Conspiracies surrounding the OKC bombing within the context of Waco and Ruby Ridge (revised)

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Figure 1. A before photo of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building. The bombing involved a rental truck directly in front of the building by the overhang.

On April 19, 1995 the face of domestic terrorism changed in the United States. Timothy McVeigh, along with his sole accomplice Terry Nichols, bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and causing an estimate of $652 million worth of damage. [1]

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Figure 2. An after photo of the building after the bombing. Most of the destructive damage was due in part to the proximity of the blast to the overhang.

McVeigh’s motivation for this brazen attack was his hatred of the federal government and belief that American liberties were under attack. This hatred began to spark when he read the incendiary novel The Turner Diaries, which details an uprising against the federal government that then leads to a race war. The catalysts for the attack, however, were two widely publicized siege/shootouts between the United States government and its citizens, the Ruby Ridge standoff and the Waco Siege.  Involved in both of these incidents was the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a federal law enforcement agency tasked with, among other things, investigating and preventing federal offenses that involve the use, manufacture or possession of firearms and explosives. Both incidences involved violations of federal gun laws and the subsequent handling of both cases lead to many hearings on the standing of the ATF as a federal organization. These three factors together made a volatile cocktail inside of McVeigh and lead him to carry out his attack. As such, it is important to now the basic facts surrounding these three factors.

the-turner-diaries
Figure 3. The Turner Diaries, a widely read novel among the far right. Often found among the paraphernalia of far right criminals.

The Turner Diaries is one of the founding books of far-right extremist Americans and has been called “the New Testament of the Nazi Bible”. [2] The Anti-Defamation League has described the tone of the book to be: lurid, violent, apocalyptic, misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic. [3] The narrative of the book is structured around the recently recovered (and also fictitious) diaries of a man named Earl Turner who was one of the leading figures in a worldwide revolution. This revolution targeted Jews, gays, and non-whites leading to their extermination and a post-apocalyptic white utopia. While hardly a literary classic, the effect of this book cannot be marginalized as it is frequently found among paraphernalia owned by far-right extremists. The book was possessed by Timothy McVeigh and also found in related crimes of The Order, a real world terrorist group based on a group from the book, and the death of James Byrd, who was killed by John William King who hoped to incite the race war described in the novel. [4]

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Figure 4. A surveillance photo of Vicki Weaver taken on the Weaver property. Vicki was later shot and killed by a sniper.

Ruby Ridge was an incident of armed confrontation between members of the Weaver family and agents of the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). [5] Family patriarch Randy Weaver first appeared to federal agents based on alleged ties to Aryan Nations groups and supplying an ATF informant with illegally shortened shotguns. Through a series of miscommunications, Weaver missed a court date and was believed to be barricading himself on his property and would attack any trespassers. When agents went to investigate his land for a possible ambush spot in order to arrest him, they were discovered and in an ensuing gunfight Randy’s son Samuel, 14, and US Marshal Bill Degan were killed. As the siege continued, Vicky Weaver, Randy’s wife, was shot and killed by a government sniper, while holding her 10 month old baby Elishiba. Weaver eventually surrendered and was charged with several crimes relating to the incident. Of these charges, he was convicted and sentenced under only one, a charge for missing his original court date.

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Figure 5. The burning Branch Davidian compound. Footage of this incident was widely broadcast across the media and emphasized the failure of the FBI on this case.

The Waco Siege of the Branch Davidian Compound was an incident when a sect of the Seventh-day Adventist Church led by David Koresh was besieged at first by the ATF and then the FBI. [6] Like Ruby Ridge, the Branch Davidians were suspected of weapons violations by the federal government. A planned surprise raid by the ATF was bungled when the Branch Davidians were alerted to the coming raid. A shootout ensued with both sides claiming the other shot first and four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians were killed. The FBI took over the operation, which lead to a siege that lasted nearly two months. Despite attempts at negotiating a peaceful exodus, the FBI soon began to use increasingly drastic actions to drive the congregants out. At the end of the siege the Branch Davidians set fire to their compound resulting in the further deaths of seventy-six civilians.

