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State Sen. Brian Dahle Taps Into Christian Nationalism for Gubernatorial Bid

State Sen. Brian Dahle on Sean Feucht’s podcast Hold the Line.

Bethel Music troubadour Sean Feucht is the Pied Piper of Christian nationalism. As voluminously documented by my A News Café colleague Shawn Schwaller here and here, Feucht has an exhibited an almost Zelig-like ability to turn up at the historical events that have propelled Christian nationalism into the mainstream of the Republican Party with the rise and fall of former President Donald Trump.

In recent weeks, the 38-year-old Feucht has worshipped over the primary election eve watch parties for self-proclaimed Christian nationalists Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano. In May, Boebert and notorious MTG—Christian nationalist Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene—demonstrated against abortion with Feucht in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, shortly after a draft of the court’s decision to vaporize Roe v. Wade was leaked to the press.

The demolition of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court’s conservative Catholic majority has resulted in a coming out party for Christian nationalists. For more than forty years they’ve wandered in the wilderness, working tirelessly behind the scenes in think tanks and law firms plotting to undo the social justice achievements of the 1960s and 1970s. They hit the trifecta with Trump who during his single four-year term appointed three ultraconservative justices, tipping the court’s balance wildly to the right, with scores of 6-3 votes to come. Now, it’s time to party.

Last week, Boebert, Greene, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and the rest of the “Let’s Go Brandon” wing of the Republican Party cheered wildly as fascist Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered the keynote speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas.

During his 12 years as prime minister, Orbán has transformed Hungary into an “illiberal” Christian nationalist state, refusing to take in brown-skinned Muslim refugees and immigrants, muzzling the press, throttling academia, marginalizing the LGBTQ community, rigging the elections system and casting Jewish-Hungarian financier George Soros as globalist puppet master.

That more or less formed the substance of Orbán’s stump speech in Dallas. The Trump Republicans on hand ate it up, the racism, the antisemitism, the misogyny, the attack on mixed-raced marriages and the warning to the LGBTQ community to stop grooming our children.

Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert protesting abortion at the U.S. Supreme Court with Sean Feucht.

Clearly Christian nationalism is in ascendance in the Trump wing of the Republican Party. No Democratic Party member is taking the threat more seriously than California Gavin Newsom, who’s up for reelection this November and is poised to run for president if Joe Biden choses to retire after one term. Newsom’s warning to Democrats after the draft of the now infamous Dobbs decision was leaked has turned out to be prescient.

“This Supreme Court is poised to roll back constitutionally protected rights, and don’t think for a second — don’t think for a second — this is where they stop,” Newsom told KQED. “They are coming after you,” he added. “You think for a second same-sex marriage is safe in the United States? If privacy is not constitutionally protected, this opens up a panoply of issues.”

Last Friday, Indiana became the first state to ban most abortions in the wake of Dobbs. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has endorsed revisiting the 2015 Obergefell decision, which legalized gay marriage nationwide based on the right to privacy established by Roe. Republicans are kicking around the idea of a national ban on abortion should they take control of the Senate and the House in November. Rightwing Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is already targeting the LGBTQ community with his “Don’t say gay” in public schools law and his attacks on Disneyworld for being too “woke.”

Which brings us to Newsom’s opponent in the gubernatorial election this fall, District 1 State Senator Brian Dahle. The 56-year-old Republican, a self-described nobody from Bieber, population 150, is a familiar figure in the North State. The upland wheat and seed farmer and trucking company owner served as Lassen County supervisor in the aughts, District 1 assemblyman in the teens and defeated Assemblyman Kevin Kiley 53 percent to 47 percent in the 2020 state senate election. The modest Dahle often gives God credit for his otherwise unexplained rise to prominence.

The 11 counties in Senate District 1 stretch from Yreka to the Sacramento suburbs, but Dahle is relatively unknown statewide. In the 10-person top-two statewide primary election for governor in June, the incumbent Newsom, sitting on a multimillion-dollar campaign war chest, finished first with 61.2 percent of the vote. Dahle finished a distant second with 15.1 percent.

