History Wars Exposed: Right-Wing Influence in APUSH Curriculum Update

Co-authored by Katherine Stewart.

Click here for a printable PDF.

Click here for a printable PDF.

This article appears in the Fall 2015 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

On July 30, 2015, the College Board, creators of college-level curricula and testing for high school students, released an update to its Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course.1 The revision came after what had already been a two-year battle and was quickly criticized by all sides. Digital news outlet Quartz published an article detailing “All the ways the new AP U.S. history standards gloss over the country’s racist past,”2 while conservative media sites like The Daily Caller quoted conservative “experts” who groused that the changes were merely cosmetic and still don’t adequately emphasize “American Exceptionalism.”3 But as to why the changes had been undertaken in the first place, the media consensus was, as The Washington Post put it, that “Conservatives convinced College Board to rewrite American history.”4 Were these headlines just clickbait or had there been mounting pressure on the College Board to appease right-wing critics?

Jeremy Stern, an independent historian who had consulted on the College Board overhaul,5 cast the revision in a more positive light, telling The Christian Science Monitor, “This is a major success for an unpolitical look at American history.”6 However, there was nothing “unpolitical” about the events preceding the revisions.

Photo via Flickr courtesy of Don Harder. License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

Photo via Flickr courtesy of Don Harder. License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode

The fight over APUSH had been simmering ever since the College Board released its new version of the framework in 2012; it boiled over in several states after the new curriculum was implemented for the 2014-2015 school year. The original redesign of the course—in the works since 2006—was intended to reflect an ongoing shift in history classrooms from rote memorization to critical thinking skills.7 As the authors of the new curriculum explained in Education Week, 8 they’d been motivated by the concerns of AP teachers who felt the existing APUSH curriculum “prevented them and their students from exploring in any depth the main events and documents of U.S. history.” They sought greater opportunities for their students to “understand the ‘why’ of U.S. history,” and to “make its deeper meanings come alive to students.” The 2014 redesigned APUSH was greeted warmly by academic associations, including the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the National Council for Social Studies, and the National Council for History Education.

But the College Board’s attempt to change how students learn U.S. history was greeted by conservatives as a revision of what U.S. history is.9

Education has long been a front in the U.S. culture wars. In particular, conservatives have argued for at least two decades that secular progressives have taken over history studies to inculcate students with a negative view of the American past and present.10 Thanks to a concerted effort from members of the State Policy Network,11 such as the Boston-based Pioneer Institute12 and the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, high school history has remained a controversial subject on a national level.

“Ben Carson said that ‘most people’ who complete the course would then be ‘ready to sign up for ISIS.'”

The APUSH controversy of the past several years is reported to have started when Larry Krieger, a retired high school history teacher who had started each year with the theme of American exceptionalism,13 slammed APUSH in numerous articles,14 including several written for the Heartland Institute,15 a conservative think tank known for its role in promoting climate-science denial. The Republican National Committee picked up the beat and condemned APUSH as “radically revisionist.” Peter Wood, President of the right-leaning National Association of Scholars and a critic of environmentalism and LGBTQ equality, penned an extensive piece criticizing the APUSH redesign last year,16 using the term “Bowdoin Syndrome” to describe what he called the “intellectual arrogance” fostered by that college as well as by AP examinations. Eventually, Tea Party hero Ben Carson, author of One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future, went so far as to say that “most people” who complete the course would then be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”17

“Little Rebels”

In 2014, the fight received national media attention when nearly 400 high school students in Jefferson County, Colorado, engaged in an unusual form of political theater. A newly elected school board was attempting to create a “curriculum committee”18 that could review any course’s instruction materials, starting with APUSH. Its review criteria held that “Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”19 A Colorado school board member, Julia Williams, summed up this sentiment in an interview with a local TV news station, saying, “I don’t think we should encourage our kids to be little rebels.”

In protest of the school board’s attempt to write civil obedience into the curriculum, the students dressed themselves up as historical figures, including Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., and sundry founding fathers, and staged a walk out. Some county schools were closed when too many teachers failed to show up for work in protest.20 Jefferson County Board of Education President Ken Witt dismissed the students as “political pawns”21 for the teachers’ unions, but the walkout succeeded in stalling the school board’s plan to change the curriculum22 and helped garner support for the recall of three board members.23

Local Battles, National Strategy

The Jefferson County history battle was colorful enough to capture national headlines. But it was just one in a string of conflicts over APUSH curricula taking place nationwide over the last few years, in Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, and North and South Carolina.

While the vehement state battles appeared to be driven by local personalities and agendas, there was a larger, national strategy at work.

