Christian Identity Movement Needs More Press Scrutiny

By Corrigan, Don | St. Louis Journalism Review, December 2003 | Go to article overview
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Christian Identity Movement Needs More Press Scrutiny

Corrigan, Don, St. Louis Journalism Review

The Christian Identity movement has spawned some of the most violent domestic terrorists in America. Missouri has the distinction of being the state with the largest number of Christian Identity affiliates.

Local and national news media tend to cover such right-wing hate groups as Christian Identity only after they have committed egregious acts. Among the most serious acts of urban terrorism perpetrated by associates of Christian Identity are:

* Bombings at a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic and at the Atlanta Olympics;

* Acts of arson at three synagogues in Sacramento, Calif.;

* The murder of a gay couple near Redding, Calif.; and

* The murder of a postal service worker and the attempted murder of five individuals at a Jewish community center in Los Angeles, Calif.

"We need to know more about the Christian Identity people and what they are up to--news coverage on them tends to be sporadic," said Larry Brown, a University of Missouri-Columbia doctoral student, who has written his dissertation on Christian Identity. "They tend to only get covered after something like the Oklahoma City bombing.

"They get covered after someone like Eric Rudolph, who is the suspect in the Centennial Park bombing in Atlanta, gets caught and his personal history is examined," Brown said. "The media ought to stay on this group's story, and not wait until after something terrible happens."

Brown is familiar with the Schell City, Mo., Identity church that helped reinforce Rudolph's hateful ideas. Brown has spent almost four years going to services, meetings and events held by Christian Identity groups in Missouri.

"Eric Rudolph spent a number of months at the Schell City church and listened to the messages there," Brown said. "I don't think that experience was pivotal in the actions that now make him a suspect in the abortion clinic bombing and the Olympics bombing. But, Rudolph was certainly influenced by what he heard there."

Brown explained that the Schell City church was once directed by Bo Gritz, who claims to be a former Special Forces commander and who garners headlines by burning United Nations flags at gun shows across the country.

Christian Identity ranks with extremist hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation and The Order--all of which preach racism, gay-bashing and anti-Semitic ideas to justify acts of violence. FBI reports estimate that the Identity movement is 50,000 strong with Missouri ranking first in the number of affiliates and California ranking second.

Post series praised

Although Brown is critical of what he feels is a lack of media attention to Christian Identity, he does have high praise for St. Louis Post-Dispatch coverage by reporters Carolyn Toft and Joe Holleman.

"I was at the Identity meeting in Branson that Toft and Holleman came to observe in 2000," Brown recalled. "When the Identity leaders at that meeting said, 'We have discovered there are snakes among us,' I thought I had been found out.

"But, it was the Post reporters that they were talking about," Brown said. "They then had a short conference to consult with God on what to do with the 'snakes,' and they decided to kick the reporters out of the meeting."

The series by the Post reporters noted such Identity beliefs as the dismissal of blacks as a Biblical race of "mud people" and the origin of the Jews to a sex act by Satan. Identity believers define adultery as marriage by members of a superior white race to either blacks or Jews.

"Identity beliefs are based on an outrageous interpretation of the Bible," Brown said. "They really do not appeal to people in normal circumstances. They do appeal to people who are in crisis, who are psychologically vulnerable or who have some need for validation of self-importance."

Brown said there are aspects of the Identity world view that have credibility with some rural folks--for example, claims that bankers and multi-national corporations are taking their property, immigrants are coming to take their jobs away, and the government is intent on taking away their guns and civil liberties.

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