Trump and Right-Wing Populism: A Long Time Coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


About the Author

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


Endnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neoliberal Language Lessons

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

Click here to see the full neoliberalism issue of The Public Eye magazine

How right-wing power—along with free-market ideas—shifted from conservative Christians to the Tea Party

In his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism, political geographer David Harvey traces the triumph of neoliberalism back to a “revolutionary turning-point” in the late 1970s.[1] Figures across the world, including Deng Xiaoping in China and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, began to implement ideas and policies that favored property rights and market exchanges over public investment and government intervention.

In the United States, Harvey notes, Ronald Reagan participated in this early neoliberal wave when he “brought to life the minority tradition that stretched back within the Republican Party to Barry Goldwater in the early 1960s.”[2] This tradition had emphasized not only libertarian economics but also social traditionalism since at least the post-war period. But over the course of the 1970s, it was transformed into a political alliance between wealthy, neoliberal-friendly elites and a grassroots more interested in curtailing women’s bodily autonomy and promoting “family values”—the so-called Christian Right. Why has this latter group, comprised mostly of evangelical conservatives, acted as regular, if not always docile, allies in the Republican Party’s active role in the neoliberal project?

People wave signs at a "tea party" protest on the grounds of the Colorado state capitol in Denver April 15, 2009. image via Reuters

People wave signs at a “tea party” protest on the grounds of the Colorado state capitol in Denver April 15, 2009. image via Reuters

Political analyst Thomas Frank, famously, thought the answer was clear: they were being hoodwinked.[3] According to Frank, Republicans talk about abortion and other social issues but do not actually provide much policy action. Yet while their supporters are distracted, Republican officials can erode the social safety net and promote unfettered, free-market capitalism. Still, Frank’s analysis has been criticized for suggesting that grassroots Christians are rubes.[4] In fact, social issues are not just distractions, but rather legitimate concerns for evangelical Christians. Liberalism and feminism are indeed threats to their way of life, or at least to the conservative, patriarchal social structures that their political and religious leaders promote as “natural.”

There also are concrete policy actions that Republicans provide to make neoliberalism “real” for evangelicals. Faith-based initiatives are a key feature of the “compassionate conservatism” so favored by George W. Bush.[5] These policies outsource and privatize welfare by providing grants to religious organizations, creating a kind of “market” where churches compete to provide voluntary support for the poor. (Frederick Clarkson covers this phenomenon extensively in his essay for this issue of The Public Eye.)  Churches remain eligible for federal dollars without having to conform to any prohibitions on discrimination or proselytization, while the neoliberal shrinking of the state proceeds. As both economic elites and evangelical leaders promote their alternative to a supposedly pervasive culture of “welfare dependency,” faith-based initiatives help cement Christian Right support for neoliberalism. As geographer Jason Hackworth notes, “The rationality of replacing secular welfare with religiously delivered welfare has helped to bond together elements of the American Right throughout the past thirty-five years.”[6]

Faith-based initiatives also have helped neoliberals by softening the image of their poverty policies; they’re not eliminating aid to poor families and children, but replacing it with a better alternative. (Forget that no evidence exists that these policies produce better results, or that they might actively undermine a democratic civil society.[7])

But Christian conservatives have come to neoliberalism for more than just welfare. Some scholars argue that evangelicals are naturally predisposed toward free markets. Sociologist Max Weber famously tied the rise of capitalism to the Protestant work ethic. More recently, historian Mark A. Noll has argued that the rise of evangelicalism in the early United States likely fostered acceptance of free-market principles among religious believers: having largely rejected regulation and authority in religious life, evangelicals were then ready to accept a similar economic program.[8] Sociologist Fred Block has even suggested that a shared commitment to “market fundamentalism” helps unite business elites and Christian conservatives; this latter group is particularly “reassured by its moral absolutism.”[9]

It may be true that evangelicals have an affinity for free markets, but Christian doctrine has also been aligned with social welfare liberalism, as with Catholics and the Social Gospel, or rights liberalism, as with the Black Church and the Civil Rights Movement. The missing step is politics—a political force that activates Christian conservatives’ affinity for neoliberalism and transforms it into political action. And this is just what some savvy political operatives within Republican networks have done.

Evangelicals did not magically become Republicans in the late 1970s; the marriage required matchmakers. New Right operatives famously invited Christian evangelicals into the GOP, most publicly with the creation of the Moral Majority in 1979.[10] Since then, the wealthy elites who run the GOP have spent years trying to convince the Christian Right to go along with their economic agenda, and have used religious-based discourse and coded language to do it. So the estate tax, for example, became portrayed as a “family” tax that disrupted the bonds of inheritance.[11] Similarly, voucher advocates use the language of “school choice” to enlist religious conservatives in neoliberal privatization efforts.[12]

All of these maneuvers have led to the present moment, when, at the grassroots level, the most active force within the Republican Party is no longer the Christian Right but the Tea Party. As polling by the Pew Research Center confirms, Tea Party activists are also often Christian evangelicals.[13] Tea Partiers may still love Jesus in their hearts, but they are talking and acting like good neoliberals.

Tea Partiers may still love Jesus in their hearts, but they are talking and acting like good neoliberals.

It remains to be seen how much staying power the Tea Party has, and whether its leaders are engaged in a zero-sum game with the Christian Right in national politics. But their success in driving the American political agenda towards issues of deficits and the proper scope of government cannot be denied. On one level, this is a tremendous victory for economic (or corporate) conservatives. On the other hand, grassroots activists are taking neoliberal ideas to their logical conclusion, possibly damaging the GOP’s political prospects by pushing for government shutdowns and challenging incumbent Republican officials who are insufficiently devoted to their principles.

The obvious Frankenstein parallels may not be lost on today’s Republican elites. Still, Republican neoliberals continue to have one thing in common with their evangelical protégés; they are unlikely to waver in their faith.

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[1] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1.

[2] Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, 9.

[3] Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004), 6.

[4] Larry Bartels, “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas?Quarterly Journal of Political Science 1 (2006): 201-226. Frank’s analysis is generally more subtle than his detractors let on; his analysis is less about what voters think than about the kinds of discourses they adopt (referring to an antagonistic “liberal elite,” for example).

[5] Frederick Clarkson, “An Uncharitable Choice: The Faith-Based Takeover of Federal Programs,” The Public Eye, Fall 2014. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2014/10/10/an-uncharitable-choice-the-faith-based-takeover-of-federal-programs/

[6] Jason Hackworth, Faith Based: Religious Neoliberalism and the Politics of Welfare in the United States (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 3.