It was a paltry showing but good enough to qualify for the general election. Faced with stiff competition and the election swiftly approaching, Dahle, as he has in the past, is openly courting the Christian vote, or as Dahle calls them, “believers.”

“God is opening doors, we’ve seen Roe v. Wade, we’ve seen change,” Dahle proclaimed on Feucht’s Hold the Line podcast last month. “I believe that God is on the move, and I believe it’s time for us to step up and do what we need to do and that means people need to come alongside me and my campaign and actually do the work. Faith without works is dead. I hear you, I know you’re praying for me, but you’ve got to walk with me too.”

By “walk with me” Dahle means viewers should donate him a dollar a day every day for a year. If he can get 200,000 people to buy in, he’ll raise $6 million.

Then Assemblyman Brian Dahle praying at the state capital.

Dahle has used the revivalist ‘God is on the move’ line before, in 2019, when he appeared with then-Redding Mayor and Bethel Church elder Julie Winter at a Faith and Values Town Hall in Redding. The watchdog Freedom From Religion Foundation complained the event crossed the line separating church and state, particularly because Christianity was the only faith represented.

“God is on the move,” Dahle told a hushed crowd three years ago. “You don’t think he’s on the move? Donald Trump’s in office.”

On the podcast, Feucht was obviously elated about the increasing number of Trump Republicans openly declaring themselves Christian nationalists. He asked Dahle what he thought about the label and the senator offered a series of seemingly contradictory statements.

Dahle doesn’t wear his Christianity on his sleeve—except for his 100 percent pro-life position on abortion and his perennial objections to the inclusion of LGBTQ materials in sex ed curriculum.

“There’s a lot of stuff in the education code that will blow your mind about the curriculum,” Dahle said at the Faith and Values Town Hall. “I was reading some of it a couple of weeks ago, I have a 9-year-old daughter, and the stuff that they want to teach her in school … is scary. It was not even readable for me and I’m married after 20 years and I know the birds and the bees stories.”

Dahle’s not someone to say God has spoken to him, except for that time back in 2012, when he was driving past Red Bluff pondering his political career and he received the prophetic words, “Do what they do.” Meaning do what the “Democrat Party” does: get organized, raise money and get out the vote.

He’s not someone to deliver a sermon, except for that time last year, during a celebration of Roe v. Wade at the Legislature, when he was the only Republican to stand up and speak out against abortion.

At any rate, Dahle has never called himself a Christian nationalist, even though he shares many beliefs with the burgeoning movement. So, what is this movement anyway?

Jesus H. America, a popular Christian nationalist meme.

To begin, it’s important to note that not all Christians are Christian nationalists. Many American Christians, perhaps most, support the separation of church and state as enshrined in the 1st Amendment’s establishment clause, one of the Founders’ greatest democratic innovations.

Christian nationalism is an organic movement whose members share the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and should be governed by Christian laws and values. It has existed on our continent at least since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, seeking to establish their own Christian state where all other religions would be prohibited.

Other religious fanatics followed. The establishment clause, ratified with the Bill of Rights in 1791, was in part the Founders’ response to 150 years of bizarre, violent Christian extremism in the colonies as well as the prior 300 years of religious bloodshed in Europe. Christian nationalists have insisted the establishment clause doesn’t apply to them ever since.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Christian nationalism strayed into overt fascist and anti-Semitic territory with figures such as Father Coughlin, the controversial radio priest, and the America First movement promoted first by aviator Charles Lindberg and later by Jew-baiting itinerant preacher Gerald L.K. Smith.

Today, Christian nationalism’s membership is roughly comprised of ultraconservative Catholic dominionists like Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, hardcore Calvinists like Betsy DeVos and charismatic evangelicals like Feucht hyped up on Bethel’s Seven Mountain Mandate, which commands adherents to seize political power in the name of God.

Feucht is a popular gospel musician and worship leader in the New Apostolic Reformation, an expansive network of charismatic evangelical churches, prophets and apostles specializing in word of faith, prophetic healing, speaking in tongues and the prosperity gospel. His COVID-19 “Jesus Christ Superspreader” tour gained him fortune, fame and infamy. Feucht has global reach, including all the NAR megachurches in California between Bethel in Redding to HRock in Pasadena and beyond.

