Who Speaks for Conservative Women?

“Feminisms” for Life, Liberty, and Politics

Public Eye Spring 2015 CoverThis article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

When the planned vote on a harsh new 20-week abortion ban went off the rails in January, liberal news outlets gloated while conservative commentators fumed over what they respectively called a Republican congresswomen “revolt” or “mutiny.”

At the beginning of the year, GOP leadership scheduled a high-profile vote on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” to coincide with the 2015 March for Life, the annual protest of Roe v. Wade. They had a Congressional majority and expected smooth passage of the bill. But, to their surprise, female House representatives balked at the bill’s draconian rape and incest exemption, which would have forced survivors to file a police report before they could access an abortion. The Republican dissenters—primarily women, joined by a couple of moderate male allies—thought the provision was tone-deaf and would turn off women and millennial voters.1 The memory of Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” gaffe loomed in the background. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) chastised her party, arguing that Republicans could no longer afford to appear “harsh and judgmental” now that they control both the House and Senate.2 Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the legislation’s lead co-sponsor, passionately criticized her party for yet again letting insensitivity about rape derail Republicans’ agenda.3

Most strikingly, the female opposition was led by anti-abortion stalwarts with strong right-wing credentials, namely Ellmers and Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN). None of the dissenting congresswomen identify as pro-choice; all had received approval from the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) and Concerned Women for America (CWA)—two powerful and well-funded right-wing organizations—for their solid track records on limiting abortion rights; and Ellmers and Blackburn had received honors from the libertarian Independent Women’s Forum in 2014.

As an Indiana state legislator, Walorski killed a hate crimes bill by adding fetuses as a protected class, and called for an investigation of Planned Parenthood for allegedly covering up rape.4 Ellmers joined Congress in 2010 on a Tea Party wave, endorsed by Sarah Palin, and was an enthusiastic participant in the Koch-backed attack on healthcare reform.5 Blackburn boasts an unblemished record of over a decade of anti-abortion votes in Congress. And they all appeared untroubled by voting for the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” the bill Republicans instead passed for the Roe anniversary. In other words, these women were not the RINOs—Republicans In Name Only— whom you might expect to block an anti- abortion bill.

The controversy’s significance lies in pitting Republican congresswomen not only against the majority of their male colleagues—who, as Abby Scher writes in The Progressive, rely on them as “front- women to sell [the party’s] regressive policies”6—but also against the major conservative women’s movement organizations and female anti-abortion advocates who backed the reporting requirement. And it was not the only incident in the last year that put female politicians and advocacy leaders from organizations such as CWA and SBA at odds, as part of a legitimacy contest over who speaks for conservative women.

A young woman takes part in the 2015 March for Life in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Elvert Barnes.

A young woman takes part in the 2015 March for Life in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Elvert Barnes.

CONSERVATIVE WOMEN’S MOVEMENTS

In 1979, the rise of feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment motivated conservative evangelical Beverly LaHaye to found Concerned Women for America, established as an overtly anti-feminist female voice. Yet CWA has clung to relevance over the years, better than infamous anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, by demonstrating its adaptability in toning down strident anti-feminist language and laying claim to pro-life feminist arguments when convenient, as when a CWA publication asserted in 2003, “Today’s feminists wrongly claim kinship to feminism’s founders, thereby cloaking their radicalism in the early movement’s popularity and moral authority.”7 In Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America, religious studies professor Leslie Dorrough Smith explains the shifting rhetoric was spurred by the need “to appear progressive and yet simultaneously traditional, a move perhaps motivated by its need to recruit and maintain younger members as well as to prove its political relevance” in a society which likes what feminism has accomplished even if it doesn’t always accept the movement itself.8

Sarah Palin’s 2008 vice presidential candidacy and membership in the organization Feminists for Life brought increased attention in recent years to “conservative feminism,” a movement that says it represents the true legacy of “the original feminists,” claiming for itself the banner of the women’s suffragists—rather than that of the conservative women who fought voting rights. Importantly for Republicans, whose base trends older and male, the brand was seen as resonating with youth and women.9 The appeal of conservative feminism neither began nor ended with Palin’s failed campaign. For decades, there have been two streams of conservative movement “feminism”— one for life, and one for liberty. Feminists for Life (FFL), founded in 1972, was the original “pro-life feminist” group, touting its history of supporting women’s rights initiatives such as the Equal Rights Amendment and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). FFL never achieved the prominence of better-funded Christian Right organization that took over the “protect women” frame as a convenient (albeit substance-free) marketing strategy as Schlafly’s brand of traditional anti-feminism lost appeal. The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) has pushed a brand of free market feminism, also known as equity feminism, since 1992.10 For the Right Wing to appear legitimate, women’s and women-led organizations must be at the forefront of opposition to abortion rights and other policies affecting women.11

FEMINISTS FOR LIFE: COOPTING THE BRAND

“Since 1973, it’s been the same thing: One side of the abortion wars yells, ‘What about the woman?’ Instead of yelling back, ‘What about the baby?’ Feminists for Life answers the question,” FFL president Serrin Foster explains, insisting that their feminism is not a “strategy” or “ploy.”12 But the anti-abortion movement’s pervasive “abortion as harm to women” frame looks very much like a ploy when deployed by organizations like CWA or SBA. Political Research Associates’ Defending Reproductive Justice Activist Resource Kit describes how Christian Right organizations like CWA, the National Right to Life Committee (founded by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops), Family Research Council, and the extensive crisis pregnancy center network market themselves as concerned for women—not just fetuses—through extensive misrepresentations of the medical hazards of abortion and a fabricated “post-abortion syndrome.”13 (The Christian Right deployed a similar strategy in co-opting the ex-gay movement in the 1990s to put a more compassionate face on their homophobic agenda.14)

FFL’s $300,000 budget—far greater than other small feminist pro-life groups, such as the tiny coalition of secular and Democratic anti-abortion organizations that rallied at the margins of the 2015 March for Life15—is negligible compared to the five or six million dollars in the coffers of Christian Right organizations like CWA (which has millions more in its PAC), SBA, and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and American Life League (single-issue anti-abortion organizations both led by women). Anti-abortion advocates point to their marginalized pro-life feminist groups as evidence of the movement’s pro-woman nature, while actually giving most funding to organizations where concern for women is no more than a marketing device.16 Even though Palin’s FFL membership brought attention to the phenomenon of conservative feminism, organizations like SBA and CWA swiftly coopted both the brand and the cash. (This includes donations from the Koch brothers, who fund Christian Right movement organizations with the mobilization capacity and willingness to support “free enterprise” along with their culture wars agenda.)

The Susan B. Anthony List—named for one of conservatives’ favorite “reclaimed” historical feminists—illustrates the financial rewards of using feminism as a brand rather than an ideology. In 1992, FFL leadership founded SBA as a bipartisan, anti-abortion counterpart to EMILY’s List, which helps elect women politicians. But after former FFL president and SBA co-founder Rachel MacNair left for graduate school in the mid-1990s, she says, “Republicans took over.”17 Co-founder Marjorie Dannenfelser, a former Heritage Foundation employee, assumed the SBA presidency and aligned the organization with a network of well-funded Christian Right organizations.18 SBA almost completely stopped backing Democrats and began diverting funds to male candidates running against pro-choice women, prioritizing a hard-right stance over the founding mission of cultivating female candidates.19

In 2013, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Bridge Project published a joint report on SBA, finding an extensive anti-woman track record. The organization backs candidates who oppose legal abortion even in cases of rape or incest, who support criminalizing women for obtaining abortions, and who voted against equal pay legislation and VAWA. SBA supported candidate Todd Akin after he stated that “legitimate rape” cannot lead to pregnancy, as well as Indiana Tea Party senatorial candidate Richard Mourdock when he called pregnancies that result from rape a “gift from God.” Then SBA launched a training program to prevent Republican men from continuing to make these public gaffes—a far cry from their founding goal of electing women representatives to fight for women’s interests.20 In Righting Feminism, Ronnee Schreiber suggests that one reason right-wing women’s organizations like CWA and SBA eschew “the strategy of getting more women into public office is that empirical studies suggest that women elected officials tend to be more liberal than their male counterparts within the same party.”21 In order to successfully pursue a hardline agenda against women’s bodily integrity, SBA abandoned its woman-centered founding purpose and updated its mission to include electing “pro-life men” who “oppose pro-abortion women”—a policy that would inevitably decrease the total number of women elected representatives.

U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

U.S. Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo via Flickr and courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

FFL lost control not only over its child organization, SBA, but the entire “pro- life feminist” brand. Today, CWA and SBA have spawned a new generation of young pro-life “feminists,” beloved by the anti-abortion movement, like Lila Rose, who published an opinion piece in Politico in 2012 titled “Battle Hymn of the Anti-Abortion Feminist.”22 Her organization, Live Action, exploits concern for women and girls to promote its Planned Parenthood sting videos, accusing the clinics of enabling “gendercide,” rape, and human trafficking.23 Rose capitalized on the tragic death of a 24-year-old following an abortion procedure, calling her “the true face of the ‘War on Woman.’”24 Her hardline positions on abortion and contraception belie her claims to care about women, as she blithely opposes even life-saving abortions as “never medically necessary.”25 In its few years of existence, Live Action already has more than double the budget of FFL, with 2013 revenues of nearly a million dollars. In the world of pro-life feminism, FFL demonstrates, it doesn’t pay to live up to the label.

FEMINISTS FOR LIBERTY: IF AYN RAND WERE A FEMINIST

In her 1994 book Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, Christina Hoff Sommers applauds the achievements of women suffragists as “classically liberal” feminists, but argues that now U.S. women have achieved equality of opportunity. Equity feminists—Sommers’ term for a form of free market or libertarian feminism—support legal rights for women but deny the existence of structural forces constricting women’s advancement. They chalk present-day disparities in the U.S. up to intrinsic sex differences, condemn “war on women” rhetoric as infantilizing, and argue that valid feminism must focus on “real” oppression in less developed countries.26 Equity feminists accuse “gender feminists”—by which they mean mainstream feminists—of lying about statistics on violence against women and exaggerating rape culture as part of a victimhood narrative. They imply that female students often lie about being raped when they regret “hooking up,” attracting media attention by offering dissident women’s critiques of the rapidly growing movement against campus rape.27

On the other hand, equity feminists suggest that American boys and men suffer at the hands of gender feminists. In 2013, concern over boys’ educational achievements brought Sommers’ message to mainstream media outlets including The New York Times, TIME, and The Atlantic. Their hostility toward gender feminists and skepticism of rape survivors dovetails alarmingly with—and gives the legitimacy of women’s voices to—the misogynist ideology of the Men’s Rights Movement.28

The free market feminist belief in individual empowerment shares ideological similarities with neoliberal feminism, exemplified by works such as Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and some adherents (including Sommers herself) identify as Democrats,29 although the movement organizations all sit within the conservative network. An American Enterprise Institute (AEI) article, reposted by the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), argues, “Feminists hate Lean In because, as Republican Party activist Ann Stone commented from the audience, Sandberg ‘stuck a knife in the breast of [female] victimhood big-time.’” One of the largest groups in the movement, the IWF— of which Sommers is the advisory board chair—developed out of a group formed to help defend Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas against Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment.30

Today organized free market feminism is a small and closely interlinked network that, thanks to its economic conservatism, reaps support from right-wing groups like the massive AEI and substantial donations from the Koch family foundations or through Donors Trust/Donors Capital Fund, which Andy Kroll at Mother Jones calls “the dark-money ATM of the right.”31 IWF received $1.8 million from Donors Trust/Capital in 2012 and also receives funding from the well-known conservative Bradley and Scaife foundations. In March 2015, IWF demonstrated support for another infamous Koch-funded organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in honoring CEO Lisa B. Nelson in its “Modern Feminist” feature.32

Like those who claim “pro-life feminism,” free market feminist organizations recognize the value of reaching a younger generation. Sommers’ caricature of gender feminism—as exaggerating the oppression of U.S. women—continues to attract female students 20 years later, while the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute ($1.5 million budget) trains young women to “take back feminism.” The small Network of enlightened Women (NeW), whose president is an IWF fellow, also works on campuses. And in 2013, AEI refreshed the equity brand by publishing Sommers’ new book, Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why It Matters Today, as part of a Values & Capitalism series for Christian college students.

IWF avoids culture war issues such as abortion and LGBTQ rights, though it defends gun rights and opposes education on climate change, which can encourage restrictions on the free market. Though primarily affiliated with conservative organizations, equity feminists include individuals who identify as pro-choice, secular or atheist, or Democratic.33 This keeps them from playing with—and receiving funding from—the larger and more powerful Christian Right operations like CWA. But they at times follow different paths to the same position. For instance, On the Issues summarizes the vehement opposition to VAWA as falling into “two broadly ideological areas—that the law is an unnecessary overreach by the federal government [free market feminism], and that it represents a ‘feminist’ attack on family values [pro-life feminism].”34 CWA also draws on the equity feminist justification for opposing equal pay legislation—that wage disparities result from women’s “choices,” and government regulations that address the income gap would thus interfere with women’s exercise of choice—demonstrating the shared free market influence that helps Christian Right organizations win the Koch brothers’ largesse and protects equity feminism from total isolation.35

THIS IS WHAT A CONSERVATIVE FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE?

When Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) first introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in 2013, he modeled the legislation after the NRLC’s proposed bill, which lacked any rape and incest exemption. Defending this, Franks asserted that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” triggering swift comparisons to Todd Akin’s famous faux pas in 2012. Republican House leadership went into damage control mode, putting their female colleagues in charge of the floor debate to deflect criticism, with Blackburn as lead co-sponsor.36 They also added a rape and incest exemption, modified with the police-reporting requirement to satisfy anti-abortion organizations including SBA and CWA (which, an Ellmers aide told a constituent on tape, insisted on its inclusion).37

But compromise came with a cost. Though NRLC accepted the weakening of their model bill, its Georgia chapter was outraged by the deal and broke away to form the even more hardline National Personhood Alliance.38 This loss of face likely contributed to the NRLC’s refusal to compromise further and risk denunciation from their right flank. NRLC president Carol Tobias vehemently condemned the congresswomen and men “who metaphorically stabbed a knife in the back of all the pro-lifers who voted for them.”39 Some abortion opponents advocated returning to the original bill, suggesting that the reporting requirement would not be a problem if they removed the exemption altogether.

Despite a meeting between the male Republican leadership and the group of concerned congresswomen—it’s rare for women legislators to rate so much time with the leadership—the impasse between these two influential bodies of conservative women, the elected officials, and the organizational leaders, thwarted compromise.40

The January upset came within a year of another schism that pitted Republican congresswomen against Christian Right women’s organizations. In May 2014, Blackburn, Ellmers, Walorski, and all but two of the Republican women then in Congress ended up on the opposite side of CWA and SBA over legislation for a National Women’s History Museum. (One of the museum’s two female opponents was Tea Party favorite and then representative Michele Bachmann, who herself appears in an exhibit.) Along with Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, the Family Research Council, and Heritage Action, the conservative women’s organizations denounced the proposed museum as a biased “national shrine to abortion” that would “fuel the radical feminist movement for decades to come.” Blackburn, the lead Republican co-sponsor of the bi-partisan bill, offered CWA president Peggy Nance a seat on the museum’s board to attempt to win the conservative organization’s support. Nance refused unless she or another right-wing leader could serve as chair.41 IWF and its sister organizations stayed out of the fight, but a couple of connections suggested a measure of support for the museum: IWF has praised as a “modern feminist” one of the museum’s three founders, Ann Stone, who still sits on the museum’s board along with a Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute board member.42

When the museum bill passed with an overwhelming majority, Sarah Mimms at the National Journal summarized the moral: “The message from the Republican majority to the outside groups opposing the bill is clear: You’re not helping.” She warned that, given the widening gender gap between the parties, “Republican opposition to a bipartisan legislation for a museum celebrating the accomplishments of women” would backfire at the polls.43

Despite the conflict over the museum, Ellmers, Walorski, and Blackburn looked like they followed the Palin brand until this January, when the battle over Franks’ abortion bill took the underlying conflicts to a new level. While Christian Right women’s organizations reacted to the Republican congresswomen’s actions as a betrayal, and free market feminist organizations steered clear of the debate, that doesn’t mean the dissident GOP congresswomen are simply more closely aligned with free market feminism. While the less-funded free market or equity feminist network might benefit from embracing the congresswomen’s position, they were founded on and continue to promote a dismissive approach to sexual harassment, rape culture, and violence against women. Contrast that with congresswomen like Ellmers, who has gone against the conservative grain to co-sponsor proposed legislation addressing campus sexual assault. Even on VAWA, while Blackburn, Ellmers, and eight other Republican congresswomen voted no on reauthorization, Walorski and the majority of female GOP representatives (including all female senators) bucked their party and both conservative movement feminisms to vote yes.

