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You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I published a critical review of Stephen Wolfe’s book The Case For Christian Nationalism. Since that time the controversy surrounding the book has taken quite a few strange and sordid turns. Thankfully, I haven’t been a part of any of it. I felt it sufficient to simply stick with the published book and its proffered theological arguments, which I believe I handled rather decisively. There has been no reply—indeed, no acknowledgment or recognition that my review exists at all. Douglas Wilson (on behalf of Canon Press, the publisher) keeps writing these weird “challenges” to people (“Deal with the book, if you can”) knowing full well the book has been dealt with.
‘But we don’t talk about Bruno—I mean, Brian.’
And for those of you who don’t know or understand how to read codes from Moscow, Idaho, this final paragraph of Canon’s press release defending Wolfe is really something:
The Case for Christian Nationalism is generating this kind of resistance because it was timely, and it touches raw nerves. In our minds, this confirms its importance. Tear it to shreds, explore its corners, poke its premises, and stomp its logic.
First off, just because something is timely and touches raw nerves does not—most emphatically not—confirm something’s “importance.” Lots of timely and totally unimportant garbage touches raw nerves. Have you heard of Twitter? But—and secondly—the final sentence about tearing it to shreds, poking its premises, and stomping its logic is as close as you will ever get to an admission that the book is terrible. They just want you to keep buying copies anyway.
None of this is sour grapes on my part, by any means. I am delighted to not have to get into some kind of running debate about these issues with these people; and many, many thousands of people have read and benefitted from my review. I am simply observing that my review is being studiously ignored. I will let you draw your own conclusions as to why.
One possibility is that Canon Press and Stephen Wolfe have had other things to worry about. My review kicked off something of an avalanche of criticism (whether causal or, more likely, coincidental), and that criticism quickly became very personal. As in, questioning not just Wolfe’s book, but Wolfe himself as a person. I don’t know the man at all, aside from his off-putting and arrogant online persona. But from where I sit I do have to say that what has been discovered in the past week or so is disturbing.
It all begins with a small, anonymous Twitter account. It has less than 50 followers. One of those followers is Stephen Wolfe, who occasionally “liked” some of the Tweets emanating from this account. A theologian by the name of Alastair Roberts, while working on his own criticisms of Wolfe’s book, became curious about this anonymous account. He did a lot of digging around on social media and came to the reasoned conclusion that this anonymous account is run by Stephen Wolfe’s podcast co-host and collaborator, Thomas Achord. And then Alastair said so publicly.
Cue: Outrage. How dare you!? This is “doxxing”! Cancel culture! Smearing a man’s reputation! Stephen Wolfe called it, and I quote, “Satanic.” Going after my friends in order to harm me! Cowards!
Why the high dudgeon, you ask? Because this anonymous Twitter account happens to be a sewer pump of vile racism and white supremacy. And accusing Thomas Achord—a young Christian headmaster of a small private classical Christian school—of owning that account is slanderous and damaging. Indeed, it was damaging. Because Achord’s employers summarily fired him. Cue: more outrage. A GoFundMe account was instantly set up to support this man victimized by a disgusting rage mob.
Achord published a statement denying outright that he is the publisher of that account.
You know where this is going, right?
It is his account.
Just a couple of days after publishing his adamant, shocked, and outraged denial, Achord was forced to admit that the account is his. Writer Rod Dreher found the proverbial “smoking gun.” A photograph posted on that Twitter account was clearly taken inside the building of Achord’s school. Rod knew because his wife worked at the school and his kids attended there. Oops.
Achord’s “admission” post, if you can call it that, is a sight to behold. On Friday I am going to write something about God’s judgments, his “severe mercy,” and what repentance requires. But for now, I will just say that I have never seen a purported “apology” statement with a more passive voice. He “has come to” the conclusion (not “I conclude”) that the account is “an alias of” his (not “mine”). Tweets just somehow emanated from this account. Thomas Achord is as dumbfounded as anyone else how these vile, disgusting remarks came to be. He writes:
However, after more thorough research with the help of trusted friends and advisors and a great deal of counsel and soul-searching, I have come to conclude that the Tulius Aadland twitter account is indeed an old alias account of mine.