The close proximity of these two controversial incidents led to a connection by conspiracy theorists as the proof they needed for the nefarious intentions of the government. In addition these also served to “radicalize” many far right activists would saw the freedoms of their fellow Americans under attack and feared that they would be next. “If Ruby Ridge had been the spark that lit the fuse, six months later events in Texas would lead McVeigh directly to Oklahoma …”. [7] For certain people this was the proof they needed in order to promote the idea that as a federal organization the ATF was intending to take firearms away from all American citizens.

It was this idea that led Timothy McVeigh to plant a bomb in Oklahoma City with the intent to strike back against the government. While this is widely accepted as the basic truth of the case, there are those who question this narrative of events and believe in an alternative set of occurrences. The core belief of the Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy is that the government either had knowledge forehand of the attack or were directly responsible for the attack itself. While individual theories diverge from this point, this seems to be the one linking factor that unites these ideas.

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Figure 6. Alex Jones one of the most vocal and far reaching conspiracy theorists in America. Jones is a heavy critic of the US government and often promotes anti-establishment ideas.

One of the biggest proponents of the theory of government involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing is the radio host, Alex Jones. Jones is a noted conspiracy theorist and uses his show, The Alex Jones Show, to promote such beliefs. Among the beliefs that Jones’ promotes are: the moon landings were faked by the government, the US government perpetrating 9/11 and the Sandy Hook massacre being a conspiracy to take away guns from citizens. [8] In addition to presenting his theories on his radio show, Jones promotes his theories and products heavily on his website, InfoWars.com. As for his beliefs on the Oklahoma City bombing, Jones believes this was another attack perpetrated by the government against American citizens. Alex Jones specifically believes that the Oklahoma City bombing was a false flag operation perpetrated in part by the ATF. The goal of this operation was to cast Republicans and right-wing activists in a negative light in order benefit from the resulting fear and enact new legislation. [9] Jones was interviewed by James Lane for the documentary A Noble Lie and in turn promoted the documentary on his website, which endorsed the idea of the Oklahoma City Bombing being perpetrated by the US government. Although the documentary is still promoted on Jones’ website, links to purchase this DVD no longer function on the website. [10] The idea of a conspiracy behind the Oklahoma City Bombing is a frequent calling card of Jones and he uses it frequently to invoke the idea of a tyrannical government. In August 2016, Jones tried to discredit presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by once again claiming that Oklahoma City was a false flag operation. [11]

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Figure 7. Jayna Davis a former broadcast journalist who covered the bombing. Later became a heavy promoter of theories surrounding the bombing in a book she wrote.

When looking further in to promoters of this conspiracy, I came across the views of Jayna Davis. Davis is a former broadcast journalist and her article iterates the point that there was a second willing accomplice to McVeigh and a supposed cover-up by the FBI. This second accomplice was of Iraqi descent and Davis believes that this points to the involvement of the Iraqi government. Davis has a website registered under her named that promotes her viewpoint and a book authored by her The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing. [12] In addition to her own website, Davis also promotes her conspiracies concerning the OKC on the website American Thinker. This website published an article written by Davis that supports the idea of a John Doe #2, a second accomplice to McVeigh. Davis was a broadcast journalist at the time of the bombing and covered stories on “Middle-Eastern-looking” suspects wanted in conjunction with the bombing. The article begins with an uncited poll stating that 80% of Americans believe that additional conspirators escaped prosecution in the case. Davis describes a confession from Terry Nichols, the traditionally accepted accomplice to McVeigh, of an unnamed accomplice undiscovered by the FBI. The author treats this supposed accomplice as the true mastermind and as someone who has the power to bring harm to Terry Nichols and his family, with the former serving 161 life sentences with no parole for his role in the attack. According to Davis, the obvious real mastermind was Iraqi soldiers with the help from Saddam Hussein. [13]

lorraine-day
Figure 8. Lorraine Day in addition to promoting holistic medicine supports the conspiracy theories surrounding the bombing.

