Thomas Massie and Lauren Boebert, two of the most blatantly fascistic Republican members of Congress, are dreaming of a White Christmas — with the emphasis on "White."
In the spirit of holiday cheer, Massie and Boebert recently shared family Christmas photos on social media — in which every family member is brandishing a gun. There's nothing unique about them. Such a "tradition" is fairly common among a particular subculture of American gun fetishists and "ammosexuals." This is but another symptom of America's unhealthy infatuation with gun violence.
Many responses to Boebert and Massie's Christmas cards from the mainstream media and other public voices have struck typical notes of performative outrage and disgust. There have been complaints that Massie and Boebert's behavior is not that of "good Christians." There was anger at the timing: Both photos were posted on social media within days of a mass shooting in Michigan, in which a 15-year-old boy allegedly killed four of his classmates and injured eight more.
That should not be understood as a coincidence: The Boebert and Massie photos were intentional provocations, demonstrating cruel indifference toward the victims of gun violence, as well as their families and communities.
Others used this episode to point at these two far-right members of Congress as illustrations of how deranged and cartoonish today's Republican Party has become.
Those reactions are valid in their own terms. But they are also examples of looking but not truly seeing — that is, of failing to understand the message and meaning being communicated in Massie and Boebert's family Christmas photos.
Fascism, as an ideology and movement, is contradictory, often incoherent and difficult for outsiders to understand. That is one of its greatest powers. Fascism arouses emotions of shock and anger among its targets and enemies, producing confusion and uncertainty in terms of assessing the danger.
In this moment, we can see the corrosive effects of the Big Lie, along with the many smaller ones that create an alternate reality for its followers. Fascism attacks normal society in many ways, with the aim of overwhelming people and rendering them helpless.
Too many people in democracies assaulted by fascism choose to hide behind denial, mockery, defensive humor and contempt. It is much easier to make fun of fascists for their evident absurdity than to confront them directly.
Understood in that light, the Massie and Boebert's family Christmas photos are revealed as examples of stochastic terrorism, and a specific threat of Christian fascist violence.
In an essay published at Salon, journalist and bestselling author Chris Hedges explained the growth of Christian fascism in America:
The greatest moral failing of the liberal Christian church was its refusal, justified in the name of tolerance and dialogue, to denounce the followers of the Christian right as heretics. By tolerating the intolerant it ceded religious legitimacy to an array of con artists, charlatans and demagogues and their cultish supporters….
These believers find in Donald Trump a reflection of themselves, a champion of the unfettered greed, cult of masculinity, lust for violence, white supremacy, bigotry, American chauvinism, religious intolerance, anger, racism and conspiracy theories that define the central beliefs of the Christian right. When I wrote "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America" I was deadly serious about the term "fascists."…
Christian fascism is an emotional life raft for tens of millions. It is impervious to the education, dialogue and discourse the liberal class naively believes can blunt or domesticate the movement. The Christian fascists, by choice, have severed themselves from rational thought. We will not placate or disarm this movement, bent on our destruction, by attempting to claim that we too have Christian "values." This appeal only strengthens the legitimacy of the Christian fascists and weakens our own.
Religion professor Anthea Butler's insights on the specific phenomenon she calls "White Christianity" are also helpful here. In a recent interview with Salon, she described its basic tenets: "Jesus is white. Jesus privileges white culture and white supremacy, and the political aspirations of whiteness over and against everything else. White Christianity assumes that everybody should be subsumed under whiteness in terms of culture and society. White Christianity assumes that it does not have to look at poverty."
Massie and Boebert's Christmas cards, with their heavily armed families, signify white conservatives' imagined exclusive right to commit lethal violence, especially when directed against Black or brown people, Muslims, Jews, nonwhite immigrants, Democrats, liberals, progressives, left-wing activists or any other group deemed to be the enemy of "real America."
