As the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 attack gears up to hold televised hearings this spring, lawmakers probably won’t devote much airtime to religion’s role in the assault on our democracy. But white Christian nationalism continues to play a central role in perpetuating Donald Trump’s stolen election lie, so understanding its continued threat and its sometimes peculiar symbols is crucial. One such symbol, the blowing of shofars as a gesture of pro-Trump Christian triumphalism, is a troubling example of how many in the movement have arrogated Jewish ritual as a weapon for their nationalistic ends.
White Christian nationalism was the most visible religious affiliation on display in the January 6 riots. Participants marched with signs proclaiming “Trump is President, Christ is King,” one held a Bible in the air while a mob overran police to charge into the Capitol building, and another shouted, “Here we are in the name of Jesus!” Even the so-called QAnon shaman prayed in Jesus’ name in the ransacked Senate chamber.
There was also the incongruous sight of Israeli flags, a sign of how potent Christian Zionism is among many Trump supporters—even as one rioter wore a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt and another, currently under criminal indictment, is a Hitler admirer who federal prosecutors say “took the time to make what is likely a Nazi gesture towards the Capitol after violently assaulting and confronting law enforcement.”
And then there were the shofars. In covering Christian nationalism and Messianic Judaism for nearly two decades, I have seen the increasing use of shofars at church services, prayer rallies and political events. But shofars’ deployment in the service of the January 6 rioters marked a new and bizarre twist in this phenomenon—one that centers Donald Trump as a salvific figure in an ultimate victory over liberal democracy.
The shofar blowers were likely not Jewish, writes Sarah Imhoff at “Uncivil Religion,” a digital resource documenting religion and January 6, a joint project of the University of Alabama and the Smithsonian. Evangelicals increasingly use shofars as a tool of “spiritual warfare,” says Imhoff, a religion scholar at Indiana University, to show that “the world is moving toward the end times…war on earth, culminating in the battle of Armageddon, and God’s participation in this final battle against evil.”
“Uncivil Religion” documents other shofar-blowing moments on January 6, including video of a rioter blowing a shofar atop the scaffolding that insurrectionists seized outside the Capitol. Haaretz reported video of a woman blowing a shofar into a shattered Capitol window. The New York Times documents a man blowing a shofar as the mob rampages on the Capitol grounds.
The January 6 shofars did not come out of nowhere. At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016, I covered a far-right rally featuring conspiracist Alex Jones and dirty trickster Roger Stone, later two prominent January 6 promoters. I interviewed a Christian prayer warrior from Michigan who told me Trump was “God’s man.” He and his friends enthusiastically blew their shofars as Jones repeated the antisemitic trope so popular on the Trumpist right about defeating the “globalists.”
I had forgotten about this moment until more recently, when I was writing about the Jericho March, a series of prayer rallies organized in advance of January 6 to mobilize pro-Trump Christians and restore Trump to power. At the December 12, 2020 Jericho March rally on the National Mall, attendees repeatedly used shofars to punctuate the testimonies of Trump loyalists such as Stone and Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced National Security Advisor. Flynn told the crowd that just as the walls of Jericho fell before Joshua’s army, this new Trumpist army could bring down the “deep state.” Jones was there, too, invoking the end times and vowing that Biden “will be removed, one way or another.”
Sixty percent of white evangelicals still believe the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump—that’s more than any other religious demographic, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Twenty-six percent of white evangelicals told PRRI that “true American patriots” might have to resort to violence to save the country. Not all evangelicals blow shofars, and not all endorse violence, but examining the conjunction of the two on January 6 shows just how the Christian nationalist rhetoric of spiritual warfare can spill into actual violence.
In the past, watching shofars being blown as symbols of Christian spiritual warfare, I found it merely a sacrilegious annoyance. Now, the evidence shows, it is something more serious, a permanent part of the record of an assault that sought to bring American democracy to its knees.
Sarah Posner is the author of Unholy: How White Christian Nationalists Powered the Trump Presidency, and the Devastating Legacy They Left Behind.
Moment Magazine participates in the Amazon Associates program and earns money from qualifying purchases.