Christian Identity:Racism and the Word of God

This essay examines the phenomena of Christian Identity, a little known or understood variant of the Christian faith that interprets the Bible as an inherently racial document. It is the faith of many of those in the racist right, and consequently is central in shaping their political beliefs. I will attempt to answer three main questions: What are the theological roots of Christian Identity? What are the core beliefs of the faith? And how do these beliefs influence the actions of the faithful?
Christian Identity sprung directly from British-Israelism, an eccentric interpretation of Christianity that first emerged in Great Britain in the mid 1800’s. Traditional Christian thought holds that when the original kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the two southern tribes of Israel became the people we know today as the Jews, while the ten northern tribes were lost, intermarrying and disappearing into the communities of their conquerors. British-Israelism teaches that these tribes were in fact not lost, but migrated across Europe, eventually settling in the British Isles. Thus, the people of Britain are direct decedents of the Hebrews of the Old Testament, and will play a central role in the final days foretold in the Book of Revelations. It is important to note that British-Israelism is not an anti-Semitic belief system. In fact, it regards the Jews as being long-lost relatives of the British people. But once brought to America in the late 1800’s, it rapidly transformed into Christian Identity, the racist religion of the far right.
This transformation was brought about largely due to the efforts of two American British-Israelites, Howard Rand and William Cameron. In the early 1930’s, Rand founded the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America, which grew to become the largest British-Israelite organization in the United States (Barkun p.30). That Rand was an anti-Semite is clear; he believed that the Jews had intermarried with other races, making them impure in the eyes of the Lord (Ibid. p.127). But this anti-Jewish bias was not central to his belief system; in Rand’s eyes, the Jews were no better or worse than those of other lower races. However, Rand’s personal distain for Jews made it acceptable for him to associate with men like Cameron, who fused British-Israelism with a virulent racism, laying the groundwork for the emergence of Christian Identity.
William Cameron was a trusted advisor to Henry Ford; from the mid 1920’s to the mid 1940’s, he was Ford’s personal media spokesman (Barkun p.31). He also worked as the editor of the Dearborn Independent, a rabidly anti-Semitic Ford-owned newspaper. As the most well known member of Rand’s Anglo-Saxon Federation, Cameron introduced many British-Israelites to anti-Jewish beliefs. At the same time, his notoriety drew persons with previously established racist views into the Federation. Although Rand’s organization collapsed in the 1940’s, a new generation of preachers, such as Wesley Swift and William Gale, took British-Israelism and transformed it into Christian Identity, a theology that remains basically unchanged today.
This new theology called Christian Identity, which emerged in the 1950’s, differed from British-Israelism in ways other than just its racial outlook. British-Israelism had always stressed obedience to the secular government, believing it to be a legitimate extension of the “Hebrew” people (Barkun p. 7). Christian Identity holds that almost all the governments of the world are under the control of the “Zionist Occupational Government” (ZOG), and must be resisted by white Christians. As we shall see, this often brings them into confrontation with government agencies. Also, British-Israelism was never a religion unto itself. Persons of any Protestant denomination could maintain their British-Israelism while keeping their membership in a mainstream church (Ibid. p. 14). Christian Identity, by comparison, is comprised of small, tightly knit sects. Associations with mainstream churches would be unthinkable, given that Identity regards then as heretical. This religiously withdrawn stance promotes a cult-like feeling among Identity parishioners, and can serve to strengthen member’s theological commitment to the group.
Christian Identity presents a revisionist view of the Bible that would appear very strange to a mainstream Christian. This alternate interpretation begins with the book of Genesis. Identity theology holds that Adam and Eve were the originators of only the white (non-Jewish) race. Persons of African and Asian decent where created before Adam, at the same time the Lord created the other animals. To put it more plainly, Identity holds that these pre-Adamic people are in fact not people at all, but animals. Hence, Identity adherents refer to non-whites as “mud persons” or “beasts of the field” (Walters p.12). Many preachers in the movement hold that the flood brought by the Lord upon the ancient Hebrews was in fact a punishment for the crime of intermarrying with non-whites (Ibid. p.20). Like British-Israelism, Christian Identity teaches that the decedents of Adam and Eve (the true chosen people of the Lord) eventually settled in northern Europe. If for a moment we accept this unusual interpretation of the book of Genesis, it leaves us with an obvious question: who are the people who claim to be the Jews in contemporary times if they are not descended from the Hebrews of old? Identity provides three answers, each one denying the authenticity of the claimed lineage of the Jewish people, while exalting the role of Gentile Europeans in God’s ultimate plan.
The first theory explaining the origins of the Jews to be concocted by Identity thinkers was by comparison to later theories rather mild. It acknowledged that modern day Jews are indeed the decedents of the two southern tribes of Israel. But it maintains that between the destruction of the Hebrew nation and the dispersion by the Romans in the first century A.C.E., these southern tribes had intermarried with “mud people”, namely the Hittites (Barkun p.127). This explains the dark, Semitic complexion found among the Jews. These Hebrews were no longer racially pure, and therefore ceased to be counted among God’s chosen people. This theory, while obviously insulting towards the Jews, was not particularly anti-Semitic; it merely lowered them to the level of the other non-white races. The second theory of Jewish origins portrayed them in a much more sinister light.
This second theory holds that the two southern tribes of Israel migrated through Russia after the Roman dispersion. They eventually intermarried with and disappeared into the general population. Those people called Jews who eventually came to Europe were not Hebrews at all, but were in fact Asiatics: “The specific form this took was the accusation that Jews from the czar’s empire were decedents of the Khazars, a people that had once lived near the shores of the Black Sea, and whose leadership stratum and an unknown portion of its populace had converted to Judaism in the seventh century.” (Barkun p.136) These imposters then used their false title as the “chosen people” to carve a niche for themselves in European society. They continue to maintain their deception in order to gain the sympathy of Christians, who erroneously regard them as the descendants of the Old Testament Hebrews. This theory never gained a large number of supporters, as most Identity devotees prefer a more overtly racist explanation of Jewish origins.
To understand the final (and most extreme) Identity explanation of the lineage of the Jews, we must once again return to the book of Genesis. While in the garden, Eve was tempted by the serpent. This temptation, the theory holds, was not only intellectual, but also sexual. Eve mated with the serpent (who may have been either Satan himself or one of his minions). The child brought forth from this union was Cain. “Hence Cain and all his progeny, by virtue of satanic paternity, carry the Devil’s unchanging capacity to work evil.” (Bakun p. 150) Eve then introduced sex to Adam. Able was the legitimate child of Adam and Eve. Cain slew Able, then fled into the wilderness, where he became the leader of a tribe of pre-Adamites. Cain’s tribes, the Canaanites, settled in Palestine, near the eventual location of the Hebrew nation (this explains the animosity between the two groups, as one was the tribe of the Lord, the other the tribe of Satan). When Israel was divided, the ten tribes of the north migrated to Europe, keeping their racial purity intact. However,
Identity writers assert that while in Babylonian captivity the people of the southern two-tribed Judah did not maintain their racially integrity. The serpent’s seed [via the Canaanites] made successful intrusions into Adam’s seed line…The changes that took place within Judaism as a result of the Exile are taken as proof of satanic influences on Israel’s culture and religion; Judaism became the religion of ”Israel’s ancient pagan enemy.” The Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is said to have been abandoned by these people for the Babylonian Talmud, “the very heart and soul of the serpent race.” The synagogue, generally speaking, replaced Jerusalem Temple worship, and the prophets and priests became rabbis and scribes. (Walters p.38)

