In an emotional congressional hearing Tuesday morning, witnesses of the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill used multiple words to describe those who attacked them: One was “terrorists;” another was “Christians.”
“It was clear the terrorists perceived themselves to be Christians,” Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges stated in his testimony, which graphically described the physical attacks on Hodges and other officers.
Hodges and other police officers on Tuesday told lawmakers they were beaten, taunted with racial insults, heard threats including "kill him with his own gun" and thought they might die as they struggled to defend the Capitol on Jan. 6 against a mob of then-President Donald Trump's supporters. Often tearful, sometimes profane, the officers called the rioters "terrorists" engaged in an "attempted coup."
“I saw the Christian flag directly to my front. Another read ‘Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my president.’ Another ‘Jesus is King,’” Hodges described. He said he also observed a rioter in a shirt reading “God, Guns, and Trump.”
Hodges’s testimony explicitly connecting the insurrectionists with Christian nationalism is a continuation of existing concerns that the ideology is propping up the threat of white terrorism in the United States.
Andrew L. Whitehead, co-director of the Association of Religion Data Archives and professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, told Sojourners on Jan. 6, “I think that [the demonstrators and rioters] believe that God has a specific plan for this country, and that their vision for the country has been given to them by God. Christian nationalism at its core is this desire to see Christianity be privileged in the public sphere.”
Whitehead and his colleagues previously found that adherence to a Christian nationalist ideology was one of the strongest predictors of a Trump vote.
Capitol police officer Harry Dunn, who is Black, said rioters repeatedly called him the N-word. Hodges said the rioters appeared mostly to be white nationalists. While his Black and Hispanic colleagues faced racial slurs, Hodges, who is white, said rioters tried to recruit him, asking, "Are you my brother?"
“White Christians understood the nation to be an important part of what they were doing, and the nation was defined by white Christianity,” Kelly J. Baker, an American religious historian and author of Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930, told Sojourners on Jan. 6. “These things worked together. You couldn’t have a nation without white Christians, and Americanism was equally important to Christianity.”
It was a dramatic first hearing for a Democratic-led House of Representatives committee tasked with investigating the worst violence at the Capitol since the British invasion in the War of 1812. The panel heard the most detailed public account to date of what police faced during the rampage. More than a hundred officers were injured by the hundreds of rioters.
“Many people want to say these movements that are nationalist or white supremacist are not Christian movements,” Baker added.“But they very much are.”
Reuters reporting contributed to this story.