Updated at 2:41 p.m. ET on April 21, 2021.
The PR pitch was brazen: Eric Metaxas, it declared, is “America’s #1 Bad Christian.” The Christian writer and radio host has been promoting doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election, including at a prayer rally he emceed on the National Mall in December. Metaxas has tweeted “martial rhetoric” in defense of former President Donald Trump, his publicist wrote cheerfully. He even appeared in a New York Times article about Christian extremism. Oh, and by the way, he has a new book out.
Metaxas told me he didn’t know that this is how he’s being pitched to journalists, but he doesn’t hate it. “That’s hilarious!” he said when I described the email. “I take that as a high compliment.” He has leaned into his reputation as a staunch Trump defender. During a November episode of Metaxas’s radio show, Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano put Trump on speakerphone. “I’d be happy to die in this fight. This is a fight for everything. God is with us,” Metaxas told the president.
Metaxas sees himself and other evangelical Trump supporters as part of a long line of Christians who stood up against grave wrongdoings in history: William Wilberforce, the slavery abolitionist and evangelical; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran theologian who was arrested and later hanged for his dissent against the Nazi regime. Metaxas has spent his career writing books about these figures and has a tendency to describe current events in dramatic historical terms. “If this isn’t our ‘Reichstag Fire’ I don’t know what is,” he tweeted on January 27, commenting on the Department of Homeland Security’s warnings about the potential for domestic terrorism following the Capitol attack. In 1933, Hitler’s government used a fire at the Reichstag, which housed the German Parliament, as a pretext to consolidate power and suppress dissent. Metaxas’s tweet suggested that he thought the Biden administration was using the Capitol attack to do the same.
President Joe Biden’s inauguration has not made Metaxas and the Trump supporters who agree with him go away. In fact, Metaxas has become only more vocal—and seemingly fearful—in recent weeks. He believes, without evidence, that there was significant fraud in the 2020 election. (Some three-quarters of Republicans agree, according to a December poll.) And like roughly one-third of registered voters, he doesn’t believe that Biden’s victory was legitimate. I wanted to understand why Metaxas, who lives in Manhattan and has spent much of his life among journalists and his fellow Yale graduates, has come to believe that he is righteous for questioning the 2020 election. Our conversation has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Emma Green: Do you see yourself as a rebel against elite consensus?
Eric Metaxas: I grew up in a working-class, immigrant environment. When I went to Yale, that was the first time I was among the so-called cultural elites. There really is a kind of enforced consensus. If you don’t think that way, you can quickly become persona non grata.
I wasn’t in D.C. for the Capitol riots. But I was blown away at how instantly anybody who supported Trump—which is, you know, half the country—was demonized as potential white domestic terrorists. I just thought, Holy cow. What am I, in Nazi Germany? This is really sick. That’s not what we do in America.
Green: You brought up Nazi Germany there, and I want to make sure I understand how you’re using the metaphor.
Metaxas: You have to forgive me. Part of the reason I bring up Germany, always, is because I spent a huge part of my life studying that period. I wrote a 600-page book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
We can’t allow people to be silenced. People immediately say, “You bring up the Nazis? That’s out of bounds.” But it’s the principle of the thing. When you start pushing people around and telling them what they can say—and they better say, “Heil Hitler,” loudly—that should be a warning sign.
Green: Do you believe that Trump supporters are like Jews in Hitler’s Germany?
Metaxas: Now, Emma, you’re trying to get me to say something. That’s a good journalistic tactic. I can see the quote, right? That’s not really going to be helpful, because: Of course not.
The point is, in Germany, if you didn’t go along with the party line, you would be demonized. You would get in trouble. People just think, I hope I don’t get in trouble, so what do I have to say or not say to get in trouble? At that moment, you cease to be free.
We’re kind of getting there. Even a millimeter in that direction is too close for comfort for me.
Green: You have tweeted about the early actions of the Biden administration being similar to the Reichstag fire. You tweeted that—
Metaxas: No, no, no. The Capitol. I’m referring to that.
This event happens, and before the smoke clears, we are using the opportunity—and I’m not talking about the Biden administration; I’m talking about the Democratic establishment and the media—instantly seizing on it to demonize, in the harshest terms, anyone who would support Trump. That just blew my mind. I thought: You don’t do that in America. That’s what the Nazis did with the Reichstag fire. Before the smoke cleared, they had already figured out who they were going to blame.
Green: I just want to be clear about the metaphor here, because I think it matters. The attack on the Capitol was perpetrated by a group of people who had, in some cases, weapons, and who forcefully broke into the United States Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the Electoral College votes. I don’t think the argument is that anybody who voted for Trump anywhere in America is a violent white supremacist. I think the criticism has been about that act and the way in which President Trump, along with those who have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election results, encouraged that act.
