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Why We Should Care about Christian Identity Ideology and its Links to Antisemitic Mobilisation 

Why We Should Care about Christian Identity Ideology and its Links to Antisemitic Mobilisation 
11th September 2023 Eliza Marks
In Insights

Introduction 

In 2022, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that antisemitic incidents in the United States – including assault, vandalism, and harassment – reached an all-time high. At the same time, experts on extremism continued to demonstrate how antisemitism can act as a shared link between different extremist ideologies in the United States. One example of the pervasive nature of antisemitism in extremist spaces that deserves further consideration is the Christian Identity (CI) movement – a racist and antisemitic theology whose followers believe that white people are God’s chosen ones. 

Although the traditional congregation-based CI movement has declined, many researchers have observed the resurgence of CI beliefs on fringe and mainstream social media platforms. Due to the ideology’s ability to incite hate and violence, the revitalisation of CI content in spaces where audiences are primed to accept conspiratorial, hateful and antisemitic narratives is particularly worrisome. By reviewing the key elements in the CI doctrine, the current manifestations of CI rhetoric online, and two prominent extremist actors mobilised by antisemitic grievances, this Insight aims to highlight the re-emergence of the Christian Identity movement as a modern threat. 

Christian Identity Doctrine

While there are several variations of the CI doctrine, the central belief of the movement is that white people are the true descendants of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. As such, CI adherents believe that they are God’s chosen people. Many CI followers also believe that the Battle of Armageddon (end of days) is near and will take the form of a racial holy war in which CI adherents believe that they will fight against evil. Extreme followers may try to accelerate the war by committing antisemitic and racist acts of violence because they believe they will be rewarded by God for surviving the Battle of Armageddon. 

In addition to these central convictions, CI followers also push varying antisemitic and racist theories including seedline and pre-Adamic race theories. Seedliners, or individuals who believe in seedline theory, claim that Jews are the direct descendants of Satan. CI adherents will frequently use terms like ‘Synagogue of Satan’ and ‘Serpent Seed’ to reference the inextricable link adherents draw between Jews and Satan. Believers in Pre-Adamic race theory claim that God created non-white races out of mud before creating the white race in God’s own image. As such, CI adherents will often refer to non-white races as ‘pre-Adamites’ and ‘Muds’. Both seedline and pre-Adamic race theories provide the foundational backing of CI’s antisemitism and racism and allow extreme adherents to position Jews and non-white people as the evil they must eradicate in the Battle of Armageddon.  

Current Trends in Christian Identity Rhetoric Online

In the last ten years, the CI movement has transformed from a centralised congregation-based movement into a decentralised ideology present on both mainstream and fringe social media platforms. On mainstream platforms, CI narratives appear in several formats: explainer content that provides background information about the doctrine, promotion of Christogenea resources, and recycled content of famous speeches and sermons from previous CI leaders. 

Most concerningly, CI rhetoric and beliefs have appeared primarily in white nationalist and QAnon spaces on platforms like Gab and Telegram, where audiences reach over 300,000 subscribers. Within these spaces of large audiences that are primed to accept antisemitic narratives, CI ideology and rhetoric act as a vehicle that can perpetuate antisemitic beliefs offline. 

The first way modern CI is identifiable online is through the use of specific CI Bible interpretations. For example, CI adherents frequently use skewed interpretations of Bible verses like John 8:44, Revelation 2:9, and Revelation 3:9 to provide religious ‘evidence’ for their beliefs. John 8:44 is interpreted as proof that Jews are the children of Satan. Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9 are used in CI spaces to declare that Jews belong to the ‘Synagogue of Satan.’ CI adherents use these three Bible verses to connect Jews to Satan, thus proving that Jews are evil. These Bible interpretations legitimise dangerous narratives against Jews and allow extremists to mask unfounded conspiracy theories as religious convictions. This is particularly dangerous in white nationalist and QAnon spaces where individuals already buy into antisemitic narratives and are more susceptible to these beliefs. 

