FBI Investigations Of Radical Catholic Traditionalists Can Help The Church

FBI Investigations Of Radical Catholic Traditionalists Can Help The Church February 16, 2023

Anthony Crider; cropped by Beyond My Ken: Unite The Right Rally / Wikimedia Commons

Some people want to make Catholics think that President Biden, and the US government, is targeting them. They act as if religious liberty is under threat. They did this during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now they are doing it after learning that the FBI was interested in, and investigating, various right-wing “radical-traditionalist Catholic” groups. Many, if not most of these groups can hardly be said to be Catholic, as they are not in communion with the Pope of Rome. Moreover, it is clear that these groups are trying to undermine and take over the public face of Catholicism, and, despite pleas to the contrary, contain racists and right-wing ideologues who do use threats of violence as a part of their rhetoric. This can be seen in the way many of these groups came together and acted at the  “Unite the Right” rally in 2017.

Trying to defend these groups and normalize them within Catholicism would be wrong. They don’t represent Catholicism. Indeed, they teach and proclaim anti-Catholic principles, and it is these principles which have led them to reject Vatican Council II and Pope Francis. The FBI, far from targeting Catholicism, is doing Catholics a service by pointing out those who are trying to undermine the Catholic faith from within.

Some who used to be associated with such radical groups, such as Gareth Thomas, show how they use social media to create an environment in which their ideologies are normalized and seen as representative of Catholicism. They are manipulative and dishonest in their practice. They know what they are doing. They know they are slowly shaping the way many view Catholicism, and in doing so, get people to reject Pope Francis and his desire to reform the church. They know that the more they are defended, and treated as normative representatives of Catholicism (instead of the Pope), they gain more power, more influence in shaping the future of Catholicism. It is important to note, it is not just those who outright reject Vatican II and the Pope, but many who stand near them, are engaging various dangerous ideologies, and with them, promote violence when their political ideology is denied, as seen by the example of Michael Voris:

Describing Election Day as a “day of reckoning for the communists who have seized so much control of the country and wreaked so much havoc on America,” Church Militant founder Michael Voris warned that, in the “all-out war going on between the forces of darkness who have complete control of one political party and partial control over the other,” conservatives might have “no choice but to fight back violently if needs be.” That shouldn’t be the first resort, Voris went on to say, but it “must always be an option.” [1]

This kind of rhetoric, if it were made by Muslims, would quickly receive an investigation, and indeed, that would be demanded by many of those objecting to the FBI keeping a watch on extreme right-wing Catholic groups.

In order to know what the FBI was concerned about, we should look at what was mentioned in the memo that suggested various “radical traditionalist Catholics” should be watched:

The memo notes that FBI investigations have found that there is a “growing overlap” between the far-right white nationalist movement and RTCs.

The January 23 document claims that RTCs are a small minority of the Catholic Church. They adhere to “anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT and white supremacy” ideology, while also preferring the “traditional Latin mass.”

The memo notes that these Catholics reject the Second Vatican Council and show a “disdain for popes elected since Vatican II.”[2]

Reading what they were concerned about, it should be clear, the issue is not Catholicism, it’s not Catholics in general, but a small minority of those who claim to be Catholic, some who might be in communion with the Pope of Rome, but many (perhaps most) who are not. All of them not only engage dangerous ideologies, but they are gaining power and influence, so that they are not merely outliers who pose no real risk to society. The fact that Catholics are not doing enough to prevent these groups from rising up and gaining influence, indeed, the fact that many Catholics end up defending them, shows how much these groups have convinced Catholics that they represent a legitimate form of Catholic thought, even though they do not.

The Catholic League is playing a dangerous game when they say, “Traditional Catholics—be they ‘rad trads’ or ‘trad Caths’—are mostly good Catholics who enjoy the solemnity of the Latin Mass.”[3]  The reality is that there is much more going on around these groups then the promotion of the “Latin Mass.” They use it as a rallying point, as a part of a general resistance to the world and the Catholic Church as it is today. Certainly, the institution can and does need reform, as it always does, but the kind of reform it needs is to put its principles into action, not to deny them. Thus, instead of promoting legitimate reform, we see those who look to and idealize the power hoping to regain the power they felt they lost, the power they believe they had in the past.  This, for example, is why many White Supremacists find themselves drawn to so-called traditional forms of Christianity, from Orthodoxy to Catholicism. We must realize how tied such radical Catholics are to violent actions, such as at the Unite the Right rally:

