Donald Trump left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in the history of American opinion polling. His average approval rating at FiveThirtyEight never topped 45%. And yet, he was able to remain standing in part because the religious right remained firmly in his corner.
From the time Trump locked up the Republican nomination in 2016, the nation’s so-called moral guardians peddled a false narrative to their flocks. Most of the nation saw a candidate who plastered a news anchor’s private cell phone number on social media, mocked the disabled, condoned violence at his rallies and against the media, and reveled in degrading women. They also saw a president who knowingly spewed racial slurs at lawmakers of color, forced taxpayers to foot the bill for his golf outings, lied over 30,500 times, and utterly mishandled the worst peacetime crisis in our nation’s history.
But the religious right portrayed Trump as a guy whom God himself chose to not only make America great again, but make America Christian again. After all, pro-Trump ministers and evangelists insisted, what really mattered was that Trump opposed abortion and marriage equality, and intended to stack the courts with line-drawing conservatives.
They also saw a guy who openly promised that under him, “Christianity will have power,” while choosing to ignore that in the same breath he claimed he could turn Fifth Avenue into a bloodbath and still keep his support. For good measure, those who opposed him were branded as opposing the Almighty himself.
This all-out bullying campaign is a big reason why 76% of white evangelicals voted for Trump in 2020. That’s pretty sobering—until you consider that 81% of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016. Given that Trump made virtually no effort to reach out to those who didn’t vote for him, any downtick in his base, no matter how small, would have been lethal. Indeed, one can argue that when Trump lost 5% of his white evangelical support from 2016, it was enough to pull Joe Biden out of the danger zone where he could have won the popular vote and still lost the Electoral College.
Unfortunately, recent months have seen elements of the religious right ramp up a false narrative that may be even more insidious and dangerous than the one they peddled for five-plus years. As Politico noted in February, these elements have taken the Big Lie to a very logical extreme. Supposedly, God himself knows that Trump really won, and is so determined to right that wrong that he is going to pull out all the stops to restore his Chosen One to power.
The main promoter of this narrative is Elijah List, a website that distributes “words from the Lord” from some of the charismatic Christian world’s most prominent “prophets.” Its founder and publisher, Steve Shultz, sees his task as “delivering fresh prophetic ‘manna’ from the Lord, regarding the days in which we live.” Much of this manna comes from “those with whom we have a relationship, who are most likely to be speaking the true and current heart of the Father in this hour.”
Among those with whom Shultz has a “relationship” is Johnny Enlow, a so-called prophet from Franklin, Tennessee—a suburb of Nashville—who figured very prominently in Politico’s deep dive into these rabidly pro-Trump prophets. Back in January, Enlow sat down with Shultz and claimed that Biden’s inauguration “doesn’t really mean anything,” since any discovery of fraud voids the entire election even after a new president is sworn in. For that reason, Enlow said, he believed we were on the verge of “great celebration, great joy” when Biden would be dumped from his position of “pretend power.”
What extraordinary evidence did Enlow offer for this extraordinary claim? None whatsoever. And Shultz didn’t demand any. Actual journalists have a name for this—malpractice.
A month after that interview, Enlow hit the ceiling when the Supreme Court rejected a raft of 11th-hour challenges to five states narrowly carried by Biden. He took to Facebook to call for a military coup, arguing that the Supreme Court’s “failure” to recognize that Trump had won gave the military a “green light for defense of the constitution, electoral integrity, and the nation’s very foundations.” Earlier, Enlow had told his Facebook followers that with so many elements of the government failing to recognize that Trump had a second term stolen from him, there were only three forces that could potentially right this terrible wrong—“the Supreme Court, the Military, and We the People.”
This sent a chill down my spine. Remember, we were only two months removed from the Jan. 6 insurrection, which was sparked by this very kind of talk. But apparently Shultz didn’t mind. On March 11, he invited Enlow back. What ensued was more seditious wingnuttery.
Enlow claimed that Trump was still president. How’s that, you ask? Well, in Enlow’s telling, this country was secretly and illegally converted into a corporation in 1871—and Biden actually presides over this corporation. Trump, on the other hand, restored the “republic” when he took office in 2017, and still presides over that republic—and hence still controls “the essential machinery of the economy and the military.”
Is your head spinning yet? Well, it turns out that Enlow is a full-on QAnon kook. In September 2020, he told fellow “prophets” Allen and Francine Fosdick that he believed QAnon dovetailed perfectly with his long-standing promotion of the “Seven Mountains Mandate:”
Enlow and others are of the mind that if Christians take over the seven forces, or “mountains,” that influence our culture—business, education, entertainment, media, family, religion, and especially government—they can bring about the Second Coming. Enlow told the Fosdicks, who also drink the Q-Aid by the barrelfull, that by focusing solely on the “mountain” of religion, the church hasn’t applied “salt and light to the other sectors of society.” As a result, it’s allowed “multi-generational deep darkness” to take hold—including the nest of pedophiles that Trump was supposedly out to expose.
Now, let’s move back to March 2021. Enlow was peddling a line that was very popular among those who were still “trusting the plan” even with Biden in the White House. Supposedly, on March 4, Trump was slated to return to the White House as the 19th president—the first lawful occupant of the office since Ulysses S. Grant. In the meantime, Enlow said, Trump was “ruling and reigning” in a way that would not be possible if he were still in the White House.
Did Shultz shut Enlow down? Did he demand extraordinary evidence for this extraordinary claim? No! He simply referenced an earlier “word” from late “prophet” Kim Clement about people complaining that Trump wasn’t talking enough.
