Christian nationalism's white supremacy crisis: Bitter battle on the far right

Christian podcast host "canceled" over long history of ugly racist tweets as war breaks out on religious right

By Kathryn Joyce

Investigative Reporter

Published December 2, 2022 5:45AM (EST)

A United States and Christian flag are sandwiched together (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A United States and Christian flag are sandwiched together (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A funny thing happened on the road to the right wing reclaiming the label "Christian nationalism": Its chief proponents confirmed the worst accusations made against them, through their own words. 

Over the last week, the Christian right has been embroiled in a mystery-turned-scandal over whether a bestselling new book, "The Case for Christian Nationalism," is connected to other, seedier corners of the far right making a related case for explicit white nationalism, antisemitism and misogyny as well. (No, not those antisemites, other ones.) The short answer is yes. 

Donald Trump's presidency and the Jan. 6 insurrection turned a national spotlight on Christian nationalism as one of the chief ideologies that enabled both. Over the last two years, a wealth of books and articles have examined Christian nationalism from the left, center and, very often, from within Christian communities themselves. But the attention soon sparked a backlash, and the gradual-then-sudden drive for right-wing Christians to claim the label as a badge of honor. That was visible at the National Conservatism conference this September, in religious and political leaders from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene to Southern Baptist Albert Mohler embracing the term and in people like former Trump staffer William Wolfe declaring that while "Cynical, secular, & anti-God" progressives had tried to use "Christian nationalism" as a "slur" to demonize the right, they had instead transformed the label "into a rallying cry for a movement." 

This fall, two books by right-wing Christian authors landed just in time to capitalize on that campaign: "Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide for Taking Dominion and Discipling Nations," co-authored by Gab founder Andrew Torba and pastor Andrew Isker, and "The Case for Christian Nationalism," by Reformed theologian and recent Princeton postdoctoral fellow Stephen Wolfe (no relation to William Wolfe). The first book drew attention, but its reception was likely muted by the fact that Gab's and Torba's antisemitism made headlines of their own this year. By contrast, Wolfe's book emerged as a more serious academic contender.

"The Case for Christian Nationalism" became a nearly instant bestseller, spending weeks among the top 500 books on Amazon. Progressive academics live-tweeted their way through it with disgust, while right-wing institutions like the National Conservatism movement promoted it online. In a review at Religion Dispatches, University of San Francisco professor Bradley Onishi, author of the forthcoming book "Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism — And What Comes Next," noted that it is "the kind of work that ends up in the hands of evangelical celebrities, seminarians, rural pastors, and Christian influencers looking for a highbrow theological justification for their basest political and cultural impulses."

Almost all of the publicity was likely, as the saying goes, ultimately good. But in the last week, a series of connections — primarily unearthed by other conservative Christians — have drawn Wolfe's work into a scandal that seems to leave far less daylight than might once have seemed between his Ivy League version of Christian nationalism and the one you can find on Gab.

Most of these connections revolve around a man named Thomas Achord, who is Wolfe's co-host on their Christian political podcast, "Ars Politica," the co-author of another 2021 book, "Who Is My Neighbor? An Anthropology in Natural Relations," and, until last week, the headmaster of Sequitur Classical Academy, a private Christian school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

Last week, after Wolfe promoted Achord's book online, conservative Christian academic and podcaster Alastair Roberts drew attention to a small, pseudonymous Twitter account that — after much debate and initial denials — Achord would eventually admit was his. The account was obscure and no longer active, but across its nearly 2,000 tweets, Achord had regularly expressed viciously racist and antisemitic ideas. 

One of Achord's threads called for an "antifragile" and "robust race realist white nationalism" that would repurpose the lessons of "cultural Marxism, critical race theory, wokism, BLM, etc." in order to advocate for the reinstatement of segregation. "Yes, racism is interwoven into every facet of society," Achord wrote under the pseudonym, and thus "it is best for society to be demarcated along racial lines" and for Black and white children to be educated separately. 

One of Thomas Achord's Twitter threads called for "robust race realist white nationalism" and white "antifragility." Others were less elevated, demanding "No more Jew wars."

Other posts expressed a far less academic brand of racism: calling a prominent Democratic politician a "Ngress" and Black men "chimp[s]"; writing "No more Jew wars" and praising "Il Duce": warning that "Everyone is learning why white people of long ago governed with a heavy hand" and that once Black people have exhausted "our good faith … they're fucked." In a thread concerning Classical Christian Education — the field of "Western civilization"-focused, generally conservative schooling in which Achord worked — he wrote that the "ONLY organized movement trying to save Western civ is a gang of homeschoolers and private schoolers educating young people," and that he wanted to provide "resources for white-advocates to take back the West for white peoples by recovering classical education." 

