Putin’s Violent Holy War Rhetoric Made it to the Christian Right Fringe — And There’s Reason to Believe it’ll Go Mainstream

Lauren Witzke, the Delaware GOP's candidate for Senate in 2020 says she identifies more with Putin than with Biden. Image: @RightWingWatch/Twitter

It starts with a tweet:

And it is, of course, not simply that. Shortly before, in support of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin appointing a “chief exorcist” against Satanism, he said

“Can you think of anybody, in the world, that a church leader has said—that man is anointed by God to oppose and make war against the antiChrist?” 

Now, Rick Wiles is a known entity—he’s the founder of TruNews, a pastor of a Florida church whose fundamentalist Christian platform has a long history of antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-LGBTQIA+ messaging, and which rambles on in ever more hysterical apocalyptic tirades while begging for money and preaching extreme conspiracy theories.  

And while this kind of language is militant and weird, it’s not (yet?) a normative part of far-right evangelical discourse in America—of Putin as the chosen one. But it is absolutely the adoption of Russian rhetoric of Satanism, of Antichrist, of holy war, of culture wars, taken to the next level.

Wiles has long been focused on the concept of antichrist, using it traditionally to peddle unusually violent antisemitic rhetoric, especially against Israel. He has said, “The antichrist system will be Israel,” connecting it to artificial intelligence, or a 2017 comment that, “the Man of Perdition, the one that you call Antichrist, I personal believe he will be a homosexual Jew.” 

Unsurprisingly he’s peddled QAnon conspiracies—also an apocalyptic fantasy—about Trump murdering his opponents:

They’re going to have a bunch of traitors, they’re going to line them up against the wall, and start shooting them, because that’s what they deserve. The Democrats, the news media…If the leftists, if the scientists, professors have been working secretly with the Chinese Communist Party, then line them up against a wall and shoot them. That’s what you do with them.

So this adoption of Russian rhetoric is, quite frankly, not the most concerning thing about Rick Wiles—but it should be cause for concern that far-right evangelicals keep coming back in the direction of religious violence.

Pastor Greg Laurie, who sits on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, told his followers back in March that there was prophetic significance in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that it was part of the end times. Pat Robertson suggested that Putin had been “compelled by God” to invade as part of Armageddon, as a prelude to an invasion of Israel. John Hagee has written of Putin as the “King of the North” in apocalyptic tales. David Jeremiah also weighed in, with a piece blatantly titled “Russia’s Role in End-Times Prophecy.” But all of these right-wing Christian leaders have him in the role of something akin to the “king of the north” from Daniel 11—not a messiah, but closer to an antichrist figure. 

You’ll be shocked to learn that Ukrainian Orthodox leaders have used this rhetoric too—on February 27, Metropolitan Epiphanius I of Ukraine said that, “The spirit of the Antichrist operates in the leader of Russia, the signs of which the Scriptures reveal to us: pride, devotion to evil, ruthlessness, false religiosity.” So the narrative of antichrist and Putin tends not to work in his favor—which shouldn’t be surprising as there’s a long-standing tradition in evangelical Christianity working against Putin and Russia from the Cold War onwards.

So there’s the part of this where Putin matters, but matters because of his role in the apocalypse as an antagonist. Separately from this, there’s a celebration of Putin for what he does in the culture wars. It feels strange. Vladimir Putin, former KGB, autocratic president of Russia, launcher of invasions of Ukraine, Georgia, and Chechnya, user of assassination to deal with defectors, murderer of opponents, likely orchestrator of domestic terrorist attacks in Russia to justify warfare, champion of the Russian Empire directly in opposition to America: it seems strange that he would find American champions on the Christian Right. 

But they love him because he loves violence. He loves the same violence they crave. And unlike them, he has unleashed it repeatedly, and is busy doing it again, against the same people in Russia that they’re calling for violence against here. Lauren Witzke, a former TruNews host, QAnon supporter, anti-LGBTQIA+ activist, self-professed flat-earther, and the Delaware GOP’s candidate for Senate in 2020, said in February:

Russia is a Christian nationalist nation, they’re actually Orthodox Christian, or Russian Orthodox. So, you know, I actually support Putin’s right to protect his people and always put his people first but also protect their Christian values. I identify more with Russian—with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden. So you know, like, there is that there. Christian nationalist countries also are a threat to the global regime. Like the Luciferian regime it wants to mash everything together, but Putin takes care of his people, he looks out for his people. 

