Some of Donald Trump’s supporters can’t help but see similarities between the plight of their beloved former president, who’s in hot water, legally-speaking, for alleged schemes surrounding hush money to an adult film star, and the suffering of Jesus Christ.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is reportedly preparing to indict Trump in relation to a $130,000 payment from his lawyer and fixer to Stormy Daniels in exchange for her silence prior to the 2016 election.
Trump has tried to cast himself as a victim of political persecution by “evil and sinister people,” who are “killing our nation as we sit back & watch” in a series of blustering social media posts in recent days.
The former president has long played a key role in the imaginations of Christian nationalists, who believe America is an inherently Christian nation, should have Christian laws, and that Trump is their savior. Christian nationalist language has seeped into MAGA-world rhetoric, but Trump’s imminent arrest has taken it to new heights.
Lawyer Joseph McBride, who is representing a handful of Jan. 6 defendants, thinks that the timing of Trump’s likely arrest is notable.
“President Trump will be arrested during lent—a time of suffering and purification for the followers of Jesus Christ,” McBride wrote on Twitter. “As Christ was crucified, and then rose again on the 3rd day, so too will @realdonaldtrump.”
When he faced some pushback on comparing Trump’s plight to Jesus Christ’s hours-long torture, McBride doubled down. “JESUS LOVES DONALD TRUMP. JESUS DIED FOR DONALD TRUMP. JESUS LIVES INSIDE DONALD TRUMP,” McBride tweeted. “DEAL WITH IT.”
Other Trump supporters see eerie similarities between the Manhattan DA and the Romans who crucified Jesus.
“Rome tried to silence a peaceful leader via political persecution, and ended up creating the most pervasive & permanent religious figure in all of world history,” MAGA-world influencer Reanna Dilley wrote on Twitter. “Good fucking luck, New York.”
Others are writing Trump into the Bible.
“To the wicked who are plotting against President Trump, who has committed no crime. Who has been chosen and appointed by Jesus Christ for such a time as this,” one person wrote on Truth Social. “May you fall into your own nets, While President Trump escapes safely. - from Psalm 141:10.”
Trump’s base worshiped him as a heaven-sent, Christ-like figure, despite his crass language, reported philandering, and scant evidence that he regularly attended church before running for president. His presidency helped usher in a new era of Christian nationalism, a right-wing philosophy whose adherents believe Trump is on a mission to restore God's kingdom in America by transforming its laws and cultural institutions to reflect evangelical Christian values. A widely-cited study identified Christian nationalism as the dominant ideology among the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters. And there’s even a book, “President Donald J. Trump, The Son of Man—The Christ,” written by a Trump supporter.
In the Christian nationalist theological framework, all manner of right-wing culture war issues, including drag shows, COVID-19 vaccines, and now the looming indictment of Trump, became primordial battles between good and evil.
Trump has harnessed surging Christian nationalism to his advantage, and has recently adopted increasingly apocalyptic rhetoric to imbue his campaign with a sense of urgency.
“The greatest in our history, most important battle in our lives, is taking place right now as we speak,” he told CPAC earlier this month. “For seven years, you and I have been engaged in an epic struggle to rescue our country from the people who hate it and want to absolutely destroy it.”
At CPAC, Trump namechecked the “George Soros money machine.” Soros, a Holocaust survivor and billionaire philanthropist who funds popular liberal causes, is regularly invoked as an antisemitic dog whistle by those on the extreme right—Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani once promoted a tweet calling Soros the “anti-Christ,” which is how he’s often referred to in far-right circles. And over the weekend, Trump repeatedly tried to discredit the Manhattan DA’s investigation into the Stormy Daniels hush money by claiming District Attorney Alvin Bragg was “Soros funded” (Soros donated money to a nonprofit civil rights group Color of Change, which donated money to Bragg’s campaign).
“He’s giving them rhetoric to play around with, and enough violent groups are already looking for anything to grab onto”
Thomas Lecaque, an associate professor of history at Grand View University focusing on apocalyptic religion and political violence, says that these dog whistles are always dangerous, but particularly within the context of Christian nationalism and at a moment of surging antisemitism.
“This language is just going to keep reinforcing the narrative that your cultural and religious enemies are politically persecuting you,” said Lecaque. “Trump is an exemplar of how ‘your political enemies are persecuting you, we have to do something about it.’”
On Monday night, a Christian nationalist group called Pastors for Trump held a National Prayer Call on his behalf. Trump allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn joined the call, hosted by Pastor Jackson Lahmeyer.
“Father, right now, I thank you for President Donald J. Trump and God I thank you for all that you’ve done to him and through him and for him over the last eight years,” Lahmeyer said. “We ask that every single person that refuses to submit to your will in Washington D.C., you would uproot them and you would remove them and replace them with men and women who will submit to the will of God.”
The charges in Manhattan are likely just the tip of the iceberg for Trump’s legal woes. He’s also facing potential charges in Georgia, for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and the DOJ is mulling federal charges for his alleged role on Jan. 6.
Lecaque is concerned about the role that religious rhetoric and Christian nationalism could play in terms of justifying or fomenting violence later down the road, especially if and when indictments start landing. “Trump is a vessel for other people to put their paranoid, violent delusions into,” said Lecaque. “He’s giving them rhetoric to play around with, and enough violent groups are already looking for anything to grab onto.”