New Clashes in Portland Confirm that Christian Nationalism Remains a Clear and Present Danger

Charismatic Christian worship leader (and President Zaphod Beeblebrox doppelganger) Sean Feucht surrounded by American Christians.

On Friday, August 7, the Department of Homeland Security announced to state and local authorities that an uptick in violent online chatter about the Big Lie of “election fraud” might lead to more anti-democratic street violence like what the United States experienced on January 6. As if on cue, violent clashes between white supremacists and Christian nationalists on one side, and anti-fascist protestors on the other, broke out that very day and the day following here in my adopted hometown of Portland, Oregon.

Per CNN’s reporting, Mike Lindell, the buffoonish Trump loyalist and MyPillow CEO who credits God for freeing him from his addiction to crack cocaine, is a key influence behind the current buzz around election conspiracy theories. Indeed, because of his popularity and reach, Lindell’s baseless claims are causing problems for local election officials who are compelled to field calls from angry right-wing voters demanding that something be done about non-existent fraud. Indeed, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 60% of Republicans believe that President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

Meanwhile, here on RD, Katherine Stewart, author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, concluded the following about the GOP from her on-the-ground observation of the Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual Road to Majority convention: “This party—or at least the hard rock of its base represented in this gathering—is moving toward, not away from Trumpism.” At the convention, speakers including Eric Metaxas, Ralph Reed, and Dinesh D’Souza all called for Republicans to defend the “good guys” of January 6, by which they meant the violent insurgents who tried to overthrow a legitimate election. 

That these authoritarian sentiments are closely tied to conservative evangelicalism and Christian nationalism is further corroborated by recently released data on religious affiliation and Covid vaccine refusal, as well as a poll showing that frequent church attendance indicates a higher likelihood of favorability toward QAnon conspiracy theories.

The new street clashes in downtown Portland, in which police pointedly did not intervene, also neatly illustrate how anti-government militias, white supremacists, and theocratic Christian extremists are intimately intertwined strands of North American fascism, in addition to highlighting the significance of cross-border collaboration between Canadian and American extremists. Because of its reputation for progressivism, Portland is often targeted by far-right groups as a site for bigoted actions and provocations. Both of this past weekend’s events that sparked violence were explicitly Christian in nature and featured “spiritual warfare” as themes.

The first event, which took place on Saturday, was a prayer rally billed as “Courageous Truth,” featuring Polish-born Pastor Artur Pawlowski, of Calgary, Alberta, as its keynote speaker. Known for his hateful anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice street preaching, Pawlowski—who was convicted of contempt of court in June for violating government mandated pandemic protections—has made waves for leading protests against Canadian lockdown and mask requirements put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19. In one such protest that took place earlier this year, Pawlowski was among those carrying tiki torches in an obvious nod to the white supremacist Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. Notably, the Canadian government stripped Pawlowski’s church of its tax-exempt charitable status in 2010.

The August 7 conflict began when black-clad leftist activists (often referred to as antifa) interfered with the Pawlowski group’s audio equipment in an attempt to disrupt the event. But to paint the situation as simply “a shocking and disturbing attack on a Christian prayer event,” as the right-wing Christian outlet Faithwire does, is clearly a severe distortion. Pawlowski’s “security” detail included men wearing the black and yellow colors of the Proud Boys, which strongly suggests the organizers came looking for trouble.

Sam Rockwell as President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005).

Much the same can be said for the August 8 event hosted by charismatic Christian worship leader Sean Feucht, who’s been holding large, maskless praise and worship concerts for more than a year in deliberate defiance of reasonable public health measures. Feucht, who bears a striking resemblance to President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox as represented in the film adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is a volunteer worship leader at the Bethel Church in Redding, California, a nondenominational megachurch with roots in the Pentecostal Assemblies of God denomination that’s known for its excessive dedication to “miracles.” The church was briefly in the spotlight for the bizarre and deeply sad spectacle of a two-week long effort to resurrect the two-year-old daughter of two church members after her tragic death in December 2019.

As I argued here on RD last March, there’s no good reason that churches should be exempted from quarantine requirements, but that hasn’t stopped America’s right-wing Christians from defying legally-mandated public health measures and demanding religious exemptions, including through the American court system. Feucht frames his “Let Us Worship” concerts, for which he regularly fails to secure the proper permits, as a protest against any pandemic restrictions on churches, which he describes as “unchartered [sic.] abuses of [sic.] religious liberty.” He held one of these concerts in Portland on August 8, 2020, exactly a year prior to this past weekend’s event, where violence broke out between Feucht-supporting right-wing extremists and anti-fascist protesters.

The date of these concerts alone, 8/8, should give us pause, since the number 88 is, as documented by the Anti-Defamation League, “a white supremacist numerical code for ‘Heil Hitler.’” And this year, Feucht openly expressed admiration for his anti-government, “patriot” militia “security team.”

Indeed, Feucht tweeted “If you mess with them or our 1st amendment right to worship God – you’ll meet Jesus one way or another,” which appears to be a pretty clear threat of violence. Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson and frequent right-wing brawler Tusitala “Tiny” Toese were seen at the event, with Toese playing a leading role in the street clashes that followed the praise and worship event.

Some readers may be inclined to shrug at more street violence in Portland, a city that, as a magnet for far-right intimidation efforts, has seen more than its fair share of it in recent years. But it would be remiss of us to ignore the explicitly Christian character of the recent right-wing events, as well as the unabashed coziness of Christian Right activists with the violent, patriarchal, nativist Right that we also saw at the January 6 insurrection. The Christian Right is a clear and present danger not only to members of marginalized groups, public health, and the common good, but also to the possibility of a democratic future for the United States.