By Paul A. Djupe and Jacob Dennen
Note: This is an expanded version of the post that appeared today at The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage Blog.
(image credit: The New Republic.)
Just over two weeks ago, ardent Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a bid to stop the counting of the Electoral College votes and overturn the presidential election. A number of observers have combed through and identified the wide array of political symbols on display among Insurrectionists, including a large wooden cross, a noose, QAnon shirts, Viking hammers, and historic American flags. Few failed to note the overt anti-Semitic symbols among several participants. Beyond their support for Trump, perhaps the unifying thread was their religion. Christian symbolism was widespread as the event itself was dubbed the “Jericho March” (a reference to a Bible story of the Israelites taking a city) and, among many other instances, the Proud Boys knelt in the street in prayer. Many of these people could fairly be labeled Christian nationalists, who were there not just to express outrage over the election, but over what they believe to be the de-Christianization of America.
The convergence of QAnon, Christian, and anti-Semitic symbols lead us to ask whether these are discrete elements of Trump supporters opposed to the election results or whether these symbols are related. Are these just random symbols tattooed on the torso of the “QAnon Shaman,” Jake Chansley? Or are Christian nationalists also anti-Semitic, QAnon supporters? Turns out, they are strongly related.
Though we could not have anticipated the Insurrection, the questions we asked respondents in October 2020 allow us to assess whether Christian nationalism, QAnon support, and anti-Semitism overlap. We surveyed 1,704 people recruited by Qualtrics Panels in the week before the election using a set of quotas so that the final sample resembled the nation and we used a weight variable to correct remaining imbalances. The weighted, two party vote tally from our respondents was 52.8 for Biden and 47.2 for Trump, which is very close to the final tally (Biden 51.4, to 46.9 for Trump).
We gauged QAnon support by asking about their agreement with the substance of the alleged conspiracy: “Within the upper reaches of government, media, and finance, a secretive group of elites are thwarting Donald Trump’s efforts at reform, fomenting street violence, and engaging in child trafficking and other crimes.” Nearly 40 percent of the sample agreed or strongly agreed. To measure anti-Semitism, we borrowed 8 items from the surveys conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a non-profit dedicated to fighting all forms of hatred. We can see in the figure below that at least 27 percent of respondents agreed with each stereotype. Moreover, the stereotype of Jews having dual loyalties to Israel and the US and the belief that Jews killed Jesus had the highest support with 42 percent of respondents agreeing with each.
We captured Christian nationalism with a battery of questions used by Whitehead and Perry in their new book Taking America Back for God. It asks for agreement with statements such as, “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation” (38 percent agree), and “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan” (42 percent agree).
Before, we dig into how the three interact with each other, let’s look at how they each interact with one another. So, are Christian nationalism and anti-Semitism linked? Since Christian nationalism is a worldview holding that the United States was created by and for Christians, it is no surprise that they hold some antipathy for non-Christians. As you can see from the graph below, as Christian nationalism increases the percentage that agree with it also increases for each statement and does not appear to be limited to particular tropes (except perhaps for control over the media). On average, the most ardent Christian nationalists subscribe to four tropes, while those most opposed to Christian nationalism subscribe to an average of one.
What about Christian nationalism and QAnon? Djupe and Burge have covered some of these links between QAnon and religion before, but it’s worth reiterating one now. That is, 73 percent of those most Christian nationalist agree with the substance of the QAnon conspiracy. But the reach of QAnon is not limited to ardent Christian nationalists and extends across the spectrum – we can find believers even among those opposed to Christian nationalism (14 percent agree with Q in the lowest quartile). Overall, the evidence shows very strong support for a linkage between QAnon and Christian nationalism.
These are not independent forces operating in American politics. Without QAnon belief, Christian nationalists adopt only somewhat more tropes as those who reject Christian nationalism, which we can see when comparing among the red bars. But those Christian nationalists who fell in with the Q conspiracy subscribe to double the number of antisemitic tropes as those who disagree with QAnon, seen when comparing the orange to red bars.
Conservative Christians have been told for years by right wing media that their religion and their way of life are threatened, so much so that many believed that the incoming Biden administration would ban the Bible. Such sentiments encouraged a growing religious significance to the presidency and to Donald Trump in particular. Trump, anointed by God, would serve as the great Christian protector from those who would not just unseat the Christian majority, but strip Christians of their rights and liberties. From this perspective, it is no surprise to see Christian nationalists adopt unfounded tropes about a group (Jews) they often disagree with and bed down with the QAnon conspiracy that promised Trump would remain in power.
It may help our confidence in this logical connection between QAnon and anti-Semitism among Christian nationalists if we see a particularly large increase in those tropes concerning government. That’s what the following figure shows. The effect of believing in QAnon is largest for tropes about government (Jews’ influence in the US government and global affairs) among ardent Christian nationalists – increasing belief in those tropes by about 30 percent. But the effect of QAnon belief is also particularly large for the belief that Jews killed Jesus (33 percent). We cannot say this is a causal relationship, but it sure helps to show that the far right symbols evident at the Insurrection were not representing distinct viewpoints, but a set that is common to many Christian nationalists.
The big question going forward is whether it is possible to integrate Christian nationalists back within a pluralistic civil society when so many of their views are out of the mainstream – or whether they will continue to be a source of right-wing extremists willing to undermine American institutions on the basis of conspiracy theories.
Paul A. Djupe, Denison University, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the book series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog (posts). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.
Jacob Dennen is an undergraduate political science major at Denison University, graduating this May.