What is Christian Identity?

"Christian Identity is an idiosyncratic form of Protestant religious belief that considers white Christians in the United States to be descended from the twelve tribes of Israel, and thus God’s ‘Chosen People’. Christian Identity evolved from a pre–existing theology called Anglo–Israelism or British Israelism, which grew as a movement in the late 1800s and made similar claims about white Christians living in the British Isles. The core claim is of an historic covenant with God expressed through a nation that is defined as a biological ‘racial’ entity.

"Christian Identity is inherently a racialized religious philosophy, but the degree of white supremacy and antisemitism can vary depending on the views of each relatively autonomous local group. Support for segregation of the races, for example, was championed by leading Christian Identity writers in the 1960s. To an ‘Identity’ believer, those people who call themselves ‘Jews’, or who consider ‘Israel’ to be a state in the Middle East, are mistaken, mendacious, or malignant. The most virulently bigoted forms of Christian Identity claim the ‘so–called’ Jews are a race of people who serve as agents of Satan to steal the birthright of white Christians by controlling the economy, manipulating the media, and placing subhuman people of colour into positions of power." {cite}

Because abortion and gay rights are seen as diminishing the capacity of the "White Race," to procreate and remain dominant, Christian Identity militants see abortion providers and gay people as "race traitors." -cb

Christian Identity, Abortion, and Gay Rights

This brief slide show traces through books and pamphlets how Christian Identity's conspiracy theory view of history starts with standard conspiracy thracts, adds in a racialized theology in which White Christians are God's Chosen People, then weaves in a belief that sinful behavior that violates the commands they find in their reading of the Old Testament, especially abortion and gay rights must be stopped to purify America as a White Christian Nation.

Watch the slide show

Leonard Zeskind on Christian Identity & "Sovereign Citizens"

The notion of "organic sovereigns" was first promoted by the Posse Comitatus, best known for its tax protest politics, but imbued also with the racist and anti-Semitic ideology known as Christian Identity. According to this doctrine, Jews are satanic creatures and people of color are less-than-fully human. And the Posse found a number of devoted followers in Kansas. At an August 1983 outdoor meeting in Cheney Lake State Park, farmers mixed with Wichita residents who believed that white Christians who renounced their ties with the "Zionist-controlled" government were "sovereigns." Their rights trumped those they declared to be "Fourteenth Amendment" citizens -- meaning people of color and non-Christians. It was an arcane theory which promoters sometimes used to justify tax protest, embezzlement and larceny. But its central tenets placed it at the heart of the white nationalist movement, which contended that the United States was, or should be, a white Christian republic rather than a multi-racial democracy.


Richard Abanes on the Patriot Movement

Infiltrating the Church with a Gospel of Hate
by Richard Abanes

Christian Research Journal (vol. 19 no. 3, 1997)

On the movement's moderate side are conservative Christians opposed to the liberal establishment. More radical participants include both Christians and non-Christians who deny their U.S. citizenship, drive without licenses, and refuse to pay income taxes in an effort to live outside "the system." Interspersed among these two groups are the most dangerous patriots: Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and Christian Identity believers (i.e., white supremacists who blend pseudo-Christian beliefs with racism and anti-Semitism).

The glue binding this wide assortment of persons is a lethal compound of four ingredients: an obsessive suspicion of their government; a deep-seated hatred and fear of federal authorities; a belief in far-reaching conspiracy theories; and a feeling that for all intents and purposes Washington bureaucrats have discarded the U.S. Constitution. Most of the individuals in this antigovernment community also feel that a cold war of sorts is being waged between freedom-loving patriots and federal officials. Belief that this cold war will escalate into violent conflict is so great that many patriots have organized themselves into heavily armed militias, most of which function contrary to state laws prohibiting private armies.

To complicate matters, religion and/or racism are the impetus for large segments of the movement. These two powerful forces have created an unholy alliance between racists on the one hand and some conservative Christians on the other. Their common ground is apocalypticism, the belief that the present world will one day end through a cataclysmic confrontation between God and Satan, out of which will emerge Gods righteous kingdom.


James Ridgeway: A Brief History of the Radical Right

Mother Jones magazine online website

"Women are for breeding"

What was the bridge between the posse movement and anti-abortionist fanaticism? The Sovereign crowd viewed women as chattel, and the prospect of an independent woman deciding to seek an abortion didn't sit well with them. I gained some insight into this line of thinking in another piece I once wrote about a young woman in Oklahoma who aspired to join the Christian Identity group, hoping that its followers would teach her to shoot and become a guerrilla. Instead, the men asked her for sex. When the woman replied that she wanted a relationship first, one of them replied, "Women are for breeding." According to one faction of the group, women who have abortions are race traitors and should be stoned to death. With that in mind, the fact that some members of the far-right became violent anti-abortionists perhaps shouldn't come as such a surprise.


David Gibson: Scott Roeder's mystery religion

Pontifications Column
Catholic Faith and Culture

Perilous to speculate of course but I won't be surprised if it emerges that Roeder was involved in some kind of Christian Reconstructionist group, or the Christian Identity movement, or influenced by those beliefs. These groups rarely have "churches," per se, or broader communities which could temper (or inflame, I suppose) extremist views. That's problem: folks like Roeder keep it bottled up, for the most part, occasionally let off some steam. So friends and family express "shock" when they go off the deep end.


More Resources

Christian Identity, Survivalism, & the Posse Comitatus

An early historical account by Chip Berlet

Apocalypse Now!

The Realized Eschatology of the "Christian Identity" Movement
by Patrick Minges
American Academy of Religion Conference

Eric Rudolph and Christian Identity

A review of the milieu.

Selected Bibliography

Armstrong, Karen. 2000. The Battle for God. New York: Ballantine Books.

Barkun, Michael. 1994. Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Barkun, Michael. 1997. "Racist Apocalypse: Millennialism on the Far Right." The Year 2000: Essays on the End, ed. Charles B. Strozier and Michael Flynn. New York: New York University Press.

Berlet, Chip. 2005. “Christian Identity: The Apocalyptic Style, Political Religion, Palingenesis and Neo-Fascism.” In Roger Griffin, ed., Fascism, Totalitarianism, and Political Religion . London: Routledge.

Berlet, Chip, and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford.

DeCamp, Susan. 1998. “Locking the Doors to the Kingdom: An Examination of Religion in Ex-tremist Organizing and Public Policy,” in American Armageddon: Religion, Revolution and the Right, ed., Eric Ward. Seattle, Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment [Peanut Butter Publishing].

Juergensmeyer, Mark. 2000. Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence. Berkeley: University of California.

Kaplan, Jeffrey. 1997. Radical Religion in America: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Levitas, Daniel. 2002. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: St. Martin's.

Minges, Patrick. 1994. “Apocalypse Now! The Realized Eschatology of the ‘Christian Identity’ Movement." Paper presented at the American Academy of Religion Conference.

Stern, Jessica. 2003. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. New York: Ecco/Harper Collins.

Zeskind, Leonard. 2009. Blood and Politics: Tthe History of the White Nationalist Movement From the Margins to the Mainstream, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Zeskind, Leonard. 1987. The “Christian Identity” Movement. Atlanta, Ga.: Center for Democratic Renewal/Division of Church and Society, National Council of Churches. 

= = =

For early examples of how British Israelism came to America, see: J. H. Allen, Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright, fifteenth edition (Haverhill, Mass.: Destiny Publishers, [1902] 1917); and W. G. Mackendrick (The Roadbuilder), The Destiny of Britain and America, new revised edition (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1922).




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