Christian Nationalists and the Holy Gun Crusade

In the wake of every mass shooting in this country, we have a brief moment where we talk about the guns used and the need for gun control. And then rapidly, the gun lobby, conservative politicians, Second Amendment absolutists, and the rest find every conceivable other possible thing to focus on, starting with “thoughts and prayers” and moving on to hardening school buildings. The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where the shooter used an AR-15-style weapon he’d purchased from the gun company Daniel Defense, has followed the same patternbut with a recognition that the love of the AR-15 style weapon isn’t just about “freedom” or Second Amendment absolutism. It’s also about Christian Nationalism.

Daniel Defense had, on May 16th, posted a now-deleted Tweet advertising the same kind of gun the Uvalde shooter had purchased:

The line used is Proverbs 22:6, and this phenomenon, the use of Biblical passages to sell firearms with an explicitly Christian context, is widespread in the United States. And this shouldn’t be surprisingas Brad Stoddard writes here on RD, “AR-15s are also increasingly the firearm of choice for Christian gun owners who arm themselves—in their minds, at least—in defense against both tyranny and evil.” And from there, that love of the AR-15 goes all kinds of places.

One of those contexts is apocalyptic. The Rod of Iron Ministries, an offshoot of the Unification Church that believes the AR-15 is the Rod of Iron from Revelations, uses them in liturgical ceremony, and their founder, Pastor Sean Moon, has put it on their flag and keeps a gold plated one on his desk when he preaches his QAnon-inflected apocalyptic sermons. If they’re the most high-profile group doing this, though, they’re certainly not alone. Retired Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin made headlines in 2014 for saying that

The Lord is a warrior and in Revelation 19 it says when he comes back, he’s coming back as what? A warrior. A mighty warrior leading a mighty army, riding a white horse with a blood-stained white robe … I believe that blood on that robe is the blood of his enemies ’cause he’s coming back as a warrior carrying a sword. 

He added to this claim that the sword in question was the AR-15, and that the Second Amendment as a concept came from Jesus. This isn’t simply one church, and if the idea still feels fringe—thankfully—then we should look at the more mainstream idea: the gun as a religious weapon.

If Daniel Defense sells their guns using Bible verses, other companies have a much closer affiliation. A Florida gunmaker, Spike’s Tactical, makes an AR-15-style rifle they call the “Crusader.” The name is chosen deliberately and with care, and the company knows exactly what they’re selling. As their website says:

Spike’s Tactical created a balanced reliable rifle that would bring an excellent fighting rifle to people of all abilities and resources. The every man fighting rifle.

We named it Crusader and engraved Psalm 144:1 on the lower receiver to hoist the flag of our faith and to make a statement, reminding our customers that we are with you. The war is here. We have a duty to defend our homeland and our way of life.

The war is here? Psalm 144:1, divorced from other context and stamped on this rifle, reads: 

“Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.” 

It gets worse. 

The rifle—which is popular with the far right—features an engraved Templar shield logo opposite the Psalm, and has three settings on it, presumably safety, single fire and semi-auto, but named, “Pax Pacis, Bellum, & Deus Vult,” or “Peace, War, and God Wills It,” the First Crusade battle cry popular with contemporary white supremacists. And as a company spokesperson said in 2015, “This ensures that no Muslim terrorist will ever pick up this weapon and use it to bring harm against another person. That’s actually my favorite part of the rifle.” 

This is, of course, nonsense—Muslims aren’t vampires, Jesus is a prophet in Islam, Bible verses don’t burn people on contact—but that idea, that this gun, named after the holy wars waged by Catholics against Muslims, Jews, “pagans,” and other Christians from 1096 until they finally ended in 1798, is both a weapon for Christians to “hoist the flag of our faith and make a statement” and apparently anti-Muslim kryptonite—is a whole mess of Islamophobic Christian nationalist ideas in a single gun.

It’s not unique, and that’s the sad part. There’s a gun store that chose the name “Templar Rifle Company.” Hodgdon Powder Company’s mission statement begins, “Hodgdon Powder Company operates following Biblical principles to honor God.” Etsy has an entire page of bullet rosaries—yes, rosaries made out of bullets—described in Patheos as the “ultimate spiritual weapon rosary.” 

And then there are the big moments, like the Trijicon ACOG scandal, where the company inscribed New Testament verses on all of their sights being sold to the US military for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The company’s website still says, “We believe that America is great when its people are good. This goodness has been based on Biblical standards throughout our history and we will strive to follow those morals.” This idea is everywhere—guns and God, hand in hand.

It is not harmless, though. This is the level of Christian nationalism the United States has decided is acceptable and normal in the firearms industry. But it’s not a slippery slope, it’s a direct road from these kinds of ideas—sacral weapons, anti-Muslim verses added onto weapons, prayers on bullets—to the violent language scrawled all over the Christchurch shooter’s guns. We’re already on that path when the former President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., posts pictures of himself holding a gun that not only features more crusader imagery but an image of Hillary Clinton in jail on the magazine. 

The link between Christian nationalism and political violence is already clear—we’ve already had an insurrection aimed at preventing the legitimate transition of power on those lines—and it hasn’t softened. Between Jericho Marches and the repeated use of medieval and explicitly Christian calls to violence, America is already there. Once you decide that violence is the appropriate solution to maintain theocratic dominance, the guns you’ve made holy and stockpiled become a threat.

This is radicalization. And for every “lone wolf” narrative that gets word-vomited out every time there’s a politically and religiously motivated mass shooting by a white far right Christian in this country, we know better. There’s an entire apparatus pushing hate and violence. And they’ve branded themselves with a rhetoric and an iconography, and they’ve branded themselves with sacred weapons—maybe not the Holy Lance of the First Crusade, but ever more rapidly approaching the Rod of Iron of their own desired apocalypse.