“In Texas, the infamously right-wing State Board of Education passed a resolution in September 2014 to request that the College Board revise the APUSH framework.”

The opposition to APUSH occurred on two levels. The first, as in Colorado, concerned control of local school boards and school communities. A second prong of the attack focused on legislation at the state level, bolstered by a resolution passed by the Republican National Convention denouncing the course and urging Congress to withdraw funding to the College Board.24 Policymakers in the Carolinas agitated to eliminate or doctor APUSH at the end of 2014. In Texas, a state that represents 10 percent of the College Board’s market,25 the infamously right-wing State Board of Education passed a resolution in September 2014 to request that the College Board revise the APUSH framework.26 In February 2015, Oklahoma state representative Dan Fisher introduced a bill that would bar funds from being used on AP History, although public outcry effectively killed the bill within a month.27 And in March 2015 in Georgia, a lobbyist from the American Principles Project, a right-wing think tank based in Washington, D.C., reportedly showed up urging legislators to adopt anti-APUSH legislation, resulting in a bill that passed the state Senate in March28 (but ultimately stalled in the House).

The American Principles Project (APP), which has been advocating against APUSH since at least the Jefferson County protests, was founded in 2009 by Princeton University professor and Catholic neoconservative Robert P. George in order to ensure that the “dignity of the person” is reflected in local and national policies. Some of the APP’s best-known work has been produced in the fight against Common Core, but its leadership is invested in a broader slate of culture war issues. After the publication of the Manhattan Declaration in 2009, The New York Times called George “the country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker.”29 George was the primary author of the Declaration—part of an effort to unify conservative Catholics and evangelicals around a three-part agenda, which they described as “life, marriage, and religious liberty”30—but other APP figures are also proven culture warriors. APP chairman Sean Fieler also heads the Chiaroscuro Group, whose radio ads attacking a pro-choice politician once featured a talking fetus; the APP’s board president, Francis Cannon, coauthored a post-2012 report on “Building a Winning GOP Coalition”;31 and other board members include anti-marriage equality activist Maggie Gallagher and Luiz Tellez, cofounder of the anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion legal advocacy group the Witherspoon Institute (which helped fund a thoroughly debunked 2012 study by conservative sociologist Mark Regnerus suggesting negative outcomes for children of same-sex couples32).

In their 2015 lobbying document,33 APP charged that APUSH “requires American History to be taught through a leftist, revisionist lens.” According to APP, the course gave “special attention to the formation of gender, class, racial and ethnic identities” and “presents American business in a consistently negative light.”

This type of accusation is an old one, dating back to at least 1994, when Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities (and wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney) condemned the National Standards for U.S. History as revisionist political correctness in her now-famous Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The End of History.”34 Over twenty years later, Cheney, currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, resumed the attack in another Journal op-ed, “The End of History, Part II,” arguing, “The [APUSH] curriculum shouldn’t be farmed out, not to the federal government and not to private groups. It should stay in the hands of the people who are constitutionally responsible for it: the citizens of each state.”35

Whose History?

At the core of this debate over “revisionist” versus “traditional” history is the question of whether U.S. history curriculum should be about facts or a primer on civic duty and citizenship. The College Board’s new curriculum already had to stand the test of certain state laws such as North Carolina’s Founding Principles Act, which since 2011 has required that high school students pass a course on the “Founding Principles” (because “the survival of the republic” depends on students being better “guardians of its heritage”).36

A professor of history at the University of Oklahoma asserted that the 2014 “framework represents a shift from national identity to subcultural identities” and warned, “We will not be able to uphold our democracy unless we know our great stories, our national narratives, and the admirable deeds of our great men and women. The new AP U.S. History framework fails on that count, because it does not see the civic role of education as a central one.”37 (Scholars of Native American history pushed back on this, arguing in Indian Country Today that, “American Indian history is part of the fabric of the state of Oklahoma and who we are today…therefore all of that history is American history.”38)

“At the root of current objections to this highly regarded process is a blatant disregard for the facts.”

In September 2014, the Board had responded to critics, writing in a memo, “At the root of current objections to this highly regarded process is a blatant disregard for the facts…the most vocal critics have prioritized their own agenda above the best interests of teachers, students, and their families.”39 Nonetheless, the force of the pushback was enough to convince the Board to solicit public feedback on their course, which they did through their website from late 2014 through early 2015.40

In the end, with no sign of the debate relenting, the College Board agreed to another revision, which was released this July. News coverage pointed to the pressure the College Board had received using phrases such as “gives in” and “caves to.”

