Who Are Those Guys?
Part Two: An Exposé of Prominent Christian Nationalists
“Who Are Those Guys?”
Remember that line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? After being chased by a determined and relentless posse for days, the Sundance Kid turned toward the horizon where you could see the dust billowing up from the oncoming posse, and said, “Who are those guys?”
That statement from the iconic movie is an apt description of the nebulous group known as Christian Nationalists or as I rebranded them, Christian Theonomists. Supporting a theocratic form of government doesn’t support the interests of the United States. As Katherine Stewart points out, these people are “power worshippers” who put their supposed religious doctrine ahead of the Constitutional order.
But who are those guys? Going back to the Sundance Kid for a moment, there are some parallels to be drawn.
Once thing is for sure, they are determined, relentless, motivated by power and are playing a long game. They have been at this project for decades, most since the 1980’s and are just now beginning to experience success like they could only dream of then. And their tactics have nothing to do with supporting or reinforcing principles of American democracy. These individuals and groups will use whatever means they deem necessary to win their coveted prize: power and the imposition of Christian Theonomy on American society. Oh, and did I mention they have a lot of money in their deep-deep pockets? Funding for these groups is another article for another day.
My goal today is to uncover who these people are, the organizations that are driving their ideology and movement, and what their goals are.
Maybe the first thing to know or understand about these so-called Christian Nationalists is that they are a broad and diverse group of over 40 separate organizations. There is no Christian Nationalist headquarters with a unified leadership or common foot soldiers. They are de-centralized and run what appear to be disparate organizations, but they eerily have a common mission: turn the United States into a Christian Theonomy, whether citizens want it or not. This implies the use of authoritarian methods to accomplish this goal, and as you will see, they are not afraid of authoritarian methodology.
Who’s Who of Christian Nationalism
Let me start with a list of people who you probably have never heard of before. What do Michael Farris, Kristen Waggoner, Tony Perkins, Matthew Staver, Randy Forbes, Steve Fitschen, David Barton, and Terry Schilling all have in common? These people lead several different religious conservative power-house organizations that raise tens of millions of dollars to impose a Christian theonomy on the United States. These organizations are now pushing anti-transgender laws and restrictions on schools, libraries, and public places because transgender people do not fall into their definition of gender binary. If you are wondering where all these hundreds of bills are coming from, look no further than this group.
These folks head up extra-church organizations, meaning they aren’t technically a church. That doesn’t stop them from using their status as “religious organizations” from using non-profit laws to gain tax exemption while working on direct politically partisan issues. But they do influence and partner with thousands of churches across the US to enlist both donations and volunteers to advance their agenda.
Let me introduce you to the Christian Theonomists who want to fundamentally undermine the Constitution by imposing religious law on the country through governmental coercion.
Michael Farris & Kristen Waggoner CEO, President and General Counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)
According to the website, the “ADF is the world's largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God's design for marriage and family.” They boast of more than 400 ADF team members in seven global offices as well as 4,700 network attorneys engaged in litigation, legislation, training, funding, and public advocacy. Since 2011, ADF has won 14 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, including serving on Mississippi’s legal team in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade.
It is important to note that the ADF, along with many of their partner Christian Nationalist organizations, have an international agenda. As you see the religious right gaining power in the United States, be assured their goals are transnational. That is why the ADF functions in seven overseas offices but are active in over 100 countries. The goal of Theonomy is a world-wide vision, not just a national goal.
One of ADF's goals is for Christianity to be written into the US legal system, based on their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. In materials they share with donors, ADF says that they seek to spread a belief in "the framers' original intent for the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights as it reflects God's natural law and God's higher law." Moreover, its stated mission is to "keep the door open for the gospel" by seeking to bring United States law in line with their Christian beliefs. (emphasis added)
In January 2017, Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College, became the new CEO of ADF. Farris lobbied Congress for the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. After Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election and refused to concede while making claims of fraud, Farris worked behind the scenes on legal documents filed by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton to overturn the election results. Kristen Waggoner took the helm of the ADF in 2022 and has continued its legal strategy to force Christian beliefs onto the culture through judicial activism.
Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council (FRC)
The mission of the FRC is to “advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview.” The FRC is the leading opponent of transgender rights and provides “studies” and bill language to conservative state legislators to restrict gender affirming care and ban books with “sexual content” that they say are “grooming” children to become sexualized. Along with the legal power of the Alliance Defending Freedom, these two organizations are the primary proponents of a theocratic state where biblical law is imposed on the whole country…whether they want it or not.