The second way modern CI appears online is through the adoption of CI rhetoric by a range of far-right ideologies and actors. The use of hyper-specific CI terminology can now be seen across the far right. For example, many individuals within the far-right ecosystem use terms like ‘Synagogue of Satan’, ‘Serpent Seed’, ‘Satan’s Spawn’, ‘Muds’, and ‘Adamites’ to push antisemitic and racist narratives, whether acknowledged as CI or not. These terms all originated in CI spaces and have now leaked into the far-right. The presence of these terms is concerning as individuals are unknowingly exposed to an ideology that rationalises and promotes violence. 

Antisemitism as a Mobilising Force

Robert Bowers and John Earnest – two contemporary violent extremist actors – illustrate the pervasive nature of antisemitism in the far-right ecosystem and the threat that antisemitic ideologies like CI can pose, despite the fact that neither of these individuals openly self-identified as CI adherents.  

The case of Robert Bowers is perhaps one of the most clear-cut examples of how the modern CI movement poses a direct threat through its ability to mobilise individuals to violence. In October 2018, Bowers murdered 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pennsylvania. Bowers’ presence on Gab – a fringe social media platform known to host extremist actors – demonstrated how he was radicalised by a variety of antisemitic narratives including the Great Replacement theory (the belief that Jews are conspiring to replace white people in the US with non-white people). His profile also contained language and ideas associated with the CI movement including key Bible verses and hyper-specific CI terminology. 

Bowers adopted CI rhetoric and ideas in several ways on his Gab profile. His biography read “Jews are the children of satan. (john 8:44) — the lord jesus christ is come in the flesh” [sic]. He also reposted the Christian Identity Wikipedia page and content that stated that Jews were not the true Israelites. Bowers was not connected to any CI organisation, nor did he outwardly identify as a CI follower. And yet, CI ideas and rhetoric appeared on his profile several times. Acting as the ideological throughline, antisemitism linked Bowers to the Christian Identity movement. Christian Identity ideas coupled with Bowers’ belief in other antisemitic narratives rationalised and mobilised him toward violence, exemplifying the danger the CI ideology poses. 

The case of John T. Earnest further demonstrates how antisemitic grievances mobilise violence and illustrates the interconnectedness of CI within broader antisemitic narratives. In April 2019, John T. Earnest killed one individual and injured three others at the Chabad of Poway in California. While Earnest did not espouse CI beliefs, his manifesto published on 8chan established a clear nexus to CI. Earnest’s manifesto referenced three key Bible verses – John 8:44, Revelation 3:9, and Revelation 2:9 –  that are inextricably linked with CI. Earnest also referenced Robert Bowers several times in the manifesto as an inspiration for his attack. Therefore, while Earnest may not have been a CI adherent, it is clear that CI was intrinsically linked with the grievances driving his attack.

The interconnectedness of Earnest’s attack and CI rhetoric displays how the modern CI movement continues to pose a threat. Earnest might not have even known he was interacting with CI, but CI-associated rhetoric made several appearances in his manifesto. Earnest’s case demonstrates how embedded CI is within the antisemitism of the far-right. This becomes concerning when we view the modern CI movement as a vehicle for spreading antisemitism, pushing narratives and rhetoric that can incite religiously motivated violence. If these ideas continue to seep into non-CI spaces with audiences that are primed to accept antisemitic beliefs, CI may provide more individuals with further justification for violence. 

Conclusion

As detailed in this Insight, Bowers and Earnest exemplify the threat that the modern CI movement poses as clear examples of how CI has been linked to violence in the last five years. Antisemitic grievances can and do mobilise violence as seen in cases like the Buffalo and Allen shootings. Therefore, the continued spread of CI rhetoric and ideas in the far-right is particularly worrisome as modern CI advances antisemitic grievances. 

Future research is needed to evaluate how CI adherents take advantage of the antisemitic current within the far-right to develop adequate policy responses to combat CI rhetoric. Moderation efforts may present an issue for tech companies, as CI rhetoric frequently masks hateful narratives in religious language. Therefore, a developed understanding of the nuances associated with the movement will be crucial for tech companies in combating the spread of dangerous CI narratives online. Broadly, these case studies also demonstrate how antisemitic-driven mobilisation poses a larger threat that should be addressed by policymakers. Addressing the larger problem of antisemitism in the far-right ecosystem is crucial to mitigating violence and the threat of the modern CI movement.