Lorraine Day is a medical doctor who promotes alternative medicines in addition to right wing conspiracies. On a website published by Day, she presents herself as a medical doctor who promotes alternative cancer treatments, claims the Holocaust was a lie and advocated the idea of testing surgery patients for AIDS. [14] Day has published her views on the website Good News About God in an article entitled, Tim McVeigh is Still Alive! To begin with her article interesting acts from a presumption that the readership knows of the supposed evidence that Timothy McVeigh did not detonate the Oklahoma City bomb. The author explains this reasoning as “We won’t go into the extensive evidence showing that Tim McVeigh did not blow up the building, and I’ll show who really did it.  …  The evidence is in many places on the internet, and eventually I will write about it on my website.  But it takes time to write these extensive exposes.” The article glosses over proving one of the main points to their argument and instead focuses on the “faked” execution of Timothy McVeigh. Among the facts cited to support the theory are: McVeigh choosing not to appeal his case and having his execution date moved up, prison visits from a psychiatrist, Dr. Louis Jollyon West, who she claims was in charge of the MK Ultra Mind Control program, the state not donating the executed prisoners organs, the sealing of the prisoners’ medical records for 25 years, McVeigh’s lawyers petitioning the court that an autopsy not be done, the placing of the IV tube used for the execution in McVeigh’s leg, and the claims of a witness that McVeigh has signs of life after he was ruled dead. [15]

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Figure 9. Mugshot of Timothy McVeigh. He remains the only terrorist executed by the United States.

By discussing these theories it is worth mentioning that they occasionally highlight strange facts. Jayna Davis is correct in that there was initial searching for additional suspects in addition to those already captured. However these searches were cancelled and official reports concluded the involvement of two suspects. In addition Lorraine Day is right in calling into question the practicality of executing someone in the leg. However, it is not impossible for this to work and the work of executing someone is often performed by untrained interns. The most recurring logical fallacy occurring in these theories is the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. All the theorists’ pick facts that support their viewpoint and then ignore any evidence that contradict or alter this perspective. The connection of Ruby Ridge and Waco and the fears behind these events represents the slippery slope fallacy. Individuals believed that these two incidents would be followed by the confiscation of all guns. The big question is, how could the government support, maintain and execute a program of this magnitude? This type of thinking also qualifies as false cause in that there is a presumed relation between these events. While both Ruby Ridge and Waco did in part lead to the Oklahoma City Bombing, it is the presumed relationship between Ruby Ridge and Waco as being intentional actions of a rogue government agency. Never did promoters of this idea ever try to definitively answer, how are these events connected and what is the proof? People believed that these events were along the path of a slippery slope and would lead to further problems and cause along the way. Evidently the people who promote these theories, Alex Jones in particular, profit from the ideology these theories collaborate. They create an us vs. them mentality of the public vs. the government and sell products that profit from this type of mentality. The entire theory relies on the belief that the United States government is malicious enough to bring harm against the American citizen and skilled enough to perpetrate such a crime without being caught. In addition, this theory also relies on the fact that the United States government had no clear goal in this plan and no way to benefit. All it leads to are more theories that never have a concrete standing and only rely on leaning on each other.

Looking back, the handling of Waco and Ruby Ridge could have been better and lessons can be learned. However these possible lessons are now muddled under the bombing that occurred in Oklahoma City and the aftermath. In regards to conspiracy theories, what can be learned from the Oklahoma City case is to question seemingly qualified sources; be they journalists or doctors. In addition, that people will distort facts and look for singular points to justify their own ideas and claims. While official accounts should never be taken for-granted, it is important to ideas that are harmful or created for entirely selfish purposes.

[1] n.a. “Oklahoma City Bombing.” History.com n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

[2] Thomas, D. Paul. Nazi America: A Secret History. Online. Written by Greg DeHart. New York City: The History Channel, 2000.

[3] n.a. “Extremism in America: The Turner Diaries.” Anti-DefamationLeague.com n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[4] n.a. “The Turner Diaries.” Wikipedia.org n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[5] n.a. “Ruby Ridge.” Wikipedia.org n.d Web. 10 December 2016.

[6] n.a. “Waco Siege.” Wikipedia.org n.d Web. 10 December 2016.

[7] Blair, Jon. Zero Hour: One of America’s Own. Online. Directed by Jon Blair. London: 3BM Television, 2006.

[8] n.a. “Alex Jones (radio host).” Wikipedia.org n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

[9] The Alex Jones Channel. “How OKC Bombing Was A False Flag To Blame Liberty Movement.” YouTube.com 19 April 2015. Web. 7 November 2016.

[10] Craig McKee “DOCUMENTARY A NOBLE LIE EXPOSES OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING AS GOVERNMENT BLACK-OP.” TruthAndShadows.com. 27 September 2012. Web. 7 November 2016.

