Dominionism Beyond the Roy Moore Moment

August 2003 rally in front of the Alabama state judicial building in support of Roy Moore. Photo: Wikimedia.

Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore –– arguably the most openly theocratic candidate to run for a major office in the U.S. in modern times –– almost won. This, despite credible allegations of child sex abuse, a reputation as a serial stalker of teenagers at the town mall as a young prosecutor; and public opposition by senior Republicans including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) –– among a host of other remarkable factors.  Even in defeat, Roy Moore illuminates the rise of Christian Dominionism as a political wave that may not yet have crested.

Dominionism has a number of variants and expressions, but generally is the theocratic idea that God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.  It is an advanced and maturing movement generally, within in the Republican party in particular.

One person who epitomizes this trend is Michael Peroutka, a Maryland lawyer and politician who has been a major underwriter of Roy Moore’s Alabama political career and of Moore’s non-profit Foundation for Moral Law.  Their association is long and close.  In 2004 Moore, then a hero to the Christian Right for installing a monument to the Ten Commandments in the Alabama state courthouse when he was the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and defying a federal judge’s order to remove it, flirted with running for President on the theocratic Constitution Party ticket, the third largest party at the time. In the end, Moore didn’t declare himself a candidate, but by serving as the headliner draw at state party conventions, he was able to introduce the little known Peroutka (then-Chairman of the Maryland Constitution Party, and a declared candidate for the nomination) –– who ultimately became the party’s presidential candidate.

A decade later, Peroutka switched parties and as a Republican won a seat on the County Council in Anne Arundel County, Maryland in 2014, despite controversy over his leadership in the theocratic, Southern secessionist organization, League of the South. (Anne Arundel is the county that includes the state capital, Annapolis.)  As in the case of Moore, Peroutka was opposed by some leading Maryland Republicans, including Governor Larry Hogan. But far from becoming a pariah, the county executive, Republican Steve Schuh has endorsed him for reelection in 2018 and on December 4, 2017 he was elected by his fellow Republicans as chairman of the County Council. This was less than two weeks before the Alabama special election –– but well after exposés of Peroutka’s involvement with Moore and The Washington Post’s reporting on Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct. Faced with a strong challenger who could flip control of the council to the Democrats, the Republican Party is evidently rallying around Peroutka.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is another leading example of the ongoing significance of political Dominionism.  Should he be reelected in 2018, he would certainly be a strong contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2020 or 2024.  Cruz ran in the Republican primaries in 2016, and did remarkably well, despite revelations about  of the Dominionism of his campaign and his close supporters, by Texas reporters and scholars and an evangelical historian; as well as the way that Cruz used the idea of religious freedom to advance a Dominionist agenda. This sort of reporting largely disappeared after Cruz emerged as the last plausible candidate to stop Donald Trump’s campaign for the 2016 presidential nomination. Cruz was also supported by-anyone-but-Trump party leaders as well as neo-conservative Christian Right figures like Robert P. George.  Nevertheless, even after the election, most of the political community and the media have continued to report on the likes of Peroutka, Cruz, and Moore in other terms, as if the deeper religious and political ideology that drives and animates their politics does not exist.

When looking at politicians and issue groups it can be easy to lose sight of the religious ideas that animate their politics, especially when these ideas may seem strange to outsiders who also may not have the vocabulary to describe them.

When looking at politicians and issue groups it can be easy to lose sight of the religious ideas that animate their politics, especially when these ideas may seem strange to outsiders who also may not have the vocabulary to describe them. Sometimes too, pols may be trying to shade their more controversial views and involvements. But that need not deter us from shining a light on them. There are two main schools of Dominionist thought that animate the movement these being Christian Reconstructionism, pioneered by the late theologian R.J. Rushdoony, which advances the idea not only of the need for Christians (of the right sort) to dominate society, but to ultimately institute and apply Old Testament “Biblical Law” in every area of life. The other, closely related form of Dominionism is advocated by the neo-Pentecostal  New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), led by longtime Fuller Theological Seminary professor, C. Peter Wagner; which advocates for what they call “Seven Mountains” of dominion. This is a call for Christians to “reclaim the seven mountains of culture”: government, religion, media, family, business, education, and arts and entertainment.

