Let’s check on unfolding events in our democratic republic’s everlasting antidemocracy movement.
Here’s Michael Flynn, a central figure in that movement, speaking at a rally in Texas. He’s the retired three-star U.S. Army lieutenant general who was President Trump’s national security adviser:
“If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God, right?”
Beg your pardon? Hello?
No, General. Wrong. Please read the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Full stop.
So intent were the Founders on safeguarding this particular freedom that they enshrined it at the top of the Constitution’s amendments.
Flynn’s breathtaking nonsense about government-imposed religion is irredeemably unlawful, as even schoolchildren know. But no matter how lame-brained and fantastical, grievance sells. And it’s proving very profitable for Flynn and friends.
Flynn’s ongoing Christian crusade, the ReAwaken America tour, is one more shabby episode in a long history of xenophobic American hucksterism. We never lack for self-serving political charlatans, nor do they ever fall short when rounding up willing adherents. To our perennial peril, both flourish in our nation’s richly receptive soil.
“We need to take this country back one town at a time, one county at a time, one state at a time, if that’s what it takes,” Flynn vowed to an audience in Salt Lake City.
In the service of promoting Christian nationalism, Flynn, a Catholic, has since 2021 made at least 60 speeches in 24 states to people willing to pay up to $500 to hear him, according to an investigation by the Associated Press and PBS Frontline, which will broadcast a report, “Michael Flynn’s Holy War” on PBS Oct. 18.
Flynn, said to have a reputation for being a “loose cannon” while in the military, had to resign from his job as Trump’s top national security adviser after just 22 days. Eventually he was pardoned by Trump for lying to the FBI about the nature of his contacts with um … the Russian ambassador.
Flynn serves up a smorgasbord of absurd conspiracy theories, offering something for every taste. Apparently, what really irks him is that the population of the United States isn’t Christian enough.
Christian nationalism is not to be confused with the practice of Christianity, warns University of Oklahoma sociologist Samuel Perry, an expert on the politics of conservative Christianity. Many of the Americans inclined toward Christian nationalism don’t go to church, he’s found.
“This has nothing to do with Christian orthodoxy. It has nothing to do with loving Jesus or wanting to be a good disciple or loving your neighbor or self-sacrifice or anything like that.” It has everything to do with white Christian ethno-culture, according to Perry.
Who shows up to hear Flynn? Vaccine and mask opponents. Election deniers. Insurrectionists such as the Proud Boys. State and local Republican officials. He appears at right-wing confabs featuring a reemergent John Birch Society and antigovernment rancher Ammon Bundy.
“Flynn is one of the most dangerous individuals in America today,” argues historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert on fascism and authoritarianism.
Building a movement
It’s not just that Flynn exhibits profound disregard for bedrock American rights such as worshipping as we choose — or choosing not to worship.
It’s that Flynn hails from top ranks of the military. Yet he reportedly urged Trump to use the military to overthrow the election by seizing voting machines and shutting down news media. If so, that’s a code red alert, people.
Sixty-three court rulings in various states confirmed Trump lost the 2020 election; no court anywhere ruled otherwise. But Flynn says they’re wrong.
“Our government is corrupt;” “globalists” created COVID-19, he claims. Elementary schools are teaching “filth” and “pornography,” the FBI should be abolished. He’s a victim of “the deep state.” And so on.
Busy building a political network and raising money, Flynn is supporting likeminded candidates for public office, including for local school boards — because political change begins locally, he emphasizes.
Flynn has endorsed nearly 100 candidates, 80% of whom have spread doubt about Trump’s loss to Biden, according to the AP/Frontline investigation.
Two dozen of them were at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; 28 have publicly used Christian nationalist rhetoric. Some participated in efforts to overturn the 2020 election; others promise to change how elections are run.
Flynn raised money for the nothing-burger presidential election “recount” in Arizona. One of his foundations is preparing for more of the same next time: it’s training poll watchers.
“He’s going to build this grassroots movement, local elected officials beholden to him, loyal to him,” predicts Ron Filipowski, a Florida Republican activist.
Flynn describes “the left” as “our enemies,” adding that they’re “godless” and “soulless.” In short, he’s dehumanizing them. We have plenty of nasty experience showing where that tactic leads.
“He is spearheading the attack on our democracy, which is coming from many quarters, and he is affiliated with many of these sectors, from the military to Christian nationalism to election denial to extremist groups,” says Ben-Ghiat, who adds:
“All this comes together to present a very live threat. And he’s at the center.”
The takeaway? Flynn has all the alarming earmarks of someone who bears very close watching.
Solveig Torvik lives near Winthrop.