02.11.10

Antichrist Fears Win a Vote in Virginia

The same people who pushed the Obama birth certificate lie are now foaming about microchips and the Antichrist. John Avlon on how the fringe just scored a legislative victory.

The same people who pushed the Obama birth certificate lie are now foaming about microchips and the Antichrist. John Avlon—author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America, available now from Beast Books—on how the fringe just scored a legislative victory. Plus, read more on Avlon’s new book.

The Virginia House of Delegates, their version of the House of Representatives, passed a bill on Wednesday that bans companies from tracking their employees with implanted microchips. On the surface, the bill sounds libertarian, albeit in a far-sighted Blade Runner sort of way. But it turns out that the bill’s sponsor was motivated by a more Old Testament perspective: stopping the rise of the Antichrist.

"My understanding—I'm not a theologian—but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times," Delegate Mark L. Cole told The Washington Post. "Some people think these computer chips might be that mark."

I asked him, “So, you believe that Barack Obama is going to bring about the end of the world?” “Absolutely,” responded Pastor Drake. “Yeah.”

Fellow Republican Virginia Delegate Charles W. Carrico expressed similar concerns: “I believe there is a time that Christ will come back to receive his people home… and that there will be an Antichrist that arises during that time, and those that remain, to buy or sell anything, they will have to take on this mark."

The ‘Birthers’ Began on the LeftThese remarks echoed comments made by Philadelphia-area police officer Steven Armbruster at a meeting of the Oath-Keepers I attended in October. “I'm a Christian and I know it says in the Bible that the day will come when you'll be required to take a mark either in your right hand or your forehead,” Officer Armbruster said. “Now what we see today happening is the government is contemplating putting microchips in people. You can read about it on the Internet. It's not a conspiracy theory—it's fact.”

Feel any safer?

One prominent Wingnut Web site in particular has been pumping up microchip/Antichrist anxieties: WorldNet Daily. The same folks, of course, who have been trying to proliferate the Obama birth certificate claims, have also published warnings about microchips ( “Next Step in H1N1 Scare: Microchip implants”) and Antichrist stories ( “How Obama Prepped World for the Antichrist”). WND’s in-house publishing unit is also invested, peddling a 2009 tome called The Islamic Antichrist. Apocalyptic anxiety can be big business and fear has always been powerful political motivator.

book-cover---wingnuts
Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America. By John Avlon. 304 Pages. Beast Books. $15.95. ()

All this helps account for the fact that references to the Antichrist have been making a strong, if unwelcome, comeback in American politics. A Harris poll from November ’09 found that 89 percent of evangelical Protestants believe in the Devil, and a ’09 Scripps Howard poll determined that 25 percent of Americans had heard the rumor that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. In September 2009, Public Policy Polling found that 14 percent of New Jersey Republicans thought that Obama was the Antichrist, while 15 percent weren’t sure.

Even at a time when comparisons of the president to Hitler and communists seem almost commonplace on the lunatic fringe, Antichrist accusations hit a psychotic new low. It’s well beyond simple incivility—it’s the difference between saying that the president is anti-American and anti-humanity.

This started with a widely circulated chain email that began to hit critical mass in March 2008, when Obama was on the verge of clinching the nomination. Among the folks who forwarded the email was Mayor Danny Funderbuck of Fort Mill, South Carolina, who explained to an inquiring reporter, “I was just curious if there was any validity to it. … I was trying to get documentation if there was any Scripture to back it up.” Former Saturday Night Live comedienne turned conservative blogger Victoria Jackson also jumped in enthusiastically, writing that Obama "bears traits that resemble the Antichrist."

The McCain campaign even put out a Web ad that seemed to play on Obama-as-Antichrist fears. Titled ‘The One” it began with the sarcastic humor that distinguished the campaign’s communication style, mocking Obama supporters’ adulation of their candidate, interspersed with clips of Charlton Heston as Moses from The Ten Commandments. But the ad careened off into odd syntax—“And the world will receive his blessings”—and used imagery that recalled the cover of the 70 million-selling Left Behind series which chronicles the rise of the Antichrist in politics. The Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-author of Left Behind, told Time magazine he recognized allusions to his work in the ad. “It's not easy to make the infamous Willie Horton ad from the 1988 presidential campaign seem benign,” Time editorialized, “but suggesting that Barack Obama is the Antichrist might just do it.”

The Antichrist politics have continued despite its desperate absurdities and depressingly necessary attempts to set the record straight through sites like Snopes. It’s an uphill battle: Politicized religion is not subject to reason.

A few months ago, I visited Orange County Pastor Wiley Drake—the former VP nominee on Alan Keyes’ third-party ticket in 2008 but perhaps best known for openly praying for President Obama’s death—to profile him in my book Wingnuts. He unapologetically advanced the Obama-as-Antichrist cause, saying “In my opinion, and my theological understanding of the Scripture, there will be one last days, [and] in the last days there will be one Antichrist, but there will be several that lead up to the Antichrist, and I'm of the opinion that Barack Hussein Obama is the Antichrist.” Just to be clear, I asked him, “So, you believe that Barack Obama is going to bring about the end of the world?” “Absolutely,” responded Drake. “Yeah.”

There is a cost to pumping up apocalyptic anxieties for partisan gain. When the idea of separation of church and state is degraded (one pamphlet I saw for sale at the National Tea Party Convention was called “In Defense of Mixing Church and State”), the floodgates are cracked open just enough to encourage unhinged accusations and behavior that can proliferate in unexpected ways—as when earlier this week, a Massachusetts man was arrested for storing 20 weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition in what he told police was preparation for “Armageddon” and “martial law.” When talk of computer chips conflate with conversation about the “mark of the beast” in state legislatures, and when not-insignificant percentages of the population seriously believe that the duly elected president might be the Antichrist, it’s a sign that we are playing with forces that can get ugly and out of control. It’s not a matter of faith as much as it is a sign of fanaticism.

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John Avlon's new book Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America is available now by Beast Books both on the Web and in paperback. He is also the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics. Previously, he served as chief speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.