Christians Rewrite the Holocaust

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February 1, 2010

A Horrific Historical Inversion

Who killed Europe’s Jews? Millions on the American evangelical right have grown up believing the culprits were liberals and leftists, homosexuals, evolutionists and atheists, occult worshipers and even Jews themselves. Enter Beck, stage right.

Broadcast on Fox, based on Jonah Golberg’s polemical book Liberal Fascism, Glenn Beck’s new one-hour documentary Revolutionary Holocaust argues Hitler and Nazism were liberal/left phenomena, with the following crackpot syllogism: Hitler killed millions, Stalin killed millions, Mao killed millions, ergo Nazism was an offshoot of communism. Illogical ? Historically incoherent? Yes, but it doesn’t have to make sense. Beck knows his audience.

Revolutionary Holocaust resonates with Fox viewers because it presents a secularized version of a religious narrative, developing for decades on the evangelical right, now deeply entrenched, which features a horrific historical inversion casting victims of Nazi persecution as themselves the perpetrators.


Merging Narratives: John Birch meets the Antichrist

Far-right anticommunist conspiracy theories such as those promoted by the John Birch Society have merged with evangelical end-time narratives. Declassified files on evangelist, Christian Crusade founder, and noted anticommunist Billy James Hargis, under FBI surveillance because he was considered dangerously far right, show that early in the 1960s the fusion was already underway - under the rubric of fighting communism, apocalyptic end-time Christians and John Birch Society members were attending the same meetings and voicing the same concerns.

In classic Bircher conspiracy theory, which is considered secular, a sinister cabal of bankers, internationalists, and politicians cede US sovereignty to the United Nations, enslaving the masses under the iron heel of a socialist, totalitarian New World Order. That paranoid world view fit neatly with evangelical narratives forecasting that in the end time there will arise an Antichrist figure who will establish, in the name of peace, a brutal one-world government which will persecute Christians. Both narratives often place Jewish financiers near the center of the grand conspiracy.

A Stranger Brings Young Rosenberg a Strange Book

There’s historical precedent. As historian Konrad Heiden, who in the 1920s as a university student opposed Adolf Hitler and fled to America before the war, described in his 1944 book Der Fuehrer, Hitler’s Rise To Power, “One day in the summer of 1917 a student was reading in his room in Moscow. A stranger entered, laid a book on the table, and silently vanished.”

The student ? Alfred Rosenberg, later Hitler’s chief ideologist. The book ? The Great within the Small and Antichrist, an Imminent Political Possibility. Notes of an Orthodox Believer, by Russian Orthodox priest Sergei Nilus, published in 1905.

Nilus’ book contained what is believed to be the first full length printed version of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a propaganda hoax outlining an alleged Jewish plot for world domination.

Written from a secular perspective, The Protocols were the last chapter of the book, which told an explicitly religious narrative forecasting the imminent rise of a tyrannical Antichrist figure who would rule the world. As the Bolshevik wave rolled over Russia, persecuting Christians and Jews alike, Rosenberg fled the country taking Sergei Nilus’ book, and The Protocols, westward towards Germany.

Taxpayers Are The Jews For Obama’s Ovens?

To understand the merger of Protocols-like anti-Jewish conspiracy theory with apocalyptic, end-time Antichrist narratives, in America, is to understand seemingly anomalous, jarring phenomenon such as a banner, held up at a November 5, 2009 anti-health care reform rally on Capitol Hill with GOP leaders in attendance, that read, “[National Socialist Health Care: Dachau Germany, 1945.” The words were superimposed over a photograph of heaped corpses at Dachau.

The ADL called on Republican Party leaders to “condemn forcefully the invocation of Holocaust imagery.” But at a Kingston, New York ‘Tea Party’ protest event held April 15, 2009 we find a protester holding up a sign which on one side read, “Barack Hussein Obama: The New Face of Hitler” and on the other side declared, “The American Taxpayers Are The Jews For Obama’s Ovens.”

This makes more sense in light of a statement Pat Robertson made in a 1988 interview with journalist Molly Ivins, in which he stated, “Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians… It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-controlled media, and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians.” Robertson went on to declare that Christians were suffering persecution “[m]ore terrible than anything suffered by any minority in our history.”

