Kathryn Joyce

Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes could become the new face of MAGA

Earlier this year, Nick Fuentes, the young leader of the virulently white nationalist, antisemitic and misogynist America First/"groyper" movement, announced during an obscure livestream that his "legacy is going to be, basically, Hitler 2, 3 and 4 in America." It was just one among thousands of intentionally inflammatory comments Fuentes has made over the years, including vulgar jokes denying the Holocaust, gleeful use of the n-word, calls to burn women alive, and more. Yet none of that was enough to stop Donald Trump from welcoming Fuentes to his Mar-a-Lago residence for dinner late last week, alongside apparent 2024 presidential candidate Ye (formerly Kanye West) and Ye's new campaign director, disgraced alt-lite star Milo Yiannopoulos.

Since the dinner, examples of Fuentes' vile comments have proliferated online, particularly his abundant antisemitic and Holocaust-denying statements. In one recent livestream, Fuentes warned: "When it comes to the Jews, here's the silver lining: it tends to go from zero to 60," and so therefore, "The Jews had better start being nice to people like us, because what comes out of this is going to be a lot uglier and a lot worse for them than anything that's being said on this show." In another, he said that Jews could be allowed to live in the "Christian country" that is America, "but they can't make our laws." In October, he told Jews to "get the fuck out of America," charging that they "serve the devil" and are "an antichrist."

Last February, when Fuentes presided over the third meeting of his America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) in Florida, he praised Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, praised the founder of the white supremacist group American Renaissance, and to top it off, praised Adolf Hitler himself.

In the aftermath of the dinner, Trump has tried to cautiously downplay the meeting, posting on his platform Truth Social that he didn't know who Fuentes was. Other Republicans have been equally tight-lipped. As Axios reported Monday, nearly two dozen Republican legislators asked to respond to the news declined to comment, and those lawmakers who did weigh in did so by equivocating, suggesting, for instance, that Trump needed to exercise "better judgment in who he dines with," as Kentucky Rep. James Comer said. Right-wing commentator Candace Owens, an ally of Ye's, posted on Twitter on Friday that she'd played no role in connecting him with Yiannopoulos or Fuentes, but took care to note that didn't mean she was taking "a personal shot at either of them."

This is hardly the first time that Fuentes has rubbed elbows with prominent Republicans. Over the last few years, Fuentes' AFPAC gathering hasdrawn a number of GOP leaders, and this year that number was higher than ever before. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., served as the surprise guest. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who had addressed AFPAC before, spoke to the gathering this year by video. Appearances were also made by former Iowa Rep. Steve King, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others. In the post-conference controversy, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., waded into the fray to defend Fuentes, describing the outspoken Holocaust denier and white nationalist as a "charismatic internet personality" who might be an ethno-nationalist but also had some "well-informed and thought-provoking" perspectives.

Fuentes' movement has also made other inroads, as Salon has previously reported. Last year, failed Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines hired a staffer from the groyper orbit. This spring, a Saloninvestigation revealed that the Catholic right media outlet Church Militant — which has also had close ties to Yiannopoulos — was working to recruit Fuentes' followers into its youth-focused activist arm, and that multiple Church Militant staffers had connections to the movement.

On Monday, in response to the controversy, Church Militant posted a statement on Twitter about Yiannopoulos, writing that "Milo has never been an employee" but that instead the outlet's relationship with him had "been of a spiritual/theological nature — helping him abandon a sinful life and return to his Catholic Faith." (In fact, Yiannopoulos wrote multiple pieces for the outlet, hawked its merchandise on Church Militant shopping shows and emceed a high-profile protest rally the outlet held in late 2021 to protest the church's leadership.) They had "no comment" on his return to political activism.

For Fuentes, the current controversy seems less like a setback than like the elevation of his hateful movement to its highest standing yet. Since the dinner, Fuentes and his allies have hinted that he is joining Ye's presidential campaign, perhaps as communications director. On Friday, Ye posted a short video clip of himself delivering the traditional opening line for Fuentes' show. The same night, Yiannopoulos posted a message during Fuentes' show suggesting that Fuentes would begin working on the campaign this week.

