Republican AGs and Jim Jordan take a stand for election deniers
The same people who made Jan 6 possible are leaning into their Catholicism to avoid federal scrutiny. It's working with help from influential House Republicans and state AGs.
On February 10th, attorneys general from twenty states signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland condemning an "anti-Catholic" memo purportedly from the FBI's field office in Richmond, Virginia. While I believe it unequivocally wrong to target a group of individuals simply because of their religious beliefs, the document in question goes out of its way to state that’s not what they’re doing. If you actually read the internal document—which the FBI has since acknowledged and disavowed—it's clear they’re not targeting Catholics for simply being Catholic. Instead, whomever wrote this internal memo is interested in extremists who pose a violent threat and also happen to be or to at least call themselves Catholics. These are radical-traditionalist Catholics (RTCs) who are simultaneously ethnically motivated violent extremists or RMVEs. Specifically cited in the document is the website Church Militant, a nominally Catholic extremist group, and Nick Fuentes—a white nationalist “Trad Cath” who was recently banned from Twitter for his virulent anti-Semitism which included a statement of “declaring war” on the Jewish people. Much of what I’ve already written here was outlined first by an activist and citizen journalist named Goad Gatsby both on his Twitter account and his Substack, and I do not simply wish to rehash the great work he’s already done. However, there’s an unexplored aspect of this story which I believe warrants further attention.
The leaked memo from the FBI Richmond field office which ultimately resulted in the complaint being sent to AG Merrick Garland was first published by a man named Kyle Seraphin, a former FBI officer and recent MAGA media star. Seraphin’s piece was published on the website UncoverDC, whose editor-in-chief is an early QAnon follower named Tracy Diaz (a/k/a Tracy Beanz). More recently, Diaz was a frequently cited source by former Trump National Security Adviser Mike Flynn prior to the January 6 insurrection. Diaz and Flynn were some of the most prolific spreaders of the stolen election lies, and when Diaz was reinstated to Twitter late last year, she quickly began spreading stolen election lies again, this time in favor of Kari Lake’s failed gubernatorial campaign.
While it’s notable that twenty Republican AGs are going out of their way to defend violent extremists, the perhaps more urgent threat is the way 2020 election deniers are hiding behind their Catholic faith in order to prevent the FBI from doing its job.
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Yes, there are anti-Semitic extremists who call themselves Traditionalist Catholics or Trad Caths
It’s neither shocking or new to find violent extremists within a fringe Catholic or at least self-described Catholic minority. A 2007 profile from the Southern Poverty Law Center laid out these extremists structures and institutions working at the time:
There are hundreds of traditionalist Catholic chapels around the United States that celebrate the Latin Tridentine Mass and dislike many of the liberalizing reforms enacted by the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. But only a handful of these organizations qualify as part of the "radical traditionalist Catholic" movement that is characterized by open anti-Semitism and blames Jews for conspiring to destroy the Catholic Church and a number of other iniquities. The movement is far from unified, with these groups engaging in seemingly endless infighting and now splintered into an array of very small groups. The exception is the Society of St. Pius X, which has scores of chapels in the United States and many more elsewhere. What follows are profiles of 12 radical traditionalist groups in the U.S. that exhibit varying degrees of anti-Semitism, typically focusing in on conspiracy theories that accuse the Jews of corrupting the church and society. Because of that ideology, they are being added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups.
Few rational people will claim that simply being a Catholic makes someone a radical or a violent individual. Joe Biden is Catholic, after all, and the best nickname Trump could come up with for him was “Sleepy Joe”—hardly the stuff of extremist files. The sitting Pope Francis, only three weeks ago, broke with longstanding Church policy and stated that “being homosexual isn’t a crime.” While he did keep with tradition in saying homosexuality is a “sin,” his statement remains an extremely progressive statement in a Church which has consistently resisted even the smallest reforms in centuries. It may also go a long way to protecting gay people in developing countries where homosexuality still is a crime. In fact, it’s Francis’s progressive stances which have increased the efforts of the “Trad Caths” who want to turn back the clock to the 1950s (the pre-Vatican II days) and have all Catholic Mass only performed in its traditional Latin as it always was before. Now, everyone who supports a Latin Mass is not a radical, but there is a growing movement of extremists who only believe in Latin Mass and the pre-Vatican II practices of the Church.
Many of these hardliners have aligned themselves with the MAGA movement, and there’s every indication they’ll be willing to do so again as we move closer to the 2024 elections. Whether it be Church Militant, Nick Fuentes, Mike Flynn, Jack Posobiec, Milo Yiannopolous or their less well-known supporters, this form of Catholicism is what they preach. In its Christian nationalist form, these ideas have merged with QAnon beliefs and the wider MAGA conspiracy movement as a whole. These individuals don’t necessarily advocate for violence directly, but they also know they don’t have to. They’re good at telling their followers who the enemy is and targeting hate, harassment and abuse in that direction.
