Christian Identity's New Role On The Extreme Right
| by CTEC Staff
With its ideology linked to numerous domestic terrorist attacks in the late 20th century, Christian Identity (CI) has significantly influenced the development of American far-right extremism. As an antisemitic and racist belief system, Christian Identity provides religious justification for violence and domestic terrorism. Although the traditional CI movement has declined, Christian Identity has risen in importance as a radicalizing and mobilizing force within existing neofascist accelerationist communities. After examining the Christian Identity movement’s history, belief system, rhetoric, decline, and resurgent presence on Telegram, this paper will evaluate the current state of the modern CI movement.
Research and writing on this paper was led by one of CTEC’s summer interns. For safety reasons, we are publishing this piece anonymously. If you are a journalist, researcher, or other professional who would like to speak to the author, contact Alex Newhouse (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In addition, this research would not have been possible without guidance from Matt Taylor (@minty_13 on Twitter), who was one of the first researchers to identify the contemporary re-emergence of Christian Identity and continues to be at the vanguard of monitoring its growth and influence.
Origins of the Christian Identity Movement
The Christian Identity movement developed out of John Wilson’s 19th-century theory of British Israelism. Although some of the ideas key to the British Israelite movement originated before Wilson, he was the first to author a book detailing the core tenets of it. The foundational belief of early British Israelism was that Anglo-Saxons and Germans are the direct descendants of the biblical Lost Tribes of Israel. Wilson’s novel misconstrued linguistic evidence in order to “prove” the migration of the Lost Tribes to Europe, and eventually to England. Wilson’s mentee Edward Hine, another British Israel pioneer, altered and built upon Wilson’s theory, claiming that it was exclusively British Anglo-Saxons that were descendants of the Lost Tribes. Although the movement had not yet developed a violently antisemitic streak, it did exclude Jews. Hine furthered this exclusion by proclaiming Jesus was not Jewish.
Beyond this, Hine also established the importance of the Americas to British Israelism, claiming that the Lost Tribes would eventually reunite and live in the United States. By the late 19th century, British Israelism had spread to the U.S. Hine began traveling to America where he held sermons and taught those who listened about the movement. British Israelism appealed to some Americans because it complemented existing exceptionalist myths holding that America was the promised land. There was a dedicated following of British Israelites in the United States; however, membership in the movement was hard to track and often exaggerated by American British Israelites.
At the same time, antisemitism in the United States was increasing. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was gaining momentum, and KKK sects frequently integrated violently antisemitic conspiracy theories into their ideologies. The KKK exploited and exacerbated increasingly popular paranoia about rates of Jewish migration to America. William Cameron, author of Henry Ford’s newspaper the Dearborn Independent, began to publish antisemitic conspiracy theories about a Jewish-led government takeover. Specifically, Cameron published and popularized an American version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic forgery describing a Jewish elite manipulating world events. Cameron was a British Israelite himself and helped merge antisemitism and British Israelism. Additionally, prominent American British Israelite Howard Rand, credited with being a driving force behind the shift from British Israelism to Christian Identity, declared that Jews were not descendants of the House of Judah. At the same time, other prominent British Israelite leaders had begun to link the movement to more explicitly antisemitic beliefs and far-right ideals.
In the 1940s, a new, more American movement began to supplant British Israelism in the United States. Rand named this antisemitic and far-right offshoot Christian Identity. There were many notable early Christian Identity leaders, such as Wesley Swift, who is credited with the majority of the early success of the Christian Identity movement. Swift was a member of the KKK and founded the most prominent CI church in the 1940s, which he named the Church of Jesus Christ Christian (CJCC) to emphasize the principal belief that Jesus Christ was not Jewish. Swift was known as a charismatic and uniting figure in the CI movement, and his sermons incited violence on numerous occasions. Swift’s teachings and sermons are still read and quoted today in almost all Identity circles.