I watched as he deported, like they literally walked them through the streets, the criminal illegals who were coming into their country, they walked them out and they escort them out and they say “Get out,” you know I can respect that, I can respect that and I can respect that Putin does everything he can to protect his people.

This is actually very instructive. Putin has defined himself as a “defender of traditional morality,” which won him approval and applause from figures like Pat Buchanan, Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, Rod Dreher, and Franklin Graham. The culture war approval is the same love for tyranny that John Daniel Davidson endorsed in the Federalist, arguing that, in order to maintain a vision of cultural conservatism that Christian nationalists want, a strongman is needed, the use of force is needed. Putin certainly provides that.

And this is why Wiles should, at least, be a cause for some concern. He may be a lone fringe voice right now, embracing the idea of Putin as a positive apocalyptic force—something akin to the Last World Emperor, maybe—but the idea is worrisome because it fits so neatly into the larger Christian Right’s culture war rhetoric:

But this rhetoric of a chosen one is backed up by the regurgitation of Russia’s rhetoric of apocalypticism and holy war. Wiles, for example, decided to parrot former president and current Putin appointee Dmitry Medvedev:

And that rhetoric has wider application. I’ve written about the rhetoric of holy war in the international far-right before, as have many others in its seemingly infinite varieties. Russia has been using holy war rhetoric for a long time, and has used it to talk about its invasion of Ukraine since very early in the war. But in the last week or so it’s taken a new twist, suggesting a broader appeal to holy war, to fighting against Satanism, that’s coming from multiple fronts. 

And there’s not only the martyrdom rhetoric from Patriarch Kirill, but the claim that his church is holding back the antichrist. The patriarch said in a speech opening the 24th Congress of the World Russian People’s Council that Putin was a “fighter of the Antichrist.” Soldiers being told that they’re going to fight against Satanists in the same breath as they’re told to fight against gay parades—culture war and holy war linked. 

Then there’s the speech about holy war, by former priest and actor Ivan Okhlobystin (who had previously called for gas chambers for the LGBTQIA+ community), given on Red Square:

Sooner or later what everyone expects will happen. Sooner or later we will win. Now there is an opinion that soon the special military operation will be renamed to the anti-terrorist operation, some say that it will even be the Patriotic War, but I think that this is also not enough. It is rightly called the Holy War. Holy war! There is such an old Russian interjection “goyda”, meaning a call to immediate action. Ah, how we miss such battle calls now. Goyda, brothers and sisters. Come on! Fear, Old World, devoid of true beauty, true faith, true wisdom, ruled by madmen, perverts and Satanists. Fear, we are coming! Goyaaada! Goyaaada!

And it isn’t just the Orthodox Church using this rhetoric. Ramzan Kadyrov recently posted a video promising to keep destroying Ukrainians and burning them, but also declaring in text messages that he’s fighting Satanism, connecting it directly to the culture wars, and calling the war in Ukraine a jihad. His aide, Apti Alaudinov, made comments on Russia-1 that they’re fighting a holy war against the forces of the Antichrist, again specifically linking it to the LGBTQIA+ community, Satanism, and “European values.” 

The chairman of the Central Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Russia, the Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin, prayed for Muslim and non-Muslim soldiers fighting in Ukraine, and said that “No fascists or parasites should be allowed to exist next to us, because we may run short on pesticides.” He also declared that western nations are “minions of the Antichrist and the Dajjal,” and (no surprise) linked it to Pride parades. And finally, the Security Council of the Russian Federation on Monday moved from “denazification” rhetoric to “desatanization” rhetoric with regard to Ukraine.

The danger of Wiles adopting Russian propaganda isn’t so much the danger of Russian influence. It’s that the language Russia is using in their internal propaganda is tailor-made for exportation. The culture war is a chain that binds the international far-right together. And Putin’s regime and its spokespeople, mostly Orthodox or even some Muslim, have taken the rhetoric of holy war and given it a cohesive packaging for local adoption. 

“Fighting Satanism” is the claim of QAnon. Attacking the LGBTQIA+ community is the horrific bread and butter of the far-right, Christian and semi-secular. Holy war rhetoric already abounds. Tying all of these together is, potentially, a potent message. And if Rick Wiles is a distinctly flawed, erratic, and fringe vessel for the message? We’ve seen time and again how fringe, violent, horrific ideas travel offline and into mainstream rhetoric, from QAnon to the fringe conspiracy theories around the attack on Paul Pelosi. Russian holy war rhetoric is fringe, erratic, and vile, but it fits just too perfectly into the Christian Right’s schema and agenda to be ignored.