After the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 there is a looming question that needs to be asked. Are white evangelicals being radicalized? This post looks at radicalization and asks a question about Eric Metaxas. It looks at Metaxas through the lens of Anwar al-Awlaki who was the “Bin Laden of the Internet” and duel citizen who it appears became more radicalized in time. In the end he was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen. Are there similarities between Eric Metaxas and Anwar al-Awlaki? This post explores that question.
“I’d be happy to die in this fight, This is a fight for everything. God is with us.”
Eric Metaxas to Donald Trump
“He’s the most dangerous man in Yemen. He’s intelligent, sophisticated, Internet-savvy, and very charismatic. He can sell anything to anyone, and right now he’s selling jihad.”
Yemeni official on Anwar al-Awlaki in the Wall Street Journal
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:26-28 NIV
Here in the Washington, D.C. area the city and region are tense. Many remain shocked about the violence that took place, and there is a palpable fear that there could be more. Today in this blog post I want to explore the issue of the radicalization of evangelicals. In light of the violence and Eric Metaxas offering to die for Donald Trump’s cause. Most radicalization has taken place on the internet. Before I ask if Eric Metaxas is being radicalized let’s look at the topic.
Radicalization of Individuals Through the Internet
The issue of radicalization is deeply complex and let me be first to say that I am not the person to address it. The internet has led to the radicalization of many people for different causes. From animal rights, environmental, Neo-Nazi and far right, to Islamic and more. In my research I discovered two sources that are based in fact that I am going to encourage people who are interested in this topic to look at. One is from Great Britain and called, Internet Matters. Then there is the National Institute of Justice which is a part of the United States Department of Justice which released a report last summer on radicalization and terrorism. There is no solid indicator as to how a person gets radicalized. For each person its unique and happens in their own way. Radicalization is one of the dangers of the internet. Another issue is that the net can act like an ‘echo chamber’ and give individuals a place to find like minded people and learn more about their causes. There can be cases where some people are on the road to self radicalization and the internet can speed up the process. Another frightening element is that people can be radicalized in private without anyone being aware of the problem. This creates the “Lone Wolf” scenario. Some of the risk factors for those who have engaged in terrorism include the following. Having a criminal history or mental health issues such as schizophrenia or delusional disorder. Being unemployed and struggling to find work and being single. A person who is a loner or socially isolated and having military experience.
There are many examples that this blog could draw from and all of them are deeply tragic. In February of 2020 a far right gunman went on a shooting spree on Hanau, Germany. He detested and targeted immigrants from the Middle East and before his spree pushed far right material online, of which he was quite active. When German police came to his home they learned he killed his mother and then himself. Last year the Washington Post wrote about how Neo-Nazis were recruiting young people online and radicalizing them in the process. In the Syrian civil war the internet has played a role in radicalizing some Europeans to fight with ISIL. France remains the largest country to send foreign combatants with 1,200 having left to fight with ISIL. And this issue can be a concern with the far left such as radical environmental and animal rights groups.
Considering the Case of Anwar al-Awlaki
Anwar al-Awlaki became known as the “Bin Laden of the Internet” and very influential member of Al Qaeda who helped recruit and inspire people to engage in terrorism due to his knowledge of American culture. His radicalization happened over time it appears. He held dual citizenship with the United States and Yemen. And he ran the public relations arm of Al Qaeda. According to some sources, he ran the blog, Facebook page and Al Qaeda magazine called Inspire. His YouTube videos became popular and were watched in the United States and greater world until they were pulled down. So how was someone who was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico become so radicalized that he ran Al Qaeda’s media?
Anwar was born in April of 1971. His father was very dedicated to education and a Fulbright Scholar studying at New Mexico State University. He received a doctorate from the University of Nebraska and worked at the University of Minnesota. He then returned to Yemen in 1978 and served as the Agriculture Minister. Anwar al-Awlaki was seven at the time. He spent the next eleven years in the country and was educated before returning to the United States for higher education. . He earned a B.S. in engineering from Colorado State University in 1994. He came to the States on a foreign visa and claimed that he was born in Yemen, this would become an issue for him later in life. In 1993 while a college student he made his first trip to Afghanistan and was dismayed by the poverty and hunger. At this time the country was in the midst of conflict and Mullah Omar had not formed the Taliban. The trip made him more interested in religion and politics. He started an Education Leadership course at San Diego State University but did not finish. He then worked in graduate school at George Washington University in 2001. In 1994 he served as a part time Imam to the Denver Islamic Society where he was criticized for encouraging one person to engage in jihad in Chechnya. After the rebuke he moved to San Diego. It was during this time that it appears that Anwar al-Awlaki was becoming more radicalized within Islam. In San Diego from 1996 until 2000 he had a following of about 200 to 300 people. Two of those individuals who interacted with Awlaki at this mosque would later be some of the September 11th hijackers on American Airlines flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. During his time in San Diego he recorded a lecture series that would become quite popular later on.
