Christian terrorism

Christian terrorism comprises terrorist acts by groups or individuals who profess Christian motivations or goals.[1]


Gunpowder Plot

Main article: Gunpowder Plot

The early modern period in Britain saw religious conflict resulting from the Reformation and the introduction of Protestant state churches.[2] The 1605 Gunpowder Plot was a failed attempt by a group of English Catholics including Guy Fawkes to assassinate King James I, and to blow up the Palace of Westminster, the English seat of government. According to Vahabph D. Aghai, "The beginnings of modern terrorism can be traced back to England and the Gunpowder Plot of 1605."[3] Although the modern concept of religious terrorism had not yet come into use in the 17th century, David C. Rapoport and Lindsay Clutterbuck point out that the Plot, with its use of explosives, was an early precursor of 19th century anarchist terrorism.[4] Sue Mahan and Pamala L. Griset classify the plot as an act of religious terrorism, writing that "Fawkes and his colleagues justified their actions in terms of religion."[5] Peter Steinfels also characterizes this plot as a notable case of religious terrorism.[6]


Orthodox Christian-influenced movements in Romania, such as the Iron Guard and Lăncieri, which have been characterized by Yad Vashem and Stanley G. Payne as anti-semitic and fascist, respectively, were responsible for involvement in the Bucharest pogrom, and for political murders during the 1930s.[7][8][9][10][11]

Ku Klux Klan

Main article: Ku Klux Klan
Klan members conduct a cross burning in 1921.
Rev. Branford Clarke's illustration in the 1926 book Klansmen: Guardians of Liberty portrays the Klan as slaying Catholic influence in the US.

After the American Civil War of 1861–1865, former Confederates and members of the Democratic Party organized the Protestant-led[12] Ku Klux Klan (KKK) organization and began engaging in arson, beatings, destruction of property, lynching, murder, rape, tar-and-feathering, whipping and intimidation via such means as cross burning. They targeted African Americans, Jews, Catholics, and other social or ethnic minorities.

Vehemently anti-Catholic, Klan members had an explicitly Protestant Christian terrorist ideology, basing their beliefs in part on a "religious foundation" in Protestant Christianity.[13] The goals of the KKK included, from an early time onward, an intent to "reestablish Protestant Christian values in America by any means possible", and they believed that "Jesus was the first Klansman."[14] From 1915 onward, Klansmen conducted cross-burnings not only to intimidate targets, but also to demonstrate their respect and reverence for Jesus Christ, and the ritual of lighting crosses was steeped in Christian symbolism, including prayer and singing hymns.[15] Within Christianity the Klan directed hostilities against Catholics. Modern Klan organizations remain associated with acts of domestic terrorism in the US.[16]


Mark Juergensmeyer, a former president of the American Academy of Religion, has argued that there has been a global rise in religious nationalism after the Cold War due to a post-colonial collapse of confidence in Western models of nationalism and the rise of globalization.[17][18] Juergensmeyer categorizes contemporary Christian terrorists as being a part of "religious activists from Algeria to Idaho, who have come to hate secular governments with an almost transcendent passion and dream of revolutionary changes that will establish a godly social order in the rubble of what the citizens of most secular societies regard as modern, egalitarian democracies."[19]

According to terrorism expert David C. Rapoport, a "religious wave", or cycle, of terrorism, dates from approximately 1979 to the present. According to Rapoport, this wave most prominently features Islamic terrorism, but also includes terrorism by Christians and other religious groups that may have been influenced by Islamic terrorism.[20]

Central African Republic

Anti-balaka groups destroyed almost all mosques in the Central African Republic unrest.[21][22] In 2014, Amnesty International reported several massacres committed by the Anti-balaka against Muslim civilians, forcing thousands of Muslims to flee the country.[23][24][25] Other sources report incidents of Muslims being cannibalized.[26][27]

While Anti-balaka groups have been frequently described as Christian militias in the media this has been denied by Church leaders. Bishop Juan José Aguirre said: "But in no sense can it be said that the anti-balaka is a Christian group. The anti-balaka are made up of people of all kinds, terribly enraged, and including many people whom we call the 'dispossessed' – bandits, ex-prisoners, delinquents, criminals – who have got involved in these groups and are now extending, like a plague of locusts, across the whole of the CAR, murdering Muslims".[28] The Tony Blair Faith Foundation has also pointed out the presence of Animists in Anti-balaka groups.[29]

On 20 January 2014, Catherine Samba-Panza, the mayor of Bangui, was elected as the interim president in the second round voting.[30] The election of Samba-Panza was welcomed by Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General.[31] Samba-Panza was viewed as having been neutral and away from clan clashes. Her arrival to the presidency was generally accepted by the anti-balaka. Following the election, Samba-Panza made a speech in the parliament appealing to the anti-balaka to put down their weapons.[32]