In 1990 Robertson, responding to criticism from the Miami Herald for his involvement in the Florida governor’s race, vented “Do you also have a ghetto chosen to herd the pro-life Catholics and evangelicals into ? Have you designed the appropriate yellow patch that Christians should wear… ?”

Hagee’s ‘Christian Kristallnacht’

Robertson’s views were no aberration. A video version of the Left Behind series narrative first released in 2001 by John Hagee Ministries, titled “Vanished - In the twinkling of an eye,” portrays born-again Christians suffering their own “Kristallnacht” in which gays, Jews, and Catholics, led by the Antichrist, attack born-again Christians and set their churches ablaze. One burning church is identified as being in Berlin.

Some narratives recasting Christians as the future persecuted “Jews” are even more explicit.

Jim Ammerman is a retired Colonel who runs a chaplain endorsing agency controlling roughly 6-8 percent of the active duty chaplains in the US armed forces. In the late 1990’s Ammerman made a series of barnstorming tours under the auspices of a Topeka, Kansas ministry called the Prophecy Club, which serves as a clearing house for evangelical conspiracy theory, giving talks in cities across America that were recorded and broadcast over radio and TV media networks which could in theory reach up to 10% of the nation.

In his presentations Ammerman claimed that Bill and Hillary Clinton were part of a satanic New World Order conspiracy controlled by the Rothschild banking family. Bill Clinton had signed control of the US over to the head of the United Nations. At any moment foreign troops hidden on US military bases and in national forests could seize control and pack Christians into specially prepared boxcars that would take them to FEMA concentration camps, equipped with poison gas, for mass killing.

American Dolchstoss?

Such conspiracy theories, claiming America has been betrayed by liberal and Jewish elites, have deep traction. In a 2006 series of speeches conservative Baptist scholar David P. Gushee noted with concern that narratives of cultural complaint and despair now common on the evangelical right share much in common with similar narratives that flourished in pre-fascist and pre-World War Two Germany. The Dolchstoßlegende, the “stab in the back” myth, blamed the German loss in World War One on a Jewish conspiracy, and related narratives blamed Jews as well for crime, economic hardship and alleged immorality. In his lectures Gushee warned,

“Conservative American evangelicals in recent decades have been deeply attracted to a parallel narrative of cultural despair… While very few conservative evangelicals come into the vicinity of Hitler in hatefulness, elements similar to that kind of conservative-reactionary-nationalist narrative can be found in some Christian right-rhetoric: anger at those who are causing American moral decline, fear about the future, hatred of the “secularists” now preeminent in American life, and the search for scapegoats.”

Mainstreamed in 1991 by Pat Robertson’s New York Times bestseller list book The New World Order, an increasingly common conspiracy trope among evangelicals holds that Jewish bankers control the US and even the world economy. Christians United For Israel founder John Hagee has promoted that idea, naming Rothschilds as culprits in a best selling book.

In March 2003 sermon broadcast over evangelical networks reaching around the globe, pastor John Hagee gave a sermon in which he advanced his conspiracy theory, almost identical to perhaps Adolf Hitler’s favorite - that an international Jewish banking cabal, led by the The Rothschild banking family, controls the fates of entire nation, even the progression of world events and history, through the manipulation of global money markets.

Good Jews, Bad Jews

So, how can Hagee possibly profess his love for Jews ? A recently released segment of the Nixon Tapes, from a February 23, 1973 phone conversation between famed Evangelist Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon, suggests an answer. Graham, the most famous evangelist of his day, remarks to Nixon, “I told you one time that the Bible talks about two kinds of Jews. One is called `the synagogue of Satan.’ They’re the ones putting out the pornographic literature, they’re the ones putting out these obscene films.” Shortly after in the conversation, Nixon declares, “it’s a disgraceful thing, and I think, I think really they don’t deserve to live.”

Earlier in the conversation Nixon had stated that American Jews were “going to get the darnedest wave of anti-Semitism here if they don’t behave.” The imperative for “good Jews” in the evangelical narrative is still to “behave,” and in a July 26, 2006 interview with the San Antonio Times, pastor John Hagee pointedly demarcated “good Jews” from “bad Jews”,

“I think if I could put a dividing line, the Orthodox and Conservatives who have a Torah appreciation give us wholehearted support. The rest who are not driven by the Word of God have a liberal agenda.

