Religious & Apocalyptic Motivations for Violence

All ideological belief systems—religious or political—can be framed in a way that appears to justify violence or terrorism.

This involves mobilizing people into networks or social movements through apocalyptic calls for the heroic rebirth of an idealized community to battle a demonized “Other” in a struggle that has transcendent historic—often spiritual—significance.

There are dozens of social science books and scores of journal articles exploring these dynamics.


Right-wing conspiracy theory linking Islam to feared One World Government. Published by Northpoint Tactical Teams, Nord Davis.

Among the techniques used in this mobilization process are dualism, demonization, scapegoating, and conspiracism. Participants see themselves as involved in a sacred mission to restore a community suffering from the subversion or degradation of its historic mission. In its most rigid and authoritarian mode, these movements become totalitarian. There are numerous scholarly works that treat each of these subjects in detail, and more that look at them in various combinations in terms of generating aggression and violence.

For example, to describe this process, Emilio Gentile uses the concept of the “sacralization of politics,” while Roger Griffin uses the term “palingenesis” or historic rebirth. Other scholars refer to the same process with terms that include millenarianism, millennialism, and apocalypticism. While all of these terms and concepts have nuanced differentiations, they encompass a complementary analysis.

Both religious and secular groups can carry out this process of apocalyptic demonization. In the secular setting, the scapegoats are not linked to religiously–defined evil or satanic plots, but to corrupt, subversive, or traitorous plans. This sets up the creation of conspiracy theory narratives. In the religious setting, the call for revival is not just a call for revitalization, but for a transcendental campaign against evil to restore the Godly community.


Dominionism & Theocracy

Dominionism is a trend in Protestant Christian evangelicalism and fundamentalism that encourages not just active political participation in civic society but also attempts to dominate the political process.

The broad concept of Dominionism is based on the Bible's text in Genesis 1:26:

"And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." (KJV).

Most Christians interpret this verse as meaning that God gave humankind dominion over the Earth. Many consider this a mandate for stewardship rather than the assertion of total control. A more assertive interpretation of this verse is seen as a command that Christians bring all societies, around the world, under the rule of the Word of God, as they understand it.

As Sara Diamond explains, the general Dominionist idea, is "that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns -- and there is no consensus on when that might be. Dominionist thinking precludes coalitions between believers and unbelievers...."

What is Dominionism?

The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation
Frederick Clarkson, 2005

See Bibliography


The belief in an approaching confrontation, cataclysmic event, or transformation of epochal proportion, about which a select few have forewarning so they can make appropriate preparations. From a Greek root word suggesting unveiling hidden information or revealing secret knowledge about unfolding human events. The dualist or demonized version involves a final show-down struggle between absolute good and absolute evil. In Christianity there are competing apocalyptic prophetic traditions based on demonization or liberation. Central to Christianity, the tradition also exists in Judaism, Islam, and other religions and secular belief structures. Believers can be passive or active in anticipation; and optimistic or pessimistic about the outcome. Sometimes used similarly to the term millenarianism.

Apocalyptic Millennialsm: an Overview

Dances with Devils: Apocalypse
by Chip Berlet

See Bibliography

Millenarianism: A sense of expectation that a significant epochal transformation is imminent, usually involving apocalyptic events. Sometimes used similarly to the term apocalypticism.

Millennialism: A sense of expectation that a significant epochal transformation is imminent, marking either the end of a thousand year period, or signal its beginning, or both. Two major forms of millennialist response are passive waiting versus activist intervention. Can involve varying degres of apocalypticism. In Christianity, the idea that the Second Coming of Christ marks a thousand year period.

Dances with Devils: Millennialism
by Chip Berlet

Millennialist variations in Christianity include:

  • Pre-millennialism – Belief that Christ returns at the beginning of a thousand year period of peace and prosperity. Can foster passivity or intervention.
  • Post-millennialism – Belief that Christ returns only after a thousand years of reign and rule by godly Christian men. Fosters intervention. See Reconstructionism.
  • A-millennialism – Belief that Christ’s eventual return cannot be anticipated, thus de-emphasizing it as a practical immediate consideration. Most a-millennialists believe that Christ’s return ends history.
  • Preterism – Belief that most or all of the millennium mentioned in Revelation and other books of the Bible already has occurred.

Christian Reconstructionism & Dominion Theology

Christian Reconstructionism is a form of theocratic Dominion Theology called theonomy. It is a doctrinaire subset of dominionism. Christian Reconstructionism is post-millennial.

William Martin is the author of the 1996 tome With God on Our Side, a companion volume to the PBS series. Martin is a sociologist and professor of religion at Rice University, and he has been critical of the way some critics of the Christian Right have tossed around the terms "dominionism" and "theocracy." Martin has offered some careful writing on the subject. According to Martin:

"It is difficult to assess the influence of Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, 'Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same.' "

According to Martin, "several key leaders have acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have endorsed Reconstructionist books."

The Libertarian Theocrats:
The Long, Strange History of R.J. Rushdoony
and Christian Reconstructionism
by Michael J. McVicar, 2007

Christian Reconstructionism:
Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence
by Frederick Clarkson, 1994

See Bibliography

Christian Identity & Neofascism

The primary form of Christian Identity in the United States is is a fusion of pre-millennialist Christian Fundamentalism with White Supremacy and antisemitism.

"Identity is based on the premise that the Jews are literally Children of Satan - the seed of Cain, that people of color are 'pre-Adamic' mud people - God's failures before perfecting Adam, and that white Christian Aryans are the 'Lost Sheep of the House of Israel' - God's chosen people, and therefore America is the biblical promised land," explains Lenny Zeskind, research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal.

"Some Identity members collect weapons and ammunition in expectation that the Biblical "End-Times" are near," says Zeskind who wrote a monograph on Christian Identity for the Division of Church and Society of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. "Identity theology binds together a number of previously isolated groups...Important sections of the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Nazi movement, the Posse Comitatus, the Aryan Nations, and other groups have adopted Identity theology," Zeskind reports.

Christian Identity, Survivalism & The Posse Comitatus
by Chip Berlet

The Theology of Christian Identity
Center for Democratic Renewal

A Bibliographic Genealogy

See Bibliography

Islamic Insurgents and Islamophobia

Since the attacks of 9/11, writers and commentators have had problems in finding accurate language to describe complicated and unfamiliar phenomena while remaining sensitive to issues of prejudice. Terms such as Islamist, radical Islamic fundamentalist, and clerical fascist entered public discussion. We hope this article will help sort out some of the confusing and problematic terminology that abounds.

Terms & Concepts: Use with Caution

Islamophobia & Arabophobia
Clerical Fascism
Theocratic Islamic Fundamentalism
Apocalyptic Demonization

See Bibliography


Conspiracism is a narrative form of scapegoating that portrays an enemy as part of a vast insidious plot against the common good. Conspiracism assigns tiny cabals of evildoers a superhuman power to control events, frames social conflict as part of a transcendent struggle between Good and Evil, and makes leaps of logic, such as guilt by association, in analyzing evidence. Conspiracists often employ common fallacies of logic in analyzing factual evidence to assert connections, causality, and intent that are frequently unlikely or nonexistent. As a distinct narrative form of scapegoating, conspiracism uses demonization to justify constructing the scapegoats as wholly evil while reconstructing the scapegoater as a hero.

Conspiracism: A Collection of Articles

See Bibliography

Leaderless Counterterrorism Strategy:
The “War on Terror,” Civil Liberties, and Flawed Scholarship

The Public Eye Magazine. Read it Here!


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