That’s a lot of potential millennial and generation Z Christian voters. To get his point across to this fickle audience viewing the podcast, Dahle chose the parable of the 12 spies as written in the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament.

Let’s refresh our biblical history. Moses, after leading the Israelites out of Egypt, dispatched 12 spies, one each from the 12 tribes to survey Canaan, the land promised to Abraham by Yahweh some 600 years prior. Ten spies reported that while the land of Canaan looked prosperous, the Canaanites were formidable. Fearing defeat, they advised against taking the land.

Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, came back with good reports, saying that the Israelites could seize the promised land if they had faith in God.

The Israelites accepted the majority report, which angered their jealous God. He wouldn’t have promised the land to them if he hadn’t already given them the strength to take it. For this lack of faith, God struck down the 10 spies with plague and banished the 12 tribes to wander in the desert for 40 years, where all the surviving members of the Exodus died except Joshua and Caleb.

Before God would allow Joshua and Caleb to finally take the promised land after all that wandering, he commanded them to circumcise all the male Israelites. The covenant sealed once more, Joshua proceeded to blow his horn, the walls of Jericho came tumbling down and the Israelites murdered every Canaanite man, woman and child as well as all of the livestock.

Possible depiction of the fall of Jericho, Russian. 1873..Courtesy of dreamstime.

Cosplaying Joshua, a genocidal Old Testament prophet, has become a popular pose in the Christian nationalist movement, whose members believe they’ve triumphantly returned after suffering in the desert of legal abortion and LGBTQ rights for the past 40 years. Witness the Jericho March movement, whose followers encircle government buildings and blow shofars in the name of God and election integrity.

“I’m giving you a good report,” Dahle-as-Joshua told Feucht. The promised land, meaning the governor’s seat, is ripe to be taken. Later, toward the end of the interview: “We can have a good report, we’ve just got to take the land and bring heaven to earth. How about let’s bring God down here and watch what he can do and he can heal this land because it’s suffering because of the policies that the enemy has allowed to come into our capital.”

Dahle does a fair job mimicking Bethel’s “On earth as it is in heaven” mantra but basically botches Bible study. Canaan, the proverbial land of milk and honey, was actually worth taking. California as Dahle describes it is a basket case thanks to the Democrat Party—Dahle habitually uses the shortened pejorative label for his colleagues across the aisle pioneered by the late Rush Limbaugh.

“We’ve had 25 years of one-party control and Gavin Newsom is just running wild here at the Legislature,” Dahle said.

“You can’t afford to live in California, gas prices are a dollar and half higher than they are in other states. Sean, you know, you’ve been oppressed about what’s come out of this Legislature.”

Feucht’s oppression stems from what he calls the “despair of the super majority.” The Democrats have held a two-thirds majority in the state Legislature since the turn of the century, reflecting California’s liberal mainstream. When Feucht and Dahle stare into this mirror, they fail to see their own images, like vampires.

No wonder they feel so oppressed. Listening to these two entitled white men validate one another’s oppression at the hands of the tyrannous California state demonstrates once again that rightwing conservatives are happiest when they play the victim.

So acute is their own personal sense of subjugation, Feucht and Dahle can’t help hectoring their would-be supporters, who apparently have a history of not donating to campaigns and not voting in elections. According to Dahle, more than 2 million Republicans didn’t vote in the recall election last November, in which 62 percent of the electorate chose not to recall Newsom.

District 1 State Sen. Brian Dahle

“I talk to believers every day about what it’s like to be in California,” Dahle said. “It’s really crazy but Christians don’t vote.

“They pray, they worship but I don’t see them at the polls. We know that because we can look at the voter registration lists and see who actually voted, so we can track it back and we can find who voted and we find that people don’t show up.”

“Quite frankly that’s crazy,” he harrumphed. “I don’t understand why you would not vote when you see the oppression that is put on the people in California.”