Zachary Goldberg, Director of Media Relations for the College Board, objected to these characterizations, saying that inaccurate media reports about the revision had misled many readers into thinking the Board had removed numerous mentions of slavery from the course. Not only was that incorrect, he wrote, but the revision was hailed as a success “by historians and teachers representing a range of political views [for] presenting a richer and more balanced view of American history. This was achieved not by reducing or minimizing the important narratives of underrepresented groups, but by adding to those narratives and including other important themes and concepts that the 2014 edition was rightly criticized for having minimized.”41

Whether or not the curriculum was rightly criticized, and the College Board was simply “responding to legitimate criticism while avoiding excessive overcompensation” (as consultant Jeremy Stern put it),42 the events preceding the revisions appear to suggest that APUSH, like much school curricula, has been politicized by a right-wing agenda.

The areas of the curriculum that the College Board noted had received the most criticism—the treatment of the founding fathers, founding documents, free enterprise, and America’s role in wartime victories—underwent the most significant changes and expansions.43 And a side-by-side comparison of the two versions of the course shows concrete examples of right-wing influence—some blatant, and some more coded.

“Mention of ‘white superiority’ as a component of Manifest Destiny was stripped from the 2015 revision, along with any mention of “white resistance” to desegregation.”

Analysis of White racial identity and power as an undercurrent of U.S. history is all but erased. Mention of “white superiority” as a component of Manifest Destiny was stripped from the 2015 revision, along with any mention of “white resistance” to desegregation. From 2014 to 2015, the coverage of Native American history under colonialism shifted from describing indigenous people’s attempts to “forge advantageous political alliances” in order to “maintain their tribal lands” to having “repeatedly evaluated and adjusted their alliances” in order to “maintain control of tribal lands and natural resources”—a subtle tweak that seems to speak more to contemporary conservative complaints about Native American control of natural resources on sovereign lands than an impartial reassessment of what happened during colonial times. Where the issue of White racial identity was added, it often seemed intended to mitigate injustices perpetuated against Blacks, by linking the experience of White indentured servants and poor White sharecroppers with the experience of enslaved Africans and impoverished African Americans in the Jim Crow South.

While Goldberg argues that “The struggles and challenges experienced – and that continue to be experienced – by minorities as America seeks to live up to its ideals in no way are minimized in the new edition,” many complexities of those struggles seem to have been lost in the Board’s new revision. Quoted in a September article in Indian Country Today, K. Tsianina Lomawaima, a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation and a professor at Arizona State University, pointed to the consolidation of “Latino, American Indian, and Asian American movements” into one statement in the course as an example of how the newest curriculum is “once again erasing indigenous sovereignty and sliding American Indians in as just another piece of the so-called racial-ethnic mix.”44

To The National Review, which was pleased with the revision, the changes amounted to “a good rewrite,” and “balanced handiwork.”45 But the biggest question about teaching U.S. history remains: how can you balance coverage of a heritage that was never based on equity?

Information in this chart was compiled from the 2014 and 2015 edition of the College Board's AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description

Information in this chart was compiled from the 2014 and 2015 edition of the College Board’s AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description


About the Authors:

Gabriel Joffe is the program coordinator at Political Research Associates. 

Katherine Stewart has written for The Nation, The New York Times, and The Guardian. She is the author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (PublicAffairs, 2012).


1 “The 2015 AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description,” Advances in AP, July 30, 2015, https://advancesinap.collegeboard.org/english-history-and-social-science/us-history/2015-ced.

2 Jack Flanagin, “All the ways the new AP US history standards gloss over the country’s racist past,” Quartz, July 31, 2015, http://qz.com/469169/all-the-ways-the-new-ap-us-history-standards-gloss-over-the-countrys-racist-past/.

3 Scott Greer, “Experts: AP U.S. History Still Doesn’t Teach American Exceptionalism,” The Daily Caller, August 5, 2015, http://dailycaller.com/2015/08/05/experts-ap-u-s-history-still-doesnt-teach-american-exceptionalism/.

4 Lyndsey Layton, “Conservatives convinced College Board to rewrite American history,” The Washington Post, July 30, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/college-board-rewrites-american-history/2015/07/30/cadadd4c-36d1-11e5-b673-1df005a0fb28_story.html.

5 Anya Kamenetz, “The New, New Framework For AP U.S. History,” NPR, August 5, 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/08/05/429361628/the-new-new-framework-for-ap-u-s-history.

6 Kevin Truong, “New guidelines for AP history: Are they still ‘unpatriotic’?,” The Christian Science Monitor, July 30, 2015, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2015/0730/New-guidelines-for-AP-history-Are-they-still-unpatriotic.

7 College Board, “Announcing AP U.S. History Course and Exam Revisions” (presentation, AP Annual Conference, July 20, 2012), http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap_ush_course_exam_revisions.ppt.