Christian Identity Doctrine
There are many beliefs central to the Christian Identity movement, but there has never been complete doctrinal unity. Like British Israelites, all CI adherents consider Anglo-Saxons to be the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. CI followers interpret the Bible literally and believe we are living in “The Last Days.” They also maintain that the Great Tribulation and the Battle of Armageddon, the latter of which will manifest as a racial holy war, is near. Christian Identity followers believe that Jesus’ second coming will occur after the Great Tribulation. However, unlike Christian Fundamentalists, they generally do not think that people can be “saved” from undergoing the Tribulation. Surviving the Great Tribulation and winning the Battle of Armageddon is one of the primary reasons that CI followers join survivalist groups and stockpile weapons.
Christian Identity has developed a deep accelerationist current as a result of an active desire among CI adherents to expedite the Battle of Armageddon. Because this cosmic battle is believed to manifest initially as acts of violence and chaos, many CI adherents assume they are advancing their cause by committing violence. They believe that as God’s Chosen Ones, they will survive the Tribulation and be rewarded for doing so. Therefore, particularly extreme followers try to incite the Racial Holy War and perils that come with the Great Tribulation by any means necessary.
The Khazar Theory is another important Christian Identity belief with roots in the British Israelite movement. This theory claims that Ashkenazi Jews are not actually Semites. They believe that Jews are, instead, the descendants of Khazars. Through establishing Jews as Khazars, this theory helps isolate Jews from their claim to Israel. The Khazar Theory also establishes Jews as evil race-mixers. This theory is popular in many white supremacist circles, but it has been proven false by geneticists.
Many CI followers also propagate what is variously called dual-seedline theory, two-seedline theory, or serpent-seed theory. Dual-seedline believers, or “seedliners”, claim that Cain was created by an ungodly affair with Eve and the Serpent (Satan), while Abel was created by Adam and Eve. Seedliners believe that white people are the descendants of Adam and Eve, while Jewish people are descendants of Cain and thus Satan. This is why CI adherents frequently use the term Satan’s Spawns or Devil’s Spawns when referencing Jewish people.
Finally, some CI adherents endorse the theory of pre-Adamic races. This theory claims that God created non-white races out of mud before creating Adam and the white race. Believers in pre-Adamic theory claim that after God saw his unworthy creations, he decided to make white people in his image. Because they believe that God literally created the pre-Adamic races out of mud, CI adherents refer to non-white people derogatorily as “Mud People” or “Muds.”
The Peak of the Christian Identity Movement
The peak of congregation-based Christian Identity occurred in the 1980s and 1990s. These congregations gained national prominence due to their significant influence on the Aryan Nations and The Order as well as Timothy McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City. After Wesley Swift died in 1970, his close associate Richard Butler moved to Hayden Lake, Idaho, where he established a white nationalist, CI, and neo-Nazi organization and compound called the Aryan Nations, which was deeply connected to the CJCC. The Aryan Nations was known for its creation of a substantial network of neo-Nazi white supremacist groups. Butler’s compound was also famous for holding the Aryan World Congress, a yearly gathering of prominent neo-Nazi, Christian Identity, and Klan leaders. At its peak, Butler’s organization was linked to several antisemitic and racist attacks and was one of the most well-known white supremacist organizations in the country.
Butler’s organization was also linked to Robert Mathews’ infamous Christian Identity group called The Order. Several of The Order’s members, including Mathews, attended Aryan Nations meetings or were members of the CJCC. The Order’s goal was to fight against the American “Zionist-Operated Government” (ZOG). The Order stole over $4 million in cash in armored trucks and bank heists to fund their purpose. Additionally, members of The Order were responsible for the infamous murder of prominent, outspoken Jewish radio host Alan Berg. The eventual demise of the group occurred in 1985 after the FBI was able to turn an active member into an informant.
Christian Identity arguably became most infamous for its connections to Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. In this attack, McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols killed 168 people and injured hundreds more. After his arrest, McVeigh consistently claimed he had no religious affiliations. However, several of his actions link him to the Christian Identity movement, including the importance of April 19 to the Christian Identity movement, McVeigh’s connections to Christian Identity compound Elohim City, and McVeigh’s idolization of The Turner Diaries, a book worshiped by CI adherents.