The divide among conservative women seems to speak to a larger sense among GOP congresswomen of what their party must do to appeal to women—a serious concern given that “polls showed women tend to see Republicans as ‘intolerant, lacking in compassion and stuck in the past.’”44 In December 2014, Blackburn joined Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and then Rep.-elect Barbara Comstock (R-VA) in a panel at Politico’s Women Rule Summit (co-sponsored by the Tory Burch Foundation and Google), titled “Conservative Feminists: Why It’s Not an Oxymoron.” During the discussion, Brooks, who hails from the same state as candidate Richard Mourdock, was asked to comment on his remarks on rape. “We took a stand as Republican women, and said, ‘This is not our party,’” Brooks said, adding that Republicans shouldn’t allow the GOP to be branded by such remarks.45 This was a marked departure from SBA’s decision to stand behind Mourdock despite his offensive comments.

A conservative women’s movement prioritizing bipartisan work to promote women’s accomplishments and taking a more positive approach to sexual violence—whether motivated by branding or substance—would significantly break with the existing right-wing base, even if it otherwise retains stringently anti-choice and free market positions.

Since Christian Right women’s organizations cater to a male-dominated movement in holding a hardline stance, their position is unlikely to soften. The Republican congresswomen testing out this third way risk incurring the wrath of influential female Christian Right leaders (and their male backers) who stand for ever more extreme right-wing policies. When the Franks bill ultimately failed, anti-abortion blogger Jill Stanek and Students for Life America president Kristan Hawkins promptly organized young women to protest at Ellmers’ office during the March for Life, countering Ellmers’ stated concerns about losing millennial votes with a “new poll,” from right-wing Catholic group Knights of Columbus, purporting to show that millennials are “a pro-life generation.”46 Asked whether Ellmers would face a primary challenge, SBA president Dannenfelser responded decisively: “That tidal wave has already begun….That’s going to happen, and she deserves it.”47

Alex DiBranco studies social movements and nonprofit organizations as a sociology Ph.D. student at Yale, analyzing the U.S. Christian Right and reproductive rights and justice movements. She is a Public Eye editorial board member and has been published in outlets including The Nation, Alternet and RH Reality Check.

ENDNOTES

1. Paige Winfield Cunningham. (2015). “Renee Ellmers explains stance against abortion bill.” Washington Examiner. Online at http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/renee- ellmers-explains-stance-against- abortion-bill/article/2559085.

2. Ibid.

3. Daniel Newhauser and Lauren Fox. (2015). “GOP Leaders Pull Abortion Bill After Revolt by Women, Moderates.” National Journal. Online at http://www. nationaljournal.com/congress/gop- leaders-pull-abortion-bill-after-revolt- by-women-moderates-20150121.

4. Bill Browning. (2009). “The nexus: Abortion zealot Jackie Walorski and Indiana’s hate crimes legislation.” Huffington Post. Online at http://www. huffingtonpost.com/bil-browning/the- nexus-abortion-zealot_b_157628.html.

5. “The Ten Scariest Republicans Heading to Congress.” People for the American Way. Online at http:// www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/the- ten-scariest-republicans-heading-to- congress#ellmers.

6. Abby Scher. (2015). “The New Face Of Republican Women in Congress.” The Progressive. Online at http://www.progressive.org/ news/2015/03/188022/new-face- republican-women-congress.

7. Leslie Dorrough Smith. (2014).Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 121.

8. Ibid.

9. Abby Scher. (2008). “Post-Palin Feminism.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www. politicalresearch.org/2008/12/06/ post-palin-feminism/.

10. Ibid.

11. Lisa Miller. (2011). “A feminine face for the antiabortion movement.” The Washington Post. Online at http:// www.washingtonpost.com/national/ on-faith/a-feminine-face-for-the-anti- abortion-movement/2011/11/02/ gIQAwd7kiM_story.html.

12. Emily Bazelon. (2007). “Suffragette City.” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2007/01/suffragette-city.

13. “Defending Reproductive Justice: Activist Resource Kit.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/defending- reproductive-justice-activist-resource-kit-2/.

14. (1998). “Challenging the Ex-Gay Movement: An Information Packet.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/wp- content/uploads/downloads/2012/11/ ChallengingExGay.pdf.

15. Robin Marty. (2015). “Joining the other side.” Contributoria. Online at https://www. contributoria.com/issue/2015- 02/5489c05855f1bf033400004b.

16. Emily Bazelon. (2007). “Suffragette City.” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2007/01/suffragette-city.

17. Kate Sheppard. (2012). “Susan B. Anthony List Founder: Republicans Hijacked My PAC!” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2012/02/susan-b-anthony-list- sharp-right-turn-rachel-macnair.

18. Monica Potts. (2012). “Susan B. Anthony’s Hit List.” The American Prospect. Online at http://prospect.org/ article/susan-b-anthonys-hit-list.

19. Valerie Richardson. (1992). “Feminist launches PAC for pro-lifers.” The Washington Times. Online at https:// stuff.mit.edu/afs/net/user/tytso/ usenet/americast/twt/news/596.

20. “Susan B. Anthony List’s Anti- Choice Machine.” NARAL Pro-Choice America. (2014). Online at http://www. prochoiceamerica.org/elections/sba- list-report/.

21. Ronnee Schreiber. (2008). Righting Feminism: Conservative Women and American Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 52.

22. Lila Rose. (2012). “Battle hymn of the anti-abortion feminist.” Politico. Online at http://www.politico.com/ news/stories/0412/74739.html.

23. Remington Shepard and Kevin Zieber. (2012). “Right-Wing Media Hype Discredited Activist’s Latest Bogus Planned Parenthood Attack.” Media Matters. Online at http://mediamatters. org/research/2012/05/29/right-wing- media-hype-discredited-activists- lat/185033.

24. “Defending Reproductive Justice: Activist Resource Kit.” Political Research Associates. Online at http://www.politicalresearch.org/resources/reports/full-reports/defending-reproductive-justice-activist-resource- kit-2/.

25. Laura Bassett. (2013). “Lila Rose: Beatriz Doesn’t Need A Life-Saving Abortion.” Huffington Post. Online at http://www.huffingtonpost. com/2013/05/31/lila-rose-beatriz- abortion_n_3367595.html.

26. Christina Hoff Sommers. (2015). “The Buckley Program at Yale Lecture Series Jan. 22, 2015.” Online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_ t701RfOEM.

27. Charlotte Hays. (2015). “Caroline Kitchens.” Independent Women’s Forum. Online at http://iwf.org/ modern-feminist/2796105/ CAROLINE-KITCHENS.

28. Arthur Goldwag. (2012). “Leader’s Suicide Brings Attention to Men’s Rights Movement.” Southern Poverty Law Center.Online at http://www.splcenter. org/get-informed/intelligence-report/ browse-all-issues/2012/spring/a-war- on-women.

29. Alex DiBranco. (2015). “Letter to the Editor.” The Public Eye, Winter 2015. Online at http://politicalresearch.org/ resources/magazine.

30. “Independent Women’s Forum.” SourceWatch.org. Online at http:// www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ Independent_Women%27s_Forum.

31. Andy Kroll. (2013). “Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement.” Mother Jones. Online at http://www.motherjones.com/ politics/2013/02/donors-trust-donor- capital-fund-dark-money-koch-bradley- devos.

32. Charlotte Hays. (2015). “ALEC CEO Lisa B. Nelson.” Independent Women’s Forum. Online at http://iwf.org/ modern-feminist/2796644/ALEC-CEO- LISA-B.-NELSON.

33. “Independent Women’s Forum.” SourceWatch.org. Online at http:// www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/ Independent_Women%27s_Forum.

34. (2010). “Renee Ellmers on Civil Rights.” On the Issues. Online at http:// www.ontheissues.org/NC/Renee_ Ellmers_Civil_Rights.htm.

35. Concerned Women for America staff. (2014). “Paycheck Fairness Act (S.2199) Opposition Letter.” Concerned Women for America. Online at http:// www.cwfa.org/paycheck-fairness-act- s-2199-opposition-letter/.

36. Kathryn Smith and Ginger Gibson. (2013). “Trent Franks: ‘Incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.’” Politico. Online at http://www. politico.com/story/2013/06/trent- franks-incidence-of-rape-resulting- in-pregnancy-are-very-low-92650. html#ixzz3QRMIwJQA.

37. Miranda Blue. (2015). “Anti-Choice Women’s Groups Reportedly Pushed For Rape Reporting Requirement In Abortion Ban.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch. org/content/anti-choice-womens- groups-reportedly-pushed-rape- reporting-requirement-abortion-ban.

38. Miranda Blue. (2014). “Spurned Georgia Group Launching Even More Extreme Rival To National Right To Life Committee.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch. org/content/spurned-georgia-group- launching-even-more-extreme-rival- national-right-life-committee.

39. (2015). “Elected Officials Who Betray Unborn Babies Have to Go.” National Right to Life News Today. Online at http://www.nationalrighttolifenews. org/news/2015/01/elected-officials- who-betray-unborn-babies-have-to- go/.

40. Ed O’Keefe. (2015). “Abortion bill dropped amid concerns of female GOP lawmakers.” The Washington Post. Online at http://www. washingtonpost.com/blogs/post- politics/wp/2015/01/21/abortion-bill- in-flux-as-female-gop-lawmakers-raise- concerns/.

41. Miranda Blue. (2014). “After Complaining Women’s Museum Will ‘Indoctrinate’ Visitors Into Feminism, CWA’s Nance Demands To Chair Museum’s Board.” Right Wing Watch. Online at http://www.rightwingwatch. org/content/after-complaining- women-s-museum-will-indoctrinate- visitors-feminism-cwas-nance- demands-chai.

42. Charlotte Hays. (2013). “Portrait of a Modern Feminist: Ann Stone.” Independent Women’s Forum. Online at http://iwf.org/modern- feminist/2791521/Portrait-of-a- Modern-Feminist:-Ann-Stone.

43. Sarah Mimms. (2014). “Conservative Groups Urge Republicans to Oppose Women’s Museum, Republicans Don’t Listen.” National Journal. Online at http://www.nationaljournal.com/ congress/conservative-groups-urge- republicans-to-oppose-women- s-museum-republicans-don-t- listen-20140507.

44. Abby Scher. (2015). “The New Face Of Republican Women in Congress.” The Progressive. Online at http://www.progressive.org/news/2015/03/188022/ new-face-republican-women-congress.

45. “Conservative Feminism: Why it’s not an oxymoron.” Politico. (2014). Online at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=p6V9GhIb0so.

46. Lauretta Brown. (2015). “Millenni- als Protest Ellmers’ Efforts to Delay and Dilute Pro-Life Bill.” CNSNews.com. Online at http://cnsnews.com/news/article/lauretta-brown/millennials-protest-ellmers-efforts-delay-and-dilute-pro-life-bill.

47. Austin Ruse. (2015). “Exclusive: Pro-Life Leaders Call for Ellmers’ Oust- er.” Breitbart.com. Online at http://www.breitbart.com/big-govern- ment/2015/01/22/exclusive-pro-life-leaders-call-for-ellmers-ouster-from-congress/.

The Tea Party, the John Birch Society, and the Fear of “Mob Rule”: An Interview with Claire Conner

Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag

Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag

Claire Conner’s parents were early members of the John Birch Society (JBS), an aggressively right-wing organization that was founded in 1958 by Robert Welch. It drew much of its energy from opposition to the New Deal and Great Society programs that dramatically expanded the social safety net in the United States. The JBS was also active in opposing the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. In foreign policy, many of its members believed that U.S. participation in the United Nations was part of a communist conspiracy to create a “one-world” government. The JBS also viewed mainstream politicians from both major parties, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, as communist sympathizers.

Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right (Boston: Beacon Press, 2013) is Conner’s memoir about growing up in Chicago as the daughter of two of the organization’s earliest and most dedicated members. Kirkus Reviews named Wrapped in the Flag one of the best nonfiction books of 2013 and described it as “an invaluable contribution to understanding the mentality of extremist conservatism.” A paperback edition will be published in March 2014.

In the following interview, Conner discusses the organization’s early years and its influence on the contemporary conservative movement. For more about the history and recent resurgence of the organization, see PRA’s brief profile of the JBS and the article “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right”—both by PRA fellow Rachel Tabachnick.

What motivated you to write this book now? 

When I started writing it more than 10 years ago, no one was interested in the story. People didn’t really want to hear about what it was like growing up in the radical Right. In 2003, I revisited it again and did some more work. And again, no one was interested. Then in 2008, we were sitting in the family room watching television, and Sarah Palin was really digging into Obama. And a group of people started shouting [at the mention of Obama], “Terrorist!” That said to me, “Finish your book.”

It became clear to me that something was happening. The level of hatred, fear, and paranoia was so familiar to me that I began to realize that the Right was making a comeback. They were emerging again from their cocoon. And as I say in the book, all it took was the election of the first African-American president, health care reform, and an economic crisis. And they were back in the saddle. This time they were called the Tea Party. Basically they had the same ideas, the same policy prescriptions for the United States, as the John Birch Society (JBS) had back in the 1960s and ’70s.

You mentioned the hatred and paranoia that are shared by the JBS and the Tea Party. What accounts for that? 

It comes from a very different view of what government is—and what government should or could be. The John Birch Society came from the principle that the federal government is essentially evil. That’s extremely difficult for liberals to grasp. But it was exactly where they were coming from. They believe the government is essentially evil and should either be privatized or completely done away with.

For example, the John Birch Society said that Social Security should never exist, because it is a giant embezzlement. They also held that the 16th Amendment to the Constitution—the amendment creating a federal income tax—should be repealed because the federal government did not have the authority to collect those sorts of taxes. The John Birch Society basically believes that anything the federal government does, beyond what is specifically mentioned in the Constitution, is wrong.

Here are the things that, according to the John Birch Society, the federal government can properly do. It can negotiate treaties with federal powers, declare and conduct war, run a postal system, and deal with disputes between the states. Because those are the essential functions of the federal government, those are the only things the John Birch Society sees them as having the right to do. From that particular point of view, you can see why they don’t believe in the Department of Education or the Highway Department. They don’t believe in any regulation of business. They don’t even believe in nuclear regulations or the Federal Aviation Administration. We’re talking about reducing the government to a level that would be, at the very least, astounding.

