There was a quietly dramatic moment on February 24th in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Two former leaders of the theocratic Constitution Party (CP) declared their intention to run in the June 24th primary election—as a Democrat and a Republican. The pair are running, respectively, for seats on the Democratic and Republican Party county central committees, as well as for the Anne Arundel County Council. (The county is part of the greater Washington, DC and Baltimore metropolitan area.)
While changing political parties is not an uncommon thing in today’s political world, what makes the actions of these men extraordinary and of national significance is who they are, their obvious coordination, and their personal histories and political vision.
Michael Peroutka, the newly-minted Republican, was the 2004 presidential candidate of the Constitution Party. He is an attorney and runs a business with his minister and fellow party-switcher, Pastor David Whitney. They produce tapes and seminars on Christian Nationalist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution via the Institute on the Constitution, an “educational outreach” of the law firm of Peroutka & Peroutka. Whitney, who has now joined the Democratic Party, ran on the Constitution Party’s ticket for the Maryland State Assembly against Democratic Speaker Michael E. Busch in 2006.
The two-man team has set forth on a new religious and political mission, but it is not yet clear what it is. But while we wait for the them to declare their intentions, their theocratic and revolutionary backgrounds may indicate what they have in mind.
Pastor Whitney has led Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Pasadena, Maryland for more than a decade. His sermons are packed with ideas that can be best described as theocratic and revolutionary. On July 4, 2010, after addressing a Tea Party rally, he declared that we have “the God-given right to secede.” Uncoincidentally, he and Peroutka are both members of the neo-confederate League of the South. Whitney is active and serves as Chaplain of the Maryland chapter. [see audio clip]
Peroutka, who has been a regular speaker at League of the South national conferences for years, was elected to their board of directors in 2013, and pledged “resources” to the group. The League’s website currently features photos of billboards in Florida and Georgia simply reading, “SECEDE.” The billboards are part of a new interstate campaign promoting Southern Nationalist secession. (The League has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Although the League says it does not support violence, in the past year Whitney has said that church members should own but not register guns; that citizen militias are a bulwark against governmental tyranny; that secession of the states from the union is valid; that vigilante violence is justified in response to legal abortion; and that the only real law, is God’s Law. [see audio clip]
Whitney is fiercely anti-LGBTQ, stating that he has defended “God’s Holy institution of marriage by testifying before the State Legislature.” He has also justified the murder of abortion providers, declaring in a 2013 sermon, “…we need to understand that there is such a thing as Biblically justifiable homicide.” [see audio clip]
The first proponent of the notion that killing abortion providers constituted justifiable homicide, was Rev. Paul Hill who in 1994, acted on his belief and murdered an abortion provider and his escort. The Florida courts didn’t buy Hill’s theory justifying vigilante violence against legal abortion, and sent him to the electric chair for his crimes.
Whitney holds a view similar to Hill’s. In a sermon on May 5th 2013 Whitney declared: “When you talk to people about God’s Law being restored in America, they say, ‘Awww, you’re some ayatollah. Awww, you want a theocracy’,” he complained, explaining that, “Well yes, I want obedience to God’s Law because that is where liberty comes from. Liberty comes from God’s Law. Tyranny comes when God’s law is rejected by a society as it has been rejected in our day. Indeed, any law made that contradicts God’s Law, what is it? It’s not law at all. You could call it unlaw or you could call it, as our founders did, pretended law. But it is not law if it violates God’s Law.” [see audio clip]
When Whitney says he favors theocracy, he also means (as he wrote in February 2014) that we should “restrict citizenship” to Christians of the right sort: Christians who, whether serving as jurors, government officials or “in the Militia” operate according to “God’s Law.”
Whitney has taken these views so far that he is now part of some national networks of like-minded individuals where such views are unexceptional. For example, Whitney is a member of a national network called the Black Regiment of pastors, which declines to register their churches with the IRS for purposes of federal tax exemption, and his church is not registered as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. (The Black Regiment is one of several groups that derive their name from Revolutionary War-era pastors who were politically engaged, supported the revolution, and wore the black robes which were the clerical fashion of the day.)
The anti-government views of some of the several dozen members of the Black Regiment go far beyond the relatively minor matter of federal tax-exemption. For example, two Southern Baptist ministers have gone so far as to threaten the life of President Obama—staying just barely on the legal side of the law. Rev. Steven L. Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona in 2009 repeatedly called on God to smite his enemy, President Obama, who Anderson believes violates God’s Law by supporting reproductive autonomy and LGBTQ civil rights. (Anderson has also been active in the Constitution Party.) Similarly, Rev. Wiley Drake of First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Vista, California, has also engaged in imprecatory prayer—a prayer in which God is asked to strike down his enemies, including Rev. Barry Lynn and other leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (who was murdered while ushering in church), and President Obama.
The organizer of the above mentioned Black Regiment faction is Rev. Chuck Baldwin, the 2008 Constitution Party presidential candidate. (Baldwin was also Peroutka’s 2004 vice presidential running mate.) Baldwin leads a second, overlapping group called Second Amendment Pastors (of which Whitney is also member) that opposes registering firearms. Baldwin believes revolution is preferable to gun control. “Firearms–especially semi-automatic rifles–in the hands of millions of American citizens,” he wrote, “is truly the only thing that stands between freedom and tyranny for the people of the United States.”
That’s the Ticket
Peroutka’s 2004 failed presidential campaign was well-known for touting conspiratorial claims. Many of which can still be seen on The American View website. One of their campaign pledges was as follows:
“It is clear that both major parties are committed to the agenda of the new world order and seek to enforce economic, military and social policies that are antithetical to the interests of the people of America. Michael Peroutka and the Constitution party will fight to defend America against its foreign and domestic enemies in order to return to a Republic of Sovereign States based on Biblical principles.”
Peroutka has not indicated whether his views of the GOP changed when he switched his registration to run for office as a Republican.
Likewise, Whitney has apparently not displayed any public transformation of his beliefs that suggest they are now more in keeping with those of the Democratic Party. In fact, as recently as October 13, 2013, Whitney gave a sermon where he said, “God’s word is wise in how to structure a human civil government. Because if a human civil government allows a tyrant to control an army, you are going to lose your freedom. It’s only when you, the people, are armed in a militia structure that you can prevent that kind of tyranny from overwhelming the country.”
This is more than mere patriotic vigilance against real (or imagined) excesses of government, Whitney is suggesting something more revolutionary. In his Independence Day 2010 sermon, for example, he declared that when government does not conform to God’s Law, “the people have a right to secede.” He said that many people, “are recognizing that the wicked regime in Washington, DC [apparently referring to the Obama Administration], is not likely to lay aside its despicable and evil tyranny…”. He concluded that we may eventually come to the “same difficult decision which our forebears reached on that hot July day in Philadelphia.” He has not indicated whether he believes a citizen militia should be raised against the leader of his newly-adopted Democratic Party.
It would be tempting to dismiss the electoral prospects of Peroutka and Whitney as dim in light of their controversial views, and history of denunciation of the alleged complicity in “great evil” by the Democratic and Republican parties. But in a (likely) low-turnout primary for local offices in a non-presidential election year, anything is possible. Indeed, Peroutka’s personal wealth as a successful debt collection attorney, and both candidates’ experience in running campaigns, could make for a surprising 2014 primary season in Maryland.