Jan. 6 organizer Ali Alexander — who also posted claims that Fuentes is joining Ye's campaign — has spent the last five days publishing a string of defenses of Fuentes on Telegram: He called Fuentes a friend, urged right-wingers who don't like Fuentes to "just remain silent," and called on groypers to help correct the "optics" around Fuentes by spamming Twitter with a video arguing that Fuentes is not, in fact, a racist.

In a livestream on Saturday, Alexander also defended Fuentes against charges of hate speech and antisemitism by adding some of his own — talking about the "fundamental disunity" between a "culture that is predominantly Anglo-Saxon in tradition and the Jewish people," and saying, "Ye is completely enamored with Nick because Nick is very talented at articulating what I think is the third way in dealing with the challenges that Christendom faces with Jewish power."

Jan. 6 organizer Ali Alexander — who also posted claims that Fuentes is joining Ye's campaign — has spent the last five days publishing a string of defenses of Fuentes on Telegram: He called Fuentes a friend, urged right-wingers who don't like Fuentes to "just remain silent," and called on groypers to help correct the "optics" around Fuentes by spamming Twitter with a video arguing that Fuentes is not, in fact, a racist.

In a livestream on Saturday, Alexander also defended Fuentes against charges of hate speech and antisemitism by adding some of his own — talking about the "fundamental disunity" between a "culture that is predominantly Anglo-Saxon in tradition and the Jewish people," and saying, "Ye is completely enamored with Nick because Nick is very talented at articulating what I think is the third way in dealing with the challenges that Christendom faces with Jewish power."

Continuing on to argue that the Mar-a-Lago dinner served as a reminder to Trump not to neglect his white base, Alexander continued, "Trump's got to choose: Which way, Western man? Which way? Are you going to try to do a toned-down, subdued announcement so you can run acceptable to Rupert Murdoch, or are we going to bend Fox News, bend Newsmax, bend [The] Post Millennial, bend Steve Bannon into realizing that this party is permanently the America First party?"

That seeming ultimatum resonated with the observations of other commentators, who noted that the entire story of the Trump-Fuentes dinner points to a larger shift on the right: A growing sense that the Trump coalition or movement of 2016 is gone, but that Trumpism as a movement should continue not only to survive, but push the party further rightward.

In two (since-deleted) posts on the far-right social media website Gab, founder and CEO Andrew Torba — himself a noted antisemite — declared, "2016 Trump is never coming back…The goal now is to shift the Overton Window further right, like 2016 Trump did. That won't happen with 2022 Trump, but it could continue to happen with Ye. We need to shift all of our memetic energy for the 24 primaries to Ye if he announces a run."

In another post, which Yiannopoulos subsequently shared on Telegram, Torba wrote, "Nick and Ye didn't discredit Trump's 2024 campaign with that dinner meeting. Trump did that himself by having the most boring low energy announcement speech in history. He did so by continuing to suck the boots of the Jewish powers that be who hate Jesus Christ, hate our country, and see us all as disposable cattle according to their 'holy' book. Trump WILL start putting Jesus Christ first in His campaign messaging or he WILL be left in the dust of someone who does. It's that simple. We're done putting Jewish interests first."

On Telegram, the official Gab.com account has leaned heavily into explicit antisemitism since the dinner.on Monday. In one post on Monday, Torba wrote, "It really is this simple. We will destroy the GOP before we allow another Zionist bootlicker to 'represent us.'" In another, Torba forwarded a post from notorious antisemitic Catholic traditionalist E. Michael Jones, which read, "If Trump can't stand up to the Jews, there is no point in voting for him."

As Kris Goldsmith of Veterans Fighting Fascism put it on Twitter, "after that [Mar-a-Lago] dinner, Trump recognizes that if he doesn't show the neo-nazi part of his base a bigger platform, they'll leave him.