[7] David Ashley and Ryan Sandefer, “Neoliberalism and the Privatization of Welfare and Religious Organizations in the United States of America,” in Religion in the Neoliberal Age: Political Economy and Modes of Governance, ed. François Gauthier and Tuomas Martikainen (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2013).

[8] Mark A. Noll, God and Mammon: Protestants, Money, and the Market, 1790-1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). British historian Boyd Hilton suggests a similar dynamic for the UK in the same period; see Boyd Hilton, The Age of Atonement: The Influence of Evangelicalism on Social and Economic Thought, 1785-1865 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), viii.

[9] Fred Block, “Reframing the Political Battle: Market Fundamentalism vs. Moral Economy,” Longview Institute, Jan. 30, 2007, http://www.longviewinstitute.org/projects/moral/sorcerersapprentice.

[10] Frances FitzGerald, “A Disciplined, Charging Army,” The New Yorker, May 18, 1981.

[11] See Richard J. Meagher, “Tax Revolt as a Family Value: How the Christian Right Is Becoming A Free Market Champion,” The Public Eye, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Winter 2006). Also see Richard J. Meagher, “Family Taxes: Conservatives Frame Estate Tax Repeal,” Journal of Policy History, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan. 2014).

[12] “‘School Choice Week’: A Dose Of Facts Debunks Voucher Propaganda,” Americans United for Separation of Church & State, https://au.org/voucherFAIL.

[13] “The Tea Party and Religion,” Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, Feb. 23, 2011, http://www.pewforum.org/2011/02/23/tea-party-and-religion.

VVS14 Analysis: Glenn Beck, Mark Levin Try to Quell Christian Right Neo-Confederates

The Christian Right’s annual trade show, Values Voter Summit, is a good place to check the vital signs of the movement that is often—and wrongly—declared dead or dying. And this year’s conference offered a peek into the struggle by Christian Right leaders to tamp down the Neo-Confederate and secessionist ideology growing in, and threatening to break, their ranks.

Right-wing media personality Glenn Beck holds up The Bible and Rules for Radicals at VVS14

Right-wing media personality Glenn Beck holds up The Bible and Rules for Radicals at VVS14

Some critics tend to cast the Christian Right movement as monolithic, when in actuality it has always been at just as fractious and dynamic as it has been powerful and influential. And yet, its considerable successes are sometimes obscured by its leaders’ perennial fear that they may ultimately fail to “restore” their notion of the Christian Nation—and that an evil darkness will fall upon the land. (Yes, much of the public rhetoric at the Values Voter Summit was that prosaic.)

But a deepening shadow of doubt has crept across the Christian Right’s vision of a shining city on a hill since at least 2012 election. Some leaders of the Religious (and non-religious) Right are revealing their loss of faith in American nationhood, and are turning to Neo-Confederate alternatives, including support to secede from the Union (including by some candidates), and a movement to nullify federal laws, regulations and court decisions—all with the full understanding of the political tensions and violence that would likely accompany most of these efforts.

This Neo-Confederatization of elements of the political and Religious Right is such a problem that the State Policy Network of business/libertarian think tanks, (which work in close coalition with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)) issued a PR manual in 2013 which urged members to avoid language that smacks of “extreme views,” advising: “Stay away from words like radical, nullify, or autonomy,” and especially “states’ rights.”

At the Values Voter Summit, we saw a continued effort to hold the fractious Christian Right movement together, and sharp warnings to those who are considering or turning to these Neo-Confederate options. All of which suggests that the leaders may be more worried about their cohesion than meets the eye.

But rather than deliver the main message themselves, the conference leaders left it to popular, non-evangelical co-belligerents: New York right-wing radio host Mark Levin, who is Jewish, and Mormon right-wing broadcaster Glenn Beck.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, staged a conversation with Levin during a conference plenary which offered some thoughts about how to proceed in the face of Christians being “silenced,” and their religious freedom being “under assault” from so many directions.

Perkins observed (at about 17:30 in the YouTube video) that President Obama has described Islam as a religion of peace, and that the problem we have with Islam is not just far away but right here at home.

“How can we fight an enemy,” Perkins asked, that “transcends not only our international foreign policy but our domestic policy. We are at risk here at home, and we cannot come to the point where we can truly speak the truth because political correctness has basically blinded us to that truth.”

“Well, we need to reject political correctness,” Levin replied on cue. “We need to reject the attempt by the Left to keep us in little boxes, or to move us out to extremes. We are the heart of America,” he declared, jabbing his index finger into the air for emphasis.

“Our belief system is the heart of America. We are the majority of America. And they treat us like we are some minor cult. We are not some minor cult. I don’t need to be lectured by Barack Obama about any damn thing let alone religion or Islam…. I think we need to fight this effort to silence us…. We need to speak out. We need to stand up.”

Levin’s solution is to cast the Religious Right as mainstream America.

At VVS14, right-wing radio host Mark Levin chastises the growing Neo-Confederate movement among the Christian Right

At VVS14, right-wing radio host Mark Levin chastises the growing Neo-Confederate movement among the Christian Right

“You know, I view the political spectrum quite differently,” he explained. “We are in the middle! You’ve got the radical leftists who’ve taken over the Democrat Party [sic]. You have… this Neo-Confederate group out there,” he said, pointing and waving to his right, “that doesn’t really believe in the Constitution and keeps talking about secession and so forth. We are traditional conservatives who embrace the Constitution, who embrace our heritage. This president does not—from his values to his comments to his attacks on my country—does not represent me, period!”

Likewise, Glenn Beck urged the evangelical conference attendees not to succumb to the temptation of “rage” at anti-Christian persecution and the threats to religious freedom in our time. Jesus, he said, was about a “revolution through peace and love” not violence. “Which spirit is leading you,” he wondered. “Which spirit is leading all of us?” You could hear a pin drop in the carpeted room as Beck failed to answer his own rhetorical question.

That the popular Beck was featured to deliver this sermon suggests that conference leadership recognizes they may have led their people over a hate and fear mongering bridge too far. Part of their task now seems to be to bring them back from the Neo-Confederate temptation.

Pointing to the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., Beck said “the Lord would never tell us to do something out of hate, or vengeance, or rage.” He emphasized the need to come together as Americans in the face of the external threat of ISIS, and not to hate one another. Not even LGBTQ people, he said.

Like Levin, Beck sought to position the Christian Right and the conservative movement generally—not as the Right, but as ideologically middle America. He did it in a sly slam on the Tea Party (at about 43:35 in the YouTube video), in which he held up a copy of legendary progressive and civil rights movement organizer Saul Alinsky’s 1971 book, Rules for Radicals—which had been promoted by Tea Party leaders—notably Dick Armey (head of the Koch brothers bankrolled group Freedom Works)—as a manual for anti-establishment disruption.

