CPAC Hungary, Day 1: Conservatives vilify media and vow the left will be 'exposed, demonized and crushed'

On Thursday morning in Budapest, the first Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) to be held in Europe began with a flourish. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered the opening keynote address, laying out a 12-point "open source" plan for right-wing advocates around the world to replicate the "Christian conservative success" of his nation. Hungary, said Orbán, "is the laboratory where we have come up with the antidote to progressive dominance."

One key ingredient of this "antidote," Orbán said, was that conservatives must decide to "play by our own rules." He also advocated the values of "national conservatism" (a central theme on the right these days —more on that tomorrow); a foreign policy based on national interests — a clear reference to the criticism Hungary has received for its tepid and uncertain condemnation of Russia's war on Ukraine; and preemptively "expos[ing] the intent of your enemy," a defense of Hungary's "don't say gay" law barring minors from accessing LGBTQ books or other content. In a tribute to CPAC itself, he also called for building institutions that can pass on conservative principles and crafting alliances with other right-wing actors around the world.

For the past several years, Hungary has increasingly taken on the dimension of a right-wing utopia among American conservatives, particularly as a number of movement intellectuals and media figures have made pilgrimage to Budapest on academic and think tank fellowships or thanks to speaking invitations. (In a recent Salon Talks conversation, Jordan Klepper of the "Daily Show" discussed his own visit to Hungary.) And while Orbán's government has faced growing tensions with its European neighbors — in recent months, the EU has moved to sanction both Hungary and Poland for their illiberal policies on academic and press freedom, LGBTQ equality and women's rights and judicial independence — it has basked in the admiration of U.S. conservatives and Republican leaders.

That admiration didn't seem to waver on Thursday as CPAC's co-organizer for the event, the Hungarian Center for Fundamental Rights, apparently rejected the press credentials of numerous major U.S. media outlets that had sent reporters in person to cover the conference, including VICE, Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, Vox and others.

That rejection was in keeping with another point in Orbán's plan for "Christian conservative success": that conservatives must "have your [own] media."

"You can only present the stupidity of leftist progressives if you have the media to do it," he said. Politics and media should, in theory, be separate, he admitted, but "the Democrats are not playing by these rules." Given that, he said, the right needs more and more shows like that of "my friend Tucker Carlson" that could air "day and night, 24/7, as you say over there."

Orbán wasn't the only speaker to vilify the media. In one particularly fiery speech, Gavin Wax, president of the New York Young Republicans' Club, declared that America First conservatives "demand nothing short of an American Orbánism," under which they "will establish a form of conservatism that sees the media as the enemy and actually conserves that we hold near and dear. Our national renewal will be preceded by a historic rebuke of not just the soulless Marxist elites of the left, but also the greedy, bloodthirsty neoconservatives and neoliberals of the right. They will be exposed, demonized and crushed beneath the waves of a rising tide of populism."

According to Ernst Roets of AfriForum, "there's apartheid happening in South Africa" right now, but this time around, white Afrikaners are the victims of oppression.

While many of the first day's speakers, predictably, targeted "wokeism" in general, one presenter took the theme to an audacious new level. Ernst Roets, deputy CEO of AfriForum, a right-wing South African organization primarily dedicated to spreading the claim that white South African farmers are the victims of an ongoing "white genocide," argued, "There's apartheid happening in South Africa" now, but this time around, it's white Afrikaners who are victimized at the hands of Black citizens. In an offense-begging appropriation of terminology, he argued, "When the left implements apartheid, it's not a crime against humanity; it's a noble cause. And if you criticize their apartheid" — meaning the alleged oppression of white South Africans — "that somehow that makes you the racist… We've gotten to the point where if you're against government overreach, that makes you a Nazi or if you do not want your heritage to be destroyed, that somehow somehow makes you authoritarian."

But perhaps the overarching theme of Day One was the call to build a unified international right, that would find strength enough in its common antipathy against the left to overcome whatever differences in doctrine or ideology it may have.

István Kovács, the strategic director of Hungary's Center for Fundamental Rights, which co-sponsored the event, declared, "Alone, Hungary is not sufficient. Alone, we're doomed to failure against the opponents we're talking about. We have to join forces and then we can win," with everyone working together "in a coordinated manner." He later added, "The cooperation of right-wing institutions, right-wing think tanks is one of the nightmares of the liberal elite."

Judit Varga, Hungary's minister of Justice who, at a right-wing conference in Brussels this February, defended her government's near-total ban on Muslim immigration and its restrictions of LGBTQ rights, also called for a united front. "However brave we are," she said, Hungary's 10 million people alone "are not sufficient. This is why we want to build alliances to attract the like-minded and to strengthen voices that fear for their nation and homeland. … This is why we're grateful you came to Budapest to give us further spiritual ammunition and so that you can also have takeaways when you go home to strengthen your own mission. Dear friends, the future is ours."

Orbán himself said, "We have to stand up for this fight, and in this fight we can only be successful together." He went on, "We need to have allies in one another. We have to coordinate the movement of our troops because we are facing a big battle. 2024, he said" — with both a U.S. presidential election and European Parliament elections — "is going to be an all-important year."

"The left has been warning about the vast right-wing conspiracy for years," added Alvino-Mario Fantini, editor in chief of the quarterly magazine European Conservative. "Well, let's give it to them."

What is 'ecofascism' — and what does it have to do with the Buffalo shooting?

For years, social scientists have warned that mass shootings can be contagious: Intensive media coverage, particularly when a shooter's name and face become widely known, can serve as incentive to would-be copycats seeking the same notoriety. Likewise, the motivations for mass killing events can be contagious as well, particularly when perpetrators leave behind grandiose manifestos that inspire, or directly call on, others to follow suit.

That's doubly true of the massacre that took place last Saturday, when an 18-year-old white man from New York's Southern Tier traveled to Buffalo to target a supermarket in a predominantly Black neighborhood, killing 10 people and wounding three more. The shooting was only the latest in a series of mass killing attacks in recent years driven by the white nationalist "replacement theory," which holds that there is an orchestrated effort to replace white people in Europe, North America and elsewhere with nonwhite immigrants (or, for that matter, nonwhite citizens).

It's the same theory cited by the killers who targeted Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand; Latinos in El Paso; Jews in Pittsburgh; and socialists in Norway. These days, you can readily find the theory reflected on the highest-rated cable news show on TV, or in the mouths of leading Republicans, charging that Democrats seek to "replace" white Americans with immigrants who will fundamentally change the country's demographics and also become reliable Democratic voters. Linked to that is the call for more white babies. As the Buffalo shooter wrote in the manifesto he posted online before the massacre — much of which, it turns out, was plagiarized from the Christchurch shooter's screed — "If there's one thing I want you to get from these writings, it's that White birth rates must change."

But further down in the 180-page document, a seemingly unrelated idea appears as well: The shooter represents himself as driven by environmental concerns. Alongside genocidal threats to "non-whites on White lands" ("Leave while you still can"), the shooter decries the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining and laments that the "natural environment" has become "industrialized, pulverized and commoditized." In a section entitled "Green nationalism is the only true nationalism," he declares, "There is no conservatism without nature, there is no nationalism without environmentalism … The protection and preservation of these lands is of the same importance as the protection and preservation of our own ideals and beliefs."

He goes on to argue: "There is no Green future with never ending population growth," that "Continued immigration into Europe is environmental warfare" and that there can be "no traditionalism without environmentalism."

As Political Research Associates researcher and Salon contributor Ben Lorber has pointed out, most of these passages were not the Buffalo shooter's own words, but were lifted wholesale from the Christchurch shooter's manifesto. And like the Christchurch shooter, whom he cites as inspiration, the Buffalo shooter declares himself an "ecofascist."

Alongside genocidal threats against "non-whites on White lands," the shooter decries the impact of cryptocurrency mining and laments that the "natural environment" has been "industrialized, pulverized and commoditized."

The ideology of "ecofascism" — which combines far-right authoritarian politics with environmental concerns or climate issues — represents an increasingly common thread in incidents of massive right-wing violence. As Alex Amend, a researcher on the far right, noted in a 2020 report in The Public Eye, there has been a "murderous daisy chain" of mass killings linked to both replacement theory and ecofascism, starting in 2011 with the massacre of 77 people in Norway by a man who blamed socialists for enabling "'third-world' overpopulation that was threatening to overtake Europe" and who called for "radical policies" to reduce the global population to less than 3 billion people.

The Norwegian massacre inspired the Christchurch shooter, who declared that immigration, demographics and environmentalism were all inextricably bound, writing, "they are the same issue…The invaders are the ones over populating the world. Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment." The Christchurch shooter in turn inspired the El Paso shooter, who explained in his manifesto that he sought to kill "invaders" in order to address a worsening environment and enable a "more sustainable" way of life.

There's a longer history to this, Amend writes, dating back to 19th-century German nationalists whose naturalist mythology binding the German "soil and volk" led to a version of right-wing environmentalism that tied protection of the land to an exclusionary sense of who should inhabit that land.

These days, says Joseph Henderson, an environmental social scientist at Paul Smith's College in northern New York, that sort of sentiment is showing up not just in the screeds left behind by mass killers, but also in classrooms and in some mainstream environmentalist rhetoric. As a specialist in ecofascism as well as the anthropology of environmental education, Henderson says he's "deeply worried that we're starting to see fascist responses to climate change." He spoke with Salon this week.

How did you start researching this issue?

A couple of years ago I had a student, a young white man, who wrote a paper about how the solution to climate change is essentially genocide: that we need to secure the homeland for whites who have to have access to resources. I had never seen that argument before. And one of the fundamental questions I ask as an anthropologist who studies learning is: What's the ecosystem that produces something like that? Where was he getting these ideas?

I started meeting with him weekly and trying to understand him. He was a member of one of the groups on the ground in Charlottesville, Virginia [during the deadly 2017 "Unite the Right" rally]. He was an alienated young white man in search of meaning, with untreated mental health issues in an area where mental health care is scarce. And he would sit online and get drunk and watch really horrific videos on 4chan and 8chan, mass shooting videos. I have no training in de-radicalization, but I was trying to help him see that he was being taken advantage of, that there were people preying upon him.

From that, I started reading about ecofascism and how environmental studies itself is rooted in and perpetuates some of these things. Reading the Buffalo shooter's manifesto, it's disjointed and all over the place, like these things usually are, but the personality type strikes me as very similar.

On a more basic level, what is ecofascism?

It's an appropriation of nature for reactionary political purposes. It's related to ethnonationalism and authoritarianism because it's about the construction of the nation state as a geographic area. So it makes nation-state claims to nature. If you think about the Charlottesville guys, they were chanting "blood and soil." There's a long history of this: the Nazis had a land ethic related to this. But there's this conception of natural purity and racial purity, or gender purity or ethnic purity, that goes along with that. For me, it's fundamentally about who gets to claim land and for what reasons.

People often assume that environmentalism and climate change are issues only associated with the left.

In environmental studies, we tend to talk about environmentalisms — that there are different kinds of environmental ideologies and differences even within the left-wing versions of them. In the United States, it has mostly been people on the left, at least since Nixon, who have been concerned with environmentalism as a political project. There's a long history of how the Republican Party turned away from environmentalism and became actively hostile to it as its own counter-movement and political strategy, although that's complicated too, because there are right-leaning conservation groups and things like that. But climate change denial has predominantly been a right-wing phenomenon in this country.

The reason we are really concerned about ecofascism is that you're starting to see this rise. A lot of people assume that if we teach people about climate change, they will want to create a world that is more just and peaceful. And that's really ideologically blinkered. My student who was an ecofascist fully understood the science of climate change. He got it. But he took it places that were illiberal, authoritarian, anti-democratic. It doesn't follow that if you teach people about climate change, they're all of a sudden going to create a world that is more just. They're going to integrate it into their existing politics. And what we're starting to see, especially among the more fringe elements of the right wing, is that there is an awareness of climate change and they're taking it in these more fascistic, anti-democratic ways.

If you look at El Paso, there is a through-line between him and the New Zealand mosque shooter. A lot of these guys look to the New Zealand mosque shooter, or the guy in Norway, as oracles. They look to them for education; they're a "community of practice," if you want to use the anthropology term. It's an online decentralized community of practice where they learn these things, seek notoriety and stream their violence. And when you read these manifestos, they take environmentalism seriously, but from a right-wing perspective.

How does ecofascism relate to the larger focus on replacement theory and ethno-nationalism?

I tend to see white supremacist movements as materially oriented as much as culturally oriented. If you look at something like the U.S. Constitution, which preferences white landholders, or the system of U.S. slavery, or settler colonial genocide and the destruction of indigenous people and their lands, a lot of that is about the racist control of land. Anthropologically speaking, land is a source of value, a source of production. So what ties these things together is the need to control: the need to control land, the need to control other people in the service of that land, the need to not be controlled. It's about being the people who control others in service of this larger social arrangement and economic system.

To tie that to climate change, we are in a present, and heading toward a future, where there are going to be really serious contests over resources. That's not new. We've been colonizing lands of Black and brown people for a long, long time. And the more intense climate change becomes, the uglier it's going to get.

This guy targeted this area of Buffalo because of its racial composition. There is a jargony term in anthropology, "necropolitics," which basically means, who is disposable in a society? Who must suffer in order for others to survive?

Buffalo is a place of intense racial and economic segregation. And we live in a society that treats minority populations as disposable. There's this tendency to look at these events as if they're out of the ordinary. But look how we treat Black life in this country: Heavily policed, more likely to die from COVID, higher levels of environmental pollution, doctors don't take their claims to pain or health as seriously. This is a particularly nasty version of what's a much larger pattern of disposability in this country.

Elise Stefanik, the representative in my area, is literally out there tweeting this morning the same kind of stuff. You can't draw a direct line between Stefanik's speech and what this guy did, but there are broader social conditions that legitimize it. And there are people doubling down on replacement theory today. There's recent polling that says something like 30% of Americans believe in replacement theory, and 50% of Republicans. I think that's a reflection of the fact that we're becoming a more diverse country. People are tapping into a fear of losing power.

How widespread is this ideology? In the early days of COVID, for example, some people pointed out the ecofascist undertones of memes like "Humans are the virus."

Environmentalism has a lot of apocalyptic narratives, and that tends to provoke an authoritarian response: People want someone to come in to re-establish order.

My research isn't on numbers or percentages. But I think there are a lot of unexamined assumptions in modern environmentalism that feed into these things. Within environmentalism there are a lot of apocalyptic narratives: The world is ending, we're all screwed. Some scholarship shows that when you surround people with apocalyptic narratives, it tends to provoke an authoritarian response, because people seek out order. And if they feel like the world is being disordered, they want someone to come in — often a kind of father figure — to re-establish order. You see this in societies like Brazil with Bolsonaro, and with Trump as well. So I think some of the apocalypticism coming out of environmentalism can be dangerous.

One of the huge issues in environmental studies is the fixation on population and population control. When I talk casually to my students about environmental problems and ask "what's the solution?" overwhelmingly they say it's population control: "There's too many humans, we need to thin the herd." What's interesting about that is they're never talking about themselves, even though when you look at who impacts ecosystems the most, it tends to be white Westerners with high incomes. But population control and eugenics have long targeted racial minorities, women, indigenous people.

One of my students, who's now my co-author, Bronwyn Bishop, did a qualitative analysis of research papers that were handed out at a recent wildlife biology conference. It was all this really nasty population control, anti-immigrant, "invasive species" rhetoric.

Referring to humans?

To refer to humans. The broader theme is this very anti-human rhetoric, and you can see that in extremist literature. But the thing I'm more interested in is not the extremes, but how it manifests in everyday contexts. My students, most of whom are not extremists, still have these ideas that are kind of ecofascist-adjacent. There are other ideas, like "purity logics," where nature is sacred and humans are impure. That very quickly goes into things like racial purity logics and race science.

What needs to be done to start addressing this?

When you think about climate change, you have to also think about things like democracy and how those are related. We need to be honest about some of the root causes of these problems, like settler colonialism, like racial capitalism, like the continued need to dominate nature and other people. You can't address these issues unless you understand those root causes. When I teach climate change, I teach it as an artifact of colonialism: that it's mostly white, wealthy nations building themselves on the back of others. And when you look at where climate denial is, it's in those nations. When I took my students to South Africa, I asked a government minister, "Do you have climate deniers here?" He said, "We don't have the privilege of climate denial." That has sat with me for a while.

Conservative young Catholics and overt white nationalists join forces in new youth movement

This is the second in a two-part series. In our first installment, read about how the aftermath of the leaked Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade revealed extensive connections between the white nationalist "groyper" movement and the far-right Catholic network around the controversial outlet Church Militant.

The activist wing of Church Militant is called the Resistance network. As of 2020 the outlet said it boasted more than 5,000 members, and claimed to have launched groups in almost every diocese in the U.S. Last June, the group claimed that its protest of a church vaccine drive in Southern California forced the drive to end three hours early. The same month, members of the Resistance network hosted an "affidavit-signing drive at Church Militant headquarters" outside Detroit, joining with other right-wing Michigan groups in demanding a forensic audit of the 2020 election and holding a protest rally on the state capitol steps.

More recently, as Resistance leader Joe Gallagher outlined at a Church Militant rally last November, the group has picketed local bishops; brought "ex-gay" conservative firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos to the Penn State campus to advocate "praying the gay away"; and protested at a Dallas memorial for George Floyd to "bear witness to a real racial injustice: the mass slaughter of the unborn, which disproportionately affects minorities."

Now the Resistance network is looking to recruit directly from the groypers, the largely young far-right followers of white nationalist Nick Fuentes. On May 2, Gallagher interviewed Dalton Clodfelter — the same groyper leader who celebrated the Catholic counter-protester at New York's Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral last weekend — introducing Resistance viewers to Fuentes' website, CozyTV, as a "new streaming platform for a lot of awesome younger conservatives." Gallagher hyped the reported 1,200 attendees at Fuentes' AFPAC III gathering, saying that "obviously [America First] is booming, you guys have gotten huge…You guys go for the jugular every single time." He continued, "[You go for] the truth, you're not afraid to hide it at all, and that's one of the most respectable aspects of America First, is you guys don't really care. And that's cool."

Clodfelter, who told Gallagher it was Yiannopoulos who first introduced him to Church Militant, pitched America First in a language that his new audience was likely eager to hear. "It's not like it's the alt-right, because that is not even cool anymore, even if you wanted it to be. And it's also not like normie neocon conservatism. … it's Christian nationalist." He went on, "The message of America First is tied directly to the word of God and spreading Christianity through our nation where it's lacking … everything we do is [a spiritual battle], we're fighting demons, we're fighting Satan." Clodfelter emphasized the need to "grow the viewer base" of CozyTV, explaining that "a majority of white young Zoomer men would just love CozyTV — the problem is, they don't know where to go to get it."

America First is not like the alt-right, said one groyper, "because that's not even cool anymore. And it's not like normie neocon conservatism. ... It's tied directly to the word of God ... We're fighting demons, we're fighting Satan."

Clodfelter went on to draw a particular connection between the groyper movement and Catholicism, saying he'd never considered joining the church before getting involved with America First. "I met people who are truly devout, truly living by the word and they weren't hypocrites," he said. "They were representing Catholicism so well for me I was like, wow, the least I could do is go to Mass and do some research." Now, he said, he's studying for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults — the formal process by which unbaptized adults become Catholics — and says he understands why Fuentes says of the groypers, "This is sort of a Catholic movement."

