The last five years have witnessed the revitalisation of the Christian Identity (CI) movement in the modern extremist landscape. The CI movement is an antisemitic and racist theology that uses religious justification to advance the belief that white people are God’s chosen people. Although the traditional CI movement stagnated in the 2000s, the decentralised nature of the modern CI movement has allowed its influence to re-emerge in recent years. Unlike traditional CI, which typically relied on congregation-based organisation, modern CI has found fertile ground in today’s online ecosystem, which has witnessed the emergence of disparate, post-organisational movements and conspiracies like QAnon and Boogaloo. The resurgence of the CI ideology is particularly worrisome due to the movement’s long-held ties to white supremacist and anti-government groups like the Klu Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, and The Order. Pertinently, the ideology’s ability to act as a radicalising force and the involvement of adherents in acts of domestic terrorism make the modern CI movement deserving of further consideration.
Researchers have recently begun focusing on the existence of CI narratives on fringe social media platforms like Telegram and Gab, but exactly how CI followers have attempted to push the ideology into the mainstream remains an understudied element of this problem. As CI has found a second life on multiple platforms – not just those occupied by users with extreme views – it is crucial to understand the nuances of the ideology’s narratives, as well as how adherents exploit these platforms to radicalise and recruit new supporters. This Insight explores three types of CI content that frequently circulate on Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube.
Christian Identity Doctrine
The modern CI movement is not ideologically unified. However, many aspects of the core CI doctrine inextricably link the ideology to hate and violence. The central belief of the movement is that white Anglo-Saxons are the direct descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Many adherents also believe that the inevitable Battle of Armageddon is rapidly approaching, and will manifest as a racial holy war where CI followers, and the white race itself, will fight against evil. As God’s chosen people, CI adherents believe they will be rewarded for surviving the Battle of Armageddon against Jews and minorities and the Great Tribulation. The promise of this ensuing reward can lead adherents to try to expedite this racial holy war by committing antisemitic and racist acts of violence – using the tenants of CI as justification.
Many CI followers also propagate various versions of antisemitic Biblical conspiracy theories like dual seedline and pre-Adamic race theories. Dual seedline theory, alternatively called two seedline theory or serpent-seed theory, centres around the belief that Cain is the descendant of Eve and the Serpent (Satan). Seedliners believe that Jews are the direct descendants of Cain and thus Satan (Fig.1). As a result, CI adherents frequently refer to Jews as ‘Satan’s Spawns’. The pre-Adamic race theory claims that God created non-white races out of mud. Followers of this theory believe that God dismissed his ‘soulless’ creations and created Adam and the white race in his own image. While these beliefs have infiltrated the extreme right, both dual seedline and pre-Adamic race theories originated in CI spaces and are key examples of Christian Identity adherents manipulating Biblical language and verses to promote derogatory narratives and incite violence.
Christian Identity Explainer Content
The leading type of Christian Identity content shared across TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter is CI explainer content. Typically appearing in the form of videos, podcasts, and articles, this content provides audiences with background information on fundamental aspects of the CI doctrine. In particular, this content frequently promotes the beliefs that white Anglo-Saxons are the direct descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, a variation on the Twelve Tribe theory, as well as the commonly held CI belief that Jesus was not a Jew. To CI adherents, the fact that Jews claim Jesus to be Jewish is another example of their lies and manipulation. The Lost Tribe narrative promotes antisemitism by exclusively establishing white people as God’s chosen people. By removing all Jewish connections to the Israelites, CI adherents attempt to elevate themselves above Jews and emphasise their belief that the two groups are not the same. These beliefs are a crucial step to further antisemitic CI beliefs, like dual seedline theory, that can provide perceived religious justification for antisemitism.
Christian Identity content creators frame their explainer videos as evidence-based, educational content which can legitimise their narratives. This explainer content poses a particular threat on mainstream social media platforms because it exposes diverse and unsuspecting audiences to violent extremist narratives under the guise of educational or religious content. For example, one popular CI explainer video on YouTube focuses on providing the audience with religious and scientific evidence connecting the white race to the Lost Tribes of Israel. Both the imagery and audio utilised in this video emulate traditional educational and religious content on YouTube. The creator uses photos of Bible scenes, Bible verses, maps, and drawn diagrams (Fig.2). Although the video is presented as evidence-based content establishing the whereabouts of the Lost Tribes, the messaging is dangerous as it introduces and justifies the belief that exclusively white people are God’s chosen people. The content of this messaging also lays the groundwork for establishing that the white race is on God’s side in the coming Battle of Armageddon, potentially serving as an incitement to violence against non-white people so adherents can position themselves as God’s soldiers.
Although Christian Identity explainer content is present across Twitter and TikTok, this style of CI content receives the highest engagement on YouTube. We have identified several CI-associated YouTube channels that frequently post these ‘evidence-based’ CI explainer videos. Though these channels range in popularity, the most popular channel producing explainer content has over 23,000 subscribers, with its top video accruing over 1.5 million views. Popular content on this channel includes ‘true’ interpretations of the Bible where creators establish the superiority of Adam and therefore the white race. These interpretations attempt to ‘other’ non-white people and associate them with Satan in order to justify racism and antisemitism. By linking Satan with non-white people and frequently referencing the Battle of Armageddon, content creators are placing non-white people as the enemy that needs to be defeated before CI adherents can be rewarded by God.