Beck didn’t mention any of this back story, but stuck to the old Manichean story line. Alinsky had jokingly dedicated the book to Lucifer, giving Beck the opening to read from the book’s dedication, which he said offers a “tip of the hat to the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that at least he won his own Kingdom—Lucifer.” He claimed that “for many in America, this [Rules for Radicals] is their Scripture.”

We have a choice, he declared, between The Bible and Rules for Radicals.

In fairness, Alinsky was obviously being humorous and provocative, and was not really dedicating his book to Satan. But Beck’s target was not Alinsky so much as the colorfully disruptive and often overtly hate-mongering Tea Partiers, many of whom are conservative Christians, with whom VVS leaders seek to contrast themselves as the mainstream of the GOP (if not America itself). They wish to be seen not as the party of mean spiritedness—but as the standard bearers of religious freedom.

Whether they can sufficiently recover to make the center hold, or whether the Christian Right has tea-partied itself into a stupor of permanent neo-Confederate division, remains to be seen.

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

Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag

Claire Conner, author of Wrapped in the Flag

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

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

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

What motivated you to write this book now? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They just didn’t care about the actual facts? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EXPOSED: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks Are Transforming U.S. Politics



Two networks of conservative, state-level think tanks have matured rapidly over the past three decades. By crafting public policy, collaborating with Republican state legislators, and fostering new leadership for the Right, they have significantly shaped recent U.S. politics. And their work has only just begun.

***

 

Via the 2013 SPN Annual Meeting promo video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbyBqRKDLvc

Screencap of 2013 SPN Annual Meeting promo video, via Corey Burres

The Democratic Party’s wins in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, and its modest successes in recent Congressional elections, have obscured a series of setbacks for the party in the states. As National Journal put it, the GOP “wiped the floor with Democrats” in the 2010 midterm elections, setting a record in the modern era by picking up 680 seats in state legislatures. The next-largest harvest of legislative seats was the Democrats’ 628-seat gain in the Watergate-dominated election of 1974.[1]The 2010 landslide gave the GOP the upper hand in the subsequent Congressional redistricting process, allowing Republicans to tilt the playing field in their favor and shape U.S. elections for years to come. In the meantime, conservatives have used friendly, GOP-dominated state legislatures to ram their agenda through legislatures—in “red” states and even some states that lean “blue”—on a range of issues: imposing harsh voter restrictions in North Carolina, for example, and passing dramatic anti-labor legislation in Michigan.

The roots of this debacle go far deeper than one or two election cycles and cannot be explained by the normal ebb and flow in electoral fortunes of the two major parties. The seeds were actually sown in the late 1980s, when strategists in the conservative movement came to an important realization. If they were successful in their efforts to devolve much of federal policy-making authority to the states—a key goal of the “Reagan revolution”—they would need relevant resources to elaborate their vision, and the organizational capacity to implement it. The two networks of state-based think tanks that emerged from that realization amount to one of the great under-reported stories in modern American politics. We are just now seeing the implications of the networks’ work, and of the conservative strategists’ vision.

Though several Washington, D.C.-based think tanks were profoundly important in President Ronald Reagan’s administration, few state-level groups existed at the time. Reagan encouraged the creation of think tanks in state capitals, and two related networks of policy shops and advocacy groups emerged from this idea.[2] Both have become part of the deep infrastructure of the conservative movement, and they play a critical role in taking the movement’s agenda to the states, where a fierce battle over the role, size, and scope of government is playing out.

The State Policy Network (SPN) comprises think tanks that are modeled after the Heritage Foundation, in that they conduct research and make policy recommendations to government agencies and legislative bodies. SPN currently comprises 63 member organizations—at least one in each state. SPN members vigorously promote a “free market,” anti-labor agenda, and they are joined in this mission by dozens of conservative and libertarian groups with which they liaise, including national institutions like the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Alliance for School Choice, Americans United for Life, and the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.[3]

The second network comprises organizations that are modeled on the Family Research Council (FRC), one of the foundational organizations of the Christian Right that was, for several years, the public policy arm of Focus on the Family (FOF). These think tanks are called Family Policy Councils (FPCs), and they take policy research and political advocacy to state capitals the way the FRC does in Washington, D.C.[4] They focus primarily on reproductive rights, traditional “family values” (especially marriage), and, increasingly, religious liberty. This is in keeping with the agenda of the 2009 Christian Right manifesto, the Manhattan Declaration.[5]

Though the individual institutions tend to command our attention, the influence of the networks is much greater than the sum of their parts. Comprising part of the core infrastructure of the conservative movement, they create synergies by sharing information, resources, and best practices. These synergies allow even the smallest members to rely on the same research as the networks’ largest and best-endowed institutions. Crucially, they also equip the Right with a common set of talking points and understandings, even as the individual institutions maintain the flexibility to tailor their strategies to state-level circumstances.

“The states are our first and final frontiers of liberty,” an SPN video declares. “Just as the pioneers journeyed to the wild west to discover new frontiers and stake their claim for a new life, we must stake a claim for freedom for us and the generations yet to come. Moving the locus of power from DC to the 50 freedom frontiers requires fortitude, bold strategies and a network of equipped trailblazers.”[6]

Division of Labor

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation in 1989, Republican political operative Don Eberly outlined
how the networks would operate, explaining that there would be a business-oriented group (the Commonwealth Foundation) and a Christian Right group (the Pennsylvania Family Institute). “We have organized a leadership team,” he said, “that is implementing . . . the Pennsylvania Plan.” He explained that the Commonwealth Foundation, of which he was founding president, would function as the state-based equivalent of the Heritage Foundation, while the Pennsylvania Family Institute, where his wife Sheryl was on the board, would be the equivalent of the Family Research Council.

“We now have both economic and social issues coalitions on the state level that meet regularly and are developing agendas,” Eberly continued. “This September [1989], we had our first statewide conservative conference for local leaders and activists, patterned after [the Conservative Political Action Conference] in Washington. The conference, which will become an annual event, attracted 320 people from all across the state and sent shock waves throughout the political establishment.”[7] The conference is still staged annually and it has served as a model for similar conferences held elsewhere—for example, in North Carolina.[8]

The Pennsylvania Plan was a model for two incipient national networks of think tanks—one wing focusing on economic issues, the other primarily on social and cultural concerns—that would share a common free-market ideology and sometimes a common agenda. Initially, both Pennsylvania groups were substantially underwritten by right-wing philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife and other “strategic funders” of the Right, as journalists called them at the time.

