PBS Smears Speaker Johnson as Christian Extremist Linked to January 6 Riot

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From Amanpour & Co. to the PBS NewsHour, public television is all over the threat of “Christian Nationalism” as the 2024 presidential campaign gathers steam. Thursday evening’s edition featured perhaps the most conservative-hostile reporter on News Hour‘s staff, White House correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez, to offer its trademark taxpayer-funded liberal alarmism regarding devout Trump supporters.

Anchor William Brangham set things up: “The phrase ‘white Christian nationalism’ has been in the headlines quite a bit recently, but what does it really mean?”

Barron-Lopez’s introduction to her featured expert Brad Onishi left nothing mysterious about his ideological bent.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Brad Onishi is a former evangelical minister who once identified as a Christian nationalist himself. He left the church in 2005 and began studying religion from the outside, including extremism. He now hosts the popular podcast “Straight White American Jesus” and is the author of Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism and What Comes Next. I began by asking him what that term actually means.

Brad Onishi: Christian nationalism is an ideology that is based around the idea that this is a Christian nation, that this was founded as a Christian nation, and, therefore, it should be a Christian nation today and should be so in the future. According to survey data, Christian nationalists agree with statements like the federal government should declare the United States of America a Christian nation. Our laws should be based on Christian values. Being a Christian is important if you want to be a real American.

The focus fell on one Christian sect in particular, the New Apostolic Reformation, fairly obscure save for on the alarmist left-wing of America.

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Barron-Lopez: Onishi tracks a number of subgroups and ideas under the umbrella of white Christian nationalism, including what’s known as the New Apostolic Reformation.

Onishi: Well, the New Apostolic Reformation is notable for a number of reasons. One, it’s built around the idea that Christians are called to a new transformation or reformation of the United States. These are Christians who want to revolutionize the way that our country looks, and to make it great again in terms of being a Christian nation….the New Apostolic Reformation leaders, the apostles and the prophets that are really at the head of this movement were some of the earliest to support Donald Trump in 2016. And they have remained steadfast in that support. They were at the very avant-garde of trying to get the 2020 election overturned in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory and mobilizing folks to be at January 6. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of New Apostolic Reformation Christians at January 6, as an example.

After trying to establish a third-hand connections between House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and the January 6 rioters, Onishi tried more guilt by association, highlighting a flag that hangs outside Johnson’s office. (It’s quite a contrast with their softball treatment of House Democrat leader Hakeem Jeffries.)

Onishi: One of the most frightening things, I think, about Mike Johnson is the flag he hangs outside of his office, an Appeal to Heaven Flag. The Appeal to Heaven Flag goes back to the Revolutionary War, George Washington. It was inspired by John Locke….If you look closely at January 6, you will see dozens of Appeal to Heaven Flags. It may have a long history, but in the contemporary context, it has a very specific meaning. So the fact that Mike Johnson has it hanging outside of his office to me signifies how he understands his role as speaker of the House in terms of being a Christian and being an American.

Barron-Lopez took Onishi’s paranoid style seriously and reached out to Johnson’s office, which responded, “The speaker has long appreciated the rich history of the flag. Any implication that the Speaker’s use of the flag is connected to the events of January 6 is wildly inaccurate.”

There’s quite a contrast regarding how “radical” forms of various religions and political leaders are treated on PBS. The Democratic Muslim mayor of Dearborn, Michigan, Abdullah Hahmoud, recently received a sympathetic News Hour interview over his snub of President Joe Biden over the president’s support for Israel over Hamas. There was no questioning or suspicions raised about radical Islamic pro-Hamas protests in his city, documented by the Wall Street Journal.

This segment was brought to you in part by BDO.

A transcript is available, click “Expand.”

PBS NewsHour

2/1/24

7:31:16 p.m. (ET)

William Brangham: The phrase white Christian nationalism has been in the headlines quite a bit recently, but what does it really mean? Laura Barron-Lopez recently spoke to one expert to better understand the concept and its reach in American society.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Brad Onishi is a former evangelical minister who once identified as a Christian nationalist himself. He left the church in 2005 and began studying religion from the outside, including extremism. He now hosts the popular podcast “Straight White American Jesus” and is the author of “Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism and What Comes Next.” I began by asking him what that term actually means.

Brad Onishi, Co-Host, “Straight White American Jesus”: Christian nationalism is an ideology that is based around the idea that this is a Christian nation, that this was founded as a Christian nation, and, therefore, it should be a Christian nation today and should be so in the future. According to survey data, Christian nationalists agree with statements like the federal government should declare the United States of America a Christian nation. Our laws should be based on Christian values. being a Christian is important if you want to be a real American.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Onishi tracks a number of subgroups and ideas under the umbrella of white Christian nationalism, including what’s known as the New Apostolic Reformation.

