Who was behind Michigan GOP’s one-two punch against LGBTQ working families?

As 2015 winds to a close, Michiganders–especially working people and LGBTQ folks–are reeling from right-wing assaults on both their pocketbooks and their civil rights. I am referring to the one-two punch of new laws passed during the summer legislative session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. These new laws effectively roll back decades of progress made by community and labor organizing in the state; at the same time, they represent dots along a disturbing trend line that people in many other states need to see more clearly in order to avoid the same fate.

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan
(photo via Flickr courtesy of Michigan Municipal League)

First, the one punch: Dubbed the “death star,” HB 4052 is a state preemption, or local interference, law passed by the legislature that bans cities from enacting their own laws governing wages and benefits. (Note: although the original bill would have banned cities from passing LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinances, that provision was stripped out.) Signed in June by Gov. Snyder, the new law blocks cities in Michigan from enacting living wage laws, mandating paid sick days, or passing laws on any other workplace-related issues. Such interference with local control is becoming more common. It may come as a shock to some readers that nearly all states have already done away with cities and towns’ ability to pass local gun control laws; not quite as many states have blocked local control of tobacco, e-cigarettes, and environmental regulations, but this is indeed a trend that organizers can no longer ignore. In these states, an organizing victory in a single city is at risk of being preempted by state law. (A clickable map of such laws is available here, although it may not be completely up to date.)

The second punch to hit Michiganders during this summer’s legislative session was a statewide religious freedom restoration act, or RFRA law, that awards adoption agencies the right to claim a religious exemption from having to serve LGBTQ couples. Though it is narrower in scope than a much broader failed RFRA bill that would have allowed any individual or business to claim the right to discriminate against LGBTQ persons because of a “sincerely held religious belief”, the adoption RFRA will have a chilling effect on LGBTQ families in the state.

With the help of a researcher based in Western Michigan, PRA looked into what groups and funders were behind this one-two punch in the Wolverine State. What we found: Although there are two separate sets of right-wing groups lobbying for the anti-local control law and the RFRA laws, they share an important common funder: the DeVos family, billionaire founders and heirs of the Amway fortune.

Although there are two separate sets of right-wing groups lobbying for the anti-local control law and the RFRA laws, they share an important common funder: the DeVos family, billionaire founders and heirs of the Amway fortune.

Michigan provides us with an instructive lesson in how the Right can deploy a multi-pronged policy strategy. In the case of the local interference “death star” bill, the Corporate Right used its corporate lobbying groups to lobby noisily for the bill. The groups that spoke in favor of the bill and are part of the public record were the National Federation of Independent Business, Associated General Contractors of Michigan, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to research by the Lansing-based Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the National Federation of Independent Business had spent $202,036 on lobbying in Michigan for the first seven months of 2015 while the US Chamber of Commerce spent $64,000 on lobbying during the same time period.

Dick and Betsy DeVos  (Grand Rapids Press File Photo)

Dick and Betsy DeVos
(Grand Rapids Press File Photo)

At the same time, though, the DeVos-funded Michigan Freedom Fund, which is run by DeVos family operative Greg McNeilly (who ran Dick DeVos’ failed 2006 campaign for governor), pushed hard behind the scenes for the local interference bill. The vote for the bill ultimately split along party lines, with a handful of Republican lawmakers opposing it in both the House and Senate. With a GOP majority, this meant the bill passed, and Governor Snyder signed it with gusto.

The newly enacted RFRA legislation would mean that a child placing agency (for adoption or foster care) could not be required to provide any services if those services conflicted with the agency’s “sincerely held religious beliefs” contained in a written policy, statement of faith, or other document adhered to by the agency. This applies also to referrals made by the Department of Human Services for foster care management or adoption services under a contract with the department. An agency could decline such referrals. Those wanting to limit LGBTQ couples/families from adopting in Michigan have been proposing similar legislation since 2005.

This includes the DeVos family, as well as the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation. The Princes, who made their fortune in auto parts manufacturing, are another politically active ultra-wealthy Michigan family. One of their sons is Erik Prince, founder of the defense contractor/security firm Blackwater. And with Betsy DeVos as a daughter, the political alliance between the two families remains strong.

Several members of the two committees that helped write the adoption RFRA laws received contributions from individuals or organizations that are hostile towards LGBTQ rights and equality.

Several members of the two committees that helped write the adoption RFRA laws received contributions from individuals or organizations that are hostile towards LGBTQ rights and equality. Rep. Kathy Crawford and Senator Tom Casperson both received $9,000 in support from the DeVos family, and Rep. Andrea LaFontaine (R), who introduced HB 4188, received $8,100 from the DeVos Family, according to research by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. This may not be a shock to those from Michigan, who know the DeVoses are the most politically active donors in the state in recent years. But the DeVoses also funded some of the groups, such as Michigan’s largest adoption agency Bethany Christian Services, that lobbied hard for the adoption RFRA: the most recent 990 documents (2013) for the Richard & Helen DeVos Foundation show that they contributed $250,000 to Bethany Christian Services. The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation provided $25,000 to Bethany in 2013.

Another group that lobbied for the adoption RFRA was Michigan Family Forum, an affiliate of CitizenLink, the state policy network of the Family Research Council. Michigan Family Forum used its longstanding connections to Christian Right politicians and networks across the state to mobilize voters and lawmakers to support this set of bills. Major donors to the Michigan Family Forum in recent years include the Edgar & Elsa Prince Foundation, which contributed $15,000 in 2014.

The DeVoses, and to a lesser extent the Princes, have their thumb on the scales of public policy in Michigan. But what does this mean for other states? Where else are these ultra-wealthy political donor families pushing to stop towns and cities from exercising their democratic right to local control? And where else might they be trying to stop LGBTQ people from gaining more human and civil rights? PRA is looking into these and other questions; watch this space for more.

Jeff Smith contributed research and writing to this report.

While Fischer Takes the Blame, RNC Israel Trip Will Be Led By An Even More Influential Christian Nationalist

Much has been made of RNC chairman Reince Priebus and 60 members of the Republican National Committee taking a trip to Israel under the sponsorship of the SPLC-certified hate group American Family Association (AFA). But while AFA has tried to minimalize the controversy by firing Director of Issue Analysis Bryan Fischer (although he’ll continue hosting their radio program), the right-wing operative actually hosting the trip is a less known, but much more significant player.

This duplicity of those on the Right known for loudly declaring their love for Israel in an effort to inoculate their activism from charges of Christian supremacism has become increasingly transparent thanks to the RNC’s trip. Waving Israeli flags at rallies may no longer be enough to camouflage an agenda that attacks the rights of American Jews and those of other faiths

The host of the RNC’s trip, and the man we should be more concerned about, is David Lane, head of the American Renewal Project at the AFA. While Bryan Fischer has received most of the public notoriety for declaring that only Christians should have free exercise of religion and that immigrants should be forced to convert to Christianity, David Lane’s work has successfully flown under the radar—until now.

Christian Right political operative David Lane

Christian Right political operative David Lane

David Lane: Wage War to Restore a Christian America

Lane just finished up his duties organizing The Response in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a religio-political rally headlined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and funded by AFA.  Lane, a self-declared political operative, has mostly stayed out of the limelight for the last decade, while hosting over 10,000 pastors in more than 10 states encouraging pastors to run for office, known as “Pastors’ Policy Briefings” or “Pastors and Pews.”  These briefings are often held over a couple of days in luxury hotels, with all-expenses-paid for pastors and their spouses, and have featured numerous politicians. For example, one event last year in Iowa featured Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) (and his father) and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R), and was also attended by billionaire brothers Dan and Farris Wilks. Another Iowa event on the schedule for this coming March will include Jindal and Cruz.

As noted by PRA Fellow Frederick Clarkson, Lane’s rhetoric has become increasingly militant. An article by Lane later removed from the WorldNetDaily website was titled “Wage War to Restore a Christian America.”

As to the future of America – and the collapse of this once-Christian nation – Christians must not only be allowed to have opinions, but politically, Christians must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the “Separation of Church and State,” the lie repeated ad nauseum by the left and liberals to keep Christian America – the moral majority – from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning and pagan media.

Lane frequently quotes Christian Reconstructionist Peter Leithart’s call for Christian martyrs, and says“Christianity has always been persecuted beginning in Acts 4 and throughout 2000 years of history.” According to Lane, the only exception is in the U.S., where Christians have had religious and civil liberty for about 200 years, but he adds that Christian America is now in ruins, “destroyed by liberal secularists.”  He equates the supposed failure of Christian America to fight back against secularism with the failure of the church of Germany to fight back against the rising Nazi party.

Gene Mills, head of the Tony Perkins-founded Louisiana Family Forum, presents Governor Bobby Jindal with the "Gladiator Award"

Gene Mills, head of the Tony Perkins-founded Louisiana Family Forum, presents Governor Bobby Jindal with the “Gladiator Award”

Events organized by Lane have also featured calls for like-minded Christians to “take back” government and society.  One of the organizers of The Response in LA was Gene Mills, head of the Tony Perkins-founded Louisiana Family Forum.  During his speech, Mills challenged the audience to take back the “seven mountains” from “enemy occupation.” This is a reference to a campaign marketed internationally for like-minded Christians to take control over society by taking dominion over arts and entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion.  Mills presents annual awards each year to politicians who support the organization’s agenda, a number that he says has quadrupled during his tenure.  This past year he awarded the sword for the “Gladiator Award” to Gov. Jindal.

A Christian Nationalist Rewriting of History

AFA’s Bryan Fischer, at the heart of the RNC trip controversy, is known for his virulent homophobia. In Fischer’s version of Nazi history, Adoph Hitler himself was an active homosexual, who recruited other homosexuals.  Therefore, in his version of history, homosexuals were not victims but the villains of the Holocaust.

Lane has taken politicians to Israel, including former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) and Rand Paul, and is credited with helping the latter improve his credentials with evangelicals.  This past November, Lane hosted a group of “political and faith leaders” on a trip to Europe, including former Arkansas Governor and Fox News personality Mike Huckabee, as well as pastors from Iowa and South Carolina. The trip was dubbed “The Journey: A Spiritual Awakening,” and the itinerary included sites related to the lives of Pope John Paul II, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and concluded at the Ronald Reagan Library.

Also on the trip was Floyd Brown, founder of Citizens United and the political operative behind the infamous Willie Horton ad and the ExposeObama website. Brown wrote about the trip in an article titled “Huckabee Declaring Holy War?,” and quotes Huckabee as calling for resistance against tyranny.  But the tyranny they claim to be fighting is that of President Obama’s administration and the “cultural Marxism” that Lane believes is part of a communist plot to indoctrinate Americans.

Stops at Auschwitz and Birkenau were also included, but they were spun by Lane and Huckabee and (as well as in coverage of the trip by conservative media) as a warning to rise up against encroaching threats in America.  An article in the Christian Post about the trip equated the actions of the Nazis with America today, saying, “The comparison to America could not be more blantant. The article quoted Austrian-born Kitty Werthmann, president of the North Dakota chapter of the Eagle Forum, the anti-ERA organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly, who gives speeches based on her claimed experiences in Nazi-occupied Austria and portraying Hitler as a leftist who abolished free enterprise and insisted on “equal rights for women”

Inoculating Christian Nationalism with Christian Zionism


Many Christians feel affinity with the Holy Land and the state of Israel, but Christian Zionism refers to activism attempting to hasten the second coming of Jesus, and helping Jews along with the role they are supposed to play in the drama of the end times. In recent decades, leaders embracing Dominion Theology have often rejected Christian Zionism, but some Charismatic Christians have embraced a different form of dominionism that couples aggressive Christian triumphalism with “pro-Israel” activism. In this hybrid narrative, Jews must be converted (particularly in Israel) to bring about Jesus’ kingdom on earth.

