I’m going to be honest. I can’t shake the sadness. I can’t shake the anger. We have to be clear about what happened in Washington D.C. on January 6th. A violent Christian insurrection invaded and occupied the Capitol.
Why do I say this was a Christian insurrection? Because so very many of the protesters told us they were Christian, as loudly and clearly as they could. The Atlantic’s invaluable religion reporter, Emma Green, compiled considerable evidence of the Christian presence in her excellent report. I saw much of it with my own eyes. There was a giant wooden cross outside the Capitol. “Jesus saves” signs and other Christian signs were sprinkled through the crowd. I watched a man carry a Christian flag into an evacuated legislative chamber.
I could go on and on. My colleague Audrey Fahlberg was present at the riot, and she told me that Christian music was blaring from the loudspeakers late in the afternoon of the takeover. And don’t forget, this attack occurred days after the so-called Jericho March, an event explicitly filled with Christian-nationalist rhetoric so unhinged that I warned on December 13 that it embodied “a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence.”
Are you still not convinced that it’s fair to call this a Christian insurrection? I would bet that most of my readers would instantly label the exact same event Islamic terrorism if Islamic symbols filled the crowd, if Islamic music played in the loudspeakers, and if members of the crowd shouted “Allahu Akbar” as they charged the Capitol.
If that happened conservative Christians would erupt in volcanic anger. We’d turn to the Muslim community and cry out, “Do something about this!” How do I know we’d respond in that manner? Because that’s what we’ve done, year after year, before and after 9/11. And while there were many times when Christians painted the Muslim world with an overly-broad bigoted brush, it is true that violent insurrections do not spring forth from healthy communities.
That’s true abroad, and it’s true at home. During this summer’s riots, I wrote multiple posts detailing the extraordinary difficulty in quelling urban unrest once violence starts. Sometimes the unhealthy community is suffering from the effects of systemic injustice. Sometimes it’s dominated by outrageous and unreasonable grievances. Sometimes it’s infested with unhealthy fears and grotesque ambitions. Often there’s a combination of all these factors in play. But the violence always has a cause.
This is the time when some readers will respond, “Now’s your chance, David, tell the world the legitimate grievances of the Christian church! Tell the left why people are so angry!” No. Sorry.
Think of it like this. Riots weren’t justified when police knelt on a man’s neck while his life drained away in Minneapolis. Riots weren’t justified when police killed an innocent woman in a botched, reckless raid in Louisville. Riots weren’t justified when a black man was executed in broad daylight by wannabe vigilantes in Georgia.
If that’s true (and it is), then don’t think for one second it’s appropriate for Christians to air their grievances when the right-wing Christian riot was motivated by terrible lies. If a riot isn’t justified when agents of the state actually kill innocent black men and women, it really isn’t justified when you falsely believe wild election conspiracy theories or when you falsely believe a cabal of cannibal pedophiles control Washington and Hollywood.
Marching for a lie is bad enough. Rioting for a lie is an atrocity.
So the answer is simple, right? Law enforcement should arrest the perpetrators, victims of conspiracies should sue for slander, and Christian leaders should endeavor to aggressively confront conspiracies and condemn violence. Then we can heal.
Well, no. I’m afraid our challenge is much more difficult. Have you spent any time in conversation with those who fully believe the stolen election narratives, or with people who are committed to QAnon or Q-like conspiracies? It’s a terrible persuasive challenge. Your very resistance to their delusion is evidence of your corruption.
The problem is that all too many Christians are in the grips of two sets of lies. We’ll call them the enabling lies and the activating lies. And unless you deal with the enabling lies, the activating lies will constantly pollute the body politic and continue to spawn violent unrest.
What’s the difference between the two kinds of lies? The enabling lie is the lie that makes you fertile ground for the activating lie that actually motivates a person to charge a thin blue line at the Capitol or take a rifle to a pizza parlor.
Here’s another enabling lie: The fate of the church is at stake if Joe Biden wins.
And here’s yet another: The left hates you (this sentence sometimes concludes with the phrase “and wants you dead.”)
