How Christofascists became the heart of the MAGA movement

Author Kathryn Joyce makes sense of the Age of Trump and the rising fascist tide in America

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published January 5, 2024 5:45AM (EST)

Donald Trump, Mike Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump, Mike Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The 2024 election is now less than one year away. This will truly be a historic election where the American people will quite literally be deciding if their country will remain a real (albeit flawed) democracy or instead succumb to neofascism and autocracy modeled on Putin’s Russia or Orban’s Hungary with Donald Trump and his Republican fascist successors as dictators for life.

The less than 11 months remaining until Election Day will be both painfully slow and extremely fast. Such a distortion of time and the disorientation it creates are defining features of a society and people that are under assault by fascists and other malign actors. In the time remaining, Democrats will need to focus their messaging and create a compelling story that creates a clear contrast between Biden and Trump. This is essential if Biden and the Democrats are going to be able to mobilize their base while also bringing in enough independents, first time voters and perhaps even the few disaffected “traditional” Republicans who abhor Trumpism and who are willing to vote for Biden (or at the very least not support Trump). Unfortunately, it appears that the Democratic Party and its consultants are unwilling and/or unable to craft such a winning narrative.

Donald Trump, his MAGA people and the larger Republican fascist movement will use these remaining months before Election Day to continue to assault and undermine reality, the facts, the truth, democracy, and the rule of law with the goal of mobilizing their voters while simultaneously demobilizing and confusing those Americans who would potentially vote for Biden.

Donald Trump faces hundreds of years in prison for his many obvious crimes. Ultimately, Trump will fight with all of his energy (and then some) to become America’s first dictator because he correctly views “winning” the 2024 election by any means necessary as one of the few ways he can escape spending the rest of his natural life in prison or some other form of confinement.

What about the American mainstream news media?

As an institution, it must commit itself to the principles of the Fourth Estate as the “guardians of democracy." In practice, this means consistently speaking truth to power, and educating and informing the public about what Trumpism and the end of democracy will mean for their day-to-day lives and futures. The mainstream news media must also reject “horserace” coverage, “bothsidesism”, and false “fairness” and “balance”, what are collectively obsolete norms that treat Trumpism and neofascism and other antidemocratic practices and beliefs as being merely “polarization” or “partisanship” instead of as anathema to real democracy and a good society.

Writing at the American Prospect, Rick Perlstein deftly summarizes the perilous convergence of these forces and the system-breaking challenge that awaits American democracy in 2024 as, “The triangle represents the three forces that have succeeded in getting America within spitting distance of losing its democracy: Republican authoritarianism, Democratic timorousness, and media incompetence.”

And what about the American people?

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Pro-democracy Americans must unify, organize, coordinate their resources, and build the institutions and organizations across civil society that will be necessary to slow down Trump and the Republican fascists on Election Day 2024 and then continue to sustain those organizations for a long-term victory over the larger antidemocracy movement both here in the United States and around the world.

Unfortunately, early polls show that too many everyday Americans (most of whom are politically unengaged and unsophisticated) are ready to put Trump back in the White House because democracy is something abstract and relatively unimportant to them and they find Trump’s chaos, destruction, and “excitement” (and hatred and rage and strongman thug appeal) more compelling than President Biden’s responsible and steady leadership.

In an attempt to better orient myself about the escalating democracy crisis, how we got here, and what these next months will bring as the 2024 Election approaches, I recently spoke to Kathryn Joyce. She is a long-time observer and expert on the American right-wing and conservative movement. Joyce is currently an investigative editor at In These Times, a freelance investigative reporter and the author of two books: "The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption" and "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement."

"The left needs to pay serious attention to the right, and not dismiss 'the culture wars' as a sideshow to the struggle over American democracy and freedom."

She was formerly a reporter here at Salon and a contributing editor at The New Republic. Joyce’s work has also appeared in Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, The Marshall Project, The New York Times Magazine, Pacific Standard, Wired, Vox, Slate, The American Prospect, The Intercept, The New York Times Sunday Review, The Nation, The Atlantic, and other leading publications and news media outlets.

In this conversation, Joyce highlights the central role of the Christian right in the rise of Trumpism and neofascism and the types of institutions and knowledge-production the larger right-wing has built and engaged in to create and sustain their movement to end multiracial secular democracy. She also reflects on the decades-long pattern of failures by the mainstream news media (such as succumbing to right-wing lies and bullying about “liberal bias”) which helped to create this existential democracy crisis.

How are you feeling? How are you making sense of the Age of Trump and the rising fascist tide? 

We're entering a really alarming year. What we’ve seen from the Republican Party in 2023 hints at how bad things could get in 2024. Trump is "joking" about being a dictator on day one of his new administration if he takes back the White House, talking about how undocumented immigrants from non-white countries are "poisoning the blood" of the nation. A large number of Republicans now believe in the white supremacist “great replacement” conspiracy theory. It feels like things are getting worse very quickly and people need to pay a lot more attention. The prospects can feel really grim some days. On other days it seems like there’s a growing movement of people paying more attention and organizing to stop these anti-democracy forces.

To that point, how bad things are going to get? Trump and his Republican Party are now openly channeling Hitler and Nazism. The mainstream news media who are supposed to be the "guardians of democracy" but have failed to properly respond to the Age of Trump and the existential dangers it embodies. 