Although this brand of Charismatic dominionism is sweeping the globe like wildfire, many Jewish leaders either remain unaware of its agenda, or are hesitant to criticize the religious bigotry of those labelled pro-Israel.  The Israeli flag waving, shofar blowing, and Messianic music are sometimes mistaken as affection, when these are actually expressions of Christian triumphalism and a strategy to build Messianic congregations and communities. (Messianics are Jews who convert to Christianity but retain trappings of Judaism and a Jewish identity.)

This coupling of Christian nationalism with pro-Zionist activism is most visible among the modern-day “apostles” of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), many of whom helped David Lane organize, market, and lead The Response prayer rallies headlined by Rick Perry in 2011 and Bobby Jindal last week.  At both of these events, a designated “prayer for Israel” segment of the program included overt calls for the conversion of Jews.  At the Perry event in 2011, the call was made by Apostle Don Finto and Marty Waldman, rabbi of one of the nation’s largest Messianic congregations.  Finto is known for his role in promoting the “Israel Mandate” directing Christians to support Messianics.

The leader of the afternoon segment of Perry’s 2011 all-day prayer rally was Mike Bickle, head of the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City, an international youth-oriented ministry that also prioritizes the Israel Mandate.  The Response events were patterned after, and incorporated leaders from, TheCall, a tax-affiliated ministry of IHOP led by Lou Engle. TheCall holds large-venue events around the world that include prayers for conversion of Jews, including TheCall Jerusalem in 2008.

At David Lane’s prayer rally last weekend, the Prayer For Israel speakers included Rosemary Schindler, a distant relative of Oskar Schindler and a prominent speaker among Christian Zionists and Messianics. Last year, Rosemary married Jim Garlow, a pastor who organized support for California’s Proposition 8. Another speaker at Lane’s rally shouted, “We declare as a united body, revival in the land of Israel in the name of Jesus!”  (Garlow also spoke at both Perry and Jindal’s rally.)

This shift in theology has resulted in ugly undertones of religious bigotry among people who claim to love Israel, and a new acceptability in evangelizing Jews.  For example, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI), led primarily by NAR apostles and Messianics (including Rabbi Marty Waldman), featured Glenn Beck in 2012 at their annual gala and fundraiser. The following year the event featured former President George W. Bush.

The RNC’s trip with Lane will be accompanied by popular Messianic writer Joel Rosenberg, who also calls for the evangelization of Jews and has recently immigrated to Israel.  The Haaretz article also quoted David Lane from a past interview with Glenn Beck saying “Restoring America to our Judeo-Christian heritage and re-establishing a Christian culture is the only way that we get out of where we are.”

Haaretz published an oped I wrote in August, 2011, when Glenn Beck was hosting events in Israel.  Beck had already alienated many American Jews with the promotion of virulently anti-Semitic writers and an attack on George Soros using anti-Semitic memes. His anti-Semitic words caused a protest from 400 rabbis, representing all four branches of Judaism. In the op-ed, I warned that Beck’s embrace by Israeli leaders would be further indication to Americans that support for Israel is linked to an extremist political agenda in the United States—one that threatens to further alienate both Jews and Christians, Democrats and Republicans.  Likewise, Reince Priebus and the RNC’s trip with David Lane risk further alienating not only American Jews, but all Americans who value religious pluralism and the separation of church and state.

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Opening Pandora’s Box: The Rise & Fall of the Right’s School Voucher Pioneer

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Polly Williams, the Wisconsin African American lawmaker behind the nation’s first school voucher program, believed vouchers could help students of color in urban Milwaukee. Conservative donors and right-wing think tanks saw her program as opening the door to the privatization of public education. Education reform has come to mean different things to different people: from improving public education to privatizing it out of existence.

This article appears in PRA’s Winter 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine

Polly Williams, the “mother of school choice,” passed away on November 9, 2014.  The moniker dates back to the late 1980s, when Williams broke ranks with her fellow African American and Democratic state legislators to partner with conservatives on Milwaukee’s school voucher program, the first of its kind in the nation.1  The Milwaukee voucher program was signed into law in 1990 by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.2 A quarter-century later, conservative pro-privatization funders and advocates continue to advance their free-market agenda as if it is the salvation of the nation’s most underserved students. Vouchers, once stigmatized by their use in fighting integration of schools, are being marketed as the vehicle of a “New Civil Rights Movement.”

Polly Williams became an instant celebrity within the conservative-dominated world of school vouchers, although she did not share their privatization agenda. Williams supported a limited program targeting the city’s poorest families, sometimes referred to as “charity vouchers” or compensatory vouchers3 by her conservative allies. Those allies saw an opportunity to use urban students of color as a wedge to break down the alliances defending public education. They also viewed it as an opening that could be expanded over time to employ “universal vouchers”, or vouchers for students of families in all income brackets, and ultimately the privatization of public education.

Young students in Philadelphia in 2011 demonstrate support for privatization programs. Image via Pennlive.com. Photo used with the permission of PA Media Group 2011. All rights reserved.

Young students in Philadelphia in 2011 demonstrate support for privatization programs. Image via Pennlive.com. Photo used with the permission of PA Media Group ©2011. All rights reserved.

But by the late 1990s, Williams had been pushed aside, just as she feared that students of color from low-income families would be pushed aside by the diverging agenda of her White conservative partners. Within a few years, Williams was ridiculed by her former allies, described as “irrelevant” and no longer useful.

Nevertheless, upon her death, the school privatization leaders and organizations reclaimed her—memorializing her for her role as a pioneer while omitting her later disillusionment with the movement.

Williams’ alienation from the movement she helped birth offers a cautionary tale for those who believe that vouchers, tuition tax credits for private schools—or even quasi-public charter schools—may offer a magic bullet to equitable education for underserved urban children.

Whose interests are served?

In 1995, Milton Friedman, an economist and the intellectual dean of the school privatization movement, stated, “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system.”  School privatization’s “New Civil Rights” theme appears to be little more than a public relations campaign that camouflages this shift.  Privatization advocates and their funders have appropriated the language of civil rights and use the dissatisfaction of underserved communities to promote the marketization of public education, an agenda that promises to leave many students of color behind.

Our nation has “consistently and purposefully underserved students of color,” notes Julian Vasquez Heilig, Professor of Educational Policy and Planning at University of Texas-Austin, in a 2013 Texas Education Review article on the current reframing of school choice as a civil rights issue.4 Heilig adds that the school choice movement depends heavily on African American and Latino leaders such as Williams. Janelle Scott, a professor in the graduate school of education and the African American Studies Department at the University of California-Berkeley, writes in Critical Studies in Education about the tension between exposing the drivers of privatization while simultaneously understanding the limited options of underserved urban families:

In raising questions about the lack of commitment to eradicating structural inequalities by the managers of choice, I do not denigrate the individual choices parents of color are making for their children within the policy framework largely dictated by an elite invested in privatizing public education … What is important is to illuminate the elite networks that are funding and paving the way for educational policy to be radically altered along business models.5

The neoliberal privatization movement has presented “choice” as a civil rights effort—and as the only option for changing the status quo for these historically underserved students of color. It does so despite the preponderance of evidence that, as the authors of one educational study from 2002 wrote, “school choice, on average, does not produce the equity and social justice that proponents spin.”6

From the time of desegregation forward, disillusionment with integration and the failure to improve education in many urban communities led to the development of “independent black schools.”  These were neighborhood private schools owned and operated by African Americans, often run on shoestring budgets, and often featuring Afrocentric or multicultural curricula.  In 1984, Dr. Joan Davis Ratteray founded the Institute for Independent Education to organize these schools, which numbered almost 300 by 1990 and were attended primarily by the children of Black middle-class parents.

Polly Williams sent her children to one of Milwaukee’s independent, nonsectarian, Black private schools.  Hoping to expand access for poor students whose parents could not afford the tuition, Williams advocated for a voucher program that would be limited to the lowest income families and to nonsectarian schools. She was, from the outset, concerned that raising income caps and including religious schools within voucher programs would again leave behind the poorest students.

Yet once Williams opened the door, the juggernaut of privatization began to roll through—a movement that blames teachers and teachers’ unions for low educational outcomes of students in underserved schools and fails to address (or even rejects) the role of structural inequalities in these same communities.

Ratteray was also a school choice supporter, and wrote a rousing op-ed in the New York Times supporting it. However, as the experiment in Milwaukee came to fruition, Ratteray grew wary of vouchers as an economic incentive. She described the existing independent Black schools as being the result of a social need, not a business venture.  “If you put on it this idea that each kid will bring a certain amount of money, it will change that,” Ratteray warned.7 Her words proved prophetic.

“School choices” or opportunities for profit

The term “school choice” encompasses a broad range of programs, from charter schools to vouchers.  The more accurate term, “private school choice,” refers to programs that use public funding to pay or subsidize tuition for private school students.  “Public school choice,” meanwhile, includes a variety of programs that allow students to attend schools outside their assigned district, magnet schools, and charter schools, the single most rapidly expanding sector of choice. (Charters are technically public but are independently operated, sometimes by for-profit corporations, and are exempt from many state and local regulations.)

SIDEBAR: Monetizing Charter Schools. (Click to expand)

Charter schools are technically a “public school choice,” but operated by an outside group that is not bound by some of the same local and stae regulations as traditional public schools.1 Today, charter schools are the fastest growing sector of school vhoice, with more than two million students attending over 6,000 charter schools.

Charters were originally intended to foster innovative approaches to teaching in small, autonomous schools. Excellent charter schools exist; overall, however, charters have failed to outperform traditional public schools. According to a recent study, Pennsylvania charter schools covered less material in both math and reading than did traditional public schools (the equivalent of 29 days of reading and 50 days of math).2

Charter schools have become a primary vehicle for the monetization of education.  Although most states require charters to be run by nonprofit organizations, many contract out the management of charters to for-profit companies, sometimes with little separation between the charter board and the for-profit management.3 In some cases, the buildings and facilities are purchased by the for-profit arm and leased back to the nonprofit, or even resold by the for-profit to an investment company.4 Entertainment Properties, Inc., a publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT), now owns the buildings and/or facilities of 60 charter schools.5 According to an Ohio investigation, 40 percent of that state’s charter schools pay lease to a for-profit entity or out-of-state landlord. Rising lease costs are taking increasingly large percentages of the schools’ budgets, with one school paying more than 80 percent of its total budget in lease to a for-profit entity.6

In the category of “private school choice,” there are now approximately 40 programs in 19 states, plus Washington, DC, and state legislatures are continuing to introduce bills for new or expanded programs.  Advocates claim there is great public demand, despite the fact that a 2013 Gallup poll indicated that opposition to the use of public funds for private schools is at 70%, its highest level ever recorded in that survey.8

What’s more, as documentation accumulates showing that vouchers have failed to improve education outcomes, privatization advocates increasingly point to the budget savings that these programs supposedly provide.9

In addition to vouchers, the category of private school choice now includes tuition tax credit programs, a legislative maneuver that lets business redirect taxes owed to the state toward “scholarships” for student tuition at private and religious schools. These tax credit programs, sometimes referred to as “neovouchers” or back-door vouchers, have received less public scrutiny than vouchers, even as they currently comprise the largest private school choice programs in numbers of students. (See related sidebar on tax credit programs.)

SIDEBAR: What Are Tuition Tax Credit Programs? (Click to expand)

Tuition tax credit programs, sometimes called neovouchers, are “private school choice” programs.1 Individuals or corporations receive credit against their state taxes for funding “scholarships” used to pay private school tuition (or to attend a public school outside the student’s district). The largest corporate tax credit program in dollars and in number of students is in Florida, where companies can receive a 100% credit against their state taxes for the amount given to the nonprofits, which distribute the tuition funds.

Businesses are often lauded in local papers for their “donations,” but these contributions cost the company nothing in states with a 100% credit, and very little or nothing in states like Pennsylvania, where a company is credited 75% for a one-year and 90% for a two-year contribution (plus federal deduction). Claims of tax savings for states have largely been based on one 2008 Florida report in which key figures affecting the calculation were admitted to be guesses by the authoring agency.2

Most of the 14 states with tax credit programs do not require the participating schools to administer standardized tests or adhere to requirements on curriculum and teacher qualifications. The majority of these students attend religious schools (currently 81.5% in Florida). While many of these schools are excellent, a significant percentage use Christian fundamentalist curricula, (such as A Beka, Bob Jones University Press and other textbooks) that promote Young Earth creationism, hostility toward other religions, and revisionist history.

