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Pulitzer Center Update January 6, 2023

Religion and Extremism in the U.S., Two Years After the Insurrection

Trump flag

How the insurgents’ faith radicalized them and how faith leaders are responding to the Christian...

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Multiple Authors
Elizabeth Taylor (middle) prays at the Million MAGA March at the Arizona State Capitol. Image by Meg Potter/The Republic for the story "Mega MAGA: Here’s Where Trump’s Influence Was Strongest in Arizona’s 2022 GOP Primary." United States, 2022.

Christian Nationalism After the January 6 Attack
Reporters with the independent Religion News Service were on the case when pro-Donald Trump rioters invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

They understood the significance of flags and slogans invoking religion among the throng. Quickly, RNS documented how affiliates of multiple strains of so-called Christian nationalism helped fuel the violent January 6 attempt to keep Trump in power.
RNS didn’t stop there. With support from the Pulitzer Center, RNS has continued to investigate—fairly but unsparingly—Christian nationalism’s influence and power in a divided America. The project, Christian Nationalism After the Jan. 6 Capitol Attack, has also appeared in The Washington Post.
The team at RNS set out to report on how “insurgents’ faith connections radicalized them and how faith leaders are responding to the Christian nationalism displayed at the Capitol riot.” Reporters also sought to “understand how other faith communities, Christian or not, have responded to the attack by supporting a vision of America as pluralistic, multicultural, and egalitarian.” 

In one of RNS’ latest pieces, published in December, grantees Bob Smietana and Emily McFarlan Miller delved into Christian nationalist homeschooling. The trend has stoked the rise of homeschool curriculum industries that some say spread racism and political intolerance. One popular textbook teaches children that “since the 1960s, decisions of the Supreme Court and other judges have contributed to the moral decline of our country.” 

An earlier piece by grantee Jack Jenkins reported that the January 6 attack further spread Christian nationalism and that “intermingling patriotism and piety” is common among violent nationalist groups. An extremism expert told RNS that mainstream religious leaders can unintentionally contribute to radicalization by condemning violence, as one leader did, while lamenting that America has lost its foundational “story” rooted in a “biblical worldview.”
Another RNS report on far-right digital platforms found them flourishing post-January 6.  Platforms bristle with posts that are “heavily pro-gun, anti-vaccine, anti-Biden, vociferously pro-Trump and frequently laden with rhetoric that connects adherence to Christianity with American identity.”
A pandemic-related story about anti-vaccine “theology” showed how pastors mix “assertions the United States was founded as a Christian nation with conspiracy theories derived from the QAnon movement and a conviction that government efforts to curb COVID-19 are oppressive.”
RNS has also reported on attempts by representatives of different religious communities in the U.S. to unite to counter and bridge divisions, more fertile ground for reporting that the Pulitzer Center also supports.  


Work supported by the Pulitzer Center has been featured on several lists to celebrate the best reporting of 2022. "Retracing the Steps of My Abortion," by Pulitzer Center grantee Dina Gachman, was one of Teen Vogue’s Best Features of 2022. Gachman's story was published on June 24, 2022, the same day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to abortion in the U.S.

Mongabay's most impactful investigations of 2022 featured stories from Congo Forests Under Pressure, a project by Rainforest Investigations Fellow Glòria Pallarès.

A photo from The Unstoppable Ocean by Pulitzer Center grantee Alex MacLean was featured in Down East magazine's favorite photos of 2022. His coastal aerial shot highlights the tension between built and natural environments in Maine as sea levels rise.

This message first appeared in the January 6, 2023, edition of the Pulitzer Center's weekly newsletter. Subscribe today.

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