Report on white Christian nationalists? Try talking to some of these Americans in person – GetReligion

“White Christian nationalism” (WCN) has become quite the bogeyman in today’s religious coverage, even though a few reporters seem to have spent a lot of time actually dealing with people in the herds led by named nationalists.

Instead, journalists read their social media, watch their YouTube videos and talk to sources drawn from a fairly predictable list of activists and experts who oppose the bogeyman.

But that does not make a complete story. Readers end up with, at best, half a debate.

One outlet that builds its reputation or commitment to WCN remains a thing is Religion News Service, which has been rolling out stories on the subject since last September, thanks to a grant from the Pulitzer Center. The latest story in her “White Christian Nationalism since the Jan. 6 Attack” series revolved around Jan. 26 here. It started:

When supporters of former President Donald Trump on Jan. 6 from last year broke a bunch of young men who waved the flags “America First” in a hymn: “Christ is King!” It was one of the first indications that Christian nationalism would be a theme of the Capitol attack later that day, in which insurgents bathed and waved banners bearing “Proud American Christian.”

It also announced the presence of followers of Nick Fuentes, a 23-year-old white nationalist and former YouTube personality who was called up this month by the U.S. House of Representatives commission investigating the Capitol attack. ,

“Christ is King” is not in itself controversial: The expression is rooted in Christian Scripture and tradition. But Fuentes’ supporters have given it a different connotation. They have chanted it by the anti-vaccine protest and the anti-abortion March for Life, some of which hold crucifixes up. It was heard in March, at an America First conference, where Fuentes delivered a speech that America will cease to be America “if it loses its white demographic core and if it loses its faith in Jesus Christ.” Fuentes also declared the country “a Christian nation.”

There are plenty of academics and other sources cited here, but what appears to be the central thesis – that WCN flourishes in mainstream institutions and the life of conservative Christianity – was not proved with a long shot. As GetReligion has been pointing out for several years now, it is crucial to understand that the actions of some independent evangelical and Pentecostal preachers have little or nothing to do with what is happening in mainstream banks, denominations, schools, publishers, parishioners, and so on. ..

Simply saying that leaders of QAnon or Proud Boy personalities preached messages to conservative Christians was no proof that the mainstream conservatives were responding or that these messages were leading the actions of larger and more influential conservative groups.

Claiming that nationalists made threats (plural) to American Jews, but giving only one example, does not document multiple threats. The presence of a cell of radical activists noted at the massive March for Life is not a sign that WCN is accompanying the millions of women and men – Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Latter-day Saints, and so on. – who work to prevent abortion. Meanwhile, trying to connect Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez with Christian nationalism, as one academic did, was a ridiculous piece.

The story could have been made alive by contacting some of these nationalists even for quotes, but the author, Jack Jenkins, appears to have not done so. (I understand these guys are not talking back; I ran into the same thing when I reported on Christian singer / evangelist Sean Feucht in 2020. That I appeared in person at his rallies until he finally agreed to talk to me since I stood next to the stage output.)

Here’s another suggestion: Talk to conservative religious leaders who oppose WCN, and then see how that material supports (or clashes with) all those interviews with experts and activists on the religious and secular left.

Far better was Jenkins’ Oct. 21 story “Inside the Fraught Effort to Create a Christian Nationalist Internet,” on the social media platform Gab. The intro paragraphs draw you into the story:

It was late September when Andrew Torba, founder of the social media platform Gab, tapped a message to his users that the website would update its online infrastructure. Upgrades are common in the tech industry, but Torba’s reasoning for expanding Gab’s data center was anything but: he wanted to create tech, he said, in order to “maintain a parallel Christian society on the Internet for future generations.”

“One day, our grandparents will learn what really happened in the greatest spiritual war of our time,” Torba wrote, “and how we laid the foundations for a new parallel Christian society.”

“It’s my intention for them to do that on Gab.”

Again, the white nationalist players themselves did not present themselves for interviews, but one key phrase explained why they are driven to extremes.