School choice’s segregationist roots

Before African American and Latino children became the focus of a multi-million dollar, pro-privatization public relations campaign, vouchers had a distinctly racist heritage. As author Kevin Kruse explains in White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, vouchers were part of a deliberate strategy in the 1950s and 1960s to circumvent school desegregation: “In the event of court-ordered desegregation, school buildings would be closed, and students would instead receive grants to attend private, segregated schools.”10

“Massive Resistance” was the name adopted by the united effort of White leaders and politicians to prevent desegregation. “Freedom-of-choice” plans were used in several states to perpetuate segregation, as they allowed students to “choose” their school while, in effect, retaining segregated Black and White schools.11

Some locations followed through with their threats to close public schools.  Prince Edward County, in Virginia, closed down its entire public school system from 1959 to 1964. Prince Edward only reopened integrated schools following the Supreme Court’s 1964 ruling in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County that Virginia’s tuition grants for sending white students to private schools were unconstitutional.12

The privatization agenda was birthed by segregationists in the 1950s, but it was kept alive in subsequent decades by Milton Friedman and sustained by wealthy conservative donors (and the infrastructure built with their dollars).  School privatization became a key part of the “devolution” of government, advocated by conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, Cato Institute, Heartland Institute, and the 50-state network of self-described “free market” think tanks coordinated through the State Policy Network.13 The names of the major funders of school choice, including the Bradley Foundation and the DeVos and Walton families, should automatically raise red flags for progressives.

“In retrospect, it seems strange that so many liberals bought an idea that emanated from conservative think tanks and conservative thinkers,” education scholar and anti-privatization activist Diane Ravitch wrote.14

Williams’ “unholy alliance”

Annette “Polly” Williams was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1980 and served until 2010.  She also ran the 1984 and 1988 Wisconsin statewide campaigns for Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid. In the late 1980s, despite intense objections from her fellow Democratic legislators and organizations such as the NAACP, Williams joined forces with conservatives to push through the nation’s first voucher program.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, activists and legislators proposed a variety of programs to provide public funding to Milwaukee’s independent Black private schools, some of which were in serious financial jeopardy.  Activists in the effort were largely liberal until the 1980s and 1990s, when conservatives and religious leaders began to capitalize on the idea as a model that could open the door to a larger voucher program.

In addition to her Republican allies in the state legislature, Williams’ partnerships with conservatives included the Bradley Foundation and its former president Michael Joyce; former GOP Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, a champion of conservative welfare reform; and George and Susan Mitchell, Wisconsin’s leading pro-voucher advocates. (Williams described these partnerships as an “unholy alliance” in an interview with the Heartland Institute, an interview in which she was also described as the “Rosa Parks of vouchers.”)15

In 1988, Gov. Thompson vetoed legislation to increase funding for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and provide additional teachers to reduce class size—but he included a voucher program proposal in his state budget. The Bradley Foundation provided research, polls, publications, and a legal defense of the voucher program.

In an effort to make the plan more palatable to Wisconsin legislators, Thompson reduced the scope of his statewide voucher plan for 1989 to include only non-sectarian schools in Milwaukee County. Thompson assured voucher advocates that once the bill passed, the program could be expanded.

Williams became the public face of the pro-voucher movement, speaking at such conservative bastions as the Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institute, and the California State Republican Convention. Yet as Williams went public with her concerns about the raising of income caps and universal vouchers, the conservative backlash mounted.

Polly Williams rejected Thompson’s plan, but she introduced a bill that would pass and be signed into law in April 1990: the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). (Thompson even held a symbolic re-enactment of the signing in one of Milwaukee’s independent Black community schools.)

Virtually overnight, Williams became the public face of the pro-voucher movement, speaking at conservative bastions like the Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institute, and the California State Republican Convention. Williams also gave high-profile interviews, including one on 60 Minutes and one with Rep. Newt Gingrich’s GOPAC, which aired on the Christian Broadcast Network.16

In his book Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education, author Jim Carl noted that there was a moment when it seemed that conservatives and liberals might converge in agreement on the concept of compensatory vouchers. Carl described it as a program “with attributes originally championed by left-liberal policy makers, free-school advocates, and community activists from the 1960s.”17 But, as Carl points out, “social conservatives of various stripes did not wish to stop at nonsectarian, compensatory vouchers.”18

Likewise, it would not be long before the agenda of Polly Williams and that of her conservative allies would diverge.

The alienation of Polly Williams

Of all the partners in the “unholy alliance,” Michael Joyce and the Bradley Foundation were among the most unlikely allies for the African American community.  The Bradley Foundation had been a longtime funder of author Charles Murray, including his book The Bell Curve and its discredited theory of Black intellectual inferiority. For decades, the Bradley Foundation has been at the epicenter of reactionary policies, including welfare reform, opposition to affirmative action, and claims that “moral poverty,” rather than structural inequity, is the source of social ills in poor urban communities.  The Bradley Foundation has also provided millions to the Heritage Foundation, Heartland Institute, Free Congress Foundation, and other conservative think tanks.19

In 1992, the Bradley Foundation collaborated with Partners Advancing Values in Education (PAVE), a nondenominational organization founded from the dissolution of the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Educational Foundation.20 Funded by Bradley and several Wisconsin businesses, the program provided vouchers for students, including those attending religious schools, and was designed to “ratchet support for expanding the publicly funded choice program.”21 To garner Protestant and Jewish support, the new program was not limited to Catholics.  In 1995, Gov. Thompson followed through with his plans to gradually extend the program, and by the 1998-99 school year, 70% of the students in the MPCP attended religious schools.22

Polly Williams speaks about school choice programs in Wisconsin in 1998. Photo by Meg Jones and courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Polly Williams speaks about school choice programs in Wisconsin in 1998. Photo by Meg Jones and courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Williams was also concerned about the raising of income caps for the voucher program, as this gradually shifted funding toward families who were already sending their children to private schools. She objected to universal vouchers, stating, “Eventually, low-income families would be weeded out due to the large volume of families wanting to participate.”23

In a 2002 interview, Williams explained the parameters under which she supported vouchers and which, by that time, had led to rifts with her former allies. Ironically, the interview was with George Clowes, senior fellow at Heartland Institute addressing education policy. Clowes later wrote a report for Heartland responding to the lack of improvement in educational outcomes in the Milwaukee voucher program and disillusionment of some school reformers. Referencing Milton Friedman, Clowes called for a shift from “charity vouchers” for needy students to universal vouchers.

Journalist Bruce Murphy, who published a 2001 article about Williams and her growing disillusionment with Milwaukee’s program, wrote that Williams understood school choice as an experiment. “Our intent was never to destroy the public schools,” Williams told Murphy.  Murphy, himself a former teacher and principal at one of Milwaukee’s independent Black private schools, describes the conservative strategy as a “two-fer”—an agenda to eliminate teachers’ unions and build the myth of school privatization as a cheaper education alternative.24

As Williams went public with her complaints, the conservative backlash mounted. From 1990 to 1997, Williams received speaking honorariums and expenses totaling $163,000, more than any other Wisconsin legislator.  By 2000, this figure had dropped to just $400.25

In 1998, Williams gave a frank interview for a chapter in The Politics of School Choice, co-written by a professor at Regent University. Williams expressed her concern that school choice was becoming a program for middle-class Whites who did not need public assistance:

The whites that promote Reverend Floyd Flake (school choice advocate in Jamaica, Queens, New York) are out to replace public education for their own children, not for blacks.  I have a black agenda for black parents.26

Michael Joyce, of the Bradley Foundation, had formerly claimed that “the Lord God” had led him to support Williams.27 By 2001, however, Joyce claimed that Williams had told him she didn’t much like White folks, and that she kept referring to school choice as “a Catholic movement.”28 Joyce added, “She was poised to be and could have been the leader of school choice.  But she stepped aside and Fuller became the leader.”

Fuller is Dr. Howard Fuller, who replaced Polly Williams as the African American standard-bearer for the movement. Fuller and Williams attended the same high school, and later shared concern about the future of underserved children in Milwaukee as well as their opposition to universal vouchers.

Fuller is a former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools with a previous history as a Black nationalist. In 1969, using the name Owusu Sadukai, Fuller initiated Malcolm X Liberation University “as a way of providing Black students with a revolutionary alternative to mainstream Black colleges.”29

In 1995, Fuller became the director of the Bradley Foundation-funded Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University and founded the Black Alliance for Educational Options, also heavily funded by Bradley and by Walmart heir John Walton.30 Fuller continues today to serve as a major spokesperson for school choice and is currently on several boards, including the Milwaukee Region Teach for America.

Meanwhile, by 2006, Williams had shifted her efforts to supporting her city’s public school system.  She formed the African American Education Council and worked with Milwaukee’s teachers’ union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA), and the Milwaukee Board of School Directors to develop a strategic plan for improving MPS.31

Following the election of Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2010 and his efforts to dramatically expand the voucher program, Williams again vocally objected. “They have hijacked the program,” Williams said in 2013.32 George Mitchell, a major pro-voucher donor, immediately responded, describing Williams as “irrelevant” and saying he had had no dealings with Williams after about 1994 or 1995.33 “Polly was useful to the school choice movement because of her race and her party affiliation,” Mitchell told a reporter.3435

Although Williams was discarded by her allies, her name and face were still used throughout conservative media as an African American Democratic supporter of school vouchers.  Sean Hannity lauded her in his 2002 book Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism. In 2013, Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform included Williams on a list of “venerable Davids against the Goliaths of education.”36

Following her death in November 2014, Polly Williams was memorialized as the “mother of school choice.” In a post on the American Federation for Children (AFC) website, Chairman Betsy DeVos described Williams’ legacy as living on in the lives of “hundreds of thousands of children across the country who benefit from school choice.”37 That post, along with most media coverage of Williams’ death, omitted any mention of her later disillusionment with voucher programs.38

The bad news about “choice”

The school privatization movement has brought together an odd array of political bedfellows.  Some are drawn by the prospects of profiting from the conversion of education into a multi-billion dollar industry.  Others are ideologues, opposed to public education on either libertarian or religious grounds.  Yet another group is comprised of religious leaders, perhaps not ideologically opposed to public education but anxious to use vouchers or neovouchers to fill the desks of their own schools. Ironically, in some districts, charter schools (see related sidebar) have even drawn students away from private religious schools.

Recently, more religious leaders have promoted privatization programs as a way to save religious schools with dwindling enrollment.  The 2011 conference of the National Leadership Roundtable of Church Management, a Catholic organization, called for an aggressive strategy to implement tuition tax credit programs or neovouchers in all 50 states.  Speaker B. J. Cassin, founder of Cassin Educational Initiative Foundation, told the audience, “Think of the effect if all Catholic schools, not just the ones that we mentioned here, had the ability to have this kind of revenue come in [from tax-credits]; it changes the environment completely.”39 Like many other promoters of privatization, Cassin frames his agenda as altruism: “We have a social justice issue that we are presenting, and part of that is to eliminate the discrimination of the inner city kids.”40

In Florida and Pennsylvania, the two states with the largest private school choice programs (both are corporate tax credit programs or neovouchers), many of the students who receive neovoucher money attend fundamentalist Christian, conservative evangelical, or nondenominational schools.  Both Florida and Pennsylvania tout their tax credit programs as providing an opportunity for minority students to access a better education.

But instead of the Afrocentric curricula supported by Williams and Fuller, the A Beka and Bob Jones University curricula used in many of these schools are written with little regard for the heritage of children of color.  Their textbooks promote nonfactual and revisionist history as well as Young Earth creationism and climate change denial.41

Most vouchers and neovouchers fund students attending schools with no curricula requirements or public accountability.  Georgia’s tax credit program, which allows for donations from both individuals and corporations, makes it a criminal offense to track how that money is spent.  Georgia’s program also promised to designate scholarships for students in “failing public schools” from low socioeconomic levels, but as a 2012 New York Times article exposed, the program has “[benefited] private schools at the expense of the neediest children.”42 In Georgia and elsewhere, these programs are showing signs of re-segregating students by both race and income. Many of the students subsidized by these programs were already enrolled in private schools.

