| by Phoebe Jones

Protesters in winter clothing holding a body size cross
Trump supporters at a rally  (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images )

In early January 2024, ahead of the Iowa Caucus, Donald Trump posted a video titled “God Made Trump” to his Truth Social account. The video is a play on Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” speech, which he delivered at the Future Farmers of America Convention in 1978 to valorize farmers and overtly link them to the hard work and sacrifices imbued in the myth of the American Dream. The speech opens on the eighth day of the creation story according to Genesis 1; after God takes sabbath on the seventh day of forging the universe, God makes a farmer to take care of God’s creation.  

Men and women dressed in winter clothing holding american flags and brandishing a body size cross
Trump Supporters holding up a cross at a rally (Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images) )

While Harvey depicts the farmer as a humble caretaker of essential land, and as a quintessential neighbor and family figure, “God Made Trump” depicts Trump as a dominating messianic figure divinely chosen to “fight the Marxists” and “strong enough to wrestle the deep state.” The narrator compares Trump to a shepherd and the American people to a “flock” whom Trump has come to earth to defend by divine ordination. Comparisons of Trump to a messiah who exemplifies hegemonic masculinity are not new, but this video is a recent high-profile and stark example of this comparison being used to get him re-elected. 

“Trump’s Online War Machine” 

This video was produced by members of The Dilley Meme Team, which has been a feature of recent journalistic investigation and inquiry seeking to understand the group and their ties to the Trump campaign. Self-identified as “Trump’s Online War Machine,” they produce content with the ultimate goal to re-elect Donald Trump. The Dilley Meme Team creates memes, video content, deepfakes and shallowfakes that target members of both the figurative and actual Left as well as former Republican candidates who ran against Trump in the primary election. Prominent victims of their trolling include Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, President Joe Biden, Nikki Haley and Governor Ron DeSantis whom the Dilley Meme Team targeted with the explicit goal of getting him to drop out of the election. 

The Dilley Meme Team’s sardonic content is conspiratorial, deeply racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic. Former President Trump as well as his supporters have supportively shared the Dilley Meme Team’s content on social media. The Dilley Meme Team is separate from Trump’s official campaign body. However, the Dilley Meme Team still garners their support. For instance, Brenden Dilley claims that the Trump campaign gave him press credentials for the Iowa Caucus night. These credentials included access to the exclusive “Trump War Room”. Dilley has also claimed that Trump’s campaign sent the Dilley Meme Team “Make America Great Again” hats that were signed by Trump himself.  

Christian Nationalism: The “War Machine’s” Weapon of Choice 

“God Made Trump” is an obvious example of Christian nationalism- the cultural framework and belief system rooted in the idea that America was, is and should be Christian;1 “Christian nationalism is a cultural framework […] that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity with American civic life”2 one that perverts principles of Christianity for exclusionary political ends. This video easily accomplishes that end. According to the video, God placed Trump on earth to be a caretaker of the United States. Specifically, God ordained Trump to fight the Marxists, combat the deep state, and rectify the “cantankerous” World Economic Forum–standpoints that all easily drift into antisemitic theories about supposed global elites. The video also asserts that God wills Trump to decipher the difference between tariffs and inflation, stop the “fake news,” be a “shepherd to mankind,” “know the belief of God and country,” and “secure our borders”, among other tasks like bolstering American manufacturing- weaving Christian messaging with nationalistic and isolationist goals. The bottom line: God fashioned Trump for the sake of protecting the “flock,” God’s chosen American people. 

Christian nationalism orders the world into those who are in the “flock” and those who are not: 

“the “Christianity” of Christian nationalism is of a particular sort. […] it includes assumptions of nativism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, along with divine sanction for authoritarian control and militarism. It is as ethnic and political as it is religious.”3  

Samuel Perry and Philip Gorski build off this definition to emphasize that Christian nationalism creates and is in the service of an “ethnocultural tribe”.4 This tribe is what J.M. Berger terms the “eligible in-group” of Christian nationalism.5 The eligible in-group of Christian nationalism reflects white people, but especially white men who continue to hold disproportionate economic and political power.6 7 

Christian nationalism often utilizes dog whistles rather than overt racism or other exclusion to communicate who belongs to the in-group and who comprises the out-group.8 According to “God Made Trump,” Marxists, the Deep State and the Fake News threaten the “flock.” This language is not only conspiratorial but incendiary, meant to stoke a sense of omnipresent danger. These amorphous threats are coming for the defenseless Christian “flock” and threatening their way of life. The message of this video is that were it not for Trump, the messiah, the in-group will not survive.  

Defining the Flock

The Dilley Meme Team’s website displays their work in the manner of a portfolio. On one page they specifically showcase their videos. The videos are organized by genre. These include “MAGA Messaging,” “Promos and Stingers,” “Deepfakes and Shallowfakes,” and “Music and Song Parodies.” Then at the bottom of this page, there is a standalone section simply titled “Spiritual.”   