I said to my mother one time, “What would happen if we actually did all these things?” What if there was no Social Security, Medicare, unemployment compensation, food stamps—no safety net at all. And she said, “Oh, it would be glorious. It would be what the Constitution intended.” I’d say, “Mom, the Constitution is not going to feed a hungry child”. I can still see her face looking up from her teacup, saying, “That’s not my concern, dear.”

One of the messages I have for liberals is that they’re not going to change that basic viewpoint. We are not going to convert people who hold that viewpoint to a liberal view of government. So we have to find a different way to mobilize Americans to understand that government is a good thing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that everything government does is without glitches, mistakes, or problems, like the rollout of the health care website. But I believe that government is human beings, communities, Americans banding together to do the things that we can’t do alone. Like building bridges, schools, and guaranteeing civil rights.

You became a member of the JBS at a very young age. Why? 

I was 13 years old, and my father was a very powerful guy. I loved my parents and didn’t want to disobey them. I tried to be a good, right-wing girl. But there were things that happened along the way that didn’t feel right to me.

The first one had to do with my parents’ view of the Holocaust. They ran into a fellow who was part of the leadership of the John Birch Society, named Revilo Oliver, one of the most vile, hateful, and nasty human beings I have ever had the unpleasant experience of knowing. He’d come to our house and was full of religious and racial hatred. He hated people of colors, Jews, immigrants—practically anyone who wasn’t White, it seemed to be beyond his capability of caring for. He was a professor at the University of Illinois.

Before we knew Oliver, my father had taught me about the Holocaust, and about how our soldiers freed the camps and found bodies stacked like wood, and crematoriums, and how the ashes floated over everything. And I knew it as well as my name—that Hitler had tried to kill all the Jews in Europe. Well, when Revilo Oliver started coming to dinner, suddenly my parents were less appalled by the Holocaust. They began saying that Hitler really wasn’t trying to kill all the Jews. He was trying to kill the communists, and most of the people that were detained in the camps were actually traitors to Germany. And the military was just following orders. That did not sit well with my experience as a kid growing up in a very Jewish neighborhood.

Another thing really bothered me was the attitude of the John Birch Society towards people who were in need. I always felt, as a kid, that if somebody was hungry, you fed them. If the churches weren’t able to help and the need was too great, the government had to help. That made perfect sense. And then I discovered that it was totally against the principles of the John Birch Society. They actually believed in what they called “healthy poverty.” That sounds like a complete contradiction, but that’s what they called it.

Robert Welch wrote about this at great length in 1976. He talked about the fact that healthy poverty was what existed in the United States at the turn of the century—about 1900 to 1920—and that it was an ideal time of economic growth and increase in productivity in the United States. He admitted that there were pockets of poverty, but he said that it was a healthy kind of poverty, free from government interference. I’m telling you, when I heard the debates in the House of Representatives in 2013 about eliminating food stamps completely from the farm budget, all I could say was, “Oh my God, they sound just like John Birchers!”

Ken Blackwell, the secretary of state in Ohio during the uproar over who could vote in Ohio in 2004, left the state of Ohio and went to work for the Family Research Council. He said that getting rid of food stamps would be an exercise in Christian compassion, because it would allow people to participate in their own uplift. That is the same JBS idea: If you’re poor or in need, or your child is disabled, then somehow you’re in the wrong.

As an adult with some perspective on all of this, how have you made sense of your parents’ ideas and their involvement with the JBS?

For a long time, I wanted to say that my parents had just put their apples in the wrong cart. And then I had a real wake-up moment and realized that my father wasn’t just someone who was led around. He was on the leadership of the John Birch Society for 32 years. He was out selling the John Birch Society all over the United States, as one of its speakers, and was often paid for his speeches.

When it came to compelling speech giving, he was better than either Revilo Oliver or Robert Welch. So I had to face the reality that my parents weren’t just led around. My parents believed all of this. And my father was one of the leaders. And I have to say, it was a hard realization for me. It’s easy to say that your parents were just going along. It’s hard to say that they were leading the pack.

The question is: Why did he believe all of this? I think it’s partially because of World War II and seeing the communists [emerge as a threat]. He picked up on a level of fear and paranoia that was prevalent in the country in the 1950s. We have this imaginary view of the ‘50s—women in their aprons making cupcakes, children quietly playing Monopoly, and it was always a good day, like in the movie Pleasantville. But the United States was in turmoil during the 1950s, because after World War II, communist boots were marching across Eastern Europe and Asia. And it looked for all the world like they were coming for us. And then Sen. Joe McCarthy [R-WI] just threw gasoline on that fire and said that the government of the United States was run by these guys.

After McCarthy was discredited, my father didn’t stop believing what he was selling. He always said, “We’re going to need a lot more Joes to save this country.” And he found people who agreed with him—lots of them. Robert Welch wasn’t a particularly good speaker, but he had a plan. He had an idea to actually get something to happen. Whereas, as my dad used to say, “All the rest of these anti-communists were just debating societies.” They just gave speeches. My father wanted to change the country. So he looked for someone who had a method to his madness. Robert Welch had a method.

[The] John Birch Society did something that nobody else has ever done. They organized all their volunteers to do the same thing—at the same time. Before that, people who were upset about the country would go to these speeches, and everybody would take home a pamphlet. But Robert Welch believed that they weren’t going to change the country that way. So he actually put in place a structure and said, “Everybody’s going to do this at the same time.” And if you didn’t, you got kicked out. They didn’t tolerate deadwood in the organization.

Robert Welch made no bones that he thought democracy was the worst form of government—not just for his organization, but for a country. The John Birch Society believes that democracy is mob rule. So, that explains a lot about the way the government is organized. It also explains a lot about some of the things that are happening in the United States today, in terms of that belief system.

A whole bunch of people on the Right don’t think that everyone ought to vote. Why? Because if you’ve got everybody voting, you have yourself a mob. And that idea comes from [National Review founder and editor] Bill Buckley, who is sort of a patron saint of the Right. Buckley, the John Birch Society, my father, and a very prominent political science professor [who taught at Yale], Willmoore Kendall, all believed that the franchise, or the right to vote, had to be limited, as it was in colonial in times, when you had to be White, free, over a particular age, and a landowner in order to vote.

JBS members often believe in conspiracies, and many of them view the Catholic Church as part of a grand, global conspiracy. So it’s interesting that your parents were very dedicated Roman Catholics. 

My parents were very right-wing Catholics. And it was a big surprise to me that they could find common ground with Robert Welch, who was a Baptist. My mother used to say all the time, “Once we save the country, then we can argue about theology.” But I would say, “You do know that these people hate you, right?”

My parents, being Roman Catholics, wanted the United States to be governed by papal law. So my parents loved [the Roman Catholic Spanish dictator Francisco] Franco, and the idea that the church and the state were inseparable. I always figured that if the John Birch Society ever took over the United States, they’d have a religious war, because members wouldn’t agree about how to interpret the Bible, or what was the role of the Pope, or any of that. And many Protestants and evangelicals saw the Catholic Church as the “Whore of Babylon.” As I got much older, and much more aware of these things, I would say to my parents, “How could you possibly do this?” I mean, just in terms of religion. And my mother would say, “We have to save the country first, and then we’ll worry about theology.”

There’s an interesting tension there, between believing that there’s a grand conspiracy—and everything is already determined—and believing that they can somehow “save” the country.  

First of all, they never think they’re losing. After the government shutdown fiasco [in October 2013], if you read what the Right says about it, they loved what they did. They think they won. And that’s how my parents were. They always said they were in for the long haul. My mother might have a day where she was frustrated, but she never did stop. And where I thought that the Right had suffered a great loss, she didn’t see it that way. So they looked at the government shutdown as a success. And the corollary is, “Let’s do it again.” They don’t mind being a minority. In fact, my father used to say all the time, “Minorities take over countries.” And he’s right. Historically, they do.

The other thing my father used to say is that “you have to shut down the government before you can take it apart.” They hate the government. They want to break it. That’s the hardest thing to grasp. Why would you want to wreck the government? But if you think it is essentially evil, and you think, as Robert Welch said, that the people who work for it are going to destroy the country, then you think you are doing a good thing if you wreck it.

Earlier in the interview, you said that you see the JBS and the Tea Party as essentially the same thing. Can you expand a little on the parallels? 

There are some differences between the two, but in terms of policy, I see very little difference. The Tea Partiers would probably take exception to that, because they don’t want to think they’re just leftovers from a bygone era. They want to think they’re original and unique. But the fact is that the early funding for the Tea Party came from Americans for Prosperity, which is a Koch Brothers group.

The Koch Brothers are Birch kids. They were raised by a John Birch Society father. So we’re talking about people who were raised with that same hatred of government that I was. So, I like to look at the continuity of ideas from the 1950s to today, and it is extremely difficult to find much difference between them. The only differences are, where we used to focus only on this communist conspiracy, they’ve expanded that word to include socialists, because you don’t see the communists as one marching group like they used to before the disintegration of the Soviet Union. But basically, the ideas are the same. Government should be 60 percent smaller than it is, there should be no Social Security, no income tax, no direct election of U.S. Senators, no safety net or Department of Education or Environmental Protection Agency—exactly what we heard during the circus that was the GOP Presidential debates in 2012. The same exact thing. People always say to me, “But they’re not Birchers.” But what difference does it make? It’s the same exact idea.

One theme of your book is how concerned your parents were with the “corruption” of the school system. This has been a defining issue for the JBS and the conservative movement more generally, hasn’t it? 

We forget that people have been arguing about the content of textbooks since the mid-nineteenth century. So this has been an ongoing fight in America. In the 1960s, my mom and dad had literally piles of textbooks in our apartment flat in Chicago, and they would go through every textbook I had, every textbook my brother had, every textbook in the Catholic school system, and then they branched out to the public schools in Chicago. That’s a lot of books. They went through every line of every textbook to find any hint of socialist, communist, or collectivist, “un-American” ideas. They used to study my lessons at home, then send me to school with directions as to what to tell the teacher was wrong in the book.

Now, I went to the Catholic schools in Chicago in the 1950s, so you can imagine that I was not the most popular girl as far as the teachers were concerned. Because you didn’t stand up in the class and say, “By the way, this is wrong.” In my book, I tell this story about when I was in seventh grade, and my father asked me what was going on at school that day, and I made the mistake of saying to him, “Well, we learned in geography that the farms in Sweden had electricity in their barns before the barns in the United States.”

Well, my father jumped out of his chair like he’d been shot out of a cannon. He was so furious with me for saying such a thing, because Sweden, being a socialist country—there was absolutely no way it could possibly have anything before the United States did. It wasn’t until I got to college, and I was taking a history class, that I found out that my book had been correct. Sweden did electrify their farms, 20 or more years before the United States. But for my mother and dad, the idea that Sweden could do something better than we did it, or sooner, could not possibly be the case.

They just didn’t care about the actual facts? 

Well, they just assumed there were no facts. It wasn’t like they investigated it. They said, “No, that can’t be, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.” It’s a very strange way of looking at the world, because my parents, as well read as they were, they read only books that were on the approved list. And it’s probably a very good lesson for all of us: You can’t just read what you already agree with. You can’t, and we shouldn’t. But it is certainly more comfortable.

But even though they may have ignored inconvenient facts, your parents were very intelligent people. One point you make in the book is that, even if we find some of their ideas outrageous, we’re mistaken if we think conservatives are ignorant. 

My father had a degree from Northwestern University. His degree was in speech. He actually raised part of his tuition by giving speeches. He was on the debate team at Northwestern and never lost a debate. He was very well read, very professional, and he owned six businesses.

The leadership of the Right has never been uneducated. It has never been poor, uneducated, or uninterested. Look at the Koch brothers—both of them are engineers. If you are laughing at these people, you are completely wrong and doing great harm. If you look at one of those silly Facebook posts where some goofball has tea bags on his hat, and a sign with three or four misspelled words, everyone goes, “Gee, they’re fools.”

But they are winning on ideas. For example, let’s take the government shutdown. This is the perfect example. We ended up calling it a victory to reopen the government at sequestration budget levels, which were originally an absolute no-go for the Democrats. So, while we are saying that these folks are foolish and are losing the battle, in fact, our policy debates are now on right-wing terms. Which is why I say to people that you have to quit underestimating our competition. Look at Ted Cruz. Someone said to me that he’s just a dumb cowboy. No he’s not. He’s a Harvard [Law School] educated lawyer that never lost a debate in college, who has argued many cases in front of the Supreme Court—successfully. This is not a guy we should be dismissing. This is, in my opinion, the most potentially dangerous guy out there, because he’s a demagogue in training. He has the command of the room. When you hear him speak, you may disagree with everything he says, but you can’t look away.

When you look at the list of Birch leaders, you’re talking about former military men and very successful businessmen. Robert Welch was a multimillionaire. And I think that is the most important message: You have to take this seriously. They are very smart. They have a belief about the United States. They want to change the way we are governed. They want to change the nature of the federal government, and take it back to a time before any New Deal programs.

 

Conservatism: Racism When You Need It

2012 primary debate

In the Winter 1999 issue of The Public Eye Magazine, PRA printed an excerpt from Founder and President Emerita Jean Hardisty’s book Mobilizing Resentment: Conservative Resurgence from the John Birch Society to the Promise Keepers. In it, Hardisty discussed affirmative action, providing the history of its conception along with the Right-Wing’s stance against the policy.

After the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson and his administration sought to eliminate discrimination in the hiring and promotion process by issuing Executive Order 11246, which required affirmation action from employers who had contracts with the federal government, and sanctions for the ones who didn’t. In 1972, Richard Nixon signed into law Congress’s Equal Opportunity Act, which expanded anti-discrimination protections for women and people of color. The Right, of course, cried “reverse discrimination” then, and is still finding ways to explain the “needlessness” for affirmative action now.

One of the Right’s tactics that Hardisty examined was their appropriation of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “I Have a Dream” speech, which conservatives still interpret as an endorsement for colorblind ideology. The right has warped MLK from a radical for justice into essentially these few words: “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” They ignore the context of this quote, which addressed King’s opposition to White power, the root cause for judgment of race in the first place. In his 1964 book, Why Can’t We Wait, however, he made it evident that race is very important because, unless people of color are provided some type of assistance, their rights will never meet with that of White people’s. King wrote:

It is obvious that if a man is entering the starting line in a race three hundred years after another man, the first would have to perform some impossible feat in order to catch up with his fellow runner.

Hardisty discussed how the right had undergone a transformation in the 1980s, which created a “new racism.” Rather than upholding Jim Crow laws and practices—something that had “declined steadily since the 1940s”—the right attempted to use policies like affirmative action against people of color, utilizing a colorblind argument. This new racism, ignoring a person’s race, and suggesting that group identifiers are “unnecessary”—that cultural backgrounds have no place in today’s society because “racism is a thing of the past”— modernized discrimination in the hiring process.

Republicans, especially White male Republicans, expect marginalized groups to be able to rise above oppression on their own accord because, in their minds, race should not affect their merit and skill.

During the 2012 presidential primaries, Republican candidates played to this colorblind strategy. Mitt Romney objected to the extension of voting rights for convicted felons, despite it being “an issue that disproportionately affects African-American and Hispanic males…[as] a direct result of…the drug wars implemented during the Reagan administration.” Newt Gingrich, when asked by Juan Williams about why Newt insisted on “talk[ing] about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps,” said he did not see why it was an insult to Black Americans. Rick Santorum, during one of his campaign stops, offered the statement, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” These Republicans refused to consider that institutionalized racism caused much of the disparities between White people and people of color—that somehow Black and Latino Americans were content with living off food stamps, or that they expected to be given free money, which are racist stereotypes and assumptions in and of itself.

