PENNSYLVANIA — LifeGate Church is nestled in a wooded area of Elizabethtown, 6 miles from the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant that partially melted down in 1979, almost rendering this pretty patch of central Pennsylvania along the Susquehanna River a radioactive wasteland. The church was formed in 2010, and now a half-acre of trees behind the building lay on their sides, cut down to make room for an expansion that will include a new youth center.
On an overcast Sunday morning last month, about 80 congregants pulled into the parking lot underneath brilliant orange and yellow foliage and filed in through the church’s red front doors, sharing warm greetings and smiles. I also pulled into the parking lot, glancing in the rearview mirror to see a car pulling in behind me with a sticker on its front windshield declaring, “CRT MARXISM SUCKS.”
I was welcomed by Pastor Don Lamb, a tall, gray-mustachioed man who had recently recovered from a heart attack. (He’d collapsed in a nearby diner and technically died, he told me. But people rushed to his aid and performed a “miracle,” resuscitating him.) Lamb had made it clear before I arrived at LifeGate that he was wary of journalists like me, but that the church would stand by its promise to welcome anybody for Sunday service. I took my place in the rows of adjoined chairs as a full band — keyboardist, guitar player, bass player, drummer — started to play worship songs. The congregants rose to their feet, some with palms facing upward and eyes closed, singing.
Lamb then introduced a visitor to the day’s service, Calvin Greiner, a middle-aged white man from over in Lititz who claims to receive prophetic visions from God. Greiner walked to the front of the room carrying a long sword and grabbed hold of the microphone.
“I was instructed years and years ago to make a sword and to put on it specific words,” Greiner said. He recited the sword’s inscription. “Anointed and appointed. Worship. Warfare. Prayer. Intercession by the direction of the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “The other side says, The sword of the Lord — my name’s not on here — it’s The sword of the Lord. The sword of the Spirit.”
“This was in the office of Doug Mastriano — some of you might know him — for 225 days,” Greiner continued. Mastriano, of course, is a state senator and Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania.
Greiner explained how God recently told him to retrieve the sword from Mastriano’s office in Harrisburg, take it to Philadelphia, where a pastor at a church blessed it, and then to the nation’s capital. “God said, ‘After Philly, this must go to D.C. This must go to my Capitol in D.C. from Harrisburg,’” Greiner recalled, his voice breaking.
But before D.C., God told him to stop at LifeGate, where he’d meet a man named Jim Emery, a church member who had worked as security for Mastriano during his campaign.
Greiner invited Emery and a couple of other men to join him at the front of the church, where they laid their hands upon the sword and began to pray as the guitarist strummed a soft melody.
“Oh Lord and heavenly father, we thank you and pray to you that you gave us this sword to bind the powers of Satan and cast it out!” one of the men said. “As this sword moves to Washington, I pray by the powers of the Holy Spirit you will send your angels in and around that building, Lord. And you will touch the mighty Angel of God and find the power of Satan in Washington and run him out of town, Lord!”
The guitarist continued playing as Greiner closed the prayers by exclaiming: “So let God arise! Let his enemies scatter! Let those who hate God flee right now!”
Lamb took hold of the microphone again.
“We welcome you all to LifeGate, the church in the country that’s trying to affect the country,” he said. “We truly believe that God has called the church to be more than a house of offerings, a house of sermons, a house of hymnals. This will be a house of activating people to be engaged in the world we will live in.”
Lamb asked the congregation: “How many of you look forward to the return of Christ?” The crowd erupted into cheers and amens.
“That’s coming,” Lamb assured them, “but you got work to do until then.”
In April, Mastriano spoke at an event in Gettysburg hosted by believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory. He told the crowd that he would be the next governor of Pennsylvania because “my God will make it so.”
The event’s organizer, Francine Fosdick, then gave him what she called “the Sword of David.” She explained that she was giving him the sword because of the “warfare” Mastriano would have to wage on the campaign trail. “You’ve been fighting for our country, and you’re fighting for our religious rights in Christ Jesus,” Fosdick told him.