I could go on, but the enabling lies that have rocketed through the church for years share important characteristics. They not only dramatically exaggerate the stakes of our political and legal disputes, they dramatically exaggerate the perfidy of your opponents. Moreover, when the stakes are deemed to be that high, the moral limitations on your response start to fall away.
After all, when people believe our national destiny hangs in the balance, they often respond accordingly. Or, as I said in a December 4 newsletter warning about potential violence, “if you argue that the very existence of the country is at stake, don’t be surprised if people start to act as if the very existence of the country is at stake.”
Why do so many people fall for these enabling lies? In my book, which warns Americans that our divisions are so great that they could fracture the nation, I noted that catastrophic partisan narratives are often supported by actual events (such as a violent incident or an act of unlawful censorship). These facts, however, are then wrongly used to make sweeping conclusions about tens of millions of ideological opponents.
The fact that a Bernie Sanders supporter tried to execute multiple GOP congressmen at a baseball field does not prove the sweeping statement that “the left hates you” or that it “wants you dead.” Do you think, for example, the Christian attack on the Capitol is now proof that your average Baptist is willing to kill to keep Trump in power? No. It is not.
We are, however, constantly in the business of taking exceptional behavior from our political opponents and trying to argue that the exceptional is emblematic. It proves what “they” are “really like.” It’s an extremely comfortable mode of thinking. It repeatedly reinforces our priors.
It’s also lucrative and beneficial for a certain class of pundit, activist, and politician. There are two classes of people who are most pernicious—the actual liars and their timid allies. The actual liar is the person who’s constantly, intentionally whipping up his or her audience for personal gain. He relentlessly escalates the rhetoric even when he knows he’s spreading or enabling falsehoods. Donald Trump is the archetype of the actual liar.
If you want to know why so many Republicans are now furious at Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz after the Capitol attack? Because they know that both Hawley and Cruz have no excuse for pressing the election objection. They know that Hawley’s raised fist to the crowd before the attack was self-aggrandizing and provocative.
But the actual liars would flounder if not for their timid conservative allies. Here’s a quick way to identify the timid. Pull up a public voice on Twitter, on Facebook, or on their publication’s web archive. If it is exclusively or nearly-exclusively dominated by anti-left content, then they’re not telling you the whole truth. They may not defend misconduct on the right (so their conscience is somewhat clear), but they won’t call it out either. After all, there are libs to own.
Oh, and here’s one more tell that someone’s a liar or a timid ally: if they tell you that critics of Trump dislike him simply because of “mean tweets” or “bad manners” or “sharp elbows.” After all that’s transpired, it’s hard to believe they speak in good faith.
I get why people are timid. I get why even those who are deeply troubled by Trump still focus their fire on the other tribe. Telling the truth to your own tribe can be personally devastating and even physically dangerous. After all, if your friends and neighbors believe one of the enabling lies, then you’re a traitor. You become a threat to the nation or the church.
My friend Russell Moore stated the problem well in a powerful essay for The Gospel Coalition:
I cannot tell you how many people will say one thing in private, and something completely different in public. I am not referring to prudence in not airing everything publicly that is meant to be private. I mean instead saying the exact opposite in public what they will say in private.
For some people, it’s what C. S. Lewis warned us about—the desire for the “Inner Ring.” But for many more people it’s the fear of mobs. People are not afraid of mobs overrunning their houses the way they have overrun the Capitol. But they are fearful of dealing with those who do believe in these endless conspiracy theories or who make distinctions between sheep and goats not on the basis of theology, or even political ideology, but in levels of enthusiasm for personalities associated with such ideologies. Many are just exhausted, knowing that every word from their mouth will lead to psychological warfare.
But if you train your fire exclusively (or nearly exclusively) on the left or on those terrible Never-Trump traitors you’re safe. Then you’re a hero. Then you’re bold. And when you get blowback from your enemy, it’s only proof of your courage.
