Is the Christian Right a Fascist Movement?
by John W. Whitehead
“I’m a Christian first and a mean-spirited, bigoted conservative second, and don’t you ever forget it.”—Ann Coulter
“To a large extent, Dobson and his gang of thugs are real nasty bullies.” —Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey
In his new book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former war correspondent Chris Hedges contends that today’s Christian Right resembles the early fascist movements in Italy and Germany that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century.
Known primarily as Dominionists, these Christians promote the belief that they are destined to take over and rule the world by taking “dominion” over the political process and reinstituting biblical law. Many perceive this as a campaign to use America to create a global, Christian empire. And statements by evangelical leaders like D. James Kennedy, who has declared that “Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost,” only serve to foster this perception.
For those on the outside looking in, it might seem as if there is reason to be alarmed. As professor Charles Marsh notes in a New York Times editorial, American evangelicals “have amassed greater political power than at any time in our history.” This power, which can be traced to a handful of evangelical leaders with decided political agendas, reaches into the Oval Office and deep into the bowels of Congress.
Indeed, Dominionist-influenced leaders often have a direct line into the White House. For example, James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, reportedly held weekly telephone conversations with Bush advisor Karl Rove during the 2004 campaign. And as Jerry Falwell remarked to Vanity Fair, “Everyone takes our calls.”
However, in his book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (2006), former White House insider David Kuo suggests that Christians are the ones being manipulated and used for their voting power. Hedges disagrees. In a recent interview with me, Hedges stated: “The neo-cons view these people as the useful idiots. I think it is reversed. I believe, in the end, that the neo-cons will be the useful idiots. I think that however buffoonish figures such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Paul and Jan Crouch and many of the others may appear to be, there are tens of millions of people in this country who take these people with deadly seriousness. And whatever buffoonish qualities the Falwells, et cetera, may have on the outside, on the inside these people have a very different stature.”
Calling this particular confluence of religion and politics “Christo-fascism,” Hedges argues that today’s Christian evangelical movement has many of the same characteristics as fascism: a claim for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians; blind obedience to a male hierarchy that often claims to speak for God; intolerance toward non-believers; and disdain for rational intellectual inquiry.
Ann Coulter, a spokesperson for the Christian Right, is adept at magnifying her personality through her own useful idiots, the media. A darling of right-wing talk shows, Coulter embodies some of the above qualities, especially the tendency to demonize one’s opponents. As Susan Estrich points out in Soulless: Ann Coulter and the Right-Wing Church of Hate (2006), Coulter “has called the 9/11 widows ‘witches’ and ‘harpies,’ referred to Muslims as ‘ragheads,’ called Al Gore a ‘total fag,’ and said that both New York Times editor Bill Keller and antiwar congressman Jack Murtha deserved to die.”
Whether the leaders of the Christian Right are really fascists or whether their hateful bombasts are just ploys to stir up their supporters and shore up their funding base is open to question. But I do know that they are not Christo-fascists. In fact, the word Christo-fascist is a contradiction in terms because Christ was certainly not a fascist. Indeed, what Jesus taught undermined both the religious and political empires of his day. And it got him killed.
Where the Christian Right gets it wrong is that the present spiritual problems we face today will not be changed through the political system. Although it is a valued and necessary part of the process in a democracy, the ballot box is not the answer to mankind’s ills. And, in fact, Christians who place their hope in a political answer to the world’s ills often become nothing more than another tool in the politician’s toolbox.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, remarking about those who want to impose their version of “righteousness” on others through the hammer of law, wrote in October 2006, “Our movement must avoid the temptations of power and those who would twist the good intentions of Christian voters to support policies that undermine freedom and grow government.”
The influential Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer went one step further when he stated that Christians must avoid joining forces with the government. “We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country,” Schaeffer writes. “To say it another way, ‘We should not wrap Christianity in our national flag.’”