“Oh yeah,” Mastriano replied, holding up the blade. “Where’s Goliath?”
Mastriano’s campaign did not answer any questions for this story, including whether this sword was the same one I saw at LifeGate.
Mastriano has run an insular campaign for governor, often outright refusing to engage questions from a mainstream media eager to press him about his apocalyptic Christian worldview. He has preferred instead to remain in a conservative media bubble, almost solely granting interviews to far-right figures like Steve Bannon.
To better understand Mastriano, I traveled to central Pennsylvania to see the Christian nationalist extremists in his orbit up close. His supporters, some of whom are self-anointed “prophets,” see Mastriano as ordained by God to be governor of the Keystone State at a crucial moment in American history. Along the way, I joined a traveling far-right roadshow and neo-Charismatic Christian revival called the Great ReAwakening, hosted by former Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn and Oklahoma businessman Clay Clark.
It’s a festival of MAGA and QAnon conspiracy theories — about the 2020 election, vaccines, the COVID pandemic, 5G, critical race theory and a globalist cabal of Democratic Satan-worshiping pedophiles — so outlandish that it’d be easy to dismiss as fringe if it weren’t regularly attracting thousands of people. It’s also routinely endorsed by some of the most powerful Republican figures in the country, including Mastriano.
If polls, not prophecies, are to be believed, Mastriano will be clobbered by his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, in Tuesday’s election. But his likely defeat shouldn’t distract from what Mastriano represents: The ongoing radicalization of the Republican Party into a sect that sees its victory as inevitable and predestined from above, and which paints its opponents as the literal incarnations of the Devil in need of vanquishing. In this view, democracy is merely a roadblock in a divine quest for domination.
Waiting For Mastriano
Early on a Friday morning last month in Manheim, a small town in the fertile farmland of Lancaster County, a few thousand people — almost all white, most middle-aged — entered the sprawling Spooky Nook Sports complex, laying their coats down on white folding chairs as a band on stage broke into song.
“Way maker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness. My God that is who you are,” the band sang as the crowd joined in. They wore T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “Jesus is my Savior, Trump is my President,” and “FAUCI LIED.”
Pastor Dave Scarlett took the stage, flanked by half a dozen people holding shofars — rams-horn trumpets traditionally used by Jews in religious ceremonies. In recent years the far-right has appropriated the instrument for its battle cry, a way of commencing “spiritual warfare.” Shofars were seen frequently during the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“Let’s go to war,” Scarlett told the crowd, the shofars sounding off seven times.
So began the 17th stop of the Great ReAwakening tour. Attendees were told by speaker after speaker that they — the true, real Americans — are under attack on all fronts, and their salvation lies in seizing political and cultural institutions to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ.
Many speakers claim they have a direct line to God. Bo Polny describes himself as an “experienced cycles timing analyst” in “Gold, Silver and Cryptocurrency” who uses “prayer and prophetic dreams” to forecast the markets.
“The U.S. Stock Market Crashed 38% in March 2020, as forecast,” his website claims. “NEXT comes the OCTOBER 2022 WORLD ECONOMIC COLLAPSE followed by the return of President Trump… how will Bitcoin, Gold, Silver and Cryptocurrencies react in the turmoil? Become a PRIVATE MEMBER TODAY and get all the DETAILS!” (A 14-day trial is “only” $99.)
Polny spoke at the Great ReAwakening show on Oct. 21. After a hard-to-follow explanation about the Biblical significance of the number “24,” Polny told the crowd that something big was going to happen soon, on Nov. 24 — perhaps the crash of the American dollar. “The system is a fraud, people!” Polny said. “It’s a fraud. Haggai 2:8 states that ‘the silver and the gold are mine, saith the Lord.’ Not the U.S. dollar!”
He then added: “The seven mountains that are built — the financial system, the church, education, the government, arts, entertainment, media — all of it is coming down, and seven new mountains will be built!”
The crowd — which knew this prophecy well — cheered.
