As The Satanic Temple prepares for its rally for religious liberty in Little Rock, more radical groups have announced their intent to demonstrate at the Arkansas capitol as well. Over the weekend, Billy Roper, a neo-Nazi based in Arkansas, announced a counter-protest and called on “all White Christians” to support him. Roper added, “This particular group of Satanists are Anarcho-Communists, and celebrate homosexuality and race mixing. We anticipate they will be supported by Antifa.”
TST is not “supported” by Antifa, although both groups oppose racism. TST spokesperson Lucien Greaves sees Roper’s comment as an attempt to “bait” Antifa activists into a confrontation that would give the neo-Nazis a pretext to use violence. “I think they [neo-Nazis] really want that fight,” he told RD.
“Hollow Axis” is a pseudonym used by a security consultant affiliated with TST, who says that he’s been contacted by Antifa and that they’ve been helpful in identifying white nationalists who may attend and have a history of violence. “We appreciate that support and some of us respect Antifa’s sentiments,” says Axis, “but as an organization we do not employ their tactics.”
Axis explains, “We don’t anticipate there being any violence. Our security procedures primarily involve a lot of open communication with police. We really rely on the police and we’ll be working closely with them.” He dismisses the security threat posed by the neo-Nazis as “not very impressive.”
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Also coming to Little Rock is the conservative Catholic group “America Needs Fatima,” who will be holding a prayer vigil the day before the religious liberty rally. Greaves says of this group, “They protest us all the time but they’re not violent. They just tell us we’ll burn in hell. I don’t worry that anyone from America needs Fatima will start the violence rolling.”
While this is nominally a rally about religious freedom, the convergence of these groups suggests this is really a struggle over national identity. Stephen Prothero writes that culture wars are ultimately about classification: Who is a “real” American and who is not? The arrival of Satanists in Little Rock is seen by some as displacing an idea of America as essentially white and Christian.
Greaves sees a connection between Roper’s overtly racist politics and Arkansas senator Jason Rapert’s ideas of Christian nationalism. “Rapert certainly has a problem with minorities,” says Greaves. At a 2011 Tea Party rally, Rapert proclaimed:
I hear you loud and clear, Barack Obama. You don’t represent the country that I grew up with. And your values is not going to save us. We’re going to take this country back for the Lord. We’re going to try to take this country back for conservatism. And we’re not going to allow minorities to run roughshod over what you people believe in!
Rhetoric like this has less to do with Christian theology and everything to do with identity politics.
Greaves emphasizes, “The one thing I want to stress is that we absolutely do not want any violence.” On this point, let’s hope the Satanists get what they want.