Hardisty then went on to note the distancing of the Right from the Far Right’s White supremacy philosophy throughout the 1980s. While the Far Right—White supremacists and neo-Nazis—had no issue with openly promoting “White rights,” the Right Wing attempted to remove themselves from bigoted attitudes and activities. The New Right Republicans of the time, if discovered making racial slurs, were denounced quickly by their leaders and prompted to apologize soon afterward. This trend of immediate condemnation of racist statements made by conservatives is still present today. Some recent examples of this include:

By protesting against the most egregious of violations within their own Party, Republicans can defend against accusations of racism against themselves. To them, eradicating affirmative action is nothing like the overt racist language of their prejudiced peers.

Affirmative action cases are being closely watched today because of how race issues in the United States have developed. The Justices appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George Bush—according to Jean Hardisty—have created a rightist tilt, and thus have halted much of the progress made by civil rights leaders. Evidence of this is found in their lack of ruling on the case at the University of Texas and their divided opinions on how to handle the case for Michigan schools.

In situations where affirmative action has already been banned, statistics show decreases in enrollment numbers of students of color, particularly for Black students. At the University of Michigan, Black student enrollment dropped 30 percent in their undergraduate and law schools after they prohibited race as a factor for consideration. After California’s passing of Proposition 209 in 1996, University of California schools found major drops as well; the percentage of first year Black students at UC Berkeley fell from 6.5 percent to under 3 percent in 10 years, and UCLA first years dropped from 7.3 percent to under 2.7 percent. The University of Florida also saw a decrease from 11.3 percent to 9.4 percent from 2000 to 2005 after the policy was changed.

Comparably, because the public-sector has historically provided fair and impartial job opportunities for women and people of color, government jobs show far more diversity than private institutions. Not only are the proportions of public-sector workers more balanced, they “face smaller wage disparities across racial lines” as well.

Hardisty noted that recipients of programs such as welfare and affirmative action are met with shaming by Right-Wing politicians. They were labeled as “‘undeserving’ individuals” who benefited “at the expense of ‘deserving’ taxpayers.” Present-day conservatives continue this victim-blaming and colorblind practice. During his 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney called the “47 percent” who were going to vote for Barack Obama entitled, that they believed the “government has a responsibility to care for them.” He continued, “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” His statements were echoed by Glenn Beck, who said on his radio show, “That is the problem with government welfare and everything else, get a damn job,” and Newt Gingrich, who said “[Republicans] believe in work and education, [liberals] believe in food stamps and dependency.

The Right readily pretends that racial injustice does not exist, and that anyone can overcome obstacles if they simply tried hard enough, which is blatantly false.

In discussing how White the Right is, it is important to understand there are conservatives of color. Jean Hardisty discussed how they “play a politically important role in the Right’s attack on affirmative action.” By using a person of color, especially a Black person, to make their argument publicly, White conservatives can then use the “legitimacy” of that argument to back their own hostility. Denouncing affirmative action appears more authentic when a person of color says they have no need for it. White conservatives can shield themselves from the adverse reactions of people for trying to dismantle these policies.

It wasn’t hard to find examples. Just take a look at this year’s Values Voters Summit, when Dr. Ben Carson compared the Affordable Health Care Act to slavery. His talking point was immediately embraced by White conservatives such as Bill O’Brien, John Fleming, Rush Limbaugh, and more who would never have dared make such an audacious comparison on their own. His Blackness allows White republicans to say that their Black representative was the one to issue such a statement, not them. They can hide in the background—the focus on conservatives of color—while supporting the racist proclamations made by people such as Ben Carson.

When former Democrat Elbert Guillory announced why he switched to the Republican Party, calling for other Black Americans to abandon the “government plantation and the [liberal] party of disappointment,” pundits such as Glenn Beck had no issue publishing about it as if it were a step in the right direction.

Conservative activist Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, posted an article on his website that said, “Wanting a White Republican president doesn’t make you racist, it just makes you American,” written by Kevin Jackson, a Black conservative. Rather than writing this piece himself, Wurzelbacher used Jackson’s article as a means to voice his own opinions without taking on full responsibility.

Some members of the Right ironically reject affirmative action while favoring racist policies such as racial profiling. Writer and columnist Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece that advised individuals to “watch out if you see young black men on the street or approaching your house or vehicle—they commit ‘an inordinate amount of violent crime.’” On the other hand, he does not favor affirmative action, offering the question, “what exactly is the justification for affirmative action’s ethnic preferences or admissions [?]”

Conservatives claim that by discussing the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, President Obama is “race baiting;” yet they are colorblind when it comes to acknowledging the racial disparities that Black Americans go through in the United States, such as New York City’s Stop and Frisk program. Colorblindness ignores the racial discrimination that people of color go through on a daily basis.

As racial justice gains more in ways of equality, the right will continue to push back against it. While it’s clear conservatives continue their firm colorblind belief that any individual, regardless of race, can earn their way into a higher institution of learning or the workforce, revealing their hypocrisy and showing the actual race issues people of color face is the only way to make progress.

Profiles on the Right: Young America’s Foundation / Young Americans for Freedom (YAF)

YAF

YAF is a conservative youth activism organization that offers college students across the United States a variety of outlets for promoting Right-Wing ideology. YAF originated at two separate points in time, but Young Americans for Freedom specifically began in 1960, when 100 conservative students assembled to construct YAF’s guiding principles at the Great Elm Conference, hosted by William F. Buckley. As of 2011, Young America’s Foundation and Young Americans for Freedom combined into YAF, with Young America’s Foundation maintaining the name of the parent organization.

YAF focuses more on general national politics as opposed to on-campus issues. Some of their campus initiatives include: Resist Obama fliers, March Liberal Madness, 9/11: Never Forget Project, and Who is Dividing Our Campus?—the last of which claims that liberals are “often the first intimidate, attack, and silence conservatives when they speak out.”

YAF reveres former president Ronald Reagan, works to preserve and protect the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara. YAF’s website says the “Ranch is an important component of the Foundation’s broader mission to ‘ensure that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of limited government, free enterprise, a strong national defense, and traditional values.’”

Board members of YAF, past and present, have a history of supporting oppressive programs and organizations.

Former board member, the late Howard Phillips, was appointed as as the head of the Office of Economic Opportunity by president Richard Nixon where he immediately defunded anti-poverty programs, although a federal court ultimately stopped him, ruling his actions illegal because he was never confirmed to the post by the Senate.

In 2004, YAF president Ron Robinson and board member James B. Taylor donated $5000 to the Charles Martel Society, a White Nationalist group. Since then, the three-person board of the group’s PAC has raised and spent over $5 million on various Republican candidates. Robinson spoke out against concerns that the donation to White Nationalists was racist, saying that the PAC’s donations to Allan Keyes, Ken Blackwell, Allen West and other Black conservatives proved the contrary.

James B. Taylor, on the other hand, was once the vice president of the National Policy Institute (NPI), which was founded as a White Supremacist think tank, according to Marilyn Mayo, codirector of Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. While Taylor says he would no longer involve himself with NPI, tax returns prove he was serving as vice president of VP of NPI as late as 2007, when they released the book The State of White America 2007, which called Brown v. Board of Education “arguably the worst decision in the Court’s 216-year history.”

YAF’s website offers its students a recommended reading page, which consists of books from conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Ted Nugent, and David Horowitz. They’ve also hosted speakers such as Rick Santorum, Ann Coulter, and Newt Gingrich on various campuses.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) listed the Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom as a hate group, making it the only student hate group in the United States. MSU-YAF hosted White Supremacist speakers for lectures on their campus and organized racist events. Activities they’ve organized range from a “Catch an Illegal Alien Day” game, to a “Koran desecration” contest. They’ve also condemned and attempted to eliminate affirmative action at the school.

Earlier this year, after the student congress of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill passed a rule to enforce stricter rules on the use of their student funds—a rule which hindered the school’s Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club from using those funds to purchase ammunition—YAF said liberal students improperly targeted the gun club, calling it an act of discrimination.

In 2012, YAF invited Fox News personality Andrea Tantoros to speak on campus at Guilford College. During Tantoros’ speech, she made flagrantly anti-Muslim statements, including a claim that all Muslims have been commanded by Muhammad to perform Jihads on non-Muslims. The speech sparked outrage, and prompted the school to formally apologize for allowing Tantoros to speak on campus. YAF spokesperson Ron Meyer responded with an article claiming it was not a racist speech, and referred to the Muslim students who protested the speech as “jihadists” who were intolerant of free-speech.

Other YAF writers have put out articles on the following topics:

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Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right

 

Co-Author: Frank L. Cocozzelli
Frank L. Cocozzelli writes a regular column on Roman Catholic conservatism at Talk2Action.org and is a contributor to Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. A former director of the Institute for Progressive Christianity, he is working on a book on American liberalism as well as documentary on Msgr. John A. Ryan’s quest for a living wage. See more of Frank’s writing here.

Behind the recent surge of nullification bills in state legislatures there is an ongoing battle for the soul of the GOP—and the future of the union itself. The nullification movement’s ideology is rooted in reverence for states’ rights and a theocratic and neo-Confederate interpretation of U.S. history. And Ron Paul, who is often portrayed as a libertarian, is the engine behind the movement.

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Ron Paul speaking at a rally in Tampa, Florida. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

“I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” —Martin Luther King Jr., August 28, 19631

Nullification is once again a strategic weapon in the battle for states’ rights. Since 2010, state legislators have introduced nearly 200 bills—on eleven issues alone—challenging federal laws that they deem unconstitutional.2

Advocates base their argument for nullification and its ideological twin, secession, on the “compact theory,” which holds that the U.S. government was formed by a compact among sovereign states that have the right to nullify federal laws—or leave the union.3 Their work has the potential to provoke the most dramatic showdown over states’ rights since President John F. Kennedy federalized Alabama’s National Guard in response to Gov. George Wallace’s refusal to desegregate the University of Alabama.4

If there is a showdown, it may come in Kansas. In April 2013, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law the Second Amendment Protection Act, which prohibits the enforcement of federal laws regulating guns produced and used within the state of Kansas.5 U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has warned Brownback that the law is unconstitutional. Similar bills have been introduced in at least 37 other states.6 In September, the Missouri legislature narrowly failed to override the governor’s veto of a nullification bill that would have allowed for the arrest of federal agents attempting to enforce gun laws.7 At least nine states have announced that they will not issue military identification cards to same-sex spouses at 114 Army and Air National Guard facilities, refusing to comply with Department of Defense policy.8

Click here for the

Click here for the full profile on CSPOA

In addition to gun-control laws, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare,” has been a prime target of nullification activists. At least 20 bills have been introduced in state legislatures to nullify the ACA. In North Dakota, the bill became law. The original version of a bill introduced earlier this year in the South Carolina House would have made implementation of the ACA by state employees a crime punishable by a fine of up to a thousand dollars, two years imprisonment, or both.9 And the wave of challenges to federal law extends beyond the 50 state legislatures, spreading to county and local governments,10 including about 500 county sheriffs who have affirmed their commitment to “saying ‘no’ to Obama gun control.”11 [See related profile.]

But the movement’s significance cannot be measured by ordinances and proposed legislation alone. Though nullification bills have sometimes been dismissed as political theater,12 activists are organizing across the nation, and their work has real implications. They are mainstreaming interpretations of American history and law that delegitimize the regulatory role of the federal government—interpretations that have been central to the emergence of the Tea Party and to the recent Congressional battles over the federal budget.

Whatever its implications for electoral politics in the United States, though, the nullification movement is not limited to helping a particular party gain control of Congress or the presidency. Its goal is much more ambitious: to discredit and dismantle the federal government. Thus the movement’s rising popularity poses a dilemma for the Republican Party—and the nation more broadly. At stake are the definition and future of the union itself.

Warring Visions: Old Right vs. New Right

The resurgence of the nullification movement predates Barack Obama’s presidency and the emergence of the Tea Party. Indeed, the current tension is half a century in the making and has emerged from a struggle between the Old Right and the New Right, also known as “paleoconservatives” and “neoconservatives,” respectively.

In a collection of essays published in 1999, leading intellectuals of the Old Right described “paleoconservatism” as “a phrase that came into circulation during the 1980s, perhaps as a rejoinder to the rise of neoconservative influence on the American Right.”13 Identifying themselves as the true heirs of the Old Right’s ideology, these paleoconservatives included Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Allan Carlson, M.E. Bradford, Sam Francis, Thomas Fleming, and Murray Rothbard.

The struggle between these two camps—abbreviated as paleos and neocons—has often been bitter. Paleos accuse neocons of supporting open borders and being statists, globalists, and imperialists. Neocons, in turn, accuse paleos of being isolationist, racist, anti-Semitic, and inclined toward conspiratorial thinking.

Paleos embrace the charge of isolationism and identify as cultural conservatives, or traditionalists. As a paleo once described their principles, they “share the Founding Fathers’ distrust of standing armies, look to the original American foreign policy of isolationism as a guide to any post-Cold War era, and see the welfare state as a moral and Constitutional monstrosity.”14

Even paleos with libertarian leanings are usually antichoice, opposed to LGBTQ rights, and hostile to what they call “multiculturalism”—used interchangeably with the terms “Cultural Marxism” and “political correctness”—which they believe is a stealth effort to level society. Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation produced a booklet in 2004 providing an account of the conspiracy that the organization claimed had infiltrated American society. This Marxist conspiracy was supposedly organized by a group of intellectuals—members of the Frankfurt School—who fled Nazi Germany and were exiles in the United States in the 1930s.15

In their media, paleos often recount with bitterness the pivotal events that resulted in decades of their marginalization by neoconservatives. One such event was William F. Buckley’s 1962 “excommunicationof the John Birch Society—a bastion of the Old Right—from the conservative movement.16 Another flashpoint was the firing of neoconservative Richard John Neuhaus in 1989 by the paleoconservative Rockford Institute. The firing followed Neuhaus’s accusations against Thomas Fleming—editor of the institute’s magazine—of “nativism, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia”and “a penchant for authoritarian politics.”17 The Rockford Institute subsequently lost about $700,000 in funding from conservative foundations.

Despite such setbacks, paleos were far from idle during these decades. In 1992, a paleo alliance came together to support Patrick Buchanan’s GOP primary challenge to President George H.W. Bush’s bid for re-election. Buchanan’s supporters included Llewellyn “Lew” Rockwell Jr., founder of the paleoconservative Ludwig von Mises Institute; and anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard, the organization’s most prominent economist.18

In their Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Rothbard and Rockwell described Buchanan’s candidacy as “an unprecedented opportunity to forge a powerful paleo coalition, to create a new libertarian-conservative, Old Right movement that can grow, can become extraordinarily influential, and that can even take over the presidency within a short period of time.” The article included a reassurance that Ron Paul, the Libertarian candidate for president in 1988, had declined to run and was supporting Buchanan.19

The late Rothbard, who described himself as a member of the Old Right faction since 1946, was a Jewish New Yorker who supported Strom Thurmond’s States’ Rights Party in 1948. Bemoaning the neoconservatives’ success in establishing themselves as the only right-wing alternative to the Left, Rothbard called for a resurgence of the Old Right to “repeal the twentieth century.” In the 1960s, Rothbard temporarily formed an alliance with the antiwar New Left, including Students for a Democratic Society.20 He later molded a paleo alliance limited to what he considered “good” libertarians. As described in a 1990 issue of the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, this would mean purging undesirable elements from the Libertarian Party, including “hippies, druggies, antinomians, and militantly anti-Christian atheists.”21

As their hopes for capturing the White House faded with Buchanan’s failed presidential bids in 1992 and 1996, paleos focused on building a movement opposed to both liberal and neoconservative “statists.” In 1995, inspired by the dissolution of the Soviet Union several years earlier, the Ludwig von Mises Institute hosted a conference on the legality and viability of secession. It was held in Charleston, SC. Following the conference, the Mises Institute published Secession, State, and Liberty, a collection of the proceedings that featured several of the institute’s scholars.22

A prominent paleoconservative had noted in 1987 that the waning of neoconservativism might in fact “bring forward a much harder and more radical right, with serious political prospects.” His quote was reprinted in a 2012 article in the American Conservative, co-founded by Patrick Buchanan.23 With the mainstreaming of nullification and secessionist rhetoric in recent years—and a well-organized movement to promote them—those words now seem prophetic.