Ben Lorber, a research analyst at Political Research Associates who has tracked Fuentes and his groyper movement for three years, noted that Ye's presidential campaign, should it last, likely wouldn't have the traditional goal of winning or even necessarily getting the candidate on the ballot. Rather, he continued, it could serve as a new platform for a provocateur who has always described his ultimate goal as pulling the conservative movement as far right as possible — "kicking and screaming…into a truly reactionary party."

"Fuentes can use Ye as a platform to add open, explicit antisemitism into the Right's already toxic brew of Soros, 'groomer,' anti-globalist, cultural Marxist & other 'implicit' antisemitic conspiracy discourse — with the scaffolding of Christian nationalism," Lorber wrote on Twitter. "Conservative leaders can watch closely, see which interventions gain traction & adopt them for their own use."

In that context, Yiannopoulos gave voice to a sense of excitement on the far right around Ye's candidacy, writing on Friday: "It's real. Everything you are feeling is real. It's 2015 again and the best is yet to come."

'Crystallizing into a kind of quasi-fascist politics': How postliberalism made inroads with disenchanted leftists

On a Friday night in early October, in a downtrodden city in eastern Ohio, a speaker laid out a grim vision. At the height of 2020's first, most terrifying wave of COVID-19, an employee at a Chinese slaughterhouse led his coworkers on a walkout. For years, the state-owned company had abused its staff with continual video surveillance,punishing production quotas and demerits for bathroom breaks. Now it was casually disregarding their safety during a once-in-a-century pandemic. Following the walkout, the employee was fired, and then vilified through a PR campaign that denounced his protest as immoral and possibly illegal.

This article originally appeared on Salon.com.

After a pause came the reveal: That hadn't happened in China, but in New York City's Staten Island; the hero wasn't a Chinese meatpacker, but a young warehouse worker named Chris Smalls; the villain wasn't the Chinese government but Amazon.com. The speaker went on, quoting from Karl Marx about "masters and workmen" and the"spirit of revolutionary change" before clearing his throat to deliver another correction: Apologies, that was actually Pope Leo XIII.

Both jokes were preface to a larger punchline, one that's particularly relevant after the 2022 midterm elections: This wasn't happening at a Bernie Sanders rally or a Democratic Socialists of America meetup, but a decidedly conservative conference at Ohio's Franciscan University of Steubenville, a center of U.S. right-wing Catholic thought. Thespeaker (and conference organizer) was Sohrab Ahmari, a Catholic writer best known for his 2019 polemic against conservatives insufficiently committed to the culture wars. The conference, "Restoring a Nation: The Common Good in the American Tradition," was a showcase for the modestly-sized but well-connected Catholic integralist movement, part of the broader current of conservative thought known as postliberalism.

Over thetwo-day conference, 20 speakers, including then-Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, hammered home the argument that the same faith used to justify abortion bans and curtail LGBTQ rights also demanded a different approach to the economy, one that might plausibly be called socialist. Laissez-faire capitalism, speakers said, wasn't the organic force conservatives have long claimed but the product of state intervention; ever-expanding markets hadn't brought universal freedom but wage-slavery and despair;Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal — demonized on the right for generations — was in fact a "triumph for Catholic social thought"; social welfare programs were good.

All that might be striking enough. But the conference also served as something of a rebuttal to another gathering of right-wing intellectuals that had taken place a few weeks before: the third major National Conservatism conference, held this September in Miami. The two conferences — one in a hollowed-out former steel town, the other in a $400-per-night golf resort — represented two sides of what some partisans recently called a "fraught postliberal crack-up." Broadly speaking, these are ideological kin: members of the Trump-era intellectual "new right" who see themselves as rebels fighting an elite "Conservative, Inc." But it's a family in the midst of a feud, and the public split signified by the two meetings comes after months of less visible infighting over questions only hinted at in headline Republican politics.

