GOP Voters in Maryland Face Dilemma as Theocrats Win Party Primaries

About Frederick Clarkson

Frederick Clarkson is a senior fellow at Political Research Associates. He co-founded the group blog Talk To Action and authored Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.
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Something unusual is happening in the politics of Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Michael Peroutka, one-time presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, won the Republican primary for a seat on the County Council and GOP Central Committee. His pastor, and partner in the Christian historical revisionist Institute on the Constitution, David Whitney, ran for the same County Council seat as a Democrat and for his party’s central committee (he lost both races). PRA has reported on these races since February, but we also now know that Joseph “Joe” Delimater III, an ideological ally and pupil of Peroutka and Whitney, won the uncontested GOP primary for county sheriff.

This election season in Anne Arundel County (which includes the state capital of Annapolis) appears to be intended as a church-based electoral pilot project, from which like-minded theocratic factions can learn. It is also may signal a small, but significant, national trend in applied theocratic theory.

Joseph Delimater

Joseph “Joe” Delimater, III. Image via Facebook

As PRA has reported, Peroutka and his ilk believe that holding local office empowers them to defy state and federal law under the rubric of an ancient concept called The Doctrine of the Lower Civil Magistrate. The Capital Gazette (the daily newspaper serving Annapolis) also recently reported on Peroutka’s unusual views.

“Peroutka has called the federal government and Maryland’s state government ‘lawless,’ because of their failure to abide by biblical precepts. Four days before the primary, he posted a video on the institute’s website in which he called the General Assembly ‘invalid.’”

Peroutka’s spokesman, John Lofton, who also worked on Peroutka’s 2004 presidential campaign, told the Gazette “that as a County Councilman, Peroutka would evaluate each piece of legislation to be sure it was authorized by God in the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and the Anne Arundel County Charter.” He also suggested to the Gazette that government programs and services as road work and fire departments could be privatized.

The Doctrine of the Lesser Civil Magistrate, which Peroutka, Lofton and Delimater believe justifies their view of the nullification-role of county sheriffs and councilors, has been adopted by conservative Christian leaders who are opposed to religious pluralism and separation of church and state, as well as such matters as abortion, LGBTQ rights, taxes, public education and gun control laws—roles they say are empowered to overthrow “tyrannical government.” Indeed, many contemporary theocratic activists look to the example of Oliver Cromwell who, as a member of Parliament in 17th Century England (and thus a lesser magistrate), led the Puritan-controlled Parliament in a revolt against the King of England. Cromwell’s forces ultimately drove the king out of power and chopped off his head.

Interestingly, Delimater, as a church elder and a graduate of Peroutka and Whitney’s Institute on the Constitution, is the third member of the Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church to run for county office this year. Delimater is so close to Peroutka and Whitney that on his campaign website he plagiarizes an entire June 17th Peroutka essay titled “It’s the Law”—the same piece on which PRA and the Gazette recently reported. “When our local officials,” Delimater plagiarized, “including county councilman and sheriff’s [sic] confront such “pretended legislation,” it is their duty to resist its implementation.”

An Applied Doctrine of Theocratic Revolution

This notion of the duty to resist ungodly laws, leaders and government, based on the Doctrine of the Lower or Lesser Magistrate has a long history among the overtly theocratic elements of the Christian Right. They would like it to become a trend, and two recent books are seeking to make it so.

In 2012, Mathew Colvin self-published a translation of the 16th century Magdeburg Confession—a statement by Protestant clergy in the German town of Magdeburg, who refused an order by King Charles V to renounce their anti-Catholic heresy.  This statement informed later, better known arguments regarding religious resistance to governmental authority. Colvin’s translation enjoyed a scholarly introduction by American theocratic author George Grant, of Franklin, TN.

Then, in August 2013, longtime Constitution Party activist and anti-abortion militant, Rev. Matt Trewhella of Wisconsin, published The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates:  A Proper Resistance to Tyranny and a Repudiation of Unlimited Obedience to Civil Government. Trewhella, who also claims to have played a role in publishing Colvin’s book, sells both via a web site appropriately titled LesserMagistrate.com.

Trewhella is best known as an anti-abortion militant who distinguished himself by signing the 1994 Defensive Action Statement, which sought to justify the murder of abortion providers. He later gained national notoriety when Planned Parenthood Federation of America published video excerpts of a speech he gave at a state convention of the Constitution Party’s predecessor, the U.S. Taxpayer’s Party, in which he advocated church-based militias and told his congregants to do “the most loving thing” by buying their children “an SKS rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition.” He said he was teaching his own 16-month-old the location of his “trigger finger.”

While Trewhella has faded from national attention, when the Christian News Network needed a comment regarding the removal of references to marriage and abortion from the Clark County, Nevada GOP platform in April 2014, they called Trewhella and Peroutka.

“When will Christians ever learn they are getting played by the GOP?” Trewhella said in the interview. “It is like Lucy pulling the football out from in front of Charlie Brown so that he falls on his back again and again.”

“We need people to be Biblical and constitutional,” Michael Peroutka added. “Republican is not the standard.”

Understandably, Peroutka (as the former Constitution Party and League of the South leader) is giving Anne Arundel County Republicans pause— and a dilemma. If Peroutka wins, the probable configuration of the council will be three Republicans, three Democrats, and Peroutka. And he will scrutinize everything they do through his idiosyncratic notions of an ability to void all government and laws that don’t line up with what he believes are God’s laws.

Similarly, Delimater promises to only enforce laws according to a similar, perhaps an identical, idiosyncratic standard. Delimater writes in a Q&A section of his campaign website

Q. What makes you such an expert on the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions?

A. I have attended 12 week courses given by The Institute On The Constitution both for the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Constitution.  Since then I have been taking additional courses on the Maryland court system, the Federalist Papers, duties of a jurist, etc.”

The day after Peroutka’s surprising win, The Capital Gazette issued a strongly-worded editorial naming the stakes in November’s general election. “Peroutka told voters the truth,” the editorial reads, “when he stressed that he was against taxes and stormwater fees. He didn’t stress that he’s also a theocrat and secessionist who thinks it would be great if local officials refused to uphold state laws.”

So will Republicans, who are the majority in the council member district 5 and in the county, vote for the theocrats who are hell-bent on throwing monkey wrenches into the normal functioning of government? Or will they vote for the Democrats?

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