The Apocalypse Never Dies, It Just Gets WeirderRoundup
tags: conspiracy theories, far right, Donald Trump, QAnon, Moonies, Unification Church
Thomas Lecaque is an associate professor of history at Grand View University. Twitter: @tlecaque.
Over the weekend, Madison Cawthorn, the Trumpy young first-term congressman, tweeted out a video showing himself misinterpreting the Bible and pushing theocracy. In the video, an edited clip from a speech he gave at a religious-right conference last month, Cawthorn seems to claim that David, Daniel, and Esther “influenced the governments of their day to uphold Christian principles”—at best a shockingly ahistorical assertion; at worst, a troublingly anti-Semitic comment. Yet what’s most remarkable about Cawthorn’s video pushing Christianity onto civic government and warning apocalyptically that “if we bend the knee to the Democrats today, our country will be lost forever and our children will never know what freedom is” is how utterly unremarkable it is. Cawthorn’s rant is, sadly, nowhere close to the biggest problem in apocalyptic Christianity in America at the moment.
No, not only has the apocalypticism of the last few years not died out, but things aren’t getting better.
Donald Trump may be off of Twitter. Q may have gone silent. Yet the unrest, the conspiracy theories, the anti-democratic forces that launched a coup attempt on January 6 and that promote apocalyptic ideas around the reinstatement of Trump? Those continue to grow and evolve. In 2019, I wrote about the theology of the “last world emperor,” a secular messianic figure used in the Middle Ages as part of apocalyptic circles to push for an active quest for Armageddon, and how and why Trump was being used as a contemporary example of the movement. Now, in 2021, it feels like we are somewhere between the revival of that message and Trump as the actual Messiah. Instead of the apocalypticism calming down eleven months after the 2020 election and nine months after the January 6th insurrection, it has spread, grown, put down roots. Apocalypticism has become mainstream among Trump supporters, and it has brought ever weirder and darker elements from the fringes into the core.
In Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, for example, someone paid for a billboard at 1827 Lafayette Street with an image of Trump next to a Biblical verse, “Unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6, but misattributed on the billboard to Romans). The full passage, in the King James Version, is “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” The billboard blasphemously implies that Trump is the Messiah; if that is not the intention, it is at minimum a creepy and confusing exercise in Trumpian adulation.
The conflation of the Christian message in white evangelical churches with support for Trump is an ongoing crisis. The white evangelical demographic is growing, with a nearly 4 percent increase nationwide from 2016 to 2020—fueled almost entirely by white supporters of Trump. According to one March 2021 poll from PRRI, some 61 percent of white evangelicals believe the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. Numerous evangelical supporters, with “MyPillow” guy Mike Lindell being perhaps the most egregious example, have gone all in in this idea. Belief in the big lie overlaps with a number of other conspiracies: In a January 2021 poll, a majority of evangelical respondents said they believed in widespread voter fraud in 2020, a Deep State war on the Trump administration, and Antifa being responsible for January 6th. QAnon, the apocalyptic partisan murder conspiracy web, is believed in by nearly a quarter of white evangelical Protestants, around a quarter of Latter-day Saints, and about a quarter of Hispanic Protestants. Among both white evangelicals and LDS, nearly a quarter say they are willing to “resort to violence in order to save our country.”