Trump, Christian nationalism, QAnon mix on ReAwaken America Tour

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Between rows of portable toilets, a line of strangers waited to be baptized in an aluminum horse trough. One by one, they emerged from water heated all day by the Nevada sun, united in purpose as new soldiers for Donald Trump. Nearby, Christian rock blared from a large tent where pastors standing before the main stage prayed and laid hands on attendees of the ReAwaken America Tour, a far-right religious roadshow now in its third year. Helmed by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — a supporter of the former president and a key figure in efforts to overturn the 2020 election — and Clay Clark, an Oklahoma entrepreneur and podcaster, the whirlwind event melds the MAGA movement, election denial, QAnon conspiracy theories and doomsday prophecy. The two-day church revival held in August just outside Las Vegas featured nearly 70 speakers who preached that vaccines are poisonous and will bring about the end of the world, that a cabal of global leaders is engaged in child sex trafficking and that the 2020 election was stolen. Through it all was an apocalyptic drumbeat that the country will be destroyed if Trump doesn’t become president again. God wants him to win in 2024, speakers proclaimed to their audience, and as Christians they have been called upon to ensure he does. “We know the one in charge up above, and I can tell you that I believe that he has his hand now on Donald Trump, that no weapon formed against him shall prosper,” Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, told the crowd. “God is a part of this race. I’m telling you guys this. I feel it deep down inside.” Thousands have attended ReAwaken America on its dozens of stops across the country. Clark began the tour in 2021 to protest COVID-19 public health restrictions, and with Flynn’s help it has gained a reputation for promoting Christian nationalist beliefs alongside right-wing conspiracy theories. On Friday, the tour is scheduled to stop for the second time this year at the Trump National Doral resort in Miami, and Clark hinted that the former president may appear. In December, the tour heads to Tulare in the Central Valley, hometown of former California Rep. Devin Nunes, a Trump supporter who now serves as chief executive of his media company. Over the last year, the tour has become increasingly focused on reelecting Trump. In North Las Vegas, several speakers referred to him as the “rightful president.” Self-described prophets spoke of Trump as God’s “anointed one,” and presenters told the crowd that his reelection is necessary to save the country from evil. “Just as Jesus Christ our heavenly father saved me, I am absolutely convinced that he will deliver Donald Trump and save this nation in our greatest moment of peril,” former Trump political advisor Roger Stone told the crowd. Rhetoric on the tour can veer toward the violent, invoking deliverance and final judgment. A crowd wearing red “Make America Great Again” caps and clothing emblazoned with the American flag roared with laughter when far-right radio personality Stew Peters called for the deaths of President Biden’s son Hunter and retired White House chief medical advisor Anthony Fauci. “Let’s be clear. Accountability is God’s job. But it’s not solely God’s job. No, it’s our job too,” Peters said. “When [Fauci] is convicted after a short and fast but thorough trial, he will hang up from a length of thick rope until he is dead. … When [Hunter Biden] is convicted … he will get … death!” Association with such an event would once have been career-ending in politics. But the tour features a who’s who of Trump’s inner circle, a demonstration of how valuable Trump-world views the support of the far right in the 2024 election. In addition to Stone and Lara Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and his partner, Kimberly Guilfoyle, spoke at the North Las Vegas conference. So did Trump lawyer Alina Habba and former Defense Department staffer Kash Patel, who sits on the board of the Trump Media & Technology Group, which operates the internet platform Truth Social. In his keynote speech, Trump Jr. issued a dire warning about the election, telling the audience that they had to get involved to counter opposition from mainstream conservatives. “If we don’t wake up and we don’t reset, it will also be the beginning of the end of everything that we know,” he said. As moderate Republicans have become less excited about Trump, the importance of the far right to his reelection chances has grown, said Georgetown University government professor Clyde Wilcox. Wilcox said conspiracy theories and the extreme elements of the Christian right have been a part of the Republican Party since at least the 1990s, but no mainstream politician has embraced them as Trump has. “Trump didn’t just jump the shark, he jumped the mosasaur,” Wilcox said. “Trump really, really increased the visibility, the outreach [of the far right]. It’s become a personality cult for many of these people.” Trump, who is leading polling for the Republican presidential nomination by a wide margin, has talked about bringing treason charges against the free press and has had dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes. He routinely reposts QAnon conspiracy theorists on his social media accounts. Why the former president has faced little repercussion for his embrace of the far-right isn’t clear, said Rita Kirk, director of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at Southern Methodist University. “They’re going to vote for Trump, in Trump’s words, [even] if he shoots somebody