The State Policy Network was formed in 1992 to coordinate the activities of the business wing, and it was underwritten by South Carolina businessman Thomas Roe. A small predecessor—the Madison Group, which included Roe’s South Carolina Policy Council, Scaife’s Commonwealth Foundation, and the Independence Institute, underwritten by the Adolph Coors Foundation and other Coors interests—became the core of the SPN. Roe, Scaife, and Joseph Coors—the Colorado beer magnate who led his family into political prominence—were all major funders and board members of the Heritage Foundation at the time.[9]

In recent years, members and associates of the State Policy Network have been the recipients of massive infusions of cash that have come largely from secretive, donor-advised funds serving as financial funnels for individuals, corporations, and foundations. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Donors Trust and the related Donors Capital Fund have quietly funneled nearly $400 million from about 200 private donors (including the ubiquitous Koch brothers) to free-market causes since 1999. The Center also reported, in 2013, that Donors Trust had given $10 million to the SPN over the course of the previous five years, and that in 2012 “SPN used the money to incubate think tanks in Arkansas, Rhode Island, and Florida, where it hosted its yearly gathering in November.”[10]

An investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) in November 2013 unearthed an internal list of SPN’s major funders for 2010. It included Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, as well as such major corporations as BMO Harris Bank, Microsoft, Facebook, and the tobacco companies Altria (formerly Phillip Morris) and Reynolds American.[11]

SPN spends about $5 million annually to support existing groups and help start-ups develop the management and leadership skills of their staff and board; recruit and mentor staff; teach strategic marketing and branding; and network with other think tanks to leverage knowledge and resources. Thomas Roe, SPN’s late founding chairman, wanted it that way. “We still do it today,” said Lawrence Reed, president emeritus of the Michigan-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “It keeps us knowledgeable about what everyone else is doing, it keeps us talking, and it stops us from reinventing the wheel over and over again.”[12]

SPN member organizations have used this strategic capacity in the fight for a range of major initiatives, notably anti-labor legislation.[13] According to a 2011 report in Mother Jones, SPN’s affiliates have led the charge at the state level in the Republican Party’s “war on organized labor. They’re pushing bills to curb, if not eliminate, collective bargaining for public workers; make it harder for unions to collect member dues; and, in some states, allow workers to opt out of joining unions entirely but still enjoy union-won benefits. All told, it’s one of the largest assaults on American unions in recent history.”[14]

In Michigan, for example, the Mackinac Center made four policy recommendations to give unelected ‘emergency managers’ more power to terminate union contracts and fire municipal elected officials “in the name of repairing broken budgets,” Mother Jones reported. “All four ended up in Governor Rick Snyder’s ‘financial martial law,’ as one GOP lawmaker described it.”[15] A writer for Forbes called it “one of the most sweeping, anti-democratic pieces of legislation in the country,” investing Snyder with the power “not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed “Emergency Managers” in their stead [emphasis in original].”[16] The legislation became law in March 2011.

Some SPN institutions are small but exert disproportionate influence by keeping a high media profile. Other institutions, like the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and the Mackinac Center, have multimillion dollar budgets and large staffs, and they play an outsized role in state politics by partnering with other institutions, such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Since 1975, ALEC has developed model, business-oriented legislation in cooperation with a national network of state legislators and began a more formal and coordinated relationship with SPN and member organizations beginning in the mid-2000s. A study by the Center for Media and Democracy found that two dozen SPN groups, including the SPN itself, are organizational members of ALEC and serve on one or more of its legislative task forces. CMD identified several areas of ALEC’s policy foci in which SPN members play a role: privatizing public education and public pension systems; rolling back environmental initiatives; disenfranchising people of color, the elderly, and students; and attacking workers’ rights.[17]

Several SPN members have shepherded bills through the process of becoming official ALEC “model” bills. For example, Arizona’s Goldwater Institute and the Mackinac Center were responsible for ALEC adopting five model bills targeting public-sector unions.[18]

According to an investigation by the Institute for Southern Studies, the Civitas Institute and the John Locke Foundation—SPN member organizations in North Carolina—published more than 50 articles, op-eds and blog posts fomenting unfounded fears of voter fraud. These helped catalyze passage of a strict photo ID law, an end to same-day registration, and a shorter early voting period in 2013.[19] The legislation will likely suppress turnout among African Americans and young people. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of key provisions of the law.[20]

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in many ways personifies how SPN provides infrastructure, develops personnel, and hatches ideas for the conservative movement. Prior to his election to the Senate in 2012, he served as a senior fellow with TPPF’s new Center for 10th Amendment Studies. In 2010, he co-authored a report that became the basis of ALEC’s model legislation to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).[21]

The SPN’s recent mixing of Tea Party activism (largely funded by the Koch brothers) with more buttoned-down business conservatism is not without its challenges. An SPN “ToolKit” featured on its web site in 2013, for example, urged members to avoid language that smacks of “extreme views,” advising: “Stay away from words like radical, nullify, or autonomy,” and especially “states’ rights.”[22]

Origins of a faux news network

The State Policy Network has now been developing and deepening its capacity—not only to do research and policy work, but also to absorb and integrate new projects—for more than two decades. At the same time, it has faced new challenges and taken advantage of new opportunities in an era of digital activism and new media.

SPN’s adaptability in the new era is illustrated by its development of a news network. Three dozen SPN affiliates now field their own “investigative reporters” on behalf of a recently created member, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which describes its mission as “exposing government waste, fraud and abuse.”[23] It seeks to fill a void created by the loss of a third of the nation’s journalism jobs since 1992. The Center was created by the now-defunct Sam Adams Alliance, which began as a Tea Party organization and was folded into SPN.

SPN’s state news websites collectively produce Watchdog Wire, which publishes work by “citizen journalists.” As the website describes the project, “by covering stories in your local community that are otherwise ignored by the establishment media, you can make a difference!”[24] The Franklin Center claims that it “already provides 10 percent of all daily reporting from state capitals nationwide.”[25] The basis for the claim is unclear, but whatever its truth, it does speak to the Center’s ambitions.

