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“The Response” Promises Toxic Mix of Racism and Bigotry

A mix of racism and bigotry against American Indians, Palestinians, Muslims, Jews, gay people and others is the backdrop to a mass rally billed as “A National Day of Prayer” that will take place in Texas the first weekend in August.

Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry initiated the event, which is named “The Response: A Call to Pray” on its website. The event, featuring some of the most prominent figures of the Christian Right, will take place all day on August 6 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, which seats 71,500 people.

In a video on the website pitching “The Response” Perry stands against a backdrop of the American and Texas flags and looks straight into the camera. “As an elected leader I’m all too aware of government’s limitations when it comes to fixin’ things that are spiritual in nature. That’s where prayer comes in and we need it more than ever,” he says. “With the economy in trouble, communities in crisis and people adrift in a sea of moral relativism, we need God’s help. That’s why I’m calling on Americans to pray and fast like Jesus did and as God called the Israelites to do in the Book of Joel. I sincerely hope you’ll join us on August 6 and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, his wisdom and provision for our state and nation.”

“The Response” is aimed at “people of all ages, races, backgrounds and Christian denominations.” No other religions or belief systems will be represented. While Perry insists that “The Response is “apolitical” he has “invited all U.S. governors as well as many other national Christian and political leaders” to the event. Only one governor, Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, plans to attend “The Response,” according to Chron.

Brownback, who wrote A Resolution of Apology to Native American Peoples, which President Obama signed in January 2010, seems to be an unlikely attendee given the anti-Indian rhetoric of the event’s sponsor – Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (AFA). Brownback did not respond to requests for comment.

“The Response” has generated a squall of controversy, much of it centered around Fischer, the AFA’s Director of Analysis for Government and Public Policy. Fischer is perhaps best known for warning the people of America that President Obama “wants to give the entire land mass of the United States of America back to the Indians. He wants Indian tribes to be our new overlords.” But it was Fischer’s article “Native Americans Morally Disqualified Themselves from the Land” published last winter that has generated the harshest criticism for its blatant racism against the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island.

The article was removed from the AFA website but is archived as Text of Fischer’s Racist Screed on Newspaper Rock. In it, Fischer claims that “the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of native (sic) Americans” made them “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil.” He draws an analogy between the Indigenous Peoples of this country and the “Amorites, or Canaanite peoples” – the ancestors of today’s Palestinians – who “practiced one moral abomination after another, whether it was incest, adultery, sexually immorality, homosexuality, bestiality or child sacrifice, and God finally said ‘Enough’” – and gave the land to the ancient Israelites.

Similarly, “native (sic) American” tribes at the time of European settlement were steeped in the basest forms of superstition, had been guilty of savagery in warfare for hundreds of years, and practiced the most debased forms of sexuality,” Fischer says. Furthermore, Fischer says, American Indians resisted “the appeal” of European Christianity and “resisted every attempt” at conversion, a claim that is belied by the presence of many historic churches on Indian lands and the large numbers of Christians among the Indigenous Peoples today. He draws further parallels between “missionaries murdered in cold blood” by the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island and “abominations of the indigenous Canaanites tribes” as the implicit reason why “God” gave the land of the Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island to European Christians and land of the Canaanites – Palestine – to European Jews.

ICTMN columnist Steve Newcomb was among the first to point out, in an article called Radio Evangelist Preaches An Ugly Message, that Fischer’s “thinly veiled race-purity arguments” form the foundation of American Indian law and continue to justify colonization and dispossession in the 21st century.

“We find it most evident in the Doctrine of Christian Discovery that exists in U.S. federal Indian law, as expressed in Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823), whereby the Court said that the first ‘Christian people’ to ‘discover’ lands inhabited by ‘heathens’ had assumed the ‘ultimate dominion’ to be in themselves,’” Newcomb writes. Fischer’s argument of ‘moral disqualification’ is rooted in the Old Testament story the Chosen People and the Promised Land, “in which the deity of the Old Testament is depicted as ‘promising’ the lands of other peoples to the Hebrews ‘as an everlasting possession’ and ‘inheritance,’” Newcomb writes. The Canaanites and other tribes had to be dehumanized and demonized because “God” instructed the Hebrews to slay all of them. “In other words, the very narrative that Mr. Fischer uses as his standard of judgment against American Indians is a dehumanizing genocidal narrative; that basis alone disqualifies it from being any kind of moral standard of judgment against anyone,” Newcomb writes.

