The Robed Regiment Rides Again

One of David Barton’s favorite historical fairytales involves black-robed, pistol-packin’ preachers who fought in the Revolutionary War. It wasn’t an organized armed “regiment”, but a loose collection of Colonial preachers. Its modern day counterpart was formed by Glenn Beck, a Mormon, surrounded by Christian nationalist (evangelical) A-Listers. “We are a modern day black-robed regiment network of churches”, the Patriot Church Movement announces. This independent group has a bog-standard evangelical statement of faith. But if you were to join, you’d also have to affirm both Jesus as well as right wing Americanism as core Christian beliefs.  

If you visited First Baptist of Dallas, you’d find a church that is welcoming, uncontroversial, and full of God’s love. They seem nice. But if you are a Democrat, Pastor Robert Jeffress says you have “sold your soul to the devil”, and they’d hang out the not-welcome sign. It was black-robed pastors, he says, who led the fight against tyranny. First Baptist is a patriot church led by a patriot pastor in all but name.

This sounds reminiscent of another robes and hoods movement that inveigled its way into the church during the 1920’s. One that stood for patriotism, old-time religion, and conventional morality: the Ku Klux Klan. To gain respectability, the Klan focused its recruiting efforts on civic and business leaders, politicians, clergy – local men of stature and influence. Suggestive of Trump’s “good people on both sides”, the President of the Georgia Baptist Convention declared in 1927 that the Klan was made up of “good men”.[1]  Jesus would have commended these men for their work, an Alabama minster wrote at the time. “I think Jesus would have worn a robe such as they use”.[2]

Hyper-partisan evangelicals and right-wing hate groups share a good deal of ideological polarization. Culturally, religiously and politically, these tribes often overlap in their Trumpist worldview of the tyrannical deep state. The distinction between Christian nationalism and white supremacy is that the black robes partisan evangelicals speak of waging prayer warfare in the supernatural realm, not actual combat in the visible realm. At least, so far…

Particularly given the rise of Dominionism – “the central unifying ideology for the Christian Right” –fringes of evangelicalism have been carried into the White House. The fever dream of Dominionists is an America taken over by warrior Christians, ruling over all aspects of society by biblical law. For example, partisan evangelicals may wish God would kill their enemies, or even advocate stoning God’s enemies to death. “I don’t believe it’s right for us to just be a vigilante,” said an Arizona pastor in the wake of the Orlando massacre. He added, “these people all should have been killed, anyway, but they should have been killed through the proper channels, as in they should have been executed by a righteous government.” Call it the hard-edged bigotry of alt-right patriotism versus the sanctified bigotry of theocratic evangelicalism – both are committed to the cultural maintenance of white supremacy. Unlike militant groups on the hard right, Christian Nationalist rhetoric has not sanctioned extra-judicial means to perpetuate it – at least yet. Let’s just say a sympathetic neutrality exists.

It may be criticized that I’ve lumped together Trumpist churches with disparate Christianish groups on the alt-right. I’m not making that argument. I’m merely pointing out there is little contrast in terms of religious faith and backlash Americanism. Insofar as robes go, there’s very little difference between black and white. They’re all very good men.

[1] MacLean, Nancy, Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan, New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1995,16

[2] Sanchez, Juan O., Religion and the Ku Klux Klan, Jefferson NC: McFarland, 2016, 57,

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