“A History of the War on Drugs”: Public Eye Artist in the News

On September 15, hip-hop artist Jay Z and author and illustrator Molly Crabapple collaborated (along with dream hampton, Jim Batt, and Kim Boekbinder) on a short, animated video, “A History of the War on Drugs, from Prohibition to Gold Rush,” for The New York Times. In the four-minute piece, Jay Z chronicles U.S. drug policy from 1971 to the present day, highlighting these laws’ ineffectiveness and their uneven application across race and class lines. Juxtaposing the mass incarceration of Black and Latino men arrested on petty drug charges with the White bankers and college students whose drug use gets a pass, the video also calls into question who will profit now that some states have legalized the sale of marijuana. The same drug sales that left a generation of men of color in prison will now enrich White entrepreneurs.

The piece is a continuation of Crabapple’s video work on social justice issues, including “broken windows” policing. PRA recently used a still from Crabapple’s viral video explanation of broken windows on the cover of our Spring 2016 issue of The Public Eye. Crabapple’s work accompanied a cover article by activist, lawyer, and author Andrea Ritchie on the right-wing roots of broken windows theory.

The Spring issue of Public Eye featuring a still from Molly Crabapple’s video “How ‘broken windows’ policing harms people of color.”

As Ritchie writes, broken window policing is based on the premise that if small signs of disorder—like broken windows, turnstile jumping or loud music—are left unchecked, they will eventually lead to greater crime. Neoconservative thinkers George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, who popularized the broken windows theory in a 1982 Atlantic article, argued that the stringent enforcement of all misdemeanor laws was necessary in order to maintain safety and avoid community breakdown.

However, in reality, this type of policing manifests as both excessive force towards minor offences and heightened police presence in low-income Black communities—to the extent that it often appears to criminalize Blackness itself. Similar to the drug policing Jay Z and Crabapple discussed in their video, broken window policing doesn’t reduce crime rates, but just assuages White fears of poorer communities of color.

The current culture of policing appears to be based not on the protection of people of color, but rather their criminalization. From the drug wars to broken window policing, it is evident the current law enforcement system is in dire need of reform – immediate reform.

The Transformation of a Goldwater Girl: Why It Matters in the Time of Trump

This article appears in the forthcoming Fall 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

This is, in some respects, a ghost story. A political ghost story in which the mythic, the symbolic, the demon archetype come to substitute for sustained engagement with ordinary human beings. Both major political parties love to tell scary stories about the other side, while offering their own followers a vicarious sense of power—of superiority—over those dehumanized opponents, those ghosts. It’s intoxicating stuff.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what that means when it comes to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Fountain Park in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a campaign rally in Arizona this year.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

The short answer: A lot more than one election and a fear- contempt- and ridicule-based campaign that demonizes not only Trump but his overwhelmingly White followers. Scot Nakagawa and Tarso Luís Ramos recently wrote at PRA about the need to increase the social justice movement’s capacity to disrupt and defuse the momentum of the Right, and to offer an appealing alternative to the likes of Trump:

We compete by going up against the Right and vying directly for the loyalty of those who make up the immediate projected base of their support: White working-class people. Most right-wing groups’ core support is drawn from the White middle class, but right-wing movements don’t stop there. They traditionally organize “down” the economic ladder and reach for working-class Whites, whose numbers are vital to their success. Successfully competing will require us to authentically express empathy and compassion to White poor people and to those who fear falling into poverty, and to do so while marrying economic justice to racial and social equity.

As it happens, I know something about winning over the Right’s rank and file supporters.

"Goldwater Girls" during Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign for President. Photo courtesy of Marilyn M via Flickr.

“Goldwater Girls” during Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for President. Photo courtesy of Marilyn M via Flickr.

When I was growing up in southern Colorado, the daughter of “respectable blue collar” parents in a lunch-bucket steel mill town, I was an ardent teenage supporter of Barry Goldwater during his failed but pivotal 1964 campaign for the presidency. Pundits said, and many believed, that his loss dealt a death-blow to the Right. It was a premature obituary.

Just four years later, former Alabama governor George Wallace (“Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever!”) ran a surprisingly strong third party, right-wing populist campaign for the presidency, at one point polling a possible 23 percent of the national vote. Then Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, and Richard Nixon was elected president.

The Right had reinvented itself, but I’d changed, too. By this time, still in Colorado, I was a state college student, becoming ever more deeply immersed in movements to fight racism, support farmworker organizing, and oppose the war in Vietnam. My personal political transformation hadn’t been a “road to Damascus” epiphany. It was complicated and slow—often painful, always humbling, and sometimes shattering. But ultimately liberating.

I’m no expert in the science of political transformation, and I doubt that anyone is, or that there’s much science to it. Yet I believe my experience holds some relevance for the current political moment. Because even if Trump drops or is maneuvered off the Republican ticket tomorrow, or Hillary Clinton beats him by a landslide in November, this story won’t be over.

That’s because everything that Trumpism represents is so much larger and more complex than one man or one campaign. While the views of Trumpism are announced without the usual rhetorical filters and political sophistication, it isn’t an aberration. Its authoritarian and White nativist roots extend throughout all of American history; for decades, the conservative movement and the Republican Party have strategically stoked the racism and xenophobia animating today’s Trump phenomenon.

I don’t minimize the danger of Trump’s campaign, which is soaked in White supremacist and xenophobic fear, grievance, and suspicion, and blended with intense doses of braggadocio, narcissism, celebratory climate change denial, American exceptionalism, and triumphalism. Nor do I dismiss the influence of supporting groups of militant White nativists, “sovereign citizens,” and neonazis who constantly chum the political waters.

But here I’m talking about ordinary White blue collar and working class people who aren’t reflexively prone to racist violence or White supremacist fanaticism. Many of them just breathe in casual, normative racism like air, never thinking to question what is all around them. That’s what I did when I was growing up, as did my family and community—many of whom had been written off in a variety of ways for much of their lives, perhaps for generations. Pegged by society as losers or disposable workers, and treated with contempt and ridicule by those with greater social and economic status, they are recognized only at election times by opportunistic politicians struggling for greater standing.

Supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in Arizona this year. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Supporters of Donald Trump at a rally in Arizona this year.
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

Because a sense of belonging is especially important in a society where you know your life matters little except to those closest to you, appeals to group loyalty—and a willingness to name and persecute those who challenge that loyalty—often carry special resonance. White identity permits even White people in economic free-fall that sense of belonging. And because White identity is so significant (even if not consciously acknowledged), these are people whose racial anxieties and prejudices are easily inflamed and manipulated.

I’m not suggesting we appeal to the Right’s lay supporters on the basis of economics and class alone. We can’t excuse or minimize the enduring emotional power and elastic utility of overt and coded appeals to White identity. But we also can’t simply write these people off as “tools,” “idiots” or “morons,” and expect them to miraculously disappear or instantly reverse course based on sudden insight. (“Oh, damn! I’ve been voting against my own interests! I need to stop doing that!”) Without actual engagement, these communities will continue to gravitate towards leaders who scapegoat communities of color, queers, Muslims, and immigrants. Some other demagogue will always be on hand to tap into this reservoir of racism—usually blended with legitimate economic grievance—and another right-wing populist crusade will commence.

Toward Transformation

My conservative Republican parents didn’t drag me into the 1964 Goldwater campaign. They weren’t rabid Right Wingers like the folks in the John Birch Society, whose billboards and literature denouncing Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights movement, and “the communist conspiracy” littered our civic landscape.

Campaign buttons for the Barry Goldwater (Republican Party) presidential campaign of 1964 Part of the Littlejohn Collection, Wofford College (via Flickr).

Campaign buttons for the Barry Goldwater (Republican Party) presidential campaign of 1964
Part of the Littlejohn Collection, Wofford College (via Flickr).

But our family was worried about the future; it seemed so tenuous. When I was very young, Dad lost a promising job that was supposed to be the first step on the ladder leading into the middle class, and he never got a better one. Mom, who was simultaneously furious over and humiliated by teachers’ inquiries as to whether my sister and I were getting enough to eat, went back to work, as a low-paid medical insurance secretary. And while my father was grateful for the lunch bucket job he finally got, monitoring gauges at pump stations for the local water works (a job he kept till he retired), he hated that he had to join the union. We desperately needed the benefits, but he believed guys on the way up didn’t belong to unions, that unions were for losers. He put on a good public front, but my father always felt like a failure. That was abundantly clear at home. Try as I might to feel optimistic, I often felt like a loser, too.

But even if we fell short in terms of economic status, at least we were White. Not Ku Klux Klan White, although the Klan once had an influential presence where I grew up. But the kind of Whites who thought Anglo domination was the right thing in a town that was probably almost half “Mexican” (as we said then), and which until 1963 still had a segregated black orphanage. The kind who, while not especially mean-spirited, nonetheless never questioned “respectable” expressions of bigotry or structural forms of racism.

When I was in ninth grade, a friend’s mother—who was a rabid Right Winger—seemed to sense my hunger to belong to something bigger and more powerful than myself. (For me, church and the Girl Scouts weren’t the answer.) She swept me into the 1964 campaign. As a young Goldwater Girl, I read endless right-wing screeds, poured hundreds of cups of campaign ginger ale (from promotional cans labeled “Gold Water”), and tromped from rally to meeting to state convention, alternately absorbing and parroting warnings about impending racial and communist doom.

The author prepares to ride her decorated bicycle with a contingent of Teen Age Republicans (TARs) in the Colorado State Fair Parade, circa 1964

The author prepares to ride her decorated bicycle with a contingent of Teen Age Republicans (TARs) in the Colorado State Fair Parade, circa 1964. Photo courtesy of Kay Whitlock.

Tailor-made for people anxious about their futures, Goldwater’s campaign was steeped in the fear of enemies. Civil Rights agitation, court rulings, and litigation constituted a criminal assault on individual liberty and states’ rights. The Civil Rights movement would produce a federal police state in which people, both Black and White, would lose the freedom to live their lives as they choose (that is, in segregation). Protest was framed as a breakdown of moral order and an indicator of criminal unrest. Such “welfare state” initiatives as Medicare (proposed at the time, but not yet enacted into law) and Social Security (longstanding) could only foster pathological and parasitical dependencies—primarily in Black communities, we understood. But vicariously, through Goldwater, we would beat back those enemies. We would win.

Liberals cheered Goldwater’s epic defeat. But their glee was misplaced. Even in losing, Goldwater changed mainstream political possibilities. He’d been willing to wage tactical nuclear warfare. His campaign helped set the stage for what would become the Republican “Southern Strategy,” which refined racist dog whistling to an art and ultimately delivered the historically Democratic South to the GOP. Fear, resentment, and the presumption of superiority were the glues that bonded people, including me, to his campaign. Paradoxically, to supporters, those sentiments had felt comforting, even hopeful. I was stunned by the magnitude of the loss, though I tried not to show it—our family ethos was “never let them see you hurting because they’ll think you’re weak.” That liberal glee, stamping me once again as a loser, cut to the quick.

My arc toward a more progressive direction began in 1965, during my last two years of high school, thanks to one courageous classmate and three remarkable teachers who challenged me to reconsider my views. They did it individually, in a multitude of ways, including sharing their own beliefs and telling me more about themselves. I never felt singled out as their conversion project. While often putting me uncomfortably on the spot, they were never demonizing, ridiculing, or demeaning. No one tried to tell me what I should believe. They listened as much as they talked.

One teacher said that if I could draw on credible sources to back up my arguments about Vietnam, and the history of French and American presence there, he would, every day for a week, announce before the class that I was right and he was wrong. After sequestering myself in the public library for many hours, I came away with piles of research that refuted my beliefs. But my teacher didn’t laugh at me. Rather, we sat together one day after class, and I talked to him about how much it meant that he took me seriously. When I could so easily have been a symbolic representation of everything they held in contempt, my classmate and these teachers looked more deeply and, with no guarantees, reached for the most human and the best in me. And at some point, I started to reach back.

The Goldwater folks taught me to build community by defining myself against enemies, but when you do that, you’re always anxious about anyone who isn’t just like you.

I began to see what was obvious, but what I’d never really paid attention to before. Poverty was widespread in my hometown, and it was intensely raced, as was every aspect of civic, social and economic life. The Red Scare was a way to avoid facing injustice at home while barricading yourself against danger and creating a military on steroids. The Goldwater folks taught me to build community by defining myself against enemies, but when you do that, you’re always anxious about anyone who isn’t just like you. There had to be a better way to exist in the world. These realizations gave me the motivation and psychic space in which to re-examine my (increasingly shaky) convictions—to see my community, and the world and other people, through new lenses.

It’s excruciating to feel your own edifice of defense begin to crumble, to see your own beliefs, assumptions, and behaviors in a clearer, harsher, light. But those three teachers and that classmate made it possible for me to come through it without feeling so cornered that I had no choice but to hit back out of anger and shame. What could have been only mortifying was instead mortifying and transformative, within a context of building genuine, trustworthy relationships.

This is why I think it’s so important to try, as progressives, to compete for the part of Trump’s audience that may be reachable. People didn’t write me off. I must do the same.

Beyond Goldwater, Wallace, and Trump

In 1968, in the wake of the assassinations of King and Kennedy, so-called “race riots” broke out in more than 100 U.S. cities. Anti-war protesters at the Democratic National Convention were met with violent responses from Chicago police. And George Wallace ran for president as an independent. Although he ultimately lost, I was shocked by how much support he elicited in my hometown, then a reliably Democratic stronghold. (I shouldn’t have been. The political center was already shifting to the right. Nixon won the local vote that year.)
georgewallaceAlthough many of Wallace’s supporters were openly racist, some people I knew personally were not and did not think of themselves as bigoted. But most of them, including many of the same blue-collar people who’d voted for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, were responding to the racial and economic anxieties that formed the taproot of Wallace’s campaign. Where Goldwater had stood at something of a remove from working class White people—relying on coded phrasing to convey his racial views, largely ignoring class—Wallace spoke bluntly and emotionally, directing his message to blue collar Whites in ways that honored them, even as they reinforced racist themes.
From the outside, Wallace’s right-wing populist crusade looked like nothing more than crude demagoguery. But people I knew who supported Wallace felt that he alone understood their struggles and fears. The local steel mill, a huge employer, was already feeling the discomfiting stirrings of what, in a little more than a decade, would become a full-fledged steel market crash. Simultaneously, an emergent Chicano movement for cultural self-determination, political and economic power, and reclamation of stolen lands was making itself known. Anglo supremacist norms were being challenged. The world they knew was coming apart, and they desperately wanted someone to put it back together. In Wallace’s vision, their lives became meaningful, their futures more hopeful. Unlike Goldwater, Wallace played directly to people whose lives were of no concern to those who dominated the political discourse.

Rachel Maddow compared the George Wallace campaign of 1968 with the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump on MSNBC.

Rachel Maddow compared the George Wallace campaign of 1968 with the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump on MSNBC.

I see so much of Wallace in Trump. Like the former governor, Trump has an instinct for tapping the same racial and economic anxieties in emotionally-charged and, to many, compelling ways. But ghost stories, whether told by the Right or the Left, only amplify anxiety. They don’t produce more just societies. Demonizing Trump’s followers won’t dismantle White supremacy, or transform an oppressive criminal legal system, or produce the kind of economic justice that extends beyond the middle class. (Nor will a Democratic victory produce these things just because it stands in opposition to Trump. But that’s a discussion for another time.)

Somebody’s got to do the work of engaging ordinary White folks who support Trump, as well as other right-wing agendas.

Somebody’s got to do the work of engaging ordinary White folks who support Trump, as well as other right-wing agendas, and initiatives from both major parties that solidify the racial and economic status quo. If we don’t, right-wing populism will reappear again and again, in forms that have evolved to adapt to changing conditions. White people—including me—bear primary responsibility for this task.

It’s not sexy work. It requires a kind of radical compassion that resists the easy politics of contempt and dehumanization. And it can’t be our only work. Even as we compete, with imagination and persistence, for the loyalty of blue collar and working class White people, we must balance that with support for anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia struggles, immigrants’ rights, Indigenous sovereignty, environmental protection, and more.

It would be so much easier to simply distance ourselves from people we’ve come to regard as bigoted, benighted, and lost—the “basket of deplorables,” if you will. But “easier” never created political transformation. And believe me, as someone whose almost 50 years of progressive activism speaks to the power of engagement with real human beings rather than demonized ghosts, I know that it can be done.

About the Author

Kay Whitlock is a writer and activist who has been involved with racial, gender, queer, and economic justice movements since 1968. She is coauthor of Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics with Michael Bronski, the award-winning Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States with Joey L. Mogul and Andrea J. Ritchie, and cofounder and contributing editor for the weekly Criminal Injustice series at CriticalMassProgress.com. She lives in Missoula, Montana.

World Congress of Families Descends on Africa

Poster for next week's African Regional Conference on Families.

Poster for the African Regional Conference on Families scheduled to take place in Nairobi next week.

Next week, the World Congress of Families (WCF) will host a regional conference in Nairobi, Kenya. For several years, PRA has tracked and reported on the WCF’s role in the U.S. Religious Right’s global export of homophobia and sexism, and the organization’s increasing focus on Africa is of grave concern.

WCF’s international convenings function as key sites of right-wing strategy development and dissemination. From its headquarters in Rockford, Illinois, WCF and its member organizations use deceptive “pro-family” rhetoric to promote conservative ideologies that dictate who counts as “family,” and who doesn’t (that is, any and all “nontraditional” families such as those constructed by single parents, same-sex couples, grandparents, non-biological guardians, etc.). These ideologies are then codified into regressive laws and policies that criminalize LGBTQ people and abortion, condoning and promoting the ongoing persecution, oppression, and violence experienced by women and LGBTQ people around the world.

WCF’s presence in Kenya has the potential to do real damage in a country that has been in the crosshairs of the U.S. Christian Right for many years. In 2010, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) opened an office in Nairobi, just as Kenya was debating a new constitution that included controversial addendums to its penal code regarding abortion. As Mother Jones reported, the ACLJ, founded by American televangelist Pat Robertson, “was among the most vocal opponents of the new constitution,” pledging to spend “tens of thousands of dollars” on the effort to defeat the constitution. Speaking to Christianity Today about the establishment of the “East African Center for Law and Justice” (ACLJ’s Nairobi branch), the group’s then-director of international operations, Jordan Sekulow, explained, “We’re looking long-term in Kenya because it’s such an influential country throughout Africa.”

Though abortion remains illegal, the new constitution—which was approved by a 67 percent majority—carved out exceptions if “in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” Despite these allowances, quality maternal health care and safe and legal abortion services remain largely inaccessible in Kenya.

Reporting on the aftermath of Kenya’s constitutional referendum, the progressive group Catholics for Choice warned, “[E]xternal forces, predominantly US evangelists, maintain a disproportionate level of influence in Kenya, beyond the debate on abortion. Ample political and financial resources allowed U.S. fundamentalists and anti-reproductive rights groups to establish offices in Kenya and recruit local staff. This presence might yet prove to be a springboard for more aggressive action in other parts of Africa. The activities of these outside religious groups should be closely watched, as they are placed to continue advancing their agenda to deny access to sexual and reproductive health services needed by many.”