CI YouTube content is often shared on both mainstream and fringe social media platforms. Specifically, we observed several cases of educational CI YouTube videos shared on Gab and Telegram wherein adherents wanted to expose individuals who already hold racist and antisemitic views to CI narratives and beliefs like the pre-Adamic races, Khazar theory, and the Lost Tribe theory. CI can appeal to these individuals by providing religious justification for hateful narratives already held. We also identified the promotion of these videos on mainstream platforms like Twitter. CI adherents’ ability to use this content to target users on two different platform types makes explainer content highly advantageous for the propagation and mainstreaming of CI beliefs across ideological boundaries.
Another way Christian Identity beliefs circulate on mainstream social media platforms is through the promotion of Christogenea resources. Christogenea is the dominant traditional CI group today. The Christogenea organisation creates a variety of CI propaganda including blog posts, essays, Bible translations, podcasts, radio shows and videos, providing ample opportunities for users to engage with and share its content.
Like CI explainer content, Christogenea content frequently acts as a resource for users to learn more about CI doctrine. Among the mainstream social media platforms analysed herein, Christogenea resources most frequently appear on Twitter. However, the Christogenea organisation is also commonly mentioned in the comments on TikTok and YouTube videos, even when the content does not explicitly highlight the group.
The presence of Christogenea on these platforms is concerning; it introduces users to extreme CI beliefs that have been specifically designed to be more palatable to non-extreme audiences. However, Christogenea resources on mainstream platforms pose an additional threat by providing users with the opportunity to migrate from moderated social media platforms onto the Christogenea website. The organisation’s website has an extensive amount of radicalising content that provides new users with increasingly violent ‘evidence-based’ CI conjecture. Additionally, Christogenea’s website contains a forum and private chat room where adherents can engage with and radicalise new users.
An additional concern is Christogenea’s ties to organised far-right groups like League of the South (LOS). LOS is a white nationalist group with a strong in-person organising presence; members frequently organise rallies and violent protests. Notably, LOS members helped increase participation and instigate violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Until January 2023, Christogenea’s leader William Finck was an active member of the LOS. However, Finck has recently cut ties with the LOS due to alleged ideological differences. Before Finck’s recent split from LOS, the organisation was promoted in several places on the Christogenea website. Christogenea’s promotion of the League of the South represented another dangerous opportunity for mainstream users to stumble upon radical beliefs in a group with a proven capacity to organise and incite violence.
Reposts of CI Content
Christian Identity content also appears on mainstream social media sites through recycled content. Several CI content creators repost famous CI sermons, speeches from influential CI leaders, and CI-related podcast episodes. This type of content appears on TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter, with content creators most frequently posting videos that include speeches from influential historical figures within the CI movement. Prominently, observed content featured Wesley Swift – credited with pioneering the growth of the American CI movement – and Pete Peters, an influential CI leader in the 2000s.
Reposted content generally receives fewer views than explainer and Christogenea content across the platforms in question. However, recycled CI content is a low-effort way for content creators to spread the movement’s narratives using established, influential figures within the CI movement. Because reposting requires little work from the content creator, CI adherents are able to effortlessly and quickly promote CI beliefs through pre-prepared remarks and recordings.
An additional element that deserves consideration is the appeal of reposted CI content which features charismatic leaders like Wesley Swift to newcomers to the CI ideology. While explainer and Christogenea content offer a low barrier to entry and an air of institutional legitimacy, respectively, the fiery rhetoric and quasi-religious undertones of ministers like Swift and pastors like Pete Peters represent a notable vector for radicalisation. Not only are these individuals accomplished orators, but they also present an expert interpretation of CI beliefs to their viewers, further increasing the effectiveness of this subset of CI content.
As this Insight has detailed, CI content on social media platforms is frequently framed to audiences as established truths. Much of the observed content intentionally toes the line to avoid detection – espousing violent or hateful rhetoric, while typically stopping short of issuing explicit calls to imminent violence. The prevalent types of CI content observed seek to draw in large swathes of potential adherents through explainer, Christogenea and CI re-post content, with the aim of slowly incorporating increasingly violent narratives in a palatable manner to audiences not typically exposed to violent extremist ideologies. Additionally, because the content is framed as educational and introductory, no previous knowledge of Christian Identity is necessary to understand the content.
Further research is needed to evaluate the dynamics of how various audiences interact with CI content on mainstream platforms, as well as the mechanisms used by CI content creators to take advantage of gaps in content moderation policies to continue to spread their hateful rhetoric. The re-emergence of CI into the mainstream also poses significant content moderation challenges for social media platforms. Understanding the types of content CI creators most commonly post is an important first step in taking tangible action. Even as observed CI content is more prevalent on fringe platforms with minimal content moderation, the presence of such content on mainstream social media platforms cannot be ignored. Without a more developed understanding of this threat which can inform proportional action by platforms, CI content creators will continue to push extreme narratives and expose an increasingly wider range of individuals to CI beliefs.
Eliza Marks is a senior at Middlebury College. Her research focuses on the Christian Identity movement.