Just think about that. He needed thorough research, trusted friends, advisors, counsel, and soul-searching to remember the Twitter account he had last year.
“Fezzik, tear his arms off.”
“Oh, you must mean this gate key.”
You can read the whole thing for yourself, but I’d paraphrase it like this:
"I think it must have been a really dark time in my life. Way back when, a whole year ago. I couldn't remember, but in talking with some trusted friends I have come to the conclusion that it must have been a really dark time. And during that time, I can't really remember, but it turns out that certain vile, racist Tweets emerged on an account I exclusively ran. I am as dumbfounded as anyone. Now, please leave me alone and move along."
It doesn’t pass muster even as an explanation, much less an apology. Nevertheless, Stephen Wolfe immediately put out a Tweet thread praising Thomas for his honesty (!) and lamenting that he hadn’t been a very good friend to him and how he didn’t realize that his podcast co-host was going through such a dark time, and now it’s time for everybody to… move along because there’s nothing left to see. Doug Wilson also posted what he hopes to be a postmortem, urging everyone to forgive Thomas, feel really bad for Stephen because he was so deceived by his friend, and get back to buying—I mean, reading the book.
But in all this under-rug sweeping (which has included, I understand, the deletion of all 70 episodes of their podcast), it seems to me that Stephen Wolfe has missed a loose thread or two. We have yet to hear an explanation of this:
He followed the account.
Are we supposed to just forget that? Wolfe claims that he never could have dreamed that his friend Thomas would Tweet out garbage like that. That isn’t really believable (particularly since Achord co-edited a book, promoted by Wolfe himself, that clearly advocates “kinism”), but it still leaves us with the question: why was Stephen Wolfe following and sometimes even “liking” this tiny, anonymous Twitter account that pumped out racist content? It would be a kinder (and more likely) explanation to say that he did so because he knew it was Thomas’s account, rather than to say he followed it … for no reason at all. The latter might lead one to believe he actively sought it out and liked and approved of this account and its content. Quite the dilemma—the “tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” So far Wolfe has nothing to say about that, and his publisher seems reluctant to extract an accounting from him. Until he has some kind of believable explanation, I will not be buying any of these attempts at misdirection and wagon-circling.
This is sordid business, and I apologize for having to bring it to your attention. Why does it matter? Well, Alastair Roberts explains why he thinks it matters, and I think he is right: there are actual, real, live white supremacists attempting to use “Christian Nationalism”—and classical Christian education!—as a Trojan Horse to help promote their deviant views. And the world has a right to know whether the author of The Case For Christian Nationalism is one of them. Guilt-by-association? It is certainly worthy of a little suspicion-by-association. This was not a case of “a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend” saying vile things. This, as I understand it, is Wolfe’s closest collaborator. And I frankly don’t find believable any of the “explanations,” such as they are—not Achord’s, and not Wolfe’s. It’s a matter of record that Achord was lying—brazenly so, and to my mind still is—and Wolfe’s (non)accounting of things simply does not add up.
Alastair Roberts (whom I greatly respect and admire) cares about the cause of Christian Nationalism and wants to empty out the Trojan Horse, or, to use another metaphor, drain the movement of its swampy elements. I do not care about the cause of Christian Nationalism—least of all Stephen Wolfe’s version of it—and wish it to die a quick and tidy death. I have done my part to help make that happen. But on this Alastair and I are aligned in lockstep: there is no room for racism or white supremacy of any kind in anything claiming the name of Jesus Christ, certainly not in a “Christian” vision of public and social policy.
Here I stand. I can do no other. You may make of it what you will, but I personally will not accept any fuzziness, any faux “nuance,” any evasion, any misdirection, any more “this raises interesting questions,” any more bobbing and weaving. No more “Why don’t you deal with the actual arguments of the book?” I have. One more Tweet thread that dodges the simple questions or one more pretzel-twisted press release with cutesy phrases from Doug or Canon Press, and I might have to make some pretty unpalatable conclusions.
Thanks for reading this week’s Quarter Inch. I know that the public at large craves all this salacious drama, but, truthfully, I don’t. I am off shortly to San Francisco (via the very best way to travel, the Interstate highway) for CCL’s 23rd Annual Symposium, but I should be back in your inbox on Friday anyway! Have a great rest of your week.
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