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Some Christians Feel It's A God-Given Mission To Fight On Trump's Behalf

NOEL KING, HOST:

Parts of Washington, D.C.'s center are blocked off by the National Guard today, owing to concern about people or groups that might try to disrupt Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday. Some of them are Christians who support President Trump and believe they have a God-given mission to continue fighting on his behalf. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Some of President Trump's most passionate advocates are Christians who fear their freedom will be in jeopardy under a Biden administration. Their militancy was evident weeks before the January 6 assault on the Capitol. In a podcast last month, Eric Metaxas, a conservative Christian writer and radio host, made a case for Christians waging a war to overturn the presidential election.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIC METAXAS: What's going to happen is going to happen. But we need to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood because it's worth it.

GJELTEN: That was on December 9.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) U-S-A, U-S-A...

GJELTEN: Three days later, Metaxas was the emcee at a prayer rally in Washington, where he and others implored God to help them keep Donald Trump in office.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

METAXAS: We are here today to cry out to the God of heaven to ask him to have mercy on the greatest nation in the history of the world.

GJELTEN: It was one of the rallies held around the country to protest what Donald Trump claimed, without evidence, was a stolen election. The rally organizer said God appeared to him in a vision and told him it's not over.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Stop the steal. Stop the steal.

GJELTEN: Between prayers offered from the stage, Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oathkeepers militia group, told the crowd he wanted Trump to drop the hammer on his opponents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEWART RHODES: If he does not do it now, we're going to have to do it ourselves later in a much more desperate, much more bloody war.

GJELTEN: Among the flags at the rally was a big yellow banner that said Jesus saves. That banner was seen again weeks later in the crowd that assaulted the U.S. Capitol.

This Christian militancy is rooted in a belief that America is fundamentally a Christian nation.

KRISTIN DU MEZ: The idea that America is representative of God's truth...

GJELTEN: Kristin du Mez is a historian who has written about Christian nationalism.

DU MEZ: And for that reason, Christian America needs to be defended. And because the stakes are so high, that often will require violence, violence for the sake of righteousness.

GJELTEN: Political extremism comes in many forms. But Andrew Whitehead, another expert on Christian nationalism, says extremism on behalf of Donald Trump may be especially potent when it's rooted in deep Christian convictions.

ANDREW WHITEHEAD: Religion is such a strongly and closely held system of beliefs and values. And so if God has said this is the way I want this nation to run and to look and this is the person that I want leading it, why would you brook any opposition, no matter what?

GJELTEN: Since the violence at the Capitol, Christian militants have generally kept a low profile, but not all have been chastened. Three days after that January 6 assault, Pastor Darryl Knappen of Cornerstone Church in Alexandria, Minn. posted this message for his congregation on Facebook.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DARRYL KNAPPEN: There is a need in every one of our localities to have individuals, patriots who are ready to arm up and be part of a citizen militia to protect our freedoms.

GJELTEN: He spoke from the church sanctuary, standing in front of a cross.

The violence this month at the Capitol showed how political extremism can be dangerous in America, including when it's motivated by religion.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIBRARY TAPES' "KLOSTERG.") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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