Atlantic contributor Daniel Panneton declared that the Catholic rosary has become a "symbol" of religious radicalism.
The rosary is a string of beads or knots used by Catholics as they pray a sequence of prayers, but one writer warned they have taken on a far darker meaning in modern times. "Just as the AR-15 rifle has become a sacred object for Christian nationalists in general, the rosary has acquired a militaristic meaning for radical-traditional (or ‘rad trad’) Catholics," Panneton claimed in the Sunday piece titled, "How the Rosary Became an Extremist Symbol."
He added, "On this extremist fringe, rosary beads have been woven into a conspiratorial politics and absolutist gun culture. These armed radical traditionalists have taken up a spiritual notion that the rosary can be a weapon in the fight against evil and turned it into something dangerously literal."
Panneton slammed an entire online ecosystem for disseminating imagery featuring Christian warriors both historical and modern, suggesting that "social-media pages are saturated with images of rosaries draped over firearms, warriors in prayer, Deus Vult (‘God wills it’) crusader memes, and exhortations for men to rise up and become Church Militants."
He observed that rosary beads "provide an aide-mémoire for a sequence of devotional prayers, are a widely recognized symbol of Catholicism and a source of strength. And many take genuine sustenance from Catholic theology’s concept of the Church Militant and the tradition of regarding the rosary as a weapon against Satan."
The Atlantic contributor gave a wide variety of examples of how the modern association between rosaries and fighting men has become marketable to a niche audience, noting that "radical-traditional Catholics sustain their own cottage industry of goods and services," such as one store that "sells replicas of the rosaries issued to American soldiers during the First World War as 'combat rosaries.'"
The Swiss Guard, who have been protecting the Vatican in their iconic 16th-century armor and uniforms for centuries, were also addressed, as Panneton recounted: "In 2016, the pontifical Swiss Guard accepted a donation of combat rosaries; during a ceremony at the Vatican, their commander described the gift as 'the most powerful weapon that exists on the market.'"
He also called out a member of the clergy, stating that "Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix issued an apostolic exhortation calling for a renewal of traditional conceptions of Catholic masculinity titled ‘Into the Breach,’ which led the Knights of Columbus, an influential fraternal order, to produce a video series promoting Olmsted’s ideas."
Warning that Catholics are a "growing contingent of Christian nationalism," Panneton commented that "Catholic imagery now blends freely with staple alt-right memes that romanticize ancient Rome or idealize the traditional patriarchal family." He also commented that as the divide between American Catholics and Protestants has waned, they have become "cemented in common causes such as hostility toward abortion-rights advocates."