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January 6th, 2021 was the moment when Americans started taking white nationalism seriously. The insurrection was led by right-wing groups who stormed through the Capitol and came within feet of lawmakers. The mob waved the Confederate flag as they walked through the halls, prepared to use violence in their attempt to install Donald Trump as President after his 2020 electoral loss.

But the related phenomenon of Christian nationalism remains an under-explored aspect of the insurrection. 

It is hard to fully understand January 6th without an idea of what Christian nationalism is and what its adherents want. Christian nationalists’ ultimate goal is the creation of a nation in which white Christians not only hold political and economic freedoms but deny other groups those same freedoms.

White Christian nationalism has a long history in the United States. At its apex, the Ku Klux Klan was one of the most infamous white Christian groups in U.S. history, known for its antisemitism and violence against Black Americans. Modern white Christian nationalists view former President Trump as acting in their political interests, fighting against the rising political power of secular liberals and minority groups. 

Central to the belief system of white Christian nationalists is the “Great Replacement” theory. The theory essentially holds that liberals are purposefully using their political influence to change the demographics of the U.S. by allowing increased immigration of non-whites and embracing pro-abortion policies. This was perhaps most famously heard during the violent right wing protests in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, where participants chanted “You will not replace us” as they marched.

Prominent conservatives have also pushed the theory, with Tucker Carlson claiming the Biden administration was attempting to “change the racial mix of the country.”

The January 6th insurrection was the result of an explosive combination of Trump’s election lies, fear of demographic “replacement,” a lack of trust in U.S. institutions and the media, and an increasingly extremist white Christian nationalist movement that is willing to use violence to achieve its political goals. The Christian Right is a strong member of the Republican coalition, which is why Republicans fiercely stood against early Congressional inquiries into investigating the insurrection. 

Republicans are leaning into Christian identity in a way that will likely make it even more influential in the GOP going forward.

Despite an overall drop in the share of religious Americans over the past few decades, more white Americans adopted than shed the evangelical label during Trump’s term in office. White Republicans are leaning into Christian identity in a way that will likely make it even more influential in the GOP going forward. All of this means that dangerous political events such as the January 6th insurrection may become more common going forward. It will be important for politicians and federal law enforcement to understand the overlap of white nationalism and Christian nationalism to identify and prevent political violence.

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Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.