Civil Liberties

Rachel Maddow Interview with Former Evangelist Frank Schaeffer: Christian Right Is 'Trolling for Assassins'

Schaeffer: "There is a crazy fringe [receiving] messages that have been pouring out of FOX News ... talking about doing away with Obama, asking God to kill him."

The following is an excerpt of a transcript from a recent episode of the Rachel Maddow Show:

Rachel Maddow:With our president overseas, Republicans and conservatives here at home have been taking the opportunity to crank up their criticism of him.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney telling Politico.com that President Obama advertised weakness when he bowed ceremonially to the emperor of Japan.  Cheney said, quote, “Our friends and allies don‘t expect it and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness. There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone.”

He does have a point. I mean, imagine an American president bowing to anyone. [Maddow displays photos of various U.S. presidents bowing to foreign leaders] Imagine. Imagine, say, oh, President Nixon bowing to Chairman Mao in China. Imagine, say, President Nixon -- oh, there he is, again, bowing to Japanese Emperor Hirohito, that was here in America.  Imagine President Eisenhower bowing to Charles de Gaulle of France -- France!

And four our pals in the press, when a former vice president, like, Dick Cheney says something like there‘s no reason for an American president to bow to anyone, the appropriate response is to say, “What else do you have against President Eisenhower, sir, or President Nixon?”  Or you could just copy down what Cheney says and write a whole story as if Cheney really has a point, which, of course, he doesn‘t—at all.  But I digress.

Beyond the former vice president, Mr. Obama‘s trip abroad has generally brought out the unhinged among the president‘s critics.  The troubled conservative “Washington Times” newspaper, for example, allowed their editor emeritus, Wesley Pruden, to assess President Obama‘s trip abroad this way, quote, “”Mr. Obama, unlike his predecessors, likely knows no better.  It‘s no fault of the president that he has no natural instinct or blood impulse for what the America of the 57 states is about.  He was sired by a Kenyan father, born to a mother attracted to men of the third world and reared by grandparents in Hawaii, a paradise far from the American mainstream.”

That was published in an actual newspaper.

On an actual cable TV channel, host Glenn Beck assessed Democratic efforts at health reform with equal intellectual rigor:

Genn Beck, Fox Host: America has spoken clearly, consistently, we are—excuse this analogy but I feel like it‘s true—we‘re the young girls saying, “No, no, help me” and the government is Roland Polanski.

Maddow: From the same network, another host, Bill O‘Reilly, couldn‘t help himself either, calling into Mr. Beck‘s radio program with this warning to the Democratic speaker of the House:

Bill O' Reilly, Fox Host:  I think people, when they figure out how badly they‘re going to get hurt in the next few years, there‘s going to be a tea party on taxes and it‘s going to get nasty.  Nancy Pelosi is going to be bobbing up and down in the Boston Harbor.

Maddow: And then, there‘s this biblical quote making the rounds in anti-Obama circles.  As reported this week in the “Christian Science Monitor,” “Pray for President Obama, Psalm 109, verse eight.”  What‘s psalm 109 version eight?  Well, it reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.”  Let his days be few.  It‘s followed immediately by another verse, “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”

And don‘t forget, that sentiment is now being merchandised on bumper stickers, on mouse pads, on Teddy Bears on aprons, framed tiles—those are nice.  Keepsake boxes, t-shirts?  “Let his days be few”—cute on a Teddy Bear.

Has anybody else crept out by this?

Joining us now is Frank Schaeffer, whose father, Francis Schaeffer helped shape the evangelical movement in the United States.  Mr. Shafer grew up in the religious far-right and he‘s the author of “Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don‘t Like Religion (or Atheism).”

Mr. Schaeffer, thanks very much for coming back on the show.

Frank Schaeffer:  Thanks for having me on.

Maddow: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office,” “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.”  This is such strong language in secular terms about President Obama.  Can you tell me if this means something less threatening to people hearing this in a biblical context?

Schaeffer:No, actually, it means something more threatening.  I think the situation that I find genuinely frightening right now is that you have a ramping up of biblical language—language from the antiabortion movement, for instance, death panels and this sort of thing.  And what it‘s coalescing into is branding Obama as Hitler, as they‘ve already called him, as something foreign to our shores.  We‘re reminded of that.  He‘s born in Kenya—as brown, as black, above all, as not us.  He is Sarah Palin‘s not a real American.

