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OPINION: Idaho at the epicenter of American Redoubt, white Christian nationalism movement

by BOB KUSTRA
| April 14, 2023 1:00 AM

This was originally published April 9, 2023 by the Idaho Statesman.

It’s not often I read a book about our challenging times and find Idaho prominently featured, but that’s how things turned out when I read “Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism and What Comes Next,” by Bradley Onishi. The author, a former white Christian nationalist with nine years in the evangelical movement, including six years in ministry, left the church, earned a doctorate in religious studies and assumed a teaching position at the University of San Francisco.

He wrote “Preparing for War” after Jan. 6, 2021, when he realized that the terrorist assault on the Capitol was the result of white Christian nationalist rhetoric over the years. The book explains how the rise of the new religious right gave birth to white Christian nationalism and how it might play out in the future in even more dangerous and destructive ways. He now describes his former church affiliation as a movement thoroughly entrenched in American nationalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and xenophobia. Onishi draws an important distinction between white evangelicalism and white Christian nationalism, which he claims far exceeds the boundaries of white evangelicalism.

White Christian nationalism marries cross and flag and creates the myth of America founded as a Christian nation. It also reflects on what it sees as America’s covenant with God in recognizing its past glory when straight white Christians had exclusive control of America’s politics and culture. Finally, such loyalty and obedience to a God whose nation has failed him creates an apocalyptic vision for white Christian nationalists to act out of a crisis narrative that demands the kind of immediate action we witnessed on Jan. 6. Brad Onishi had a front-row seat in the growth of the evangelical movement in Orange County, California, where he was raised. He witnessed the Sun Belt migration as white Southerners headed West to recreate their own version of white Christianity, a potpourri of Christian nationalist mythology, libertarian economics and cowboy individualism. Voila! Orange County becomes the epicenter of white Christian nationalism. But its vision was overridden by a California that won the Oscar for the most liberal state in the Union, far outnumbering the white conservatives in Orange County. And here’s the part of the narrative where Idaho appears stage right. An entire chapter is devoted to an influx of conservative Californians and white Christian nationalists to Idaho and neighboring states. Onishi credits James Wesley Rawles, a former military intelligence officer, with applying the term American Redoubt to the intermountain states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and parts of Eastern Washington. The American Redoubt is the intermountain region where white Christian nationalists seek to take over local governments and cultivate Christian nationalist churches, all toward the goal of setting up a theocratic society. Rawles’ website expands on the preparedness required for a Second Civil War he predicts between the right and the left.

This is not a tale Idahoans have trouble understanding given Meridian’s recent experience of a California transplant who attempted to abolish the library district. California plates are as plentiful in Boise these days as Idaho potatoes. Although all Californians moving to Idaho certainly do not fit the mold of white Christian nationalist, sidle up to a bar in Boise next to a displaced Californian and you are likely to hear a lecture on how expensive it is to live in California and how much his home’s equity was worth in the Idaho housing market. But it’s also possible that you will get a riff on the liberal state and the conservative ecstasy of living in a state where the right wing is in its ascendancy. Onishi counts at least 50 people from his home community of Yorba Linda who he knows have moved to Idaho, which he claims has gone from “flyover country” to the hottest region west of the Mississippi. No argument there. Some Idahoans when first hearing of California’s “wagon train in reverse” heading to the Gem State may rejoice to think of the newbies serving as a moderating influence on Idaho’s increasingly conservative politics. Onishi dashes those expectations by citing Boise State research showing the new Californians more conservative than native Idahoans. Onishi portrays many of our new residents as seeking a self-segregated white Christian society without the bother of religious, racial or ethnic minorities. I’m sure Boiseans could quibble with Onishi on some of his generalizations applying to their city, but it’s very difficult to question his premise when you leave Boise for the rest of Idaho. Onishi cites various iterations of the American Redoubt, naming and quoting political/religious leaders setting up their own Christian fortresses in Moscow and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and Spokane, Wash.

No matter where you travel in the United States today, there is a recognition of Boise as a city on the move and a state growing by leaps and bounds. What is less obvious is this parade of people who move to Idaho to separate themselves from the United States of America, not just California. They are hoping they can remove themselves from a nation growing increasingly diverse by finding refuge in Idaho and other intermountain states. A manifestation of the Redoubt’s effort at the state level to assume control of Idaho’s local governments is the ongoing attack Republican legislators wage on what they call “woke” ideology but is really nothing but an assault on a compendium of current statutes that trust local governments to act on behalf of their citizens. They also target the word “diversity” in their efforts to expunge any reference to schools’ preparing students for a workplace and society quite different from the all-white existence these extremists attempt to build in Idaho. And they continue to take aim at their favorite target — the teaching of racism and America’s history of slave holding, which they package in neatly bound critiques of gibberish that ignores our slave-holding past and the racism still deeply embedded in our society. If you travel out Military Reserve Road, you can visit the Fort Boise Military cemetery of Civil War veterans’ graves and headstones. On its website, you can read about reports of the cemetery haunted by spirits that roam the area. Apparently, those spirits have found their way to the State’s Capitol where the American Redoubt’s Second Civil War pits those clear-eyed and proud about the diversity of America against Idaho Republicans who bow in reverence to those who seek a White Redoubt. Which shall it be for Idaho’s future? The answer is ours to complete.

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Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Readers Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a regular columnist for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.