By Cameron Rasmusson
Faith and country
Nearly 500 people tromped through a muddy, rain-spattered parking lot the morning of Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016, bound for the Bonner County Fairgrounds exhibit building. As raindrops hammered the roof above, the convivial atmosphere inside turned pious with a call to prayer. This was the Inland Northwest Freedom Festival, a day-long event boasting a high-profile lineup of Christian speakers advancing a central thesis: The United States was founded as an explicitly Christian nation.
It’s a historic claim many secular scholars challenge, but the speakers made their case aggressively, starting with Rep. Heather Scott. A firebrand state legislator and lightning rod for controversy, Scott centered her talk on the American Redoubt — the migration movement by libertarian survivalists to eastern Washington and Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming — and what it means for North Idaho. Her comments set the themes later speakers would expand upon.
“Does anyone in this room not think God had a hand in the founding of this country or think the Constitution is not God-inspired?” Scott asked.
The Blanchard legislator said that for Christians, the true source of peace and ultimate redoubt — or place of refuge — is in Jesus Christ. But she also praised North Idaho for the qualities that make it cherished by survivalists, particularly conservative Christian survivalists.
“Our region has one of the lowest population densities, lowest number of natural disasters, least amount of abortions in the country and lowest rates of crime and secular unrest — not to mention plentiful amounts of resources like water, guns, timber, guns, minerals, guns,” Scott said, repeating the word “guns” to laughs from the crowd. “(Our region also has) a high density of hydroelectric dams and Christians.”
Religion in the American Redoubt
Like most amorphous groups, the American Redoubt movement is not a monolith, and that includes its adherents’ religious beliefs. But it’s undeniable that the Redoubt’s most influential personalities are outspoken Christians.
Faith permeates the very roots of the Redoubt. In his famous 2011 SurvivalBlog essay that he claims launched the Redoubt, James Wesley, Rawles (sic) described the movement as an opportunity for “freedom-loving Christians” to gather along religious, not racial, lines.
“Christians of all races are welcome to be my neighbors,” Rawles, who declined to be interviewed for this article, wrote. “I also welcome Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews, because we share the same moral framework.”
“I can also forthrightly state that I have more in common with Orthodox Jews and Messianic Jews than I do with atheist Libertarians,” he added a few lines later.
Rawles devoted a Redoubt essay addendum to the importance of finding a prepper-friendly church. He recommends reformed churches that believe in the literal truth of the Bible, maintain a commitment to Christian charity and evangelize to non-believers.
“I am of the opinion that finding a good church home is our Christian duty, and that it honors God,” he wrote.
According to Rawles, individuals who move to Redoubt territory will integrate into a new community far more quickly by finding a church. He also believes that in the event of a nationwide calamity — known to survivalists as The End Of The World As We Know It — one’s church family will prove a bulwark against the ensuing chaos.
“In calamitous times, with a few exceptions, it will only be the God fearing that will continue to be law abiding (sic),” he wrote.
Rawles acknowledges on SurvivalBlog that religion can be a contentious topic among survivalists but holds firm to its importance. Responding to an atheist SurvivalBlog reader, Rawles argued that areas with lower church attendance have a higher rate of property crime, which bolsters his belief that Christians, on average, will be more law-abiding in a societal collapse. He backed his claim by comparing the property crime rates in devout North Dakota counties against California counties with low church attendance.
“My choice to live in a tight-knit religious community is not a reflection on you as an individual (emphasis in the original),” Rawles wrote to his non-believing fan. “It is just a conscious choice, based upon statistical correlation and my strong conviction as a Christian, to do so.”
Others disagree with Rawles’ conclusions on religion and crime. Writing for the LA Times in 2015, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociobiology and secular studies at Pitzer College, argued that, with exceptions, highly secular countries like Sweden and Denmark have low crime rates compared to the U.S.
Rawles isn’t the only voice of the American Redoubt with concerns about secular ethics and morality. At a Nov. 17 presentation to the Panhandle Pachyderm Club in Post Falls, Alex Barron, creator of Redoubt blog and podcast Charles Carroll Society, said the moral absolutes of Christianity stand in contrast to the moral relativism he believes pervades left-wing politics in particular and social institutions like the public education system in general.
Under those perceived circumstances, Barron believes it’s not unreasonable to gather in like-minded groups and educate children in home- or private-school environments.
Likening believers’ migration to the Redoubt with a gay person moving from rural Georgia to San Francisco, he told the Pachyderm Club, “(Leftists) somehow don’t understand that Christians, that pro-life (people), we are just as committed to our lifestyle as they are to theirs.”
The End Of The World As We Know It
According to Frederick Clarkson, a Massachusetts-based journalist, public speaker and senior fellow of progressive think tank Political Research Associates, the marriage of Christianity and survivalism is not an invention of the American Redoubt. It echoes the Christian Reconstructionist movement developed by Cold-War era survivalists Rousas Rushdoony and Gary North. In his 1973 book “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” Rushdoony conceptualized how a new Christian society might rise from the ashes of nuclear war.
“Rushdoony spent a lot of time imagining what a Christian society based on the Bible would be like,” Clarkson said.
According to Clarkson, Rushdoony envisioned a reconstructed society in which civil magistrates execute Old Testament laws, identifying a wide range of religious and sex crimes, including heresy, blasphemy, idolatry, homosexuality and adultery. These were all capital offenses in Old Testament Israel, which he saw as a blueprint for modern America.
In contrast to Christian Reconstructionism, Redoubt thinkers like Rawles advocate for libertarian ideals of self-reliance and limited government authority. But Clarkson observes that Rawles, in his founding essay, also invokes the religious idea of the “remnant”: a godly people who remain faithful in adversity. If the remnant keeps covenant with God, he will bless it, even as he punishes the rest of America for failing to follow his laws.
Christian Reconstructionism’s influence waned in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. But according to Clarkson, the widespread popularity of Christian eschatology, or the study of end-times prophecy based primarily on the biblical books of Revelation and Daniel, contributes to a continued Evangelical interest in disaster prepping.
Popularized by Hal Lindsey in the 1970s and turned into a runaway success by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ “Left Behind” novels, Christian dispensationalism offers perhaps the most popular eschatological interpretation. The apocalyptic timetable usually includes the rapture of born-again Christians into heaven (exactly when this occurs is a matter of debate). A tribulation roils Earth with natural disasters, economic turbulence, widespread death and the rise of the Antichrist. And Christ establishes a 1,000-year golden age for Christianity, at some point returning to Earth and defeating Satan’s forces once and for all.
Many eschatologists believe the end times are imminent. According to Clarkson, most consider the 1948 creation of the state of Israel a major fulfillment of biblical prophecy and a sign that the end is near.
There are enough eschatologists in the survivalist community that Rawles, in a Feb. 1, 2008, SurvivalBlog post, lists them as something of a prepper subspecies. While Rawles considers an obsession with eschatology counterproductive, he said it’s not without merit.
“… The Bible teaches that there will be a time of tribulation,” he wrote. “Be ready for it (emphasis in the original).”
While the full influence of eschatology on the Redoubt is unclear, religion — Christianity in particular — plays a far more obvious role. It is baked into the motivations of the movement’s most influential figures. And for conservative Christians seeing trouble around the corner, the flight from blue states to libertarian lands of milk and honey is nothing less than a God-guided movement.
As Scott detailed in her Freedom Festival talk, the Redoubt isn’t just about political disagreement — it’s about spiritual warfare. And the mountain states of the Inland Northwest are where many soldiers in God’s army choose to make their stand.
“I believe God is drawing his people together and using his Redoubt to show his example of governance across the country,” she said.