Book bans across the nation. Christian fundamentalism ascending. White supremacy running rampant. These are symptoms of a rising fascist politics in America.
Reactionary political actors seek to reinforce white supremacy by erasing from public discussions any recognition of people of color, LGBTQ identities, and their struggles. One way this happens is through book banning, which has grown dramatically in recent years. In the first eight months of 2022 alone, the American Library Association reports an “unprecedented” 1,651 books were banned from the country’s schools and libraries – more than double the number in 2021, and a quadrupling from 2019.
The lion’s share of book bans are in GOP and battleground states, most prominently in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. The bans target books concentrating on issues related to race and anti-racism, sexism and anti-sexism, and LGBTQ identity and prejudice.
As we look closer look at who’s behind these bans, we see that it’s reactionary citizens groups such as “Mom’s for Liberty” and “No Left Turn in Education,” which utilize eliminationist rhetoric to define people of color and non-hetero individuals out of existence and extract them from the national identity.
Moms for Liberty explains on its webpage that it’s “empowering parents” and “fighting for the survival of America” by “teaching the principles of liberty in our homes and community.” It doesn’t take much imagination to discern that this is a recipe for patriarchal white supremacy, with the “survival” of the nation’s identity defined by censoring people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals out of existence, while “empowering” a white heteronormative version of identity.
The white supremacist-Christian fundamentalist dimensions of Moms for Liberty are difficult to miss. All the women leading the organization are white, and their program draws inspiration from efforts to entrench the nation in Christian theocracy. The group’s national chapter coordinator openly advertises that “God has called on me, and equipped me, to do my part in service to Him and our country.”
Moms for Liberty isn’t alone in its crusade. White Republican officials are explicitly calling on the United States to embrace Christian nationalism. Republican House Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene sees the GOP as “the party of Christian nationalism.” Doug Mastriono, Big Lie election propagandist and Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate, calls the separation of church and state a “myth,” announcing that “In November we are going to take our state back” from the secularist Democrats and that “my God will make it so.” Fellow Big Lie propagandist, January 6 insurrectionist supporter, and Republican Representative Josh Hawley announces that “we are a revolutionary nation because we are the heirs of the revolution of the Bible – without the Bible, there is no America.”
Republican rhetoric channels eliminationism by assaulting those identities that do not fit the Christian nationalist ideal elevated by the GOP. This is most clear in Hawley’s claim that “no America” exists outside of a Christian fundamentalist identity.
The GOP’s pronouncements don’t occur in a vacuum. They’re part of a larger embrace on the Republican right of Christian nationalism and zealotry. For example, a University of Maryland poll from mid-2022 finds that support for fundamentalist principles in the Republican Party is pronounced, venturing into authoritarianism. While 57 percent of Republicans believe the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow for “the government to declare the U.S. a Christian nation,” 61 percent favor doing so anyway. Differences within the party are pronounced by age, with 71 percent of Silent Generation and 54 percent of Baby Boomer Republicans wanting to declare the U.S. a Christian nation, compared to 49 percent of Gen X and 51 percent of Millennial and Gen Z Republicans respectively. This sentiment threatens to undermine longstanding requirements under the First Amendment mandating that Congress (and government more generally) “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” and that individuals have the right of “free exercise” of whatever religion or denomination they wish independently of government, and Article 7, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Christo-fascism relies on the fusion of white supremacy, authoritarianism, contempt for the rule of law and religious minorities’ rights, and the eliminationist effort to delete non-Christian identities from the national consciousness and from what it means to be “American.”
It rests on a fundamentalist foundation that’s longstanding. The United States is an outlier compared to other wealthy countries in its commitment to religiosity, measured by the percent of people who say religion “plays a very important role in their lives.” Millions of Americans have for years supported a Christian nationalist agenda, which explains why religious zealots like Greene and Hawley can channel that rhetoric today.
Christian fundamentalism is written into the country’s history and identity. More than half of U.S. adults in 2022 (55 percent) say they believe the U.S. Constitution is “inspired by God,” while 36 percent of Americans and 49 percent of Republicans in 2020 say the U.S. “is and has always been a Christian nation.” Sixty-four percent of Republicans and 71 percent of white Evangelical Protestants agree that “God has granted the U.S. a special role in human history,” compared to half as many independents (35 percent) and less than a third (32 percent) of Democrats.
Beyond broad proclamations, large numbers of Americans express disturbing support for political changes that would further elevate Christian nationalism. Polling from 2020 finds that almost half of Americans (49 percent), 89 percent of white Evangelical Protestants, and 67 percent of Republicans believed that the Bible “should influence the laws of the United States.” Just a few years earlier in 2015, 57 percent of Republicans agreed Christianity “should be established as the United States’ national religion.” In that same poll, 28 percent of Americans, 41 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of white Evangelical Protestants said the Bible “should have more influence on laws than the will of the people.” This is a striking indulgence in Christian authoritarianism that seeks to overturn the rule of law in favor of theocratic governance. Substantial minorities of Americans – 42 and 46 percent respectively – also wanted religious leaders “to have a direct role in writing” a new U.S. Constitution and want the Bible itself to be “a source of legislation.”
Fascist ideology historically extols patriarchal personalities to lead nations to “greatness,” while imposing misogynistic hierarchies. Christian nationalism is no different. In 2020, 53 percent of white Evangelical Protestants and 60 percent of Republicans agreed the U.S. “punishes men for acting like men,” while 56 percent of white Evangelicals and 63 percent of Republicans agreed the country had “become too feminine.” This indulgence in toxic masculinity is tied to Trumpian authoritarianism, with 57 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of white Evangelical Republicans feeling the U.S. needs “a leader willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” This trust in Trump reached cult level religious conviction, with nearly two-thirds of Trump’s supporters declaring while he was in office that there was nothing they could think of that he could do that would cause them to reconsider their support for his presidency.
Rightwing partisanship and religious fundamentalism are also associated with support for suppressing discussions of how societal institutions are structured to perpetuate racism. An overwhelming 70 percent of White Evangelicals and 79 percent of Republicans in 2020 felt that the “killings of black men by police are isolated incidents,” compared to 43 percent of Americans overall. As leading religious scholar and social scientist Robert Jones documents, the reluctance to recognize structures of racial profiling and police brutality is rooted in the greater susceptibility of white Christian Americans to racist beliefs, including support for celebrating white supremacist confederate monuments, a refusal to recognize the deleterious effects of generations of slavery on black Americans, susceptibility to negative stereotypes depicting black people as lazy and undeserving of assistance, and a general negativity and fearfulness toward “people of other races.”
The noxious blend of reactionary Christo-fascist beliefs documented here represents an existential threat to the rule of law and secular democracy in America. These reactionary values are hardly new, but their ascendance in the Trumpian era, coupled with the cultish religious commitment of Republicans and QAnon supporters to Trump and to the overthrow of electoralism as we know it, don’t bode well for the future of the country. The United States can assert a commitment to the law, mass consent, secularism, and liberal democratic principles, or it can continue to travel down the road of rising religious theocracy and white supremacist Christo-fascism. It can’t do both.