By Paul A. Djupe and Ryan P. Burge
[Image Credit: Video screen grab via Luke Mogelson/The New Yorker]
For anyone paying attention to symbols, language, and actions of the Insurrectionists, it was clear that “The Capitol Insurrection was as Christian Nationalist as It Gets,” in Thomas Edsall’s words. From the Senate floor, so-called “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Angeli thanked, as Jack Jenkins reported, the “Heavenly Father” for “filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ” and for “allowing the United States of America to be reborn.” Proud Boys prayed on Pennsylvania Avenue, shouts of Jesus saves were frequent, and the Christian flag was visible – they all point to the link. But just because the Insurrectionists had ties to Christian nationalism does not mean that the broader population of conservative Christians has the same degree of support.
In a survey of just over 1,000 American adults using Census-based quotas and weighted to resemble Census figures fielded to Qualtrics Panels in the beginning of July, 2021, we included a battery of questions about the Insurrection (referring to it as the “Capitol Riot”) as well as what has become a standard battery of questions capturing Christian nationalism used by the redoubtable team of Whitehead and Perry from the Baylor surveys. The distribution of responses to the questions shown below indicates that the nation is divided over the Insurrection. The only question that has a majority shows 51.5 percent agreement that “The January 6th riot at the US Capitol remains a threat to American democracy.” However, near majorities disagree that the rioters were patriots trying to restore “our Christian nation” and were justified in their attempt to “Stop the Steal.”
What we find remarkable about these figures is just how constrained is support for the Insurrectionists. Just 26.6 percent agree (or strongly agree) they were justified; 25.6 agree they were patriots trying to “restore our Christian nation.” About the same percentage disagrees that the riots are a threat to democracy and slightly more want no federal investigation. At the same time these are the near unanimous positions of the Republican Party in Congress, vehemently representing a small minority of the US population.
The hope of many was that polarization would simmer down after Trump left office and no longer had a Twitter platform. But his “Stop the Steal” grievance platform had legs, especially after the Republican Party collapsed past the event horizon to form a singularity around this tenet. There is little doubt that this is a circle-the-wagons strategy since so many members were supportive of and perhaps organized the insurrectionists. But it may indicate that the core of the party is united on this front as well. In the figure below, we show how concentrated Christian nationalism is in support for the Insurrection – that is, what portion of each response (e.g., strongly agree) is Christian nationalist, with the scale broken down into four equally-sized quartiles.
The results are almost unequivocal that those who support the Insurrectionists are highly Christian nationalist. Of those who strongly agree that the rioters were justified to ‘stop the steal,’ 88 percent were in the top two categories of Christian nationalism. Similarly 85 percent of those who strongly agree that the Insurrection was an effort by patriots to “restore our Christian nation” were strongly Christian nationalist, as were 83 percent of those who strongly agreed that there should be no federal investigation. The exception is the perception that the insurrection is still a threat – there is still a relationship as Christian nationalists are more heavily concentrated among those who disagree, but it is much weaker.
All told, when we are debating the meaning and justification of the Capitol Insurrection, the sides are approaching it with vastly different assumptions and intentions for the relationship of Christianity with the United States. Those behind the attack believe the US should act in the interests of Christians, thereby helping to close the loop about whether the Insurrectionists were in fact representative of a broader social/political group. We believe the answer is yes – the Insurrection was Christian nationalist and Christian nationalists back the Insurrection.
Of course there are other political forces supporting this connection. The most obvious is the Republican Party, which benefits from the unwavering support of a group highly motivated by threat and loosed from any constraint from democratic norms. But there is also clearly a strong religious contingent supporting this as well. As we showed in a previous post, an astonishing number of Americans believe in the power of prophecy – for people to receive and communicate the word of god that may also involve healing as well as the power to foretell the future. Of course, in the aftermath of the election, some got on board the Trump train to suggest that God had told them that Trump would be restored in office at some later, everchanging date.
These results jibe with the recent statement by Perry and Whitehead in Time showing a growing identification with the Insurrectionists among ardent Christian nationalists from February to August, 2021. They find that loyalty to Trump and adopting The Big Lie about the election were major factors driving these shifts, reinforced by their social isolation as well as the perception of persecution (factors which run together).
It is no surprise, then, that due to the combination of these forces reinforcing the narrative that Democrats represent the forces of evil, Trump is anointed by God to return to power, and that, therefore, the Insurrectionists are God’s advance team, support for the Insurrection appears not to be fading, but intensifying. Just how long this can keep up is an open and pressing question.
Paul A. Djupe, Denison University, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog (check out his posts). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.