The Christian Right’s Growing Allegiance to Trump

Donald Trump speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

As Donald Trump exited the stage after addressing the 2016 Values Voter Summit (VVS) in Washington, DC a year ago, the Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blasted from the speakers. The audience gathered together for the Family Research Council’s annual conference offered both Trump and then-Governor Mike Pence standing ovations, even though Senator Ted Cruz had won the traditional VVS presidential straw poll each of the previous three years, with Ben Carson consistently coming in second. The thousands cheering in the hotel ballroom were early evidence that evangelicals (who make up the country’s biggest and most powerful religious voting bloc) were gradually coalescing behind Trump. Indeed, come Election Day they turned out in force: exit polls from the 2016 presidential election revealed that the Trump/Pence ticket managed to win over 81 percent of White, self-described evangelicals.

On Friday, the crowd will likely offer an even more enthusiastic reception to now-President Trump. Announcing the president’s confirmed attendance, Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins said, “Values voters have waited eight years for a leader who puts America’s mission first and respects the values that made America into a great nation. … Since the early days of the campaign, President Trump allied himself with values voters, promising to put an end to the 8 years of relentless assault on the First Amendment.”

Perkins emphasized some of the actions taken by the Trump administration that are perceived as major victories for the Christian Right, including Trump’s executive order on religious liberty, which LGBTQ advocates described as a “license to discriminate,” and last week’s directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that further codified the Right’s redefinition of religious freedom. For LGBTQ people, these actions effectively legalize discrimination, and further embolden the violence and persecution that has been on the rise ever since Trump’s election.

Perkins also praised the Trump administration’s attack on reproductive freedom last week. The new mandate from the Health & Human Services Department significantly increases the range of employers and insurers that can invoke “religious beliefs and moral convictions” to avoid the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that birth control pills and other contraceptives be covered at no cost to patients. According to the Obama Administration, which instituted this coverage, more than 55 million women relied on the provision.

Values Voter Summit is Family Research Council’s annual conference.

CNN has described the Values Voter Summit (VVS) “one of the conservative movement’s marquee annual events,” and Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity called it “the premier conservative event now in the country.” This year’s gathering will feature notable right wing celebrities such as Roy Moore, Steve Bannon, Michele Bachmann, and Everett Piper, and breakout sessions range in topic from “Radical Islamic Supremacy” to “Transgender Ideology.”

Trump’s return to the stage indicates the strength of the Christian Right’s allegiance to a man who stands in stark contrast to what most might assume “values voters” hold as fundamental characteristics of a “model Christian” — Trump is twice divorced, rarely attends church, and has bragged about sexually assaulting women. But his ascension and continued popularity within Christian Right circles reveals the true underpinnings of their agenda: misogyny and White supremacy.

As researcher and sociologist Alex DiBranco explained in the Winter 2017 edition of The Public Eye, “Abortion, contraception, and sexuality education all threaten the enforcement of traditional gender roles,” therefore threatening the dominance of White, male power and control. To appeal to a broader base, however, the Christian Right has adopted the framework of “protecting women” (the same language used to promote discriminatory anti-trans legislation.

Trump’s unfamiliarity with the Christian Right and its evolving tactics is especially evident in his clumsy navigation of abortion rights — one of the Christian Right’s traditional bread-and-butter issues. DiBranco writes,

Set on proving that his “pro-choice” days were behind him, during the 2016 campaign Trump denounced Planned Parenthood as an “abortion factory” and selected hardline reproductive and LGBTQ rights opponent Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate. In his eagerness, Trump unknowingly violated the Christian Right’s strategic deployment of a “kinder, gentler” image when he announced that women who obtained an illegal abortion should face “punishment.” Although Trump backpedaled to mollify anti-abortion groups that claim to protect women, his original statement was characteristic of the anti-woman vitriol of his campaign.”

Though VVS attendees may try to distance themselves from that sort of vitriol, and may even denounce groups that are more blatant in their racist and sexist values such as those aligned with the Alt Right, they have always had more in common with people like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos than they’d care to admit.

The Christian Right has aligned themselves with Trump not because he shares in their commitment to restricting the rights of women and LGBTQ people; the Christian Right has pledged allegiance to Trump because they value the preservation of White, male, nativist dominance.



RELEASE: From the Streets of Charlottesville to the Corridors of the Capitol, White Nationalism is On the March

Contact: Greeley O’Connor,, 617.666.5300

From the Streets of Charlottesville to the Corridors of the Capitol, White Nationalism is On the March

(BOSTON) The U.S. Far Right has killed nearly 450 people since 1990. Heather Heyer of Charlottesville, Virginia is the latest casualty of White nationalism. We can honor the sacrifice of the dead and wounded by matching their courage in standing down similar rallies planned for the weeks ahead. Equally important, we can defend members of our communities who are under attack. People of good conscience, regardless of party affiliation, faith tradition, or identity should look upon Charlottesville as a call to moral action in defense of humanity and rejection of White supremacy.

Saturday’s Unite the Right rally was designed, over months, to be the largest gathering of its kind in at least a decade, and was successful in bringing together disparate elements of the Far Right. We should reflect on the deep connection between antisemitism and White supremacy and understand why women, people of color, people with disabilities, religious minorities, immigrants, and LGBTQ people are often targeted first. This is bigger than Charlottesville. White nationalism should not be excused as an expression of “hate” or “ignorance;” it is a strategically coordinated movement with a political agenda.

Not all White nationalists dress up in costume and give Nazi salutes. Whether they are chanting “Jews will not replace us” at a torch lit rally or proposing regressive legislation on voting rights, the right to assembly, or other keystones of a liberal democracy, we must stop their momentum. When our President condemns neonazis only reluctantly and temporarily, it’s not courageous; it is too little too late, and only serves to further embolden the Right.  It is an open secret that the violent White nationalists on the streets of Charlottesville (and many other cities) were emboldened by candidate Trump’s presidential campaign, which gave voice to many of their own dangerous views. Their support is not only for Trump’s platitudes but also for the president’s policies. So while we welcome the denunciation of White supremacy from various corners of Congress, we require more from our elected officials. We call on them to uphold our common humanity as they consider policy changes to immigration, health care, education, and the equitable distribution of taxes needed to fund vital public services. We need to remain on alert for “law and order” rhetoric used to justify police and state aggression. We have no intention of stopping bigotry on the streets only to suffer its continued codification in the laws of our land.

The ostensibly “extremist” ideas given expression in Charlottesville must not be allowed to make racist federal policy initiatives appear moderate by comparison. As PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty presciently stated in a 2005 essay “Wrong About the Right”:

The right has not been afraid to propose extreme positions, knowing they will be pushed back to more moderate ones still well to the right of the status quo. We’ve seen this in almost every policy fight since 1980. By boldly taking stands that are far outside the mainstream, the right has managed to pull the mainstream to the right, which is why it is now perceived as speaking for the majority.

The activists, faith leaders, and everyday people who stood up to armed and violent White nationalists in Charlottesville are the heroes of this still-unfolding story. Their courage stands in stark contrast to the cowardice on display in Washington, D.C. Theirs is the moral conscience of a people that refuses to be divided. Who we can be together will determine whether the U.S. protects and advances the principles of democracy, justice, and pluralism or succumbs to the forces that threaten to unmake them.

Saturday, August 19, 2017 will be a National Day of Action Against White Supremacy. PRA will be here, as it has for more than three decades, monitoring threats and revealing what each of us can do to advance justice and democracy in these turbulent times.


Battle without Bullets: The Christian Right and Fourth Generation Warfare

This article appears in the Summer 2017 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

On October 13, 2016, just three weeks from the election, then-candidate Donald Trump deflected sexual assault allegations in a speech at West Palm Beach. He railed against his opponent and a corrupt political establishment:

The Washington establishment and the financial and media corporations that fund it exist for only one reason: to protect and enrich itself…. It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities…. The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure. We’ve seen this firsthand in the WikiLeaks documents, in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.1

Trump used similar language in a two-minute “closing argument” video released on November 4, in which he emphasized that “The political establishment that is trying to stop us is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration and economic and foreign policies that have bled our country dry.”2

In the video Trump also warned of a “global power structure,” flashing photographs of prominent Jews, including international financier and liberal philanthropist George Soros, Chair of the Federal Reserve System Janet Yellen, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. This immediately provoked charges that Trump was employing antisemitic tropes that could have been taken from Protocols of the Elders of Zion.3

But aside from resorting to one of the oldest and vilest of populist appeals, Trump was doing something else. He was telling prospective voters—most of whom had likely never heard of Protocols—that the ruling political establishment was “failed” and “corrupt,” and that it had “robbed our working class” and “stripped our country of its wealth.” He had launched a direct and devastating assault on the legitimacy of the country’s government and political, economic, and media elites, which he suggested was comprised of predators who posed an existential threat to voters’ towns, companies, jobs, and families; it had, he suggested, no moral right to govern.

Art: Ashley Lukashevsky

What might have seemed to most to be normal, if unusually acrimonious, political aggression was in fact a classic example of a right-wing strategy developed in the late 1980s: Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). Trump’s rhetoric and policies rightly identify him as a “right-wing populist bully,” in the words of former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet, who notes that right-wing populism includes nativism and authoritarianism, as well as “fears of traitorous, subversive conspiracies.”4 What distinguishes harsh populist rhetoric from a 4GW attack, however, is going beyond the charge that one’s individual opponent is wrong or misguided, to claim that the system is illegitimate and one’s opponents have no right to power or even to exist.

Fourth Generation Warfare is a term of art for the latest evolution of types of warfare. Essentially, the three prior “generations” were massed manpower, massed firepower, and non-linear maneuver. Think roughly of the changing approaches of the American Revolutionary War to World War I to World War II. William S. Lind, who originated the term “Fourth Generation Warfare” in 1989, noted that elements from earlier generations of warfare, like “collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him,” would carry over into 4GW but with a greater emphasis and employing new tactics. 4GW expands warfare beyond the physical level to include the mental and moral dimensions. At the highest level of combat—moral conflict—the central objective is to undermine the legitimacy of one’s opponent and induce a population to transfer their loyalty from their government to the insurgent.

Fourth Generation Warfare resonated with military strategists and scholars, especially after 9/11, because it examined the emergence of a new type of warfare between a non-state insurgent and a central government in which ideas are key weapons.5 Part of 4GW is “epistemological warfare”—that is, “warfare” that adapts and incorporates concepts from post-modernism, structuration theory, deconstructionism, and chaos theory. In very simple terms, this type of warfare aims to “Disrupt the moral, physical and/or informational vertical and horizontal relations (i.e. cohesion) among subsystems.”6 This serves as propaganda intended to foster uncertainty, mistrust, and a sense of menace, all aimed at breaking down the bonds of social trust.7

But the doctrine of 4GW has not been limited to use in foreign wars. It has also been used at home: as a psy-ops campaign perpetrated by domestic actors against domestic political and religious adversaries.

The insurgent force, in this case, is the Christian Right, led by its key strategists: the late Paul Weyrich who would transform electoral competition into all-out political warfare against the political system itself, and William S. Lind, the original thinker who postulated the emergence of Fourth Generation Warfare and who served as Weyrich’s right-hand man.

Paul Weyrich, an architect of the Christian Right8 and founder of the Free Congress Foundation, one of the movement’s strategic think tanks, saw 1980s-era America in terms of an epochal struggle between two camps over “our way of life.” He told the Christian Right’s founding direct mail fundraiser Richard Viguerie, “‘It may not be with bullets… and it may not be with rockets and missiles, but it is a war nevertheless. It is a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, it’s a war about our way of life. And it has to be fought with the same intensity, I think, and dedication as you would fight a shooting war.’”9

“It may not be with bullets…but it is a war nevertheless. It is a war of ideology, it’s a war of ideas, it’s a war about our way of life.”

Weyrich and Lind commissioned and published a strategic document in 2001 that epitomized their thinking and evolution away from the indirect influence of the Christian Reconstructionists who were more focused on theology. Written by their Free Congress Foundation colleague Eric Heubeck, it was titled “The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program For The New Traditionalist Movement.” The objectives and tactics of the movement were the delegitimization and destruction of the Left, meaning the destruction through unrelenting propaganda barrages of the liberal-secular federal government and associated political culture and Constitution that protects individual rights.

“Our strategy will be to bleed this corrupt culture dry,” the document declares. “We will pick off the most intelligent and creative individuals in our society, the individuals who help give credibility to the current regime.” A little later, Heubeck writes, “Our movement will be entirely destructive, and entirely constructive. We will not try to reform the existing institutions. We only intend to weaken them, and eventually destroy them…. We will maintain a constant barrage of criticism against the Left. We will attack the very legitimacy of the Left…. We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime” (emphasis added).10

Weyrich saw the Christian Right’s vision of traditional values as the legitimate and moral side. The other side, cast as the camp of secular liberalism, he saw as immoral and illegitimate. While Weyrich saw these opponents as in rough alignment with the two main political parties, his aim was never merely about electing Republicans. He was about forging a revolutionary Christian nationalist movement to undermine the legitimacy of what he saw as a liberal, secular democratic order.

The Christian Reconstructionists

The starting point for understanding epistemological warfare and 4GW called for by Weyrich and Lind and executed by the Christian Right is to begin with the Christian Reconstructionists—the low profile strategic thinkers who have influenced American politics since the 1960s.

Founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, the Christian Reconstructionist movement, through its voluminous writings, persuaded several hundred influential conservative clergy and theologians that American society had to be reconstructed11—not reformed—on a new basis of knowledge or epistemology in order to build God’s kingdom on earth from the rubble of failed civilization. One way Christian Reconstructionist strategists influenced the trajectory of the Christian Right was participating alongside the John Birch Society in the formation and early running of the secretive Council for National Policy, a highly opaque organization that brought together Christian Right leaders, funding sources, and well-to-do activists.12

The Reconstructionists argued that Christians should make a fundamental choice—obey God’s law or obey secular law. In his 1997 book, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, PRA Senior Fellow Frederick Clarkson noted that Rushdoony had essentially unilaterally declared that America was in a state of long term, civil war. Clarkson noted that according to Rushdoony, “‘every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion’” and that “‘all law is a form of warfare.’” The source for all law, institutions, norms, values, and ways of knowing must be their own idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible.13

This worldview and its variants meant that all law, science, philosophy, and morals that did not conform to their interpretation of the Bible was illegitimate—or, in their words, anti-Christian and anti-God. Christian Reconstructionism had provided Weyrich and the Christian Right a theological justification for their all-out political war. Rushdoony himself was an acknowledged leader and thinker whose views were sought by the founding fathers of the contemporary Christian Right, including Weyrich.14

While the ideological role of Rushdoony and his fellow Christian Reconstructionists may not always be obvious, it’s not hard to detect when considering foundational thought regarding Christian nationalism;15 the grading on religious grounds of candidates for public office at all levels;16 the transformation of the constitutional principle of religious liberty into a demand for Christian Right primacy, the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and accusations that Christians are being persecuted;17 the propagandistic assault on evolution and demand that the creationist controversy be taught in public schools;18 and the unrelenting rejection of climate change science and belief that such evidence is fraudulent.19

The common denominator in all of these Christian Right assertions, demands, and propaganda efforts is not that their opponents are wrong on the facts, but that their opponents are an affront to God and that their way of knowing is illegitimate. This is the essence and objective of a Fourth Generation Warfare attack.

Photo: k8 via Flickr.

Colonel Boyd and Epistemological Warfare

The late Colonel John Boyd’s influence on William S. Lind, the former director of cultural conservatism at Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation, may be one of the most underappreciated stories of the development of the Christian Right and its ever-evolving political strategy. It’s not like Lind was hiding it. He was the co-author of at least three books on political strategy for the Christian Right: Cultural Conservatism—Towards a New National Agenda, Cultural Conservatism—Theory and Practice, and The Next Conservatism.20

Col. Boyd was a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in the Korean War who dedicated the latter part of his career to reformulating U.S. strategic thinking. Boyd never wrote a book on strategy, but instead spread his thinking throughout the Pentagon via constantly evolving marathon briefings, each of which could last between 14 and 18 hours. In 1959, while an Air Force captain, Boyd wrote “Aerial Attack Study,” which would become official Air Force doctrine on air combat.21 He went on to help develop the F-15, F-16, and F-18 fighter jets in the 1960s and ‘70s. His contribution to the development of the U.S. Army’s AirLand Battle concept for defending NATO in the ‘70s and ‘80s, the incorporation of his ideas into the Marines’ doctrinal warfighting manuals and the Department of Defense’s joint doctrinal documents, as well as his influence on the United Kingdom’s and other European military doctrines all marked him as a uniquely influential military thinker. As an associate of Dick Cheney, then the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Boyd also heavily influenced the design of the 1991 Gulf War’s ground campaign.22

Boyd’s 1997 obituary in The New York Times noted that he is regarded as having helped “revolutionize American military strategy.” The highly decorated Colonel David Hackworth believed Boyd to be “America’s greatest military thinker.” Likewise, Major Jeffrey L. Cowan concluded his Marine Corps master’s thesis on Boyd’s conceptualization of warfare with the observation that Boyd “should be considered one of the most important military theorists of the United States.”23

What made Boyd’s work such an historic advance in the philosophy of military strategy was that he added the physical, mental, and moral dimensions to the traditional tactical, operational and strategic levels of military combat. For example, Joint Publication 3.0 on Joint Operations—which provides Pentagon doctrine to all U.S. military forces—defines the strategic level of warfare as the setting of national objectives and allocation of national resources to achieve those objectives. This translates national strategy into operational campaigns within a theater (e.g. Europe, Middle East), which then links to its use by military forces.24

Boyd posited that the highest level of warfare was moral, followed by mental, and physical. For example, a victory at the physical level of combat could, in reality, be a defeat at the moral level. Thus a government massacre of villagers could tactically mean that the government could claim a territorial victory, but it could delegitimize the government in the eyes of its citizens or international allies.

At that moral level of conflict, Boyd believed in exploiting three psychological conditions—menace, uncertainty, and mistrust—in order to create an existential and epistemological threat to an army or a society. Maj. Cowan, in his thesis, quoted Boyd’s explanation of these terms: “‘menace, which are the impressions of danger to one’s well being and survival; uncertainty or the impressions, or atmosphere generated by events that appear ambiguous, erratic, contradictory, unfamiliar, and chaotic; and, mistrust as an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion that loosens human bonds among members of an organic whole.’”25

Frans P.B. Osinga, a Dutch Air Force Lt. Colonel with a PhD who wrote a comprehensive analysis of Boyd’s briefings, noted that the aim of moral conflict, according to Boyd, is to “‘Destroy moral bonds that permit an organic whole to exist.’” Osinga quoted Boyd’s analysis of the “strategic aim” of moral conflict: to “‘Penetrate [his] moral-mental-physical being to dissolve his moral fiber, disorient his mental images, disrupt his operations, and overload his system, as well as subvert, shatter, seize or otherwise subdue those moral-mental-physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, in order to destroy internal harmony, produce paralysis, and collapse adversary’s will to resist.’”26

What has so far gone largely unnoticed is that the Christian Right has applied this type of warfare against the federal government, the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and its religious institutional rivals among mainline Protestant churches.

The Christian Right has applied this type of warfare against the federal government, the Democratic Party, the mainstream media, and its religious institutional rivals among mainline Protestant churches.

Adapting Warfare for the Right

Weyrich’s view that the Christian Right had to wage an all-out propaganda war against secular liberalism and the Democratic Party (and the GOP) with the “same intensity” as a “shooting war” would come to early fruition with Newt Gingrich, whom Weyrich personally recruited in the 1980s and trained to use inflammatory rhetoric around cultural wedge issues.27 Eventually, Gingrich ascended to be Speaker of the House of Representatives by exploiting scandals he choreographed against the Democratic and Republican House leadership.

John Dean, President Nixon’s former White House counsel (whose Senate testimony laid the foundation for the article of impeachment for obstruction of justice), described Gingrich’s pre-Speaker tactics as “portraying Republicans as godly and Democrats as anti-religious liberals.” Gingrich’s rhetorical tactics according to Dean, “were developed through consultations with communications experts, and soon became standard operating procedure for Republicans.”28 Gingrich would be instrumental in dismantling the committee structure of the House of Representatives, undermining democratic norms of comity, polarizing the House into warring political tribes, and, weakening the scientific basis of public policy.29

Lind was very familiar with Boyd and his work. Prior to joining Weyrich at the Free Congress Foundation, Lind worked for Senator Gary Hart on military reform issues, including as part of a small group working to reform U.S. defense strategy in Europe, which included Boyd. He also collaborated with Colonel Boyd on introducing maneuver warfare to the U.S. Marine Corps. Lind considered Boyd “America’s greatest military theorist.”30 He once wrote that he had “worked with Boyd for about 15 years.”31

Lind acknowledged that Boyd’s theories had shaped his own views on moral conflict, writing that 4GW’s “goal of collapsing the enemy internally rather than physically destroying him” derived from “Boyd’s OODA (observation- orientation- decision- action) theory.”32 Lind further argued, in ways consistent with Boyd’s thinking, that “psychological operations,” “manipulating the media,” and television news would become “more powerful” weapons in altering perceptions and public support for a government’s policies than actual military combat.33

Uncoincidentally, Weyrich launched National Empowerment Television (NET) during 1992-93 to attempt to manipulate news directed at conservative and Christian audiences.34 Although Weyrich’s first challenge to the media establishment came in 1973 with the Joseph Coors-funded Television News, Inc. (TVN), part of its significance is that it brought Weyrich and Roger Ailes into a direct working relationship and laid the groundwork for the emergence of Fox News some 20 years later.35

Television News brought Weyrich and Roger Ailes into a direct working relationship, laying the groundwork for the emergence of Fox News some twenty years later.

Since then, not only has the growth of the Christian Right and various sub-movements benefitted from Fox News misinforming its viewers36 but the Religious and Political Right depends upon dubious documentaries as a form of psychological operations to inform and expand its base of conservative and evangelical supporters, as well as undermine progressive organizations.37 Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s senior strategist, is responsible for eight documentaries alone, including In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed, Generation Zero and Fire from the Heartland (about the Tea Party movement), District of Corruption, and, Occupy Unmasked. The group Citizens United also released Rediscovering God in America and Rediscovering God in America II, produced by Candace and Newt Gingrich; Hype: The Obama Effect; Blocking the Path of 9/11; Hillary: The Movie; We Have the Power: Making America Energy Independent; ACLU: At War with America; Border Wars: The Battle over Illegal Immigration; and, Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60.

Under the strategic guidance of Weyrich and Lind, the Christian Right launched multiple propaganda campaigns since the 1980s38 to induce, through stages, a crisis of confidence and legitimacy39 completely independent of which political party controls the presidency and Congress, which philosophy holds sway in federal courts, or prevailing economic conditions. The delivery mode of this unrelenting barrage of criticism—designed to provoke a Boydian sense of disorientation, disruption, overload, menace, uncertainty, and mistrust among the general public—is propaganda disseminated through television,40 radio, movies, and documentary film,41 all mediums that appeal to emotions rather than logic.

The Payoff

Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein respectively reported in their 2012 book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, that the “Republican Party has become the insurgent outlier in American politics…The contemporary GOP…has veered toward tolerance of extreme ideological beliefs and policies…and rejection of the legitimacy of its partisan opposition.”42 Four years later, the scholars argued that both the Republican Party and the dysfunctional government had gotten worse. In their view, the “radicalization of the Republican Party” included “an utter rejection of the norms and civic culture underlying our constitutional system.”43

This conflict of legitimacy predates Trump’s candidacy. In addition to Republicans’ efforts to delegitimize President Obama, they were undermining the very basis of a secular, constitutional order and were using fear and propaganda to do so. But Trump also built upon these efforts and included his own violations of democratic norms.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump used racially charged accusations against Hillary Clinton, such as the insinuation that she would use African American voters to rig the election through voter fraud. These claims originated years before within the Republican Party.44 Not only is the claim of massive voter fraud without a factual foundation, it has long been a right-wing propaganda tool.45

Trump also declared throughout the campaign that he intended to jail Clinton for treason and prosecute her and her lawyers, calling her “crooked Hillary.” The Republican convention descended into a cesspool of prospective authoritarianism with calls to “lock her up” led by prominent Trump campaign officials and surrogates, including the future White House National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn. The effort appeared to be intended to delegitimize Clinton and her administration if she had won the election.46

In addition to delegitimizing candidate Clinton, Democratic voters, and the prospective election results, Trump amped-up long-standing right-wing attacks on the existence and functioning of a free, independent press.47 In fact, Trump escalated and expanded his attacks into full-blown epistemological warfare.48 But as historian and journalist Neal Gabler argued, Trump’s triumph and the ongoing epistemological war it wrought was made possible by the very same mainstream media that failed to adequately report on Republican and Christian Right destabilization of democracy.49

The theological-political war first unleashed by the Christian Reconstructionists, followed by decades of Fourth Generation Warfare propaganda barrages perpetrated by the Christian Right and the wider conservative movement, ultimately resulted in something most political observers thought impossible: the election of Donald Trump as president. This is both a result and a cause of American society probably being more divided—by race, class, gender, and political ideology—than at any time since before the Civil War. The bonds of societal trust are disintegrating. Constitutional norms of governance are being undermined. Institutions meant to hold the executive branch in check are under assault from within and without. None of this was accidental. But if we are to hold onto any semblance of democratic society, knowledge of how Fourth Generation Warfare works, and that a religious and political insurrection is well advanced in the United States, is essential to formulation of appropriate strategies going forward.

The strategic intent of a 4GW attack, as Boyd explained, is “to dissolve [an enemy’s] moral fiber, disorient his mental images, disrupt his operations, and overload his system, as well as subvert, shatter, seize or otherwise subdue those moral-mental-physical bastions, connections, or activities that he depends upon, in order to destroy internal harmony, produce paralysis, and collapse adversary’s will to resist.”50

Any effective counter-strategy to efforts of the Trump administration and its Christian Right supporters must begin by understanding that when they attack, their objective is to undermine opponents’ legitimacy, since under 4GW, legitimacy is the coin of the realm. But fact-checking and debunking conspiracism is only a partial solution. It must be accompanied by defending the legitimacy of institutions, democratic norms, legal procedures, and social groups singled out for attack.

In a 4GW scenario, the better narrative wins. Thus, any counter-strategy must include a robust narrative of what is being defended and why.

In a 4GW scenario, the better narrative wins.51 Thus, any counter-strategy must include a robust narrative of what is being defended and why, as well as the tools to counteract the menace, uncertainty, and mistrust engendered by 4GW attacks. These tools—a corresponding set to those in Boyd’s plan of epistemological warfare—provide individuals and groups with moral strength. Or in Boyd’s words, a “triumph of courage, confidence, and esprit (de corps) over [the] fear, anxiety, and alienation” of our modern, domestic, psychological war.


1 Katie Reilly, “Read Donald Trump’s Speech Addressing Sexual Assault Accusations,” Time, October 13, 2016,

2 Donald J. Trump, “New Television Ad: Donald Trump’s Argument for America,” November 4, 2016,

3 Dana Milbank, “Anti-Semitism is no longer an undertone of Trump’s campaign. It’s the melody,” Washington Post, November 7, 2016,

Steve Benen, “Trump’s closing argument faces allegation of anti-Semitism,” MSNBC, November 7, 2016,

4 Chip Berlet, “‘Trumping’ Democracy: Right-Wing Populism, Fascism, and the Case for Action,” Political Research Associates, December 12, 2015,

5 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007). 255.