Metaxas: But it’s our right in America to do that—to question things. And when you are told that by doing that, you are contributing to violence, you are inciting violence—that, right there, is a red flag.
The media landscape was not what you just described. It was an absolute pile-on. You’d think somebody had clubbed a senator to death or something. I was just scratching my head, trying to make sense of whatever happened, if we even know what happened. There are enough questions that it’s so confusing. They were acting like people were shot.
Green: I want to stop you there, because a Capitol Police officer was beaten to death by protesters. He died of his injuries. [Editor’s note: Since this article was published, additional information has demonstrated that the officer, Brian Sicknick, did not die from blunt-force trauma after being beaten by rioters, despite initial reports. On April 19, D.C.’s chief medical examiner ruled that Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes. In an interview with The Washington Post, the D.C. medical examiner noted Sicknick’s role in combatting the mob on January 6, stating, “All that transpired played a role in his condition.”]
Metaxas: Look, I’m not a newshound. But I didn’t even seem to get clarity on who were the human beings that committed murder. I don’t know anybody who is pro-murder. What is there to be said except, obviously, we condemn it. Who the heck wouldn’t condemn that? Why would somebody harm a police officer? Even I can’t make sense of what’s going on. Who did this? Are they in jail? Is there a trial? Is it clear why they did that?
Green: I want to bring up something you said on your radio show in conversation with President Trump. You said you’d “be happy to die in this fight. This is a fight for everything. God is with us.” What did you mean by that? And would you still be willing—
Metaxas: I meant exactly what Nathan Hale meant when he said, “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country.” When you believe liberty is being threatened; when you believe elections are being threatened; when you believe that any of these things are being threatened—people have died for these things. When you say something like that, what you’re saying is: I would, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or like Nathan Hale, stand up for what I think is right and true. I am not just going to go with the crowd.
The values that I get out of the Bible have led to American-style self-government and liberty and freedom for all. Of course I said I would be happy to die in that fight.
Green: When you said “that fight,” it seemed like you were referring to the fight to make sure President Trump would be inaugurated to a second term.
Metaxas: No, no, no, no, no. The fight to make sure that all Americans could say, whoever won, we know that really happened.
This is not about Trump. If he lost, good! The American people can elect their leaders. But if that’s not really clear, then you’re harming the whole fabric. I was really upset at how a lot of people just didn’t seem troubled by it. They would say things like, “Oh! There’s no evidence.” I’ve seen enough to make me think that a really thorough investigation is necessary. And that didn’t happen.
Green: But there were investigations into allegations of irregularities. Attorney General Bill Barr said the DOJ looked into all allegations of voter fraud, and they didn’t uncover anything on a scale that would change the outcome of the election. Republican officials at the state level—Brad Raffensperger in Georgia, for example—said things went according to plan.
Is that not persuasive to you? Do you believe President Trump was actually reelected?
Metaxas: I think it’s very possible he was reelected, yeah. And that sickens me, that I could even think that. I’ve seen enough to make me doubt that we had a fair election, that every person’s vote was counted the way it’s supposed to be counted.
I think a lot of people thought it was too much trouble to get into these weeds—“Let’s just let it ride and leave it alone.” And a lot of courts didn’t look at the evidence, because they made a call, which was actually a political call, to say, “We just don’t want to stick our necks out on this.”
Green: But many of the courts you’re talking about are ones where judges appointed by Trump were looking at the evidence. Why do you think even people who were vetted by President Trump’s team would make a political calculation that it wasn’t worthwhile to consider challenges of the highest order and seriousness in America, which is that our elections weren’t free and fair?
Metaxas: I’m not the sort of person who followed this the way you did. Most Americans have less time to follow it than I did. And so if there is the impression that some of what I’m saying is true, people need to deal with that. In America, we don’t push that stuff aside.
Green: Some people have argued that the reputation of Christianity has been damaged by evangelicals’ wide support of President Trump. I take it you don’t agree with that.
Metaxas: I think that’s preposterous! Of course not. That’s just such a silly thing. The idea that I’m supposed to bury all of my thoughts for the hope of perhaps persuading somebody in the future that Christianity is palatable or something—Christians have traditionally stood up for human rights! When you stand up against the slave trade, you become incredibly politically unpopular. I mean, Wilberforce was totally demonized in his day. But he was doing what he felt was the right thing. What kind of a Christian would he have been if he said, “Well, I don’t want to be divisive”?
Green: Do you believe that Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president of the United States?
Metaxas: No. He is the president. But there will always be an asterisk next to him for me until—if—things are clarified.
Green: Do you pray for him?
Metaxas: Oh, yeah. I take all that stuff seriously, you know? When Jesus tells us to love and pray for our enemies, it’s not to pray that they succeed. It’s to pray for them as a fellow human being.