New Dominionists: Meet the Christian Couple Behind the Right’s Most Viral Videos
Jason “Molotov” Mitchell and his wife, Patricia “DJ Dolce” Mitchell, look like hipsters. She wears a stylish dress and nose stud, her dark hair angled sharply around her face. Jason, who goes by Molotov both socially and professionally, sports a landscaped beard and a tattoo on his forearm that reads “zealot.” They are in tip-top physical condition, they say, because they teach krav maga, an Israeli Defense Force-perfected form of martial arts.
They are charismatic and engaging.
When we first meet at a mutual friend’s birthday party, I have no idea who they are. She describes her politics as “Ron Paul-Christian,” and he says he would never support Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey in national politics because his obesity reflects a “character flaw.” A friend pulls me aside for context: “I wouldn’t talk about politics with them. They are serious,” she says, “and extremely influential among young conservatives.”
Later, I am shocked to find out that Molotov, 32, and Patricia, 31, aren’t just known among young conservatives; they regularly pop up on media watchdog sites like Right-Wing Watch and Media Matters. The Mitchells’ company, Illuminati Pictures, makes savvy use of social media to communicate their blend of right-wing Christianity and Tea Party politics. Their video, “I Invented the Internet,” garnered millions of views and introduced the Obama birth-certificate conspiracy theory to the wider conservative world. In that video, Molotov calmly demonizes what he calls the “black liberation theology” he associates with Obama.
More recently, Molotov defended the Ugandan bill that would make “homosexual sex acts” a capital offense. In an installment of his WorldNetDaily video series, For the Record, Molotov argues that Ugandan officials “don’t want to kill all the homosexuals. They just want them to stop practicing homosexual acts.” The video ends with the chilling directive, “Ugandans, stay on the right side.” Early this month, another video went viral. In it, Molotov condemns Newt Gingrich for “trading in his wives like used cars.” He taps into popular culture: “Newt Gingrich respects marriage about as much as Kim Kardashian. That’s right folks, Newt Gingrich is the Kim Kardashian of the GOP.”
I struggle to reconcile this information with the pleasant people I just met.
The disconnect grows more pronounced when I visit one of their krav maga classes in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Here, they are beloved. Greeting a group of students who have just tested into the next level, Patricia is warm and affirming: “You all endured a really difficult test, and you did a wonderful job!” Some of the trainees are obvious political allies, including one Special Forces operative named Josh, who declines to provide his last name and says he considers Molotov a “strong voice” in politics.
The classes are surprisingly diverse. Biology graduate student Christine Campos, born in Brazil under the military regime of José Sarney, credits the Mitchells for creating a familial atmosphere among the students, who now hang out together on weekends. “I don’t talk politics with them,” she says, and notes that they generally don’t discuss their controversial views in social situations. She adds that she has never seen them treat anyone differently as a result of political disagreement. “I really think that says a lot about the quality of a person.”
Then there’s Heather Hoffman, 23, and her husband Richard Hoffman, 25. They're so close to Molotov that he officiated their wedding in October, but they shift uncomfortably when I ask about politics. “We don’t agree with everything," Richard says. "It’s hit or miss. We’re not very political.” Heather chimes in: “Even though they have really strong beliefs, they’re open-minded.”
Richard adds, “You have to get to know them before looking them up on the internet.”
The Mitchells practice a form of politicized conservative Christianity that most observers would call dominionism. Libertarian-leaning supporters of state’s rights, they would like to see government reconstructed from the ground up under “Christian laws” such as the abolition of abortion. But they are reluctant to call themselves dominionists, noting that they do not support “compulsory conversion” to Christianity.
In August, religion reporter Lisa Miller published an op-ed column in The Washington Post alleging that “liberal” media reporting on the Christian right is paranoid and overblown. Reports on the fundamentalism of Republican presidential hopefuls Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, Miller wrote, indicate that “some on the left seem suspicious that a firm belief in Jesus equals a desire to take over the world.” Her implication? Warnings about evangelicals are nothing but conspiracy theories.
It’s true that when dominionists have made headlines, it’s usually been due to their behind-the-scenes means of securing power. In his book C Street, journalist Jeff Sharlet showed how a group called the Family, best known for its annual National Prayer Breakfast, has quietly championed dominionist politics throughout the world. Members turned out to be instrumental in helping Ugandan officials craft the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. And in Blackwater, reporter Jeremy Scahill described how the little-known security firm (whose founder, Erik Prince, is a dominionist) quietly became one of the U.S. government’s top contractors in the war on terror.
