This article originally appeared on TCS Daily, and appears here in a modified and shortened version.
"Christofascist"--used to describe the accused Scott P. Roede in the killing of Dr. Tiller, has been met by protests from Christians who say the term is an insult to their religion. The meaning and origin of the concept, as well as the legitimacy of complaints about it, have become relevant -- perhaps urgently so.
Christofascism refers to use of the faith of Chritianity as a cover for totalitarian ideology. This radical phenomenon is embodied among American Christians today in the various Militia movements, White Supremacist, and Christian Identity movements, and where these radical, armed, and Christian racist groups overlap with the Pro-Life movement and the right wing of the American political landscape, including the fringes of the Republican party.
Political typologies should make distinctions, rather than confusing them, and Christofascism is neither a loose nor an improvised concept. It should be employed sparingly and precisely. The indicated movements should be treated as Christofascist, first, because of their congruence with the defining characteristics of classic fascism, especially in its most historically-significant form--German National Socialism.
Fascism is distinguished from the broader category of extreme right-wing politics by its willingness to defy public civility and openly violate the law. As such it represents a radical departure from the tradition of ultra-conservatism. The latter aims to preserve established social relations, through enforcement of law and reinforcement of authority. But the fascist organizations of Mussolini and Hitler, in their conquests of power, showed no reluctance to rupture peace and repudiate parliamentary and other institutions; the fascists employed terror against both the existing political structure and society at large. It is a common misconception of political science to believe, in the manner of amateur Marxists, that Italian fascists and Nazis sought maintenance of order, to protect the ruling classes. Both Mussolini and Hitler agitated against "the system" governing their countries. Their willingness to resort to street violence, assassinations, and coups set the Italian and German fascists apart from ordinary defenders of ruling elites, which they sought to replace. This is an important point that should never be forgotten. Fascism is not merely a harsh dictatorship or oppression by privilege.
Christofascism similarly pursues its aims through the willful, arbitrary, and gratuitous disruption of (global) society, either by terrorist conspiracies or by violation of the peace between states . In its long and inglorious history, the KKK frequently made recourse to the former weapon. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, white supremacist Ku Klux Klan members in the Southern United States engaged in arson, beatings, cross burning, destruction of property, lynching, murder, rape, tar-and-feathering, and whipping against blacks, other social or ethnic minorities, and whites who stood in their way. These are not acts of protest, but calculated strategies for political advantage through undiluted violence. The Army of God shows fascist methods when executing attacks against abortion clinics and doctors across the United States. A number of terrorist attacks, including the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the 1996 Summer Olympics, were carried out by individuals and groups with ties to the Christian Identity and Christian Patriot movements; including the Aryan Nations and the Lambs of Christ. Christofascism is not limited to America, and American Christofascts isnot limited to America: a group called Concerned Christians unsuccessfully planned to attack holy sites in Jerusalem at the end of 1999, believing that their deaths would "lead them to heaven."
Christofascism has global reach. The fascist Iron Guard in Romania during the interwar period and in the second world war was explicitly Christian--its official title was the "Legion of the Archangel Michael;" Christian fascism also exists in the form of Ulster Protestant terrorism, and was visible in the (Catholic) Blue Shirt movement active in the Irish Free State during the 1920s and 1930s. Both the Iron Guard and the Blue Shirts attracted noted intellectuals; the cultural theorist Mircea Eliade in the first case, the poet W.B Yeats in the second. Many similar cases could be cited.
Fascism rested, from the economic perspective, on resentful middle classes, frustrated in their aspirations and anxious about loss of their position. The Italian middle class was insecure in its social status; the German middle class was completely devastated by the defeat of the country in the First World War. Both became irrational with rage at their economic difficulties; this passionate and uncontrolled fury was channeled and exploited by the acolytes of Mussolini and Hitler. The Army of God and the Militia movements are, like the KKK before them, based largely the middle and lower classes of the Southern and rural United states fearful of losing their unstable hold on prosperity and angry at the many obstacles, in state and society, to their ambitions. They believe themselves to be Real Americans, and the victim of discrimination by forces larger then themselves that are destroying America: secularism, socialism, sexual and moral lassitude, or in their words: the Godless, the nanny state and the fags. Anti-semitism varies.
Fascism was imperialistic; it demanded expansion of the German and Italian spheres of influence. While many Christofascist are anti-government, many also see the power of the state as useful to its aims, and these contradictory streams [similar to the brown-shirt schizoid worship and abhorrence of power and hieaarchy] of Christofascism have similar fascistic ambitions: the occupation of Iraq being stage one in the domination of the middle east under a War on Terror that in the words of George W. Bush, “a Crusade.” -- which if you don’t know means Holy War.
Fascism was totalitarian; i.e. it fostered a totalistic world view--a distinct social reality that separated its followers from normal society. Christofascism parallels fascism by imposing a strict division between Christians and alleged unbelievers. I think I do not need to belabor the point, other then to point out that we all are familiar with those streams Christianity that condemn to hell all others who do not adopt their rigid interpretation of Scripture. Fuse that religious bigotry with white power, and you have a potent mix.
Fascism was paramilitary; indeed, the Italian and German military elites were reluctant to accept the fascist parties' ideological monopoly. The Army of God, the KKK, and the Militia movements are all paramilitary.
But what of those primitive Chrisians who declare that "Christofascim" is a slur? I do not believe these characteristics are intrinsic to any element of the faith of Christianity. Christofascism is a distortion of Christianity, exactly as Italian and German fascism represented perversions of respectable patriotism in those countries. Nobody argues today that Nazism possessed historical legitimacy as an expression of German nationalism; only Nazis would make such claims, to defend themselves. Similarly, Christofascists and their allies argue that their doctrines are "just Christianity." But German culture existed for centuries, and exists today, without submitting to Nazi values; Christianity created a world-spanning civilization, surviving in a healthy condition in many countries today, without the Army of God or the KKK.
In anticipation of a counter to that last point, I will stress that authoritarianism and fascism are not the same. To emphasize, fascism is something different, and much worse, than simple dictatorship, however cruel the latter may be. That is a lesson that should have been learned 70 years ago, when German Nazism demonstrated that it was a feral and genocidal aberration in modern European history, not merely another form of oppressive rightist rule, or a particularly wild variety of colonialism.
Similarly, the violence wreaked by the Army of God, and Scott P. Roede, and the KKK before them, has been different from other expressions of reactionary Christianity, conservative Christianity or violent corruption in the post-colonial world. Between democracy, civilized values, and normal religion on one side, and Christofascism on the other, there can be no compromise: there is bright line, our republic on one side and the Christofascists on the other, and you are either with us or against us. An earlier President was eerily correct when he foresaw "our young Democracy is fragile . . . this may be Christian Intolerance's last and best opportunity to stop the advance of Liberty." As with the Nazis, nothing short of a victory for democracy can assure the world's security.
You can see the original version of this article here.