Is the United States being run by a madman? “What can you say about a person who, before speaking before an adoring crowd, raises his eyes to heaven and calls himself the chosen one?” says Noam Chomsky, responding to President Trump’s boast that he aced a mental acuity test.
And a few hours after he was sworn in on Saturday, that’s exactly what he did.
The reconfigured board — a decidedly more conservative group than the body that approved a series of controversial release decisions that angered Republicans last year — includes a few familiar faces from the campaign trail.
Among the appointees are Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin, who drew a testy response from Youngkin’s Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, during a campaign event last year.
The exchange was captured on video and promoted by Youngkin’s campaign. In it, Partin asks McAuliffe if he supports defunding the police in light of his endorsement by a group that called for reallocating law enforcement dollars.
McAuliffe, who had said he backed increasing law enforcement budgets, bristled at the question. “Are you out of your mind? I invested in law enforcement.” He went on to ask if Partin was “out of his mind.”
Partin called McAuliffe’s response “unbelievable” and McAuliffe replied, “I don’t care what you believe.”
Youngkin’s new Parole Board also includes Cheryl Nici-O’Connell, who Youngkin’s campaign featured in an ad accusing the current board of being too lenient. In the ad, Nici recounts being shot in the head in 1984 as a young Richmond police officer.
“I’m terrified because McAuliffe puts politics over the safety of Virginians and victims’ rights,” she says in the TV spot. “I’m speaking to you as a victim. Virginia simply won’t be safe with four more years of Terry McAuliffe.”
The advertisement was criticized as misleading by The Washington Post’s fact checker, Glenn Kessler, who noted that it gave the impression the man convicted of shooting Nici was released when, in fact, the Parole Board under McAuliffe denied his release.
The board will be chaired by Chadwick Dotson, a former prosecutor and circuit court judge in Wise County who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination to run for state Senate last year in the seat left empty following the death of former Sen. Ben Chafin from COVID-19.
Youngkin also appointed Tracy Banks, a Charlottesville lawyer and Carmen Williams, who works in Chesterfield for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
The Parole Board is responsible for making parole determinations for people convicted of crimes prior to 1995, when the state abolished parole. The board also reviews requests for geriatric release.
Youngkin’s executive order also tasks the new board with reviewing its procedures, increasing transparency and providing “recommendations for legislative, administrative and policy changes that will improve the administration of the agency in fulfilling its solemn public safety mission.”
And it authorizes new Attorney General Jason Miyares to open a criminal investigation into the previous board’s alleged failure to follow laws requiring the notification of victims.
“To this day, the family members and victims have no answers as to how or why the Virginia Parole Board failed to abide by the laws governing its operations, and no one has been held accountable,” Youngkin wrote in the order.
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In June 2016, I organized a meeting for the local council of churches in an English town to discuss issues relating to the forthcoming European Union (EU) Referendum. The meeting was intended to provide an opportunity for airing Christian views on the subject. It was well attended and drew in participants from across the wide denominational spectrum of churches.
The evening was lively. Many of my friends (regardless of whether they were ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’ in the context of the EU Referendum) expressed astonishment afterwards at the way the discussion developed.
They had expected the topics to include debates over things like sovereignty and parliamentary accountability, jobs and economic prosperity, continent-wide cooperation in order to meet global challenges, or peace and security in Europe.
What they got was discussion ranging from the allegation that the seat 666 is kept empty in the European Parliament chamber in both Brussels and Strasbourg (it isn’t), to whether the EU is a political tool of Antichrist in advance of the second coming of Christ.
My friends were astonished at this. I wasn’t. During the previous month I had contributed a guest blog for a Christian news platform, challenging these same accusations. During that month (it went live on May 25, 2016) it had become, from my calculations, one of the most visited blogs on this website.