[11] n.a. ‘Alex Jones Responds To Clinton Speech By Doubling Down On Conspiracy Theories: “We’re Covering Real Things”.’ MediaMatters.org. 25 August 2016. Web. 7 November 2016.

[12] Davis, Jayna. “The Third Terrorist.” JaynaDavis.com. n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[13] Davis, Jayna. “Confession of the Oklahoma City Bomber: John Doe 2 Exists.” AmericanThinker.com. 11 April 2016. Web. 7 November 2016.

[14] Day, Lorraine. “Lorraine Day, M.D. discusses … Natural, Alternative Therapies for all Diseases, including Cancer and AIDS.” DrDay.com. n.d. Web. 10 December 2016.

[15] Day, Lorraine. “Tim McVeigh is Still Alive!.” GoodNewsAboutGod.com. n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

Conspiracies surrounding the OKC bombing within the context of Waco and Ruby Ridge

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Figure 1. The remains of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

On April 19, 1995 the face of domestic terrorism changed in the United States. Timothy McVeigh, along with Terry Nichols, bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people and causing an estimate of $652 million worth of damage. [1]

 

 

 

history_speeches_2050_fbi_strikes_waco_tx_sf_still_624x352
Figure 2. This is one of the most infamous images from the Waco Siege and shows the burning Branch Davidian compound.

McVeigh’s motivation for this brazen attack was his hatred of the federal government with the catalyst’s being two widely publicized siege/shootouts between the United States government and its citizens, the Ruby Ridge standoff and the Waco Siege. Involved in both of these incidents was the ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a federal law enforcement agency tasked with, among other things, investigating and preventing federal offenses that involve the use, manufacture or possession of firearms and explosives. Both incidences involved violations of federal gun laws and the subsequent handling of both cases lead to many hearings on the standing of the ATF as a federal organization. Furthermore, it led to the creation and promotion of a theory that as a federal organization the ATF was intending to take firearms away from all American citizens.

surveillance_photograph_of_vicki_weaver_21_aug_1992
Figure 3. This image shows Vicki Weaver under surveillance by federal agents.

It was this idea that led Timothy McVeigh to plant a bomb in Oklahoma City with the intent to strike back against the government. While this is widely accepted as the basic truth of the case, there are those who question this narrative of events and believe in an alternative set of occurrences. The core belief of the Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy is that the government either had knowledge forehand of the attack or were directly responsible for the attack itself.

As a fore point the author fully acknowledges the failure of the government to act within reason when acting out on the cases of Ruby Ridge and Waco. However what will not be accepted or entertained is the idea that the US government perpetrated or played a role in the bombing of Oklahoma City.

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Figure 4. Alex Jones – the face of right-wing conspiracy theories in America.

One of the biggest proponents of the theory of government involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing is the radio host, Alex Jones. Jones is a noted conspiracy theorist and uses his show, The Alex Jones Show, to promote such beliefs. Among the beliefs that Jones’ promotes are: the moon landings were faked by the government, the US government perpetrating 9/11 and the Sandy Hook massacre being a conspiracy to take away guns from citizens. [2] In addition to his presenting his theories on his radio show, Jones promotes his theories and products heavily on his website, InfoWars.com. As for his beliefs on the Oklahoma City bombing, Jones believes this was another attack perpetrated by the government against American citizens. Alex Jones specifically believes that the Oklahoma City bombing was a false flag operation perpetrated in part by the ATF. The goal of this operation was to cast Republicans and right-wing activists in a negative light in order benefit from the resulting fear and enact new legislation. [3] Jones promoted and was interviewed by the documentary A Noble Lie, which promoted the idea of the Oklahoma City Bombing being perpetrated by the US government. Although the documentary is still promoted on Jones’ website, links to purchase this DVD no longer function on the website. [4] This is a conspiracy that Jones holds fast too and frequently promotes. As recently as August 2016, Jones has claimed that Oklahoma City was a false flag operation in order to discredit then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. [5]

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Figure 5. Jayna Davis – former broadcast journalist who now promotes conspiracy theories on the OKC bombing.