From 1998 and 1999 he served as vice-president of an Islamic society that the FBI described as a front for funneling money to terrorists. It was during this time that he appeared on the FBI’s radar. He traveled abroad and in 2001 came back to the United States and where he became an imam at a mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. Several September 11th hijackers involved in the Pentagon attack heard him teach. At the mosque the FBI Director of Counter-Intelligence listened to his academic discussions. He also served as the Muslim chaplain at George Washington University. What drew people to him where his oratory skills and command of the English language. He knew how to captivate a crowd and was very charming.
After September 11, 2001 Hamburg police investigating one of the hijackers found Anwar al-Awlaki’s phone number written down by one of the hijackers. He was interviewed by the FBI four times in eight days after the attacks. Many believed he knew more than he let on to the FBI. One detective thought he was the center of the story. And that he was sent to the United States to spiritually encourage the hijackers. But the FBI struggled to find evidence linking him to the plot. At an Islamic website al-Awlaki claimed that the Israelis were responsible for the attacks and that the FBI went into the roster and that anyone with a Muslim or Arab name became the hijacker by default. The United States media often went to al-Awlaki for questions and interviews about Islam. He was interviewed by the New York Times, National Geographic, New York Daily News, Fox News and other news outlets. The Secretary of the Army believing him to be moderate invited him to give a talk. In 2002 he was the first imam to conduct a prayer service for the Congressional Muslim Staffer Association at the U.S. Capitol. He also conducted the funeral of the mother of Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hissan. In 2002 he published an essay online called, “Why Muslims Love Death” where he lauded the fervor of Palestinian suicide bombers. In 2002 he was officially added to the list of terrorism suspects by the United States government. He started becoming the attention of the federal government for various federal crimes but the statute of limitations had expired. Awlaki had also interacted while in Northern Virginia with a radical Islamic cleric. In 2002 because of the heat he was under he left the United States and went to the United Kingdom where he stayed from 2002 until 2004. His talks were popular with young Muslims and he translated the concept of jihad into English for the first time. He spoke about protecting Muslims and not turning them over to the enemy.
In 2004 Anwar al-Awlaki returned to Yemen. He became associated with individuals who were connected to Al Qaeda. He was arrested in 2006 on charges of kidnapping a Shiite teenager for ransom, and participating in an Al Qaeda plot to kidnap a U.S. military attaché. He was imprisoned and interviewed by two FBI agents. He was released in 2007 by a Yemeni official claiming he had “repented.” In 2008 he congratulated Somali terrorist group al-Shabaab in a communique. Starting in 2008 and going into 2009 before the Fort Hood attack Nidal Hasan reached out to Anwar al-Awlaki in what is most likely spiritual guidance and questions at least eighteen times. After the attacks he called Hasan a hero. His involvement in terrorism grew and by 2009 he became the most wanted individual in Yemen, yet he was protected by his tribe and in hiding. In 2010 in an Al Qaeda tape he called on Muslims living in the United States to attack their country. From 2006 until 2009 he communicated and gave talks by the internet with Muslims in the United Kingdom. Even though he was banned he broadcast his message into the countries. Al-Awlaki is believed to have recruited Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who is known as the Christmas bomber for trying to detonate explosives in his underwear on a Northwest flight. The attempted 2010 Times Square bomber was a fan of Al-Awlaki’s writings. There were other links to terrorist plots but Anwar al-Awlaki’s family denied the links.
In May of 2010 the Obama Administration had evidence that he was engaged in direct terrorism. Other elements of the United States government followed suit. On September 30, 2011 the Obama Administration through the CIA killed Anwar al-Awlaki through a drone strike in Yemen.
Are Evangelical Christians Being Radicalized?
Before I get to Eric Metaxas I would like to ask the following question. Are American white evangelicals being radicalized? There are a couple of issues to consider. One is the large influence that talk radio has over a lot of evangelicals who largely reject normal news sources. When I was an evangelical in different churches I often heard some evangelicals mention or discuss how much they listened to Rush Limbaugh. At the time I did as well from time to time. But today looking back I see something much darker that comes out of the reliance evangelicals have on talk radio. Michael Spencer over at Internet Monk wrote about the influence of Rush Limbaugh had on evangelicals and what it was doing to the evangelical movement. He called it the Limbauziation of evangelicals.
