Those Americans who feel compelled to rewrite our collective history as the emergence of an avowedly Christian nation are fond of quoting scripture. Take the seemingly noble sentiment in John 15:13, where Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I say “seemingly noble” because even the Devil is good at quoting scripture. Consider the fringe Christian apocalyptic group called the Hutaree; there this motto blazes their website just above the image shown above. Yesterday, the U.S. Attorney General announced the arrests of nine individuals accused of “plotting to kill law enforcement officers in hopes of inciting an antigovernment uprising, the latest in a recent surge in right-wing militia activity,” as the New York Times reports. The plan is right out of what is often called the Al-Qaeda playbook, one played out in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan on almost a daily basis: kill a police officer and then when there is a funeral procession, set off an i.e.d. Were these Muslim extremists, the word “jihad” would be on every television newscast. But, no, these are individuals who claim to be following a commandment of Christ. So why not face the fact that rhetorically it is possible to jihad for Jesus?

Speaking of those who believe in a literal Devil and do not recognize they are doing his work, earlier today I happened to be leafing through The Devil’s Dictionary by the Ohio-born American journalist Ambrose Bierce. Here is what Bierce had to say a century ago about the real-world definition of “Scriptures”:

“The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.”

Having grown up in a Bible-believing Baptist church, I have heard my fair share of scriptures bent to just about anything one can imagine. But the bent of the intent can best be blunted by looking at what other scripture says. I suspect the Hurtaree Nine did not choose the preceding verse in John (15:12) for good reason. That says “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.” Or verse 17, “These things I command you, that ye love one another.” Now, I remember Christ getting angry at the money-changers (I can only wonder what Jesus would have said about the Republicans lobbying against health care), but nowhere do I read that he put on camoflage clothes, sharpened the best spear available and led an armed revolt against the Roman authorities. I take it that the biblical phrase “render unto Caesar” is not the same as “render Caesar in two.” Could the Hutaree Jesus be the same one that told Peter to put down his sword even as he was being led away to certain death? And, to add to the hubris, Jesus is not talking about out-of-work Michigan right-wingers or any other potential Christian, but himself.

Surfing the Hutaree website, still up as of this posting, is instructive not simply because it is absurdly paranoid, but because it represents the logical outcome of the negative posturing by rightwing pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, not to mention the crosshaired vice-pundit Sarah Palin. Consider the following fear-mongering on the Hutaree website:

This is probably the “touchiest” topic in this discussion. If normal government law enforcement services are unavailable, and large numbers of people get desperate, the potential for serious trouble is obvious. No matter how much you prepare, it will do you and your family no good if you have no way to stop society’s predators from making you their next victim.

Some will say “just give them what they want.” What if what they want is your wife or your daughter? What if giving them what they want will result in the death of you and your family? These are serious questions that need to be answered. The clear choice for defense is a firearm – all other means are a very distant second place for use during a serious emergency. After careful consideration, if you decide to own and use a gun for personal defense, you’ll need to know what kind to get. It seems that everyone who enjoys owning and shooting guns has their own opinions on what makes the ideal defense gun for someone just starting out. I am no exception, so I will make the following recommendation: a good quality, stainless steel .357 magnum revolver with a barrel of 4″ or less, and non-adjustable (fixed) sights. This covers a large number of guns, and is pretty much a plain-vanilla, general purpose, simple-to-use gun. If you’re already a gun owner, whatever you already have is probably just fine to use. Besides, that means you probably already have your own opinions on the best choice anyway. Just make sure you have a good supply of ammunition.

Society’s predators? What if what they want is your wife and daughter? This sounds like the patriarch Lot waiting for the Sodomites and Gomorrhians to bugger his angel guests. But then, scripture says that Lot offered his daughter and waited for God to send the fire and brimstone. If there were a major nuclear disaster or anything else that destroyed our government infrastructure, it would be intolerant groups like the Hutarees who would be the predators. Predators tend to be uneducated, so is it a surprise that Mr. Stone, the leader of the group, pulled his son out of public school after the fifth grade and home-schooled him or that the younger son, now 19, never went to school?

OK, these are extremists, but their basic premise of a soon-to-come Armageddon (a phrase Representative John Boehner of Ohio resurrected during the health care debate) is widely shared on the Christian right. Sarah Palin, who advises her tea-party and gun-toting rabble to “reload”, did not choose crosshairs accidentally to pinpoint elected members of congress for abuse. When Ahmadinejad uses such strident rhetoric against Israel, he is rightly condemned, but somehow there is less concern when someone jihads for an intolerant patriotism or does so in the name of Jesus. Somehow the party of Lincoln, who freed the country from the ethical burden of slavery in 1863, is less heroic to the rightwing today than Barry Goldwater, who a century later uttered the dangerous mantra that “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” Consider the context: Goldwater was running against a fellow southerner who dared to put Civil Rights into law and Goldwater lost by a landslide. But if one must quote vintage Goldwater, then read the whole speech. He also said “History shows us—it demonstrates that nothing, nothing prepares the way for tyranny more than the failure of public officials to keep the streets safe from bullies and marauders.” Even if these bullies invent a silly name like Hutarees and claim to do jihad for Jesus.

Daniel Martin Varisco

This commentary has also been posted to the History News Network.