in downtown Manhattan, right?” she said of his most ardent supporters. “It doesn’t matter. They’re going to support him. And he knows that.” Throughout the ReAwaken conference, two life-sized paintings hung at the back of the stage. In one, Trump was pictured at the center, an American flag over his shoulder, his sons in the background. In another, Flynn, whom organizers call “America’s general,” was pictured in full military uniform, a bald eagle flying through a lightning storm behind him. Additional portraits of the former president were for sale at a campaign merchandise booth that stretched along the back of the ReAwaken America tent, depicting Trump ripping open his suit to display a superhero costume or as a shirtless boxer wearing a title belt. Speakers repeatedly referenced Trump’s campaign, his multiple felony charges and the mugshot taken of him in Atlanta, where he has been indicted on conspiracy charges in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election. “When they arrested Trump, the Lord said something very clear to me: ‘They also arrested who? Jesus. How did that turn out for them?'” said Bo Polny, a Newport Beach-based social media personality whose YouTube channel blends discussions of gold, cryptocurrency and the Bible. He dedicated his 15 minutes on stage to alleged prophecies about Trump. “Touch not my anointed,” he said. “It is written in the Bible.” Flynn told the audience that the ReAwaken America Tour will hold monthly events ahead of the 2024 election, using the language of war to describe efforts supporting Trump. “These people don’t realize what they are up against. We will never quit, we will never surrender,” he said, gesturing to a screen displaying Trump’s mugshot. Likening the presidential campaign to a righteous battle, speakers cautioned those present that they had been victimized by a “deep state” trying to control them, their health and their families. “We all know what’s going on right now in this country,” Lara Trump said. “It’s not about Republican versus Democrat. It is good versus evil, and the good will win — and it has to win.” ReAwaken America allows attendees to get up close to the far-right personalities they have come to trust. Selfie lines extended the length of the tent after speeches by Flynn, Stone and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has poured millions of dollars into efforts to advance discredited assertions of fraud in the 2020 election. As each speaker was introduced, screams of joy could be heard hundreds of feet away from the main stage. Less-known speakers and right-wing media personalities spent time mingling in the crowd, giving hugs and signing hats. Ian Smith, who gained attention for refusing to close his New Jersey gym during the pandemic lockdown, received pats on the back after leaving the stage. Seth Keshel, a former Army captain who travels the country claiming that election fraud is rampant, listened to many of the other speakers from the audience before and after his speech on getting involved in local elections. Micki Witthoeft, the mother of rioter Ashli Babbitt of California, who was killed by police inside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was repeatedly stopped by attendees as she wound her way through the crowd. She was there to raise funds for Jan. 6 insurrection defendants. Those who attended the tour said it was a safe space for them. Linda Hoy, 62, of Henderson, Nev., said she wanted to “just spend a couple of days with like-minded, patriotic, God-fearing, Jesus Christ-loving people and to hear from the speakers about our health and actions that we can take to save our country from communism.” Attendees could also browse through merchandise booths in a rambling bazaar, where T-shirts, dietary supplements, water purification systems, handwritten manifestos, art and fitness equipment were available for purchase. A company called Redemption Shield vowed its products would protect users from 5G cellular frequency bands. Dr. Stella Immanuel, a proponent of the theory — heavily criticized by public health authorities — that the drug hydroxychloroquine cures COVID-19, manned a booth selling her supplements. Children’s books about Trump and the so-called deep state written by Patel were prominently displayed. Lindell greeted buyers at the MyPillow booth after his speech, which included a plea for donations to his legal defense fund. Facing multiple defamation suits in connection with his 2020 election claims, Lindell was reported last week to owe millions of dollars to attorneys who are seeking to withdraw from those cases. Like at other stops, the tour struggled to find a location for the event, Clark said, noting that organizers spent $600,000 erecting the air-conditioned tent in a North Las Vegas park because they were rejected by venues in Las Vegas over fears of “reputational risk.” Tickets didn’t include the event name and were instead labeled as being for the “Fresh-Roasted Coffee Fest & Expo.” Attendees were given a discounted room rate at the Trump International Hotel on the Strip. As in church, baskets were passed to collect offerings to help organizers offset the cost of the event. One reason the tour has struggled to find venues is the group Faithful America has petitioned local officials not to issue permits to ReAwaken America organizers and urged businesses not to rent them space. The Rev. Nathan Empsall, a critic of Christian nationalism who serves as the executive director of the organization, said his group arranged for mobile billboards to circle the Las Vegas event. “Christian nationalism, and in particular, white Christian nationalism, is probably the biggest threat