But now, it turns out, that he joins the ranks of the unjust kings of ancient Israel, unjust rulers, to which all these biblical illusions are directed who should be slaughtered, if not by God, then by just men.

So, there‘s a direct parallel here with Timothy McVeigh‘s t-shirt on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing in which he said that the tree of liberty had to be watered occasionally by the blood of tyrants.  And that quote, we saw again at a meeting at which Obama was present being carried on a placard by someone carrying a loaded weapon.

What we‘re looking at right now is two things going on. We see the evangelical groups that I talk about in my new book, “Patience with God,” enthralled by an apocalyptic vision that I go into in some detail there. They represent the millions of people who have turned the “Left Behind” series into best sellers.  Most of them are not crazy, they‘re just deluded.

But there is a crazy fringe to whom all these little messages that have been pouring out of FOX News, now on a bumper sticker, talking about doing away with Obama, asking God to kill him.

Really, this is trolling for assassins.  And this is serious business. 

It‘s un-American.  It‘s unpatriotic.

And it goes to show that the religious right, the Republican far right, have coalesced into a group that truly want American revolution.  And if it turns out to be blood in the streets and death, so be it.  This is not funny stuff anymore.  They cannot be dismissed as just crazies on the fringe.  It only takes one.

You know, look at “The Boston Globe” article a few weeks ago saying that the threat level faced by the Secrete Service has gone up 400 percent, higher than any other time in 52 years for any president, Democrat or Republican.  These are no jokes.

And as I talk about in “Patience with God,” if you trace these origins back to this paranoid, evangelical group, of which me and my father, sadly, were not only leaders, but leaders in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the foot soldiers that people like Dick Armey and others are using now to push their political agenda onto health care, are also people that have within their ranks, people, such as the person who murdered Dr. Tiller and killed three police officers in Pittsburgh because they thought Obama would take away their guns.

This bumper sticker simply says to them: “It‘s open season.”

Maddow: And to be clear—I mean, over-the-top political criticism is as American as apple pie.  And incredibly intense criticism has been lobbied against George W. Bush and against every president that‘s gone before modern times.  But you‘re saying that there‘s essentially a religious inflection in the most extreme of the commentary against Obama, that sort—that‘s operating on a religious level, that‘s a signal to a religiously-minded audience.

Schaeffer: Absolutely.  Look, this is the American version of the Taliban.  The Taliban quotes the Quran and al Qaeda quotes certain verses in the Quran, in and out of context, calling for jihad and bloody war and the curse of Allah on infidels.

This is the Old Testament biblical equivalent of calling for “Holy War.”  Now, most Americans will just see the bumper sticker and smile and think that it‘s facetious.  Unfortunately, there are 22 million Americans or so who just call themselves super-conservative evangelicals.  Of this, a small minority might be violent, but the general atmosphere here is really getting heated.

And what surprises me is that responsible—if you can put it that way—Republican leadership and the editors of some of these Christian magazines, et cetera, et cetera, do not stand-up in holy hour (ph) and denounce this.

You know, they‘re always asking, “Where is the Islamic leadership denouncing terrorism?  Why aren‘t the moderates speaking out?”  Well, I challenge the folks who I used to work with, that I talk about in my book, “Patience with God,” and I would just say to them, “Where the hell are you?  This is not funny anymore.  And be it on your head if something happens to our president, if you are going to go around supporting and not speaking out against this stuff.

It‘s just not a question of who‘s doing it.  The bigger question is: Where are the people speaking out against these things?  I don‘t hear those voices raised in the evangelical fundamentalist community.  And until I do, I—and my opinion is, they are culpable.

One last thing on this, I think it points at the fact that Obama supporters, of which I have been one since he began running, have better start speaking up in support of him and not sniping at him all the time because he‘s not moving toward change as fast as we‘d like in every area.  This is serious stuff.  The chips are down.  He has real enemies.  Some of them are violent.

And as far as I‘m concerned, it‘s time to support our president, stand with him, and not only wish him the best, but as a believing Christian myself, pray for his safety in the face of these religious maniacs, who every day, you know, one time I was on your show awhile back and they were talking about, “Is he the antichrist?”  Now, they are asking he‘s an unjust ruler and they‘re asking God to strike him down.  There are very not many steps left on this insane path.

Check out the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.