Additionally, an author using the same pseudonym — and making remarkably similar arguments — had published essays on racist websites: one a neo-Confederate site called Identity Dixie, the other a blog associated with "Kinism," a racist movement that formed within some Reformed Christian communities in the early 2000s and claims that God has ordained the separation of races in all areas of life. The first article was a 2021 expansion of Achord's Twitter thread about "White Antifragility." The second was a 2018 satirical essay calling for tolerance for people who "experience same-race attraction." (Sample passage: "We need to learn to love our same-race oriented, white nationalist attracted neighbors as ourselves, as Jesus said. After all, white-nationalist attraction is something deep, innate, authentic. We can't ask them to deny who they are and cohabitate in a nation with those of the opposite race.")

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Initially, on Nov. 25, Achord responded to the tweets and blog posts swirling around him with a denial, implausibly claiming that someone had created "a web" of imposter social media and email accounts in order to discredit his friend Stephen Wolfe's book. He also announced in that post that he'd resigned his position at Sequitur Classical Academy — news that prompted Wolfe to pledge to donate any royalties he makes in the next month to his co-host, and rallied supporters to crowdfund more than $24,000 in donations to date. Then, three days later, Achord published a follow-up, admitting the account was his, but that he hadn't remembered writing it during a "spiritually dark time" in his life.

Throughout the "Achord affair," some critics pointed out that one didn't even need to verify the pseudonymous account to recognize Achord's racism, because he'd advanced similar arguments under his own name — on social media, in his book and on the podcast he shares with Wolfe. Achord's "Who Is My Neighbor?" — a compilation of quotations intended to guide Christians in responding to the happily "rising tide of nationalism" — included numerous subsections devoted to topics like "Racial Diversity and Theft," "Diversity Increases Conflict," "Segregation Decreases Violence," "Diversity = IQ Drop," "Ethnocentrism Is Biological," and much more. 

In his acknowledged Twitter account, Roberts noted, Achord had already posted things like a poll asking whether the government should ban interracial marriage alongside same-sex marriage, and had "liked" a white nationalist publishing house that puts out Hitler translations. On his podcast with Wolfe, the two had discussed the ideas of the white supremacist political writer Sam Francis and promoted the writing of Jared Taylor, founder of the white nationalist group American Renaissance. Twitter sleuths even dug up Achord's GoodReads account, where he'd listed books by Hitler, Taylor and David Duke. 

As the "Achord affair" spread, Twitter sleuths dug up his GoodReads account, where he'd listed books by Adolf Hitler, Jared Taylor and David Duke.

"Achord's white supremacist and antisemitic views" are "disturbing, but not surprising," said Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and a lead organizer of the "Christians Against Christian Nationalism" campaign — a campaign that notes "Christian nationalism often overlaps with and provides cover for white supremacy and racial subjugation."

Many of the conservative Christians who condemned Achord's writing did so on the grounds that his objectionable views imperiled the broader, and to their mind, often commendable, aims of Christian nationalism. In a long essay published before Achord confessed his authorship, Alastair Roberts wrote of his "concern that there is either a stowaway hidden in a specific Christian nationalist project, or perhaps certain projects are functioning as Trojan horses." Noting that many critics of Christian nationalism charge that the ideology is "nothing more than a fig-leaf for white supremacism," Roberts continued, "There is nothing that would do more to discredit and weaken any Christian nationalist, postliberal, or other similar project than for one of its advocates to be in fact using it as cover for segregationist or white nationalist views." 

Right-wing commentator Rod Dreher — who was himself involved in exposing the affair, and whose wife taught at Sequitur Classical Academy until resigning in protest last week — made a similar argument, warning that "the 'Christian' in 'Christian nationalism' must never be understood as a synonym for 'white.'" (Although his own writings have sometimes blurred this line.) Dreher was particularly outraged that Achord's pseudonymous musings about how to use Classical Christian Education "as a Trojan horse to smuggle in white nationalism" might besmirch the reputation of the classical education project more broadly. (As a Salon investigation last May noted, a broad Republican push for instituting "classical education" programs in K-12 and higher education — sometimes expressly characterized as a response to so-called critical race theory — has already alarmed educators across the country.) 

Rod Dreher was particularly outraged that using Classical Christian Education "as a Trojan horse to smuggle in white nationalism" might besmirch the reputation of that entire project.