Another issue to consider is that the advance of social media and the rise of fake news and alternative news sources has also been embraced by evangelicals. In order to see how wide spread it is, just scan a number of evangelicals Facebook pages during the COVID-19 pandemic. But evangelicals I would suggest have also become addicted to Fox News. Several months back in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic this blog wrote about how Fox News is replacing the pastor in terms of influence among evangelicals. You can read that post in, “When Fox News Competes Against the Pastor in the COVID-19 Era. Also When the Coronavirus Epidemic is Over What Will the Death Toll Be for White Evangelicals Who Consume Fox?” Keep in mind the scandal of the evangelical mind and the evangelical’s struggle to comprehend or think critically.
Between the social media that the effects of Fox News and other fringe networks that exist its this blogs belief that white evangelicals are being radicalized. You then throw in their warped view of persecution and that this blog fears opens the doors to problems. I am paying a lot of attention to the profiles of the attackers of the Capitol. My gut feeling tells me that there are going to be a large number of evangelicals who were involved. the demographic that was involved already incidents that many white evangelicals were involved. After all it was not blacks, Hispanics or other ministries that attacked the Capitol. It was white Americans both male to female of what appears to be 30 to 70.
Eric Metaxas Claims He Would Die for Donald Trumps’ Cause
Its with that in mind that I bring this post to Eric Metaxas. Metaxas has been going off the rails for sometime. He’s become one of the main poster boys for Christian nationalism during the Trump era. Then there was the time that he assaulted a protestor in Washington, D.C. You can read more in, “Eric Metaxas Struck a Protester in Washington, D.C. and Committed a Felony. This Blog is Calling for D.C. Police to Investigate.” Over the past couple of years it just seemed as if Metaxas would get worse. He put on conspiracy theorists on his radio show. And he seemed to become more attached to Donald Trump and would defend him regardless. On November 30, 2020 Eric Metaxas took his claims to a dangerous and troubling new high. On his radio show Metaxas was interviewing Pennsylvania State Senator Douglas Mastriano. Metaxas called the election, “The most horrible thing that has ever happened in the history of our nation.” When Mastriano put Trump on speaker phone Metaxas spoke with Trump and he ended the conversation by saying that God is on his side and that he would be willing to die for Donald Trump’s cause. Here is how he worded it. “I’d be happy to die in this fight, This is a fight for everything. God is with us.” If you want to read more about this you can do so here and here.
Up above I briefly looked at radicalization and gave some examples. In studying and writing about Eric Metaxas for sometime I have seen the growing radicalization and problems that have been happening. This blog would like to ask if there are any similarities with other radicals. Well part of the reason why I selected Al Qaeda’s Anwar al-Awlaki is that his descent appeared to be long term. It started in the mid 1990s and lasted about ten years and then seemed to accelerate in Yemen. A person is not radicalized over night. It takes time. Consider Eric Metaxas’s behavior and see how far down the rabbit hole he has fallen. Anwar al-Awlaki had run ins with the law. Eric Metaxas has arrived at this point with assaulting a protestor here in Washington, D.C. Al-Awlaki claimed to be intellectual and so does Eric Metaxas who is supposed to be the most intellectual author in American evangelicalism. Al-Awlaki was known as a captivating speaker and Eric Metaxas presents himself well. But for me I see dark parallels in both cases of radicalization. Anwar al-Awlaki. The link from my perseptive..is that both appear to claim that they have been persecuted or that government is going after them in some capacity. I am not a trained analyst in terrorism and can’t speak to Anwar al-Awlaki but if you notice he left the United States and moved to the United Kingdom when the FBI was interview him. Al-Awlaki if he was close to the September 11 hijackers I could understand why he was nervous and felt uncomfortable. Metaxas raises the persecution claim but his call has no credibility, as evangelicals have a profoundly warped view of persecution. Both also invoke God in their behavior as well as a means to justify their actions which are disturbing.
So where could this go? Al-Awlaki went down the path of terrorism until he was killed. What about Eric Metaxas? If Christian nationalism becomes more intense and violence is accepted by evangelicals could Eric Metaxas engage in violence? Well, he already has engaged in violence here in D.C. To what degree could he engage in violence and take it to? Could he use a weapon on another person? Or could he even go so far as to wear a suicide vest? Please note I am not saying what he could do in a definitive way. I am asking questions and encouraging you to draw your own conclusions. Again I will ask, could Eric Metaxas embrace violence in the cause of Christian nationalism?