article

02.14.10

Praying for Obama's Death

Presidents’ Day, a patriotic holiday for most, is just an excuse for some Wingnuts to ask God to kill Barack Obama. John Avlon talks with the fringe preacher behind the sick movement.

Presidents' Day, a patriotic holiday for most, is just an excuse for some Wingnuts to ask God to kill Barack Obama. John Avlon—author of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America, available now from Beast Books—talks with the fringe preacher behind the sick movement. Plus, read more on Avlon’s new book.

At a time when some people confuse losing an election with living under tyranny, it’s perhaps no surprise that a day set aside for marking past presidents’ birth has become, for some, a day for praying for the current president’s death.

Praying for President Obama’s death has become a sick cottage industry for some evangelicals on the lunatic fringe. Bumper stickers, T-shirts, and teddy bears are sold with the wholesome-sounding slogan “Pray for Obama” but tagged with the more troublesome “Psalm 109:8”—which reads “May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership” followed by “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”

“If you have an evil leader above you, you pray that Satan will stand by his side and you ask God to make his children fatherless.”

In Wingnut circles, it’s known as the “Imprecatory Prayer.” Offered not just from select pulpits, but increasingly expressed through tweets and forwarded via email, this decidedly un-Christian Christian subculture has found its most enthusiastic advocates in a few Obama Derangement Syndrome-afflicted preachers—notably Orange County’s Wiley Drake and Arizona’s Steven L. Anderson.

Pastor Wiley Drake kicked off this Presidents’ Day Weekend with an email blast to his supporters saying “Imprecatory Prayer is now our DUTY” and announcing a daily teleconference call to advance the cause. Drake has been an enthusiastic advocate of imprecatory prayer since he announced that God answered his call with the murder of Kansas abortion clinic doctor George Tiller in church last May. “George Tiller was far greater in his atrocities than Adolf Hitler,” Drake said at the time, “so I am happy. I am glad that he is dead.” This emboldened him to add “the usurper that is in the White House … B. Hussein Obama” to the list said in his church on Sundays.

Sadly, Drake is not a complete fringe figure. He served as a second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in ‘06 and ‘07. In ‘08, he received 47,000 votes as the vice-presidential nominee of the American Independent Party, alongside conservative activist Alan Keyes, Obama’s GOP opponent when he was elected to the Senate in 2004. I drove out to visit him in December for a profile in my book Wingnuts. I wanted to get a better sense of what someone is like who would pray for the president’s death.

Drake’s First Southern Baptist Church stands less than a mile from Knott’s Berry Farm amusement park in Orange County. It’s a beige cinderblock building constructed in the 1950s. In its front yard, a broken wooden set of Ten Commandments juts out of a rock while a sign reading “ETERNITY” hangs over a flickering Coke machine. Out back, a genial gray-haired man greeted me, looking every inch the Western grandfather of five. He was wearing a red shirt with black suspenders and a senior citizen-friendly big-buttoned cellphone hung on a string around his neck. Wiley ushered me back into the empty church, past a sign saying “God Bless America,” and we sat in the front pew.

“I’m known as a birther, you know. I don’t believe Obama was born in this country. He’s an illegal alien and so forth,” Wiley told me, matter-of-factly. “And so I began to pray what the Bible teaches us to pray and that is imprecatory prayer. An imprecatory prayer is very strong. Imprecatory prayer in Psalms 109, for example, says if you have an evil leader above you, you pray that Satan will stand by his side and you ask God to make his children fatherless and his wife a widow and that his time in office be short… Other Psalms say when they speak evil, God will break out their teeth and when they run to do destruction God will break their legs.”

To those offended by the idea of praying for death, Wiley shrugs. “I’m praying the word of God. I didn’t write it. Don’t get mad at me.”

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

With the death of Democratic Congressman John Murtha after gallbladder surgery last week, Drake declared that God had again listened to his imprecatory prayers. Drake’s Presidents’ Day weekend prayer hit-list reproduced Judicial Watch’s “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” list for 2009, without attribution and aiming for something well beyond indictment. The list includes Senator Chris Dodd, Senator John Ensign, Representative Barney Frank, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder, Nancy Pelosi and, of course, President Obama. “We have listed here only a few of those that we are praying for,” wrote Wiley, “first for their salvation in Jesus, and if they continue to deny God and do unrighteous things to our country we then agree with God that He take them out.” “Take them out”—not words usually attributed to the Bible.

But Drake is subtle and even civil compared to the deranged hatemonger who preaches at the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona: Steven L. Anderson.

“I hate Barack Obama. You say, well, you just mean you don’t like what he stands for. No, I hate the person. Oh, you mean you just don’t like his policies. No, I hate him … I am not going to pray for his good. I am going to pray that he dies and goes to Hell.”

Here endeth the lesson on a Sunday last summer when Anderson offered a straight to the point sermon titled “Why I Hate Obama.” He even gave parishioners a view into his own private Obama prayer: “Break his teeth, oh God, in his mouth, as a snail which melteth, let him pass away, like an untimely birth of a woman—that he thinks—he calls it a woman’s right to choose, you know, he thinks it’s so wonderful, he ought to be aborted. It ought to be, ‘Abort Obama,’ that ought to be the motto.”

Anderson’s gospel of hate is careful to hit the culture war trifecta: God, Gays, and Guns. Gays, he has said, should be executed—(“The same God who instituted the death penalty for murders is the same god who instituted the death penalty for rapists and for homosexuals, sodomites, and queers!”). And as for guns, well, they’ve been as common as Bibles in his church some Sundays. In fact, Chris Broughton, the man who brought an AR15 assault rifle as a protest outside an August ’09 Obama event in Arizona, attended the “Why I Hate Obama” sermon just the Sunday before. Broughton has called it “the best church in the world.”

When Anderson was interviewed by the local Phoenix Fox affiliate about his imprecatory prayers, he denied he was calling for violence. “If you want to know how I’d like to see Obama die, I’d like him to die of natural causes,” said Anderson. “I don’t want him to be a martyr, we don’t need another holiday. I’d like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer.”

What’s the point of wading through all this hate? Because there is a cost to mixing politics with religion and confusing partisanship with patriotism. Presidents’ Day is a time when we are supposed to view politics with a sense of perspective. But lately, the idea of a loyal opposition to the president has been degraded, from Bush Derangement Syndrome to Obama Derangement Syndrome—demonization of our president for partisan gain leads some deranged people to pray for his death. Hate is a cheap and easy recruiting tool, but it can be murder on a democracy. And if a lunatic is screaming from the same hymnal in your amen corner, maybe it’s time to move on.

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.