Sunday, June 01, 2008

Tony Perkins and the Phineas Priests

-- by Dave

Mark Kleiman had a post up earlier this week talking about the Phineas Priesthood and how Tony Perkins' use of the Phineas tale last year at the "Reclaiming America for Christ" confab and pointing out that Perkins should have been dismissed as a credible public figure back then.

But instead, he's everywhere on TV these days. I watched him during the Jeremiah Wright foofara tut-tutting Obama over his choice of pastors, and I wondered how a guy who's spoken to the Council of Conservative Citizens could throw that particular stone. And as Kleiman's contributor "Prup" points out, Perkins has been tut-tutting Hillary Clinton for supposedly wishing for Obama's assassination.

Well, what about wishing for the assassination of all non-Christians? Because, as Adele Stan observed, that really was the upshot of raising the tale of Phineas in his sermon. And let's be clear about what that means in Perkins' world -- non-fundamentalists. Because the folks who attended the "Reclaiming America" confab do not see liberal Christians, Catholics, or Mormons as "real Christians" either.

Back when he made it, I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, especially given that he went continued by explaining to his audience that he didn't expect them to go out and run non-believers through with a pitchfork. Moreover, the Phineas story is open to a variety of interpretations, and it's probably not wise to assume that Perkins intended the one preferred by adherents of the Phineas Priesthood.

But in retrospect, the sermon was every bit as disturbing as Prup seems to think it was. There is in fact a high likelihood -- given the ratio of neo-Confederate types involved with Reclaim America -- that he was engaging in a kind of dog-whistle rhetoric that uses the key code phrases without being explicit.

If you want to know why this is a profoundly disturbing prospect, I've posted below the entire text of Chapter 6 from my book In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest, which is entitled "A Destroying Wind" and is about the Phineas Priesthood.

But even if it wasn't intended as a dog whistle (which is not very likely), at a bare minimum it was profoundly eliminationist speech -- essentially advocating the aggressive excision of non-Christians from American society. Moreover, by using the Phineas tale, it clearly suggests that violence is an acceptable, even "Christian" means of doing so.

Which does raise the question, once again: Why are rhetorical thugs like Tony Perkins, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh considered acceptable mainstream pundits?

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