The Persecution Myth That Will Never Die

Back in early 2009, at the start of President Obama’s time in office, the Department of Homeland Security released a report about violent right-wing extremism. This would have been a relatively minor event had the Religious Right not immediately seized upon a single footnote in the report to claim that the whole thing was an Obama administration attack on Christians, veterans, anti-abortion activists, gun owners and conservatives in general.

In reality, the report dealt with the very real threat of violent right-wing extremism—the sort espoused by people like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh—and had nothing to do with the Religious Right as a whole or people who simply have conservative beliefs and political views. Nonetheless, Religious Right groups smelled an opportunity to raise money off a made-up threat of being persecuted by the new administration and immediately set to work painting the report as an attack on all conservatives, in particular Christians. Liberty Counsel even printed out “proud to be a right-wing extremist” cards for its members to carry, seemingly untroubled by willingly conflating itself with terrorists like McVeigh.

Quickly, House Republicans got involved and the department withdrew the report—much to the dismay of the Republican DHS staffer who wrote the report, who worried that all the outcry would hurt his small unit’s ability to fight actual violent right-wing extremism. When, just weeks after the report was pulled, an anti-choice extremist shot and killed abortion provider George Tiller, there was little to no backtracking among the activists who had claimed that a single mention in the report of anti-abortion-driven extremism was somehow an attack on all people who oppose abortion rights.

We bring this all up because nearly eight years later, conservative activists and their Republican allies are still using this report to claim that President Obama hasn’t been willing to fight Islamic radicalism and that he thinks that conservative Christians are the real terrorists.

In an interview Monday with the Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney, Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas conflated the 2009 DHS report with a recent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report on balancing religious exemptions with civil rights to claim that Obama, rather than fighting Islamic extremism, “has been in a war against those of us who explained that radical jihadists are at war with us.”

“In fact,” Gohmert added, “the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights seems to think that the biggest concern for radicalization is a group called evangelical Christians, that they’re the big hate group threat.”

“And returning veterans and gun owners and anti-abortion activists,” Gaffney said.

Gohmert picked up on Gaffney’s reference to the DHS report, adding that Obama also supposedly sees as a threat “veterans, those of us who believe in the literal writing and reading of the Constitution, those of us who believe in the Second Amendment.”

“And, actually, there are those who believe in this administration that Christians are the biggest hate group threat,” he said, “because, as they say, Christianity and religious freedom are code words for Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia and all these others, when, if they really understood Christianity, they would understand that if you’re truly a Christian you have no fear except for God, that’s the beginning of wisdom. “

“But these clowns,” he added, “are so ignorant of what true Christianity is, and that it’s the one religion that’s truly based on love, the idea that God so loved the world and sent His son and His son so loved the world that he gave his life, but they have got up is down, right is wrong. But radicalization, as you know, as you keep, thank God, you keep preaching, it has been occurring, and it occurs in certain mosques around this country and the Muslim brotherhood is alive and well.”