Since then, Resistance has continued to brand itself to appeal to groypers. One advertisement for Resistance posted on Gab last week featured the America First and CozyTV logos as well as a style of sunglasses popularized by Fuentes as part of last year's "White Boy Summer" groyper branding campaign. Meanwhile, as reported in part 1 of this series, Clodfelter attempted to mobilize groypers to attend Resistance counterprotests of pro-choice demonstrations planned for weekend in cities across the country. As of Friday, the events appear to have been removed from Resistance's website, while on Telegram Clodfelter noted late Wednesday night that most of the counterprotests had been postponed, writing, "Working with Church Militant on this to make sure we are doing this in the most organized and safe way." Clodfelter still claims the groypers will rally in Nashville.

Not every Church Militant staffer appears thrilled with the growing crossover, however. In July 2021, Church Militant executive producer Christine Niles remarked on Twitter that "the America First movement, which has great things to say, is ill-served" by Fuentes' open antisemitism. "This unfortunate obsession with the Jews will sink the America First movement, and that's truly a shame." Some audience members have pushed back as well. "Was a supporter of CM, but no more," commented one viewer in February 2020, after Voris ran an interview with Fuentes ally Michelle Malkin. "I'm all for borders. I'm all for preserving Western culture … but I'm not down with Holocaust denial."

In emailed comments on Wednesday, Voris told Salon, "Church Militant might partner with anyone in a particular effort to achieve a limited and shared goal. In this particular case (Roe), yes. [Church Militant] will link arms with almost anyone who decries the horror of babies being hacked to death in their mothers' wombs. Isn't 'linking arms' the very thing Antifa and BLM and the Democrats do?"

Voris noted that Church Militant did not attend the America First conference in February, "and has no first hand knowledge of what was said or presented." However, he continued, "it should not be surprising that two (or more) organizations that hold GENERAL views of the current cultural crisis would experience SOME crossover of ideas. Every organization on earth shares SOME things in common with other groups. That said — Church Militant doesn't align itself with any specific group in a formal way — including groups that are expressly Catholic.

"Where we enjoy shared ideas, we may cooperate," he continued. "To the degree [Church Militant] 'values' INDIVIDUAL members of any group (not the group as a whole), it is because of shared religious values, namely Catholicism and what the Church teaches on ALL matters."

It is counterintuitive, to say the least, that an ostensibly faith-based organization is embracing a movement so explicitly bigoted as the groypers. Fuentes has engaged in elaborate jokes denying the Holocaust, praised Hitler and told viewers on one livestream show that "frankly, I'm getting pretty sick of world Jewry running the show," to name just several examples of his virulent antisemitism. Fuentes has disparaged African-American voter outreach as attempts to "flood the zone with n****r votes," called for "total Aryan victory," rejected "race-mixing" because "people should stick with their own kind," bragged that he "made misogyny cool again," celebrated domestic violence against women and much more.

On his Thursday night livestream show, Fuentes responded to the claims made in part 1 of Salon's investigation. "You're damn right the groypers are forming an alliance with the Catholics," he exclaimed, "and you're right we have a plan, and we are gonna take the Republican Party and we are going to drag it against its will back through the doors of the church and to the altar, and we are going to baptize it." Clodfelter, meanwhile, extolled his audience to "show our love and support for Church Militant. These guys are strong, these guys are determined…yes, we're collaborating in this effort to combat Satanism in America, we are. Groypers are everywhere."

Groyper guru Nick Fuentes has praised Hitler, called for "total Aryan victory," complained about "world Jewry running the show" and bragged he "made misogyny cool again."

While Niles appeared ambivalent about America First, or at least its leader, her colleague, 27-year old Joseph Enders, is a full-fledged groyper. Variously named as a reporter, senior producer and associate producer at Church Militant, Enders is a fixture on Church Militant Evening News and a regular contributor to

Enders didn't always support white nationalism. In 2018, he self-identified as an "Augustinian nationalist," claimed affiliation with the Proud Boys and uploaded interviews to YouTube where he argued with white nationalist leaders like Richard Spencer and James Allsup. "The philosophy of the right," he told Spencer in June 2018, should be animated by "a people that focus[es] inward on preserving the traditions of Western culture … [but] race should not be a consideration in this. I think we should only judge people based on how they exercise their will."

By late 2019, however, when the groypers entered the national spotlight with a series of public stunts challenging conservative leaders on college campuses, Enders had changed his tune. "I don't think anybody is saying we're preserving our race because our race is better," he explained when he called in to the streaming show of Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes on McInnes' Censored.TV platform. Defending the groypers' emphasis on white demographic "replacement" — the conspiracy theory that white Americans are being "replaced" by nonwhite immigration — Enders told McInnes, "You're into fashion, so you'll understand this analogy: When we look at a country, there are people that wear the country the best, and that's usually the founding stock of the country."

Since joining Church Militant's staff in 2020, Enders' embrace of the groypers has continued apace. "Nick is a Mass-attending Catholic, unheard of at his age," Enders posted on Facebook in April 2021. "I can't help but like Nick … the Right needs more of [his] trollish humor to root out the grifters. It's supremely entertaining." A year later, his support was even more pronounced. "I hear this Nick Fuentes dude is pretty based," he tweeted on April 30, 2022. "I have to say … I support his efforts to put America First."

On Gab, Telegram and other social media platforms, Enders regularly celebrates America First and its political ambitions; shares content from groyper leaders like Fuentes, Vince James and Anthime Gionet, (aka "Baked Alaska," who on Wednesday undermined his own Jan. 6 plea deal, potentially sending his case to trial); uploads photos of himself sporting the blue "America First" hat and other movement paraphernalia; and participates in debates on movement strategy. Like others in the groyper orbit, he regularly traffics in antisemitism, including using the (((echo))) symbol, a meme created by white nationalists to target Jewish people and organizations. In the first days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Enders quoted, with seeming approval, a statement by Vladimir Putin decrying European countries' supposed abandonment of "Christian values" and shared an article arguing that Putin was seeking to "rebuild Christendom."

White nationalist themes carry over into Enders' work with Church Militant, as well. On Church Militant's website, articles written by Enders quote Fuentes, name the Jewish identity of political opponents and claim that critical race theory "rejects the ethnic identity of White Americans." On the outlet's nightly news program, Enders has championed white nationalist slogans like "it's ok to be white," claimed that "the Left's essential policy when dealing with race is … 'is it going to hurt white people?'...more dead white people is the policy of the Democrats," and protested the decision by the flagship Conservative Political Action Conference to bar Fuentes from attendance.

When news broke last week that the Supreme Court was moving to overturn Roe v. Wade, Enders' message was direct and disturbing. "Get ready witches," he posted on May 3 on Gab and Twitter, "we're coming for your birth control next."

"A soul for their politics"

As mentioned in our first installment, this is all part of a broader pattern of overlap between the far-right, including the white nationalist right, with right-wing Catholicism. In 2017, groyper leader Milo Yiannapoulos was drummed out of many right-wing movements for statements he made minimizing child sex abuse, and subsequently used his return to Catholicism as an opportunity to rebrand. This March he headlined an anti-abortion convention in Ohio that was blessed by the local Catholic bishop, and in June he will be a featured speaker at a Church Militant Resistance bootcamp. Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy, who was disgraced after appearing on the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer, likewise touted her return to the church as part of her rehabilitation. "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander found his way to a new audience at the end of 2020 with a highly public conversion to Catholicism, as did "Kent State gun girl" Kaitlin Bennett in late 2021. They joined a core group of far-right activists who have deployed their Catholic identity in service of their movements, including Pizzagate provocateur-turned conservative commentator Jack Posobiec, former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and Fuentes himself.

As the alt-right was planning its 2017 march in Charlottesville, Virginia, one of the most popular places where activists did their planning was a Discord chat forum called the "Nick Fuentes forum," dedicated to exploring connections between "Unite the Right" and the Catholic Church. Within it, hundreds of posters discussed traditionalist Catholicism and posted memes alternating, or combining, Crusades-era imagery with neo-Nazi and antisemitic content.

As journalist Eric Martin reported at the liberal Christian magazine Sojourners, some posters identified themselves as "Charles Coughlin Roman Catholics," for the 1930s pro-fascist priest and broadcaster who helped pioneer the demagogic media style that is fracturing our democracy today. Fuentes himself has waxed nostalgic about fascist and monarchist regimes in Europe and Latin America that were grounded in Catholic teaching, and in 2018 declared on a livestream that, "in an ideal world," there would be "a global Catholic theocracy" and that "the state should enforce morality that is informed by Catholic teaching."

More broadly online, far-right activists online began adopting phrases like "Viva Cristo Rey" (Christ the King) or "Deus Vult" (God wills it) in their posts and tweets, and Catholic symbolism like medieval crosses and Crusader imagery.

Some conservative Catholics have welcomed this development. In a 2019 article published by the Catholic right magazine Crisis, "Kids in defense of the culture," American Greatness editor Pedro Gonzalez praised Fuentes' groypers. "They have chosen to be guided by a Christianity hammered free of the dross of the modern world," Gonzalez wrote. "In an age of compromise and petty principles, groypers have chosen to stand for something, armed with little more than digital slingshots. That alone is reason enough to hear them out."

Some conservative Catholics have embraced the groypers, arguing that they "have chosen to be guided by a Christianity hammered free of the dross of the modern world."

But moderate and liberal Catholics were appalled. "It's such a horrifying appropriation of Catholicism," noted writer and researcher D.W. Lafferty in a 2020 podcast episode produced by Where Peter Is, a moderate Catholic website that tracks the Catholic right. Lafferty described the new far-right aesthetic as "Pepe Catholicism," while Georgetown University theologian Adam Rasmussen called it "Catholic LARPing": a way for the alt-right to pretend they were "Knights Templar fighting the forces of darkness in the deep state."

As Vatican correspondent Christopher Lamb, author of the papal biography "The Outsider: Pope Francis and His Battle to Reform the Church," explained during the 2020 presidential campaign, the far right's adoption of Catholic symbolism was a means for the movement to infuse itself with deeper spiritual meaning. "The populists and nationalists were looking for some kind of soul for their politics. And they found it in some symbols of the faith," Lamb said. "And they're powerful symbols. Quite often they make the whole case that the past has been lost."

"In a sense, you empty the content of the religious," Lamb noted earlier this year, "and use the externals — the rosary beads, the crucifix, some words, perhaps some prayers — but you use it as an identity marker to give your movement a sense that it has a soul or deeper intensity at a moral level."

But that influence goes both ways, and as Lamb noted in 2020, as more and more right-wing Catholics identified themselves with Trump's re-election campaign, "Trumpism," in turn, "got into the church."

As Lafferty said at the time, "What's happening on the right, I think, is unprecedented," except for the historical examples of ultranationalist fascist groups before World War II, such as Action Française in France or the Falangist movement in Spain. "But fascism isn't new and the Catholic Church was often complicit in fascism," he added. "So it's not totally shocking that people can come in and do this."

The revelation that some highly enthusiastic and visible elements of the Catholic right are now partnering with a group whose reputation is based on snarky displays of over-the-top bigotry just marks an escalation of that trend.

"This is a continuation of a pattern that's been happening for years," said Lafferty, "and it's only going to become more intense now that we're looking at the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned." As a faithful Catholic, he agrees with the Church's stance against abortion, he said, but he also sees the imminent SCOTUS reversal as one more "pillar of what we call 'normal' falling."

"I worry whenever you see anti-abortion rhetoric mixed with anti-immigrant rhetoric or isolationist foreign policy," said Lafferty. "It feeds into this spreading panic that Western culture is disappearing and immigration is killing Christianity and white hegemony. Ordinary Catholics who may have good intentions need to wake up to this — the bishops included. Because if we look at what's happened in the Republican Party, a fringe populist element eventually took over. We could see the same thing in the church."

Massimo Faggioli, a church historian at Villanova University and author of "Joe Biden and Catholicism in the United States," observed that "almost anyone with an internet connection and an attitude can start a Catholic blog or website" these days. And that means "there are forces, movements, energies in this underworld that don't appear officially in the Catholic handbooks or registers, but are there. They have a following that is still small, but no longer as marginal as it used to be."

"The 'America First' Catholics have momentum," Faggioli said, as well as a powerfully motivating narrative: That "this is a time for war." That, he said, is what makes the growing alliance between groups like the groypers and Church Militant dangerous. "It's bigger than just the number of those who are physically involved in these movements. We know how influential they are with young priests, with the seminarians. Their voice is magnified because, in the church as in many other organizations, it's not how many there are but where they are. What is their position? What are the assets they can mobilize?"

The "biggest capital" such groups possess, Faggioli said, "is the sign of our times, our zeitgeist. There are clouds on the horizon, a bad moon rising — domestically, internationally. And religion plays an important part."

Nick Fuentes' racist 'groyper' movement is building a coalition with far-right Catholics -- and they have a plan

Last Sunday, as pro-choice supporters reacted to the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that will likely overturn Roe v. Wade, a series of videos shot in lower Manhattan went viral. In one, a group of young men stood before an arched wooden doorway at the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, reciting the Rosary while protesters demonstrated outside the church gates. In their center was a young man wearing an America First hat and an FDNY fleece, closing his eyes as he prayed. By that afternoon, the video had been shared on social media by far-right Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who praised the men as "heroes" "defending their churches against the abortionist horde."

In two other videos taken the same day at the same location, the man in the America First hat heckled protesters, shouting from the church steps, "I am the people. The people have decided, the court has decided. You lose. You have no choice. Not your body, your choice. Your body is mine and you're having my baby."

The man was not, as the New York City Fire Department quickly pointed out, a firefighter. Nor was he merely a devout Catholic. Rather, he was a right-wing activist affiliated with white nationalist wunderkind Nick Fuentes' gleefully racist and antisemitic America First/"groyper" movement, which at its third annual America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) this February drew widespread condemnation for its glorification of Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, Fuentes' praise of Hitler and the call by one speaker, a state senator from Arizona, to build "gallows" to hang political enemies.

On a popular groyper livestream show Sunday night, host and movement leader Dalton Clodfelter said he recognized the man in the videos and called him to join the show. As journalist and Western States Center senior fellow Nick Martin reported, Clodfelter said the man had made "a really bold statement today and it's going to be heard by a lot of people." The man claimed that many of the other praying men who assembled that afternoon were also groypers, described the demonstrators he'd been heckling as "demonic creatures" and "animals" and said that one Black protester should be "enslaved" or "shot." "Whatever church they're going to attack next," he pledged, "we'll be there, and we'll crush them."

None of that seemed to matter to the right-wing politicians and media who held the man up as a hero of the faith. Prominent among those was Church Militant, a far-right Catholic media outlet that promoted its Monday night coverage of the protest with a picture of the groyper's face. That was more than accident or coincidence — Church Militant and the groypers are increasingly collaborating to mobilize their respective audiences to confront what both are calling "proabortionist demons" at pro-choice rallies across the country, and, more generally, to grow their movements on both sides.

All of this is part of a broader pattern of increasing overlap between the far right, including overtly white nationalist movements and leaders, with the extreme right-wing fringe of the Roman Catholic Church. This emerging coalition includes such figures as Milo Yiannopoulos, who was effectively expelled from the MAGA movement in 2017 over his remarks about child sex abuse; Canadian white nationalist Faith Goldy, similarly disgraced after appearing on a podcast of the neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer; onetime "Stop the Steal" organizer Ali Alexander; and "Kent State gun girl" Kaitlin Bennett.

All four have rebranded themselves as "traditional" Catholics (or "trad-Caths," in internet parlance) and allied themselves with an existing network of far-right Catholics that includes Pizzagate provocateur-turned conservative commentator Jack Posobiec, Trump confidant and adviser Steve Bannon and groyper-guru Nick Fuentes himself.

In post-Trump America, white nationalists and Christian nationalists are putting their differences aside in a push to roll back abortion rights and enshrine white Christian dominance.

Resistance, the activist wing of Church Militant, is now mobilizing supporters to counter-protest Planned Parenthood marches scheduled for this Saturday in Chicago, Nashville, Washington, San Antonio, Los Angeles and other cities. On Monday on the alternative social media site Telegram, Clodfelter seemed to call on groypers to attend these rallies, using language identical to a Resistance post describing the mobilization. By Wednesday evening, more than five-dozen groypers on the site had eagerly signed on.

As we will discuss in part 2 of this investigation, at least one prominent staff member at Church Militant is also a groyper, and other employees of the right-wing Catholic group appear eager to build a united front between the two formations. In the larger political landscape of Trump-era America, this is more evidence that white nationalist and Christian nationalist movements, despite some meaningful differences on principle, strategy and tactics, are working side by side in the right's broader push to roll back abortion rights and enshrine white Christian dominance in America.

"We have to push the envelope"

From its beginnings, the groyper movement sought to straddle the gap between the white and Christian nationalist movements. In the later years of the Trump presidency, as the largely pagan or atheist alt-right fell into disarray, Fuentes sought to distinguish the mostly Gen-Z groyper movement from its disgraced predecessor by garnishing its core white nationalist principles with the flag and the cross.

"[The alt-right] was a racialist, atheist, post-American, revolutionary and transnational movement," Fuentes explained to followers in November 2019, attempting to chart a new direction for white nationalism in the U.S. "America First is a traditionalist, Christian, conservative, reformist, American nationalist Movement." While other white nationalists had given up hope of transforming the conservative establishment, the groypers, Fuentes argued, would redouble their efforts to influence the mainstream Right. This project continues today. "We have to push the envelope," Fuentes told followers in May 2021. "We are the right-wing flank of the Republican Party…we have got to be on the Right, dragging these people kicking and screaming into the future, into the right wing, into a truly reactionary party."

"We are the right-wing flank of the Republican Party," said Nick Fuentes last year. "We have got to drag ... these people kicking and screaming into the future ... into a truly reactionary party."

In today's groyper movement, classic white nationalist themes of "white genocide," white identity politics and conspiratorial antisemitism blend seamlessly with fervent appeals to Christian piety, slogans like "Christ is King" and militant calls to enshrine Christian fundamentalism as state policy. Most groypers are young and enthusiastic adherents of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Latter-day Saints or other Christian faith traditions, and many are first drawn into the movement through its ubiquitous "trad" subculture — a largely online aesthetic celebrating a rejection of modernity and embrace of patriarchal, anti-LGBTQ values — and become "red-pilled" on the tenets of white nationalism along the way.

For the groypers, hard-edged, traditionalist opposition to LGBTQ rights, abortion and feminism is rooted in uncompromising misogyny and male supremacy, a worldview in which straight, white, Christian Gen-Z men are valorized as the rightful heirs to and guardians of the American nation. Today, the groypers' strategic blend of white and Christian nationalism has arrived right on time, helping the movement find natural allies among hard-right Christian groups — particularly Catholic right groups like Church Militant — and, from there, to build new pathways towards mainstream acceptance.

