissemination of racist and anti-Semitic flyers; however, one Klansman, Frazier Glenn Miller, opened fire at a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kan., in 2014. He murdered three.
Although the KKK’s primary cause is the promotion of white supremacy, it has also historically identified itself as a Christian group, and many of its members justify their activities with a racist interpretation of Christian doctrine.
“We don’t hate people because of their race. We are a Christian organization,” Fred Ancona, who heads the group’s Virginia affiliate, told a Richmond TV station 2014.
Also in 2014, Robb told the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader that his message – white people should “love their own people” – is biblical.
The SPLC estimates there are roughly 5,000-8,000 members of the KKK remaining in America, but it’s difficult to tell how many cloak their activities in far-right Christianity. But it’s clear that Robb, Ancona and many other modern Klansmen believe that their unusual interpretation of the Christian faith isn’t just compatible with their segregationist convictions; they believe that the former mandates the latter conclusion.
A number of explicitly Christian and white supremacist belief systems influence their perspectives.
Christian Identity: According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Christian Identity movement holds that white Europeans are the true biological descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
This false belief originated in the 19th century and eventually mutated in the early 20th. At that time, many of its adherents began to hold that they were real Israelites, and Jews were not. In this equation, white Europeans were the inheritors of biblical prophecy, the real “chosen people.” The ADL also states that Christian Identity adherents believe that only white people have souls and that the world is in its final days. But although they believe Jesus will return to Earth, they insist he will do so only after a final race war.
Christian Identity is a decentralized belief system, not an organization, and it heavily influences contemporary white supremacy. An individual Klansman or Klan branch (sometimes called a klavern) can identify as Christian Identity; the Texas-based White Camelia [sic] Knights of the KKK is an example of a Christian Identity Klan. On its website, the group boasts that its members are “White Christian Men and Women dedicated to the advancement and protection of the same Christian beliefs that were the foundation of this once great nation.”
The ADL says Christian Identity adherents have been connected to a series of armed robberies in the 1990s and violent bombings. (Eric Rudolph, infamous for bombing the Atlanta Olympic Games in addition to gay bars and an abortion clinic, had ties to Christian Identity figures.)
Kinism: Kinism is characterized both by an idiosyncratic interpretation of Calvinism and Confederate apologia. Kinists believe the Bible justifies segregation; many also identify as Christian Reconstructionists or theonomists, who believe the U.S. government should enforce Old Testament law.
The ADL dates the philosophy’s contemporary origins to the late 1990s and early 2000s, though its roots are much older.
“While accepting many standard Christian tenets and declaring Jesus as their Savior, these Kinists assert that whites have a ‘God-given right’ to preserve their own kind and live separately from other races in their own communities,” the group reported in 2013.
The ADL also notes that Kinists, like Christian Identity adherents, don’t belong to a structured “Kinist” organization. Unlike Christian Identity, Kinism does not hold that white Europeans are secret Israelites. Their views resemble those of the historical Confederates: They idolize the agrarian antebellum South, interpret states’ rights in a manner that severely restricts the power of federal government and oppose interracial marriage.
To Kinists, Reconstruction marked the end of a truly biblical order in the American South. But many also espouse explicitly anti-feminist and anti-LGBT views, believing that women should not have the right to vote and that LGBT rights are evidence of the country’s continuing moral downfall. Some are also anti-Semitic. In 2007, one prominent Kinist blogger, Ehud Would, called for the deportation of “most Blacks, Jews and Mestizos.”
The philosophy’s popularity in some deeply conservative Calvinist circles led the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (briefly the denominational home of the late Christian Reconstructionist leader R.J. Rushdoony) to condemn it publicly on its website.
Nevertheless, Kinism persists and continues to influence Christian white supremacists. A number of self-identified Kinists continue to promote the philosophy via FaithandHeritage.com. One of its writers might be familiar to readers: Scott Terry achieved 15 minutes of Internet fame in 2013 for interrupting a Conservative Political Action Conference panel in order to praise slavery.
More information about these extreme groups and movements can be found through reputable sources on the web.