Apocalypse now: Donald Trump dons the "armor of God" — and pushes for theocracy

Scholar Paul Djupe on the QAnon-Christian fascist coalition that Trump hopes can make him America's dictator

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published February 22, 2024 5:45AM (EST)

Donald Trump holding a bible (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump holding a bible (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump has frequently hinted or implied that he has been chosen by God as some type of prophet and messiah, a divine champion in the 2024 presidential election. The suggestion is that Trump is somehow infallible, above and outside the Constitution, the rule of law and other restraints placed on the behavior of mere mortals in modern society.

Such claims are patently absurd, but that is almost not a liability. In his overtly cruel and mendacious behavior, Trump has shown himself to be anything but “godly” and “righteous,” by supposed Christian standards. He rarely attends church and displays open disdain for his evangelical followers, a group he views as a means to an end: They provide him with the narcissistic energy, campaign funds and fervent support — and, of course, the votes — he will need to become America's first dictator

In all, the relationship between Trump, his MAGA movement and the Christian right is transactional on both sides. During his presidency and beyond, Trump has promised the Christian right — and largely delivered — the power to enforce their will on the American public with the goal of turning the country into a theocracy. The Christian right has made Trump into the leader of its “spiritual warfare” campaign despite, or even because of, his obvious criminality. (To them, Trump is a victim of persecution by evil and demonic forces, further proof of his prophetic status.) Public opinion polls and other research increasingly suggest that Republicans, and in particular MAGA voters, do in fact believe he has been chosen by God to lead the country.

It is not hyperbole or exaggeration to say that Trump and the MAGA movement, in union with the Christian right, embody an existential threat to democracy. Trump's plans to impose dictatorial power are publicly available in the form of Project 2025, Agenda 47 and other documents and resources. New reporting by Politico highlights the expansive role that Christian nationalists and theocratic fascists are likely to play if Trump returns to power.

I recently spoke with Paul Djupe, a political scientist at Denison University and the editor of the Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics series at Temple University Press. Djupe is the co-author of "The Full Armor of God: The Mobilization of Christian Nationalism in American Politics," "The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition" and other books, and co-editor of the new anthology "Trump, White Evangelical Christians, and American Politics," to be published next month.

In this conversation, Djupe explains how Trump’s violent and apocalyptic rhetoric resonates with the Christian right and evangelical beliefs about the "end times" and the supernatural or demonic forces at work in American life and politics. Contrary to those who continue to underestimate Trump’s dangerousness and sophistication, Djupe argues that the ex-president’s use of such language and symbolism is intentional and highly effective.

Djupe further warns that militant Christianity's threats and promises of violence are not metaphorical, but present a danger to our democracy and civil society, and cautions that Trump and Christian right take power, the LGBTQ community, racial minorities, non-Christians, women and members of other marginalized groups will find their rights and freedoms under systematic attack. 

This is the second part of a two-part conversation, edited for length and clarity. Read the first section here.

Trump is now claiming he was chosen by God, even saying that “God made Trump.” At his rallies. he increasingly features right-wing Christian preachers who talk about the enemies of Trump and the MAGA movement as demonic or satanic agents, and suggest we face Armageddon. Many of these preachers also channel the beliefs of the QAnon conspiracy cult at Trump’s rallies and elsewhere. What do we know about that overlap?

It would be a mistake to ignore the language and actors that Trump and his agents are using to return to power. I agree that this is not a normal mode of campaign politicking. He is inviting local charismatic clergy to continue to sacralize his campaign. These are folks who are not shy about posing spiritual warfare and identifying the sides in terms of good and evil. That reinforces the apocalyptic frame for his campaign that he has been cultivating from Day One. I don’t have specific insider knowledge to explain his campaign decisions, but building this frame has to be why he started his 2024 campaign in Waco, Texas, site of the apocalyptic showdown between federal agents and the Branch Davidian religious group in 1993. It is why he mentions "breaking the seal” on social media — that's a reference to prophecy in the Book of Revelation. And he is constantly referencing his opponents as evil, sick "vermin," which fits the apocalyptic frame where the forces of evil are operating openly on Earth. It also fits the worldview that people are either judged good or evil, destined either to the eternal lake of fire or to a heavenly reward.

"QAnon ticked all the boxes: a secret cabal of groups conservative Christians don’t like — Hollywood, bureaucrats, Democrats, globalists, Jews — the violation of children and concerted work in the deep state to undermine Trump."

Trump’s use of this language is part persuasion, by attempting to draw uncrossable lines separating good and evil. But he is also simply reaching out to a constituency for whom this worldview resonates. There are many people who think of the world in this way, that we document in our book in progress (with Jake Neiheisel and Andrew Lewis). How do we know this is voter outreach? Well, it’s working as I just wrote about for the Religion in Public blog. Those with apocalyptic worldviews really like Trump. Even if we confine the sample to evangelical Christian Republicans, there is a dramatic difference in Trump support linked to apocalypticism. But we can also look to the behavior of Republican operatives, and a great example is Roger Stone. Stone doesn’t do anything that is not to his benefit, and in the last year and a half or so he has started to sound like an apocalyptic charismatic. He’s talking about spiritual warfare and says he has seen a “demonic portal” above the White House. Of course, he’s appearing on the ReAwaken America Tour with Mike Flynn, another entrepreneurial convert.

It’s the belief that evil is embodied that makes people deeply susceptible to conspiracy theories. Such beliefs are found among those who think the Bible should be understood literally, and there’s a correlation with Christian nationalism as well. Satan active in the world could easily pull off the collective action of even the most ambitious conspiracies. QAnon, which has been called a “highly unoriginal” conspiracy, is a good example, having swept through conservative Christianity on the heels of Pizzagate and others. QAnon ticked all the boxes. It involved a secret cabal of a huge range of groups conservative Christians don’t like — Hollywood, bureaucrats, Democrats, globalists, Jews — the violation of children and concerted work in the so-called deep state to undermine Trump. The linchpin to this whole system is the strong relationship between apocalyptic views and conspiracy theory belief – both the Big Lie about the 2020 election as well as QAnon.