Massie and Boebert's family Christmas pictures are also public statements directed at a broad audience. In an interview with a right-wing talk show, Massie explained his family photo this way: "I crossed guns with family and Christmas, and those are three things that really could trigger the leftists, and I didn't realize that it would be such an explosive cocktail when you put it together. But it adds up to freedom."
In these photographs, white identity politics manifest in the form of an "ideal" or "traditional" family, as envisioned by white Christian conservatives. In the white supremacist fantasies and conspiracy theories mainstreamed during the Age of Trump, large white families of that kind are understood to be a counterweight against the "browning of America" or the "great replacement."
Massie is presented in his family Christmas photo as a patriarch; his wife and children are depicted as as obedient and subservient to his authority and power.
Boebert's Christmas photo depicts a somewhat different archetype: the "mama bear" defending her "cubs." In the absence of their father or other adult males, Boebert is implicitly shown as teaching her sons to become "defenders" of their (white) home and (white) community.
The gun serves as the unifying symbol in these images. In America, the gun is historically a representation of white male power endorsed by God and passed down across generations from father to son. The power of the gun can be shared with the wife and daughters when necessary, but it is fundamentally an object of white male authority and as such is associated with sexuality, family, property, race, gender, patriotism and nationalism.
In his family photo, Thomas Massie is holding an M60 light machine gun. That weapon carries specific symbolic weight in the American popular imagination -- especially on the right. The M60 is an iconic weapon of the Vietnam War (and the Cold War era more generally) and was featured prominently in the "Rambo" movies and other action films of the 1970s and '80s. Along with other firearms such as the AR-15 and M-16 — often described as "freedom rifles" or "modern-day muskets" by right-wing paramilitaries and members of the "Patriot" movement — the M60 is an especially potent symbol of militant white Christianity.
In her recent book "Jesus and John Wayne," historian Kristen Kobes Du Mez discusses the "distinctive vision of evangelical masculinity" promoted by right-wing Christian media:
Finding comfort and courage in symbols of a mythical past, evangelicals looked to a rugged, heroic masculinity that was embodied by cowboys, soldiers, and warriors to point the way forward. For decades to come, military masculinity (and a sweet, submissive femininity) would remain entrenched in the evangelical imagination, shaping conceptions of what was good and true….
While dominant, the evangelical cult of masculinity does not define the whole of American evangelicalism. It is largely the creation of white evangelicals. The vast majority of books on evangelical masculinity have been written by white men primarily for white men. To a significant degree, the markets for literature on black and white Christian manhood remain distinct. With few exceptions, black men, Middle Eastern men, and Hispanic men are not called to a wild, militant masculinity. Their aggression, by contrast, is seen as dangerous, a threat to the stability of home and nation.
Viewed in a larger societal context, Massie and Boebert's family Christmas photos stand as a declaration of "white freedom" and white power. Consider the simple comparison: If a Black or Muslim or Latino family had created those images, Republicans, their propagandists and a large proportion of white America would have responded in outrage and panic over the perceived threat of crime and terrorism.
Instead, we have Christmas as a celebration of fascism, and a spectacle in the white-identity culture war against America's multiracial democracy.
When I was a child, my family did not pose with guns on Christmas Day. We favored music by Motown artists and other soul and R&B singers. My mother insisted on a few gospel tunes, and my father obliged. When it was time to open the gifts, I had the "honor" of playing The Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas album. But our mainstays were songs by Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls, Eartha Kitt, the Jackson 5, Otis Redding and others such as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Santa Baby," "Merry Christmas Baby," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "What Christmas Means to Me." The showstopper was James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto."
Looking at the Boebert and Massie family Christmas photos with all those guns, I kept thinking about Black Santa. He's a fixture in many Black and brown households but a controversial figure on the white right. Black Santa simply allows all children to have a Santa Claus who looks like them (if they choose to).
But Black Santa had best avoid the Boebert and Massie households. The outcome would not be merry or joyous.