Indeed, the influence of the U.S. Christian Right continues to wreak havoc in Kenya. As PRA’s senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma notes, WCF’s upcoming African Regional Conference on Families “may be called African in name only.” As Kaoma argues, “It is a U.S. conservative conference on African soil.”

The African Regional Conference on Families is scheduled to take place at the Hotel Intercontinental in Naiborbi, Kenya on September 22-24, 2016. (Image: conference promotional video available at https://youtu.be/CCw4Z9KqDdo)

The African Regional Conference on Families is scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya on September 22-24, 2016. (Image: Conference promotional video available at https://youtu.be/CCw4Z9KqDdo)

The headlining speakers at WCF events are typically high-profile leaders of the U.S. Christian Right who are uniformly pursuant of an international anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ agenda. In the case of the upcoming Nairobi conference, Sharon Slater, President of Arizona-based Family Watch International, and Don Feder, WCF’s Director of Coalitions, will both be speaking. Additionally, Michael Hichborn, President of the right-wing Lepanto Institute, will present on behalf of the Population Research Institute. Hichborn, a Catholic anti-abortion activist based in Virginia, has referred to homosexuality as a “disordered condition” comparable to kleptomania and alcoholism and warns, “Western civilisation is on the brink of a moral implosion.”

In his foreword to Kaoma’s 2012 exposé, “Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa,” PRA’s Executive Director Tarso Luis Ramos wrote:

In Black Skin, White Masks French-Algerian psychiatrist and anti-colonial activist Frantz Fanon famously wrote of the colonized African’s aspiration to imitate the culture and manners of White colonizers. Sixty years later, we find White Christian Right neocolonialists seeking legitimacy through a process of Africanizing the local leadership of their operations and leveling charges of neocolonialism against Western governments and international human rights groups when they advocate for the human rights of women and LGBTQ people. This tactical inversion of the colonial relationships described by Fanon might aptly be characterized as “White skin, Black masks.”

As Kaoma observes, “The upcoming WCF conference confirms PRA’s research on the Christian Right’s attempts to hide behind African faces. By whitewashing its activities with African masks, U.S. conservative organizations are transforming African sexual politics. ”

Ann Kioko is WCF’s newest mask-wearer, joining Theresa Okafor, WCF’s African regional director. Kioko, who describes homosexuality as a “learned behaviour” imported from the West, is president of the African Organization for Families and WCF’s lead conference organizer. She has worked for U.S. Christian Right groups such Culture of Life, Human Life International, and previously worked as the Program Manager for the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum, a partner organization of the East African Center for Law and Justice.

Another concerning speaker on the schedule is Stephen Langa, founder and executive director of Family Life Network Uganda. In March 2009, Langa hosted the infamous “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda,” which featured several U.S. Christian Right speakers, including Massachusetts-based American pastor Scott Lively. Lively’s presentation provided the raw material for what would become Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (commonly referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill due to death penalty clauses in the original draft).

When a draft of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB) initially came before Parliament in April 2009, Langa was among a handful of religious leaders singled out by Deputy Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga to help advance the legislation. Langa was later indicted as one of four Ugandan co-conspirators in an ongoing U.S. federal lawsuit brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda, an LGBTQI advocacy group, against Scott Lively for “crimes against humanity.”

Langa, who hosted a service in 2013 to “celebrate the passing of the AHB into law and for preserving the sovereignty of our Nation,” sees his crusade against LGBTQI people as “a conflict between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God.” Now he’s helping to stoke the flames of that Western neocolonial crusade to Kenya.

Behind the Black masks of African fronts like Langa and Kioko, American activists like Slater, Feder, Hichborn, and other White, U.S. Christian Right stakeholders can gain access to politicians, religious authorities, and civic leaders. The organizers in Kenya have already indicated that Phyllis Kandie, Cabinet Secretary for Kenya’s Ministry of East African Community, Labour and Social Protection will be attending, and the agenda includes a closed door meeting exclusively for conference speakers, members of parliament, and dignitaries.

According to Kaoma, “Hiding behind African masks is the most effective route to Africa’s corridors of power.” WCF has observed this neocolonial dynamic, too, and is now positioning itself in Kenya to take full advantage of it, using a strategy that’s eerily similar to the formula documented by PRA in the lead up to Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill.

Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight

This article appears in the Summer 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

In June 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held a private meeting with conservative movement leaders to plot his political future. Attendees afterwards cast him in the role of Ronald Reagan, who’d lost the 1976 Republican presidential nomination to Gerald Ford but led a conservative comeback in 1980 that made Jimmy Carter a one-term president. The thinking was that Cruz did well enough in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries before losing to celebrity billionaire Donald Trump that he could plan to run again in 2020 or 2024. “He was with kindred spirits,” said Brent Bozell, the conservative activist who hosted the meeting, “and I would say most people in that room see him as the leader of the conservative movement.”1

Many within the conservative movement view Cruz as the new Reagan. Photo edited. Original Photos by JBrazito and Gage Skidmore via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Some within the conservative movement view Cruz as the new Reagan. (Photo edited. Original Photos by JBrazito and Gage Skidmore via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

The rise of Ted Cruz is a singular event in American political history. The son of a Cuban refugee and evangelical pastor, Cruz was raised in the kind of evangelicalism-with-a-theocratic-bent that has come to epitomize a significant and growing trend in American public life. That is, dominionism: a dynamic ideology that arose from the swirls and eddies of American evangelicalism to animate the Christian Right, and become a defining feature of modern politics and culture.

Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological camp, means, or timetable, God has called conservative Christians to exercise dominion over society by taking control of political and cultural institutions. The term describes a broad tendency across a wide swath of American Christianity. People who embrace this idea are referred to as dominionists. Although Chip Berlet, then of Political Research Associates, and I defined and popularized the term for many in the 1990s2, in fact it had (along with the term dominion theology) been in use by both evangelical proponents and critics for many years.3

Dominionism Defined (click to expand)
Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological view, means, or timetable, Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.

Analyst Chip Berlet and I have suggested that there is a dominionist spectrum running from soft to hard as a way of making some broad distinctions among dominionists without getting mired in theological minutiae.106 But we also agree that:

  1. Dominionists celebrate Christian nationalism, in that they believe that the United States once was, and should once again be, a Christian nation. In this way, they deny the Enlightenment roots of American democracy.
  2. Dominionists promote religious supremacy, insofar as they generally do not respect the equality of other religions, or even other versions of Christianity.
  3. Dominionists endorse theocratic visions, insofar as they believe that the Ten Commandments, or “biblical law,” should be the foundation of American law, and that the U.S. Constitution should be seen as a vehicle for implementing biblical principles.107

Of course, Christian nationalism takes a distinct form in the United States, but dominionism in all of its variants has a vision for all nations.

In many ways, Ted Cruz personifies the story of dominionism: how it became the ideological engine of the Christian Right, and how it illuminates the changes underway in American politics, culture and religion that have helped shape recent history.

Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, who served as his son’s principal campaign surrogate during his senate and presidential campaigns, has been a profound and colorful influence. The elder Cruz was a member of the Texas board of the Religious Roundtable,4 a leading Christian Right organization of the late 1970s.5 “Our conversation around the dinner table centered around politics—as to why we had to get rid of this leftist progressive called Jimmy Carter,” Rafael Cruz told an interviewer. “Ted got a dose of conservative politics from a biblical worldview for a whole year when he was nine years old.”6 That was the year the Religious Roundtable hosted the historic National Affairs Briefing conference in Dallas. It was held in tandem with the 1980 Republican National Convention, and attended by some 17,000 conservative Christians. It was there that Ronald Reagan famously declared: “I know you can’t endorse me, but I endorse you and what you are doing.”7

Some see Ted Cruz as not only following in the footsteps of Reagan, but fulfilling a religious destiny. “Talk to me about your son and his rise. This must be a thing of God. It’s meteoric,” David Brody, chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, asked Rafael Cruz in an interview in 2013, during Ted’s first year as senator8. Evangelical historian John Fea explained why Cruz might be viewed this way. During a sermon at the New Beginnings church in Bedford, Texas, in 2012, Rafael had described his son’s Senate campaign as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy that “God would anoint Christian ‘kings’ to preside over an ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ from the wicked to the righteous.”

“According to his father and [New Beginnings Pastor Larry] Huch, Ted Cruz is anointed by God to help Christians in their effort to “go to the marketplace and occupy the land … and take dominion” over it, Fea continued. “This ‘end-time transfer of wealth’ will relieve Christians of all financial woes, allowing true believers to ascend to a position of political and cultural power in which they can build a Christian civilization. When this Christian nation is in place (or back in place), Jesus will return.”9

Ted Cruz's religious political conservatism comes largely from his Father's belief in Evangelical Seven Mountains dominionism. Photo by CBN News

Ted Cruz’s religious political ambitions owe much to his father’s belief in Seven Mountains dominionism. (Photo by CBN News)

Rafael Cruz and Huch have long embraced a strain of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains dominionism, which calls for believers to take control over seven leading aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business, and government. The name is derived from the biblical book of Isaiah 2:2 (New King James Version): “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Seven Mountains dominionism (popularly abbreviated as 7M) emerged in the 2000s through a campaign in the form of popular books, videos, sermons, and seminars.10 It has spread like wildfire across Pentecostalism ever since.

The Cruzes are close to Christian nationalist author and longtime Texas Republican leader David Barton, who headed a super PAC in support of Cruz’s presidential bid. Barton embraces 7M11 even while disingenuously12 claiming the term dominionism is an invention of liberals intended to smear Christians. “It’s like saying ‘Oh, you’re a Nazi, oh, you’re an anti-Semite, you’re a bigot, you’re a racist, you’re a Dominionist,’” he said in a 2011 radio broadcast.13

Ted Cruz has, perhaps shrewdly, neither publicly affirmed nor denied the dominionism that surrounds him. He is a longtime member of a prominent Houston Baptist congregation, but his embrace of the dominionist vision is evident to those who are paying attention. When Cruz speaks of religious liberty, says John Fea, he means it as “a code word for defending the right of Christians to continue to hold cultural authority and privilege.” Cruz, according to Fea, is engaged in the “dominionist battle” of our time.14

When Cruz speaks of religious liberty, says John Fea, he means it as “a code word for defending the right of Christians to continue to hold cultural authority and privilege.”

All of this was pretty hot stuff and dominionism would no doubt have become more of an issue had Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign lasted longer. But Cruz is 45 years old in 2016 and appears to have a bright—and perhaps historic—political future. He won statewide office on his first try and has benefited from being underestimated. Since arriving in the Senate in 2103, he has made a show of sticking to his principles, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. But following his presidential run, Cruz is now one of the best known politicians in the country and possible heir- apparent to the Reagan revolution. No small achievement for a freshman senator.

Meanwhile Cruz and other national pols comprise the tip of a very large, but hard to measure political iceberg. There are untold numbers of dominionist and dominionism-influenced politicians and public officials at all levels of government and who even after leaving office, shape our political discourse. Roy Moore, the elected Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has been a rallying figure for dominionists of all stripes for the better part of two decades. Most recently, he has led efforts to exempt Alabama from federal court ordered compliance with marriage equality, citing his view of “God’s law.” Moore’s fellow Alabaman, Justice Tom Parker, has been on the court since 2004, and has employed theocratic legal theorist John Eidsmoe as his chief of staff.15 Others at the top of recent American political life have included Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee,16 and Newt Gingrich.17 Other prominent elected officials in the dominionist camp include Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-TX),18 Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS),19 Sen. James Lankford (R-OK),20 and Rep. Steve King (R-IA).21

Prominent politicians’ involvement in dominionism is certainly the most visible evidence of the movement’s advances over the past half-century, but it’s not the only result. Dominionism is a story not widely or well understood. Because this is so, it is important to know what dominionism is and where it came from, so we can see it more clearly and better understand its contemporary significance.

Two Streams into the Mainstream

There are two main expressions of dominionism, each influential far beyond their foundational thinkers. Briefly, Christian Reconstructionism, founded by the late theologian R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) advances the idea that Christians must not only dominate society, but institute and enforce Old Testament biblical law. Unlike the doctrines developed within specific denominations, Christian Reconstructionism has been a movement of ideas that transcends denominations and has influenced far more people than those who ever adopted the label. One of the movement’s main contributions has been to provide a biblical rationale for political action for the Christian Right and a theory of government and public policy development.

Christian Reconstructionism has been a movement of ideas that transcends denominations and has influenced far more people than those who ever adopted the label.

Religion scholar Michael McVicar has found that Rushdoony’s writings began to reflect an interest in dominion in the late 1950s.22 His vision of how to bring forth “dominion men,” via advancement of a “Biblical worldview” helped lead conservative evangelicals towards aggressive political engagement since the 1970s. Rushdoony is also credited with laying the foundation for, among other things, the modern homeschooling movement and fighting for maximum latitude for private Christian schools on issues like accreditation—normally a matter of government oversight, but something Rushdoony compared to government tyranny.23

The other main strain of contemporary dominionism (which in turn has also been deeply influenced by Reconstructionism) is 7M dominionism, advocated by Pentecostals of the New Apostolic Reformation.24 7M is rooted in a Pentecostal movement of the 1940s, according to an academic book by John Weaver published in 2015.25 The Latter Rain movement taught that there would be an outpouring of supernatural powers in a coming generation, allowing them to subdue or take dominion over nations. The Latter Rain movement promised this would happen along with the restoration of “the neglected offices in the contemporary church of apostles and prophets.”26 Teachings about the supernatural authority of the apostles have provided key theological and structural elements of contemporary dominionism. These teachings, previously rejected as “deviant” by Pentecostal denominations are now so ubiquitous that they are more tolerated than opposed.27

Latter Rain theology was revived under the under aegis of longtime Fuller Theological Seminary professor C. Peter Wagner, who organized a global network of hundreds of apostles. Many of these apostles lead groups of non-denominational churches and ministries called “apostolic networks,” which sometimes comprise tens of thousands of members. Today, NAR theology and its apostles and prophets have assumed an increasingly high profile in religious and civic life in the U.S. They were well known in the past decade, for example, for mass rallies named TheCall, led by Lou Engle, who is also internationally known for his anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ activism.28 They have also gained political influence. For example, several leading apostles were among the three-dozen “conveners” of a June 2016 meeting at which Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump courted the support of some 1,000 evangelical leaders.29

Within the NAR, the justification for the offices of apostle and prophet is based on the biblical book of Ephesians (4:11). They are said to complement or complete the offices of minister, teacher and evangelist into what is called the “five-fold ministry.” Apostles and prophets are top leaders, usually operating outside of denominations—which they are intent on dissolving in the name of Christian unity. They, respectively, lead these non-denominational networks, and offer guidance with prescient thoughts and sometimes direct revelations from God. Sometimes, the roles are combined.30 This is a very different religious environment than any other sector of Christianity and underscores the way that doctrines among the dominion-minded can be rather fluid, even as they see themselves headed toward the same or similar goals.

Dominionism, even as it evolves, is not a passing fashion but an historic trend.

It is important to underscore that dominionism, even as it evolves, is not a passing fashion but an historic trend. This trend featured fierce theological battles in the 1980s that pitted the largely apolitical pre-millennial dispensationalism that characterized most of 20th century evangelicalism31 against a politicized, dominion-oriented postmillennialism.

The turning point in this theological struggle was the 1973 publication of Rushdoony’s 800-page Institutes of Biblical Law, which offered what he believed was a “foundation” for a future biblically based society, and his vision of generations of “dominion men” advancing the “dominion mandate” described in the biblical book of Genesis.32 The Institutes sought to describe what a biblically-based Christian society would look like. It included a legal code based on the Ten Commandments, and the laws of Old Testament Israel. This included a long list of capital offences—mostly religious or sexual crimes.33 But Rushdoony and other leading Reconstructionists did not believe that “Biblical Law” could be imposed in a top down fashion by a national theocracy. They thought the biblical kingdom would emerge from the gradual conversion of people who would embrace what they consider to be the whole word of God, and that this could take hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of years. Rushdoony and many Reconstructionists also believed strongly in a vastly decentralized form of government. Theorist Gary North writes, for example, that, “It isn’t possible to ramrod God’s blessings from the top down, unless you’re God. Only humanists think that man is God.”34

The Institute of Biblical Law, Vol 2: Law and Society was published by Chalcedon in 1973. Photo by EXILED TV via Youtube

The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol 1 was published in 1973. (Photo by EXILED TV via Youtube)

Nevertheless, Reconstructionist thinkers could not prevent others from feeling a greater sense of urgency about moving up the time-table,35 or from taking dramatic political action, or in the case of anti-abortion activists, even committing vigilante violence.36 Indeed, the Institutes and the Reconstructionist works that followed provided a justification for political action that pulled many evangelicals from the political sidelines and into the fray. They also provided an optimistic theology of inevitable victory, suggesting therefore that political action was not only possible but necessary. In the longer term, it also established the often unacknowledged ideological framing for the Christian Right, the basis for 21st Century politics, and the possibility of a Ted Cruz as a major figure in public life.


The Battle for the Bible

One influential body of Reconstructionist thought was published by Gary North in the mid-1980s. A ten-volume series, called “Biblical Blueprints” and written by different authors, sought to flesh out and update the vision by engaging contemporary matters from education to economics and from politics to divorce. By the late 1980s, a dynamic conversation was well underway about the nature of conservative Christian political action—what it could reasonably expect to accomplish, on what timeframe, by what means, and whether it was necessary at all. These and other Reconstructionist authors were discussed in evangelical leadership circles. But controversy broke out in 1987 following a major critical report in Christianity Today that detailed their theocratic agenda. This article introduced Christian Reconstructionism, and the terms dominion, dominion theology and dominionism to many evangelicals.37 A still wider public learned about Reconstructionism the same year when PBS broadcast a series on the Religious Right by Bill Moyers.38

A still from Bill Moyer's documentary ' God and Politics - On Earth As It Is in Heaven'. Pictured from left to right: Bill Moyers, and Dr. R.J. Rushdoony. Picture via http://billmoyers.com/content/earth-heaven/

A still from Bill Moyer’s documentary ‘God and Politics – On Earth As It Is in Heaven’. Pictured from left to right: Bill Moyers, and Dr. R.J. Rushdoony. (Picture via http://billmoyers.com/content/earth-heaven)

Books by prominent evangelical authors and academics opposing dominion theology soon followed, including one by Hal Lindsey, the bestselling evangelical author of his time.39 Evangelical religious historian Bruce Barron warned of a growing “dominionist impulse.”40

This was perhaps the height of the battle over evangelical theology, in which the premillennial dispensationalist camp—which believed that in the End Times, true Christians would be “raptured” into the clouds, and Jesus would return to defeat the forces of Satan—was challenged by the post-millenialist Christian Reconstructionists—who argued that Jesus could not return until the world had become perfectly Christian and the faithful had ruled for 1,000 years. One of the longstanding consequences of this difference had been that premillennialists were disinclined to political action, while the postmillennial position required it in order to build nations based on biblical principles or even biblical laws. Christian Reconstructionist authors brought an additional and epochal piece to the puzzle, by outlining for the first time what Christian or biblical governance should look like.