Michael W. Apple, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, says that universal vouchers, or voucher programs for which all income levels are eligible, expose the privatization movement’s hidden agenda. “They want to minimize public schools and eventually eliminate as many government services, public employees and public institutions as possible,” writes Apple.43 In Educating the ‘Right’ Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality, Apple argues that “placing schools in a market does not interrupt the stratification of education, except for a very limited group of students. Instead, as study after study has shown, existing hierarchies are simply recreated.”

International examples include Chile, where vouchers were part of the reforms initiated during the rule of Augusto Pinochet and with the assistance of the “Chicago Boys,” economists trained under Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.  Research on Chile’s program indicates that vouchers failed to produce improved average educational outcomes, but exacerbated stratification and inequality.44

Although excellent private schools exist, multiple studies have dispelled the myth that private schools academically outperform public schools on average.45 A 2006 study not only “[challenged] assumptions of private school superiority overall” but also found substantial differences among various kinds of private schools. The poorest performers were conservative Christian schools.

The “New Civil Rights” brand

In his 2003 book Voucher Wars, attorney Clint Bolick recounts how he anticipated legal challenges to the Milwaukee voucher program and contacted Polly Williams to offer legal representation. Bolick describes Bradley Foundation president Michael Joyce as having been wary of Williams but understanding the “necessity of their temporary alliance”; he describes Joyce as pursuing school choice as “a ‘silver bullet’ issue: the type of program that could destroy a key pillar of the welfare state.”46

Bolick was known for his work against race-based affirmative action. However, as the need grew for legal defense of emerging school choice programs, Bolick turned his attention to it and co-founded the libertarian, public interest law firm Institute for Justice in 1991 with seed money from David and Charles Koch.47

Branding education privatization as a civil rights effort has been a deliberate strategy. In his book, Bolick describes how he helped orchestrate the mainstream media’s first use of civil rights language in defense of school choice while discrediting a voucher opponent as “blocking the schoolhouse doors to minority schoolchildren.”48 In 2002, Dick DeVos addressed the Heritage Foundation, emphasizing the need for his audience (wealthy, white conservative donors and activists) to remain behind the scenes and have other faces as the public advocates of school choice.49

As a 2001 Economist article spelled out, the strategy of linking the privatization movement to the wishes and activism of “poor blacks, not rich whites” has helped disguise the people actually behind these campaigns.50

Another primary goal of the privatization movement is to drive a wedge between two pillars of the Democratic Party: African American voters and teachers’ unions.  The same Economist article, “Blacks v. Teachers,” touted this growing wedge. While the article may have been premature in celebrating the success of both vouchers and charter schools, efforts to drive a wedge between Black voters and the teachers’ unions have been remarkably successful.

At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, for example, a pre-convention event for the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) essentially became an hour-long attack on teachers’ unions.  At the DNC in 2012, Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, Newark Mayor Cory Booker (now a U.S. Senator), and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson (and husband of Michelle Rhee), headlined a screening of the fictional movie Won’t Back Down, which promotes parent trigger bills, a mechanism for replacing unionized public schools with non-union charters.  A model bill for the “Parent Trigger Act” and much of school choice and privatization legislation is designed and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which coordinates with the State Policy Network and has become notorious for promoting “stand your ground” legislation and propagating climate change denial.

Current Trends

Despite its failure to improve educational outcomes, Wisconsin’s voucher program is now 25 years old and continues to grow. Today, the program includes about 30,000 students and represents the second largest de facto school district in the state.

Characterized by instability and lack of accountability, Milwaukee’s voucher program has resulted in numerous stories like one in 2013 in a local paper51 about a minister and his wife who accepted $2.3 million in taxpayer funding only to close their Lifeskills Academy abruptly during the school year. Although their house in Wisconsin was foreclosed, the couple moved to a gated community in Florida, where they opened another school. Available test results showed that in the 2011-2012 school year, only one student in their Lifeskills Academy tested proficient for grade level in reading, and none in math.

Polly Williams bemoaned the co-opting of her voucher vision by national conservative figures, including Grover Norquist, William Bennett, and Lamar Alexander (who was Secretary of Education from 1991-1993).  Now a U.S. Senator, Lamar Alexander is poised to take the helm of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP).  In early 2014, Alexander introduced a bill in the Senate that would redirect $24 billion of federal education funding and incentivize states to use the money to fund 11 million school vouchers for students in poverty. These could be used for private schools or even homeschooling.52 On her website, Ravitch wrote simply:  “Bottom line: the Alexander plan will destroy public education in the U.S.”53

In the same post, Ravitch quotes a Pennsylvania Republican who warns that Alexander’s package only includes $2,100 dollars per voucher, meaning that the “School District of Record” must provide the rest of the tuition.  Ravitch continues, “Do not be fooled: this is not a conservative plan.  This is a radical plan.  It will send public dollars to backwoods churches and ambitious entrepreneurs.”

The marketing of both private school choice and public charters promises to escalate over the next two years, masquerading as the best option for underserved children. This continues even as traditional public schools are stripped of funding, teachers, art and music programs, libraries, and more.  In Reframing the Refrain: Choice as a Civil Rights Issue, Julian Vasquez Heilig closes with a warning about where we may be headed:

So if you are a “choice” proponent interested in civil rights—understand that in markets there are winners and losers.  In the case of choice, the long-term losers in a large-scale market-oriented education continue to be historically underserved students of color and special populations.54

Heilig continues, “Moving our schools from the public sector to the private sector is a false choice.”

The story of Polly Williams serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of partnering with school choice donors, politicians, and think tanks. Those concerned about the future of public education should not be fooled: the agenda of these players is about privatization and market-based reform.  Williams continues to be used as the face of a movement that never intended to fulfill her personal vision.  But once she opened the door for her right-wing allies, it could not be closed.

Endnotes

1. Williams’ program is described as the first voucher program in the nation, but it was preceded by programs used by states to fight desegregation.  In 1964, the Supreme Court found county and local tuition grants and tax credits used to fund White students in private schools to be unconstitutional.

2. The program that passed was added to the Budget Amendment Bill by Democratic Senator Gary George, but drawn from previous bills authored by Polly Williams. Pro- and anti-voucher activists and education scholars credit Williams. See John F. Witte, The Market Approach to Education: An Analysis of America’s First Voucher Program (Princeton University Press, 2000).

3. Matthew J. Brouillette, “Vouchers,” School Choice in Education: A Primer for Freedom in Michigan (Mackinac Center, 1999), http://www.mackinac.org/2081.

4. Julian Vasquez Heilig, “Reframing the Refrain: Choice as a Civil Rights Issue,” Texas Educational Review Vol. 1 (2013), pp.83-94, http://txedrev.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Heilig_Reframing-the-Refrain_TxEdRev.pdf.

5. Janelle T. Scott, “A Rosa Parks moment? School choice and the marketization of civil rights,” Critical Studies in Education, 54:1 (2013), 5-18.

6. S. Wells, J. Slayton, & J. Scott, (2002). “Defining democracy in the neoliberal age: Charter school reform and educational consumption,” American Education Research Journal 39:2 (2002), 337-361.

7. Mark Walsh, “Black Private Academies Are Held Up as Filling Void Seen as ‘Response to Desperate Situation,’” Education Week, Mar. 13, 1991, http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/1991/03/13/10180005.h10.html.

8. “Which way do we go? The 45th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” Gallup, Kappan 95:1 (Sept. 2013), http://pdkintl.org/noindex/2013_PDKGallup.pdf.

9. Jeff Spalding, The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money? Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice (2013), http://www.edchoice.org/Research/Reports/The-School-Voucher-Audit–Do-Publicly-Funded-Private-School-Choice-Programs-Save-Money-.aspx

10. See Kevin Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton University Press, 2007).

11. “Virginia’s ‘Massive Resistance’ to School Desegregation,” University of Virginia’s Digital Resources for United States History, http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/xslt/servlet/XSLTServlet?xml=/xml_docs/solguide/Essays/essay13a.xml&xsl=/xml_docs/solguide/sol_new.xsl§ion=essay.

12. “The Closing of Prince Edward County Schools,” Virginia Historical Society, http://www.vahistorical.org/collections-and-resources/virginia-history-explorer/civil-rights-movement-virginia/closing-prince.

13. Fred Clarkson, “Exposed: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks are Transforming U.S. Politics, The Public Eye (Fall 2013), http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/25/exposed-how-the-rights-state-based-think-tanks-are-transforming-u-s-politics/.

14. Ravitch is quoted in Adam Bessie, “G.E.R.M. Warfare: How to Reclaim the Education Debate From Corporate Occupation,” Project Censored 2013 (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2012), 289.

15. “The Model for the Nation: an exclusive interview with Annette Polly Williams,” Heartland Institute, Aug. 30, 2002, http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2002/08/30/model-nation-exclusive-interview-annette-polly-williams.

16. Jim Carl, Freedom of Choice: Vouchers in American Education (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2011), 117.

17. Carl, Freedom of Choice, 32

18. Ibid, 133.

19. Erica Lasden, Community Voice or Captive of the Right? The Black Alliance for Educational Options (People for the American Way, July 2003), http://www.pfaw.org/sites/default/files/file_237.pdf.

20. “The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and School Choice,” Center for Strategic Philanthropy and Civil Society Teaching Case, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, Jan. 2007, http://cspcs.sanford.duke.edu/sites/default/files/BradleyChoicefinal_0.pdf.

21. Bolick, 45.

22. “Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, Feb. 2000, http://legis.wisconsin.gov/lab/reports/00-2tear.htm.

23. “The Model for the Nation.”

24. Interview with Bruce Murphy, Dec. 12, 2014.

25. Bruce Murphy, “The Rise and Fall of Polly Williams,” Urban Milwaukee, Jun. 27, 2001, http://urbanmilwaukee.com/2001/06/27/murphys-law-the-rise-and-fall-of-polly-williams/.

26. Hubert Morken and Jo Renee Formicola, The Politics of School Choice (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 205.

27. Alex Molnar, “The Real Lesson of Milwaukee’s Voucher Program,” Education Week, Aug. 6, 1998, archived at https://web.archive.org/web/*/http://epsl.asu.edu/EPRU/articles/EPRU-9708-38-OWI.doc.

28. “The Rise and Fall of Polly Williams.”

29. Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report, May 25, 2006, p. 77, http://www.greensborotrc.org/pre1979_labor.pdf. Also see Larry Miller’s review of Fuller’s recent autobiography for Fuller’s explanation of why he partnered with prominent conservative think tanks and funders, accessible at https://millermps.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/howard-fuller-autobiography-no-struggle-no-progress-a-critique-3/.

30.Community Voice or Captive of the Right?

31. Action Plan to Improve Milwaukee Public Schools: 2007-2012 (2007), http://www.milwaukeepartnershipacademy.org/pubs/mps_strategic_plan_7-26-07.pdf.

32. Patrick Marley, “Past school voucher advocate rips Gov. Walker’s Plan,” Journal Sentinel, May 16, 2013, http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/207753841.html.

33. Daniel Bice, “School choice advocate George Mitchell blasts ex-lawmaker Annette Polly Williams,” Journal Sentinel, May 29, 2013, http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/noquarter/school-choice-advocate-george-mitchell-blasts-ex-lawmaker-annette-polly-williams-b9922201z1-209452781.html.

34. Bice, “School choice advocate.”

35. George Mitchell continued his critique on the blog Right Wisconsin: “Williams was instrumental in getting the original program to Gov. Tommy Thompson’s desk. But from that day forward Williams was, directly and indirectly, an opponent … The addition of religious schools to the program evoked her racial and religious bigotry … She complained that ‘whites’ and ‘Catholics’ were going to take over the program.”  For more, see George Mitchell, “Where the Journal Sentinel Fails, Again,” Right Wisconsin, May 21, 2013, http://www.rightwisconsin.com/perspectives/208281431.html.

