JOIN US MAY 20-21 FOR RESTORE CONFERENCE

Mary
DeMuth

Scot
McKnight

Screenshot 2023-01-13 at 1.50.18 PM

Naghmeh
Panahi

Reporting the Truth.
Restoring the Church.

Former Trump Official Elizabeth Neumann Wants to Combat Christian Extremism

By Jack Jenkins
Elizabeth Neumann, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary of Threat Prevention and Security Policy, testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Civil Rights and Civil Liberties subcommittee hearing on white supremacy, Tuesday June 4, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

As Elizabeth Neumann watched the events of Jan. 6 unfold, the former assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy in the Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans at the Department of Homeland Security was horrified. Reared in conservative Christian communities, she found herself deeply disturbed by the violence, but also the preponderance of Christian flags waved by insurrectionists and the prayers some shouted as they attacked the U.S. Capitol.

“You had this intermixing of Christian ideas, symbols and Scriptures, somehow justifying this violence that happened on Jan. 6,” Neumann said in a recent interview.

Months before, Neumann had resigned from the Trump administration, claiming the then-president was dismissive of domestic terrorist threats. In the years since, she has grown increasingly convinced that conservative Christians are being exploited not just by politicians, but also by extremist groups, giving rise to a dangerous form of faith-infused radicalism.

In a new book, “Kingdom of Rage: The Rise of Christian Extremism and the Path Back to Peace,” Neumann chronicles this exploitation and offers ways to prevent further radicalization. She recently spoke in an interview to discuss her findings and share where she finds hope for the future.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $50 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Ghosted: An American Story” by Nancy French. To donate, click here.

book cover
Cover of ‘Kingdom of Rage’ by Elizabeth Neumann. (Photo: X)

What drove you to write this book?

It actually came out of an interview that I gave to POLITICO in February 2021, a month after Jan. 6. They asked about what we saw on Jan. 6 from the Christian community. A cross on Capitol grounds. People praying over bullhorns in the Senate gallery. Placards with different Bible verses. In December, before Jan. 6, you had the Jericho March, where they tried to play out the Israelites marching around Jericho and praying over Washington that we’re going to ‘defeat the evil.’

On Jan. 6, you felt your community had completed a “rage-filled metamorphosis into violent extremists.” Terms like radicalization and extremism are common in your work, but can you say more about your choice of words?

Somewhere in the POLITICO interview, I labeled it Christian extremism. I hadn’t given much thought to that label, but I definitely felt as if we had Christians present who were demonstrating extremist activity and belief.

I spend some time introducing the reader to the way the counterterrorism community views extremism. I offer a definition of extremism and radicalization and then try to help people understand what the evidence shows us about why somebody radicalizes.

If somebody says, ‘This is the most consequential election of our lifetime. If Donald Trump doesn’t win, then the country’s gonna go to hell. So, therefore, I’m going to go vote for Donald Trump,’ that is not extremism. The premise is maybe not healthy, spiritually or psychologically, but it’s not extremism. But if somebody’s ‘therefore’ is, ‘I’m gonna go monitor polling places wearing my military fatigues and carrying my AR-15, just to make sure no funny business happens,’ you’re moving into intimidation and harassment and also into something that’s illegal. That’s the difference.

Christian Nationalism
A man holds a Bible as Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

You note in the book that white nationalism and Christian nationalism movements have taken advantage of Christian communities. How did we end up here?

Some are coming from legitimate places of fear and grievance. The sexual ethic in this country has changed drastically in the last 10 years. Obergefell v. Hodges (the Supreme Court decision establishing marriage for same-sex partners) is a key moment. The law of the land used to adhere to a traditional biblical sexual ethic and it kind of changed overnight. We’re still catching up as a community to try to understand what that means.

In that great uncertainty, we can become really vulnerable to extremists. Extremists are really good at painting black and white pictures, and they offer this certainty that comes from some form of hostile action.