In a parallel project, Church Militant also seeks to transform mainstream Catholicism from its rightward flank. Just two weeks ago, Church Militant made national news for its hourlong interview with Rep. Greene, in which the Georgia congresswoman suggested that Satan is controlling the Catholic Church (mostly because of Catholic support for refugees at the U.S. southern border). While it might seem odd for a Catholic media site to celebrate such a charge coming from an evangelical Protestant — Church Militant titled the first segment of its weeklong promotion of the interview "Marjorie for Pope" — the outlet has long waged a vitriolic campaign against the church's current hierarchy, which it derides as both milquetoast and liberal and an "international crime syndicate" run by a "lavender mafia." By comparison, Church Militant presents itself as the home of authentically orthodox Catholicism (even as the Archdiocese of Detroit, where Church Militant is headquartered, compelled the outlet more than a decade ago to stop using "Catholic" in its name and has repeatedly denounced the group).

Last November, the outlet hosted a noisy, daylong rally on the Baltimore waterfront to protest the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops next door. Church Militant's emcee for the event, fallen "alt-lite" star turned groyper leader Yiannopoulos — who joined Church Militant as a regular contributor in 2021 after declaring himself "ex-gay" — directed the roughly 1,200-person audience to chant "Lock them up" at the bishops gathered nearby. It was he, in fact, who reportedly arranged for Marjorie Taylor Greene to speak at Fuentes' AFPAC III in February.

Another groyper leader speaking at Church Militant's Baltimore rally was anti-immigrant pundit Michelle Malkin. The day after speaking at the white nationalist American Renaissance conference, Malkin told the Church Militant crowd that USCCB aid to immigrants and refugees had the "ultimate goal of fundamentally transforming the United States of America and destroying the historic American nation" — white nationalist language that echoes the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, according to which whites in the U.S. are being "replaced" by non-white immigration.

Many of Church Militant's targets are within the Catholic Church itself. It has run articles "exposing" bishops as registered Democrats; called the first Black cardinal in the American church "African Queen"; demanded that Pope Francis resign; and vowed to use its claimed network of hundreds of priests and church staff, as well as thousands of lay activists, to dig up dirt on any bishops who "go after a good priest."

But much of the site's writing and advocacy is more directly political, as when it compared the Black Lives Matter movement to fascism, attacked the Catholic bishops' support for immigrants as a numbers game meant to "shore up" a "shrinking, shriveling church," and, in 2020, declared that "every Democratic leader in the country" should be "immediately arrested and imprisoned" for their role in pandemic public health restrictions. Church Militant was such an avid supporter of Trump's reelection campaign that it repeatedly warned readers that if Joe Biden were elected, Catholics would be "identified, hunted down, declared 'illegal,'" "gun[ned] down in the streets," or "herded onto the trains heading for the camps."

Church Militant is widely considered, even among many conservative Catholics, as so outrageous and aggressive that it is best ignored. But as Commonweal's Paul Moses reported, that outlet and the fellow-traveling LifeSiteNews together "garnered nearly 10 million visits to their alt-right 'news' websites during the last three months of 2020," helping to "spread bogus election-conspiracy claims to a huge Catholic audience." On Jan. 6, 2021, both Church Militant and its staff celebrated the riot at the U.S. Capitol, tweeting images of pro-Trump protesters carrying Catholic iconography and declaring the rioters "patriots."

The outlet has made common cause with many of the most controversial figures on the right, promoting interviews with Roger Stone, Joseph Flynn (brother of QAnon hero Michael Flynn), Gab founder and CEO Andrew Torba and Steve Bannon, who was to be the keynote speaker at Church Militant's Baltimore rally, although he ultimately didn't attend — because he was arrested that week and charged with contempt of Congress. Beyond its Baltimore rally, the organization routinely platforms voices connected to the groyper movement as well. Multiple Church Militant articles have featured Torba and YouTube streamer John Doyle, who are both longstanding Fuentes allies and were featured as speaker and special guest, respectively, at AFPAC III. Church Militant founder Michael Voris recently appeared on a show hosted by white nationalist former Senate candidate Lauren Witzke, another prominent Fuentes ally.

Just a week after the Capitol insurrection, Voris interviewed another Fuentes acolyte, Jan. 6 planner Ali Alexander, about his then-recent conversion to Catholicism as well as their shared sense — in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot — that "dying an honorable death is an awesome thing." Alexander said he had come to realize there was a "war between the church and the people who have infiltrated the church," and Voris recounted attending several of Alexander's "Stop the Steal" protests in Michigan, including one at the state capitol in Lansing. That rally was led by Nick Fuentes and John Doyle and celebrated on Church Militant's Twitter account.

These points of overlap exemplify how the white nationalist movement and the Catholic right are both drawing together and influencing each other. But it is in the youth movement, and on the streets, where the most significant collaboration is now unfolding.

Church Militant founder Michael Voris says "establishment conservatism" has "betrayed the cause," and it's time to fight for "straight up, terrible, glorious Catholic truth."

"We are intensely trying to cultivate the youth," Voris said in a February 2022 video entitled "CM Youth Movement," claiming that 24 of Church Militant's 63 employees are under the age of 30. "As men, it's really important that we act," professed one young Church Militant staffer in the video. "We can't just sit by and watch our civilization and church collapse into a cesspool of degeneracy."

Voris took note when Fuentes held AFPAC III, praising the conference as "where all the youthful (read: future) energy is" in the "real struggle for the heart and soul of the [conservative] movement" — a struggle, Voris said, echoing Fuentes' framing, which "will dictate the future of the [Republican] party and, to a large extent, the nation."

In a subsequent video entitled "Young Conservative Catholics," Voris drove the point home. Bemoaning the "collapse of the American empire," Voris compared contemporary young Catholics to the "first young Romans" who, in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 4th century AD, "conquered the barbarians" and instituted a new Catholic civilization.

"Just like in the days of Rome, as it collapsed," Voris explained, "there was a generation of 20-somethings that beheld it, so too now, here, in the U.S…in the coming years but beginning now, what must be fought for is Catholic truth. Straight up, terrible, glorious Catholic truth." He went on to say that "establishment conservatism has betrayed the cause" and "it is the young more than anyone else who must understand the real war here." Fuentes and Yiannopoulos both shared Voris' video on Telegram, with a caption framing it as a direct appeal to the groypers: "'The cry "Christ is King" must ring loud across the land.' Church Militant's Michael Voris on America First."

Watch below:

White Nationalist 'groyper' movement is building coalition with far right Catholics

Misogyny and 'male supremacism': Central driving force in the rise of the far right

Over the course of roughly a year in 2020 and 2021, a number of events occurred that on the surface might appear unconnected. A "men's rights" attorney, who was somewhat famous for filing quixotic lawsuits against women's studies programs, bars that host "ladies nights" and the Selective Service (for declining to register women for the draft), showed up at the door of a federal judge who had presided over one of his cases, shooting her husband and son (the latter fatally).

Several months after that, a group of self-styled right-wing militiamen in Michigan plotted to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Around the same time, Donald Trump notoriously told the far-right Proud Boys, when asked about them during a campaign debate, to "stand back and stand by."

Then, in the first months of 2021, an unprecedented number of state bills restricting abortion access and trans people's rights were introduced across the country. All of this took place amid a steadily-growing tally of mass killing events related to the "incel" movement, in which men who feel aggrieved by sexual rejection nurture collective rage against women

This flurry of facts is tabulated in the first pages of a new scholarly book, "Male Supremacism in the United States: From Patriarchal Traditionalism to Misogynist Incels and the Alt-Right," released this month as part of a Routledge series on fascism and the far right. The book, a collection of essays and studies from 14 academics and researchers, was edited by Emily Carian, Alex DiBranco and Chelsea Ebin. All three are among the cofounders of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism, a first-of-its-kind center launched in 2019 to address a gap in scholarship on how organized misogyny serves as a vital cornerstone of right-wing activism.

To date, most research conducted on gender and right-wing ideologies has focused on a few areas: white women as key players in advancing white supremacy, for example, or how groups like the incels and the "manosphere" have served as "gateway drugs" to the alt-right and white nationalist movements, which are seen as more serious threats than misogyny alone.

With chapters on the incels, the Proud Boys, the new wave of anti-abortion activism and the ways male supremacist ideology plays out in discussions of economic policy, demography and pop culture, IRMS's book aims "to help correct the failure to take misogyny as seriously as racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism."

Running through many of these topics is the broader narrative that there exists a "crisis in masculinity" or a "war on men" — yet another argument once relegated to the extreme right-wing fringes that is increasingly becoming conventional wisdom for "mainstream" conservatives. Along with those claims of impending man-pocalypse — Tucker Carlson recently warned of the coming "End of Men" — comes a potent rallying call for the far right, which deserves to be understood on its own terms.

Two editors of the volume, Alex DiBranco and Chelsea Ebin, spoke with Salon this May.

We're talking two days after a leaked Supreme Court opinion, which suggests that Roe v. Wade will be overturned soon. How does that development relate to the work in this book?

Ebin: The urgency of attending to male supremacism has really been driven home in the past few days. Many of us working at the intersection of male supremacism and other forms of supremacism anticipated that the Court would reverse Roe. But anticipating it and actually reading the draft opinion are two very different things. One of the things the book is helpful in doing is understanding male supremacism as intersectional with other forms of supremacism. We need to build a broad-based coalition that recognizes that reproductive justice demands racial justice, economic justice and justice for LGBTQ folks and opposition to not just male supremacism, but male supremacism as it reproduces other forms of supremacist ideology.

One of this book's goals is to reframe the neglect that reproductive justice often receives. This has nothing to do with moral values. These decisions are trying to create a white male Christian supremacist state.

DiBranco: Frequently issues like reproductive rights are referred to as part of "traditional values" or the "culture wars," and not named as supremacist ideology. One of the goals of this volume is reframing the neglect that reproductive and gender justice often receive, recognizing that this has nothing to do with moral values, but is another form of supremacist ideology. Really recognizing that these decisions are attempting to bring us back to a white male Christian supremacist state.

Tell me about the origins of this book. For those unfamiliar with the term, what do you mean by "male supremacism"?

DiBranco: After Trump's election, we saw a move towards taking misogyny somewhat more seriously. But even when people began to write about misogyny and the alt-right, for instance, it was often framed as a gateway — white supremacy and white supremacist violence was the serious threat, and this was just a pathway to it. It is in many ways a gateway; because our society is very accepting of misogyny, it's an easy recruitment mechanism. But it's also an end in and of itself, as an ideology and a motivator of violence.

We decided there was a need to talk about male supremacism in the language that has been used for white supremacist and Christian supremacist studies. We launched IRMS in 2019 and immediately saw a lot of interest, with media and scholarship starting to recognize how it fits into this broader supremacist structure. This book continues in that vein. We hope it will be a resource that can lead to further understanding of what male supremacism is and how it works with white supremacy and Christian supremacy to motivate not only fringe groups but the core of what our society is built on.

There are a lot of different movements or ideologies covered under this umbrella. What connects them?

DiBranco: In the same way that white supremacy manifests in different ways, there are many expressions of male supremacism. When I started this work in 2017, I would use Donald Trump and Mike Pence as an example. Trump appealed to a lot of the secular misogynist groups that have grown up in the last decade. He was overtly objectifying, hateful towards women and had histories of sexual harassment and assault. Then Pence represented the Christian right, "I can't sit alone with a woman" brand of sexism. But they're all looking to destroy the rights of women and trans and non-binary people in similar ways. Trump was perfectly happy to do the work of the anti-abortion movement. Betsy DeVos catered to men's rights groups in totally redoing Title IX protections on college campuses.

Ebin: We conceive of male supremacism as an ideology but also something that's embedded within our culture, our political systems, our economic system. Each essay in the volume speaks to the way in which this ideology, the various belief systems, inform other aspects of our experiences.

I think the first thing most people hearing the term male supremacism would think of is incel-related violence. They might also think about some of the sillier things we've seen recently, like Tucker Carlson's bizarre new documentary on masculinity, or even how incels themselves, as deadly as they have been as a movement, have sometimes been treated as a punchline.

Ebin: One thing we see is how caricatured forms of male supremacism can serve as a political strategy to obscure how male supremacist ideology operates within the mainstream as well — as if the problem is only misogynistic incels and not the ways male supremacism also informs anti-trans legislation and the anti-reproductive justice movement and white supremacist movements. Tucker Carlson is both representative of the way in which male supremacism operates on a spectrum, and he's also engaged in a quite cunning activity of creating bait for people within the mainstream: They can continue to espouse male supremacist beliefs but point to a foil and say, "But I'm not that. I don't tan my testicles. I just believe that men are more deserving of good employment opportunities than women."

DiBranco: When I first started presenting research on misogynist incels, before the term became widely known, I always struggled to define it in a way that wouldn't make the audience laugh, because I would say these are cisgender heterosexual men who believe that they are entitled to sex with women and that not having it is an injustice.

I've encountered this working on things like Christian theocracy too. The more absurd it sounds like to regular liberals, the less likely they are to believe those people really want to do these terrible things. That misogynist incels really do think it is justifiable to commit mass violence, and they want legislation providing them with women's bodies. There really are Christian Reconstructionists who think that you should stone women for committing adultery and men for being gay. It can be so difficult to get people to take that seriously.

Going back to the idea of male supremacism as merely a gateway to the far right makes me think about when the term "alt lite" was popular for a while to describe people who weren't explicitly white nationalist. Most of those people, for example, were part of men's rights movements or thought rape should be legal, but we still don't take these movements seriously.

Can you talk about the idea of a "men's crisis," and how that gets expressed through ideas of male victimization and female privilege?

Ebin: Something happens with the deployment of an ideology of victimhood that allows movements to position themselves as always being defensive and reacting to aggression coming from the opposing side. We see this in the idea of a crisis for men: If we position men as victims, then there necessarily is a responsible party, a perpetrator. And using that victim/perpetrator framework allows men to then claim that what they're seeking is not to subjugate or dominate, but only to defend themselves.

This is the same strategy used by white supremacist groups, by opponents of CRT, by "parents' rights" groups. They always present themselves as defenders of something rather than as aggressors. It's fundamentally a false narrative and a strategy to distract from the fact that they're seeking domination.

DiBranco: An example that people in the U.S. might recognize is how the Christian right has used the language of persecution, even though we remain a majority Christian country. Instead of admitting that what they want is Christian theocracy, they portray themselves as the ones being attacked.

Similarly, a lot of anti-CRT organizing is based on this idea that white people are being victimized today. The legislation proposed in red states suggests that it's white people who are being judged by the color of their skin and being made to feel bad, that they are the true victims.

Any time a supremacist structure is shaken, a group that has been enjoying the benefits of being dominant is threatened, and then you see this sense that they perceive or portray themselves as being the true victims.

How do women fit into these movements?

DiBranco: Supremacist groups want women at the forefront of their movements because putting a woman's face on misogyny makes it more palatable. Phyllis Schlafly both operated within patriarchy and defended it from that position. There are lots of examples in the anti-abortion movement of promoting young women who speak out against abortion. So-called "equity feminists" like the Independent Women's Forum have been major women's voices speaking against Title IX protections and denying that domestic and sexual violence against women are large problems in the U.S. Strategically, for male supremacist groups, having women at the forefront is beneficial.

But increasingly, some right-wing groups are becoming more overt in their misogyny. Rather than using white women in a white male supremacist project, groups like the Proud Boys, which are trying to bring men of color into their coalitions, are more likely to exclude women and be explicit about their misogyny. There is a different tactic going on there where they are looking at men of color as more likely allies in their project.

Also, women are such a small minority of these male supremacist movements. While we have a chapter on Schlafly and we talk about the role of women in misogynist movements, by and large these are movements of and for cisgender men.

Ebin: I think it's also helpful to understand how some women may see male supremacism as an ideology that supports other beliefs they have or that can confer other privileges they seek to maintain or acquire. When we look at women at the forefront of some of these movements or as spokespeople, they're not just tools of the men in these movements. They often have their own political interests and values they're seeking to promote, and male supremacism can be a vehicle for achieving those.

Right-wing use of the term "red pill" largely originated within the men's rights movement, but these days the term is so ubiquitous it's hard to find a right-wing movement that hasn't used it. What does that say about male supremacism's relationship to the broader right?

DiBranco: There's definitely lots of movement between men's rights and white nationalist activism. When you look at the profiles of people at Charlottesville [i.e., the 2017 Unite the Right rally], people from these different groups worked together. So the ability for that language to move from the men's rights activists into the broader white nationalist movement makes a lot of sense.

I think the popularity of that concept right now is also related to how core conspiracist thinking is to our present-day misogynist, racist, antisemitic supremacist movements in general. Anti-feminist conspiracism is a really significant part of the beliefs of contemporary misogynist groups. In a lot of ways, that looks like the conspiracy theories we've traditionally seen around Jewish people — feminists have become the ones now seen as the elites pulling the strings behind the scenes, to the detriment of men.

If we look globally, in the 2011 shootings in Norway, there was a lot of focus on the perpetrator being driven by xenophobia and Islamophobia, which is absolutely accurate. But he also saw feminists as responsible for immigration and for feminizing white European men. They were the core of where this conspiracy theory was rooted in his mind.

Given all the different touchpoints between male supremacism and the Christian right, white supremacists, the anti-abortion movement, is this building towards a sort of unified ideology on the right?

DiBranco: It's always important to look at both the intersections and the divergences. We certainly know Christian, white, cisgendered, heterosexual supremacy is a core element of what the right is focused on in the U.S. But one of the reasons we talk about male supremacism as an ideology in its own right, and not just as a pathway to white supremacism, is that they all have their other versions of it. In his chapter, Matthew Lyons refers to a sort of quasi-feminism in neo-Nazi organizations, where they encouraged women to operate as warriors to protect the Aryan race. Meadhbh Park's chapter on Gavin McInnes and the Proud Boys discusses their decision to appeal to men of color and exclude women from their organizing. There's also QAnon, which is maybe filling that gap since white women are disproportionately involved in it compared to other current right-wing groups, and it also attracts some liberal white women through things like the anti-vaccine movement.

It's important to look at all the systems of supremacism and see where they feed into each other, but also to remember that the right is not monolithic. It has its own divergences, its own infighting, and part of our strategy in organizing against supremacism includes considering the different components within it.

What should we be paying attention to and watching for within this world?

Ebin: Honestly, it's very hard to answer that question right after the Alito leak, because it feels like things are really bleak. The future for the rights of people who can experience pregnancy is looking pretty dim, as are our other privacy rights. But as Alex said, we should be watching for the points of convergence between different supremacist movements. We've been talking about male supremacism on the right, but we also see it on the left. We need to be attentive to the ways that male supremacism can be a tool for producing coalitions and unlikely bedfellows.

We should be attentive to where these movements diverge. As a counter-strategy, that's probably the best thing we can do: break up alliances between anti-vax suburban women and male supremacist vigilante groups.

We should also be attentive to where these movements diverge from one another, and where that creates opportunities for interrupting the formation of those coalitions. As a counter-strategy, that's probably the best thing we can be doing: trying to break up alliances between white suburban women who are anti-vax and concerned about green cleaning products and QAnon conspiracies and male supremacist vigilante groups.

DiBranco: It's also valuable to think about what we want to work towards in gender justice, so that we're not only being reactive. And to pay attention to where supremacists have for many decades put their attention and where we have fallen behind. Abstinence-only education, for instance, is something that's been federally funded only since the 1990s. But now you have a generation of young people educated on stereotypes about men and women, biological essentialism, very anti-consent language and victim blaming. A lot of the women who supported Trump saw him as what they had been told to expect from men.

