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ReAwaken America Tour in Batavia includes calls for overturning election, New York AG to ‘repent’

Pro-Trump pastor Mark Burns at ReAwaken America Tour in Batavia
Tom Dinki
Pastor Mark Burns speaks at the ReAwaken America Tour event in Batavia Aug. 12, 2022.

About two hours into the ReAwaken America Tour’s stop in Batavia Friday morning, the crowd of a couple thousand under a large, white revival tent got loud.

They chanted, “now,” as in they want Donald Trump back as president — not in 2024 — but right now.

They did so at the urging of Mark Burns, once called “Trump’s top pastor” by Time Magazine. Burns, speaking from the stage, then got the crowd to chant for something else to happen right now.

“We need to hold Joe Biden for treason right now,” Burns exclaimed, causing the crowd to chant back “now.”

More than 3,500 people from Western New York and across the U.S. heard a mix of pastors, former Trump officials, Jan. 6 participants and vaccine skeptics make false claims about everything from the 2020 election to the COVID-19 pandemic during the far-right roadshow’s two-day stop at Batavia’s Cornerstone Church this past weekend.

Attendance was 3,578, said organizer Clay Clark in an email.

RELATED CONTENT: Read and listen to WBFO's preview of the ReAwaken America Tour.

Revival tent at ReAwaken America Tour
Tom Dinki
Attendees make their way and in and out of the revival tent at Cornerstone Church during the ReAwaken America Tour Aug. 12, 2022.

Buffalo native Josephine Quana traveled all the way from Florida to attend. She said she believes the pandemic was planned, the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building was a setup and that immigrants are being allowed to cross the border to form an army. She was banned from Twitter for a week for posting about hydroxychloroquine, she said.

But Quana doesn’t consider herself a conspiracy theorist, and said ReAwaken America speakers and attendees have a right to voice their beliefs.

“We're not out for war, we're just out for our voice, just like every American has,” she said.

But some faith leaders say voicing those beliefs can be harmful. They spoke out a couple miles away at Batavia First Baptist Church, behind a mobile billboard asking ReAwaken America to “Stop twisting our faith to attack democracy.”

Connecticut Episcopal priest Nathan Empsall is executive director of Faithful America, a national Christian group with 13,000 signatures against ReAwaken America. He decried the tour’s Christian nationalist ideology, which he said includes using religion to justify seizing political power and overturning elections.

“When you raise the stakes as high as they come and demonize your opponents in God's name, you don't have to tell people to commit violence. They connect the dots,” Empsall said.

The Rev. Nathan Empsall
Tom Dinki
The Rev. Nathan Empsall, a Connecticut Episcopal priest and executive director of Faithful America, holds up the signatures his group has gathered in opposition to the ReAwaken America Tour.

Cornerstone Church Pastor Paul Doyle, who agreed to host the tour at the church’s 20-acre property after public backlash pushed it out of Rochester, said concerns about violence were unfounded.

Law enforcement and private security were on hand, as well as signs warning attendees that guns or knives were not allowed. ReAwaken America also erected a chain link fence around the church property.

“It’s peaceful,” Doyle said. “It was a beautiful day and a good lineup of speakers, and so it's been mostly about life with Jesus Christ and the influence that he's had on our nation and on people.”

New York State Attorney General Letitia James had written a letter to Doyle and ReAwaken America organizers, voicing concern the event could “spur racially motivated violence.”

During his speech, Burns led a prayer for James in which he called on her to repent to God.

“If she does not repent and turn back to You, show the world what happens to those that come against Your servants,” Burns said as attendees held out their arms in prayer. “For the Bible declares that vengeance is mine, sayeth the lord. The battle is not ours, but is His. So we love you, Letitia James.”

WBFO played a video of Burns’ prayer to Empsall, who called it a “pseudo endorsement of violence.”

“That wasn't a prayer. That was a political speech tinged with violence,” he said. “That Pastor Burns and the ReAwaken America Tour would say you have to repent for opposing violence proves that this is not Christian. It's certainly not patriotic. It's unholy.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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