An additional strain of dominionist thought has also been deeply influential in the wider evangelical community. The popular 20th century theologian Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) sold some three million books, some of which are still in print. Together with his son Frank, he also made a series of influential films. Schaeffer’s 1981 book, A Christian Manifesto, published at the dawn of the Reagan era, famously served as a catalyst for the evangelical wing of the antiabortion movement, the broader Christian Right, and the creeping theocratization of the Republican Party.41

A Christian Manifesto was published by Crossway Books in 1982. Photo: Crossway Books

A Christian Manifesto was published by Crossway Books in 1982. (Photo: Crossway Books)

Schaeffer advocated massive resistance to what he saw as a looming anti-Christian society. His work inspired dominionist political action even though he claimed to support religious pluralism and oppose overt theocracy. One major difference between Schaffer and the Reconstructionists is that while they agreed about the threat to Christianity, Schaeffer did not believe in the contemporary applicability of Old Testament laws and Rushdoony’s slow motion approach to dominion. Instead, Schaeffer emphasized the need for militant Christian resistance to what he called “tyranny.”

Schaeffer argued that “the common people had the right and duty to disobedience and rebellion if state officials ruled contrary to the Bible. To do otherwise would be rebellion against God.”42

According to historian John Fea, “Schaeffer played an important role in shaping the Christian Right’s belief in a Christian America,” drawing an ideological plumb line from the Bible to the Declaration of Independence, via the theologians of the Protestant Reformation.43 Schaeffer said that the situations that justified revolution against tyranny in the past are “exactly what we are facing today.” The whole structure of our society, Schaeffer concluded, “is being attacked and destroyed.”44

To fight that trend, Schaeffer advocated what he called “co-belligerency”: strategic partnerships that set aside theological differences in order to cooperate on a shared political agenda. (Thirty years later, the best expression of co-belligerency may be the 2009 Manhattan Declaration, a three-part platform declaring “life, marriage and religious liberty” as conservative believers’ defining concerns. This agenda is now shared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, much of the evangelical Christian Right, and allied politicians in the Republican Party.45)

But Schaeffer didn’t articulate a political agenda much beyond the issues of what would later be called the culture war. He believed America was founded as a Christian nation, but he remained in the premillennialist camp and so effectively ceded the playing field of law and public policy to Rushdoony, who offered a standard by which all others would be measured.

Nevertheless, Schaeffer’s work probably caused more people to turn to overt dominionism than any other thought leader before or since. For many, Schaeffer was the beginning of a theological journey from antiabortion activism to dominionism. Randall Terry, the founder of the antiabortion direct action group Operation Rescue, in the 1980s said, “You have to read Schaeffer’s Christian Manifesto if you want to understand Operation Rescue.”46 But by the 90s, he was wondering what would come next. In his own 1995 book, The Sword: The Blessing of Righteous Government and the Overthrow of Tyrants, Terry seemed to supply the answer, demonstrating the influence of his conversations with Gary North.47 “I gladly confess that I want to see civic law in America (and every nation) restored to and based on the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai,” Terry wrote. He considers it to be “flawless, infallible and unimprovable—the very best we could possibly build on.”48

Schaeffer’s work probably caused more people to turn to overt dominionism than any other thought leader before or since.

Although some writers have tended to lump all dominionists together, dominionists have differences and disagreements about means and ends, just like any other movement. (They also change over time.) For example, Rushdoony opposed the civil disobedience advocated by Schaeffer and left the board of the Rutherford Institute, the public interest law firm he had started with John Whitehead, because Whitehead and fellow director Gary North supported the tactic. And while North supported non-violent direct action, he disagreed with the vigilante murder of abortion providers as advocated (and ultimately committed) by fellow Christian Reconstructionist Paul Hill.49

But it is the broad vision that dominionists share that should be of greatest interest and concern to those outside the movement. C. Peter Wagner traces the lineage of his version of dominion theology “through R.J. Rushdoony” and theologians of the Protestant Reformation in his 2008 book, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World.50 Wagner adopted an old concept: “sphere sovereignty,” the idea that all areas of life must be brought under a comprehensive biblical worldview. While Rushdoony called this “theonomy,” Wagner’s 7M theology offered a contemporary version with a Pentecostal twist. (There is some metaphorical flexibility in this sector as the term “mountains” is sometimes used interchangeably with “spheres” or “gates.”) Reflecting the trend away from premillennialism, Wagner emphasized the “primacy” of the cultural (or dominion) mandate, over evangelism.51

7M provides a popularized vision of the reconstructed society that does not require an advanced degree in theology to understand.

Part of the significance of the convergence of these strains of dominionism is that 7M provides a popularized vision of the reconstructed society that does not require an advanced degree in theology to understand. “[W]e have an assignment from God to take dominion and transform society,”52 Wagner simply declares. This break with the archaic and esoteric language of the Latter Rain and Christian Reconstructionist writers, and even Francis Schaeffer, has enabled the dominionist movement to broaden and deepen its reach. This synthesis and more palatable approach was decades in the making. There had been Pentecostal and Reconstructionist dialogues over the years that allowed Reconstructionist thought leaders to see that it was possible get wider swaths of Christianity to adopt their foundational ideas. After one such dialogue in Dallas in 1987,53 Christian Reconstructionist pastor Joseph Morecraft exclaimed, “God is blending Presbyterian theology with Charismatic zeal into a force that cannot be stopped!”54

Dominionism Reframed as Religious Liberty

The emergence of religious liberty as one of the central issues of our time stems from multiple sources.55 But the issue is far from being just a disagreement about how to balance the religious freedom of some with civil and constitutional rights of others. In fact, religious freedom has long been seen by dominionist strategists as a weakness of constitutional democracy that they can exploit to advance their agendas.

The U.S. approach to religious freedom was largely an outgrowth of the thinking of Thomas Jefferson, whose Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom was drafted in 1777, and finally passed under the legislative leadership of James Madison in 1787. The bill, which helped inform the Constitution’s and later the First Amendment’s approach to religion, provided that one’s religious identity “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”56 Dominionist leaders generally recognize that Jeffersonian notions of religious freedom and the society they envision are almost entirely mutually exclusive ideas. So they have chosen to be smart about it.

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty,” Christian Reconstructionist theorist Gary North declared in 1982, “to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”57

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty … to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” – Gary North, 1982

North believes that the Constitution generally, and specifically the proscription against religious tests for public office included in Article 6, are “legal barrier[s] to Christian theocracy.” But he envisions a day when biblically correct Christians gain enough political power to be able to amend the Constitution to limit access to the franchise and civil offices to “communicant members of Trinitarian churches.”58

Rushdoony was not interested in religious freedom except insofar as it had implications for “Christian freedom.” In 1980, after many years of legal advocacy for Christian homeschooling and private schools, Rushdoony asked a protégé, attorney John Whitehead, to create a public interest law firm, the “Christian Rights Foundation.” The organization that emerged was ultimately named the Rutherford Institute, after the 17th century theologian Samuel Rutherford, who asserted that even the King of England must obey God’s laws. The Institute was to be strategic and not parochial. It would represent any kind of Christian and even groups that were “heretical and non-Christian” (the Church of Scientology was mentioned as one example) in cases that would have precedential value for advancing their vision of Christianity.59

Dominionist theorists view the Jeffersonian idea of religious equality under the law as inherently tyrannical. “There are two major stages in the attack on religious liberty,” Rushdoony declared in 1965. “First is the state is secularized in the name of freedom and second, every prerogative of the church is attacked in an indirect manner so that … its right to exist is denied.”60 This is the thinking that informs many contemporary claims of attacks on the religious liberty and fears of persecution by a secular totalitarian government.

Religious liberty arguments, which can at once cloak and advance a conservative religious agenda, are increasingly ubiquitous on the Christian Right, and are sometimes intended to baffle liberals. In 2011, C. Peter Wagner seemed to make a surprising case for religious tolerance to a National Public Radio audience. “I’m sorry that some radicals speak up strongly against having a mosque in their neighborhood,” he said, “and I don’t think that’s patriotism. I think America needs to make room for liberty.”61  But Wagner knows there is no actual room for religious liberty in a dominionist society, as he made clear when the NPR listeners weren’t tuned in:

“Dominion has to do with control. Dominion has to do with rulership,” Wagner declared at an NAR conference in 2008. “Dominion has to do with authority and subduing, and it relates to society. In other words, what the values are in Heaven need to be made manifest here on earth. Dominion means being the head and not the tail. Dominion means ruling as kings. It says in Revelation Chapter 1:6 that He has made us kings and priests—and check the rest of that verse; it says for dominion. So we are kings for dominion.”62

Rushdoony's stream of Dominionism holds that Christians must dominate society, and institute and enforce Old Testament biblical law. Photo by EXILED TV via Youtube

Rushdoony’s stream of Dominionism holds that Christians must dominate society, and institute and enforce Old Testament biblical law. (Photo by EXILED TV via Youtube)

Significantly, Rushdoony and the late Howard Phillips, the Christian Reconstructionist founder of the Constitution Party, did considerable organizing around the Bob Jones University tax case—the cause celebre of the 1970s and early ‘80s that is widely credited with galvanizing the Christian Right as a political movement. In the landmark case of Bob Jones University v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the Greenville, South Carolina-based school was not entitled to federal tax exemption if it maintained its policy against interracial dating. The case epitomized the Reconstructionist and Schaefferite view of the perpetual showdown between a “biblical worldview” and “secular humanism.” The case is a forerunner to today’s efforts to gain exemption from the law based on religious liberty claims.63

Today, the major issues of the culture war have been substantially reframed in terms of religious liberty, as the co-belligerents seek to declare their individual and institutional religious consciences are violated in various ways, and therefore are exempt from what jurists call the “generally applicable laws.” The results have been mixed.

The religious freedom argument deployed against contraception and abortion won a major victory in the Supreme Court case of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, where the court held that closely held corporations have a right to freedom of conscience sufficient for the evangelical family-owned Hobby Lobby chain not to have to include certain contraceptives in their employees’ health insurance.

In the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, religious liberty arguments could not overcome the civil rights argument for marriage equality,64 but similar arguments have informed state-level versions of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which have sometimes sought for example, to exempt businesses from having to provide services related to same-sex marriages.

Dominion by Majority

Dominionist theorists and contemporary leaders know that they need to move carefully, lest they provoke powerful opposition. Some leading dominionists will go so far as to say that they do not seek a theocracy when that is clearly their goal. For example, C. Peter Wagner, in his book, Dominion!, says he wants to get his people “into positions of leadership” to reshape the country “from top to bottom.”65

Dominion!: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World was published by Chosen Books in February 2008. Photo: Chosen Books

Dominion!: How Kingdom Action Can Change the World was published by Chosen Books in February 2008. (Photo: Chosen Books)

Wagner’s successor as the convener of the United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (USCAL), Joseph Mattera, takes the same approach.66 USCAL is one of several NAR leadership groupings that teach that Christians of the right sort must hold governmental power and implement a biblical approach to the law.67

Mattera, who pastors a church in Brooklyn, New York, adds that the historic evangelical goal of universal conversion is unnecessary to achieve dominion. One of the “keys to dominion,” he says, is prolific reproduction and indoctrination of Christian children. Christians, he believes, should seek to multiply faster than those who are limiting the size of their families, so their children would “have more influence… [and]…more votes than anybody else and we would have the most power on the earth.”68 (Mattera’s gradualism is not limited to waiting for babies. His regional Apostolic Leadership team includes Democratic New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera,69 who has also taught at Mattera’s Leadership Institute on waging a “Kingdom Revolution” to advance a “biblical worldview.”70 They waged an unsuccessful Democratic primary effort in 2014 against five candidates in an apparent effort to make the Democratic-dominated Council more conservative.71 Cabrera himself ran an unsuccessful Democratic primary challenge to his incumbent state senator in 2014,72 and tried again in 2016 with backing from charter school development interests.73)

Christian Reconstructionists involved in the natalist Quiverfull movement have a similar view. As Kathryn Joyce explained in Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, they envision themselves producing arrows in God’s quiver in the war for dominion.74 Although certainly not all homeschoolers are Christian dominionists, those who are understand the concept of Quiverfull as a metaphor for their role in this epochal struggle. “The womb is such a powerful weapon,” Nancy Campbell, who has six children and 35 grandchildren, told National Public Radio, “it’s a weapon against the enemy.” Families in her church have an average of 8.5 children. Campbell said, “My greatest impact is through my children. The more children I have, the more ability I have to impact the world for God.”75

Additionally, Quiverfull children are usually homeschooled, and as religion scholar Julie Ingersoll explained in her 2015 book on Reconstructionism, that’s also part of Rushdoony’s long-term plan. As Rushdoony wrote, “the explicit goal of Christian education is dominion.”76 The Reconstructionists, Ingersoll concludes, are building a “separate and distinct subculture in which they can raise their large families without the influence of ‘humanism.’”77

For the Apostles and Prophets who comprise Mattera’s USCAL, 7M roads to dominion are just as clear. The government officials that emerge from their ranks must be informed by a “biblical worldview” and their “every purpose must be to establish or further the Kingdom of Jesus on earth.”78

This may be a less peaceful process than Wagner and some 7M roaders would have us believe. Many dominionists of all stripes anticipate deepening political tensions, violence and even religious or secessionist war, especially in the wake of legal and social acceptance of marriage equality and permanent access to legal abortion.79 Gary North thought this was likely. He predicted in 1989 that as the dominionist movement rose, the idea of constitutionally protected religious pluralism “will be shot to pieces in an ideological (and perhaps even literal) crossfire” as Christians and humanists continue to square off in “an escalating religious war.”80 [emphasis in the original]

One contemporary example will suffice. David Lane, a leading Christian Right electoral organizer, declared in a 2013 essay that religious war may be on the horizon.81 Meanwhile he has shifted the electoral emphasis of his Mississippi-based American Renewal Project. (The group hosts all-expenses paid policy briefings for clergy and their spouses, featuring top politicians like Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Gingrich, Huckabee, Cruz, and often David Barton. Republican presidential contender Donald Trump addressed one such event in August 2016.82) They are currently recruiting and training clergy with a dominionist vision to run for office at all levels.83 Lane’s own pastor, Rob McCoy, won a city council seat in Thousand Oaks, California, in 2016.84 Lane’s vision is clear: “I don’t think there’s any such thing as a separation of church and state. This was not established as a secular nation, and anybody that says that it is, they’re not reading American history. This was established by Christians for the advancement of the Christian faith. My goal is to return—to restore a biblically based culture and a Judeo-Christian heritage.”85

Ted and Rafael Cruz along with David Barton at the Pastor’s Conference, Iowa Renewal Project, Marriott Hotel, Des Moines, Iowa, July 19 & 20, 2013. (Photo by Bruce Wilson via Youtube)

Lane reprised the theme of his inflammatory essay in dog whistle fashion in 2015, invoking the names of two warriors of Old Testament Israel. “We just need a Gideon or Rahab the Harlot to stand,” he declared.86 But one does not invoke these biblical figures to call for religious revival, elect candidates to city council, or to advance a legislative agenda. The biblical Gideon leads an Israelite army in an ethnic cleansing of the Midianites who were oppressors and worshiped false gods. (Lane’s piece was titled, “To Retake America, We Must Defeat Her False Religion.”) Rahab sheltered two Israelite spies in preparation for the sacking of the city of Jericho by Joshua’s army, resulting in the massacre of everyone but Rahab and her family.

It is worth noting that NAR events often begin with processions of young men marching to the military beat of drums and blowing Shofars—ram horns used for battle signals in ancient Israel.87

The Smears of August

The election of 2008 saw the first major party candidate for national office who had been obviously influenced by dominionist thought. GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a longtime member of an NAR-affiliated church, and had been mentored in politics by Alaskan Apostle Mary Glazier for two decades. The revelation of these ties when Palin came onto the national stage resulted in explosive, if short-lived, media attention.88

Sarah Palin's vice presidential candidacy highlights Dominionism's influence on GOP thinking. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sarah Palin’s vice presidential candidacy highlights Dominionism’s influence on GOP thinking. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

Controversy erupted again in the run up to the 2012 election primary season. Media reports about dominionist influences on GOP presidential contenders Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX)89 threatened to make dominionism a household word. It was reported that, among other things, Bachmann’s law school mentor at Oral Roberts University was Christian Reconstructionist John Eidsmoe.90 (Reconstructionist Herb Titus also served on the school’s small law school faculty.) And leading NAR figures staged an unprecedented prayer rally of some 30,000 people in Houston to launch Gov. Perry’s campaign, to which even C. Peter Wagner traveled from Colorado to attend.

The thought that dominionism might become an issue in the presidential campaign must have sent Republican-oriented PR shops into panic mode. Journalists, scholars and activists who had written about dominionism were soon subjected to a wide-ranging smear campaign that featured nationally syndicated columnists from The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.91 This effort sought to discredit the idea that dominionism was a real thing or, even if real, that it was of much significance. The real purpose of those using the term, the columnists alleged, was to tar evangelicals. Lisa Miller of the Post wrote, “‘Dominionism’ is the paranoid mot du jour.”92 Bachmann and Perry’s campaigns ultimately lost traction for other reasons. And in spite of many vigorous responses to the columnists’ pooh poohery,93 media coverage of dominionism collapsed even as dominionist thought continued to animate and sustain the Christian Right.

Dominionism denial exists within a wider context of a culture of doubt and denial about the strength and resiliency of the Christian Right itself.94 It can be difficult to take dominionism seriously if you think that the movement it drives is dead, dying, or deeply diminished. That said, it is also true that some writers use have used the term dominionism as an all-purpose epithet and have thereby unfairly broad-brushed people who do not embrace the harsh theocratic future envisioned by some.

But these distracting outliers are not as significant as the writing about dominionism from a wide variety of points of view that has been published over more than four decades. For example, in 1996, Rice University sociologist William Martin published With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America as a companion volume to the PBS documentary series by the same title.95 Authors of hundreds of books96 and articles97 have discussed dominionism before and since 2011. (Dominionism denial nevertheless resurfaced as Ted Cruz’s presidential prospects rose in 2016 and the role of dominionism began to be discussed.98)

In any case, ideas about dominion, dominionism, and dominion theology and the terms themselves, have been a central part of the discussion of evangelicalism and the development of the Christian Right for decades. This will continue, regardless of what politically motivated dominionism denialists may publish next.