The Jews therefore became something worse than a racially despoiled people or a group of Khazar imposters: they became the literal decedents of Satan himself.
It should be clear by this point that in Identity theology, only those of pure white ancestry can be “saved”. Converting “beasts of the field” to Christianity is pointless, as they are not human beings and will never be accepted by God into into His kingdom. Identity adheres to the “one drop” rule, believing that having even a single non-white ancestor makes one racially impure (Barkun p.158). Thus those of a mixed racial background are also ineligible to receive salvation. And Jews, as a result of their satanic heritage, can of course never become Christians. This is of course just the opposite of conventional Protestant thought, which holds that any person may achieve salvation by accepting Jesus as their personal savior. This conflict has led some mainstream Christian thinkers to declare Identity a “message fundamentally opposed to the Christian gospel.” (Walters p.97) Predictably, Identity preachers dismiss conventional Christian churches as being hopelessly corrupted by Jewish influences (Barkun p.105). This distain for mainstream Christianity among those of the racist right has a long history. Father Charles Coughlin, a racist, pro-fascist priest declared in 1931: “Those of us who are acquainted with the activities of communistic doctrines in this country have long since breathed rather nervously at the activities of certain officials in The Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America in abetting the program of Lenin and of advocating the ideals of bolshevism.” (Coughlin p.237)
Christian Identity sees the universe as being at war. The two sides are diametrically opposed to one another:
Identity constructed a Manichean universe, divided into realms of light and darkness. The central figures of each, God and Satan, are in combat. Each is aided by coalitions made up not only of allies but of literal descendants, white Aryans who are the children of God and Jews who are the children of Satan. (Barkun p.249)

