ALEXANDRIA, Minn. -- When Pastor Darryl Knappen was studying at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s, he remembers feeling that his professors were Marxists trying to recruit students into their political ideology.
Not the science teachers so much, he said, as the history and sociology professors.
“When I discovered that was their agenda, then you look even further. How many of those students went into journalism, and the media and politics?” he said. “There was a lot of indoctrination going on over the decades that you can’t deny.”
Knappen’s rejection of mainstream media and politics and embrace of discredited theories about the 2020 election has landed him in the middle of a firestorm since publishing a video Jan. 9 urging President Donald Trump to implement martial law and for citizens to form militias. Viewed nearly 100,000 times, the video shows him railing against Marxists, communists, globalists, former President Barack Obama and others.
“They are in opposition to our freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, freedom to bear arms against tyranny,” he said in the video. “We are under a threat that is so grave that it would have to go back to the civil war to find a threat as grave as this."
Cornerstone Church’s Facebook page announced that the church’s elders had opted to cancel services on Sunday, Jan. 17, “for reasons that are prudent and wise.”
Pastors weigh in
As Alexandria pastors weighed how to respond last week, Lutheran Pastor Kari Van Wakeren repudiated Knappen’s position on her personal Facebook page. She referred to him as a “so-called pastor” in a Jan. 13 post that has been shared 30 times.
“I do not want to draw any more attention to this video than it has already received, but I do want to say this: This is not what a Christian leader looks like, and what is said in this video — in addition to what it wants people to do — has no place in the Kingdom of God,” Van Wakeren wrote.
She continued, “Though terrible things have been done ‘in the name of God’ over the centuries, the gospel of Jesus Christ does not proclaim that which leads or adds to violence, hate, or fear. The fruits of God's Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control.”
Members of Knappen’s congregation have not spoken publicly about the video. He did say that one of them went to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, the day a mob broke into the U.S. Capitol building and disrupted the official confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden’s win.
While not mentioning Knappen, on Monday, Jan. 18, a group of 33 Alexandria area pastors signed a letter decrying violence and threats of violence “within our community, in our state, and across the nation. Such threats seek to divide and distract us from the Gospel of Jesus, who came and was crucified and raised to restore all that is broken in our world.”
The pastors, from multiple denominations, said that Christians can and do disagree with each other, but said that Jesus’ message is about “salvation, hope, peace, gentleness, self-control, and love."
“In striving for these things, we truly seek God's way rather than our own, and encourage those we shepherd to do likewise,” the letter said.
The letter concluded, “We join together with confidence in the unfailing love and goodness of God as we pray and work for peace and unity in our community and world.”
Enemies within the church?
According to the church’s website, Knappen graduated from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, the same seminary that graduated a number of well-known Christian pastors and authors including Tim LaHaye, the co-author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” series and a friend of Jerry Falwell, Sr. Knappen has served as lead pastor of Cornerstone Church since 1994.
In an echo of the red scare of the 1950s, Knappen told the Alexandria Echo Press that he is concerned about Communist influence in Hollywood, politics and even the church. In 2019, he said, he was one of a few dozen to attend a conference in Des Moines, Iowa, led by the makers of a film called “Enemies Within The Church.”
On their Facebook page, the filmmakers equate social justice with heresy, and claim that Marxists have made inroads into churches and their parent organizations, trying to persuade people to support the redistribution of wealth.
At the conference was a man named Phil Haney, Knappen said, a former officer with the Department of Homeland Security who criticized the Obama administration for not taking the threat of terrorism seriously enough. Knappen said he spent much of the day talking to Haney and was shocked to hear he was found dead less than a year later.
Haney was found dead in a park-and-ride near a busy California highway, according to the Amador County Sheriff’s Office in California in a July 2020 news release. On its website, the sheriff’s office said it asked for help from the FBI and expected reports within weeks. However, it has not updated the public on its investigation since.
Haney’s death shook Knappen, and even though Amador County has not released a cause of death, Knappen said he was convinced it was murder.
“He knew way too much about the enemy,” he said.
Knappen said he would welcome being wrong about his concerns.
“If someone proves me wrong, I will be glad to admit I have been wrong,” he said. “It’s the evidence that matters to me.”
One thing that he appears to be wrong about is his prediction that a number of high-ranking U.S. leaders would be arrested for treason within a week “or so” of his Jan. 9 video.
His video, posted under a “Worship or Prophecy” heading, predicted that U.S. political leaders like U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Chuck Schumer,”perhaps even” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and “possibly, just possibly” Vice President Mike Pence would be arrested for treason. Nine days later, it's rioters, not political leaders, who have been arrested.