The form of the Christian nationalist movement in the future after Roe is emerging, and it should frighten anyone who is worried about the future of constitutional democracy.
The Supreme Court’s decision to abolish the reproductive rights that American women have enjoyed over the past half century will not lead to America’s domestic religious authoritarianism withdrawing from the cultural wars and enjoying a sweet moment of triumph. On the contrary, movement leaders are already preparing for a new and more brutal phase of their attacks on individual rights and democratic self-government. Breaking American democracy is not an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. That is the purpose of the project.
A great place to measure the spirit and intentions of the movement that brought us the radical majority in the Supreme Court is the annual Road to Majority Policy Conference. At this year’s event, which took place in Nashville last month, there were three clear trends. First, the rhetoric about violence among movement leaders seemed to have increased significantly from the already alarming levels I had observed in previous years. Second, the theology of Dominionism – that is, the belief that “right-thinking” Christians have a biblically derived mandate to take control of all aspects of government and society – is now explicitly embraced. And third, the movement’s key strategists were dizzying over the legal arsenal that the Supreme Court had put at their feet when they foresaw the overthrow of Roe v. Wade.
They intend to use that arsenal – along with additional weapons collected in cases like Carson v. Makin, which require state support for religious schools whose private, secular schools are also funded; and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, which authorizes religious proselytization of public school officials – to prosecute a war against individual rights, not just in so-called red state legislatures, but across the nation.
Although metaphors of struggle are common enough in political assemblies, this year’s rhetoric appeared more violent, more graphic, and more tightly focused on other Americans rather than on geopolitical enemies.
“The greatest danger to America is not our enemies from the outside, as powerful as they can be,” said former President Donald Trump, who delivered the keynote address at the event. “The greatest danger to America is the destruction of our nation from the people from within. And you know the people I’m talking about.”
Speakers at the conference struggled to surpass each other in their humiliation of the people Mr. Trump was apparently talking about. Democrats, they said, are “evil,” “tyrannical,” and “the enemy within,” engaged in “a war against truth.”
“The reaction is coming,” Florida Sen. Rick Scott warned. “Just get up and drive to the sound of the cannons, and they are everywhere in this country. It’s time to take this country back.”
Referring to the fight against Nazi Germany during the Battle of the Bulge, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson of North Carolina said, “We are in a fight to literally save this nation.” He referred to a passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians that Christian nationalists often use to signal their militants, adding: “I do not know about you, but I got my bag on, I got my boots on, I got my helmet on, I got on the whole armor. “
It is not easy to link this increase in verbal aggression to the disinformation campaign to indoctrinate the Christian nationalist base in the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, along with what we learn from the January 6 hearings. The movement is preparing “patriots” for the continuation of the attack on democracy in 2022 and 2024.
The intensification of verbal warfare is associated with changes in the messages and spread of the Christian nationalist movement that were very evident at the Nashville Conference. Seven Mountains Dominionism – the belief that “biblical” Christians should seek to dominate the seven central “mountains” or “shapes” of American society, including the government – was once considered a fringe doctrine, even among representatives of the religious right. At last year’s Road to Majority conference, however, there was a breakout session devoted to the topic. This year there were two sessions, and the once mysterious language of the Seven Mountains creed was on the lips of several speakers.
The hunger for domination that seems to motivate the leadership of the movement is the essential context for making sense of its strategy and intentions in the post-Roe world. The end of abortion rights is the beginning of a new and much more personal attack on individual rights.
And it’s actually personal. Much of the rhetoric on the right invokes visions of vigilant justice. This is about “good guys with guns” – or neighbors with good interception skills – heroically taking on the harmful behaviors of their fellow citizens. Among the main battlefields will be women’s fallopian tubes and uterus.
At a breakout session called “Life at Risk: What Does the Future of the Pro-Life Movement Look Like From Here?” Chelsey Youman, Texas State Director and National Legislative Adviser for Human Coalition Action, a Texas-based anti-abortion organization with a national strategic focus, described the link between vigilantes and abortion rights.
Instead of the state regulating abortion providers, she explained, “You and I as citizens of Texas or this state, or where we can now pass this bill, can sue the abortion provider instead.” Ms. Youman, as it happens, played a role in the promotion of Texas Act Senate Bill 8, which was passed in May 2021 and allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone who “helps or promotes” an abortion. She was excited about the likely passage of similar laws across the nation. “We have legislation ready to roll out for every single state you live in, to protect life regardless of the Supreme Court, regardless of your district court.” To be sure, Christian nationalists are also pushing for a federal ban. But the fight for the present will focus on state-level enforcement mechanisms.
Movement leaders have also made it clear that the goal of their ongoing offensive is not only providers of abortion in the state, but what they call “abortion trafficking” – that is, women who cross state borders to gain access to legal abortions, along with people that gives them. women with services or support, such as cars and taxis. Ms Youman praised the development of a new “long-arm jurisdiction” bill that offers a mechanism for targeting abortion providers outside the state. “It creates an unjustified cause of death,” she said, “so we’re excited about it.”
The National Law of Life Committee’s model legislation for the post-Roe era encompasses a wide range of criminal law enforcement as well as civil law enforcement mechanisms. “The Model Act also extends far beyond the actual performance of an illegal abortion,” according to text on the organization’s website. It also includes “aiding or abetting an illegal abortion”, aimed at people giving “instructions over the telephone, the Internet or any other means of communication.”
Mrs. Youman further made it clear that Christian nationalists will target the pills used for medical abortions. “Our next big bill is going to make the Heartbeat Act look tame, guys; they’re going to freak out!” she said. “It is designed specifically to remove these illegal pills.”
Americans outside the movement have consistently underestimated its radicalism. But this movement has been explicitly anti-democratic and anti-American for a long time.
It is also a mistake to imagine that Christian nationalism is a social movement that arises from the grassroots and aims to satisfy the real needs of its base. It is not. This is a leader-driven movement. Leaders set the agenda and their main goals are power and access to public money. They do not serve the interests of their bases; they exploit their base as a means of exploiting the rest of us.
Christian nationalism is not a path to the future. Its purpose is to erode democracy until there is nothing left but a thin cover for the rule of a supposedly right-thinking elite, bubble-wrapped in holiness and isolated from any real democratic control of its power.