Imagine a B horror movie– the most formulaic of B horror movies, the kind you throw popcorn at for fun.
Imagine the group of unwitting protagonists approaching a haunted house. It doesn’t feel right but there’s nothing overtly wrong. It’s just spooky. There’s an atmosphere of anxiety about the place but the protagonists aren’t afraid. And then things start to go awry. We, the audience, begin to see things that aren’t right, at first just in hints. One of the minor protagonists goes poking around where they don’t belong, we see her terrified reaction face, and in the next scene she’s dead. Well, that could just be a coincidence. Accidents happen. And then it happens to another minor protagonist. And now the more important protagonists start to get wise, but it’s too late. There are increasingly ridiculous shenanigans. Before long, the masks are off entirely and the bad guys are in plain sight, no longer hiding their motives, chasing the protagonists around in circles until the final reel.
Now let me tell you how I felt as I watched today’s impeachment proceedings– as I watched the policeman being crushed in the door and the other one being beaten into a heart attack, the crazed rioters screaming they were going to hang Mike Pence and shoot Nancy Pelosi in the head, Romney’s brush with death, all of it. I felt sick. I felt shocked, though not at all surprised; in fact, it all felt like the logical culmination of a movement I knew very well. I’ve seen this horror movie. The part you’re watching is after the big reveal; I’ve seen what these people look like before the masks come off.
I felt guilty, because I used to be one of those people.
Well, that doesn’t really cover it. I used to be a little kid. I was and still am a Catholic. And my family was vulnerable for a few reasons, and we got snookered into the Charismatic Renewal. That was something that looked like a good idea at the time. My mother was duped by a Charismatic religious sister who seemed like a prophet but was actually a narcissist who liked ruining people. She was extremely convincing; this could have happened to any vulnerable person. And then things got weird. And after that Charismatic community collapsed, we remained a bit brainwashed. We believed a set of things because we thought that made us “real Catholics” as opposed to “liberal Catholics.” And I’m not talking about Catholic social teaching and whether you should use birth control, or whether the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony was between a man and a woman. I mean unapproved Marian apparitions of every shape and kind. I mean thinking that gay people were pedophiles with an “agenda” and would “recruit in the public schools.” I mean thinking that portraying divorced people on television was also an “agenda” against the traditional family. I mean that we had to boycott Disney and watch Focus on the Family videos for a bit. I mean that we thought that we were in a “culture war” against the big bad world and the big bad world was our enemy.
They are many, many well-meaning people who think like this, and I view them as victims of a terrible scam.
We formed a homeschool group with like-minded people, and I have a lot of wonderful memories of that group. It wasn’t like my run-ins with Regnum Christi which really is a cult through and through. I loved those people and that community fiercely. They got a lot right. I loved how we pooled our resources for tutors who were excellent educators. I loved how we went on field trips together. I loved the attention parents paid to their children. I loved that we went to Daily Mass together so often at that beautiful church with the Communion rail. I loved being with that many kids all jumbled together having a good time so many days out of the week. Big families are wonderful and our faith as a treasure. I miss that group. But it was also very dangerous, because they believed so many things that weren’t right.
They really believed they were in a culture war, them against the world. They believed the world was out to get them. They believed that they had to protect their children from “pro-aborts” and “the gay agenda” that wanted to hurt them; they believed LGBTQ people were pedophiles and worse. They believed climate change was a myth invented for the purpose of population control. They believed that voting Republican was some kind of moral duty, that everyone who didn’t do it was a cold-blooded baby killer with nothing to say on any issue. And that was the run-of-the-mill belief set. There were other people on the fringes of the group who believed stranger things. One family believed that Proctor and Gamble was a corporation that funded Satanism, for example. Some believed that it was a sin for boys and girls to touch each other, or for girls to wear trousers. They believed the government was going to enact a one-child policy. And some took it even further and spread rumors about the Three Days of Darkness and how we were in the end times.
I thought it was strange, and terrifying. I never want to hear about the Three Days of Darkness again as long as I live.
In my late teens I started picketing abortion clinics. I never should have done that. My family, to their credit, thought it was a step too far and wanted to talk me out of it, but I was adamant. And I acted like a monster. I’ve met brave sidewalk counselors who are really helpful to women faced with a desperate choice and who save lives, but I was not helpful. I am sorry for the way I behaved there. All I can say is that I thought I’d go to hell if I didn’t. And I met people who were even further off than the people I’d known in the homeschool group. They would babble at me about the time they went down to the Southern border with their guns to repel migrants, and I thought that that didn’t sound very much like the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They talked about how the government was about to enact Sharia law and Communism at the same time, and it sounded like nonsense. They said and did horrible things that seemed like the opposite of Christ’s example.
Things seemed even more awry there than they had before.
I came to Steubenville so I could learn more about the Gospel and how to spread it to others, and I became the victim of more and more blatant spiritual abuse. It all ended with me getting raped by someone who quoted the letters of Paul as she did so– and suddenly, I was the victim in the horror movie, making a terrified reaction face at the camera. That was when I began to see really clearly that I’d been duped– that all of this was against the Gospel. They had nothing to do with Jesus; they were using all that was good about Christianity for their own agenda. They weren’t really pro-life; they just found the lives of unborn babies a useful carrot to hold over innocent people while enacting their own agenda. Their horror at other kinds of people was just projection of the kind of control they’d like to get away with. Everything I’d done in their name had been hurting people. The way to help others and save lives is not through believing that other people are pure evil. It’s not through demonizing LGBTQ people or democrats or anyone else. It’s not through spreading nonsense about communism, Satanism and other conspiracy theories.
I am still a Catholic and I strive to follow all of Catholic social teaching. I believe abortion is wrong, as are all the other different ways of killing people. I want to protect life from conception until natural death. But I recognize in that far right wing, insular, conspiracy theorist mindset, a trap. It’s a cult. It’s something claiming to be the “real” way to be Catholic, but it has nothing to do with Christ. It’s a fake. It’s an impostor, a villain in a horror movie wearing a mask.
What we saw today was the final reel of that movie– or, at least, I hope and pray it’s the final reel but it might not be.
They’ve thrown off the masks entirely.
They claimed to be in favor of Law and Order, the Party of Family Values, of the Constitution, of good old-fashioned common sense. They claim to be protecting families from persecution and standing up for Life. They claim to be carrying out the wishes of Christ. But they are violent, paranoid, selfish murderers who only want to get their own way. They killed six people and wished to kill even more. They tried to murder the members of the United States Congress and the vice president as well. They forced actual families to hide in terror, traumatizing them. And all to disenfranchise millions of Americans, to destroy our democracy which was never very good to begin with– to install as a despot a womanizing cad who boasts about rape and how he’d like to molest his own daughter. I saw the evidence of this building up bit by bit, and now it’s plain for everyone to see.
This isn’t a good horror movie and I never want to see it again.
I want to do something else. I want to fight to protect life, to help people, to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I want to be a Christian, a Catholic, someone who loves Christ by loving my neighbor. I don’t want to have anything to do with the cult except to fight them and warn people that they’re not who they say they are.
The best way I can think of to do that at this moment is to show the video footage to other people, and make it known, and to tell my story. This is what you worshipped, but it isn’t Christ and it isn’t right. The Gospel is the Good News of Christ who is Love and who doesn’t want you to box yourself in in little cults who hate people. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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