There are six videos in this “Spiritual” section. Some are Christian worship videos set to popular Christian songs while some videos play to narrated poems and speeches. One video titled “Who’s Running Things” draws inspiration from the book of Revelation and is more apocalyptic in its imagery than the other videos. Another video set to the song “Amazing Grace” focuses on the theme of honoring the U.S. military and memorializing fallen soldiers. A third video narrates how the United States is fighting to preserve the “moral order.” The remaining three videos are Christian worship videos set to footage of natural landscapes, Christian crosses and people spinning in the wind in apparent joy, alluding to the frontier origins of the nation and the ways Christian nationalism is embedded in that mythologized story. These videos as a whole carry varying degrees of Christian nationalist ideology mixed with patriotism and apolitical Christian messaging and imagery. 

The videos in the “Spiritual” section are markedly different from the “God Made Trump” video. The “Spiritual” videos contain Christian nationalist content but not in the same way. They do not mention Trump. They do not overtly reference politics. Instead, they show nuclear families waving American flags, military service members honoring the fallen and clips of working class Americana. Some videos are more apocalyptic than others but for the most part, the tone of this particular section of Dilley Meme Team’s content is calm. 

Subtle and Pronounced: The Multifariousness of Christian Nationalism 

But the Christian nationalism of these videos emerges when one considers the narrative they are telling and all of the pieces that are utilized (i.e. audio, visuals, lighting, filters, etc.) to tell it. Borrowing from Arlie Russel Hochschild, Gorski and Perry explain how Christian nationalism tells, and is contingent upon, a “deep story” about America. This is the story: 

“America was founded as a Christian nation by (white) men who were “traditional” Christians, who based the nation’s founding documents on “Christian principles.” The United States is blessed by God, which is why it has been so successful; and the nation has a special role to play in God’s plan for humanity. But these blessings are threatened by cultural degradation from “un-American” influences both inside and outside our borders.”9 

When analyzing potential examples of Christian nationalism, an operative litmus test is to ask what story is being told. For example, one “Spiritual” video set to the poem, “Who’s Running Things?”, strings together video clips of military personnel engaged in battle, police in riot gear and medical personnel donning biohazard outfits in a plague-like scenario, all parsed with images of a shadowy satanic figure and unaware, zombie-like humans. Taken together, this video tells the story that the world order has crumbled and the devil has taken over. This apocalyptic video exists alongside another video that depicts veterans defending and dying for the United States to the tune of a famous Christian hymn. This latter video conflates the United States, our military, the wars we engage in, and our victories and losses with Christianity. These two videos tell a story of Christian nationalism: that the U.S. military, as a Christian enterprise, is fighting a cosmic battle to save the world order from satanic influences and that the nation has a special role to play in God’s plan. Nonetheless, as a whole, compared to “God Made Trump,” the Christian nationalism of this section of videos is subtle, soft, and, at first glance, relatively innocuous. No dire harm. No flagrant foul. 

However, the “Spiritual” videos’ comparatively benign character is superseded by the context in which they are strategically placed. The “Spiritual” category separates these videos from the rest as if to communicate that they are inherently different; they are not in the service of attacking Ron DeSantis, they are not promotional satire, they instead exist outside of the political agenda and “war machine” ethos of the Dilley Meme Team. This purported neutrality is not only false based on the content of the videos themselves but this untruth is accentuated by the fact that they exist within an extremist and conspiratorial ecosystem of Dilley Meme Team content. If the crass political satire of the Dilley Meme Team videos shock the senses, the “Spiritual” videos signal comfort, safety and familiarity: something we can all agree on. These “Spiritual” videos serve as primers for some viewers who might otherwise be uncomfortable to be able to identify with increasingly exclusionary, extremist content like “God Made Trump”.  

When one considers the fact that the Dilley Meme Team’s “Spiritual” videos are intentionally kept separate from the other content, distinct from but nestled alongside conspiratorial political propaganda, they serve a particular function. The “Spiritual” videos’ simultaneous separateness from and proximity to the rest of the Dilley Meme Team content is an example of how Christian nationalist messaging occurs on a spectrum and can serve a heuristic function for viewers. That is, by operating as an anchor to the familiar and marketing itself as apolitical while nonetheless being embedded within a landscape of extremist content, these soft(er) displays of Christian nationalism can be used to facilitate the radicalization of viewers to extreme Christian nationalist rhetoric.  

In an era when Christian nationalism was a significant motivator for the political violence of January 6th, it is important to analyze Christian nationalism as a form of domestic extremist ideology, which means teasing out how it functions on a mobilizing spectrum. The Dilley Meme Team identifies as a kind of “machine” working in the service of getting Donald Trump re-elected. Christian nationalism is a part of this machine. By co-opting Christian messaging, they prime their viewers for identifying with and being open to more extreme iterations of Christian nationalism, specifically and their “war machine’s” content, broadly. As we head into a fraught election season, we must unpack the process of identifying with/on the spectrum of Christian nationalism.