Evidence Strongly Suggests Trump Was Collaborating with Christian Nationalist Leaders Before January 6th

Brian Gibbs, founder and lead pastor of VICTORY: A Church Of His Presence and Light The Fire Ministries, stands outside the White House with pass around his neck on December 30, 2020, one week before the assault on the Capitol. Image: Facebook

On December 22, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th Capitol Riot released its report, reopening the question of what forces and figures incited the insurrection as we observe its two-year anniversary. Yet, as numerous observers have noticed, the Committee neglected (or, indeed, sidestepped) one of that day’s most important aspects: Christian nationalism. Not only did the Committee fail to report on the documented Christian nationalist organizers, leaders, and symbols at the attack on the Capitol, but the scant mentions of Christian symbolism and mobilization in the Insurrection leave out of our collective narrative one of the most important—and perhaps shocking—untold stories of January 6.

We know about the Proud Boys and the Oathkeepers and the Willard Hotel war rooms organized by Trump’s cronies, but far less is known about the religious leaders who helped organize and even to instigate the attempted overthrow of the US government. Our new audio-documentary series lays out the central role one influential charismatic Christian network of leaders called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) played in boosting Christian Trumpism and in the actual events surrounding January 6. 

Scholars have written previously about the NAR and its rapid growth, including charismatic prophets who operated as Trump propagandists and “election fraud legionnaires.” In recent months, we have uncovered evidence that strongly suggests an even closer relationship between the Trump Administration and NAR leaders than was previously known, that figures within the Trump White House were strategizing with these far-right NAR Christian leaders in the days before the Capitol Riot.

This particular saga of Christian involvement in the Insurrection traces back to one man: C. Peter Wagner, an evangelical seminary professor and church growth expert, who began dabbling in the chaotic, energetic world of Independent charismatic Christianity in the 1980s. This sector of Christianity, which evolved out of Pentecostalism in the mid-to-late 20th century, characteristically resists denominational ties and conventional governance and is one of the fastest growing segments of American and global Christianity. It’s guided by a supernaturalized spirituality where miracles are believed to occur with great regularity and where the words of respected prophets are taken as coming directly from the mouth of God. 

In the 1990s, Wagner left his seminary job to build what he called the New Apostolic Reformation, a networked infrastructure of modern-day apostles and prophets whom he believed would lead the 21st-century Christian church into global revival. He gathered and mentored a cohort of young, ambitious, entrepreneurial charismatic leaders who believed themselves, along with Wagner, ordained to serve as this spiritual oligarchy of apostles and prophets. The NAR apostles and prophets claim to wield immense spiritual authority to wage spiritual warfare campaigns against the demons and “territorial spirits” that have captured whole regions of the earth. 

Over time, Wagner and his NAR cohort also came to believe in a form of dominion theology that divides society up into seven segments (religion, family, education, government, media, arts & entertainment, and business) and holds that Christians should take control of each of these Seven Mountains to exert a top-down influence within every society and nation. These ideas and the deep theological commitments of the NAR to influencing local and national politics, puts much of the movement on the most militant end of the spectrum of Christian nationalism (even as rifts are forming around this very issue).  

Despite its considerable departure from mainstream Christian practices and traditions, Wagner’s vision for modern-day apostles and prophets, spiritual warfare, and conquering the Seven Mountains has been adopted by huge swaths of American and global charismatic Christians. Though Wagner died in 2016, his inner circle of mentees and disciples have become celebrities in charismatic Christian media and leaders of huge networks of churches and ministries worldwide. 

Wagner and his NAR leadership networks were also some of the earliest and most ardent proponents of Christian Trumpism and served as key mobilizers and participants in the events surrounding January 6. Indeed, part of this untold story is that the events around the Capitol that day were the culmination of a months-long spiritual warfare campaign waged by charismatic Christians to see Trump reinstated for another term.

Wagner’s inner circle includes Lance Wallnau, a prophet and motivational speaker who was one of the Christian leaders with an inside track on the Trump Administration and who actually created the Seven Mountains political theology that animates the NAR’s political efforts and is, increasingly at the heart of right-wing Christian organizing. Wallnau was scheduled to speak at a Stop-the-Steal rally at the Capitol on January 6 that had to be canceled due to the rioting. 

Wagner also mentored Ché Ahn, a Korean-American apostle who leads a network of 25,000 churches and ministries around the globe, who issued a prophetic decree at the January 5 ramp-up rally in Washington, DC. Another Wagner acolyte, Cindy Jacobs, one of the most recognized and respected charismatic prophets in the world, was present outside the Capitol, leading spiritual warfare efforts among the agitated crowds.

But the most overt and widespread NAR-aligned marker on January 6 was the legion of Appeal to Heaven (sometimes called ‘Pine Tree’) flags in the crowds surrounding the Capitol. The flag is very basic: it consists of a green pine tree against a white background with the words “An Appeal to Heaven” above it. The ATH flag, originally used during the Revolutionary War, was adopted by Dutch Sheets, a Wagner disciple and a famous apostle in his own right, in 2013. Sheets claimed that this Colonial American military flag was a prophetic symbol of the Third Great Awakening that would arrive as soon as Christians properly aligned themselves in fervent prayer. 

