Belief  /  Annotation

Battle Hymn of the Republic and the Apotheosis of Washington

What a video of an Jan. 6 insurrectionist illustrates about race, religion, and nationalism in the MAGA movement.

This short video-clip of a younger man celebrating with fellow insurrectionists after breaching the Capitol Rotunda illustrates the complex and changing relationship between race, religion and nationalism in the MAGA movement, the present state of what some scholars of American religion call “White Christian Nationalism” (WCN). 

At first blush, the young man known to internet sleuths as “RotundaRoundFace” (RRF) may seem a poor exemplar of WCN: his physical appearance and facial features are racially ambiguous. Is he white? Latino? Or perhaps mixed race? But who does and does not count as “white” in America has often been a subject of debate, and has always been intertwined with religion and nativism. Just a century ago, Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants were often not regarded as fully “white”; so were Jewish immigrants. Today, Latinx and mixed-race Americans occupy a similarly ambiguous position in the nation’s racial order, with some claiming “whiteness” and others rejecting it.   

Based on his appearance alone, it is impossible to tell whether RRF identifies as “white.” But his actions clearly suggest that he does identify as an American patriot, and as “Christian,” in some sense. The clips ends with RRF huddling together with a half-dozen compatriots engaged in an impromptu prayer. The style of the prayer—spontaneous and unscripted—is vaguely Protestant. But the words of the prayer itself are not Christian in any specific sense. There is talk of “our beliefs” and “your will,” but no mention of Jesus or salvation. It could just as easily be a paean to a Greek god as the Christian one. Or a prayer for victory made during a football game for that matter. As others have pointed out, professional sports has become a sort of “civil religion” for many Americans, with the Super Bowl its high holiday.

Does the prayer-huddle that RRF joins represent “true Christianity?”  WCN often presents itself as a mixture of thinned-down theology and American popular culture as in the above example of the prayer-huddle, which combined elements of religion and sports. This has led some observers to question if there is anything truly or authentically Christian about WCN. Be that as it may, there is no question that RRF is experiencing something like “religious feeling.” As the clip opens, his face displays a mixture of awe, elation and empowerment, such as a Christian believer might experience upon entering the sanctuary of a great cathedral, such as Notre Dame. Of course, such experiences of “collective effervescence,” as the French sociologist Emile Durkheim famously called them, are not limited to “religious” settings in the strict sense of the world. They can occur in any situation where a group of people feels they are in the presence of something sacred.  


January 6th

Over time, analyses shifted from historical analogizing to attempts to understand Jan. 6 as a historical event in itself. This deep dive into the videos created and shared by rioters themselves asks what these primary sources tell us about participants' motivations and ideologies.