The “Seven Mountains Mandate” is at the core of the New Apostolic Reformation. This relatively new evangelical movement believes in miracles, the supernatural, and the existence of modern-day apostles and prophets. It’s a movement characterized by Christian dominionism, the belief that Christians must gain control of the “seven mountains” of societal influence to form a perfect world. Only then, the prophecy goes, can Christ return to Earth.
This theocratic philosophy makes no room for equal governance in a pluralistic society like that of the United States. Yet the GOP candidate for governor of the country’s fifth largest state is a devotee. Though Mastriano has attempted to distance himself from New Apostolic Reformation, he has appeared repeatedly on the campaign trail with its apostles and prophets, allowing them to lay hands on him in prayer.
Mastriano was scheduled to speak at this Great ReAwakening in Manheim — organizer Clay Clark said Mastriano’s campaign asked to include him on the speaker list — but he wouldn’t appear until the end of the second day of the conference, after 16-plus hours of songs, baptisms, healing ceremonies and the casting out of demons.
And wild speeches like Polny’s.
“We’re about to witness the Third Seal of Revelation,” Polny told the Great ReAwakening crowd. “The angel of death is coming to visit these people before the end of the year.”
A graphic appeared on the screen behind him showing photos of Hilary Clinton, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, President Joe Biden, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), billionaire George Soros, former First Lady Michelle Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and others.
“These people are going down!” Polny exclaimed as the audience cheered and clapped. “These people who think they are pharaohs! Present-day pharaohs who you shall never see again!”
“This is coming with the greatest wealth transfer in human history,” he continued, making sure to plug his business. “Gold and silver are going to explode in value…”
Polny’s hit list, which included many of the MAGA movement’s stated political opponents, was taken from “Julie Green Prophecies,” according to the graphic on the projector.
Green, a fixture of the Great ReAwakening tour, is a “prophet” whose prophecies are reliably pro-Trump. They are sometimes violent too, like her prophecy that God — any minute now — is going to strike down Democratic politicians “for their planned pandemic, shortages, inflation, mandates and for stealing an election.” She has also falsely alleged that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “loves to drink the little children’s blood” and that the federal government is performing “human sacrifices.”
She nevertheless enjoys a close relationship with Mastriano. The GOP nominee for governor once shared a video of Green prophesying that Pennsylvania is a “hornet’s nest of corruption” but that “I, the Lord, am cleansing your state.”
Mastriano has been photographed with Green and once invited her to give a prayer at a campaign rally. At the Patriots Arise conference in Gettysburg — where Mastriano accepted his sword — Green delivered another prophecy. “Yes, Doug, I am here for you, and I have not forsaken you,” Green said, speaking as God. “The time has come for their great fall; for the great steal to be overturned. So, keep your faith in me.”
I knew all this about Green when she took the stage at the Great ReAwakening in Manheim. I did not expect to witness how much her followers adored her and how excited they were to watch her reveal prophecies on stage.
“Says God, ‘you can’t stop my son, who is the rightful president, and his name is President Donald Trump…” she said, as the crowd broke into hysterical cheers. “He is on his way back, and how he takes his position back on center stage, you will never see that coming because you won’t see me coming. And I am with him.’”
Green said that Trump’s return to the White House might happen before 2024. “God said he can take this country back in unconventional ways. He doesn’t need an election to do it,” she added.
Later, I saw Green wafting around the conference like a celebrity. She, at times, placed her hands on people’s heads, casting out their demons, causing her followers to break down in tears and even collapse. She and other “prophets” performed these rituals frequently.
They claimed to heal the sick. A woman in a wheelchair stood up and walked, saying this Great ReAwakening was the first time she’d done so in 13 years.
Valeri Boland, who coordinates volunteers for Mastriano’s campaign in Dauphin County, told me I had a demon.
I had been watching the failed U.S. Senate candidate Kathy Barnette speak on stage when Boland sat next to me. She had seen my tweets about the conference. She whispered in my ear that they were “trash” and “full of lies,” pointing her finger toward my chest. She said she would pray for me to have a “radical encounter with God” so that the “demons inside me” causing me to lie would leave.
