“To our great shame, he is now part of the history of evil that has been perpetrated on Jewish people for centuries,” said the parents of John T. Earnest. “Our son’s actions were informed by people we do not know, and ideas we do not hold.”
Earnest is the 19-year-old man charged with opening fire at a San Diego-area synagogue on Saturday, the last day of Passover, killing one woman and injuring three others. According to news reports, a person identifying himself as John Earnest posted an anti-Semitic open letter suggesting he had planned Saturday’s shooting and referenced the murderous attacks on mosques in New Zealand last month and at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last October.
Earnest attended services at the Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where his father is an elder. On Sunday the pastor called the crime “unspeakable in so many ways” and said, “We are surprised and we are shocked.”
From reading the young man’s “manifesto” it’s clear that neither his church nor his parents are to blame. In the FAQ portion of his letter he asks, “Did your family cause you to think this way?” and answers, “Unfortunately, no. I had to learn what they should have taught me from the beginning.” Earnest seems to have been largely shaped by the same online culture as the terrorist-troll that targeted the mosques in New Zealand. Yet he also quotes Scripture and lists his influences as “Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Adolf Hitler, [two white nationalist terrorists . . .”
What distinguishes Earnest from the other white nationalist murderers is that he seems to have been influenced by the racialist heresy known as kinism.
Kinism Comes to a Pew Near You
Several years ago a friend of mine, a Presbyterian minister, asked me to speak to his congregation about cultural issues. During the discussion, an older couple asked me a question about separation of ethnic groups, specifically white Americans from blacks and Jews. I told them I must have misunderstood their question, because what they were talking about could be mistaken for promoting a view called kinism. The wife replied, “And what’s wrong with kinism?”*
To explain what’s wrong with kinism we first need to understand what the term means. Defining the term is difficult, because it is applied to a broad range of ideas centered on a white separatist interpretation of Christianity. The anti-kinist theonomist John Reasnor says:
At its core, kinism is the belief that God specially ordained “races” and that he intends for us to preserve that division to one degree or another. Kinism believes that God ethically and specially ordained the nations and “races.” In short, kinism is a doctrinal conviction of anti-miscegenation. All positions commonly held by kinists flow from this key kinist doctrine.
The term “kinism,” as a self-applied label, appears to have arisen around 2004 to be a “third way” for Christians between racism and anti-racism. Several kinist websites sprung up in the mid-2000s, and their ideas spread quite rapidly as they engaged and fought with Reformed bloggers.
The term—which comes from the word “kin,” such as “kith and kin”—may be of relatively recent vintage, but the beliefs and principles of kinism are ancient. As one kinist website claims, “The same continuum of concept has alternately been called familism, tribal theocracy, theonomic nationalism, or simply, traditional Christianity.” Kinists are obsessed with preserving the “European race” and their twisted form of Calvinism against those who would threaten it—usually African Americans or Jews.
Ten years ago kinism was espoused by pseudonymous bloggers and relegated to the dark corners of the Internet. Today, some who claim to be Bible-believing Christians openly express kinist views in churches. Few of them would murder those of other races or even go so far as Earnest does in claiming,
The Jew has forced our hand, and our response is completely justified. My God does not take kindly to the destruction of His creation. Especially one of the most beautiful, intelligent, and innovative races that He has created. Least of all at the hands of one of the most ugly, sinful, deceitful, cursed, and corrupt. My God understands why I did what I did.
Kinism in some form has been a problem within Reformed circles, particularly in Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist churches, since the Civil War. Even as our movement has denounced racism we’ve always seemed to attract racialists—from neo-Confederates to Reconstructionists**—who want to apply an intellectual veneer to their heretical views. But we’re seeing a resurgence in kinist ideology, and it’s far more prevalent than many of us want to admit.
Jargon of the Racists
Over the past decade online culture and political tribalism have combined to bring ideas once relegated to the margins into the mainstream. We can add the tendency of politicized terms to be used in ways that have one or more connotations for a non-tribalized audience and quite another for those committed to tribalism.
A prime example is the term “cultural Marxism,” which is included in Earnest’s grievances for which “every Jew is responsible.” The term originally referred to the idea that since the Marxist concept of “class consciousness” was not merely an economic phenomenon but was also expressed in cultural forms (books, traditions, institutions, and so on), the production of culture as it relates to power must also be analyzed. However, that is rarely, if ever, how the term is used today by those on the political right. (The term was rarely if ever used before 1977).
In the 1980s, the term was adapted and redefined by William S. Lind to mean “multiculturalism or, less formally, Political Correctness.” Lind developed a conspiracy theory that claims Marxist intellectuals (almost all Jews) at the Frankfurt School developed a “deliberate agenda” to “steal our culture and leave a new and very different one in its place.” Lind also wrote a novel in 2014, Victoria, in which the main character explains cultural Marxism to a professor who supposedly promotes the theory:
“Like economic Marxism, your cultural Marxism said that all history was determined by a single factor. Classical Marxism argued that factor was ownership of the means of production. You said that it was which groups—defined by sex, race, and sexual normality or abnormality—had power over which other groups.”