Deliver us from Hillary

Dominionism now appears to be a permanent feature of politics at all levels. For three presidential elections in a row, dominionist politicians have played prominent roles. Following Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin in 2008, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in 2012, and the remarkable run of Ted Cruz in 2016, dominionists are among the most prominent politicians in the country and enjoy significant public support and acceptance as a legitimate part of the political mix.

dominionists are among the most prominent politicians in the country and enjoy significant public support and acceptance as a legitimate part of the political mix.

While Senator Cruz’s campaign was supported by leading NAR figures and most other Christian Right leaders, there was always a Plan B as well. One NAR prophet said God had told him in July 2015 that he will use Donald Trump to “expose darkness and perversion.”99 Donald Trump also enjoyed significant support from other Christian Right figures, notably 7M theorist Lance Wallnau (who also sits on the board of an NAR political arm, the Oak Initiative100).

Wallnau sought to explain the paradox of evangelical Christians supporting Trump from early on even though he didn’t seem like a good fit. Trump, as has been much discussed, was a longtime supporter of abortion and LGBTQ rights, a thrice-married philanderer, a failed casino magnate with ties to organized crime,101 and someone whose Christian credentials were dubious at best. Nevertheless, Wallnau suggested that God could use Trump to achieve his purposes even though he was a flawed vessel. Wallnau recalled the story of Cyrus, the King of Persia in the biblical book of Isaiah who, as had been earlier prophesied, freed the Jews who had been captive in Babylon for 70 years, and helped to build the temple in Jerusalem. God used the pagan Cyrus, as Wallnau put it, as a “wrecking ball” for his purposes.102 Wallnau thought God would use Trump to challenge “an increasingly hostile anti-Christian culture”103 and “deliver us from Hillary.”104

Some dominionists believe God will use Trump to deliver them from a liberal Clinton. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Some dominionists believe God will use Trump to deliver them from a liberal Clinton. (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr. License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)

Wallnau’s story makes clear that at least some 7Mers do not require moral or doctrinal conformity to accept someone as a co-belligerent, or even as a leader, as long as they can help  get them part of the way down the road to dominion. It also underscores that while the various doctrines feeding into the dominionist movement are clear, the degree to which they are adopted, and the means and timeline by which dominionists may seek to achieve their goals, will vary according to individual and factional interests.

Dominionism, like the Christian Right itself, has come a long way from obscure beginnings. What is remarkable today is that the nature of this driving ideology of the Christian Right remains obscure to most of society, most of the time. Dominionism’s proponents and their allies know it takes time to infuse their ideas into the constituencies most likely to be receptive. They also know it is likely—and rightly—to alarm many others.

What is remarkable today is that the nature of this driving ideology of the Christian Right remains obscure to most of society, most of the time.

Religion scholar Michael McVicar recounts an illuminating anecdote from that pivotal 1980 gathering of the Religious Roundtable addressed by Ronald Reagan. During the meeting, Robert Billings, one of the founders of the Moral Majority, privately observed to Gary North that, “If it weren’t for his [Rushdoony’s] books, none of us would be here.” North replied, “No one in the audience understands that.” Billings replied, “True. But we do.”

“Insiders knew about Rushdoony’s influence, even if the rank and file did not,” McVicar concludes. That continues to be true. The role of dominionism is largely hidden in plain sight from those most affected, on all sides.105


1 Jonathan Swan, “Top conservatives meet at secret dinner to discuss Cruz’s future,” The Hill, June 15, 2016.

2 See Chip Berlet, “How We Coined the Term “Dominionism”, Daily Kos, September 2011,

3 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pgs. 197-206.

4 Jonathan Tilove, “For evangelical voters, Rafael Cruz may be Ted’s best apostle,” Austin American-Statesman, July 31, 2015,

5 William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, Broadway Books, 1996, Pg. 199.

6 David Brody, “Like Father, Like Son: The Man Ted Cruz Calls ‘Hero,’” Christian Broadcasting Network, May 1, 2015,

7 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pg. 144; Sara Diamond, Roads to Dominion: Rightwing Movements and Political Power in the United States, The Guilford Press, 1995. Pg. 233.

8 Jonathan Tilove, “For evangelical voters, Rafael Cruz may be Ted’s best apostle,” Austin American-Statesman, July 31, 2015,

9 John Fea, Religion News Service, “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America,” The Washington Post, February 4, 2016. See also, John Fea, “The Theology of Ted Cruz: Questions raised by the candidate’s God-and-country vision,” Christianity Today, April 1, 2016.

10 Notably: Johnny Enlow, The Seven Mountain Prophecy: Unveiling the Coming Elijah Revolution, Creation House, 2008; and Lance Wallnau, The 7 Mountain Mandate: Impacting Culture Discipling Nations, DVD, Morningstar, August, 2009.

11 Kyle Mantyla, “David Barton Advocates Seven Mountains Dominionism,” RightWingWatch, April 4, 2011. See also John Fea, Religion News Service, “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America,” The Washington Post, February 4, 2016.

12 Kyle Mantyla, “It Is Dominion We Are After. World Conquest … And We Must Never Settle For Anything Less,” Right Wing Watch, August 26, 2011, .

13 Kyle Mantyla, “Barton: ‘Dominionism’ Just A Term Made Up To Smear Christians,” Right Wing Watch, November 1, 2011.

14 John Fea, Religion News Service, “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America,” The Washington Post, February 4, 2016.

15 Nina Martin, “This Alabama Judge Has Figured Out How to Dismantle Roe v. Wade: His writings fuel the biggest threat to abortion rights in a generation,” Pro-Publica, October 10, 2014.

16 Julie Ingersoll, “Huckabee Channels Rushdoony,” Religion Dispatches, April 8, 2011.

17 Peter Montgomery, “Why Newt Gingrich is Christian Nationalists’ Dream Veep,” RightWingWatch, July 7, 2016; Bruce Wilson, “Gingrich In Video Which Claims the Constitution Is Based On the Old Testament,” Huffington Post, March 4, 2012; Mariah Blake, “Newt’s Last Prayer: Christian Dominionists Go Gingrich: The candidate’s most useful supporters have been evangelicals who believe that government should be rooted in biblical law,” The Nation, February 28, 2012.

18 David R. Brockman, “The Radical Theology That Could Make Religious Freedom a Thing of the Past: Even devout Christians should fear these influential leaders’ refusal to separate church and state,” The Texas Observer, June 2, 2016.

19 Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, Spring 2013.

20 Eric W. Dolan, “Oklahoma’s senator-elect to use ‘biblical worldview’ to defeat the national debt,” Raw Story, November 7, 2014.

21 Kyle Mantyla, “Steve King Proves That America is a Christian Nation,” RightWingWatch, May 31, 2013.

22 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pgs. 124-125.

23 Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pgs. 91-97.

24 Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, Spring 2013.

25 John Weaver, The New Apostolic Reformation: History of a Modern Charismatic Movement, McFarland &Company, 2016. See also, Rachel Tabachnick, “Dominionism Taught By Forerunners of the New Apostolic Reformation Since the Late 1940s,” Talk to Action, November 3, 2011, and Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pgs. 199-201.

26 Jack W. Hayford, The Charismatic Century: The Enduring Impact of the Azusa Street Revival, Warner Faith, 2006). p. 182-183. See also, Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, Spring 2013.

27 Rachel Tabachnick, “Dominionism Taught By Forerunners of the New Apostolic Reformation Since the Late 1940s,” Talk to Action, November 3, 2011.

28 Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, Spring 2013.

29 Tim Alberta, “Top Evangelicals Send Invites for Trump Meeting,” National Review, May 24, 2016. Participating NAR leaders included Joseph Mattera, Cindy Jacobs, Harry Jackson, Steve Fedyski, and Jim Garlow.

30 John Weaver, The New Apostolic Reformation: History of a Modern Charismatic Movement, McFarland &Company, 2016. Pgs. 261, 266 and passim.

31 See for example, Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997. Pgs. 97-103; Fritz Detwiler, Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right’s Fight to Redefine America’s Public Schools, New York University Press, 1999. Pgs. 134-136; 242.

32 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pg. 5 and passim.

33 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997. Pg. 81; Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pgs. 230-231.

34 Gary North, “What Are Biblical Blueprints?,” January 26, 2016.

35 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997. Pg. 90.

36 When journalist Jerry Reiter infiltrated the ranks of antiabortion militancy, future assassin Paul Hill was surprised that he had never heard of R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North. Jerry Reiter, Live from the Gates of Hell: An Insider’s Look at the Antiabortion Underground, Prometheus Books, 2000. Pgs. 34-36.

37 Rodney Clapp, “Democracy as Heresy,” Christianity Today, February 20, 1987.

38 Bill Moyers, “On Earth As It Is In Heaven,” December 23, 1987. (Film clip includes quotes from Rushdoony interview, plus transcript of the show.)

39 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pg. 204.

40 Bruce Barron, Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology, Zondervan Publishing House, 1992; See also, Chip Berlet, “The Christian Right, Dominionism, and Theocracy – Part Three,” Talk to Action, December 12, 2005.

41 Charles S. Broomfield, Francis A. Schaeffer: The Force Behind the Evangelical Takeover of the Republican Party in America, University of Missouri – Kansas City, 2012.

42 Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, Crossway Books, 1981. Pg. 97.

43 John Fea, America: Founded as a Christian Nation?, John Knox Press, 2011. Pgs. 55-56.

44 Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, Crossway Books, 1981. Pg. 101-102.

45 Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” The Public Eye, Summer 2013.

46 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997. Pg. 93.

47 James Risen and Judy L. Thomas, Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, Perseus Books, 1998. Pg. 299.

48 Randall Terry, The Sword: The Blessing of Righteous Government and the Overthrow of Tyrants, The Reformer Library, 1995. Pg. 8 and passim.

49 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015 Pgs. 160-161.

50 C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, Chosen Books, 2008. Pg.59; See also Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997. Pgs. 106-107.

51 C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, Chosen Books, 2008. Pg. 60.

52 C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, Chosen Books, 2008. Pg. 46.

53 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pg. 200.

54 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997, pgs. 106-107.

55 Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” The Public Eye, Summer 2013.

56 For a discussion of the Statute, see Frederick Clarkson, “When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” Political Research Associates, January 2016. Pg. 25.

57 Gary North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right,” in James B. Jordan, “The Failure of the American Baptist Culture,” Christianity and Civilization, Geneva Divinity School 1982. p. 25. See also, Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pgs. 240-241.

58 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism, Institute for Christian Economics, 1989. Pg. 621.

59 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pgs. 170-175.

60 Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pg.18.

61 Terry Gross, “A Leading Figure in the New Apostolic Reformation,” Fresh Air, (transcript), October 3, 2011.

62 Rachel Tabachnick, “C. Peter Wagner’s Denials About Dominionism and Demonization of Other Religions,” Talk to Action, October 4, 2011. See also Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, Spring 2013.

63 Frederick Clarkson, “When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” Political Research Associates, January 2016; Peter Montgomery, Striking A Balance: Advancing Civil and Human Rights While Preserving Religious Liberty, The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund, February 2016.

64 Sarah Pulliam Baily, Here are the key excerpts on religious liberty from the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage,The Washington Post,  26, 2015.

65 C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World, Chosen Books, 2008 pg. 15.

66 Joseph Mattera, “Announcing: The United States Coalition of Apostolic Leaders!,” February 25, 2015.

67 Joseph Mattera, “How to Frame a Nation with the Law of God,” Spirit Life Magazine, September 11, 2012.

68 Joseph Mattera, “The Keys to Dominion,” Let Your Kingdom Come conference, New Generation Church, Riga, Latvia. 2007. Ledyaev also led an antigay project called Watchmen on the Walls, in which American antigay activist Rev. Scott Lively played a leading role. See Casey Sanchez, “Latvian Anti-Gay Movement Spills Over to U.S.,” Intelligence Report, Fall 2007. See also Rachel Tabachnick, “The Christian Dominionists Who Benefit from David Tyree’s Fame,” Political Research Associates, August 1, 2014.

69 Christ Covenant Coalition, Council and Leadership.

70 Leadership Institute, City Action Coalition, 2015.

71 Anna Merlan, “Surprise: Anti-Abortion & Anti Gay-Marriage Groups Are Uniting to Donate Lots of Money Against Gay City Council Candidates,” The Village Voice, September 9, 2013; Chris Bragg, “Bronx councilman’s gay problem: Fernando Cabrera blames ‘liberal’ media outlets for his loss last week in a Democratic state Senate primary, and for skewing his words,” Crain’s New York Business, September 14, 2014.

72 Ballotpedia, Fernando Cabrera.

73 Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch’s Blog, July 16, 2016.

74 Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, Beacon Press, 2009.

75 Kathryn Joyce, “Arrows for the War,” The Nation, November 9, 2006.

76 Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pg. 82.

77 Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstructionism, Oxford University Press, 2015. Pg. 239.

78 US Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, Statement of Faith.

79 Frederick Clarkson, “Rumblings of Theocratic Violence,” The Public Eye, Summer, 2014.

80 Gary North, Political Polytheism, pg. 227; Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997. Pg. 85.

81 Frederick Clarkson, “Rumblings of Theocratic Violence,” The Public Eye, Summer, 2014.

82 Jennifer Jacobs, “Trump Goes Traditional With Florida Meeting of Evangelical Leaders,” Bloomberg, August 9, 2016.

83 Ralph Hallowell, “500 pastors heed call to run for office, restore Christian values in U.S.,” The Washington Times, November 12, 2015.

84 David Lane, “These Are the ‘Hidden Costs’ of Christian Disengagement,” Charisma, June 28, 2016.

85 Tom Gjelten, “Conservative Pastors Deliver Sharp Criticism Of Same-Sex Marriage,” National Public Radio, June 29, 2015.

86 David Lane, “To Retake America, We Must Defeat Her False Religion,” Charisma, September, 16, 2015.

87 See, for example, the procession of the shofars and drums entering Lou Engle’s TheCall, Nashville, July 7, 2007, Shofar, You Tube. Mark Kelly, “55,000 answer ‘The Call’: Rally calls America to pray & fast,” Baptist Press, July 9, 2007.

88 Laurie Goodstein, “YouTube Videos Draw Attention to Palin’s Faith,” The New York Times, October 24, 2008, “Palin, Muthee, and the Witch – Journalists Miss the Major Story,” Talk to Action, September 20, 2008; Bruce Wilson, “Olbermann Wants To Know About Palin’s Religious Beliefs. Well, Keith…,” Talk to Action, November 25, 2009.

89 Forrest Wilder, “Rick Perry’s Army of God: A little-known movement of radical Christians and self-proclaimed prophets wants to infiltrate government, and Rick Perry might be their man,” The Texas Observer, August 3, 2011, “A Christian Plot for Domination?: Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry aren’t just devout—both have deep ties to a fringe fundamentalist movement known as Dominionism, which says Christians should rule the world,” Daily Beast, August 14, 2011; Ryan Lizza, “Leap of Faith: The making of a Republican front-runner,” The New Yorker, August 15, 2011; Paul Rosenberg, “The Biggest Religious Movement You Never Heard of: Nine Things You Need to Know About Rick Perry’s Prayer Event,” AlterNet, August 5, 2011.

90 Julie Ingersoll, “Bachmann’s Law School Mentor Asserts Biblical Roots of American Political System,” Religion Dispatches, August 10, 2011,

91 Charlotte Allen, “Politics and religion can mix: Every time a Republican candidate for high office surfaces who is also a dedicated Christian, the left warns in apocalyptic tones that if you vote for him, America will sink into a ‘theocracy.’ Nonsense,” Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2011; Ross Douthat, “American Theocracy Revisited,” The New York Times, August 28, 2011; Michael Gerson, “A holy war on the Tea Party,” The Washington Post, August 22, 2011.

92 Lisa Miller, “‘Dominionism’ beliefs among conservative Christians overblown,” The Washington Post, August 11, 2011.

93 See for example, Joe Conn, “Dominionism And Democracy: Religious Right Radicals’ Growing Role In The Presidential Election Sparks A Debate Over What Kind Of America They Want,” Church & State, October 2011; Adele Stan, “Rampant Denial About the Threat Posed By Christian Dominionists, Perry and Bachmann: High-profile attacks on progressive reporting about Christian dominionism speak to the power of truth-telling,” AlterNet, August 22, 2011; Peter Montgomery, “Paranoia and the Progressive Press: A Response to WaPo’s Religion Columnist,” Religion Dispatches, August 23, 2011; Rob Boston, “Special Delivery: Fourteen Writers Remind Jim Wallis That The Religious Right Is A Real Problem,” Wall of Separation, Oct 6, 2011.

94 See Frederick Clarkson, “The New Secular Fundamentalist Conspiracy!,” The Public Eye, Spring, 2008; Frederick Clarkson, “The Religious Right: Still Not Dead,” Religion Dispatches, March 15, 2016.

95 William Martin, With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, Broadway Books, 1996. Pg. 216.

96 These include, Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997; Fritz Detwiler, Standing on the Premises of God: The Christian Right’s Fight to Redefine America’s Public Schools, New York University Press, 1999; Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, The Guilford Press, 2000; Jeff Sharlet, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, HarperCollins, 2008; Michelle Goldberg, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, W.W. Norton & Company, 2006; Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, Beacon Press, 2009; Max Blumenthal, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, Nation Books, 2010; Katherine Stewart, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, Public Affairs, 2012; Kapya Kaoma, American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to Homophobia and Sexism, Harvard Book Store, 2014.

97 The Public Eye alone has published six major essays related to dominionism before and since August 2011. Chip Berlet and Margaret Quigley, “Theocracy and White Supremacy: Behind the Culture War to Restore Traditional Values,” The Public Eye, 1992; Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence, The Public Eye, Spring 1994,”; Frederick Clarkson, “The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation,” The Public Eye, Winter 2005; Michael J. McVicar, “The Libertarian Theocrats: The Long, Strange History of R.J.Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism,” The Public Eye, Fall 2007; Rachel Tabachnick, “Spiritual Warriors with an Antigay Mission: The New Apostolic Reformation,” The Public Eye, Spring 2013; Peter Montgomery, “Biblical Economics: The Divine Laissez-Faire Mandate,” The Public Eye, Spring 2015.

98 For example, Robert Gagnon and Edith Humphrey, “Stop Calling Ted Cruz a Dominionist: The Christian candidate’s faith influences his platform, but not in the ways most critics assume,” Christianity Today, April 6, 2016, Bill Berkowitz, “Why Are Evangelicals Fighting Over Ted Cruz’s Religious Beliefs,” Truthout, April 20, 2016.

99 Brian Tashman, “Self-Proclaimed Prophet: God Using Donald Trump To ‘Expose Darkness And Perversion,’” RightWingWatch, July 30, 2015.

100 Evelyn Schlatter, “Student Group at Harvard Sponsors Anti-Gay Religious Speakers,” Hatewatch, March 29, 2011.

101 David Cay Johnston, “Just What Were Donald Trump’s Ties to the Mob:I’ve spent years investigating, and here’s what’s known,” Politico, May 22, 2016.

102 Lance Wallnau, “Gift 2 10 Prophetic Insights about Trump; Gift 3 What is a ‘chaos’ candidate? And why America needs one,” 2016; See also, C. Peter Wagner, “I Like Donald Trump,” Charisma News, June 10, 2016.