This would be enough by itself to prove that Shultz has no qualms about condoning outright sedition on his platform. But there’s more. Another so-called prophet who continues to peddle this dangerous and seditious corollary of the Big Lie is Jeff Jansen, a pastor from another Nashville suburb, Murfreesboro. Back in February, Jansen told Shultz that even though Biden may think he’s president, Heaven still recognizes Trump as president—and that’s the only vote that really counts.
In Jansen’s telling, the military—“the last line of defense in our Constitution”—knows it too, and was preparing to throw Biden out and restore “power and order back to the people” by putting Trump back in the White House.
Later in March, Jansen put a precise date on Trump’s return—by the end of April.
It looks like Shultz has deleted those videos from all of Elijah List’s platforms—but not before one of my earliest online friends “loved” Jansen’s call for a coup on Facebook. Fortunately, Right Wing Watch got receipts.
But why is he still promoting Enlow? And why did he see fit to blast out a “word” from central Florida-based “prophetess” Donna Rigney declaring that Trump was a “righteous leader” who had been “misrepresented and portrayed as evil,” and would be restored to office? And why is he promoting Irish-based evangelist Veronika West, who claimed to have seen a vision of the letters T-R-U-M-P written in gold on a stairway and saw it as a sign that God was going to bring him into “the fullness of his destiny”? And why is he hosting weekly “intelligence briefings” with Robin Bullock, an Alabama-based “apostle” who has declared Biden is not really president and demanded that Biden “repent” for stealing the election from Trump?
All things considered, one has to wonder—are Shultz, Enlow, Jansen, and their compatriots so loyal to Trump and so great a need for more donations that they are willing to erode trust in our democracy? Given their willingness to keep churning out this nonsense, that’s more than a fair question.
A deep dive into these outfits may make some people inclined to think I’m making a fuss over nothing. After all, Elijah List’s main Facebook page has just under 390,000 followers, while its video streaming page, Elijah Streams, has 24,000 followers. By comparison, Sean Hannity has over four million Facebook followers.
But there are a lot of reasons why we should be concerned. For one thing, poll after poll since the Jan. 6 insurrection has shown alarming majorities of Republicans still believe the Big Lie. Most recently, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed 60% of Republicans believe Trump was the victim of election fraud. It cannot be stated enough—a large majority of a major political party believes this nonsense.
The Survey Center for American Life, a project of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, drilled down further and looked at how white evangelicals saw the Big Lie. The results are disheartening—74% of white evangelicals believe the election was tainted by fraud, and only 27% believe Biden’s election was legitimate. We’re talking about a substantial component of the GOP base. Now, consider that much of Elijah List’s constituency consists of the most diehard of diehard Christian conservatives. This can’t be dismissed as the ravings of a small fry.
Moreover, many of Elijah List’s followers believe that God himself is speaking through Enlow, Jansen, and other “prophets.” For them, all that matters is that God told them Trump would win a second term—and everything else be hanged.
Unfortunately, it appears that the desire to deliver what Shultz sees as God’s voice for this hour has taken precedence over basic human decency. After all, it simply defies belief that Shultz isn’t aware that these false claims about voter fraud resulted in election officials being harassed and trolled, and caused an executive at Dominion Voting Systems to go into hiding. And what of the police officers who were injured in the Jan. 6 insurrection, including two who committed suicide soon afterward? Or the lawmakers who had to flee for their lives as these sans-culottes flooded into the Capitol? Is Shultz so determined to keep his followers bowing and praying to the orange god he helped make that he has no regard for the safety of those who had to endure the horror of Jan. 6? Judging by the content he has shared, the answer to that question, unfortunately, is no.
One may think this sounds harsh. But I’m reminded of a message Republican strategist Scott Jennings sent to Senator Josh Hawley in the wake of Hawley’s misguided championing of the effort to overturn Biden’s win even after the insurrection. Jennings wondered, “Once the Capitol had been occupied, how can you give quarter to the viewpoint that caused the occupation?” While he was directing that question at Hawley, it applies in equal measure to anyone who would continue to peddle the Big Lie when it is clear beyond all doubt that it caused an insurrection.
When you look at this from a Christian perspective, it’s no less outrageous. It’s pretty clear that Shultz, Enlow, Jansen, and friends have forgotten Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Like it or not, gentlemen—a term that I use in its loosest possible sense—these election officials, voting systems workers, and lawmakers are your neighbors.
One also has to wonder if Facebook and YouTube really understand the harm of this content. I have reported numerous videos and posts from Elijah List, as well as from Enlow and Jansen. These reports have passed without so much as a response. It looks like Facebook may be making the same error it did with its handling of Trump’s more incendiary posts. By carving out exceptions to its community standards for “newsworthy political discourse” in an apparent effort to avoid Trump’s wrath, it allowed Trump’s blatantly false claims about voter fraud to gain credence they didn’t merit. There’s no question about it—had Facebook dropped the hammer sooner, this nonsense about voter fraud wouldn’t have gained nearly the traction that they did. In all likelihood, there would have been no insurrection.
Indeed, if you strip the Christian veneer away, Enlow and Jansen’s screeds are no different from the kind of incendiary rhetoric that ultimately led Facebook to lock Trump out of his Facebook and Instagram feeds. Facebook’s reasoning for this was simple—it was necessary to ensure a peaceful transfer of power. And their spirit is the same as that of numerous tweets from Trump that were so egregious Twitter was forced to ban anyone from retweeting or replying to them—a prelude to his permanent ban from Twitter.
YouTube banned QAnon in October, and Facebook followed suit around the same time. And yet, by not taking action against Elijah List, it is continuing to let Enlow have a forum to normalize QAnon lunacy. Past history suggests that this won’t end well.
One would have thought that Jan. 6 would have awakened Facebook and YouTube to the dangers of allowing the words of these false and seditious prophets to be written on their walls. Apparently, they don’t see it. Hopefully it won’t take another violent episode to change their minds.