Office of Government Relations

EPPN Series on Deradicalization: Introduction

June 10, 2022
Office of Government Relations

In January of 2021, following the attack on the Capitol, Executive Council passed resolution MW 036: White Supremacy and Deradicalization acknowledging and repenting The Church’s sins of the past in being complicit and upholding white supremacist ideologies and systems. As part of The Church’s journey promoting the creation of a Beloved Community and confronting the abomination and sin of racism that continues to plague our society and our Church at great cost to human life and human dignity, Executive Council resolved that our Church could play a role in deradicalization and help possible violent extremists to reject their ideology and reintegrate into their communities. The violent and racist ideologies that are prevalent in Christian Nationalist and White Power communities are irreconcilable with the loving ways of Christ. 

The Office of Government Relations, along with our colleagues in the Church, conducted an online survey in 2021 that was widely disseminated throughout The Episcopal Church focusing on radicalism, extremism, and deradicalization opportunities. Approximately 95% of more than 1,500 survey respondents expressed at least some concern about White Power movements and/or Christian Nationalism in our nation and our Church, with over 70% expressing a great deal of concern.

This EPPN Series will provide more information about radicalization and deradicalization, offering updates on legislation and other initiatives intended to address this problem. We invite Episcopalians to consider how they can take on ministries that prevent people from joining extremist groups, offer an alternative for those who have already joined, as well as challenging and disrupting the beliefs of those who cling to wicked ideologies, and expanding the possibility of reconciliation and forgiveness to our fellow siblings in Christ. 

Excerpts from Deradicalization: Recommendations for The Episcopal Church prepared by The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations and Office of Ecumenical Interreligious Relations, May 2021 


We recognize the challenge that terminology presents when addressing topics as complex, overlapping, and fraught as white supremacy, violent extremism, and White Power. We have looked to academics who study violent extremists and White Power movements in the U.S. and globally for a guide on terminology. Even experts disagree about terminology use, and we do not expect to end the debate here. Nevertheless, we have laid out definitions of terminology we use throughout this series for clarity.

White Supremacy: 

White supremacy is an ideology at the center of White Power movements and many forms of Christian nationalism. While the white supremacy movement results in many forms of violence, including direct violence, this series will use the term “white supremacy” to refer to an ideology that does not make violence its explicit aim, while fully recognizing the many forms of violence resulting from white supremacy and systemic racism. Addressing this indirect violence caused by white supremacist ideologies will be crucial to combatting radicalization but will not be the focus of this series. This series will address direct violence caused by white supremacist ideologies which we will call “White Power.” 

White Power: 

In our charge from Executive Council, the task is to address the growing issue of radicalization and violence by white supremacists. Those who have chosen violent extremism pose both a threat to the well-being of God’s people and the strength of our communities. Hate is the antithesis of the teaching of Jesus Christ, and in our charge from Executive Council to develop a “holistic response to Christian nationalism and violent white supremacy,” we will use the term “White Power” to refer to those people and ideologies who approve of violence to uphold white supremacy. 

“White Power”, which is overlapping but distinct from Christian nationalism, also encompasses the violent white supremacy and far-right extremism that extend far beyond the borders of the United States. Kathleen Belew in her work, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America, argues for use of the term White Power to encompass those who hold white supremacist beliefs and who seek to use violent means to achieve their goals – in the U.S. and globally. Those who are committed to White Power have chosen to be a part of a community that uses violence to express power over others. 

Christian Nationalism: 

“Christian nationalism” is a commitment to combining Christian and American identities tied in with white supremacist ideologies. This ideology demands that Christianity be granted special treatment by the state while suggesting that the United States is an inherently Christian nation. This is yet another hurtful ideology and one that draws in Christianity, a religion which we as Episcopalians know as a movement of compassion, empathy, welcoming, and forgiveness, to overlay it with hurtful rhetoric, racial subjugation, and, too often, violence. The direct violence, intimidation, and distortion of scripture associated with “Christian nationalism” does not reflect the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, and the Episcopal Church has remained committed to condemning the ideology. In this series, the term “Christian nationalism” will be used to describe those who have engaged in violent and hurtful narratives and falsely justified them through their understanding of Christianity. 

Many White Power movements are global in nature, and while we must repudiate Christian nationalism, we must recognize the scope of white supremacist ideologies globally that also seek to use violence. 

Extremist groups: 

Extremist groups exist that span a variety of ideologies. This series is addressing White Power and Christian nationalist ideologies, and the ways that these lead to radicalization. Through the series, the term “extremist groups,” is not intended to include the vast makeup of violent groups, but rather designates organizations that hold White Power or Christian nationalist ideologies. The series will make mention of specific groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) or the Chicago Area Skinheads (CASH), but these will be to discuss individual stories or events, not to encompass the breadth of extremist movements. Because radicalization can happen on one’s own, via social media pages and internet forums, and without the involvement of specific groups or communities, using the broad terms “extremist groups” will be the clearest way to refer to the White Power and Christian nationalist ideologies embraced by radicalized individuals. 

