Far-right MAGA theocrats: Most dangerous threat to America

Even Mitch McConnell is trying to push back against Mike Johnson and the MAGA wing of the GOP. It isn't working

By Brian Karem

Published November 2, 2023 9:46AM (EDT)
Updated November 3, 2023 5:54PM (EDT)
Mike Johnson (C) (R-LA) is applauded after being nominated Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives at Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC on October 24, 2023.  (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Mike Johnson (C) (R-LA) is applauded after being nominated Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives at Capitol Hill, in Washington, DC on October 24, 2023. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

The world inches closer to a war that only psychopaths want to see.

On Tuesday the FBI issued a warning that the chance of staged terrorist attacks in the United States has grown since the war began in Gaza. In the White House briefing later that day, Fox News reporter Peter Doocy asked National Security Council spokesman John Kirby: “Has the White House considered the possibility that a terrorist could be in the country right now after crossing the southern border?”

Obviously they have, or the FBI wouldn’t have issued the warning. The question remains, however, what our government response would be to such an attack. That has already been discussed at the highest levels in our government, and the public has a right to know what that reaction would be.

So, although I wasn’t called on, as Kirby left the stage I interrupted to ask the only question I thought mattered: “John, wait a minute. Before you leave: If Hamas terrorists attack the U.S., would the U.S. put boots on the ground in the Middle East?”

Kirby stopped his retreat from the stage, and press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre let him answer. Kirby was succinct: “I won't speculate about that, Brian. We’ll obviously do what we have to do to protect our troops and our people.” 

On that same day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer showed up at the White House with a bipartisan group — Sens. Todd Young, R-Ind., Mike Rounds, R-S.D. and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. — to talk to President Biden and help steer a congressional response to the threat posed by SKYNET … sorry, I mean AI. It’s a bipartisan effort, but there are both Republicans and Democrats who remain opposed.  

Bipartisanship, once seen as a laudable goal on many issues, is now sneered at by most remaining members of the Republican Party. Working with Democrats, for them, is like choosing death over a slice of cake. (Apologies to Eddie Izzard.)

Most Republicans are so dismayed at the prospect of working with Democrats that they want to scuttle efforts to fund the war in Ukraine, virtually isolating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who seems to be nearly alone on an island calling for aid to continue. It’s a rare display of common sense from the 81-year-old Kentuckian, whose primary focus is on political power. 

Bipartisanship was once seen as a laudable goal. But for most remaining Republicans, working with Democrats is like choosing death over a slice of cake.

"No Americans are getting killed in Ukraine,” McConnell said. “We're rebuilding our industrial base. The Ukrainians are destroying the army of one of our biggest rivals. I have a hard time finding anything wrong with that. I think it's wonderful that they're defending themselves — and also the notion that the Europeans are not doing enough. They've done almost $90 billion, they're housing a bunch of refugees who escaped. I think that our NATO allies in Europe have done quite a lot." 

Few Democrats have said it any better, and it spelled out exactly what the stakes are for the U.S. in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Remember that Vlad “The Impaler” Putin has clearly suggested that he wants to get the old Soviet Union band back together — Ukraine is just the first stop in a quest for global hegemony.

Fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said that McConnell was “out of touch” with his party's base while Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley chided McConnell for siding with Democrats — and that was before Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas gave Hawley a tongue-lashing on border issues later that afternoon. It looks like Putin still has a few fans in the GOP.

We need your help to stay independent

In the House, those would likely include newly-minted House Speaker Mike Johnson (and that still sounds like a Bart Simpson prank call to Moe’s Bar), who took on McConnell directly, pushing to unlink aid to Israel from aid to Ukraine.  

While the world burns, Johnson and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party — which seems to have swallowed the evangelical movement while also embracing it (a T-1000 morphing into Sarah Connor is just about the right image) — is embracing the darkest verses of the Bible, apparently pushing for apocalypse with an enthusiasm only rivaled by Saul’s slaughter of Christians before he changed his name to Paul.

I’m waiting for Mel Brooks to break out into song: “Let all those who wish to confess their evil ways and accept and embrace the true church convert now or forever burn in hell — for now begins the Inquisition!”

The House of Representatives, now run by Johnson, offers a discount version of the apocalyptic orgasm the holy rollers have dreamed of for years. They’ve renewed the Inquisition and seem determined to convert the U.S. into a theocracy run by people who will thump you with the Bible, but haven’t read much of it. 