And so the enabling lies spread. They poison hearts. They poison minds. They fill you with rage and hate, until along comes the activating lie, the dangerous falsehood that pushes a person towards true radicalism. How does a person come to the conclusion that cannibal pedophiles dominate Hollywood? Or that a vast conspiracy of politicians, lawyers, journalists, and tech executives (including conservative politicians, lawyers, and journalists) brazenly stole a presidential election?
You believe that when you know your enemy is evil. You believe that when you know they will destroy the country. In that context, fact-checks and rebuttals aren’t just wrong, they’re naïve. All too often, when you’re arguing with the person who believes the activating lie—the falsehood that immediately motivated them to take to the street—then you’ve already lost.
If the church plays whack-a-mole against Q and Stop the Steal while it tolerates and spreads enabling lies, expect to see the insurrection continue. Expect to see it grow. After all, “they” hate us. “They” will destroy the country. “They” will stop at nothing to see the church fall.
Rebutting enabling lies does not mean whitewashing the opposition. It does not mean surrendering your values or failing to resist destructive ideas. It does mean discerning the difference between a problem and a crisis, between an aberration and an example. And it means possessing the humility to admit when you’re wrong. It means understanding that no emergency is ever too great to stop loving your enemies and blessing those who persecute you.
And the rebuttal has to come from within. The New York Times isn’t going to break this fever. Vox won’t change many right-wing minds. But courageous Christians who love Christ and His church have a chance.
We have to lead with honesty and understanding. When you’re in your partisan bubble, the enabling lie is seductive. I’ve fallen for it. In years past, I even spread it. I’ll close with these words from an essay I wrote in response to 2019’s attacks on so-called “David Frenchism.”
Many years ago, before I deployed to an actual war, I gave a speech at a conservative gathering in which I actually said these words: “I believe the two greatest threats to the United States are university leftists at home and jihadists abroad.” Looking back, I’m ashamed I said it. It was fundamentally wrong, as I quickly learned during my deployment. In the course of almost a year in Diyala Province, Iraq, I saw the most dreadful things, sights that haunt me today. Eastern Diyala under al-Qaeda’s thumb was one of the deadliest places on Earth. And as much as I disagree with university radicals, I lived a happy life in law school in deep-blue Cambridge, Mass. My son was born in deep-blue Ithaca, N.Y. I served as president of FIRE while living comfortably on the outskirts of Philadelphia’s so-called “gayborhood.”
My political opponents are my fellow citizens. When I wore the uniform of my country, I was willing to die for them. Why would I think I’m at war with them now? I disagree with the Left and much of the populist Right, vigorously. If and when any of my political opponents seek to undermine our fundamental freedoms, I’ll be there to pick a legal, political, and cultural fight with them. I won’t yield. I won’t stop. I won’t be weak. But I also won’t turn my back on the truths of scripture. I won’t stop seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly. There is no political “emergency” that justifies abandoning classical liberalism, and there will never be a temporal emergency that justifies rejecting the eternal truth.
It took a war abroad for me to absorb this perspective and imprint it into my heart. And as a deeply flawed man, I often fail to live up to the pledge above. But I see things more clearly now, and I’m honestly ashamed that I didn’t see things more clearly before. I hope and pray it doesn’t take a war at home for Christians to gain the eyes to see and ears to hear the truths that rebut our enabling lies.
There is more at the link above such as a hymn. Hugs
Jan. 14, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. EST
Instructed not to use any of the half-dozen bathrooms inside the couple’s house, the Secret Service detail assigned to President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law spent months searching for a reliable restroom to use on the job, according to neighbors and law enforcement officials. After resorting to a porta-potty, as well as bathrooms at the nearby home of former president Barack Obama and the not-so-nearby residence of Vice President Pence, the agents finally found a toilet to call their own.
But it came at a cost to U.S. taxpayers. Since September 2017, the federal government has been spending $3,000 a month — more than $100,000 to date — to rent a basement studio, with a bathroom, from a neighbor of the Kushner family.