The Decline of the Traditional Christian Identity Movement
Traditional membership in Christian Identity congregations began to decline in the 1990s and early 2000s. Numerous factors contributed to the splintering and faltering of the movement. General efforts by law enforcement agencies in the 1990s to shut down militia and survivalist groups helped mitigate the spread of Christian Identity activities. In 2000, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) pursued a civil suit against the Aryan Nations that drove the Christian Identity compound to bankruptcy. Victoria and Jason Keenan, who had been attacked outside the compound, were awarded $6.3 million in the civil suit. Due to a lack of funds, Butler was forced to sell the property. A few years later, Butler’s death furthered the splintering of the group, as different leaders tried to gain control. The deaths of other prominent Christian Identity leaders like Wesley Swift, Pete Peters, and Willaim Potter Gale also contributed to the decline of the traditional CI movement. A lack of suitable replacements for influential leaders has been an important factor in the disjunction of the congregation-based movement.
Contemporary Christian Identity Organizations
Although the presence of traditional Christian Identity organizations has declined since the early 2000s, there are still several extant organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center claimed that there were 11 active CI organizations in 2020. Two of the designated Christian Identity organizations, Kingdom Identity Ministries and Sacred Truth Publishing, function mostly as publishing houses for Christian Identity books, sermons, CDs, and merchandise, rather than as traditional congregations. Another designated CI organization, Eurofolk Radio, operates primarily as a website promoting a mixture of white nationalist and CI radio stations, rather than as a structured organization. Therefore, in our research, we did not consider these three organizations to be active Christian Identity organizations.
When looking strictly at online presence, we found that six out of the remaining eight SPLC-designated CI organizations had websites that had been updated or active within the past year. These websites posted varying Christian Identity propaganda through blog posts, sermons, podcasts, and forums. Membership sizes of these groups are unknown. However, due to the declining nature of the traditional CI movement, it is likely that these organizations do not have large-scale followings.
Despite little in-person organizing, Christogenea has one of the most updated and well-known Christian Identity websites out of the six organizations. The website contains articles, essays, podcasts, radio channels, and videos. The media contains a variety of historical, linguistics-based, and Bible-based falsified evidence claiming to prove the validity of Christian Identity. Christogenea also contains a private chatroom and a forum, where members discuss a variety of CI topics and random subjects like “Jewish Treachery,” “100 Proofs that the Isrealites were White,” “Health and Hearth,” and “Book Reviews.”
Christogenea was founded by one of the most well-known modern CI leaders, William Finck. Finck leads the unitarianism sector of the Christian Identity movement and is a seedliner, meaning he believes in dual-seedline theory. Finck is also an active member of the white nationalist group League of the South, which has deep ties to the neofascist accelerationist movement. He promotes League of the South to Christogenea members on their website as a “vehicle for activities advancing our cause.” Christogenea and Finck’s influence can be seen throughout Telegram as the site is consistently referenced as the go-to site for background information about the movement.
Although not included in the six SPLC designated organizations, Billy Roper’s Shieldwall Network (SWN) is another important Christian Identity-influenced, white nationalist organization. Roper is a self-proclaimed Christian Identity follower and has significant influence in the white nationalist community. The ShieldWall Network website does not exclusively focus on Christian Identity, publishing more on a white separatist philosophy Roper calls the “Balk Right.” However, significant parts of the website discuss CI ideology, and Roper has appeared on several neofascist podcasts to promote Christian Identity. The duality of the ShieldWall Network directly brings Christian Identity adherents into a white nationalist space and vice-versa. On July 4, 2021, Roper transferred ownership of his public ShieldWall Telegram channel to an antisemitic podcast and took the ShieldWall Network’s website down. This is likely because Roper is trying to decrease the SWN’s online presence. In May of 2021, Roper posted on Telegram claiming that all “WN [white nationalists] need to prepare for the time when the internet is blocked, censored or jammed… we need to reduce our internet footprint and focus more on irl [in real life] prepping and training or what is coming.” The transfer of the channel and the dissolution of the website aligns with Roper’s wish to move from the internet to the real world.