Lord, how they love to preach fire and brimstone. But the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes? Forget it. Matthew 25:40: “Whatever you did it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me”? Not a chance. They’ve embraced only the Old Testament angry God and the apocalyptic parts of Revelation brought on by ergot poisoning. 

They want no separation of church and state. They want an isolationist country surrounded by walls and dedicated to the proposition that the First Amendment guarantees them the right to worship any way they want — while forcing the rest of us to worship the way they choose.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

While the Age of Enlightenment led men — after hundreds of years of bloody crusades — to give up on state religions and was a direct inspiration for our Bill of Rights, modern Republicans seem hellbent on returning to the Middle Ages, driven there by the first Christian nationalist House speaker.

The First Amendment's establishment clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” That not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another.

Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a constitutional scholar, says there was a solid reason for this much-debated and carefully written clause: “The framers taught us that the biggest threat to religious freedom comes from theocrats who try to establish their own sect over everyone else. That’s why we have two religion clauses in the First Amendment.”

None of that matters to the Republicans. They revel in their own chicanery. They despise free thought and independence, and are happy to play games with a government shutdown — the modern equivalent of fiddling while it all burns. Stay tuned. Nov. 17, the next shutdown deadline, is just around the corner. 

On a day the Republicans were mired in their own gamesmanship, an Israeli air strike targeting a Hamas commander in the densely-populated Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza left catastrophic damage and killed hundreds of people, according to medics and eyewitnesses.

Children were seen carrying other children away from the blast zone. “It felt like the end of the world,” one surviving witness said.

That is our world today. It took an asteroid the size of a modern city to wipe out the dinosaurs. People, being smarter than dinosaurs, have figured out how to destroy everything all by ourselves. Climate change is slowly creeping up on us and we are killing each other at an increasing rate. It took a Category 5 hurricane to kill 40-odd people in Acapulco last week. We killed that many in two mass shootings in the U.S. in about the same amount of time — and spared the property. Pogo was right: We have met the enemy and he is us.

Donald Trump faces 91 felonies in four different jurisdictions, while facing civil sanctions in New York that could cost him a large chunk of his financial empire. He is effectively also on trial in Colorado as that state tries to ban him from the ballot next November. I spoke with Michael Cohen on Wednesday morning, a few days after he testified in Trump’s civil trial in New York. He believes Trump could lose as much as $600 million to $700 million in that case, essentially leaving him broke.

Joe Biden is in danger of becoming the 2024 equivalent of Jimmy Carter — a one-term president who will be admired after he leaves office far more than when he held it.

Joe Biden’s popularity continues to shrink faster than unemployment, threatening to make him the 2024 equivalent of Jimmy Carter — a one-term president who will be admired after he leaves office more than he ever was while holding it. Part of that is Biden’s fault. Part of it is because of people like Mike Johnson, who claim we don’t live in a democracy and that Gawd oversees our government.

You might think that all this would be serious food for thought in the news. But people are so tired of thinking about life on the razor’s edge that most news seems about as palatable as raw sewage — which is an all too accurate metaphor.

Our problem in the press is that we have so few people with the experience and education to handle the serious issues facing us. 

So whether it is a possible world war, stochastic terrorism, Christian theocracy, climate change, Donald Trump, our own government or something else unforeseen, for most people it is a time of trepidation and terror.

As Biden left the stage in the East Room on Monday, after about 15 minutes talking about artificial intelligence, he circled around to his standard stump speech, the one where he defines America with one word, “possibilities,” and says he remains hopeful that the best is still ahead.

He has said this for three years, and I only wish more people would listen. Instead, at the end of the day, as the world spins out of control, people want bread and circuses to keep them from contemplating the horrors that we ourselves have created.

Bring on Mel Brooks:

The Inquisition, what a show!
The Inquisition, here we go!
We know you're wishin' that we go away
So come on, you Muslims and you Jews
We got big news for all of youse
You better change your point of views today
'cause the Inquisition's here and it's here to stay!

UPDATE: The headline to this article has been changed since it was first published.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

MORE FROM Brian Karem

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Gaza Israel Joe Biden Mike Johnson Mitch Mcconnell Rand Paul Republicans Terrorism Ukraine War