By: Manny Otiko, Inland Valley News
California Baptist University (CBU,) a private Christian college based in Riverside, has distanced itself from a photo of a white nationalist wearing a CBU face mask. The masked man was photographed alongside the Proud Boys, a white nationalist street gang labeled a hate group. He’s pictured marching with Proud Boys Chair Enrique Tarrio, who’s wearing a flak jacket and carrying a megaphone.
A university spokesperson referred to the comment the school had put out about the photo and said the man’s affiliation was unconfirmed.
“Since the tragic and deadly events of January 6, 2021, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., photos have circulated showing one participant wearing a face covering bearing registered marks of California Baptist University,” said CBU President Ronald L. Ellis in a statement posted to social media earlier this month. “The photos were made at a demonstration attended by the Proud Boys, described as a violent, neo-fascist, white nationalist organization that earlier this month was labeled a terrorist group by the government of Canada.”
Ellis also stated the goals of the Proud Boys were incompatible with CBU.
“California Baptist University neither teaches nor supports such beliefs or behavior. Moreover, CBU strongly disavows the misleading and unauthorized use of its masks by persons involved in activities associated with violent extremism,” said Ellis.
However, Hozell Francis, a CBU student, who is originally from Los Angeles, said that many students feel the school was slow to condemn the photo. He said the school was quick to make a statement about the anti-police violence demonstrations that rocked the country last year.
Francis said that many of the Black students at CBU were concerned about the amount of time it took the school to condemn the image of a CBU mask worn at a white nationalist rally. But they were glad the school finally took a stand, he said.
Former President Donald Trump has strong support in the Evangelical community. In the last election, he received more than 80 percent of the white Evangelical vote. Also, Christian nationalism was a significant part of the Capitol attack. Several attackers carried Christian nationalist symbols such as Jesus Saves flags and crosses. Others were captured praying before and during the attack. Proud Boys, who were in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, also prayed before they joined the attack.
“Christian imagery loomed large on Jan. 6 as the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally morphed into a mob siege. A group of Trump supporters prayed around a large wooden cross, and others carried ‘Jesus saves’ signs and yelled ‘shout if you love Jesus’ as they occupied the Capitol building,” said Samuel Perry, an associate professor at Baylor University, in an article in the Conversation. “….This blending of Christian imagery with Trump flags put Christian nationalism, the often militarized fusing of Christianity and American identity, on display during one of America’s darkest days.”
However, Francis says the situation is different at CBU, although he has seen some students wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) shirts. California is a blue state that voted against Trump twice. The state is also ethnically diverse. And Francis said that CBU is “trying to expand the diversity.”
Francis also firmly stated that white nationalist terrorism was incompatible with Evangelism.
“If people are serious about representing Christianity and connecting and sharing Christianity with people who don’t know about it, you can’t do it that way,” he said.