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But Fischer’s genocidal impulse is not limited to American Indians. Contemporary Muslims are also targeted. Muslims, Fischer says, can either convert to Christianity or die. “The only thing that will give us a shot at building a democracy in an Islamic land is a mass conversion of its people to biblical Christianity. So that means if we want to see freedom come to those darkened, benighted lands, we should be sending missionaries in right after we send in the Marines to neutralize whatever threat has been raised against the United States,” he says in a YouTube video.

The Christian Right’s jihad against Muslims – or “Saracens,” as they are called in Doctrine of Discovery documents – had its genesis in the Crusades, the 11th and 12th century military expeditions by European Christian armies to occupy historic Palestine, which was under Muslim rule. Prejudice against Muslims in America has soared since 9/11 and finds its most potent expression in the U.S. government’s unconditional support of Israel’s continuing occupation and settler-colonization of Palestinian land, regardless of which political party is in power.

The parallel between the Indigenous Peoples of America and Palestine are highlighted in a recent unsigned review of Devon Mihesua’s American Indians: Stereotypes and Realities; Stephen Sheehi’s Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims; and Francis Boyle’s The Palestinian Right of Return Under International Law in Al Ahram, which reflects on different aspects of racism in the U.S. and its extension abroad.

“The racism against Native Americans and Muslim Americans comes together in U.S. Middle East policy, with the victimization of Palestinians,” the writer says. “U.S. domestic racism is projected internationally on the Middle East in the unqualified support of Israel as a Jewish state,” the reviewer said.

Perry expressed his unconditional support of Israel recently in a letter urging Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute American citizens who were on The Audacity of Hope, the U.S. Boat to Gaza, for allegedly providing “material aid or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.” (Full disclosure: This reporter was a passenger on the boat). The Audacity of Hope was part of the international Freedom Flotilla II: Stay Human which was attempting to break Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza. Among the passengers were Pulitzer-prize winning American novelist and poet Alice Walker; Ann Wright, a former U.S. Army colonel and diplomat who resigned in 2003 in protest against President George Bush’s war on Iraq; and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. Perry’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

But unconditional support for Israel does not eliminate Jewish anti-Semitism. One of the “honorary chairs” for “The Response” is Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, who was reprimanded by the Anti-Defamation League for comparing stem cell research to Nazi medical experiments during the Holocaust. The ADL itself has been accused of being a terrorist organization in Steven Salaita’s new book, Israel’s Dead Soul.

Among the “national endorsers” of “The Response” is Dr. James Swallow, Southern Cheyenne/Sioux founder of Two Rivers Native American Training Center, a Christian ministry training center in Oklahoma. It is not clear if Swallow is aware of Fischer’s anti-Indian racism. Swallow did not respond to a phone call and e-mail requesting comment on the issue.

Other participants at The Response include C. Peter Wagner, a Colorado evangelist, who advocates placing the government and media under Christian control, as well as burning the statues of Catholic saints; John Hagee, who has called the Roman Catholic Church the “Whore of Babylon,” and said that God used Hitler to have the Jews resettle Israel; and Mike Bickle of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, Missouri, who described Oprah Winfrey as a “pastor” of the “Harlot Babylon” that will be a precursor to the coming of the Antichrist.

Right Wing Watch reported on July 25 that Perry has tried to distance himself from the many extreme activists he is working with to put on The Response. “But Perry is open about his ties to advocates of Seven Mountains Dominionism, an ideology which demands that fundamentalist Christians take total control over all aspects of society,’ the report says. Dominionism advocate Jim Garlow is directing National Church Mobilization for The Response and other Dominionist endorsers include Cindy Jacobs and David Barton. Even the American Family Association now promotes Seven Mountains Dominionism.

On July 28, a district court in Houston tossed out a lawsuit that was trying to prevent Perry from participating in The Response. Judge Gray Miller dismissed the case after finding the plaintiffs had no standing and cited a 7th circuit ruling in favor of President Obama promoting a “national day of prayer,” according to ABC News. The lawsuit against Perry was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based state/church watchdog group which believes Perry’s involvement in the event violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause. The plaintiffs did not want to stop the rally from occurring but wanted the courts to bar Perry from promoting or participating in the event in any capacity.

The Texas governor commented on the case, telling reporters he hoped the courts will follow the precedent of other national days of prayer. “My prayer is that the courts will find the First Amendment is still applicable to governors no matter what they might be doing. That what we’ve done in the State of Texas or the Governor’s office is appropriate and no different than what George Washington or Abraham Lincoln or President Truman or President Obama have done with a day or prayer,” Perry said, according to the ABC report.