Days before the midterm elections, Pastor David MacLellan was ready to preach far-right politics through Bible verses to his small congregation. MacLellan, a hulking man with a long, grizzled black beard, isn’t an ordinary pastor. He proudly identifies himself as a far-right, extremist pastor and a Christian nationalist, someone who believes American politics should reflect fundamentalist Christian values.
And he’s part of a growing national religious political movement called the Black Robe Regiment, a modern-day group inspired by a myth of a group of militant pastors during the American Revolution who took up arms to lead their flock into battle against the British. The movement, imbued with support from far-right political activists like Michael Flynn, wants pastors to play a central role in not only preaching politics from the pulpit but also actively getting their congregations to rise up and claim election fraud by weaving myths about the American Revolution together with modern-day conspiracy theories and hard-line Christianity. These pastors believe they’re saving democracy, though what they’re really doing is encouraging supporters to undermine the democratic process.
And MacLellan plans to take an active role: He’s convinced that the 2020 election was stolen and that fraud has already been committed in the 2022 midterms. He wants his congregants to fight back.
“This Tuesday, I’ll be taking some of our seniors to the polling station,” MacLellan announced at the beginning of his service, held in the living room of his home in Mesa, Arizona. That day, he wore a tweed jacket over a black shirt, and a bolo tie. His hands are gnarled with faded tattoos—a nod, he says, to his Scottish heritage and a holdover from a past life when he played in punk bands in New York and was a “heathen biker.”
His sermon mixed Bible verses with remarks about evolution, made claims of violence against anti-abortion groups, and described Jewish people as a “wealthy group of people who didn’t believe in heaven or hell, didn’t believe in angels, and they had political control over everything.”
“Interesting, huh?” he said, as an aside to the congregation crowded into his living room, who responded with knowing sounds.