September-October 1997

The Christian Identity Crisis

Extremism in the name of Christ

by Neil Earle

Most Americans and Canadians paid little attention to reports of neo-Nazis in Quebec and British Columbia, skinhead rampages, maverick militias, radical constitutional reformers and pseudo-Christian racists. Even when the Arizona Patriots were arrested for plotting to bomb federal buildings in Phoenix and Los Angeles, most of the public was only mildly interested.

That is, until April 19, 1995. On that day, 168 people were killed in a bomb explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The first news reports out of Oklahoma that day assumed Islamic or Middle Eastern extremist groups were the likely perpetrators.

But no! Americans learned with a mind-numbing shock that the enemy was within. "How can Americans do this to other innocent American men, women and children?" many wondered. Timothy McVeigh, the convicted bomber, soon became a household name. Yet McVeigh is but the most visible figure in a potent network of perhaps five to 12 million people.

And the saddest twist in this bizarre tale? Many armed extremists wed Christian-sounding terminology to age-old racism, class hatred and hostility to government. Aryan Nations, based in Hayden Lake, Idaho, is dedicated to "the ongoing work of Jesus the Christ regathering His people, calling His people to a state for their nation to bring in His Kingdom."

Aryan Nations is candid: "WE BELIEVE that there is a battle being fought this day between the children of darkness (today known as Jews) andthe Aryan Race, the true Israel of the Bible."

Richard Abanes, director of the Religious Information Center of Southern California, sees four factors driving the agenda: "(1) An obsessive suspicion of the government; (2) belief in anti-government conspiracy theories; (3) a deep-seated hatred of government officials; and (4) a feeling that the United States Constitution, for all intents and purposes, has been discarded by Washington bureaucrats."

In a letter to a newspaper in Lockport, New York, on Feb. 11, 1992, McVeigh wrote:

"What is it going to take to open up the eyes of our elected officials? AMERICA IS IN SERIOUS DECLINE. We have no proverbial tea to dump; should we instead sink a ship full of Japanese imports? Is a civil war imminent? Do we have to shed blood to reform the current system? I hope it doesn't come to that! But it might."

A Lethal Combination

Not all the millions of people sympathetic to white supremacy ideas are McVeigh supporters by any means. But, as Abanes maintains, many Bible-believing Christians -- turned off by the political process and decades of hit-and-miss social engineering from Washington, D.C. -- are getting caught up in the "angry white guys with guns" hysteria.

Many Christian groups interpret the book of Revelation to foretell the rise of a one-world government under the reign of antichrist.

Antigovernment rhetoric tied to an imminent expectation of Armageddon has a potent appeal across a wide spectrum -- frustrated small businessmen, indebted farmers, disillusioned police officers, the unemployed, renegade soldiers and turned-off veterans, alienated college students, Ku Klux Klanners and former Communist-baiters looking for new targets.

How can the Bible be used to undergird racism?

We are facing a Christian identity crisis: resentment in the name of Jesus; hatred in the cause of Christ. The quasibiblical basis of Christian Identity groups, in particular, fuels what the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles calls, "The racist exploitation of Christianity."

Hatred is huddling under a Christian banner.

How did this happen?

The Paranoid Style

Paranoia and suspicion of outsiders is as old as the witch burnings and expulsions of Puritan New England. In the 1700s, many preachers perpetuated the notion of the church in Rome as the Babylonian harlot mentioned in Revelation 17.

In the 1800s, Catholic, Jewish and East European immigrants pouring into the newly industrializing United States became the targets of such political agitators as the Know-Nothings (named for their denial of any knowledge of the movement). The Know-Nothings, wrote historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., "appealed to the traditional conservative prejudice against the foreigner."

Many of these extreme anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish groups authored literature that now undergirds the eccentric theology of the militant patriots. Such historically dubious texts as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion -- a favorite of Hitler's Nazis -- compiled in the late 1800s in Europe live on. This bogus document supposedly outlines an alleged Jewish plot to bring the world under one world government -- the New World Order.

When today's patriots refer to the federal government as the ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), they are writing in this tradition. Christian Identity pastor Thom Robb teaches: "There is a war in America today and there are two camps. One camp is in Washington, D.C., the federal government controlled by the anti-Christ Jews. Their goal is the destruction of our race, our faith and our people. And our goal is the destruction of them. There is no middle ground."

The gospel is a call to grace, not race. 

African-Americans and immigrants are another favorite target: "We intend to purge this entire land area of every non-White person, gene, idea and influence." Tragically, some extremists draw upon arguments actually used by mainstream Christian denominations in the 1700s and 1800s to prop up American slavery.

But how could the Bible be used to undergird racism? It is not a pleasant story.

Misreading Scripture

The pseudobiblical teaching of Christian Identity groups lends a vague air of legitimacy to the whole movement. It is here that the Christian Identity problem hits home the hardest.

As James A. Aho writes in The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism, such titles as His Chosen, the Seed of Abraham, God's Saints, and the Children of Jacob are clearly biblical. What makes Christian Identity groups different, however, is their exalting of race over grace, their claim that they are the literal descendants of Israel of old.

