In December of last year, I wrote for Public Orthodoxy on the Philip Ludwell III Orthodox Fellowship, an effort that uses myth of the Lost Cause to evangelize the American South. Responses to my piece were robust and diverse. I enjoyed learning from many of the readers who engaged with my work. Yet some of this response was distressing, even threatening, a reaction common to this kind of public scholarship on Orthodoxy. In a recent New Yorker profile of conservative radio host Dan Bongino, the firebrand Trump ally boasts to his interviewer that “there’s nothing you can write I can’t write back even worse. It’s asymmetric warfare. You never win.” This is what scholars of Orthodoxy endure when they write about white Christian nationalism in the church. And it happened to me.
To publish this work means initiating a rapidly-escalating pattern of hate and derision not so much about your work as it is about you. First comes a predictable flurry of angry tweets resembling other far-right coordinated online attacks, such as GamerGate. These Twitter users present as young, devout Orthodox men, usually from the United States. Some list their jurisdictional affiliations (usually ROCOR or OCA), and occasionally the ecclesiastical ranks they hold. Their avatars frequently incorporate Pepe the Frog, which is recognized by the Anti-Defamation League as a hate symbol. To a man, they tweet COVID-19 denialism and anti-vaxxer conspiracies, brag of being “red-pilled,” voice displeasure with democracy, and broadcast explicit anti-Semitism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. They also post Orthodox icons, quote elders and saints, and sometimes express aspirations of becoming monks or priests. Their responses snowball quickly into a tangled web of tweets and retweets venting anger and hate. This is almost always done beneath the familiar purple-and-white emoji of an Orthodox cross.Continue reading