Three weeks ago, ardent Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to stop Congress from counting electoral college votes and to overturn the presidential election. Observers have identified a wide array of political symbols on display among the insurrectionists, including a large wooden cross, a noose, T-shirts, Viking hammers, historic American flags and anti-Semitic symbols. Two key themes appeared: first, and most obviously, support for Donald Trump; and second, religious belief, especially as expressed through Christian symbolism. Some organizers billed the event as the “Jericho March,” a reference to a biblical story in which Israelites took the city of Jericho. The far-right group the Proud Boys knelt in the street and prayed to Jesus. Several carried flags reading, “Jesus is my savior/Trump is my president.”
Many of these people could fairly be labeled Christian nationalists, there to express outrage not just over the election, but over what they believe to be the de-Christianization of the United States. Our research finds that identification with QAnon, Christian nationalism, Trump and anti-Semitism are tightly linked.
Here’s how we did our research
In the last week of October, just before the election, we surveyed 1,704 people recruited by Qualtrics Panels. We used a set of quotas so that the final sample resembled the nation, and relied on a weight variable to correct remaining imbalances. When we asked our sample whom they were voting for, the weighted, two-party vote tally was 52.8 percent for Biden and 47.2 percent for Trump, which is very close to the final national election tally, in which Biden received 51.4 percent of the vote and Trump 46.9 percent.
We gauged QAnon support by asking respondents whether they agreed that, “Within the upper reaches of government, media, and finance, a secretive group of elites are thwarting Donald Trump’s efforts at reform, fomenting street violence, and engaging in child trafficking and other crimes.” Nearly 40 percent of the sample agreed or strongly agreed.
To measure anti-Semitism, we borrowed eight items from surveys conducted by the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting hatred. These included asking respondents whether they believed in such common anti-Semitic stereotypes as whether Jews have dual loyalties to Israel and the United States, to which 41 percent agreed; whether they have too much power in the business world, to which 32 percent agreed; and whether Jews killed Jesus, to which 41 percent agreed. The average survey respondent agreed with 2.6 of them; 24 percent agreed with five or more.
We captured Christian nationalism with a battery of questions used by political scientists Andrew L. Whitehead and Samuel L. Perry in their new book “Taking America Back for God.” These questions ask whether respondents agree with any of five statements, including “The federal government should declare the United States a Christian nation” (38 percent agree) and “The success of the United States is part of God’s plan” (42 percent agree).
Christian nationalism and support for QAnon together appear to increase with anti-Semitism
We found that Christian nationalism, support for QAnon, and anti-Semitism are linked. As you can see in the figure below, among the 25 percent of our respondents who most strongly believed in Christian nationalism, 73 percent agreed with the substance of the QAnon conspiracy. QAnon belief extended across the spectrum, even to those opposed to Christian nationalism. As you can see, in the quartile of those least likely to believe in Christian nationalism, 14 percent agreed with QAnon beliefs. Still, we found very strong support for a link between QAnon adherence and Christian nationalism.
What about anti-Semitism? Since Christian nationalism is a worldview holding that the United States was created by and for Christians, it may not be surprising that they dislike non-Christians. On average, the most ardent Christian nationalists subscribed to four of the eight anti-Semitic tropes presented; those most opposed to Christian nationalism subscribed to an average of one. Christian nationalists were more likely to believe each individual trope but showed the strongest support for the mistaken ideas that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” and “Jews killed Jesus.”
In other words, these are not independent forces operating in American politics. Christian nationalism and QAnon support work together to drive up anti-Semitism. Without QAnon belief, Christian nationalists adopted only somewhat more anti-Semitic beliefs as those who rejected Christian nationalism, as you can see in the figure below if you compare the yellow bars. But Christian nationalists who fell in with the QAnon conspiracy theory subscribed to twice as many anti-Semitic tropes as those who disagreed with QAnon, as we can see in the figure below when comparing black to yellow bars. This increase is probably driven by some of the ideas central to the QAnon conspiracy theory, including the anti-Semitic tropes that Jews control the banks, the media and the government, and thus must be the ones behind the Deep State they believe has been undermining Trump.
For years, right-wing media has been telling conservative Christians that their religion and their way of life are threatened, so much so that many adherents believed the incoming Biden administration would ban the Bible. Such sentiments encouraged assigning religious significance to the presidency and to Trump in particular. The idea in this theory went that Trump was anointed by God to serve as the great Christian protector from those who would not just unseat the Christian majority from its privileged position in American life but would also strip Christians of their rights and liberties.
Perhaps, then, it is not much of a stretch for Christian nationalists to adopt unfounded tropes about a group (Jews) they often disagree with, or to become closer with the QAnon conspiracy theory that promised Trump would remain in power.
The big question going forward is whether it is possible to integrate Christian nationalists back within a pluralistic civil society when so many of their views are out of the mainstream — or whether they will continue to be a source of right-wing extremists willing to undermine American institutions on the basis of conspiracy theories.
Paul A. Djupe is a political scientist at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, specializing in the study of religion and politics and co-founder of religioninpublic.blog.
Jacob Dennen is an undergraduate political science major at Denison University graduating this May.