8 Catherine Gewertz, “AP History Framework Authors Defend Their Work,” Education Week, August 18, 2014, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2014/08/the_authors_of_the_new.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-FB.

9 Caitlin MacNeal, “Meet The Man Behind The Right’s AP History Freak Out,” Talking Points Memo, October 9, 2014, http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/larry-krieger-ap-us-history-conservatives.

10 Katherine Stewart, The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (New York: Public Affairs, 2012), 164.

11 For a more in depth look at the State Policy Network and its links with member organizations see Frederick Clarkson, “EXPOSED: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks Are Transforming U.S. Politics,” Political Research Associates, November 25, 2013, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/25/exposed-how-the-rights-state-based-think-tanks-are-transforming-u-s-politics/#sthash.kAdMt3Nz.dpbs.

12 Stanley Kurtz, “Madison Scholar Condemns AP U.S. History Redesign,” National Review, September 2, 2014, http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/386849/madison-scholar-condemns-ap-us-history-redesign-stanley-kurtz.

13 Pema Levy, “What’s Driving Conservatives Mad About the New AP History Course,” Newsweek, August 14, 2014, http://www.newsweek.com/whats-driving-conservatives-mad-about-new-history-course-264592.

14 Casey Quinlan, “College Board Caves To Conservative Pressure, Changes AP U.S. History Curriculum,” Think Progress, July 30, 2015, http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/07/30/3686060/conservatives-get-major-win-fight-ap-history-classes/.

15 Larry Krieger, “29 Biased Statements In the AP U.S. History Redesign,” Heartland, August 19, 2014, http://news.heartland.org/newspaper-article/2014/08/19/29-biased-statements-ap-us-history-redesign.

16 Peter Wood, “Update on AP U.S. History,” National Association of Scholars, July 10, 2014, https://www.nas.org/articles/update_on_ap_us_history?utm_source=Copy+of+July+2014+Newsletter&utm_c.

17 Valerie Strauss, “Ben Carson: New AP U.S. history course will make kids want to ‘sign up for ISIS’,” The Washington Post, September 29, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/09/29/ben-carson-new-ap-u-s-history-course-will-make-kids-want-to-sign-up-for-isis/.

18 Jesse Paul, “Jeffco students walk out of 5 high schools in school board protest,” The Denver Post, September 23, 2015, http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26588432/jeffco-high-school-students-plan-walk-out-their.

19 Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education, “Board Committee for Curriculum Review,” September 18, 2014, http://www.boarddocs.com/co/jeffco/Board.nsf/files/9NYRPF6DED70/$file/JW% 20PROPOSAL%20Board%20Committee%20for%20Curriculum%20Review.pdf.

20 Justin Streight, “Colorado Teacher Protest Shuts Down Schools Over History Censorship,” Inquisitr, October 1, 2014, http://www.inquisitr.com/1511072/colorado-teacher-protest-shuts-down-schools-over-history-censorship/.

21 Dr. Susan Berry, “Colorado Teacher’s Union Uses Students As ‘Political Pawns’ in Teacher Salary Dispute,” Breitbart News, September 24, 2014, http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2014/09/24/jefferson-county-colorado-teacher-s-union-uses-students-as-political-pawns-in-teacher-salary-dispute/.

22 Jack Healy, “After Uproar, School Board in Colorado Scraps Anti-Protest Curriculum,” The New York Times, October 3, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/04/us/after-uproar-colorado-school-board-retreats-on-curriculum-review-plan.html?_r=1.

23 Nicholas Garcia, “Jeffco clerk: School board recall organizers have enough signatures,” Chalkbeat Colorado, August 18, 2015, http://co.chalkbeat.org/2015/08/18/jeffco-clerk-school-board-recall-organizers-collected-enough-signatures/#.VddSnJ1Vikp.

24 Catherine Gewertz, “Republican National Committee Condemns New AP History Framework,” Education Week, August 11, 2014, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2014/08/college_board_statement_on_ap.html.

25 Merrill Hope, “Exclusive: Texas is ‘Nation’s Last Best Chance’ To Block APUSH, Say Experts,” Breitbart News, September 11, 2014, http://www.breitbart.com/Texas/2014/09/11/Exclusive-Texas-is-Nations-Last-Best-Chance-to-Block-APUSH-Say-Experts/.

26 Merrill Hope, “Texas State Education Board Passes Resolution to Stop Redesigned AP US History,” Breitbart News, September 20, 2014, http://www.breitbart.com/texas/2014/09/20/texas-state-education-board-passes-resolution-to-stop-redesigned-ap-us-history-apush/.

