Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress defended controversial comments retweeted by President Trump linking impeachment proceedings in Congress to the prospect of civil war but clarified that he was not talking about a literal shooting war.
Hashtags like #CivilWar2 and #CivilWarSignup trended on Twitter after Trump repeated Jeffress’ warning that if Democrats are successful in removing him from office, it will cause a “Civil War-like” fracture from which the nation will never heal.
Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a leading evangelical apologist for President Trump, made the comment during a Sunday morning interview on Fox & Friends, after accusing House Democrats and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of using impeachment as a tool to get rid of the president because they know they can’t beat him at the ballot box in 2020.
“I do want to make this prediction this morning: If the Democrats are successful in removing the president from office, I’m afraid it will cause a Civil War-like fracture in this nation from which this country will never heal,” said Jeffress, a frequent Fox News contributor.
Trump shared the message on Twitter, inserting a parenthetical “which they will never be” response to the “if the Democrats are successful” clause, prompting both ridicule and serious concern.
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Air Force veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, denounced the use of civil war imagery as “beyond repugnant.”
“I have visited nations ravaged by civil war,” tweeted Kinzinger, who in 2007 won a medal for saving the life of a woman who was being violently attacked by wrestling the knife away from the attacker and pinning him to the ground until police arrived. “I have never imagined such a quote to be repeated by a president.”
Harvard Law professor John Coates said Trump’s tweet “is itself an independent basis for impeachment — a sitting president threatening civil war if Congress exercises its constitutionally authorized power.”
Jeffress appeared Monday on conservative news outlets to respond to critics.
“I was not predicting and certainly not advocating an actual civil war, but what I am saying is this,” Jeffress said on the Todd Starnes Show on Fox Radio. “If President Trump, for whom 63 million Americans voted, if he becomes the first president in history to actually be removed from office, I believe that’s going to create a long-lasting wound in this country, just like the Civil War did.”
“I mean the Civil War was over 160 years ago, but we can argue that we are still feeling the effects of that today,” Jeffress said. “And I believe the same will be true if the left succeeds in removing this duly elected president of the United States.”
Asked on CBN News how he would respond to those who find his comment offensive, Jeffress said: “I would just ask them to read the comment, and if they come away with that conclusion — that I am advocating, or the president is, a civil war — it means they either can’t read or they are too stupid to understand what we’re saying. Nobody is calling for or advocating for a civil war.”
Part of the criticism leveled at Trump involves speculation about whether he was just careless or if the words were intended as a dog-whistle to the far right.
Oath Keepers, a patriot group classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an antigovernment extremist movement, called the Civil War reference “the money quote” from the president’s Twitter thread.
“This is the truth,” tweeted Stewart Rhodes, founder and director of the group organized on the heels of the election of President Barack Obama in 2009. “This is where we are. We ARE on the verge of a HOT civil war. Like in 1859. That’s where we are. And the Right has ZERO trust or respect for anything the left is doing. We see THEM as illegitimate too.”
Jeffress — who last week mocked teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg by saying that God promised in the Book of Genesis never to again destroy the Earth by a global flood — began his weekend interview that sparked the whole civil-war controversy with his thoughts on Speaker Pelosi’s comment that members of Congress need to be “somber and prayerful” in moving forward with Trump’s impeachment inquiry.
“I think it’s hard to take Nancy Pelosi’s call to prayer seriously,” Jeffress said. “It reminds me of a pyromaniac with a match in hand about to set fire to a building saying, ‘Please pray with me that the damage I’m about to cause isn’t too severe.’ If you’re really sincere about that prayer, then put down the dang match.”
“But Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats can’t put down the impeachment match,” he continued. “They know they couldn’t beat him in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, they are increasingly aware of the fact that they won’t win against him in 2020, and impeachment is the only tool they have to get rid of Donald Trump, and the Democrats don’t care if they burn down and destroy this nation in the process.”