The next day anti-Muslim violence continued in Bangui,[33] just days after the Muslim former Health Minister Dr. Joseph Kalite was lynched outside the Central Mosque[34] and at least nine other people were killed when attacked when a mob, some of who were from Christian self-defence groups, looted shops in the Muslim-majority Miskine neighbourhood of Bangui.[35] As of 20 January, the ICRC reported that it had buried about 50 bodies within 48 hours.[36] It also came after a mob killed two people whom they accused of being Muslim, then dragged the bodies through the streets and burnt them.[37] Within the previous month, about 1,000 people had died.[38] On 4 February 2014, a local priest said 75 people were killed in the town of Boda, in Lobaye prefecture.[39] In the southwest, anti-balaka militants attacked Guen in early February resulting in the deaths of 60 people, according to Father Rigobert Dolongo, who also said that he had helped bury the bodies of the dead, at least 27 of whom died on the first day of the attack and 43 others the next day. As a result, hundreds of Muslim refugees sought shelter at a church in Carnot.[40]

In May 2014, it was reported that around 600,000 people in CAR were internally displaced with 160,000 of these in the capital Bangui. The Muslim population of Bangui had dropped from 138,000 to 900. The national health system had collapsed and over half of the total population of 4.6 million were said to be in need of immediate aid. Also from December 2013 to May 2014, 100,000 people had fled to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo bringing the number of CAR refugees in these countries to about 350,000.[41] Amnesty International blamed the anti-balaka militia of causing a "Muslim exodus of historic proportions.[42] Some Muslims of the country were also weary of the French presence in MISCA, with the French accused of not doing enough to stop attacks by Anti-balaka militias. One of the cited reasons for the difficulty in stopping attacks by anti-balaka militias was the mob nature of these attacks.[43]



Further information: Tripura rebellion

The National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), is a rebel group that seeks the secession of Tripura, North-East India, and is a proscribed terrorist organization in India. Group activities have been described as Christian terrorists engaging in terrorist violence motivated by their Christian beliefs.[44][45][46] The NLFT includes in its aims the forced conversion of all tribespeople in Tripura to Christianity.[47] The NLFT says that it is fighting not only for the removal of Bengali immigrants from the tribal areas, "but also for the tribal areas of the state to become overtly Christian", and "has warned members of the tribal community that they may be attacked if they do not accept its Christian agenda".[48] The NLFT is listed as a terrorist organization in the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 2002.[49] The state government contends that the Baptist Church of Tripura supplies arms and gives financial support to the NLFT.[50][51][52] Reports from the state government and Indian media describe activities such as the acquisition by the NLFT of explosives through the Noapara Baptist Church in Tripura,[52] and threats of killing Hindus celebrating religious festivals.[53] Over 20 Hindus in Tripura were reported to have been killed by the NLFT from 1999 to 2001 for resisting forced conversion to Christianity.[54] According to Hindus in the area, there have also been forced conversions of tribal villagers to Christianity by armed NLFT militants.[54] These forcible conversions, sometimes including the use of "rape as a means of intimidation", have also been noted by academics outside of India.[55] In 2000, the NLFT broke into a temple and gunned down a popular Hindu preacher popularly known as Shanti Kali.[56]


Further information: Ethnic conflict in Nagaland

The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) is also a Christian[57] Naga nationalist Militant group operating in North India.[58][59] The main aim of the organization is to establish a sovereign Christian state, "Nagalim"[60] unifying all the areas inhabited by the Naga people in Northeast India and Burma.[61] The organization's slogan is "Nagaland for Christ".[62][63][64][65][66][67] Its manifesto is based on the principle of Socialism for economic development and a Baptist Christian religious outlook ‘Nagaland for Christ’.[68] In some of their documents the NSCN has called for recognizing only Christianity in Nagalim.[69] They believe in Christian theocracy.[70] The NSCN has been declared a terrorist organisation in India under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967.[71] It is believed that the organisation primarily raises funds through trafficking drugs from Burma and selling smuggled weapons to other insurgent groups in the region.[72] The group reportedly indulges in kidnapping, extortion and other terrorist activities.[73][74][75][76][77][78][79][80][81] NSCN is accused of carrying out the 1992–1993 ethnic cleansing of Kuki tribes in Manipur, said to have leave over 900 people dead. During that NSCN-IM operation, 350 Kuki villages were driven out and about 100,000 Kukis were turned into refugees[82]

On 3 August 2015 NSCN leader T. Muivah signed a peace accord with the Government of India in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, and NSA Ajit Doval.[83]


Maronite Christian militias perpetrated the Karantina and Tel al-Zaatar massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese Muslims during Lebanon's 1975–1990 civil war. The 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, which targeted unarmed Palestinian refugees for rape and murder, was considered to be genocide by the United Nations General Assembly.[84] A British photographer present during the incident said that "People who committed the acts of murder that I saw that day were wearing [crucifixes] and were calling themselves Christians."[85]


