Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Visitors to Mark David Uhl's Myspace page will quickly learn that Uhl is a student at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, that he is a devoted Christian, that his name means "Mighty Warrior" -- and that he likes Will Smith's saccharine tear-up-the-club track, "Switch." Uhl reveals his career ambitions on his page as well: "I will join the Army as an officer after college." Already, Uhl was preparing in Liberty's ROTC program.
Uhl waited until he was offline, however, to reveal his plot to kill the family of itinerant Calvinist provocateur Fred Phelps (famous for their "Fag Troops" rallies outside soldiers' funerals). The Phelpses planned to protest Falwell's funeral, a bizarre stunt designed to highlight Falwell's somehow insufficiently draconian attitude towards homosexuals. Uhl made several bombs and allegedly told a family member he planned to use them to attack the Phelps family.
He was arrested soon after and charged with manufacturing explosives. On the surface, Uhl appears to be the latest version of Virginia Tech rampage killer (and "Richard McBeef" author) Cho Seung-Hui. Indeed, both Uhl and Cho were alienated young men who conceived or carried out campaigns of mass murder on college campuses.
But there is a crucial difference between Uhl and Cho: while Cho's motives remain a source of intense debate, Uhl was an a devout evangelical Christian who advocated religious violence in the name of American nationalism. Uhl's blog, featured on his Myspace page, offers a window into the political underpinnings of his bomb plot. In one post, Uhl implores Christians to die on the battlefield for "Uncle Sam." He justifies his call to arms by quoting several Biblical passages and reminding his readers that the "gift of God" is eternal life.
"Christians, we have been given life after death and we should help others receive it and not sit here in our big buildings and sing to ourselves so we can go home and feel good about ourselves," Uhl writes. "Christians, fear of death, fear of death. The fear of death shows you don't believe."
Uhl concludes, "God needs soldiers to fight so his children may live free. Are you afraid??? I'm not. SEND ME!!! "
Uhl's imploration sounds eerily like the battle-cries of another, more notorious religious radical: Osama bin-Laden. Consider what bin-Laden told the Independent in 1993. "`I was never afraid of death... As Muslims, we believe that when we die, we go to heaven. Before a battle, God sends us... tranquility."
Christian right leaders from the late Falwell to James Dobson have turned Muslim-bashing into a cottage industry, using the words of bin-Laden and his acolytes to allege that Islam is an inherently violent religion that "breeds" terrorism. After meeting with President George W. Bush two weeks ago about Iran and Iraq, Dobson conducted a hysterical five-part broadcast hyping the threat of radical Islam. (CD's of those broadcasts will soon be available on Focus on the Family's website, with all proceeds going to support Dobson's kulturkampf -- and his paycheck).
The response of Dobson and his allies to Uhl's arrest will reflect more on themselves than on any impressionable 19-year-old college student. The Christian right has warped religious doctrine to advance a Utopian political worldview that promises to purify the land of liberal decadence. Through one of its flagship universities, the Christian right produced a terrorist. Their hysterical warnings of the threat of radical Islam sound increasingly like projections.
But then again, maybe it's all Will Smith's fault.