The Ron Paul Revolution and “One Nation Indivisible”

Ron Paul’s retirement from Congress in 2012 did not end his political activism. The former U.S. Representative from Texas is developing a paleoconservative movement around his allies and the nonprofits that he has founded since 1976.24 The Ron Paul Revolution, as his supporters call it, provides the vital connective tissue for a small but growing network of organizations devoted to the cause of nullification.

Paul’s agenda has included the rejuvenation of paleoconservatism through his youth outreach and a strong emphasis on his “libertarian” credentials, despite his record as the most conservative legislator in the modern history of the U.S. Congress.25 The libertarian elements of Paul’s political agenda derive primarily from his allegiance to states’ rights, which is often mistaken as support for civil liberties.

Paul is far more transparent about his paleoconservative—rather than libertarian—agenda when he speaks to audiences made up of social conservatives, as when he assured LifeSiteNews that he opposed federal regulatory power and supported state-level banning of abortion, and that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if he were a governor.26

He also told an enthusiastic audience at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in 2008 that “you don’t have to wait till the courts are changed” to outlaw abortion, pointing out that his plan for removing jurisdiction from the federal courts would allow South Carolina to enact laws against abortion. And he sponsored the “We the People Act,” which proposed stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction in cases related to religion and privacy, freeing state legislatures to regulate sexual acts, birth control, and religious matters.

Paul, who has been called the “father of the Tea Party,”27 has long been rooted in the paleoconservative Right, a world inhabited by a substantial number of neo-Confederates and theocrats. Though largely ignored or downplayed by the mainstream media, these connections are freely talked about in certain circles. For example, during Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign, the former editor of Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate publication, endorsed Paul on his personal blog. He described Paul as being an honorary member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans for at least 12 years, writing that he “has given countless speeches in front of Confederate flags for Southern Heritage groups and has never faltered from his defense of Dixie.28 When Paul was initially confronted with the racist, reactionary, and conspiracy-filled commentary of newsletters published by his own organization in the 1980s and 1990s, he staunchly defended them—before changing course during the 2008 election and claiming that he had no knowledge of their content.29

The 1995 Mises Institute conference on secession included a session led by Paul, in which he applauded the willingness of Mises’s leadership to talk openly about secession, as opposed to those who were a “bit more shy” and talked in terms of the Tenth Amendment.30 In 2012, Paul confirmed his position on secession “as a deeply American principle” on his House of Representatives website.31 In a YouTube video posted in 2009 by one of his nonprofits, Campaign for Liberty, he blamed the notion of an “indivisible” nation on “avowed socialist” Francis Bellamy, author of the Pledge of Allegiance.32

The nonprofits and projects that comprise the Ron Paul Revolution are a vehicle for advancing the paleoconservative agenda, rebranded as libertarian, with young people as a special focus of the movement. Paul’s emphasis on liberty, along with his antiwar stance and opposition to federal marijuana laws, have obscured his ties to theocrats and neo-Confederates and have endeared him to a generation of young libertarians (and even some people on the Left). As Paul’s collaborator Lew Rockwell has written, “The young are increasingly with us. The neocons are yesterday’s men.”33

Youth appeal: libertarians and the Old Right join forces

The Tenth Amendment Center (TAC) is a prime example of nullification’s crossover appeal—that is, the energy the movement generates by casting itself as libertarian rather than paleoconservative in origins.

The TAC was founded in 2007 by Michael Boldin, a Californian whose libertarianism is rooted, he says, in objections to the Iraq War and to federal excesses in the “psychotic war on drugs.”34 The TAC is a source for model legislation, and it tracks the progress of nullification bills across the country. Its concerns span the political spectrum and include NSA spying, the Second Amendment, marijuana and hemp laws, the military’s use of drones, Obamacare, and environmental regulations, among other things.Its website offers a “Nullification Organizer’s Toolkit” with resources for activists. 35 Since the TAC is not registered as a nonprofit, little information is available about its finances, but it appears to function primarily as an internet-based organization with affiliates in most states.36

Click here for the full profile on the John Birch Society (JBS)

Click here for the full profile on the John Birch Society (JBS)

The TAC has promoted state nullification through its ongoing Nullify Now! tour of cities across the United States, starting in Ft. Worth, TX, in September 2010. The John Birch Society advertised the launch and has provided speakers.37 [See related profile for more about the John Birch Society’s role in the tour.] The most recent event was held in Raleigh, NC, in October 2013, and was co-sponsored by the League of the South, an Alabama-based organization founded in 1994 and dedicated to promoting states’ rights and Southern secession. In 1995, the League of the South published a “New Dixie Manifesto” in the Washington Post, calling for Southern states to take control of their own governments and oppose “the government’s campaign against our Christian traditions.”38

A previous Atlanta TAC event was sponsored by Ray McBerry, a candidate for governor of Georgia in 2010. McBerry is a former head of the Georgia League of the South and provides public relations for the Georgia Sons of the Confederacy. He was the top funder—at $250,000—of the Revolution political action committee that supported Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2012.39

An important Tenth Amendment Center ally in nullification advocacy—Young Americans for Liberty (YAL)—was formed from the estimated 26,000 students who participated in Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.40 YAL recently announced the creation of its 500th campus chapter (at Cornell University) and claims to have 125,000 student activists. Its mission is to “cast the leaders of tomorrow and reclaim the policies, candidates, and direction of our government.”41

Founded on the belief that “government is the negation of liberty,” YAL holds a national, invitation-only summit each year featuring Ron Paul and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The 2013 event included a Senate Roundtable with Rand Paul, Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Training partners for the YAL chapters include Ron Paul’s nonprofit Campaign for Liberty, along with Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks. The latter two organizations were formed from the split of Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded in 1984 by Charles and David Koch. Ron Paul was its first chairman.42

YAL’s director of outreach is Jack Hunter, who was dismissed from Rand Paul’s Senate staff in July 2013 after his neo-Confederate beliefs—particularly his speaking persona as the Rebel flag-masked “Southern Avenger”—became a public controversy.43 Hunter, who has worked as Ron Paul’s official blogger and co-authored a book with Rand Paul, is a regular speaker on the Nullify Now! tour.44

The lead speaker of the Nullify Now! tour, Thomas E. Woods, is a partner in another Ron Paul venture. Woods, who has degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University, is one of the producers of the Ron Paul Curriculum, a homeschooling program introduced in 2013. In a 1997 essay, Woods described the “War Between the States” as the South’s “struggle against an atheistic individualism and an unrelenting rationalism in politics and religion, in favor of a Christian understanding of authority, social order and theology itself.” His author biography noted that he was “a founding member of the League of the South.”45

Woods wrote Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century—described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the “Bible of the movement46—and he is the star of the film Nullification: The Rightful Remedy, which is being shown on the Nullify Now! tour. Since the 1990s, Woods has been a regular speaker at neo-Confederate events, and he was one of the contributors to the “American Secession Project,” which aims to “place the concept of secession in the mainstream of political thought.”47 His work has reached a general audience through his New York Times bestsellers—including The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and Meltdown—and regular appearances in conservative media.

A convert to Catholicism, Woods is also recognized for his books attacking the post-Vatican II church and promoting laissez-faire economics to Catholics.48 While headlining the Nullify Now! tour, he has shared the stage with state legislators across the country49 and has been referenced by legislators introducing nullification bills.50 In Idaho, GOP legislators distributed Woods’s book on nullification to their Democratic colleagues and to the governor.51

God, guns, and a Civil War theology

A consistent theme of the states’ rights and nullification movement is the sacralization of the Old South’s “lost cause.” In this interpretation of what is called the “War of Northern Aggression,” Abraham Lincoln is the great villain of American history—sometimes portrayed as a Marxist—whose intent was to establish an imperialistic federal government. Racism in America is described as a product of Reconstruction, rather than of slavery, which is defined as a benign and biblical institution.52 This interpretation has broad appeal beyond the South and across the religious spectrum, and its adherents include a surprising number of traditionalist Catholics.53

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Photo taken in South Carolina by author Rachel Tabachnick in 2013

In an article in the Canadian Review of American Studies, Euan Hague and Edward Sebesta describe the interpretation as a “Civil War theology” that casts the Civil War as battle over the “future of American religiosity fought between devout Confederate and heretical Union states.”54 The article tracks this narrative from the Southern Presbyterian church of the Confederate era to its post-World War II revival by “Southern Agrarian” writers and, later, the late Christian Reconstructionist Rousas J. Rushdoony. It made its way into neo-Confederate magazines like Southern Partisan and religious publications like Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Report, and since then into popular books and media.

The sacralized “lost cause” of the South is often undergirded by Christian Reconstructionism—that is, the belief that the United States and other nations must be reconstructed and governed according to biblical law.55 Reconstructionism merges theocracy with laissez-faire capitalism, or “biblical economics,” to arrive at a vision of government that promotes biblically aligned law at the local level and a radically limited federal government. 56

This narrative has been a part of some Christian homeschooling and private-school curricula for decades. A Christian Reconstructionist text published in 1989 and still used today provides this summary of the events following the “War Between the States”:

After the war an ungodly Republican element gained control of the Congress.  They wanted to centralize power and shape the nation according to their philosophy. In order to do this, they had to remove the force of Calvinism in America, which was centered in the South at this time, and rid the South, which was opposed to centralization, of its political power. They used their post-war control of Congress to reconstruct the South, pass the Fourteenth Amendment, and in many ways accomplish their goals.57

Rushdoony—the father of Christian Reconstructionism and a pioneer of the modern homeschooling movement—advocated localism and a “Protestant feudal restoration” as a “libertarian” alternative to central government.58 His work is in keeping with a long tradition of using religion to fight the New Deal specifically and the federal government’s regulatory power more broadly.59 As early as 1978, the newsletter of Rushdoony’s disciple and son-in-law, Gary North, had introduced nullification as a biblical way to fight the centralized “totalitarian State.”60

Christian Reconstructionism has also played a significant role in the ideology of the civilian militia movement. Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America since 1976, was the “chief theoretician of the militia movement” of the 1990s.61 More recently, he has helped expand this potential source of armed resistance to the federal government to include elected county sheriffs across the nation. [See profile.]

In one of the early Christian Reconstructionist publications, Pratt contributed an essay titled “Tools of Biblical Resistance,” in which he claims that the Supreme Court has “taken the authority to find rights that never existed and taken away rights bestowed by God and set forth in the Constitution drawn up two hundred years ago.62 Militias are necessary, according to Pratt, because, “anti-Christian governments such as we have in the United States cannot be counted on to keep the peace.”63

Pratt’s book Safeguarding Liberty opens with the story of the Lincoln County, MT, militia being deputized by Sheriff Ray Nixon as a defense against the federal government.64 His 1990 book Armed People Victorious extols the virtue of armed citizen militias and uses the examples of Guatemala and the Philippines as a model for the United States.65 He has also traveled to Ireland to call for the Protestant population to arm itself and has promoted unregulated gun access in South Africa.

Pratt made news in 1996, when he was ousted as co-chair of Patrick Buchanan’s presidential campaign after being exposed for his role at White supremacist gatherings.66 More recently, Pratt spoke at the Southern Heritage Conference and was a sponsor (along with Ron Paul, the Chalcedon Foundation, and the Texas League of the South) of the Southern Historical Conference. Both are Christian Reconstructionist, neo-Confederate events.67

Pratt appeared in the political documentary Molon Labe: How the Second Amendment Guarantees America’s Freedom, which premiered in October 2013. The film, which also features Ron Paul and Patrick Buchanan, is about the “duty” of citizens to keep and bear arms as part of their militia responsibilities. According to the producer, “We the people will never regain the power of the purse or the power of the sword until and unless we re-establish the 50 Militias in each and every one of our 50 states.”68 The film is part of a series starring Paul and Buchanan. Other films include one about the possibility of a third party winning the presidency. Another is titled Cultural Marxism.

The Movement’s Think Tanks

The work of developing the intellectual underpinnings of the nullification movement—and reviving neo-Confederate ideology—is taking place at two influential think tanks, the Abbeville Institute and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The former’s work is largely behind the scenes; the latter is intensely popular among fans of Ron Paul.

The Mises Institute has a multi-million dollar budget and claims 350-plus faculty and donors in 80 countries.69 Based in Auburn, AL, it touts its website as the “most trafficked institutional economics site in the world.”70 Mises was founded in 1982 by Lew Rockwell Jr., former Congressional chief of staff for Ron Paul and creator of the popular LewRockwell.com blog. He credits several people with helping to found the think tank, including Ron Paul. Rockwell has served on the national board of advisors for the Southern Heritage Society and describes himself as the only “copperhead” on the board.71

The Abbeville Institute is named for the birthplace of John C. Calhoun, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina known for his role in the Nullification Crisis of 1832 and as an outspoken supporter of slavery and secession. The institute has a post office box in McClellan, SC, and an annual budget of less than $200,000 dollars, but it hosts an influential annual scholars’ conference and summer program.

