Trump as Antichrist: A Way Out for the Disillusioned Cultist

Donald Trump, holed up in defeat in his Mar-a-Lago fortress, awards acolytes making the pilgrimage with beaming photo opportunities in gilded arty backgrounds, once they’ve kissed his ass. He threatens critics with “primarying” and directs his cultists to donate to his private offertory (eschewing the Republicans’ campaign coffers). He appears fearsome, a lion in winter, sullenly confidant. It is easy to imagine him retaining his grip over his adopted party, shaping the Republican midterm primaries, sabotaging bipartisan cooperation, and receiving a second nomination in 2024.

But there are all those legal cases. Trump is being investigated for financial crimes, payment of illegal hush money, tax evasion, abuse of office, incitement to riot. He is going to be dogged by reports that show him an incompetent, failed, dishonest businessman whose most successful project was his 14-year stint on The Apprentice. It will become clear why all the major banks including Deutsche Bank have come to shun him. Sordid details of his relations with the women he tried to shut up will come out, or if repeated gain new attention. The threatening phone calls to Georgia demanding a vote recount will be replayed again and again. And the incitement to insurrection charge, supported as it is by so much empirical evidence, is going to damage his brand (even if it’s been so far a brand of contempt for all norms).

Perhaps Trump will retain the hard-core and dumbest element in his base, that which believes any criticism of their man comes from Satan. But that’s not a given. And the 70% will be even more disgusted with Trump than before.

Meanwhile the Republicans in Congress generally retain a united front (though with some notable defections), and project an air of defiance. They unite in emphasizing “irregularities” in the election that “cast doubt” on the new administration’s legitimacy. They don’t just condemn their opponents as “radical liberals” if not “Marxists,” “socialists,” “communists,” and anarchists (all of which they use interchangeably, like John Birchers in the 1950s); such expressions of stupidity have become common. They go beyond this, to question their opponents’ very right to wield power following a “stolen” election. In doing so they express their fealty to their master—who sits there in his mansion conferring with his lawyers anticipating the shocks and embarrassments to come.

Some of those expressing such fealty are under investigation for their ties with white supremacist activists that participated in the storming of the Capitol. Some major figures will probably be indicted. Roger Stone’s relations with the Oath Keepers, former State Department official Federico Klein’s role, Congress members’ guided tours for visitors on the days before the riot, all will be investigated. The investigation will widen. The role of the different parties present at the riot (Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Bugaloo Boys, QAnon, etc.) will become increasingly clear, along with the size of the military and police component. Any communications between these people and lawmakers will be scrutinized as the FBI directed by the Biden Justice Department investigates the “insurrection.”

Some think that, since the FBI conducted COINTELPRO and killed Fred Hampton, it is so fundamentally racist it will handle the arrested with kid gloves, as might the courts. Some question the FBI’s figure of about 800 trespassing in the building Jan. 6, although it seems plausible to me. Some 300 people have already been charged and another 100 are reportedly likely to be charged. We already know what they’re saying: “We were invited by the president and were only following his orders, as good patriots.”

So the ex-president is in trouble. People around Trump including Stone and Klein are in trouble. And Republican lawmakers complicit in the uprising are on tenterhooks, praying that those deleted encrypted emails to the Proud Boys are secure from the eyes of the police state, that security cameras didn’t catch them escorting MAGA tour groups through the boarded-up Capitol Jan. 5, that staff members’ meetings with militiamen were entirely clandestine, that the meetings with “Stop the Steal” (“Wild Protest”) organizer Ali Alexander can be denied.

Thus, the house of cards may fall, as the bourgeois state under Biden (which now officially posits that white supremacists constitute the main terrorist threat to the country) impresses upon the Trump goons that bourgeois law must be upheld and that they can’t bust into Congress and break and steal things, threatening to hang the vice president, and get away with it. That is, the basic reestablishment of normalcy is primary, not the retention of the MAGA program, whatever the individual FBI agent thinks about Trump.