Other people have made this point, but there’s a pattern where Trump does something that's wildly outrageous—like suggesting that non-white immigrants are poisoning the blood of the American population—and it will get a bunch of attention from the news media. Then Trump will do it again, and it won't be deemed "newsworthy" anymore. That’s how truly awful things get normalized.

What of the role and responsibility of elite news media such as the New York Times, in their enabling and normalizing of Trumpism and larger failures to consistently practice real pro-democracy journalism? 

It often seems like mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times overreact to right-wing accusations that they are "the liberal press" and "biased" against conservatives. They bend over backwards trying to disprove that, often with the result that they’re overly credulous about right-wing claims or hold conservative op-ed contributors to lower factual or ethical standards, in hopes that will stave off more accusations of “liberal bias” from the right. It never prevents those attacks, but it does help mainstream far-right arguments and ideas. 

The Christian right — I describe them as “Christofascists” — are playing a central role in Trump's MAGA movement. You have been following the Christian right for a long time. What is your assessment of how the American mainstream news media has been covering that movement? 

There’s a lot more coverage of this than there used to be, which is overall a good thing. But it hasn’t always been that way. I've been writing about the right-wing in America for nearly twenty years, and before Trump, this beat was often dismissed as alarmist or accused of overstating the threat. After Obama was elected, for example, a lot of mainstream liberals or centrists felt certain that the religious right of the George W. Bush years had been beaten, and that we were in a new America where right-wing activism and strategizing weren’t major threats anymore. There was a vein of argument that those of us covering the Christian right were being hysterical or "mean" to evangelicals. Then came Trump. As a result of his campaigns and presidency, there’s been a lot more mainstream coverage of the right, with a lot more people doing really good work. That’s incredibly important. But I think it’s worth remembering where earlier warnings were ignored in the past, and what those blind spots can tell us about what we need to be paying attention to today.

Given your expertise, what are you focusing on in terms of the Christian right? What are you seeing through your critical lenses? 

I’ve always been pretty interested in how ideological systems work and how political movements come together. What are their arguments and how do those filter down to inform the mainstream GOP? In particular, over the last couple years, I’ve been focusing on the intellectual work that’s being done on the right and far right, because I think we can often see a clear pattern of voices and thinkers who are dismissed as being “fringe” who turn out to be a vanguard that has a huge impact on the broader conservative movement. The right and far-right are also very adept at understanding how incremental steps to create coalitions can be instrumental in building power. Those things aren't always immediately recognizable as significant but can add up to something quite profound later on.

You have attended many of the conferences and other spaces where the right wing develops its policies and ideas and builds its coalitions and networks. What type of knowledge production is taking place in those spaces?

Right-wing conferences are spaces where new arguments and frameworks are piloted, so they can then get rolled out more broadly. For example, at recent National Conservatism conferences, which I wrote about for the New Republic and Salon, numerous speakers argued that conservatives need to move beyond the classically liberal conception of "live and let live" pluralism, individual liberty and free expression, to a totalizing culture war fight that sees its aim as “defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils.” They were explicitly arguing that there is one acceptable culture in the United States—a Christian, conservative culture—which should be supported by the law and assumed to be the norm across all areas of public life here. 

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At that same conference, I heard speakers making the argument that, since conservatives had “lost” cultural institutions like the media and academia, they must be willing to use all the levers of government power to enforce their ideology, much as Hungary does. And now we hear that rhetoric all the time from mainstream conservative politicians.

It's important to recognize that the ideas and policies Republican leaders advance have an origin, and it’s often from the far-right thought leaders who speak at these conferences or events, but whose arguments there get ignored as just hot air or red meat. Another example is the way that the right is increasingly reclaiming the label of "Christian Nationalism" as something to be proud of—Marjorie Taylor Greene says it today, but before her, people were saying it at these conferences. That’s one way that ideas that were once considered fringe or extreme make their way into the mainstream Republican Party.

When you look at Donald Trump, what do you see? How do you make sense of him?

On one hand, Trump is incredibly motivated by self-interest and doesn’t seem to care about anything more than himself. And in that, he represents a lot of chaos. But he’s also a vehicle for a lot of people on the far right who view him as a very useful wrecking ball that clears the way to create a social and political order that they didn’t think was going to be possible anytime soon.

What is your biggest hope for next year? And what's your biggest fear for 2024 — especially if Trump wins the election and takes back the White House?

We are in a very serious moment, and the left needs to pay serious attention to the right, and not dismiss "the culture wars" as a sideshow to the struggle over American democracy and freedom. That’s why In These Times published our recent special issue on the spread of the far right—the first time the magazine has ever dedicated an issue to the right—in the hopes of helping make the case for a broad popular front that can fight the right while organizing for the rest of the changes we need. The American right wing has built a really ugly machine that's already demonstrated its opposition to fair elections, the will of the people and the rule of law. We all need to take that seriously and be ready for this fight.

If Trump and the Republican fascists win in 2024, what does resistance look like? 

I think we have to do everything we can now to prevent that from taking place.

But if it does, resistance will require tremendous solidarity across political factions. This is a fight that’s going to require all of us. 

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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