Until July 2021, Shane “Sloan” Sutherland was a prominent member of the Christian Identity movement. He was one of the more outspoken members of the trinitarian wing of the CI movement. In July 2021, Sutherland was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, and as a result he has been removed from most Christian Identity Telegram channels, making his activity harder to track. Sutherland and Finck had diametrically opposed viewpoints. Finck’s sector claims that trinitarianism is paganism, not Christian Identity, while Sutherland’s sector claims that Finck is practicing modalism instead of unitarianism. On one of Sutherland’s old channels, he frequently posted memes and essays making fun of Finck’s ideology, and he used to frequently challenge Finck and his followers to public debates. The modalism/unitarianism versus trinitarianism and Finck versus Sutherland displays clear infighting within Christian Identity circles and the lack of doctrinal unity.
Christian Identity’s Modern Influence
Despite traditional membership in CI congregations declining substantially, the Christian Identity movement is still influential. Identity beliefs and rhetoric currently function as a soft influence in neofascist accelerationist groups. While researching the CI movement, we discovered Christian Identity influence manifesting in over 30 public neofascist channels on the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Many of these channels do not openly claim to embrace or practice Christian Identity. However, through the presence of CI ideology and language, Christian Identity’s impact on these groups is clear and dangerous.
Christian Identity’s influence in accelerationist groups on Telegram can be identified through the presence of certain phrases, terms, and images that are associated with CI ideology. Specifically, mentions of CI terms like Adamites, Pre-Adamites, and Muds display Christian Identity influence. Christian Identity-influenced channels also commonly used terms like Israelites and Canaanites to refer to white people and Jews, respectively. The frequent use of the number 83 can also be attributed to Christian Identity, as the term 83 refers to the eighth and third letters of the alphabet, “h” and “c,” to mean “Heil Christ”. This also is a play on the common neo-Nazi meme of using 88 to refer to “Heil Hitler”. Posts on Telegram referencing the “Synagogue of Satan,” “Serpent Seed,” “Satan’s Spawns,” or similar variations of these terms showed clear manifestations of CI’s dual-seedline theory. Additionally, declarations that Jesus Christ was a Christian clearly indicate CI ideology. Most mentions of the Khazar Theory and The Lost Tribes also displayed that channels were promoting some form of Christian Identity. Although terms like ZOG (Zionist Operated Government) and RaHoWa (Racial Holy War) were popularized by Christian Identity leaders, we did not classify channels that utilized only these terms as CI-influenced, because these terms have become part of the broader vernacular of white supremacist and antisemitic groups.
The frequent use of certain Bible verses also indicated the presence of Christian Identity. Christian Identity adherents commonly utilize John 8:44, Revelation 2:9, and Revelation 3:9 as biblical justification of their hatred of Jewish people. John 8:44 is interpreted literally to declare that Jews are Satan’s spawns. In this verse, Jesus says to a crowd of Jews “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires.” Revelation 2:9 and Revelation 3:9 both directly reference the “Synagogue of Satan.” These verses are interpreted out of context to allege that Jews belong to the Synagogue of Satan. Channels that reference these verses frequently are likely to be explicitly Christian Identity channels or Christian Identity influenced.
Certain memes and imagery also helped establish what channels are spreading Christian Identity teachings. Specifically, images of Christian iconography mixed with Nazi symbolism signify Christian Identity beliefs (images can be provided to experts on requests). One image forwarded in several Christian Identity channels depicts Jesus Christ on a cross in front of a sonnenrad. The sonnenrad symbol is commonly used by neofascists and neo-Nazis to promote extreme esoteric beliefs. Another image posted in these channels displays God looking over a man holding the Nazi flag. These images display how CI adherents commonly combine neo-Nazi and white supremacist symbols with symbols of Christianity. These photos and terms are not the only Christian Identity identifiers, either: many posts contained other specific references to its doctrine or belief system.
The Christian Identity movement manifests itself on Telegram in two different ways: Christian Identity-specific channels, and neofascist channels that promote CI ideology or display Identity influence. We identified 15 active, public, Christian Identity-specific channels on Telegram. The subscriber counts and activity levels in the channels vary. The two most popular channels have 2,236 and 1,103 subscribers, respectively. All 15 channels are named after Christian Identity symbols or terms, with over 30% of the channels referencing “Adamic” in their names. These CI specific channels post a variety of Christian Identity content including Bible verses, memes, current events, and historical evidence that supports their beliefs. The levels of racism and antisemitism vary from channel to channel.