Martin van Creveld, A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind, (Kouvola, Finland: Castalia House, 2015), 121-2.

6 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007) 126. See Osinga’s chapter 4, pages 86-127, on how John Boyd was influenced by various scientific revolutions occurring in the 1970s and 1980s and adapted them into his reformulation of military strategy.

7 William S. Lind, et alia, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989: 22-26, Global Guerrillas,

William S. Lind, Major John F. Schmitt, and Colonel Gary I. Wilson, “Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, December 1994,

Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy,” U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, paper submitted for the Masters of Military Studies, 1999-2000, See his Chapter 4.

8 Joan Bokaer, “Paul Weyrich: The Man Who Framed the Republican Party,” Talk to Action, August 9, 2006,

Jean V. Hardisty, “The Resurgent Right: Why Now?,” The Public Eye, Fall/Winter 1995,

David Grann, “Robespierre of the Right,” The New Republic, October 27, 1997,

Political Research Associates, “Paul Weyrich,” January 12, 2009,


9 Richard Viguerie, The New Right: We’re Ready to Lead, (Falls Church, VA: The Viguerie Company, 1981), 55.

10 Eric Heubeck, ‟The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement,” [Free Congress Foundation, 2001], no date, at

11 Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 8-9.

James C. Sanford, Blueprint for Theocracy: The Christian Right’s Vision for America, (Providence, RI: Metacomet Books, 2014) 3-4.

  1. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology, Blessing or Curse?: An Analysis of Christian Reconstructionism, (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988) 352-361.

Rachel Tabachnick, “The Rise of Charismatic Dominionism (Updated),” Talk to Action, August 15, 2011,

12 Russ Bellant, The Coors Connection: How Coors Family Philanthropy Undermines Democratic Pluralism, (Cambridge, MA: Political Research Associates, 1988,1991) 36-46.

Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1997) 80-1.

David D. Kirkpatrick, “Club of the Most Powerful Gathers in Strictest Privacy,” New York Times, August 28, 2004,

Jeremy Leaming and Rob Boston, “Behind Closed Doors,” Americans United, October 2004,

13 Frederick Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1997) 78-9.

14 Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstructionism: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, (The University of North Carolina Press, 2015) 144-147.

15 Frederick Clarkson, “Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters,” The Public Eye Volume 22 Number 2, Spring 2007,

Steven K. Green, “God is not on our side: The religious right’s big lie about the founding of America,” Salon, June 28, 2015,

16 Sarah Posner, “Manhattan Declaration Is The New Old Culture War,” Religion Dispatches, November 23, 2009,

Frederick Clarkson, “When Politics Means the End of the World (as we know it),” Talk to Action, August 27, 2010,

17 Frederick Clarkson, “When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” Political Research Associates, January 12, 2016,

Frederick Clarkson, “Dominionism Rising: A Theocratic Movement Hiding in Plain Sight,” The Public Eye,August 18, 2016,

People for the American Way, “The Persecution Complex: The Religious Right’s Deceptive Rallying Cry,” June 13, 2014,

18 District Judge John E. Jones III, “Memorandum Opinion,” “Tammy KITZMILLER, et al., Plaintiffs, v. DOVER AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al., Defendants,” December 20, 2005,

Reid Wilson, “New wave of anti-evolution bills hit states,” The Hill, January 27, 2017,

19 Right Wing Watch Staff, “The ‘Green Dragon’ Slayers: How the Religious Right and the Corporate Right are Joining Forces to Fight Environmental Protection,” April 2011, at

Lauri Lebo, “Creationism and Global Warming Denial: Anti-Science’s Kissing Cousins?,” Religion Dispatches, March 17, 2010,’s_kissing_cousins.

Jack Jenkins, “Evangelicals laud Trump’s climate denier EPA pick,” Think Progress, December 19, 2016,

20 William S. Lind and William H. Marshner, Cultural Conservatism—Towards a New National Agenda, (Lanham, MD: UPA Inc., 1987).

William S. Lind and William H. Marshner, editors, Cultural Conservatism—Theory and Practice, (Washington, D.C.: Free Congress Foundation, 1991).

Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind, The Next Conservatism, (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009).

21 Robert Coram, Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War, (New York: Hachette Book Group, 2002), 5.

22 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007), 3-4.


23 Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., “Col. John Boyd Is Dead at 70; Advanced Air Combat Tactics,” New York Times, March 13, 1997,

David Hackworth, “A Great Airman’s Final Flight,”, March 18, 1997,

Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy,” U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, paper submitted for the Masters of Military Studies, 1999-2000, There is nothing simple about Boyd’s briefings. Frans P.B.. Osinga, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Netherlands Air Force with a PhD, noted that one of Boyd’s biographers, Robert Coram, believed “his briefings are virtually impenetrable without explanation.”

Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007), 7.

24 U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Operations, Joint Publication 3.0, Joint Staff Director for Joint Force Development, January 2017: 40-1.


25 Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “From Air Force Fighter Pilot to Marine Corps Warfighting: Colonel John Boyd, His Theories on War, and their Unexpected Legacy,” U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, paper submitted for the Masters of Military Studies, 1999-2000,

26 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007), 171, 176.


27 The Leadership Institute, “A Tribute to Paul Weyrich,” no date, accessed June 12, 2013,

28 John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience, (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 122.

29 John Dean, Broken Government, (New York: Penguin Books, 2007), 31-4.

Thomas Frank, The Wrecking Crew. How Conservatives Ruined Government, Enriched Themselves, and Beggared the Nation, (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2008-9), 195-6.

Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science, revised and updated, (New York: Basic Books, 2005) 49-64.

30 William S. Lind, “John’s Boyd’s Book,” “On War #235,” Defense and the National Interest (maintained by the Project on Government Oversight), October 2, 2007,

Major Jeffrey L. Cowan (USAF), “Warfighting Brought to You by…,” no date,


31 William S. Lind, “John’s Boyd’s Book,” “On War #235,” Defense and the National Interest (maintained by the Project on Government Oversight), October 2, 2007,

32 William S. Lind, et alia, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989: 22-26, Global Guerrillas,

33 William S. Lind, et alia, “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation,” U.S. Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989: 22-26, Global Guerrillas,


34 Dan Morain, “2 Wealthy Conservatives Use Think Tanks to Push Goals,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1996, at

Media Transparency, “Free Congress Research and Education Foundation, Inc.,” no date, accessed May 13, 2009,

People for the American Way, “Buying a Movement: Right-Wing Foundations and American Politics,” no date, accessed June 3, 2013,

Source Watch, “National Empowerment Television,” no date, accessed June 4, 2013,

35 Kerwin Swint, Dark Genius: The Influential Career of Legendary Political Operative and Fox News Founder Roger Ailes, (New York: Union Square Press, 2008), 60-1, 67, and 219.

David Brock, Ari Rabin-Havt, and Media Matters, The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine, (New York: Anchor Books, 2012) 31.

Stanhope Gould, “Coors Brews the News,” Columbia Journalism Review, pp. 17-29, March/April 1975.

Tim Dickinson, “How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Fear Factory,” Rolling Stone, May 25, 2011, a

36 Heather Hogan, “This Is How Fox News Brainwashes Its Viewers: Our In-Depth Investigation of the Propaganda Cycle,” Autostraddle, September 2, 2015,

Bruce Bartlett, “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics,” Social Science Research Network, June 3, 2015,

Chris Mooney, “Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It (and to Vindicate Jon Stewart!),” DeSmog Blog, November 21, 2011,

Gordon Gauchat, “Study: Conservatives’ Trust in Science Has Fallen Dramatically Since Mid-1970s,” American Sociological Association, March 29, 2012,

37 Andy Ostroy, “The ACORN Vote: House Democrats Just Stuck a Knife in Their President and Party,” The Huffington Post, November18, 2009,

David Rosen, “The Tea Party Propaganda Factory You Probably Don’t Know About,” AlterNet, April 19, 2011, at

People for the American Way, “The Activists And Ideology Behind The Latest Attacks On Planned Parenthood,” August 3, 2015,

Asawin Suebsaeng, “I Watched All of Steve Bannon’s Bad Movies,” The Daily Beast, August 19, 2016,

Alex Kotch, “Trump Campaign Leaders Made Movies Comparable to Nazi Propaganda,” AlterNet, October 6, 2016,

Matthew Phelan, “Building the House of Breitbart,” Jacobin Magazine, November 5, 2016,

38 Jean Hardisty, “Constructing Homophobia: Colorado’s Right-Wing Attack on Homosexuals,” Political Research Associates, March 1993,

Surina Khan, ‟Calculated Compassion,” Public Eye Magazine, October 1998, at

Tarso Luis Ramos and Pam Chamberlain, “Nativist Bedfellows:The Christian Right Embraces Anti-Immigrant Movement,” The Public Eye, July 31, 2008,

Pam Chamberlain, “It’s Their Party: How The Tea Party Sustains The Anti-LGBT Right,” Political Research Associates, April 1, 2012,

Jean Hardisty, “Thoughts From PRA’s Founder,” Political Research Associates, December 21, 2012,

39 Ehud Sprinzak, “The psychological formation of extreme left terrorism in a democracy: The case of the Weathermen,” pp. 65-85 in Walter Reich, editor, Origins of Terrorism: Psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind, Cambridge, England and New York: Cambridge University Press and Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1990: 77-82. According to Sprinzak, the process of delegitimation moves through three stages: a crisis of confidence, a conflict of legitimacy, and a crisis of legitimacy. The crisis of confidence “implies a conflict with specific rulers or policies.” The conflict of legitimacy “implies the emergence of an alternative ideological and cultural system, one that delegitimates the prevailing regime and its code of social norms in the name of a better one.” A crisis of legitimacy entails the dehumanization of all individuals associated with the prevailing regime. “It bifurcates the world into the sons of light and the sons of darkness, and makes the ‘fantasy war’ of the former versus the latter fully legitimate.”


40 Eric Hananoki, “Fox’s news programs echo its ‘opinion’ shows: Smears, doctored videos, GOP talking points,” Media Matters, October 13, 2009,

Chris Mooney, “The Science of Truthiness: Why Conservatives Deny Global Warming,” The Huffington Post, March 26, 2012,

Bruce Bartlett, “How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics,” Social Science Research Network, June 3, 2015, at

Heather Hogan, “This Is How Fox News Brainwashes Its Viewers: Our In-Depth Investigation of the Propaganda Cycle,” Auto Straddle, September 2, 2015, a

41Public Eye Magazine, “Citizens United—Floyd G. Brown,” no date, accessed May 29, 2013, at

David Rosen, “The Tea Party Propaganda Factory You Probably Don’t Know About,” AlterNet, April 19, 2011,

Alex Kotch, “Trump Campaign Leaders Made Movies Comparable to Nazi Propaganda,” AlterNet, October 6, 2016,

42 Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, (New York: Basic Books, 2012), 185.


43 Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, “Republicans created dysfunction. Now they’re paying for it,” Washington Post, March 8, 2016, a

44 Maggie Haberman and Matt Flegenheimer, “Donald Trump, a ‘Rigged’ Election and the Politics of Race,” New York Times, August 21, 2016,

The Editorial Board, “Donald Trump Cues Up Another Conspiracy,” New York Times, August 22, 2016,

Sherrilyn Ifill, “The GOP’s Disgusting New Southern Strategy: Take the Vote Away from Blacks, Roll Back the Civil Rights Movement,” AlterNet, September 4, 2012, a

Elizabeth Warren, “Trump didn’t invent the ‘rigged election’ myth. Republicans did,” Washington Post, October 18, 2016,


45 Michael Wines, “All This Talk of Voter Fraud? Across U.S., Officials Found Next to None,” New York Times, December 18, 2016,

Jon Greenberg, “Fact-checking the integrity of the vote in 2016,” Politico PolitiFact, December 17, 2016,

Nick Fernandez and Cat Duffy, “Voter Fraud Myths Pushed By Trump Have Long Been Propagated By Right-Wing Media,” Media Matters, January 25, 2017, at


46 Dylan Matthews, “The Republican National Convention and the criminalization of politics,” Vox, July 19, 2016, at

David Corn, “Why This GOP Convention Is the Most Dangerous One Ever,” Mother Jones, July 20, 2016,

Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, “The Republican ‘lock her up’ chants were disturbing. They were also inevitable,” Washington Post, July 22, 2016, at

47 Oliver Darcy, “Donald Trump broke the conservative media,” Business Insider, August 26, 2016,

Charlie Sykes, “On Where the Right Went Wrong,” New York Times, December 15, 2016, at

Charles J. Sykes, “Why Nobody Cares the President Is Lying,” New York Times, February 4, 2017, at

Jennifer Rubin, “Questions Fox and the right need to answer,” Washington Post, May 24, 2017,

David A. Bell, “Fake News Is Not the Real Media Threat We’re Facing,” The Nation, December 22, 2016,

48 Editorial Board, “Trump is rigging the election: No matter who wins, America loses,” Washington Post, October 18, 2016, at

Paul Waldman, “Donald Trump’s Epistemological Netherworld,” The American Prospect, December 12, 2016,

Media Matters Staff, “Carl Bernstein: For Trump And His Administration, ‘The Opposition Is Not The Media; The Opposition Is Becoming The Truth,’” Media Matters, January 27, 2017,

Andrew Sullivan, “The Madness of King Donald,” February 10, 2017, at

Henry A. Giroux, “Rethinking Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World in Trump’s America,” TruthDig, February 13, 2017, at

49 Neal Gabler, “How the Media Enabled Donald Trump by Destroying Politics First,” BillMoyers, March 4, 2016,

Neal Gabler, “Blowing the Biggest Political Story of the Last 50 Years,” BillMoyers, March 11, 2016,

Neal Gabler, “After Playing a Central Role in the Trump Catastrophe, Will the Mainstream Media Learn Its Lesson?,” AlterNet, November 8, 2016,

50 Frans P.B. Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The strategic theory of John Boyd, (London: Routledge, 2007) 177.

51 David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla, “What Next for Networks and Netwars?,” pp. 311-361 in John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, editors, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy, Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2001: 328-333.


An Alt Right Update

These notes are based on a talk I gave in Seattle on July 22, 2017 and the discussions that followed. Thanks to the organizers of that event, my fellow presenters, and everyone who attended. Special thanks also to the members of Q-Patrol who provided security.

My January report, “Ctrl-Alt-Delete,” was published at the beginning of Donald Trump’s administration. It dealt with the Alt Right’s ideological roots, major players, multiple internal currents, and complex relationships with both conservatives and the Trump campaign.

A lot has happened since then. The terrain on which the Alt Right operates, and the character of the movement itself, have shifted in some important and disturbing ways. The situation is very much in flux, but the half-year mark seems like a good moment for a snapshot of where things stand today. The notes that follow are my attempt to give a brief overview of five major changes related to the Alt Right that have taken place in that time.

Photo: Mark Dixon via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

1. Trump’s election has encouraged supremacist violence by vigilantes and local police.

In the days and weeks immediately after the November elections, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported a sharp increase in “bias-related harassment and intimidation” across the country—threats and attacks against immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, trans people, and other oppressed groups.1 “Many harassers invoked Trump’s name during assaults,” the SPLC noted, and many of those targeted said the incidents were like nothing they had experienced before.2 A logical, horrifying intensification of these attacks took place in May, when a White nationalist in Portland, Oregon, screamed racist and anti-Muslim abuse at two women on a light rail train, then stabbed three passengers who intervened, killing two of them.3

Meanwhile, the first two months of 2017 each saw police officers kill more people than any month in 2016, according to the website While there isn’t yet a breakdown of those specific numbers, among young men overall, Blacks are more than three times more likely than Whites to be killed by cops, according to Washington Post statistics.5

Whether it’s carried out by cops, right-wing activists, or unaffiliated individuals, supremacist violence didn’t start with Trump. It’s been going on for a long time, and it’s deeply rooted in the structure of U.S. society. But the climate has changed. Where President Obama defended Black Lives Matter and sang “Amazing Grace” at a memorial to victims of the Charleston, North Carolina, racist mass shooting,6 we now have a president who calls police “the thin blue line between civilization and chaos,” claims they are subjected to “unfair defamation and vilification,” and urges them to handle suspects more brutally. He’s also a president who, before taking office, encouraged his followers to assault political opponents, called Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and bragged about sexually assaulting women.7 In Jeff Sessions we now have an attorney general who, reversing previous policy, dismisses the idea that police brutality could be systemic and says that it’s bad for “morale” for his department to investigate abuse by local police departments.8 The same day that he appointed Sessions, Trump signed three executive orders intended to give police more authority.9

The Alt Right has contributed to this change in political climate through its supremacist propaganda and its role in helping Trump get elected. (For a full discussion of this, see “Ctrl-Alt-Delete.”) It also benefits from these changes, which serve as a public validation of its message; help grow its pool of potential recruits; and sharpen the atmosphere of tension, fear, and crisis that helps Far Right politics thrive.

2. Despite Trump’s volatility, in policy terms his administration has largely been coopted by conventional conservatism.

As a candidate, Donald Trump didn’t just run against the Republican establishment, but ridiculed and vilified it, in ways that helped endear him to most Alt Rightists. He touted a populist nationalism that defied conservative orthodoxy on multiple fronts, rejecting free trade and repeatedly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin, while pledging to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and rebuild infrastructure on a large scale. His anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals went much further than most conservative politicians were willing to go.10

But because he lacked an organizational base of his own, Trump was immediately forced to bring other constituencies into his administration. He appointed some nationalists, such as Attorney General Sessions, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, but he also put together a patchwork of establishment politicians, social conservatives, and people recruited from big business or the military. So, from the beginning, Trump’s presidency has rested on an unstable coalition of “America First” nationalists and people more or less aligned with conventional conservatism.11

Initially, the nationalists seemed to be on top, seeing their agenda supported or enacted in Trump’s inaugural speech, the Muslim ban that brought protesters to the airports in January, the withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and moves to expand the roundup of undocumented immigrants. But over time the balance shifted largely away from them. Flynn was forced out of his role; Sessions recused himself on the Russia investigation; former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn gained ground on economic policy; and Bannon was kicked off the National Security Council.12

The nationalist faction is still there and still making itself felt, but it’s far from leading a full-scale charge. As president, Trump has abandoned many of the populist-nationalist positions he took as a candidate, such as declaring NATO to be obsolete, advocating an alliance with Russia, denouncing NAFTA and the Export-Import Bank, and his call to make health care accessible to all. Even his policy on undocumented immigrants, writes columnist Doyle McManus, isn’t much harsher than the plan Mitt Romney proposed four years earlier.13 On the other hand, the recent White House-announced proposal to cut legal immigration in half indicates that the America Firsters have gained some ground again.14 This struggle is likely to continue.

Donald Trump is just as belligerent, impulsive, and self-aggrandizing as ever, which tends to put him at odds with conventional politics but also makes it more difficult for him to effect substantive, lasting change. In policy terms, what we’re left with so far is a harsher, more repressive, more chaotic version of neoliberalism with some America First elements. The Trump administration is dismantling environmental regulations and other kinds of business regulation, and (together with Congress) may eventually succeed in repealing Obamacare and cutting business taxes. All of this will further enrich the wealthy at the expense of our wallets, our future, and, in some cases, our lives. The administration will tinker with trade deals, deport Latin Americans and Haitians more indiscriminately than Obama, and make life harder for Middle Easterners and LGBTQ people—particularly trans people. It will probably do its best to speed up the growth of the national security state (which has been expanded by all recent presidents, Republican and Democratic alike). But barring some unforeseen crisis that could shift the balance again, the Trump administration is not going to withdraw from NAFTA, is not going to abandon NATO and align with Russia, and is not going to close the borders. The administration’s proposal to cut legal immigration will shift the terms of debate but is unlikely to pass since most Republican leaders, and probably most capitalists, oppose it. The neoliberal consensus is starting to break down, and will face more challenges in the coming years, but populist right-wing nationalism doesn’t seem strong enough or developed enough to supplant it yet.

3. The Alt Right has largely abandoned its support for Trump.

After the election, Alt Rightists saw themselves as the vanguard of the Trump coalition—the ones who would stake out forward positions and then pull other people along with them part of the way. They were excited about Trump appointing Bannon, Sessions, Flynn, and some others they saw as allies.15

But as the political balance inside the administration shifted, Alt Rightists got frustrated. The key turning point came in early April, when Trump launched a missile strike against Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack. Most Alt Rightists saw this as a shocking capitulation to the neocons and the foreign policy establishment.16 The fact that many conventional politicians and mainstream media organs praised the missile strike underscored Alt Rightists’ sense of betrayal.17 Many in the movement portrayed Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and other Jews in the administration as evil wire-pullers who had manipulated or blackmailed Trump into changing course.18

Since then, some Alt Rightists have argued their movement should “remain demanding but supportive” of Trump,19 but generally they have become cool or even hostile to the administration in a way that’s markedly different from six months ago. The Alt Right blog Occidental Dissent, which has been particularly outspoken in repudiating Trump, re-emphasized the movement’s revolutionary condemnation of the U.S. political order: “No elected official can salvage this nation. There is no reforming the system—it is beyond repair. We can only rebuild from the ashes.”20 Very recently, some Alt Rightist praised Trump’s moves to reduce legal immigration and attack affirmative action, but Richard Spencer warned that the immigration plan would bring in too many highly skilled non-Europeans and be “devastating” for White middle-class professionals.21

4. Alt Rightists have taken to the streets alongside other right-wing forces.

Even as it’s become alienated from the Trump administration, the Alt Right has been working to strengthen its influence in other ways, and strengthen its grassroots ties with organized Trump supporters. Even six months ago, the Alt Right still existed mostly online, excepting a few small conferences. Since then, some Alt Right groups, such as Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party, have focused more on building actual organizations and holding public rallies. Many of these rallies have been joint events with other rightists, including Alt Lite groups (who identify with Alt Right ideology to an extent but don’t call for abandoning the U.S. political system) and even Patriot movement groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.22 That’s a big change, because before this spring the Alt Right and Patriot groups didn’t have much visible contact with each other. Now they’re showing up at the same rallies—such as at Berkeley in April or Pikeville, Kentucky, that same month.23 There have been tensions and even some physical altercations between the two camps, because Patriot groups, like Alt Lite activists, generally disavow White nationalism, but the convergence of rightist forces in the streets is definitely an ominous development.24

Some of these joint events have been held under the banner of “free speech,” protecting political space against Antifa activists (militant anti-fascists), who are portrayed as “the real fascists.” Islamophobia has been another major point of unity, as in last month’s national “March Against Sharia,” which brought together Alt Rightists, racist skinhead groups, Patriot groups, right-wing Zionists, and even some LGBTQ activists. As PRA research fellow Spencer Sunshine argues, Islamophobia “is more socially acceptable than anti-Semitism while still demonizing a minority group. Plus, its ostensible emphasis on religion is a way to avoid specifically naming race.”25

5. Alt Rightists and their allies have been turning toward physical violence and creating a street-fighting presence

As part of their new focus on public demonstrations over the past several months, both Alt Right groups such as Nathan Damigo’s Identity Evropa as well as Alt Lite formations including Gavin McInnes’s Proud Boys and Kyle Chapman’s Fraternal Order of Alt-Knights have been organizing and training for combat and taking their skills to the streets. This has developed largely in the context of confrontations with Antifa activists, as in Berkeley, but has much bigger implications in terms of the Right’s ability to target oppressed communities and shape political space.26

To make the situation even more disturbing, neonazi skinheads from groups such as Hammerskin Nation have, at least in California, also been involved in these street clashes. As Northern California Anti-Racist Action (NoCARA) reports, the southern California-based DIY Division, also known as the Rise Above Movement, is a violent neonazi group that brings together Alt Right and Alt Lite activists along with Hammerskin members. “DIY Division as a political collective is working hard to bridge the gap between the more internet-based Alt-Right brand of white nationalism which is targeted to appeal to younger, generally more educated and upper-class white men and the more traditional boots on the ground and street violence which has characterized neo-Nazi skinhead politics.” NoCARA also highlights “the close relationships that exist between McInnes’s Proud Boys and…DIY Division…. The Proud Boys need the numbers and the muscle of the neo-Nazis, while the neo-Nazis need the cover of pro-Trump groups.”27

*                      *                      *

These developments are extremely serious. Despite its disenchantment with the Trump administration, the Alt Right appears to be simultaneously building a real capacity for organized physical violence and strengthening its grassroots connections with other rightist currents, including Trump supporters. Their focus on a shared enemy, whether Muslims or the black bloc, is helping to draw different rightist forces closer, and shared street fighting is deepening those ties. This type of activism is a direct physical threat to both oppressed communities and the Left, and can fuel authoritarian and supremacist tendencies within the state at all levels. To assume that breaking with Trump will leave the Alt Right weakened and marginalized would be a dangerous mistake.

At the same time, we shouldn’t exaggerate either the unity or the competence of this new wave of militant right-wing forces. Rightists are just as vulnerable as leftists to infighting, personality conflicts, and sectarian ideological squabbles. As journalist Shane Burley points out, Alt Rightists “are not politically savvy organizers; they are angry white men taking their rage out on everyone they think eroded their meager privilege.”28 So far, thankfully, their movement has failed to produce a skilled, charismatic leader who can unify them and provide strategic direction. (Richard Spencer may look dapper and sound polished in interviews, but he has never inspired devotion from the Alt Right as a movement.) And even a strong leader wouldn’t necessarily overcome the basic political differences separating Alt Rightists from their conservative fellow travelers. In the long run, if the Alt Right wants to coalesce with system-loyal rightists, it either has to win more people to its dream of right-wing revolution, or abandon it.

End notes

1 “Update: 1,094 Bias-Related Incidents in the Month Following the Election,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 16 December 2016,

2 “Ten Days After: Harassment and Intimidation in the Aftermath of the Election,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 29 November 2016,

3 Jason Wilson, “Suspect in Portland double murder posted white supremacist material online,” Guardian, 28 May 2017,

4 Angela Helm, “More Americans Killed by Police in 2017, but Trump Dominates Headlines,” The Root, 4 March 2017,

5 Will Greenberg, “Here’s How Badly Police Violence Has Divided America,” Mother Jones, 19 March 2017,

6 Dave Boyer, “Obama defends Black Lives Matter protests at police memorial in Dallas,” Washington Times, 12 July 2016,; “Obama Delivers Eulogy in Charleston” (video), New York Times, 27 June 2015,

7 Celia Caracal, “America Is Suffering from a Plague of Deadly, Unaccountable and Racist Police Violence,” AlternNet, 5 July 2017,; Mark Chicano, “Donald Trump’s speech was made more disturbing as Suffolk County cops cheered the idea of police brutality,” Newsday, 28 July 2017,; Michael Finnegan and Noah Bierman, “Trump’s endorsement of violence reaches new level: He may pay legal fees for assault suspect,” Los Angeles Times, 13 March 2016,; Tal Kopan, “What Donald Trump has said about Mexico and vice versa,” CNN, 31 August 2016,; Ben Jacobs, Sabrina Siddiqui, and Scott Bixby, “‘You can do anything’: Trump brags on tape about using fame to get women,” Guardian, 8 October 2016,

8 Adam Serwer, “Jeff Sessions’s Blind Eye,” The Atlantic, 5 April 2017,

9 Rachael Revesz, “Donald Trump signs executive order giving police more powers,” Independent, 9 February 2017,

10 Benjamin Studebaker, “Why Bernie Sanders is More Electable Than People Think,” Huffington Post, 12 February 2016,; “Morbid Symptoms: The Downward Spiral,” Unity and Struggle, 19 December 2016,

11 Robert Cavooris, “One Step Back, Two Steps Forward: Trump and the Revolutionary Scenario,” Viewpoint Magazine, 21 February 2017,

12 Donald J. Trump, “Transcript of President Trump’s inauguration speech,” USA Today, 20 January 2017,; Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, “Trump’s hard-line actions have an intellectual godfather: Jeff Sessions,” Washington Post, 30 January 2017,; “Wall Street banker Cohn moving Trump toward moderate policies,” Reuters, 17 April 2017,; Steve Holland and John Walcott, “Trump drops Steve Bannon from National Security Council,” Reuters, 5 April 2017,

13 Doyle McManus, “Trump’s populist revolution is already over—for now,” Los Angeles Times, 16 April 2017,

14 Peter Baker, “Trump Supports Plan to Cut Legal Immigration by Half,” New York Times, 2 August 2017,

15 Richard B. Spencer, “We the Vanguard Now,” Radix Journal, 9 November 2016,

16 Shane Burley, “As the ‘alt-right’ breaks from Trump, so goes its moment in the sun,” Waging Nonviolence, 17 April 2017,; Vegas Tenold, “The Alt-Right and Donald Trump Get a Divorce,” New Republic, 26 April 2017,

17 Hunter Wallace [Brad Griffin], “Donald Trump is Now ‘The Leader of the Free World,’” Occidental Dissent, 8 April 2017,

18 Andrew Anglin, “An Extremely Unfortunate Turn of Events,” Daily Stormer, 7 April 2017,

19 Pseudo-Laurentius, “Deploying Tactical Blackpills: The Alt Right Versus Trump,” The Right Stuff, 14 April 2017,

20 Meinrad Gaertner, “A Reflection and Foreshadowing,” Occidental Dissent, 17 April 2017,

21 Marcus Cicero, “MAGA: Trump Proposes Bill Vastly Cutting Legal Immigration, Imposition Of YUGE Hurdles For New Arrivals,” Occidental Dissent, 2 August 2017,; Colin Liddell, “Trump Fires First Salvo Against Anti-White ‘Affirmative Action’ Policy,”, 2 August 2017,; Richard Spencer, “Why I Oppose the RAISE Act,”, 3 August 2017,

22 “Based Reserve Army: How the Right is Changing Its Strategy,” It’s Going Down, 25 April 2017,; Spencer Sunshine, “The Growing Alliance Between Neo-Nazis, Right Wing Paramilitaries and Trumpist Republicans,” ColorLines, 9 June 2017,

23 “Oath Keepers Call to Action: Stand and Defend Free Speech at Berkeley Patriots Rally, April 15, 2017,” Oath Keepers, 1 April 2017,; Eminence Grise, “Reflections on the Revolution in Berkeley,” The Right Stuff, 16 April 2017,; Lois Beckett, “Armed neo-Nazis prepare for potential clash in small Kentucky town,” Guardian, 29 April 2017,

24 “‘Alt-Right’ declares flame war on Oath Keepers,” Southern Poverty Law Center, 15 June 2017.; Taly Krupkin, “The Jewish Provocateur Caught in the Turf War as the ‘Alt-right’ Battles the ‘Alt-light,’” Ha’aretz, 22 June 2017,

25 Spencer Sunshine, “Islamophobia is the Glue that Unites Diverse Factions of the Far Right,” Truthout, 14 July 2017,

26 Antifascist Front, “The Alt Right Has Taken the Public Step Towards Violence,” Anti-Fascist News, 28 April 2017,; David Neiwert, “Far Right Descends on Berkeley for ‘Free Speech’ and Planned Violence,” Hatewatch (Southern Poverty Law Center), 17 April 2017,; Emma Grey Ellis, “Don’t Look Now, But Extremists’ Meme Armies are Turning Into Militias,” Wired, 20 April 2017,; “Gavin McInnes’ ‘Alt-Right’ Fan Club Drifts Toward Neo-Nazi Violence,” IdaVox, 18 May 2017,

27 Northern California Anti-Racist Action, “How ‘Based Stickman’ & Proud Boys are Working with Neo-Nazis in So-Cal,” It’s Going Down, 8 July 2017,

28 Shane Burley, “Alt-Right 2.0,” Salvage, 6 July 2017.

Attacking Trans People in Defense of “Austerity”

Family Research Council sent a strong anti-trans message via Twitter on July 20th, ahead of Trump’s tweet on Wednesday announcing a ban on trans service members.

On July 24, 2017, the Family Research Council (FRC), a right-wing political advocacy group based in Washington, DC, issued an Action Alert to its members, enlisting their support in denying healthcare to military personnel who are transgender. FRC argued that providing medically necessary treatment to trans people is “a distraction from the military’s purpose and undermines readiness, recruitment, and retention.” The appeal went on to suggest that trans-affirming care would be a waste of taxpayer money — money that could be better put to use purchasing more fighter jets and missiles.

Two days later, President Trump announced via Twitter that he was reversing a policy that’s been under review since June 2016 which would have allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. Trump argued that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Though it’s entirely unclear how Trump’s new decree will be put into effect (a point highlighted by Republican Senator John McCain), according to his tweets, trans people will not be allowed to serve “in any capacity.”

Despite McCain’s observation that “major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” Trump’s preferred mode of communication has once again stolen headlines, distracting attention away from the Christian Right engineers of the surge in anti-trans attacks.

In June 2015, FRC laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement,” which specifically argues against allowing trans people the right to serve in the military, in addition to withholding gender-affirming healthcare, access to gender transition procedures (often understood to be life-saving for transgender people), legal recognition, and protection from discrimination.This position paper was co-authored by Dale O’Leary, a Catholic writer based in Avon Park, Florida, and Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC who has advocated for so-called “reparative therapy” and argues that transgender people suffer from “delusions.”

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Society, O’Leary and Sprigg dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people, and then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy. As longtime transgender rights activist Brynn Tannehill explains, it’s a plan “to legislate transgender people out of existence by making the legal, medical, and social climate too hostile for anyone to transition [from one gender to another].”

In their 2015 “Washington Watch” newsletter, FRC had used a different strategy in voicing opposition to trans service members by stating trans people are “confused” about biology and not fit to serve due to “mental illness.”

Working in conjunction with Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and other leading Christian Right organizations, FRC advances its anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion agenda through reports such as the one authored by O’Leary and Sprigg, as well as lobbying efforts, media work, and high-profile conferences, namely the annual Values Voter Summit. The 2016 Values Voter Summit featured appearances by both Trump and then-Governor Pence. It was the first time a Republican presidential ticket has ever spoken at the summit, and a foreshadowing of the degree of influence FRC would come to command under the new administration.

From the start of this administration, FRC has played a key role in shaping the new political landscape; Trump’s transition team included FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell as domestic policy chair, and Kay Cole James, a former FRC vice president, was a co-lead on management and budget affairs for the transition team. The organization is now using its close proximity to the president and vice president to further advance its anti-trans agenda.

In a press release following Trump’s Twitter announcement, FRC’s president, Tony Perkins (who blames the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ people on the confusion caused when individuals who “recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal” are offered contradictory messages of affirmation from pro-LGBTQ advocates) applauded the president “for keeping his promise to return to military priorities – and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation’s military.”

Perkins went on to say, “The last thing we should be doing is diverting billions of dollars from mission-critical training to something as controversial as gender reassignment surgery. … As our nation faces serious national security threats, our troops shouldn’t be forced to endure hours of transgender ‘sensitivity’ classes and politically-correct distractions like this one.”

Both Perkins’ and Trump’s language harkens back to one of the oldest tricks in the Right Wing’s playbook: Set up a dichotomy between the “deserving” and the “undeserving,” and drive a wedge between them. As PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty explained in her 2015 essay, “My On-Again, Off-Again Romance with Liberalism,” the Right has a proven formula for undercutting efforts toward equity: “seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The ‘welfare queen,’ the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire — all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.”

The Right’s new portrait of liberalism run amok is the “delusional” trans person, whose only real delusion is that employees deserve non-discrimination protections and healthcare coverage from their employer. Trump’s description of trans people as being a “burden,” and FRC’s suggestion that trans inclusion is a “distraction” is simply the newest chapter in the Right’s fear-inducing mythology of parasitic, undeserving “takers” in American society. This inhumane framing serves as justification for gatekeeping economic opportunities and civil rights for marginalized people and conceals how destructive so-called austerity can be.

Click here to learn more about the Christian Right’s agenda against transgender people.

The Triumph of the Lie: How Honesty and Morality Died in Right-Wing Politics

This article is an online feature of the Summer 2017 issue of The Public Eye. Subscribe today!

This is how lies move to normalization: A small “white lie” is put forward, just to clarify a point. A larger lie follows, but it’s still only a detail in a larger argument. The whopper, down the line, performs another function: drawing attention from even more pernicious deceit. The earlier lies, accepted with a shrug, had set the stage for acceptance. Lying has become a strategy.

In February, President Donald Trump’s spokesperson Kellyanne Conway talked, in all seriousness, about a “Bowling Green massacre”1 that never occurred. That fabrication became the scandal du jour, rather than Trump’s outrageous immigration order that Conway was defending. Just weeks later, Trump himself illustrated the whole process by speaking of a terrorist attack in Sweden that didn’t exist.2 These lies became the issue, overriding any serious debate about terrorism, its causes and the best responses. If intentional, the strategy had succeeded.

Photo of Joe McCarthy from the Library of Congress taken on December 31st, 1953. Photo: Wiki Commons.

The bafflement caused by this strategy, of lying to distract, dates back at least to Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s 1950 claim that he had a list of communists in the State Department. Waving a paper at a West Virginia audience, he said there were several hundred of them, a charge he never substantiated. We don’t know what was on that piece of paper, but it was certainly no roster of communists. Yet Democrats who opposed McCarthy played into his hands by responding to the lie while his real agenda—establishing his own power—continued unobstructed for four more years. Tellingly, McCarthy’s chief counsel at the end of those years, Roy Cohn, would become Donald Trump’s mentor.3

Political lies can be well intended, with supposedly noble ends justifying unseemly means. As great art uses fictitious details to illuminate greater truths, the lies of wartime—ruse de guerre—can bring about victory, as in “Operation Mincemeat,” when fake letters on a corpse washed ashore in Spain fooled the Germans out of reinforcing Sicily during World War II. In other instances, however, the upshot becomes less noble: Conway and Trump ratcheting up fear so that less attention will be paid to real problems facing the United States.

Senator Joe McCarthy’s chief aide, Roy Cohn, later became a mentor to Donald Trump.

Perhaps the most durable political lie of the past generation is the “Laffer Curve,” the idea that lowering taxes can actually raise government income by fostering economic growth. Although there is no evidence it has ever worked—when Reagan tried it, the budget deficit exploded and the state of Kansas has now backtracked from its own experiment with it 4—this lie has been used to excuse reduction of taxes for the rich and, ultimately, government services for everyone else for more than 30 years. No one in government believes that, though it is again being trotted forward to justify Trump’s proposed tax cuts.

While the Laffer Curve lie obfuscates, the intent of most political lies is to sow confusion, as McCarthy used deflection for political gain. Today, as psychoanalyst Joel Whitebook writes, “By continually contradicting himself and not seeming to care, Trump generates confusion in the members of the media and political opposition that has often rendered them ineffectual.”5 This cannot be done without an opposition that supposes at least a half-hearted commitment to truth. Today, liberals and members of the news media are often confused by the lack of respect they get for upholding the virtue of truth, and still want to believe that there are real positions being explicitly stated by the other side, and not just lies that make debate impossible.

The Rationale Behind the Lie

Political lies can also be used to build skepticism toward those who are its targets, as I have previously written in these pages.6 Today, Robert Mercer, co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies and a major backer of the Heritage Foundation (as well as of Trump), along with his daughter Rebekah (who heads the Mercer Family Foundation) and current chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, have put the lie to good use in this regard. As Matea Gold of The Washington Post writes, they have “quietly built a power base aimed at sowing distrust of big government and eroding the dominance of the major news media”7 through, among other projects, Breitbart News. Today, trust in news media is at an all-time low, primarily because of lies used against them.

The triumph of the lie today isn’t to Trump’s credit alone, though he lies with frequency; it belongs to a broad right-wing trend toward winning at any cost, toward lowering the importance of ethics and moral values, and toward reducing the importance of idealistic political philosophy itself to the point of meaninglessness. Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the former Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, spent several years creating an aura of dishonesty around Hillary Clinton through fruitless “investigations” of her actions in relation to the Benghazi killings of American diplomats in Libya in September 2012.8 But he seemed to abandon his supposed concern for truth and openness once Trump became president. After it became apparent that former national security advisor Michael Flynn had lied about meeting with the Russian ambassador—lies compounded by later revelations that Flynn had neglected to indicate on an application for security clearance that he had accepted money from Russia and Turkey, something no retired general is legally able to do without permission—Chaffetz declared, “I think that situation has taken care of itself.”9 Chaffetz subsequently announced his decision to resign from Congress at the end of June 2017. Could it be because he became uncomfortable in his new role as a check on Trump? Likewise, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul suggested there was no point in pursuing falsehoods or fraud when the perpetrators are Republicans, saying, “we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”10

Political expediency controls conservative concern for truth today, just as in McCarthy’s time: only the lies of the opposition (real and imaginary) are worth pursuing.

One of the checks on political lies should be one’s own allies, especially those presumably committed to the ideals of a movement, whether conservative or liberal. On the Right, conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr., claimed that mantle for half a century. Yet he and conservative activist L. Brent Bozell, Jr. (whose son, the right-wing publisher L. Brent Bozell III, is a major Trump supporter), penned a 1954 defense of McCarthy which, in the words of reviewer and historian William S. White, suggested that mistakes “are not tolerable when made by non-McCarthyites. When made by McCarthyites, however, and especially by Mr. McCarthy himself, they call only for a gentle chiding .”11 Though McCarthy was only a senator, that sounds much like many contemporary conservatives’ attitudes toward Trump’s “mistakes” and lies. Indeed, the afterword of the Buckley/Bozell book can chill a reader today: “Current reports indicate that American intellectuals travelling abroad divide their time, more or less equally, between sight-seeing and apologizing for McCarthy. For Europeans, it seems, have lost faith in America, where McCarthyism is rife.”12 McCarthy was only a Senator; his spiritual successor, Trump, is president.

American intellectuals traveling in Europe found themselves apologizing for McCarthy, who was only a Senator.

The tendency to forgive one’s friends while condemning one’s enemies has a long political history but it has grown, today, to unprecedented proportions. For that reason alone, Trump is able to lie with impunity, assured that his political allies, even the most reluctant ones, will not call him out even though, just last year, they shouted “Lock Her Up!” in response to allegations that Hillary Clinton had lied.

Over his first 100 days, The Washington Post found, he made “469 false or misleading claims.”13 Falsehood has become such second nature to Trump that, as David Remnick reports in The New Yorker, he once told an architect to add size and stories when talking to the press about a building they wanted to erect. “Trump has never gone out of his way to conceal the essence of his relationship to the truth and how he chooses to navigate the world,” Remnick writes.14 Yet Trump’s putatively conservative, morality-based supporters show no concern, let alone outrage, about these lies—whether because, as some argue, right-wing belief is inherently authoritarian, making followers willing to accept whatever the leader says, or because Republican politicians don’t actually care about Trump as long as he provides them cover to push through their agenda of tax cuts and deregulation.

Just last year, they shouted “Lock Her Up!” in response to allegations that Hillary Clinton had lied.

Whatever the case may be, the general acceptance of the President’s lies by his supporters illustrates the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the Right, and the culmination of a process of casting aside belief for expediency that began with McCarthy. Perhaps the best example of the depths into which he has cast them came during a broadcast part of a cabinet meeting on June 12, 2017, when the Vice President and other members of the cabinet in turn extolled the wonders of Trump.15 Demagoguery and hyperbole have become standard fare.

The Legacy of the American Lie

Right-wing strategist David Horowitz speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Meshae Studios via Flickr.

Right-wing strategist David Horowitz justifies political lies in his 2010 book, The Art of Political War for Tea Parties,16 as necessary parts of both “art” and “war,” wherein there are no constraints in either creative expression or fighting for dominance. That is, Horowitz argues for an extreme politics—politics as a type of war, where the art of waging it successfully justifies anything. Horowitz didn’t invent this. The political notion of “honest graft,” for example, goes back much further than the Tammany politician George Plunkitt, who coined this phrase to excuse dishonesty “in the public interest.” Trump bothers with no such sophistry. He wants to believe he had a smashing victory at the polls; therefore, he’s not really lying when he says he won with legitimate voters. He appears able to simultaneously lie and still believe his own “alternative facts” (to use another phrase of Conway’s17)—quite a feat of sophistry.

Clouding the issue, members of the news media often don’t always clearly separate fact from opinion. Speaking on January 25, 2017 on the National Public Radio program Morning Edition, senior NPR Vice President of News Michael Oreskes, after agreeing with one of his reporters that defining a “lie” is simply a matter of establishing intent (often an impossibility), said, “Our job as journalists is to report—to find facts, establish their authenticity and share them with everybody. And I think when you use words like lie it gets in the way of that.”18 But these “facts” Oreskes wants reporters to find aren’t always facts; they are often simply utterances by newsmakers. By not calling untruthful statements lies, the media can end up abetting the Right’s strategic use of lies.

From World War II until the election of Ronald Reagan, the mainstream news media tried to establish an ethos of fact-based reporting, but that was never completely successful and it failed when media owners discovered that news could be a profit center. (Even NPR, a nonprofit, pays close attention to numbers and income.) Today, journalists who cover politics often find themselves trapped—between opinion and fact, between Horowitz’s vision of art and war—and they don’t know how to get out. This results from their “ingrained habit,” as political scientist Norm Ornstein describes it, of “the reflexive ‘we report both sides of every story,’ even to the point that one side is given equal weight not supported by reality.”19 The Right has become adept at taking advantage of this.

A currently influential right-wing activist and writer, Horowitz actually started as a leftist. But when he saw which way the wind was blowing in the 1970s, he trimmed his sails and headed far to the Right. Like Trump, who has also shifted political allegiance, Horowitz’s compass always seemed to point more towards particular goals with a personal as well as political element. For both, the lie has no moral aspect, but is simply a tool.

Ramparts magazine, where Horowitz worked from 1968 into the 1970s, was an outlier even among leftist publications in the 1960s. Founded in the early 1960s with a Catholic focus, the magazine later “added generous doses of sex and humor, adopted a cutting-edge design, forged links to the Black Panther Party, exposed illegal CIA activities in America and Vietnam, published the diaries of Che Guevara and staff writer Eldridge Cleaver, and boosted its monthly circulation to almost 250,000,” as one history of the publication put it.20 Horowitz’s experience there, starting shortly after the magazine published William Turner’s shaky article on New Orleans’ District Attorney Jim Garrison’s equally shaky investigation into the Kennedy assassination 21—a theory that blamed the CIA—showed Horowitz the power of manipulating the truth. TIME magazine described Ramparts as “slick enough to lure the unwary and bedazzled reader into accepting flimflam as fact.”22 Embracing the lie as a tool allowed people like Horowitz to flourish and eventually, through the likes of Fox News, and right-wing provocateurs Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe III, to take over the U.S. conservative movement. They, and not more traditional conservatives like George Will and David Brooks, are now the plow that cleared the way for Trump.

Horowitz argues in his 2010 edition of The Art of Political War that “politics isn’t just about reality.

Horowitz argued, in a 2010  edition of The Art of Political War for Tea Parties, that “politics isn’t just about reality. If it were, good principles and good policies would win every time. It’s about images and symbols, and the emotions they evoke. This is the battle that conservatives generally lose.”23 Though Horowitz’s argument is strained—the Right, in fact, has become particularly adept at winning on emotional appeals and not so often on sound, proven policy—one implication is clear: the old rules don’t apply. In right-wing politics today, one can lie without concern for the truth behind such things as “images and symbols.” The constant repetition of the lie that Obama was born in Kenya left many Americans with the impression that he was at least a Muslim, if not a Kenyan. The power of the accusation lay not in its veracity—it had none—but rather in its symbolic ability to create the impression of Obama as “un-American.”

Horowitz continues to trot out staples of right-wing argument that he certainly knows are untrue, like “Everything that is wrong with the inner cities of America that policy can affect Democrats and progressives are responsible for.”24 Further justifying his lies of this sort, Horowitz presents what he calls “the principles of political war.” Namely:

  1. Politics is war conducted by other means
  2. Politics is a war of position
  3. In political wars the aggressor usually prevails
  4. Position is defined by fear and hope
  5. The weapons of politics are symbols evoking fear and hope
  6. Victory lies on the side of the people.25

By accepting these principles, Horowitz validates the use of political lies. But by equating politics with war he also approves of leaving morality and honesty aside in pursuit of winning—a dangerous proposition, as we are now seeing in the age of Trump.

New Journalism and the Rise of Its Evil Twin

As Ramparts was reaching its heights in the 1960s, the phenomenon of New Journalism was also taking hold in U.S. magazines. It played with the truth in another way, as its most famous practitioner, Tom Wolfe, recalls in describing his first encounter with it:

My instinctive, defensive reaction was that the man had piped it, as the saying went . . . winged it, made up the dialogue . . . Christ, maybe he made up whole scenes, the unscrupulous geek . . . The funny thing was, that was precisely the reaction that countless journalists and literary intellectuals would have over the next nine years as the New Journalism picked up momentum. The bastards are making it up!.26

Some of them were making it up. Or embellishing. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is no paragon of factuality.27 Hunter Thompson’s nascent “gonzo journalism” in Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga didn’t let truth get in the way of a good story.28 However, much of their work could be justified on the same grounds one uses for fiction: small inaccuracies served a greater point. In right-wing politics, however, this strategy has been twisted into an excuse for saying anything and never having to apologize for being wrong.

In the 1970s, the philosopher Sissela Bok made the obvious connection between lies, politics and journalism, outlining the practical genesis of the lie in each field:

the cub reporter who will lose his job if he is not aggressive in getting stories, or the young politician whose career depends on winning an election, may in principle be more sorely tempted to bend the truth than those whose work is secure; but this difference may be more than outweighed by the increased callousness of the latter to what they have come to regard as routine deception. 29

U.S. culture worships success. Winning means everything; the path there, very little. And some moral constraints on that objective have loosened over the years or have even been modified to allow for deception. Together, they have moved American culture to the cynicism of Pontius Pilate, who (according to John 18:38) asked Jesus “What is truth?” just before allowing him to be crucified.

Pilate’s question, today, has renewed importance, as even the president struggles with the concepts of “real” and “fake” news. In May 2017, Trump was shown two doctored TIME magazine covers about climate change that quickly got him “lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy”30 (unsurprising, given the fake cover of TIME hanging in some of his golf courses31). And his administration has tried to find ways to justify his lies (something he personally never would have bothered with before being elected). From St. Augustine on, “truth” has been central to understanding relationships between individuals, and has colored perceptions of the lie and the liar. This may have changed for today’s political activists on the Right, but the president is finding himself in an awkward position where Pilate’s question can no longer be ignored. Today, for Trump, it has aspects of life and death that he’s never faced before. His lies, no longer meaningless, move through the entire world.

Prime Movers of the Lie in Politics Today

Though Trump may be the most prominent liar in contemporary politics, he’s far from alone. I’ve already mentioned two of his most effective contemporaries: James O’Keefe of Project Veritas and the late Andrew Breitbart, whose website, under the subsequent leadership of Steve Bannon, has become a major right-wing (and Alt Right) source of fake news.32 The two men have spawned an entire industry, one whose most famous recent success is the Planned Parenthood “sting” videos of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, edited in such a way as to make it seem as though Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.

Belying its name, Project Veritas has little to do with truth of any sort. It is a project of political “warfare” in the tradition Horowitz has established. Its website claims as its mission to “Investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct in both public and private institutions in order to achieve a more ethical and transparent society.”33 O’Keefe’s method of operation involves two types of lies: first sandbagging opponents by disguising himself and his associates in such a way that those they interview let down their guard, and then creatively editing their responses—often captured on hidden cameras—to make the points he wishes about the organizations he’s attacking. His greatest success was the destruction of the community activist group ACORN through dishonest presentation of interviews with ACORN workers, a formula also used by Daleiden and Merritt.

Both O’Keefe and Breitbart have tried to justify themselves by claiming continuity with the muckraker tradition within journalism. “Discovery,” however, is not part of their lexicon; rather self-justification and winning are. Today, O’Keefe keeps to his playbook, though he has been exposed as a fraud many times, and Breitbart acolyte Steve Bannon has propelled into a premier political website that has now gone global and himself into a position as one of the president’s most important advisors.

Defeating Lies

Unknown protester holds sign at the Anti-Trump protest in New York City at Tompkins Square Park in January of 2017. Photo: Meshae Studios via Flickr.

Responsibility for the triumph of the lie in American public discourse rests not with any one group of people or movement, though the Political Right benefits from it most.

If the current defeat of truth is to be reversed and the lie once again relegated to a position of approbation, the old tactic of simply exposing lies must be abandoned. It took years for this to work in McCarthy’s time and will likely take even longer now, perhaps too long. Though exposing lies is necessary, we have to develop a different strategy if we are to bring back any pride in truth. We have to reinvent moral and ethical standards, apply them to our own lives, and insist that we never reward liars, no matter how much we like them or agree with the positions they adopt.

The response to Trump’s flagrant use of the lie in firing FBI director James Comey in May—claiming he was responding to the bungled investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails34—may be a start toward a national realignment in favor of the truth. The real reason for the firing was obvious—the investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign had to be stopped—and the public rejected the cover story with a level of outrage missing throughout the many lies of the primaries and 2016 election. The White House, used to its lies working in its favor, was taken aback.

We have to reinvent moral and ethical standards, apply them to our own lives, and insist that we never reward liars.

For years, politics in the U.S. has been devolving toward the logic of professional wrestling, where truth is irrelevant and the fan favorite is the champion. Politicians have played agreed-upon roles, while the people have cheered for victors it already knew would win—or, in Trump’s case, would provide the best show. The public response to the Comey firing—an angry and full-throated denunciation of political lies, which eventually led to the appointment of a special counsel to continue the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia—was the first hopeful sign in a long time: that the lie hasn’t yet triumphed completely, that democracy isn’t yet dead.


1 Samantha Schmidt and Lindsey Bever, “Kellyanne Conway cites ‘Bowling Green massacre’ that never happened to defend travel ban,” The Washington Post, February 3, 2017,

2 Eric Bradner, “Trump’s Sweden comment raises questions, CNN Politics, February 20, 2017,

3 Marcus Baram, “Eavesdropping on Roy Cohn and Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, April 14, 2017.

4 Max Ehrenfreund, “Kansas Republicans raise taxes, ending their GOP governor’s ‘real live experiment’ in conservative policy,” The Washington Post, June 7, 2017,

5 Joel Whitebook, “Trump’s Method, Our Madness,” The New York Times, March 20, 2017,

6 Aaron Barlow, “The Art of the Slur: From Joe McCarthy to David Horowitz, The Public Eye Magazine, Fall 2006.

7 Matea Gold, “The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built,” The Washington Post, March 17, 2017,

8 Amy Davidson, “The Politics of the Benghazi Report,” The New Yorker, June 29, 2016.

9 Cristina Marcos, “GOP chairman: Oversight won’t investigate Flynn,” The Hill, February 14, 2017,

10 Andrew Kaczynski, “Rand Paul on Flynn: ‘Makes no sense’ to investigate fellow Republicans,”, February 14, 2017,

11 William S. White, “What the McCarthy Method Seeks to Establish,” The New York Times, April 4, 1954,

12 William F. Buckley Jr. and L. Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies: The Record and its Meaning (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1954), 336.

13 “Fact Checker,” “100 Days of Trump Claims,” The Washington Post, April 29, 2017.

14 David Remnick, “A Hundred Days of Trump, The New Yorker, May 1, 2017,

15US News Today, “FULL President Trump Cabinet Meeting 6/12/2017- President Trump Holds First Full Cabinet Meeting, Youtube Video, June 12, 2017,

16 For more on this see my article “The Art of the Slur: From Joe McCarthy to David Horowitz,” The Public Eye, Volume 20, Number 3, Fall, 2006,

17 Emma Stefansky, “Kellyanne Conway Introduces Concept of “Alternative Facts” to Account for Sean Spicer’s Lies,” Vanity Fair, January 22, 2017,

18 Michael Oreskes, in “NPR and the Word ‘Liar’: Intent Is Key,” Morning Edition, January 25, 2017,

19 Norm Ornstein, “Yes, Polarization Is Asymmetic—and Conservatives Are Worse”,The Atlantic, June 19, 2014,

20 Peter Richardson, A Bomb In Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America (New York: The New Press, 2009), i.

21 William W. Turner, “The Garrison Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy” (Ramparts, January 1968), 43.

22 “A Bomb in Every Issue” (Time, January 6, 1967, Vol. 89, Issue 1, 41).

23 David Horowitz, The Art of Political War for Tea Parties (Sherman Oaks, CA: David Horowitz Freedom Center, 2010), 7.

24 Horowitz, 9.

25 Horowitz, 10.

26 Tom Wolfe, “The Birth of ‘The New Journalism’; Eyewitness Report,” New York (February 14, 1972, Volume V, Number 1),

27 “Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ Accuracy under Scrutiny,” CBS This Morning, December 5, 2014,

28 James McClure, “Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Hell’s Angels’ Turns 50 This Year,” Civilized, June 23, 2016,

29 Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (New York: Pantheon, 1978).244.

30 Shane Goldmacher, “How Trump gets his fake news,” Politico, May 15, 2017,

31 Francisco Alvarado and David A. Fahrenthold, “At one Trump golf resort, fake Time magazine covers are taken off the wall,” The Washington Post, June 29, 2017,

32 For more information about the activities of O’Keefe and Breitbart, see my chapter “The Pride and Reward of Falsification” in News with a View: Essays on the Eclipse of Objectivity in Modern Journalism edited by Burton St. John and Kirsten Johnson (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012), 26-41.

33 “About,” Project Veritas website,

34 Noah Bierman and David Lauter, “Trump fires FBI chief, citing handling of Clinton email investigation,” Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2017,


Profile on the Right: Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller speaking at an event in Phoenix, Arizona, June 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore.

Stephen Miller, the 31-year-old senior policy advisor to Trump, spent seven years as a communications and speech writing advisor to U.S. Attorney General and former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and worked with Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). A graduate of Duke University with no discernible policy experience, Miller is also the speechwriter responsible for Trump’s divisive speech at the Republican National Convention.1 The speech was widely noted for its harsh tone—one of “law and order” and “making America safe again,” even as the country experiences historic lows in violent crime. The speech was called “deeply disturbing,” “angry and harsh,” and “deeply resentful” by veteran political adviser David Gergen; peppered with ideology that “not many [conservatives] are willing to support,” according to conservative commentator Tara Setmayer; and “hateful” by commentator Raul Reyes.2

Miller is a staunch conservative who rallied on behalf of White nationalist Peter Brimelow in 2007. Brimelow, founder of the Center for American Unity, has promoted the work of men like Samuel T. Francis, the late editor of Citizens Informer, published by a White supremacist organization that has described Black people as “a retrograde species”—and White supremacist Jared Taylor, editor of American Renaissance, a former magazine and current blog that specializes in eugenics and “race betterment” through selective breeding.3

A native of Santa Monica, Miller developed his right-wing ideology early, after reading Guns, Crime and Freedom by NRA President Wayne LaPierre.4 He has long been associated with anti-immigration, anti-globalist, nationalist, and xenophobic views, which fall neatly in line with those espoused by Sessions, Trump, and other key influencers in the administration. He is ardently outspoken against feminism, has questioned the validity of unequal pay for women, and has said, “there is a place for gender roles. … I can’t stomach the idea of, say, having a wife who worked as a prison guard … Feminists would say this outlook makes me a chauvinist. But they’d be wrong. It’s not chauvinism. It’s chivalry.”5

More recently, Miller has also been associated with influential Alt Right leader Richard Spencer, who made national headlines when he closed a speech in celebration of Trump’s presidential victory with “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory,” and was met with Nazi salutes from audience members.6 Although Miller denies any relationship between them, Spencer claims that he “knew [Miller] very well” when they were both students at Duke and that they raised money together as part of an initiative to bring Brimelow to campus.7

Although Miller appeared mostly at rallies and behind the scenes during Trump’s campaign, he was brought into the limelight in February after spokesperson Kellyanne Conway made repeated blunders on national television.8 Miller soon gained notoriety for being combative, making false statements, and using phrases that sounded alarmingly authoritarian as he made his rounds on major news circuits. Miller’s dialogue in these interviews reiterated ideologies he promoted during the campaign. In June 2016, Miller assured campaign rally-goers that a Trump administration would “build a wall high [and] tall … and we’re going to build it out of love … for every family who wants to raise their kids in safety and peace.”9

The implication that a wall provides “safety and peace” plays to the administration’s fear mongering by reinforcing a baseless belief in immigrant criminality. The Wall Street Journal, hardly a bastion of liberal propaganda, published commentary in July 2015 dispelling the “mythical connection between immigrants and crime.”10 According to the Immigration Policy Center, immigrants are less likely than non-immigrants to commit violent crimes; this is true no matter their nationality or country of origin. Illegal immigration to the U.S. more than tripled from 1990 to 2013. Meanwhile, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent and property crime rates fell 41 percent.11

While Miller stoked the flames of xenophobia in campaigning for Trump, in his senior administrative position he is now poised to directly influence policy in dangerous, regressive, and disturbing ways. In a February 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Miller defended Trump’s controversial travel ban and said the nation would be better off financially by helping Syrian refugees settle in their own country12—where more than 460 civilians have been killed in less than three months, and 400,000 people have been killed overall since 2011.13 Miller says refugees cost the United States more money than they’re worth—another unsupported claim. On the contrary, repeated studies have shown that refugees typically have either a positive or neutral effect on a host community’s economy and wages.14

One of Miller’s most disturbing comments came in a February exchange with John Dickerson on “Face the Nation,” in response to a question regarding the Supreme Court overturning Trump’s travel ban: “The whole world will soon see … that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”15

Miller’s alarming comments didn’t stop there. He appeared on ABC’s “The Week,” where he repeated blatant mistruths regarding voter fraud. Miller used an oft-cited research study led by Jesse Richman of Old Dominion University to argue that “14 percent of noncitizens, according to academic research, at a minimum, are registered to vote, which is an astonishing statistic.” This has been repeatedly debunked.16 The Trump camp has so often used this study in their oratory that the researcher himself made a statement: “On the right there has been a tendency to misread our results as proof of massive voter fraud, which we don’t think there are.”17


[1] Gautam Hathi and Rachel Chason, “Stephen Miller: The Duke grad behind Donald Trump,” The Chronicle, July 31 2016,

[2] “Trump: A Speech Like No Other?” CNN, July 22, 2016,

[3] “Extremist File: Peter Brimelow,” Southern Poverty Law Center

[4] Rosie Gray, “How Stephen Miller’s Rise Explains the Trump White House,” The Atlantic, February 4, 2017,

[5] Stephen Miller, “Sorry Feminists,” The Chronicle, November 22, 2005,

[6] Paul Murphy, “White Nationalist Richard Spencer Punched During Interview,” CNN, January 21, 2017,

[7] Josh Harkinson, “Meet the White Nationalist Trying to Ride the Trump Train to Lasting Power,” Mother Jones, October 27, 2016,

[8] Chris Riotta, “Advisor Gains Power After Kellyanne Conway’s Embarrassing Blunders,” International Business Times, February 13, 2017,

[9] Julia Ioffe, “The Believer,” Politico, June 27, 2016,

[11] Jason Riley, “The Mythical Connection between Immigrants and Crime,” Wall Street Journal, July 14, 2015.

[11] Walter Ewing, Ph.D., Daniel Martinez, Ph.D., and Ruben Rumbaut, Ph.D., “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States, American Immigration Council, July 13, 2015,

[12] Tessa Stewart, “Trump Advisor Stephen Miller Defends Travel Ban,” Rolling Stone, February 10, 2016,

[13] Janice Williams, “Aleppo Death Toll: How Many People Have Been Killed in Russian-Syrian War?” International Business Times, December 14, 2016,

[14] Ana Swanson, “The Big Myth About Refugees,” The Washington Post, September 10, 2016,

[15] Aaron Blake, “Stephen Miller’s authoritarian declaration: Trump’s national security actions ‘will not be questioned,’” The Washington Post, February 13, 2017,

[16] Glenn Kessler, “Stephen Miller’s Bushels of Pinocchios for False Voter-Fraud Claims,” Washington Post, February 12, 2017,

[17] Jesse Richman, “Some Thoughts on Non-Citizen Voting,” Old Dominion University,

Donald Trump and Manufacturing the Muslim Menace

Protests against the travel ban occurred in many international airports across the country. Here, a crowd gathers at SFO on January 29, 2017 (photo: Kenneth Lu via Flickr).

Trump’s first week in office was punctuated by an executive order to ban travelers from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and refugee admissions for 120 days. Under the order, Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.1 This has all been done under the guise of “national security,” spearheaded by men with a history of anti-Muslim ideology.

Despite the Right’s claim of patriotic allegiance to the constitution, the ACLU found many clear violations associated with Trump’s orders, calling him a “one-man constitutional crisis.”2The ink was barely dry on Trump’s order before even national security experts spoke against the ban.

Former CIA counterterrorism case officer Patrick Skinner, who served in Afghanistan as an intelligence advisor for General Petraeus3, called Trump’s actions immoral, stupid, and counterproductive, noting: “We’ve got military, intelligence, and diplomatic personnel on the ground right now in Syria, Libya, and Iraq who are working side by side with the people, embedded in combat, and training and advising. At no time in the US’s history have we depended more on local—and I mean local—partnerships for counterterrorism. We need people in Al Bab, Syria; we depend on people in a certain part of eastern Mosul, Iraq; in Cert, Libya. At the exact moment we need them most, we’re telling these people, ‘Get screwed.’”4

Kirk Johnson, who worked for the US Agency for International Development in Fallujah, said the ban will “have immediate national security implications, in that we are not going to be able to recruit people to help us right now, and people are not going to step forward to help us in any future wars if this is our stance.”5

Trump fueled his campaign with Islamophobic rhetoric. During his campaign in 2015, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of the entry of Muslims” and said “it is obvious the hatred is beyond comprehension” (Ironically, he was referring to Muslims.)6 He consistently criticized President Obama and Secretary Clinton for refusing to refer to “radical Islamic terrorism.” (They instead referred to them as “acts of terror and hate.”)7

Click to read our 2011 report, Manufacturing the Muslim Menace.

These shifts in semantics and cultural sensitivity arose after the Obama administration investigated and overhauled counterterrorism training in 2013, much of which was nestled in xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric and led by for-profit security firms. These firms—hired to train military and enforcement personnel on counterterrorism tactics—used generalized, inaccurate, and dangerous stereotypes designed to provoke suspicion, xenophobia, and religious hatred. These trainings and their leaders—many of whom were aligned with neoconservative Christian organizations—were studied extensively by the PRA over nine months and published in our 2011 report, Manufacturing the Muslim Menace: Private Firms, Public Servants, the Threat to Rights and Security. It is important now to re-visit some of those findings:

  • Government agencies responsible for domestic security had/have inadequate mechanisms to ensure quality and consistency in terrorism preparedness training provided by private vendors.
  • Public servants are regularly presented with misleading, inflammatory, and dangerous information about the nature of terror threats.
  • In place of sound skills training and intelligence briefings, a vocal and influential sub-group of the private counterterrorism training industry has marketed conspiracy theories about secret jihadi campaigns to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law, and effectively impugns all of Islam—a world religion with 1.3 billion adherents—as inherently violent and even terroristic.

The report notes that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security expressed the importance of semantics in defining the terrorist threat, and—after meeting with influential Muslim American scholars equally concerned with acts of terror—found three tenants to be useful in describing such acts:

  • Do not demonize all Muslims or Islam.
  • Some terrorists believe their actions are based in theology and are therefore valid—as such, we should remove that validation by using accurate and descriptive language; i.e., avoiding the use of “jihadist,” as “jihad” has varied, textured, and non-violent meaning for Muslims worldwide.
  • Private and public servants should be conscious of history, culture, and context.

Rather than adhering to these and other principles, “counterterrorism experts” implied that Muslims who “practice their religion properly” are required to impose jihadist violence against Americans, the PRA report found. These alleged experts have made numerous dubious and dangerous claims, including:

  • Jihadists pose as civil rights advocates and patiently recruit until almost all mosques, educational centers, and socioeconomic institutions fall into their hands.
  • Jihadists who put off militant action are simply waiting until their holy moment comes.
  • Muslims are stealthily infiltrating the United States from within, intending to make it a Muslim nation.
  • Muslims are aligned with Satan.

Unfortunately, government standards for homeland security professionals’ certification appear undefined and by presenting themselves as law enforcement and intelligence specialists, these organizations and spokespeople lend their credentials to religious bigotry.

PRA’s report went on to outline some of the dangers of these training methods, all of which are prevalent in the wake of Trump’s actions:

  • Biased intelligence analysis.
  • Unlawful searches, surveillance, and actions.
  • Violence and hate crimes.
  • Threats to free speech.

The 2013 overhaul under the Obama administration sought to avoid these dangers by referring to acts of terror accordingly and maintaining respect for a religion in which the vast majority of its followers are peaceful. In a matter of weeks, the current administration reversed such overhauls and regressed back to stereotypical anti-Muslim dialogue. In addition to enforcing a moratorium on entrants from Muslim-majority countries, Trump will now focus counter-extremism solely on Islam,8 even though more people have died in the U.S. from politically-motivated violence perpetrated by right-wing militants than by Muslim militants since 9/11.9

Our 2015 report, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf,” provides comprehensive information on how the government, media, and Right Wing approach the issue of terrorism, and how these issues are framed through semantics, enforcement of laws, and politics. Sociologist Naomi Braine finds that “the differential treatment of right-wing and Muslim cases draws attention to the political contexts surrounding terrorism-related law enforcement … mainstream conservative politicians and [media] protest depictions of right-wing militants as anything more than troubled but patriotic Americans, while Muslim men … are constantly monitored as intrinsic security risks. In the process, Muslims lose Constitutional protections for belief, speech, and association—forced to inhabit an ambiguous territory as ‘un-American.’”10

Sadly, an example of this differential treatment played out before the American public after the Quebec mosque shooting on January 29, in which a right-wing militant named Alexandre Bissonnette murdered six people. As of February 8, Trump—who took time to condemn an attack at the Louvre by 29-year-old Abdullah Hamamy—remained completely devoid of a direct response.11

It’s alarming that the leader of our country has aligned himself so undeniably with the generalized concept of the Muslim menace that he has already caused irreparable damage to national security—jeopardizing tens of thousands of lives and causing a crisis that “will do long-term damage,” as government leaders noted12—all in the name of national security.


[1] Laurel Raymond, “Trump, Who Campaigned on a Muslim Ban, Says to Stop Calling it a Muslim Ban,” Think Progress, January 30, 2017,

[2] Anthony Romero, “Donald Trump: A One-Man Constitutional Crisis,” ACLU,

[3] The Soufan Group, “Patrick Skinner,”

[4] Bryan Schatz, “Immoral, Stupid, and Counterproductive: National Security Experts Slam Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Mother Jones, January 28, 2017,

[5] Bryan Schatz, “Immoral, Stupid, and Counterproductive: National Security Experts Slam Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Mother Jones, January 28, 2017,

[6] Laurel Raymond, “Trump, Who Campaigned on a Muslim Ban, Says to Stop Calling it a Muslim Ban,” Think Progress, January 30, 2017,

[7] Jeremy Diamond and Nicole Gaouette, “Does it Matter if Obama Uses the Term ‘Islamic Terrorism’?” CNN, June 13, 2016,

[8] Julia Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Kristina Cooke, “Trump to Focus Counter-Extremism Program Solely on Islam,” Reuters, February 2, 2017,

[9] Naomi Braine, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf?” Political Research Associates, June 19, 2015,

[10] Naomi Braine, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf?” Political Research Associates, June 19, 2015,

[11] May Bulman, “Kellyanne Conway Defends Donald Trump’s Silence Over Quebec Mosque Shooting,” The Independent, February 8, 2017,

[12] Laura Koran, Elise Labott and Jim Sciutto, “Ex-National Security Officials in Both Parties Protest Trump Order,” CNN, January 30, 2017,

Pro-LGBTQ Smokescreens for Anti-Muslim Attacks

Two activists with placards at London’s vigil in memory of the victims of the Orlando gay nightclub terror attack. Photo: Alisdare Hickson via Flickr.

In a press release issued after last year’s Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, where a Muslim-American gunman killed 49 people at a gay dance club, Donald Trump said, “Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country who suppress women, gays and anyone who doesn’t share their views.”

His solution? Ban Muslims.

“When I am elected,” he said, “I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies.”

“I don’t want them in our country,” he declared. Less than a year later, Trump’s recent executive order—regarded by many as a “Muslim ban”—went into effect.

As Dylan Matthews reported in Vox, Trump’s post-Orlando rhetoric is a favorite trick of the European Far Right. The strategy of invoking LGBTQ rights as just cause for anti-Muslim policies first gained popularity in 2002 when Dutch activist Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay man, rose to political prominence based, in part, on his advocacy for zero immigration. Fortuyn, who aspired to be the Netherlands’ next Prime Minister, once argued, “In Holland, homosexuality is treated the same way as heterosexuality. In what Islamic country does that happen?”

Like Trump, Fortuyn was described as a demagogue and populist, and in the weeks leading up Holland’s 2002 election, a journalist for The Guardian observed, “Fortuyn believes he dares to say what most people are thinking. On 15 May he will discover whether his instincts are right. If they are, the ripples of his success will radiate far beyond the Netherlands’ borders.” But before the Dutch could cast their ballots, Fortuyn was assassinated by a lone shooter: a vegan animal rights activist who later confessed that he killed Fortuyn in order to “protect Muslims.”

Fortuyn’s contemporary, Geert Wilders, leader of the Netherlands’ far-right Party for Freedom, is keeping his mentor’s legacy alive, using the same twisted trade-off that pits gays (as well as women and Jews) against Muslims. In a recent op-ed, Wilders argued, “Islam is a totalitarian ideology. Muslims are its victims. … [T]he more Islamic apostates there are, the less misogyny, the less hatred of gays, the less anti-Semitism, the less oppression, the less terror and violence, and the more freedom there will be.”

Dubbed “the Dutch Donald Trump,” Wilders promises to return the Netherlands to its White, Christian roots. In a rare interview with NPR last December, Wilders said, “Donald Trump did the job in America, and I hope that here in Europe, we will see a patriotic spring in Holland and also in Germany, in France—in many other countries where parties like mine are getting stronger every day.”

While his European admirers cheer him on, Trump has issued an onslaught of regressive executive orders. His actions have encompassed a wide range of targets including health care, the environment, immigrants, refugees, and, of course, Muslims.

Shortly after last week’s anti-Muslim executive order, rumors began to circulate that LGBTQ people would be next on the list. The White House issued a statement indicating that Trump was not seeking to roll back the protections for LGBTQ federal workers that Obama established by way of executive order in 2014, but this small concession was no kind of victory. LGBTQ Muslims and LGBTQ immigrants are still squarely in the crosshairs of the Trump Administration, and outside of the federal workforce, LGBTQ workers in more than 20 states remain vulnerable to discrimination.

Meanwhile, a draft order on “religious freedom” obtained by The Nation on February 1 included language that would “create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity.” Legal experts described the document as “sweeping” and “staggering,” and argued that it may be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The threat of the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) also looms. FADA is the most threatening chapter in the Christian Right’s ongoing effort to redefine religious freedom in order to impose oppressive ideologies and justify discrimination. The law, which Trump has vowed to pass, would open the door to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people (and countless others) by granting legal protections to people, businesses, or institutions that believe “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Specifically, it prevents the government from revoking tax-exempt status, issuing fines or penalties, canceling contracts or grants, or “otherwise discriminat[ing] against such a person.”

Any supposedly “pro-gay” concessions made by the Trump Administration should be seen for what they really are: a smokescreen through which to push through other regressive attacks on Muslims, immigrants, women, and other marginalized and threatened communities.

The ACLU’s Ian Thompson, a legislation representative specializing in LGBTQ policy, warns that FADA “would impact LGBTQ people everywhere,” even in states where LGBTQ people are otherwise protected by civil rights ordinances that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

So regardless of whether or not Trump moves forward with the draft religious freedom executive order (or something close to it), LGBTQ rights are still at grave risk, and any supposedly “pro-gay” concessions made by the Trump Administration should be seen for what they really are: a smokescreen through which to push through other regressive attacks on Muslims, immigrants, women, and other marginalized and threatened communities.



Profile on the Right: Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon at the Bloggers Briefing in October 2010. Photo: Don Irvine via Creative Commons.

Stephen Bannon is the former CEO of Brietbart News Network—which he promotes as “the platform for the Alt Right”1—and is now Donald Trump’s chief strategist and a key player on national security issues. Bannon has a history of antisemitism and has been called “one of the foremost peddlers of white supremacist themes and rhetoric.”2 He has expressed admiration for anti-Muslim hate groups, ridiculed the Black Lives Matter movement by remarking that “some people … are naturally aggressive and violent,” and likened civil rights advocacy to Communism.3

Bannon is a key player among a team of advisors who helped Trump develop an “action plan” for his first weeks in office, which included weakening Obamacare, putting a freeze on federal hiring, strengthening immigration enforcement, and preventing refugees and visa-holders from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.4 The ACLU has called Trump a “one-man constitutional crisis,” and said that his policy proposals—largely developed and backed by Bannon—“blatantly violate the inalienable rights guaranteed by the Constitution.” Taken together, the policies enforced by Trump and Bannon violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution.5

Under Bannon’s leadership, Brietbart News has promoted racist, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant ideals, and has published such articles as “The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage,” “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture,”6 and ”Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,”7 among others. When Bannon was named Trump’s chief strategist, former KKK leader David Duke called it an “excellent selection.”8

During his first week as president, Trump gave Bannon a full seat on the principals committee of the National Security Committee. Trump’s order places Bannon alongside secretaries of state and defense and downgrades the roles of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and director of national intelligence.9 Republican Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called Bannon’s appointment a “radical departure” and said Trump’s “reorganization” was concerning. CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto said it “raises questions about whose voices will be most prominent about key national-security decisions in the country.” 10

In addition to Bannon’s history of racism and xenophobia, he has—unsurprisingly—engaged in misogynistic rhetoric. With Bannon’s guidance, Brietbart News published such pieces as “There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women … They Just Suck at Interviews,” “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.”11 In 1996, Bannon’s then-wife accused him of domestic violence. In a 2011 radio interview, Bannon likened the women’s movement to “a bunch of dykes,” and in 2015, Brietbart News compared Planned Parenthood to Hitler.12 He was caught on tape calling one of his female employees a “bimbo,” and saying he was going to give her a “reality check,” “kick her ass,” and “ram [her accusations] down her fucking throat.”13

In a 2014 speech to a Christian conservative group, Bannon criticized then praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the “Judeo-Christian West” should take cues from Putin, particularly on issues of nationalism. “Strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors,” Bannon said. These statements came after Bannon claimed the Alt Right is “the voice of the anti-abortion [and] traditional marriage movement [and] we’re winning victory after victory after victory.”14

Is Bannon a White supremacist? Does he seek to infiltrate the administration with White supremacist views and normalize the Alt Right as a patriotic and political movement, rather than a racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic platform? Bannon has gone to great lengths to avoid the “White supremacist” label, and those close to him disavow claims that Bannon has racist and misogynistic attitudes.15 It’s important to note that Bannon refers to White supremacists as “White nationalists,” which fuels the nationalistic beliefs he touted in 2014 while normalizing the ideals of White supremacy.  This is also the man who called for every flagpole in the South to proudly fly the Confederate flag—remarks that came just days after nine African Americans were murdered at an historic Black church in Charleston.16

Bannon, a former investment banker with Goldman Sachs’ New York office, earned a master’s degree from Georgetown University and attended Harvard Business School. After leaving Goldman Sachs, he launched a boutique investment firm, which he eventually sold. Bannon is also a former naval officer. Prior to working with Trump, he had no political experience.17

As Bannon increasingly bends Trump’s ear and shifts national focus toward dangerous and alarming ideologies, it’s critical that the American people—and the global community—understand the man behind Trump’s curtain and the potential and irreparable damage his power has already caused—and will continue to cause—until and unless he is overhauled from his position of influence.


[1] Sarah Posner, “How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists,” Mother Jones, August 22, 2016,

[2] “Stephen Bannon: White House Role for Right-Wing Media Chief,” BBC News, November 14, 2016,

[3] Sarah Posner, “How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists,” Mother Jones, August 22, 2016,

[4] Josh Dawsey, Eliana Johnson, Annie Karni, “The Man Behind Trump? Still Steve Bannon,” Politico, January 29, 2017,

[5] “The Trump Memos: The ACLU’s Constitutional Analysis of the Public Statements and Policy Proposals of Donald Trump,” ACLU,

[6] Milo Yiannopoulos, “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” Breitbart, December 8, 2015,

[7] David Horowitz, “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” Breitbart, May 15, 2016,

[8] David Horowitz, “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” Breitbart, May 15, 2016,

[9] Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman, “Bannon is Given Security Role Usually Held for Generals,” January 29, 2017,

[10] Natasha Bertrand, “Trump Just Made an Unprecedented, Radical Change to the National Security Council,” Business Insider, January 29, 2017,

[11] Heather Saul, “Steve Bannon: Some of the Worst Breitbart Headlines Published Under Donald Trump’s Chief Strategist,” The Independent, November 14, 2016,

[12] Kate Storey, “Who is Steve Bannon? 15 Things to Know About Trump’s Chief Strategist,” Cosmopolitan,

[13] Claire Landsbaum, “Trump Campaign Chief Caught on Tape Calling a Female Employee a ‘Bimbo,’” September 1, 2016,

[14] “Business Insider: Bannon’s 2014 Vatican Speech Strikes Fear on Wall Street,” Brietbart, November 16, 2016,

[15] Ian Tuttle, “Steve Bannon is Not a Nazi,” National Review, November 14, 2016,

[16] Casey Michel, “Steve Bannon’s Dangerous Campaign to Rebrand Racism as American ‘Nationalism,’” Quartz, November 18, 2016,

[17] Kate Storey, “Who is Steve Bannon? 15 Things to Know About Trump’s Chief Strategist,” Cosmopolitan,