An hour and a half after the April 19 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the Institute for First Amendment Studies received a fax identifying the perpetrators as members of the "Christian Identity" movement. Skeptical at first, because the investigation then focused on overseas terrorist groups, we took a "wait and see" attitude.
Soon it was evident that the terrorists were indeed U.S. citizens. Now it is known that the alleged perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, have connections with the Christian Identity movement, sometimes known as Christian Patriots.
Christian Identity adherents share the idea that white Christians are direct descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel, which they believe ended up in northern Europe. A closely related group calls itself British Israelites. Numbering about 40,000 in the United States, the majority of these groups are racist and anti-Jewish. Except for the "identity" aspect, most Christian Identity believers embrace classic fundamentalism and a growing number are Pentecostal. The main difference between fundamentalists and Pentecostals is that Pentecostals believe in "spiritual gifts," such as speaking in tongues and faith healing. (It should be noted, however, that most Christian fundamentalists and Pentecostals do not espouse the Identity message.)
Christian Identity proponents also hold to various conspiracy theories concerning a New World Order in which the United Nations will take over the world. Behind the scenes, they believe, are certain "European bankers" (long recognized as a code referring to Jews) who hold the purse strings to bring this about.
Pastor Pete Peters, a well-known Identity minister, has written and spoken much about this alleged plot. But it was the Christian Coalition's Pat Robertson who broadened the appeal of this conspiracy in his 1991 bestselling book, The New World Order. With sales of more than 500,000 copies, The New World Order introduced these ideas to mainstream Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians.
Because they believe the government plans to impose draconian measures, taking away religious freedom, Patriots appeal to their "right to keep and bear arms" as the only way to defend religious freedom. Patriots seldom mention participation in democracy a s a way to change the system.
A day after the Oklahoma City bombing, Christian Patriots gathered at the International Coalition of Covenant Congregations Conference held at the Lodge of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri. The conference featured leading figures in the Identity movement, including Pete Peters and Larry Pratt. Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, spoke on the "Biblical Mandate to Arm."
One of the 550 attendees told The Freedom Writer, "I mingled with a lot of people there, and there was not a shred of sympathy for what happened in Oklahoma." "This is just the beginning," another person added.
Asked about the innocent children killed in the blast, many of the participants echoed the same response: "What about all the unborn babies killed at abortion clinics?"
Because of the Oklahoma City bombing, the media has placed a lot of focus on the militia movement. Militias, or paramilitary groups, are private armies training to fight the "tyrannical" United States government. Most of the active militias today were formed after the April 19, 1993 tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Patriots view the government's role in that situation as an armed assault against religious freedom, and think that their church or group may be next.
With as many as 50,000 members, approximately 85% of the militias are comprised of Christian Patriots. Most Christians, of course, abhor violence, and very few would attempt to justify what happened in Oklahoma City. Still, it is a fact that the militia movement is largely a movement of those calling themselves Christians.
Widely circulated among militia groups is the field manual of the Free Militia. The first chapter of the manual goes to great lengths to prove that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. After making that assertion, it makes the claim that Jesus not only authorized Christians to arm themselves, but that it is a Christian's duty to take up arms.
The field manual, like the National Rifle Association (NRA), appeals to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to justify an armed citizenry. This plays well in NRA fundraising letters, but the NRA never uses this argument in court. The courts have never interpreted the Second Amendment as granting ordinary citizens the right to bear arms. There may be legitimate reasons for citizens to possess firearms, but the Second Amendment is not one of them.
The Second Amendment states: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." It is important to read every word of this amendment in context.
The militias of the colonies - where able-bodied men kept arms in their homes, to be ready at moment's notice to defend their village or farm - no longer exist. Today, the closest manifestation of the early militias are state National Guards, overseen by our governors. Thus, a "well-regulated militia" is a function of individual states, not self-appointed commanders and generals running a private army.
Private armies, or paramilitary groups, are not only unnecessary, but dangerous. However, because the First Amendment of the Constitution upholds "the right of the people peaceably to assemble," most militias enjoy protected status. They step over the line as soon as they advocate or commit illegal acts.
The militia movement is connected to the radical Religious Right in many ways. Militias count Christian Coalition constituents, John Birchers, Traditional Values Coalition members, and other mainstream Religious Right people among its ranks. If attempts to take over America through the democratic process fail, the Religious Right is prepared to resort to more drastic methods.