I often see people retweeting or posting conversative pundits and saying things like “I don’t usually agree with Ann Coulter but …” and then share the observation. It bothers me for a number of reasons, mostly because I dislike seeing these people get any kind of bump in their platform or credited with as much as the stopped clock truism. But it was in reading Tal Lavin’s Culture Warlords, that I came across the concept of launderers and the consequences of elevating them.

Thanks to Breaking Bad and Ozark we know how money laundering works. Honestly, until watching these shows I knew about money laundering but I didn’t really know how it worked. If you haven’t seen the shows I’ll give you a nutshell: you move ill gotten money through a cash business that provides a service rather than a good (like a car wash or nail salon or casino) and by subjecting it to the tax process you make it legitimate money. Nobody asks where the $10 or $50 comes from when somebody purchases a service. It’s the $10,000 and up that the government notices and wants their cut of. The laundering of ideas works the same way. Nobody objects to Ann Coulter turning on Donald Trump. It’s the way the rest of her ideas pile up along with those of others into the manifestos of shooters that gets our attention. We’re rightly horrified by those manifestos, but we don’t notice all the breadcrumbs leading us back to the way that people like Tim Pool and Ann Coulter normalize and soften the rhetoric. I want you to start questioning those small things.

Few people start off with swastikas and violence, and not everyone ends up there either. It’s that reasonable sounding rhetoric that draws them in and that allows them to distance themselves from “extremists” without considering their connection to them.  The language of the far right gets santized, laundered if you will, by people with huge platforms who take apalling ideas like “replacement theory” and make it sound reasonable, like an influx of job or resource stealing immigrants we should all be concerned about. We know that the far right doesn’t care about unhoused people, and yet my Facebook feed often contains memes about how inhumane it is to tear down the tent cities of the homeless while providing housing and other basic necessities to refugees and migrants. These get shared by people who truly want better for unhoused Canadians and yet are willing to ignore the way it villifies other vulnerable people. No conservative politican wants to creating housing for homeless Canadians, they are the ones sending police in to tear down tent cities. But they are willing to pretend that they do in order to convince us that migrants and refugees are a threat. They take our legitimate concerns about housing and increasingly inaccessible food and medical care, and point us towards other vulnerable people instead of the systems of harm that are a threat to all of us.

And we’re all vulnerable to it.

I had a moment like that a 20 years ago, connecting those dots and being horrified by myself. A local theatre group performed The Laramie Project and one of our social work profs had us attend a dress rehearsal as part of our coursework. I still thought of myself as an evangelical Christian at this time although I was starting to be more tolerant saying things like “we’re all sinners”  which obfuscates the violence of anti-queer and anti-trans beliefs. We might all be sinners, but I wasn’t the one worried about the consequences of holding my partner’s hand in public. Who wants to be “tolerated” anyway. Anti-queer theology is based on the same kind of mistranslation as those that have been used to justify other oppressions and we should be thinking in terms of affirming the existence of others rather than just tolerating them. Rabbis Mike Harvey and Danya Ruttenberg have both done excellent threads on other ways to understand some of the “clobber” texts)

As I watched the play I became increasingly horrified, hearing my “progressive” words coming out of the mouths of those whose silence and bigotry contributed to the death of Matthew Shephard.  I wasn’t like the members of Westboro Baptist who picket the funerals of gay people with horrific signs, but I had connected the dots between us. Their ugly rhetoric had been santized and laundered, but it was there nonetheless. And it has consequences.

Fast forward twenty years to that fateful sermon that angered me so much.  I’ve often thought about that anger as connected to the relationships that I have formed since watching The Laramie Project, a proxy anger on behalf of those made vulnerable by careless theology. And in part that is true, but it was in reading J Kameron Carter’s book Race: A Theological Account alongside Culture Warlords that I realized how connected anti-Indigenous erasure is to the exclusion of trans and queer people and how these things, along with anti-Blackness, ableism and more, connect to the white supremacy that emerged inside the western, enlightenment era, colonizing church.

Text within this block will maintain its original spacing when publishedWhile most Americans are generally not raised with a visceral disgust toward Jews, transphobia is often presented in general discussions as a “natural” or visceral” phenomenon, with disgust towards trans people and frustration at the notion of accommodating them a common and socially acceptable view to express.

Lavin notes here the things being said about trans people, the specific ways in which they are framed as a threat, are the same things that have been said about Black people, about Indigenous peoples, about Jews. And that by using that language against a group that many people are trained theologically to see as sinful, white supremacy is able to launder or sanitize it for it’s inevitable re-use against Black, Indigenous, and Jewish people.  Sixty years out from the Civil Rights era we’ve learned not to voice certain prejudices out loud, but we’re getting used to the language again through it’s use against a socially acceptable target.

Cameron’s book is broad and challenging, it’s a theology book with the influence of Willie James Jennings all over it. As Rohadi Nagassar noted of himself on Twitter, at times I didn’t feel smart enough to read it but I persisted and pushed through. It’s worth the effort. He critiques James Cone, which I thought was pretty bold, mostly for not going far enough, and he roots modern Christian white supremacy in the theology and philosophy of Immanuel Kant.  So, put that observation by Lavin alongside what Cameron writes about Kant:

Text within this block will maintain its original spacing when published… Christianity is made the cultural property of Western civilization. It is here that it becomes clear how whiteness, as the “biological” underpinning of modernity, proves itself to be a new expression of an older theological problem, the problem of Christian supersessionism. What is new is that Christian supercessionism now expresses itself as the racial ground of modernity.

I’m going to unpack that a little for you. Supercessionism is a theological replacement theory, put simply Christians have replaced Jews as God’s chosen. Jesus “fulfilled” the promise of the Old Testament and offering us something New to replace it. What Kant offered the modern world is a philosophical framework that put white Christians at the top of human progress. Jews have long been the villian in Christian narratives, Kant did not emerge from a vaccuum after all with his ideas. He emerged after a thousand and more years of anti-Semitic theology and fears that the Jew would biologically, politically, and socially replace Christians. An ever present fear that reminds us how dangerous and precarious the idea of “passing” really is. What Kant did was take that theology and map it onto the emerging world, creating racial marginalization. In articulating a vision of what it means to be human in contrast with the natural world, a theology that put humans above creation, he also created a theology that put white Christians above all others.

And yes, he said it plainly. No laundering or santizing for Kant.

Text within this block will maintain its original spacing when publishedThe Race of Whites contains within itself all motivations and talents. Therefore, one must consider it with special care. To the race of whites belongs the entirety of Europe, the Turks, and the Kalmucks. If ever revolutions occurred, they were always realized by whites. The Hindus, Americans [Indians], Negroes have never had a part of them. Beneath Whites, one could establish the scale of oriental and western groups.

So what do we do. That’s always the crux of it. What do we do? Well, after connecting those dots at The Laramie Project, I bought tickets for a performance and returned with my mother and oldest son in tow. After that enraging sermon I wrote an article about the church’s role in erasure that lead to my book in which I connect a lot of dots going back to how we understand creation stories. I think it is really important that we connect those dots for ourselves and each other so that we can begin to undo the colonization that has gotten inside our heads. So that we start to see how we are part of that laundering process that sanitizes the talking points of the far right.

And FWIW, the right isn’t turning on Trump because they see him for the easily manipulated buffoon that he is. They’re turning on him because they aren’t able to manipulate him to more extreme positions. Because as far right as Trump seems to be, he isn’t far enough.

Laundering for the far right

Connecting the dots and confronting ourselves