How Many Presidents Have Been Accused of Being the Antichrist?
Hint: It's not just Obama.
Photograph by Lukas Coch-Pool/Getty Images.
Suspected White House shooter Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez was obsessed with President Barack Obama, according to investigators, and reportedly thought Obama was the Antichrist. In September, heckler David Serrano called Obama “the Antichrist” at a fundraiser. Have other U.S. presidents been suspected of being the Antichrist?
Yes. Perhaps the first U.S. president suspected of being the Antichrist was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s extraordinary influence and desire to form a worldwide United Nations raised the suspicions of many conservative Christians. When President Roosevelt began to engage in diplomacy with the Soviet Union, prominent evangelist and politician Gerald Burton Winrod suggested that Roosevelt was at the very least under the influence of the Antichrist, and carrying out his plans. During John F. Kennedy’s candidacy for president, Protestant leaders compared electing Kennedy, a Catholic, to electing the Antichrist. In 1990 a man named Gregory Stuart Gordon invaded the house of former president Ronald Reagan, telling Secret Service agents “Ronald Reagan is the Antichrist. He must be killed and I must kill him.” While Gordon’s attorney claimed that Gordon was only trying to attract attention in hopes of gaining treatment for a drug problem, courts judged that his threat was serious and sentenced him to a two-year prison term.
American Presidents aren’t the only world leaders who have been accused of being the Antichrist. For centuries the figure most commonly thought to be the Antichrist has been the Pope. One accusation came from Bishop Arnulf of Reims, who in 991 described Pope John XV as the “Antichrist sitting in God’s temple and showing himself as God.” Even Pope John Paul II was called the Antichrist by a member of the European Parliament, who interrupted one of the pope’s 1988 speeches by waving a sign saying “Pope John Paul II—Antichrist” and shouting “I renounce you as the Antichrist!” Many evangelical churches and some other protestant Christians interpret the Antichrist to be the papacy itself. Representative Michele Bachmann belonged to one such denomination for years, but she left the church in July shortly after announcing her candidacy. Other authority figures suspected of being the Antichrist include Hitler, Gorbachev, and Henry Kissinger.
The heckler, Serrano, and the suspected White House shooter, Ortega-Hernandez, aren’t the only Americans to suspect Obama of being the Antichrist. After Obama’s election, some of these cited the winning Illinois lottery number the day after Election Day—which ended in “666”—as evidence for this theory. A campaign ad for Senator John McCain during that year was accused of exploiting these fears. Called “The One,” the ad mockingly depicted Obama as a messiah, and some commentators described the ad as using subliminal messages that equated Obama with the Antichrist. One poll even suggested that 14 percent of Americans believe that Obama “may be the Antichrist,” but it was far from scientific.
Christians and theologians argue over how exactly the Antichrist is described in the Bible. The word Antichrist appears only five times in the King James version, all in 1 John and 2 John, but some Christians also equate the Antichrist with the “Man of Sin” from 2 Thessalonians and various figures from the Book of Revelation. The Antichrist is generally thought to resemble Christ, but subtly to conspire against him and possibly even be inhabited by Satan. Most denominations believe that he will rise in the end of days and be defeated at Christ’s second coming. In the popular Left Behind series, the Antichrist is a former president of Romania who rises to become Secretary-General of the United Nations (and People’s “Sexiest Man Alive”). For others, anti-Christ means only those who do not believe in Christ.
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Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. He writes for Explainer and Brow Beat, and lives in New York. Follow him on Twitter.