Radicalization in The United States 

Throughout United States history, White Power has overlapped with versions of patriotism and Christian nationalism. We can trace a long history of the dehumanization of non-whites, especially Indigenous people and people of African descent, to deeply problematic understandings of Christianity. Anti-Semitic beliefs are also prevalent among individuals who maintain Christian nationalist or White supremacist ideologies. Today, the county is still coming to terms with, not only the impact of centuries of damaging legal and cultural practices, but ongoing systemic racism. 

In more recent years, it has become clear that the entire Christian community must grapple with this threat. Most recently, the ELCA has been forced to reckon with Dylann Roof’s connection to a Lutheran parish before his attack on Mother Emmanuel AME in Charleston, SC. 

Context: Violent White Nationalism on the Rise 

For several years, through multiple presidential administrations, Christian nationalism and White Power movements have been discussed as a significant threat to national security. White Power violence and Christian nationalist ideologies have become increasingly public in recent years. In 2017, the FBI reported that since the attacks on 9/11, more lives have been taken by white supremacists than by “any other domestic extremist movement.” As is true historically, these ideologies have taken both civic and social forms, like with anti-immigration views manifesting in policies such as Executive Order 13769, also known as the Muslim Ban, or increases in hate crimes and violence against some Asian American populations in the wake of COVID-19. These are modern, tangible examples of the impact of radical ideologies on people’s lives. 

While White Power groups and Christian nationalists have always engaged in violence and radicalization, there is no clearer example of the unification of these movements in recent days than the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Images from the insurrection have shown symbols and signs indicating that the attackers were attacking as Christians. These symbols and signs were raised alongside racist memorabilia, signs bearing hateful language and terminology, and conspiracy propaganda including references to Q, the idolized leader of QAnon. Often, acts of domestic terrorism are conducted by single perpetrators who seem to be independent of a greater group or movement. Attacks like the bombing in Oklahoma City, the church shooting in Charleston, the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, or the Walmart shooting in El Paso may have only one attacker, but the extremist ideologies remain constant across each example. The Capitol insurrection raises awareness for the greater extremist movement that draws people in and causes people to act in different ways but supplies the motivation for many to take violent action. 

The Capitol insurrection has taught us not only that we sit at a crucial point in time to address the organized radicalization of vulnerable individuals, but also that those people do not fall into a uniform demographic and that these movements will continue to diversify. Research from the Chicago Project on Security and Threats compares 193 people arrested from the Capitol attack to 108 “right-wing extremists” who were arrested for “deadly violence” between 2015-2020. The demographic data suggests that the capitol attackers were more educated, more likely to be employed, more likely to be “white-collar” or business owners, and more likely to be women (although the majority of extremists are male). While we may also think of extremists as belonging to specific extremist groups, it is also true that most people who attacked the capital were not involved in organizations such as the Proud Boys, the Aryan Nations, or the Oath Keepers. The attack on the capital may not be the most consequential example of far-right radicalization in America, but it does raise the issue of a drastically changing landscape of the radicalized community. Christian Picciolini, author of Breaking Hate, is a former extremist and founder of the Free Radicals Project, a global network working to deradicalize people involved in hate movements. In his book, Picciolini explains that while the demographics of those being radicalized might be changing, it is important to understand some of the commonalities among extremists. He argues that rather than viewing many of them as “lone wolf” actors, they should be understood as part of a decentralized network that shares tactics and ideologies.

In a hearing on 4/29/2021 entitled “Violent Extremism and Domestic Terrorism in America: The Role and Response of the Department of Justice,” Jill Sanborn, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, testified about the response to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack. She addressed what often motivates both domestic and homegrown violent extremists, and said that extremists motivated by race or ethnicity, anti-government or anti-authority ideologies are likely to “pose the greatest domestic terrorism threats in 2021 and likely into 2022,” also noting that “the top threat we face from [domestic violent extremists] continues to be those we categorize as Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists (RMVEs), specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race.” 

In the same hearing, Brad Wiegmann, deputy assistant attorney general of the DOJ’s National Security Division, also testified about the agency’s response to the Jan. 6 attack. Wiegmann said, the FBI has redirected $21.6 million and 135 positions, including 67 Special Agents, to address the surge in domestic terrorism cases in the U.S. 

The International Rise of the Far-Right

The resurgence of far-right extremist groups and ideologies is affecting democracies across the world. Far-right parties and candidates typically emphasize a need for the preservation of ethnic or national identities using historical and national biases involving race, religion, and ethnicity. In the past decade, far-right parties have succeeded in taking power in countries like India, Hungary, and Brazil using their power to undermine democratic institutions and persecute minorities. Additionally, we’ve witnessed the growth of the far-right manifest in domestic violent extremists motivated by white supremacist ideologies. White supremacists have executed brutal and deadly attacks in other countries like Norway and New Zealand. The same issues with extremists that our country must confront are not unique. The growth of these extremist movements is a growing international phenomenon that must be confronted to strengthen democracies and protect vulnerable individuals and groups.

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Additional Resource: 

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