As the Christian community identifies itself with that political right, they’re also intermingling with extremists. That confluence is where there’s great danger. Most people are not going to go be violent extremists, but if we want to reduce the amount of violence in the country, we need to reduce the exposure to extremism.

What broader factors are at work?

We know that (social media companies) make money off of our fear, anger and outrage. They are incentivized to keep us in this perpetual state of outrage in a way that our forefathers back in the 1950s just didn’t deal with.

But there are also other what I would call society-wide factors — the fact that we are increasingly isolated. In the online space, we get a dopamine hit of belonging, even though it’s not real belonging. That real-life connection is important, and the less we have, the more we have a need that is going unfilled, which can be exploited by extremists.

The other underlying need that we understand motivates people toward extremism is a need for significance. You have all these pastors and Christian authors writing books about what postmodern society has done to our souls, how we have increasingly lost meaning. I compare that to what I know is happening in the extremist movement: One of the most rapidly growing types of violent extremism is a nihilistic version of extremism. It’s like: life does not matter, so I should go out in a blaze of glory.

How has this changed people’s relationship to their faith?

The cultural Christian community has responded to these trials by turning to politics for solutions — turning to a politician as a savior figure, or turning to a political party. ‘If you could only get the government to work right, it would solve my financial difficulties.’ We keep turning to tools of man to solve what are ultimately spiritual problems. We’ve taken power politics and government and turned them into the ultimate thing, as opposed to something that falls under our faith. We’ve reordered, if you will, in the incorrect order: Politics is the premier, as opposed to our trust and faith in Jesus.

Are there trends you are particularly concerned about?

We’re in an election year, so we are increasingly seeing politicians use violent rhetoric. (Arizona U.S. Senate candidate) Kari Lake, two or three weeks ago, said at a rally that you need to put on the armor of God, and ‘maybe strap on a Glock.’ We are also seeing militias regroup: They’re organizing on Facebook again. I’m not sure why Facebook’s not cracking down on that.

More people are embracing the Christian nationalist label in kind of a funny way — almost like a backlash to critiques about Christian nationalism. Most Christian nationalists are not concerning from a security perspective, but there’s a smaller segment who are trying to put some significant rigor into their arguments. I’m thinking in particular of Stephen Wolfe, author of “The Case for Christian Nationalism.” At the end of his book he has these appendices that include a supposed theological justification for why violence is okay.

That is more concerning to me, because he’s laying out with some rigor — and by rigor, I mean lots of words — an argument for why violence, under his interpretation of Scripture, is appropriate for building the kingdom of God. That kind of stuff can influence a certain personality, a certain type of group.

nationalism
An attendee holds a “One Nation Under God Indivisible” poster during a Stop the Steal protest in Raleigh, N.C., on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo by Anthony Crider/Flickr/CC-BY 2.0)

You write, “Can I tell you the good news up front? You are one of the best hopes we have in healing the country and preventing more violence.” How can readers of your book help prevent extremism?

Being disrespected, psychological distress, a recent crisis or feeling like a helpless victim — those are all some of the top reasons why people are radicalized to extremism. I think the church has really great answers for what do we do when we’re disrespected: Scripture tells us Christ experienced the ultimate humiliation and modeled how we endure that. The fact that a large portion of our country thinks that a biblical Christian ethic on sexuality is outdated puts us squarely where Jesus said we would be — that we would be rejected, that our ways are not like the world’s. The answer to that disrespect and that humiliation is in Scripture: we pray for those who persecute us. We do not retaliate in kind.

When I walk pastors through these details, the light bulb comes on. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re not telling me to do anything new. Because Jesus has had these answers for 2,000 years.’

There really, truly is nothing new under the sun. It’s just that the social sciences caught up to the wisdom of what Jesus taught.

jack jenkinsJack Jenkins is an award-winning journalist and national reporter for the Religion News Service.