Earlier this month, after the midterms failed to deliver a promised "red wave," those fights spilled into the headlines, as Republicans' disappointed hopes led to some of the first open shots in what's been a cold civil war over the party's future. Partly that fight revolves around whether Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will lead the GOP into the 2024 presidential election. But it goes much deeper than that, and the fight also has implications that go well beyond the right.

The midterms gave conservatives of all stripes something to claim, or to denounce. Activists who spent the last two years sniffing for "critical race theory" and "gender ideology" in public schools cheered DeSantis' re-election as proof that maximalist culture war is the key to Republican success. Anti-Trump conservatives pointed to culture warriors' widespread losses elsewhere as proof the GOP needs to come "home to liberal democracy." In a New York Times op-ed, Ahmari chastised conservatives who'd spent the run-up to the election mocking an overworked Starbucks barista as one likely reason that "the red wave didn't materialize." Vance's victory in Ohio was simultaneously touted as proof that right-wing populism remains viable and that "the culture war still wins."

Others called on Republicans to actualize their claim to be the new party of the "multiracial working class." The ecumenical religious right journal First Things exhorted conservatives to join picket lines. The conservative policy think tank American Compass unveiled a comprehensive "New Direction" economic agenda, repurposing lyrics from the Clash to propose things like realigning financial markets with the common good. In schmaltzier fashion, Trump strode into a Mar-a-Lago ballroom to announce his 2024 presidential candidacy to the "Les Misérables" anthem "Do You Hear the People Sing?"

And after days of lambasting "Washington Republicanism" for offering little of substance for the working class, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., issued a proclamation: "The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new."

* * *

The right-wing populist wave that elected Donald Trump in 2016, like the U.K.'s Brexit vote a few months earlier, is typically described as a watershed moment for conservatism. But the fact of the Trump revolution arrived before the theory. Something had clearly changed in the political order, but Trump's impulsiveness and lack of coherent ideology or policy agenda created a vacuum that needed to be filled, retroactively, by intellectuals on the right.

A variety of themes emerged from those efforts. One was an "America First"-inspired rehabilitation of nationalism, long tarnished by its association with authoritarian movements in pre-World War II Europe. Another was heard in Steve Bannon's call to dismantle the "administrative state"of unelected bureaucrats who might stand in Trump's way. A third was the conviction that classical liberalism — in the historical Adam Smith sense of that word, which prioritizes individual rights, pluralism and free trade and which guided both parties for generations — had been a catastrophe, replacing traditional norms with a destructive free-for-all.

As postliberals like Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen, author of the influential 2018 book, "Why Liberalism Failed," argue, classical liberalism promised peace and prosperity but instead delivered an era of haves and have-nots, swapping good jobs for dehumanizing gig work, empowering corporations to enforce a homogeneous global monoculture and promoting social policies that led people — particularly working-class people — away from traditionalist values like church, marriage and parenthood. In that light, conservative regions' higher rates of divorce, teen pregnancy and opioid deaths weren't evidence of red-state hypocrisy but rather an unrecognized form of class warfare.

The right's retconned Trumpist ideology also made a meta-argument: that the conservative "fusion" that had defined the Republican Party since the 1960s — uniting religious traditionalists, Cold Warriors and free marketeers in opposition to communism — had ultimately failed.

In 2019, Ahmari and a cadre of mostly conservative Catholic intellectuals gave voice to that argument through a group manifesto, "Against the Dead Consensus," which declared (several years before Josh Hawley) that the old conservative coalition was over and something new must take its place. Two months later, Ahmari wrote a follow-up, declaring never-Trump National Review writer David French the poster boy of that dead consensus, for being the sort of conservative who would defend Drag Queen Story Hours on the grounds of free expression. There was no polite, pluralist way to fight such an abomination, Ahmari argued, only a zero-sum approach to fighting the culture war "with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good."