A White House spokesperson denied that Trump and Kushner restricted agents from their 5,000-square-foot home, with its six bedrooms and 6.5 bathrooms, and asserted that it was the Secret Service’s decision not to allow the protective detail inside. That account is disputed by a law enforcement official familiar with the situation, who said the agents were kept out at the family’s request.
A spokeswoman for the Secret Service declined to comment, saying the agency “does not discuss the means, methods or resources utilized to carry out our protective mission.”
Arrangements that allow for some distance between Secret Service agents and those they guard are not unusual, particularly when the agency’s “means, methods or resources” involve indoor plumbing. The people who qualify for such protection often occupy expensive, sprawling properties where a detail can use a garage, pool house or other outbuilding as a command post, break room and bathroom.
The episode in Kalorama is unusual because of the lengths to which the agents’ exile took them. In addition to their reliance on the restrooms used by fellow agents assigned to the Obamas and Pences, the detail occasionally popped into neighborhood businesses to avail themselves of the facilities.
“It’s the first time I ever heard of a Secret Service detail having to go to these extremes to find a bathroom,” said one law enforcement official familiar with the situation.
The agents’ bizarre odyssey played out in full view of a wealthy enclave in Northwest Washington, where many deplore Trump’s presidency and have expressed frustration over what they view as the Kushner family’s disregard for their neighbors. The community also includes multiple embassies and a house owned by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post.
The blockade of precious street parking spaces by the Trump/Kushner Secret Service detail roiled the neighborhood early in 2017. The porta-potty erected for agents further enraged residents unaccustomed to such sights on stately Tracy Place NW. As the Trump administration enters its final days with the president impeached a second time for inciting a deadly attack on the Capitol, eyes in Kalorama are peeled for the sight of moving trucks.
“They sort of came in with the attitude, like, ‘We are royalty,’” Dianne Bruce, who until recently lived across the street, said of Kushner and Trump. “When they put the porta-potty right outside on the sidewalk we weren’t allowed to walk on, that was when people in the neighborhood said, ‘That’s really not acceptable.’”
Bruce said she felt sympathy for the family’s protective detail as she watched agents trying to balance the call of duty with nature’s call.
“These poor people,” she remembers thinking when the porta-potty was hauled away. “What, are they going to have to get in their cars” to go to the bathroom?
They were, and they did.
Two law enforcement officials said the bathrooms inside the Trump/Kushner home were declared off-limits to the people protecting them from the beginning. One official did not know the reason for this restriction, while the other said it was instigated by the couple. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of security arrangements for the president’s family.
White House spokesman Judd Deere denied that Trump and Kushner ever requested that their Secret Service detail not use the bathrooms in their home.
“When discussions regarding protecting their home were initially had in 2017, Ivanka and Jared made clear that their home would always be open to the incredible men and women on their detail. It was only after a decision by the [Secret Service] was made that their detail sought other accommodations,” Deere wrote in an email. “The Kushners have a tremendous amount of respect for the servicemen and women on their detail and for the United States Secret Service as a whole. Their home will always be open to them and they have immense gratitude for their service over the last four years.”
The porta-potty was the agency’s initial solution to the protective detail’s dilemma, but it was removed in the face of the neighborhood’s protests. After that, according to the law enforcement officials, the agents began using a bathroom in a garage at the Obamas’ house, which the former president’s protective detail had turned into a command post.
The Obamas did not use the garage, so the extra traffic to and from the command post caused no problem. Yet this solution, too, was short-lived after a Secret Service supervisor from the Trump/Kushner detail left an unpleasant mess in the Obama bathroom at some point before the fall of 2017, according to a person briefed on the event. That prompted the leaders of the Obama detail to ban the agents up the street from ever returning.
The agents assigned to the president’s daughter and son-in-law began driving a mile to Pence’s home at the Naval Observatory, where they were allowed to use a bathroom in a stand-alone guard station. If they didn’t have time for that excursion, the law enforcement officials said, they relied on the hospitality of nearby restaurants.
So when the Secret Service knocked on the door of Kay Kendall in September 2017, she was not surprised to learn why.