12 out of the 15 Christian Identity-specific channels in our research are interconnected. The 12 channels both forward messages and Identity propaganda from each other and advertise each other’s channels, making pro-Christian Identity propaganda and radicalizing content easily accessible to the public. Additionally, the channels vary in levels of extremist and antisemitic content. The interconnectedness of the channels allows people to be gradually more radicalized as they learn more about the movement; for example, one even has its own White Lives Matter network that it extensively references.
In our research, we identified 20 active and public channels as influenced by Christian Identity. This means that the channels were promoting some form of Christian Identity ideology and beliefs, whether they acknowledged it as CI or not. The core ideologies in these groups were a variety of neofascism, neo-Nazism, and white nationalism. Most groups promoted some form of accelerationism, and all spread antisemitic and racist content. The majority of the CI content on these channels was not original and was forwarded from the Christian Identity-specific channels. This means that any extremists that saw the CI content could easily find a plethora of information on Christian Identity, thus increasing the visibility of CI.
One of the largest such channels to promote CI content has over 16,000 followers. Alongside content endorsing white separatism and racial violence, this channel promotes Christian Identity by forwarding posts from two known CI-specific channels. It also forwards posts that include terms and phrases like 83, Synagogue of Satan, and Revelations 2:9. Additionally, it has several posts about Jesus Christ not being Jewish. It deviates slightly from Christian Identity by admitting that the Khazarian Theory has been discredited. However, it still posts other antisemitic and racist CI beliefs. The presence of Christian Identity ideology in this channel is important because of its size and activity. Over 16,000 subscribers are exposed to CI rhetoric. If they agree with even part of the ideology, they have easy access to CI-specific channels and can fall into the Christian Identity movement.
The second most popular channel promoting a Christian Identity-influenced ideology has accumulated over 11,000 subscribers. The moderator of this channel self-identifies as a “White Christian Nationalist.” He frequently forwards posts from four Christian Identity channels, and he spreads accelerationist content about preserving the white race. Multiple channel posts have claimed that the Holy War is imminent, alleging that “we are in a spiritual war fighting for our souls.” This channel has also posted chats stating, “the entire purpose of Christianity is the preservation of the White race. We are God’s people.” These direct excerpts display the channel’s dangerous Christian Identity-influenced accelerationist beliefs.
One of the channels of greatest concern actively endorses neofascist accelerationist action and its name reflects an alignment with terrorist networks like Atomwaffen Division and other violent Telegram channels. Its content actively works to merge endorsements of Siege-style insurrectionary violence with Christian Identity content. Its main channel has over 1,100 subscribers, with another 400 subscribers on its backup channel. It frequently forwards posts from Billy Roper and promotes his appearances on neofascist and CI podcasts. Besides promoting Roper’s Identity content, the channel also frequently uses key CI terms and phrases like “83” and “Synagogue of Satan.” AngelWaffen Crew also promotes core CI beliefs like Jesus Christ being an Aryan. Its content often evokes CI aesthetics, such as images that display Christian Identity influence like edits of Jesus Christ in front of white nationalist symbols and logos. The presence of CI in the channel is important because this channel remains well established in the Terrorgram network.
Perhaps the most shocking example of CI’s influence in the neofascist milieu comes from Kyle Chapman’s Proud Goys channel. The Proud Goys are an outwardly antisemitic and racist offshoot of the Proud Boys, which Chapman started after unsuccessfully attempting to take over the Proud Boys. Chapman has promoted deeply accelerationist rhetoric, from proclaiming his belief in a coming racial holy war to spreading the idea that “there is no political solution” and Third Positionism is the only valid stance. His channel has 1,700 subscribers, and it has been forwarding messages from Roper’s Shieldwall Network, as well as promoting articles from Roper’s website. Additionally, Chapman has posted claims like “Jesus Christ was NOT a Jew” and “we [white people] are the chosen ones,” both of which indicate CI influence. Chapman has also told his followers to “vie for secession,” displaying white separatist and accelerationist beliefs. Although he doesn’t have a particularly large following, the Proud Goys’ display of Christian Identity ideology is important because Chapman is well-known in far-right circles and groups. The very fact that Chapman is spreading these beliefs shows that the CI movement is not faltering, but transitioning to a subversive, diffuse influence across movements and organizations.
