by Muhammad Fraser-Rahim and Muna Adil
In the aftermath of Charlottesville, white American evangelical Christians have been forced to confront their position on the extremist element within their communities: radicalized white Christian males.
A joint intelligence bulletin by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security found that white supremacist extremists were responsible for 49 homicides in 29 attacks from 2000 to 2016—more than any other domestic extremist movement.
On May 26 in Oregon, Jeremy Joseph Christian, who was known to police for his hate speech and extreme white nationalist rhetoric, verbally harassed two women of black and Muslim ancestry and has been charged with murder for allegedly killing two men, Rick Best and Taliesin Namkai-Meche, that came to their defense.
On May 20 in Maryland, Sean Urbanski, who was a member of a racist Facebook group called Alt-Reich Nation, purportedly stabbed Richard Collins, a 23-year-old newly-commissioned Army officer who was days away from graduating from the University of Maryland.
And then in June 2015, Dylann Roof walked into the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, and fatally shot nine people.
It hasn’t been easy to address this issue internally, and recent public media statements by leaders within the evangelical Christian community have exposed their internal struggle.
On ABC’s This Week, Jerry Falwell, the president of Virginia’s Liberty University and a prominent evangelical figure, defended Trump for blaming the violence in Charlottesville on “many sides” by saying that Trump “has inside information I don’t have.” Later Falwell went on to say that the president was right to call out white supremacists, nationalists, and the KKK as “pure evil.”
This bait-and-switch technique isn’t new. In many ways, white American evangelicals are the inheritors of the Southern confederacy support base. Their conservative and family values platform, advocating back-to-basics Christianity, and their desire to preserve American-ness as they see it through the optics of a white, Southern experience has been an essential component in the good, bad, and ugly mix that is part and parcel of the fabric of American democracy.
The flip-flopping from the evangelical community, ultimately personified by Trump, is reminiscent of the mixed messages that come out of the Muslim community following an Islamist terror attack. The attackers are either “not Muslims” or they have “justified grievances” against the West—there is no logical middle ground that seriously addresses the issue at hand.
Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director, North America for Quilliam International. He tweets at @mfraserrahim. Muna Adil is a researcher and media strategist at Quilliam International.