Feucht, who unsuccessfully ran for incumbent Democratic Rep. John Garamendi’s 3rd Congressional seat in the 2020 primary election and finished last to Garamendi with just 13.5 percent of the vote, was pessimistic that the Supreme Court’s destruction of Roe v. Wade would lead to a wave of red Republican voters in November, at least in California.

That’s in part because Proposition 1, the Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment, will be on the ballot. If passed by a majority of voters, the initiative will “amend the state constitution to prohibit the state from interfering with or denying an individual’s reproductive freedom, which is defined to include a right to an abortion and a right to contraceptives.”

The Hold the Line podcast was recorded several weeks before 60 percent of the Kansas electorate voted no on a proposed state constitutional amendment that if passed would have abolished abortion rights in the state. It was an unexpected abortion rights victory and has encouraged activists across the country.

With no foreknowledge of the Kansas vote at the time, Dahle was hopeful California’s religious conservatives will turn out to vote against the Right to Reproductive Freedom Act in November.

“I think it’s actually amazing that it’s going to be on the ballot,” Dahle said. “We’re going to see where Californians really are. … This will be the first time that people actually go in and check the box. They vote and it’s on them. If you want the blood on your hands and you vote for it, it’s going to be different.”

You heard it, ladies. The blood will be on your hands. Miss a period and it’s on you, all of it. The 100-percent pro-life Dahle has not specified if he supports abortion for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, for fetuses with serious life-debilitating birth defects, or for pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother.

As accomplished as Dahle is at running the traditional Republican “God, Guns and Gays” campaign, on the podcast you get the impression he would rather run against inflation, taxes, the sagging economy and Newsom’s elitism than embrace the flamboyant Christian nationalism emerging from his own party and exemplified by clownish figures such as Boebert and Greene.

Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene protesting abortion with Sean Feucht at the U.S. Supreme Court

The problem for Republicans who don’t want to jump back on-board the fascist Trump train is the economy may be turning in the Democrats’ favor. Gasoline prices are coming down, national job growth is up and California has surfaced from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic with a $98 billion surplus.

Dahle complained unconvincingly about Newsom’s $17 billion inflation relief package, which will see individual Californians receive checks up to $1050 in the mail signed by Newsom during the runup to the election. At times the dire picture of California Dahle portrays seems designed to encourage people to leave the state, as they are already doing in droves.

“Inflation has been crushing people,” Dahle said. “If you’re on a fixed income or you’re an hourly wage earner you’re getting destroyed by the cost of living. You’re in a way where you can’t move, you can’t get out of California if you want to. I think it’s going to play huge in this race, it’s not going to go away. They’re adding more money into the pot by handing out these $17 billion in checks it’s just going to drive inflation up again.”

Dahle acknowledged that the momentum may have turned against Republicans.

“When I first announced on February 8 the number one thing on people’s minds was crime,” he said. “That changed to inflation. Now we see obviously the right to life. As you know in politics in 24 hours your whole life can change.”

If the rising tide of Christian nationalism and abortion rights become the dominant factor in the California race for governor, Dahle will once again be facing an uphill battle. According to the most recent data from the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Californians believe abortion should be legal in most cases, verses 38 percent who said it should be illegal in most cases. Even 46 percent of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in most cases.

Tellingly, 81 percent of the respondents unaffiliated with any religion, the so-called nones and the fastest growing demographic in the survey, support abortion in most cases.

Nevertheless, Dahle is prepared to walk the walk.

“I’ve not been one who’s worn my Christianity on my sleeve for the most part,” he told Feucht. “I believe I just gotta walk the walk. The example of what you do is more loud than what you say. That’s how I’ve approached my walk in life with my belief. I’m a guy from nowhere, literally nowhere. I laugh and talk about what God’s done in my life, you can just see it. I’m a state senator from a town of 150 people where the closest Wal-Mart is 75 miles away. The closest Costco is in Redding, 110 miles from my home. There are miracles, that’s why I believe I’ll win this race.”

Good luck with that, senator.

If you appreciate journalist R.V. Scheide’s reporting and commentary, consider a contribution to A News Cafe. Thank you!

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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