Language like "the Highest Good" was a hat-tip to integralism, a right-wing faction of Catholicism that aspires to effectively re-found America as a Catholic "confessional state,"where state power is subordinate to the church and government is devoted to fostering public virtue and the "common good." Part of that project aims to replace the longstanding conservative legal ideology of constitutional originalism (as championed by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his followers on the current court)with "common good constitutionalism"(primarily theorized by Harvard Law professor and former Scalia clerk Adrian Vermeule), wherein the law works as "a teacher" to instruct, and enforce, public morality. In other words, if the actual public doesn't want to live by conservative Christian ideology, a new governing class should impose it.

That premise has led other Catholics (conservative and liberal alike) to condemn integralism as reactionary and authoritarian. When integralists weren't being intentionally vagueabout their plans, critics charged — in a widely-discussed 2020 Atlantic essay, Vermeule declined to specify what common good constitutionalism would mean in practical terms— those plans are frightening, as in one integralist text that suggests limiting citizenship and the vote to members of the faith.

James Patterson, a political science professor at Ave Maria University, has written about integralism'stroubled lineage going back to pre-World War II European fascist or authoritarian movements, including the Spanish Falangists that supported dictator Francisco Franco or the antisemitic Action Française that grew out of France's Dreyfus Affair. On Twitter recently, a Catholic parody account posted a satirical book jacket for an "updated and honest" edition of Vermeule's latest book with images of combat boots and a tank and an invented blurb from Ahmari: "Finally we can stop pretending what we're really talking about."

But the postliberal critique resonated beyond the cloistered world of right-wing Catholic discourse, intersecting with another post-Trump project: the rapidly-growing national conservatism movement. Led by Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony, author of the 2018 book "The Virtue of Nationalism," the NatCons also see classical liberalism as fatally flawed— its central premise of a neutral public square, where no religion or culture reigns over any other, is nonsense, because liberalism is both a competing worldview anda slippery slope, inevitably leading to cultural revolution. As Hazony often argues, within two generations of the Supreme Court's ban on religious instruction in public schools, marriage rates and religious observance had plummeted and "woke neo-Marxism" took their place.

Since its first conference in 2019, NatCon has come to represent a series of positions: hostility to transnational bodies like the EU and UN; a quasi-isolationist skepticism of foreign entanglements; sharp reductions or a complete moratorium on immigration; realigning the free market with national interests (variously described); and, most importantly, replacing the illusion of a neutral public square with the conviction that,"Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision," as a recent NatCon statement of principles holds.

From the get-go, there were important differences between the integralists and NatCons. Catholicism makes a fundamental claim to universality (and some integralists speak wistfully of empire), which fits uneasily with NatCons' nation-centric vision. Integralists have far more ambitious economic plans than most NatCons would support.

But there were important commonalities too: a mutual opposition toward mainstream conservatism, a largely shared rejection of liberalism, a common desire to return Christianity to the center of American public life. Both camps swooned for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and saw his avowedly "illiberal" "Christian democracy" — with its expanded government power, sharp restrictions on immigration, repression of LGBTQ rights and pronatalist family subsidies— as the primary model to emulate. Both sides also benefited, to one degree or another, from the largesse of right-wing donors who are funding numerous projects (and candidates) on the "new right."

"If anti-communism bound together the old conservative consensus," said Jerome Copulsky, a research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, the new right's coalition "is animated by antiliberalism and a belief that a high degree of religious and cultural uniformity is necessary for social cohesion and political legitimacy."

But there are problems with building alliances on the basis of shared enemies, Copulsky warned. "The coalition-building is about the Venn diagram of who they don't like: liberals, 'woke' multiculturalists, non-traditional sexuality and gender roles. But as they move forward, their different understandings of what they want to put into place will bring out the tensions and contradictions of their alliance. The 'enemy of my enemy is my friend' attitude only goes so far."

* * *

Over the last year,that exact problem has played out through quarrels fought on social media, in new right publications and on conference stages. It was even visible in the difference between this year's NatCon conference in Miami and the one held a year before.

