A few weeks before Tampa, Florida-based evangelist and conspiracy theorist Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested for holding a large church service in defiance of social distancing restrictions, he was holding court at the National Religious Broadcasters’ 2020 Christian Media Convention, which was held in Nashville, Tennessee, Feb. 25-28.
Howard-Browne was a fixture at the prominent exhibition hall installation for BrioTV, a nascent conservative Christian streaming service, where he chatted with potential content providers and got friends like evangelist Jonathan Shuttlesworth to join him for an on-camera interview about the venture. (Shuttlesworth has also attracted attention in recent days for mocking “loser” pastors who cancel services and for his virus-be-damned call for a national Christian Woodstock-like gathering on Easter.)
The large BrioTV presence inside a cavernous hall at the vast and opulent Gaylord Opryland Resort included multiple studio-like set-ups where Howard-Browne, BrioTV CEO Lisa Hill, and other conservative Christian personalities conducted on-camera interviews. Between interviews, BrioTV filled the airtime with seemingly endless repetitions of a video touting Howard-Browne’s global evangelism tour and the number of religious conversions he claims. On the BrioTV website, broadcasts of Howard-Browne sermons from his The River church in Tampa are prominent.
Visitors to BrioTV’s booth at NRB could pick up a postcard promoting the service with the scripture-paraphrasing tagline, “Life more abundant.” It promised “thousands of hours of family friendly content” and it urged people, “Join the growing movement to take back the airways from censorship, shadow-banning and control.” A display banner read, “Help us reclaim America as One Nation Under God!”
BrioTV bills itself as a family-friendly streaming service and “Truth News Headquarters.” Its website declares, “BrioTV intends to be the Golden Spike in the midst of all the fake news media currently controlling the narrative around our world.” And it says,“BrioTV will be hyper-focused on TRUTH, REALITY, the TRIUMPH of the HUMAN SPIRIT, GOD and all things that are GOOD in our nation and around the globe.”
BrioTV’s website opens with pounding music and a video montage of patriotic scenes behind the plea, “Join Our Movement & Take Back the Airwaves! It all begins now…” Among the images in the video is a large letter Q, a visual homage to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement. Another promotional video includes an audio clip from the movie “The Matrix,” when the film’s protagonist is offered a “red pill” to discover the true nature of reality—a rhetorical device adopted by conspiracy theorist right, including the QAnon crowd. The website also includes text from the movie’s pill-offering character Morpheus.
BrioTV’s business model is based on subscriptions, so it is seeking to beef up its offerings to attract subscribers willing to pay $14.99 per month for a one-stop shop for conservative Christian on-demand offerings. At NRB, the channel pitched itself to potential content providers as a free way to get their material on the air to “hyper-targeted audiences.”
Among those broadcasting on BrioTV is Del Bigtree, a major anti-vaccine YouTube personality and producer of the anti-vaccine film “Vaxxed: From Coverup to Catastrophe.” The website also features videos from Prager U, Turning Point USA, and Judicial Watch.
Current or potential BrioTV partners interviewed on-camera during the NRB convention included other conspiracy theorists and religious-right figures:
- Online personality and conspiracy-theory promoter Chris McDonald talked with Hill about the growth in his audience and about God’s instructions that he broadcast Sunday worship services in addition to his nightly political show.
- Conservative actor and producer Kevin Sorbo promoted his recent and upcoming movies, including “Before the Wrath,” a film about the rapture and End Times.
- The Deplorable Choir, a Texas-based duo (one of the original three members has dropped out) that gained online fame with their songs of adoration for President Donald Trump, was interviewed more than once. They promoted “Home of the Brave,” their book for MAGA moms. One of the two sisters who now make up the choir complained that the “fools” in her Bible study had kicked her out over her high-profile pro-Trump stance. She said it is not a time that Christians can be silent, because “This is a war for our country.” Her sister added, “we need to secure a future for our kids.”
- Podcaster David Harris Jr. and radio broadcaster Ron Edwards, both black conservatives, covered a range of topics in their conversations with each other and with other guests. Harris claimed that legislation pending in Virginia would target and fine churches for preaching “anything scriptural about the LGBT community.” They agreed that the progressive agenda is to “ban the Bible altogether” and “eliminate Christianity” because progressives want “government to be the god of the people.” Edwards said the U.S. was “founded to be the number one vehicle for spreading the gospel around the world and an example of liberty.” He claimed that 40 percent of people seeking to enter the U.S. are not seeking a better life but “want to come here and contribute to destroying our life.” Edwards denounced “government schools” as “the number one enemy of America.” He also claimed somehow to know the exact date that Trump supposedly accepted Christ– June 21, 2015. Harris and Edwards both believe the COVID-19 virus was manufactured and that it’s God’s will that Trump will have a second term. During another point in the weekend, Edwards said that former President Barack Obama “was literally trying to destroy this country—literally” and claimed that Obama had removed Bibles from U.S. embassies and replaced them with copies of the Quran.
- Michael Waterman, author of “Trump: God’s Appointed Leader,” declared that “God chose Trump because we need a cleanup.” He said that the country is courting destruction because “we mock God.” He claimed that if you teach children that homosexuality and transgenderism are OK, “you lead them to Hell.” Waterman said he was saved at age 23 after hearing someone at an Amway function preach, “If you want to be rich, get saved and know Jesus,” after which he started studying the Bible. Waterman’s wife and Spanish translator, originally from Nicaragua, warned parents, “There is a Lego movie out there that has socialist and communist agenda inscripted in that show.”
- Congressional candidate Shelli Landon was interviewed by Hill, who expressed concern that 5,000 Muslims are running for public office. Landon is running in a crowded Republican primary for the chance to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District. “The Spirit of the Lord spoke to me about a Great Awakening coming, and only by the power of the blood, the blood covenant of Jesus Christ, would the liberties stand that our forefathers had brought to us originally,” Landon told Hill. Landon said that she had been “sovereignly consumed” by God’s presence at a July 4, 1987 event and was inspired by the vision she received to create “Travail of the Flag,” a 14-by-8-foot painting that features an image of Jesus Christ and historical scenes against a backdrop of the U.S. flag. She said that when she sang the National Anthem at the Pentagon during the 2002 National Day of Prayer, “a lightning bolt came down, hit the pavement, [and] broke a 14-week drought.” Hill responded, “So, you’re going to be a lightning rod in government!”
At NRB, BrioTV CEO Hill described the spiritual significance of the project. BrioTV is an effort to wrest the platform of the media from “the enemy” that has controlled it for too long, she said. “We’re done. He cannot maintain this space any longer.”
“When did Christians feel like other people had the right to be in office over ourselves, right?” Hill said during her interview with Landon. “We need to stand up for our Constitution. We need to stand up for what is the right thing to do, based on our Judeo-Christian principles that our country was founded on.”
BrioTV’s promotional push at NRB is not the first effort to get the project off the ground. A January 2018 Keep Faith in America livestream kickoff event featured David Barton, Randy Forbes, Samuel Rodriguez and Star Parker, among others. Pat Robertson’s longtime 700 Club co-host Ben Kinchlow played a prominent role in the 2018 launch and hosted a talk show called “Real America.” Kinchlow died in July 2019.