Since then, Sheets and other apostles and prophets have written books about this Appeal to Heaven meme, and, through the linked efforts of NAR networks, it’s become a potent far-right symbol and a coded emblem for an extensive spiritual warfare campaign, all of which became entwined with the Trump Administration and Trump 2020 Campaign. Just a couple weeks before the 2020 election, Trump was presented with an ATH flag by one of Wagner’s apostles, Paul Marc Goulet, while visiting a church in Las Vegas. This Appeal to Heaven vigor about Trump and revival dovetailed with hundreds of prophecies from the NAR and other networks of charismatic prophets echoing that God had destined Trump to win the 2020 election. In the helter-skelter season between the 2020 election and the January 6 attempt to forcibly interfere with the result, the Appeal to Heaven flag had become a ubiquitous symbol adopted by charismatic Christians to exhibit their faith in these Trump prophecies. 

For his part, Dutch Sheets became a one-man Trump propaganda machine after the election was called for Biden. He undertook an ambitious swing-state prayer and prophecy tour with a band of prophets and prayer warriors to try to push the spiritual dial toward Trump, leading huge rallies with hundreds of thousands following on YouTube. Sheets also, through his popular daily YouTube broadcasts (receiving 200,000+ views each day in December 2020) and myriad charismatic media appearances in the leadup to the Insurrection, was one of the foremost Christian Big Lie enthusiasts with masses of charismatic Christians tracking his commentary. 

The scores of Appeal to Heaven flags in the crowds on January 6 speak to the broad reach and profound effects of Dutch Sheets’ campaign and of these prophetic beliefs for mobilizing charismatic Christians steeped in far-right conspiracy theories. As we argue in our audio series, no Christian leaders contributed more to the Christian ethos of January 6 than the NAR apostles and prophets, and no individual leader had more of an influence over the Christian character of the Insurrection than Dutch Sheets.

What has never previously been reported about these NAR and Trump Administration connections is that Dutch Sheets wasn’t merely a fervent supporter, but that he was evidently coordinating with Trump White House officials throughout this post-election prophetic propaganda campaign. He has described in print and at a live-streamed prophecy rally how “people who work in the government” suggested and instigated his swing-state, rousing prophecy tour in November 2020.

Moreover, on December 29, 2020—eight days before the Insurrection—Sheets and his team of prophets were in Washington, DC, staying at the Willard Hotel, the site of the various war rooms overseen by Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon. On that day, Sheets, along with 14 other apostles and prophets, had a multi-hour meeting inside the White House with Trump Administration officials. Who exactly among White House Staff attended this meeting is unclear (and the Trump Administration has made the White House Visitor Logs secret and invulnerable to FOIA requests until 2026). But members of Sheets’ team posted photos of themselves (with White House Visitor Passes) both outside and inside the building.

Brian Gibbs (L) and Dutch Sheets (R) stand outside the White House with visitor passes around their necks, from a December 29, 2020 Brian Gibbs Facebook post that reads: “A profound & significant assignment here today at The White House…More to come…The future belongs to the righteous. Together Triumphant, BG”

Photo taken inside the White House shared by Don Lynch on December 29, 2020, eight days before the assault on the Capitol. Image: Facebook

Though Dutch Sheets hasn’t spoken publicly about these White House meetings and members of the team have been mostly tight-lipped, some incautious comments have slipped out. A couple of days later, for example, Apostle Don Lynch, who had attended the White House meeting told his church

“We knew we were going to be going into DC before the first of the year—before January 6—but we weren’t sure when or how… We were at the White House for a couple of hours of things that are rather amazing. At the highest levels of our nation God is not only speaking, but he’s being heard.” 

Apostle Tim Sheets, Dutch’s brother who was also present, likewise informed his congregation that Sunday: 

“We had a two-hour time to pray at the White House and make some decrees that God had given to us. It was a very strategic time… Strategy was given to us from people in the know around there that I cannot really talk about… We have a secure thread that we can communicate by now.” 

This photographic and testimonial evidence points to a collaboration and coordination between White House officials and Christian nationalist mobilizers in the buildup to January 6.

The leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation were entwined with the events of January 6, and the role that these networks and other Christian leaders played in the post-election crisis in American democracy remains one of the great unexamined and untold stories of that day. For reasons rooted in politics and the privileged status of the Christian majority in the US, the federal government is leery of facing or investigating the far-right Christian movements that have festered for years and pose a serious threat to American society. 

These religious networks and leaders haven’t been discouraged or disempowered in the aftermath of the Capitol Riot; if anything, they’ve merely demonstrated their impressive mobilizing and galvanizing potential, advertising themselves as a ready-made force for the next leader willing to activate them.