The Sam Adams Alliance also separately created three websites modeled on Wikipedia: Judgepedia, Ballotpedia, and Sunshine Review. They offer right-wing analysis of (respectively) the judiciary, election issues, and governmental performance. These projects have since been folded into the Lucy Burns Institute, an SPN member based in Madison, WI.  Like many SPN organizations, it has extensive ties to the Tea Party and funding from the Koch brothers.[26]

The Franklin Center and the Lucy Burns Institute are part of a surge of recent development in SPN’s infrastructure that has expanded its capacity to influence both media and public policy, as well as the range of ways by which it carries out its mission. Donors Trust has funneled cash to both the Franklin Center and to many SPN affiliates for their “news” operations. Its $6.3 million donation to the Franklin Center constituted 95 percent of the Center’s revenue in 2011.[27]

This network has had some success. While some affiliates do little more than blog off of Associated Press stories, others feature established conservative journalists. In Oklahoma, the former editorial page editor of the Oklahoman newspaper, Patrick B. McGuigan, serves as the local bureau chief, and he has a weekly segment on the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City, called Capitol Report. [28] And stories in the Pennsylvania Independent, a Franklin Center online publication supported by the Commonwealth Foundation, have been picked up by mainstream outlets, including the Philadelphia Inquirer.

To date, though, the network has shown little capacity to stand on its own and depends almost entirely on funding through Donors Trust. As of August 2013, the Pennsylvania Independent had only one ad—for the Commonwealth Foundation’s own campaign to privatize state-owned liquor stores.[29]

Building for the future

While the State Policy Network has mostly limited itself to the role of influencing public policy through the traditional work of think tanks—research, media work, and lobbying—the Family Policy Councils are more explicitly involved in mobilizing the Right’s grassroots base to become active in electoral politics.

There are 36 state FPCs, which typically have the word “family” in their names, such as the Massachusetts Family Institute, Louisiana Family Forum, and the Family Foundation of Virginia. Others are less obvious, bearing such names as the Center for Arizona Policy and the Christian Civic League of Maine, but they are all outgrowths of the original Reagan era plan to take the Christian Right’s agenda to the states.

A change in the federal tax law in 2004 required 503(c)(3) tax exempt organizations to be less political than they had been, necessitating separately incorporated political action arms. As a result, FOF formed Focus on the Family Action, which later changed its name to CitizenLink for the sake of clarity.[30]

While the Family Research Council and its feisty spokesmen, Tony Perkins and Jerry Boykin, disproportionately make headlines, CitizenLink quietly cultivates the grassroots. Spending about $13 million annually (as of 2012), CitizenLink coordinates the work of the FPCs, ensuring accreditation and compliance and providing services to increase the capacity of the institutions to carry out their mission.[31] It also does candidate trainings and works primarily for Republicans in national elections. CitizenLink reportedly spent $2.6 million on independent expenditures in 2012, mostly on behalf of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.”[32]

The network has played an important role in the political development and subsequent raw political power of the Christian Right. Many of the older FPCs have been active for more than two decades, crafting an activist religious-political culture, affecting electoral outcomes, and ultimately developing the clout to influence legislation and policy outcomes on such matters as abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Indeed, FPCs have often been leading actors in the state-level battles over marriage equality. The Christian Civic League of Maine played a central role in the seesaw battle over same-sex marriage, which was endorsed by the legislature and repealed by the voters in 2009, then restored by a second referendum in 2012. The League’s executive director and one of its board members[33] launched a new political action committee, Protect Marriage Maine, to carry out the political organizing and advertising drive against the ballot initiative, collaborating closely with the National Organization for Marriage.[34] Such collaborations have been a hallmark of the FPCs from the earliest days.

An important trend in recent years, indicating the significance of the role of the FPCs in the wider Christian Right, has been the gradual adoption of the integrated, three-part agenda of the Manhattan Declaration. This is evident in many ways, including the way that “guest posts” from FPC leaders are introduced on the national web site. For example: “CitizenLink is proud to work with The Family Foundation of Virginia and other family policy organizations across the country to stand for marriage, life and religious freedom.”[35]

“These councils are independent entities,” according to CitizenLink, “with no corporate or financial relationship to each other or to Focus on the Family.”[36] But if FOF and CitizenLink are legally separate entities with different tax statuses, they are best viewed as two parts of the same organization. They share the same offices, board of directors, top executives, and president, James Daly.[37]

There is a method to the disclaimers, though, because stretching the rules regarding federal tax-exempt status of the member agencies has been an issue over the years. Many of these groups engaged in lobbying and electoral activities—such as the dissemination of biased voter guides—beyond what the privilege of federal tax exemption allows. Quietly coming into compliance with the law, and becoming more sophisticated regarding how best to use the several relevant legal categories available for politics and public policy, has been a trend for both state networks, following the lead of The Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council.

The creation of separate-but-related groups that can legally carry out various political, lobbying, and electoral functions is an important development in the history of these groups at all levels. For example, the Family Institute of Connecticut (FIC), which has focused on anti-marriage equality, antichoice, and pro-school privatization issues in recent years, has divided into three closely related but legally distinct entities: FIC itself; FIC Action (a 501(c)(4) lobbying group); and the Family Institute of Connecticut Action Committee, a political action committee (PAC) that focuses on candidates for state-government offices.[38]

Efforts to draw bright lines for legal purposes notwithstanding, the lines still sometimes blur. “Needless, to say,” wrote Jim Daly in a joint Focus on the Family/CitizenLink annual report, “2012 was extremely busy for our CitizenLink staff as they were actively involved in multiple state legislative and election efforts. More than 2 million emails were sent to CitizenLink constituents regarding important issues. In addition, CitizenLink produced mailers for the November election that went to more than 8 million homes in 16 swing states. And that was just the beginning!”[39]

Two paths converge

Member organizations across both networks share some common issues, such as school privatization and the idea that public education should be controlled locally, though there are often differences of emphasis. The Boston-based Pioneer Institute primarily promotes corporate-style charters and makes little mention of homeschooling, for example, while the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) is primarily interested in homeschooling. “The public schools here have become a primary battleground in the culture war,” MFI declares, “with homosexual activists using them to indoctrinate students with their agenda.” Consequently, “MFI supports the restoration of decision-making authority over school policy and finance to parents, locally elected school committees and taxpayers.[40] In Louisiana, both networks have mobilized to promote and defend Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal’s controversial voucher program, which extended vouchers even to marginal religious schools, some of which use crackpot textbooks to teach science. One claims that the Loch Ness Monster is both real and a proof against evolution.[41] The Pioneer Institute has promoted New Orleans—where 80 percent of the public schools after Hurricane Katrina became charters—as a model for Boston.[42]

Cross-network collaborations are facilitated by having seasoned leaders who share a common vision and are able to mobilize the resources to carry it out. In creating the State Policy Network and the Family Policy Councils, the conservative movement’s strategists sought to create a deep infrastructure that would be build capacity over time, both in terms of policy development and electoral strength. They were also developing a talent bank of research and policy experts and organizational executives who would create synergies for the movement and shape the priorities of the Republican Party.

And in fact, SPN affiliates sometimes serve as governments-in-waiting for Republican administrations in the states, in much the way that Republican administrations in Washington, D.C., often draw staff from such national think tanks as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. In Massachusetts, Gov. William Weld “hired almost everybody” out of the Pioneer Institute following his election in 1994. Succeeding governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift also appointed Pioneer staff or board members to crucial positions that enabled them to implement their ideas, notably in shaping the state’s charter school policies. Cellucci, for example, appointed Pioneer executive director James Peyser as chairman of the state board of education.[43]

SPN think tanks have also provided leadership opportunities for policy professionals and politicians. Veterans of the board of directors of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation include former Lt. Governor William W. Scranton III and current U.S. Senator Patrick J. Toomey (R-PA). Three members of Congress—Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and former U.S. Reps. Mike Pence (R-IN) and Tom Tancredo (R-CO)—ran SPN member groups before coming to Congress.

Likewise, the FPCs serve as talent-development agencies. Ron Crews, who led the Massachusetts Family Institute from 2000 to 2004, rode the notoriety he gained in the wake of the historic 2003 Goodridge v. Department of Public Health decision (in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized same-sex marriage) to an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2004. Tony Perkins was the executive director of the Louisiana Family Forum before coming to the Family Research Council. Brian Brown directed the Connecticut Family Institute before leading the National Organization for Marriage.

All of this is important because the cumulative experience of these two networks—in fostering leaders, working with government officials, creating collaborations, and becoming part of the furniture of public life in state capitals around the country—is transforming American politics from the state level up. The networks’ growing ability to craft and influence public policy, working in tandem with the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate interests, and Republican state legislators, has justified the persistence and long-range ambitions of conservative strategists three decades ago, when the movement was just beginning its long march to state power.



[1] Jeremy P. Jacobs, “Devastation: GOP Picks Up 680 State Leg. Seats,” National Journal, Nov. 4, 2010, www.nationaljournal.com/blogs/hotlineoncall/2010/11/devastation-gop-picks-up-680-state-leg-seats-04.

[2] John J. Miller, “Fifty flowers bloom: Conservative think tanks—mini-Heritage Foundations—at the state level,” Hey Miller, Sept. 16, 2009, www.heymiller.com/2009/09/fifty-flowers-bloom. Republished from the National Review, Nov. 19, 2007. See also John J. Miller, “Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent: The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, Capital Research Center, May 2007, http://capitalresearch.org/pubs/pdf/v1185478634.pdf.

[3] “Directory,” State Policy Network, www.spn.org/directory/organizations.asp.

[4] Frederick Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-Level Think Tanks,” Public Eye, Summer/Fall 1999, www.politicalresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/02/PE-Summer-Fall-1999.pdf. In addition to the pieces cited in this essay, see Jason Deparle, “Right-of-Center Guru Goes Wide With the Gospel of Small Government,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/11/17/us/politics/17thinktank.html?_r=0&pagewanted=all; and Lee Fang, “The Right Leans In: Media-savvy conservative think tanks take aim and fire at progressive power bases in the states,” Nation, Mar. 26, 2013, www.thenation.com/article/173528/right-leans#.

[5] Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” Public Eye, July 23, 2013, www.politicalresearch.org/christian-right-seeks-renewal-in-deepening-catholic-protestant-alliance.

[6] “SPN Annual Meeting Promo 1,” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbyBqRKDLvc.

[7] Don E. Eberly, “The States:  The New Policy Battleground, Lecture # 225,” The Heritage Foundation, Oct. 27, 1989, www.heritage.org/research/lecture/the-states-the-new-policy-battleground.

[8] “Conservative Leadership Conference,” Civitas, http://clc2014.com.

[9] Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-level Think Tanks.”

[10] Paul Abowd, “Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states: Nonprofit group lets donors fly ‘totally under the radar,’” Center for Public Integrity, Feb. 14, 2013, www.publicintegrity.org/2013/02/14/12181/donors-use-charity-push-free-market-policies-states.

[11] “EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,” Stinktanks.org, Center for Media and Democracy, Nov. 2013. http://stinktanks.org/national.

[12] John J. Miller, “Safeguarding a Conservative Donor’s Intent:  The Roe Foundation at 39,” Foundation Watch, Capital Research Center, May 2007, http://capitalresearch.org/pubs/pdf/v1185478634.pdf.

[13] “EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government,” http://stinktanks.org/national.

[14] Andy Kroll, “The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions,” Mother Jones, April 25, 2011, www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/04/state-policy-network-union-bargaining.

[15] Kroll, “The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions.”

[16] Erik Kain, “Michigan Governor Plays Fast and Loose with Democracy, Invokes Radical New Powers,” Forbes, March 11, 2011, www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/03/11/michigan-governor-plays-fast-and-loose-with-democracy-invokes-radical-new-powers.

[17] EXPOSED: The State Policy Network, The Powerful Right-Wing Network Helping to Hijack State Politics and Government, http://stinktanks.org/national.

[18] Paul Abowd, “ALEC anti-union push includes key players from Michigan, Arizona think tanks,” Center for Public Integrity, May 17, 2012, www.publicintegrity.org/2012/05/17/8890.

[19] Sue Sturgis, “Special Investigation: How Art Pope helped turn back the clock on voting rights in North Carolina,” Institute for Southern Studies, Aug. 2013, http://www.southernstudies.org/2013/08/special-investigation-how-art-pope-helped-turn-bac.html.

[20] Charlie Savage, Justice Department Poised to File Lawsuit Over Voter ID Law,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/us/politics/justice-department-poised-to-file-lawsuit-over-voter-id-law-in-north-carolina.html.

[21] Mary Tuma, “Ted Cruz Used Texas to Create ALEC’s Anti-Obamacare Legislation,” Current, Oct. 16, 2013, http://sacurrent.com/news/ted-cruz-used-texas-to-create-alec-s-anti-obamacare-legislation-1.1569056; Ted Cruz,  “Texas Public Policy Foundation report gives states options for pushing back on federal overreach,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Nov. 18, 2010, www.texaspolicy.com/press/texas-public-policy-foundation-report-gives-states-options-pushing-back-federal-overreach; Ted Cruz and Mario Loyola, “Reclaiming the Constitution Towards and Agenda for State Action,” Texas Public Policy Foundation, Nov. 2010, www.texaspolicy.com/sites/default/files/documents/2010-11-RR11-TenthAmendment-mloyola-posting.pdf.

[22] “A Tool Kit to Keep Government Local People, Local Decisions, Local Solutions,” State Policy Network and State Budget Solutions, 2013, www.federalisminaction.com/wp-content/uploads/Federalism-In-Action_Toolkit_FINAL.pdf.

[23] Jason Stverak, Media Shield Law Doesn’t Protect First Amendment, Free Press, The Franklin Center, Sept. 16, 2013, http://franklincenterhq.org/8258/media-shield-law-doesnt-protect-first-amendment-free-press.

[24] “About Watchdog Wire,” The Franklin Center, Watchdog Wire, May 25, 2012, http://watchdogwire.com/about-the-franklin-center.

[25] “Driving the News:  How right wing funders are manufacturing news and influencing public policy in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Progress, Aug. 2013, www.scribd.com/doc/159802911 (subscription required).

[26] Sara Jerving, “The Lucy Burns Institute (Publishers of Ballotpedia, Judgepedia and WikiFOIA) and Her Right-Wing Bedfellows,” The Center for Media and Democracy, Nov. 26, 2012, www.prwatch.org/news/2012/11/11791/lucy-burns-institute-publishers-ballotpedia-judgepedia-and-wikifoia-and-her-right.

[27] Abowd, “ALEC anti-union push includes key players from Michigan, Arizona think tanks.”

[28] McGuigan reported on SPN’s national convention in Oklahoma City without disclosing his relationship to the Franklin Center or the Franklin Center’s relationship to the SPN and the host affiliate, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. See “Capitol Report: National gathering in Oklahoma City focuses on public policy,” YouTube, Sept. 30, 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=t8OuSdH75tU.

[29] “Driving the News: How right wing funders are manufacturing news and influencing public policy in Pennsylvania,” Keystone Progress, Aug. 2013, www.scribd.com/doc/159802911/Driving-the-News (subscription required).

[30] Electa Draper, “Focus on the Family rebrands political arm as CitizenLink,” Denver Post, May 20, 2010, www.denverpost.com/news/ci_15121872.

[31] “CitizenLink,” Charity Navigator, www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.profile&ein=200960855#.Um6pAvmkpoE.

[32] “Exclusive: Largest Dark Money Groups Share Funds, Hide Links,” OpenSecretsBlog, Sep. 10, 2013, www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/09/exclusive-largest-dark-money-donor-groups-hide-ties-using-new-trick.html.

[33] In the run-up to the 2012 initiative, Emrich was employed by the Family Research Council as its new “Northeast Field Ambassador”: “Bob Emrich joins Family Research Council,” Christian Civic League of Maine, Oct. 27, 2011, www.cclmaine.org/bob-emrich-joins-family-research-council.

[34] This followed a split with former League executive director Mike Heath, whose extreme statements were seen as counterproductive. The split also led to a rebranding in which the League sought to become known as the Maine Family Policy Council. The change apparently didn’t take, and the organization is now known by both names. Brian Tashman, “Ron Paul’s Iowa State Director Dedicated His Career to Fighting ‘Evil’ Gay Rights,” Right Wing Watch, Dec. 30, 2011, www.rightwingwatch.org/content/ron-pauls-iowa-state-director-dedicated-his-career-fighting-evil-gay-rights.

[35] See Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance.”

[36] “Family Policy Councils,” CitizenLink, www.citizenlink.com/state-groups. Individual FPCs rarely mention their close connections to FOF, or CitizenLink, or FRC, which maintains a similar, but not identical, list of affiliates. FRC Action, the 501(c)(4) political arm of FRC, also lists the FPCs as state-level affiliates.

[37] For example, see “Focus on the Family and CitizenLink 2012 Annual Report,” Focus on the Family, http://media.focusonthefamily.com/fotf/pdf/about-us/financial-reports/2012-annual-report.pdf. A separate annual report for CitizenLink is at www.citizenlink.com/uploads/2013/04/2012-CitizenLink-Annual-Report.pdf. Rev. Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is also a member of both boards.

[38] “Latest FIC Action Committee’s 2010 Endorsements,” Family Institute of Connecticut, 2010, www.ctfamily.org/FIC%20Action%20Committee%20Endorsements%202010.pdf.

[39] “2012 Annual Report,” Focus on the Family.

[40] “Parental Rights and Education,” Massachusetts Family Institute, www.mafamily.org/issues/parental-rights-and-education.

[41] Bruce Wilson, “Nessie a Plesiosaur? Louisiana To Fund Schools Using Odd, Bigoted Fundamentalist Textbooks,” Talk to Action, June 17, 2012, www.talk2action.org/story/2012/6/17/9311/48633.

[42] Jim Stergios, “6 Takeaways on New Orleans’ charter initiative,” Pioneer Institute, Oct. 19, 2013, http://pioneerinstitute.org/charter_schools/6-takeaways-on-new-orleans-charter-initiative.

[43] Paul Dunphy and Nikhil Aziz, “The Pioneer Institute: Privatizing the Common Wealth,” Political Research Associates, July 2002, www.publiceye.org/libertarian/pioneer-institute/index.html; Frederick Clarkson, “Takin’ It to the States: The Rise of Conservative State-level Think Tanks.”

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

 

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

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

***

 

ronpaul

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

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

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

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

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

Click here for the

Click here for the full profile on CSPOA

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

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

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

Warring Visions: Old Right vs. New Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ron Paul Revolution and “One Nation Indivisible”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Youth appeal: libertarians and the Old Right join forces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, guns, and a Civil War theology

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

neverforgetconfederateflag (1)

Photo taken in South Carolina by author Rachel Tabachnick in 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Movement’s Think Tanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Conservative Schism and the GOP’s Dilemma

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profiles on the Right: John Birch Society

John Birch Society

John Birch Society: The Old Right Reemerges

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Following the Money: A Template for Oppression

David and Charles Koch Image courtesy of Forbes.com

David and Charles Koch
Image courtesy of Forbes.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rand Paul’s Islamophobic Speeches a Ploy to Win Over Conservatives

Sen Rand Paul speaks at the 2013 Values Voters Summit

Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the 2013 Values Voters Summit

At the recent Values Voters Summit, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke on the “War on Christianity”, but his speech was not about prayer in schools or the so-called ‘war on Christmas,’ his focus was radical Islam. Our live blog of the summit outlines his argument, which stresses that Christians around the world are being threatened by “a fanatical element of Islam,” and used isolated incidents of violence against Christians as an excuse to paint every Muslim worldwide as radical and evil. The speech has been widely condemned as hateful, bigoted, and wildly inaccurate.

In all likelihood, his hyperbolic war rhetoric was simply a dramatic attempt to broaden his support beyond the libertarian wing of the GOP to curry favor with the wider Tea Party movement, neoconservatives, and the Christian Right. If so, it is a dangerous game.

This is not the first time Rand Paul has used the threat of a radical Islam boogeyman for political advantage. His PAC ran advertisements against Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), attacking foreign aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan, and painting the governments and citizens of those states as “Anti-American regimes and radical jihadists.” He has also argued for those that attend radical speeches promoting the overthrow of their governments to be deported or put in prison. All the while, Paul continues to support American citizens who continually and frequently threaten to overthrow the U.S. government. While Paul does not attack Islam nearly as much as some of his Tea Party colleagues, he is no stranger to using Islam for political advantage. Not only has he attacked Muslims before, but he gave a very similar speech back in June, at a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. This message is nothing new, but it is being hammered home.

What is consistently and glaringly missing from Paul’s anti-Muslim speeches is any mention of the multitude of attacks by Christians against Muslims, or most other faiths for that matter. There is still, for example, widespread discrimination against Muslims in Bulgaria, a predominantly Christian country. This does not mean that there is a ‘War on Islam,’ but neither do Paul’s examples prove a ‘war on Christianity.’

According to Paul, the “war on Christians … came to Boston this year just in time for the marathon”. Beyond the awful phrasing used, he then goes on to completely undermine his argument, admitting that the bombers didn’t target Christians specifically. Despite this admission, he suggests that the motive of the bombing was to attack “us as a people, a Christian people.” Not only is that logic insulting to religious freedom in the U.S., but logically makes any terrorist attack against Americans an assault on a particular faith, rather than on our people as a whole and on our nation.

Beyond simply attacking Islamic radicalism, his other stated goal is to stop the U.S. giving “giving aid and comfort” to these countries, with an emphasis on aid. With specific mentions of refusing aid to the Muslim Brotherhood, and halting the arming of rebels in Syria, he is moving closer to the Tea Party consensus on those issues, whilst still offering his libertarian base spending reductions. One of his more bizarre statements was that “I say not one penny more to countries that burn our flag,” referring to an incident in Egypt in which private citizens, not the Egyptian government, burned a U.S. flag. Obviously, withdrawing foreign aid designed to assist in the prevention of widespread poverty and disease for such reasons would establish an absurd precedent.

Assuming he did not make this speech purely out of a conviction that Islam threatens Christianity, why would Paul use a speech at the Values Voters Summit to attack Islam, rather than talk about the much more topical government shutdown?  Considering the audience at the summit, an audience that is not traditionally libertarian, the reasons becomes clearer. This is just one speech in a process of “quietly making himself acceptable to the ‘conservative mainstream.’” One of Paul’s and the libertarian movement’s most striking weaknesses within the GOP is foreign policy. To the largely hawkish Republican mainstream, and the similarly inclined Tea Party movement, the stances of Rand Paul and his father Ron Paul before him have, by and large, been unpalatable. By accusing Islamic states of supporting a radical “war on Christianity,” Paul has found a common scapegoat. Alongside the ‘strong’ foreign policy stance against these Islamic nations, his narrative also matches the tone of the Christian Right, alleging that Christianity is under fire, even if the circumstances in Egypt are utterly unlike any situation in the US. In covering so much popular ground, Paul may be increasing his chances in a possible GOP presidential primary, at only a slight risk of alienating his base.

With only 6% of the vote in the Values Voters straw poll, Paul hardly won over the crowd. Despite trying to find common ground in his speech, more Far Right conservative candidates, including Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, proved considerably more popular. Nevertheless, through the cherry-picking of instances of religious violence, Rand Paul has brought himself closer to the Tea Party movement as a whole.

Conservative Ideology Not Overtly Racist, But More Insidious

Photo Credit: Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune. Published with permission

Photo Credit: Pat Bagley of the Salt Lake Tribune. Published with permission

More and more, we’ve seen U.S. conservatives unabashedly propagate revisionist historical narratives while shrugging off accusations of racism.  Over the past year, public policies and political ideologies targeting communities of color—cuts to assistance programs, opposition to immigration reform, efforts to abolish the 14th Amendment, and voter ID laws have all gained mainstream acceptance within the Republican Party. Conservatives in Congress, state legislatures, and in the courts have embraced policies that disproportionately target and hurt communities of color, even as they seek to discount or dismiss the racialized implications of such policies.

As Allison Kilkenny, co-host of Citizen Radio and a blogger at The Nation, recently said:

“It’s clear [Republicans] know they can’t be overtly racist anymore … but they try to talk in code now. So instead of attacking minorities, attacking poor people of color, they attack programs that benefit those people.”

In order to divert attention away from their own rhetorical and legislative attacks on communities of color, and in an attempt to make their own racist public policies appear tame in comparison, many of these conservatives loudly condemn organizations or individuals whose overtly racial rhetoric or acts can provide them political cover.

For example, one of the Far Right’s favorite straw men is the Nazi Party and the “threat” of America devolving into a Third Reich state. This particular flavor of demagoguery helps conservatives create distance between themselves and more openly-racist ideologies, as they ostensibly disown racism while perpetuating it through public policy.

Leith, a small town in Grant County, North Dakota, has become the latest purveyor of straw men examples for the Far Right. Craig Cobb, a White supremacist who, in 2010, was charged with promoting hate for running a White supremacist website, has begun buying up property to create what he describes as a “Pioneer Little Europe” where other neo-Nazis could have the “freedom” to be White. After 300 protesters rallied against him, many of whom were Native Americans, Cobb said of them, “They’re loud, so what? They’re literally not human to me.”

Stories like this one allow more “mainstream” conservatives to declare, “See? That’s what racism looks like.” Ultimately, though, these stories hide these conservatives’ more veiled—but perhaps even more insidious—attempts at perpetuating discrimination and institutionalized racism though court rulings, public policies, and legislation. While the influence of neo-Nazis in Leith is largely limited to a small city with only a few dozen residents, Republican-supported congressional legislation cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), for example, has a devastating impact on communities of color throughout the country.

In the 2010 midterm elections, conservatives gained enough seats in the House to regain majority control of that body, and they’ve since done their best to oppose progressive social and economic legislation, from Obamacare to immigration reform.  As progressives committed to ending all forms of oppression and racial injustice, we must oppose not only the racism of neo-Nazi ideology but also the ways in which such rhetoric is repurposed by “mainstream” conservatives for the sake of legitimizing more insidious and targeted attacks on communities of color.

**Eric Ethington contributed to this post**