The spiritual bluster may believe a practical subtext: A parallel Christian nationalist digital world may be a necessity for sites like Gab to survive entirely as Big Tech moves to restrict or ban their content.

As everyone with the farthest knowledge of Facebook knows, the leaders of Big Tech go to all kinds of users for bizarre reasons and are pretty adept at crushing or financially starving views that they resist. This is a fact that some on the left finally admit (hat tip to for you). The story claimed that Gab had allowed porn on his site, but where was the evidence? Just because Facebook said that?

Other stories in this project (five published so far) include Yonat Shimron’s Nov. 29 profile of Rabbi Rachel Schmelkin, who was an employee at a Charlottesville, Va., Synagogue in the Aug. 13, 2017, rally there.

Why her and why there? The story goes:

For Jews and people of other minority faiths, the events in Charlottesville, which resulted in the deaths of three people and wounded more than 50, were the first in a series of wake-up calls about the rise of white nationalism.

It also brought a sharp relief to a reality many had not previously considered – that white nationalism is fundamentally anti-Semitic.

My main criticism of this series is the lack of feedback and information from the people who report on it, as well as the need for more diversity among the cited experts.

An example is Alejandra Molina’s Jan. 7 pieces about the work that Christian leaders have done over the past year to combat WCN. The careful selection of quotes and arguments represented one side of the story well and left each story of the other completely exposed.

For example, why might a rabbi in Santa Monica claim – without pushback or debate – that the Christian belief that Jesus the Messiah is anti-Semitic and a sign of the influence of white Christian nationalism? Where is the evidence? Where are the mainstream voices on that topic?

Here’s another question that amazes me: did the Pulitzer grant not include travel funds?

The first story in this series, also by Jenkins, was about Christian nationalists and fax opposition. The intro of the story was intriguing enough:

About halfway through his address to a crowd in St. Louis. Louis moved Greg Locke together in late August. The goateed pastor of Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, had glorified the public – “patriots,” he called them – with stories of challenging state health recommendations by holding maskless, personal worship services during the COVID-19 pandemic .

In the microphone shout, Locke – who weeks earlier denied that the delta variant of the coronavirus existed – suddenly scolded listeners for not doing enough in the fight against pandemic restrictions.

“Do something in your neighborhood,” Locke said. “Raise your school board meeting for the glory of God. Run for office. Do something. Go let some churches in town know they need to open up and stop playing the lame. Make some Facebook videos until they tell you the “Do not just go to conferences and enjoy people – save the nation.”

I soon realized that the writer apparently watched the whole game on video instead of traveling there. This would make it very difficult to discern which types of religious communities and groups actively support his message and why. What was the matter? The illustrations were for the most part screenshots of videos.

Why not show up at Locke’s church? (For a taste of it, watch the video at the top of this post – especially just before the 16-minute where he’s asked if he’s actually a WCN supporter).

This Locke guy is also dying and reporters would like to quote him. However, as tmatt noted in an earlier GetReligion podcast and post on this topic:

… Who is Pastor Locke? Now, he leads Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn. He certainly has a social media following … but he seems to be the leader of one of those independent churches that are so common in America. Where did he study? His website does not say. What denomination does he represent, in one way or another? That is also not clear.

I think it’s a praiseworthy attempt to report on WCN, but it can not be done over the phone or even on Zoom. How many of these five stories avoid face-to-face contact with first-hand sources? Why was there no more difficulty in dealing with leaders of the white nationalist Christian groups, as well as their critics on the religious left and right? Why not travel to Portland, Ore., And interview the Proud Boys there who proclaim what they say they believe about Jesus?

I realize that the WCN people hate the media, but that should not stop journalists from making the effort.

I assume there will be more stories in this package and I hope to see some dates in there; evidence that the reporters were able to have face-to-face encounters with these people. And I hope there is a report on the women of the WCN movement, because without them the men would not be there. And at least one story should be reported from Idaho, a national center for extreme elements of this movement if there is one.

But you can not do it from your office at home. Buy some plane tickets and actually fly out there and meet these people. Your stories will reflect that, believe me.

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