to both American democracy and the church today,” Empsall told The Times. “And the Reawaken America Tour is one of the clearest and most blatant examples of Christian nationalism.” Empsall argued that the tour is about power and politics, not faith, and said Christians have an obligation to denounce what Clark and Flynn are doing. Speakers “know that by attaching themselves to the thing people hold most dear — their faith, their genuine relationship to God — maybe they can make those folks hold them equally dearly [and] get to a point that to question Trump or Flynn or Stone or the dozen pastors on stage with them is to question God, when of course that’s not true,” Empsall said. Misinformation and conspiracy theories flowed freely at the event. One speaker warned that a global plan was in place to merge humans with machines and control them using artificial intelligence. Another urged people not to take any vaccines or medications except for the supplements she was selling at her booth. “The No. 1 message I can share with you is you are right. Everything you believe is right,” far-right site Gateway Pundit contributor Joe Hoft told the crowd during his speech about the state of the country. Maria Zeee, a self-described independent journalist from Australia, said that weather modification technology was being used to take over America, and that a cabal of world leaders would make it impossible to access money or to travel without being inoculated. “That is the plan unless we stop these Luciferian maniacs,” Zeee said. “These people want you under their control or dead. You must understand this.” Participants gasped and whispered to one another as they heard an April 2013 recording of Kim Clement, a late South African preacher, apparently prophesying Trump’s presidency. “There is a man by the name of Donald,” Clement said. “God said, ‘You have been determined through your prayers to influence this nation. … I will open that door that you prayed about, and when it comes time for the election you will be elected.’” Clement’s daughter, Donné Clement Petruska, called the audience “warriors of a new millennium.” “You are those people he saw — the remnant that God would use to wake up and save this country,” Petruska said of her father. “And so it’s not just Donald Trump. Donald Trump is at the head taking the hits, but we are behind him.” Wilcox, the government professor, said there is an element of the religious far-right that has embraced the idea of Trump as savior even though his actions may be antithetical to their beliefs. “If everything is falling apart, if the danger is immense, then actually we can overlook his personal flaws because sometimes God raises up a strong man to do what’s needed. I mean, it’s the theology they’re creating for themselves there,” Wilcox said. The night before most attendees arrived, at least 100 gathered at the tent for a Pastors for Trump meeting. The ReAwaken America Tour offers discount tickets for pastors. “Right now in this free country, the ungodly are attacking President Trump for trying to protect us,” said Pastor John Bennett, a former chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party and former congressional candidate. Oklahoma pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, who helped create Pastors for Trump, said the group has organized more than 10,000 pastors across the United States ahead of the 2024 election to mobilize evangelicals. “If they vote their value system, my friends, I guarantee you they will vote for Donald Trump in 2024,” Lahmeyer told the crowd. Julie Green, who calls herself a prophet, told the gathered pastors they were in both a revolutionary and civil war. “Right now we are under the greatest attack that we’ve ever been in,” Green said. “We’re under attack not only for our nation, we’re in attack in our bodies. We’re in attack in our minds. Our enemy is going out and he’s doing everything he possibly can. He is trying to destroy each and every one of you individually.” Like many of the speakers, Green referred to Trump as the “rightful president” as she led her audience in a prayer. “Not only has he been attacked, but we all have been attacked,” she said. Trump and many of his supporters cast a dark picture of the world and seek the support of religious groups, said NYU history professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who is an expert on fascism, authoritarianism and threats to democracies. She said both are common methods of securing allegiance by authoritarian leaders, a group that she says includes Trump. She called the ReAwaken America Tour a “radicalization event.” “[Authoritarian leaders] get buy-in and allies from religious institutions; it’s really important, and they’re often the most impious people,” she said. “They have to create a sense of crisis, and then they present themselves as the saviors.” Alex Newman, who runs a far-right website, used biblical passages to claim that the deep state and major political and social institutions are in a spiritual battle with God. “They’re gonna keep stealing elections as long as we let them, and our nation is at war,” Newman told the crowd. “Forces from the pit of hell are working to destroy our country, our families, our churches, our freedoms, our Constitution, even humanity itself. And at this point, they’re saying so pretty openly.” As they listened to the speakers, ReAwaken participants fanned themselves with handwritten prophecy screeds claiming that the end of the world is near. Sweat trickled from their hairlines. The air conditioning had failed in the 106-degree heat. Still, the faithful remained.

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