In November 2021, multiple new right camps converged in Orlando for NatCon 2. The heart of the conference was an evening panel featuring the nationalist Hazony and integralist Ahmari,as well as "anti-Marxist classical liberal" Dave Rubin and British neocon Douglas Murray, all discussing whether a new alliance could be forged. Hazony, an Orthodox Jew, had a surprising suggestion: Bible instruction must be restored in public school, as a crucial first step toward reasserting America's identity as a Christian nation and a "conservative democracy."

There were tensions, most notably around the fact that Rubin and Murray are both gay: would there be room, Rubin asked, for him and his family in this new right? But after reaching apparent agreement that the problem wasn't gay people per se but rather expanded trans rights or LGBTQ representation in schools, the session closed as it had begun, with the PA system playing "We Are Family."

That unity was short-lived. This September, when NatCon reconvened in Miami, the only panelist who returned was Hazony himself, reflecting a number of upheavals in the preceding months.

One seeming result was that this year's NatCon — the movement's largest to date — reflected a marked increase inhostility toward not just "gender ideology" but LGBTQ rights in general. In one plenary address, aseminary president declared that in order for conservatives to resist "the fantasy and folly" of transgenderism, they must also reject same-sex marriage: "He who says 'LGB' must say 'TQ+.'" Another speaker argued that the failure of any major U.S. institutions to denounce "the LGBT agenda" proved that America has become "basically anti-American." NatCon's own statement of principles, releasedjust months after asking two gay men to help build the new right, defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In part, this shift reflected some conservatives' belief that NatCons' tent had gotten"a little too big." One right-wing website used a photo of the 2021 panel to warn about "the quiet rise of LGBTQ influence in Christian and conservative circles."Rubin had also become the center of a conservative firestorm, after he announced that he and his husband were expecting the birth of two babies being carried by surrogate mothers — news that sparked not congratulations but widespread denunciations of both Rubin and any conservative who stood by him.

But the altered mood also reflected something else, Hazony told Salon: The Supreme Court's June decision overturning Roe v. Wade had opened a new world of conservative possibilities, and the sense that it might be "possible to restore an earlier constitutional order." Post-Dobbs,conservatives giddily discussed which Supreme Court precedents they might topple next, and the 2015 Obergefell decision that had legalized same-sex marriage nationwide was high on the list. To Hazony, it suggested a rapid revival of the desire to reassert biblical values in the political sphere. Conservatives wanted to go for it all.

In hisown conference address, Hazony called on conservatives to commit to being "fully Christian in public," arguing, "The only thing that is strong enough to stop the religion of woke neo-Marxism is the religion of biblical Christianity." For the politicians in attendance — including DeSantis, Hawley and Florida's two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott— that meant not just mouthing platitudes about God-given rights, but insisting that American freedom comes from the Bible. Less than an hour later, Hawley happily obliged, declaring, "Without the Bible, there is no America," with a fervor matched by other speakers eagerly reclaiming the label "Christian nationalist" as a battle cry.

Perhaps even more conspicuous were the missing Catholic integralists, who in 2021 had provided much of NatCon's intellectual framework. This year, their absence prompted so many subtle, and less subtle, asides throughout the conference that one confused audience member raised his hand to request an explanation.

A British priest who said he'd been invited to affirm that, contra some people, Catholicism and national conservatism go together just fine, suggested that the integralists' seeming boycott amounted to useless theological squabbling: Who cared "how many integralists can dance on the head of a pin"? In a breakout session, another Catholic panelist suggested it was "cringe"for integralists to believe they'd ever set the moral framework for a "basically Protestant nation."

The biggest rebuke came from Kevin Roberts, the recently-appointed president of the Heritage Foundation, the great white whale of institutional conservatism, which has been shaping Republican priorities since the first years of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Roberts' presence at the conference was itself a coup. Two years earlier, Hazony said, Heritage had attacked him for "importing nationalism" into the U.S. Now the foundation had underwritten much of this year's conference,had met with NatCon leaders to discuss their statement of principles andhad published a 20-page booklet recounting a conversation between Roberts and Hazony on "Nationalism and Religious Revival." In a line widely quoted after the conference, Roberts declared, "I come not to invite national conservatives to join our conservative movement, but to acknowledge the plain truth that Heritage is already part of yours."

