October 23, 2021 Wayne Northey

Going “Inside the Effort to Create a ‘Christian Nationalist’ Internet”

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Jack Jenkins

October 20, 2021

WN: What more is there to say? The subtitle of a book by Kristin Kobes du Mez says it all. And the book is superbly researched and written. (Click on it for my review. Subtitle bolded.): Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.

I will add: “Christian Nationalist” is profoundly anti-Christ and a complete oxymoron.

excerpts:

Bearded and given to baseball hats pulled low on his brow, [Andrew Torba, founder of the social media platform Gab], who has described himself as a “conservative Republican Christian,” long ago exiled himself from Silicon Valley. He now lives, he says, in a “forest in Pennsylvania,” where he is plotting what he calls a “Silent Christian Secession.”

His dream is one that resonates with seemingly millions of other primarily conservative, libertarian, and populist netizens who frequent his site and other sites like Natural News, Brighteon and CloutHub — online clones of larger social media platforms that tout themselves as havens of free speech in an internet that has begun to police conspiracy theorists, right-wing militias, white supremacists, and Christian nationalists.

These sites have much the same mix of cartoons, memes and raucous political debates as Twitter or Facebook. Many of their mission statements — “empowering individuals to connect and solve issues they care about,” goes CloutHub’s — wouldn’t look out of place anywhere else on the social web.

But the messages shared by their users skew heavily pro-gun, anti-vaccine, anti-Biden, pro-Trump, and frequently laden with rhetoric that connects adherence to Christianity with American identity. There is a sense among many users that the fall of the country or Western civilization is imminent, and extremist views are not uncommon: In 2018 the attacker who killed 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue posted antisemitic and anti-refugee messages on Gab shortly before the mass shooting. (Gab reportedly later deleted the account and cooperated with investigators.)

David Golumbia, an English professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of “The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism,” said the creation of alternative digital platforms is a long tradition in right-wing circles, religious or otherwise.

“People who promote alternatives to Twitter say that ‘We’re above politics, we just care about free speech,’” Golumbia told Religion News Service. “And when people point out that they are being used to organize political violence…The people who create it say, ‘Oh, this is unintended and unfortunate, and there’s just nothing we can do about it.’

“But from where I sit, this is the main use case for these tools…They’re just beacons to (extremists).”

To his point, the number of registered users on Gab reportedly more than doubled to 3.4 million in the weeks after the Jan. 6 mob attack at the U.S. Capitol.

It has attracted some popular evangelical leaders.  One example:  Christian author Eric Metaxas has more than 27-thousand follows on Gab.  (He has more than 127-thousand on Twitter.)

While decrying the violence of the insurrection, Torba welcomed Gab’s swelling virtual ranks in the weeks after the attack with a message steeped in faith.

“America is a Christian nation,” he wrote on February 1. “The foundation of Western Civilization itself is built on Christianity and more specifically: on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.” Shortly, he said, he intended to shift all of his personal expenditures to support organizations and businesses he deemed Christian.

The widespread pushback to websites like his after Jan. 6 — which he claimed included Gab’s rejection by banks and other companies — was evidence that Christians could no longer operate freely in American society. They needed to build their own economy, entertainment industry, and internet.

Torba, who has invoked a personal policy of “not communicating with non-Christian and/or communist journos,” declined an interview request from Religion News Service in a one-word email: “No.”

The spiritual bluster may belie a practical subtext: A parallel Christian nationalist digital world may be a necessity for sites like Gab to survive at all as Big Tech moves to restrict or ban their content.

If creating a separate Christian nationalist digital world would skirt the power of Big Tech, it may not keep extremist chatter entirely safe. Brighteon, CloutHub, and Gab share a common home in Epik, a web host and domain registrar whose founder, Rob Monster, has faced fierce criticism for his willingness to host extremist content. A self-described Christian libertarian, Monster regularly posts video musings on his Twitter account, once suggesting Western civilization needs Christianity to survive.

In September, purported members of the “hacktivist” collective Anonymous attacked Epik, making off with more than 150 gigabytes of user data and promptly leaking the data to the public. Monster responded by setting up a video chat on Epik’s in-house “Prayer meeting” service, inviting anyone to show up and discuss the hack.

In the chaotic confab that followed — which included a brief religious debate with a man whose chest was emblazoned with a swastika — Monster repeatedly broke out into prayer, asking for God to dispel “demons,” “evil spirits” and “agents of Satan” in the chatroom. He urged listeners to delete the stolen data, explaining his team had “cursed” the files during a “courts of heaven” prayer session.

“I’m just giving you a heads up. There are curses. Laptops will burn. Hard drives will burn,” Monster said. Efforts to contact him about the hack were unsuccessful.

The biggest obstacle to establishing a virtual Christian nationalist promised land, however, may be simple inertia. A sizable chunk of Christian separatists still operate on mainstream platforms. “There’s still a lot of this on YouTube, there’s still a lot of this on Twitter and Facebook,” said Alex Bradley Newhouse, deputy director of the Center on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism at Middlebury College.

The actual size of the potential audience is also unclear. Susan Benesch, founding director of the Dangerous Speech Project, acknowledged the influence of some Christian nationalist leaders has “increased dramatically” in recent years but pointed to a recent study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Researchers found that among the top 20 most-popular Christian Facebook groups of 2019, all but one were operated by Eastern European troll farms.

Please click on: “Christian” Nationalist Internet

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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