And the liberal agenda is they are pro-abortion. They’re pro-homosexual. They’re pro-gay marriage – they want men to marry men and women to marry women – and their difference with me is not really what I’m doing with Israel. Their hostility to me is poisoned by their liberalism.”

But in Hagee’s 2006 book Jerusalem Countdown, in a subchapter entitled “Who is a Jew ?” he espouses a much starker theory,

“Esau’s descendants would produce a lineage that would attack and slaughter the Jews for centuries. Esau’s descendants included Haman, whose diabolical mind conceived the “final solution” of the Old Testament–the extermination of all Jews living in Persia. It was Esau’s descendants who produced the half-breed Jews of history who have persecuted and murdered the Jews beyond human comprehension.

Adolf Hitler was a distant descendant of Esau…”

“Gay Nazis” on Parade

In effect, John Hagee had suggested the Holocaust was an in-house affair, Jews persecuting Jews. The vilification does not stop there. In a March 16, 2003 sermon he declared that the coming Antichrist, who “would make Hitler look like a choirboy,” would be “”a blasphemer and a homosexual” and “is at least going to be partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler, as was Karl Marx.” It’s considered highly unlikely Hitler was “partially Jewish” and though Marx’s parents were Jewish Karl Marx was raised a Lutheran and was a virulent anti-Semite.

While John Hagee doesn’t further develop that “gay Nazi” theme, evangelical Christian Scott Lively’s book The Pink Swastika claims Hitler and top Nazi leadership were heavily homosexual, in effect depicting the Holocaust as a product of gay psychopathology. Lively co-founded an antigay ministry, Watchman On The Walls, which has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Lively has been accused of helping incite antigay hatreds in Uganda, where a bill that would mandate execution, by hanging, for some HIV positive citizens is currently before Uganda’s parliament.

In 2005 Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the largest branch of American Judaism, attacked the antigay policies of the religious right, cautioning a synagogue audience of over 5,000, “[w]e cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations.”

Deutsche Christen

Christian theological vilification of Jews has a long history, and Robert P. Erickson’s landmark 1987 book Theologians Under Hitler, also a documentary by the same name from Steve D. Martin, has sparked a broad reassessment of the role that Protestant Christianity played in welcoming the rise of the Nazis and German anti-Semitism, and in enthusiastically supporting Hitler.

The Deutsche Christen, or “German Christians,” enthusiastically displayed the Nazi flag in their churches. Gerhard Kittel, one of the most prominent German theologians of his age, wrote what served as a theological justification for the Nuremberg Laws. The razor’s edge between life and death for Germans during the Third Reich was determined by baptismal certificates, legally mandated for all Germans to carry at all times, written by Christian pastors, attesting to proper racial heritage.

We Mean You No Harm

Across the Atlantic during the early 20th Century, anti-Semitic currents had been rising. Created from a compilation of writings from Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent, The International Jew was a tract series that mirrored the anti-Jewish conspiracy narrative of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Ford financed mass printing, in Germany, of German language copies of the tracts. After the war, during the Nuremberg Trials, former Hitler Youth leader Baldur von Schirach testified that Ford’s International Jew had played a key role in shaping Schirach’s political views.

Even though Henry Ford accepted the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Hitler’s Nazi government in 1938, Ford did not believe himself to be an anti-Semite. He regularly gifted new Model T automobiles to a rabbi who lived in Ford’s former neighborhood. For Henry Ford, there were “good Jews” and “bad Jews.”

As today, the early 20th Century was a period when Christian Restorationism, what we might today identify as Christian Zionism, was popular. The following quote is from that period,

“Every Jew ought to know also that in every Christian church where the ancient prophecies are received and studied, there is a great revival of interest in the future of the Ancient People. It is not forgotten that certain promises were made to them regarding their position in the world, and and it is held that these prophesies will be fulfilled. The future of the Jew, as prophetically outlined, is intimately bound up with the future of this planet, and the Christian church in large part–at least by the evangelical wing, which most Jews condemn–sees a Restoration of the Chosen People yet to come. If the mass of Jews knew how understandingly and sympathetically all the prophecies will find fulfillment and that they will result in great Jewish service to society at large, they would probably regard the church with another mind.”

The quote, above, is from Henry Ford’s The International Jew.

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