Opinion: Did Religion Play a Role in the Capitol Riots?

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On January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol experienced disgraceful chaos as it was attacked by an angry mob of Trump supporters flashing various symbols. These powerful and shocking symbols shared a common theme of Trump, Jesus, and the Christian American nation. The rioters' emblems included a juxtaposition of Christian and white supremacist symbols, such as the noose in the gallows or even the Confederate Flag, and their use of these symbols sent a message to the entire world. Recently, there have been investigations into the events that led to the terrible riot.

The leaders of the bipartisan House select committee declared that the attack on the seat of American democracy, which resulted in numerous deaths and a massive breach of public conduct, was the responsibility of the then-President, Donald Trump. The chairman of the committee, Rep. Bennie D. Thompson, believes the attack was part of President Trump's plan to overturn the election results. During the hearing, some rioters admitted that Trump had specifically asked them to show up at the Capitol.

By looking at how they were used during the riot, we can infer what they represented. The Bible, crosses, biblical quotes, sermons, and even signs referencing Jesus were among the Christian symbols on display. The significance of these signs becomes clear: they herald a new era of Christian nationalism (and white supremacy) backed by religion itself. On January 6th, 2021, all of these religious symbols became linked to Trump's political figure and thus to the political scene of the elections. If we dig deeper, the use of signs like "Jesus Saves" or even the Bible in the context of the riot not only demonstrates a case of Christian nationalism but also demonstrates how religious symbols can come with a political streak—the threat of Trump losing the election. His supporters believe that "God anointed him" and that he should be restored to the presidency to honour the Christian nation. Thus, if Trump loses the elections, the Christian nation that nationalists so desperately desire may be lost. He appealed to conservative Christians and evangelists because, during his presidency, he took steps to strip away reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights and implemented other such measures.

Rioters were motivated by their religion when they wreaked havoc outside the Capitol building. The pro-Trump Christians wanted to "live by God's word," and Trump appeared to them to advocate Christian principles, so they linked Trump's party to godliness. What they failed to recognize is that simply supporting anti-abortion or anti-LGBTQ rights did not qualify Trump to be a defender of Christian values; rather, his actions and speech, fueled by hatred and division, frequently demonstrated the opposite.

At that point, Trump drew his supporters to him by declaring that "Biden would follow the radical left agenda; take away your guns, destroy your second amendment; no religion, no nothing; hurt the Bible, hurt God." In this light, Trump's claim that Biden posed a threat to the American faithful is part of a much longer history of conservative Christianity being politicised. It is becoming increasingly associated with issues such as free market capitalism, support for Israel, abortion, gun ownership, and religious liberty rights. By instilling fear in his supporters, Trump called for religious justification of a primarily political issue, and as a result, his supporters turned to religion and religious symbols to support Trump's ideologies. When chaos arrived, religion arrived to comfort the believers. In both the 2016 and 2020 elections, white evangelical Christians remained remarkably loyal to former President Donald Trump. Exit polls showed that they voted for him by roughly 80% on both occasions. And this religious state instilled in believers the desire to do whatever it takes to keep the Christian state from falling into the hands of the Democrats' "heathendom," even if it meant resorting to violence.

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