In the 1600s, a lively debate broke out in Europe over whether the native Indians were the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. These theories were repackaged in Scotsman John Wilson's 1840 text, Our Israelitish Origin. Wilson set out the thesis that the northern 10 tribes of Israel, which had separated from the nation of Judah, were deported by Assyria in the 700s B.C. (2 Kings 17:6). Wilson claimed that these Lost Ten Tribes eventually ended up in northwestern Europe.

Most orthodox scholars contend that Israel was either assimilated into the nations or later reunited with Judah (the Jews). Those who came to be called British Israelites reject this notion. They saw in the Anglo-Saxon-Celtic people the Israel of the Bible. White supremacy is a warped offshoot of this British Israelism. As Aho cautions, blatant racism and anti-Semitism is not inherent in British Israel theory, but it is today for thousands of people who mix it with revamped Nazism and antigovernment hysteria.

But aren't Jews cousins to the so-called lost Aryan Israelites?

No, counter Identity theorists. Jews have intermarried and lost their racial integrity. Some Identity groups advance the brazen claim that Jews and other nonwhite races are descended from the intermarriage of Eve with the Serpent, Satan himself. Therefore, the white race is the only pure race.

This clear distortion of the Genesis record goes on to claim that Adam and Eve were the first white people. All nonwhites are descendants of the Serpent seed.

An Unholy Alliance

Of course, antigovernment agitation is nothing new in America. But Identity theology is tapping into today's frustration with the sometimes illogical and onerous regulations that issue forth from remote bureaucracies.

"The militias," says the state commander of the Oklahoma Citizens Militia, "are the last line of defense against annihilation of the people."

Outspoken hate-group opponent Morris Dees (see box) condemns the leaders of these groups as the real culprits. Richard Abanes is sure that many Christians who support antigovernment zealots are not aware they are helping create a safe house for extremism.

Says Abanes: "Some Christian leaders are accepting without hesitation anyone who appears to be a like-minded government-basher. As a result, evangelicals -- who profess a faith free of prejudice -- are often endorsing and sharing public platforms with neo-Nazis, former Ku Klux Klan leaders and other racists."

It is a sobering analysis. For Christians, above all, need to be working toward helping those caught in the web of hatred. Senior researcher Aaron Breitbart of the Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance loves to tell the story of Tom Leyden.

An ex-Marine, Leyden had spent 15 years as a white supremacist. For this whole period, his mother, a devout Christian, had been praying for her son. One day it hit home to Tom: "All the stuff I had been perpetuating was coming out in my own son. He's not going to be a doctor finding a cure for cancer. He's going to be a mindless bum beating people."

Breitbart, a seminarian himself, knows that prayer can change lives. Leyden is evidence of another kind of Christian identity, one we need to remember.

Identity in Christ

A Christian's identity is found in Christ. Real Christians know they are sinners, hopelessly lost except for the intervention of Christ.

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions -- it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:1-5).

 Christ in us is the divine antidote to hatred.

Our identity is in Christ. First, as sinners who desperately need his precious blood to atone for sin. Those who hear the word of the gospel recognize it as a call to repentance -- a call to grace, not race, a call to see that our own sins required Christ's death. That heartfelt conviction makes us far more tolerant of the real or alleged sins of another person, nation or race.

Brotherhood of All Races

Christians become part of a worldwide brotherhood of all races and nationalities. Paul said it well: "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28).

To be clothed with Christ means to live as he lived, to walk as he walked. To those ensnared in the web of bogus racial supremacy doctrines so extant today, Jesus Christ offers lavish forgiveness and redemption. Christ in us is the divine antidote to hatred, the answer to the cankers eating away at our society.

The time has come, the time to heal the hatreds dividing us. Through Jesus Christ we embrace our true identity as redeemed children of God walking by grace and not race, by faith and not hate. 


Strength in Diversity

Our nation is great because of our diversity, not in spite of it."

When Morris Dees says this, you listen. Lawyer, equal rights activist, hounder of the Ku Klux Klan and hate groups everywhere, and assassination target himself, Dees makes you sit up and listen.

Dees has hit the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and other hate groups right where it hurts: their pocketbooks. In 1981, he and his newly formed Southern Poverty Law Center won a $7 million judgment against the Klan, virtually bankrupting the main branch. In 1990, Dees won a $12.5 million verdict for the family of an Ethiopian immigrant murdered by skinheads in Oregon.

This embroiled him in a classic confrontation with Tom Metzger and the White Aryan Resistance, the largest hate-militia group in the United States.

According to Dees, "Metzger sees his mission as saving America from the 'mud people' as he calls them -- Asians, Hispanics, blacks and Jews. That's why I say we're going to have problems unless we learn to work together. By the year 2050, whites will be a minority. Between now and then, I see enormous frustrations, domestic terrorism, pain, anguish and hate.

"We must find new ways to split up that economic pie," Dees says in his soft Alabama drawl.

Yet Dees is an optimist. One reason is that his court victories are often a result of former hate-group members courageously stepping forward to testify against their leaders. "It's the leaders I'm after," he explains.

