Christian Identity Movement
   The Christian Identity Movement, born out of the belief system known as British Israelism, takes its name from the supposed identity of modern white Anglo-Saxon peoples: they are the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, taken captive in 740 b.c.e. by the Assyrians.
   British israelism was a relatively benign philosophy in the 19th century, although it drew a sharp distinction between ancient israelites of the Northern Kingdom and modern Jews as descendants of the Southern Kingdom. In the mid-20th century, the theory became wedded to virulent racism and was used to denigrate both Jews and African Americans. Jews were seen as an inferior race, subhuman and of satanic origin, while israelites were seen as a godly race of superior beings.
   The emergence of the Identity Movement is usually traced to the career of Gerald L. K. Smith (1898-1976), a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and founder of the Christian Nationalist Crusade. Smith passed his teachings to Wesley swift (1919-70), his onetime bodyguard and chauffeur, who in the mid-1940s opened a church in Lancaster, California, which eventually became the Church of Jesus Christ Christian of Aryan Nations, headed by former Swift associate Richard Butler (b. 1918).
   swift allied his church with militant hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan (a chapter of which he founded in Los Angeles). Butler welcomed association with various neo-Nazi groups. The Identity Movement thrived in the 1980s under leaders such as William Potter Gale (d. 1988) and Pete Peters (b. 1946). The movement, never large, consisted of independent congregations, each funded with a mail order and/or broadcast ministry. The Aryan Nations group developed an effective prison outreach ministry. The movement suffered a major setback in 2000 when a civil court handed down a $6-million judgment against Butler and his church, forcing it into bankruptcy, but it carries on through its dozen branches.
   Identity is primarily an American fringe movement with little actual membership, drawing much of its strength from a loose alignment with other small racial groups in the United States and northern Europe. It continues to cause concern because of the pervasive violent rhetoric and the occasional acts of violence traced to it.
   Further reading:
   ■ James Aho, The Politics of Righteousness (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990)
   ■ Michael Barkun, Religion and the Racist Right (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997)
   ■ Jeffrey Kaplan, Encyclopedia of White Power (Walnut Creek, Calif/Lanham, Md.: AltaMira Press, 2000).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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