The right has really long-term playbooks in taking over school boards, in focusing on education, in influencing the next generation. We need a lot more investment in those areas, in research and think tanks at the state level, in organizing structures. We can't wait until the school board has come under assault by QAnon or Proud Boys supporters, but should work to promote social justice priorities from the beginning.

Ebin: All the strategies Alex laid out are strategies the right has employed for so long. One of our major missteps is in viewing the right as only following the actions of progressives. When we look at the right's strategies over the last 45 years, it was not just reactionary. Oftentimes it was enacting new ways of organizing, of affecting down-ballot races and targeting the courts in a much more systematic way than progressives or liberals identified at the time. We need to stop operating under the misperception that the right takes its cues from the left and instead recognize that it has an agenda, and we need to focus on articulating an agenda for the left as well.

Will pro-choice protesters attack Catholic churches? The right seems to think so

After the Supreme Court draft opinion leak this past week that suggested the imminent reversal of Roe v. Wade, conservatives responded with a variety of attempts to change the narrative. They insisted that the real issue was about who had leaked the document, claimed that the decision wouldn't really change anything, and derided progressives' worries about which precedent would fall next as hysterical. But on Thursday, the right was able to shift into a more comfortable gear, by claiming that they're actually the ones under attack.

This article first appeared in Salon.

The vehicle for this shift came with the news that a relatively unknown pro-choice group, Ruth Sent Us, was not merely planning "walk-by" protests at the homes of six conservative Supreme Court justices, but also confrontational protests at Roman Catholic and other churches around the country on Sunday. The morning after the leaked opinion was published, the group tweeted, "Whether you're a 'Catholic for Choice,' ex-Catholic, of other or no faith, recognize that six extremist Catholics set out to overturn Roe. Stand at or in a local Catholic Church Sun May 8." Accompanying the post was a video of several women in "Handmaid's Tale"-style red cloaks and white bonnets, chanting pro-choice slogans in the aisle of a San Francisco church this February.

In additional posts on Twitter and TikTok, the group shared footage of other church protests and explained, "We protest at churches, to make sure people understand why Roe is falling — extremist Christians plotted it, and all extremist church-goers are complicit. #MothersDayStrike #InterruptMass."

RELATED: Adoption means abortion just isn't necessary, SCOTUS claims: That's even worse than it sounds

On Friday, a representative from Ruth Sent Us spoke with Salon on condition of anonymity, saying they had received a death threat the day before. This person described Ruth Sent Us not as a unified organization but a loose coalition of grassroots activists networked across the country, focused on the conviction that the Supreme Court has been corrupted as an institution. While many of their activists participated in "red cloak" protests throughout the Trump years, they adopted their current name after the 2020 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when they launched a new series of protests in hopes of preventing the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

At its height, the representative said, some 7,000 people organized under its banner, but those numbers dropped sharply in response to intra-feminist debates over the use of "Handmaid's Tale" imagery. (In particular, the debate focused on whether using symbols from Margaret Atwood's novel minimized the fact that millions of women have already endured dystopian regimes of forced birth like that depicted in the fictional Republic of Gilead, such as Black women under chattel slavery.) The representative said they couldn't estimate how many activists are currently involved in the coalition, nor how many actions are likely to happen this weekend.

"The extremist religious justices rule us. There is no law Congress can make that will not be appealed by a red-state attorney general and gutted in a shadow ruling."

"Effective protest is the only hope we have of changing the system we're in right now," this individual said. Noting that five of the court's conservative justices were appointed by presidents who had lost the popular vote — two by George W. Bush and three by Donald Trump — they said, "We have a completely unaccountable Supreme Court. The six extremist religious justices rule us, because there is no law that Congress can make that will not immediately be appealed by a red-state attorney general and gutted in a shadow ruling." In such a situation, they argued, "The church needs to be held accountable for what they want. And what they want is for this corrupt, minority-elected Supreme Court to strip our human rights away."

"Domestic terror" and "anti-Catholic bigotry"

Starting on Thursday, the prospect of church protests became an increasingly hot topic, not among pro-choice advocates — since no mainstream movement groups appear to have endorsed the Ruth Sent Us actions — but rather on the right. The story sped from one conservative news outlet to another, including the National Review, Breitbart, Newsmax, the Washington Times, the New York Post, and, inevitably, numerous segments on Fox News and its affiliates.

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These stories were built around common themes. As one Trump appointee, Russ Vought, now president of the right-wing think tank Renewing America, told Fox News, "They're essentially trying to create violence in the streets so they can change the result of this important decision."

Another Trump alumnus, Roger Severino, told the Daily Wire, "It's despicable anti-Catholic bigotry. … It doesn't get any more offensive than that, to try to interfere with somebody's First Amendment freedoms in the name of supporting abortion on demand." His wife, Carrie Severino, president of the right-wing legal activism group Judicial Crisis Network (and a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas), suggested the protesters might be paid affiliates of other conservative bugaboos like the Black Lives Matter movement. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also entered the fray, tweeting, "Deranged leftists are urging followers to disrupt church services across America this Sunday … I hope President Biden & democratic leaders will condemn this attempt to incite domestic terror."

Conservative Catholic organizations, unsurprisingly, gave the story heavy coverage.

CatholicVote, a conservative organization that in 2020 shared staff with the Trump campaign, warned that "Anti-Catholic zealots are plotting to intimidate and harass Catholics across the country, along with justices and their families," and chastised Biden for failing "to condemn these domestic terrorist threats against his own people." Some conservative commentators linked the planned protests to incidents of vandalism at Catholic institutions over the last two years, resurrecting a prominent right-wing charge from the racial justice protests in the summer of 2020.

On Friday the Thomas More Society, a legal organization affiliated with the Christian right, sent an open letter to Ruth Sent Us, writing that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had been tracking "hate crimes committed against Catholic properties" since the start of the Black Lives Matter protests in May 2020, and that it considered their plans a hate crime as well. Even if the protests didn't legally constitute a hate crime, the letter continued, "they could still subject you to significant legal liability" since both the California and federal versions of the FACE Act prohibit the obstruction, intimidation or interference with people seeking to exercise their right to religious freedom at a house of worship.

"Please be advised that for the past 25 years, we have defended the pro-life cause and represented churches and people of faith across our nation, successfully vindicating the legal rights of pro-life and religious individuals at all court levels," the letter continued. "We will gladly represent any church or person of faith who seeks legal recourse against you or your protestors for your unlawful disruption of any religious worship services."

Invoking the FACE Act was an especially ironic theme surfacing in conservative discussions of these possible protests. The federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act was passed in 1994 specifically to address an onslaught of violent attacks on abortion clinics, from clinic blockades and invasions to bombings and assassinations. While the bill was under consideration, Sen. Mitch McConnell later recalled, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the late conserative crusader from Utah, charged that the legislation was discriminatory for only focusing on the activities of anti-abortion advocates, and demanded that it include restrictions on protests against churches and synagogues as well.

The Christian Defense Coalition issued a similar press release on Friday, demanding that Biden and the DOJ enforce FACE Act protections for places of worship, declaring, "Every American should be able to freely worship according to the dictates of their beliefs and conscience free from intimidation or harassment. We need this Administration to speak out in support of religious freedom."

The right-wing Catholic outlet that recently hosted Marjorie Taylor Greene suggested that Catholic men "need to step up, form a group and take [protesters] out."

But those institutional expressions of concern paled in comparison to the response from the more extreme corners of Catholicism. Church Militant, the right-wing Catholic news outlet that just last week heavily promoted its interview with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, in which the Georgia congresswoman said that Satan was controlling the Catholic Church, suggested that protesters should be met by loyal Catholic men, who "need to step up, form a group and take them out."

Similarly, Catholic-right podcaster Taylor Marshall, a member of Trump's 2020 Catholic advisory board who has repeatedly suggested that Pope Francis is illegitimate, dedicated an entire show to the prospect of church protests, asking his audience to consider, "What would you do if you were in holy Mass on Sunday and a bunch of pro-'A-word' people … came in? … Would you defend your church … Would we use violence?" Marshall went on to call for armed church porters and 10-man church "safety teams," and said lay Catholics should be ready to protect the sanctity of the Mass with their lives.

On Twitter, the responses were eager and blunt: "Drag these trash loons out by their hair"; "you better keep your baby killing shock troopers away from my parish or they can join RBG in hell"; "Oh, please do this, it will be the last time you will have feeling in your legs."

"Firing up the right wing"

It's hard to see all that without wondering whether church protests would give the right exactly what they want: a chance to cast the reversal of Roe in defensive, rather than offensive terms. As Dave Weigel wrote at the Washington Post this week, "nothing creates content for conservative media, and the Republicans who increasingly speak through it, than furious protesters…all of it sync[s] up with a message Republicans have made since 2017: that the left is sowing violence and chaos."

That worry motivated several pro-choice groups to distance themselves from the proposal, while noting that Ruth Sent Us does not seem to be connected to the mainstream reproductive rights or reproductive justice movements.

"I am personally in support of using many tactics to push back against abortion bans, but I don't think it's particularly strategic or wise to interrupt church services," said Lily Bolourian, the executive director of Pro-Choice Maryland, who said she hadn't been familiar with Ruth Sent Us until the past week and that she had concerns about other groups operating in its orbit.

"I don't see what the end game is there," she went on. "It risks both alienating pro-abortion people of faith and firing up the right wing. In my view, it would be much better to use that energy to disrupt the lives of anti-abortion lawmakers and key events as opposed to disrupting faith services. It has a high potential of backfiring and serves no real movement-building purpose from where I stand."

In January, the progressive group Catholics for Choice sparked controversy after projecting pro-choice slogans, including "Pro-choice Catholics you are not alone," on the facade of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington during an anti-abortion vigil. While both conservative and some moderate Catholics decried the action as "desecration," CFC countered that they were attempting to "dramatically depict that there is no place inside the walls of the Catholic church — be it in a university or parish or charity — for dialogue about abortion." In the wake of the protest, they said, "thousands of people have reached out to us saying that they have felt seen as pro-choice Catholics for the first time in their lives."

"Catholics for Choice is doing everything we can to make sure legal abortion remains in place. Protesting inside churches and giving the hierarchy a chance to appear as victims is not on our list."

But disrupting Mass, the group said, was counterproductive. "The majority of Catholics — 68% — support the legal abortion protections in Roe v. Wade. And one in four abortion patients is Catholic. Abortion is a part of the life of the church, and in any Mass it is likely that people who have had abortions are worshipping," said CFC president Jamie Manson. "Right now, Catholics for Choice is doing everything we can to make sure legal abortion remains in place. Protesting inside churches and giving the hierarchy a chance to appear as victims is not on our list."

In their conversation with Salon, the anonymous representative from Ruth Sent Us dismissed the threat of alienating believers, and said that some members of the network have privately discussed not just disrupting Mass, but burning the Eucharist — the sacrament that, according to Catholic doctrine, has become the literal body of Christ. To defile it in any way, for Catholic believers, is a grave offense.

"The thing is, what's facing us is such a grim reality. It is almost a foregone conclusion," they said. "If we don't do anything, if after this ruling was leaked there is no uproar, no protests, what is the Supreme Court going to do? They were testing the waters. This was a trial balloon. If there is no reaction to the trial balloon, just launch it."

Should that happen, the spokesperson continued, "In more than half the country, any woman who suffers a miscarriage is going to be at a severe risk of death, because in all those states that have trigger laws, what's going to happen when a pregnant woman starts bleeding? Her doctor will be afraid to treat her. We know this from every other country in the world where blanket abortion bans have happened."

Given that, they said, "Why are we pretending there's something to be gained or preserved by not facing this clear-eyed and fighting the battle the way it needs to be fought?"

This isn't the first time such a question has been asked. In 1989, the grassroots activist organization ACT UP staged a massive protest, called "Stop the Church," at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral. Some 5,000 activists protested outside the cathedral, then the seat of Cardinal John O'Connor, a staunch opponent of LGBTQ rights as well as safe-sex education. Roughly 100 protesters also went inside the church during Mass, staging a "die-in" during the priest's homily. Although that protest was originally meant to be silent, one protester began shouting, "You're killing us," while another crumbled the Eucharist on the floor.

As Michael O'Loughlin wrote in the Catholic magazine America 30 years after the protest, the plan had been controversial even within ACT UP at the time, as activists debated whether attracting media attention to their cause, as tens of thousands of people were dying of a disease that at that time had no effective treatments, outweighed the prospect of offending believers.

Three decades later, that legendary protest has largely been vindicated by history, and even some Catholics view it with sympathy in the wake of all the subsequent scandals afflicting the church. But there's also the threat that church protests could come across more like those of the Westboro Baptist Church, the vitriolic anti-LGBTQ group that, according to its own logic, has protested churches alongside the funerals of hate crime victims and numerous other targets.

How abortion-rights advocates, both inside and outside the Catholic Church, respond to this moment of heightened tension — as the nation awaits the likely reversal of the 1973 Roe decision — is likely to be a question for history as well.

Anti-abortion zealots target Sotomayor aide as source of leak: Their threats are no joke

Almost as soon as Politico published its explosive story on Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's leaked draft opinion, which strongly suggests the court is about to overturn Roe v. Wade, conservatives responded by focusing not on the content of the news, but how it was obtained. Online Monday night, there were nearly immediate calls to find and punish the leaker. In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insistently told reporters that the prospect of recriminalizing abortion was "not the story for today," but rather the supposedly dangerous precedent of the leak.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, Operation Rescue, the notorious anti-abortion activist group responsible for some of the movement's most outrageous tactics, joined the fray, issuing a press release declaring that the leak had most likely come from the office of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

That claim traced back to pretty thin sourcing: a Twitter thread posted by a Republican political strategist who, about an hour after Politico published its story Monday night, suggested he'd solved the mystery: One of Sotomayor's staffers had joined hundreds of classmates in opposing the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh and, at an earlier point, had been quoted in Politico regarding a case on which he'd assisted.

Within hours, the staffer's name had become a hashtag and his picture was plastered across Twitter, along with abundant calls for the individual's disbarment, incarceration for life or prosecution for treason.

On Tuesday, Operation Rescue took it a step further, repeating the unfounded allegations in a press release along with the claim that the leak had been designed to "foment social unrest that would apply pressure and intimidate the conservative justices to the point of changing their support for overturning Roe and Casey." The group's president, Troy Newman, went on to charge that if the claims proved true — which is quite an "if" — Sotomayor should be impeached or forced to resign; anyone else involved, he continued, should be "arrested immediately for sedition and fomenting an insurrection against the Judicial Branch."

There's abundant irony here — now the right cares about "insurrection"? — as well as, apparently, some basic confusion about how journalism works. But there's also the more troubling prospect that Operation Rescue, which has long treaded a fine line between vitriolic advocacy and anti-abortion terrorism, and was deeply implicated in the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Kansas, could again be stoking vigilante violence against its political enemies.

Cheryl Sullenger, the author of Tuesday's Operation Rescue press release, served two years in prison for conspiring to blow up an abortion clinic in California in 1988. In its campaigns against various abortion providers, the group has blockaded clinics; commissioned raucous and graphic "Truth Trucks" to drive through neighborhoods where abortion-clinic staffers live; threatened clinic employees that unless they quit they will be subjected to "campaigns of exposure," including vigils outside their homes; and posted "WANTED" posters with abortion providers' photos — a tactic that, in Florida, preceded the murder of two other abortion providers and a clinic volunteer, and has since been ruled in court to be tantamount to a death threat.

Operation Rescue was implicated in the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller — and could again be stoking vigilante violence against its political enemies.

For seven years before Tiller was murdered in his church, the group conducted a wide-ranging campaign against him, including mobilizing state legislators to try to bring bogus criminal charges against him and round-the-clock harassment. After Scott Roeder — who donated to and organized alongside Operation Rescue, and claims he discussed "justifiable homicide" over lunch with Troy Newman — killed Tiller, Sullenger's phone number was found on his car dashboard. It would later emerge that Sullenger had supplied Roeder with information about Tiller's whereabouts and schedule.

In many ways, Operation Rescue's campaign against Tiller lines up with a phrase that became popularized during the Trump era: "stochastic terrorism," meaning the public demonization of a person or group that leads, almost inevitably, to violence. In 2009, that pattern was still rare enough to be notable; today, it's the air we all breathe.

"The vilification of abortion rights supporters generally and even the Supreme Court has contributed to a one-way history of harassment, violence and threats of violence over time," said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates as well as author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy," which focuses extensively on anti-abortion violence. In 1985, Clarkson pointed out, someone shot out a window in the home of Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the 1973 majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. Before the attack, Blackmun had received numerous violent and graphic threats from anti-abortion activists, and over the previous year, seven abortion clinics and related facilities in and around Washington, D.C.,, had been bombed.

"Beyond this, the history of bombings, arsons, assassinations and more always lurk in the background of the politics of abortion," continued Clarkson. "In today's environment, when violent mobs storm the Capitol and other governmental institutions across the country, unproven claims like this add volatility. Cheryl Sullenger served prison time for her involvement in an attempted clinic arson. So she is certainly familiar with what it means to add fuel to the fire."

From the Pilgrims to QAnon: Christian nationalism is the 'asteroid coming for democracy'

If the New York Times' "1619 Project" and Donald Trump's 1776 Commission mark two defining moments in American history, as well as opposite sides of an ideological chasm, a new book by sociologists Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry identifies a third defining moment. It's not a new proposed founding, but rather an "inflection point," the moment when the nation's history could have gone in another direction.

In "The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy," Gorski and Perry argue that in the years around 1690 — when Puritan colonists began envisioning their battles against Native Americans as an apocalyptic holy war to secure a new Promised Land, when Southern Christians began to formulate a theological justification for chattel slavery — a new national mythology was born. That mythology is the "deep story" of white Christian nationalism: the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation, blessed by God and imbued with divine purpose, but also under continual threat from un-American and ungodly forces, often in the form of immigrants or racial minorities.

The result was an ethnic nationalism sanctified by religion as it established a new "holy trinity" of "freedom, order and violence," meted out variously to in-groups and out.

RELATED: How this tiny Christian college is driving the right's nationwide war against public schools

When rioters driven by that vision broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, they were just reenacting a story that has been told in this country for centuries. But it's a story that again threatens to "topple American democracy" unless, Gorski and Perry write, a new "united front" is formed to defend it.

Perry spoke with Salon this April.

You describe white Christian nationalism as the "San Andreas Fault" of American politics.

We see America torn apart by an authoritarian populism that was characteristic of Trump's movement, which distrusts any opinion not tied to the nationalist leader. There's a lot of distrust for experts, even medical experts when it came to COVID, in favor of somebody like Trump or organizations that put a conservative slant on all news related to politics, COVID, immigration, Muslims, all those things. So when we say white Christian nationalism is the San Andreas Fault, we mean it is a thread running through all of our current conflicts.

And the implication that we're waiting for the big one.

Rather than seeing Jan. 6 as a fringe event and the religious symbols seen there as puzzling, we see it as an eruption of forces that have been building for a long time.

Exactly. We all observed the events that took place on Jan. 6 with horror and shock, but there's this puzzling juxtaposition of images from that day: violent chaos, suffused with Christian symbolism. There are "Jesus Saves" signs and Christian flags and a prayer in Jesus' name in the Senate chamber. Rather than see that event as fringe and those religious symbols as puzzling, we believe Jan. 6 should be thought of as an eruption of forces that have been building for a long, long time.