FRC often makes false claims about the LGBTQ community based on discredited research and junk science. The intention is to dehumanize LGBTQ people as the organization battles against LGBTQ rights. To make the case that the LGBTQ community is a threat to American society, the FRC employs several “policy experts” who have allowed the FRC to be extremely active politically in shaping public debate. Its research fellows and leaders often testify before Congress and appear in the mainstream media. It also works at the grassroots level, conducting outreach to pastors to “transform the culture.”
Tony Perkins, the President of the FRC since 2003, has a questionable past. But his aggressive anti-LBGTQ beliefs and actions are paramount in his own consciousness and policies of the FRC. He once wrote:
“For years, LGBT activists wanted to keep the goal of luring children into sexual confusion under wraps. Now that they’ve hoodwinked a lot of the country on their agenda, these extremists no longer have to hide. In fact, they are increasingly bold–even boastful–about their real intentions of recruiting kids.”
– Tony Perkins, “‘I Have a Girl Brain but a Boy Body’: Virginia Kindergartners Are Read Transgender Story,” posted at The Daily Signal, March 6, 2019
Perkins, prior to 2003, served two terms as a Louisiana state representative from 1996 to 2004. He is also a former police officer and television news reporter. According to a 2005 article in The Nation, while Perkins served as an officer in Baton Rouge in 1992, he failed to report to his superiors that anti-abortion activists were planning to break through police lines. As a result of his actions, he was suspended from duty in 1992, according to The Nation, and subsequently quit. Several accounts have circulated about a link between former Klan leader David Duke and Jenkins’ 1996 U.S. Senate campaign, which was managed by Perkins. Perkins also once gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that advocates against miscegenation and whose website once referred to black people as “a retrograde species of humanity.”
Since becoming President of the FRC in 2003, his focus has been on anti-LGBTQ efforts and misinformation. A major component of FRC’s strategy is to emphasize the false claims that LGBTQ people are more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual people and that LGBTQ people are recruiting children. The American Psychological Association, among others, however, has concluded that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are” The ‘recruitment’ trope has long been used by extremist groups to demonize and minoritize groups they despise. But you will recognize this language in current legislative debate and bills at the state level.
Matthew Staver is the Senior Pastor, Founder and Chairman of the Liberty Council (LC)
The Liberty Council is another organization whose focus is directly focused on rallying churches to join the legal fight for “religious freedom” which they define as immoral enemies of freedom that wage war on the “Judeo-Christian heart of America.” In other words, if you believe in the separation of church and state, and a pluralistic culture, you are an immoral enemy of freedom. But Liberty Council traffics in lies and conspiracy theories: anti-vaxxer, “contact tracing” is government spying, election denial, and the belief that Joe Biden is trying to establish a dictatorship. They directly encourage churches to become political active while at the same time claiming non-profit status and begging tax-deductible donations.
Terry Schilling is President of the American Principles Project (APP)
The APP believes that progressives are hostile aggressors against “families and children.” Their mission is to be politically active to promote parental rights and protect families and children from progressive activists that have grown comfortable attacking the family and making it difficult to raise children. The APP launches petitions and model legislation to ban drag shows, oppose transgender participation in school sports programs, protect children from critical race theory and “gender ideology.” Their legislation priorities read like the legislative agenda of Florida and Iowa Republican party.
Congressman J. Randy Forbes is President and Co-Founder, Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF)
According to the CPCF website, their mission is to “restore and promote America’s founding spirit and core principles related to faith and morality by equipping and mobilizing a national network of citizens, legislators, pastors, business owners and opinion leaders.” Their objective is to advocate for “religious freedom” whenever and wherever it is attacked. Definitions are important and religious freedom doesn’t mean protecting all faiths alike. For the CPCF, religious freedom is protecting the “Judeo-Christian heritage” of the United States only. The concept of religious freedom is broader than “freedom to worship,” according to the CPCF, and includes expressions of Christian practice in the public sphere. One area of activism for the CPCF is “religious freedom in public schools.” For this group, public education needs to return to its “historic Christian principles.”
Steve Fitschen is President at the National Legal Foundation (NLF)
The obvious Christian Nationalist mission of this organization is “to prayerfully create and implement innovative strategies that, through decisive action, will cause America’s public policy and legal system to support and facilitate God’s purpose for her, all while conducting ourselves at all times with the utmost integrity and in such a way as to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ.” The cases this legal organization pushes are those related most to “parental rights,” “sexuality” and “religious freedom.” (Guess whose religious freedom?) This organization along with the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation and Wallbuilders ProFamily Legislative Network, are the authors of the “Blitz” strategy.
Part Three will begin by uncovering the work of the Wallbuilders ProFamily Legislative Network and the development of Project Blitz. Hopefully, you now have a general overview of who the main players and actors are within this conglomerate of organizations that espouse “Christian Nationalism.”