For two days in late October, I attended Clay Clarke’s MAGA-driven ReAwaken America Tour near my home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Keynote speakers included a predictable Who’s Who of Trump surrogates, including Michael Flynn, Mike Lindell, Roger Stone, and Eric Trump. The real driver of the event, however, was the lineup of dominionist, charismatic, Christian pastors, prophets, and lay leaders who were there to openly declare war on their enemies in the name of Jesus. These leaders, aligned with the movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), are driven by a prophetic certainty that God is commanding them to establish a militant Christian theocracy in the United States.
I’ve spent my entire life immersed in New Apostolic Reformation circles. I was raised in the tradition from infancy, remained a fervent foot soldier into my twenties, and have now been studying the movement as an outsider for the past two decades. As a consequence, I honestly wasn’t expecting any big surprises when I bought my ticket to see some of the NAR’s brightest stars at the ReAwaken rally when it swept through my hometown.
I was wrong. While forays into national politics and spiritual warfare rhetoric have long marked the NAR movement, the degree to which the dominionist theology of NAR has co-opted far-right political extremism, conspiracy theory culture, and open calls for violence is both a novel and dangerous development. And this is a movement that is no longer confined to the fringes of American religious and political life. The tour has already visited 16 US cities, drawing sold-out crowds at every stop, with regularly priced tickets ranging between $250 and $500. It is arguably the dominant brand of today’s Republican Party. For good reason, a growing number of expert observers have begun sounding the alarm. I suggest it’s time we hit the panic button.
The rally featured plenty of repugnant elements—from the relentless attacks on transgender youth consistent with fascist scapegoating, to the steady drumbeat of election fraud claims, to accusations that Dr. Fauci engineered Covid-19 in a Chinese lab to help a demonic cabal in Davos to impose a one-world government over freedom-loving Americans like themselves. Emboldened by their movement’s surging popularity, speakers repeatedly embraced the once-toxic label of “Christian nationalist” to thunderous applause.
But underneath it all was a seething groundswell of spiritually sanctioned incitement to violence that was impossible to ignore. The spiritual leaders of this new religio-political movement are using increasingly violent rhetoric to direct an inspired army of God to wage war against all who stand outside their camp. I watched as 4,000 faithful warriors sprang to their feet with each call to arms, roaring their approval, hands outstretched to the heavens in warfare worship, prayers pouring from their lips.
One of the biggest names at ReAwaken was mega-church pastor Mark Burns, a leading Christian supporter of Trump who, earlier this year, publicly called for the execution of parents who support their transgender children. Burns opened his sermon with a bang:
“I am here to declare war on every race-baiting Democrat and evil scheme that comes from the gates of hell! Are you ready to go to war for the Lord Jesus Christ? Shout, ‘Yes!’ Why? Because it’s time to take our nation back!”
For those tempted to mistake his call to war as harmless spiritual grandstanding, he added:
“They think just because we’re Christians we’re not going to fight back. But they clearly missed the part where Jesus himself recognized that they were prostituting the house of God—and Jesus himself, the lamb of God, the king of kings, picked up a weapon in his hand, and started turning over tables, and kicking those people out of the house of God! Do we have any table turners here in Pennsylvania?”
Wartime imagery saturated every aspect of the ReAwaken rally. Scott McKay’s tomahawk-wielding Patriot Streetfighters, who gained notoriety during the pandemic for threatening violence against pro-masking school board members, had a prominent display whose banners read: “Get in the Fight” and “This Means War.” The American Black Robe Regiment, which aims to create a militant network of MAGA-aligned pastors across the nation, was also represented. One popular vendor was selling decorative wall-hanging crosses adorned with machine guns, dog tags, and pistols. Opposite that table was a hawker of camouflage “Kingdom Warrior” T-shirts emblazoned with cross-shaped swords.
But violence was primarily sanctified through the voices of those who took the stage for two long days. While there’s good reason to worry about the number of high-ranking military officers who used the ReAwaken rally to declare war on their political opponents—while attacking US elections and a free press—it was the voices of civilian preachers like Pastor Burns who delivered the most bellicose speeches of the event, unfailingly leaning into violent religious rhetoric.
One by one, they warned that the time for battle is now at hand. In one particularly frenzied tirade, attorney Tricia Lindsay called the crowd to:
“Fight for your home! Fight for your life! These are uncircumcised Philistines! They want us to believe that they are winning. Know who you are, and whose you are. We stand under the authority of God Almighty! And we will win the battle—if we fight! We have to fight!”