I appreciated the book's long historical view: You weren't just focusing on Jan. 6, but looking to the past to understand this idea of the "deep story" behind contemporary Christian nationalism.

From our perspective today, the white Christian nationalist deep story is that we as a country have our roots in white Anglo-Protestant culture, and that's what made us prosperous and successful. In the colonial era, we wouldn't have called it white Christian nationalism, but it would have tied together all the same elements: race, religion and nation. In the time of the Puritans, it could be called white Protestant Britishism: that the people to whom the land rightly belongs are white as opposed to Native American, Protestant as opposed to Catholic or any indigenous religious group, British as opposed to French or certainly the nations of Native Americans. White Christian nationalism in that form was just as exclusive, just as brutal, even apocalyptic in its thrust.

Manifestations of white Christian nationalism have ebbed and flowed throughout America's history, and usually they ebb and flow in response to threats against the ethno-cultural majority. Sometimes the enemies change. Early on it was Native Americans; later it was the French and Roman Catholics. At different times it was Asians and certainly Black Americans who were the out-group. Starting in the mid-20th century, it was socialists and all things associated with communism — which is racialized but also religious, because communists and socialists are thought to be godless. So all throughout American history, you see this tying together of race, religion and nation in the boundaries of who is and is not truly American. Who is not changes in response to the enemies. But the in-group is almost always the same. It's white, Christian and those who are either born in the U.S. or at least "belong" here as part of the dominant ethnic group.

The book includes a lot of original data research that's often absent from these conversations. What were some of your most surprising or compelling findings?

One thing we really wanted to contribute is to operationalize this thing called Christian nationalism and see how it plays in response to various issues. We collected all this national data over the last two years that allowed us to track national events — the election, COVID, George Floyd's and Ahmaud Arbery's murders, all these different factors. One of the most surprising findings is how differently Christian nationalism works for white and Black Americans, how stark the contrast is to the same questions. When African Americans hear the language of "Christian values" or "Christian nation," either it doesn't change their attitudes at all or they seem to think aspirationally about the country America should have been, but never was. When white Americans hear that language, they seem to think nostalgically about a time when the right people ruled and the right culture dominated.

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I was also not only shocked but discouraged at how Christian nationalist ideology shaped responses when we asked who Americans went to for information about COVID. White Christian nationalism was powerfully associated with rejecting everybody's opinion about COVID-19 except for Donald Trump's.

I was also taken aback by how powerfully Christian nationalist ideology was associated with responses to the Capitol insurrection. White Christian nationalism powerfully predicted people blaming the violence on antifa or Black Lives Matter and placing none of the blame on Trump. We saw even a correlation between Christian nationalist ideology and supporting the rioters or being reluctant to say they should be prosecuted.

The association between Christian nationalist ideology and violence used for political purposes is one of the more sobering findings. We've collected more recent data since we finished the book, and there is a quite linear association between affirming Christian nationalist ideology and believing that things have gotten so far off track that true patriots may have to resort to physical violence. This is an ideology that doesn't just acknowledge violence as a possibility but in some ways actually affirms it as the way to get things done in our society.

White Christian nationalism supports the idea that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun; it affirms the use of torture if it means national security; it affirms that police should be able to use any means necessary to maintain law and order. There seems to be this powerful connection between Christian nationalist ideology and support for violence to accomplish political goals, and often that means to control "problem populations."

You describe a "holy trinity" within white Christian nationalism of freedom, order and violence.

White Christian nationalism seems to be characterized by a libertarian mindset that's only applied to the inside group. The ideology powerfully predicted a belief that we need to protect the economy rather than the vulnerable during COVID and that socialism is anathema — actually, that socialists are the worst. White Christian nationalism predicts antipathy towards atheists and Muslims, but socialists are the real demonized group, because socialism represents everything that is leftist or "anti-American." It is not only an economic threat, but a cultural, ethnic and religious threat.

White Christian nationalism advocates for maximum freedom for our group. But there is also this connection between authoritarian violence and social order. Christian nationalism wants order in the form of hierarchies. Men on top. Whites on top. Christians on top. Heterosexuals on top. And any threats to that order are met with justified, righteous, good-guy violence. That is what we saw on Jan. 6: the justification of righteous violence in taking back our country from, in the words of the QAnon Shaman, "the tyrants, the communists and the globalists," and showing them "this is our nation, not theirs." So there is this kind of holy trinity: Freedom for us, order for everybody else. And when that order is violated, they get the violence.

You include a number of historical examples of how this played out, long before Jan. 6, at various times in American history, including in the post-Reconstruction era and through lynchings, which you describe as the "high mass" of white Christian nationalism. Why is violence such an important element?

A thread through our narrative is this metaphor of blood. White Christian Americans' place in the cosmos and in our country has always been interpreted through the idea of blood purity — that we are distinct and superior people. There is also the idea of bloody conquest: that America is out there and the land is ours and we are justified in using violence to take what God has given us. Then there is this idea of bloody apocalypse — that violence is an inevitable part of the story, that there is a cosmic struggle going on that will involve us going to war against evil forces who try to take away what God has given us.

One thing we try to underscore is that Americans gripped by the white Christian nationalist deep story see violence as inevitable. Christian nationalism doesn't seem to be too strongly associated with violence for its own sake. But violence in the service of our group and of control is what white Christian nationalism is about — not a celebration of it, but an endorsement of violence as a tool to maintain order and maximize our freedom and power.

Tell me about the idea behind "The Spirit of 1690" and where that fits into the narrative battle between "The 1619 Project" and Trump's 1776 Commission.

The 1776 project is one narrative of America's past: this whitewashed story where Anglo-Protestant values are the secret to our national prosperity, and yes, slavery was real, but it was an aberration. Obviously, "The 1619 Project" has a completely different narrative that sees slavery and white supremacy as a constant thread throughout our history, and that we as a nation were set on the trajectory of white supremacy because our roots are founded in it.

We take a slightly different approach from "The 1619 Project." We see contingency. We see opportunities throughout America's history where oppression could have been lifted. And yet we decided not to go in that direction but to continue to live according to this white Christian nationalist mythology. And of course, different from the 1776 project, we believe that white supremacy has been a constant thread throughout our nation's history, not one that had to be, but one we chose again and again and again.

Much of this mythology involves white Christian nationalism framing itself in a position of victimhood.

White evangelicals — the group most beholden to Christian nationalist ideology — have long been characterized by what sociologist Christian Smith called an idea of "embattlement." They constantly feel they are at war with a surrounding culture that aims to persecute or marginalize them. This is part of the Christian nationalist story, because when you believe your culture is inextricably linked to the state of the nation, and you believe it is not your story but America's story, when you start to see cultural change, you perceive that as an attack on your group.

It used to be that people like Jerry Falwell could look at pornography and say, "That is immoral" and use the language of "filth" or "degradation." America has shifted so profoundly that what Christians on the right now do is to evoke the language of religious freedom — to claim the defensive posture and say, "We are under attack for claiming our moral views." What is happening now is that language of rights or religious freedom is no longer a shield but a sword and a battering ram to slash at your cultural enemies and justify discriminating against certain populations, even in agencies that take money from the government.

It seems that language is also being used to cast voter suppression in defensive terms.

When we surveyed Americans in October 2020, we found that white Christian nationalism was the most powerful predictor that you already thought voter fraud was rampant, that we make it too easy to vote and that you would support hypothetical civics tests in order to vote or disenfranchising certain criminal offenders for life. This paints a picture of white Christian nationalism being fundamentally anti-democratic, that it supports limiting voting access to those who prove worthy — and the people who are worthy are the people like us. If there is a thread tying together today's white Christian nationalists with the founding fathers, it is that only white landowning Anglo-Protestants should be able to vote.

In subsequent surveys, we asked, "Is voting a right or a privilege?" Thankfully, the majority believe that voting is a right, which it is. But we found that white Americans who affirm Christian nationalist ideology are more likely to think voting is not a right, but a privilege. In other words, something we can take away.

The book discusses figures like Christian right revisionist historian David Barton. How has historical misinformation played a role in both getting us to this point as well as the conflicts we're seeing now around education?

One of the things we document is that Christian nationalist theology is powerfully associated not just with believing misinformation about COVID, QAnon or the Capitol insurrection, but about religion in American history. That you believe the Constitution references our obligations to God, which it does not. Or that the First Amendment says Congress can privilege Christianity, which it does not.

For years, we have known that evangelical Christians tend to do poorly on quizzes of scientific knowledge, not because they're ignorant per se, but because when they're asked questions about the Big Bang theory or evolution or even continental drift, they get those answers wrong because of ideology. Not because they don't know what the answer is, but because they intentionally say, "That isn't the way it went down." We find the same thing with Christian nationalism: It inclines Americans to affirm answers that paint Christianity as central to American history. Part of that is ideology, but another part is the misinformation put out by agencies like Barton's WallBuilders that contribute to the narrative that America has been evangelical throughout history.

We see the effort to try to control American history in Trump's 1776 Commission, which was led by executives at Hillsdale College, none of whom are professional historians. They threw together this document that is supposed to be a counter to "The 1619 Project," talking about American exceptionalism and slavery as an aberration, but all in all, America is great and here are the reasons why. That is an effort to control the narrative about who we are as a people.

We have always seen this and it's often tied to race. A great recent book, "The Bible Told Them So" by J. Russell Hawkins, argues that there was a segregation theology that motivated white evangelicals in the South. It wasn't just explicit racism, but this interpretation of the Bible that said segregation is good and God wants it that way. Over time, as it became clear they were losing, they developed separate institutions, and separate schools were among them. So in the late '70s, segregation theology started to morph into this "family values" conservatism that was ostensibly about protecting children.

The Christian right has always wanted to control education. How do you scare enough parents? By saying that nefarious elements are infiltrating the schools, and they're going to infect your children.

So you have always seen this move on the Christian right to control education and raise fear about what children are being taught. How do you scare enough parents to be mobilized? By saying that nefarious elements are infiltrating the schools and they're going to infect your children. Within that, you have this push for homeschooling, for vouchers to defund public schools and support privatized education in which parents on the right can raise kids who are white, Christian conservatives, and you can maybe stave off the forces of secularization and diversity.

Toward the end of the book, you write about how other camps on the right, like Catholic integrationists and post-liberals, are also advancing ideologies complementary to white Christian nationalism. Can you talk about that coming together?

What we've seen in the political and religious realignment over the last few decades is the concern that the Christian right is no longer strong enough by themselves to win victories politically. That required them to relax the bounds of who is part of their team. So you see Christian conservatives on the right uniting groups that formerly did not like one another, like Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons and even "pro-Christian" secularists. Increasingly, we can't talk about a Christian right so much as a "pro-Christian right," because Christian identity isn't really necessary anymore. You can be a secular pro-Christian American and think "Christian" is an ethno-cultural category that supports traditional values. All of these identities are on the same team, since what you want is an institutionalization of white Christian ethno-culture and victories for the political right.

Over on the Democratic side, they have nothing close to that. This is why Republicans are a lot stronger as a group than many realize, because they're united around ideology and ethno-religious belief in a way that Democrats are constantly fractured.

Even though we see demographic decline among white Christians, the unity on the right belies the demographic numbers. We also know that Christian nationalist ideology ebbs and flows in response to threats: When you tell white Christians about their imminent demographic decline, they respond with greater Christian nationalism. If you are a savvy politician, you can stoke a Christian nationalist response that mobilizes people in your target audience to collective action.

You also talk about the need for a popular front that could counter white Christian nationalism. What would that look like and what would it require?

I think it will take everybody from never-Trump evangelicals all the way to the secular left. It's going to take concentrated effort to not only name this, but to make sure it can't be institutionalized any further in the name of religious liberty, and that political candidates can't continue to deploy the language of Christian threat without it being called out as dog-whistle language that just means white Christian ethno-culture. It's going to take organizations like the Baptist Joint Committee and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who are already trying to do this, and coalitions of Americans from all kinds of backgrounds to say this is what we're against.

That is difficult. Evangelical Christians, say, are understandably reticent to sign a document alongside people they fundamentally disagree with. Abortion is always going to be a sticking point. But we are confronted with a situation where the stakes may be high enough.

I'll say it this way: COVID should have been the asteroid that united us, but it just polarized us further. But if an asteroid was headed towards Earth, I wouldn't ask the neighbor next to me who they voted for in the last election. We would recognize that the threat is great enough to just focus on defeating this thing. For many Americans, it's going to take a recognition that the threat is that great.

One of the reasons we wanted to write the book is to say: This is the asteroid. This is the thing that is coming for democracy. And we've got to unite to overcome that.

Marjorie Taylor Greene tells far-right Catholics their church is ruled by Satan

Last Thursday, on the eve of testifying in a lawsuit that seeks to prevent her from running for re-election, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the legendary or notorious Georgia Republican, granted an hourlong interview in her home to an unlikely outlet: the far-right Catholic news organization Church Militant, which for years has positioned itself as one of the noisiest and most outlandish partisans in the Roman Catholic Church's ongoing fight with itself. Greene is an evangelical Protestant, not a Catholic, but Church Militant is making the most of this opportunity, and has featured segments of the interview all week, starting with its opening video on Monday, entitled "Marjorie for Pope."

In the interview, Greene rehashed old beefs, described herself as a victim of Jan. 6, said the United States is so sinful she doesn't understand "why God hasn't destroyed us" and — most exciting for Church Militant — suggested that Satan is controlling the Catholic Church.

That might sound like a claim that would offend most Catholics, but Church Militant is not most Catholics. Originally founded as Real Catholic TV by former CBS News producer Michael Voris in 2008 to offer a more orthodox depiction of Mother Church than is found in pop culture fare like "The Da Vinci Code," the organization grew increasingly strident and at odds with the formal church, until the Archdiocese of Detroit, where it's located, successfully blocked it from using the word "Catholic" in the outlet's name.

RELATED: Marjorie Taylor Greene denies calling for Pelosi's execution during trial, then backtracks

These days, Voris describes the website as an apostolate trying to preserve authentic Catholicism in the face of a church hierarchy he describes as an "international crime syndicate" run by a gay cabal. In his crusade against the church, Voris has launched two coalitions for what he calls "canceled" and "persecuted" priests as well as an anonymous network he calls "the New Catacombs," comprising clerics who denounce "the evil in the hierarchy."

In 2020, Church Militant pronounced itself the home of "the red-pilled laity" and became such a vitriolic supporter of Donald Trump's re-election campaign that Voris warned that a Biden presidency would result in faithful Catholics being declared "illegal" and "hunted down" and said that if any viewers considered Trump too "crass" to support, they'd better not complain when they were "herded onto the trains headed for the camps."

After cheering on the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol, last summer Church Militant brought disgraced former "alt-lite" personality Milo Yiannopoulos into the fold. He had recently declared that returning to the Catholic faith had helped him become "ex-gay" — similar to Voris, who in 2016 publicly repented for having had same-sex relationships and committed to live a "chaste" life — and that he was planning on opening a Catholic conversion therapy clinic in Florida.

After starting as a columnist, by last fall Yiannopoulos was hawking Virgin Mary icons and CDs of himself reading from the books of Psalms and Proverbs on Church Militant's home shopping channel. He even appeared on behalf of the group in a Baltimore court as Church Militant fought to hold a protest rally outside the annual gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. When the protest took place last November, Yiannapoulos served as emcee, pairing jokes about gay culture with homophobic slurs as he egged on the audience to chant "Lock them up" at the bishops meeting next door.

This February, Yiannopoulos also facilitated Greene's appearance as the honored "surprise guest" at white nationalist Nick Fuentes' third America First Political Action Conference. At that gathering, Greene greeted the crowd of 1,200 white nationalists as fellow "canceled Americans," and told them they had been "handed the responsibility to fight for our Constitution and stand up for our freedoms and stop the Democrats who are the Communist Party of the United States of America." In the aftermath of that colorful event — which featured chants in support of Vladimir Putin, calls to hang political enemies, abundant "great replacement" theory and Fuentes praising Hitler — Greene defended her appearance as an effort "to break barriers and speak to a lost generation of young people" who had "gathered to declare that Christ is King."

In a tweet on Monday, Greene referenced Yiannopoulos again, seemingly in response to the news that Elon Musk had bought Twitter, calling on unseen forces to "bring back" her personal Twitter account as well as those of Trump, COVID skeptic Robert Malone, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, Yiannopoulos and the entire "canceled nation." It's fair to speculate that Yiannopoulos helped facilitate Greene's interview with Church Militant as well, in which Voris praised her as "the lioness in the Congress, defender of traditional values, America, all of that," and suggested that she might become the next speaker of the House.

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In the interview, MTG did what MTG does. She insulted Joe Biden, claimed that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had forbidden members of Congress from using "pronouns and family names" such as "mother" and "grandparent," recounted confrontations with fellow lawmakers and Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg, and described efforts to address the student loan debt crisis as "Satanic." Here's the logic on that one: "When people think they don't have to be responsible with their money and they can just borrow as much as they want and not have to care about giving it back, that is Satan destroying rules."

This interview was recorded just before Greene's appearance in a lawsuit challenging her eligibility to run for Congress again on the grounds that she supported the Jan. 6 insurrection. So she protested, predictably enough, that she too was "a victim" of Jan. 6, since she'd been evacuated from the House chamber as well. The lawsuit, which is unlikely to be successful, is based on a provision of the 14th Amendment, written in the aftermath of the Civil War, which holds that people who have sworn an oath to protect the Constitution and subsequently support an insurrection are barred from holding any political office in the future.

But in the interview, Greene showed herself willing to be party to another civil war: the one within the Catholic Church, which for most of the last decade has pitted conservative American Catholics against a pope they consider too liberal to be legitimate, as well as against much of the rest of the global church.

After asking Greene how she gauged the "spiritual character of the United States right now" — the question that prompted her to wonder why God hadn't destroyed America yet for its failure to end abortion — Voris guided her into issues within Catholic World, taking specific aim at the church-affiliated aid organization Catholic Relief Services, which has recently been targeted by conservative Catholics for its work to help immigrants at the southern border.

"What it is, is Satan's controlling the church," Greene responded. Catholics and other Christians who cited biblical mandates to "love one another" by taking care of migrants, she continued, were "perverting" both the meaning of the Bible and the Constitution.

Greene argued that Christians who cite the biblical mandate to "love one another" by caring for migrants and refugees are "perverting" the Bible and the Constitution.

Instead, Greene argued, the U.S. government should cut off all aid to Central American countries until they repatriate any citizens who have immigrated to the U.S. "We should hold those countries accountable. 'Oh, I'm sorry, Guatemala, you're not getting a check this year because you've sent X number of thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of people to illegally invade our country as if they're an army,'" she said. "'We won't be able to send you your foreign aid until you bring your people back."

As for the Catholic Church, she continued, "The bishops of Catholic Relief charities and services, they should be all in support of that…. If the bishops were reading the Bible and truly preaching the word of God to their flock… and not covering up child sex abuse and pedophilia, that would be loving one another, would have the true meaning and not the perversion and the twisted lie that they're making it up to be."

