Right-wing Christian media kicked into high gear in the days following the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, coalescing around a defense of former President Donald Trump based on a smorgasbord of persecution complexes, whataboutism, conspiracy theories, lies, and misinformation about law enforcement and the judicial process. The Christian right and its GOP allies are counting on their base consuming a steady diet of these radio shows, podcasts, social media posts, and email blasts, tuning out any coverage that conflicts with their image of Trump as both a virile hero and a victim besieged by radical leftists at the FBI. For them, God anointed Trump, choosing an “unlikely” leader to restore Christian America. It is precisely because Trump is singularly capable of resurrecting the Christian nation, this thinking goes, that the radical leftists of the deep state want to bring him down.
On the night of the raid, Tony Perkins, president of the leading Christian right political organization the Family Research Council, tweeted, “Who trusts the FBI to pursue justice? The agency has become so politicized that even if their actions were justified half the nation still would not trust them.” The next day, Franklin Graham, scion of the evangelist Billy Graham, also stoked distrust of the FBI, invoking the 1992 standoff at the Ruby Ridge compound of the anti-government, white supremacist extremist Randy Weaver. “Last night as we watched the events that unfolded at Mar-a-Lago, I couldn’t help but think that the FBI and DOJ are losing credibility and the trust of the American people again,” Graham wrote on Facebook. He then invoked the conspiracy theory, now pervasive in right-wing circles, that new funding in the Inflation Reduction Act to boost collection of taxes owed by the wealthy was “a step in weaponizing the IRS to act against people, organizations, and businesses who have a voice of dissent against government agendas.”
A central theme of the Christian right’s coverage is that the raid was politically motivated to stop Trump from running for president again in 2024, and to dampen his influence in the 2022 midterms. “Was it driven by politics or national security? Why did we not see the same with Hillary Clinton?” asked Perkins on his radio program, Washington Watch, on August 12, the day after Attorney General Merrick Garland publicly explained the legal process by which the search warrant was obtained and executed. Just the fact that Clinton’s home was never the subject of a search warrant — never mind whether there was any basis to seek or obtain one — was evidence enough that Trump had received unequal treatment.
Perkins even lauded the Trump administration for not investigating Clinton because “they didn’t want to create a political circus like we see happening right now.” (Trump, of course, is well-known for not creating political circuses, and for his magnanimous treatment of Hillary Clinton.) Perkins went on to say that Clinton “was not paraded out in handcuffs,” a verbal sleight of hand that suggested (falsely) that Trump was. (He was not even present at Mar-a-Lago the night of the raid.) Then Perkins waved off the ubiquitous “lock her up” chants at Trump rallies, and said, “I don’t even think many conservatives would want political leaders, even of the other side, mistreated, or treated in such a fashion that shakes our very concept of justice and dignity in this country.”
Themes of war — actual and spiritual — abounded, a call to arms for Trump’s Christian followers who are being primed to believe that just as law enforcement came after Trump, it will come after them. Eric Metaxas, a popular evangelical author, Trump promoter, and radio host, called the FBI “thugs.” He interviewed Charlie Kirk, the founder of the right-wing campus group Turning Point USA and also a rising star in the evangelical world, who declared the raid a “rubicon” moment for the left. “It wasn’t a raid, it was a military occupation,” Kirk told Metaxas, adding “I looked at it as a political invasion. I looked at it as they invaded us.” Stephen Strang, an influential evangelical publisher and author of four laudatory books about Trump, wrote, “I believe God raised up Donald Trump and there is warfare going on — satanic activity that is trying to tear down the fabric of this country.” He urged “Americans who are concerned about religious freedom and the threat of communist agendas to this country” to “stand up and voice their support for President Trump.”
Such Cold War relics as the “communist agenda,” mingled with comparisons to Nazism, are commonplace, and are used to sweep up other alleged government excesses, like COVID restrictions, under a rubric of government oppression. Metaxas hosted the once-liberal feminist author Naomi Wolf, who apologized to his listeners for having voted for President Joe Biden, whose administration, she said, is “tasking our law enforcement with terrorizing private citizens in a way that is really reminiscent of the Stasi and the Black Shirts.” Metaxas accused the FBI of “terrorizing” people, including the anti-vaccine doctor Simone Gold, who he said is “in jail because she is a doctor who had the temerity to talk about the vaccines as a bad thing.” (In reality, Gold pled guilty to trespassing at the Capitol on January 6.)
Other hosts, based on nothing more than their own ignorance about the judicial process, have urged their listeners to be suspicious. Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, said on his daily radio show this week, “this is confusing to the average person. By the way, this judge, he was not a federal judge per se. He was a magistrate. I didn’t even know those kinds of judges existed.” (Magistrate judges routinely issue warrants and preside over a range of other matters.) In the midst of this ramble about not knowing magistrate judges existed, Wildmon dropped an evidence-free statement about Bruce Reinhart, the magistrate judge who issued the Mar-a-Lago search warrant: “He had posted derogatory things about President Trump, his personal views.” Wildmon offered no proof or examples — but he was apparently riffing on a popular right-wing meme that Reinhart had criticized Trump for disparaging statements he made about the late civil rights icon and congressman John Lewis. But his listeners across the country and on the internet will think that someone who might not even be an actual federal judge and who posted derogatory things about Trump was the one who issued the search warrant.
This toxic brew of conspiracy theories, incendiary language, and veneration of Trump is likely to only get uglier and more dangerous as this and other investigations of Trump progress. Christian right figures are repeating Trump’s claim that FBI agents searched his wife Melania’s closet, feeding right-wing paranoias that the “deep state” is filled with sexual deviants. On one side is Trump, whom God anointed. On the other are creepy thugs who rummage through his wife’s intimate belongings.
Kirk, in particular, effectively sanctified Mar-a-Lago as an untouchable holy place, one that the base would fight to defend. “You want a rallying cry?” he asked Metaxas. “They occupied Mar-a-Lago!” The resort, Kirk went on, is “not just the president’s home. It’s a piece of presidential history. It’s the place where treaties were signed and important meetings happened. They desecrated a core point of American history, for what? For Melania’s shawl? Or to spend an hour in her closet?”
Kirk, though, thinks he has a solution: lawless revenge. “State attorneys general that are Republican have to authorize raids against Soros groups, BLM, Planned Parenthood, the alphabet mafia, groomers, chemical castration of children, now,” he said. (“Alphabet mafia” is a right-wing slur for the LGBTQ movement, and “chemical castration” maligns gender-affirming care for trans kids.) He told Metaxas he has texted state attorneys general that he knows, including Texas’ Ken Paxton and Lousiana’s Jeff Landry, to encourage them to execute their own raids on such organizations as retaliation, even if they did not expect to make any arrests.
In this upside-down world, Trump is sanctified and besieged, and everyone else is getting away with unspeakable crimes. If the past week’s worth of Christian right media coverage of the Mar-a-Lago raid is any indication, we should expect ongoing, escalating attacks on anyone perceived to be an enemy of God’s anointed, persecuted president.