The next site that covers conspiracies concerning the OKC is the website American Thinker. This website published an article that supports the idea of a John Doe #2, a second accomplice to McVeigh. The article was written by former broadcast journalist Jayna Davis, the author iterates that there a second willing accomplice to McVeigh and a supposed cover-up by the FBI. Davis was a broadcast journalist at the time of the bombing and covered stories on “Middle-Eastern-looking” suspects wanted in conjunction with the bombing. The article begins with an uncited poll stating that 80% of Americans believe that additional conspirators escaped prosecution in the case. Davis describes a confession from Terry Nichols, the traditionally accepted accomplice to McVeigh, of an unnamed accomplice undiscovered by the FBI. The author treats this supposed accomplice as the true mastermind and as someone who has the power to bring harm to Terry Nichols and his family, with the former serving 161 life sentences with no parole for his role in the attack. According to Davis, the obvious real mastermind was Iraqi soldiers with the help from Saddam Hussein. [6]

lorraine-day
Figure 6. Lorraine Day – a medical doctor who promotes holistic medicine to treat cancer and AIDS.

Good News About God promotes the idea that Tim McVeigh is still alive in an article entitled, Tim McVeigh is Still Alive! Then article written by Lorraine Day, a medical doctor who promotes alternative cancer treatments, claims the Holocaust was a lie and advocated the idea of testing surgery patients for AIDS. To begin with her article interesting acts from a presumption that the readership knows of the supposed evidence that Timothy McVeigh did not detonate the Oklahoma City bomb. The author explains this reasoning as “We won’t go into the extensive evidence showing that Tim McVeigh did not blow up the building, and I’ll show who really did it.  …  The evidence is in many places on the internet, and eventually I will write about it on my website.  But it takes time to write these extensive exposes.” The article glosses over proving one of the main points to their argument and instead focuses on the “faked” execution of Timothy McVeigh. Among the facts cited to support the theory are: McVeigh choosing not to appeal his case and having his execution date moved up, prison visits from a psychiratrist, Dr. Louis Jollyon West, who she claims was in charge of the MK Ultra Mind Control program, the state not donating the executed prisoners organs, the sealing of the prisoners’ medical records for 25 years, McVeigh’s lawyers petitioning the court that an autopsy not be done, the placing of the IV tube used for the execution in McVeigh’s leg, and the claims of a witness that McVeigh has signs of life after he was ruled dead. [7]

By discussing these theories it is worth mentioning that they are not completely wrong or that there is some factual truth within them. Jayna Davis is correct in that there was initial searching for additional suspects in addition to those already captured. However these searches were cancelled and official reports concluded the involvement of two suspects. In addition Lorraine Day is right in calling into question the practicality of executing someone in the leg. However, it is not impossible for this to work and the work of executing someone is often performed by untrained interns. The most recurring logical fallacy occurring in these theories is cherry picking. All the theorists’ pick facts that support their viewpoint and then ignore any evidence that contradict or alter this perspective. Evidently the people who promote these theories, Alex Jones in particular, profit from the ideology these theories collaborate. They create an us vs. them mentality of the public vs. the government and sell products that profit from this type of mentality. The entire theory relies on the belief that the United States government is malicious enough to bring harm against the American and skilled enough to perpetrate such a crime. In addition, this theory also relies on the fact that the United States government had no clear goal in this plan and no way to benefit. All it leads to are more theories that never have a concrete standing and only rely on leaning on each other.

Looking back, the handling of Waco and Ruby Ridge could have been better and lessons can be learned. However these possible lessons are now muddled under the bombing that occurred in Oklahoma City and the aftermath. In regards to conspiracy theories, what can be learned from the Oklahoma City case is to question seemingly qualified sources; be they journalists or doctors. In addition, that people will distort facts and look for singular points to justify their own ideas and claims. While official accounts should never be taken for-granted, it is important to ideas that are harmful or created for entirely selfish purposes.

[1] n.a. “Oklahoma City Bombing.” History.com n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

[2] n.a. “Alex Jones (radio host).” Wikipedia.org n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

[3] The Alex Jones Channel. “How OKC Bombing Was A False Flag To Blame Liberty Movement.” YouTube.com 19 April 2015. Web. 7 November 2016.

[4] Craig McKee “DOCUMENTARY A NOBLE LIE EXPOSES OKLAHOMA CITY BOMBING AS GOVERNMENT BLACK-OP.” TruthAndShadows.com. 27 September 2012. Web. 7 November 2016.