She went back to her seat. Twenty minutes later, she found me again and apologized, offering to pray with me, an invitation I declined. She was joined by Francine Fosdick, the QAnon believer from Gettysburg who had gifted Mastriano the sword. The pair both wore “Mastriano” pins on their shirts and launched into a series of conspiratorial rants that they asked me not to record — including about the COVID vaccine and the Georgia Guidestones — while trying to convince me to accept Jesus into my heart.
I walked over to where various MAGA vendors were hawking their wares. There were prophetic paintings, one of Jesus hugging an American flag and another of a lion, surrounded by American flags, and the text: “What storm Mr. President? You’ll find out” — an apparent reference to the QAnon “storm” prophecy that Trump will mass-arrest his political enemies one day.
Other vendors sold $100 metal crosses, handbags shaped like guns, and “Trump is still my president, but Christ is King” sweatshirts. There were various questionable health supplements for sale, vitamins and anointing oils, and a blanket that purportedly protects you from 5G’s radioactive waves.
One woman, who had hurt her wrists working as an Amazon delivery driver, showed me the bottle of “micronic silver” she had just bought, which she claimed instantly stopped her pain.
Mastriano’s campaign had a booth amidst all this snake oil where supporters could sign up to volunteer. A nervous campaign worker moved aside as I took photos of the booth, stacked with literature about Mastriano’s pledge to restore “voting integrity,” “end mask and vaccine mandates,” and “put parents in charge of education.” I asked the campaign worker if Mastriano would still speak at the conference, and she said probably not. He was too busy. Clark, the conference organizer, kept telling me that Mastriano was still on the schedule.
“I identify as a man today — is it OK to be in here?” a man in the men’s bathroom loudly joked as he used a urinal, with three other grown men next to him guffawing. (Nearly every speaker at the conference had gone after transgender people, some calling gender dysphoria the work of the devil.)
Outside, I found Pennsylvania state Rep. Dave Zimmerman, who I’d interviewed a few weeks prior at a small rally for Mastriano in Harrisburg. At that rally, he had admitted to being subpoenaed by the FBI, likely over his involvement with Mastriano’s scheme to install fake electors after the 2020 election to give the presidency to Trump.
I showed Zimmerman a photo of the “angel of death” prophecy that had been projected on stage, making sure it was close enough so he could read the text above the faces of the 24 people prophesied to die in the next couple of months: “Angel of Death coming for them by year-end. ’TREASON will be written on them for ETERNITY.”
Is this OK? I asked Zimmerman. He demurred.
“I don’t know what was said. But there’s no question there’s, you know, there’s good things, and there’s bad things happening in our country, and some individuals promote good things, and some individuals promote bad things.”
I asked him: “Do you believe in modern-day prophets who have a direct line to God?”
”You know, throughout the Old Testament, New Testament scripture, God used prophets, and I’m sure he’s using prophets today as well. There’s clearly prophets that can talk to God, I’m sure,” Zimmerman said.
“QAnon’s actual core is that you need mass murder to save America, and that part hasn’t died.”
Outside the building, I eavesdropped as about a dozen attendees smoked cigarettes while chatting about their favorite far-right media personalities.
“I go to sleep listening to InfoWars.”
“That BS with the Sandy Hook lawsuit fucked him over.”
“We were listening to Ben Shapiro on local radio — he talks too fast, though.”
“Tucker Carlson — he is so funny sometimes. He just cracks me up. And that laugh of his!”
Lisa, from Elizabethtown, lit a second cigarette after agreeing to explain her “Save The Children” T-shirt to me. The Illuminati, she said, are harvesting adrenochrome from the blood of sex-trafficked kids in underground tunnels. She’d seen video evidence of these rituals via DuckDuckGo — a Pennsylvania-based search engine. She turned around so I could see the back of her shirt, replete with a map of “THE TUNNEL SYSTEM OF THE UNITED STATES.”
This conspiracy theory is at the heart of QAnon, the authoritarian fantasy that one day Trump will destroy this cabal of pedophiles, who incidentally are his political foes. Support for QAnon was evident at the Great ReAwakening — with one speaker leading the crowd in reciting the movement’s slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.” But it was far less pronounced than it might’ve been at a MAGA event two or three years ago.