27 Jasmine Song, “Oklahoma Educators Quash Attempt to Ban AP U.S. History,” neaToday, March 16, 2015, http://neatoday.org/2015/03/16/oklahoma-educators-quash-effort-ban-ap-u-s-history/.

28 Martha Dalton, “Georgia Senate Passes Resolution Challenging AP US History Exam,” 90.1 FM WABE, March 12, 2015, http://wabe.org/post/georgia-senate-passes-resolution-challenging-ap-us-history-exam.

29 David D. Kirkpatrick, “The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker,” The New York Times, December 16, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/20/magazine/20george-t.html.

30 Frederick Clarkson, “Christian Right Seeks Renewal in Deepening Catholic-Protestant Alliance,” Political Research Associates, July 23, 2013, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/07/23/christian-right-seeks-renewal-in-deepening-catholic-protestant-alliance/#sthash.w8MSl9lV.dpbs.

31 “Building a Winning GOP Coalition: The Lessons of 2012,” American Principles in Action, October 2013, http://www.americanprinciplesinaction.org/gop-autopsy-report-2013/.

32 Brandon Watson, “New Documents Contradict Regnerus’ Claims on Gay Parenting Study,” The Austin Chronicle, March 29, 2013, http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2013-03-29/new-documents-contradict-regnerus-claims-on-gay-parenting-study/.

33 Ayman Fadel, “Anti-Advanced Placement US History Movement at Georgia Capitol,” Aym Playing, March 19, 2015, https://aymplaying.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/i-dont-have-time-to-discuss-all-the-scary-ramification-of-this-document-and-the-movement-it-represents-but-i-wanted-to-pass-this-on-to-others-asap/.

34 Lynne V. Cheney, “The End of History,” The Wall Street Journal, October 20, 1994, http://online.wsj.com/media/EndofHistory.pdf.

35 Lynne V. Cheney, “The End of History, Part II,” The Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/lynne-cheney-the-end-of-history-part-ii-1427929675.

36 T. Keung Hui, “NC Board of Education to hear AP US History controversy,” Charlotte Observer, November 27, 2014, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article9237761.html#.VH0R3THF_kK#storylink=cpy.

37 Wilfred M. McClay, “History, American Democracy, and the AP Test Controversy,” Imprimis Vol. 44, No. 7/8, July/August 2015, https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/history-american-democracy-and-the-ap-test-controversy/.

38 Tanya H. Lee, “University of Oklahoma Prof: Native History is American History,” Indian Country Today, March 6, 2015, http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/03/06/university-oklahoma-prof-native-history-american-history-159482.

39 “Statement on AP U.S. History.” Advances in AP, September 19, 2014, https://advancesinap.collegeboard.org/english-history-and-social-science/us-history/college-board-statement.

40 Trevor Packer, “Letter from Trevor Packer,” Advances in AP, nd., https://advancesinap.collegeboard.org/english-history-and-social-science/us-history/trevor-packer-letter.

41 Zachary Goldberg, e-mail message to author, September 16, 2015.

42 Jeremy Stern, “Left and Right May Not Be Happy with the New AP Standards. Here’s Why You Should Be,” History News Network, August 14, 2015, http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/160264.

43 “The 2015 AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description,” Advances in AP, July 30, 2015, https://advancesinap.collegeboard.org/english-history-and-social-science/us-history/2015-ced.

44 Tanya H. Lee, “New AP US History Exam Perpetuates Lies About Native Americans,” Indian Country Today, September 8, 2015,  http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/09/08/new-ap-us-history-exam-perpetuates-lies-about-native-americans-161628.

45 Frederick M. Hess and Chester E. Finn Jr., “The Overheated Reactions to the New AP U.S. History Framework,” National Review, August 5, 2015, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/422052/ap-us-history-framework-rewrite-defense.

Profiles On The Right: Americans United For Life

Americans United For Life

For almost 50 years, Americans United for Life (AUL) has chipped away at women’s reproductive rights—both within the U.S. and abroad. AUL’s president, Charmaine Yoest, has described the organization as the “legal architect of the pro-life movement,” pursuing “a military strategy,” “under the radar screen,” and “leapfrogging” over Roe by pushing state-by-state abortion rights restrictions. As of 2015, the group operated with a total revenue of over 4 million dollars.

AUL was founded in 1971 by a group of conservative Catholics, most prominently L. Brent Bozell. Bozell had recently been arrested for organizing an anti-choice march on (and demonstration at) a university hospital, where one speaker referred to “sterilized murder factories.” Bozell’s increasingly militant anti-abortion ideology and tactics earned the criticism of former close colleague and brother-in-law William F. Buckley—but in the face of Roe, Americans United for Life quickly turned to the less controversial legal strategy it pursues today (with AUL Action providing a political advocacy arm since 2008).

In 1979, AUL took credit for its “pivotal role” in amending Ireland’s constitution to ban abortion. The next year, the organization helped cut off low-income American women’s access to abortion by successfully defending the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding (such as Medicaid) from being used toward abortion coverage. Americans United for Life is also active in Latin America, where abortion rights are already severely restricted.

In 2011 alone, AUL tallied up credit for the passage of 92 anti-abortion laws, through its active promotion or drafting of “model bills” for state legislators. This is the same low-visibility tactic used effectively by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). After Trayvon Martin’s murder, ALEC came under scrutiny for its promotion of “Stand Your Ground” model bills, and the ALEC Exposed project continues to monitor the actions of the corporate-funded right-wing think tank. Yet, despite exposés of AUL by Mother Jones, The Progressive, Alternet, and Raw Story in mid-2012, the anti-abortion organization has slipped back out of the spotlight.

AUL’s involvement in legislation has actually been increasing even while awareness of their actions is decreasing. In 2013, AUL was involved in about 17% of measures enacted and/or resolutions adopted that worked to decrease abortion rights. In 2015, that number increased to 30% of legislation passed, and AUL’s influence continues to grow. From 2011 to January 2018, they took credit for about one hundred bills supporting their pro-life position that were passed into law.

AUL stretches its four million dollar budget by operating largely behind the scenes and by trying to distance itself from anti-abortion “fringe” organizations like Personhood USA. The strategy is proving effective: The Christian Science Monitor hailed AUL as the “new voice” of abortion opponents, writing that “a less confrontational, more pragmatic force is behind a record number of anti-abortion laws and pro-choice’s ‘bad year.’” Yoest, who worked in the Reagan administration and for Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential campaign, is lauded as the movement’s “kinder, gentler face …winning not just the legal war but the spin game at the moment.”

This PR strategy extends to AUL’s involvement in advancing state-level anti-abortion legislation. Legislation proposed by AUL often boasts innocuous names like the “Women’s Ultrasound Right to Know Act,” “Women’s Health Defense Act,” and “Women’s Health Protection Act,” which play up the right-wing frame that abortion causes harm to women. Translated, those bills would require unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds, an invasive procedure constituting a serious violation of women’s bodies; a ban on abortion after 20 weeks; and a slew of absurd restrictions on clinics that even mandated room temperatures in Kansas. Fortunately, some of AUL’s bills have been modified and/or or held up in court for constitutional violations and the most recent anti-abortion bill, the “Pain Capable Unborn Children Protection Act” passed in the House but failed on January 29, 2018 to pass in the Senate.

When you take a look at the substance of AUL’s proposed legislation, the terms “kinder,” “gentler,” and “moderate” are far from accurate. In 2011, AUL got caught pushing legislation that would “expand justifiable homicide statutes to cover killings committed in the defense of an unborn child”—in other words, legalizing the murder of a doctor who performs abortions. In a less than convincing response, AUL attempted to deny that was the bill’s purpose.

The idea of presenting a “kinder, gentler” Christian Right movement is reminiscent of the promotion of ex-gay therapy as a “compassionate” approach toward LGBTQ people. But as Exodus International, the most prominent ex-gay organization in the United States, expressed upon announcing its closure in 2013, that pretense of kindness has been deployed effectively to do serious harm to individuals and their human rights.

In 2012, Notre Dame law professor, and then-board member of AUL, Gerard Bradley admitted that he supports criminal penalties for pregnant women. Bradley also equated domestic violence perpetrators with women seeking to obtain an abortion (a departure from AUL’s propaganda portraying reproductive health care restrictions as benefiting women).Two of AUL’s current board members are affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), which, in 1996, helped bring together 45 anti-abortion and Christian Right leaders to adopt a manifesto opposing abortion.

In 2014, the EPPC’s American Religious Freedom Program organized “religious freedom caucuses” in state legislatures in conjunction with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the same organization leading the Hobby Lobby lawsuit to challenge the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

The connections between “religious liberty” advocates and anti-abortion activists are unsurprising, and have been described in detail in the 2013 PRA report, Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights, by Jay Michelson. These connections and collaborations are ongoing. In 2014, AUL filed an amicus brief supporting the Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which Yoest claims is not about employees’ rights to health care, but rather “about freedom of conscience, it’s about fundamental American liberties.” More recently, in June 2017, the AUL continued to advocate for anti-abortion legislation under the name of religious liberty by filing an amicus brief with other pro-life organizations such as Heartbeat International to overturn Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act.

In 2014, the homepage of AUL’s website prominently featured a clip of Yoest defending the importance of Hobby Lobby on Fox News, as well as a video created by AUL about “the con”: the Obama administration’s “contraception con,” which the video says mandates coverage of abortion-causing drugs and violates First Amendment rights (complete with a quote from Thomas Jefferson). Meanwhile, the organization continued its anti-choice activities on the state level, launching an updated packet of model bills misnamed the “Women’s Protection Project” at the end of 2013, and touting initiatives and victories in Mississippi, Indiana, West Virginia, and Nebraska in the first few months of 2014.

Toward the end of 2016, AUL published a report called “Unsafe: How The Public Health Crisis in America’s Abortion Clinics Endangers Women,” which argued that abortion is “dominated by dangerous, substandard providers.” It opens with 11 cases of women who died from complications due to abortions, and proposes more legislation limiting abortions as the solution.

In January 2018, the “Ultrasound Informed Consent Act” was reintroduced into Congress. Forced ultrasound laws, which are based on a model bill authored by AUL, force people wanting an abortion to see images of an ultrasound while doctors to simultaneously explain what it is depicting.

Updated 4/10/18.

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

YAFYoung Americans for Freedom (YAF) is a conservative youth activism organization that offers college students across the United States a variety of outlets for promoting Right-Wing ideology. YAF originated at two separate points in time, but Young Americans for Freedom specifically began in 1960, when 100 conservative students assembled to construct YAF’s guiding principles at the Great Elm Conference, hosted by William F. Buckley. In 2011, Young America’s Foundation and Young Americans for Freedom combined into YAF, with Young America’s Foundation maintaining the name of the parent organization. In 2015, it raised $36.2 million, and it spends around $20 million a year.

YAF focuses more on general national politics as opposed to on-campus issues. Some of their campus initiatives have included: Resist Obama fliers, March Liberal Madness, 9/11: Never Forget Project, No More Che Day, and Who is Dividing Our Campus?—the last of which claims that liberals are “often the first intimidate, attack, and silence conservatives when they speak out.”

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

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

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

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

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

Robinson was, in 2017, given the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Annie Taylor award, which is an award given to those who are “going over the ledge when others would be afraid to even go near it.” The Horowitz Freedom Center commended Robinson for creating the conservative movement’s “most important youth organization.” A key goal of his organization is supposedly to “restore sanity” to college campuses.

One of YAF’s most controversial speakers is Ben Shapiro, who is scheduled to speak at Liberty University, Georgetown University, and Susquehanna University in 2018. The former editor of large at Breitbart News, Shapiro is well-known for books such as The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case against the Obama Administration. Shapiro has also been an advocate against same-sex marriage, and even stated that those who pay taxes and pay tuition are sponsoring the “militant homosexual agenda.”

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

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

In 2013, after the student congress of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill passed a rule to enforce stricter rules on the use of their student funds—a rule which hindered the school’s Tar Heel Rifle and Pistol Club from using those funds to purchase ammunition—YAF said liberal students improperly targeted the gun club, calling it an act of discrimination.

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

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

Next ProfileUpdated: 4/10/18.


Profiles on the Right: John Birch Society

John Birch Society

John Birch Society: The Old Right Reemerges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Profiles on the Right: Peter LaBarbera

Peter LaBarbera

Peter LaBarbera

Peter LaBarbera is president of American’s For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), a single-issue group whose only goal isexposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda.” Over the course of LaBarbera’s career, he has held positions at many of the various antigay organizations, including Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council. Establishing his own organization, however, has revealed his single-minded focus on the “evils of homosexuality” and his ability to get his fringe ideas repeated by less extreme spokespersons.

LaBarbera views increased tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people as America’s backsliding, on the Janet Mefferd Show he said homosexuality “is Satan’s point of attack on the United States of America, including the church.”  He has often claimed pedophilia is the cause for same-sex attraction, and views homosexuality as a pervasion of Juedo-Christian morality. He has also called for parents to remove their children from public schools that have anti-gay bullying programs, believing that they attempt to convert children to homosexuality. LaBarbera has also proposed sodomy bans in state legislatures which the Supreme Court ruled unlawful.

LaBarbera fears gay judges will undermine religious liberty and proposes a homosexual litmus test for federal judges. In an article written for One News Now, he asserts “I think it’s time that the public be informed if a politician or a high court nominee has a special interest in homosexuality — that is, they are practicing homosexuality or maybe they once practiced homosexuality.”

LaBarbera attacks LGBTQ civil rights issues with an almost singular fervor among his anti-homosexual peers. He often cites bogus scientific data and draws slanderous conclusions to fit his agenda. He and his organization have a well-earned spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups. Recently the IRS revoked AFTAH’s nonprofit status for failing to file required statements about its budget for three consecutive years. Despite AFTAH’s consistent false claims, Glenn Beck and other well-known conservatives often refer to its materials, bringing LaBarbera’s marginal ideas to the mainstream.

LaBarbera is also known by the nickname “Porno Pete,” in many circles. He earned the name after developing a reputation for going to strip clubs, leather bars, and other venues where he could take photos of scantily-clad people and then post the pictures on his website.

Next ProfileThis profile is part of a series on key anti-LGBTQ opponents adapted from Political Research Associates Resisting the Rainbow report.

Profiles on the Right: The Becket Fund

becketfundNamed for the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury, the Becket Fund was founded in 1994 by attorney Kevin ‘Seamus’ Hasson. Originally nonpartisan and an advocate on behalf of many religious interests, the Becket Fund has become more conservative under the leadership of William Mumma. The organization bills itself as the intellectual leader of the right-wing “religious liberty” campaign, and has litigated landmark cases, including the 2014 McCullen vs. Coakley case which allowed for “sidewalk counselors” to wait outside abortion clinics. In 2012, it litigated and won the landmark Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC case, which allows religious groups to hire and fire clergy without regard to employment discrimination law. The Becket Fund’s revenue has been steadily increasing in past years. In 2016, it drew a revenue of $6,396,572, a drastic increase from its 2011 revenue of $2,684,403.

Notwithstanding Becket’s intellectual orientation, it has advanced the specious claim that marriage equality laws will force Roman Catholic churches to perform marriages for gay and lesbian couples. Becket is also at the forefront of the spate of adoption cases in Massachusetts and Illinois, where Catholic Charities pulled out of adoption networks rather than place children with gay or lesbian couples. The Becket Fund names the Affordable Care Act as one of the top religious freedom issues facing the United States, and has filed seven suits against it. Some of the more prominent clients of the Becket Fund include Wheaton College and Catholic organizations such as The Little Sisters of the Poor.

Not all of its projects, however, are culture war related. For example, the Becket Fund has prosecuted cases in International Fora, including representing Muslims before the European Court of Human Rights.

Organizationally, the Becket Fund is a public interest law firm that represents states, municipalities, and members of many different religious faiths with the goal of defending the constitutional right to free expression of religion. The Becket Fund is at the center of a small, Roman Catholic-dominated group of “religious liberty” activists. Its entire leadership and funder base is made up of conservative Roman Catholics: current executive director William Mumma, founder Kevin Hasson, general consul Luke Goodrich (who was part of the team that in 2014 won the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, allowing for the owners of Hobby Lobby to not provide birth control that violated their belief that life begins at conception), board members Robert P. George (coauthor of the Manhattan Declaration), and Mary Ann Glendon (former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and a leading antichoice theorist).

Despite its nonsectarian presumptions, the Becket Fund can be viewed as a virtual arm of the Roman Catholic Church. Financially, the ties are clear and deep, as are the personal religious affiliations of key Becket leaders. And philosophically, the Becket Fund is continuing a Roman Catholic campaign that is at least 150 years old to create separate domains for religious people and organizations that are removed from public scrutiny and laws—even as they receive public funds and subsidies. This goes beyond religious freedom; it is about creating a separate religious magisterium beyond the rule of law. Together with Becket’s overlap with neoconservative Roman Catholic thinkers and theological orientations (fights between relativism and objective truth, for example), not to mention the organization’s very name, this situates the Becket Fund within a clear and conservative Catholic context.

Given the Catholic-heavy nature of the organization, it is no surprise that the Becket Fund is the second largest recipient of political funding from the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization, according to a report released by the Roman Catholic progressive coalition Equally Blessed in October 2012. From 2010 to 2014, the Knights donated more than $625,000 dollars to the Becket Fund. The report also found the Knights disbursed $15.8 million to anti-Marriage Equality groups between 2005-2012, $6.25 million directly to oppose marriage equality and $9.6 million to “build a conservative religious and political culture to oppose marriage equality.” The Equally Blessed report determined that the leadership of the Becket Fund, the USCCB, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) are “closely intertwined.” During this period, according to the report, NOM received $1.9 million from the Knights of Columbus, the USCCB $1.2 million, and the Becket Fund $1.5 million. As of 2018, the Becket Fund’s lead donors are the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the John M. Templeton Foundation. In 2016, the Becket Fund received $400,000 from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. However, 70% of the Fund’s donations are from individuals who donate anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 to the organization.

This profile has been adapted from PRA’s 2013 Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights report.

Updated: 4/10/18.