New dominionists like Molotov and Patricia are more straightforward and public about their goals. Still, there are a wide range of stereotypes associated with dominionism. Will Bunch’s 2010 book, The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama paints the new dominionists, now affiliated with the Tea Party, as one-dimensional freaks. Younger dominionists are often cast as the socially inept, overly sheltered products of conservative Christian homeschooling.
None of those stereotypes apply to the Mitchells.
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When we meet for an interview, Molotov and Patricia have just returned from the Tea Party at Sea, an all-expenses-paid cruise around Alaska sponsored by WorldNetDaily where they were speakers. Sitting across from me in a restaurant, Patricia tells me that the couple met through a mutual musician friend in 2000. Patricia, who had been accepted into the Berklee School of Music, was asked to provide vocals on a song that Molotov had written. They married in 2003.
Both had converted to Christianity in their teens. Patricia says she was not raised in what she “would consider a Christian home.” Her high IQ, coupled with Attention Deficit Disorder, made school dull and unchallenging. She was “saved” at age 16 by a waitress who evangelized in the restaurant where she worked.
Molotov has a more troubled past. His father was an evangelical Christian who worked construction. His mother has struggled for years with symptoms of mental illness. Molotov disapprovingly notes that she “had a very strong feminist thing going on,” and one day, “my father came home and she’d just left a note and taken me with her. She was cursed by God for doing that. To this day, she hears demonic voices non-stop.”
He continues: “In my ‘Christian supremacist’ view, all things are under the control of God. Science and the spiritual often blend together. You could say it’s a scientific problem or a spiritual problem, but it happened as soon as she did this to a man of God.” Still, he says, “I do love her. I see her once every couple weeks to take her out for lunch and make sure she’s okay.”
At 17, his father kicked him out for being a “bad kid” who got into fights. “It’s not right in the law’s eyes to kick a minor out,” he says, “but it was right in God’s eyes because it ended up being a wonderful moment for my life,” one that would shape his future political views.
He hoped to become a filmmaker and briefly attended the prestigious North Carolina School of the Arts—before getting kicked out of that, too. Soon, he became involved in the punk scene and developed an interest in the homeless population. In 1998, despite having a girlfriend, job, car, and place to live, Molotov decided to spend a month living on the streets. He wanted to research homelessness.
“After a month,” he says, “I was addicted [to being homeless]. It was exciting and adventurous—I really liked it.” So he quit his job and lived on the streets for a full year. “There is a powerful allure to irresponsibility, and nothing sums up irresponsibility like homelessness,” he says. “You can be anywhere. You can do anything you want. You can roam the earth… Sometimes I’d wake up in Virginia. I lived like a king. I was just as clean as I am now—I could take showers. I could sleep at a shelter if I wanted, and I could eat—all for free.”
During this time, he became an avid religious seeker, reading The Book of Mormon, Koran, and Bhagavad Gita—everything, he says, “except the Bible. I did not want the faith of my father.” He became a Christian when he noticed that world religions deeply respected the person of Jesus, and he took up preaching on the University of North Carolina campus. People called him a zealot and accused him of throwing metaphorical “Molotov cocktails.” He kept the nickname and got the “zealot” tattoo.
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It was the “Mohammad cookie incident” that made the Mitchells into right-wing superstars.
In 2007, before the Mitchells started making viral videos, Molotov produced and hosted evangelical satellite channel Faith TV’s Flamethrower program. He’d been pursuing a film career for some time, and his ultra-conservative politics seemed like a natural fit for the channel. Each week’s show included a kitchen segment that “would cook politically charged recipes like Border Patrol brownies,” Molotov explains.
“We did a segment on ‘Infidel Cookies’ that included cookies shaped like things from Islam that no one wants to talk about—like the severed hand cookie, the child bride cookie,” he says. The most controversial cookie on that day featured “the face of Mohammad… [which] would be eaten by Christians on air.” With the cameras rolling, he bit into the cookie and said, “Mmm… Blasphemous.”
When FaithTV censored the episode, WorldNetDaily offered to air it. The Mitchells have worked with them ever since.