SHARE THIS:

GET EMAIL UPDATES!

Keep in touch with Julie and get updates in your inbox!

Don’t worry we won’t spam you.

More to explore
discussion

15 Responses

  1. A civil war is coming and “Christian” militias that actually promote terrorism will be part of the problem. No Christ in that but anyone can become a useful idiot as certain psychos see violence as a means for political power.

    1. “ No Christ in that but anyone can become a useful idiot as certain psychos see violence as a means for political power.”

      Government always attracts these types, and people, in general, usually have difficulty recognizing them.

      Don’t forget about the plethora of illegals pouring across the border of which many are single fighting age males. Michael Yon (retired special forces combat) has been covering this for a long time.

  2. The violence was b/c of the deep state/cabal criminals who posed as Trump supporters. The full truth will come out; God is revealing so much during these days. I suspect we’ll learn this woman is another cabal infiltrator who is out to damage/harm PDJT as much as she can.

    1. What are cabal criminals and cabal infiltrators? I’m curious how one goes about identifying someone as being part of the cabal.

    2. One tactic the enemy uses is guilt by association. Where is the discernment that directs Christians away from gatherings like those of Jan 6th? Trump has no spiritual discernment to understand you cannot muscle your way through when dealing with forces of evil.
      Where are the prophets speaking words of wisdom, warning the Body to “see” the traps the enemy lays out? Christ never was remotely involved with violence. Your attitude concerning the writer of this article makes it clear you do not understand how the enemy works. Ask God for discernment and He will give it to you.

    3. Dee,

      This is your wake up call.

      The religious fervor that fuels MAGA is nothing short of cultish.

      Trump would not even be in this race were it not for his overly zealous “Christian” followers.

      We Christians have proven to the world that we will tolerate any amount of corruption, immortality and dishonesty as long as we get political power.

      1. As long as they get to sit at His Left and Right Hand.

        Remember the interpretation of Revelation where the Whore of Babylon represents a corrupt economic system, the Beast a corrupt political system, and the False Prophet a corrupt religious system all in cahoots? (Until a dead lamb comes up to them and speaks Words of Truth (sword from the mouth) that blows them all away like dust in the wind.)

        Well, these Christian Leaders KNOW they will be the Chosen Ones to sit at the His Right Hand over a Truly Christian Nation. (And be His Anointed Enforcers just like the two Author Self-Inserts during the Millenium in Left Behind: Volume 13.)

        Question, massmind:
        Remember the Beast and False Prophet in conventional Christian Apocalyptic? Of the two, which one is always The Boss and which is always the sniveling sidekick who THINKS he’s the Real Boss while the Beast leads him around on a leash?

    4. Wrong. If God is revealing anything, it’s the total hypocrisy and idolatry of American Evangelicals. They are 100% to blame for the insurrection and continuing threats of violence. It’s not the mythical “deep state”.

    5. Wow, that’s quite the revelation, Dee! According to AP News, 730 people have plead guilty to charges for actions on that day and 170 people went to trial and were convicted of charges against America. It seems like it was the biggest hoax since the Trojan horse entered Troy! (Satire)

    6. Dee if they were “deep state cabal criminals posing as Trump supporters”, why would Trump say he will pardon them if elected president? That makes no sense.

  3. I am sorry, this woman sounds like a drug dealer worried about a drug problem. She worked for the very candidate which harnessed Christian extremism to win an election, then tried to harness that same group to hold onto power. If she can’t see how the two ideas she talks about below are not linked then I’m not sure she is worth platforming to be honest.

    If somebody says, ‘This is the most consequential election of our lifetime. If Donald Trump doesn’t win, then the country’s gonna go to hell. So, therefore, I’m going to go vote for Donald Trump,’ that is not extremism. The premise is maybe not healthy, spiritually or psychologically, but it’s not extremism. But if somebody’s ‘therefore’ is, ‘I’m gonna go monitor polling places wearing my military fatigues and carrying my AR-15, just to make sure no funny business happens,’ you’re moving into intimidation and harassment and also into something that’s illegal

    The first idea gives birth to the second. It creates a level of panic and extremism that will incite people to not trust the system and take matters into their own hands.