FBI personnel are professionals. It is safe to assume they differ somewhat from the bureau of Hoover’s time. They likely find the current assignment (the collection and analysis of all video evidence of the riot, some 15,000 hours of surveillance camera video and social media material posted so stupidly; investigation of all identified on the basis of some 210,000 hints; the tracing of links that constitute “conspiracy”) important and interesting. It is an opportunity to display criminological skills, easy to pursue due to the abundance of evidence. While I can’t say I trust the FBI (or anyone in the state apparatus) I think the FBI investigation will shed much light on what really happened Feb. 6 that will (along with other probes) seriously damage Trump.

Yes, I mean enough to diminish the appeal of Trump to his base, hence to the intermediate level of lawmakers who stand between the ex-president and that base. If it can be shown, to the court of public opinion, that Trump indeed has a history of sexual assault, business failure, financial crime, tax evasion, abuse of office, corruption, gross nepotism, and general FAKERY from square one, his base might turn. If the prophet who thundered against FAKE NEWS is shown himself to be the ultimate charlatan, his house built on sand will crumble when the rains come tumbling down.

Much of the false prophet’s base is extremely ignorant, religiously so. This is why they’ve been such easy prey for whatever joker originally launched QAnon. Many actually believe in Satan, whom QAnon associates with the DNC, cannibalism and pedophilia. If they can believe that, they can believe in the Antichrist. So here’s an idea.

Recall how St. Paul foretold the Antichrist: “the lawless one…the one destined for destruction….[who] opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

Many Evangelicals identify this Antichrist with the Beast in Revelation 13, who is worshiped by the deluded people for a time. He “has a mouth speaking great things,” and obtains power over all kindreds, tongues and nations (Revelation 13:7). He stays in power 42 months (13:5). (Trump was in power 48 months, close enough to explain. One could say he was only REALLY in power 42 months, or that Bible months were longer, or whatever; with some quick brainstorming we could come up with a QAnon-type explanation.)

So: “Aha!” the lady who invaded the Capitol to save the children might conclude, “We were wrong all along, deluded by the Antichrist!” This would be a face-saving way out for gradually deprogramming Trump cultists, faulting Satan-through-Trump rather than their own clueless bigoted selves. Just a thought.

***

Anther possibility would be for the Trump base to survive in its current dimensions while Trump avoids legal problems and works to transform the Republican Party into a fascist party through carefully integrating selected militia and white nationalist groups, coordinating with QAnon to explain the multiple prophecy failings, identifying and cultivating military support through Gen. Flynn, preserving ties with Liberty University and other Evangelical centers, strengthening police union ties, promoting laws for vote suppression, repairing and strengthening the Fox relationship—a full agenda for a low-energy obese 74-year-old, isolated, surrounded by toadies, detached from reality. A pouting punk so stupid as to think he could sic a mob on the Capitol and—if not secure a second term—at least leave office with his head held high, having made his point.

The “Stop the Steal” rally was Trump’s last major project, not that it required much time and attention. He summoned his brain-dead to Washington, promising them a “wild” time, directed them to march on the Capitol (with he himself supposedly in the crowd, leading them) in order to pressure the House and Vice President Pence in particular to reject the 2020 vote. Trump surely anticipated some window-breaking and watched in the White House, jubilant as aides cringed realizing the likely ramifications. Trump in other words did something very stupid Jan. 6. It was not only desperate (hard though it is to imagine he actually believed that he could pull off a coup so easily); it was a malevolent, deeply personal statement by a rejected leader who wanted to vent his rage on the building where the Congress met to do its business.

If you don’t keep me in power, thought the pouting little boy, I’ll smash some windows before I go. So there was no coup, no martial law, no state of emergency. Just a predictable second impeachment, with bipartisan support, international condemnation, cancellation of Trump’s social media accounts, shunning by banks, more legal problems. But maybe Trump concludes, after the event, that it was an inspiring moment showing the world his strength and threatening Washington with his manifest ability to summon dozens if not hundreds of terrorists to the city. Maybe he sums up that the comedic coup attempt only strengthened his prestige within the party. Didn’t the Republicans continue to reject the election after they reassembled following the Capitol clearing?