103 Lance Wallnau, “Trumptation,” May 6, 2016.

104 Stephen Strang, “Is Donald Trump America’s Cyrus? with Lance Wallnau,” Charisma Podcast Network, May 7, 2016.

105 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, University of North Carolina Press, 2015. Pgs. 144-145.

106 Chip Berlet, “Christian Dominionism,” Research for Progress; Frederick Clarkson, “The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation,” The Public Eye, Winter 2005.

107 Frederick Clarkson, “The Rise of Dominionism: Remaking America as a Christian Nation,” The Public Eye, Winter 2005.

The Christian Right’s Love Affair with Anti-Trans Feminists

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.


Intersectionality /ˌintərˈsekSHənˈalitē/ noun the linking of different systems of power and oppression (e.g. racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, etc.), which can occur at different levels—individual, interpersonal, family, community, and institutional.

Since American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced the term in 1989, “intersectionality” has become 21st Century activism’s favorite buzzword. Nearly 30 years later, though, social justice organizers are still struggling to get it right; meanwhile, the Right is more than happy to exploit our yet-to-be-fully-realized aspirations, effectively taking advantage of internal conflicts and rifts to further advance an agenda that does deep, deep damage to all of us.

In this current political moment of heightened anti-trans targeting, when school boards and legislatures across the country are debating whether or not transgender people should be allowed access to public facilities, one wedge of particular note and intrigue is the Right’s assertion that the bathroom hysteria they’ve whipped up isn’t an anti-trans campaign, but rather a pro-woman one. As Joseph Backholm, executive director of the right-wing Family Policy Institute of Washington State, argues, the “transgender phenomenon” isn’t just an attack on women’s privacy, but a “war on womanhood” itself. And under the guise of feminism, they’re ready to go to battle, their patriarchal battle cry being, “Protect our girls!”

The Right is selectively highlighting and leveraging the scholarship of a fringe group of highly controversial academics collectively labeled “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs).

Although there’s a strong and growing presence of trans-feminist thought and activism, the Right is selectively highlighting and leveraging the scholarship of a fringe group of highly controversial academics collectively labeled “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs), a term coined in 2008 by cisgender women seeking to name a dangerous vein in the feminist movement and assert themselves as trans allies, distinct from their anti-trans counterparts.

Although most categorized as TERFs reject the label (as well as the term cisgender) and consider it to be insulting, they openly espouse their anti-trans notion that trans women “aren’t really women”—that real womanhood is exclusively determined on a natal, biological level. These arguments (key elements of what’s called “gender essentialism”) align themselves with and fuel the flames of right-wing transphobia. TERFs also maintain that trans men are simply women who are “traitors,” but like the Right, most of their venom is saved for trans women.

The current surge of anti-trans attacks cropping up in legislatures and school boards across the country has come as a shock to many LGB activists. Still basking in the glow of last year’s marriage equality victory, many failed to realize that the trickle-down justice strategy of mainstream gay rights organizations was inherently flawed. That 2015 was also a year in which more trans women were killed by acts of extreme violence in the U.S. than any year prior on record makes this painfully evident.

In response to laws like North Carolina’s HB 2 (described by Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, as “the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation”), activists quickly mobilized resistance against some of the most obvious targets—people like Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republican leaders responsible for hastily forcing the law through the state’s legislature. Others attempted to pull back the curtain, calling out the role of national right-wing organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, a massive and deep-pocketed network of conservative lawyers that has spent the last two decades manipulating and redefining religious freedom in order to advance their Christian Right agenda.

As noted above, however, the forces at play in this current anti-trans offensive are not exclusively right-wing operatives. TERF scholarship laid a cultural and intellectual foundation upon which the Right could build an argument that would appeal to both conservatives and certain sectors of the Left.

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

In June 2015, the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council (FRC) laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement.” The right-wing group’s position paper was co-authored by Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, and Dale O’Leary, a Catholic writer based in Avon Park, Florida. Sprigg has argued that transgender people suffer from “delusions” and he is a proponent of so-called “reparative therapy.” O’Leary depicts transgender people as “liars” and suggests that “sexual liberationists” are “targeting children” in order to expose them to “molesters and exhibitionists masquerading as sex educators.”

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Society, the two dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people (thereby justifying their persecution), and then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy. Specifically, FRC argues against providing trans people with access to gender-affirming healthcare, life-saving gender transition procedures, legal recognition, protection from discrimination, and the right to serve in the military.

But Sprigg and O’Leary didn’t come up with their anti-trans strategy all by themselves. Among the various sources upon which they drew in order to make their case against “transgenderism” was Janice Raymond, a lesbian scholar and infamous anti-trans activist.

Journalist Tina Vasquez documents that in 1980,

Raymond wrote a report for the Reagan administration called “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery,” which informed the official federal position on medical care for trans people. The paper’s conclusion reads, “The elimination of transsexualism is not best achieved by legislation prohibiting transsexual treatment and surgery, but rather by legislation that limits it and by other legislation that lessens the support given to sex-role stereotyping.”

Janice Raymond's 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire, has been considered extremely transphobic and even constituting hate-speech.

Janice Raymond’s 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire, has been considered extremely transphobic and even constituting hate-speech.

Another example of right-wing players building off of TERF scholarship features Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. As a member of the American College of Pediatricians, a right-wing breakaway group that split from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002, McHugh co-authored a new position statement this past March that claims that respecting transgender children’s identities causes them harm and is akin to “child abuse.”

Among McHugh’s primary sources? Sheila Jeffreys, another lesbian scholar and anti-trans activist who, like Janice Raymond, is deemed a TERF by advocates for trans justice. Jeffreys recently retired after 24 years of teaching at the University of Melbourne but remains highly influential. She refers to gender-affirmation surgery (also known as gender-reassignment surgery) as a form of mutilation and describes the “practice of transgenderism” as harmful and a “human rights violation.”

While the Right lays siege to some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community (made especially vulnerable by historic and ongoing neglect and exclusion by the mainstream gay and lesbian movement), it’s TERFs who may actually be guilty of drafting their talking points, adding fuel to the fire of this dangerous anti-trans frenzy.




Georgian Homophobia Sets the Stage for the World Congress of Families

This article appears in the forthcoming Summer 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.


The scene at the restaurant was Monty Python-esque—sausage and meat skewer-wielding men attacking peaceful vegan diners.  Except this was Tbilisi, Georgia, and the attackers were allegedly neonazi skinheads intent on harassing patrons with non-conforming identities. Kiwi Café, a Tbilisi restaurant known for being friendly to foreigners and LGBTQ people, was the site of the fraught confrontation on May 29. LGBTQ people have long been under siege in Georgia, where intolerance against a range of progressive social issues runs deep. And recently, conservative activists from outside the country are starting to take note.

Just two weeks earlier, from May 15-18, Tbilisi was host to the U.S.-organized World Congress of Families (WCF), which held its 10th international conference in the capital’s massive glass and steel State Concert Hall. The WCF, a convening of right-wing activists, has, since its first congress in Prague, in 1997, tapped into the highest ranks of government, church, and civil society in order to reshape global norms on gender and reproductive rights. And they do so by promoting the idea of family values.

Family values, as envisioned by its defenders, describes a religiously-oriented family, headed by a father who is the primary breadwinner, and his stay-at-home wife and their children. Anything outside this norm is considered anti-family values, including abortion, divorce, single-parent households, same-sex marriage and adoption, and secularism. This family values frame is used by conservative activists, both religious and secular, and their allied politicians to not just censor or denigrate issues with which they disagree, but to take away legal rights.

Religious conservatives in Western countries like the U.S., and in Eastern European countries like Russia, all lay claim to the original family narrative. Yet it gets complicated for U.S. promoters—who claim that family values are Western values—when Russia and its neighbors aggressively assert that the West is exporting dangerous “anti-family” values that include abortion and “gay lifestyles.”

This argument has become a staple of the international “pro-family” coalition—a community that draws on significant leadership from the U.S., even as it lambasts the cultural influence of the United States in promoting liberal attitudes to reproductive and sexuality issues around the world. In May, East met West when this coalition came together for a family values huddle in Georgia.

The previous nine international meetings of the WCF have been scattered around the world—some in socially conservative countries like Poland, others in hedonistically liberal capitals like Amsterdam. This year’s meeting appeared to be an effort to knit the various global spheres of influence closer together. Wedged between Europe and Asia, Georgia suggests a middle ground of sorts. The former Soviet Republic has long sought to disentangle itself from Russian influence while pursuing engagement with the European Union. Yet its social and policy positions on abortion and LGBTQ people are squarely Hard Right.

The confluence of political and religious powerbrokers at May’s meeting in Tbilisi was striking. It included the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Russian oligarchs, ambassadors, and members of parliament from Europe and Central and Eastern Europe. Featured prominently was Natalia Yakunina1, a leading anti-abortion activist and the wife of Vladimir Yakunin—the former Russian Railways chief. Mr. Yakunin is on a U.S. sanctions2 list because of his close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sending warm greetings was no less than President George W. Bush.3

The WCF network, which operates out of Rockford, Illinois, aims to create—they would argue revert to—a world where a man only marries a woman, solely for reasons of procreation, and where there is no abortion, no gay marriage, and no comprehensive sexuality education. They have little compunction about making common cause with marginal figures on the Far Right. This includes Scott Lively, a longtime anti-LGBTQ warrior. Lively is currently being sued in a U.S. court for human rights violations stemming from his involvement in Uganda’s so-called “Kill the Gays” bill. The WCF is sufficiently extreme—members have supported criminalizing abortion and homosexuality—that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the network an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

Many of the organizations participating in the WCF hold similar views. Several countries, especially Russia, which leads in this area, are successfully codifying so-called family values in dangerous laws restricting individual rights and freedoms. Russia has criminalized abortion and homosexual “propaganda,” and arrested individuals, journalists, and artists thought to pose a threat to family values. Most famously, in 2012, several members of the protest punk band Pussy Riot4 were jailed for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” Some countries, including Russia and Lithuania, have imposed fines for contempt of family values, and others, like Georgia, the Slovak Republic, and Croatia, have proposed or passed laws restricting marriage to between a man and a woman.

In an effort to lure its former Soviet republics away from the European Union and the temptations of the indulgent West, Putin’s government is well known for tapping into rising nationalism and neo-conservativism and 5Russia is particularly influential in countries like Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, and Slovakia, where it is fostering connections with far-right organizations and political parties with pro-Russia platforms.

Which raises the question, in choosing Georgia, was the WCF knowingly responding to Russia’s bidding? Radio Free Europe reported that Levan Vasadze, WCF’s Georgian organizer, a well-known anti-gay activist and Russia apologist, used his opening WCF address to foster solidarity between Moscow and Georgia.6 Or perhaps the relationship is symbiotic. WCF leaders often speak of Russia taking the helm on family values; in 2013 WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs mused, “The Russians might be the Christian saviors of the world.7

This October Georgia holds national elections and they are predicted to be contentious.  Georgian Dream—Democratic Georgia, the governing coalition, supports closer ties to the West; yet both Russia and the Orthodox Church exert considerable influential in Georgia, particularly in the media. While the U.S.-organized WCF conference was a Western invasion of sorts, it actually suited Russia’s agenda in Georgia, and the region, to spread its anti-Western, anti-EU message.

But really, on the issue of family values, right-wing Georgians don’t need much urging from Russia or U.S. conservatives. The climate against gay and trans people is not just hostile, it’s downright violent. Three years ago, in May 2013, as the queer community gathered in  to commemorate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, the Georgian Orthodox Church hierarchy called for counterdemonstrations. Right-wing activists, including armed priests and allegedly WCF’s Vasadze8, responded to the appeal by attacking peaceful LGBTQ marchers, and smashing shop windows, heads, and minivans9. Both the U.S. State Department and the European Union condemned the violence.

The WCF summit purposefully10 ended on May 17, three years to the day when the Orthodox Church led attacks against LGBTQ Georgians, a day which Georgian Orthodox Patriarch Ilia II, WCF keynote speaker, has since renamed the “Day of the Family”.

The homophobic demagoguery at this year’s WCF, however, was quite unlike the muted rhetoric of WCF IX, which was held in Utah last year. Perhaps this was because the WCF was facing public criticism in the U.S. from human rights groups critical of the network’s stance against LGBTQ rights. WCF Utah was light on homophobia, which had the effect of reducing media attention, and perhaps emboldened them to speak more freely in Tbilisi. Certainly much of the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Tbilisi came from the Georgian hosts, but equally troubling were comments made by Russian and American speakers repeatedly linking homosexuality to fascism.

The American Orthodox priest Father Josiah Trenham’s comments were most extreme. When Trenham cited a Koran passage endorsing the death penalty for anyone committing a homosexual act, the mainly Orthodox and Christian crowd applauded. Closing out his presentation with a string of hyperbolic flourishes, Trenham pressed the audience to tell the “LBGT tolerance-tyrant, this lavender mafia, these homo-fascists, these rainbow radicals, that they are not welcome to promote their anti-religious and anti-civilizational propaganda in your nations.”11

The disconnect between U.S. claims of family values as Western values, and the repeated accusations by Eastern European countries that Western values will only lead to immorality and decadent behavior, may have been lost on the American WCF organizers who said they were looking to “establish a beachhead in the region12.” But this might just be a question of splitting hairs: East-West interpretations of family values are actually one and the same. And they continue being used by their defenders all over the world to violate basic human rights and intimidate and censor those deemed threats. The WCF’s ambition to set up a beachhead in the region is unnecessary; it’s already there.


1 “’Sanctity of Motherhood’ programme,”St. Andres Foundation.

2 “Treasury Sanctions Russian Officials, Members Of The Russian Leadership’s Inner Circle, And An Entity For Involvement In The Situation In Ukraine,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, March, 20, 2014.

3 http://worldcongress.org/pdf/Message-From-President-Bush-for-World-Congress-of-Families-in-Tbilisi-Georgia.pdf

4 Gillian Kane, “What does the ‘Traditional Family’ have to do with Pussy Riot,” Religion Dispatches, August 21, 2012.

5 Christopher Stoop, “Russian Social Conservatism, the U.S.-Based WFC, & The Global Culture Wars in Historical Context,” Political Research Associates, February. 16, 2016.

6 Robert Coalson, “’Family Values’ Congress Brings Pro-Mascow Message to Georgia,” Radio Free Europe, May 17, 2016.

7 Christopher Stroop, “Russian Social Conservatism, the U.S.-based WCF, & the Global Culture Wars in Historical Context,” Political Research Associates, February 16, 2016.

8 Giorgi Lomsadze, “Georgia: A “Family” Gathering Commemorates an Anti-Gay Riot,” Eurasiannet, May 12, 2016.

9 Natalia Antelava, “What was really behind Georgia’s Anti-Gay Rally?” The New Yorker, May 23, 2013.

10 “Georgia Chosen as Site for World Congress of Families X, May 16-18, 2016,” Christian New Wire, November 3, 2015.

11 Hatewatch Staff, “World Congress of Families gathering in Tbilisi showcases anti-LGBT rhetoric and conspiracy theories,” Southern Poverty Law Center, June, 1, 2016.

12 “World Congress of Families X and The Future of the Family in Europe,” World Congress of Families X:Tbilisi 2016.

Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Political Aspirations


For three days last month, from June 28-30, Pastor Rick Warren lectured a packed, 3,000 seat auditorium on Saddleback Church’s 120-acre main campus in Orange County, California, while hundreds more tuned in via livestream from all over the world. All combined, participants represented all 50 states and 33 different countries. It was the first time in 10 years that Warren has brought his signature “Purpose Driven Conference” to the U.S.

The event, called PDC16, was designed to on-ramp pastors into Warren’s model of church growth and development, ushering them into the “Purpose Driven Fellowship,” a network that reportedly encompasses thousands of churches that have all adopted the “Purpose Driven paradigm.” Since publishing The Purpose Driven Church in 1995 (the predecessor of Warren’s bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life), Warren boasts that the curriculum has been shared with over 500,000 pastors and church leaders from 164 countries, “in tiny villages you’ve never even heard of.”

For Warren, it’s a numbers game. The celebrity pastor claims that since founding Saddleback Church in 1980, “we’ve baptized more new believers (43,018), put more people into small group Bible studies (over 38,000 meet weekly in 8,420 small groups), and sent out more members on mission (26,846 members have served in 196 countries) than any American church.”

“God is so interested in numbers he wrote a whole book [in the Bible] about it,” he likes to quip. But this isn’t a case of harmless arithmetic—Warren’s numbers add up to a dangerous purpose: the erasure of critical boundaries between business, government, and the church and the imposition of his anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion Christian Right agenda into these three (previously distinct) elements of society.

Warren is implementing this strategy through what he’s dubbed the “three-legged stool” model of development: a multi-pronged strategy that brings together business, government, and the church.  He says that public-private sector partnerships are equivalent to a two-legged stool, which will fall over without a third leg—that of the church. According to Warren, the church is the critical missing link affecting a country’s development.

His agenda, however, is cloaked in altruistic intents—he’s just trying to save people from eternal damnation, he explains.

Warren points out that this year, about 78 million people will die, and many of them aren’t Christian. “People without Christ go to hell for eternity,” he reminded the audience. “That keeps me up at night. … The church that doesn’t want to grow is saying, ‘You can go to hell’”

According to Warren, there are 3,000 “unreached people groups” remaining in the world, and while he continues to rack up baptisms, book sales, and church plants, he’s on a mission to get that number—of populations of people who haven’t yet been evangelized into the “purpose driven” fold—down to zero.

In a November 2015 Facebook post, Warren explained, “Unreached, unengaged people groups are those around the world with NO Bible, NO Believer, and NO Body of Christ.” To reach them, Warren has teamed up on an initiative called “Finishing the Task.” He hosted the project’s 2015 conference at Saddleback, and will play host again for the second annual conference this coming December.

Evangelizing isn’t unique or original to Saddleback Church, but Warren takes the concept to a new level, threading in aspects of dominionism: the theological idea that Christians must assume control over all aspects of society. In 1994, PRA senior research fellow Fredrick Clarkson explained the origins of dominionism, what he refers to as the “stripped-down root” of Christian Reconstructionism:

A key, if not exclusively Reconstructionist, doctrine uniting many evangelicals is the “dominion mandate,” also called the “cultural mandate.” This concept derives from the Book of Genesis and God’s direction to “subdue” the earth and exercise “dominion” over it. While much of Reconstructionism, as one observer put it, “dies the death of a thousand qualifications,” the commitment to dominion is the theological principle that serves as the uniting force of Christian Right extremism, while people debate the particulars.

Christian Reconstructionism is a stealth theology, spreading its influence throughout the Religious Right. Its analysis of America as a Christian nation and the security of complete control implied in the concept of dominion is understandably appealing to many conservative Christians. Its apocalyptic vision of rule by Biblical Law is a mandate for political involvement.