Brad Onishi: Well, the New Apostolic Reformation is notable for a number of reasons. One, it’s built around the idea that Christians are called to a new transformation or reformation of the United States. These are Christians who want to revolutionize the way that our country looks, and to make it great again in terms of being a Christian nation. They also are deeply invested in the notion of spiritual warfare, the idea that we are called as Christians to fight a cosmic battle between good and evil, and that it’s our duty to be boots on the ground for God in that conflict. What this has led to some decades later is, the New Apostolic Reformation leaders, the apostles and the prophets that are really at the head of this movement were some of the earliest to support Donald Trump in 2016. And they have remained steadfast in that support. They were at the very avant-garde of trying to get the 2020 election overturned in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory and mobilizing folks to be at January 6. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of New Apostolic Reformation Christians at January 6, as an example.

Laura Barron-Lopez: We know that two-thirds of white evangelicals sympathize or adhere to white Christian nationalist beliefs, so where do they fall within this larger movement?

Brad Onishi: I think white evangelicals are the group we think of when we think of white Christian nationalism, and for good reason. These are folks who, when we think about the Iowa caucuses, in 2016 Trump’s white evangelical voters were about 20 percent of his share of voters in that cycle. Just a few weeks ago, in 2024, that grew to well over 50 percent. White evangelicals remain committed to the MAGA movement, and one of the key indicators of why is Christian nationalism.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Are there leaders across these subgroups of white Christian nationalism that are tied to the former president directly or to his larger network?

Brad Onishi: Yes. For example, a group of New Apostolic Reformation leaders, apostles and prophets and others, were present at the White House a week before January 6. Speaker Mike Johnson has direct ties to the New Apostolic Reformation. Speaker Mike Johnson is somebody who’s sought the counsel and the friendship of Timothy Carscadden, who is a New Apostolic Reformation pastor from his home district in Shreveport, Louisiana. Timothy Carscadden is a close associate with Dutch Sheets. Dutch Sheets is perhaps the most ardent Trump supporter in the New Apostolic Reformation. He’s the one who may have done the most of any Chrisian leader in the United States to mobilize folks to try to overturn the 2020 election and to make sure to attend January 6.

One of the most frightening things, I think, about Mike Johnson is the flag he hangs outside of his office, an Appeal to Heaven Flag. The Appeal to Heaven Flag goes back to the Revolutionary War, George Washington. It was inspired by John Locke. But over the last 10 years, the Appeal to Heaven Flag has been popularized by Dutch Sheets. Dutch Sheets sees the Appeal to Heaven Flag as a symbol of Christian revolution. If you look closely at January 6, you will see dozens of Appeal to Heaven Flags. It may have a long history, but in the contemporary context, it has a very specific meaning. So the fact that Mike Johnson has it hanging outside of his office to me signifies how he understands his role as speaker of the House in terms of being a Christian and being an American.

Laura Barron-Lopez: In a statement to the “NewsHour,” a spokesperson for Johnson’s office said — quote — “The speaker has long appreciated the rich history of the flag. Any implication that the speaker’s use of the flag is connected to the events of January 6 is wildly inaccurate.” But Onishi says the concerning links go beyond the conservative politicians themselves. Last month, Lance Wallnau, a key New Apostolic Reformation figure, announced he was partnering with Charlie Kirk, the influential right-wing activist who leads Turning Point USA.

Brad Onishi: They’re going to be visiting and focusing on swing states, Wisconsin, Arizona, Pennsylvania. They have claimed they have already signed up 2,500 churches, and they want to mobilize those churches directly for political involvement and specifically to get Trump reelected. The two of them together signifies a crossover. It signifies a joining in a way that promises, I think, to be quite potent.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Meanwhile, some have mobilized around what GOP leaders have labeled an invasion at the southern border. I asked Onishi about a protest convoy calling itself God’s Army currently making its way to Texas.

Brad Onishi: I think the end goal for the convoy is to kind of play a part or play a role in what they take to be the story that is unfolding in the United States. Christian nationalists understand themselves to be playing a character. They are drawn into a narrative that says, you are at the last battle. You have a chance to do something that is much bigger than you. Will you answer that call? Will you come to D.C. on January 6? Will you ride with us to the southern border? Because these are the moments, these are the battles that will shape our country. This is the cosmic war between good and evil. Are you really going to sit on the sidelines?

Some of us can laugh that off. We can think that that’s a fringe ideal, but January 6 was not something to laugh off. And some of the events we have seen since then, the swatting of judges’ houses, the evacuations of capitols due to bomb threats, so many more examples, little fires everywhere, are not things we can laugh off. And so I think the trucker convoy has cosmic goals as it plays a part in a very earthly standoff between Governor Abbott and the Biden administration.

Laura Barron-Lopez: Brad Onishi, thank you for your time.

Brad Onishi: Thanks so much for having me.

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