In 2017, an alliance of the KKK, neo-Nazis, and the alt-right did much of their planning for the Unite the Right rally in chat rooms that have since been made public by the media outlet Unicorn Riot. One of the more popular chat rooms was designated specifically for Catholics to explore the connections between their church and the rally. “No cultural Christians allowed,” its heading read. It was reserved for “dedicated” Catholics only and named after Nicholas J. Fuentes, a Catholic member of the neo-Nazi group Identity Evropa. Fuentes is an online influencer with 90,000 followers on social media; he was present at Charlottesville. Across all servers, more than 14,000 posts related to Catholicism were released in the aftermath of the event, and an early post captures their spirit: “I’m baptized Catholic [and] ready for a crusade.” [4]

It’s also important to see the kind of groups radical “traditionalist” Catholics are associated with; if we do so, we will find they include Neo-Nazi organizations:

Another of the most extreme neo-Nazi organizations today is Atomwaffen Division, whose logo is from the infamous German SS paramilitary. The group’s influences include Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson, and its aim is the violent overthrow of the government by guerrilla tactics. Atomwaffen’s most well-known murder occurred in January 2018. Samuel Woodward, who came “from a devoutly Catholic family” and as a student drew Confederate flags in art class, was charged with stabbing a 19-year-old gay, Jewish college student, Blaze Bernstein, 20 times and hiding Bernstein’s body in an Orange County, Calif. park. Woodward had traveled with an Atomwaffen division leader for a summer, helped organize members in Southern California, trained in weaponry and outdoor survival skills, and posed with other Atomwaffen members while making Nazi salutes. He spoke openly about his Catholic faith on social media and attended Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, including after the murder. When police arrested him, they found more than 100 pieces of Nazi, anti-gay, and hate group content on his phone. Judging by other Atomwaffen members, including former Catholic Devon Arthurs, charged with two murders, and the Telegram user who goes by “Catholicwaffen,” Woodward is not alone in representing both his church and perhaps the most lethal neo-Nazi group in the country.[5]

Denying what is going on in these groups will only allow them to become more radical, more powerful, and potentially more dangerous. We must not let the problem fester. We must not get upset when they are being exposed, acting as if doing that is an affront on Catholicism. Rather, it helps Catholicism to expose them, so that their influence can be rooted out. The more we act as it is an attack on Catholicism to place a careful watch over them, the more they will be able to recruit Catholics to their ranks, as they will say they merely represent traditional Catholic teaching and practice (despite the fact that their opposition to the Pope shows otherwise). We must recognize who they are, what they represent, and what they are doing. The FBI can help us do so. They are violent. Many of them are racist. Many of them promote various authoritarian notions and ideologies. Many of them have connections in and with the government. They have no problem killing people they don’t like. They have no problem using violence to suppress everyone who does not bow down and follow them.

If we want to see what these groups are, and who has been involved with them, and the kinds of threats they represent, all we have to do is read the SPLCenter list, and research each one of the ones mentioned; and it is easy to see, as the SPLCenter also explained, how so-called “tradition” can lead people to extremist views, as it encourages them to take up once again ideologies which Vatican II has rejected, such as antisemitism. Catholics should make it clear they do not represent authentic Catholic teaching. Catholics must make it clear they are just as concerned as the rest of the world as to the threat these groups represent, just as Catholics did so with  the IRA or with the Mafia. That Catholics have not adequately done so is why we are having this conversation today.  The seed these group have planted in American Catholicism in the past few decades has been ignored. We now see, because we have not properly dealt with them, the government will. We should not be surprised. The government will intervene when Catholics don’t properly police themselves. We have seen that with the clerical sexual abuse crisis. If we are not careful, we will see it again in relation to the way these extreme groups have been promoted  and defended by American Catholic prelates. If that happens, we will have no one else to blame but ourselves.

[1] Kathryn Joyce, “Political Violence ‘Must Always Be An Option’ Says Far-Right Catholic” in Salon (10-8-2022)

[2] Ewan Palmer, “FBI Under Pressure For Targeting Catholics In Leaked Document” in Newsweek (2-10-2023)

[3] Bill, “Demonizing Traditional Catholics” in Catholic League (9-19-2022).

[4] Eric Martin, “The Catholic Church Has A Visible White-Power Faction” in Sojourners (Aug, 2020).

[5] Eric Martin, “The Catholic Church Has A Visible White-Power Faction.”


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