ISU professor explores Christian patriot movement

Idaho State Journal/January 31, 2016

By Michael H. O’Donnell

Idaho State University sociology professor emeritus James Aho has made a study of right-wing politics in America, and he wants to set the historical record straight about the people involved in “patriotic” movements.

“They are not madmen, morons or monsters,” Aho said.

Aho has penned his latest novel, “Far-Right Fantasy: A Sociology of American Religion and Politics,” after a year of research. The book is available at

The Pocatello scholar said he first became fascinated with movements calling for rebellion against America’s government when the Aryan Nations set up headquarters in North Idaho in the late 1970s. He opens his book with the 2014 standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management.

“It was actually called the Church of Jesus Christ of Aryan Nations,” Aho said about the North Idaho movement headed by Richard Butler. “I’ve come to understand that you can’t understand collective violence without understanding religion.”

Religious overtones were prevalent in the speeches given by Ammon Bundy while he was occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon with a group of armed followers this month.

A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bundy said that his actions were directed by God.

“I began to understand how the Lord felt about Harney County and about this country, and I clearly understood that the Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds,” Bundy said about Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-son ranchers convicted of setting fire to public rangeland.

In his book, Aho makes the connection between religious fervor and right-wing political movements.

“America’s contemporary ultra-rightists are almost exclusively white, middle-aged Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians and Mormons, animated by a doctrine known as Dominionism,” Aho writes in chapter six, “The Christian Reconstruction of America.”

Dominionism is based on biblical scripture that directs mankind to dominate “all that moveth upon the earth” and to those who embrace ultra-right political beliefs, this means God has commanded them to reconstruct America based on biblical and constitutional teachings.

From the leader of the Christian Coalition, the Rev. Pat Robertson, to author of “A Christian Manifesto,” Francis Schaeffer, Aho shows how this dominionism thinking has set the stage for “a final battle between a ‘man-centered, piecemeal, pluralistic, secular/relativist’ worldview versus a ‘God-centered, totalistic, Christian’ viewpoint.

Aho said these surges in an effort return to a different time in America seem to come about every three decades.

“Every 30 years since 1800, there has been a form of right-wing insurgence led by people who feel disenfranchised,” Aho said.

His book traces upheavals ranging from the anti-Masonic movement in the 1830s and the Civil War 30 years later to the McCarthy anti-communist scare of the 1950s and the religious right revolution of the 1980s. Aho said the tea party movement following the election of President Barack Obama is the latest catalyst for right-wing ideology.

“Once a generation, it sort of seizes the public imagination and then it burns out,” Aho said.

In chapter 8 of the book, Aho addresses what he calls the “False Consciousness” of these movements. He said followers and leaders of Christian Dominionism often distort the truth and project stories as fact. They also embrace the mentality that the world is a battle between them and us, and lose sight of what they purport to value and shrink their political horizons.

The stages for becoming an extremist are: derogatory labeling of others, satanization of opposing views, embedding myths in the minds of followers and making sacrifices to prove their resolve, according to Aho.

“The cure, so to say, for any species of political fanaticism — right-wing or left — can be found only by reversing this four-step process,” Aho writes.

And that is a challenge, according to the professor.

He said people who embrace extreme ideas gravitate toward others with the same mindset, and in the world of the Internet it is easy for them to find kinship and reinforcement.

“People become involved in this thinking through normal social interaction with people of the same ilk,” Aho said. “It’s a matter of chance initially.”

That turns into a more deliberate effort to find others who agree and seek out information that supports their views.

“Which takes us back to the echo-chamber communication systems emblematic of the far-right,” Aho writes. “Their danger is not merely that they generate non-scientific certainties, which is true enough, but that they nurture prejudice and in this way prepare its audiences psychologically to commit detestable deeds in good conscience.”

Seizing federal property like Ammon and Tyler Bundy and their followers did in Malheur County, Oregon, is just one example.

Aho said his research reveals that people who embrace this Christian patriot movement are not uneducated or foolish, but they seem to be driven by fear of modernization and change in the world.

“The world is coming to an end for these people,” Aho said. “They fear loss of power and unpredictable change, so they go back to the axioms of their belief systems because they provide certainty.”

The lack of public support for the seizure of the national refuge in Oregon signals trouble for this latest patriotic movement, according to Aho.

“That’s when it comes to the beginning of the end,” Aho said. “When the public gets disgusted with it.”

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.