All weekend long, speakers were serenaded by spontaneous blasts from rams’ horns scattered all across the arena. When I asked two women why they were blowing Jewish shofars at a Christian political rally, they said they were engaged in “spiritual warfare” by imitating the biblical story where the army of the Lord blew rams’ horns to bring down the walls of Jericho.
According to the book of Joshua, what followed next was a not-so-spiritual bloodbath: “[Then] they devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, sheep and donkeys” (6:21). I wonder if this is the story Tricia Lindsay had in mind when calling God’s army to fight “the uncircumcised Philistines” of modern-day America.
At times during the rally, the threats of violence got frighteningly specific. After writing a straightforward news account of the rally’s first day, a local Lancaster reporter was publicly called out by Seth Keshel, a nationally known personality in the election-fraud circuit.
The six-foot-six former Army captain who worked in military intelligence, after issuing a lengthy attack on “the mainstream media” and expressing displeasure in the local reporter’s story, projected a headshot of the writer on the arena’s giant video screens. He wondered aloud if the reporter was still infiltrating their rally. Thunderous applause from thousands around me greeted this US military officer as he publicly threatened a member of our local press.
Pervasive claims of election fraud during the two-day event were punctuated by divine assurances that Trump will “return to power,” whether the rest of us like it or not. Julie Green, widely regarded as a modern-day prophet within NAR circles, was among the most highly anticipated speakers at the rally. She claims to channel God’s voice, often while on stage. I watched audience members literally move to the edge of their seats to better catch her every word.
She also serves as a spiritual advisor to Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano who has well-documented ties to the apocalyptic gun-church known as the Rod of Iron Ministries. Here’s some of the prophecy she delivered, speaking from God’s perspective:
“Know that my hand is moving now to take this nation back, to give back the power that rightfully belongs to my chosen people in this hour. You can’t stop my son, who is the rightful president, and his name is Donald Trump [from] taking his position back on center stage.”
Then she added, ominously: “And he doesn’t need an election to do it.”
Pastors and prophets, one after the other, mercilessly dehumanized and demonized elected officials who don’t share their plans for a Christian takeover of the United States, followed by promises of their “destruction.” In an apparent attempt to evade responsibility for inciting violence themselves, speakers repeatedly hid behind words imputed to God—an unholy twist on “the devil made me do it.”
Mid-prophecy, for example, Julie Green told the crowd: “These aren’t Julie’s words. These are God’s words.” With that caveat, perhaps God was providing pre-emptive legal cover for his mouthpiece considering the words that came next:
“My army is coming and it can’t be stopped. This nation is mine. I have blessed it and no one can stop what is about to take place. All I need is one day to remove my enemies from all their places of power like they were never there.”
Green isn’t the only one hearing messages from God that justify the removal of “enemies” from political office. We recently learned that the mastermind behind the 2020 plot to kidnap and murder Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan was sure that God had given him permission to carry out his murderous plot. David DePape’s skull-fracturing hammer assault on Paul Pelosi last week during an attempted kidnapping of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has further escalated fears that decades of far-right rhetoric have ushered in a new era of political violence. While police have yet to identify a clear motive for DePape’s actions, we do know that his online posts were littered with far-right propaganda including QAnon conspiracy theories, COVID-denialism, and attacks on Jews, Blacks, Democrats, members of the media, and transgender youth.
When I first read about the attack intended for Nancy Pelosi, my thoughts returned to the ReAwaken America Tour that had just come to my town. The rally where all the targets lined up for annihilation in front of General Flynn-and-Company’s spiritual firing squad were exactly the same targets set in DePape’s sights.
The rally where vendors sold doormats with “WIPE YOUR FEET HERE” plastered across the face of Nancy Pelosi.
The rally where those doormats lay right beside a huge American flag featuring assault rifles for stripes and Glock pistols for stars.
The rally where one of the most influential Christian pastors in the nation roared:
“This is a spiritual attack, but we understand that we have power! The Bible declares that we have power to tread over demons and evil—even when they’re called Nancy Pelosi!”
The rally where 4,000 of my neighbors, packed shoulder to shoulder in Covid-denying intimacy, nearly lost their minds in shofar-blowing delirium at that Pelosi-trampling fantasy.
America, behold your MAGA God.