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religious fervor

The Far Right and Catholics Team Up to Protest Baseball

Portraying the Dodgers game protest as one led by “religious groups” is technically correct, but it fails to communicate the threat of political violence some of the organizers openly embrace.

People hold signs and American flags at a protest, including a sign that says DODGERS SOLD THEIR SOUL
Meg Oliphant/Getty Images
Protesters at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Pride Night event featuring the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, before the game against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on June 16

On Friday, outside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the far-right conspiracy theory peddler Jack Posobiec addressed a crowd of hundreds before the game. Before the first pitch, the Dodgers were due to present an award to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an “order of queer and trans nuns” who have done charitable work for decades, with chapters all over the United States. This is precisely what drew the crowd around Posobiec, perhaps best known as one of the first promoters of Pizzagate, the proto-QAnon conspiracy theory about Democrats stealing children for sexualized, Satanic blood sacrifice to amass power and dominion over good and faithful Americans. 

“You are about to activate every single Catholic, every single Christian, every single religious believer in this entire country,” Posobiec told those gathered for the protest, from a stage flanked with men in Catholic vestments and prayer flags. “When one of those freaks puts on that makeup and claims that they’re a sister, a member of a religious order, we know that’s an illusion. We know that is false. They’re not the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They are the sisters of demonic possession.”

Posobiec’s devil-tinged rant and other pronouncements made in front of Dodger Stadium have not made the headlines they ought to have after this protest. Maybe it’s because the main event went off without a hitch, the good vibes of a big-league sports game intact, according to freelance journalist Sam Braslow who was on the scene and captured the video of part of Posobiec’s speech. Maybe it’s because the sports reporters who were there on their regular beat did not recognize Posobiec or any of the other famous faces of the far right, and the Catholic far right specifically. When the Los Angeles Times ran its post-protest stories, the groups and activists there spreading anti-LGBTQ bigotry in the name of religious freedom were referred to as “religious groups.” This is at best a sin of omission and, at worst, an act of mercy that aids these groups in appealing to more mainstream audiences.

The lead organizers of this protest are not difficult to find. Phoenix-based Catholics for Catholics has no connection to California (or baseball), but it boasts the endorsement of far-right figures like alt-right mainstreamer and “Stop the Steal” propagandist Steve Bannon and QAnon convert and former General Michael Flynn. Some outlets, including the Times, did mention these groups by name, but the mentions were buried at the end of their stories. These stories did not provide the critical information that these groups have spent weeks promoting the protests on far-right networks, pitching them to figures like Bannon and Posobiec as part of a battle to “save” America’s children.        

A group called Church Militant, which was founded in 2008 as “RealCatholicTV,” and more recently has organized rallies with Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos and has allied with far-right youth movements, was particularly aggressive in promotion. The group’s channels produced weeks of anti-Sisters content before the demonstration, capped with a four-hour-long livestream of the protest itself. Watching some of the videos from Church Militant hosts, it does not take long at all to see that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are just another name alongside a litany of others to whom far-right influencers have turned their attention and ire this Pride Month. (Think Bud Light and Target.) Demonizing the Sisters is not simply a question of religious “protest”; rather, it is one more step in the right’s renewed war on queer and trans communities.        

In the case of the Sisters, their demonization is far from metaphorical. Posobiec’s invocation of “demonic possession,” while buttering up his audience of Catholics—a bold move for someone who got famous by lying about Satanic pedophile rings—was just a little riff on the rhetorical groundwork laid by Church Militant. The organization has yet to gain much mainstream media recognition, compared to some of the others on the far right, and it is sometimes described as a religious media organization. But it is a media organization in the vein of Father Coughlin, the antisemitic Catholic radio host of the 1930s, who broadcast not far from the Church Militant headquarters in a Detroit suburb. Church Militant founder Michael Voris, after Election Day in 2022, pronounced that in the “all-out war going on between the forces of darkness who have complete control of one political party and partial control over the other,” conservatives might have “no choice but to fight back violently if needs be.” As Kathryn Joyce at Salon reported, Voris went on to say this “battle in the political arena” was “the last remaining line before all-out civil war.” Voris echoed this in his speech at the protest, claiming the United States is facing “the collapse of a civilization,” the “complete destruction of everything that many of us grew up with.” For groups such as his, the Sisters are a useful symbol of these “forces of darkness” and therefore could be righteous targets of violence.

One of the Church Militant video podcast hosts, Joe Enders, charged in a YouTube video last week that there was something “diabolical” about the Sisters, that “something supernatural [is] going on,” and encouraged people to show up and protest. “It’s not just living their lives,” he sneered. This is the resurgent homophobic line—that we’ve gone too far in allowing queer people freedoms—parroted by everyone from former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to transphobic author Abigail Shrier. Coming from Church Militant, however, it carries a much more dangerous charge. As we saw in Pizzagate and QAnon, beating the opposition is not about prevailing in a political dispute; it’s an act of spiritual warfare. 

“Jesus Christ is back!” Enders went on. “And he’s taking his kingdom in the United States of America. And we’re going to be leading the charge.”

The post-alt-right alliance between groups like Church Militant and a new wave of far-right youth movements further interweaves all those who consider themselves foot soldiers for Christ with far-right content creators. Whether or not they are all faithful, what they do share is what one religion scholar has called “Pepe Catholicism”: repackaging a modern reactionary worldview in bleeding Sacred Heart memes and bursting with crusader vibes. 

Putting Friday’s protest in the context of the many so-called culture-war attacks on queer and trans people is correct. But portraying it as led by “religious groups,” even ones openly espousing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, fails to appropriately communicate the threat of political violence some of the protest organizers openly embrace—and how tied modern-day conservative Catholicism is to violent right-wing conspiracy rhetoric. Posobiec was not being entirely “religious” when he exhorted the protesters to “put on the full armor,” a reference to the verse in Ephesians 6, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” This is a verse Ron DeSantis has often quoted, even more pointedly, as “Put on the full armor of God, and take a stand against the left’s schemes.” Whether they’re saying the Devil or the left, or both, it’s the call to armor we ought be just as concerned with: the pose of the virtuous martyr against the decadent aggressor. 

“It’s OK to say this now: The most terrifying newly minted hate group in America is the militant pride activists,” concluded conservative outlet The Federalist in its coverage of the protest. “The Rainbow Supremacists. The Pronouns Uber Alles people.” This was a religious protest—but it was also a call to join a holy war, a civil war, against the “devil” that is the rest of us.