The Webs Connecting 'Traditionalist' Catholics and White Nationalists | Sojourners

The Webs Connecting 'Traditionalist' Catholics and White Nationalists

On April 30th, far-right Catholic author Taylor Marshall and his cohost, author Timothy Gordon, posted a YouTube video as part of their regular #TnT chat series called “Why do Secularists and Mohammedans Unite?” The plan, Marshall explained, was to speak about what they saw as a strange alliance between “politically correct secularists” in Europe and North America and the Muslims Marshall and Gordon believe aim to destroy the West.

Citing the murder of hundreds of Christian churchgoers in Sri Lanka, Marshall and Gordon spent most of the episode attacking Islam, which Gordon called “our bloodthirsty enemy” and Marshall called “just a corrupt, foul religion.” Early in the video, Marshall let loose a stream of invective that captures the tone of the whole piece:

We need to, we Catholics, we need to start saying, no, this is of the devil. I don’t want a society where children are married to adult men. I don’t want a society where it’s okay to lie to infidels. I don’t want a society where forced conversions or honor killings are condoned by the so-called divine law. I don’t want a society with polygamy. All these things are great evils. They must convert or be wiped off the face of the earth. You cannot have civilization with Islam. Period.

In response, Gordon — quoting the movie Tombstone — compared Muslims to bugs. “There’s no live and let live with bugs,” he said.

Down the digital rabbit hole 

Not long ago, I looked up the Twitter “follow” lists of Marshall and Gordon, along with those of Michael Voris, the head of ultra-orthodox media outlet Church Militant, and OnePeterFive writers Steve Skojec and Stefanie Nicholas. These are members of what Washington Post writer Michelle Boorstein calls “an influential and tightly knit conservative Catholic digital media network.” They also identify as “traditionalists,” or "trads," devotees of the Traditional Latin Mass, fans of veils on women at church, and vociferous critics of Pope Francis and what they see as the modernist destruction of the Catholic Church. Who do these people listen to? I wondered. What is their media diet?

Some of what I found was predictable: they mostly follow each other, and the accounts of other Catholic conservatives, and a lot of Fox News personalities and Republican politicians. “These people have hitched their wagons to Trump’s presidency, to his tactics” said Jason Steidl of Fordham University to NBC News. You won’t see many people of color on their follow lists, or liberals. But one aspect of the lists stands out: the preponderance of accounts from some of the most extreme voices of the alt-right.

Marshall and Church Militant follow Paul Joseph Watson, the Infowars personality and conspiracy theorist; Marshall, Nicholas, and Skojec follow Stefan Molyneux, the “race realist” who uses dubious scientific data to suggest that some races are less intelligent and more prone to criminality than others. Marshall, Nicholas, Gordon, and Church Militant all follow Faith Goldy, the “ethnonationalist” who rails against immigration and frequently bewails the declining proportion of white people in Europe, the U.S., and her native Canada. Goldy is the only Catholic (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) of the three and has close ties to the Catholic Right. Marshall and Gordon have each appeared on her YouTube channel, and Nicholas has interacted with her tweets more than 100 times since 2017.

Of course, following someone on Twitter does not necessarily indicate agreement with their ideology. But these traditionalist Catholics don’t just follow leading alt-right figures, they share, like, and comment on their ideas — even the most controversial. On June 28, Goldy shared a link to an article featuring a controversial statement the Dalai Lama made about migrants: “A limited number is OK. But the whole of Europe [will] eventually become a Muslim country … Or African country … Europe is for Europeans.” Marshall responded: “When the Dalai Lama sounds more based than the Pope regarding the future of Europa.”

Then, on July 9th, after Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for allegedly raping teenaged girls, Molyneux tweeted out what Talking Points Memo called “a fit of anti-Semitic innuendo.” “I wonder,” Molyneux wrote, “Did Jeffrey Epstein abuse any Jewish girls?” Marshall liked the tweet.

