Christian nationalism is getting written out of the story of January 6

When they entered the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, 2021, a group of insurgents stopped and bowed their heads in prayer to consecrate the building and their cause to Jesus. When the Senate reconvened later, its chaplain, retired Navy Adm. Barry Black, also prayed, but called the insurgents’ actions a “desecration of the United States Capitol building.”

Both sides appealed to the Christian God as the authority for their actions and values.

Outside, at the rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol, there was a similar focus on God, in the form of Christian nationalism, which frames the U.S. as a Christian country whose politics and institutions should be guided by Christian principles.

As cultural anthropologists who study politics and religion, we attended the Jan. 6 rally, which some called “Save America” and others called “Stop the Steal,” because we were interested in observing the symbols on display and in talking with the people there. Having studied political demonstrations before, we wanted to document this event and what it meant for its participants.

Most of the people we encountered were peacefully expressing their own political views and were not part of the insurrection. But they nevertheless expressed longstanding ideas that were ultimately echoed and amplified in their most extreme form by those who did engage in violence at the Capitol.