It is worth noting that Dominionism has also long-resonated with, and helped to develop contemporary White nationalism, neo-confederate ideology  and White supremacism. 

It is worth noting that Dominionism has also long-resonated with, and helped to develop contemporary White nationalism, neo-confederate ideology  and White supremacism.  The eminent sociologist James Aho in his 2016 book Far-Right Fantasy:  A Sociology of American Religion and Politics writes that these elements have increasingly found resonance with Dominionist thought in both its Christian Reconstructionism and  New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) expressions. Aho makes clear that no understanding of the far right in the U.S. is complete absent the religious dimension.

“Ignoring the handful of pagan Odinist and SS-garbed neo-Nazis, America’s contemporary ultra-rightists,” he wrote, “are almost exclusively white, middle aged, Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and Mormons, animated by a doctrine known as Dominionism.”

(Paradoxically, Pentecostalism has historically been racially and ethnically inclusive and diverse in ways that contrast with overwhelmingly White conservative Baptist and Presbyterian factions of the Christian Right.  NAR style Dominionism does not conflate Dominionism with any variety of White identity.)

Unsurprisingly, Dominionism was a powerfully underlying current before the White supremacist march on Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017. One of the principal organizers of the event was the League of the South.  Nevertheless, in the run up to Charlottesville the stated religious intentions of League leader Michael Hill went largely unreported. Hill envisions the League and his growing “Southern Defense Force” as an army that seeks to defend White Christendom –– the “Army of the True Living God” and carry out an Old Testament style vision of “destroying the enemies of our land, our people and of our God.”

While Dominionism in its various expressions continues to rise, it is happening within a continuum of interacting elements of the Republican Party, the Christian Right, and even the far right that define politics and culture in the age of Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

Roy Moore & Ron Paul: The Politics of Secession, Nullification, and Marriage Equality

Roy Moore, the elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has been in the news lately for his efforts to block same sex marriage in the state—notwithstanding a federal judge’s ruling that Alabama’s anti-marriage equality law is unconstitutional.  Moore claims that federal courts, short of the U.S. Supreme Court, do not have the authority to interpret the Constitution against the laws and constitution of the state. Moore’s efforts are being discussed as nullification, and are even being compared to Gov. George Wallace’s attempt to prevent the integration of the Alabama public schools in the 1960s.

A slow motion showdown may be brewing over Moore’s notion of state sovereignty vs. the supremacy of federal law that extends beyond the matter at hand. Moore told Fox News Sunday that he does not recognize the authority of the federal courts regarding, among other things, marriage. If, as seems likely, the U.S. Supreme Court makes marriage equality the law of the land this term, he says he will “recuse” himself from matters involving same-sex marriage.  Contrary to some published reports, this does not mean he will defy the U.S. Supreme Court.  He knows that if he did so, he would be removed from the bench, just as he was a decade ago when he installed and refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the state courthouse in Montgomery – in defiance of a federal court order.  Moore is too wily to try that again.

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

At this writing, there is a lot of legal wrangling in both state and federal courts over the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses in Alabama.  Some counties are complying with the rulings and issuing licenses to couples, and some are not.

But looking beyond the current confusion, Moore has apparently decided to use his position to speak out about what he considers a creeping federal tyranny, while taking pains not to jeopardize his seat.

Taking a similar approach is Moore’s longtime ideological ally Michael Peroutka, (the one-time presidential candidate of the theocratic Constitution Party, and recently-elected Republican member of the Anne Arundel County 1)Maryland Council).  When the Council voted on a resolution to seek federal funding for public school programs, all members (both Democrats and Republicans) voted in favor, except for Peroutka who abstained. The Capital Gazette reported, “Peroutka said he took issue with federal money being sent to local schools because the Constitution does not give the federal government the authority to “be involved in any education at all.”

“Federal programs are driving the agenda here in our local schools,” Peroutka said. “They’re driving the agenda with a lot of money.””

Michael Peroutka

Michael Peroutka

All of this may portend a struggle that will play out differently than one might think. The situation may be more complicated than just the country generally, and the conservative South in particular, reaching acceptance of marriage equality.

