The ‘God Emperor’ Who Could Cost Trump the Election

steven-strang-feature - Credit: YouTube
steven-strang-feature - Credit: YouTube

Mario Murillo had heard enough. The longtime Charismatic Christian preacher, who got his start ministering to Jesus hippies in Berkeley in the late 1960s, began 2023 by blasting a pair of “false prophets.”

The duo were already notorious for touting false visions of a Trump re-election. Kat Kerr, whose heavenly lewk is a candy-pink bob and an American-flag shawl, prophesied that Trump would “win in 2020, write it down, it’s going to happen.” Robin D. Bullock, whose aesthetic is more mystic-’80s-leather-rocker, insisted God had revealed to him Trump would win “in a landslide.”

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For Murrillo, the pair’s unforgivable transgressions were their wild-eyed visions about the hereafter. Kerr claims that Superman actor Christopher Reeve teaches flying lessons in the great beyond. Bullock, Murillo wrote, “stood in a pulpit in Nashville and told the people to shut up if they did not believe there were mountains of Jell-O in heaven.”

In the free-wheeling world of Charismatic Christianity, charlatans can build devoted followings — and raise ungodly amounts of cash — by claiming divine gifts. There’s no central authority to cast grifters out. So Murillo turned to the next best thing: He sought an audience with Steve Strang, the founder of Charisma Media.

Strang plays an unusual role in this religious subculture, splitting the difference between Rupert Murdoch and the pope. A fixture since the mid-1970s, Strang is a “God Emperor” of media in the Charismatic world, says Matt Taylor, protestant scholar at the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies.

Strang isn’t simply a publisher or a journalist. He’s also a political activist who backed Trump to the hilt — publishing four books exhorting Evangelicals to embrace God’s unlikely “anointing” of the pussy-grabbing playboy philanderer president, calling Trump “our champion.” Strang is also a movement moneyman: CharismaNews is the top corporate sponsor of the ReAwaken America Tour, the traveling MAGA circus that celebrates Gen. Mike Flynn’s Q-inflected vision of Trumpy Christian Nationalism.

When Murrillo appeared on Charisma’s flagship podcast, The Strang Report, Strang applauded the preacher’s condemnation of the dodgy prophets, whose visions of heaven, Strang insisted, “border on mental illness.” Strang said he saw the Satanic at work: “These are the Ends of Time, and The Enemy is trying to get us from many different angles.” Suggesting that “attacks from within” the church are even more dangerous than those from secular world, Strang saluted Murrillo — “I admire you standing up” — and insisted that Charisma Media “will stand with you.”

In performing this de facto excommunication, neither Strang nor Murillo explicitly called out Kerr and Bullock’s bollocks Trump prophecies. Perhaps, that’s because casting out all Trump seers as “false prophets” would mean folding up shop in the Charismatic world — so great was the prophetic “mind meld” around Trump’s victory in 2020.

But for those that study the Charismatic world, the subtext had blazing implications for the next presidential election: “The fact that Strang is platforming Murillo, and letting Murillo take down some of these Trump prophets, says a lot,” says Taylor. “That there’s an openness in that world — a desire in that world — to hear a different perspective from the prophets, in terms of, ‘Where else can we go in ‘24?’”

A break from Trump would be a staggering move by Strang, who previously wrote that “Donald Trump has been raised up by God to stop our nation’s headlong plunge into total depravity” and asserted that Democratic attempts to hold Trump accountable — including in the impeachment battle over Ukraine — originated “from the pit of hell.” More recently, Strang claimed to see “spiritual warfare” at play in the FBI raid of Mar-a-Lago.

At least one Charismatic prophet is already suggesting that God favors Ron DeSantis. And Strang, as it turns out, has had many positive things to say about the Florida governor, based on first-hand experience. Charisma Media is based in Lake Mary, north of Orlando, and Strang has touted DeSantis as a “great governor” that “I have so much respect for, and supported.”

Now in his 70s, Strang has been a force in right-wing religion and politics for decades. In 2005, Time named him as one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals in America. The magazine cited his publishing house’s book, The Faith of George W. Bush, as building Evangelical confidence in Dubya. “We didn’t write it to help Bush,” Strang claimed at the time. “But it no doubt helped elect him.”

In addition to a book imprint — which notably publishes bestsellers by a messianic rabbi — Strang runs Charisma’s glossy print magazine, as well as CharismaNews (“Breaking News. Spiritual Perspective.”) His podcast, “The Strang Report,” has been downloaded more than 15 million times. Business is as good as it is Godly: Charisma is reportedly launching construction of new offices at an estimated construction cost of $2.4 million.

