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Edward Linenthal
Editor, Journal of American History

Last modified: Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Journal of American History: Fundamentalists vs. FDR, CIA scandal and more

March 20, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Was FDR the Antichrist? Matthew Avery Sutton asks the provocative question in the current issue of the Journal of American History, while exploring the reaction of Christian conservatives to the election and policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Sutton, an associate professor of history at Washington State University, argues that the rise of the Christian right as a powerful force in late-20th-century American politics is rooted in the 1930s anti-New Deal activism of influential Protestant fundamentalists.

The Journal of American History

In this Journal of American History cover photo, a vehicle parked in front of the U.S. Capitol in July 1939 spreads a message of coming damnation. Fundamentalists in the 1930s blended criticism of American political leaders with biblical prophecy, setting the stage for influential Christian right politics.

Print-Quality Photo

"Fundamentalists began mobilizing against the expanding state at the very moment of the New Deal's inception," he writes in "Was FDR the Antichrist: The Birth of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age." "They helped foment conservative opposition to Roosevelt, lay the foundations for postwar religious mobilization, and create the political world view that subsequent generations of religious conservatives adopted and used to shape American politics."

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington.

While religious opposition to FDR mirrored broader conservative fears about socialism and centralized government, Sutton writes, it was grounded in Christian pre-millennialism, which teaches that the Antichrist will rule on Earth but Christians will be raptured to heaven.

In the 1930s, evangelical preachers and journalists lumped together Roosevelt's election and the rise of Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini, the world economic crisis and the return of Jews to the Middle East as signs that the prophesied end of days was near. FDR may not himself have been the Antichrist, but his election and the policies he implemented were signs that the Antichrist was coming soon.

In other articles in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of American History:

  • Christine DeLucia, a doctoral candidate at Yale University, reassesses the meanings of King Philip's War, a watershed conflict in early America. While historians have tended to explain the crisis in stark terms of Indians vs. English, DeLucia unearths subtler local dimensions.
  • Jessica Wang, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, looks at urban dog-catching -- specifically in New York City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries -- to examine how a fluid public-private boundary came to constitute a normal part of American governance.
  • Kristin Hoganson, a professor at the University of Illinois, extends borderlands scholarship with an article that combines a local focus with a commodity-chain approach. She examines Illinois' connections with Canada and Mexico, centered on meat production, and Midwestern farmers' different conclusions about the northern and southern borders of the U.S.
  • Tity de Vries, an assistant professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, argues that the revelations in 1967 of the CIA's secret funding of organizations such as the National Student Association were a prelude to later government scandals, from Watergate to Iran-Contra to the waterboarding of terrorism suspects.

For more on the Journal of American History, visit