36. Jeanne Allen, “A Nation at Risk No More,” Center for Education Reform, https://www.edreform.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/ANationatRiskManifestoFINAL.pdf.

37. “American Federation for Children Mourns the Loss of School Choice Pioneer Annette ‘Polly’ Williams,” American Federation for Children, Nov. 10, 2014, http://www.federationforchildren.org/american-federation-children-mourns-loss-school-choice-pioneer-annette-polly-williams/.

38. Rachel Tabachnick, “The Right’s School Choice Scheme,” The Public Eye (Summer 2012), http://www.politicalresearch.org/2012/08/01/the-rights-school-choice-scheme/f.

39. See the publication on the 2011 conference, “From Aspirations to Actions: Solutions for American Catholic Schools,” p. 41.

40. “From Aspirations to Actions,” 41.

41. One of many examples is Bishop Victor Curry in Florida, a vocal advocate of the state’s corporate tax credit program. The school run by his ministry includes 120 students with tuition provided by the program and uses A Beka curricula.

42. Stephanie Saul, “Public Money Finds Back Door to Private Schools, New York Times, May 21, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/education/scholarship-funds-meant-for-needy-benefit-private-schools.html.

43. Michael W. Apple, “Cannot vouch for vouchers,” FightingBob.com, Apr. 11, 2004, http://www.fightingbob.com/article.cfm?articleID=200.

44. See Chang-Tai Hsieh and Miguel Urquiola, “The effects of generalized school choice on achievement and stratification: Evidence from Chile’s voucher program,” Journal of Public Economics 90 (2006), 1477–1503, http://www.columbia.edu/~msu2101%20/HsiehUrquiola%282006%29.pdf; and Patrick J. McEwan, Miguel Urquiola, and Emiliana Vega, “School Choice, Stratification, and Information on School Performance: Lessons from Chile,” Economia (Spring 2008), http://www.columbia.edu/~msu2101/McEwanUrquiolaVegas%282007%29.pdf.

45. Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski, Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement: New Evidence from NAEP Mathematics Data (National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, Jan. 2006), http://www.ncspe.org/publications_files/OP111.pdf.

46. Bolick, 23. Bolick points out that Gov. Tommy Thompson was, not coincidentally, pursuing welfare reform at the same time.

47. Bolick, 35.

48. Bolick, 27.

49. Rachel Tabachnick, “Strategy for Privatizing Public Schools Spelled Out by Dick DeVos in 2002 Heritage Foundation Speech, Talk to Action, May 3, 2011, http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/5/3/12515/58655.

50. “Blacks v teachers,” Economist, Mar. 8, 2001, http://www.economist.com/node/526704.

51. Erin Richards, “Leaders of closed Milwaukee voucher school are now in Florida,” Journal Sentinel, Jan. 15, 2014, http://www.jsonline.com/news/education/leaders-of-closed-milwaukee-voucher-school-are-now-in-florida-b99185323z1-240384541.html.

52. “Alexander Proposes 11 Million $2,100 “Scholarships for Kids,” Jan. 28. 2014, http://www.help.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/?id=b52ee7f7-d826-4677-ad4a-0a8e94130ac3.

53. “Lamar Alexander Proposes Sweeping Voucher Legislation,” Jan. 28, 2014, http://dianeravitch.net/2014/01/28/lamar-alexander-proposes-sweeping-voucher-legislation/.

54. Vasquez Heilig, “Reframing the Refrain.”

Tuition Tax Credits

1. Kevin G. Welner, NeoVouchers: The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

2. Kevin Welner, “How to Calculate the Costs or Savings of Tax Credit Voucher Policies,” National Education Policy Center, http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/NEPC-PolicyMemo_NeoVouchers.pdf.

Monetizing Charters

1. Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States (Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), 2009), http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/MULTIPLE_CHOICE_CREDO.pdf.

2. Valerie Strauss, “A dozen problems with charter schools,” Washington Post, May 20, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/05/20/a-dozen-problems-with-charter-schools/.

3. Noah Pransky, “Charter schools making big profits for private companies,” WTSP, Aug. 22, 2014, http://www.wtsp.com/story/news/investigations/2014/08/21/charter-school-profits-on-real-estate/14420317/.

4. Marian Wang, “Charter School Power Broker Turns Public Education Into Private Profits,” ProPublica, Oct. 15, 2014, http://www.propublica.org/article/charter-school-power-broker-turns-public-education-into-private-profits.

5. Public Charter Schools List,” EPR Properties, http://www.eprkc.com/portfolio-overview/public-charter-schools-list/.

6. Catherine Candisky and Jim Siegel, “Charter school’s lease deal scrutinized,” Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 12, 2014, http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/10/12/charters-lease-deals-scrutinized.html.

Midterm Elections: School Privatization Continues to Advance DeVos/Heritage Foundation Strategy

Midterm elections present a particularly fruitful opportunity for the school privatization movement to maximize their investment.  Since 1974, in mid-term or non-presidential election years, the federal election turnout has failed to reach 40% of eligible voters, as opposed to range of about 49% – 56% in presidential elections, thus providing an opportunity for energized voters to advance their issues in state-level races.  While the results of the 2014 effort remain to be seen, this effect has been amplified by the impact of both the Tea Party movement and the millions of dollars of pro-privatization money being poured into elections in several states.

While most of the press coverage and national attention during midterm elections is focused on the composition of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the privatization juggernaut has used these low-turnout elections to continue to increase its hold on state legislatures, where most decisions are made on education policy and funding.

“Private school choice” is the term used by its advocates to describe the state-level programs that use public dollars to fund private education, including tax credit programs and school vouchers.  Advocates of school privatization have always focused on state elections, but by the late 1990s they had shifted their dollars and efforts from statewide ballot initiatives to a policy of rewards and consequences for individual state legislators—both Republican and Democratic—based on their position on school privatization. This strategy was described to a Heritage Foundation audience by leading privatization advocate Dick DeVos in 2002, as the strategy implemented in the late 1990s was beginning to yield results.

Dick DeVos

Dick DeVos

Although it’s now more than a decade old, the Dick DeVos speech to the Heritage Foundation is still useful in understanding the shift in strategy that has resulted in the success of the privatization movements after decades of rejection on state ballot initiatives.  The video includes the explanation of the “rewards and consequences” strategy, which uses massive funding to support or attack state legislators in their home districts. DeVos explains the ongoing implementation of this strategy by his wife, Betsy DeVos, through the Great Lakes Education Project in their home state of Michigan. Betsy DeVos was then, and continues today, to be the “four star general” guiding the attack on public education, as she has been dubbed by Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The DeVos strategy has been implemented through single-interest nonprofits, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the conservative think tanks in all fifty states interconnected through the State Policy Network.

In addition to the shift from state ballot initiatives on vouchers to a “reward and consequences” for state legislators, DeVos also emphasized the need to continue an ongoing strategy for changing the face of “school choice” promotion.  School privatization had been the domain of a small core group of wealthy, White, conservative donors, but by 2002 an effort was already well underway to recruit a public face for the movement that would be bipartisan, minority led, and appear to be a grass roots effort.

In the video, the covert nature of the strategy is stressed, as DeVos warns the Heritage Foundation audience that they need to “be cautious about talking too much about these activities,” including the need for school privatization to have a different face than their own.

“That has got to be the battle. It will not be as visible. And, in fact, to the extent that we on the right, those of us on the conservative side of the aisle, appropriate education choice as our idea, we need to be a little bit cautious about doing that, because we have here an issue that cuts in a very interesting way across our community and can cut, properly communicated, properly constructed, can cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.”

Here’s a two minute excerpt of the speech:

A transcript of that segment can be accessed in my 2011 Talk2action.org article.  and DeVos’ full December 3, 2002 speech at the Heritage Foundation can be seen here.

Dick and Betsy DeVos and their relatives have long been leaders in funding school privatization activism.  Betsy heads the 501(c)(3) American Federation for Children (AFC), and its tax affiliated 501(c)(3) Alliance for School Choice—the two are the primary advocacy organizations behind the movement and the source of funding for many state nonprofits dedicated to this agenda.  Also under the umbrella of the AFC advocacy is an array of political action committees or PACs, which fund candidates and the reward and consequences strategy in states across the nation.

In 2011, I tracked the money spent by AFC and its related entities in the 2010 midterm elections and mapped the history of primary nonprofits behind the privatization movement. Some of the products of this effort can be seen in a series of 2011 (list of links and summaries accessed in this article) and in the Summer 2012 issue of The Public Eye magazine (beginning on page three).

 

Nullification Bills Already on the Move in 2014

CSPOA's Richard Mack speaks at an event in Utah. Image courtesy of fox13now.com

CSPOA’s Richard Mack speaks at an event in Utah. Image courtesy of fox13now.com

The most recent issue of The Public Eye includes an extensive report on nullification, an idea based on the legal theory that states can block federal laws that those states deem to be unconstitutional, and its growing traction across the United States.  One of the most dramatic showdowns of 2013 was in Missouri, where the legislature failed by only one vote to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill nullifying certain federal gun laws.

Now, less than a month into 2014, nullification initiatives are continuing to make their way through state legislatures.  In Oklahoma, a new “Second Amendment Preservation Act” has already been introduced as Senate Bill 613, and (if passed) would make it a Class A misdemeanor for federal employees, including law enforcement officers such as F.B.I. SWAT teams, to enforce federal firearm laws declared invalid by the bill. [1]  The Senate bill was followed by a similar bill in the state House of Representatives on January 15.

Oklahoma is riding the coattails of its neighbor:  In April 2013, Kansas passed a Second Amendment Protection Act, which claimed the state had the right to manufacture and sell semi-automatic weapons without federal oversight.  The law exempts these “made in Kansas” guns from federal regulations, and makes it a felony for federal law enforcement officers to enforce federal laws in regard to these guns and their owners.

The latest nullification bill out of Missouri has an interesting twist. The law does not take effect until 2017, or until four other states have passed similar laws.  (Nullification proponents believe that their efforts will be more successful if multiple states enact the same laws.) Missouri State Senator Brian Nieves (R), who proposed the bill, told the Missouri News Tribune,  “‘We continue to see the federal government overreach their rightful bounds, and if we can create a situation where we have some unity among states, then I think it puts us in a better position to make that argument.’”[2]

Missouri legislators have also been creative in their efforts to nullify the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”  According to the St. Louis Dispatch, a bill introduced in the Missouri Senate “would suspend insurance companies’ state licenses if they accepted subsidies offered by the federal government to help pay health insurance premiums for low- and middle-income Missourians.”  The bill would ban the state from setting up exchanges.[3]

As Paul Rosenberg recently reported in Salon, there are a number of conservative groups working to organize Article V conventions to amend the Constitution.  Rosenberg, Frederick Clarkson, and I listened in on a conference call of one of these groups, which has a plan for a so-called Sovereignty and States Rights amendment.  The amendment would allow states to “countermand” federal law.[4]

In the meantime, activists are working to promote resistance to the federal government at the local level.  As noted in The Public Eye article, one particularly active organization is the Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association (CSPOA).  Founded by former sheriff Richard Mack, a board member of the Oath Keepers, the CSPOA instructs local county sheriffs to resist federal gun laws they believe to be unconstitutional.  The CSPOA works closely with the Tenth Amendment Center, John Birch Society and Gun Owners of America on promoting Second Amendment Preservation Acts and encouraging sheriffs to refuse to enforce federal gun laws.  (See PRA’s profile on the CSPOA.)[5]

The CSPOA has also begun to challenge same-sex marriage.  On January 4 in Utah, it sponsored an event—advertised as an “uprising against gay marriage”—in response to the recent court ruling which struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Mack, who led the event, stated, “The way you take back freedom in America is one county at a time. The sheriffs need to defend the county clerks in saying, ‘No, we’re not going to issue marriage licenses to homosexuals.'”  Mack later added, “The people of Utah have rights, too, not just the homosexuals. The homosexuals are shoving their agenda down our throats.”[6]

As 2014 progresses, we’ll continue to provide briefings and updates on the status of conservatives’ nullification attempts, as this growing trend is unlikely to diminish anytime soon.