According to the leaked document from the FBI Richmond field office, "Open source reporting and FBI investigations have noted a growing overlap between the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs. Illustrative of this has been the increasing collaboration of the far-right Catholic media outlet Church Militant (and its activist wing, the Resistance network) with the America First/"groyper" movement." The footnote to this quote correctly calls out groypers as followers of Nick Fuentes's "America First" movement which operated under a white Christian nationalism platform. Fuentes is himself Catholic, and while there have been questions asked about how often he attends Mass or what Catholic teachings he adheres to, Fuentes has made this a central part of his public identity whether it’s real or imagined.
This shows that the radical tradition Catholics like Nick Fuentes can continue their campaigns to encourage racially and ethnically motivated violence towards marginalized communities while playing the victims that Catholics are being persecuted because law enforcement attempted to acknowledge the threat they pose.
Last year, Virginian Joseph Brody was arrested for his role in the January 6 attacks. His charges include attack on a law enforcement officer. Brody used traditional Catholic beliefs with his white national identity.
Religion is a central part of the new gospel these extremists are preaching. In an AP and PBS FrontLine piece titled ‘Michael Flynn: From Government Insider to Holy Warrior’, the authors write:
The thread of Christian nationalism runs through many of Flynn’s events. At one fundraiser, a preacher prayed over him saying that America would stay a Christian nation and that Flynn was “heavy armaments” in the Lord’s quiver. At the Christian Patriot’s Rally at a church in Northern California, Flynn was presented with an assault-style rifle on stage. In Virginia in July, he said pastors “need to be talking about the Constitution from the pulpit as much as the Bible.” In Texas last November, Flynn told a crowd “this is a moment in time where this is good versus evil.”
“If we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God, right?” he said.
Christian nationalism seeks to merge the identity of Christians and Americans, so that to be a “true” American is to be Christian — and a certain type of Christian. The ideology pushes the idea that the United States was founded on biblical principles and has a favored relationship with a Christian God, said Samuel Perry, a sociologist at the University of Oklahoma who studies conservative Christianity and politics.
Is there anyone but his closest adherents who would argue Flynn’s talking points are not extreme? When Nick Fuentes says that he would prefer an America under “Catholic Taliban rule,” is that not the position of an extremist who wishes to sow chaos or “groyp” anyone who opposes his agenda?
Church Militant’s website is full of references to the same people who are up in arms about the supposed FBI witch hunt against those who practice the Catholic Flynn. They’ve frequently cited Mike Flynn, interviewed Jack Posobiec, had Milo as a contributor and made favorable references to Nick Fuentes. What then unites these individuals other than their desire for power and influence? One thing they have in common is the support they threw behind pro-Trump 2020 election denial. They’re using “Catholicism” as a shield. They’re not all calling for violent overthrow today, but who knows what 2024 may bring?
The election denial information pipeline.
The people most responsible for pumping out stolen election lies in 2020 were mostly not people you would term violent extremists. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but these influencers also seem to understand they may have an audience that’s prone to violence. They’ve made excuses for people who do commit violence. Their audiences were the foot soldiers who stormed the Capitol building on January 6. Afterwards, these influencers were fine with claiming the insurrection was a “normal tourist visit” and nothing more. The pipeline of this information flow started with Kyle Seraphin, Tracy Beanz and ultimately resulted in Seraphin getting an interview with Tucker Carlson where he claimed to be outraged by the FBI’s decision to target those of the Catholic faith. Both men wondered aloud which religion would be targeted next. But it’s important to keep in mind how much of Tucker’s coverage since January 6, 2021 has been dedicated to downplaying the events that unfolded that day. If the FBI’s goal was to prevent something similar or worse from occurring in 2024, it’s not much of a stretch to image Tucker wanting to get out ahead of those narratives. It’s also not hard to imagine the potential MAGA ringleaders of any future action have leaned into their Catholic faith for the First Amendment protection it could offer them. Kyle Seraphin, who is himself a Catholic, gained notoriety initially as a result of his own willingness to downplay the pro-Trump insurrection.
Steve Friend, an FBI special agent from Florida, was praised as “patriotic” by Republican lawmakers after he was suspended not long after telling a superior he was “going to refuse to participate in any J6 cases.” As NBC News has reported, Friend chose to make his stand by objecting to the arrest of a member of a militia with ties to a former congressional candidate in Florida.
