Christian Identity is a loosely organized religious movement associated with a number of small fundamentalist churches and extreme right-wing political and religious groups in the United States.
By the last three decades of the twentieth century, Identity had become the religion of choice for a number of conspiracy-minded survivalists, millennialists, and neo-Nazi groups, like Aryan Nations, The Order—responsible for a wave of crime in the American West in the 1980s, including the murder of Denver radio host Alan Berg in 1984—and some factions of the Ku Klux Klan.
Because it is not an organized denomination, there is some variation in Identity doctrine among its many churches and groups, but most share its core beliefs: that Anglo-Saxons are the true descendants of the ten lost tribes of Israel and hence God’s chosen people; that Jews are the literal offspring of a sexual liaison between Satan and Eve in the Garden of Eden; and that, as a result, Anglo-Saxons are locked in battle over the redemption of humankind against a global Jewish conspiracy intent on the eradication of white Christians and complete worldwide domination.
Christian Identity has its roots in British Israelism, a benign religious movement founded in Victorian England by John Wilson. In his Lectures on Our Israelitish Origin (1840), Wilson sought to prove empirically that the lost tribes of Israel migrated from the East over the Caucasus mountains and eventually settled in northern Europe.
In Wilson’s view, however, Jews were not the enemy. Rather, they were fellow Israelites, though members of a different tribe. British-Israelism made its way to North America in the late nineteenth century and first gained broad appeal in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s.
The spread of British-Israelism in the United States was due largely to the efforts of Howard Rand, a former construction worker turned British-Israelism organizer, and William J. Cameron, editor of Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent, which published some of the period’s most explicit antisemitic writings, including “The International Jew,” the first widespread U.S. popularization of Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Thus in the United States, British-Israelism came increasingly to be linked with extreme right-wing politics: nativism, racism, and, especially, antisemitism. From this strand of the British-Israelist movement in the United States, Christian Identity emerged.
Drawing on scriptural authority and especially biblical prophecy, Identity followers view all of human history as a conspiracy by Jews to subvert Christianity and establish Satan’s kingdom on earth. In the writings of post–World War II Identity leaders such as Gerald L. K. Smith and Wesley Swift, the international Jewish conspiracy to control the world begins at creation.
Jews are not only distinct from Saxons, they are the direct descendants of Cain, the son of Eve’s seduction by Satan. Saxons, on the other hand, are descended from Adam’s son Abel and are the true Israelites.
The Jews are merely impostors performing the work of Satan to eliminate the true Israelites just as Cain, the progenitor of modern Jews, killed Abel. Identity followers believe World Jewry is behind the persecution of Jesus, the ritual killing of Christians at the Roman Colosseum, the invasion of Western Europe by Gengis Khan to destroy Christian civilization, and Napoleon’s attempt to conquer the world.
As foretold in the Book of Revelation, the final stage of the Jewish plot begins in the twentieth century with the Jewish-backed Communist revolution in Russia, Jewish control over the international banking system and especially the Federal Reserve Corporation, and the establishment of such international organizations as the United Nations and the Council on Foreign Relations. Much of Identity doctrine, such as the schism in the Nation of Israel in the tenth century B.C. that separated the southern tribes from the ten northern tribes, follows scholarly orthodoxy.
However, scholars reject Identity’s “two-seeds” theory of Genesis as well as a number of other spurious practices upon which Identity doctrine relies: numerology, pyramidology, and a form of philology based upon similarities in the sounds of words. Because the movement lacks a central organization, the number of Identity Christians is difficult to determine, but it continues to be the religious orientation of choice for white supremacist groups in the United States.