Abbeville was founded in 2003 by an Emory University philosophy professor, Donald Livingston, who also founded and led the League of the South’s educational arm.72 Abbeville claims to have about a hundred affiliated scholars, though only about three dozen are listed publicly on its website. Most of the scholars are college and university faculty, and many have also been affiliated with the League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.73 Time described Abbeville’s group of scholars as the “Lincoln loathers,” and a Chronicle of Higher Education article summed up their online lectures: “Abraham Lincoln is not the Great Emancipator; he is Dishonest Abe, a president hellbent on creating a big central government, even if that meant waging war.”74

In 2009, the Abbeville Institute Scholars’ Conference focused on the superior religiosity of the South. It was held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. According to the conference summary, “Northerners became progressively liberal and secular, the political doctrine of human rights replacing the Gospel in importance and in doing so lost influence; whereas Southerners and their section remained orthodox and flourished in Christian and humanitarian influence.” 75

In 2010, the Abbeville Institute hosted “State Nullification, Secession, and the Human Scale of Political Order.” It featured speakers affiliated with Abbeville and Mises, including Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), and leaders from the Second Vermont Republic and the Middlebury Institute.76 FEE is the “grandaddy of all libertarian organizations,” with a founding board of directors that included the creator of the John Birch Society, Robert Welch.77 Before going to FEE, Reed was president for 20 years of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, one of the first and largest of the state free-market think tanks. Reed has been described as having “nurtured so many state policy groups that he has been called the movement’s Johnny Appleseed.”78

The 2010 Abbeville event was promoted by the John Birch Society and the Tenth Amendment Center.79 Speakers focused on the “peaceful secession” of states from the Soviet Union as a model. “Nullification and secession were understood by the Founders as remedies to unconstitutional acts of the central government,” according to an ad for the event. “Yet over a century of nationalist indoctrination and policy has largely hidden this inheritance from public scrutiny. The aim of the conference is to recover an understanding of that part of the American tradition and to explore its intimations for today.”80

Mises and Abbeville have several scholars in common, including Livingston, Woods, and Thomas DiLorenzo, all of whom have been affiliated with the League of the South and are regulars on the neo-Confederate speaking circuit. Livingston and DiLorenzo are both listed as faculty for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ education arm.81

Their books and media have gone mainstream, and they make regular appearances in a variety of media venues, including Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN. DiLorenzo’s 2003 book The Real Lincoln became one of the top-selling selections of the Conservative Book Club.82 These scholars are also called on to testify as “experts” before legislative bodies. Livingston, for example, was invited by South Carolina Rep. Bill Chumley to testify before the state legislature in February 2013 in support of nullifying the Affordable Care Act.83

The Conservative Schism and the GOP’s Dilemma

The nullification movement, cloaked in the language of liberty, poses a serious challenge to conservatives and the Republican Party. The New Right infrastructure developed over the last several decades has an ongoing agenda of shifting power from the federal government to the states, but it has generally avoided promoting nullification. In 2012, The Heritage Foundation published a forceful denunciation of nullification, titled “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional.”84 (This was prior to Jim DeMint’s arrival as head of Heritage. DeMint, a Tea Party leader and former Republican U.S. Senator from South Carolina, is now deviating from previous positions held by the conservative foundation.85 The new Heritage Action, formed in 2010, took a leading role in promoting the 2013 government shutdown and, as a senator, DeMint called for governors to refuse to implement the ACA.)86 In 2013, the libertarian Cato Institute also began warning about the limits of nullification.87 It recently expressed concern about the rise of “Confederate-defenders” gaining traction in libertarianism,88 and posted a video that warned viewers not to be seduced by neo-Confederate ideology.89

In particular, the GOP’s hopes to expand its coalition and attract more minorities are threatened by the radicalism of the Ron Paul Revolution. For example, Paul has signed a proclamation calling for an end to public education, 90 and his book The School Revolution, published in 2013, also calls for the abolition of public schools. He stresses home-schooling as an essential part of his vision—and has a Christian Reconstructionist, Gary North, serving as the director of the new Ron Paul Curriculum for homeschoolers. A Mises scholar and former Congressional staffer from Paul’s first term in the House, North has written that he is “trying to lay the biblical foundations of an alternative society to humanism’s present social order.”91

An example of Paul’s ability to use his libertarian brand to promote reactionary ideas and organizations—and cause headaches for the Republican Party—was the Rally for the Republic, his GOP counter-convention, held in Minneapolis in 2008. As the Republican National Convention took place across the river, an estimated 10,000 people gathered to cheer their hero and a roster of speakers, including one special, secret guest. The rally’s emcee, Tucker Carlson, was surprised by the special guest’s identity—John McManus, longtime president of the JBS—and declined to introduce him. Carlson was “apparently scandalized at the prospect of introducing someone from the JBS,” according to a JBS account of the event. McManus nonetheless took the stage and closed his well-received speech by saying, “If you like Ron Paul, you’ll love the John Birch Society.”92 A few weeks after his 2008 Rally for the Republic, Paul gave the keynote speech at JBS’s 50th anniversary.93

Paul and the nullification movement pose challenges for progressives, too, who face the temptation of using state nullification as a way to counter the federal government on multiple issues, including privacy violations, marijuana laws, and the military’s use of drones. Whatever the short-term gains it might yield, collaboration with paleoconservatives could strengthen the position of “tenthers” (a term used by many nullification advocates to describe themselves, referring to their reverence for the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution) who would use their interpretation of states’ rights to restrict civil liberties.

Partly because of its broad appeal, the nullification movement continues to escalate, and its base is expanding. Right-wing radicalism is hardly a new phenomenon in American society, but its modern manifestation is unprecedented since the era of resistance to school integration. Those threatening to resist federal law and regulation are no longer just patriot militias in camouflage, training in isolation in the woods. They are elected county sheriffs, politicians, and state legislators, declaring that their resistance to the federal government is grounded in their interpretation of the Constitution and U.S. history. Understanding the ideology behind their work is crucial to navigating the challenges that lie ahead.

This article will be featured in the upcoming issue of The Public Eye magazine.


1 Martin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream,” Aug. 28, 1963, www.archives.gov/press/exhibits/dream-speech.pdf.

2 These issues are the Affordable Care Act, food regulation, government-issued identification cards, gun control, marijuana laws, the Federal Reserve, the use of the National Guard, the National Defense Authorization Act, the Transportation Security Administration, and “war on terror” concerns such as privacy violations and the use of drones by the U.S. government. See the Tenth Amendment Center’s “Action Center Home,” http://tracking.tenthamendmentcenter.com; and the National Conference on State Legislatures, “State Legislation and Actions Challenging Certain Health Reforms,” www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-laws-and-actions-challenging-ppaca.aspx.

3 Samuel Hutchinson Beer, To Make a Nation: The Rediscovery of American Federalism (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1998), 313.

4 Claude Sitton, “Alabama Admits Negro Students; Wallace Bows to Federal Force; Kennedy Sees ‘Moral Crisis’ in U.S.,” New York Times, June 12, 1963, http://partners.nytimes.com/library/national/race/061263race-ra.html.

5 Rachel Weiner, “Fight brewing in Kansas over gun-control nullification laws,” Washington Post, May 3, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/05/03/fight-brewing-in-kansas-over-gun-control-nullification-laws.

6 Lois Beckett, “Nullification: How States Are Making It a Felony to Enforce Federal Gun Laws,” ProPublica, May 2, 2013, www.propublica.org/article/nullification-how-states-are-making-it-a-felony-to-enforce-federal-gun-laws.

7 Leslie Bentz and George Howell, “Missouri lawmakers fail to override governor’s gun bill veto,” CNN, Sept. 12, 2013, www.cnn.com/2013/09/11/us/missouri-gun-laws-challenge, and David Neiwert, “Missouri Gun-Law ‘Nullification’ Bill Had Roots in ’90s ‘Patriot’ Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Sept. 18, 2013, http://www.splcenter.org/blog/2013/09/18/missouri-gun-law-nullification-bill-had-roots-in-90s-patriot-movement.

8 Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube, “Defense Secretary Hagel calls out 9 states for refusing to issue military IDs to same-sex spouses,” NBC News, Oct. 31, 2013, <http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/31/21268214-defense-secretary-hagel-calls-out-9-states-for-refusing-to-issue-military-ids-to-same-sex-spouses.

9 South Carolina General Assembly, “South Carolina Freedom of Health Care Protection Act,” Dec. 11, 2012, http://scstatehouse.gov/sess120_2013-2014/prever/3101_20121211.htm.

10 Jeff Stewart, “Easton, KS Passes Ordinance to Nullify Federal Gun Control,” Tenth Amendment Center, Oct. 2, 2013, http://blog.tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/10/easton-ks-passes-ordinance-to-nullify-federal-gun-control.

11 “Growing List Of Sheriffs, Associations and Police Chiefs Saying ‘No’ to Obama Gun Control,” Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, July 31, 2013, http://cspoa.org/sheriffs-gun-rights.

12 Robert Schlesinger, “Montana’s Governor Scores One for Modernity,” U.S. News & World Report, Mar. 28, 2013, www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/robert-schlesinger/2013/03/28/montana-governor-vetoes-gun-control-nullification-bill.

13 The Paleoconservatives: New Voices of the Old Right, ed. Joseph Scotchie (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1999), 1.

14 Lew Rockwell, “Paleos, Neos, and Libertarians,” New American, Feb. 26, 1990, 5.

15  “’Political Correctness:’ A Short History of an Ideology,” ed. William Lind, (Free Congress Foundation, 2004), www.lust-for-life.org/Lust-For-Life/PoliticalCorrectnessAShortHistory/PoliticalCorrectnessAShortHistory.pdf. Lind is on the board of American Ideas Institute DBA, The American Conservative.

16 William F. Buckley Jr.,” Goldwater, the John Birch Society, and Me,” Commentary, Mar. 1, 2008, www.commentarymagazine.com/article/goldwater-the-john-birch-society-and-me; and Murray N. Rothbard, “A Strategy for the Right,” LewRockwell.com, Jan. 1992, http://archive.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/ir/Ch1.html.

17 John Judis, “The Conservative Crack Up,” American Prospect, Dec. 4, 2000, http://prospect.org/article/conservative-crackup.

18 The Mises Institute is the hub of the “Austrian School” of economics.

19 Murray N. Rothbard and Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., “For President: Pat Buchanan,” Rothbard-Rockwell Report, Jan. 1992, 1.

20 John Payne, “Rothbard’s Time on the Left,” Journal of Libertarian Studies (Winter 2005), 7-24,  http://mises.org/journals/jls/19_1/19_1_2.pdf  and http://mises.org/daily/2762.

21  Lew Rockwell, “Paleos, Neos, and Libertarians,” New American, Feb. 26, 1990, 7.

22 David Gordon, ed., Secession, State, and Liberty (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1998). Contributors also included Donald Livingston, Clyde Wilson, Hans-Hermanne Hoppe, and Thomas DiLorenzo, https://mises.org/store/Secession-State-and-Liberty-P88.aspx.

23 Eugene Genovese, quoted in a reprint of a 1987 article by Paul Gottfried, “Toward a New Fusionism?” American Conservative, Oct. 17, 2012, www.theamericanconservative.com/repository/toward-a-new-fusionism.

24 In 1976 Paul founded the nonprofit Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, which publishes “Ron Paul’s Freedom Report.” A recently established project of that foundation is the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. Two nonprofits—Campaign for Liberty and Young Americans for Liberty—emerged from Paul’s 2008 presidential campaign.

25 Ranking based on common space scores explained in Keith T. Poole, “Recovering a Basic Space From a Set of Issue Scales,” American Journal of Political Science (July 1998), 954-993. The 2004 ranking showed Ron Paul as the most conservative of the 3,320 legislators tracked since 1937. “Is John Kerry A Liberal?” Voteview.com, Oct. 13, 2004, http://voteview.com/is_john_kerry_a_liberal.htm.

26 Kathleen Gilbert, “LifeSiteNews interviews Ron Paul: protect family, marriage, life by protecting subsidiarity,” LifeSiteNews, Jan. 19, 2012, www.lifesitenews.com/news/lifesitenews-interviews-ron-paul-protect-family-marriage-life-by-protecting.

27 Paul has taken credit for initiating the Tea Party and was labeled “father of the Tea Party” in a book by that title in 2011. The author, Jason Rink, was also the producer and director of the movie Nullification: The Rightful Remedy.

28 Tim Manning Jr., “An Open Letter to Neo-Confederates On Behalf of Ron Paul,” Southern Heritage News and Views, Dec.19, 2007, http://shnv.blogspot.com/2007/12/open-letter-to-neo-confederates-on_19.html.

29 Judd Legum, “FACT CHECK: Ron Paul Personally Defended Racist Newsletters,” Dec. 27, 2011, http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/12/27/395391/fact-check-ron-paul-personally-defended-racist-newsletters.

30 Ron Paul, “The Moral Promise of Political Independence,” YouTube, Mar. 26, 2011, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHKmr69JbhE.

31 Joe Wolverton II, “Ron Paul: Free People Have the Right to Secede,” New American, Nov. 21, 2012, www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/13712-ron-paul-free-people-have-the-right-to-secede.

32 “Ron Paul: Secession Is an American Principle,” RonPaul.com, Nov. 13, 2012 (reposted from 2009), www.ronpaul.com/2012-11-13/ron-paul-secession-is-an-american-principle.

33 Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., “Why Do the Neocons Hate LRC?” LewRockwell.com, Dec. 27, 2012, www.lewrockwell.com/2012/12/lew-rockwell/why-do-the-neocons-hate-lrc.

34 Michael Boldin, “Body Control: The War on Drugs is War on You,” CounterPunch, Apr. 3-5, 2009, www.counterpunch.org/2009/04/03/the-war-on-drugs-is-a-war-on-you. Also see Stephanie Mencimer, “If at First You Don’t Secede,” Mother Jones, July/Aug. 2010, www.motherjones.com/politics/2010/07/michael-boldin-tenth-amendment.

35 “Welcome to the Tenther Action Center!” Tenth Amendment Center, http://tracking.tenthamendmentcenter.com.

36 State affiliates can be accessed by (name of state).tenthamendmentcenter.com. For example, http://texas.tenthamendmentcenter.com.

37 Bill Hahn, “The John Birch Society Announces Sponsorship of Tenth Amendment Center’s Nullify Now! Tour,” John Birch Society, Sept. 1, 2010, www.jbs.org/press-room/the-john-birch-society-announces-sponsorship-of-tenth-amendment-center-s-nullify-now-tour.

38 Michael Hill and Thomas Fleming, “The New Dixie Manifesto: States’ Rights Will Rise Again,” League of the South, Oct. 29, 1995, http://dixienet.org/rights/2013/new_dixie_manifesto.php.

39 Matthew Ericson, Haeyoun Park, Alicia Parlapiano and Derek Willis, “Who’s Financing the ‘Super PACs,’” New York Times, May 7, 2012, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/01/31/us/politics/super-pac-donors.html?_r=0.

40 “History of YAL,” Young Americans for Liberty, www.yaliberty.org/about/history.

41 “Mission,” Young Americans for Liberty, www.yaliberty.org/about/mission.

42 Ron Paul, Letter to National Taxpayers Legal Fund, Dec. 3, 1984, www.lib.ku.edu/paul/RonPaulCitizensforaSoundEconomy.pdf.

43 James Kirchick, “What Rand Paul Aide Jack Hunter and His Resignation Say About His Boss,” Daily Beast, July 23, 2013, www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/23/what-rand-paul-aide-jack-hunter-and-his-resignation-say-about-his-boss.html.

44 Hunter is the co-author, with Rand Paul, of The Tea Party Goes to Washington, and he wrote the “Paulitical Ticker” blog for Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign. He introduced Thomas Woods when he spoke about nullification at CPAC in 2011, at a session sponsored by Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty. Tom Woods, “Tom Woods on Rollback, CPAC 2011,” YouTube, Feb. 11, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcAX0oX9ANU.

45 Thomas E. Woods, Jr., “Christendom’s Last Stand,” Southern Partisan Magazine, 1997, reprinted in Studies in Reformed Theology, 1998, http://web.archive.org/web/19991023114339/http://reformed-theology.org/html/issue04/christendom.htm.

46 David Neiwert, “Missouri Gun-Law ‘Nullification’ Bill Had Roots in ’90s ‘Patriot’ Movement,” Southern Poverty Law Center, Sept. 18, 2013, www.splcenter.org/blog/2013/09/18/missouri-gun-law-nullification-bill-had-roots-in-90s-patriot-movement.

47  Woods is author of Secessionist No. 10, titled “Secede!”  http://archive.lewrockwell.com/orig/woods3.html. He has been featured at numerous neo-Confederate events hosted by League of the South and the Southern Historical Conference, the latter hosted by the Texas League of the South members in conjunction with the Bonnie Blue Ball. Woods and Ron Paul spoke at the premiere event in 2003.

48 These include The Church and the Market (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2005), which won the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Award.

49 William Cherry, “Nullification Rally Sets Stage for Opposition to Obamacare,” New American. Sept. 8, 2010, www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/politics/item/3314-nullification-rally-sets-stage-for-opposition-to-obamacare.

50 “Book Discussion on Nullification,” North Dakota Policy Council, Sept. 11, 2010, www.c-spanvideo.org/program/295582-1.

51 Scott Logan, “Nullification sails through House committee,” KBOI TV, Jan. 26, 2011, http://www.kboi2.com/news/local/114683304.html; Ian Millhiser, “Idaho Lawmakers Cite Founder Of Neo-Confederate Hate Group To Justify Plan To Nullify Health Reform,” ThinkProgress, Jan. 21, 2011, http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/01/21/140123/tom-woods-idaho.

52 See for example the pamphlet Southern Slavery: As it Was (Canon Press, 1996) by Christian Reconstructionists Steven Wilkins and Douglas Wilson. Wilkins is also a former board member of League of the South and the founder of the Southern Heritage Society.

