Doug Mastriano and the White Christian Nationalist Cult of the AR-15Roundup
tags: Republican Party, guns, White Nationalism, Christian Nationalism, AR-15
Thomas Lecaque is an associate professor of history at Grand View University. Twitter: @tlecaque.
The horrific mass shootings at Buffalo and Uvalde have brought the AR-15 back into the news for the unfortunately familiar reason that the perpetrators of both massacres used the weapon to commit their violence. In response, public pressure has been brought to bear on senators, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, former President Donald Trump, and the National Rifle Association, whose annual convention took place in Houston over the weekend. As conservative politicians defend Second Amendment rights and declaim against restrictions on gun ownership, a dangerous ideological commitment has become visible: the cult of the AR-15.
Daniel Defense, the company from which the Uvalde shooter purchased his guns, posted a since-deleted tweet containing an image of a child holding a dismantled rifle over which Proverbs 22:6 has been inscribed: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The company clearly knows its audience, as an ideology connected to the AR-15—combining Christian nationalism with a firearms obsession—has spread across the country. There are churches that have AR-15 giveaways, some even using scripture to sacralize the weapon—with the most extreme proponents incorporating the gun into their services.
The most prominent and explicit church belonging to this cult has ties to Doug Mastriano, the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate for Pennsylvania.
Mastriano’s résumé hits all the main points of today’s bog-standard MAGA candidate template. He’s an insurrectionist who ginned up enthusiasm for the attempted coup as a featured speaker for Jericho March’s rally in December 2020 before participating—by his own admission—in the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021. (He bused Trump supporters to Washington and although he claimed that he and his wife did not cross police lines at the U.S. Capitol, they were caught on video doing just that.) The House Jan. 6th Committee subpoenaed him for being part of a plan to send pro-Trump electors to Congress, and he responded with loyal silence.
Mastriano also has an increasingly familiar religious profile. He has described the Gulf War, in which he served in 1991, as a “holy” war—a belief reflected in his bizarre 2002 graduate thesis, “Nebuchadnezzar’s Sphinx.” He has attended events of the Charismatic Christian dominionist movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation. He shares anti-Muslim memes, hangs out with militia members to guard Confederate statues at Gettysburg, and constantly hits all the main themes of Christian nationalist discourse in his speeches and other activities. In one particularly tasteless moment, he announced his gubernatorial candidacy while wearing a tallit and blowing a shofar—symbols that Christian nationalists have appropriated from the Jewish tradition and use to declare apocalyptic spiritual war.
American syncretic spirituality animates every part of Mastriano’s public profile and political career. Perhaps it should be no surprise that he associates with an extremist sect that places special emphasis on America’s most notorious gun.
“The World Peace and Unification Sanctuary Church” is the church of the Reverend Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, the youngest son of Unification Church founder Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The senior Moon’s apocalyptic movement (often derisively called the “Moonies”) became widely known in the 1970s and ’80s for mass-wedding ceremonies in which participating couples often met for the first time just before saying their vows. The younger Moon’s schismatic offshoot of his father’s movement has a different signature emphasis and is better known by a shorter name: “Rod of Iron Ministries.”
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