Vishal P. Singh
Hundreds of conservative Christian activists and a handful of local far-right extremists, led by the right-wing Christian group United Revival, marched through Santa Monica on Saturday. At its peak, the crowd size was estimated to be around 650 people. United Revival has been listed as a non-profit organization since at least 2021. They are exempt from federal income taxes according to the IRS. Members of United Revival describe themselves as revivalists and evangelists spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ around the nation. This Santa Monica event was the beginning of their "Jesus March" 2023 North American tour.
Upcoming destinations include Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, Dallas, Denver, Tampa, and more. According to the group's promotional material, the "Jesus March" was conceived in Sacramento as part of the widespread conservative reactionary blowback movement against Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 following the police killing of George Floyd— which they described as “chaos,” “rioting,” and “division.” Beyond spreading right-wing political and religious messaging, United Revival is heavily focused on collecting donations from their devoted followers on behalf of the "Jesus March" North American tour. So far, they've reportedly raised $32,502 out of a requested $150,000 goal.
Conversion therapy on the beach?
The event kicked off with songs, chants, and pastor meetings. Then began "evangelism" trainings and baptisms. Before long, the march to take Santa Monica Pier was under way. The chants expectedly centered around God and Jesus Christ— but plenty of time the religious dogma melded with bigoted political talking points. "God, we pray right now, in Jesus' name, God, for the unborn God, the ones who don't have a voice," said one speaker— to a chorus of cheers. She continued, "we pray that you end abortion, God! We pray, God, that you stir up the hearts, God, of these women, God. That they see, Father, that that child in their womb is not a curse but a blessing, God!" Marchers hung on her every word. "Wake up your church, God!"
Beyond the speeches, organizers performed public baptisms in a large tub on the grass near the beach. One woman remarked how she began "speaking in tongues" after her baptism, while another alleges that “God just delivered” him away “from the spirit of homosexuality and lust." According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), this type of activity can be classified as an example of “conversion therapy”— an anti-gay pseudoscience described internationally by United Nations experts as a method of torture and inhumane treatment. According to San Francisco State University, conversion therapy can be deadly for LGBTQ+ people:
The harms of conversion therapy
Compared with LGBTQ young people who were not rejected or were only a little rejected by their parents and caregivers because of their gay or transgender identity, highly rejected LGBTQ young people were:
8.4x more likely to report having attempted suicide
5.9x more likely report high levels of depression
3.4x more likely to use illegal drugs
3.4x more likely to be at high risk of HIV and STDs
As anti-LGBTQ+ hate rises across the United States, religious extremism has helped cultivate the normalization of human rights violations against queer communities— even in the perceived liberal bubble of Los Angeles County.
Most of the participants at the rally consisted of conservative activists and Christian nationalists. A handful of attendees are known local far-right extremists— many of whom have been involved in violence across Southern California.
Local violent extremists helped lead “Jesus March”
Far-right extremist organizer Shiva Bagheri led marchers with a megaphone while spouting wild conspiracy theories. Bagheri, a deeply antisemitic radical, once famously ranted on video about her belief that banks are part of a "cabal" of "evil wicked Jews like George Soros.” She also has a history of violence, even assaulting a breast cancer patient outside of a cancer clinic during an anti-masker rally.
Another extremist present was Capitol rioter Siaka Massaquoi, who posted a selfie video on Twitter of himself at the march. Massaquoi notably had his home raided by the FBI for his involvement in the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol.
Violent fascist Louie Mario Flores was spotted in multiple videos posted by United Revival from the march. Flores has a sorted history of participating in assaults and brawls alongside confirmed members of the Proud Boys fascist street gang.
Local media in Southern California has largely overlooked this incident. Meanwhile, far-right movements are building momentum in Los Angeles— pivoting back and forth between viral culture war talking points. Whether it's COVID-denialism, attacking reproductive rights, or challenging LGBTQ+ existence— these hateful movements are growing and avoiding scrutiny, despite their violent and cruel dispositions. And judging from how the "Jesus Saves" North American tour began— it seems that Christian conservatism and Christian nationalism are major engines for the development of this exclusionary political project.