Greene isn't the only political figure to have visited Church Militant, despite its marginal reputation. Onetime Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been a frequent guest. Former Newsmax host Michelle Malkin, who has openly associated with white nationalists, spoke at the group's November rally in Baltimore, charging that U.S. bishops' aid to immigrants was part of their larger agenda to "destroy the historical American nation." In the fall of 2020, just weeks before the election, Trump's Federal Election Commission chair Trey Trainor talked with Voris in a lengthy interview in which he described the election as a "spiritual war." This year, Church Militant has interviewed a number of right-wing Catholic candidates for higher office, including gubernatorial candidates Dan Cox of Maryland, Ryan Kelley of Michigan and Jim Renacci of Ohio, as well as Missouri Senate candidate Mark McCloskey, who became internet-famous for waving a gun at Black Lives Matter marchers in the summer of 2020.

"What I find interesting about Church Militant's increased focus on promoting far-right politicians and influencers is that, a year and a half after the 2020 election, the alliance between reactionary Catholic media and the Republican Party seems to have only grown stronger," said Mike Lewis, founder of the website Where Peter Is, which tracks the role of the far-right within the Catholic Church.

"In a lot of ways, a significant part of the U.S. Catholic Church resembles today's Republican Party," he continued. "I think that Greene and her advisers see in this group a small but motivated segment of her base." As for Church Militant, he continued, "the benefits are obvious. When [Voris] gives attention to politicians, especially well-known figures like Greene, he raises his own profile and gets attention in the mainstream press. He's trying to expand his audience, and he's going to do that more effectively if he interviews fewer Catholic figures and more national figures."

"There used to be a genuine 'ecumenism of the barricades' among culture-war believers, like the old First Things crowd in the Richard John Neuhaus days," said David Gibson, director of Fordham University's Center on Religion and Culture, referencing the ecumenical Christian right magazine that helped cement the partnership between conservative Catholics and evangelicals. "But they were believers." Greene and Voris, by contrast, he continued, "seem to be political performers following a script more than scripture. They are so alienated from their respective faith communities it is hard to see them as evangelical Protestant or Roman Catholic. They seem to be trying to pump each other up more than pursuing some actual goal."

Think Capitol rioters were 'ordinary people?' New research connects many to far-right groups

On the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, conservatives held more than two dozen "Justice for J6" vigils across the country, arguing that most of those arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol "were political neophytes" who hadn't realized what they were doing was wrong. In February, the Republican Party described the insurrection as "legitimate political discourse" in censuring the two GOP members of Congress who joined the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 events. And in early April, Donald Trump told the Washington Post that he had wanted to march to the Capitol himself, saying "I would have gone there in a minute" if the Secret Service hadn't prevented it.

All this is part of a growing effort to normalize the riot at the Capitol, and to cast its perpetrators as overwhelmingly "ordinary people" who got caught up in the momentum of something beyond their control. But last week came decisive evidence that this simply isn't true: At least a third of those arrested in conjunction with Jan. 6 belong to a far-right network that is not just deeply interconnected but resilient and adaptable.

RELATED: How Christian nationalism drove the insurrection: A religious history of Jan. 6

Last Thursday, Michael Jensen, a senior researcher at the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START center), released preliminary findings on the ideological motivations and connections of about 30 percent of all Jan. 6 defendants. While his research is ongoing, Jensen has already found that at least 244 of the 816 people arrested to date were either members of "extremist" organizations or self-identified with them. In his widely-shared map of the network (embedded below), Jensen documented at least 700 relationships between the defendants and both well-known far-right groups as well as more diffuse movements, including white nationalists, anti-vaccination activists, militias, militant anti-abortion groups, QAnon adherents and more.

(Michael Jensen/START center)

While the "ordinary people" narrative around Jan. 6 has become ubiquitous, Jensen says, "These aren't ordinary relationships — or, at least, they shouldn't be."

Jensen spoke with Salon last Friday.

How did you come to research the Jan. 6 defendants as a group?

The START center's mission has always been to advance the scientific study of the causes of terrorism and how best to respond to it. We've primarily done that through developing datasets around terrorist behaviors, terrorists themselves, the types of weapons and tactics they use and so on.

Within the START center I run the team that looks at extremism in the United States. When we started working on that topic in 2013, one of the key buzzwords was this concept of radicalization: Everybody wanted to know how and why somebody could adopt these beliefs and then mobilize on behalf of them to the point where they're committing crimes and killing people.

We had a lot of great theories, but essentially no data to test them. So our proposal was to start collecting data on individuals that had radicalized to the point of committing crimes and figure out everything that might have mattered in their radicalization process: family dynamics, schooling and work experiences, social groups, how they were introduced to extremism and other risk factors like mental health or substance use concerns. We also wanted to make sure it was cross-ideological, because extremism in the U.S. is quite diverse.

In 2016, we released that dataset, "Profiles of Individual Radicalization in the United States," for the first time. It has information on over 2,200 individuals radicalized in the U.S. to the point of committing crimes — everybody from white supremacists and anti-government militia members to QAnon followers, eco-terrorists and ISIS-inspired individuals. We map all of them, with the ultimate goal of figuring out what to do about it.

We certainly noticed an uptick in cases during the Trump presidency, especially associated with the extreme right. We were already tracking these cases for our database. Then Jan. 6 happened and was obviously a watershed moment. In a busy year, we might identify 300 individuals that qualify for inclusion in the database. Here we had one day where potentially hundreds, if not thousands, might qualify — people clearly motivated by political goals, by extremist ideology.

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We knew it was going to take time for enough information to be available about the defendants to know who really qualifies for inclusion. But in the early days after Jan. 6, this narrative was forming that, "These are not extremists. These are ordinary people that got caught up in the moment." I was skeptical because, having done this for almost 10 years, I knew the data just wasn't available yet to have confidence in those claims. It takes a while to learn about the perpetrators of these crimes when there's only one of them, let alone a couple thousand.

What determines who gets included in the database?

The most important criterion is a clear link between criminal behavior and the ideology the individual espouses. We run across plenty of cases of individuals linked to white supremacy, for example, who commit a drug crime that has nothing to do with their ideology. That's not somebody we would include. With Jan. 6, there's a clear link between the criminal act and the beliefs.

As a team, with Jan. 6, we are still very much discussing whether everybody just qualifies for inclusion because this was clearly an event motivated by a political goal, or do we limit it to just those with an extremist group affiliation?

What role does the "ordinary people" narrative play?

It does a couple of things. It downplays the reality of the event itself. There have been Republican members of Congress who claim this was basically a Capitol tour that got out of hand and these are law-abiding people who made a mistake — or, in some representatives' view, they didn't make a mistake at all. So politicians latch onto this narrative to dismiss Jan. 6 as a significant event.

Almost across the board, defense lawyers use this narrative to pass off their defendants' actions as just getting caught up in the moment: They had no intention of going to the Capitol and doing something harmful, they just lost control. That's just not true of a lot of the defendants. There's clear indication that they came prepared to engage in violence and had coordinated it to some extent ahead of time. We're losing sight of just how coordinated and orchestrated it actually was when we pass it off as ordinary people that got caught up in the moment.

If we say Jan. 6 is something "ordinary people" do, we're saying it's mainstream to get upset about fake election fraud and riot at the Capitol.

The other thing the narrative does is potentially make the problem of mainstreaming extremism worse. The fact that so many people arrived at the Capitol that day was because extremist views, disinformation and conspiracy theories had made it into the public discourse around everything — not just politics, but also public health, education, immigration, all the things that matter. When we say the Capitol riot is something ordinary people do, it's like it's a mainstream thing to get upset about fake election fraud and riot at the Capitol. That's why the narrative is potentially damaging to our ultimate goal of making sure this never happens again.

What was the starting premise of your research, and what did you find instead?

I went in expecting that I'd find the cases everyone knows about — the high-profile Oath Keepers and Proud Boys that have been all over the news, the QAnon Shaman — and I wouldn't find many others. I started digging through court records, social media posts and everything else I could get my hands on, and found there were a lot of people that had some connection to these movements. There were both card-carrying members of these organizations and even more that had self-identified as part of these movements, so while they may not be dues-paying members of the Proud Boys, they were at demonstrations ahead of Jan. 6 alongside the Proud Boys and putting it on their social media accounts and promoting the views of the group.

I wanted to know how many of these people were connected prior to Jan. 6. Within groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, there were a lot of connections established prior to that date: the individuals at rallies together or doing military-style training together. What I thought was going to be a very easy exercise in finding a handful of connections quickly turned into many, many hours of poring through thousands of pages of court documents and social media posts and news articles finding these relationships.

I'm under no belief that I found them all. If we had perfect access to all the information, that 30 percent number I reported would be higher.

What were some of the most concerning connections that you found?

There are the individuals people know about who are fairly influential in modern U.S. extremist movements: [Oath Keepers founder] Stewart Rhodes, [Proud Boys chairman] Enrique Tarrio, the leaders of these big organizations that have a relationship to each other that allows for information, people and tactics to flow easily between them. But there are lesser-known characters who play a really important role as well.

For example, Alan Hostetter, I think, perfectly encapsulates Jan. 6. He's a Three Percenter. He's anti-vax, he's anti-science. He has spoken at QAnon rallies. He has links to the QAnon Shaman. Now, in court, he's using sovereign-citizen tactics. He developed his own anti-government militia called the American Phoenix Project and mobilized his fellow group members to the Capitol on that day. So he's sitting at this intersection of just about every ideology that was present at the Capitol.

Somebody like that is important because they transmit ideas from one movement to another. When he speaks at a QAnon rally, he brings sovereign citizen and anti-government views to a movement that maybe otherwise isn't hearing those views. He's able to make connections between those disparate ideologies and bring them closer together.

That seems to mirror the growing enmeshment of different right-wing movements, to the point that we're seeing an almost seamless overlap between anti-vaccination sentiments, election lie narratives, QAnon conspiracy theories and so on.

QAnon played a pivotal role in bringing together groups that weren't necessarily in opposition but had different goals and ideas. QAnon is a self-interested conspiracy theory. It doesn't care about coherence or whether the predictions come true. It wants to survive. It wants to grow. So it's opportunistic and will bring anybody into the fold.

QAnon folks, at the beginning, had a strong connection to the sovereign citizen movement. But you've seen influential people within the movement become more overtly antisemitic, and that brings in the white nationalists. You see them being more overtly anti-government and pushing election conspiracy theories, and that brings in the militias. Then you see them being anti-vax and anti-lockdown, and that appeals to folks that aren't connected to the broader anti-government movement but are vulnerable to radicalization. So QAnon becomes this connective tissue, drawing these individuals closer together and putting them under this umbrella conspiracy theory.

Of course, that was all fueled by the online ecosystem they can exploit to make these connections. Now it's found a home on places like Telegram, where the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and neo-Nazi groups also found a home. When you go on Telegram now, it's very common to find channels with lots of members that mix all these things. It's a QAnon channel, but also a white supremacy channel that has anti-government militia stuff going on too. What you now see is an almost complete overlap between what were once different sub-ideologies within the far right.

Some groups that track far-right movements take issue with the terminology of "extremism," arguing that casting far-right ideologies as extremism can obscure their connections to systemic power and how widespread they really are.

I understand that idea: When you label something "extremism," it's supposed to mean that you're labeling it as rare. And what we've seen over the last five years or so is that there's an awful lot of it now. I think you're absolutely correct that you run the risk, when you label something as extremism, of people passing it off as an exception, not the rule.

But the problem with not labeling it extremism is that you normalize it. We need to remind people that it is extreme to believe these things. It's extreme not to trust science, not to believe evidence, to promote the overthrow of democracy. They are unfortunately now common views, but they are extreme as well, and our goal should be to make them uncommon again.

Will you be mapping other ideologies or groups as you go forward, such as the Christian nationalist movements that were so prevalent on Jan. 6?

As we learn more about both those broader movements and specific smaller organizations, we'll keep adding them. My ultimate goal is to map Jan. 6 within the larger extremist context, to show it as one event among many that bridge not only the main groups that were present at the Capitol that day, but others [that weren't].

The idea is to get a better view of the broader extremist ecosystem over the last several years so we have a more complete picture of what we're dealing with. There's a volume challenge — this was a spare-time project — but that is the ultimate goal because Jan. 6 wasn't an isolated event. It happened within a growing context that remains to this day.

We would look at fairly extreme religious organizations or organizations that are promoting anti-abortion views or are linked with QAnon, things like that. I don't have any plans at this point to figure out the religious affiliation of every single defendant, but to the extent that specific evangelical groups present at that Capitol that day have linked themselves to this broader extremist movement, then absolutely I would include them.

What do these findings tell us about the shape of the right today?

It teaches us what I think we knew, but didn't have the evidence to completely support, which is that this is a big, well-connected movement and defeating it is going to be difficult. It can't just be a strategy of targeting one organization or individual. This is like a virus: It will adapt and evolve to stay alive and keep infecting individuals.

The leadership of two big organizations, the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, are being decimated right now. And it probably won't matter that much. Those organizations will survive because they already decentralized and made inroads with all these other movements, so they have people in place to keep the ideology moving forward even if Stewart Rhodes ends up in jail for the next 20 years, or we don't hear from Tarrio again for decades.

Defeating it also can't just be a law enforcement strategy. We're not going to arrest our way out of this problem. This is a public education problem as much as a criminal problem. We need to be better at dispelling disinformation and educating our kids about how to think critically about conspiracy theories and to see the manipulation in them. We often talk about adopting a public health model, where prevention plays as big a role as intervention and interdiction.

Unfortunately, we just don't, at a national level, have the mechanisms in place to do anything like that. We see local programs that can have great outcomes. But scaling that up to reach everyone is a massive challenge that requires resources we don't have. But it's ultimately what is needed.

The other point is just how mainstream these beliefs have become and how quickly something on the fringe makes its way into the mainstream. The direct connections now between things like QAnon and politicians allows these ideas to move rapidly from a Telegram channel into mainstream political discourse. We're seeing it all over the place — with Supreme Court confirmations, and now these ridiculous protests around Disney. That stuff finds its way into the mainstream instantaneously because of the direct connections those ideas have to influential people. The mainstreaming of these beliefs is here, and I don't know how we reverse course at this point.

How do you grapple with ideas like this becoming a mass movement? Is it even possible in our current political setup?

You could take the view that the ship has sailed. I don't know that we're going to turn it around completely at this point because of the political utility it has. Adopting a hardline view is politically a winning strategy for individuals that have the ear of the masses. Part of it is going to take convincing them that the political gains they achieve from moving far to the right are not worth it because of the ills that it causes to the greater body politic. I don't know how you make that a convincing argument to those that have adopted that strategy.

The fact that you've got some 100 individuals linked to QAnon running for public office in the midterm elections is just astounding. And what's going to be even more astounding is that some of them are going to win. So that cohort in Congress is going to grow.

We could stop voting these people in. That would do a lot to send a signal that it's not a winning political strategy. But unfortunately, that's just not what mobilizes people. People are mobilized by polarization, by radicalization. Maybe that's just basic human nature. Until we solve that problem, I think it remains a winning strategy and we're going to be dealing with this for some time.

Biden's sister says she had essence of Trump 'exorcised' from White House

Valerie Biden Owens, sister of President Biden, released a new memoir on Tuesday called "Growing Up Biden" and in it she describes "exorcising" the essence of former President Donald Trump from the White House prior to Biden moving in.

Biden Owens reveals in her book that she was part of the team tasked with re-decorating the Oval Office and first on her list was getting "everything Trump had touched out of there," according to a break down by Vanity Fair.

Among the items Biden Owens saw removed was Trump's portrait of Andrew Jackson, which he chose himself; and she made an effort to swap out the desk that Trump used for one that belonged to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but wasn't able to because it's currently housed at his family home in Hyde Park.

Although Trump's desk remained, Biden Owens said the fact that it had also been used by JFK and Obama made the matter a little more tolerable.

"So that was certainly good enough, and went a long way toward exorcising from my mind the repugnant image of its previous occupant," Biden Owens writes in her book via a quote pulled from Vanity Fair's report.

Biden Owens makes no attempt to conceal her true feelings towards Trump in her writing, referring to the former president as a "bully" and a "narcissistic, incompetent, and incomplete man."

"If ever there was a force of anti-empathy in the world, it is Donald Trump. He is a bully, pure and simple—a narcissistic, incompetent, and incomplete man. He is the embodiment of resentment. His power comes from tapping into our baser instincts. Biden Owens says in "Growing Up Biden."

"President Trump brought out the worst of our human tendencies, and the nation's very soul had been battered by hatred, intolerance, and bigotry," she writes.

Right-wing switchback: 'National conservatives' dump Putin -- and now want to claim Ukraine

From the first day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have been placed in an uneasy position. For more than two decades, right-wing activists and politicians have praised Russia as the unlikely wellspring of renewed traditionalism, as Vladimir Putin intertwined church and state in an effort to bolster Russian nationalism and, more quietly, his aspirations to reconstruct the Soviet empire.

When the launch of Putin's war coincided with the first day of the Conservative Political Action conference in late February, a dizzying ideological switchback began. Speakers who had declared just days or hours earlier that they didn't care about the fate of Ukraine were rapidly forced to recalibrate. Fox News' Tucker Carlson, who in 2019 declared he was "root[ing] for Russia" in its conflict with Ukraine, was compelled to recant, at least temporarily. In Europe, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who had celebrated his long and fond relationship with Putin in Moscow just weeks before Russia invaded, issued a tepid condemnation. (Hungary is a member state of both the EU and NATO, though its relationship with both is tense.)

At least initially, on the broader, more ideological level, there was a sense that Russia's aggression — and Putin's claims that he was fighting not just Ukraine but the whole of the "degenerate" West — would engender a rebuke of the "illiberal" populist movements that have swept far-right leaders into power around the world.

As the Washington Post editorial board put it this week, Putin had launched two wars, the second being a war of ideas over the international illiberal agenda Russia has helped lead. Or as columnist Brad Littlejohn wrote at The American Conservative, "behind the battles being waged on the plains of Ukraine was a deeper battle over the narrative that would frame Russia's invasion, the lessons the West must learn from it, and the vision for a future Europe that ought to emerge on the other side of this crisis."

One contingent on the right that might have seemed particularly vulnerable to this reordering of the political arena are the National Conservatives: a relatively new international right-wing coalition that seeks to rehabilitate the idea of nationalism as a virtue and to oppose the emphasis on individual freedom and pluralism in classical liberalism — meaning the libertarian, small-L liberalism that "mainstream" conservatives used to embrace — as incompatible with traditional values.

For the last several years, the "NatCons," who held a high-profile meeting in Orlando last November that drew numerous conservative intellectuals and politicians, have labored to combine right-wing social mores, public religiosity and newly interventionist economic policies into a movement better positioned for a populist age. In that effort, they've frequently looked to Orbán as inspiration, especially for the way he has wielded authoritarian measures toward traditionalist ends, even as Orbán has clearly been looking to Russia.

At their recent conference, the NatCons pivoted to the mind-bending claim that Ukraine's struggle embodies right-wing nationalism, not "Western liberal values."

Yet when the NatCons gathered several weeks ago in Brussels, for their fifth international conference, the dominant message of the speakers was not reassessment or remorse, but vindication. Not because of any overt or coded sympathy for Russian aggression — the speakers were so uniformly vitriolic in condemning the invasion that conservative writer Rod Dreher, another presenter, noted it was "almost impossible to dissent from anti-Russian maximalism" — but rather because of their ambitious and perhaps mind-bending claim that Ukraine's struggle against an invading army embodied their values, not those of the democratic center or left.