53 Many major leaders are Catholic, including Thomas Woods, Lew Rockwell, Thomas DiLorenzo, and League of the South co-founder Thomas Fleming. See Frank Cocozzelli, “Thomas E. Woods, Jr. and the Neo-Confederate Catholic Right,” Talk to Action, May 1, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/5/1/163858/0598; and Frederick Clarkson, “A Talk to Action Anthology on Nullification and Secession”, Talk to Action, Sept. 12, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/7/9/03849/39753.

54 Edward H. Sebesta and Euan Hague, “The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South,” Canadian Review of American History (2002), www.theocracywatch.org/civil_war_canadian_review.htm. See also Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich, and Edward H. Sebesta, eds., Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010).

55 Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence,” Public Eye, Mar./June 1994, www.publiceye.org/magazine/v08n1/chrisrec.html.

56 See, for example, the story of Micah Hurd, a 24-year-old Texan who recently left the National Guard to join a local militia: Bud Kennedy, “In Texas, if at first you can’t secede, try — joining a militia?,” Star-Telegram, Sept. 7, 2013, www.star-telegram.com/2013/09/07/5142554/in-texas-if-at-first-you-cant.html.

57 Mark A. Beliles and Stephen K. McDowell, America’s Providential History (The Providence Foundation, 1989), 243.

58 Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (Ross House Books, 2002). Originally published in 1965.

59 See Michael McVicar, “Reconstructing America: Religion, American Conservatism, and the Political Theology of Rousas John Rushdoony” (Ph.D. diss.,The Ohio State University, 2010), and Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (W.W. Norton & Co., 2009).

60 Tom Rose, “How to Reclaim the American Dream Via Constitutional and Christian Reconstruction,” Biblical Economics Today (Apr./May 1978), A-8, A-9.

61 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 1997), 103.

62 Lawrence Pratt, “Tools of Biblical Resistance” in Gary North, ed. Christianity and Civilization: The Theology of Christian Resistance. No. 2., (Tyler, TX: Geneva Divinity School Press, 1983), 436.

63 Pratt, “Tools of Biblical Resistance,” 442.

64 Larry Pratt, ed., Safeguarding Liberty: The Constitution & Citizen Militias (Franklin TN: Legacy Communications, 1995), p. ix.

65 Larry Pratt, Armed People Victorious, (Springfield, VA: Gun Owners Foundation, 1990).   Reconstructionists promoted their ideology in Guatemala following the 1982 coup of Efraín Rios Montt, who was supported by many in the U.S. Christian Right. Rios Montt was tried and found guilty for genocide in 2013, but the guilty verdict was overturned in May 2013. “The Trial of Efrain Rios Montt & Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez,” Open Society Justice Initiative, www.riosmontt-trial.org.

66 Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, 21.

67 “Thanks to Our Sponsors,” Foundation for Christian Alternatives, http://web.archive.org/web/20041207005902/http://sincerelysouthern.com/sponsors.htm. In 2007, the parent organization of the Southern Historical Conference sponsored a fundraising ball for Ron Paul.

69 “About the Mises Institute,” Ludwig von Mises Institute, http://mises.org/page/1448/About-The-Mises-Institute; and “Senior Fellows, Faculty Members, and Staff,” Ludwig von Mises Institute, http://mises.org/Faculty. Also see Chip Berlet, “Ludwig von Mises Rises from the Scrap Heap of History,” Public Eye, http://www.publiceye.org/economic_justice/labor/anti_labor/history/von-mises.html.

70 “Frequently Asked Questions,” Ludwig von Mises Institute, http://mises.org/page/1479/Frequently-Asked-Questions.

72 According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Livingston left the League of the South because of its increasingly overt racism. Livingston insists that there is nothing racist about the scholarship of his institute.

73 “Associates,” Abbeville Institute, http://abbevilleinstitute.org/index.php/associates.

74 “Scholars Nostalgic for the Old South Study the Virtues of Secession, Quietly,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 6, 2009, http://chronicle.com/article/Secretive-Scholars-of-the-Old/49337.

75 “The Older Religiousness of the South,” Abbeville Institute Scholars’ Conference, 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20110829061826/http://www.abbevilleinstitute.org/archschol/09Scholars/09schol.php.

76 The Second Vermont Republic and Middlebury Institute, founded by Thomas Naylor and Kirkpatrick Sale, represent the “left” wing of the secession movement. However, both embraced much of the neo-Confederate ideology of their secessionist partners.

77 Gary North in Gary Galles, ed., Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read (Baltimore: Laissez Faire Books, 2013).

78 Jason DeParle, “Right of Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 2006.

www.nytimes.com/2006/11/17/us/politics/17thinktank.html?ex=1321419600&en=3b6af3fbfa4ff01e&ei=5090&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss. Mackinac’s biannual Leadership Conference has trained nearly 500 think-tank executives from 42 nations and nearly every U.S. state: www.mackinac.org/8154.

79 FEE is the senior organization of this group, founded in 1946 with funding from J. Howard Pew and others, to roll back the reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. FEE became a vehicle for the sacralization of unfettered free market ideology while opposing the minimum wage, labor regulations, and Social Security. Ludwig von Mises was on the staff and wrote for its publication, Freeman. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Reconstructionist Gary North became a regular contributor to Freeman, providing a theological foundation to the publication’s Christian libertarian philosophy. North compiled some of his Freeman contributions into his 1973 volume, An Introduction to Christian Economics. There has been significant overlap between FEE and the JBS, as there has been with the JBS, Reconstructionism, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

80 “State Nullification, Secession, and the Human Scale of Political Order,” Foundation for Economic Education, www.fee.org/publications/detail/state-nullification-secession-and-the-human-scale-of-political-order#ixzz2hrIq6X5M.

81 The Stephen D. Lee Institute lists an ad for the John Birch Society and Tenth Amendment Center event: www.stephendleeinstitute.com/faculty.html.

82 “The Real DiLorenzo: A ‘Southern Partisan’ Interview,” LewRockwell.com, June 17, 2004, http://archive.lewrockwell.com/dilorenzo/dilorenzo68.html.

83 Ben Lewis, “A Professor’s Defense of Nullification,” Tenth Amendment Center, Mar. 23, 2013, http://ohio.tenthamendmentcenter.com/2013/03/23/a-professors-defense-of-nullification and “Written Testimony on Behalf of Nullification,” Tom Woods, Mar. 5, 2013, www.tomwoods.com/blog/written-testimony-on-behalf-of-nullification.

84 “Nullification: Unlawful and Unconstitutional,” Heritage Foundation, Feb. 8, 2012, www.heritage.org/research/factsheets/2012/02/nullification-unlawful-and-unconstitutional.

85 Jennifer Rubin, “Jim DeMint’s Destruction of the Heritage Foundation,” Washington Post, Oct. 21, 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2013/10/21/jim-demints-destruction-of-the-heritage-foundation.

86 “DeMint Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare,” Jim DeMint: U.S. Senator, South Carolina, June 28, 2012, http://web.archive.org/web/20120724193426/http://www.demint.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=PressReleases&ContentRecord_id=85303109-8c0c-491b-972e-5816836350a0.

87 Robert A. Levy, “The Limits of Nullification,” New York Times, Sept. 3, 2013, http://nytimes.com/2013/09/04/opinion/the-limits-of-nullification.html?_r=0.

88 Jonathan Blanks, “Why ‘Libertarian’ Defenses of the Confederacy and ‘State’s Rights’ are Incoherent,” Libertarianism.org, Feb. 22, 2012, http://libertarianism.org/publications/essays/why-libertarian-defenses-confederacy-states-rights-are-incoherent.

89 Jason Kuznicki writes in “Rand Paul, the Confederacy and Liberty” that “anyone who cares about human liberty—to whatever degree—ought to despise the Confederacy”:

www.libertarianism.org/media/libertarian-view/libertarians-confederacy.

90  “Our Proclamation,” Alliance for the Separation of School and State, May 27, 2009, www.schoolandstate.org/proclamation.htm.

91 Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), ix. For a description of the book and a link to the full text in pdf format, see www.garynorth.com/freebooks/docs/21f2_47e.htm.

92 “John McManus Rocks the Rally for the Republic,” John Birch Society, Sept. 2, 2008, www.jbs.org/presidents-corner/john-mcmanus-rocks-the-rally-for-the-republic. Paul has a long history with the John Birch Society. He was featured in a JBS movie in 1998 supporting his American Sovereignty Restoration Act, which he introduced in 1997 and reintroduced in 2009, calling for the United States to end participation in the United Nations. The movie included John McManus and schismatic traditionalist Catholic leaders, known for their narratives about the New World Order plot of “Judeo-Masonic” conspirators. See “Ron Paul to Keynote Catholic Traditionalist Summit with NeoFascist and Overtly Anti-Semitic Speakers,” Talk To Action, Aug. 23, 2013, www.talk2action.org/story/2013/8/23/144536/636. On Sept. 11, 2013, Paul keynoted a conference led by these same schismatic Catholics. McManus was also on the program.

93 Brian Farmer, “Ron Paul Addresses the John Birch Society,” New American, Oct. 8, 2008, www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/7623-ron-paul-addresses-john-birch-society and www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/32002684.html.

Profiles on the Right: Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association

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Sheriff Richard Mack speaking at the Nullify Now! event in Downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA) was founded in 2011 by Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff. Mack was also a lobbyist for Gun Owners of America (GOA), and he is known for his challenge to the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and his role in the organization Oath Keepers, which is led by former Ron Paul Congressional staffer Stewart Rhodes.

Mack formed the CSPOA to organize county sheriffs around a mission similar to Oath Keepers—that is, to refuse to enforce laws that they believe are unconstitutional. “The greatest threat we face today is not terrorists,” according to Mack. “It is our own federal government.” CSPOA’s stated mission is to train sheriffs and police, and then “local governments will issue our new Declaration to the Federal Government regarding the abuses that we will no longer tolerate or accept,” according to the CSPOA website. “Said declaration will be enforced by our Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers. In short, the CSPOA will be the army to set our nation free.” Sheriffs around the country have received letters from the organization asking where they stand on “executive orders to unlawfully derail the Second Amendment.” The letter is sent by the Liberty Group Coalition, comprised of the CSPOA, GOA, Oath Keepers, the John Birch Society (JBS), Tenth Amendment Center, and other organizations.

The CSPOA has grown dramatically since the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012 and the subsequent rise in gun-control activism. To date, it lists by name and location nearly 500 county sheriffs and 18 state sheriff associations that have “gone on record” with the CSPOA to affirm “the constitutional second amendment rights of citizens in his or her jurisdiction.” Sheriffs who don’t cooperate may find themselves on the “Red Coat List.

Thomas Woods headlined CSPOA’s 2012 conference, co-sponsored by the JBS. Though countering gun control is the CSPOA’s major issue, sheriffs speaking at the conference also reported challenging federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management and the Food and Drug Administration.

The May 2013 conference featured religion-infused rhetoric against “tyranny.” Speakers included the Constitution Party’s Michael Peroutka, GOA’s Larry Pratt, Joe Wolverton of the JBS, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), and Mike Zullo.The latter is Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s chief “birther” investigator. Part of the conference was dedicated to his latest revelations in this ongoing pursuit. Conference speakers also included several county sheriffs and Tea Party leaders.

In January 2013, Pennsylvania’s Gilberton Borough passed an ordinance “nullifying all federal, state or local acts in violation of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” The police chief behind the ordinance, Mark Kessler, spoke at the 2013 CSPOA conference, and CSPOA created a new register on its website for police chiefs, with Kessler as the first on the list. CSPOA later distanced itself from Kessler and removed him from the list when his behavior became increasingly erratic. In a video posted online, for example, Kessler cursed “libtards” and fired city-issued weapons at a target representing Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Kessler was later dismissed by the borough.

Related Patriot Movement Profiles:

Oath Keepers

Three Percenters

Next ProfileThis profile, along with a full-length article on nullification and neo-Confederates, are part of the Fall 2013 issue of The Public Eye Magazine.

Profiles on the Right: John Birch Society

John Birch Society

John Birch Society: The Old Right Reemerges

A key partner in the Nullify Now! tour is the John Birch Society (JBS), founded in 1958 to fight the perceived infiltration of communism throughout American society. Fred Koch, father of the billionaires Charles and David Koch, was one of its founding members. Marginalized for decades for its outlandish conspiracy theories, it has recently made a comeback, largely via the Tea Party movement and as part of the Ron Paul Revolution.[1

The JBS was a major force in the battle against the Civil Rights Movement. In addition to the publication of books and pamphlets, the JBS placed advertisements in newspapers in 1965, asking, “What’s Wrong with Civil Rights?” The ads filled a full half page with fine print outlining the communist conspiracy and United Nations plot that the JBS believed to be behind the movement, including plans for a “Soviet Negro Republic” in the United States. Like many segregationists, the JBS claimed that racial unrest resulted from the Civil Rights Movement, not from previously existing discrimination against African-Americans.

John Birch Society2The JBS promotes nullification as a possible way to avoid secession. As an essay on the organization’s website puts it, “states weary of the assault on their sovereignty don’t need to secede to rid themselves of this repugnant despotism and unrepentant cronyism. They need only nullify every act of the central government that exceeds its constitutional authority, every time, without exception.”

The JBS works directly with state legislators on enacting model bills. In early 2013, a “JBS Weekly Update” on the Florida Tenth Amendment Center website featured Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Ritze (R), who was described as having “recently introduced HB 1021 to nullify ObamaCare.” In an accompanying video, Ritze identifies the JBS as the organization “providing the leadership,” and he calls for new members to help add more Birchers to the Oklahoma legislature.

JBS has also led efforts to nullify the Affordable Care Act and current and potential federal gun laws. It produces extensive guides for activists, and its media productions regularly track, report on, and encourage activism on nullification legislation. Recent articles in the JBS magazine, the New American, have included “States Aim to Nullify Obama Gun Control” and “Sheriffs and Legislators Are Acting to Nullify Obama Gun Controls.

Next ProfileThis profile, along with a full-length article on nullification and neo-Confederates, are part of the Fall 2013 issue of The Public Eye Magazine.


[1] Hundreds of Tea Party websites and meetups have helped disseminate JBS publications and videos.

Sharone Belt: The Obamacare Story You Won’t See In The News

If you watch cable news, you’ve probably seen story after story about Americans losing their insurance plans thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare.” Despite the passage of the ACA into law in 2010, and despite the Supreme Court’s decision in 2012 to uphold the legislation, and even despite the failed attempt to use a government shutdown as a bargaining chip—Right-Wing Republicans in Congress, governors’ mansions, and state legislatures are continuing their push to blame Obamacare for Americans losing health coverage.

But what about the Americans who didn’t have any health insurance to begin with, and are now being denied acceptance into Medicaid by those same conservatives? There are five million of them, people who have jobs but aren’t paid enough for private health insurance, being left out in the cold by the Right-Wing. On cable news, you don’t hear about people like Sharone Belt in North Carolina, who is being denied healthcare thanks to conservatives.

These are the stories we cannot in good conscience ignore.

Sharone Belt, 47, can't get health insurance because her state refused to expand Medicaid

Sharone Belt, 47, can’t get health insurance to cover her diabetic neuropathy because her state refused to expand Medicaid

Sharone Belt is 47 years old and lives in Hickory, North Carolina. She’s a deacon candidate at her church, collects donations for the local homeless shelter, and volunteers for the Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish Foundation. Sharone took some college classes when she was younger, but even with help from grants and student loans, she was priced out of her education pretty quickly. She now works as a balloon twister at children’s parties and restaurants to make ends meet.

