“Was it worth it?”
That was the question a youth pastor arrested for actions in the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6th, 2021 insurrection said he asked himself as he sat in a federal holding cell after his July 2022 arrest. In response, Tyler Earl Ethridge reiterated the affirmative claim he told a video audience on Parler sitting inside the Capitol that day: “Even if I’m thrown in prison for 20 years. I stood against a stolen election.”
That now former youth pastor — he was fired days after the insurrection from his ministry job — is getting his wish. On Jan. 18, Ethridge will be sentenced after being found guilty in September on all counts — two felonies and four misdemeanors. It’s the two felonies that will make some prison time likely.
Among those people arrested for actions on Jan. 6, Ethridge is not unique. Many self-identified Christians were arrested. But his story is worth highlighting because his more recent words show a person facing the prospect of prison and also now confronting the notion that he was duped by his religious elders.
It’s clear that Ethridge is not repentant for his actions. But neither is he as sold on the Christian Nationalism prophets that propelled him into the Capitol that day. Ethridge remains all-in for Trump (though obviously, he won’t be able to vote for him). But there is a cautiousness now in this cautionary tale that wasn’t there that day in the Capitol.
Consider this Twitter post from November. He asks himself if he regrets what he did on Jan. 6. His answer is yes and no. He regrets the “sorrow” he put his wife through. He also regrets “believing the church would stand with me …” But he has no regrets for his actions in the Capitol. Or as he calls it, “peacefully and patriotically protesting a corrupt presidential election.”
Ethridge plans to spread that last message in prison. Considering how he plans to relate to other Jan. 6th inmates he may meet in prison, as seen on his Facebook page on Oct. 19, Ethridge says:
I will tell them how relatable we are. How we both had the courage to lay it all on the line. I will tell them how I spent a decade listening to Christian’s [sic] say a whole lot about Saving America, The Black Robe Regiment, being a militant Christian, and doing something against this corruption, yet that’s all they do is talk talk talk then avoid those who do the very things they say.
Sure, they were manipulated by the devil and that is why they are there, but I believe God put a courageous quality in them that was manipulated by Satan.
That will be how I lead them to Christ.
Ethridge doesn’t put all the blame on Satan, though. The actions that day by the mob may not have been morally right, Ethridge notes in that original video from the Capitol, but it was the action needed to meet the moment Satan had brought to him. “This is what pastors need to do … Christians, we need to infiltrate every area of society like this. Every area of society, like this. Peacefully. But if it takes a little bit of aggression to barge through the walls that Satan separates us from the culture, it’s time for the body of Christ to infiltrate the culture,” he added.
Cultural infiltration is an allusion to the theological movement known as Dominionism. For those who are not familiar, it calls for Christians to “take dominion over” the seven arenas or mountains of cultural influence. Dominionism has been around for at least a generation, more recently propped up by a collection of apostles and prophets given bullhorns because of their closeness to Trump. They offered prophecies of Trump staying in office and even after his leaving, said God would restore him.
And it was their followers like Ethridge who were deluded by claims of a “stolen” election, committed to more than words.
Ethridge was trained to believe such prophets and their prophecies. He is a 2017 graduate of the Practical Government School at Andrew Wommack’s Charis Bible College in Woodland Park, Colorado. According to the DOJ arrest warrant, someone from the college tipped off the FBI about Ethridge soon after Jan. 6, though Ethridge tweeted he reported himself as well. The college released a statement condemning violence after the insurrection and news reports that Ethridge had made it inside the building.
In 2018, Wommack told an audience watching his Facebook Live feed that “opposition to Trump is demonic and a sign of the End Times,” according to Right Wing Watch. These kinds of prophetic statements are usual from Wommack, who heads the $70 million ministry named after him. In December, Ethridge posted to Facebook that he is “proud” to be a Wommack disciple.
Most people think prophecies are brought to fruition through divine power — while God may give the announcing word to a prophet, the deity does the work. But the followers of the Big Lie who adhere to what is known as Word of Faith theology don’t merely claim God made a Trump 2020 prophecy. They will it to be true.
This is what Ethridge did. To him, the insurrection wasn’t a sign of faithlessness in the prophets, but a defense of them, a fulfillment. The insurrection was a way of doing God’s will. In short, this theology transfers to humans the power of God speaking the world into existence.
Along with Wommack, Ethridge also claims an implicit allegiance to another leader of the global prophetic movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation, Peter Wagner. Wagner told NPR in 2011 that prophets in the movement are powerful because they act akin to and hold the same importance as the prophets of Israel. He cited the Book of Amos where God says he will do nothing “unless he first reveals his secrets to his servants the prophets” (3:7).
In a video posted to YouTube after the insurrection, Ethridge cites that same Amos verse. (The video has since been removed but was archived in segments by Resist Programming’s Twitter account, to which I am linking.) Ethridge said in that January 2021 video he puts “my trust in the prophets” due to 2 Chronicles 20:20, which ends with this admonition: “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established. Believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper.”
But the insurrection failed, though. Where does that leave Ethridge with the prophets?
Biden’s inauguration clearly was a turning point for Ethridge. In the video, Ethridge says he is “reasonable” about prophecies and takes an “objective” stance toward them, not putting “all my eggs in one basket” because of the Bible’s promise of false prophets in “the last days.” He adds that if the prophets who predicted a second Trump term are proven wrong — and he doesn’t say how that would occur — he and others who believed them should shame themselves for being “sheep.”
Does Ethridge consider himself a fool? In a November Twitter post, he said he was a “fool for the wrong things.” The wrong thing to him was putting his “trust in man,” specifically unnamed “men in ministry or men in politics” who Ethridge followed “blindly — thinking if I did what they said behind their safe pulpits, social media camera’s [sic], and podiums, I would be accepted by them.”
He added: “I thought that when they said ‘communists are taking over our country,’ and ‘we need to stand up against this,’ that if I did so, they would support me. They didn’t.”
Dr. Matthew Boedy is Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at the University of North Georgia and author of “Speaking of Evil: Rhetoric and the Responsibility to and for Language.”