This mandate for political involvement is the blurring factor that’s been chipping away at the church/state division over the last few decades, slowly eliminating one of foundational principles on the United States. As Clarkson explains in his 2016 report, “When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” “Its long-range goal is to impose a conservative Christian social order inspired by religious law, in part by eroding pillars of undergirding religious pluralism that are integral to our constitutional democracy.”

At a 2009 event organized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Warren asserted, “I’m not a politician. If I thought politics could change people’s hearts, I’d go into government. … But I don’t, so I’m not. I have no political aspirations and no aspirations to even influence public policy.”

Nonetheless, both in the U.S. and in countries all over the world, Warren has garnered tremendous amounts of political power and uses it to leverage influence at every level. In 2008, the anti-LGBTQ pastor played a significant role in passing Prop 8, California’s gay marriage ban. In 2014, Warren weighed in on the Supreme Court’s pending Hobby Lobby decision, declaring that he was willing to go to jail if the Christian Right’s version of religious liberty wasn’t upheld. In 2015, he testified before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee in support of continued funding for global health programs that combat the AIDS epidemic abroad.

Warren’s political influence extends well beyond U.S. borders, too. Rwanda has been a central focus of Warren’s international work since 2003, when right-wing evangelical billionaire Joe Ritchie first introduced him to President Paul Kagame, who has served as the country’s leader since 2000. Warren now sits on Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council, for which he was granted a Rwandan diplomatic passport.

Through Saddleback’s PEACE Plan, which essentially seeks to develop a Purpose Driven Church network that will serve as the primary distribution sites for healthcare and other social services, Warren has developed an extensive relationship with hundreds of congregations in the country. At last week’s conference, Warren conceded that they might not all be the same “brand” of Christian, but, “If you love Jesus, we’re on the same team.”

Unfortunately, those who aren’t on “Team Jesus” may find that the PEACE Plan’s shrinking of the public sphere (by granting exclusive responsibility for basic services to its church network) will negatively impact their ability to access care. It can be expected, for example, that Purpose Driven Churches won’t provide contraception resources and may even be hostile to LGBTQ people.

The PEACE Plan model isn’t limited to Rwanda, though—at PDC16 Warren made a strong pitch for increased U.S. church involvement in Africa. He explained that presidents from numerous other African nations, including Botswana, the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Malawi, and Nigeria, have all asked him to replicate his Rwandan program in their countries. But rather than doing all the work himself, Warren intends to play the role of matchmaker, assigning pastors from his Purpose Driven network to take the lead in selected countries and regions.

Tim Harlow, senior pastor of Parkview Christian Church—a megachurch in the suburbs of Chicago—and a long time friend of Warren’s, is already on board. He recalls Warren’s initial invitation: “Hey, the President of Malawi called and said she wanted us to bring Purpose Driven and the PEACE plan to Malawi. Why don’t you take it?” Revealing just how ill-equipped Warren’s hand-picked leaders are, Harlow admits he didn’t even know where Malawi was at the time of his commissioning.

As Warren nears retirement—he’s suggested he’ll step down in 2020—he’s accelerating his global expansion and seeking more matchmaking opportunities. Originally planned for 2015, the “All-Africa Purpose Driven Church Leadership Training Conference” is now set to take place in the fall of 2017 in Kigali, Rwanda. The event will bring together leading African evangelicals from each of the continent’s 54 countries, along with a team of American pastors who will “adopt” these new “purpose driven” recruits and usher them into the PEACE Plan’s three-legged stool strategy. With Harlow at the helm, the Malawi program has already recruited a local leader to help guide the project—an evangelical who also happens to be a Member of Parliament.

But first, Warren has to get his American army trained up, readying them for the next surge of dominionist expansion. Country by country, continent by continent, Warren is on a mission—if the All-Africa conference is a success, he has set his sights on Latin America and East Asia next.

What time is it?: Why we can’t ignore the momentum of the Right

Taken at the 09/14 Donald Trump rally at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

Last month, a nationally influential group of community builders and advocates for social, economic, and environmental justice gathered in rural Washington to address what we believe to be a critical turning point in American politics. In tribute to the great activist-philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs, we asked ourselves the question that she would often start meetings with: What time is it on the clock of the world?

Broadly speaking, the consensus is that we’re in a time of great instability, revolt, and possibility. History teaches us that in times like these, we need to be both bold and vigilant. Authoritarian, chauvinistic, and bigoted movements assert themselves most aggressively when people feel socially and economically threatened. We know the drill. We’ve lived it again and again.

But this time is different. This time, traditional sources of stability and leadership are being rejected on all sides, and people are seeking radical, or at least non-establishment, solutions. Our fear is that the Right Wing may be better positioned than we are to capitalize on this moment amongst white people – including white voters – and better positioned than ever before.

The Right Wing may be better positioned than we are to capitalize on this moment amongst white people.

The presidential primary season makes the case that rebellion is afoot. Bernie Sanders’ strong showing seems to signal the rise of a progressive, post-Occupy electoral rebellion, especially among younger voters. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s lock on the GOP presidential nomination seems to indicate an equal opposite of sorts. The primary election results speak to a broader, multi-dimensional rebellion against elites that threatens both major parties. That rebellion is causing old norms to fall, opening the door for a major fight over which sector will define the new normal in U.S. politics.

What Trump and Sanders supporters share is a passionate anti-elitism and deep frustration with an “establishment” viewed as having failed American workers. These competing forces appear to have the most political momentum, if not yet the numbers or resources necessary, to directly define the “middle” of national electoral politics.

Not yet is the operative term here. Beating right-wing forces to the punch will require us to bring the fight to elites and the institutions of power that they dominate, and to blunt the progress of those on the Right who are competing with us for influence over those institutions.

Eight Conditions That Make the Right Especially Dangerous Now

First, in a time when people on both ends of the political spectrum are rejecting the middle, and what many on both sides refer to as the establishment, the best organized and most compelling radical force is likely to exercise the most direct and profound influence.

We believe the Right has put itself in this position. Most right-wing groups, the Tea Parties being an especially good example, talk like conservatives, citing the “original construction and intent of the Constitution” as the template for their political agendas. But, the reality is that they’re subverting the Constitution and other symbols of middle-Americanism – everything from cowboy boots and three-cornered hats, to the founding fathers, the American Dream, and key tenets of liberalism, like liberty and individual freedom – to use as talismans in service to radically repressive, exclusionary, anti-democratic, and authoritarian agendas.

It is also notable that Bernie Sanders’ advocacy of progressive policies heretofore considered completely unviable to most establishment liberals has both directly influenced the Clinton campaign and made an opening for progressive legislators like Elizabeth Warren to expand their influence. Of course, Clinton’s candidacy represents the establishment elite, while Trump appeals to those who would reject the middle. Moreover, Trump’s advocacy of unconstitutional and anti-democratic measures is making a hard Right legislator like Ted Cruz appear almost reasonable by comparison.

Second, the Right’s immediate projected base – economically insecure, socially conservative whites – are simultaneously feeling the pinch of racial demographic change, which many view as a threat to the meaning of “American,” and bearing witness to the collapse of the middle class. The Right has popularized the idea that there’s a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. The resulting rising tide of fear and rage among many whites is lifting the hopes of white nationalist groups, some of which have “by any means necessary” approaches to political struggle.

Third, right-wing groups – ranging from those whose tactics are mainly confined to public policy and elections like the Tea Parties, to paramilitary groups who are attempting to take control of local governments through intimidation and direct action, such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters – are reading Trump’s rise as a sign that this may be their time. For some, Trump’s success is creating the impression that a European-style fascist movement such as we saw in the WWII era is viable in the United States.

The danger that right-wing paramilitary groups pose is especially serious in rural parts of the country where a collapse of investment in public infrastructure…is preventing local governments from providing adequate first responder services.

The danger that right-wing paramilitary groups pose is especially serious in rural parts of the country where a collapse of investment in public infrastructure, including traditional law enforcement, is preventing local governments from providing adequate first responder services. This creates an opening for armed militias to compete for power in settings where, increasingly, whoever has the most guns has a distinct advantage. Those who jokingly dubbed the Bundy militia – which recently seized and occupied a federal bird sanctuary in Harney County, Oregon – “Vanilla ISIS” aren’t too far off the mark.

Fourth, there is less standing in the way of the Right today than in the past. By many measures of political capacity including mass organizations like unions, mainline Protestant churches, and mass movements, key sectors of the Left have not recovered from the defeats dating back to the Reagan “revolution.”

There are certainly vibrant, innovative progressive movements including Black Lives Matter, alt labor, climate justice, and Not1More. Each of these movements is having powerful positive social and cultural impacts, transforming debates on critical issues in the U.S. and around the world, and creating the potential for urgently needed political changes.

However, today’s movements don’t have the institutional infrastructure and concentrated power that traditional New Deal/Great Society/Left groupings had prior to the Reagan ’80s. And – critically – the liberal/progressive/Left has fewer institutions that regularly and meaningfully engage the people being organized into right-wing populist movements. At a time when the Right is quickly building its base, we are in a weaker position to out-organize them among those they are targeting for recruitment: white working-class people.

Fifth, we now have a much denser concentration of right-wing populists predisposed to support authoritarianism within one of the two major political parties: the GOP.

In order to shed the elitist image that the GOP developed in the wake of the Great Depression and throughout the Democrat-led economic recovery of the last century, the GOP created what is now widely known as the Southern Strategy. They believed that white Southern voters would reject the Democratic Party, which was once the party of white supremacy, if they could reframe them as the party of Blacks and civil rights. They accomplished this in several ways: by deploying a combination of coded and more overt racism to scapegoat people of color, particularly Blacks, for the declining economic and social status of white workers; by inciting fear of foreign enemies threatening us internationally; and by demonizing “anti-American” elements on the Left as threatening us domestically. All of this served to justify a hawkish foreign policy, and a punitive law-and-order domestic policy.

The Southern Strategy didn’t just exploit right-wing movements in order to build the GOP’s base; it popularized authoritarian, anti-democratic, and bigoted ideas that pushed the whole political spectrum to the Right. Perhaps most influential among these ideas are:

  • That the private sector is inherently more efficient and cost-effective than government (think Trump, the deal maker), and
  • That government, especially national government, is controlled by elites who are wrongly expropriating the material and social capital of real, productive Americans (“makers”) to redistribute as patronage to the sinful, lazy, and dangerous classes (“takers”) in exchange for political support.

Among the “takers” that most drive the rage machine are Black people, immigrants of color, and poor people of color – especially poor single mothers of color, who they claim live in a dysfunctional culture of dependency that can only be cured through austerity. The Right was so successful at popularizing these ideas that they would be articulated through the public policy agenda of a Democratic Presidential administration (Bill Clinton’s) by the 1990s.

By positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, the GOP has consolidated a previously bipartisan right-wing populist constituency large enough to buck its own party establishment and select their own candidate. (They just did.)

Sixth, the racial demography of the U.S. is rapidly changing. In 1980, more than 85% of the American electorate was white. Today, the electorate is only 67% white, and that percentage is rapidly falling. White voters are losing their ability to define and hold the middle of American culture and politics and this is contributing to the rage and fear that drove white support for regressive welfare reform, tough-on-crime policies and the prison buildup, repressive national security measures, and a wildly expensive and punitive deportation regime targeting undocumented immigrants of color.

Political scientist Jean V. Hardisty was among the first to demonstrate how sophisticated conservative organizers learned to cultivate and mobilize resentment over the erosion of white privilege. As the erosion of the status, privilege, and political influence associated with being white in the United States escalates, that resentment is building.

Seventh, the cruelty of the free-market ideology of “neoliberalism” is driving financial deregulation, austerity, privatization (resulting, in part, in increasingly underfunded and unresponsive government), falling wages for most, and a stagnant or shrinking economy for the bottom 90 percent of Americans.

The Democratic Party responded to the neoliberal “Reagan revolution” by opting to forge relationships with social issue liberals (LGBT, traditional race-based civil rights organizations, etc.) and neoliberal business elites. By doing so, they contributed to the widespread and increasingly popular right-wing trope that whites suffer more discrimination and have less influence on “liberal” government and media than Black people.

These changes have opened space for right-wing populist appeals for cross-class white racial solidarity as a response to economic hardship – with the implicit message that bigotry can bring prosperity.

Altogether, these changes have opened space for right-wing populist appeals for cross-class white racial solidarity as a response to economic hardship – with the implicit message that bigotry can bring prosperity.

Eighth, social scientists have found that many people – including those who might otherwise support basic social fairness – are driven to support authoritarian figures and approaches by perceived physical threats or by destabilizing social change. Given the wide array of real and perceived threats to social stability in contemporary society, this raises the danger of what we might call “disaster authoritarianism.”

Multiple crises could drive a populist demand to consolidate power in the executive branch of government. We have seen evidence of this in the fear-driven post-9/11 push to limit civil liberties and to rush to war. Climate change, infectious disease outbreaks, the rise of violent stateless totalitarian movements, extreme economic instability, same-sex marriage and other disruptions of traditional gender roles, racial demographic change – these and other trends could activate dormant support for demagogic leadership.

More immediately, could a San Bernadino-type attack or a series of crises in the months or weeks before the general election propel a law-and-order authoritarian candidate into the White House and/or consolidate support for further suspensions of civil liberties?  Maybe. But what is certain is the increasing pressure and insecurity will put steel in the arguments of those who advocate for strongman solutions.

November 2015 Donald Trump Rally in Springfield, IL.

November 2015 Donald Trump Rally in Springfield, IL. (Photo: Joseph Blewitt via Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

But Is It Fascism, Yet?

All of the conditions described here don’t necessarily add up to fascism, nor predict that a totalitarian movement will eventually seize our government. But, that doesn’t mean that nativist, white nationalist, and other right-wing movements can’t do great damage even while losing.

Here’s an example. In 1964, GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater lost the general election to Lyndon Johnson while taking only 38.5% of the vote. But, Goldwater’s direct appeals to xenophobia and racism won the South and flipped a significant number of white Southern Democrats into Republicans. Goldwater’s run was the template for the GOP Southern Strategy we referenced earlier. Moreover, right-wing leaders mined the donor lists of the Goldwater campaign, and the campaigns for president of an even more unpopular presidential candidate, former segregationist Alabama Governor, George Wallace, for direct-mail marketing campaigns. Those campaigns provided a big part of the original money used to build key right-wing organizations that we are still battling today.

The Call To Action: Join the Three-Way Fight

We need to wage a three-way fight. On one side, we need to fight with institutions of power that perpetuate injustice. On the other, we need to fight with those who are competing with us for influence over those same institutions. These two sides of the struggle are equally critical in the struggle for progressive change.

This may seem like a big ask, but we’re already involved in three-way fights on critical issues. The Right is already in the three-way fight, and their ability to exercise influence is dependent on beating us up.

Here’s an example. On the issue of immigration reform, right-wing anti-immigrant groups have used racism to vilify undocumented immigrants and to justify increasingly repressive immigration controls. They’ve turned a national policy debate over how to achieve a just resolution for undocumented workers into a fight over whether it is practical to deport more than 11 million people whom they have branded as a criminal class, and via Trump, as “rapists” and “drug dealers.” This reframing has forced many who support humane reform to reframe their arguments to back what is seen as the only viable reform proposal in Congress. That proposal would impose a more than 11-year path to citizenship on undocumented immigrants and institute what amounts to being forced into a highly exploitative guest worker program on undocumented workers, all while continuing to detain and deport growing ranks of criminalized immigrants.

Here’s another. On the issue of abortion access, the Right responded to Roe v. Wade by reframing the reproductive freedoms that it institutionalized as a struggle over religious freedom and the rights to life of “unborn children.” Advocates of equitable access to safe and legal abortions have been forced to respond to the Right’s framing of the issue and to a new and increasingly effective states’ rights strategy. In much of the debate, this minimizes advocacy for women’s self-determination and centers instead the most extreme cases where the life of the “mother” (suggesting that the fetus is a baby) is at risk. Meanwhile, access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare for poor women is evaporating, and we are now at pre-Roe v. Wade levels of abortion access.

Each time we enter into a political fight, whether it is about public education, income supports, trade, foreign policy, national security, labor, or even the U.S. Postal Service, the Right is there, reframing the issues and driving discussion away from practical, broadly beneficial solutions and toward exclusionary and regressive non-solutions and punishment. By doing so, they are effectively moving the goal post in our fights with institutions of power, requiring us to repeatedly change our playbooks, and making us less and less coherent to those on the downside of unjust power relations.

Trump Protest in Fountain Hills, AZ on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Chris Vena via Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Trump Protest in Fountain Hills, AZ on March 19, 2016. (Photo: Chris Vena via Flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

How Do We Fight the Three-Sided Fight?

First, we need to get better at fighting the Right. In order to do that, we need to incorporate strategies to Disrupt, Defuse, and Compete.

We disrupt the Right by separating right-wing leaders from their bases of support, a task often best accomplished in two ways: 1) by exposing the elitist interests behind right-wing leaders’ all-style-no-substance populism, and 2) by identifying and exploiting internal divisions within right-wing coalitions and organizations.

We defuse the tensions that the Right both drives and thrives on by defeating the bigotry and fear underlying those tensions. This means doing effective anti-bigotry work, while building coalitions broad enough to include populations that the Right is targeting. But, anti-bigotry efforts can’t just focus on the harm that bigotry does to those who are targeted, they must address the destructive force of bigotry on the kind of political culture necessary to support democracy and win meaningful political participation for all, and the broad negative effects of public policies that bigotry tends to drive.

We compete by going up against the Right and vying directly for the loyalty of those who make up the immediate projected base of their support: white working-class people. Most right-wing groups’ core support is drawn from the white middle class, but right-wing movements don’t stop there. They traditionally organize “down” the economic ladder and reach for working-class whites, whose numbers are vital to their success. Successfully competing will require us to authentically express empathy and compassion to white poor people and to those who fear falling into poverty, and to do so while marrying economic justice to racial and social equity. Doing this blunts the effectiveness of the Right’s scapegoating strategies. It provides better, more solutions-oriented explanations to those susceptible to right-wing recruitment.

We should also remember that white nationalist movements are identity movements. We must take seriously the sense among a growing number of whites that white identity is under attack.

White anti-racist activists are critical to successfully competing with the Right for the attention of those vulnerable to their appeals. We should also remember that white nationalist movements are identity movements. We must take seriously the sense among a growing number of whites that white identity is under attack. That older white voters seem to feel this threat most acutely could be a reflection of generationally bound values, but it is also very likely an indication of the vulnerability that many feel as they age.

Good organizing meets people where they are, and not where we wish they were. Moreover, good organizing focuses on the egos of those being organized, and not on the egos of the organizers. This isn’t a pissing contest over who gets “it.” It’s a fight for economic and social justice for everyone.

In consideration of these trends, justice-minded people and movements should consciously pivot our work in order to disrupt, defuse, and – critically – compete with the bigoted Right for its projected base of support. To do otherwise risks giving white nationalism room to consolidate as a national political force.