PRA Fellows Identify the Right’s Latest Push for Power in Salon.com Article

PRA fellows Fred Clarkson and Rachel Tabachnick

PRA fellows Fred Clarkson and Rachel Tabachnick

PRA fellows Fred Clarkson and Rachel Tabachnick are featured prominently in the latest article out of Salon. They discuss the disturbing new trend emerging from the Right, a push for a Constitutional Convention which would strip power away from the United States and feed it to conservatives in state legislatures.

Check out the snippet below, and read the full Salon article by author Paul Rosenberg here.

salon logoWhat if there were a fourth branch of government that would allow the fans of “Duck Dynasty” to overturn Roe v. Wade, repeal Obamacare and pretty much nullify any federal law or Supreme Court decision they don’t like, based on the support of as little as 12 percent of the nation’s population? And what if that fourth branch already existed in the American constitutional order, just waiting to be properly realized?

That’s basically the dream of conservative activist Charles Kacprowicz, as described in a recent conference call with supporters, effectively summing up many of the deepest hopes and fears of right-wing America in the post-Bush era.

In tandem, the two blind spots have obscured the story of state-level conservative radicalization throughout the post-Vietnam era. The most recent issue of the Public Eye magazine from Political Research Associates is devoted to highlighting this neglected concern, and two of the contributing authors, Frederick Clarkson and Rachel Tabachnick, monitored Kacprowicz’s call and shared some thoughts about it.

Clarkson wroteExposed: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks are Transforming U.S. Politics,” while Tabachnick co-authored the article “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right” with Frank L. Cocozzelli. The first story examines the extensive state-level networks of Heritage-style free market think tanks (the State Policy Network) and Family Research Council-style social conservative think tanks (the Family Policy Councils). These have been instrumental in nourishing a culture of state-level right-wing activism that goes largely unnoticed by the national media. Clarkson called Kacprowicz “an obscure figure who may have found the missing link — the unifying logic that can unite far right factions into a campaign to make the greatest change in the Constitution since ratification. At least in his own mind.” While his ideas may be too radical to succeed, Clarkson warns, “The amendment’s very radical nature could generate an inflammatory debate that makes other competing proposals seem moderate by comparison, even though there is nothing moderate them.”

The second story examines the ideological infrastructure at play behind recent state-level political developments, which it traces back to the Old Right “paleoconservatives” whose ideas have often been presented as libertarian in the hands of Ron Paul and his associates. As it quickly points out, “Since 2010, state legislators have introduced nearly 200 bills — on 11 issues alone — challenging federal laws that they deem  unconstitutional,” including anti-gun control bills in at least 38 states, and anti-Obamacare laws in at least 20 states. Such activism even “extends beyond the 50 state legislatures, spreading to county and local governments, including about 500 county sheriffs who have affirmed their commitment to ‘saying “no” to Obama gun control.’”

Of course, nullification is unconstitutional. …

PRA’s Rachel Tabachnick Discusses Reproductive Autonomy in Rolling Stone

PRA fellow Rachel Tabachnick is appearing in the upcoming issue of Rolling Stone magazine, discussing how the Religious Right has successfully integrated its unpopular social agenda into the broader conservative economic agenda.

Check out the excerpt below, and click here to read the full article “The Stealth War on Abortion.

Rolling Stone logoKoch money, through various “social welfare” organizations it supports, has helped fund a significant part of the pro-life agenda, even though the Koch brothers, like Pope, have never taken a personal interest in reproductive politics, and David Koch has even stated his support for marriage equality. “They know the policies they want wouldn’t be attractive to enough people unless they also included the social-conservative policies, so what’s happened is they’ve merged the social and economic agenda into a single product,” says Rachel Tabachnick, an associate fellow at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. “This is not new, it’s a project that goes back decades,” she says, “and it’s one in which the war on reproductive rights is a non-negotiable part of the deal.”

Connecting the fiscal and social agendas into a single, conservative “worldview” has been the goal of conservatives since the Reagan era. To outsiders, the Tea Party, with its focus on cutting taxes and spending, might seem to rule the party. But looks can be deceiving. Evangelicals, long outsiders in the GOP power structure, now hold large sway in the party through organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. “I’d say it’s kind of baked into the cake,” Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said recently on MSNBC.

“This is what progressives don’t understand,” says Tabachnick. “The public is so obsessed with the big battle between Democrats and Republicans that they miss the larger philosophical and legal underpinnings developed by this permanent think-tank structure that has been working behind the scenes for years. And now they’re in a place where regardless of what’s happening with the Supreme Court, they are ready to maximize every opportunity because of the extremely well-funded partnership between the free-marketeers and the religious right that’s helping to overhaul the country from the bottom up.”

Related:

finalfrontierRolling Stone‘s article makes several mentions of the “State Policy Network,” a national group of well-funded conservative organizations dedicated to swaying the national political scene through influence in state legislatures. Senior PRA fellow Fred Clarkson recently published a thorough exposé on the danger of the State Policy Network’s influence. You can read “EXPOSED: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks Are Transforming U.S. Politics” by clicking here.

At Values Voters Summit, Racist Revisionism the Order of the Day

Conservative pundit Dr. Ben Carson (left), Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece Alveda King (center), and American Values president Gary Bauer

Conservative pundit Dr. Ben Carson (left), Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece Alveda King (center), and American Values president Gary Bauer (right)

There were many disturbing takeaways from the first day of Values Voters Summit (VVS) sessions. The one that struck me most forcefully is that the cognitive dissonance and historical revisionism of the white supremacist Religious Right on the issues of race and racism is very much here to stay. In fact, they’re digging their heels in—and they’re using Black conservatives and other conservatives of color to do it. From the 7:00 am breakfast session – “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition! (The 2nd Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms)” – to the final panel on “The Future of Marriage,” omissions, half truths, and breathtaking equivocations on America’s racist history, and present, were the rule of the day.

In the breakfast session, Black former Cincinnati mayor Ken Blackwell claimed that we have the Second Amendment to thank for America being the most diverse and free nation in the world—citing as an example the Deacons for Defense, a 1960s Black Power group who advocated armed self-defense against white supremacist violence. He framed gun-ownership as crucial to resisting and defending oneself against government tyranny and giving the ludicrous implication that all it took to end Jim Crow was for Black Americans to own guns.

How to square this with the reality that the Deacons and similar groups were violently targeted by the white Right and the U.S. government in the 60s—or with the present-day reality that the Right Wing routinely smears unarmed Black men like Trayvon Martin or Ramarley Graham as dangerous thugs who deserve to be shot and killed—I cannot tell you. Yet Blackwell’s comments about the heroism of armed Black men were applauded by the (at least) 90% white audience.

The parade of Black speakers at VVS seemed at least partially calculated to absolve the white Religious Right of its ongoing racism and rewrite its supremacist past. To hear them tell it, conservatives are the true champions of civil rights, liberals are the real racists, and Black communities are sad, ignorant dupes of the Democrats.

This has, of course, become fairly standard rhetoric from Black and white conservative leaders, but it was taken to extremes at the Summit that I literally breathtaking. There were three moments where I gasped out loud at racist or racialized comments from speakers:

  • Dr. Ben Carson called “Obamacare…the worst thing to happen in this country since slavery”
  • MLK’s niece Dr. Alveda King declared that “white people didn’t kill [her] uncle, the Devil did”
  • Gary Bauer, president of American Values and former head of the Family Research Council, asserted that “because of Judeo-Christian civilization, the slaves were freed.”

King’s and Bauer’s statements where met with applause. From the surprised murmur that swept the crowd after Dr. Carson’s comment, it seemed that even the Values Voters crowd was slightly stunned by the comparison—or perhaps that a Black man was the one who made it. A conservative blogger who struck up a conversation with me later in the day volunteered that Carson’s speech was easily the most surprising and controversial of what he’d heard so far.

In any case, the common thread between all three statements is how thoroughly they rewrite the legacy of white supremacy in American evangelicalism. I was particularly struck by Alveda King’s speech, when she called the ideas of racial reconciliation and interracial unity a “confession” – including an admission that she once “blamed…all white people” for the assassination of her uncle.

Taken with the reframing of evangelical “Judeo-Christian” culture as freeing the slaves – rather than the reality that white evangelicals were financially, theologically, and violently invested in the institution of slavery and perpetuating white supremacy—it adds up to a disturbing picture. White conservative Christians, in the narrative of VVS, are and always have been champions of racial equality, while Black people who name white racism are not only irrationally hateful, but in fact sinning against white people. As PRA’s own Rachel Tabachnick and others have noted, this claim that the Religious Right is working for “racial reconciliation” is a ruse for concealing “proselytizing – for both charismatic evangelical belief and right wing politics.” Judging from the first day of Values Voters, it’s a strategy that this crowd is committed to for some time to come.

The New Christian Zionism and the Jews: A Love/Hate Relationship

Photo: The mayor of the West Bank settlement town of Ariel, Ron Nachman, gives a gift to Christian Zionist John Hagee and his wife Diana during the couple’s visit in 2008. Pastor Hagee’s movement has donated millions of dollars to the settlement and supports a "greater Israel" that includes Palestinian territory. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: The mayor of the West Bank settlement town of Ariel, Ron Nachman, gives a gift to Christian Zionist John Hagee and his wife Diana during the couple’s visit in 2008. Pastor Hagee’s movement has donated millions of dollars to the settlement and supports a “greater Israel” that includes Palestinian territory. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

In late October, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel spoke at a Christians United for Israel (CUFI) event hosted by the controversial Christian Zionist John Hagee at his Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Internationally broadcast on GodTV, Hagee presented $9 million in donations to 29 Israeli and U.S. Jewish organizations.[1] Hagee is one of the world’s most successful televangelists and a prolific author who prophesizes that apocalyptic wars and the migration of Jews to the holy land will help trigger the return of Jesus and his thousand-year reign on earth.

Wiesel joins a long list of Jews and Israelis who show no discomfort at being in the center of someone else’s apocalyptic religious vision. Making common cause with Christian Zionists are the lobby group American Israel Political Action Committee, which hosted Hagee as a conference keynote speaker in 2007, and Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, who attended a CUFI summit last July.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, a very different kind of “pro-Israel” gathering was taking place. J Street, the “pro-peace, pro-Israel” lobby group, was holding its first national conference with panels featuring American, Israeli and Palestinian speakers. Hundreds gathered in the ballroom of the Washington D.C. Grand Hyatt for the conference, whose program explicitly stated that J Street aims to challenge “right-wing Christian Zionists” – the very people Wiesel was addressing.[2]

J Street ’s leaders are not the first in the Jewish community to resist the embrace of Christian Zionism. Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has stated that an alliance with Christian Zionists must be rejected for the sake of Israel.[3] Still, there has been little education in the Jewish community on the precise nature of these dangers. Indeed, some Jews may avoid publicly criticizing Christian Zionists out of concern that it would damage interfaith relations – though Christians show no hesitation in criticizing Hagee. Others, including a few questioned at the J Street conference, say Christian Zionist beliefs are of absolutely no interest to them.

Yet it is their beliefs about the end times which drive their activism. The traditional fundamentalist leaders of the movement preach that Jews returning to the Holy Land are a necessary part of the end times in which born-again Christians will escape death as they are raptured into heaven. Jews and other nonbelievers will remain on earth to suffer under the seven-year reign of the anti-Christ. Then, as the story goes, Jesus will come back with his armies, be accepted by the surviving Jews, and reign for a thousand years. This belief motivates adherents to send funds for West Bank settlements, to lobby for preemptive wars seen as precursors to the end times, and support Jews in the diaspora to make “aliyah” and move to Israel.