I called Thomas LeCaque, an associate professor of history at Grand View University who studies apocalyptic religion and political violence, to ask him whether this was because QAnon’s brand, with all of its wild prophecies and numerologies, and its association with the Jan. 6 insurrection, had simply become too toxic. “I think it’s much worse than that,” he said. “I think QAnon became so normalized in the far right that you don’t need the specific banners of Q to announce it’s already there.”
When you peel away all the “genuinely batshit crazy prophetic aspects,” LeCaque explained, QAnon at its core is a “mass murder fantasy” about the coming “storm” when all of the MAGA movement’s enemies will be arrested and lynched.
“The ideology that your enemies are literal monsters and that something needs to be done about them — that part has unfortunately become far too mainstream,” LeCaque said. “I think that’s the part that should worry us a lot more. Like it’s really easy to make fun of QAnon in its purest state, but QAnon’s actual core is that you need mass murder to save America, and that part hasn’t died.”
Inside the conference, there was excitement about the arrival of Trump’s adult son. “Does anybody in this room not think that we won Pennsylvania?” Eric Trump asked the crowd after taking the stage. “It was the biggest fraud.”
He then gave a speech similar to the ones he’s given at other ReAwaken tour stops — the election was stolen, Christianity is under attack, liberals are indoctrinating your kids in schools — before taking out his phone and calling his dad.
Eric Trump held the phone to the microphone so the crowd, growing ecstatic, could hear the former president say, “We love you. We’re going to bring this country back because I think our country has never been in such bad shape as it is now.”
The crowd started to chant: “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
Then Eric Trump thanked Clark, the conference’s organizer, who had joined him on stage. “I love you guys,” he told Clark, “the job you’ve done…” The crowd started to cheer loudly for Clark. I was close enough to the stage to see the tears welling up in Clark’s eyes.
Clark is a far-right podcaster and business consultant from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who believes that a 2013 prophecy from a self-anointed Christian “prophet” named Kim Clement about “a man by the name of Mr. Clark and… another man by the name of Donald” was about him and Trump.
He interpreted this prophecy as a call from God to launch the Great ReAwakening, holding the show’s first iteration in Tulsa last April. He has used the tour to push the unhinged conspiracy theory that the COVID vaccine is a trick by billionaire Bill Gates to alter our DNA, making the number of genes a variant of the devil’s number — 666, also known as the “Mark of the Beast.”
“The shot, the injection, the bioweapon, what is being called the vaccine —everyone needs to look this up — it’s called SM-102,” Clark said. “A core ingredient of the shot, SM-102, also contains a technology called luciferase—Lucifer race.”
Now, here he was being thanked by Eric Trump in front of thousands of people. “He doesn’t need to be doing this crap, and neither do I, frankly,” Eric Trump said of Clark. “But the guy doesn’t stop because he loves this nation, and he loves everything this country stands for. And you are incredible at everything you put together.”
After Eric’s speech, many in the crowd started to filter out of the Spooky Nook complex, walking back to their cars as the sun set. A middle-aged white couple named Carl and Lori were driving a red, white and blue pickup truck covered in decals spelling out, “Doug Mastriano For Governor.”
“He’s gonna do all he’s gonna say he’s gonna do,” Carl said of Mastriano. “No same-sex marriage, no killing babies, that’s the main thing, and taking care of the schools and not having teachers teaching what they’re teaching. All this transgender goings-ons and all that crap.”
Carl loved all the speakers at Great ReAwakening. Lori particularly liked the prophet Julie Green.
“She’s a very good, strong Christian woman,” Lori said. “God speaks to her.”
On day two of the Great ReAwakening, I met Micki Witthoeft, the mother of Ashli Babbitt, the woman fatally shot by Capitol police as she tried to crawl through a shattered window into the Speaker’s Lobby during the insurrection.
Witthoeft carried a small, 19-year-old dog named Fuggles in a backpack as she walked around the conference. She wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the letters “J4J6” — Justice For Jan. 6 — next to a photo of her daughter outside the Capitol building.