Groups and individuals involved in the wider movements of the Christian Right and contemporary libertarianism, on which PRA has reported over the past two years, have advocated varying degrees of nullification and secession; and have envisioned vary degrees of political tension, violence and civil war. Peroutka and Moore may lack the votes in their respective governmental institutions for nullification over marriage and other issues, but they can be voices for building a movement which could one day be capable of carrying it out.

It is not clear yet how organized or capable the movement is currently, but it is worth noting that former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)  spoke at a gathering in January at the Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, called “Breaking Away: The Case for Secession”.

“I would like to start off,” Paul declared, “by talking about the subject and the subject is secession and, uh, nullification, the breaking up of government, and the good news is it’s gonna happen.  It’s happening,”

Meanwhile, judge Moore and Peroutka seem to be taking the long view—but others are not.  Among these is another longtime Peroutka friend and ally, Michael Hill, head of the theocratic and White supremacist Alabama-based League of the South.  Peroutka, as PRA reported last year, was a member of the board of directors of the League for several months in 2014, before quietly leaving, apparently in preparation for his run for office. His membership in the League was a major issue in the campaign. Peroutka said he resigned his membership but did not renounce the League itself. After Peroutka won the election, Hill celebrated his friend’s victory.

Hill has called for the formation of death squads to kill American government officials and journalists, and for White men of all ages to become “citizen soldiers” in a great modern defense of archaic notions of Christendom.  He has as gone so far as to organize a paramilitary group.

Hill sees himself and his comrades as part of a long line of such “citizen soldiers,” invoking historic battles with Islamic armies going back to the Battle of Tours in the 8th century. His role models for warriors for Christendom, however, are the White Westerners who fought against Black liberation movements in Southern Africa in the 1970s.

“So if Western men in past times were willing to fight for their civilization in remote areas of the world,” he asked, “shouldn’t we expect them to be just as willing to fight for that civilization here at its very heart – the South? … The traditions and truths of Western Christendom are anathema to the [Obama] regime,” he concluded. “The tyrants’ regime and Western Christendom cannot coexist—that is not possible. One must win and the other must disappear. It is indeed the ultimate Zero Sum game.”

Michael Hill is treating the federal judge’s overturning of the “Sanctity of Marriage” amendment to the Alabama state constitution as the last straw. While the League says it supports judge Moore’s effort to defend the state constitution against the alleged federal tyranny, Hill declared that he no longer considers himself an American and called for violent secession of the South from “the American monstrosity.”

Hill also joined theologian Peter Leithart of Birmingham and prominent Christian Right political organizer David Lane, in explicitly declaring his opposition to “Americanism.”

“Yes, many of our citizens have, wittingly or unwittingly, embraced Americanism for either survival or profit,” Hill declared. “I have not, and I intend to convince my fellow Southerners to join my side. I do not intend to leave Alabama or the South… I intend to fight, and if necessary kill and die, for their survival, well-being, and independence.”

A Moscow – Montgomery Axis?

As it happens, the League has been receiving encouragement from elements in Russia, particularly some who support Ukrainian separatists. He addressed, via Skype, a red/brown conference of anti-globalism activists, in Moscow in December 2014.  Hill told the conference that he sees American southern nationalism as an “historic ‘blood and soil’ movement” – an overt reference to 20th century ultra-German nationalism and Naziism.

Hill reports that he also emphasized the League’s “direct Southern nationalist challenge to the political, economic, and financial engine of globalism – the Washington, DC/European Union alliance.”

While the League has been networking with separatist movements around the world for a long time, the relationship with and support for pro-Russian, Ukrainian separatists has been growing.  On his Facebook page last year, Hill cast the situation as a battle between the “decadent West,” meaning the U.S. and the European Union (EU), and supposedly traditionalist Russia—which he described as “conservative, Orthodox, anti-Muslim and anti-PC.”

“We Southerners, as Christian traditionalists,” he concluded, “ought to sympathize with those in Ukraine who would object to closer ties with the USA-EU regimes simply because of what they now stand for: multiculturalism, tolerance, and diversity; anti-Christian policies from abortion to homosexuality; open borders and the demographic displacement of native Whites; an aggressive foreign policy, including war, in the name of spreading liberal democracy. On the other hand, Russia today stands against such things.”

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1. Maryland