One former European Parliament member from the U.K., Brigadier Geoffrey Charles van Orden, claimed, citing an unnamed observer in Ukraine, that there were no evident "Western liberal values behind the noble Ukrainian struggle," which was rooted in centuries of Ukrainian nationalist patriotism instead. Another speaker, former Hungarian diplomat Attila Demkó, suggested that a woke Western fixation on "micro-aggressions" had left Europe too soft to anticipate a macro-aggressor like Putin.

Chris DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute and chair of the 2021 National Conservatism conference, opened the gathering (in a speech later adapted for a Wall Street Journal op-ed), by arguing that "the free world has fallen prey to certain soft conceits which Putin and his ilk are right to see as weaknesses." While "experts claimed that nation states and borders were barbaric vestiges and global bureaucracies could usher in peace and harmony," he continued, "it turned out that we had actual barbarians in the here and now, and that nations with borders were essential to peace and harmony."

All told, reflected conference organizer Yoram Hazony, it was "not a bad moment" for nationalism. Hazony, an Israeli political theorist and chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation, is not just the chief organizer of the NatCon conference series, but one of the main architects of the movement, as author of the 2018 book "The Virtue of Nationalism." For years, Hazony said, critics of his movement had argued there was little difference between nationalism and imperialism. But the Ukraine war, he said, had demolished that argument.

Nationalists, he said, looked at Russia's invasion and recognized it as unjust, proclaiming "that a people has a right, if it's capable of asserting that right, to be able to chart its own course." By contrast, "imperialists" — a category Hazony defines in his own terms — viewed the idea of independent nations dismissively, asking, "What difference do the borders really make? And why should everybody have their own laws when we know what the right laws are?"

You may guess where this is going. As Hazony continued: "There are plenty of people in Russia who think that." And likewise, he said, "plenty of people in Brussels, and in Berlin and in Washington."

This speaks to a core conviction of the national conservatives: that ever since World War II, the concept of nationalism has been unfairly smeared as the driving force behind the crimes of Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union, when both examples should correctly be seen as the excesses of empire.

Ofir Haivry, Hazony's right-hand man at the Herzl Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, argued that this narrative was a deliberate misrepresentation concocted by liberals and Marxists, who he said had conspired in the aftermath of World War II to deflect blame from their own ideologies — since, as he put it, "many liberals were imperialists and Marxists of course were totalitarian." Since then, he argued, the liberal domination of academia had propagated the anti-nationalist argument until it became canonical. Today, he continued, the same old con was continuing, with liberals casting Russia's war "as a conflict between nationalism, represented by Russia, and liberal democracy, represented by Ukraine." That, in turn, he said, was leading to calls for a new round of imperialism: to erect a "liberal empire" to stand against Russian imperialism.

The new "Evil Empire"

This, too, gets at a driving narrative among NatCons, and the "post-liberal" conservatives who largely compose its ranks. For them, nationalism, properly understood, represents the good fight against empire, and imperialism these days is primarily found on the left, deploying the soft power of culture, international standards and corporate might to build a "woke" empire that represses conservative or "traditional" values.

For this new wave of conservatives, nationalism is the good fight against empire, and "woke" imperialism is the province of the left.

The Brussels conference drew numerous politicians, including a Ukrainian ambassador, multiple members of the European Parliament and representatives from national governments including Poland, Hungary, Britain, the Netherlands, Greece and more. Writing in the British publication The Critic, Sebastian Milbank noted that Marion Maréchal, the estranged niece of far-right populist French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, was initially listed as a speaker but apparently dropped out. But Finnish legislator Päivi Räsänen — whose recent prosecution under Finnish hate speech laws for making anti-LGBTQ statements briefly made her a Fox News cause célèbre — was there with one of her attorneys: an Irish lawyer in France who works for the international wing of Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian right advocacy group based in the U.S.

Räsänen's prosecution — which ended in acquittal two weeks ago — as well as the European Union's recent sanctions against Poland and Hungary for their repressive policies toward women, LGBTQ people and migrants, and their restrictions on free speech and the courts, were all held up at the conference as examples of how liberal empire works today.

Judit Varga, Hungary's minister of justice, delivered an angry rebuke to the EU over the sanctions, charging that the body was using "the rule of law" as "a blackmailing tool to press member states to [toe the line] and if legal measures are not enough, to pressure member states ideologically."

Arguing that "political correctness and multiculturalism" have supplanted the common sense that once made Europe great, Varga said, "What is at stake is the European way of life, the respect for Judeo-Christian heritage, our common history and culture, our diversity of national identities and our European freedom. I might say the Christian freedom … that is resilient to the pressure of ideological hegemony and [which] includes not only civil and political freedoms … but also, for example, the right to decide with whom we want to live, the right to defend our families and raise and educate our children in a way we wish to do."

Varga was clearly referring to some of Hungary's most controversial positions, without quite spelling them out. Those include its near-total ban (at least before until the Ukraine war) on migrants and refugees, whom Orbán has cast as "Muslim invaders"; its prohibition on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ adoption rights; and its Russia-inspired "don't say gay" law that forbids sharing LGBTQ "content" with children.

Constantinos Bogdanos, a former Greek lawmaker recently expelled from his own party for extremism — he appeared with members of Golden Dawn, a now-defunct neo-Nazi party, and publicized the names of migrant kindergarteners at a school in Athens — described Ukrainians' valiant defiance of Russia as a model for how conservatives should respond to a liberal political order. "We live in a world that aims towards negating the terms that are the foundation of our common perception and experience," he said. "There is no respect or even no allowed concept nowadays of what is right and wrong, good or bad. There is no permission to talk about nations, there is no permission to talk about genders. So we all stand with Ukraine because it reintroduces what is right, as simple as that."

David Engels, a Belgian historian, was more succinct: The European Union, he declared, was the new "evil empire."

Ukrainians are "real refugees"

There were relatively few American speakers, but Josh Hammer, the right-wing opinion editor of Newsweek, used the occasion to offer his prescription for a NatCon-style immigration policy, founded on the premise that a nation is not just an idea or a constitutional construct, but rather "a common people with a shared culture, religious heritage, customs, habits and a way of life."

Such a definition of nationhood, Hammer said, was imperative if countries wanted to be able to establish limits on immigration — contrary to what he described as the EU's intentional effort to use immigration "to stamp out any local or parochial difference" and "dilute" Europe's "Christian heritage" by "flood[ing] the continent with migrants of alien cultural or religious backgrounds…and with other colorful inflows more broadly that better reflect the modern left's intersectional sensibilities."

Allowing such a diverse influx, he said, inevitably leads towards "balkanization" as immigrants fail to assimilate. Instead he argued that the U.S. should "codify into law a prioritization above all else of the need for cultural assimilation," rejecting merit- or skill-based immigration policies in favor of the explicit ethnic restrictions found in countries like Israel or Japan.

This too was a common theme, as numerous speakers took pains to distinguish between the refugees fleeing war in Ukraine, and the other sorts of refugees they have vehemently opposed for years.

A Hungarian speaker insisted that we can't "draw any parallel between the Ukrainian refugee crisis and the migration crisis of earlier years," because they are somehow "completely different."

Reiterating Orbán's perspective that migration endangers Hungary's "cultural sovereignty and self-identity" as well as bringing "social tension and inevitable disturbances while destroying the cultural identity of Europe," Varga said it was "important not to draw any parallel between the current Ukrainian refugee crisis and the migration crisis of earlier years," because "this crisis is completely different."

Juan Ángel Soto Gómez, the international director of Fundación Disenso, a think tank established by Spain's right-wing Vox party, likewise charged that large-scale immigration "dissolves national identity" and is a tool being used strategically "by third parties" to create domestic unrest.

Demkó, the former Hungarian diplomat, made a similar point, declaring of displaced Ukrainians, "These are real refugees from a neighboring country. Not like in 2015 when we were told we had to take refugees from five countries away, 80% [of them] young male."

Dreams of a conservative "reconquista"

Following this theme, a number of speakers argued that it was imperative to revive Christianity on a grand scale in Europe in order to maintain its culture.

Dreher, another mainstay of the NatCon conferences and discourse online, said that while "we must never return to a form of Christianity that persecutes" non-believers, that threat should not deter the faithful from striving to establish "a healthy Christian democracy," like Hungary's. "The idea that public Christianity inevitably means bigotry is a slander that secular liberals use to marginalize believers, to intimidate us and to dispossess European peoples of their past," he said.

Just such a dispossession had occurred, Dreher continued, when the EU Constitution rejected proposals to designate Christianity as a special aspect of European heritage. That reflected, he claimed, the "totalitarian" impulse to "eliminate the shared memories of the peoples they wish to conquer."

David Engels said that there was a deep feeling among conservatives "that our own civilization, like all others before, is gradually coming to an end," largely due to the dwindling numbers of people who embrace Western civilization as their heritage. "Whoever is a true national patriot knows that the defense of his country is only possible through the defense of the Western identity in its entirety," he continued. "Only by acknowledging our common Western identity and our common Judeo-Christian values, only by creating a new sacrum imperium, a new holy empire, can we overcome the current EU, the evil empire."

Belgian historian David Engels called the EU an "evil empire," which can be overcome "through the defense of Western identity" and "creating a new sacrum imperium, a new holy empire."

Engels called for conservatives to establish parallel education, media and social welfare systems outside government control, and to establish "regional power centers" that could serve as a launching pad "for the reconquest of the state as a whole." Similarly, within the larger context of the EU, he called for Eastern European states to "become an offensive agent of Western patriotism and the conservative reconquista of our continent through economic engagement, media outreach, political pressure and cultural example."

Conservatives had reason to hope, he argued, that the war against Russia might not only liberate Ukraine but, eventually, other Russian-dominated countries as well, which would expand the ranks of conservative states to the East. These revitalized nations, he imagined, might "become an effective counterweight to the current Paris-Berlin axis and perhaps bring about a decisive change of course for the European Union."

"National populism is not dead"

In the weeks since the conference, questions around the role of the right in Europe have only continued.

At the beginning of this month, Orbán was reelected to a third term in Hungary, and last weekend in France, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, long known for her vehement anti-immigration rhetoric, advanced to a runoff against President Emmanuel Macron. The news on both fronts, wrote New York Times conservative columnist Ross Douthat, served as a rude awakening for those who'd hoped that the war in Ukraine might reinvigorate Western liberalism.

In the case of France, Le Pen's strong showing, just a few percentage points behind Macron, raised the possibility that a cornerstone of NATO might become one of the newest illiberal nations in the EU. After two previous failed presidential campaigns, Le Pen has tried to soften her image — leading, among other things, to her niece Marion Maréchal endorsing the even further-right Éric Zemmour, a favorite of the NatCon crowd — but has maintained some of her most xenophobic positions, including a promise to amend the French constitution to ban "the installation on national territory of a number of foreigners so large that it would change the composition and identity of the French people." This result suggests that Le Pen's connections to Russia, including a 9 million euro Russian bank loan that financed an earlier campaign, and a flyer this year that showed her shaking hands with Putin, haven't proved politically fatal.

In Hungary, Orbán proclaimed victory over not just his actual opponent but also against "the international left, the Brussels bureaucrat, the Soros empire with all its money, the international mainstream media, and … even the president of Ukraine." The last was a response to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who had chastised Hungary's neutral stance and challenged Orbán to decide "once and for all…who you are with."

To NatCons like Dreher, Orbán's victory was a heartening sign. The Hungarian leader had savvily positioned himself as a right-wing "peace candidate," Dreher wrote, and avoided being "morally blackmailed by Zelensky." This also proved that "national-populism is not dead," he argued, and that despite the hopes of the "liberal internationalist class," Putin's war had not vanquished "Trumpist populism."

Dreher called on American conservatives to follow in Orbán's footsteps and confront the supposed leftist domination of cultural institutions through measures like Republicans' recent call for punishing Disney. That, Dreher said, was "a pure Orbán move. We need to see more of it."

Kayleigh McEnany just sent out a clear signal to Christian nationalists and fans of the 'Great Replacement' theory

One defining aspect of the Trump era is the way it has enabled far-right arguments to slip into the mainstream, most notably with the migration of white and Christian nationalist ideologies — formerly relegated to the outermost margins of conservatism — into the center of the Republican Party.

On Monday night, it happened again: Trump's former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, now a co-host of the Fox News show "Outnumbered," called for fighting the forces of "darkness" (which were not clearly delineated) by "filling the world" with "Christian babies" during an interview with conservative Christian actor and activist Kirk Cameron.

For the entirety of her public career, McEnany — who is described by those who know her as smart and relentlessly ambitious — has made her faith a prominent aspect of her public persona. Raised Southern Baptist, she often tells the story of how, on the day of her first White House press conference, she calmed her nerves by praying, allowing her to step to the podium with "this total serenity that was only made possible because of Christ."

Her predecessor in the Trump White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who is the daughter of McEnany's former boss, Mike Huckabee, for whom she worked as a Fox News production assistant), counseled her to "read a Jesus calling before every press briefing." Sanders gave McEnany a book of her own pre-presser devotionals as inspiration, and McEnany took up the tradition, leading a group prayer with her staff before every media briefing that followed. She famously wore a cross in all her public appearances, led a weekly Bible study for the Trump campaign, and in 2021 published her third book, "For Such a Time as This: My Faith Journey Through the White House and Beyond," proclaiming that Jesus had installed her in the briefing room.

All that rhetoric might seem par for the course for a Republican operative on the move, but in McEnany's case, it also appears to be sincere. While attending a Catholic girls' school as an adolescent, McEnany wrote a conspicuously evangelical poem about Jesus: "I shout his name, for he is king." In one of the post-college columns she wrote at Glenn Beck's website The Blaze, she argued that atheism was the main driving force behind the carnage of World War II. (Historians would find that premise debatable, if not bizarre.)

In 2018, McEnany dedicated her second book, "The New American Revolution: The Making of a Populist Movement," in part to Rachel Scott, a victim of the 1999 Columbine mass shooting who became a figure of martyrdom to many evangelicals for testifying to her belief in God just before she was murdered. At the time of McEnany's promotion to main spokesperson for the Trump administration, writer and religion historian Peter Manseau, who once taught her at Georgetown University, noted that McEnany's new role represented the elevation of "a uniquely American strand of faith formed by ideas of religious persecution" to the highest levels of U.S. political influence.

In her conversation this Monday with Cameron, on his Trinity Broadcasting Network talk show "Takeaways," another such elevation occurred. Amid a discussion of her career and faith, McEnany declared that Christians have "gotta be bold. You know, the [antidote] to darkness is light. And the [antidote] to a really grim future is filling the world with a lot of Christian babies who could bring that light to the world."

Less than a decade ago, that sort of exhortation was primarily heard only in minority religious communities like the Quiverfull movement, a fundamentalist Christian subculture that urges believers to eschew all forms of contraception and have as many children as God chooses to give them, both as a means of demonstrating their pro-life convictions and of reclaiming the culture from the left.

That movement was guided by the scripture verse Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate." And Quiverfull adherents commonly used military rhetoric to describe their calling: Raising a large family was their "war," their "battle station" and as political an act as canvassing for conservative candidates; children were understood as "our ammunition in the spiritual realm… handcrafted by the warrior himself …to achieve the purpose of annihilating the enemy."

One prominent advocate, Nancy Campbell, editor of the fundamentalist women's magazine Above Rubies, wrote in her 2003 book "Be Fruitful and Multiply," that "an evil world is the very reason for having children. We train them to be the 'light' and the 'salt' in this dark world. We train and sharpen them to be 'arrows' for God's army." Campbell continued, "What were they trained for? For war! We cannot live with our head in the sand. We are in a war. Our children must be trained for battle. They must be trained to stand and fight against the enemy of their souls. They must be trained to be warriors for God."

In another foundational text for the movement, the 1989 book, "A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ," authors Rick and Jan Hess offered conservative Christian readers a tantalizing vision of what they could achieve by having large families.

"When at the height of the Reagan Revolution, the conservative faction in Washington was enforced [sic] with squads of new conservative congressmen, legislators often found themselves handcuffed by lack of like-minded staff," they wrote. "There simply weren't enough conservatives trained to serve in Washington in the lower and middle capacities." But if enough Christian families began having six or more children each, they reasoned, there might be hundreds of millions of committed Christian right activists within a few decades, delivering overwhelming victories over national and state politics, sinful liberal cities and companies that offend Christian sensibilities.

Doug Phillips, founder of the now-defunct homeschooling publishing company Vision Forum (which shut down after Phillips was accused of coercing his children's nanny into a sexual relationship), wrote in a similar vein: "If the Christian Church had not listened to the humanistic lies of the enemy and limited their families, the army of God would be more powerful in this hour. The enemy's camp would be trembling. Instead they are laughing."

While the number of people fully committed to the Quiverfull lifestyle never approached anything resembling mainstream status — in my 2009 book about the community, I estimated its numbers in the low tens of thousands — the movement nonetheless represented a sort of purist vanguard that inspired broader sectors of the church. While the Quiverfull faithful proudly reclaimed the term "patriarchy" to describe their model for the family, a looser version of that argument was made by far more influential entities like the interdenominational Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which urged evangelical churches to adopt conservative doctrines on the "complementary" roles of men and women, or the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, which echoed its reasoning in a 1998 statementendorsed by Mike Huckabee — calling on wives to graciously submit to their husbands.

Quiverfull-style ideology also found a more mainstream expression through the related advocacy of Christian right pronatalist movements. From the late 1990s through the 2010s, Quiverfull-lite ideas became a cornerstone of the "pro-family" movement espoused by networks like the World Congress of Families, an international right-wing coalition with abundant political connections that proposed transcending interdenominational differences with a shared culture-war agenda. Much of that agenda was summarized in the group's pro-natalist treatise, "The Natural Family: A Manifesto," which called for policies that would encourage women to become "wives, homemakers, and mothers" who were "open to a full quiver of children" and which redefined women's rights as those "that recognize women's unique gifts of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding."

In service of that vision, in the late 2000s the World Congress of Families aggressively promoted the narrative of "demographic winter": the claim that feminism and liberal sexual mores had led to a Western depopulation crisis, particularly in Europe, that would destabilize society. Underneath the narrative's professed concern about how the "birth dearth" would cause "the graying of the continent" — with too few young people to support an aging population — was the clear racial subtext that the resultant population vacuum in Europe would be filled with Muslim immigrants too difficult and too numerous to assimilate. European countries that wished to avoid the total transformation that would bring, the WCF argued, would have to find ways not just to encourage more children, but to urge citizens to restore the traditional gender roles and family structures that make large families possible.

Or as Quiverfull leader Nancy Campbell once said to me, "You see what happens when the Christian church refuses to have children. That" — she meant Muslims — "starts filling the earth, instead of what we're meant to be filling the earth with: a godly seed."

These days, the WCF movement and its associates are better known for their reliance on Russian religious, political and business networks to fuel their movement. Their initial narrative of demographic winter has been largely supplanted by the much more overt claims of the far-right "great replacement" theory, which has transformed the racial subtext of the Christian right pronatalist movement into a boldface declaration that Western nations are the target of a concerted conspiracy to replace white populations with immigrants from the Global South.

In that context, it's almost impossible to hear Kayleigh McEnany's call for more "Christian babies" as distinct from that mission and that message. And it's equally hard to imagine that she didn't intend it that way.

