VVS14 Analysis: Glenn Beck, Mark Levin Try to Quell Christian Right Neo-Confederates

The Christian Right’s annual trade show, Values Voter Summit, is a good place to check the vital signs of the movement that is often—and wrongly—declared dead or dying. And this year’s conference offered a peek into the struggle by Christian Right leaders to tamp down the Neo-Confederate and secessionist ideology growing in, and threatening to break, their ranks.

Right-wing media personality Glenn Beck holds up The Bible and Rules for Radicals at VVS14

Right-wing media personality Glenn Beck holds up The Bible and Rules for Radicals at VVS14

Some critics tend to cast the Christian Right movement as monolithic, when in actuality it has always been at just as fractious and dynamic as it has been powerful and influential. And yet, its considerable successes are sometimes obscured by its leaders’ perennial fear that they may ultimately fail to “restore” their notion of the Christian Nation—and that an evil darkness will fall upon the land. (Yes, much of the public rhetoric at the Values Voter Summit was that prosaic.)

But a deepening shadow of doubt has crept across the Christian Right’s vision of a shining city on a hill since at least 2012 election. Some leaders of the Religious (and non-religious) Right are revealing their loss of faith in American nationhood, and are turning to Neo-Confederate alternatives, including support to secede from the Union (including by some candidates), and a movement to nullify federal laws, regulations and court decisions—all with the full understanding of the political tensions and violence that would likely accompany most of these efforts.

This Neo-Confederatization of elements of the political and Religious Right is such a problem that the State Policy Network of business/libertarian think tanks, (which work in close coalition with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)) issued a PR manual in 2013 which urged members to avoid language that smacks of “extreme views,” advising: “Stay away from words like radical, nullify, or autonomy,” and especially “states’ rights.”

At the Values Voter Summit, we saw a continued effort to hold the fractious Christian Right movement together, and sharp warnings to those who are considering or turning to these Neo-Confederate options. All of which suggests that the leaders may be more worried about their cohesion than meets the eye.

But rather than deliver the main message themselves, the conference leaders left it to popular, non-evangelical co-belligerents: New York right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who is Jewish, and Mormon right-wing broadcaster Glenn Beck.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, staged a conversation with Levin during a conference plenary which offered some thoughts about how to proceed in the face of Christians being “silenced,” and their religious freedom being “under assault” from so many directions.

Perkins observed (at about 17:30 in the YouTube video) that President Obama has described Islam as a religion of peace, and that the problem we have with Islam is not just far away but right here at home.

“How can we fight an enemy,” Perkins asked, that “transcends not only our international foreign policy but our domestic policy. We are at risk here at home, and we cannot come to the point where we can truly speak the truth because political correctness has basically blinded us to that truth.”

“Well, we need to reject political correctness,” Levin replied on cue. “We need to reject the attempt by the Left to keep us in little boxes, or to move us out to extremes. We are the heart of America,” he declared, jabbing his index finger into the air for emphasis.

“Our belief system is the heart of America. We are the majority of America. And they treat us like we are some minor cult. We are not some minor cult. I don’t need to be lectured by Barack Obama about any damn thing let alone religion or Islam…. I think we need to fight this effort to silence us…. We need to speak out. We need to stand up.”

Levin’s solution is to cast the Religious Right as mainstream America.

At VVS14, right-wing radio host Mark Levin chastises the growing Neo-Confederate movement among the Christian Right

At VVS14, right-wing radio host Mark Levin chastises the growing Neo-Confederate movement among the Christian Right

“You know, I view the political spectrum quite differently,” he explained. “We are in the middle! You’ve got the radical leftists who’ve taken over the Democrat Party [sic]. You have… this Neo-Confederate group out there,” he said, pointing and waving to his right, “that doesn’t really believe in the Constitution and keeps talking about secession and so forth. We are traditional conservatives who embrace the Constitution, who embrace our heritage. This president does not—from his values to his comments to his attacks on my country—does not represent me, period!”

Likewise, Glenn Beck urged the evangelical conference attendees not to succumb to the temptation of “rage” at anti-Christian persecution and the threats to religious freedom in our time. Jesus, he said, was about a “revolution through peace and love” not violence. “Which spirit is leading you,” he wondered. “Which spirit is leading all of us?” You could hear a pin drop in the carpeted room as Beck failed to answer his own rhetorical question.

That the popular Beck was featured to deliver this sermon suggests that conference leadership recognizes they may have led their people over a hate and fear mongering bridge too far. Part of their task now seems to be to bring them back from the Neo-Confederate temptation.

Pointing to the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., Beck said “the Lord would never tell us to do something out of hate, or vengeance, or rage.” He emphasized the need to come together as Americans in the face of the external threat of ISIS, and not to hate one another. Not even LGBTQ people, he said.

Like Levin, Beck sought to position the Christian Right and the conservative movement generally—not as the Right, but as ideologically middle America. He did it in a sly slam on the Tea Party (at about 43:35 in the YouTube video), in which he held up a copy of legendary progressive and civil rights movement organizer Saul Alinsky’s 1971 book, Rules for Radicals—which had been promoted by Tea Party leaders—notably Dick Armey (head of the Koch brothers bankrolled group Freedom Works)—as a manual for anti-establishment disruption.

Beck didn’t mention any of this back story, but stuck to the old Manichean story line. Alinsky had jokingly dedicated the book to Lucifer, giving Beck the opening to read from the book’s dedication, which he said offers a “tip of the hat to the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that at least he won his own Kingdom—Lucifer.” He claimed that “for many in America, this [Rules for Radicals] is their Scripture.”

We have a choice, he declared, between The Bible and Rules for Radicals.