[5] n.a. ‘Alex Jones Responds To Clinton Speech By Doubling Down On Conspiracy Theories: “We’re Covering Real Things”.’ MediaMatters.org. 25 August 2016. Web. 7 November 2016.

[6] Davis, Jayna. “Confession of the Oklahoma City Bomber: John Doe 2 Exists.” AmericanThinker.com. 11 April 2016. Web. 7 November 2016.

[7] Day, Lorraine. “Tim McVeigh is Still Alive!.” GoodNewsAboutGod.com. n.d. Web. 7 November 2016.

Demonization of Catholics in America

Demonization of Catholics in America

Talking about religion is a difficult task given how personal people make such ideas and how often these discussions are marred with mischaracterizations. The religious history of America is one of the most complex in the world, especially given the short account of time the American culture had existed. America seems to be a country that holds dear the ideas of religious freedom and certain ideas that come with concept. In spite of this, America, despite being a predominately Christian nation, has had a tempestuous relationship with Catholics and the Catholic Church. Of the Christian majority of the United States, a majority of these are Protestants. As such even the basic notion that Catholics are Christian’s runs into trouble and is either ignored or dismissed. In conjunction with this comes the many troubling portrayals of Catholics in different forms of media.

 

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Figure 1. Depictions of Catholic clergy often depict them as the defilers of women.

Historically the root of anti-Catholic sentiment in America can be traced back to the days of Reformation and the traditional divisions of Catholics and Protestants. Thus many early Protestants saw themselves as continuing the tradition of Jesus Christ, while the Catholic Church was descended into worldly corruption. Many of the early colonists of America were freeing the religious persecution under the Church of England. Naturally, they would be afraid of a strict top-down hierarchical church such as the Anglican Church. So to the casual observer their fear of the Catholic Church is well rooted and this is true for much of the early anti-Catholic was rooted in distrust of the Anglican Church. Thus many of the early colonies along the Eastern seaboard of the United States would enact laws that persecuted Roman Catholics. These laws ranged from civil restrictions to banning Catholics to banning Catholic worship altogether.

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Figure 2. The Catholic Church is depicted as a foreign force undermining the authority of America.

 

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Figure 3. 1920s portrayals of the Catholic Church were often draped in American sentiment and Catholic stereotypes.

 

 

 

Moving into the 19th century, Catholic presence in the country continued to increase but popular opinion remained decidedly against Catholicism. Strange accounts of ritual abuse of nuns by priest, infanticide, and a global conspiracy were common among “ex-priests” and “ex-nuns”. This century much of the anti-Catholic sentiment was dominated by fears of immigration and nativism. Americans had formed an idea of what it was to be an American, this often meant being Protestant. Immigrants from Europe and other parts of the world were treated as an “other”, and stereotyped as being Catholic. Nativist ideas then emerged from this anti-immigration stance which only further increased anti-Catholic sentiment in America. In addition, early ideas that Catholic parochial were used to indoctrinate children and further Catholic influence in America began to spread.

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Figure 4. A heroic representation of the Klan as the defenders of America from Rome and Catholics.

 

 

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Figure 5. Anti-Catholicism was heavily tied to anti-immigrant and prohibition movements.

Early 20th century depictions of Catholics continued much of the ideas that coalesced in the previous century. The emergence of the second iteration of the Ku Klux Klan coincided with a drastic rise in anti-Catholic sentiment. In the 1920s, the idea that the Catholic sought to directly interfere with American politics spread rapidly. Catholicism and the Catholic Church were used to decry any activity that was not seen as America, as well as turn such into an undesirable trait or action. Catholics achieved a victory through the Supreme Court, when the Court ruled that a law banning parochial schools was unconstitutional. The first Catholic to win the nomination of a major political party in the United occurred in 1928, when Al Smith became the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party. The chief issue of Smith’s campaign became his religion and most of his time was spent defending his faith from various attacks. Ideas of Smith being a puppet of the Pope and of the United States becoming a domain of the Catholic Church were common. Across the nation many ministers of varying Protestant faiths rallied their congregants against Smith due to his Catholic faith. While anti-Catholic sentiment continued in the United States, it took a backseat to more concerning social and political issues for the following decades (i.e. the World Wars and Civil Rights). It wasn’t until the 1980s, when the traditional hatred between Catholics and Protestants in the United States virtually disappeared. With the emergence of the religious right and modern political conservatism, most American Christians united over traditionally conservative social and cultural traditions.

b_018_school
Figure 6. Catholics parochial are depicted as centers as brainwashing and indoctrinating children.