Stephen Wolfe responded with a swipe at Dreher's personal life. More broadly, he declared that the entire scandal was an effort to discredit "me and my book from the beginning" — a charge that was echoed by his publisher, the Idaho theologian and slavery apologist Doug Wilson, who this week published a statement shared widely on the right that decried the controversy as a "proxy war and daisy chain extortion" that was attempting to "cancel" Wolfe's book through "guilt by association."

But Wolfe had problems of his own making. Shortly before his book's publication, Wolfe tweeted that interracial marriage was "relatively" sinful and that women shouldn't be allowed to vote. In an article earlier this year, he wrote that Black people "are reliable sources for criminality." In "The Case for Christian Nationalism," he approvingly cited white supremacist sources like Sam Francis and the website VDARE, railed against the "gynocracy" of "feminine vices" that apparently rule America, and suggested that heretics and non-Christians in his imagined Christian nation should face banishment, prison or death. He also focuses, Bradley Onishi observes, extensively on the idea that people "ought to prefer and to love more those who are more similar to him" — an idea Wolfe links to nationalism and "ethnicity," both vaguely defined, and which alarmed even Christian reviewers sympathetic to the broader aims of Christian nationalism. 

In a review this week, prominent conservative pastor and seminary professor Kevin DeYoung concluded that Wolfe's message — "that ethnicities shouldn't mix, that heretics can be killed, that violent revolution is already justified, and that what our nation needs is a charismatic Caesar-like leader to raise our consciousness and galvanize the will of the people" — might indeed resemble "blood-and-soil nationalisms" of the past two centuries, but it didn't seem very Christian. One needn't "be a left-wing watchdog," DeYoung continued, to worry about what Wolfe meant when he talked about how "cultural similarity" was imperative for a good society.  "Wolfe may eschew contemporary racialist categories," DeYoung wrote, "but he doesn't make clear how his ideas on kinship are different from racist ideas of the past that have been used to forbid interracial marriage and to enforce the legal injustice of 'separate but equal.'" 

Another review, from a very different corner of the right, came to the same conclusion. As evangelical professor and writer Warren Throckmorton pointed out, a leading "Kinist" website recently assessed Wolfe's book as representing its own clever Trojan Horse — using a "breadcrumb methodology" to lead an audience "receptive to Nationalism" but skeptical of "the ethnic side of it" towards its ultimate embrace. 

"Stephen Wolfe's book is white ethno-nationalist theology. He uses the words of Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin, but his vision is to overthrow American democracy as we know it."

"Pretend that you as the author understand that the ethno in ethno-Nationalism is never going to fly in this politically correct, multi-cultural context. How would you go about writing a book that advances the ball on ethno-Nationalism while avoiding the issue of the ethno?" argued the review. One way, it answered, would be to leave a trail of breadcrumbs that would "lead your reader, who may be hesitant to come to your conclusion if you said it overtly, to the conclusion that can't help but be reached concerning ethno-Nationalism." Perhaps, he suggested, Wolfe was "being this kind of clever." 

Which is exactly the argument that critics of Christian nationalism — in all its forms — have been making. 

"Stephen Wolfe may express disagreement with Achord's words, but his book and other writings show that in substance, if not in execution, he is in agreement with Achord on important issues," Onishi told Salon. "Wolfe's book is white ethno-nationalist theology. He uses the words of Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin, but his vision is to overthrow American democracy as we know it in order to institute a White Christian social order based on homeland, blood, and volk."

"Achord's compatriots do not see, or refuse to acknowledge," how similar his beliefs are to their own, agreed Jemar Tisby, author of "The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church's Complicity in Racism." "That's a polite way of saying many of their views are just as racist and white supremacist as Achord's, they just haven't had a public fall like him." 

On Twitter, Samuel Perry, co-author with Philip Gorski of the recent book "The Flag and the Cross," cautioned those watching the Christian right tear itself apart to remember "white supremacy isn't just part of the 'bad version'" of Christian nationalism. "White supremacy, misogyny, & authoritarian control are features of the movement, not bugs." 

"What is scary about this whole affair," added Onishi, "is that while Achord may be out of the news in a few days, Wolfe's book is already being used in seminary papers and sermons across the country to justify an anti-American, anti-democratic, ethno-nationalist Christianity that is now mainstream in the United States." The book remains a top seller, and amid the controversy, Wolfe's publisher claimed that sales only went up. "This is no longer a fringe theology," Onishi said. "And that should scare us all." 

By Kathryn Joyce

Kathryn Joyce was an investigative reporter at Salon, and the author of two books: "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption" and "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement."

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