No Henpecked Men Here:
The Black-Robed Regiment Before Beck

Chuck Baldwin, Florida pastor, admirer of the John Birch Society, Ron Paul devotee, lifelong member of Gun Owners of America, and 2008 Constitution Party presidential candidate, had a Black Robed Regiment long before Glenn Beck did.

Baldwin’s evolution from Jerry Falwell’s ally in Florida — he served as the state chair of the Moral Majority in the 1980s — to uber-patriot penning columns like his 2004 “I Am A Conservative Christian, And The Religious Right Scares Me, Too,” highlights the complex intersection of tea party politics and the religious right. While some in the religious right have called on the tea party movement to have more “reverence to God” or to focus more on abortion politics, Baldwin brings fundamentalist Christianity to the tea parties from a different angle: arguing that pastors are the leaders of a revolution that might just break up the United States.

Baldwin, who admires the Ron Paul wing of the tea party movement (Baldwin ran for president in 2008 because Paul didn’t win the Republican primary), disparagingly calls the “Palin-Beck brand” of tea party “evangelists for the Republican Party.”

“Glenn Beck is not a preacher, of course but his style is becoming more preachy,” Baldwin told me in an interview. “Does he see himself as the John the Baptist for Sarah Palin?”

Similarly, in his 2004 piece about the religious right, Baldwin complained, “sadly, the Religious Right is now a movement without a cause, except the cause of advancing the Republican Party.”

Baldwin’s particular fusion of fundamentalist Christianity and anti-government, anti-”new world order” activism earned him a spot in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Meet the ‘Patriots’” report this summer, profiling 35 anti-government “Patriots” who are leading a “resurgent movement.”

Although Baldwin remains unequivocally dedicated to the religious right’s core issues — opposition to abortion and LGBT rights — he told me that he’s undergone an evolution since his Moral Majority days. If we don’t return to what Baldwin calls “bedrock principles” of state sovereignty, he contends, “it really doesn’t matter at that point if you’re pro-life or not or if you’re against homosexual marriage.” If the country loses what he calls “the fundamental tenets of freedom,” then “then all of our arguing and debating on these issues isn’t going to matter to a tinker’s dam, I mean the country’s going to be gone, and then all these other issues are not going to matter.”

And if Beck’s Black Robed Regiment is “simply saying we’ve got to return to God,” said Baldwin, then “it’s just the same-old, same-old.”

His own regiment, said Baldwin, is about much more.

Baldwin launched his regiment in 2007 to defend the country against what he insists is the growing and dangerous tyranny of the federal government — a theme not unfamiliar to Beck’s minions. “No question about it,” Baldwin told me, “the federal government in Washington, DC is out of control.” He likens the situation to colonial times, when he claims pastors in long black robes instigated a revolution against the British monarchy:

It [the federal government] is becoming a tyrannical government. With every passing day, their laws and their dictations are becoming more egregious, more unconscionable, more unconstitutional. And unless the clergymen and the states, the individual states, the legislators, the governors, kudos to Jan Brewer, etc., unless they begin to stand up in defiant resolve, righteous indignation, if you please, against this ever-burgeoning tendency of the federal government to become tyrannical, it’s only going to be a matter of a short time and we will not have a constitution left, we will not have a Bill of Rights left. The principles of freedom upon which our country is founded are being obliterated. And we either stand now to defend those principles or we watch them wash away.

While Beck relied on gauzy tributes to what he claims is the nation’s spiritual history, when Baldwin launched his “Black Regiment,” he set out very specific criteria: candidates had to be male, and had to attest to being “the head of his own home, having his wife and children in subjection to his authority. No henpecked men here.” Each had to be the “spiritual leader and shepherd of his local congregation, not a committee-controlled man.” Each had to publicly repudiate “the unconstitutional policies of President Bush in his promotion of the USA Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps and eavesdropping, and the deceptive manner in which he led America into an undeclared, unprovoked, and preemptive war against Iraq;” have protested against abortion, and have publicly resisted “‘Seeker-Friendly,’ and ‘Purpose-Driven,’ and ‘Emerging Church’ church growth movements.”

He has, Baldwin told me, some 300 pastors across the country who have joined his regiment, including, according to his website, the husband of Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern, known for her extreme anti-gay views and her “Proclamation for Morality;” Wiley Drake, the Southern Baptist preacher who has prayed for the death of President Obama; and Steven Anderson, who also prayed for that and believes that the Bible calls for the execution of gay people, and that killing them is not murder.

Baldwin wrote in the John Birch Society magazine The New American (which he has called “the best news magazine in the country”) that the sermons of the black regiment of revolutionary times “more than Patrick Henry’s oratory, Sam Adams’ and James Warren’s ‘Committees of Correspondence,’ or Thomas Paine’s ‘Summer Soldiers and Sunshine Patriots’ — inspired, educated, and motivated the colonists to resist the tyranny of the British Crown, and fight for their freedom and independence.”

Baldwin hints that secession might be the next step against “tyranny,” and has announced he’s moving his family from Pensacola to Montana, a state he told me “where freedom has a chance.” He said that he didn’t expect states to secede anytime soon, but that “if it does happen, I would support it.” (Earlier this year, Baldwin declared the breakup of the United States “inevitable.”) He told me, “I think it is inevitable unless we get back to those principles that we talked about. . . . it is still premature, but I do think it’s coming if there’s not a return to limited government.”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email