Roberts, who describes himself as a Catholic populist, also admonished his missing coreligionists ("Integralists, heal thyselves!"), accusing them of rejecting "conventional constitutional" politics and seeking to "subordinate the state to an institutional church" in ways that would discredit both. Alluding to the fact that many prominent integralists are recent Catholic converts, Roberts continued that, while he shared many of their frustrations, "and I certainly rejoice in their religious conversion,"their zeal had "led them into error."

The integralists fired back. At the start of the Miami conference, Ahmari tweeted that he was "emphatically not a 'NatCon.'" The movement's academic Substack published a long theological rebuttal to Roberts' claim that integralists wanted to establish a theocracy. Another writer asked whether NatCon's big tent still had room for integralists.When Gladden Pappin, cofounder of the conservative journal American Affairs and a professor at the University of Dallas, repeated the question on Twitter, Hazony responded with exasperation: Pappin could answer that question himself, since he'd spoken at a NatCon event several months earlier.

"In my view, conditions of ongoing animosity and hostility between NatCon and the five or six of you would be a colossal waste of time," Hazony wrote. "However, if you decide that a strategy of hostility, boycott or insults is the way to go — I can assure you that a wiser Catholic intellectual leadership will arise to take your place."

* * *

"There is clearly some kind of break," Hazony told Salon, but he saw it arising primarily from the integralists' side. Several had been invited to sign NatCon's statement of principles in June, but all had refused. Ideological differences that were "soft-pedaled a year or two ago" were suddenly getting "a high-octane emphasis."

For Hazony, the primary issue was about how conservatives understand China, the rising superpower thatNatCons see as America's No. 1 rival. Their conference had banned all speakers who are "pro-Xi, pro-Putin, racists or antisemites," although that standard seems malleable at times. (As Political Research Associates' Ben Lorber reported, this year's NatConincluded a meditation on the viciously xenophobic French novel "Camp of the Saints,"approving mention of antisemitic Action Française leader Charles Maurras and an address by a former Trump speechwriter fired for alleged ties to white nationalists.) But some integralists, Hazony charged, had "always had a soft spot for dictatorship, for imperialism and for China," and in recent months that had become impossible to ignore, as members of the movement wrote articles praising China's government or culture.

Then there was Compact Magazine, the hybrid"radical American journal" Ahmari co-founded last March with fellow Catholic Matthew Schmitz and Marxist populist Edwin Aponte. Its professed agenda was to wage "a two-front war on the left and the right" and promote "a strong social-democratic state that defends community — local and national, familial and religious — against a libertine left and a libertarian right."

Although Compact has declined to specify who funds the magazine, a source familiar with its operations told Salon that it was launched with significant support from right-wing tech billionaire Peter Thiel — who has funded numerous other "new right" projects, from NatCon conferencesto the political campaigns of J.D. Vance, Blake Masters and Josh Hawley — and Claremont Institute chair Tom Klingenstein (another top NatCon donor). Klingenstein did not respond to requests for comment.A source close to Thiel denied that Thiel has directly funded Compact, but couldn't rule out the possibility that an entity Thiel funds has in turn donated to the magazine. In a statement, Ahmari said, "Compact is an independent, for-profit publication supported by our subscribers. A group of investors helped us jump-start it. We respect their privacy and decline to name them."

Both Thiel and Klingenstein spoke at NatCon this year, and a handful of other NatCon speakers attended the integralist conference too. But on the whole, Hazony said, Compact was a bridge too far for most NatCons. While many in the movement were open to "rethinking the commitment to the free market as an absolute principle,"and might even support targeted business regulations, he said, there was "no appetite, no capacity among nationalist conservatives to accept the ideal of social democracy as an alternative to the market mechanism."