Moving on from historical portrayals of Catholicism in America, I found it important to discuss one of the biggest demonization’s of the Catholic Church in pop culture. Of which the biggest example to pull from is the works of Jack Chick. Jack Chick is an American evangelical fundamentalist comic book artist. Founder of the company Chick Publications, of which the world famous “Chick tracts” are published from. Chick is notorious for publishing mischaracterizations and falsities concerning not only the Catholic faith but for any faith outside of American fundamentalism. Among the conspiracies and theories that Chick promotes are: the Catholic Church as the founders of Islam Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, founding Communism, Nazism, Freemasonry and the Ku Klux Klan, instigating both World Wars, the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, and the Holocaust, as well as assassinating both Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy. Many of the ideas published by Chick are resubmissions of earlier ideas and beliefs from Charles Chiniquy and Alberto Rivera. Chick tracts are surprising popular in the United States and are often treated as a popular piece of American culture.

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Jack Chick promotes ideas that the Catholic Church is in a global conspiracy against Protestants. 
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Chick tries to undermine the authority and position of the Pope through allegations of a connection to the Devil.

Other less inflammatory portrayals of Catholics and of the Catholic faith in America do exist but common depictions are often decidedly not positive portrayals. Common depictions of Catholicism in America often focus on the visual elements of the depiction. Things such as Catholic architecture, moments, imagery and other traditional iconography are used to represent or signify Christianity, although these portrayals are not strictly of Catholics. In addition, modern depictions still focus on the idea of the Catholic Church as being an “other”. Catholicism is treated as foreign and remains an object of fascination or exploration in different depictions. Portrayals of clergy are often mixed as well with portrayals ranging from negative into more positive. While current depictions of Catholicism are often neutral in their portrayal, the United States has had a tempestuous relationship with American Catholics that has included loss of civil rights and demonization by the public and in culture.

 

Discussion Question

  1. What to you is the overriding depiction of Catholics in or by American culture?
  2. What are the ways to rectify historically negative depictions of Catholics in America?
  3. Have these depictions of Catholics ever influenced your beliefs or do they continue to influence your perceptions?

For More Information

  1. God in America (documentary) A series of one hour documentaries detailing the religious history of America.
  2. The Catholic Church: A Short History (book) A book detailing the history of the Catholic from a world history perspective.
  3. The Essential Catholic Handbook: A Summary of Beliefs, Practices, and Prayers (book) A guidebook for both Catholics and non-Catholics that shows what it means to be a Catholic.
  4. What Catholics Really Believe: Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Faith (book) A informative book that gives information on the tenets of the Catholic faith.
  5. Catholicism For Dummies (book) An easy to read book that gives a comprehensive overlook of the Catholic faith.
  6. Why Do Catholics Do That?: A Guide to the Teachings and Practices of the Catholic Church (book)

Citations:

Griffith, R. Marie. (2007) American Religions: A Documentary History. Oxford University Press.

Save the Girls!. (1904). Political Cartoon. TheAmericanCatholic.com. Retrieved from http://the-american-catholic.com/2014/01/08/jamie-stiehm-anti-catholic-bigot/#more-50760.

The Propagation Society. (1855). Political Cartoon. LibraryofCongress.com. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003656589/.

The Subtle Conspirator. (1926). Political Cartoon. WisdomVoices.com Retrieved from http://wisdomvoices.com/100-years-ago-we-thought-very-differently-about-the-pope/anticatholic-cartoon_1926-2/. Another text that details the points of Catholic worship and tradition.

The Tree Must Come Down. (1925). Political Cartoon. TraditionalCatholicPriest.com Retrieved from http://www.traditionalcatholicpriest.com/2015/06/26/gods-laws-trampled-on-by-mans-laws/.

Crooked Voting By Immigrants. (1840). Political Cartoon. Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org/news/national/story.php?id=34729.

The Shadow in Our Schools. (1912). Political Cartoon. Patheos.com Retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2016/02/a-small-argument-against-sexual-idolatry.html.

My Name? . . . In the Vatican?. (1980). Religious Tract. Catholic.com. Retrieved from http://www.catholic.com/documents/the-nightmare-world-of-jack-t-chick.

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