“Classical Marxism defined the working class as virtuous and the bourgeoisie as evil—without regard to what members of either class did. You defined blacks, Hispanics, feminist women, and homosexuals as good, and white men as evil—all, again, with no attention to anyone’s behavior.”
“Classical Marxists, where they obtained power, expropriated the bourgeoisie and gave their property to the state, as the ‘representative of the workers and peasants.’ Where you obtained power, you expropriated the rights of white men and gave special privileges to feminists, blacks, gays, and the like—Marcuse’s revolutionary class.”
Lind may not consider himself a kinist, but the idea is embedded in his use of cultural Marxism. Like many others that have used the term over the years, Lind is just as obsessed with identity politics as the people he’s criticizing. The only difference is he’s worried it’s his own ethnicity that might lose power.
When those on the political right make claims about the people at the Frankfurt School conspired to bring down Western culture or equate cultural Marxism with multiculturalism, they are—whether they recognize it or not—using the redefined and racialized meaning given by Lind.*** Of course most Christians who uses terms like cultural Marxism are not kinist. Many of them are merely repeating a term they heard used by fellow Christians and are unaware of the anti-Semitic and racialist origin. Yet it’s disconcerting when conservative Christians use language that originated from a racist worldview perpetuated by anti-Semites.****
There are legitimate reasons to be concerned about ideas, such as intersectionality, that may undermine our country’s moral order. But we need to warn about such dangers in a way that does not make us sound like we subscribe to an alt-right ethno-nationalist worldview. When pastors and other Christian leaders repeat the jargon coined by racists, we shouldn’t be surprised that kinists think their heresy will be welcome in our churches.
Update/Addendum: In an attempt to keep this article from being too long I made some claims that were not fully clear or supported. That has lead to a great deal of confusion for which I take responsibility. I apologize for not being clear. In an attempt to clarify I thought it might be helpful to provide my argument in outline form of nine premises and a conclusion:
P1: Terms can be “invented” more than once, especially if they’re merely combinations of common words like alt-right or cultural Marxism (CM).
P2: The usages of the term CM had at least two origins—one on the academic left (which I’ll refer to as CM-L), one on the think-tank right (which I’ll refer to as CM-R). Both began in the 1970-80s.
P3: From 1980 to today, the usage of CM-R has been tainted by connection to a racist/antisemitic conspiracy theory.
P4: Neither usage of the term has been common enough to establish a dominant connotation within mainstream culture. Most people pick up the connotation conveyed by the stream they got it from, whether left/right, or from the context in which they first hear it used (i.e., news reports).
P5: CM-L is sometimes used by (non-racist) conservatives; CM-R is only used by the left to note it’s part of a conspiracy theory. The secular left assumes—and actively promotes—the idea that any use of the term CM by conservatives or Christians is an intentional racist/antisemitic dog whistle to far right elements.
P6: The vast majority of Christian conservatives who have used the term CM had no nefarious intentions. Many are not even aware of CM-R. They are not to blame for past usages and we should assume they used in in the acceptable CM-L sense (i.e., as a synonym for critical theory).
P7: CM-R is commonly used by White Nationalists. The term has appeared in manifestos by two recent domestic terrorists, one of who claimed to be a Christian. Many people are hearing the term CM for the first time tied to this context/connotation.
P8: Terms that are of recent vintage (i.e., 50 years or less) and used by decent people sometimes have to be abandoned because of the unhelpful/negative connotations they accrue. (A prime example is “alt-right.” I know some good people used it as a self-label before the Charlottesville tragedy. Since then they’ve stopped using the term to refer to their political beliefs.)
P9: Christian conservatives can explain the problematic parts of CM-L (such as Critical Theory) without using the term CM. Continuing to use the term now that is has been co-opted by racists is detrimental to our cause and gives ammunition to our ideological enemies to tar us as racists.
Conclusion: Because the term CM has become tainted its continued use by Christians undermines our ability to warn about the dangers of concepts like Critical Theory. We should invent a new term or use words already commonly accepted to refer to the concepts we are discussing. Doing so will help us to be better communicate what intend in a loving manner.
* On hearing about this exchange, the pastor confronted the couple and told them they’d be subject to church discipline if they did not renounce their racist views. Not surprisingly, they left congregation. I wish more pastors had the courage of my Presbyterian friend.
** To understand the connection between kinism and theonomy, see Rushdoony on “Hybridization”: From Genetic Separation to Racial Separation.
*** The men from the Frankfurt School are responsible for a range of destructive ideas, such as Critical Theory. And while they were influenced by Marx, they were just as influenced by other thinkers such as Freud (of course cultural Freudianism just doesn’t have the same scare value as cultural Marxism). There is no evidence they conspired for the purpose of “negating” Western culture, as Lind claims. Lind’s theory attracted the attention of antisemites because it fits their preconceptions that Jews conspired to ruin white culture.
**** Ironically, the same people who would decry the implied guilt-by-association are the ones that use guilt-by-association in claiming anyone who uses the term “social justice” is a cultural Marxist. They also tend to be the type of people who say we should look to the Koine Greek to understand Christian terms, and yet discount the problematic etymology of political and cultural terms that have racist origins.