After receiving support from 30 former FBI special agents, Friend joined Trump’s Truth Social platform this week, where he was welcomed by Kyle Seraphin, another suspended FBI special agent who joined Truth Social and did an interview with conservative firebrand Dan Bongino after his suspension. Seraphin has written that the Jan. 6 cases keep him awake at night, and promoted a fundraiser for a Jan. 6 legal defense fund.
Seraphin himself, in a video posted online, said that he was at a shooting range with local law enforcement officials when the Jan. 6 attack happened, and thought that a bunch of “goofballs” were behind the attack.
“We were laughing about it, and there’s no other way to say it,” he said. “We were literally laughing, people were cracking up, you know, somebody has Nancy Pelosi’s podium. Is that the way that our country is supposed to act? No, but these were a bunch of clowns, that’s not what an insurrection looks like to me.”
In another message on Truth Social, Seraphin said he had “literally hundreds of employees” standing behind him. “You’ll only see me. But you will hear them. And we aren’t happy.”
Whether Seraphin’s claims as to his activities on January 6, 2021 are true or not, the message itself was rather predictably well received within the MAGA media space. Created in September 2022, his Twitter account has already reached over 58,000 followers after a string of appearance on right-wing media hosts including Tucker Carlson, Dan Bongino, Roger Stone, Sebastian Gorka, Joe Pagliarulo and others. Seraphin has since branched out with his own eponymous show. The decision to publish this purportedly leaked document at UncoverDC, however, puts him directly into the election denial pipeline. The talking points were laundered from there to more traditional outlets like Religion News Service and the cause was quickly taken up by the 20 state AGs with their letter CCed to to the head of the Richmond Field Office and Jim Jordan the Chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. One can easily imagine the committee bringing this story up in the near future. In fact, the official account for Jordan’s subcommittee already tweeted about it.
Though I probably don’t need to remind you, it’s worth mentioning that Jim Jordan both refused to cooperate with the January 6 Committee and criticized their investigation as “partisan witch hunts.”
Why go to all this trouble?
The leaked memo states, "FBI Richmond assesses [racially motivated violent extremists or RMVE] interest in [radical-traditionalist Catholic or RTCs] is likely to increase over the next 12 to 24 months in the run-up to the next general election cycle, complicating the overall RMVE threat picture while also creating new opportunities for mitigation efforts."
Elections have consequences, but they also mean a large influx of cash which can sway traditional political figures and extremist outsiders into action. We saw that happen with MAGA in 2020. As for what the future will bring, I caution against any sort of 4D chess interpretation of the motives or intentions of the various individuals discussed here. However, as the FBI document noted, the RTC activity is likely to increase in the lead up to the 2024 election. As we get closer to election day, infighting within various right-wing groups may be put aside as they coalesce around one leader whether that be Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis or someone else. While they can’t know what the election or its outcomes is going to look like—especially if the candidate is Donald Trump—there is every chance that his supporters and Trump himself will claim the election was stolen or rigged against him. When that occurs, it is almost certain that there will be a concerted effort to overturn the election once again. Surely their efforts will take a different form than what we saw in 2020, at the very least because what they tried in 2020 didn’t work.
We’re dealing with people here who gained experience in 2020. They participated in the lead up to January 6 and watched the events of that day unfold. They realized that people would be going to jail afterwards, and those people could potentially be them or their supporters. While the largest influencers are much more concerned about themselves, they’ve now realized the event could’ve been handled better. They could’ve done more to protect themselves and their followers. They could’ve done more to ensure Trump held on to the presidency. It’s silly to think they haven’t learned anything. It’s silly to think haven’t discussed this and haven’t planned how to do it better the next time. When that next time comes, these same people are going both attack the FBI for not preventing whatever chaos they cause and attack the FBI when they do their job, as it appears they were doing with this memo on Trad Cath extremists.
These particular extremists want to paralyze law enforcement and render them incapable of addressing the potential threats. This is why 20 state attorneys general and Jim Jordan’s House subcommittee simultaneously coming to the defense of violent extremists like Nick Fuentes and information terrorists like Mike Flynn should be a major concern going forward. Whether these state AGs intended it or not, they are aiding future efforts to discredit our voting systems, our election systems and our form of government itself. We should be extremely worried about how easy it was for this group to launder their talking points through a “news” site run by an early QAnon influencer into Jim Jordan’s new subcommittee. Whether the individuals discussed here are true Catholic believers or not is, to me, irrelevant to the point at hand. They may be all true believers. I am not going to question their own faith or beliefs, and I understand their right to worship as they see fit is protected by the First Amendment. But their faith is not informing these decisions. They’re doing this to preempt the investigations into them they know will be coming. They are doing this because 2024 may be worse than 2020, and this appears to be the early stages of a plan to get away with it.
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