‘Black Robe’ Pastor Wore Oath Keepers T-Shirt at Trump ‘Prayer Rally’ in December: ‘We Are the Government of America’

Pastor Bill Cook, founder of America's Black Robe Regiment (Image from livestream of Dec. 12, 2021 rally on National Mall)

Religious-right author and pundit Eric Metaxas hosted Virginia pastor Bill Cook on his radio show last Friday, where Cook said that all legitimate governments are based in “the lordship of Jesus Christ” and that Christians are “called to govern.” Cook met Metaxas at a pro-Trump “prayer rally” on the National Mall organized by Jericho March and Stop the Steal.

Cook wore an Oath Keepers T-shirt while speaking at the Dec. 12 rally. On the same stage later that day, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes threatened bloody civil war if Trump did not stay in power. Several Oath Keepers have been charged with conspiring to commit violence in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Cook founded a group called America’s Black Robe Regiment. The “black robe regiment,” often invoked by Christian nationalist leaders who want to get conservative pastors more involved in right-wing politics, refers to Colonial-era pastors who mobilized men in their churches to join the war for independence from England.

Historian John Fea responded to Cook’s appearance with Metaxas in a blog post in which he wrote, “There was no such thing as the ‘black robe regiment’ in revolutionary America.” Fea noted that Cook told Metaxas that everything he knew about the black robe regiment he learned from religious-right “historian” David Barton. Like Right Wing Watch, Fea has spent years challenging Barton’s “false claims and misleading interpretations of American history.” Barton’s book about Thomas Jefferson was pulled by his Christian publisher after many historians complained about its inaccuracies.

At the Dec. 12 rally, which its organizers called “Let the Church ROAR,” Cook talked about Jonas Clark, a Colonial-era pastor in Lexington, Massachusetts, whose congregants were among those killed when British troops opened fire in 1775. “Clark was such a patriot that he had actually helped Captain Parker to train the militia in his town,” Cook said. “Boy, that’s radical.”

“Where are pastors today in this battle?” he asked. “What does a good shepherd do? Lays down his life for the sheep. Why are pastors running today? Why are they not at the forefront of this battle?”

Cook also talked about Peter Muhlenberg, a pastor who organized a Virginia militia and served with George Washington in the Continental Army. Cook recounted the story—possibly apocryphal but a favorite of religious-right speakers—of Muhlenberg preaching that it was a time for war, then dramatically casting off his preacher’s robe to reveal his uniform, grabbing his sword and musket and leading men out of the church. After independence was won, Muhlenberg served in Congress.

“There were several clergymen in the first Congress. So, what is this separation of church and state?” Cook asked. “Why are we dutifully complying with something called the Johnson Amendment when we know its purpose was to silence the pulpits of America?”

Here are more excerpts from Cook’s remarks:

You know, the enemy—the people that are trying to steal our election—some of you may know this, but they’re frightened. They’re scared to death. They’re on the run. And sometimes it looks looks really bad. It looks like we might lose our country. We might lose the presidency.

And it’s kind of like being the children of Israel at the Red Sea, right? I’m sure the Egyptians, as they were bearing down on them with horses and chariots, were thinking, “We got ‘em now.” Right? And then God told Moses, “The Egyptians you see today you’re not going to see anymore.” God is about to do something in this country that’s going to take the threats that we’re dealing with and put it down.

I feel like saying, “Shout! Shout!” just like Joshua said to the children of Israel, “Shout, for God has given you this city. “

This is our city. It doesn’t belong to the people that are trying to eviscerate our authority. We are the government of America.

But look, the clergy had preached the political ideology, and what were called the Charters of Freedom, for 100 years before the war ever started, so that when it came time to stand up and fight for liberty, the ideas in the founding charters were already ubiquitous among the people. They knew the ideas—they didn’t have to wait and hesitate to go to war against tyranny. They were ready. They understood their just rights. Today we’re—pastors are dutifully complying with mask-wearing mandates, shutting their doors. Don’t we have it as a divine injunction: Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together? Why are we complying with tyranny?

According to Cook’s website, his group was launched in 2012 at Patrick Henry College with the help of retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, executive vice president at the Family Research Council, and E.W. Jackson, a religious-right activist who was the Republican nominee for Lt. Gov. of Virginia in 2013. Also on the speaker’s list were Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College and now head of the religious-right legal giant Alliance Defending Freedom, and John Guandolo, an anti-Muslim activist who said the day after the Capitol Insurrection that the rioters had shown “restraint” by not executing the “traitors” in Congress.

In 2018, Cook took part in a rally by anti-LGBTQ activists protesting the marriage equality ruling handed down by the Supreme Court three years earlier. Right Wing Watch reported that he called on pastors to be more political and disobey restrictions on electoral politicking by churches and other tax-exempt nonprofit groups:

“It is time for clergy to stand up and disobey that law. We are not bound by law,” Cook said to the crowd. “If a judge or a legislature hands down a ruling that is unconstitutional, we do not have to obey it. The only reason we might obey that is to save our skin, and that time is over. We need to be willing to pay the price for doing what is right or we lose the nation.”