Black Lives Over Broken Windows: Challenging the Policing Paradigm Rooted in Right-Wing “Folk Wisdom”

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Spring 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

When protesters developed a platform to end police violence in the wake of the 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the first of their 10 demands was to end “broken windows” policing, the law enforcement paradigm marked by aggressive policing of minor offenses and heavy police presence in low-income Black communities.1

Broken windows policing is what led Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to approach Michael Brown simply for walking in the middle of the street. It is what motivated police to repeatedly harass Eric Garner, a 43-year-old Staten Island resident who was killed earlier that summer by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, using a banned police chokehold during an encounter initiated over Garner’s alleged sale of loose cigarettes. And in 2015 it was what brought Baltimore police into contact with Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who was initially stopped while allegedly fleeing from police officers in his low-income Black community—and who died after his spinal cord was severed while he was in police custody.

The role of broken windows policing in each death quickly became the focus of protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights advocates. Just days after Brown’s death, national president of the NAACP Cornell William Brooks said, “The death of Michael Brown strikes me as the latest, sad chapter in an ongoing national narrative about a form of policing, broken windows policing, that is simply not right for the country.”2 In New York City, This Stops Today—an ad hoc coalition taking its name from Eric Garner’s words on the day he died to the officers who had repeatedly harassed him—made ending broken windows one of their 11 demands. (The 11 demands were issued in honor of the 11 times that Garner was seen on video telling the officers who killed him, “I can’t breathe.”3)

Regrouping for day 3 of the week of outrage surrounding the denial of justice for Eric Garner on December 10, 2016. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Regrouping for day 3 of the week of outrage surrounding the denial of justice for Eric Garner on December 10, 2016. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Broken windows policing is not only all too often lethal, it also contributes to the use of excessive and illegal force in the context of the most mundane police encounters. It led a New York City officer to put Rosan Miller, a seven-months pregnant Black woman initially approached for grilling outside her home, into the same banned chokehold that had led to Garner’s death just a few weeks before.4 It was the excuse for another officer to slam Stephanie Maldonado to the ground in New York City’s West Village for “jaywalking” like Mike Brown.5 It was what led police to arrest Duanna Johnson, a Black transgender woman, for prostitution—one focus of broken windows policing—while walking down a street in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2008, only to beat her bloody with metal handcuffs at the police station in an incident captured on video because she refused to answer to “faggot.”6 Broken windows policing also created opportunities for recently convicted Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holzclaw to stop women as they walked down the street to inquire as to what they were doing and where they were going, thus facilitating his sexual harassment, assault, and rape of 13 Black women and girls.7

The “Folk” Origins of Broken Windows

What does broken windows policing have to do with the Right? In part, the answer lies in where it came from: an outgrowth of the conservative “law and order” agendas of the early 1980s. Neoconservatives George Kelling and James Q. Wilson outlined the theory underlying broken windows policing in a 1982 Atlantic Quarterly article.  8 Kelling is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and Wilson, before his death in 2012, was a board member at the American Enterprise Institute, both right-wing think tanks.9 According to Wilson and his colleagues, liberal concessions to civil rights movements and protest cultures of the 1960s and ‘70s were significant contributing factors to the urban chaos broken windows policing purports to address.10 In 1985 Wilson co-wrote a book, Crime and Human Nature, with Richard J. Herrnstein, a co-author of The Bell Curve, which notoriously advanced a theory of racial differences in intelligence. Wilson’s own 1975 book, Thinking About Crime, argued that crime is the product of individual and social “predispositions,” rather than socioeconomic conditions. 11 His theories echoed those of his mentor, Edward Banfield, who theorized about a “culture of poverty,” which Wilson believed required a punitive response,12 and those of The Bell Curve’s other co-author, Charles Murray, whose arguments suggest that crime is the result of individual mental and moral deficiencies.13 Wilson decried single parenthood, claiming “illegitimacy was eroding the nation’s values,”14 and, as Pam Chamberlain wrote in PRA’s Defending Justice: An Activist Resource Kit, argued for “returning to a path where religion is influential and where families remain intact.”15

New York City became the first municipality to aggressively implement broken windows policing theories rooted in these right-wing intellectual traditions in the early 1990s. Under the leadership of former Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and bolstered by right-wing media like the New York Post and right-wing think tanks like the Manhattan Institute, the city put Kelling and Wilson’s theories into practice with an internal police memorandum, “Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York,” citing both the pair’s Atlantic article and the infamous 1965 Moynihan Report, which blamed social dysfunction on Black families, and particularly, Black mothers.16

Rally outside of the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Rally outside of the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The broken windows theory, brilliantly summarized in a recent video created by Molly Crabapple,17 goes something like this: if signs of disorder—like broken windows—and minor offenses—like loitering, panhandling, and graffiti—are left unchecked, then it’s only a matter of time before a community descends into chaos and violence. According to Kelling and Wilson, the only way to prevent this from happening is through aggressive enforcement and prosecution of minor offenses. At its core, broken windows relies on fear-mongering, stoked by familiar right-wing themes about the need for increased “security” and a compulsion to root out certain groups of people as embodied threats to a particular way of life .

But even Kelling and Wilson acknowledged back in 1982 that it is “not inevitable that serious crime will flourish or violent attacks on strangers will occur” if signs of disorder are left unchecked. Indeed, the two wrote that their entire premise is admittedly drawn from what they themselves call “folk wisdom” rather than objective data, based on the belief that perceived disorder somehow renders an area more “vulnerable to criminal invasion” such that “drugs will change hands, prostitutes will solicit, and cars will be stripped.”18 It’s a theory, they implicitly admitted, based more on people’s fears and beliefs than on hard evidence.

The theory later evolved to advance the premise that individuals who commit minor offenses—like fare evasion in public transit—will, if not caught and punished, eventually commit more serious offenses: a sort of slippery slope of criminality. The new logic of broken windows, according to Tanya Erzen, a scholar of American conservatism, writing in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, is that “graffiti taggers, turnstile jumpers and kids in a public park are either already criminals, or simply criminals in the making.”19>

Even the theory’s biggest proponent, New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton—who spearheaded its implementation in New York City under Mayor Giuliani, actively promoted its spread around the country both as a consultant and as Los Angeles Police Commissioner, and pursued it with renewed vigor in his second tenure in New York City under current Mayor Bill de Blasio—concedes that neither premise has ever been conclusively proven.20 In fact, several studies undermine the theory’s claims.21 In a comprehensive review of the literature and a summary of his own research, Columbia law professor Bernard Harcourt concludes that, “Taken together, the wealth of research provides no support for a simple disorder-crime relationship as hypothesized by Wilson and Kelling in their broken-windows theory…. What I have come to believe is that the broken windows theory is really window dressing, and it masks or hides more profound processes of real estate development and wealth redistribution.”22

Like so many policies of the Right, broken windows policing is rooted in fear: fear of poverty, fear of youth, fear of unregulated sexuality and gender nonconformity, and deeply, at its core, a fear of Blackness.

Like so many policies of the Right, broken windows policing is rooted in fear: fear of poverty, fear of youth, fear of unregulated sexuality and gender nonconformity, and deeply, at its core, a fear of Blackness. According to George Kelling’s recent defense of the theory in Politico, published a year after Michael Brown’s death, “The goal is to reduce the level of disorder in public spaces so that citizens feel safe, are able to use them, and businesses thrive.”23 Kelling concedes that it is, in essence, an approach based on public perception—that is, on feelings—rather than proof. In the end, fear—of crime, yes, but also, as the original article explains, of “being bothered by disorderly people,” like panhandlers, “addicts” or people living with mental illness—is the moving force behind the theory.24 As Bratton once put it, “Aggressive panhandling, squeegee cleaners, street prostitution, ‘boombox cars,’ public drunkenness, reckless bicyclists, and graffiti have added to the sense that the entire public environment is a threatening place.”25

Although not explicitly stated, given that the communities described in Kelling and Wilson’s original article and others that followed are Black, it is clear that the “disorderly people,” the people driving “boombox cars,” and the graffiti taggers are also imagined as Black. As gentrification of New York City proceeded through the 1990s, “disorderly people” came to mean those displaced into public spaces in the context of neoliberal devolution and cuts to social programs.26 In other words, broken windows policing isn’t about reducing crime, it’s about assuaging white fear of poor people, Black people, and people of color—no matter how irrational or racialized.*

From Black Codes to Broken Windows

Scratching the surface of broken windows policing reveals that, in the end, the paradigm is simply a repackaged and sanitized version of the ways age-old “vagrancy” laws were enforced. These laws were explicitly created to criminalize and control the movements of people deemed undesirable throughout U.S. history: Indigenous peoples, formerly enslaved people of African descent, immigrants, women, and homeless and poor people. In his recent defense of broken windows, Kelling himself directly acknowledged the lineage, stating in reference to his 1982 essay, “Given the subject of our article, the Black Codes—vague loitering and vagrancy laws passed in the South immediately after the Civil War—were of special concern for us. Under these laws police arrested African Americans for minor offenses and, when they could not pay the fines, courts committed them to involuntary labor on farms—in a sense, extending slavery for many into the 20th century.”27 Without offering a means of distinguishing present-day broken windows policing from these practices, Kelling simply submits that he and Wilson were just arguing for “doing a better job at maintaining order.”28

The question though, is whose order? In their 1982 article, Kelling and Wilson acknowledge that there are “no universal standards…to settle arguments over disorder…” and that charges of being a “suspicious person” or of vagrancy have “scarcely any legal meaning.”29 Ultimately, they wrote, “These charges exist…because [society] wants an officer to have the legal tools to remove undesirable persons from a neighborhood when informal efforts to preserve order in the streets have failed.”30

This is to say that, since its inception, broken windows policing has self-consciously been about promoting a particular type of community, maintaining particular structural relations of power, and policing the borders of “desirability.” Delving deeper into its theoretical premise, a desirable community, as described by Wilson and Kelling, is one of “families who care for their homes, mind each other’s children, and confidently frown on intruders.”31 Broken windows policing is posited as the last bulwark against a “frightening jungle”—a term fraught with racial meaning—in which “unattached adults”—that is, single people—replace traditional families, where teenagers gather in front of the corner store, litter abounds, and panhandlers stalk pedestrians.32 In this framework, conservative values with deep racial overtones ultimately drive how an individual’s presence will be perceived and valued,33 and promote disregard for youth, adults living outside of hetero-patriarchal families, and low-income and homeless people who live in this idealized community.34

Whose Quality of Life?

Building in New York City with the words, "stop and frisk. just another quality of life offense" on March 27, 2014. Source: carnagenyc. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Building in New York City with the words, “stop and frisk. just another quality of life offense” seen on March 27, 2014. Source: carnagenyc. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Key to implementing broken windows policing is the proliferation of “quality of life” regulations, which criminalize an ever-expanding range of activities in public spaces, including standing or walking (recast as “loitering”), sitting, lying down, sleeping, eating, drinking, urinating, making noise, and approaching strangers, as well as a number of vaguer offenses, such as engaging in “disorderly” or “lewd” conduct. This broad range of potential offenses gives police almost unlimited license to stop, ticket, and arrest. According to one researcher, enforcement of such low-level offenses has become the “most common point of contact between the public and the criminal justice system.”35

Of course, what conduct is deemed “disorderly” or “lewd” is more often than not in the eye of the beholder, informed by deeply racialized and gendered perceptions. Where offenses are more specific, they criminalize activities so common they can’t be enforced at all times against all people. When I speak publicly about broken windows policing, I often ask how many members of the audience have ever fallen asleep on a train or ridden a bicycle on a sidewalk at some point in their lives. Dozens of hands shoot up. When I ask how many have ever been ticketed or arrested for it, almost all hands come down—that is, unless I am at a drop-in center for homeless youth or adults, or in a low-income Black neighborhood. There, many hands remain in the air.

As former Yale law professor Charles Reich notes, “Laws that are widely violated…especially lend themselves to selective and arbitrary enforcement.”36 As a result, both vague and specific “quality of life” offenses are selectively enforced in particular neighborhoods and communities, or against particular people, by officers wielding an extraordinary amount of discretion, largely unrestrained by constitutional protections. As legal scholar Dorothy Roberts notes in “Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing,” over the last several decades, conservative commentators have called for a relaxation of legal doctrines disfavoring vague offenses and reining in police discretion in the name of “law and order” agendas.37

Communities in the Crosshairs

Given all of this, it’s easy to predict who gets targeted by broken windows policing. Despite proponents’ contention that the approach targets specific behaviors, not specific people, the article on which the theory is premised explicitly names particular types of people—youth, homeless people, people perceived to be engaged in prostitution—as embodied signs of disorder.38 According to Pete White of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), a community organization that has been fighting the effects of broken windows policing on Los Angeles’ homeless population for decades, the inspirations for Kelling and Wilson’s 1982 article were much more explicit about the racial and gender make up of signs of neighborhood disorder: “young Black men, young women in short shorts hanging out on corners, interracial couples, and gay folks.”39 The result: dramatically increased frequency and intensity of police interactions with Black and Brown youth, low-income and homeless people, public housing residents, people who are—or who are perceived to be—engaged in street-based prostitution, street vendors (many of whom are immigrants), and anyone else who is hyper-visible in public spaces, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender nonconforming people.

The results are striking. Broken windows policing has contributed to widespread criminalization of Black youth in New York City under a range of offenses, including disorderly conduct, unreasonable noise, turnstile jumping, performing on the subway, riding a bike on the sidewalk, and being in a city park after dark. Between 2001 and 2013, 81 percent of the 7.3 million people charged in the city with a violation were Black or Brown. 40  In 2015 the greatest number of arrests—29,198—were for not paying the $2.75 fare on city subways; 92 percent of those arrests were of people of color.41 In Park Slope, a Brooklyn neighborhood heavily populated by white families, police issue an average of eight tickets a year for riding bicycles on the sidewalk. In Bedford-Stuyvesant, a gentrifying but still predominantly Black community, police issue more than 2,000 a year.42 Eighty-five percent of summonses issued for “open container” violations in Brooklyn are issued to Black and Brown people, even as countless white revelers spill onto the sidewalks of the city on any given evening to smoke a cigarette outside a bar or art gallery while sipping on an alcoholic beverage, or pop open a bottle of bubbly to accompany a symphony in the park, without any consequence whatsoever. One judge presiding over summons court in New York City said he had no memory of having ever adjudicated an open container ticket given to a white person.43

Contrary to Kelling’s recent defense of his broken windows theory, the results of this approach are not an error of application, but rather deeply embedded in the theory itself. In fact, the authors asked themselves in 1982, “how do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable?”44 Their answer was that they were not confident that there was one—except that police must understand the outer limits of their discretion to be that their role is “not to maintain racial or ethnic purity of a neighborhood,” only to regulate behavior.45 The statistics above suggest that officers are, in fact, exercising their discretion—just in racially discriminatory ways.


Poster from rally at the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Poster from rally at the Manhattan Institute on December 10, 2014. Source: hollow sidewalks License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The consequences for those targeted are far from minimal. Broken windows policing not only places Black lives at risk of lethal and excessive force, as well as sexual harassment, assault, and extortion in exchange for avoiding a ticket or arrest, it also subjects Black people to the daily indignity of being stopped and questioned in their own communities, being ordered to put their hands on the wall and spread their legs to be frisked in front of their neighbors, and sometimes spending 24 hours wending their way through police vans, precincts, and central booking pens between arrest and arraignment. Even if they simply receive a summons, they are still required to spend at least one day in court defending themselves against minor charges, to pay exorbitant fines and criminal court fees, and to comply with community service and other mandates imposed on people convicted of offenses as minor as spitting or littering.

Black people of all genders and sexualities come within the crosshairs of broken windows policing. In fact, one of the less frequently discussed realities is that it facilitates racialized policing of gender and sexuality.46 According to Tanya Erzen, broken windows policing “enables officers to act upon racial and gender biases they may have when they enter the police department—under the guise of enforcement of ‘unified guidelines.’”47 All too often, officers read actual or perceived gender disjuncture as inherently out of order, resulting in stops, harassments, and arrests of transgender, gender nonconforming, and queer people of color—along with anyone perceived to deviate from racialized “rules” of gender or sexuality—for “disorderly” or “lewd” conduct offenses.48 Stereotypes framing gender nonconforming people as inherently violent and deviant also lead gender nonconforming young women to be profiled and targeted in the context of “gang policing.”49

Broken windows policing is also a driving force behind aggressive policing of street-based prostitution, which has been documented to have racially disparate impacts. These are rooted both in profiling of Black women and women of color—trans and not trans—as being engaged in prostitution based on age-old stereotypes, and also in the makeup of sex work which, like every other industry, concentrates Black women and transgender people in its most visible and risky sectors (such as street-based prostitution, which more Black women are pushed into, versus legal strip clubs, which frequently discriminate against women of color).50 Gay and gender nonconforming men, for their part, are profiled and discriminatorily targeted for enforcement of lewd conduct laws in public bathrooms and public parks. The broad discretion allowed in enforcement is fueled by perceptions of Black and Brown men—and particularly those who are gender nonconforming or perceived to be queer—as hypersexual uncontrolled manifestations of sexual deviance, with predictably racially disparate impacts.51

Black Lives over Broken Windows

Even as the broken windows theory trades in fear of Black people, it claims the mantle of protecting Black communities seeking more safety, and thereby, protecting Black lives.52 Heather MacDonald of the right-wing Manhattan Institute twists the logic of Black Lives Matter to argue that broken windows policing “has saved thousands of black lives, brought lawful commerce and jobs to once drug-infested neighborhoods and allowed millions to go about their daily lives without fear.”53

Right-wing commentators claiming to be concerned with the welfare of Black communities are not alone. Progressives like David Thacher of the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy in Michigan, writing in a blog for The Marshall Project, have critiqued Campaign Zero’s call for an end to broken windows policing, pointing to Black communities’ right to safety and safe public spaces.54 Thacher, like Kelling, acknowledges the pitfalls of enforcing vague offenses like “disorderly conduct,” as well as more specific ones like bans on skateboarding or public drinking, which are not enforced in white suburbs as they are in Black communities. He acknowledges that, “As long as modern police forces have been around, they have used disorderly conduct statutes and many other public order rules to investigate suspicious and unpopular people in circumstances when doing so overtly would be forbidden,” noting that “the Ferguson Police Department’s intensive use of a city code provision regulating a pedestrian’s ‘manner of walking in the roadway’ to run warrant checks and question suspicious people is only one of many examples.”55 Although he argues for a kinder, gentler form of broken windows in the interests of Black community safety, Thacher’s arguments in fact support the notion that it is bound to produce the same results.56 Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped some community leaders, legislators, and policymakers from continuing to promote and invest in this flawed approach in the name of safety for Black and Brown communities.

