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Hating in the Name of God

By Benjamin Radford

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."

-Pascal

In the past few years there have been many high-profile criminals who share more than just notoriety and a penchant for racism and violence; they share a common religion.

Buford Furrow Jr. shot at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles on August 11, 1999, wounding five people. He later killed Joseph Ileto, a Filipino-American, before he was apprehended. Furrow was apparently distraught over his relationship with Debbie Mathews, the widow of Robert Mathews, who founded the neo-Nazi group The Order, an offshoot of Aryan Nations. He was an adherent of the Christianity Identity religion and had ties to hate groups such as The Order and the Phineas Priesthood. In a statement he said that he hoped what he had done would be taken as a "wake up call to America to kill Jews."

Eric Rudolph is a fugitive wanted for bombing abortion clinics in Alabama and Atlanta. He was hailed by the racist group Posse Comitatus, who exalted him as "a true warrior of YJWH [God]" on their Web site.

Tim McVeigh, convicted in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, had links to Christian Identity movements and placed two calls to an Oklahoma Identity group just days before the bombing.

Benjamin Smith, a former member of the World Church of the Creator, went on a rampage in July 1999, shooting at a Black former basketball coach, six Orthodox Jews, and an Asian-American couple in Chicago. Nine were wounded and two died before Smith killed himself.

Despite its name (and some media portrayals), the World Church of the Creator is in fact not a Christian organization. The reason why it is not is described on its Web site by its founder, Reverend Matt Hale, in an introduction titled "The Value of Hatred": 

Until this century, Christianity has indulged in hatred as a matter of policy. Now, Christianity is being slowly divested of hatred, and the result is that Christianity in any meaningful form is being turned away from by a higher percentage of people than any time in history. It is a dying religion, for too much mush and no fire is unattractive to strong men and women alike, who yearn not only for a friend but also for an enemy.

It appears that Hale turned away from Christianity when forming his own church because it was not hate-filled enough for his own taste.

Two brothers, Benjamin and James Williams, were charged with killing a gay couple July 1, 1999, in Happy Valley, a rural northern California community. Benjamin Williams told the Sacramento Bee that he killed the men because their homosexuality violated God's laws, and hoped his actions would incite more killings. "I'm not guilty of murder," he said. "I'm guilty of obeying the laws of the Creator." Investigators also found hate literature and evidence linking the brothers to fire bombings at three Sacramento area synagogues on June 18.

Byron de la Beckwith, the man convicted in the 1963 slaying of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, was a Christian Identity follower and member of the Phineas Priesthood. 

Thom Robb, a Detroit-born son of a builder, attended a Colorado seminary under Kenneth Goff, a minister with anti-Semitic views. Robb then became a Baptist minister, opened up a print shop, and began publishing right-wing tracts and promoting White supremacist causes. In 1989 the Baptist minister became a Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Religion and Christian Identity

The reason that racism and religion are linked isn't hard to discern: All religions delineate a clearly defined in-group, and most religions have historically been ethnically and culturally bound. For example, before colonialism, proselytizing, and missionary work spread religion in the past few centuries, race and religion were intimately interwoven. Each group believes that its tenets are true, correct, and divinely inspired. Adherents of other religions are thought of as unclean, unenlightened worshippers of false gods, with atheists and freethinkers deemed immoral heathens.

By far the most prevalent racist religious movement in America is Christian Identity. According to Christian Identity theology, contained in their statement of doctrine, the "Israel Message," White Christians are God's true chosen people and Jews are the literal descendants of Satan, a product of a second creation. God's first creation produced people of color, "the beasts of the field" or "mud people." They are sub-humans who are to be destroyed in an apocalyptic battle. In this battle, the forces of good-the White Israelites-will be pitted against Satan's armies and the Jewish-controlled federal government. America is seen as the New Jerusalem, where only White Christian men are "true sovereign citizens" of the Republic.

Size estimates of the Christian Identity movement range from 30,000 to 50,000. Christian Identity groups such as The Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord (CSA), the White Patriot party, the Posse Comitatus, Aryan Nations, the Phineas Priesthood, and The Order have been responsible for many of the racist right's most violent episodes in recent years. Largely driven by Christian Identity theology, violent incidents have increased since the Oklahoma City bombing. Plots have included plans to bomb federal buildings, a natural gas refinery, several IRS buildings, and abortion clinics.

Mainstream and Minority Religious Racism

Racism doesn't just exist on the fringes of religion. In early 1999 the Reverend Jerry Falwell told an audience in Kingsport, Tennessee, that the Antichrist was probably already alive and living among us, and that furthermore, "Of course, he'll be Jewish." The idea that the Antichrist would be a Jew circulated widely during the Middle Ages, and was repeated in the classic anti-Semitic propaganda book Protocols of the Elders of Zion. That a century-old, discredited anti-Jewish hoax book would perpetuate the Antichrist myth is one thing; that the leader of the Moral Majority, an influential religious group, would say that in 1999 America is quite another.

The problem is also not limited to White racism. The Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, for example, has for years repeatedly railed against gays, Whites, and Jews. As Patrick Inniss, a Seattle columnist [and contributor to the AAH Examiner] wrote, "Even the most cursory study of the Nation of Islam's philosophy reveals it to be one of blatant racism . . . [with] constant references to Whites as 'devils.' . ."

Miami's Yahweh ben Yahweh cult, the most notorious sect of the Black Hebrew Israelites, was implicated in a reign of terror in the 1980s that included fire bombings, extortion, and 14 murders. The leader, Hulon Mitchell Jr., is in prison for conspiracy in connection with the murders. Mitchell ordered the slayings of defectors as well as the murder of random Whites as part of an initiation to an inner circle within the cult.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Black supremacist group named the Stream of Knowledge is being investigated in six states. They are described as an offshoot of the Black Hebrew Israelite religion, and have been amassing weapons and followers for years. The Stream allegedly recruits at military bases and in prisons, preparing for a race war.

Both the Black Hebrew Israelites and Louis Farrakhan are in some ways mirror images of the Christian Identity groups: Both see Jews as the spawn of Satan and accuse them of secretly controlling modern America.

Racist messages embedded in religion are nothing new. But the medium for disseminating such hatred has changed dramatically. No longer limited to short wave radio transmissions and blurry, grammatically challenged flyers, Christian Identity is spreading in the form of White power rock music, slick magazines, and the Internet. According to Susan DeCamp of the Montana Association of Churches, Christian Identity families have also infiltrated small fundamentalist churches, at times trying to incorporate their racist beliefs into their church's doctrines.

Ultimately, of course, violent religious racists are responsible for their own actions. But the racism inherent in most religions plays an undeniable role in fomenting hatred. Instead of religion uniting people in brotherhood, it pits them against each other.

Four days after the Oklahoma City bombing, at a national Christian Identity gathering in Missouri, W.N. Otwell, who runs an armed compound in east Texas, spoke. "You go look in the Old Testament," he said. "God did not mind killing a bunch of women and kids. God talks about slaughter! Don't leave one suckling! Don't leave no babies! Don't leave nothing! Kill them!" Sadly, he's quite correct; that is indeed God's message.


Ben Radford is a writer and Managing Editor of  Skeptical Inquirer magazine.


[*] AAH Examiner Selected Articles

[*] Secular Humanism Online Library

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