Religious-Right Leaders and Media Foster White Evangelicals’ Adherence to Conspiracy Theories

The Victory Channel's Greg Stephens and Gene Bailey on a live "FlashPoint" program Jan. 6, 2021.

A new survey by the conservative American Enterprise Institute reported that white evangelical Protestants are far more likely to believe  QAnon conspiracy theories, Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, and false  claims that antifascist activists and not Trump supporters were responsible for the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. About half of white evangelical Protestants “said the antifa claim was completely or mostly true.”

Daniel Cox, director of AEI’s Survey Center on American Life, told the Religion News Service that white evangelicals are more politically segregated—more of them say a lot of their family members or friends voted for Donald Trump in 2020—than any other religious group.

Another likely explanation for the survey’s findings is the role that conservative Christian media—television, radio, religious-right leaders’ social media operations—played in promoting Trump’s lies about a “stolen” election and in trying to deflect blame for the attack on Congress away from Trump supporters and on to anti-fascist activists.

RNS noted that religious-right leader Franklin Graham was among those who pointed fingers at “antifa.” He is far from the only one.

On the evening of Jan. 6, a group of Trump-supporting “prophets” took part in a live broadcast of the Victory Channel’s “FlashPoint” show. The Victory Channel’s Greg Stephens presented as “breaking news” this claim: “It is confirmed: The FBI had a busload of antifa people come in and infiltrate the rally and those are the people that … broke into the Capitol and did all the damage.” The Victory Channel is sponsored by Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

On that same Jan. 6 “FlashPoint” show, “prophet” Mario Murillo declared that he knew “for a fact” that none of the rioters were Trump supporters.

Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, who recently became dean of the school of government at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, sent a statement that was read by FlashPoint host Gene Bailey. She said it was her “guess” that “the left dressed up as Trump supporters and led the breach.”

Another “prophetic” Trump supporter taking part in the FlashPoint live program was Seven Mountains Dominionism promoter Lance Wallnau. Wallnau called the Capitol attack a “false flag incident” organized by “activists that are working for the Democratic Party” with collusion from the media. He blamed “antifa and Black Lives Matter protesters” working together, saying “We got the goods on them today.” It wasn’t Trump’s people, Wallnau claimed, “It was the devil’s people.”

Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow and an ardent Trump supporter who became a major funder of so-called Stop the Steal efforts, declared that he was “100 percent” sure that the people climbing the walls at the Capitol were not Trump supporters.

The next day, on Jan. 7, another “FlashPoint” program featured many of the same people, along with “prophets” Dutch Sheets and Kat Kerr. Wallnau claimed that “organized antifa radicals” led the break-in. The program included video of someone at the rally outside the Capitol claiming that “state troopers” had escorted “antifa shuttle buses” to the event as part of a strategy to plant agitators in the crowd.

FlashPoint played video from right-wing activist Joe Oltmann claiming that he had “infiltrated antifa” and was on a call on which someone from Dominion Voting Systems assured people that Trump would not win, saying, “I made sure of that.” Oltmann is one of the people being sued by Dominion for spreading false information about the company and its employees. Religious-right author and pundit Eric Metaxas is among those who have given Oltmann a platform to spread his claims about Dominion and “antifa.”

Charisma, a Pentecostal-oriented multimedia company that has relentlessly promoted Trump since the 2016 campaign, was quick to post a story on the evening of Jan. 6 promoting a claim that “the violence was coming from ANTIFA supporters dressed in MAGA clothing.” Conservative Christian actor Kevin Sorbo, a favorite of religious-right activists, tweeted, “ANTIFA led the charge into the capitol building dressed as Trump supporters.”

On Jan. 7, Charisma published an “I-was-there” piece by Larry Tomczak   who wrote, “Radical communist and socialist agitators are paid handsomely to infiltrate such gatherings to incite riots and demonize law abiding citizens.” He warned that the “Trump-hating media” would use the violence “to continue demonizing our president and his ‘deplorable’ supporters.”

The following week, Charisma published a column claiming that peaceful protests at the Capitol had been “hijacked by leftist radicals” and “antifa-related thugs.”

Religious-right activists associated with the so-called Stop the Steal campaign and other efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election have also actively promoted conspiracy theories about COVID-19 at events and on Christian-right media.