Strang launched Charisma in 1975, seeking to be a voice of the burgeoning Charismatic movement. Charismatic Christianity now has more than 30 million adherents in America. It differs from mainline Protestantism in a belief that “gifts of the Holy Spirit” — including prophecy, healing, and speaking in tongues — are not bygones of a biblical age, but alive for the modern world. Many Charismatics believe in a supernatural dimension in which angels and demons fight for dominion of earth, and that this “spiritual warfare” influences terrestrial events.

In recent years, Charismatic leaders have moved aggressively into Republican politics. Charismatics were some of Donald Trump’s first and most ardent supporters. The movement’s “prophets” were nearly unanimous (and mistaken) in forecasting his re-election in 2020.

As Rolling Stone has covered, Charismatic worship leaders like Sean Feucht are seeking to fuse religion with MAGA politics. (Feucht recently visited with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert at the U.S. Capitol, and joined Steve Bannon’s podcast to explain the basics of spiritual warfare.) Others, like “apostles” Lance Wallnau and Dutch Sheets are at the bleeding edge of Christian Nationalism, seeing America as on a heavenly mission to reshape the world and accelerate the Second Coming.

Strang routinely boosts such figures with his media arms. But the “God Emperor” has also laid out an alarming political vision in his own books, in which he embraces Christian Nationalism’s darkest, most anti-democratic impulses. In God and Trump 2020, Strang asserted that “two distinct religions are vying for control of America’s public square: secularism and Christianity,” He insisted: “They cannot coexist; one will ultimately cause the destruction of the other.”

In his latest book, God and Cancel Culture, Strang writes of the likelihood — and even desirability — of civil war: “Will rampant abortion, immorality and injustice in America require a similar bloodletting in our day?” he asks, before posing: “Is war the cleansing crucible we must pass to achieve greater national purity and unity on the other side?”

Strang did not respond to interview requests.

In his public persona, Strang does not present as a firebrand, nor does he have the smarmy glow of a mega-preacher. He projects instead a calm, avuncular presence. He routinely softpedals his power, calling himself just a “Chrisian journalist.”

Yet unlike most journalists, Strang has openly backed presidential candidates since 2008, beginning with Mike Huckabee. (“I did everything I could in my circle of influence to rally support for him, including raising a whole lot of money for his campaign,” Strang has written.) Strang initially backed Ted Cruz for the 2016 primary before climbing fully aboard the Trump Train. Strang has occasionally insisted he’s interested in Republican partisanship: “I’ve supported good, strong conservative Christians who I knew personally, in a strong way —  but never the party.”

As he’s made inroads into Trumpworld — including once interviewing Trump himself — Strang has made prominent MAGA bedfellows. Mike “My Pillow” Lindell wrote the intro to Strang’s latest book, calling him a “comrade in arms” and a “foxhole buddy.”

In 2022, Strang hosted Roger Stone on his podcast. The unindicted insurrectionist claimed he’d undergone a religious awakening and shared his gratitude that a prophet had woven him into a David-and-Goliath type prophecy: When the Stone is released, the giant will fall. “I think this is some reference of what God has in mind for me,” the longtime GOP dirty trickster told Strang.  “We’re here to serve the Lord.”

Of all the activities that strain the bounds of journalism, Strang’s corporate backing of the ReAwaken America Tour is probably the most eye-popping, and a sign of Strang’s power. “He owns Charisma media outright,” says Taylor. “It’s not like there’s a board that is keeping him in check. Which is why he can sponsor the ReAwaken America Tour. Just straight up — as a news organization.”

In an interview with Mike Flynn about ReAwaken, Strang vowed to the former general that he was “doing everything we can in our corner of the world to try to wake up America.” Strang has not only been a sponsor, he’s even joined the tour as a speaker at several stops.

Taylor insists that if Strang is now serious about his new role in calling out false prophets, Flynn’s roadshow offers ample targets. “The ReAwaken America prophets are some of the craziest Trump prophets,” he says — pointing to the likes of Julie Green, who offers a daily horoscope-style prophecy, falsely declared that Doug Mastriano would become governor of Pennsylvania, and once predicted Queen Elizabeth would be murdered by Prince Charles.

“Steven Strang,” Taylor adds, “needs to be made aware of the glass house he’s living in.”

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