In such a dualistic world, there can be no compromise with the forces of darkness. The war must end with the total victory of either God or the Devil. So Identity rejects the concept of compromise that forms the basis of modern democracies, and embraces an “us-or-them” perspective when dealing with the perceived enemies of the Lord.
Christian Identity, like mainstream fundamentalism, teaches that we are living in the last days, and that the second coming of Christ is eminent. But unlike the fundamentalists, Identity preachers hold that there will be no rapture to whisk away Christ’s followers:
“…Identity’s rejection of the rapture is linked to a distain for anything that promises to rescue the saved from the rigors of the Tribulation. The rapture, as most Fundamentalists understand it, will remove the saved from the earth at the beginning of the Tribulation, sparing them the dangers associated with the Tribulation’s seven years of persecution, war, and violence that are to precede the Second Coming. Identity, however, far from wishing to avoid this period of tumult, yearns for an opportunity to engage the forces of evil in apocalyptic battle. Hence the rapture to them smacks of cowardice and retreat.” (Barkun p.104)

This militaristic view of the apocalypse has led many Identity believers to take on a survivalist lifestyle, secreting themselves and their families in the wilderness, stockpiling the food and weapons they believe they will need to survive the coming race war. This isolation can lead to even greater alienation from society, reinforcing the paranoid mindset of the Identity practitioner.
Another key difference between mainstream fundamentalism and Christian Identity is the perceived outcome of the final war. Conventional Christianity holds that resistance to the ultimate power of God is futile, and the outcome of the last battle will undoubtedly be victory for the forces of light. Some Identity doctrines teach that this may not be the case: “[the] Devil is no mere pesky upstart or insubordinate underling; he is an adversary with the resources potentially to unseat his master.” (Barkun p. 116) This more pessimistic viewpoint is consistent with Identity’s militant message. If God’s victory is assured, then Christians need do nothing but contently wait for the rapture to arrive. But if the outcome of the great battle is in doubt, then all Christian soldiers must bear arms in the service of the Lord, lest the forces of darkness prevail.
The far right has long held a distain for pacifism: “It has been part of the conspiracy against patriotism to belittle our soldiers with the preachments of cowardly pacifism.” (Coughlin p.146) Identity is no different, in that it believes physical warfare against the forces of Satan will be required in the last days. More ominous is the belief, common in Identity circles, that a Christian is under no obligation to obey civil laws which contradict Biblical teachings:
“Any man or group of men who seek to plunder under the cloak of law, or who seek to negate the Law of God, forfeit their authority, and becomes a despot and tyrant. They are ‘terror to good works’, and must be exposed and resisted by whatever means Heaven has provided us.” (Barkun p.203)

Violent acts against law enforcement and civil authorities are thereby justified, and warfare against ZOG can be considered a holy crusade.
It is clear to those in the Identity movement that the United States government is under satanic control. Why else would it allow ungodly activities such as race mixing, homosexuality, and immigration to occur? While it is acknowledged that some low-level government employees may be unaware if this infiltration, the system itself is considered to be irredeemably corrupted. Gordon Kahl, a prominent Identity figure who eventually died in a shoot-out with F.B.I. agents, described the true purpose of the Federal government:
We are a conquered and occupied nation; conquered and occupied by the Jews, and their hundreds or maybe thousands of front organizations doing their ungodly work. They have two objectives in their goal of ruling the world. Destroy Christianity and the White race. We are engaged in a struggle to the death between the people of the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Satan. (Walters p. 65)

Given this worldview, should not be surprising then that many Identity adherents refuse to pay their federal income taxes. Kahl’s conflict with the government began in 1967, when he sent a letter to the IRS informing them that he would no longer “pay tithes to the Synagogue of Satan” (Ibid.). Many of the conflicts that have occurred between law enforcement agencies and reclusive Identity groups have begun over the latter’s refusal to pay taxes. Given the tendency of Identity churches to advocate violence against “unlawful” authority figures, these confrontations have often led to tragic results.
Christian Identity churches can be roughly divided into two categories: those that withdraw from the corruption of the grater society, and those who directly confront it. An example of the first type is Dan Gayman’s Missouri-based Church of Israel. Gayman, while acknowledging Jewish control of the government, advocates avoiding confrontation with legal authorities (Barkun p.232) He and his parishioners are content to live inside their closed community and await the apocalypse. Richard Butler’s Church of Jesus Christ, Christian, based in Idaho, takes a more aggressive stance. They engage in as many public demonstrations as possible in the hope that the ensuing controversy will attract new members. They are also much quicker to embrace violence as a legitimate means to achieve social change. After Robert Mathews, the leader a neo-Nazi terrorist group called the Order, was killed in a gun battle with federal agents, Butler’s church publication printed a eulogy:
One hundred keys to heaven and they were all yours! Yahweh has surely Blessed thy above thy brothers and sisters! Now thou art in His arms, thy battle fought and thy race won! Hallelujah!…We shall bring forth the Kingdom you so longed for, and we shall sit with thee in it! (Barkun p. 232)

