An impassioned investigative report tracing a deeply religious theme to the spate of civil rights violence from the 1950s until today.
With urgency and zeal, Wexler (co-author: Shadow Warfare: The History of America's Undeclared Wars, 2014, etc.) exposes how a unique strain of religious racism, caused by a twisted reading of Christianity, propelled the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church and the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., among many other incidents of deadly mayhem. While anti-Semitism “had a long pedigree” within the Ku Klux Klan since the 1910s, spurred by nativism, as Wexler notes, cross burnings and intimidation were largely driven by the hysteria over the prospect of racial integration and need to preserve “the Southern way of life.” Through an examination of several key instigators—e.g., Georgia attorney J.B. Stoner and the Rev. Wesley Albert Swift, the head of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, based in Southern California—Wexler pursues the strain of a toxic, amorphous belief system called “Christian Identity.” This evolved from a pro–Anglo-Saxon ideology into a twisted biblical creation story, a “two-seedline” theory polished by Swift in which white Europeans derived from the line of Adam, while Jews emerged from Eve’s spawning with Satan. Wexler carefully differentiates the religiously motivated extremists from the merely white supremacists, and he emphasizes that at some point in the early 1960s, the former (anti-Semites) had to ally themselves with the latter (KKK) in order to enjoy the fruits of a larger segregationist movement and “thus maximize their influence and their financial backing.” Wexler demonstrates how the perpetrators of these deadly acts, as well as more recent hate crimes and “lone wolf” violence, all share an element of religious terrorism and must be re-examined as such.
An occasionally repetitive but compelling study.