The Story: Yesterday, Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of California Santa Barbara and author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Rise of Religious Violence, argued in a guest post at Religion Dispatches that Wade Michael Page, the perpetrator of Sunday’s attack at the Milwaukee Sikh temple, engaged in “an act of Christian terrorism.”
The Background: Juergensmeyer’s post restates much of his thesis from Terror in the Mind of God. In it, he highlights the “religionizing” and absolutizing of (secular) political conflict. The term “cosmic war” describes how individuals and groups imbue their political fights in the here-and-now with “trans-temporal” import and, at the same time, “satanize” their interlocutors. The cosmic war, Juergensmeyer argues, is an attractive “imagined arena” for the warriors who are burned-out, left-behind, or haven’t yet found their (eternal) place in the sun. Juergensmeyer says Page—-like Timothy McVeigh and Anders Brevik before him—thought himself a “solider of Christendom,” pitted in a cosmic war against political and religious pluralism, the decline of “white Christian society,” and the “evils of secular politics in the United States.”
Why It Matters: One can be a religious terrorist, asserts Juergensmeyer, even though one may not be a “pious” adherent of the faith. And as the general public has had little difficulty calling Al Qaeda members, affiliates, or fellow travelers “Muslim terrorists”—-even though many have been nominal Muslim believers at best—-Juergensmeyer sees little justification for balking at designating Page a “Christian terrorist.” Juergensmeyer says Page wasn’t a “pious Christian,” but the term masks the fact that Page’s political theology—-from what can be discerned in the open press—-wasn’t even tied to the Trinitarian-in-name-only-and-heretical Christian Identity movement, but instead appears to have been an amalgam of Racialist Odinism or Asatru (non-Christian and openly pagan) and National Socialism (non-Christian and secular).
According to the Guardian, Page sported a “14” tattoo (see photo above), signifying the “14 Words” made famous by David Lane, an Odinist imprisoned for the 1984 shooting of Denver radio personality Alan Berg (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”). The Guardian and the Southern Poverty Law Center tie Page’s tattoos and his involvement with white power bands to Hammerskin Nation, a “skinhead organization” that has provided security to assorted white nationalist groups, including the National Alliance, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Creativity Movement.
Juergensmeyer’s post betrays an unfortunate lack of nuance when it comes to Page’s personal theology, and erroneously conflates Christian Identity and white nationalism writ large with historical, orthodox Christianity. What is needed is more careful work in the area of political theology—whether Islamic and Christian, little-o orthodox and heretical both.
For Additional Reading: Joseph Knippenberg, “Christian Terrorism?”; Leonard Zeskind, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009); James A. Aho, The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism (University of Washington Press, 1990).
|WHITE NATIONALIST MOVEMENTS|
Relationship to Historical Christian Tradition
|—originated with 19th-century British-Israelism; white, Anglo-Saxon Europeans are “true Israel”||—nominally Trinitarian but heretical; election is through race; salvation is for whites only|
|—fusion of Christian Identity and National Socialism (prior American Nazi Party)||—non-Christian, though Christian Identity aspect is nominally Trinitarian but heretical|
|—fusion of “New Age” and National Socialism (prior American Nazi Party); natural inequalities between races; eventual attainment of godhood (“cosmotheism”)||—non-Christian|
|—not secular or Christian, but “New Age”; natural superiority of white race||—non-Christian|
|—pagan; belief in “older gods” (Wotan; Odin; Thor); highest virtues are honor and protection of white race||—non-Christian|