If the cookie incident endeared the Mitchells to right-wing media, the Birther video shaped the national conversation. “I would credit a lot of steam around the Birther issue to that video because [right away] our YouTube subscribers began reposting it," Patricia says, "It got millions of viewers.” Although Obama released his birth certificate months ago, the Mitchells continue to push the conspiracy theory. Molotov insists, based on his personal experience with Adobe Photoshop, that it is a “badly done forgery.”
I bring up the video Molotov made supporting Uganda’s anti-gay bill, and he is quick to justify it. “I was supporting the right of Ugandans to pass their own legislation. I’m sick of white liberals trying to dictate the way that black people live in other countries.” Plus, he knows anti-gay Ugandan pastor Martin Sempa personally. Sempa, he says, “is a great guy, and I respect him tremendously. If Martin Sempa and the Ugandan people want this type of bill, I say let them have it.”
But he is ok with white conservatives—including members of the Family—traveling to Uganda to push the legislation. Even though U.S. politicians are members of the organization, he says, “That is non-governmental, and it’s totally free and legal. What’s the problem? They’ve gone down there as citizens with passports… It’s a marketplace of ideas, and Ugandans bought it. Then politicians bought it. Look, if Rachel Maddow wants to go down there and present her ideas in the marketplace, Godspeed.”
Molotov’s voice is loud, and my eyes begin to dart around the café where we’re sitting. Patricia and Molotov both notice, and he leans over to inform a nearby woman who looks like she heard our conversation that he is “wildly conservative,” but this is an interview and he hopes she will not be offended.
They do their best to put me at ease. When Molotov expresses his “violent disagreement” with liberal pundit Alan Colmes, Patricia is quick make sure I know that “violent” is meant figuratively. They share personal stories and tell jokes. When I ask Patricia about the issue of “wifely submission,” Molotov jokingly interjects: “Silence!… I will speak on her behalf. She’s very happy and very free.”
But it’s clear the question makes Patricia somewhat nervous. “I submit to my husband,” she says. “I think it’s a delicate balance because it doesn’t do him any favors if I agree with everything he says. He wants me to tell him what I think about things. Why would he marry me if he didn’t value me, right?”
“Duh, 'cause you’re smokin’ hot!” Molotov replies.
Patricia responds in all seriousness, “I consider myself smart, and I try to be wise. We are a team, but if it comes down to him or me, his opinion goes. You could make a wartime analogy: Sometimes your captain tells you to do something that’s not right, but it is better to go with the captain than do your own thing.” Molotov has a tendency to speak over her. Although it can be hard for Patricia to get a word in, of the two, she is more sensitive to media portrayals. She seems to understand that their politics alienate people and sometimes encourages Molotov to temper the most inflammatory rhetoric. At the end of the conversation, she hedges, “I’m not sure if I explained that very well.”
The Mitchells have been working on a feature film, Gates of Hell, which is set to be released in February “in honor of Black History Month.” In it, they advance the Christian Right’s notion that abortion constitutes “black genocide.” Although Molotov wrote, directed, and produced the movie, he calls it a “black film” since the cast is majority African-American. He hopes to target a black audience. The “political thriller” chronicles a black terrorist organization called the “Zulu 9” that attacks abortion providers in the United States. He says the film is “almost as offensive as abortion itself” and adamantly denies that it romanticizes violence against abortion providers. Activist Troy Newman of anti-choice group Operation Rescue has already called the film “uncontrollably riveting and provocative” and says it will cause “viewers to experience a fundamental paradigm shift.”
Despite the violent rhetoric, the Mitchells are the friendliest—and some of the savviest—people I have ever interviewed. Avid followers of popular culture, they are not Quiverfull-style Christians who isolate themselves from outside influences. They want to emulate the Biblical mandate to “be in the world but not of it.” So they laugh at The Daily Show and mention that they would enjoy hanging out with Jon Stewart, whom they consider a political foe. Molotov says he wants to emulate Jesus, who, he says, spoke harshly before crowds but showed compassion when people approached him one-on-one.
I suspect the Mitchells’ success has as much to do with their openness as their extremism. They are not scary, even if their views are. And for those of us who disagree with them politically, it will not do to ignore them. They believe they are following God’s mandate for their lives. They will not be going away any time soon.
Photo courtesy of Illuminati Pictures, 2010.