“That’s my daughter an hour before she was murdered by the United States government,” Witthoeft said.
This was her fourth time at a Great ReAwakening event. She was here with Randy Ireland, who led the New York chapter of the Proud Boys, a violent neo-fascist gang that played a major role in the insurrection. She and Ireland had joined forces to raise awareness about the mistreatment of Jan. 6 prisoners, who they said were being “robbed” of their due rights under the Constitution.
Every month they host a candlelight vigil outside the prison in D.C. where a few dozen alleged insurrectionists are being detained. “We pray,” Witthoeft said. “We sing hymns. We have call-ins from the prisoners that we put out over livestream through a microphone and the telephone, and then at nine o’clock, we all sing the National Anthem.”
I asked her how she felt about the Great ReAwakening.
“I think there’s a lot of different people here with a lot of different messages, but one consistent message is we need God in this country. We need God in our lives. We need God to move us forward in our paths, individually and collectively. And so I believe, you know, it’s a feel-good moment for a lot of people that are here.”
Nearby people lined up to be healed by prophets, to have their demons cast out. Over on the main stage, a murderer’s row of bigots, grifters, COVID-deniers, and QAnon influencers gave speeches. It became clear that Mastriano wasn’t going to show. He was speaking at a rally up in Scranton and likely wouldn’t have time to get here. Not that he was going to sway any voters here, anyway. He had their votes. His campaign workers packed up their booth and walked out of Spooky Nook.
In his scheduled time slot, Donné Clement Petruska, the daughter of the late “prophet” Kim Clement, took to the stage and played videos of her dad “prophesying” Sept. 11, the rise of ISIS, and the election of Trump.
The crowd oohed and aahed.
The next morning at LifeGate church in Elizabethtown, Pastor Pete Ogilvie used part of his sermon to talk about the Great ReAwakening conference. “It was like drinking water from a firehose, the release of all the information and things — I couldn’t take it all in,” he said.
“It was a disturbing conference,” he said. “It was lovely and disturbing all at once.”
I had come to LifeGate because of its close ties to Mastriano and its involvement with the GOP. Lancaster Online, the local newspaper, had reported that four LifeGate members, including one with direct ties to an armed militia, had been working as a security team for Mastriano on the campaign trail. One of them, Jim Emery, along with two other LifeGate members — Stephen and Danielle Lindemuth, who were at the Jan. 6 rally that turned into the insurrection — also won seats on the local school board.
The church was making real inroads into local politics. I noticed Emery sitting in the back of the church during the sermon, holding the sword that had recently been in Mastriano’s Harrisburg office. Emery raised the sword aloft when he felt moved by the pastor’s words.
“These are the things that we come against in the name of Jesus, that we wage war with, and these are the things that we will declare victory over today!” Ogilvie declared. On the wall behind him, a projector displayed a long list of the church’s enemies:
“Mail-in Ballots, Dominion Machines, Election Day lasting longer than a week, Stolen elections, An illegitimate Administration in the WH….Human-Trafficking, Fentynol flooding our country, opioid addiction rampant, sexual immorality being the standard, Greed, Satanic Worship… Doctrines of demons, Critical Race Theory in our schools, Porn in our libraries, Boys competing in girl’s sports, pronoun protocols, Liberal media lies and canceling the conservative voices…”
Ogilive clicked through to the next slide:
“Medical Tyranny, Mask mandates, Vaccination Mandates, Covid Testing… Clause Schwab, George Soros, Fauci, Bill Gates, Hunter Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Wolf, Richard Levine, Gerry Nadler, the Jan. 6 Committee, Liz Cheney, The rest of the swamp in Both Parties, and Both Houses of Congress and the Senate….”
Then he began to pray.
“Lord, we believe that all these enemies of Your Word will fall, all your enemies will cower,” Ogilive said.
Someone in the back of the church blew through a shofar.
“Lord, we thank you, we only have enemies because you have enemies,” he added. “All your enemies are under your feet, and therefore they’re under ours.”