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What is the ultimate goal of 'Project Blitz', the Christian nationalist movement?

The separation of church and state is being dismantled one bill at a time.

An umbrella keeps the rain off of a statue of Jesus Christ during the Via Crusis, or 'Way of the Cross,' during which about 200 Catholics walked through the Dupont Circle neighborhood to mark Good Friday April 22, 2011 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • Project Blitz, a coalition of Christian right groups founded by former Republican congressman, Randy Forbes, began as a way to introduce pro-Christian legislation.
  • Bills include faith-based adoption discrimination and mandating that public schools use "In God We Trust" on signage.
  • This year, 226 pieces of anti-transgender legislation, many backed by The Blitz, have been introduced.

In 1861, Reverend M.R. Watkinson pleaded with U.S. Secretary of the Treasure, Salmon Chase, to mint American money with the term, "In God We Trust." The Pennsylvania minister believed that America's separation of church and state was a disgrace. Three years later, all two-cent bronze pieces bore the slogan; other coins soon followed.

Ninety years later, President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon helped add "under God" to Francis Bellamy's 1892 secular tribute, the Pledge of Allegiance. Congress officially adopted the pledge in 1942. A dozen years later, on Flag Day, the accolade to a higher power was added. That same year the phrase, "In God We Trust," was first printed on U.S. postage stamps. In 1955 the term was added to paper money; a year later it became the nation's first official motto.

Although the First Amendment calls for the separation of church and state, the Eisenhower administration pushed hard to ensure that God was at the forefront of government transmissions. While every clause of the First Amendment has been challenged in some capacity, nothing has created as much longstanding tension and debate as religion. To this day, many Americans believe that we live in a Christian nation—that such a reality should be as obvious as Judaism in Israel.

One of the latest groups to push this agenda is Project Blitz, a coalition of Christian right groups founded by former Republican congressman, Randy Forbes. The Virginia representative served from 2001-17 in the state's 4th congressional district, having spent the previous term in the Virginia Senate. He's also served as Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia and founded the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation (CPCF), a group that claims to have a network of 950 state legislators in 38 states.

Project Blitz is, first and foremost, political. The group specifically creates legislation that, according to Mr. Forbes, "protect the free exercise of traditional Judeo-Christian religious values and beliefs in the public square, and to reclaim and properly define the narrative which supports such beliefs."

In 2018, 70 Blitz-backed bills were considered in state legislatures; 25 were introduced. These bills include refusing adoption to adults based on faith and mandating that public schools include "In God We Trust" on signage, as well as teach from the Bible. There are also anti-LGBT measures on tap—226 this year alone. One tactic favored by the Blitz is to brand opponents of their legislation as being against the freedom of religion.

On its website, CPCF has a series of toolkits that offer guidance to help "advance a God-honoring culture in our communities and nation." The goal is to identify the political landscapes of states by pinpointing "anti-faith" and "pro-faith" groups in various districts. The Blitz can then focus on districts susceptible to its agenda.

Frederick Carlson works as a senior research analyst at a think tank that studies right-leaning political groups. He expresses consternation over the fact that a political organization brazenly announces its intentions in plain sight, referencing the founding document of CPCF.

"It's very rare that you come across a major primary source document that changes the way you view everything, and this is one of those times. This is a 116-page strategy manual hidden away on a website explaining at least what a section of the religious right are doing in the United States. To me that's astounding."

Rep. Steve King and Rep. Randy Forbes

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, left, and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., talk before the start of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the United States Department of Homeland Security" on Thursday, May 29, 2014.

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Blitz's signature tactic, according to Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, is to start small with signage in public places. Ascending levels of religiosity follow, such as denying homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexuals. The ultimate goal, she says, is to codify Christian principles into the American government.

The First Amendment, Laser continues, does not allow you to play favorites. You cannot favor the agendas of a particular religion over others. That goes directly against the separation of church and state.

The Blitz has no intention of slowing down. The current administration appears particularly willing to cater to bills being pushed forward by CPCF and related organizations. For example, right now there are nine Blitz-backed bills being considered in Iowa. These include putting mottos like "In God We Trust" and "endowed by their Creator" in every public school throughout the state. Meanwhile, Blitz-backed anti-transgender proposals were or are being introduced in ten states.

Project Blitz is part of a very long game: to so familiarize the American public with debates over signage that we fail to recognize that the goalposts are constantly being moved. As Princeton history professor, Kevin Kruse, writes in his book, "One Nation Under God," "touchstones of religious nationalism have only become more deeply lodged in American political culture over time, as the innovations of one generation became familiar traditions for the next." What is first presented as innocuous, commonsense even, can soon transform a nation. The gap implied by "separation" is closed by inches, not miles.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

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Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth

Could this former river island in the Indus have inspired Tolkien to create Cair Andros, the ship-shaped island in the Anduin river?

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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