Of these two theologies, the second is obviously the more dangerous, as it promises martyrdom to those who give their lives in the service of the racial holy war. But as previously mentioned, we should not ignore the danger posed by congregations such as Gayman’s. Their isolation from the outside world may make them progressively more paranoid, increasing the risk that they may someday lash out against the system in an act of perceived self-defense.
Some in the Identity movement, such as the aforementioned Pastor Gayman, might defend themselves against these charges by pointing out that they do not advocate the use of violence, but in fact encourage their followers to obey civil law. In this, they are correct. But as Walters notes, Gayman
holds in common with his Identity kinsmen the belief that Satan has literal children in the form of the Jews, people of color are inferior beasts, and the Bible was written for the white race exclusively…undergirding the Order, the Freemen, Aryan Nations, and the Church of Israel is the violently dehumanizing Identity doctrine. (Walters p.71)

Although some Identity churches preach a non-violent message, the moral justification for murder is implicitly present. This justification might be incorporated into their stated theology if changing circumstances seemed to support it.
If for a moment we accept the Identity interpretation of Genesis as being the correct one, then it becomes easy to see why the religion is so vehemently opposed to sexual contact between whites and non-whites. Lev. 20:15-16 states:
“If a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death; and ye shall slay the beast. And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shall kill the woman, and the beast.”

If all non-whites are considered to be animals, then sex with them becomes bestiality, a crime which is punishable by death. What is ironic in this is that an undetermined but significant number of Christian Identity believers possess some non-white ancestry. During his research, Jerome Walters discovered that one of his Identity interview subjects was part American Indian (Walters p.7). The subject of course kept this fact a secret from his congregation. If Identity churches are unable to effectively determine the racial backgrounds of their own members, how can they hope to reestablish segregation in the general population? Many of the people involved with the movement may have engaged in “bestiality” without being aware of it. Even more significantly, they may unknowingly be the product of interracial breeding themselves.
Identity practitioners are also quite unlikely to embrace democratic reform as a means of changing the system. Many refuse to vote at all, fearing that the act of casting a ballot amounts to acknowledging the legitimacy of the current “Jew controlled” government. And even if this were not so, Identity preachers point out that white Christians could never hope to outvote the masses of non-whites and deluded Aryans who make up the bulk of the population (Walters p. 74). With the belief that change will not come democratically, but through the intervention of God, Christian Identity removes itself from the process of policy formation, further alienating it from the mainstream. It also discourages Identity groups from adopting strategies of compromise, an essential tactic for any group that wants to enact reform in American society.
Christian Identity can be considered a monist belief system. This means that Identity believers consider their interpretation of the world to be the only correct one. Therefore, they seek to suppress all dissenting faiths. Why, after all, should other religions be allowed to exist if they are objectively incorrect? This monist attitude extends into the legal sphere as well. Many Identity adherents advocate revamping the civil code so as to bring it into compliance with Biblical law (Barkun p.200). This would, among other things, mean inflicting the death penalty on homosexuals and persons who engage in interracial sex. It would also limit voting rights to white males. While the fate of non-whites is left unclear, one can assume that these “beasts” would be returned to their “natural” state: slavery.
But the most frightening element of Christian Identity theology is its demand that the spawn of Satan (read: the Jews) be violently removed from the earth. It is the ultimate focus of Identity, making it a religion of hatred:
…there is no sympathy for the devil. And in the Identity world there is no future for Satan’s kids. Identity’s incarnational dualism will not be relieved until Satan’s kids are no longer incarnate; salvation necessitates the extermination of the seed of the serpent. (Walters p.45)

When attempting to make a balanced assessment of the threat posed by the Christian Identity movement, is it important to keep in mind that we are examining a small movement that is unlikely to experience significant growth:
…guesses have placed [Christian Identity’s] maximum size at no more than one hundred thousand, and it may be less than half of that. Further, there is no evidence Identity can attract large numbers of new members, although it has proselytized among small populations of the alienated (e.g., skinheads and white prison inmates). Consequently, it cannot look forward to a foreseeable future as a mass movement. (Barkun p. 119)

But before we dismiss Identity as a fringe movement of no real importance, we should remember that both the Oklahoma City bombing and the attacks of September 11th were carried out by small groups of fanatical persons. Though few in number, Identity adherents may pose a real danger to society in the form terrorist activities.

Works Cited

Barkun, Michael. Religion and the Racist Right: the Origins of the
Christian Identity Movement. Chapel Hill: University of
North Carolina Press, 1994.

Coughlin, Father Charles. Father Coughlin’s Radio Sermons October
1930-April 1931, Complete. Baltimore: Knox and O’Leary,

Walters, Jerome. One Aryan Nation Under God: How Religious Extremists
Use the Bible to Justify Their Actions. Naperville: Sourcebooks,


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