It can still be read online but, unfortunately, the huge string of comments and conversations under it can no longer be accessed. That is a pity because they would have provided interesting source material for future students of theology and the sociology of religion. Like the meeting I organized later, in June of that year, the online discussion got lively. In fact, it got very lively indeed! Some might say “heated.”
Eschatological turbulence on both sides of “the pond”
My experience in the UK was not the only turbulent event of 2016 that had end-times features to it. In November, something even more extraordinary occurred in the USA: the election of Donald Trump.
Somewhere in the region of 33 million white evangelicals voted for Trump and huge numbers of these see contemporary events through the same eschatological lens that had informed the outlook of those with whom I had debated in the UK about the European Union. In the US, this support has had significant effects on foreign policy.
President Trump’s decisions to move the US embassy to Jerusalem (announced in 2018) and to support Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights (announced in 2019) were designed to appeal to American evangelical Christians. Polling in the US in 2017 revealed that 80% of evangelicals believe that the creation of Israel in 1948 was a fulfilment of biblical prophecy that will bring about Christ’s second coming.
In addition, Trump’s decision to leave the Paris climate agreement in 2017 (the decision was implemented in 2020) sat easily with a group which contains many who deny the reality of climate change caused by human action, or do not consider it a threat which can be averted by human agency.
Whatever one feels about these geopolitical and environmental issues, it is undeniable that huge numbers of voters in the USA see these decisions through an end-times lens.
At this point, I should say that as well as being an historian, I attend a church in the UK which would be described as “evangelical.” But, in the UK, “evangelicals” are as likely to be internationalist and in favor of state invention in society as not. The political homogeneity that is so pronounced in the USA is not a feature on this side of the pond.
The End Times, Again?
These experiences caused me to write a book which explores the history of end-times beliefs. It is called: The End Times, Again? 2000 Years of the Use and Misuse of Biblical Prophecy. It explores the history of end-times beliefs within the Christian community and their political and cultural impact.
Christianity inherited from Judaism a belief in prophecy and early Christian texts reveal this, both in the belief that the life of Jesus is foretold in Old Testament prophecy and in adding to the prophetic tradition by predicting the future return of Jesus.
Although the New Testament clearly says that the date of the second coming cannot be known, this has not stopped two millennia of speculation. Tenth-century commentators claimed that raids by Magyars and Vikings were fulfilments of prophecy. End-times excitement and anxiety mounted as the Year 1000 approached (despite the fact that an error in calculating the dating system meant it was not actually 1000 years since the birth of Jesus). This accelerated during the crusades, when the armies of Islam were confidently identified as end-times actors. During the Middle Ages, rival popes, kings and emperors quarried prophetic scripture for accusations to throw at each other (usually the accusation of being the Antichrist).
During the Reformation, Protestants overturned the official Catholic view of prophecy as allegorical and were sure they lived in the “last days” – with the pope being the Antichrist. Radical Anabaptist groups established “New Jerusalems” in anticipation of the second coming. As Britain spiraled into civil wars in the 1640s, eschatological excitement was intense, only to be dashed when the monarchy was restored in 1660.
The same ideas were taken to New England and entered the cultural DNA of what became the USA. Eighteenth-century patriots accused George III of being “the great Whore of Babylon,” riding the “great red dragon” upon America (references to Revelation). In the nineteenth century the concept emerged of the Rapture, the idea that the “true church” will be removed from the earth shortly before a time of “Great Tribulation” preceding the return of Christ. The recent Left Behind series of novels embody this interpretation and have sold somewhere in the region of eighty million copies.
In the twentieth century, the establishment of the State of Israel and the Cold War galvanized prophetic study – especially in the USA – with many Christians identifying Israel as a fulfilment of end-times prophecy. For some in the Cold War, this outlook justified opposition to nuclear disarmament, since these weapons were seen as fulfilling predictions concerning widespread destruction, fire and sickness. This is where apocalypse meets foreign policy. Prophecy was interpreted in line with Western, and especially US, perspectives. In this process, end-times beliefs increasingly became associated with the political right. This was by no means inevitable, but it continues to be the case.
