The Christian Nationalists Betting On Roy Moore

A week from today, former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore will face a Republican primary runoff against Sen. Luther Strange in his bid to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the U.S. Senate. Although President Donald Trump has endorsed Strange, Moore is benefitting from the anti-establishment enthusiasm of Trump’s “MAGA” boosters—former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka and Sarah Palin are leading a rally for him later this week.

But Moore is benefiting from more than the energy of emboldened Trump fans. He has also received large amounts of financial support from his longtime allies in the extreme Christian nationalist fringes of the Religious Right. To these activists, Moore has long been a hero—an elected official who dares to stand up to the federal government and the courts when he believes that God’s laws are being violated. And if he is elected, they’ll be able to claim a stake in his win.

Some better-known Religious Right groups, including the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council, have recently gone all-in for Moore. He has also been getting serious financial support in the form of outside spending from groups like Ken Cuccinelli’s Senate Conservatives Fund and from Alabama activist Stan Pate, who has been funding ads attacking Strange.

And Moore has also quietly been getting support from some of his most extreme allies, who see him as a chance to give their Christian nationalists views the biggest megaphone yet:

Michael Peroutka

Michael Peroutka is a local Republican politician in Maryland who has used wealth from a set of debt-collection businesses to bankroll Christian nationalist causes across the country, most notably by funding the career of Moore. Peroutka has funded Moore’s Christian nationalist ventures and political campaigns for decades; he gave Moore’s Senate campaign $2,500 in June and his wife Natalie gave the same amount in early August, each nearly maxing out on their individual contribution limit for the initial Republican primary.  [Update: Natalie Peroutka gave an additional $2,500 to Moore’s primary runoff campaign on September 13.]

Peroutka is a former member of the neo-Confederate League of the South—he quit when the association started to cause him trouble in his campaign for office. As recently as 2012, he was on video leading a League of the South gathering in a round of “Dixie,” which he calls the “national anthem”; in a 2004 speech to the group, he said he was “still angry” that Maryland didn’t join the Confederacy and said that his daughter had the nickname “Beth Booth,” as in “John Wilkes Booth.”

Peroutka, who runs a group called the Institute on the Constitution, advocates an extreme form of Christian nationalism, saying for instance that the Maryland legislature had ceased to be a legitimate governing body when it violated “God’s law” by passing a marriage equality bill. Last year, he presented on his theocratic view of the law to Operation Save America, an extreme anti-choice group that is trying to get government officials to defy laws on abortion rights and ultimately charge women who have abortions with homicide. (OSA has its own relationship with Moore, which we discuss below.) Along with his longtime support for Moore, Peroutka has helped to fund the campaigns of Tom Parker, Moore’s protégé on the Alabama Supreme Court, who has been trying to establish a legal framework for extreme anti-choice “personhood” laws.

Rusty Thomas

Rusty Thomas, the head of the extreme anti-choice group Operation Save America, contributed just over $200 to Moore’s campaign in three separate contributions in July and August. Although Thomas’ financial contribution is relatively small, he has been a stalwart ally to Moore throughout his tribulations on the Alabama Supreme Court.

In the summer of 2015, as Moore attempted to fight the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision, he accepted an award from OSA at the group’s gathering in Montgomery, telling them that “America is under attack” as it moves away from God and adding, “I’m sorry but this country was not founded on Muhammad. It was not founded on Buddha. It was not founded on secular humanism. It was founded on God.”

Moore responded to criticism of his association with OSA by saying: “You know, some told me ‘you know they’re a radical group.’ I said yeah. They are radical for God.”

Like Peroutka, Thomas and OSA promote the theocratic worldview that laws that they perceive to be ungodly are null and void. OSA’s main text for this belief is a book called “The Doctrine of Lesser Magistrates” by OSA activist Matt Trewhella, one of the anti-choice radicals who signed a statement in the 1990s declaring the murder of abortion providers to be justifiable homicide; in presenting the award to Moore in 2015, Thomas prayed that God would use him to “set an example for lesser magistrates throughout the United States of America that it’s time to say no to the federal beast!”

The next year, as Moore faced ethics charges for his defiance of the marriage equality ruling, Thomas and OSA organized a contingent to support Moore in his attempt to stop gay people’s “agenda to remake America in their perverted image.” The activists gathered by OSA stood behind Moore as he gave a press conference with his attorney, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, wielding signs like “Sodomy Ruins Nations.” While they were there, according to an OSA organizer, Moore shared supper with the activists and told them about “the big challenges he is experiencing from Sodomites and lawless courts.”

Anita And Mat Staver

In July, Moore’s campaign received a $1,100 in-kind contribution in “catering services” from Anita Staver, followed by a $1,000 cash contribution the next day. That same day, Moore’s campaign received more than a dozen additional contributions from residents of Staver’s home state of Florida, suggesting that she may have been involved in organizing a local fundraiser for the candidate. (One of the Florida contributions that came in that day was $500 from Steve Strang, the founder of the Charisma Pentecostal media empire.)

Anita Staver is the president of Liberty Counsel; her husband Mat Staver chairs the organization and represented Moore in his ethics trial last year. Mat Staver is best known for his anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and for representing Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in her quest to deny marriage licenses to gay couples in her county.

Steve Hotze

A group called the Restore Our Godly Heritage PAC has spent $13,130 in independent expenditures supporting Moore so far. The group’s president, and one of its chief funders, is Steven Hotze, a Texas activist known for advocating Christian nationalism and for bizarre anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. In early August, Hotze and his wife each gave Moore’s campaign a maximum contribution of $2,700. [Update: Steve and Janie Hotze each also gave a maximum contribution of $2,700 to Moore’s primary runoff campaign on September 13.]

Hotze has written,  “If we are to survive as a free nation, and if justice and liberty are to be restored in our land, then biblical Christianity, with its absolutes, must once again be embraced by our citizens. Only then can we expect to see Christianity’s influence once again to be reflected in the laws of our civil government.”

He is infamous in Texas for his anti-gay politics, calling in 2015 for “spiritual warfare” against “the homosexuals and the politicians who support their agenda” and hoping to raise up an “army to protect biblical marriage” in Texas. That same year, Hotze brought Moore to Austin to be the keynote speaker at an anti-marriage-equality event.

Ken Eldred

Moore has benefited from more than $25,000 in independent expenditures—it appears mainly for online ads— by the super PAC Our Future in America, Inc., which is funded by tech entrepreneur Ken Eldred. According to researcher Bruce Wilson, Eldred has been a major financial supporter of the “seven mountains” dominionist movement. He also chairs the board of the educational arm of United in Purpose, which seeks to mobilize conservative Christians to vote according to a “biblical worldview.” In late August, Eldred contributed $1,000 directly to Moore’s campaign.

Eugene Delgaudio

One of the more bizarre groups hitching its wagon to Moore’s candidacy is the Virginia-based group Public Advocate of the United States, which in July and August reported spending $6,800 on online ads and emails in support of Moore. Public Advocate is run by Eugene Delgaudio, a former Loudon County supervisor who is also a purveyor of colorful anti-gay smears and flashy, high-concept publicity stunts, most recently deploying a choir of activists to sing songs aimed at getting Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme and attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders. As the Supreme Court considered striking down bans on same-sex marriage in 2015, Public Advocate joined with Peroutka’s Institute on the Constitution to file an amicus brief warning that such a decision “could bring God’s judgment on the nation.”

A few other friends of Moore…

Moore has also received small contributions from former Operation Rescue head Keith Tucci, Phyllis Schlafly’s son Andrew, and demon-hunting former Colorado state legislator Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt.