Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Streams into the Mainstream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Battle for the Bible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominionism Reframed as Religious Liberty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominion by Majority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Smears of August

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deliver us from Hillary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

69 Christ Covenant Coalition, Council and Leadership.

70 Leadership Institute, City Action Coalition, 2015.

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

72 Ballotpedia, Fernando Cabrera.

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

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

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

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

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

78 US Coalition of Apostolic Leaders, Statement of Faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump, Cruz, & Dominionism: Some Christian Right Leaders Fear a Crack-Up

The 2016 Republican presidential campaign has transformed American politics, likely forever. Everyone is making adjustments, but two recent illuminating episodes suggest that some Christian Right leaders are finding the changes to be unusually awkward and challenging.

trump cruzThe Christian Right, as a voting bloc, has never united behind a single candidate during the Republican presidential primaries (with the exception of Ronald Reagan’s and George W. Bush’s unopposed second-term races). Still, we tend to forget that the movement has never been monolithic and that there have always been political tensions between rival candidates and factions. But the factional tensions are different this year. And there are two main reasons for this.

The first tension is related to the unique, and uniquely divisive, candidacy of Donald Trump. Evangelical think tanker Michael Cromartie, in a curiously overwrought speech, widely-discussed in the evangelical press, has gone so far as to call it a conservative “crack-up.”  The second is the specter of Dominionism as it relates to Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his campaign. 

The Christian Post recently reported on the eyebrow-raising remarks of evangelical think tanker Michael Cromartie at a luncheon sponsored by the neoconservative Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington DC.  (IRD is best known for its efforts to degrade the historic communions of mainline Protestantism.)  Cromartie runs the Evangelicals in Civic Life program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) in Washington, DC.

Cromartie is upset that the “new branding” of evangelicalism and the Christian Right is being ruined by evangelical and conservative leaders who support Trump. He said the movement has benefited from the rise of Jim Daly of Focus on the Family, and megachurch pastors and authors Tim Keller and Rick Warren. He believes that they better “present” the movement’s goals than such founding Christian Right figures as James Dobson, D. James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell, Sr.

But this rebranding, Cromartie says, has been undone because of the pro-Trump activities of noted Southern Baptists such as megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr., and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

The Christian Post continued:

“In the last six or seven or eight years, we now have new leaders to replace those leaders, so that it’s a new branding of evangelicals in our society,” Cromartie stated. “Now, that is all out the window, ladies and gentleman, when Jerry Falwell Jr. has the audacity to come out and endorse Donald Trump, when Robert Jeffress goes on and sells his soul every week on Fox News, encouraging the candidacy of Donald Trump.”

“If this is not a crack up,” Cromartie observed,” I don’t know what it is.”

As if to underscore his confusion about all this, Cromartie also cited blogger Matt Walsh, whose hyperbolic post “Let’s Remember The Cowardly Conservative Leaders Who Betrayed Us For Trump” leaves readers with little doubt that the faction fighting is getting bitter.

Speaking of Falwell and Jeffress, Walsh declared:

“They now promote Trump in direct defiance of Scripture, which clearly stipulates that anyone who desires to be a leader must be noble, respectable, temperate, and dignified (and probably not someone who brags about his adultery and thinks the nation’s largest abortion provider is ‘wonderful [sic]).  To claim Trump belongs in any of these categories is blasphemy.”

“Our ‘leaders’” he continued, “have subjugated themselves to the American Kim Jong Un simply for the publicity and the ratings and the chance to be friends with a billionaire celebrity.”

Meanwhile, the candidacy of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and his unexpected emergence as the leading candidate of both the Christian Right and much of the GOP establishment as an alternative to Trump is causing the movement other kinds of indigestion.

Catholic neoconservative strategist Robert P. George is apparently worried about how voters will react to the way Senator Cruz relates his religious views to public policy. Specifically, he is worried about Ted Cruz and Dominionism.

At the beginning of the presidential primary season four years ago, the Christian Right was similarly worried that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) were receiving press attention for their well-established involvements in the theocratic politics of Dominionism.

In that race, those two candidates both dropped out early. But with Cruz actually having a shot at the nomination, George apparently hopes to squelch the emerging discussion about Cruz and Dominionism before it goes any further. This may be why he was featured in a recent article in Christianity Today, which sought to smear researchers who have published about Cruz’s dominionist roots, namely evangelical historian John Fea, evangelical psychology professor Warren Throckmorton, Daily Beast writer Jay Michaelson, and myself.

In the article, George claimed:

“The contemporary religious Left’s version of McCarthyist red-baiting is to smear opponents by labeling them ‘dominionists.’ … Ted’s not a dominionist; he’s a constitutionalist.”

This is as silly as it is wrong.  What’s more, although former PRA Senior Analyst Chip Berlet and I may have defined and popularized the terms “Dominionism” and “dominionist” in the 90s as a way to describe a tendency that is evident across a wide swath of evangelicalism, we have always sought to apply it fairly and accurately.

Nevertheless, George and the authors of the article did not offer a single example of the supposedly McCarthyist-style uses of the term by those of us named in the article or anyone else.

Also ignored by the authors and George is the fact that the term was part of the debate about Christian Reconstructionism in the evangelical community for years before Berlet and I used it for wider publics.1  The term has also been objectively employed in many scholarly books and articles.

As I recently told journalist Bill Berkowitz, who wrote about the discussion of Cruz and Dominionism for Truthout, “The question of whether Cruz is a Dominionist will linger because the available evidence suggests that he is.” John Fea has detailed how, in addition to Cruz’s own statements, Cruz’s father Rafael (who is also his principal campaign surrogate) is openly a 7 Mountains Dominionist, as is the head of Cruz’s Super PAC – revisionist historian David Barton. One of Cruz’s foreign policy advisers, Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council, is also a well-known 7 Mountains Dominionist and a longtime board member of a 7 Mountains political project called The Oak Initiative.

The public debate about the Christian Right is usually limited to the tripartite agenda of what they term “life, marriage, and religious liberty” as put forth in The Manhattan Declaration.  But their agenda has always been broader and deeper than that, which is why Robert P. George, the principal author of the Declaration (and current Vice Chairman of EPPC) does not want to risk us talking about the political and economic dimensions of what they mean by “taking dominion” over society. This, combined with the bitterness of some about evangelical support for Trump, may very well signal a period of disunity rather than the politically homogenized evangelicalism preferred by Washington, DC think tanks and power brokers.


 

[1]  These usages are discussed in Christian Reconstructionism:  R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism by Michael J. McVicar, University of North Carolina Press, 2015.; page 204.

Dominionism is the New Religious Freedom

Historians may someday see the 2016 election season as the turning point in how our society understands the Dominionist movement that is seeking to recast society in its own image.  The herald of this new understanding is—ironically, as I will discuss below—a Washington Post commentary by historian John Fea, titled:  “Ted Cruz’s campaign is fueled by a dominionist vision for America.”  The Post’s publication of Fea’s piece follows years of both scholarly and journalistic tip-toeing around this elephant on the table of American public life – a dynamic modern theocratic religious and political movement that prior conventional wisdom notwithstanding is not fringe.

Ted Cruz speaks to supporters gathered at a late-night campaign stop at Penny's Diner in Missouri Valley, Iowa, in Jan. 2016. Image via Matt A.J. on Flickr.

Ted Cruz speaks to supporters gathered at a late-night campaign stop at Penny’s Diner in Missouri Valley, Iowa, in Jan. 2016. Image via Matt A.J. on Flickr.

Fea, who chairs the History Department at the evangelical Messiah College in Pennsylvania, matter of factly discusses the influence of “seven mountains dominionism” on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) – who may be the most openly theocratic candidate ever to be a serious contender for a major party presidential nomination.  Perhaps just as remarkably, the Dominionism advocated by the likes of the Cruz family is wrapped in a claim that religious freedom is under assault in the U.S.

As I reported in the recent report, When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right:

“I believe that 2016 is going to be a religious-liberty election,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) declared before a raucous crowd of some 7,000 Southern Baptists in October 2015.  “As these threats grow darker and darker and darker, they are waking people up here in Texas and all across this country.”

Unsurprisingly, Cruz features this claim at many of his presidential campaign rallies. This is the new normal.

But of course, Cruz’s notion of religious freedom is all about creating religious exemptions to the legal requirements to recognize the civic equality of LGBTQ people, and the rights of people seeking their sexual and reproductive health care, as well as the rights of people – including many Christians – whose religious views are different than those of the Cruzes and their ilk.

The term “Dominionism” was first popularized in the 1990s by researchers, including Chip Berlet, scholar Sara Diamond, and myself, who needed a term to describe the political aspirations of Christian Rightists who believed that they have a biblical mandate to control all earthly institutions –including government – until the second coming of Jesus. But the idea of conservative Christians gaining political power sufficient to take dominion over society predated our use of the term by decades.

The two main schools of Dominionist thought include Christian Reconstructionism, founded by the late R.J. Rushdoony, which advances the idea not only of the need for Christians (of the right sort) to dominate society, but institute and apply Old Testament “Biblical Law.”

The other, closely related form of Dominionism is advocated by the Pentecostal  New Apostolic Reformation, which exuberantly advocates for Christians to “reclaim the seven mountains of culture”: government, religion, media, family, business, education, and arts and entertainment.

The religious vision and political aspirations of Ted Cruz and his father Rafael are widely known in conservative Christian religious and political circles and are being discussed in his home state of Texas.  So much so, that reporter Jonathan Tilove of the Austin American Statesman wrote last summer about how Raphael Cruz was compelled to insist, “We are not talking about theocracy.”  But Fea reports that the Cruzes are close to Christian Nationalist author, historical revisionist and longtime Texas Republican leader David Barton, who declares that the United States was founded as a Christian Nation but has fallen away from this foundation and must be restored to avoid punishment from God.

Fea writes:

“Anyone who has watched Cruz on the stump knows that he often references the important role that his father, traveling evangelist Rafael Cruz, has played in his life. During a 2012 sermon at New Beginnings Church in Bedford, Texas, Rafael Cruz described his son’s political campaign as a direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

The elder Cruz told the congregation that God would anoint Christian “kings” to preside over an “end-time transfer of wealth” from the wicked to the righteous. After this sermon, Larry Huch, the pastor of New Beginnings, claimed Cruz’s recent election to the U.S. Senate was a sign that he was one of these kings.

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

Rafael Cruz and Larry Huch preach a brand of evangelical theology called Seven Mountains Dominionism. They believe Christians must take dominion over seven aspects of culture: family, religion, education, media, entertainment, business and government. The name of the movement comes from Isaiah 2:2: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains.”

Fea also notes that Barton, who runs the Keep the Promise Super PAC that supports Cruz’s campaign, shares this vision:

“Barton’s Christian nationalism is a product of this theological approach to culture. Back in 2011, Barton said that if Christians were going to successfully “take the culture” they would need to control these seven areas. “If you can have those seven areas,” Barton told his listeners to his radio show, “you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents and even the world.”

This is remarkable, in part, because a few years ago, journalists and scholars who wrote about Dominionism found themselves facing a smear campaign by, among others, writers at the same paper in which Fea’s commentary appears. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and then-religion writer Lisa Miller were part of this national effort to discredit the idea that Dominionism was a real thing or that even if it was, that it was of much significance. This despite the fact that then-Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) had made his de facto presidential campaign announcement at a massive prayer rally organized by leaders of the movement for Seven Mountains Dominionism, and that then presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachman’s (R-MN) mentor at law school was John Eidsmoe, a prominent Christian Reconstructionist theorist, (who now works at the Foundation for Moral Law, founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.)   Perry’s campaign later imploded, (for reasons other than the Dominionism controversy) and Bachman’s campaign never gained traction, but the episode certainly prefigured current events.

Now, some four years later, former Gov. Perry has endorsed Ted Cruz for president. Cruz has won the Iowa caucuses, and The Washington Post has published a major article about the Seven Mountains Dominionism of Sen. Cruz and his father.  A great transformation in American politics and religion, once pooh poohed by established interests (which also denounced those of us who recognized and wrote about its importance) is now accepted as uncontroverted fact.  And the attack dogs of the various political establishments are not yet snarling.

CPAC Counter Events Include Security Con, Ted Cruz, & Secretive White Nationalist Gathering

Senator Ted Cruz speaks at "Univited II"

Senator Ted Cruz and Frank Gaffney speak at “Univited II”

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was kicked off Thursday morning by Sen. Ted Cruz with a fiery speech covered on most of the major network and cable broadcasts.  But Cruz gave another, less publicized speech later in the day at a counter-event held a few blocks away from CPAC.  This was one of a several alternative events being held in conjunction in CPAC, hosted by and featuring those the American Conservative Union chose not to include in their annual gathering.

The Uninvited II 

The conference held yesterday (Thursday) was titled “The Uninvited II:  The National Security Action Summit,” hosted by Breitbart News Network and held a few blocks away at the Westin hotel.  Last year, Breitbart News hosted an impromptu panel on the last day of the CPAC to discuss security issues not included in the official schedule.  It was titled “The Uninvited,” and included former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Rosemary Jenks, Frank Gaffney, Pam Geller, Robert Spencer, and others.  This year, a full day counter-event was planned in advance, featuring some of those same speakers plus James O’Keefe, Rep. Peter King, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin, Phyllis Schafley, Sen. David Vitter, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, and others.  Live streamed by Breitbart News, the event was a gathering of immigration foes and security hawks, moderated by Frank Gaffney.  The URL for reserving a space at the conference was HomelandThreats.com, hosted by sponsor EMPact America.

Panels included:

  • The Muslim Brotherhood, the “Civilization Jihad” and Its Enablers
  • Amnesty and Open Borders: The End of America – and the End of the GOP
  • Benghazigate: The Ugly Truth and the Cover-Up
  • Protecting the Grid: Correct Its Vulnerabilities – or a “World Without America”

The full schedule of events can be viewed on their website.

Breitbart News Chairman Steve Brannon had a busy day shuttling back and forth between the official CPAC and the “Uninvited,” attending the official conference for the awarding of the first annual “Citizens United Andrew Breitbart First Amendment Award” to Mark Levin.

In the video below, Brannon is interviewed about the reasons for hosting Uninvited II.  As Brannon notes, it is their hope that these issues will be included at future CPACs, eliminating the need for the “Uninvited” events.

But the highlight of the alternative conference was a midday speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, who presented himself to the audience as an alternative to the “extremes of the spectrum on security” represented by Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. John McCain. Cruz described himself as a third choice for “peace through strength” in the mold of Ronald Reagan. The well received speech has been posted on Sen. Cruz’s official youtube account. This year’s CPAC is the beginning of the 2016 GOP presidential marathon, with 26 candidates included in the Saturday straw poll sponsored by the Washington Times.

The background with the transmission tower graphic in photo above of Cruz and Gaffney is that of EMPact America, a sponsoring organization dedicated to warning about electromagnetic pulse, the topic of the last panel of the day. EMPact is encouraging United States military action against Iran, claiming the Middle Eastern nation could take out the electrical grid of the United States by way of electromagnetic.

Newt Gingrich had been scheduled for the “Uninvited II” but dropped out, reportedly due to the tone of the publicity of the event.  Gingrich was then approached by the American Conservative Union to help develop a last minute panel on Ukraine for CPAC.

White Nationalist “Unconference”

An “Unconference” is being held tonight (Friday) by Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute, a white nationalist organization.  Spencer announced he would be “crashing” CPAC, but the NPI is sponsoring a separate evening event with speaker Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, followed by an open bar and “unconference.”  The location of the event was being kept secret until today, but advertised as within a few blocks of the CPAC convention.

White nationalists have previously tried to attend and influence the CPAC conference, including efforts by Jamie Kelso, a former aide to KKK Grand Wizard David Duke, to covert young attendees to his brand of overt white supremacism (see the video below).

Conservative Divisions 

CPAC has become a bellwether for monitoring the divisions between conservatives. In recent years, the American Conservative Union has invited and uninvited groups ranging from GOProud to the John Birch Society.  Most mainstream media is describing the conservative split as one between the GOP establishment and the Tea Partiers, but there are other paradigms for describing the current divides.  The security counter-conference highlights the split between neo-conservative security hawks and the growing paleo-libertarian and libertarian factions on the Right.  The revival of paleo-conservatism and paleo-libertarianism was a featured topic in my recent article “Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Old Right”, co-authored by Frank Cocozzelli.

Ted Cruz & ALEC: Seceding from the Union One Law at a Time

Ted Cruz tea party oath keepers flag

Tea Partiers, Tenthers, and the corporate sponsors who support them have come up with a variety of ways to circumvent the federal government and bypass the federal regulatory system, including efforts to hold an Article V Convention, commonly called a “Con Con,” to amend the Constitution and the Sen. Ted Cruz(R, TX)-developed plan for use of “interstate compacts” to block federal law.

In a report for the Center for American Progress, Ian Milhiser described these state’s rights efforts as a project for “seceding from the union one law at a time.”  These initiatives could result in a Balkanized confederation of states that would be no match against the power of international corporations and would allow for eliminating the regulatory system and the social safety net.

The most recent issue of The Public Eye magazine includes two extensive articles on the efforts of conservatives to shift power to the states, including Frederick Clarkson’s article on the State Policy Network’s growing influence, and my article on the growing nullification movement (co-authored by Frank Cocozzelli).

Nullification is based on a legal theory that states can block enforcement of federal laws individual states deem unconstitutional. But another route to “nullification” was popularized by Senator Cruz before he even became a senator, and promoted through Tea Party organizations and the highly-controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Ted Cruz was mentored at an early age through Rolland Storey’s Free Enterprise Education Center, where Cruz learned Austrian economics, read Cleon Skousen, and intensively drilled in delivering speeches. As an adult, Cruz joined the board of Storey’s Free Enterprise Institute, described as “forming conservative leaders since 1976.”  The board includes Leo Linbeck III and Chairman Emeritus Robert McNair, one of the co-founders of the “flat tax” organization Americans for Fair Taxation.

Ted Cruz was mentored at an early age through Rolland Storey’s Free Enterprise Education Center, where Cruz learned Austrian economics, read Cleon Skousen, and intensively drilled in delivering speeches. As an adult, Cruz joined the board of Storey’s Free Enterprise Institute, described as “forming conservative leaders since 1976.” The board includes Leo Linbeck III and Chairman Emeritus Robert McNair, one of the co-founders of the “flat tax” organization Americans for Fair Taxation.

Cruz’s idea is to use “interstate compacts” to shield states from federal laws. He developed the concept in 2010 as an alternative option for “nullifying Obamacare.” Just prior to his election as senator, Cruz worked as senior fellow with the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies at the Texas Public Policy Center, the state’s “free market” think tank and a State Policy Network member. While the concept of interstate compacts is not new, Cruz’s idea to use them as a strategy for shielding states from federal laws is uniquely original, which he freely admitted to Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard  in January 2011.

The Constitution, in Article I, Section 10, allows for states to form interstate compacts with the consent of Congress.  This is most commonly done to oversee shared resources, such as waterways.  One of the earliest formed and better known of these compacts is the New York – New Jersey Port Authority. But Cruz is claiming that interstate compacts can be expanded as a way to circumvent presidential veto power.

“With congressional consent, federalized interstate compacts could shield entire areas of state regulation from the power of the federal government,” wrote Cruz and Mario Loyola in a December 2010 report for the Center for Tenth Amendment Studies. In the introduction, Cruz and Loyola state:

“Under our Constitution, interstate compacts that regulate matters within the enumerated powers of the federal government require congressional consent. That consent can be expressed (an affirmative majority vote in Congress) or even implied by congressional acquiescence. In the case of express congressional consent, historically that has been accomplished through either a bill or a resolution that typically has been presented to the President for his signature into law. 

Critically, once Congress consents to an interstate compact, the compact carries the force of federal law, trumping all prior federal and state law.”

In other words, Cruz and Loyola claim that an interstate compact can be formed and made the supreme law of the land, including trumping the Affordable Care Act, by simple “acquiescence” of Congress and therefore bypassing the need for the president’s signature.

By early 2011, this concept had already been promoted through the Sam Adams Alliance and Tea Party organizations, as described in the Weekly Standard:

“In October, Eric O’Keefe of the Sam Adams Alliance broached the compact strategy with the leaders of Tea Party Patriots, Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin. And in November, they, in turn, took the idea to their national council, gathered in Washington to conduct an orientation session for newly elected members of Congress (only Republicans showed up).

When O’Keefe and a panel explained the strategy, they got a standing ovation from the 180 members of the council. ‘I’ve never heard of a panel getting a standing ovation,’ O’Keefe says. At least 37 of them signed up as state coordinators for winning legislative approval of the health care compact. An experienced political consultant, Mike Barnhart, was hired as national coordinator.”

The concept was also promoted through the State Policy Network’s “Federalism in Action” program, and Cruz himself presented the idea at the 2010 American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference, where it promptly became the foundation for ALEC’s “Health Care Compact ACT” model legislation for state legislators.

To date, this Healthcare Compact Act has been passed in eight states: Texas, Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. The healthcare compact is promoted and tracked through an organization called the Healthcare Compact Alliance, a project of Competitive Governance Action, a 501(c)(4) co-founded by Texas businessman Leo Linbeck III and Eric O’Keefe and sharing the address of the Linbeck Group, LLC, in Houston.

The vision of shielding entire areas of state regulation from the federal government has been further enshrined by ALEC in the form of a model bill developed by their International Task Force, and approved by the ALEC board of directors.  Under the title “State Legislature United Compact,” the model bill provides validation for those who half-jokingly warn about the “United States of ALEC,” apparently giving ALEC a role in forming and running the commission that would organize the interstate compact, and ensuring that like-minded conservatives would control the topics and outcomes of a convention.

ALEC’s December 2013 States and Nation Summit in D.C. was sponsored, in part, by another Linbeck and O’Keefe nonprofit, called the Citizens for Self Governance.  Its legal name is the John Hancock Committee of the States and it’s the parent organization of the Convention of the States (one of several organizations promoting an Article V convention to amend the Constitution).  The organization was incubated prior to gaining its own nonprofit status by American Majority, an organization founded by Drew and Ned Ryun to “infuse new Tea Party blood into the political system.”

Until now, the only method used to amend the Constitution has been through a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states. However, there is another process in Article V that allows for a convention to be called by two thirds of state legislatures.  Mark Meckler, cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots, is now president of the Citizens for Self Governance and is overseeing the group’s Article V convention efforts.

UPDATE: The Georgia State Senate has just become the nation's first legislative body to pass a Convention of States application. It passed on February 4, 2014, by a vote of 37-17

UPDATE: The Georgia State Senate has just become the nation’s first legislative body to pass a Convention of States application. It passed on February 4, 2014, by a vote of 37-17. You can see a copy of the application here.

Meckler promoted the Convention of the States project in a session at ALEC’s December summit. On the Saturday following the summit, roughly 100 state legislators from 32 states met at Mt. Vernon to advance convention plans.  Ferris’ reflections on the event acknowledged that there are divisions in conservative ranks between those who want the “con-con,” and those who fear a “runaway con-con” infiltrated and overrun by liberals. Historical revisionist David Barton has just recently endorsed a Constitutional Convention, while both Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and the John Birch Society (JBS) fall into the second category.

As noted in The Public Eye article Nullification, Neo-Confederates, and the Revenge of the Right, the JBS has become a major force behind state nullification efforts across the country.

Despite misgivings about a “runaway con-con,” there are several right-wing groups around the country working to organize a convention, but with some disagreements about how it would work.  PRA senior fellow Frederick Clarkson, Salon’s Paul Rosenberg, and I have all listened in on conference calls by one such organization that has differences of opinion with the Convention of the States on how to proceed (you can read Rosenberg’s story about it in Salon). The leader of that organization has a plan for the first amendment to be a “Sovereignty and State’s Rights Amendment,” allowing any federal law to be “countermanded” by the agreement of 30 states.

This state’s rights movement is gaining traction across the country, including among some on the political Left, but the money and organizing behind the effort is solidly conservative­—or perhaps better described as paleo-libertarian, or a combination of radical anti-government philosophies wedded to social conservatism.

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.