“I think it was very clear that they just needed a place to take a shower, take a break, use the facilities, have lunch,” said Kendall, who is chairwoman of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and is married to Jack Davies, founder of AOL International. “I’m happy to be able to have helped them.”
Apart from the Kalorama house where she lives, Kendall owns a home across the street from Trump and Kushner. That house has a basement unit, including a bathroom, that is accessible from the rear. She thought of breaking that space off and ran the idea by the house’s tenant, former Connecticut congressman Anthony “Toby” Moffett Jr.
“I told her, ‘It’s fine, if you reduce the rent,’” Moffett recalled.
General Services Administration records indicate that the lease of the 820-square-foot basement on Tracy Place NW began on Sept. 27, 2017. It is due to expire on Sept. 26 of this year, at which point the federal government will have paid a total of $144,000 for the space.
Secret Service agents typically seek low-profile location for their command post and restroom, said Steve Atkiss, who served as special assistant for operations to former president George W. Bush and chief of staff at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. For example, former White House chief of staff Andy Card had a trailer set up for his protective detail at the end of his block in Virginia, Atkiss recalled. At the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, a building was devoted to the security details of two former presidents and their families, he said.
“I’ve seen it accomplished 1,000 different ways,” Atkiss said. “They don’t want to be in their personal space.”
In Kalorama, the Kushner/Trump agents were pleased with their new digs, the law enforcement officials said. The studio had plenty of natural light. Some considered it akin to a well-heeled lawyer’s study. Most importantly, it opened on a tidy bathroom.
“It’s been no big deal,” Moffett said. “They have been very nice to our grandchildren.”
The Secret Service has repeatedly incurred serious costs from providing protection to President Trump’s children. In October, The Post reported that Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. had enriched their family’s business, as the Trump Organization charged the federal government at least $238,000 for agents’ lodgings when the trio and their families visited Trump properties. Trump says he lost billions of dollars being president instead of running his business, which his sons have operated the past four years..
Deere declined to comment on how long Trump and Kushner plan to stay in Kalorama after President Trump leaves office next week.
Some have mixed feelings about the couple’s presence in the neighborhood. Mario Castillo, a Republican lobbyist who lives on Obama’s block, said he faults Kushner and Trump for their roles in the Trump administration but has never had problems with them as neighbors. He said he once encountered Kushner on the sidewalk on a Sunday morning. The president’s son-in-law was dressed in a suit with no tie.
“We stared at each other and I said, ‘Hello neighbor,” Castillo recalled. “And he said, ‘Are the children making too much noise?’”
Others are looking forward to their exit.
“I’ll be very happy to see them go,” said Marti Robinson, a trial attorney who lives across the street and was an Obama-appointed member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. “I want my nice, quiet neighborhood back.”
On a recent Tuesday, some quiet seemed to have returned. There was no sign of activity at the Kushner family’s residence, with its gray exterior shutters and white walls of brick. Black SUVs were parked in front.
A door to one of those SUVs opened, revealing what was, for the moment, the street’s only sign of life: A man wearing a dark suit, badge and crimson tie. He walked purposefully across the street, arms straight at his sides, and disappeared behind the house whose basement is being rented by the U.S. government. Five minutes later, he reemerged, recrossed the street, and stepped back into his vehicle.
David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.
The Washington Post reports:
Instructed not to use any of the half-dozen bathrooms inside the couple’s house, the Secret Service detail assigned to President Trump’s daughter and son-in-law spent months searching for a reliable restroom to use on the job, according to neighbors and law enforcement officials.
After resorting to a porta-potty, as well as bathrooms at the nearby home of former president Barack Obama and the not-so-nearby residence of Vice President Pence, the agents finally found a toilet to call their own.
But it came at a cost to U.S. taxpayers. Since September 2017, the federal government has been spending $3,000 a month — more than $100,000 to date — to rent a basement studio, with a bathroom, from a neighbor of the Kushner family.
Yet they still expect these people to die for them, to take a bullet and save their lives, after they treat them like shit. Hugs