Tim Dickinson/Rolling Stone
The pastor with whom Speaker Mike Johnson prayed to ward off God’s judgment made the case for Christian dominion at Trump’s Florida domain
Christian Nationalists were out in force at Mar-a-Lago on Friday night, once again demonstrating their proximity to MAGA power.
Lance Wallnau — the chief promoter of a “Seven Mountains Mandate” for right-wing Christians to seize control over government and culture — was dressed in a tux and streaming live to his 1 million Facebook followers. The black-tie event was the America First Policy Institute gala at Trump’s Palm Beach estate, where the former president was soon to speak.
As he filmed with his cell phone, Wallnau grabbed co-religionist Jim Garlow — the MAGA pastor with whom now-House Speaker Mike Johnson recently prayed to spare a “depraved” America from the “judgment that we clearly deserve.” Both religious figures are associated with an evangelical movement called the New Apostolic Reformation, or NAR, which has an unusual obsession with earthly power. The duo engaged in jocular banter during the stream on Friday: “You can read about you in the news lately,” Wallnau ribbed Garlow, referring to Rolling Stone’s coverage of the pastor’s prayer call with Johnson. Garlow rejoined: “It’s because we’re dangerous — what do they call us? — ‘Christian nationalists.’”
Garlow at first mocked the media attention, saying he was “disappointed they didn’t call us Christian internationalists” — reflecting the global ambition of his quest for right-wing Christian dominion. But then Garlow played the victim: “The phrase ‘Christian nationalist’ has one purpose,” he insisted. “And that is simply to bully Christians — to intimidate, silence them so they will not be involved governmentally.” Garlow then claimed that this was done in the service of satanic forces, “so The Enemy can have his way and destroy the country.”
The fact that Garlow and Wallnau were palling around in tuxedos at Mar-a-Lago the same week that their religious movement made national news for its troubling reach into the highest ranks of elected Republican politics, was itself another remarkable sign of that influence. Wallnau shared that Garlow’s online prayer partner — who has credited the pastor as a “profound influence” on both his life and his “walk with Christ” — was also in attendance. “Mike Johnson is here tonight,” Wallnau said. “I want to hear Mike Johnson. He’s under attack because he’s such an outspoken Christian.” (Rolling Stone could not independently confirm Johnson’s attendance at Mar-a-Lago. The Speaker’s spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests.)
In his banter with Wallnau, Garlow certainly did not distance himself from a Christian nationalist ideology. In fact, he underscored his belief that Christians are meant to be in control — to advance the Kingdom of God across the planet. Garlow even advised Americans to break up with their pastors if the religious leaders don’t use the pulpit to advance “the issues that God has commanded us to.” Garlow explained: “We don’t just ‘preach Jesus.’ We preach what Jesus preached. He preached the Kingdom … What’s the King over? Everything.Everything. Including the governmental and political realm.”
The Friday evening gala at Mar-a-Lago was the culminating party of a three-day conference held by America First Policy Institute. AFPI exists to formulate policy for what MAGA-world anticipates will be a second Trump term. AFPI’s leaders include past bigwigs from the Trump administration like chair Linda McMahon, a former Trump cabinet member, and CEO Brooke Rollins, who served as Director of the Domestic Policy Council in the Trump White House.
Other AFPI leadership include executive director Chad Wolf, who was the illicit acting Homeland Security chief when the Trump administration battled protestors in the streets of Portland; far-right economist Larry Kudlow; and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who addressed the AFPI conference on day one.
AFPI’s gathering featured a strong Christianist undercurrent. Paula White Cain — a top religious influencer in Trump’s circle — led prayer and scripture at an AFPI “Ladies” event, later posting on Instagram: “God moved at our prayer breakfast 🙏🏻.” Televangelist Jentezen Franklin, whose broadcast is called Kingdom Connection, was honored, along with his wife, with AFPI’s 2023 Patriot award.
In fact, right-wing religion seems to be woven through the DNA of AFPI. The group’s chief digital officer is Adam W. Schindler. Schindler is also a pastor who works closely with Garlow; they co-founded the World Prayer Network, which hosted the call where Mike Johnson decried the rise of LGBTQ children as evidence of America’s “dark” and nearly “irredeemable” culture. AFPI has also championed Johnson’s rise to speaker. Rollins, the CEO, wrote a Newsweekop-ed praising Johnson’s selection, calling him “indefatigably optimistic.” Rolling Stone sought interviews with Garlow, Wallnau, and Rollins; none responded. Schindler emailed that he is “proud to work at AFPI and support the work we do there.”
As the MAGA movement seeks a return to the White House, religious extremism is no longer marginalized. It is now baked into the cake. The AFPI conference proceedings included an appearance from Christian nationalist Charlie Kirk, of Turning Point USA. Self-proclaimed Christian nationalist congress member Marjorie Taylor Greene was also in attendanceat the gala.
There were secular elements, too, including a performance by country star Wynonna Judd. Boldface MAGA names included former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, former Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway, and former acting attorney general (and well-endowed-man toilet promoter) Matt Whitaker. Rollins described the gala night as “The most magical evening … with 700 closest friends, supporters, and partners.”
Following the festivities, Wallnau emerged to film a new Facebook Live video. “We finished with our meeting with Trump,” he said before praising the former president’s speech in front of the crowd at his club, which has not been posted online: “Vintage Donald Trump tonight. I mean: Focused, funny.” Hailing Trump as a beacon of competence, Wallnau continued, “I swear, if God wants to have mercy on America, this guy will have four more years.”
“Without him,” Wallnau continued, warning of God’s wrath, “the sheer stupidity of the leadership decisions that are happening is a form of judgment. It’s like having an imbecilic spirit on the country that self destructs. No one else is destroying us,” Wallnau explained. “We’re destroying ourselves.”
But the Christian nationalist was not all doom and gloom. Wallnau predicted that a “powerful move of God is coming for America.” He added that in 2024: “I believe God is gonna cause America to rise up.”