Many Americans are upset by the failures of the system, especially the economic system, to provide what most people want: home, family, a safe neighborhood, a decent job in a marketplace that treats people fairly -- the American Dream. This makes them vulnerable to fringe groups.

Dees is motivated by the victories he has seen and he knows are possible. He cited the case of a young white man named Dave now in the Witness Protection Program. Dave participated in the lynching of a young black man. Dave repented and helped win a landmark case against the Klan. But, for Dees, the real highlight came in open court when Dave asked the African-American mother of his victim to forgive him.

"I've already forgiven you," the woman replied.

The Conversion of a Neo-Nazi

I was born Jan. 20, 1941. My mother was 16 years old and my father was in prison for armed robbery. He was released when I was 3, and although I was raised by my mom, my dad's influence on me was great. He always packed a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol in his car. He would later do two more prison terms, having graduated from armed robbery to business fraud.

My first crime was shoplifting play money at age 8 from the five-and-dime store. At age 11, I started setting fires, first vacant grass lots, then school lockers, trash cans, our family garage and finally a vacant house, for which I was arrested.

At 14, I was committed to Napa State Hospital for observation. After only 18 days there, I and two other boys my age strangled another male patient, age 13, to death. I was transferred to Atascadero State Hospital, California's maximum security place for the criminally insane.

Several years later, in 1960, I was part of a mass escape in which we took over four wards, liberating 11 patients, including five from the hole. Most everyone was picked up again within 24 hours. For my part in the escape, I was transferred to a regular state prison.

In 1963, I was returned to court to stand trial for my part in the 1955 homicide. I was charged with first degree murder, and I was to stand trial as an adult. I was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was later transferred to a minimum security state hospital at Stockton, my hometown, in 1965.

There I met Liz, who was in for attempted suicide. I was discharged in December 1966, and we got married in 1968. Since I was living on the monthly government checks given to most former mental patients, I had time on my hands to get full swing back into petty crime.

Liz's lust for material things and my marijuana habit soon saw us divorced. She remarried and when that marriage failed, killed herself.

 "If God can save me, then God can save anyone."

I joined an outlaw bike club called the Diablos and partied at the Altamonte Rock Concert in December 1969 with the Hell's Angels. The 1960s to '70s were a time of social revolution. I did my share of burglary, shoplifting, kidnapping, drug dealing, pimping, sabotage, devil worship and street fighting. I supported every anti-authority or rebellious cause from "Gay Lib" to the Black Panther Party.

In 1977, disenchanted with the revolutionary left, I abandoned it to become a neo-Nazi. I rented a place in Oroville, the county seat of Butte County, and hooked up a "Dial-A-Nazi" telephone message. I stamped paper money with that number until the Secret Service told me to "stop advertising on money," because our U.S. senator had received complaints.

I drew the attention of headquarters and an Ohio- based Nazi-Manson cultist asked me to visit Charles Manson in prison at Vacaville. I visited him four times in 1982, which led to some popularity for me amid local rebellious youth.

I then formed a local Nazi Youth Group. We leafleted two local high schools in September. This always drew lots of media attention. This time a $1,000 reward was offered for proof of who did the midnight school locker stuffings. One in our youth group turned informer and was found two weeks later on a swamp road with eight shots in his head. He was six days short of 18. The news media dubbed it an "execution-style murder" for which I was arrested and convicted.

While in jail, I got a flood of mail, some from Christians but most from white racists or "Identity Christians." Identity Christianity is a pseudo Christian cult that has built a racist dogma around a twisted version of British Israelism. Because I was a minister in the Gospel of Christ Kingdom Church in Hayden Lake, Idaho, I was on the "Prisoners of War" and "Prisoners of ZOG" list in most white racist publications.

But as I began to study the Bible, with my mind open to God's Holy Spirit, I discovered that Identity cult's views were not God's truth. Cult ministers could not explain away Moses' black wife in Numbers 12:1, nor Simon called Niger in Acts 13:1, nor many other things I found.

In December 1988, I fully accepted the truth, pulled the Nazi stuff off my cell wall, and became born again.

Since then, my life has changed 180 degrees. I took a prison job as a barber and stopped laying around the cell all day. I stopped smoking. I was transferred to general population. My family started visiting me. I have Christian pen pals from the Philippines to Romania for fellowship.

God's blessings have been countless for one still in prison, though I truly feel freer inside here than I ever did out. But the greatest of these blessings is my salvation from the lake of fire. I'm now promised eternity with Christ through grace.

If God can save me, then God can save anyone. God can save you, too, if you first admit you are a sinner, then repent. Do not give up on Jesus. Love him, and try to obey his commandments. But, when you slip, tell him you are sorry and get up again and go on.

Fellow sinners, if you are tired of crime, racism, death, sexual sin, drugs, booze, violence or whatever you're trapped in, pray to God and ask, "Lord, please have mercy on me, a sinner, and save me for Jesus' sake."

I praise God for the day I did! His forgiveness, mercy and grace will bless you if you only ask it of him.

-- Perry Bernard Warthan

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