On Wednesday the 20th January, QAnon chat rooms filled with followers waiting with bated breath for their day of judgement. Inauguration Day, the moment they had all been waiting for and a chance to finally say ‘I told you so’. Q predicted that instead of travelling on his private jet to Florida, Donald Trump, in a double-blow to the US establishment, would regain control of the Presidency and execute a mass arrest of all the Democrats involved in an insidious, international Satanic paedophile ring. Within minutes of the ceremony starting, it was clear that the reckoning day was not going to plan. Yet, the disappointment was short-lived. Within minutes new theories were emerging from the ashes to ignite the flames of Christian authoritarianism once again.
The truth is that QAnon supporters are used to disappointment. History has shown they thrive off of it. Each failure to catch an alleged child abuser is one more example of their powerlessness to stop the global elite. If the harsh reality of Edgar Welch, the 28-year-old hero turned criminal, who showed up to a pizza parlour in 2016 to rescue children from a non-existent basement was not enough to end QAnon once and for all, then we cannot expect the inauguration disappointment too. Similarly, Donald Trump’s electoral defeat will do little to abate the fire that QAnon inspires.
The key tenet of Christian authoritarianism is that the only authority over man is that of a Christian God. Subsequently, Christian ideals have primacy in every aspect of human life; healthcare, science, relationships, education and more. QAnon thrives off of the power of anonymity, an anonymity that only grows as they are pushed off mainstream social media. Moreover, the antisemitic tropes behind the conspiracy that there is a cannibalistic, child-sacrificing elite controlling the world, become more explicit as the group moves to platforms where hate-speech is not monitored.
QAnon, however, while dangerous and widespread, is not where the real power of Christian authoritarianism in the US lies. Much less widely reported on, yet much more influential, are the Christian interest groups operating throughout the states to push through legislation. Whether they are proposing laws hostile to LGBTQ+ rights, harsher abortion restrictions or enforcing their “Christian values” in other ways, these groups are enacting changes in the shadows; unaccountable and elusive.
In 2018 it was widely reported that a coalition of conservative Christian groups was leading ‘Project Blitz’, an effort to inundate legislatures with bills furthering their hardline religious agenda. An analysis by Americans United for Separation of Church and State found that between 2017 and 2018, 74 bills based on the Project Blitz legislative playbook were considered across 20 state legislatures. Over 25 were so-called “‘In God We Trust’ display bills”, of which five passed, meaning that the Gileadean motto is displayed in schools and other state-owned property. Unexpectedly, the issue is not always partisan, with bills passed under Democrat leadership in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee.
In October 2019, a recorded Project Blitz strategy call obtained by Political Research Associates revealed that the organisation was plotting its retreat back into obscurity, unhappy with the attention brought to them in the year before. The executive director of the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF), who launched the campaign in 2016, is heard saying, “And as soon as we understood that they knew they were onto us, we changed the name; shifted things around a little bit; now they’re talking about something that nobody else is really even talking about, we’ve renamed and moved on.” This attitude encapsulates the power that Christian interest groups are used to having, and the obscurity that they fight to keep to continue their work unchallenged. There is no doubt in my mind that the CPCF and related groups are as influential now behind the scenes, as they were in 2018.
It is not just interest groups that demonstrate that Christian authoritarianism is far from defeated, but also elected Congress members. The Democrats may now boast of a majority in both houses, but they should be wary of the young rising stars in the Republican party. For example, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, elected in Georgia’s 14th congressional district in November, has consistently refused to condemn QAnon and appeared on media channels sympathetic to the antisemitic conspiracy. Media Matters listed a shocking 97 candidates with links to QAnon running for Congress in 2020, with 27 making it to the ballot in the general election. While only two, Congresswoman Green and Congresswoman Lauren Boebort in Colorado, were successful in their campaign, the numbers alone are reason for concern.
QAnon though, as we have seen, is not the only indicator of the health of Christian fundamentalism in the US. Indeed, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri’s Christian authoritarianism is much more sinister, disguised as it is beneath a veneer of charm and academic expertise. Before becoming a Senator, Mr Hawley was a lawyer for Becket, an advocacy group known to coordinate with Alliance Defending Freedom (an organisation as right-wing as its name suggests). The Senator is not shy about his beliefs, best seen in his speech at the American Renewal Project in 2017. He paraphrases the nineteenth-century Dutch theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper, infamous for his belief that only Christianity is a legitimate authority over men. Mr Hawley’s message is clear: “There is not one square inch of all creation over which Jesus Christ is not Lord.” and it is his mission, no, his “charge… To take the lordship of Christ, that message, into the public realm, and to seek the obedience of the nations. Of our nation!”
We may take some hope from the recent efforts of Republican leaders to distance themselves from Senator Hawley, following his role in inciting the violent attack on the Capitol on the 6th of January 2021, but I doubt the self-fashioned champion of “the great American middle” (who happens to be a graduate from both Stanford and Yale Law School) will go down without a fight. Moreover, Mr Hawley’s downfall will only mean the rise of another ambitious politician, who with the backing of the right-wing Christian interest groups, no doubt already plotting in the shadows, will continue to spout the same authoritarian ideals.
The fact is, Christian authoritarianism is going nowhere because it did not begin with Trump. While Trump, or more likely those around him, could tap into this influential part of the electorate and did everything possible to fan the flames of discontent, the problem is one of deep dissatisfaction with the present and a yearning for “traditional values”. Trump’s defeat may only cement him as a martyr for right-wing Christians. Despite his devout Catholicism, Biden’s presidency is already tainted by his perceived “wokeness”. Trump’s four years in office will become another example of “the good old days” which fundamentalist groups, conspiracy theorists and politicians will weaponise to stir up discontent. After all, as a well-known Kurt Kaiser gospel song goes, it only takes a spark to get a fire going.