Do these members of the Christian right really believe the things they say about the End Times, about God picking leaders or supporting Trump as some type of prophet or messiah? Liberals and others outside that world are quick to dismiss such beliefs or mock them, because that is easier than taking the danger seriously. My rebuttal has always been that I don’t care what these people believe. I take them seriously and look at their actions, and I see the existential danger they represent to America’s multiracial democracy.

I can’t say whether conservative and Republican elites believe what they say. I have my suspicions, but what matters is what Americans tell us they believe and that elites are using resonant symbols and rhetoric to mobilize them. A majority of Christians in January 2024 agreed that “The chaos in America today is evidence that we are living in what the Bible calls ‘the end times.’” That suggests there are huge swaths of Americans who are primed and ready for action. What kind? Those end-times believers agree, on average, that “If elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves even if it requires taking violent actions.”

The religious beliefs are in place to set expectations for violence and action, and religious and political leaders have aligned their mobilization to draw on those expectations.

What is the grand narrative of the Christian right and their rise to power these last few decades?

While conservative Christians have always felt some degree of embattlement. Christian nationalists are having a hard time sharing power, and were especially triggered by the landslide election of a Black president. Obama’s election pushed the GOP to become the "party of no" and spawned the Tea Party (which was old Christian-right wine in new wineskins). But what really leveled up their extremism was the Obergefell decision to legalize same-sex marriage. That was seen as the beginning of the end, a tool to prohibit Christians from acting on their authentic beliefs in public. So the grand narrative is a growing sense loss evidently generated by evil forces, to be resisted by increasingly militant, extreme candidates and activism.

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What is meant by the term "armor of God"? The Christian right repeatedly uses that language, while the mainstream media and others outside that world consistently underplay the role of violence and militant behavior among that movement and its members. 

We saw this clearly during the pandemic — people were standing with the full "armor of God," which supposedly protected them against the COVID-19 virus. Being an “Ephesians Christian” is a form of cognitive insulation protecting established attitudes and behaviors from outside interventions, whether by government officials, scientists or other elites. The full armor of God, therefore, enables proud resistance to outsiders and assertive advocacy for their own views.

But it’s not used in a vacuum. You only need to put on armor when facing attack, and these days the potential threats from demonic forces are said to be ever-present. In Trump’s world, “they” are after him first and they’ll be coming for good Christian citizens next. From the perspective of the data I’ve collected with my colleagues, it’s hard to overstate the extent and significance of the threat Christians believe they face. In a recent survey of self-identified Christians, almost two-thirds of respondents agreed that “The final battle between good and evil is upon us, and we must stand with the full armor of God.” That justifies, in their minds, all sorts of extreme behavior and policies. They appear to be following the Inverted Golden Rule: Do unto others what you expect them to do to you.

This helps explain why Christian nationalist elites portray the left in wildly hyperbolic terms. If the left is engaged in the widespread persecution of Christians, then that justifies the right of Christians to fight back and fight dirty.

For the Christian right, what does it mean to be an “American?”

"Christian nationalists with apocalyptic views tell us they want a theonomic state — they want rule by religious law. I’m not inferring that conclusion from vague questions, but simply showing survey results."

I generally believe that they think good Americans are regular people, "Christians like us." We just need to be careful about making too restrictive assumptions about this public. White Christian nationalists are supportive of suppressing votes, "enhanced" policing against minorities and restrictions on government policies perceived to benefit racial minorities. Black and Latino Christian nationalists push back against those policies that target their group, but appear to be supportive of restricting the rights of others. But I was surprised to find relatively little support for the idea that only Christians should receive full citizenship (10 percent of Americans; 26 percent of ardent Christian nationalists).

If the Christian right, and especially these white Christian supremacists get their way, what will American society look like?

Putting aside the unrestrained capitalism and much dirtier environment, Christian nationalists with apocalyptic views tell us that they want a theonomic state. That is, they want rule by religious law. I’m not inferring that conclusion from some vague questions, but am simply showing survey results. Few Americans (10 percent) want “the church” to have a veto over legislation, but over three-fifths of apocalyptics want that; 17 percent of Americans believe it’s more important to enforce God’s will than to protect individual freedoms, but that spikes to 75 percent of apocalyptics; 21 percent of the public believes the government’s powers should be limited to what is consistent with the Bible, but support spikes to 80 percent among apocalyptics.

We can use more conventional measures to know what they prefer to do about abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, broader civil rights and more. A Trump federal government will not enforce existing laws and will press to end or weaken existing protections. For instance, few Americans want abortion rights to end, but the most ardent apocalyptics and Christian nationalists want a national ban. I expect they would use the courts and federal spending as a wedge to force states to comply. Federal interventions to end racial inequities in policing and in vast areas of the economy will wilt and perhaps end. I expect renewed immigration limits and bans.

I strongly suspect that inequalities in the U.S. would expand rapidly under Trump II, and those without resources would be without an ally in the federal government in terms of social support programs, economic oversight, environmental protection and civil rights protections.

What causes you the most concern as the election approaches?

I am concerned with the fixation on Joe Biden’s age and the apparent willingness to give Trump a pass on a wide range of dangerous statements and brazen authoritarian promises. I’m worried that charismatic Christianity is expanding rapidly and is willing to frame American politics in terms of good and evil in a hot war in which people should expect violence when engaging in the most mundane of political behaviors. The last thing we need is the 2024 elections as a tinderbox, but it may be too late for that.

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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