    1. James, I could then take any extremest argument and work backwards to premises that don’t sound radical and then make the same judgement your claiming – that the first premise is extremist. There are some people who do this already and claim the fact we have freedom of speech is extremist. But you really don’t believe that I suspect. So that is the balance we have in a free society. We have to tolerate ideas that sound unreasonable and yet we have put people in charge of security who then have to make the tough decision on where the line is as an indicator of radicalism. Not sure that I like the latter because we are putting a few people in charge of that line and I believe they are biased (left vs right).

  4. ………..”Stephen Wolfe, author — an argument for why violence…., is appropriate for building the kingdom of God.”

    Yeshua foresaw mixing HIS mission with violence; and when accosted by the militia mob said to Kefa: “put down your sword, for all those who live by sword shall perish by the sword”. When the disciples wanted to call down fire on a certain unwelcoming village, Yeshua said: “I have not come to destroy but to save”.

    There’s zero scripture to justify use of violence in building the kingdom apart from employing interpretative gymnastics (I mean: twisting, perverting, butchering, eisegesis-ing…).

    Yeshua, the apostles and early believers all perished in martyrdom rather than fight Roman empire. And no, ancient Israel fighting to possess land of Canaan does not apply. And I can go into further details showing just why you cannot extrapolate ancient Israel to today.

    But the short of it is this: in the new covenant, Yeshua is building a spiritual Israel, a spiritual temple, a spiritual kingdom- the church. And HE commanded a revised way of building HIS kingdom: pray for & love your enemies, turn the other cheek and endure. You know, the eternally award winning “sermon on the mount” bit.

    Paul continues the theme saying “the battle is not with flesh and blood, and the weapons are not carnal (physical). The battle is with spiritual entities; and therefore, weapons are spiritual (Duh!). The correct weapons are found in Ephesians 6:10-18.

    Extremist “Christians” are fighting the wrong battle, with wrong weapons; and barking up the wrong enemy camp/host. I dare say, THE main enemy camp is within and INSIDE the church. I say Christians ought to consider fighting and winning the battle INSIDE the church first and foremost. Only then can they influence positively those outside the church.

  5. Her conclusion is too simplistic as if prayer is the only option to overcome suffering. We are fortunate to have political freedoms and the case can be made we are expected to use those freedoms responsibly also. People turn to extremism on either side because they are not thinking it thru. People call some people extremists incorrectly from their own interpretation and fear and lack of understanding or generalization. This then results in hyperbole and rhetoric on either side (real extremists or those labeling others as extremists). Cancelling falsely those you label extremist or decrying those who take no action against those you label as extremist is just as unhelpful.

  6. ‘’A man holds a Bible as Trump supporters gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)”

    Why does a “man” hold a bible that says “Holy Bible” with skeleton gloves? I don’t know many “Christian Nationalist” who carry a bible that says “Holy Bible”! And the caption implies he’s a trump supporter. Wake up you fools!

Leave a Reply

The Roys Report seeks to foster thoughtful and respectful dialogue. Toward that end, the site requires that people register before they begin commenting. This means no anonymous comments will be allowed. Also, any comments with profanity, name-calling, and/or a nasty tone will be deleted.
 
MOST RECENT Articles
MOST popular articles
en_USEnglish

Donate

Hi. We see this is the third article this month you’ve found worth reading. Great! Would you consider making a tax-deductible donation to help our journalists continue to report the truth and restore the church?

Your tax-deductible gift helps our journalists report the truth and hold Christian leaders and organizations accountable. Give a gift of $50 or more to The Roys Report this month, and you will receive a copy of “Ghosted: An American Story” by Nancy French.