Now Christian Zionism – along with much of evangelicalism – is being swept by a charismatic movement which has rewritten the role of Jews in their end times narrative. [4]  These charismatics, like Pentecostals, believe that they are endowed by God with supernatural spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and faith healing.  However, these charismatic also believe that God directly reveals new prophecy to their leaders who are unifying the church in preparation for the end times. In their increasingly popular narrative, it is not unconverted but only converted or so-called Messianic Jews who will serve as the trigger for the return of Jesus and the advent of the millennial (thousand year) kingdom on earth.  This growing belief is driving the movement to aggressively proselytize Jews and to support “Messianic” ministries in both Israel and Jewish communities worldwide.  One splinter group has even taken this story to an extreme, saying they themselves are the “true Israelites” who will play the prophetic role of establishing heaven on earth by moving to Israel.

As we shall see, their distinct end times narratives share an implicit antisemitism creating the movement’s paradoxical love/hate relationship with the Jews. Far from positive, the obsessive “philosemitism” – or love of Jews – of Christian Zionists is tied to a volatile and changing view of the end times that also changes their view of how they should “support” Jews and Israel in fulfilling prophecy. And this obsession has a history of turning ugly.

ANTISEMITISM AND HISTORIC CHRISTIAN ZIONISM

The partnership of Christian Zionists with Israeli leaders dates back to the 1970s, when Israeli prime minister Menachim Begin of the Likud Party and Christian Right leader Jerry Falwell joined forces to oppose U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s support for a Palestinian state. Israel’s alliance with Christian Zionists has only grown in recent decades. As support from increasingly alienated U.S. Jews lagged, Christian Zionists filled the gap with donations and tourism.. Israeli Ambassador Oren even rejected an invitation to attend J Street’s October conference while attending CUFI’s in July.[5]

Ambassador Oren would be wise to reconsider his choice of allies.

Camouflaged in love and an exuberant support for Israel, Hagee and other Christian Zionists openly teach narratives that parallel the story lines of overt anti-Semitism in which Jews are portrayed not as ordinary people, but as superhuman or subhuman. With almost no challenge (and often endorsement) from Jewish leadership, Christian Zionists are stripping away the hard-won humanity of Jews with a broadcast capacity and international reach that overtly antisemitic organizations could never match. Their belief that they are saving Jews from themselves allows them to proceed with a sense of self-righteousness and to draw in millions of well-meaning people. History demonstrates that once this humanity has been stripped away, the door is opened for unconcealed hatred, fear, and even genocide of these perceived superhuman/subhuman beings.

Even the long-established Christian Zionist narrative has antisemitic undertones. Christian Zionists talk about themselves as “fishers” who entice Jews to move to Israel, while “hunters” are those who violently force the Jews who are unresponsive to the fishers. This well-used motif –found throughout the movement’s media –is problematic for many reasons, not least in requiring a worldwide wave of antisemitism, described by some as a second holocaust, to ensure Jews fulfill their prophetic destiny.

Hagee is always careful not to use the phrase “second holocaust” but he drew on this motif when he notoriously said that Hitler was a hunter sent by God, prompting John McCain to reject his endorsement in the 2008 Presidential race.[6] The Anti-Defamation League’s Abraham Foxman and other Jewish leaders should not have accepted Hagee at face value when he said he was joining rabbinical discourse in making his Hitler remark.[7]

Christian Zionist literature regularly uses this threat of the second holocaust to warn, or intimidate, Jews to move to Israel before it is “too late,” and steeps it with additional antisemitic imagery. In Let My People Go, Tom Hess describes his vision of trains taking fleeing Jews from the major cities of the world as they voluntarily leave for Israel, thus saving themselves from an impending holocaust. Its cover shows a Jewish businessman chained to Wall Street, and the book is filled with stereotypes of Jews as money-oriented materialists and worse.[8] Hess’ ministry, based in Israel, sends the books to Jewish households around the world , and claims to have distributed tens of thousands to the “fish” as he calls the Jews of Russia and Ukraine. Hess also hosts the annual Christian Governmental Leaders Luncheon in conjunction with the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus.[9]

Another book, Blow the Trumpet in Zion, lists “The Jew’s Final Holocaust” above “Why Christians Should Love Jews” on its back cover promotion.[10] Its author is Richard Booker, who has worked with the Christian Allies Caucus and Jerusalem Connection, headed by former CUFI director James Hutchens.[11] The best-selling book of another prominent Christian Zionist describes this second holocaust as “beyond the horrors of Sobibor, Treblinka, and Auschwitz – all of the death camps combined.”[12]

These Christian Zionists believe a second holocaust is necessary to force the repentance of Jews.

Hagee argues that his support for Israel has “absolutely nothing to do with eschatology,” referring to end times theology.[13] Yet he has built an international broadcast audience advertised as reaching 190 nations with his apocalyptic sermons echoing these themes. Hagee often delivers these sermons while standing in front of large panels illustrating figures of the end times including the Antichrist – who he describes as gay and “partially Jewish as was Adolph Hitler” –and the “Great Harlot of Mystery Babylon,” whom Hagee claims represents “Romanism” or the Roman Catholic church.[14]

Former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold, when questioned about the dangers of this end times eschatology – which ends with the destruction of Judaism – responded, “All religions have eschatology. The question is whether somebody believes they can move the clock of eschatology forward by themselves. The only one who says that is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran.”[15]

But in fact many Christian Zionists do believe they can move the clock, as a quick glance at Armageddonbooks.com shows. Among the titles is Hastening the Messiah, Your Role in Fulfilling Prophecy.The author, Johannes Facius, is a former head of the Ebenezer Emergency Fund and Operation Exodus, credited with moving over 116,000 Jews to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Hagee’s mentor wrote the foreword. Its fourth chapter is titled “Fishers and Hunters.”[16]

John Hagee’s ministry magazine also suggests evangelicals can move the clock – by donating to Hagee’s ministry. In an issue with a dramatic war scene and the words “World War III Has Begun” on its cover, a page two ad solicits funds with the headline, “Become a Part of Biblical Prophecy.” The ad’s donation form states, “I want to be a part of fulfillment of prophecy and the courageous effort to return Jewish families to their homeland.”[17]

MILLENNIALISM AND ANTISEMITISM, PAST AND PRESENT

Unless put in context of these paradoxical end times narratives, it is easy to misinterpret Christian Zionists’ millennial obsession. CUFI’s Jewish participants are moved by the Christian Zionist outpouring of emotion for Israel, and the trapping of Jewish ritual, blowing shofars, singing in Hebrew, wearing tallitot (prayer shawls), and celebrating Jewish holidays. The CUFI “Night to Honor Israel” event at which Wiesel spoke was double-billed as the “Feast of Tabernacles,”[18] a celebration based on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot which Hagee infuses with a millennial and Christian supremacist theology.[19]

Wiesel acknowledged the outpouring of support for Israel at the event, saying, “Never in the history of my people have we witnessed an event such as this.”[20] Yet the current wave of Christian Zionism is eerily reminiscent of the wave of Judeocentric millennialism of a century ago, picking up on similar terminology and end times narratives. The millennial wave of the last century included fascination with Hebrew roots, groups claiming to be Israelites, and a philosemitic embrace of Jews.

Narratives based on biblical genealogy and Israelite “Identity” included Anglo- or British-Israelism, which was exported to the United States and adopted by evangelists including Charles Parham, the founder of Pentecostalism.[21] Queen Victoria’s genealogy was traced back to King David, and colonialism was justified as the proper role of “the chosen people” –Anglo-Israelites. Like Christian Zionists of today, they described wars in terms of biblical genealogy, and depending on strategic alliances of the moment, described Germans as either fellow “Israelites” or descendants of the hated Assyrians. These philosemitic British Israelites attacked antisemitism from the pages of the journal “The Banner of Israel.”[22] But a prominent British Israelite was also editor of the notoriously antisemitic Dearborn Independent, a lead newspaper publishing conspiracies based on the notorious forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The movement’s philosemitism easily transitioned into antisemitism.

The volatility of the last century’s obsession with biblical genealogy and Judeocentric narratives also spawned Christian Identity, the theology held by contemporary White supremacists. They view Jews as an evil race descending from Esau, and see themselves as the true heirs of Israel.[23] Their practice often includes “Hebrew” ritual including the “Feast of Tabernacles” based on Sukkot.

Hagee shares this obsession with a distinct race descended from Esau. In his book Jerusalem Countdown,he claims that a genetically evil race of “half-breed Jews” spawned Hitler and credits Esau’s descendants with the persecution of Jews throughout history.[24]

The recognized theological source of modern Christian Zionism is U.S. fundamentalism from the last century, which has its own history of embracing antisemitism. Many leaders such as William Bell Riley, perhaps the major leader of fundamentalism, merged religious narratives with secular antisemitic conspiracies including the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion which theysaw as supporting their end times narrative.[25]

Today’s internationally broadcast Christian Zionist media is a major source of anti-Jewish conspiracy thinking and features New World Order conspiracism.[26] Hagee preaches from the pulpit that the American dollar is being intentionally devalued through the Federal Reserve by a conspiracy of the Illuminati, Rothschilds, and European bankers.[27]

These narratives echo claims from the Middle Ages that Jews have supernatural control over the destiny of others, a concept that is now being spread by Christian Zionists to Africa and other continents, paving the way for acceptance of virulently antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Entire Christian Zionist books are dedicated to linking natural or human disasters to Israel. For instance, in John McTernan’s recent book, As America has done to Israel, he claims that Katrina victims were drowned in their attics as God’s retribution for the removal of settlers from Gaza who had fled to their rooftops to avoid eviction.[28] William Koenig’s 2004 book Eye to Eye lists terrorist attacks and misfortunes of presidents as God’s revenge on America for “land for peace” negotiations.[29] The writers frame their accounts as pro-Israel, and the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3, which reads, “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse.”

Hagee picks up on another antisemitic story line with a long history when he demeans the much revered Rabbi Hillel. In Final Dawn over Jerusalem, Hagee states that antisemitism comes from the bowels of hell but, in the same book, claims Hillel was an “extremist” and his Pharisee followers were “sword-carrying legalists” who plotted to have Jesus killed. It is they, he claims, who are responsible for Christian antisemitism.[30]

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber analyzed how propaganda mischaracterizing the Pharisees as the more legalistic sect of Judaism in the time of Jesus impacted 1920s anti-Semitism. Author Paul R. Mendes-Flor states about Buber, “Debating the opponents of Jewry, he realized that the anti-Pharisaism which pervaded modern attitudes toward Judaism was not only a distortion but animated virtually every species of metaphysical anti-Semitism.”[31] The demonization of Pharisees is becoming increasingly common today, particularly in Pentecostal and other charismatic media. They equate the Pharisees with a literal demon said to be the source of legalism and division in the church.[32]

Today those Jewish leaders who embrace Christian Zionists heap ridicule on those who resist, accusing them of being overly defensive. In Evangelicals and Israel, author Stephen Spector quotes Elliot Abrams as saying “anti-Christian bias seems to be the only form of prejudice that American Jews consider respectable.”[33] The unwillingness of Jews to return the embrace of that era’s millennial-minded “philosemites” was also ridiculed in a famous publication of 1920,

The future of the Jew, as prophetically outlined, is intimately bound up with the future of this planet, and the Christian church in large part – at least by the evangelical wing, which the Jews most condemn – sees a Restoration of the Chosen People yet to come. If the mass of the Jews knew how understandingly and sympathetically all the prophecies concerning them are being studied in the Church, and the faith that exists that these prophecies will find fulfillment and that they will result in great Jewish service to society at large, they would probably regard the Church with another mind.[34]

The quote is from Henry Ford’s The International Jew, derived from his reading of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Marketing efforts by CUFI and others to convince today’s Jews to embrace Christian Zionists frequently cite the last century’s support for “regathering of the Jews” in Palestine as evidence that the movement is friendly or benign. This cherry-picking of history ignores the fact that the same millennial narratives played a significant role in the objectification of, and obsession with, Jews in the early 20th century. Since then these quasi-religious narratives have kept the motifs of antisemitism alive during a time when overt antisemitism is not acceptable in society. Today’s Christian Zionism has reintroduced these dehumanizing narratives back into the mainstream of much of the evangelical world as well as the general public.

