Was the Sikh Temple Shooter a “Christian Terrorist?”

The Story: Yesterday, Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of California Santa Barbara and author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Rise of Religious Violence, argued in a guest post at Religion Dispatches that Wade Michael Page, the perpetrator of Sunday’s attack at the Milwaukee Sikh temple, engaged in “an act of Christian terrorism.”

The Background: Juergensmeyer’s post restates much of his thesis from Terror in the Mind of God. In it, he highlights the “religionizing” and absolutizing of (secular) political conflict. The term “cosmic war” describes how individuals and groups imbue their political fights in the here-and-now with “trans-temporal” import and, at the same time, “satanize” their interlocutors. The cosmic war, Juergensmeyer argues, is an attractive “imagined arena” for the warriors who are burned-out, left-behind, or haven’t yet found their (eternal) place in the sun. Juergensmeyer says Page—like Timothy McVeigh and Anders Brevik before him–thought himself a “solider of Christendom,” pitted in a cosmic war against political and religious pluralism, the decline of “white Christian society,” and the “evils of secular politics in the United States.”

Why It Matters: One can be a religious terrorist, asserts Juergensmeyer, even though one may not be a “pious” adherent of the faith. And as the general public has had little difficulty calling Al Qaeda members, affiliates, or fellow travelers “Muslim terrorists”—even though many have been nominal Muslim believers at best—Juergensmeyer sees little justification for balking at designating Page a “Christian terrorist.” Juergensmeyer says Page wasn’t a “pious Christian,” but the term masks the fact that Page’s political theology—from what can be discerned in the open press—wasn’t even tied to the Trinitarian-in-name-only-and-heretical Christian Identity movement, but instead appears to have been an amalgam of Racialist Odinism or Asatru (non-Christian and openly pagan) and National Socialism (non-Christian and secular).

According to the Guardian, Page sported a “14” tattoo (see photo above), signifying the “14 Words” made famous by David Lane, an Odinist imprisoned for the 1984 shooting of Denver radio personality Alan Berg (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”). The Guardian and the Southern Poverty Law Center tie Page’s tattoos and his involvement with white power bands to Hammerskin Nation, a “skinhead organization” that has provided security to assorted white nationalist groups, including the National Alliance, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Creativity Movement.

Juergensmeyer’s post betrays an unfortunate lack of nuance when it comes to Page’s personal theology, and erroneously conflates Christian Identity and white nationalism writ large with historical, orthodox Christianity. What is needed is more careful work in the area of political theology–whether Islamic and Christian, little-o orthodox and heretical both.

For Additional Reading: Joseph Knippenberg, “Christian Terrorism?”; Leonard Zeskind, Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009); James A. Aho, The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism (University of Washington Press, 1990).




Relationship to Historical Christian Tradition



– originated with 19th-century British-Israelism; white, Anglo-Saxon Europeans are “true Israel” – nominally Trinitarian but heretical; election is through race; salvation is for whites only



– fusion of Christian Identity and National Socialism (prior American Nazi Party) – non-Christian, though Christian Identity aspect is nominally Trinitarian but heretical



– fusion of “New Age” and National Socialism (prior American Nazi Party); natural inequalities between races; eventual attainment of godhood (“cosmotheism”) – non-Christian

Creativity Movement

– not secular or Christian, but “New Age”; natural superiority of white race – non-Christian

Racialist Odinism

(Racialist Asatru)

– pagan; belief in “older gods” (Wotan; Odin; Thor); highest virtues are honor and protection of white race – non-Christian


  • http://outin2thedeep.wordpress.com Wesley

    It’s frustrating at a whole different level from the parody often made of Christianity, to see it here tossed into the ‘junk drawer’ of anyone who holds up a bible and says ‘praise the Lord’. I would love to imagine that North American public could differentiate between true orthodox Christianity and this terrorist, but, with the trend these days towards either dis-crediting by parody/caricature or the vilifying of biblical Christianity to the unknowing masses, it seems unlikely. Maranatha!

  • Josh S

    Or you could just point out that anyone who thinks Timothy McVeigh, an agnostic who was angry at the federal government over Ruby Ridge and Waco, saw himself as a “soldier of Christendom” is either dishonest or doesn’t do his research, and therefore doesn’t need to be taken seriously.

  • http://fobbymaster.blogspot.com Caleb T

    It certainly doesn’t help the Christian cause that Islam and Muslims have been slandered and mistreated by many Christians due to Al Qaeda and 9/11.

    What right do we have to say that Christian extremists don’t actually carry our banner when Christians have openly mocked Muslims for saying Islam is a “religion of peace”, distancing themselves from Muslim extremists?

    Either way, the misinterpretation and blatant abuse of any religion or set of beliefs does not invalidate those beliefs themselves. “Muslim” terrorists don’t prove Islam to be false, as “Christian” terrorists don’t prove Christianity to be false either. After all, if it was up to the righteousness of Christians (and “Christians”) to prove the truth and validity of the Christian faith, we have already failed a million times over.

    • dwk

      Caleb, here’s the difference. Islam at its core isn’t peaceful; those that claim it is aren’t being faithful to their text. Yes, there are peaceful passages in the Quran, but they are superseded by violent ones. Look up “abrogation” If you want to learn more. What our culture has termed “radical” Muslims are actually orthodox, while the peaceful Muslims in the US and elsewhere are considered nominal believers or outright heretics according to their own texts.

      Of course we still have to think and behave responsibly and lovingly, and keep Romans 12:18 firmly in view.

      • http://fobbymaster.blogspot.com Caleb T

        I don’t disagree with you on your take with Islam, but non-Christians can make the same complaint against Christianity. Whether we like it or not, our history is just as bloody as Islam’s, and our Old Testament is arguably more offensive than any other religion’s (commanded genocide). Of course, we would also claim to be a religion of peace, but we don’t have a great track record either.

        The point isn’t whether or not Christianity or Islam are true religions, or even religions that advocate peace. The point is that when you open your mouth and point your finger at Muslims (or any other group), the moment someone remotely connected to your group does something comparable, everyone is going to start pointing fingers at you.

        tldr; I don’t disagree that Islam isn’t a true religion of peace (I think that’s impossible without Christ), but we shouldn’t be accusatory, mocking, or scoffing at others, lest our own religion be scoffed at with those same ridiculous standards.

  • Pastorb

    There is nothing Christian about these groups, I was in one years ago.
    The lord called me while in prison. I have been Pastoring now for over 20 years thanks to the Grace of our God and Loving Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ. The ideology of “Christian” in these movements is a Nationalist believe of Christian heritage founded on this nation period, not the theology or doctrine of the Bible.

  • JR

    I think the wake up call, in light of public opinion, ought to be that we take a much more cautious approach to how we use our words and metaphors when we try to present our faith to the watching world. It only makes sense that our own communication not to play into the hands of people insist that Christians are terrorists, colonizers, enslavers, etc.. things that the secular world tends to associate with patriarchy.

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  • CCB

    If Mark truely understood the teachings of Christ he would of never made the statement that Page was a “Christian terriorist”. Anybody can call themselves a “Christian”. The behavior that Page exemplified is no where condoned in the New Testament. His action was not an accident but something he embraced (hate).