The Danger of Christian Identity’s Influence
Christian Identity’s presence in extremist groups on Telegram as a soft influence presents a novel threat, as CI can work as a force for mobilizing to violence among far-right networks. Because the desire of CI adherents is a racial holy war, any act of violence is beneficial to the cause. Instigating violence can be seen as acting as God’s soldier or acting out God’s will. Additionally, in accelerationist groups that are already prone to violence, Christian Identity can be used as a religious justification for acts they already want to commit. Christian Identity ideology also gives extremists religious backing for their antisemitic and racist beliefs by merging racism and antisemitism with religion. Ignoring the influence of Christian Identity in far-right groups can skew the narrative of what is happening in the these movements. Even if the influence of Christian Identity is not open and explicit, claiming that the CI movement is fading away is misleading. Acknowledging CI’s influence can help scholars to better understand how beliefs and actions in these groups are construed.
Because of the influence of Christian Identity in neofascist Telegram channels, it is clear that the Christian Identity movement has not simply declined; rather, it has transformed. Traditional Christian Identity membership and participation have decelerated since the early 2000s. However, Christian Identity has instead evolved into a decentralized movement that influences accelerationist groups prone to antisemitism, racism, and violence. With Christian Identity influence present in over 30 channels on Telegram, this content is being promoted to thousands of subscribers. Identifying CI terminology in neofascist groups is important for understanding their belief systems and actions and for mitigating future violence.
 Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, ed. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 4-6.
 Barkun, 10-11.
 Barkun, 17-20.
 Stuart Wexler, America’s Secret Jihad, ed. (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2016), 9-11.
 Barkun, 29-34.
 “Christian Identity,” Anti-Defamation League, accessed July 22, 2021, https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounders/christian-identity.
 Barkun, 49, 61-63.
 Huxler, 79-80.
 Tanya Sharpe, “The Identity Christian Movement: Ideology of Domestic Terrorism.” Journal of Black Studies 30, no. 4 (2000): 607-610. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2645906.
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 “Aryan Nations/Church of Jesus Christ Christian,” Anti-Defamation League, accessed July 22, 2021, https://www.adl.org/education/resources/profiles/aryan-nations.
 Anti-Defamation League, “Aryan Nations/Church of Jesus Christ Christian.”
 Wexler, 648-653.
 Wexler, 658.
 Wexler, 678,696.
 Wexler, 678-720. Several important CI events have occured on April 19. On April 19, 1985, the FBI raided the paramilitary, Christian Identity compound the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA). On April 19, 1993, the Branch-Davidian Compound at WACO was burned down after a three-month standoff with the FBI. The mishandling of WACO is important to all-anti government organizations like CI. Additionally, CSA member and CI follower Richard Snell was executed on the day of the bombing.
 “Aryan Nations,” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed July 20th, 2021, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/aryan-nations.
 “Christian Identity” Southern Poverty Law Center, accessed July 22, 2021, https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/christian-identity.
 Southern Poverty Law Center, “Christian Identity.”
Trinitarianism is a Christian doctrine that claims that one God exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
 Peter Smith, “BC Murder Linked to Hitler Adoring ‘Christian Identity’ Movement” Canadian Anti-Hate Network, April 22, 2021, https://www.antihate.ca/bc_murder_linked_hitler_adoring_christian_identity_movement.
 Gospel of John 8:44 (NIV).
 Book of Revelation 2:9-3:9 (NIV).
 “Sonnerad” American Defense League, accessed July 27, 2021, https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols/sonnenrad.
 Alex Newhouse, “What’s Going On With the Proud Boys?” CTEC Newsletter, December 2020, https://www.ctec-middlebury.org/p/ctec-newsletter-1-conspiracy-theories.