Right-Wing End-Times Theology and the Politics of the Antichrist Smear
Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, a 21-year-old from Idaho Falls, Idaho, was charged this week with attempting to assassinate Barack Obama by firing rifle shots at the presidential residence at the White House. The president, Ortega-Hernandez reportedly maintained, is the Antichrist.
Whatever Ortega-Hernandez's actual motive or mental health, and regardless of whether he truly believes the president is the pivotal figure in an apocalyptic end-times scenario, the idea that Obama might be the Antichrist (or that President Clinton before him, or any unnamed president of the European Union) is a durable one in the evangelical imagination. As the historian Matthew Avery Sutton has noted, such apocalyptism "was fringe among conservatives 150 years ago" but "is now mainstream. It's just the air they breathe."
The Antichrist, as depicted in the end-times imaginings of prominent American evangelists, is the demonic figure who deceives the world with false promises of peace, but instead, installs a "one-world government," "one-world economy," and a "one-world religion," captivating the planets' inhabitants before Jesus returns with the Truth and vanquishes the Antichrist at Armageddon.
That, in turn, has fueled a dizzying parade of conspiracy theories. Might the Antichrist be gay? Jewish? European? The instigator of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians? A Georgia man has even sued his employer over its firing of him for refusing to wear a sticker that showed his factory had been accident-free for 666 days, because that number is the mark of the Antichrist. In the apocalyptic imagination, the Antichrist is a deceiver, so who knows?
Left Behind author and end-times entrepreneur Tim LaHaye said in 2008 there's no evidence in the Bible that the Antichrist is American, so it couldn't be Obama. Imagine how LaHaye's 2008 statement was construed by Armageddon seers who insist Obama isn't a real American, particularly since they believe the Antichrist is a deceiver.
The American televangelist John Hagee, who believes that military intervention against Iran's nuclear ambitions is foretold in the Bible as part of the sequence of events that will culminate in the Second Coming, has taken his own guesses at the identity of the Antichrist. In his 2006 book Jerusalem Countdown, he writes "one need only be a casual observer of current events" to see the one-world government, economy, and religion "are coming into reality." He concludes that the "demonic world leader" consolidating such control is the head of the European Union.
But the suggestion that Obama might be the Antichrist endures. Last year, Douglas Levesque, founder of the Michigan-based Bible Nation Society, whose promotion of the King James Bible has attracted the affections of members of Congress, maintained that Obama has a high "Antichrist quotient". At the BNS's 2010 Bible in Culture conference, Levesque observed that despite God's "purposeful ambiguity" in describing the Antichrist, one could nonetheless determine a person's "Antichrist Quotient". Obama, said Levesque, "twist[s] the word of God". The presidential motorcade is called "the Beast." Barack "means thunder and lightning."
But most damning in Levesque's view, Obama "has a mouth speaking great lying things." That's straight out of the Book of Revelation, in which the Antichrist is described as a great blasphemous beast who rose out of the sea with seven heads, ten horns and ten crowns. The beast was given power and authority by a dragon, who also gave him "a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies", according to Levesque's favored King James translation.
Some believers in the Obama-as-Antichrist theory have a less concrete understanding of what the Bible has to say on the matter. Behold this video I took of a couple at Glenn Beck's seminal 12 September 2009 Tea Party rally on the National Mall, in which the man is holding a sign with a decidedly more pedestrian depiction of Obama's satanic leanings (mere horns rather than seven heads and so forth). Indeed, this man's companion could not cite chapter and verse, but insisted, nonetheless, that the Bible tells us that Obama is the Antichrist:
We don't know yet exactly which apocalyptic brew Ortega-Hernandez was imbibing. But tasting it to guess whether the Antichrist is a human dwelling among us is more than a harmless parlor game.