NOW WATCH: ‘Trump is mentally unwell’: CNN analyst goes off on Trump for asking Putin for dirt on the Bidens

‘Trump is mentally unwell’: CNN analyst goes off on Trump for asking Putin for dirt on the Bidens

MAGA purge: Jan. 6 organizer labels former ally Rep. Mo Brooks as 'LOSER' and 'piece of crap'

On Wednesday, shortly after news broke that Donald Trump had rescinded his endorsement of Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a right-wing Republican currently running for Senate, one of Brooks' former allies denounced him forcefully across right-wing social media. In what amounted to a MAGA excommunication, Ali Alexander, the self-proclaimed founder of the 2020 "Stop the Steal" movement and a key planner of the Jan. 6, 2021, protests, celebrated the "de-endorsement" on multiple conservative social media sites, writing on Telegram, "MO BROOKS is a LOSER."

"I haven't told the story to anyone except the President's team and my lawyers or how Mo Brooks and HIS STAFF betrayed our election integrity movement before he did so publicly," Alexander continued. "With President Trump withdrawing his endorsement, I can finally be public about what a piece of crap Mo actually is. He's no longer on the team. And his staff is worse and smells worse. I hope they didn't lie under oath to the J6 Committee like they lied to Mo in private. Stay tuned!"

In another message on the site, Alexander wrote, "This is what Mo doesn't get... the voters already left him. And keep leaving him. Trump is following what many of us in private and public have said. Mo Brooks has the dumbest staff on the hill and everyone knows it."

On the competing right-wing social media site Gab, Alexander continued, writing, "I'm proud to announce that @realdonaldtrump has WITHDRAWN his endorsement of Mo Brooks. I can now go on the record about him and his office and their attempts to BETRAY the Election Integrity movement."

Alexander weighed in on Gettr as well, directing a message at Brooks: "Change your profile, @MoBrooks" (referring to Brooks' profile banner touting Trump's endorsement). "You betrayed our Election Integrity movement. We're done here. You've been rejected by #StopTheSteal and now Trump. Tell your staff to never come for me again."

Brooks certainly isn't the first Republican to be cast out of Trump World as an apostate. But this represents a striking departure from the way Alexander used to talk about Brooks.

At the Dec. 12, 2020, "Jericho March," a pro-Trump religious rally to protest the election results, Alexander appeared on stage to tell the crowd about Stop the Steal and to urge them to return to the capital in January to "occupy D.C. full of patriots." (Alexander, who was then in the process of converting to a right-wing version of Catholicism, promised the audience that they had "God's favor," and rallied them to fight "for God and country!")

At that event, Alexander praised Mo Brooks specifically as the first Republican member of Congress to vow he would object to the certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6. "Thank God for Congressman Mo Brooks," Alexander said. "He's said he'll object to the House certification on Jan. 6. We need some of his colleagues to join him. We expect them to join him — or we will throw them out of office."

He continued, "I want to tell the Republican Party that if one of these senators doesn't join Mo Brooks, we will burn the Republican Party down. We will make something new."

In a now-deleted Periscope video posted in December 2020, Alexander also claimed that Brooks was one of three members of Congress — along with Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, both of Arizona — who had helped plan the activities of Jan. 6. In the notorious video, Alexander said, "We four schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting" in order to "change the hearts and minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."

None of those three explicitly confirmed the claim at the time, and a spokesperson for Biggs later attempted to distance the congressman from Alexander. However, reports emerged of Alexander hugging Biggs' wife at a rally, at which Alexander played a video message from Biggs, announcing that he would join Brooks on Jan. 6 in questioning the election certification. A video also emerged that showed him leading Gosar — whom Alexander had described as "the spirit animal of Stop the Steal" — through a crowd at a pro-Trump rally. In an April 2021 response to a House ethics complaint about his involvement with Jan. 6, Gosar defended Alexander as "a devout Catholic motivate[d] by an earnest search for the truth and love of his country."

At the pro-Trump rally on the morning of Jan. 6, Brooks delivered a vitriolic call to action, telling the crowd on the Washington Ellipse, "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass."

As a February 2022 report noted, Brooks' speech that day also delved into Christian nationalist rhetoric. "Today, Republican senators and congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline," he said, "or they will join us, and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft and vote for keeping America great."

Brooks later protested that he was only trying to rouse the audience to keep track of Republicans who failed to support Trump's efforts to overturn the election, and had no intention of promoting literal "ass-kicking." But that claim seemed dubious in light of Brooks' later statement that he had worn body armor on Jan. 6, after receiving warnings about potential violence.

Last December, after facing subpoenas from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Alexander handed over some 1,500 text messages and other communications with Republican members of Congress and Trump White House aides. Among them were communications with Gosar and Brooks.

In response, a spokesperson for Brooks released a statement claiming that Brooks' interaction with Alexander had been limited to receiving one text from the Stop the Steal organizer in December 2020. The statement read, "The insinuation that this single text to Congressman Brooks from an unknown number by someone claiming to be 'Ali Alexander' somehow suggests Congressman Brooks in any way helped plan the Capitol attack is absurd, outrageous and defamatory."

But according to a filing from Alexander's legal representatives, Alexander told the Jan. 6 committee that he'd had phone conversations with Brooks' staff. An October story in Rolling Stone further reported that two unnamed sources involved in planning Jan. 6 claimed that they'd had "dozens" of conversations with the offices of six members of Congress, including Brooks.

At that time, Brooks told Alabama journalists that while he hadn't helped plan the Jan. 6 rally, if his staff had, "Quite frankly, I'd be proud of them."

Despite Brooks' stalwart support of Trump, his poor showing in polls — and the subsequent implication that Trump's endorsements are losing their potency, even in a deep red Southern state — seemingly led the ex-president to announce on Wednesday that he was withdrawing his endorsement. Trump accused Brooks of going "woke" by failing to campaign on Trump's stolen election narrative.

In response, Brooks made the startling but entirely plausible claim that Trump had repeatedly asked him to "rescind the 2020 election, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency." Brooks said he'd told Trump that Jan. 6, 2021, had represented the final chance to contest the election, and that "neither the U.S. Constitution nor the U.S. Code permit what President Trump asks."

Is the right wing going to grab Ukraine's kids?

Last week, a startling but seemingly familiar story emerged on the periphery of the Ukraine war: A former Washington state representative named Matt Shea, long associated with the far right, turned up in a hotel in a small Polish town with 63 Ukrainian children he apparently hoped to bring to the U.S. for adoption. For those who have followed both Shea's career and the recent history of evangelical Christian adoption advocacy, this was cause for alarm.

Over his six terms in the Washington House of Representatives, Shea maintained close ties to "Patriot" and militia groups. He became involved in the armed occupation of Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 and proposed legislation to transform rural eastern Washington, a heavily conservative region, into a 51st state to be called "Liberty." Shea partnered with a group that ran a training camp to instruct youth in "Christian warfare," and authored a pamphlet called "Biblical Basis for War" that appeared to offer advice to Christian "patriots" readying themselves for war against Muslim and Marxist "terrorists" (and which included a proposal to "kill all males" who resisted the new theocratic order they'd establish). Shea has maintained that document only amounted to notes for a sermon, but he also reportedly wrote an eight-page plan for the restoration of civilization after a civil war and governmental collapse (including banning all "centralized" education and medicine, implementing "severe" penalties for anyone seeking to limit public religiosity, and reinstating the death penalty for murder, rape, "sodomy" and possibly adultery — a provision marked for discussion).

Shea's record led his state House colleagues to commission an independent investigation into his far-right associations. In 2019, that probe concluded that Shea's activities amounted to support for "domestic terrorism," after which he was stripped of his committee assignments and suspended from the legislature's Republican Caucus. He didn't run for reelection in 2020, but instead transformed himself into a pastor, and now leads his own church, On Fire Ministries.

This month Shea and a group of his supporters, drawn from both the U.S. and Polish far right, reportedly set up camp in a hotel in Kazimierz Dolny, a small town in eastern Poland about three hours from the Ukrainian border. They were accompanied by dozens of children Shea claimed had been evacuated from an orphanage in the besieged city of Mariupol. When an aide to the local mayor went to the hotel to find out what was going on, she said Shea refused to explain himself or even give his full name. In an interview with a right-wing Polish television show though, he claimed to be working with a Texas group, Loving Families and Homes for Orphans, that arranges for American families to host Ukrainian children on a short-term basis, with the ultimate aim of facilitating adoptions.

After the Seattle Times and a number of other media outlets began investigating, Shea's plans appeared murkier still. Loving Families and Homes for Orphans wasn't a registered adoption agency and its website didn't work. Shea pointed supporters to a different website that seemed to have been recently created and contained language, as journalist Daniel Walters noted, that appeared to have been copied word for word from other hosting groups.

Although Loving Homes has been registered as a business entity in Texas for several years, the group registered itself anew in Florida in mid-February, under the names of at least two individuals connected to Spokane, Washington, Shea's hometown. The addresses listed for the organization, and for two of its three officers, appear to be vacant lots.

One of Shea's allies, former Spokane Valley City Councilman Mike Munch, told Walters that Shea was trying to adopt four children from Ukraine, and an American volunteer with Shea's party said the group's hope was to take the children to America soon. But after the media attention, Shea denied any such plan, complaining on Facebook that his critics didn't understand the distinction between hosting programs and adoption. Talking Points Memo's Matt Shuham, however, reported that Shea delivered a sermon in a Polish church describing his efforts to "bring these orphans home" — standard language in the adoption world for finalizing an adoption — and also to "bring them home to the father," an almost certain reference to Christian evangelism.

Shea has accused his critics of deploying "Russian-style propaganda" to bring "politics and religion into a humanitarian issue." And on a March 17 livestream show, "Church & State," which is linked to Shea's ministry, he argued that the coverage had distressed potential adoptive parents in particular. "You have a lot of very, very upset parents right now who were ecstatic that their kids were rescued out of a war zone, brought to safety, and now the media is literally trying to put some insidious motivation behind this," Shea said, "when really it's about making sure there's no more orphans in the world."

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Whatever Shea's agenda may be, he's not the only person who sees the crisis in Ukraine as a moment that may call for the large-scale adoption of children. On social media, numerous people have posted requests seeking information on how to adopt, host or foster a war "orphan" from Ukraine. Former Real Housewife Bethenny Frankel announced on Twitter that she had an apartment building standing ready to house 157 orphans currently taking refuge in Poland. In the U.K., a brief political battle broke out between two members of Parliament after one accused the other of slowing the transport of 48 purported Ukrainian orphans to Scotland, while the second charged that it was "wrong to move children without attempting to reunite them with their family first and without the agreement of their home and host governments."

That sort of explanation — both in the British skirmish and in broader internet debates about Ukraine's vulnerable children — was met with variations of the response, "Don't you know what 'orphan' means?" as though explaining for the simple-minded that orphans by definition are children without parents.

That may be the dictionary definition, but it's not true in the world of adoption, where many children who live in institutional care have living parents or other kin who have no intention of giving them up. Amid emergency circumstances, whether natural or manmade, it's often simply impossible for officials tasked with determining which children are actually eligible for adoption, and which are not, to do that job. And that vacuum can create situations ripe for exploitation.

That was certainly the case in Haiti in 2010 with the notorious case of Laura Silsby, a woman from Idaho who was arrested trying to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic without paperwork or permission. Silsby led a group of 10 Baptist missionaries who had flown to Haiti in the aftermath of that year's devastating earthquake, on a vague mission to help.

Her plans were more specific: With her personal and business life in shambles, Silsby seemingly intended to reinvent herself as the head of an orphanage in the Dominican Republic where Christian couples from the U.S. would stay in "seaside villas" while waiting out that nation's adoption residency requirement. When the earthquake hit, she devised a scheme to drive a bus through Haiti "and gather 100 orphans from the streets and collapsed orphanages, then bring them back to the DR," where she had leased a 45-room hotel. Instead, when the bus reached the border, Silsby and her missionaries were arrested and charged with kidnapping and criminal conspiracy.

Many other evangelical Christians and adoption advocates denounced Silsby as a bad apple who gave international adoption a bad name, especially after it turned out that all 33 children she'd tried to abduct had at least one living parent or other close relatives. Silsby protested that she was being punished for something many other people in the adoption world had gotten away with. She had a point.

What Silsby tried to do "has been done a million times in human history, especially after disaster," said Canadian global development professor Karen Dubinsky, the author of "Babies without Borders: Adoption and Migration Across the Americas." After catastrophe, she continued, a form of "disaster rescue" often emerges as a parallel to disaster capitalism: "You can do almost anything in the name of rescue, and so much more so when it comes to child rescue." And the process has become "almost seamless: Disaster happens and we in the West show up with bottled water — and we'll take your children."

It happened in 2005, after the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people in 14 countries, prompting one American missionary group to announce its effort to "airlift" 300 Muslim children out of one devastated province and raise them according to "Christian principles." It happened two years later in Chad, when a French charity was accused of kidnapping 103 children it claimed were Sudanese war orphans, but in many cases were just local kids with families.

After the Haitian earthquake, while adults in that nation were warned not to try to seek asylum in the U.S., the drive to expedite adoptions rose to fever pitch. The U.S. government began following new guidelines of "humanitarian parole" to fast-track the paperwork of about 1,200 children who were already somewhere in the adoption process. But soon after that came efforts to expand the loopholes even wider and transport children out of Haiti who had no adoption plans in place, or whose parents hadn't signed off on them leaving.

Media coverage grew increasingly focused on the plight not just of Haitian "orphans" but prospective adoptive families in the U.S., and a strange counterfactual language took hold, calling for the "repatriation" of Haitian kids who'd never been to America, or their "reunification" with families they often had never met. Headlines called for flying children out of the country now, and sorting out "the paperwork" later, even though children with ambiguous legal status who end up in American families' homes are often not returned.

Politicians joined the chorus, lobbying to speed adoptions up, or warning that recalcitrant aid groups like UNICEF — one of many groups that warned against fast-tracking earthquake adoptions — might lose their funding if they stood in the way. In Pennsylvania, then-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, muscled through the evacuation of 54 children from a Haitian orphanage run by two Pittsburgh sisters — including 12 children whose families had not agreed to adoption, and in at least one case didn't find out their child was gone until they visited the orphanage.

A version of this story may now be unfolding in Ukraine. "Out of the children in orphanages or shelters, only about 10 percent are actually available for adoption," said Teresa Fillmon, the American director of a Ukraine-focused children's organization, His Kids Too!, and the former director of an agency that facilitated adoptions from eastern Ukraine before Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Most of the kids in such institutions, Fillmon said, are there because a parent "might be in jail, might be sick in the hospital, might be doing a number of things that there is no one able to take care of the children. They're usually there in a temporary situation."

When war came to Ukraine, the nation's Ministry of Social Policy declared a moratorium on adoptions, explaining that it was impossible to properly vet the documentation of either prospective adoptive families or the status of potential adoptees. The National Council for Adoption in the U.S. has echoed this, saying: "It is paramount that the identities of these children and their families be clearly established, and their social, legal and familiar status is fully verified by government authorities. For many of these children, we cannot do that at this time."

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Around the same time that Laura Silsby was making headlines, I reported on a surprisingly similar plan unfolding in Alabama, albeit one with a much more sympathetic face. In early 2010, Alabama pastor Tom Benz announced his intention to "airlift" some 50 to 150 Haitian children out of the country and bring them to a church retreat center he had recently acquired halfway between Montgomery and Birmingham, from which he hoped the children might be adopted to local Christian families. Benz raised funds for this plan, using donations and volunteer help to overhaul the retreat center's aging infrastructure. While that was happening, he told reporters that he planned to skirt the tense politics around unauthorized adoptions out of Haiti by presenting his program to authorities there as a "cultural exchange."

But by late 2010 his Haiti plan had fallen apart and Benz shifted his focus to Ukraine, where his wife had been born and where he'd worked earlier in his career, handing out Bibles after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That December, Benz brought over his first group of "orphans," and he has done so, at a pace of several groups per year, ever since, amounting to around 500 children hosted and close to 200 adopted.

At the time, Benz admitted that his program was walking a blurry line. "Our program in Ukraine, if it were about adoption, it couldn't happen," he told me. Each group of children he flew over prompted a new letter from the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, telling him the purpose couldn't be adoption. "Everyone knows it's about adoption," he said, "but it can't be about adoption."

It couldn't "be about adoption" because the Ukrainian government was seeking to retain more control over its child welfare programs than often happens in an international adoption industry that can function like a boom-and-bust market. As the nation developed and grew more stable, it sought to promote domestic adoption by Ukrainian parents. It also wanted to prevent the sort of scandals that had happened in the first years after the country's independence, including one episode in the early 1990s when dozens of Chicago-area families refused to return Ukrainian children they were hosting and wanted to adopt.

When I visited Benz's retreat center in 2011, it was obvious the line was often blurred beyond legibility. Staff at the center warn visitors to never use "the 'A' word," but each group of children was accompanied by an independent Ukrainian adoption facilitator, who stood to earn thousands of dollars for every successful adoption they completed. Children were painfully aware that their presence wasn't just an American vacation but an unofficial audition for families who might whisk them into a new life — a reality underscored when I drove into the center and my car was surrounded by a half-dozen Ukrainian kids, opening doors and shaking my hand, eager to make a good first impression on any adult who arrived.

Ukraine has tried to prohibit foreign groups from sharing photos or information about children available for adoption, and, at least technically, bans most "pre-selection" adoptions — that is, foreign parents requesting a specific child.

Fillmon says both these rules have been broken by some groups working in Ukraine. But amid the chaos of the war, as she fields calls from people asking whether it's possible to go to Ukraine to "get some children," she worries about what the new disorder could bring.

"It makes me think about the children that came across the border from Mexico" under the Trump administration's family-separation policy, she said. "There's [hundreds of] children that they still can't find their parents. I wouldn't want that to happen in Ukraine." She sketches out scenarios in which children are dispersed into foster homes in the U.S., where the foster parents later become unwilling to send them back to a country that, no matter the outcome of the war, is likely to be a difficult place to live in coming years.

Nonetheless, pressure is beginning to mount. Media coverage focusing on prospective adoptive parents often includes suggestions that the public urge their legislators to expedite adoptions, or casts Ukraine's adoption moratorium in ominous tones.

In early March, Tom Benz announced in a press release that he was working to shuttle eight or nine Ukrainian children who had come to Alabama last December into neighboring countries, in hopes that they can be moved through the adoption process "on their way to the U.S." One prospective adoptive father made national news as he and Benz traveled to Poland in hopes (so far unmet) of bringing some of the children back.

On Monday, Rep. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., called on the State Department and Homeland Security to begin expediting international adoptions from Ukraine, specifically calling for the reinstitution of the humanitarian parole program that sped up adoptions from Haiti 12 years ago.

Despite the echoes of the child welfare missteps in 2010, Dubinsky says she hopes things might be different this time: After more than a decade of falling international adoption numbers, many adoption advocates have begun embracing family preservation or local child welfare alternatives instead. As generations of adoptees have come of age and begun to speak for themselves, public discussion of adoption and its consequences has become more nuanced and complex.

"My impression is that the rescue narratives that came very easily to people's lips in Haiti" do not come as easily now, Dubinsky said. "The idea that adoption is always good, adoption is rescue, just grab the children and sort out the details later — that story has become more complicated."