Last month, Virginia lawmaker Mark Cole, a Fredericksburg Republican, sponsored a bill in the House of Delegates to prohibit the involuntary implantation of microchips into human beings. “My understanding—I’m not a theologian—but there’s a prophecy in the Bible that says you’ll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times,” said Cole. “Some people think these computer chips might be that mark.”
In spite of some ridicule, Cole’s bill passed the Virginia House of Delegates by an overwhelming 88-9 majority—because, as his fellow Republican David B. Albo opined, “The fact that some people who support it are a little wacky doesn’t make it a bad idea.”
Cole is not alone among state legislators nationwide. Wisconsin, California, and North Dakota have already passed legislation to protect their citizens from unwanted subdermal implants. A similar bill has just passed the house in Tennessee. The Georgia State Senate also passed an anti-microchip bill last month, sponsored by two Chips: Republican State Senators Chip Pearson and Chip Rogers, both Baptists and active in their churches.
The sponsors of these bills, all of them Republicans and outspoken conservative Christians, claim that preventing the forced implantation of microchips is a civil rights issue: they seek to protect citizens from unwanted bodily intrusions by employers and especially what they depict as a big brother-esque government. Yet the technology to embed radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips into animals and people has existed since the early nineties, and so far no one has attempted a forced implantation of the populace.
There are, of course, purely secular reasons against forced implantation of RFID chips and in favor of policies that particularly protect the truly vulnerable. But the true impetus behind these laws (give Cole points for honesty here) appears to lie squarely in Christian dispensationalism and speculation about “the mark of the beast” described in the Book of Revelation.
Conjecture about the mark of the beast has evolved alongside technology for at least the last forty years, merging with Orwellian concerns about how new technologies can enhance the power of the state. Of all innovations, those dealing with information and communication have held a special appeal for dispensationalist theories.
According to Robert C. Fuller in Naming the Antichrist, the Southwest Radio Church warned as early as 1975 that “The Beast” was the name of a supercomputer created to control the global economy. That same year, Christian dispensationalist Colin Deal expressed a similar theory, warning that “The Beast” could assign everyone on Earth an invisible “laser tattoo.” Similar technological suspicions were expressed by Emil Gaverluk and Patrick Fisher in Fiber Optics: The Eye of the Anti-Christ (1979) and David Webber and Noah Hutchings in Computers and the Beast of Revelation (1986).
The Mark of Paranoia
The first person to suggest that the mark of the beast could be a microchip may have been Peter Lalonde in his One World Under Anti-Christ (1991). However, the association of microchip technology with the mark of the beast was thoroughly hammered into the American consciousness by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ bestselling Left Behind Series. The eighth installment of the series, The Mark (2000), describes how the Antichrist’s new world order will require everyone to be implanted with a microchip or be guillotined by a “loyalty enforcement facilitator.” The Mark sold over three million copies by 2004.
That same year, the FDA approved the VeriChip, an RFID chip that can be implanted under the skin into human beings, marking them with personal data that can be read through a scanner. The VeriChip Corporation, now part of the company PositiveID, has suggested that this technology could have useful applications such as storing a patient’s medical data and—in apparent confirmation of apocalyptic anxieties—commerce. A VIP club in Barcelona has allowed customers to use Verichips as debit cards. “Marked” beachgoers can leave their wallets at home and simply have their arm scanned to purchase a drink.
The appeal of anti-microchip legislation is part of a larger narrative that equates “the beast” with foreign interests acting through the federal government; a theme that plays well in a political climate marked by populist anger and millenialist paranoia. Advocating laws because they will hinder the actions of the Antichrist, as preposterous as it seems, is made possible by a highly-politicized American subculture that has been profoundly influenced by the dispensationalist imagination. It is not an accident that the sponsors of anti-microchip legislation have admitted their concern about the mark of the beast. By making clear that their concerns are not purely secular, these legislators are able to build support from an energized evangelical base. Opponents can mock these politicians as paranoiacs, but among voters who have read The Mark, concern about the Antichrist is a political asset, not a liability.