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Aaron David Fruh
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We have met the enemy and he is us: Christian nationalists embrace tyranny

It wasn’t the Nazis who created a mass following of baptized German Christian nationalists. It was the Christian nationalists who gave the tyrants life and breath

Karl was a tall thin man in his early 50s who wore grey pinned striped suits, spoke in a heavy German accent, and bore a California tan that highlighted his perfectly straight white teeth. Karl was an executive for a large oil company based in the San Francisco Bay area that employed my mother in the 1970s.

I visited my mother often at her office when I was a teenager and spoke with Karl about his growing up years in Germany and his service in the German military during the war and the Holocaust. I will never forget one conversation I had with Karl, as he sat behind his mahogany desk, looking regal in his perfectly tailored grey, striped suit. I thought this was no ordinary foot soldier but an officer with rank and responsibility – S.S. perhaps?

Karl told me how he was raised in a devout Christian family and when the National Socialism of the Nazi party began its ascent, his parents embraced the movement as did he – volunteering himself to serve in Hitler’s army. He explained how his church leaders welcomed the rise of Hitler and willingly traded their religious freedom for Nazi authoritarianism.

The obvious question was, why? Why did he and his fellow Germans embrace Nazi tyranny? When I asked the question, Karl’s face grew sharp and focused. “Have you ever been hungry before?” Karl asked. “Germany had not yet recovered from the First World War. Our economy was devastated, and the nation was suffering. Along came the Nazis who blamed the Jews for ruining our economy, and with the promise of bread and jobs, we believed everything they said.”

But as Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski once said, “In politics being deceived is no excuse.” I realize now that it wasn’t Karl’s empty stomach that caused him to embrace Nazi ideology, but a barrenness much deeper — more sinister — caused by the gnawing pain of jealousy. The promise of soup and bread did not deceive Christians like Karl.

It wasn’t the Nazis who created a mass following of baptized German Christian nationalists. It was baptized German Christian nationalists who gave the tyrants life and breath. The jealousy among German Christians toward their Jewish neighbors ultimately gave birth to Christian nationalism and Nazi tyranny. In his book, The Holy Reich, Richard Steigmann-Gall investigates the contents of a weekly religious newspaper known as the Sonntagsblatter that was read by millions of German Christians:

“A survey of sixty-eight Protestant Sonntagsblatters printed between 1918 and 1933 revealed that Jews and Jewry were themes ‘of great topicality’ in them. The press’s treatment of these themes was almost invariably hostile. These religious weeklies that were devoted to the improvement of their readers and the cultivation of Christian piety preached that the Jews were ‘the natural enemies of the Christian national tradition,’ that they had caused ‘the collapse of the Christian and monarchial order,’ and that they were the authors of a variety of other evils. Catholic publications also justified the desire to eliminate the Jewish ‘alien bodies’ (Fremdkorper) from Germany. Before and during the Nazi period, Catholic publications disseminated the contemporary anti-Semitic litany in ways that were often indistinguishable from the Nazis.”

Without the collaboration and fervency of nationalistic Christians, Nazi tyranny would have never survived. After the war, a German Protestant theologian, Martin Niemoller, gave a lecture in Zurich in 1946. Here is a portion of his testimony: “Christianity in Germany bears a greater responsibility before God than the National Socialists, the S.S., and the Gestapo. We ought to have recognized the Lord Jesus in the brother who suffered and was persecuted despite him being… a Jew. Are not we Christians much more to blame, am I not much more guilty than many who bathed their hands in blood?”

The same root of jealousy toward Jews that gave birth to the Holocaust is creating a nationalistic fervor within Christians today that is already sowing the seeds of tyranny. Consider the Black Robe Regiment, a movement of Evangelical pastors who pattern themselves (inaccurately) after clergy during the American Revolution. The Regiment’s intention is to influence the government to make America a Christian nation. Pastor David MacLellan, a Black Robe Regiment leader in Phoenix, described Jewish people as a “wealthy group of people who didn’t believe in heaven or hell, didn’t believe in angels, and had political control over everything.” Former National Security adviser Michael Flynn, who leads the Evangelical “Reawaken America Tour,” inspires thousands of pastors to sign a pledge to become part of the Regiment.

Recently in a speech in Virginia Beach, Flynn proclaimed, “You cannot preach the Bible without the United States Constitution. Period!” Flynn has also stated, “So, if we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion, one nation under God, and one religion under God.” This statement rejects the First Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion and is a troubling example of Christian nationalism’s historic propensity toward tyranny.

Christian nationalist Nick Fuentes, the founder of The America First Political Action Committee, recently proclaimed, “If Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Jewish woman, didn’t die last year, so that Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic woman, could be appointed to the bench, we would still have Roe v. Wade,” and added, “Now you tell me that this is a Judeo-Christian country… You tell me that it doesn’t matter that we have a lot of Jewish people in government. We need a government of Christians. Jewish people can be here but can’t make our laws.”

Former president Donald Trump, a man who uses Christian rhetoric, embraces the Bible but shows no Christian temperance, recently appealed to his Christian nationalistic base when he said, “No president has done more for Israel than I have. Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the US.” He also made a veiled threat when he proclaimed that American Jews must “get their act together…before it is too late.”

It is uncomfortable for Christians to think that over the centuries they have willfully embraced tyranny for what they believed were just causes. But let’s not forget that people of faith have been responsible for great evil in the name of Christianity – think of the Crusades, Inquisition, Apartheid, and the Holocaust, to mention only a few of the more glaring acts of Christians who willingly created tyrants to carry out their aggression. Remember the words of Blaise Pascal, who accurately pointed out, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” Or the haunting words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who wrote in his book, The Gulag Archipelago: “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but through every human heart – and through all human hearts.”

As Christian nationalists continue to rant against Jews – blaming them for America’s ills – they should look within and listen (something my German friend Karl was unwilling to do) to the tyranny brewing in their movement. If they do, they might be courageous enough to say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

About the Author
Aaron David Fruh is a Research Fellow at The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) and the President of Israel Team Advocates, whose mission it is to change the growing anti-Israel narrative on college campuses. Aaron is the author of five books including The Casualty of Contempt: the alarming rise of Antisemitism and what can be done to stop it (editor), and Two Minute Warning: why it’s time to honor the Jewish people before the clock runs out. Aaron has written for The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner.
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