On Friday (Nov. 19), people in a megachurch in Phoenix, Arizona, paused for a moment of prayer after learning that the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial would soon be announced. The speaker bowed her head and said, “Dear God.” Then someone in the audience (apparently not with their eyes closed), saw the verdict on their phone and shouted, “Not guilty!” The packed church erupted in cheers, a standing ovation, and chants of “USA!”
The prayer didn’t restart. Instead, the woman on stage — Fox News host Jeanine Pirro — placed her hand over her heart and mouthed “Oh my God” as the crowd cheered. Then as if inspired during a praise song, Pirro thrust her hands upward. After the congregation finally settled down, she said she was “blown away” and “shaken to my core right now.” And as she shouted about why this verdict affirmed their right to have a gun (and apparently use it to kill people), the congregants erupted with more applause and cheers.
“There’s nothing more important than the Second Amendment, especially in today’s world,” Pirro proclaimed as she stood at the pulpit.
This wasn’t just a political rally. It occurred in the sanctuary of Dream City Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Phoenix, Arizona. This megachurch turned MAGAchurch previously sparked headlines when Donald Trump spoke there during a 2020 campaign rally. And before that 2020 event, the pastors falsely claimed it was safe to come in maskless since they had installed an air-purification system that “kills 99.9% of COVID within ten minutes.” (Turns out only the truth died from the hot air blowing around in there that day.)
Joining Pirro at the two-day Trumpian revival over the weekend were speakers like Dinesh D’Souza, a former Christian college president pardoned by Trump for violating campaign finance laws; Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a former Trump press secretary presently running for governor of Arkansas; Kayleigh McEnany, another former Trump press secretary and now Fox News commentator; Rev. Mark Burns, who served on Trump’s evangelical advisory council; and Donald Trump Jr. as the headliner. Even before the verdict, Rittenhouse was a common topic, such as when D’Souza claimed about conservatives, “We are Kyle Rittenhouse.”
Throughout the event, partisan rhetoric, false conspiracy theories, and Christian references meddled together as if not only compatible but synonymous. The verdict’s announcement in the sanctuary after Pirro started her prayer led one conservative blogger to call it “divine intervention at its best” (even though the verdict was already decided long before she began her prayer).
This outburst of religious fervor in Phoenix hundreds of miles away from a courtroom deciding the fate of a young man wasn’t about a simple verdict. Pirro and her congregation didn’t merely think Rittenhouse should be acquitted; they lauded him as a moral exemplar for how people should act. So, in this issue of A Public Witness, we cross-examine the rhetoric about Rittenhouse that moves from legal technicalities to dangerous promotions of vigilantism. And we rest our case with a call for Christians to reject the glorification of violence.