CHRISTIAN ZIONISM IN TRANSITION

As Christian Zionism changes, attacks on Judaism are becoming more overt. The bulk of the shift in Christian Zionism is a result of the growing international dominance of charismatics who reject the concept of being raptured and stress the conversion of Jews to trigger the end times.

In their version of the end times drama, they do not watch idly from the grandstands of heaven after being raptured but remain on earth to fight evil and the anti-Christ themselves. It is Jesus who remains in heaven until the job is completed and a Christian Israel calls out for his return. This cleansing of the earth is done by the combined forces of charismatic or “spirit-filled” Christians and their Messianic partners, the term applied to Jews who convert but retain Jewish identity. The shorthand catchphrase for this distinctive end times narrative involving converted Jews is “one new man in Yeshua.”

Not surprisingly, the growing importance of converts in the end times narrative is encouraging a new wave of proselytizing to convert Jews to Christianity. As Hagee’s Jewish allies are quick to point out, he publicly opposes proselytizing, but much of his organization’s leadership and events are hosted by those who have embraced this “one new man” ideology and you can find it throughout Christian Zionist media. Hagee also publicly endorsed a Messianic ministry in Israel.[35]

These charismatics identify with a coalescing movement called the New Apostolic Reformation (or simply “Apostolic and Prophetic”) which teaches that a unified church will lead the fight during the end times. Lou Engle, made famous in the film Jesus Camp, is a leading “Apostle” in the movement and Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, partnered in the movement’s launch. Sarah Palin has close ties to leading Apostles and during the 2008 elections their broadcasted prophecies claimed that Palin was divinely “anointed” for leadership. [36]

CUFI director Stephen Strang is a prominent Apostle and uses his magazine, Charisma, to promote it.[37] In celebration of Israel’s sixtieth birthday, Charisma dedicated much of its May 2008 issue to Christian Zionists and Messianics who are working to proselytize Jews in Israel. Another CUFI director, Robert Stearns, is the editor of a popular Apostolic and Prophetic magazine and cofounder of the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem (DPPJ).[38] The DPPJ is the largest single Christian Zionist event with advertised participation of 200,000 churches in 175 nations, and endorsed by the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus.[39]

What are these 200,000 churches praying for when they pray for the peace of Jerusalem?

In a 2005 Christian Broadcast Network interview, Stearns said that all participating churches received the book Your People Shall Be My People which explains the“one new man in Yeshua” ideology and pleads with churches to support Messianic ministries.[40] Author Don Finto introduces a multidenominational council of charismatic leaders whose mission is to “recognize and welcome Jewish believers in Yeshua without requiring them to abandon their Jewish identity and practice” with the “ultimate purpose in unifying the Body and restoring the Jewish believers to their rightful place is the hastening of the coming of the Lord Yeshua in glory and the full accomplishment of His work in the kingdom of God.”[41]

By repenting of the Holocaust and allowing Messianics to retain their Jewish identity, these Christian Zionists teach that the stumbling blocks will be removed and Jews will convert in large numbers. In his book Prepare the Way, Stearns claimed that this is happening at an unprecedented rate, stating, “Our elder brother is returning from the dead.”[42] This echoes his CUFI colleague Hagee, who after his infamous Hitler as hunter quote said, “Now they (the Jews) are physically alive, but they are not spiritually alive.”[43]

Stearns ally Jack Hayford, a charismatic leader who cofounded the Day of Prayer, also founded The King’s College and Seminary which has a special division to train Messianics to become the “anointed Spirit-filled team players in the redemption of all Israel.”[44] The seminary coordinates with Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, which trains Messianic leaders in Jewish communities in Argentina, Brazil, Israel, Russia, and Ukraine in order to bring “life to the dead” as stated in its promotional materials.[45]

Another stated goal of the Christian Zionist/Messianic partnership is to fight antisemitism. However while they are very anxious to defend Israel from an Islamic world they view as a common enemy, this conceals the fact that they are equally determined to save Israel from Judaism.

In Your People Shall Be My People, Finto quotes convert Dan Juster as stating “Rabbinic Judaism is a more severe departure from biblical faith than I had ever realized in my early days of Jewish recovery… We who are Jewish are biblical New Covenant Jews, not Rabbinic Jews!”[46]

Stearns describes Juster as the Thomas Jefferson of Messianic Judaism and a “sovereign vessel the Lord has raised up to pioneer this End-Time move.”[47] Juster explained to the 2009 Promise Keepers revival in Boulder that, “The conversion of Israel is a necessary precondition for ushering in the Messianic age. We can only accomplish this task by coming together as one new man. Only then will we have the power to convert Israel.”[48]

Despite easily accessible evidence to the contrary, Robert Stearns was portrayed throughout the bookEvangelicals and Israel as the ideal Christian Zionist who refuses to proselytize and has no ulterior end times motives.[49] Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has personally endorsed Stearn’s ministry.[50]Evangelicals and Israel has endorsements on the back cover from ADL’s Abraham Foxman and Walter Russell Mead. And in a truly wrongheaded review of the book in Foreign Affairs, Mead suggested that Democrats court Christian Zionists to join their party.[51]

MILLENNIAL DISILLUSIONMENT: BETTER JEWS THAN THE JEWS

Richard Landes, director of the Center for the Millennial Studies project of Boston University, has described cycles of millennial expectation and disappointment dating back to the year 1000. In 1999 he described the modern wave as constituting “the most sustained and unusually philo-Judaic apocalyptic manifestation in the history of Christianity.”[52] Many Jewish leaders dismiss millennialism as benign because they don’t believe that the predicted trials or Jesus’ return to earth will take place. However, Landes warns that the real danger stems from the disillusionment when Jesus doesn’t come back. He asks, “How long can an apocalyptic wave continue? Does all this apocalyptic philo-Judaism of the upswing imply a coming wave of equally intense anti-Judaism in the wake of (inevitable) disappointment?”[53]

We already are seeing the onset of disillusionment with Jews who resist playing their assigned prophetic role. Believing themselves to be better Jews than the Jews, Christian Zionists step in to fill the role themselves. Like the British Israelites of the last century, today a group calling themselves Ephraimites believe themselves to be the true Israelites. But unlike the British Israelites, they are multiracial, including Whites, Blacks and Latinos, and even international.

Members of Israel’s Likud Party are working with these Ephraimites and other Christian Zionists through World Likud, headed by Danny Danon.[54] Following a 2007 conference in Texas with Likud leaders, Joel Bell and friends launched a new organization called Worldwide Biblical Zionism (WBZ) to provide housing, legal assistance, employment aid, and military training to Christian Zionists who wish to make aliyah to Israel and the West Bank.[55]

Several leaders in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government participated in the inaugural WBZ event on November 16, 2008, including Gideon Sa’ar, current Minister of Education; Ayoob Kara, Deputy Minister of Development of the Negev and Galilee; and Yulie Edelstein, Minister of Information and Diaspora Affairs.[56] Much of the outreach in the United States has been by Sagiv Assulin, the Knesset Leader of the Young.

One group reporting contact with Assulin is the Messianic Israel Alliance (MIA), whose name is misleading since the organization is comprised of Ephraimite Christians who believe they have a right to land in Israel. Before their 2008 national convention, they formed a “Provisional Israelite Council in Exile” and demanded their “inalienable right of return to their biblical inheritance and historical territory located in current Samaria and Judea.”[57]

The Ephraimites of MIA believe that they must be fruitful and fill the population gap that will occur as Israel expands to its future borders and “to replace the 235,000,000 non-Jews” who will be removed from the “Red Sea” to the “River Euphrates.” MIA’s leader, Angus Wootten, stated in a 2008 newsletter, “If YHVH would tomorrow remove the million plus Palestinians, who are citizens of Israel, and the three and half million in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, how would, or how could, the present Jewish population of Israel take possession of the land the Palestinians had occupied? And if that isn’t a big enough challenge, add taking possession of Southern Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Western Arabia, and the Sinai.”[58]

Christian Zionists commonly describe the millions of current occupants as expendable, and John Hagee has written, “In modern terms Israel rightfully owns all of present-day Israel, all of Lebanon, half of Syria, two-thirds of Jordan, all of Iraq, and the northern portion of Saudi Arabia.”[59]

In his December 18, 2007 newsletter, Wootten, unhappy with the then-current Israeli government, stated, “SOS Israel, an umbrella group of Jewish settlers now living in Judea and Samaria, has said that in fulfillment of their biblical mandate they will declare a new Jewish state independent of Israel… Their objective is to form a New Jewish Congress that will eventually gain sovereignty of the Jewish Nation over the secular state.” Any Israeli government that does not see Christian Zionists as part of the “Nation of Israel” is illegitimate, he charged.[60]

On August 10, 2008, as part of their international convention, the MIA conducted a “March to the Arch” carrying banners, shofars, flags, and wearing t-shirts stating, “We are Israel.”[61]

It is not clear whether WBZ will succeed in bringing substantial numbers of Christians to the West Bank even as Christian Zionist funds continue to flow to the region; Ariel, described as the capital of “Samaria,” has a swimming pool named for CUFI director Billye Brim, located in the “John Hagee Building.” In fact, there are signs of a backlash within Likud against Christian Zionism that could interfere with the Ephraimites fulfilling their hopes. Moshe Feiglin is among the most right-wing of Likud politicians, but he recently disengaged from his partnership with Christian Zionists.[62] He wrote in the Jewish Press,

The Christian conquest is much more dangerous than the Muslim conquest because it is not direct. It is not violent. Embracing and supportive, it connects with Israel against the Muslim enemy. It supports a Jewish Land of Israel in its entirety – even speaking up for the sanctity of the connection between the Nation of Israel, the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel. It just forgets to specify which Nation of Israel and which Torah.[63]

CHRISTIAN ZIONISM GOES GLOBAL

In Singapore a stadium of people sing popular Messianic music in Hebrew. In Zambia a network of churches define themselves as Messianic, call their preachers “rabbis,” and celebrate Christianized versions of Jewish holidays. In London, Christian Zionist leaders endorsed by the Israeli Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus meet with members of Parliament in order to lobby for support of Israel based on biblical mandates.[64] In Germany, Christian Zionists who call themselves the Saxon Christian Friends of Israel join with Israeli representatives to commemorate the Holocaust by attacking Islam as the “next reincarnation of fascism.”[65]

A Nigerian pastor travels to Jerusalem and tells the Knesset that any nation that does not serve them will perish, and adds that Africans Christians “would love to kiss the feet of a Jew.”[66] Seven hundred Brazilians travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Feast of Tabernacles event sponsored by the Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, joining thousands from around the globe.[67] In Tubingen, Germany, a congregation described by the pastor as 70 percent children and grandchildren of Nazis, “reconciles” with Jews by sponsoring Messianic music productions and joint Christian and Messianic Jewish events including Messianic Holocaust events.[68] These have now been imported to the United States.

From Argentina to Ukraine “pro-Israel” groups are singing in Hebrew to the same popular Messianic melodies, dressing in similar costumes, and waving similar flags. It is increasingly difficult to tell if the participants are Christian Zionists or Messianic Jews.

Christian Zionism is increasingly global, aggressively missionary, and openly attacking Judaism as the obstacle to a Christian utopia on earth. Nevertheless, the current Israeli government views the growth of Christian Zionism as an opportunity for building increased support internationally for Israeli policies and is endorsing the spread of this ideology and activism around the globe. Even liberals on this issue are simply uninformed. In a conversation at the J Street conference, a U.S. Congressman told me that Hagee could not possibly be spreading antisemitic notions. “You must be confused,” he added. “Hagee is pro-Israel!”

The widely held belief that a visibly “pro-Israel” Christian Zionist could not possibly be a danger to Jews, needs to be reevaluated.

If J Street or other moderate and progressive Jewish organizations are going to challenge the shortsighted embrace of Christian Zionists, they will have to become literate in end times narratives, and competent in explaining the serious threats, to both Israel and Jews worldwide, from this millennial movement.