The continued impact of end-times beliefs today
Since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to claims that it has eschatological significance. It should be noted that the same thing was said about the fourteenth-century Black Death. Anti-vaxxers and those unhappy with mask-wearing have included some who loudly identify these as aspects of an emerging international order associated with the Antichrist. This has resonated with – and been amplified by – conspiracy-theory-culture and the effects of social-media algorithms.
Some of the most extreme supporters of gun rights in the USA see them as weapons to be used in resisting the forces of the Antichrist in the last days.
In the face of such certainty regarding imminent end-times events, the urgent need to address the existential threat posed by climate change can be presented as irrelevant. After all, if the second coming is imminent, there is little urgency. Indeed, the threat from climate change may actually be viewed as an end-times judgement on humanity.
What is clear from all of this is that these beliefs are highly significant because, in an increasingly polarized political climate, the way they are being deployed in support of right-wing agendas impacts at the ballot box. This is especially so in the USA, where white evangelicals (even through a shrinking fraction of the electorate) punch well above their weight due to the extent of their ideological homogeneity, organization, and turnout. In any analysis of conservative voters’ political outlook and intentions, this end-times ideology needs to be recognized. Recognition does not imply agreement. But it can at least be the basis for dialogue, debate, and challenge. Ignoring it may prove to be a serious mistake.
Martyn Whittock graduated in Politics from Bristol University UK, where his degree special study was in radical Christian politics and theology of the seventeenth century. He also studied the politics of the USA. He taught history for thirty-five years and latterly was curriculum leader for Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education at a high school in the UK. He has acted as an historical consultant to the British National Trust organization, the BBC and English Heritage. His latest book is: The End Times, Again? which explores the impact of Christian end-times beliefs over 2000 years and their continued impact on outlook, culture and politics today.
Democrats have an opportunity to score a big win with a fight to stop the culture of corruption: columnist
Economics columnist Helaine Olen penned a column for the Washington Post Sunday saying that Democrats are squandering a rare opportunity to fight Republicans on their culture of corruption.
"If there is any issue that should be a gimme for a political party seeking support, it’s putting a stop to stock trading by members of Congress and others in senior federal government positions while in office," she explained.
Republicans have been caught dumping stocks ahead of the COVID-19 crisis or ridding themselves of stocks that could dive ahead of international incidents. In one six-year term as a U.S. Senator, David Perdue's (R-GA) made 2,596 stock trades, the most of any other senator by far.
In 2021, 54 members of Congress violated a law that was passed to stop insider trading and prevent conflicts for elected officials, and they're not all Republicans. For some of the members, the issue is that they took too long to submit their filings or their spouse's filings during the COVID pandemic. Others are more serious with members who submitted their filings but left many things off.
Sen. Malinowski (D-NJ) didn't disclose dozens of stock trades in 2020 and 2021. It was only after BusinessInsider asked about them that he showed them on his filings.
Rep. Diana Harshbarger (R-TN) didn't disclose more than 700 stock trades. The total was worth up to $10.9 million.
One of the major problems with the existing law is that the fines for violations aren't that substantial. So, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and Sen. Jon Ossof (D-GA) introduced a bill that would make it illegal for members to trade stocks at all. It's an issue that is overwhelmingly supported by Americans who believe that people shouldn't be allowed to trade stocks while overseeing businesses, contracts and industries.
"It’s popular. It makes sense," wrote Olen. "This is political low-hanging fruit. Unlike with, say, health care, there are no armies of lobbyists or multimillion-dollar campaigns trying to sway all 435 members of the House and 100 members of the Senate."
It's a bill that both sides want and it could not only bring the parties together, but it could give Democrats in their home states to talk about a culture of corruption among many Republicans seeking office again.
Olen doesn't think it'll happen because the top leadership in both parties is against it. They stand to lose buckets of cash if they no longer can play the markets.