The Black Youth Project 100's 2014 report "Agenda to Keep us Safe." Source: http://byp100.org

The Black Youth Project 100’s 2014 report “Agenda to Keep us Safe.” Source: http://byp100.org

Increasingly though, Black communities across the country are speaking for themselves, loudly and clearly, demanding safety from all forms of violence—including the violence of profiling, discriminatory enforcement, and police violence intrinsic to broken windows policing. They are resisting the false choices presented by broken windows proponents, demanding both authentic safety and an end to police violence, harassment, and surveillance, along with respect for rights and dignity. As the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement of New York City stated in the wake of Eric Garner’s killing, the “’broken windows’ philosophy of policing, which purports that focusing resources on the most minor violations will somehow prevent larger ones, has consistently resulted in our rights being violated.”57 They emphatically state that safety cannot come at the price of daily harassment, violation, and the taking of Black lives.

Black voices and communities are articulating their own visions of safety through Black Youth Project 100’s Agenda to Keep us Safe 58 and Agenda to Build Black Futures, Campaign Zero, and demands articulated by Black Lives Matter59 and Ferguson Action.60 What ties many of these agendas together is the notion that the best strategy to promote safety in Black communities is to divest from policing and punishment and instead invest in and support Black communities, leaving no one behind.  Together, they issue a clarion call to combat and dismantle systems of structural discrimination that foster violence while limiting opportunities and life chances of Black people—including “broken windows” policing.

About the Author

Andrea Ritchie is a Black lesbian police misconduct attorney and organizer who has engaged in extensive research, writing, litigation, organizing and advocacy around policing of women and LGBT people of color over the past two decades. She is a 2014 Senior Soros Justice Fellow, author of Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color, in The Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology, and co-author of Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women; A Roadmap for Change: Federal Policy Recommendations for Addressing the Criminalization of LGBT People and People Living with HIV, and Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States. She is currently at work on Invisible No More: Racial Profiling and Police Brutality Against Women of Color, forthcoming from Beacon Press in early 2017, and is a contributor to Who Do You Serve? Who Do You Protect?, published by Haymarket Press in June 2016


*Editor’s note: PRA’s convention is to capitalize both Black and White, to emphasize that both are constructed categories. At the request of the author, this article departs from that convention.
1 Campaign Zero, www.joincampaignzero.org (last visited January 18, 2016).

2 Tierney Sneed, “From Ferguson to Staten Island, Questions about Broken Windows Policing,” U.S. News & World Report, August 14, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/08/14/michael-brown-eric-garner-deaths-add-scrutiny-to-broken-windows-policing.

3 “About #ThisStopsToday,” This Stops Today, http://www.thisstopstoday.org/aboutus/ (last visited April 5, 2016).

4 Emily Thomas, “Pregnant Woman Allegedly Put in Chokehold by NYPD Officer,” Huffington Post, July 28, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/28/pregnant-woman-chokehold-nypd-rosan-miller_n_5628306.html.

5 Jim Hoffer, “Investigation: Woman Claims Brutality Against NYPD Officer,” Eyewitness News, ABC 7 NY (New York, NY: WABC – TV, August 1, 2014). Available at: http://abc7ny.com/news/investigation-woman-claims-police-brutality-against-nypd-officer/229978/ (last visited January 18, 2016).

6 Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011).

7 Jessica Testa, “The 13 Black Women Who Accused a Cop of Sexual Assault, In Their Own Words,” BuzzFeed, December 10, 2015, https://www.buzzfeed.com/jtes/daniel-holtzclaw-women-in-their-ow.

8 George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” The Atlantic, March 1982, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1982/03/broken-windows/304465/.

9 Sam Roberts, “Author of ‘Broken Windows’ Policing Defends His Theory,” New York Times, August 10, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/11/nyregion/author-of-broken-windows-policing-defends-his-theory.html; Matt Schudel, “James Q. Wilson, scholar identified with ‘broken-windows’ theory of crime prevention, dies at 80,” Washington Post, March 2, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/james-q-wilson-scholar-identified-with-broken-windows-theory-of-crime-prevention-dies-at-80/2012/03/02/gIQA2eHynR_story.html.

10 Alex Vitale, “The Neoconservative Roots of the Broken Windows Theory,” Gotham Gazette, August 1, 2014, http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5199-neoconservative-roots-broken-windows-policing-theory-nypd-bratton-vitale.

11 Matt Schudel, supra note 9.

12 Alex Vitale, supra note 10.

13 Jacob Ertel, “Broken Windows, Workfare, and the Battle for Public Space in Giuliani’s New York,” Cyrano’s Journal, January 8, 2015, http://www.cjournal.info/2015/01/08/broken-windows-workfare-and-the-battle-for-public-space-in-giulianis-new-york-2/.

14 Matt Schudel, supra note 9.

15 Pam Chamberlain, “James Q. Wilson: A Dominant Figure Among Conservative Crime Theorists,” in Defending Justice: An Activist Resource Kit, ed. Palak Shah, (Political Research Associates, 2005), 62. Available at: http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2012/12/Defending-Justice.pdf (last visited April 4, 2016).

16 Rudolph W. Giuliani and William J. Bratton, Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York, July 6, 1994. Available at: http://marijuana-arrests.com/docs/Bratton-blueprint-1994–Reclaiming-the-public-spaces-of-NY.pdf (last visited April 4, 2016).

17 Molly Crabapple, “How Broken Windows Policing Harms People of Color,” YouTube video, posted by Fusion, February 3, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXI1QJRqPD8, (last visited January 17, 2016).

18 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

19 Tanya Erzen, “Turnstile Jumpers and Broken Windows: Policing Disorder in New York City,” in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, 19-49, eds. Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzen, (New York: NYU Press, 2001).

20 Ken Auletta, “Fixing Broken Windows,” The New Yorker, September 7, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/07/fixing-broken-windows.

21 Randall Shelden, “Assessing ‘Broken Windows’: A Brief Critique,” Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, April 2004, http://www.cjcj.org/uploads/cjcj/documents/broken.pdf; Ken Auletta, “Fixing Broken Windows,” The New Yorker, September 7, 2015, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/07/fixing-broken-windows; K. Babe Howell, “Broken Lives from Broken Windows: The Hidden Costs of Aggressive Order-Maintenance Policing,” N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change, vol. 33 (2009): 271, 274; William Harms, “Study Conducted in Chicago Neighborhoods Calls ‘Broken Windows’ Theory into Question,” University of Chicago Chronicle, vol. 19, no. 7 (January 6, 2000).

22 Bernard E. Harcourt, “Punitive Preventive Justice: A Critique” (University of Chicago Public Law & Legal Theory Working Paper No. 386 / Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Working Paper No. 599, 2012). Available at: http://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/law_and_economics/401/ (last visited January 15, 2016).

23 George Kelling, “Don’t Blame My Broken Windows Theory for Poor Policing,” Politico Magazine, August 11, 2015, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/broken-windows-theory-poor-policing-ferguson-kelling-121268.

24 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

25 Rudolph W. Giuliani and William J. Bratton, supra note 16.

26 Jacob Ertel, supra note 13.

27 George Kelling, supra note 22.

28 Ibid.

29 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

30 Ibid.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Dayo F. Gore, Tamara Jones, Joo-Hyun Kang, “Organizing at the Intersections: A Roundtable Discussion of Police Brutality Through the Lens of Race, Class, and Sexual Identities,” in Zero Tolerance: Quality of Life and the New Police Brutality in New York City, 19-49, eds. Andrea McArdle and Tanya Erzen, (New York: NYU Press, 2001).

34 Erzen, supra note 19.

35 K. Babe Howell, supra note 20.

36 Charles Reich, qtd. in: Phillip Beatty, Amanda Petteruti, and Jason Ziedenberg, The Vortex: The Concentrated Racial Impact of Drug Imprisonment and the Characteristics of Punitive Counties (Washington, D.C.: Justice Policy Institute, 2007), 14.

37 Dorothy E. Roberts, “Foreword: Race, Vagueness, and the Social Meaning of Order-Maintenance Policing,” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 89, no. 3 (1999), 775, 777-78.

38 George L. Kelling and James Q. Wilson, supra note 8.

39 Pete White, Los Angeles Community Action Network, presentation at preconference convening held in conjunction with U.C.L.A. Critical Race Studies Symposium, Los Angeles, CA, October 17, 2015.

40 Sarah Ryley, Laura Bult, Dareh Gregorian, “Daily News analysis finds racial disparities in summonses for minor violations in ‘broken windows’ policing,” New York Daily News, August 4, 2014, http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/summons-broken-windows-racial-disparity-garner-article-1.1890567.

41 Jeremy Berke, “REPORT: The NYPD Makes The Most Arrests for a $2.75 Crime,” Business Insider, May 10, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/nypd-farebeating-arrests-2016-5.

42 Christopher Mathias, “This is What Broken Windows Policing Looks Like,” Huffington Post, October 9, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/broken-windows-policing-new-york_us_5617f428e4b0082030a2573f.

43 Ibid.

44 Kelling and Wilson, supra note 8.

45 Ibid.

46 Mogul et al., supra n. 6.

47 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6; Tanya Erzen, supra note 19.

48 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6.

49 Amnesty International, Stonewalled: Police Abuse and Misconduct Against LGBT People in the United States, AMR 51/122/2005 (2005).

50 See e.g., Shana Judge and Mariah Wood, “Racial Disparities in Enforcement of Prostitution Laws,” APPAM, November 6, 2014, https://appam.confex.com/appam/2014/webprogram/Paper11163.html; Noah Berlatsky, “Black Women Profiled as Prostitutes in NYC,” Reason, October 1, 2014, http://reason.com/archives/2014/10/01/nypd-profiles-sex-workers-too.

51 Mogul, et al., supra n. 6.

52 Ibid.

53 Heather Mac Donald, “The New Nationwide Crime Wave,” Wall Street Journal, May 29, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-new-nationwide-crime-wave-1432938425.

54 David Thacher, “Don’t End Broken Windows Policing, Fix It,” The Marshall Project, September 9, 2015, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/09/09/don-t-end-broken-windows-policing-fix-it.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, “Statement on the Murder of Eric Garner by the NYPD,” July 19, 2014, http://mxgm.org/malcolm-x-grassroots-statement-on-the-murder-of-eric-garner-by-the-nypd/.

58 Terrance Laney and Janaé Bonsu, Agenda to Keep us Safe, Black Youth Project 100, September 2014,  http://byp100.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/BYP100-Agenda-to-Keep-Us-Safe-AKTUS.pdf; Black Youth Project 100, “BYP100 Announces Release of the Agenda to Build Black Futures,” January 15, 2016,  http://byp100.org/bbf/.

59 Black Lives Matter, Guiding Principles, http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles/, (last visited January 18, 2016).

60 Ferguson Action, Our Vision for a New America, http://fergusonaction.com/demands/, (last visited January 18, 2016).

Trump and Right-Wing Populism: A Long Time Coming

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This article appears in the Spring 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

Most Americans surveying the wreckage of the national political landscape amid the 2016 presidential election are startled, most of all, by the ugliness and violence that has suddenly returned to our electoral politics thanks to the prominence of racist Far Right ideology in the Republican contest. And they shudder at the prospect of what that might mean for the nation’s politics long after de facto Republican nominee Donald Trump departs the scene—whenever that may be.

Almost as suddenly as Trump himself emerged as a major player in the race, so too did an array of White Nationalists and supremacists, conspiracists and xenophobes, and even Klansmen and skinheads. For decades these figures had been relegated to the outskirts of right-wing politics, and many mainstream observers seemed to think they’d gone extinct.1

The brashly offensive statements made by Trump about any number of minority groups or other individuals have likewise confounded observers.

“He is defying the laws of political gravity right now,” exclaimed mainstream political consultant Michael Bronstein in January. “Inside the presidential race, any one of these lines, if they were associated [with] another candidate, it would’ve ended the candidacy.”2

Donald Trump speaking at a campaign rally in Fountain Hills, Arizona. Source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

But the normal rules simply do not apply with Trump. Although he presents himself as a truth-talking business conservative—having emerged largely from these ranks—Trump has transformed himself into a creature of the populist Hard Right, the movement to which he owes his electoral success. The ideology that is identifiable through the candidate’s braggadocious and at times incoherent speaking style is the “producerist” narrative,3 which pits ordinary White working people against both liberals—who are cast as an oppressive class of elites—and the poor and immigrants, who are denigrated as parasites.

Producerism has historically been tied to far-right movements, whether the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s or the Patriot/militia movement of the 1990s and today. The rhetoric of the militia movement, which arose during the Bill Clinton administration, served to help mainstream the Radical Right. Most of these militias initially presented themselves as ordinary civic organizations devoted to protecting people’s rights and property, even as they gathered a large number of violent militants within their ranks. But any positive spin on the movement was derailed by acts of terrorism associated with the movement, like the Oklahoma City bombing. Marginalized, the Patriots largely went into hiatus in the early part of the new century, during the conservative Republican administration of George W. Bush, but the motivations that fueled their movement remained very much alive.

During the same years that militias were first organizing, right-wing media simultaneously arose as a separate propaganda organ that demonized liberals and presented conservatives as the only true American patriots. The following decade, during the Iraq War, conventional right-wing rhetoric on outlets like Fox News became vociferous and eliminationist: liberals were derided as “soft on terror,” and any criticism of Bush and his administration was denounced as “treasonous.” Meanwhile, conspiracist elements of the Far Right found fuel in the aftermath of September 11th, which produced an entire cottage industry devoted to proving the terror attacks part of a conspiratorial plot, giving fresh life to the already-hoary “New World Order” theories of the 1990s.

During the Bush years, the Far Right largely declined from their 1990s levels of organization but remained active and bubbling along on these conspiracist fringes. The candidacy and election of President Barack Obama in 2008, however, changed all that, sparking a virulent opposition. The mainstream Right, after years of right-wing media conditioning during both the Clinton and Bush years, seemed no longer able to abide the idea of sharing power with a liberal president and set out to delegitimize Obama by any means possible. And it was through that shared hatred that the mainstream Right and the Far Right finally cemented their growing alliance in the loose assemblage of conservative activists known as the Tea Party. Ostensibly a movement for low taxes and small government, in reality the Tea Party represented the mobilization of right-wing groups to oppose any and every aspect of Obama’s presidency.

Source: Christian Cable License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

“New World Order” theories are examples of the conspiracist element of the Far Right. Source: Christian Cable via Flickr.

In the rural and suburban red-voting districts where the Tea Party organized itself, the movement became the living embodiment of right-wing populism, evoking and popularizing producerism’s twin demonization of both liberals and the poor and immigrants. As with most varieties of right-wing populism, many elements of the Tea Party embraced conspiracism, the supposed “tyranny” of the president, and ideas that bubbled up from the Far Right, including “constitutionalism,” “nullification,” and even secession. The Tea Party became the main conduit for passing ideas that originated with the Patriot movement, and its far-right cousins, into the mainstream of American conservatism: the belief, for example, that the Constitution prohibits any form of gun regulation, federal land ownership, or federal law enforcement.4 It’s from these corners of the Right that the idea of the county sheriff as the highest legitimate law-enforcement entity in the land emerged.

Hand-in-hand with these beliefs about the Constitution came a panoply of conspiracy theories: that a nefarious New World Order is plotting to enslave all of mankind; that President Obama was born overseas and plans to institute Sharia law; that climate change is a scam dreamed up by land-planning environmentalists and leftists seeking to control every facet of our lives.

This is a universe in which facts, logic, reason, and the laws of political gravity do not apply. And early on, Donald Trump identified its politics with his own.

“I think the people of the Tea Party like me,” he told a Fox News interviewer in 2011, “because I represent a lot of the ingredients of the Tea Party. What I represent very much, I think, represents the Tea Party.”5

Trump in action has certainly delivered on that. The opening salvo of his campaign, in which he castigated Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists and promised to erect a border wall, was straight out of the Tea Party’s hardcore nativist playbook. And his subsequent positions and rhetoric—attacking “the Establishment,” Black Lives Matter and “political correctness,” vowing to outsmart China on trade, promising to protect the Second Amendment, promising to overturn Roe v. Wade and suggesting that women who get abortions could be jailed—were similarly straight out of the right-wing populist milieu.

Most of all, his claim that his personal wealth would make him, as president, immune to the demands of the wealthy and other special interests, formed the foundation for his populist appeal, as someone who would look out for the interests of “ordinary Americans.” That appeal was bolstered by his promises to get the nation’s economic engine into high gear, voiced in common terms: “We’re going to get greedy for the United States,” he told a crowd in Las Vegas. “We’re gonna grab and grab and grab. We’re gonna bring in so much money and so much everything. We’re going to Make America Great Again, I’m telling you folks.”6

Trump has cannily tapped a large voting bloc that was already created by conservative movement activists, and made large by the very rhetoric and ideology that nearly all of the movement’s media organs embraced to some degree before his arrival on the scene.

Before the Trump campaign, these true believers of the Hard Right were thought to comprise the margins of the Republican Party, a tiny subset that had no voice and even less power. What the Trump campaign reveals, unquestionably, is that they are no longer so tiny, nor so powerless.

Even if Trump were to fade away after 2016—something that is becoming an ever more unlikely event—those who rose up to support him will not, nor will their alternative universe shatter and fall. What they will become after the election will depend on how radicalized they are becoming during the election process, and on how the rest of society responds to the violence that emanates from their ranks. It will be a serious and significant challenge.

After all, the reality is that they have been around for a very long time—buried deep in the American psyche—and are now springing forth with renewed vigor, thanks to the encouragement that Trump is giving them.

About the Author

David Neiwert is a Seattle-based investigative journalist and the Pacific Northwest correspondent for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, as well as the author of several books, including And Hell Followed With Her: Crossing the Dark Side of the American Border.


1 Chip Berlet, “‘Trumping’ Democracy: Right-Wing Populism, Fascism, and the Case for Action,” Political Research Associates, December 12, 2015, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/12/trumping-democracy-right-wing-populism-fascism-and-the-case-for-action/#sthash.ZwSafuvF.dpbs.

2 Chris Stigmal, “Donald Trump Defying The Laws Of Political Gravity,” CBS Philly, January 25, 2016, http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2016/01/25/donald-trump-defying-the-laws-of-political-gravity/.

3 “Right-Wing Populism in the United States,” Political Research Associates, 2009, http://www.rightwingpopulism.us/graphics/populism/populism-overview.jpg.

4 Spencer Sunshine, “Gunning for Office: Oregon’s Patriot Movement and the May 2016 Primary,” Political Research Associates, April 19, 2016, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/04/19/gunning-for-office-oregons-patriot-movement-and-the-may-2016-primary/#sthash.oCtq6Cl9.dpbs.

5 Dave Neiwert, “Donald Trump Claims To Be The Ideal Tea Party Candidate: ‘I Represent A Lot Of The Ingredients Of The Tea Party,’” Crooks and Liars, April 7, 2011, http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/donald-trump-claims-be-ideal-tea-par.

6 “Transcript: Trump’s ‘winning, winning, winning’ speech,” Tampa Bay Times, February 24, 2016, http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/transcript-trumps-winning-winning-winning-speech/2266681.