Trad Catholics on Muslims

I emailed Princeton professor Robert George, the prominent Catholic natural law thinker, about Marshall and Gordon’s video. George didn’t want to watch it, though he told me, based on the quotes I shared with him, that it “sounds disgusting.” George is no theological or political liberal; most recently, he was in the news for his involvement with the Trump administration’s controversial “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” which critics worry will redefine the idea of human rights to exclude protections for LGBTQ people.

But George views conservative Muslims as natural allies and told me that it has been his “privilege and joy to work with dear Muslim friends.” George was particularly upset by Marshall’s insistence that Muslims “must convert or be wiped off the face of the earth,” calling the idea of forced conversion antithetical to Catholicism. He also quoted the words of the Second Vatican Council, which declared that the Church “also has esteem for the Muslims” and stressed that they “highly esteem an upright life and worship God.”

It is possible, theoretically, to oppose some immigration on the grounds of its illegality, or to disagree with the premises of Islam while still treating Muslims respectfully. But watching Marshall and Gordon’s videos, or seeing Voris, Skojec, or Nicholas discussing either immigration or Islam, it’s obvious that this is not that.

The Trad Catholics roll their eyes at the suggestion that race plays any part in their thinking. It’s about culture and ideology, they say. But the threads of culture, religion, and race can be hard to untangle, and Marshall, Gordon, Voris, and Nicholas certainly racialize their own discussions of Islam and immigration.

In their video chat, for example, Marshall and Gordon discuss Muslims’ supposed sexual desire for white women. Describing Muslim pirates in the medieval era, Marshall says, “They wanted European slaves,” and they wanted them for sex. He adds, “And there was a premium paid by men in the Turkish Empire for blonde and redheaded women.” He and Gordon then consider the Liam Neeson movie Taken, which Marshall says portrays a modern version of the phenomenon.

In another video, Gordon says, “Koranic law teaches, okay, so when you can’t take over by force a new geographic area because you’re too few in number, you do it by something called Intifada, which means basically breeding out the host organism, breeding out the people in it.” If you’re talking about breeding, and if you’re opposing Muslims to blonde and redheaded women, you’re no longer talking about culture or ideology: you’re talking about race.

Losing guardrails

While rightwing Catholics might say their positions are about ideology and culture, for Goldy, Molyneux, and Watson, those same positions are all about race. For example, consider an interaction between Goldy and Catholic podcaster Patrick Coffin. Goldy tweets out statistics showing the declining share of white people (“People of European ancestry”) among the world population. “These are the statistics of a vanishing race,” she writes. Coffin responds, “European: n. an ethnic heritage group member addicted to abortion and contraception. #Islamistsneednobombs.”

Coffin might argue his point is about abortion or contraception or even Islamist ideology (apart from Islam), but by piggybacking his comment onto the racist lament of an avowed white nationalist, he reinforces her.

Jane Coaston writes about the importance of guardrails for political and ideological movements. She argues that, as movements approach extremes, they need to draw clear and firm lines about what they won’t endorse, what ideas they won’t spread. Today’s conservatives, she says, have removed just about every guardrail around racism and become, in her words, “a movement that has defined racism so far down, it cannot see it until it is too late.” She adds, “If an immune system cannot detect a cold, it cannot detect pneumonia.”

On some days, I think this is the problem with traditionalist Catholics. Maybe they’ve spent so long defending racist-adjacent ideas that they can’t spot even the truly glaring racism that comes from figures like Watson, Molyneux, and Goldy. I think conversation can work as a kind of medicine; you can sit down with these people and say, Hey. Let’s look at what that tweet from Faith Goldy or Stefan Molyneux is really saying. Do you want to spread that idea?

On other days, I think of the glee with which Marshall and Gordon disparage Muslims, and how that glee translates to their comments on LGBTQ people, on feminists, and on immigrants. On those days, I think there might be something in the way traditionalists define their faith, something authoritarian, hierarchical, and exclusionary, that attracts people who are already inclined to kick over the guardrails that protect marginalized communities. I worry that the guardrails don’t stand a chance.