It is frightening to see the continued hold of this vile man over one of the two allowed political parties in this country. A poll last month showed 54% of registered Republicans would vote for Trump again. But things are moving, investigations are proceeding, splits are occurring as arrests rise. The fallout from that last-ditch action (which the Republicans are trying hard to minimize) makes it hard to envision the emergence of a movement in this country that both qualifies as “fascist” in an analytically useful way (as QAnon, for example, does not) and falls meaningfully under Trump’s leadership. Trump’s brand will surely decline. The Nazis and KKK (to say nothing of the groups that explicitly endorsed Trump) benefited from a period of racist reaction under Trump; he gave them greater space to spread their hate proudly. He may prove useful to them in the future, but he’s insufficiently anti-black and anti-Semitic for some.

In 2017 the infamous white nationalist rally in Charlottesville was held to “Unite the Right.” That was the hope of the participants at the time. But the follow-up rally a year later drew a fraction of the original. It’s not clear that the white nationalist (alt-) right has united effectively or can place many troops on the field. The total of arrested identified Capitol rioters so far looks like it maybe over 30% are either members of identified organizations (mainly Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters) or former or serving cops or military. There is probably a high overlap. This “movement”—disparate and uncoordinated as it appears to be—is small. It could pull off one action in Washington at the behest of the president, assuming itself immune from prosecution, and assuming Trump’s participation and subsequent praise.

Instead Trump waited a week before issuing the following:

“I want to be very clear. I unequivocally condemn the violence that we saw last week. Violence and vandalism have absolutely no place in our country, and no place in our movement…those who engaged in the attacks last week will be brought to justice…”No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag. No true supporter of mine could ever threaten or harass their fellow Americans.”

Trump reportedly worried that this might have turned off some of his supporters. But he had to issue the statement. Earlier he had condemned the Proud Boys. The operational links between these groups and Trumps remain unclear. I doubt that there is a coordinating body connecting Trump, the Republican Congressional leadership, and this scattering of far-right groups.

***

I don’t doubt that there is a fascist movement in this country, just as there are in most European countries, all with their own specificities. The U.S. version is uniquely tied to the history of slavery in this country, and the uses of white supremacist ideology to sustain black oppression. The KKK, whose founding (1865) predates fascism as a modern political phenomenon (1919), is based on a Christian-tinged doctrine of white supremacy but is obviously quite different from a fascist political party. The U.S. fascist movement as such dates to around 1959 with the founding of the American Nazi Party. In the 1960s and 1970s groups like the White Aryan Resistance recruited Klansmen and there is presumably an ongoing neo-Nazi/Klan overlap. Meanwhile tiny right-wing cells and chat rooms have proliferated. All of this constitutes a “movement” but it is not mainly rooted in or directed by Trump and may be less willing to stick with him than the Republican Party mainstream that so fears him.

Trump’s base does not fear him. They love him. Or they did once. Would they break windows for him again? Maybe not, since he condemned what they did at the Capitol after encouraging them. Would QAnon turn out? Maybe not, the shaman’s bummed that Trump didn’t pardon him. Maybe the base will shrink, as I think it will; the Republicans will have to distance themselves from a scandal-ridden figure in their past, perhaps splitting in two in the process; the “Storming of the Capitol” will enter U.S. folklore as a criminal assault on democracy ordered by the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and then convicted of incitement to riot but pardoned by Kamala Harris.

Again, in these circumstances, the doubting Trump follower can always conclude that Trump who seemed like God was actually the Antichrist all the time, and the pedophile cannibal was not in Pelosi’s office but in their Satan-possessed selves.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]
[CDATA[ $('input[type="radio"]