The big lie: “Stop the Steal,” How did we get here, and how do we get out?

By January 21, 2021 No Comments

Scenes from the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo: Blink O’fanaye/Creative Commons)

By: Larry J Schweiger
Pittsburgh Current Columnist
info@pittsburgh current.com

As the reality show host on the “Apprentice” and lifelong, self-promoting media hound, Trump created and curated a Jim-Jones-style personality cult. Despite over twenty thousand lies, Trump accurately predicted, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” It’s, like, incredible.” 

In a debate with President-elect Biden, Trump urged the Proud Boys to stand down and stand by. They did until the 6th. Extremist groups, many looking like they had just stepped off a Duck Dynasty set, were intent on inflicting violence. They raided the Capitol seeking to hang Pence and capturing Pelosi. Urged to come to DC on the 6th by Trump’s many tweets, the violent maelstrom caused five deaths and scores of injuries and Pence barely escaped their grasp. Plans were hatched among online extremist communities using Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks and on the dark web. The ridiculous-looking but virulent insurrectionists are Trump’s base, and he made it clear after the coup failed that he still loves them. The FBI is currently reconstructing the many menacing and delusional connections, videos, and tips. Hopefully, it will be possible to understand who planned the coup, who participated, and who paid for it with foreign bitcoins and other sources. 

In an opinion piece in Politico, Fiona Hill, the former deputy assistant to the President for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council, called the Capitol attack, “Trump’s slow-motion, in-plain-sight attempt at a self-coup.” Hill had earlier testified about Trump’s “drug deal” before a Congressional committee during the Russian investigation. She knows a coup when she sees it. 

Trump called for a different kind of coup to take down Congress and overthrow American democracy when current and former respected military leaders resisted his perverse agenda to topple democracy. At his command, his absurd collection of rabble-rousers executed the attempted coup on the Congress. The perpetrators were the dregs of society including the Proud Boys, QAnon, Boogaloo, KKK, neo-Nazis, and other conspiracy theorists, extreme anti-government militia members, and white supremacists bent on promoting the violent uprisings we have witnessed in DC, Michigan, and elsewhere. 

In a May 13th article published in The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance studying QAnon points to the “apocalypticism” as the movement’s basis. She reports, “We’re observing the birth of a new religion. Its clear-cut dualism between the forces of good and evil; the study and analysis of “Qdrops” as sacred texts, and the divine mystery of Q.” More disturbingly, far too many Evangelical Christians, Catholics, and mainline and traditional Republicans have overlooked Trump’s problematic anti-democracy behavior. They joined forces with the QAnon and other revolutionaries at his many rallies. Far too many Evangelical Christians and Catholics ignored his many flaws and voted for Trump. Even before the elections, many were led to believe the elections would be stolen. Trump, Faux News, and other extreme echo chamber outlets amplified Trump’s lies about the security of mail-in ballots. Seventy-three percent of right-wing Republicans who watch Fox News outlets believed voting by mail would not be as secure as in-person voting. Nearly three in four Republicans who trust Fox News (73%), compared to only 44% of Republicans who trust other news sources, said before the election that they are not confident that voting by mail will be as secure as in-person voting.

In the days leading up to the election, an October 19th Public Religion Research Institute poll found fifty-nine percent of white evangelical Protestants thought the country was moving in the right direction under Trump. Evangelical church leaders, pastors, and Catholic Priests have been issuing “Get Out of Jail Free Cards” even to corrupt and self-serving politicians like Trump, who claims to be “pro-life.” During the 2016 campaign, Trump even claimed he supported prosecuting women and the doctors who performed their abortions, saying, “there has to be some form of punishment.” He later quietly walked it back. Ironically while claiming pro-life, Republican lawmakers in Washington have avoided sweeping legislative changes knowing how unpopular it is with a majority of their voters. (They have also failed to support pollution control efforts that would be pro-life and pro-health.) Instead, Mitch McConnell and Republicans packed the courts with unelected judges and justices screened by the corporate-funded Federalist Society. With lifetime appointments, the courts will render unpopular decisions in critical cases.

The Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich reported an important story about a Catholic priest who dared to speak the truth. The Reverend Bill Corcoran at St. Elizabeth Seton Church in the Orland Hills suburb of Chicago did some finger-pointing in the aftermath of the January 6th attempted coup.

Father Bill shared, “Such an action has left many of us angry, and hurt. Since then, we have entered a typical moment of finger-pointing, blame, and holding people responsible for what happened. Such finger-pointing is not new. In the very story of creation, Adam points his finger at Eve for tempting him with the apple, and Eve points to the snake as the cause for all the trouble. Finger-pointing often leads to avoidance of responsibility. I too want to engage in finger-pointing, and point to myself, and accept personal responsibility in part for what happened in the Capitol this past Wednesday.”

Father Bill confessed his silence after witnessing Trump’s many fits of abuse and constant lies. Remembering how German Catholic churches fell silent during Hitler’s rise to power and how the American Catholic Church created a cone of silence during the sex abuse scandals, Rev. Corcoran was convicted and confessed his failure to speak out. While he spoke, he watched angered Trump-supporting parishioners walk out of the church.

Father Bill was not alone in his silence. Thousands of conservative pastors and priests across America have failed to speak out against Trump’s ugly lies and dangerous and often illegal behavior. They ignored his cruel child separation policy that has left 628 migrant children without families. As a political statement, many pastors failed to wear masks or take other measures to protect their congregation when Trump’s COVID lies and policy failures contributed to the deaths of nearly 400,000 Americans and left millions hungry without adequate relief. 

Early on, pastors and priests said nothing when Trump bragged about grabbing women on the Access Hollywood tape and illegally paid off two hookers to buy their silence. They looked the other way when Trump mocked a disabled reporter, urged violence on an event protester, and targeted the media covering his 2016 campaign. They ignored Trump’s attacks on a Muslim Gold-Star family, and they did nothing when Trump dissed Senator John McCain an American hero. They also said nothing when Trump encouraged police to abuse suspects as they place handcuffed arrestees in police cars. 

The flame of faith goes out when pastors have eyes but cannot see corrupt politicians as the anthesis of Christ, ears that cannot hear the corrupt voices of violence and anarchy. Pastors and priests have a duty to carry Christ’s message of love, acceptance of others, and forgiveness. Church leaders must not be silent. It’s time to confront the lies and corruption that have found a home with so many of their attendees.

Larry Schweiger is an award-winning author who served as President of National Wildlife Federation, PennFuture and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Purchase his compelling and timely book with free shipping by clicking on the book-link.

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