“It’s not a job that pays very well,” says Sharone, “but I love working with the kids.”

Picking up as many gigs as she can, Sharone has managed to get herself just above the poverty line, making a little too much to qualify for Medicaid under the old system, but far too little to be able to afford private health insurance. Sharone also suffers from diabetes, which has led to diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) because she can’t afford the medications she needs. It’s a particularly difficult thing for her to work with, given her profession.

“I tried to use the free clinic in town,” says Sharone, “it took me six months just to get an appointment, and when I did get in, the medications I need are so expensive the free clinic wasn’t even able to get them for me.”

When the Affordable Care Act was passed, Sharone thought maybe there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel. “I was so excited, I thought maybe I could finally get my health back on track.”

Last week, Sharone found out that North Carolina is one of the 25 states refusing to expand Medicaid to cover people, like her, who are just above the poverty line. Back in March, conservative Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation that blocked Medicaid expansion for 500,000 North Carolinians, like Sharone, who don’t make enough money to purchase healthcare on their own, but don’t qualify for Medicaid, either. According to a report from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Medicaid expansion in North Carolina would have not only provided coverage for 500,000 low-income Tar Heelers but would also have added tens of thousands of jobs thanks to the injection of federal dollars. McCrory’s decision also caused a hospital in Belhaven to close, after it couldn’t keep up with unpaid medical bills from low-income patients.

Conservatives argue participation in Medicaid expansion, allowing those who make up to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit access to the healthcare program, would bankrupt states. The claim has been repeated in media outlets around the country, despite policy experts debunking it as a conservative myth being perpetuated by ideological beliefs rather than facts. The ACA actually covers the cost of expanding Medicaid 100 percent for the first three years states participate, after which federal dollars slightly curtail over the next decade. Even at the lowest point of federal funding, states would only be liable for 10 percent of the cost of the expansion in their state, but still reap 100 percent of the benefits of not having a populace burdened by the under-insured.

To add to Sharone’s woes, she was also just notified that Congress has made significant cuts to Food Stamps, which is going to make it even harder for her to put food on the table—another instance of the Right-Wing’s assault on the poor under the pretext of “fiscal responsibility” and “small government.”

“I’m just not sure what I’m going to do next,” says Sharone. Even with all the hardship she’s facing, still manages to keep a sense of humor and giggle as she asks, “Think there’s any chance Congress will pass a single-payer system soon?”

Sharone’s story is only one of 5 million from across the country. From the 500,000 people being denied coverage in North Carolina, to the 133,000 in Utah, to the 40,000 in Alaska, the stories of the working poor being denied healthcare are everywhere. Why don’t we hear about them on the nightly news?

Following the Money: A Template for Oppression

David and Charles Koch Image courtesy of Forbes.com

David and Charles Koch
Image courtesy of Forbes.com

These days, it seems everyone is familiar with the billionaire conservative Koch brothers (to some level or another). Their influx of excessive cash into our political system has resulted in both the Tea Party as well as Citizens United. At their basic level, David and Charles Koch are libertarians who back measures which will allow them to conduct business with as minimal government regulation as possible.

So why have they spent hundreds of millions of dollars in support of the anti-choice cause? Especially considering they previously have donated large sums of money to stem cell research?

The answer is simple and shouldn’t be all that surprising: it’s good for business.

While the Kochs may not really believe in the rights of medically non-viable fetuses, by claiming this belief with organizations such as Freedom Partners, Americans for Prosperity, and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, the Kochs gain access to far more support than they would if they limited their agenda to their primary cause of business deregulation.

A report by Adele M. Stan of RH Reality Check details the complex and secretive flow of millions of anti-choice dollars coming from the Koch brothers, which then go through pass-through organizations [also known as “secret banks” due to their 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) statuses], and eventually filter down to anti-choice organizations like the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), Americans United for Life Action (AUL Action), and the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC).

Just as important as the investigative details provided by Stan are the overarching implications of such behavior. We would be mistaken to view this flow of money as an isolated problem, unique to the reproductive health realm of human rights. Rather, this one instance is indicative of a larger problem. From reports like Stan’s, we can begin to build a template that helps us better understand both the mobilization of conservative voters and the subsequent disenfranchising of women, children, and many types of minorities.

When “philanthropists” or any sort of big spenders give money to politically driven (and overwhelmingly conservative) groups in order to forward their own agendas, they unleash such groups’ ability to spend as freely as they care to. Such spenders enable organizations which might otherwise struggle to gain footing, allowing them to better mobilize, advertise, self-promote, donate, and support candidates and campaigns. This generally ensures their political message will be widespread. These organizations, already apt at appealing to the religious beliefs of prospective supporters, can now use their wallets to do so as well.

The Kochs and others are opportunists. As was observed during a recent phone conference centered on Stan’s report, “[religiously driven voters] are going to take their pound of flesh, and the Koch brothers are happy to enable them.”

The collateral of these practices is truly devastating. At the feet of the Koch brothers, we see women stripped of their basic right to healthcare. When looking towards other areas of social justice, we should consider this: virulently anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage (NOM) is a 501(c)(4) and currently under IRS investigation; almost half of the National Rifle Association’s programs are 501(c)(4)s; and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS [also a 501(c)(4)] spent over $20 million on ads during the 2010 Senate elections.

This all leads to the question: what can we do to stop this? The IRS is already looking into many of these organizations, but their progress is slow due to accusations this past summer that they have specifically targeted Tea Party aligned groups.

There is still work that can be done outside of the IRS by the public.

Research
Investigative research and reports like Stan’s help inform the public about the inner workings and manipulative behavior of donors like the Koch brothers. We need substantive details in order to understand the larger picture. Every time behavior like this is uncovered and thoroughly researched, we have another opportunity to better understand the way the system is being used to both profit the abusers and harm others.

For example, an emerging consistency is larger organizations starting “action” arms that are specifically 501(c)(4), while the organization as a whole remains a 501(c)(3).  Among others, the Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, Americans United for Life, and the Family Research Council do this.

Legal Fights
Organizations like Freedom Partners and CCAP have not always been able to keep their donors anonymous. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision is the primary thing that allows corporations to file for tax-exempt statuses under which they do not have to reveal their donors. Applications for 501(c)(4) status more than doubled after this ruling. The 501(c)(4) Reform Act of 2013, which has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, would amend the 2010 ruling in hopes of ensuring that such corporations cannot heavily influence politics as they have been for the past three years. Urging support for this is essential.

Personal
Information is power. Ideally, people should look into a groups’ financials and inner workings before they give their money or any other form of support. This folds back into both the research and legal standpoints because the two are essential tools that promote the ability to make empowered decisions. It may be quite obvious, but the more widespread and available this information is, the more empowered people there will be.

Perhaps most important to take away from all this is to always remain curious and question the source of money—whether it is where it is coming from or where it is going, the devastating impact is undeniable.

Profiles on the Right: National Organization for Marriage (NOM)

NOM logo

HISTORY, LEADERSHIP, AND GOALS

Conservative activist Maggie Gallagher and Princeton professor Robert George launched the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) in 2007. NOM’s mission is to defeat same-sex marriage at the polls, in the legislature, and in the courts, from state to state and across the country. The group functions as an organized infrastructure that coordinates state and federal initiatives into a national movement to ban same-sex marriage.

For its first project, NOM worked in tandem with the Mormon Church to funnel money into California’s Proposition 8 campaign, which led to suspicions that NOM is a front group for the Mormon Church. NOM has since incurred suspicion that it is also a front for the Catholic Church, due to close ties with—and funding from—Catholic groups. Catholic conservative Brian Brown took over as president in 2010 from co-founder Maggie Gallagher, who now serves as president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, a conservative anti-marriage equality think tank.

Gallagher previously worked for other antigay groups such as the Institute for American Values and the Marriage Law Foundation. In her book The Abolition of Marriage, Gallagher equates same-sex marriage with polygamy, stating that “for all its ugly defects, [polygamy] is an attempt to secure stable mother-father families for children… [and] there is no principled reason why you don’t have polygamy if you have gay marriage.” NOM also recently shared an image on their Facebook page, comparing equal marriage to incest. Current board chair Dr. John Eastman, a Chapman University law professor, has vocally defended the Boy Scouts’ antigay discrimination and referred to homosexuality as a form of “barbarism.”  NOM recently made the news when the Mormon science fiction author, Orson Scott Card, stepped down from NOM’s board after being criticized for his homophobic views.

Despite the economic recession, NOM’s revenue increased exponentially in its first few years, starting out with a modest half million dollars in 2007 and rising to $7.4 million in 2009, 14 times its 2007 income. Three-quarters of its 2009 revenue came from 14 big donors (minimum $5000) who together contributed $5.5 million, the largest donor contributing $2.5 million. In 2010, that number grew again to $9.1 million. Thus, a small group of extremely wealthy donors is responsible for NOM’s funding, giving this handful of privileged individuals an exaggerated influence on the same-sex marriage debate and public policy. However, in 2011, after pledging to spend $20 million, NOM’s upward trend in fundraising changed, reporting only $7.2 million in revenue (mostly from two donors), down almost $2 million from 2010. Considering their limited spending in Illinois, it appears that their financial heft is dwindling. Upon losing marriage equality ballot initiatives in all four 2012 state contests–Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, and Washington–NOM President Brian Brown blamed the defeats on being “greatly outspent” and claimed “same-sex marriage is not inevitable.”

Shirking financial disclosure laws, NOM fiercely protects the anonymity of its donors and thereby encourages them to continue giving large sums of money. The largest known donor is the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal society based in New Haven, CT, that contributed $500,000 in 2008 and $1.4 million in 2009. Many suspect that the largest donations are coming from the Mormon and Catholic Churches because of their connections to NOM founders and board members. “You’ve got this really interesting funnel of tax-free money coming from the Dioceses and the Council of Bishops and the Knights of Columbus directly to these campaigns,” noted Phil Attey, executive director of the pro-gay marriage Catholics for Equality.

NOM leaders claim they maintain this secrecy to protect donors from persecution by gay rights supporters. They even use this policy of anonymity as a fundraising tool, with Brian Brown promising prospective donors that their identities will remain secret: “And unlike in California, every dollar you give to NOM’s Northeast Action Plan today is private, with no risk of harassment from gay marriage protesters.” Furthermore, NOM defends its non-disclosure by suing states such as California and Maine, challenging their financial disclosure requirements as unconstitutional. In response to a 2010 ethics investigation from the state of Maine, NOM committed millions for litigation to delay disclosure in the courts as long as possible.

STRATEGIES

One of NOM’s chief strategies involves campaigning for anti-gay legislators and working to unseat lawmakers and judges who support marriage equality, particularly Republicans and moderate Democrats who support pro-LGBTQ legislation and court cases. In 2011, it vowed to spend $1 million on these goals in Maryland alone. The group successfully implemented this strategy in 2010 to unseat three State Supreme Court judges in Iowa who ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. In 2012, the group pledged $100,000 to unseat a fourth Iowan judge who supported marriage equality. This strategy has been used repeatedly, including in New York and earlier this year in Minnesota. While not unusual, NOM is able to wield significant financial heft in some of the state level elections they are involved in. Their efforts are less and less successful, however, as exemplified by their 2013 support for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli (R ) who lost to Democrat Terry Mcauliffe.

With fiery rhetoric, NOM demonizes so-called “traitors” against marriage through extensive mailings, robo-calls, and e-newsletters. Prone to fear mongering and hyperbole, NOM’s leaders rally their ultra-conservative base to vote the “traitors” out of office and donate to anti-same-sex marriage candidates. For instance, in a July 2011 newsletter, NOM president Brian Brown declared that with Senate hearings on repealing DOMA, “President Obama and the hard-left core of the Democratic Party in Washington declared war on marriage, on federalism, on democracy and on religious liberty.” NOM wields hyperbolic rhetoric to distort the pro-same-sex marriage campaign into an all-out war on traditional American principles. Framing same-sex marriage as an insidious threat to such universally accepted American values, it galvanizes target audience and makes it difficult for supporters of equality to argue against them. With their seemingly innocuous claim that they are “protecting families,” NOM’s leaders hope to confound and silence opponents.

Another fear mongering argument that NOM employs is the notion that redefining marriage would result in religious persecution by the government. Its leaders argue that such “persecution” would include: forcing pro-gay views on children in public schools, forcing churches to perform same-sex marriages, and denying tax breaks to religious institutions that fail to recognize same-sex marriage. For instance, Maggie Gallagher has argued that she and Robert George founded NOM because “if nothing changes, state legislatures are going to begin to pass laws to redefine marriage and…our churches, charities, schools and other organizations were going to be persecuted by state governments as a result.”

As summarized in our recent profile of Brian Brown, the NOM president has been involved in organizing the World Congress of Families in Russia next year, and testified in front of the Russian Parliament (the Duma), advocating a legal solution to protecting ‘traditional’ families. Back in the U.S., NOM has continued campaigning in order to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. In Hawaii, they have contributed towards advertisements, arguing Hawaiian heritage is “rooted in family” and that in other states, “people and families are punished for not agreeing” with equal marriage. Political watchdog Fred Karger sent a complaint letter to the Hawaii Ethics Commission, detailed in our article about the Mormon Church in Hawaii, which was also a joint complaint against NOM, alleging that neither organization registered, as required, as lobbyists.

NOM has also branched out, beyond campaigning against equal marriage, to attacking a bill in California that allows transgender students to use facilities and participate in activities corresponding with their gender identity. They are hoping to bring forward a referendum on repealing the law, and replicate their success with the Prop 8 campaign. With regards to this law, Brown accuses activists of using “children as a weapon in their culture war.”

In March 2012, LGBTQ advocates got a detailed look into NOM’s campaigning and messaging strategies following a lawsuit related to the group’s Maine activities. Documents from the case reveal NOM’s efforts to develop anti-LGBTQ media to directly appeal to racial minorities, using it to drive a “wedge between blacks and gays.” At the end of August 2012, NOM launched a radio ad campaign in swing state North Carolina’s Raleigh media market, home to 40 percent of the state’s African-American population. The advertisement features Dr. Patrick Wooden, a prominent African-American pastor, and urges listeners to say “no more” to President Barack Obama based on his endorsement of marriage equality. The same documents showed that NOM hoped to inflame tensions among those in the African-American community who take issue with equating LGBTQ equality with civil rights, and to target the Latino community by making support for “traditional marriage” a “key badge of Latino culture” and recruiting “glamorous” Latino spokespeople to help further the cause.

In the summer and fall of 2010, NOM sponsored two bus tours to promote its anti-LGBTQ message, which generated little publicity and small turnouts. Undeterred, the group embarked on another bus tour in August 2011, aiming to sway Iowan voters to select an anti-gay marriage presidential candidate.In March 2013, NOM hosted a rally in Washington, D.C., against equal marriage, attempting to replicate protests in France. This rally, however, consisted of only a few thousand attendees. On the state level, NOM also promotes ballot initiatives to ban gay marriage, heavily funding referendums such as California’s Prop 8 and Maine’s Question 1. In states such as New York that lack a ballot initiative procedure, NOM focuses on lobbying legislators to oppose gay marriage through laws or constitutional amendments. The group spent $2 million to target three Republicans in the New York State Senate who voted in June of 2011 to legalize marriage rights for LGBTQ couples, helping to defeat one in a GOP primary. Another Republican who voted for the measure, Jim Alesi, opted not to seek a ninth term in the State Senate, fearing intense negative campaigning on the part of NOM and its allies.  In the wake of New York’s gay marriage legalization in June 2011, NOM now plans a massive campaign to lobby for a constitutional amendment to overturn same-sex marriage by 2015.

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