The Lord's Resistance Army, a guerrilla army, was engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government in 2005. It has been accused of using child soldiers and of committing numerous crimes against humanity; including massacres, abductions, mutilation, torture, rape, and using forced child labourers as soldiers, porters, and sex slaves.[44][86] A quasi-religious movement that mixes some aspects of Christian beliefs with its own brand of spiritualism,[87][88] it is led by Joseph Kony, who proclaims himself the spokesperson of God and a spirit medium, primarily of the "Holy Spirit" which the Acholi believe can represent itself in many manifestations.[89][89][90][91] LRA fighters wear rosary beads and recite passages from the Bible before battle.[87][92][93][94][95][96]

United States

Contemporary American Christian terrorism can be motivated by a violent desire to implement a Reconstructionist or Dominionist ideology.[97] Dominion Theology insists that Christians are called by God to (re)build society on Christian values to subjugate the earth and establish dominion over all things, as a pre-requisite for the second coming of Christ.[98] Political violence motivated by dominion theology is a violent extension of the desire to impose a select version of Christianity on other Christians, as well as on non-Christians.

After 1981, members of groups such as the Army of God began attacking abortion clinics and doctors across the United States.[99][100][101] A number of terrorist attacks were attributed by Bruce Hoffman to individuals and groups with ties to the Christian Identity and Christian Patriot movements, including the Lambs of Christ.[102] A group called Concerned Christians was deported from Israel on suspicion of planning to attack holy sites in Jerusalem at the end of 1999; they believed that their deaths would "lead them to heaven".[103][104]

Eric Robert Rudolph carried out the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in 1996, as well as subsequent attacks on an abortion clinic and a lesbian nightclub. Michael Barkun, a professor at Syracuse University, considers Rudolph to likely fit the definition of a Christian terrorist. James A. Aho, a professor at Idaho State University, argues that religious considerations inspired Rudolph only in part.[105]

Terrorism scholar Aref M. Al-Khattar has listed The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSA), Defensive Action, the Montana Freemen, and some "Christian militia" as groups that "can be placed under the category of far-right-wing terrorism" that "has a religious (Christian) component".[106]

In 1996 three men—Charles Barbee, Robert Berry and Jay Merelle—were charged with two bank robberies and bombings at the banks, a Spokane newspaper, and a Planned Parenthood office in Washington State. The men were anti-Semitic Christian Identity theorists who believed that God wanted them to carry out violent attacks and that such attacks would hasten the ascendancy of the Aryan race.[107]

In 2011, analyst Daryl Johnson of the United States Department of Homeland Security said that the Hutaree Christian militia movement possessed more weapons than the combined weapons holdings of all Islamic terror defendants charged in the US since the September 11 attacks.[108]

In 2015, Robert Doggart, a 63 year old mechanical engineer, was indicted for solicitation to commit a civil rights violation by intending to damage or destroy religious property after communicating that he intended to amass weapons to attack a Muslim enclave in Delaware County, New York.[109] Doggart, a member of several private militia groups, communicated to an FBI source in a phone call that he had an M4 carbine with "500 rounds of ammunition" that he intended to take to the Delaware County enclave, along with a handgun, molotov cocktails and a machete. The FBI source recorded him saying "if it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds."[110] Doggart had previously travelled to a site in Dover, Tennessee described in chain emails as a "jihadist training camp", and found that the claims were wrong. Doggart pleaded guilty in an April plea bargain stating he had “willfully and knowingly sent a message in interstate commerce containing a true threat” to injure someone. The plea bargain was struck down by a judge because it did not contain enough facts to constitute a true threat.[111][112] Doggart stood as an independent candidate in Tennessee's 4th congressional district, losing with 6.4% of the vote.[113] None of the charges against him are terrorism related.[114][115][116][117]

The November 2015 Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting, in which three were killed and nine injured, was described as "a form of terrorism" by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.[118] The gunman, Robert Lewis Dear, was described as a "delusional" man[119] who had written on a cannabis internet forum that "sinners" would "burn in hell" during the end times, and had also written about smoking marijuana and propositioned women for sex.[120][121] He had praised the Army of God, saying that attacks on abortion clinics are "God's work."[122] Deer's ex-wife said he had put glue on a lock of a Planned Parenthood clinic, and in court documents for their divorce she said "He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions. He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end."

Global ideologies

Christian Identity is a loosely affiliated global group of churches and individuals devoted to a racialized theology which asserts that North European whites are the direct descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, God's chosen people. It has been associated with groups such as the Aryan Nations, Aryan Republican Army, Army of God, Phineas Priesthood, and The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. It has been cited as an influence on a number of terrorist attacks around the world, including the 2002 Soweto bombings.[123][124][125][126]

These groups are estimated to have 2,000 members in the United States,[127] and an unknown number in Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth. Due to the promotion of Christian Identity doctrines through radio and later the Internet, an additional 50,000 unaffiliated individuals are thought to hold Christian Identity beliefs.[127]

See also


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Further reading

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