In fairness, Alinsky was obviously being humorous and provocative, and was not really dedicating his book to Satan. But Beck’s target was not Alinsky so much as the colorfully disruptive and often overtly hate-mongering Tea Partiers, many of whom are conservative Christians, with whom VVS leaders seek to contrast themselves as the mainstream of the GOP (if not America itself). They wish to be seen not as the party of mean spiritedness—but as the standard bearers of religious freedom.

Whether they can sufficiently recover to make the center hold, or whether the Christian Right has tea-partied itself into a stupor of permanent neo-Confederate division, remains to be seen.

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Nazism, Godwin’s Law, and the Far Right

obama hitler

There is an internet adage coined in the 1990s by Mike Godwin called Godwin’s Law. The rule states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the possibility of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” This adage is often invoked to signal desperation in an argument. The use of such inappropriate and hyperbolic language suggests the side making the comparison has exhausted any substantive rhetorical devices.

Among the Far Right’s favorite phraseological bricks to throw at anything or anyone they do not approve of are the terms “Nazi” and “Hitler.” Comparisons to Hitler and Nazism are nothing new in politics, and people from both the Far Left to the Far Right have invoked the Third Reich for comparative fodder for decades. In 2011 Rep. Steven Cohen (D-TN) compared Republican plans to repeal Obamacare to Nazism and the Holocaust. George H.W. Bush called Saddam Hussein the “new Hitler,” while building support for Desert Storm.

Members of the Far Right, however, outshine their peers in their cavalier and demagogic use of Nazi terminology.

This name-calling phenomenon is a good example of using a word to invoke a meaning that does not reflect the actual nature of a concept. Instead, it reflects an attempt to conflate anything the Far Right finds objectionable with Nazism. But the Far Right leaders’ use of Nazi terminology is not thoughtless. Their practice of invoking Nazism and Hitler is both shrewd and fraught.

There are political benefits to reducing something as complex and nuanced as the current state of the United States to being a direct analogue to the Third Reich. At this year’s Values Voters Summit (VVS), former Arkansas legislator Jim Bob Duggar compared the current state of the U.S. to Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, saying “that’s where we are at in our nation.” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has compared those skeptical about defunding Obamacare to “Nazi appeasers.” By using Nazi terminology and conflating it with anything “bad”, people such as Duggar and Cruz are able to conceal conceptual complexity under rhetoric that is both inflammatory and simplistic.

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer and anti-LGBTQ crusader Scott Lively both claim gays were responsible for the Nazi Party and the Holocaust (suggesting an understanding of German history based solely on Mel Brook’s The Producers). Fischer also claims LGBTQ Americans are “literally” Nazis and will launch a new Spanish Inquisition. Glenn Beck was quoted on Honest Questions With D.L. Hughley saying, “ I think Jesus Christ and Hitler had a lot in common, and that was they could both look you in the eye and say, ‘I’ve got an answer for you, follow me.’ One was evil; one was good.” Mixed metaphors such as Fischer’s and Beck’s are par for the course when talking about the Far Right and Nazi terminology.

The Far Right’s weaponized soundbites are, on one hand, an attempt to vilify anything they disapprove of by linking the issue in question to one of the darkest moments in history. Institutions and people that the Far Right have compared to Nazis and/or Hitler include: the IRS, feminists, NPR, religious pluralism, secularism, Boy Scouts, Obamacare, gun laws and background checks, and abortion. Matt Barber of the Liberty Counsel has cited an “exact comparison between those who stood by silently during the Nazi Holocaust and those who today stand by silently and allow, accept the abortion holocaust.” Again, a mixed metaphor, but in a way, whether or not such comparisons hold up to scrutiny does not matter. Mention of Nazi Germany can engender a reflexive and involuntary sense of disapproval that allows Far Right leaders to bypass conceptual complexity and accuracy in favor of a passionate knee-jerk response.

Nazi rhetoric also justifies an evangelical, pre-millennial dispensational ideology. Many people thought that Hitler and the Third Reich were a sign of the end times, and that no atrocity could be more horrific. If humanity is going to usher in the end times and the second coming of Christ, humanity must be in a state that rivals or is worse than that during the Third Reich. Pat Robertson speaks to this effect, having stated that the “abortion holocaust” has been more lethal than Hitler’s Holocaust. Truth In Action has also released content claiming that the US “is becoming Nazi Germany.”

Along these lines, another way to look at this rhetorical phenomenon is how it represents an ideal for the Far Right. It seems that they wish that the United States were more like the Third Reich. Such conditions would create a call to action they so desperately desire. If, in the U.S., Christians were being persecuted like the Nazis persecuted Jews, if homosexuals were Nazis, and if abortion provided a direct corollary to the Holocaust, then the Far Right might be justified in their outrage. This idea is reflected in the hypothetical nature of a lot of the Nazi rhetoric being used by the Far Right. Glenn Beck has commented on how the Obama administration could “shut down the Tea Party” and “round up” Tea Party members like Hitler did to the Jews. It isn’t happening, but it would justify Beck’s rancor if it were.

In a way, the Far Right is attempting to reverse engineer a Nazi state by labeling anything they disapprove of as an analogue to the Third Reich. Far Right leaders wish to invoke Nazism as a way to justify their vitriolic hatred of any number of diverse groups, people, and ideas.

Labels create a favorable condition in which complex, nuanced, and often abstract ideas can be reduced to simple words and concepts. They are often useful for groups of people who want to gain political room, but can be problematic and reductive when a person or a group of people let the word choose the meaning, instead of the other way around. The Far Right ignores the loaded nature of such terminology, choosing to use Nazi rhetoric to evoke passionate fear and anger. From an outside perspective, though, the Far Right’s use of Nazi terminology seems to suggest a group of people who have lost an argument and have resorted to petty name-calling. So while the Far Right may be using Nazi terminology for a purpose, that purpose seems mainly to be desperation.