Integralists had their own complaints. Some also involved foreign policy questions, like whether NatCons' enthusiastic defense of Ukraine amounted to a creeping neoconservative revival, or whether their strident hostility to China reflected warmed-over Cold War politics. But their main concern was more fundamental: NatCons, they charged, were abandoning the populist promise of Trumpism for a seat at the establishment table.

To be sure, NatCon 3 featured critiques of big business, but, with limited exceptions, most amounted to dragging "woke corporations." Ron DeSantis (introduced in Miami as "the future president") spoke dutifully about how free enterprise should be seen as a tool to help "our own people" rather than an end in itself. But his real firepower was saved for war stories: his battle with Disney over Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, his resolution banning state pension funds from weighing environmental or social justice concerns in investment decisions, a promised law to help Floridians sue tech companies that commit "viewpoint discrimination."

Other speakers called for blacklisting banks that disinvest in fossil fuels; seizing universities' endowments; and making it illegal for employers to ask if applicants attended college, in order to disincentivize young people from entering the "inherently liberalizing environment" of higher education. (In a more recent example, aftercontrarian billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter and numerous companies stopped advertising on the platform, Republicans suggested that congressional hearings into "leftist corporate extortion" might be in order.)

To Ahmari, this amounted to "fake GOP populism." "This may sound strange coming from me," he said — that is, the guy who made his name by denouncing "David Frenchism" — "but it's just culture war." He was increasinglyconvinced that whipping up Twitter wars over corporate gestures towards progressive politics was the kind of conservatism "designed to ensure" that nothing important ever changed. "It's easier to pick a fight over Disney than to take on corporate power as such."

"There is this emerging sense on our side," Ahmari continued, "that the old Reaganite establishment is reconsolidating itself under the banner of NatCon or populism, but the agenda and personnel haven't changed."For instance, he said, the Heritage Foundation's Kevin Roberts calls himself a populist, but this summer tweeted the Reaganesque claim that "Government is not the solution, but the obstacle, to our flourishing." If the new right wanted to "get in bed with Heritage," Ahmari wrote this summer in an essay lambasting "Fusionism 2.0," that was fine. But then it didn't get to call itself populist; he refused to be such "a cheap date."

Integralists also expressed a worry shared by radical movements since time immemorial: Their language and ideas were being co-opted and neutralized byeither establishment Republicans orelements of the new right all too eager to go mainstream.

Now that postliberals had made certain policy ideas "trendy," said Gladden Pappin, who's written extensively about replicating Hungarian social policies in the U.S., others on the right were "trying to fill them with concepts that bring it back down to classical liberal conservatism." You'd see people suggesting, he explained, that the foundation of conservative family policy should be religious liberty and right-to-work laws, or libertarians saying, "You know what supports the common good? Radical free markets."

Postliberals weren't the only ones drawing that conclusion. When Roberts told NatCon that Heritage was part of their movement, supporters celebrated it as "the moment they went mainstream." But other attendees remarked that they were increasingly unsure of how NatCon actually differed from regular "con." New York Times columnist Ross Douthat warned that the movement risked being "reabsorbed into the GOP mainstream without achieving its revolution," so that a hypothetical President DeSantis might call himself a national conservative while pushing through more tax cuts for the rich. New York Magazine described this year's conference as having "the flavor of a party convention," albeit one headed toward a "middle ground between Reagan and Mussolini."

Perhaps this evolution was both natural and inevitable.If national conservatives originally intended to build a new right, James Patterson wrote recently, its current, apparent reconciliation with fusionism reflects changed political realities. In 2019, when NatCon held its first conference, the Trump presidency was in full swing and the movement sought to fill the ranks with true believers. By their next meeting in 2021, Republicans were newly out of power and eager to forge alliances to win it back. This year, Patterson noted, the Dobbs decision demonstrated that there might be life in the "dead consensus" yet, since a Supreme Court dominated by old-line originalists — not their "common good" critics — had just delivered the right's biggest victory in decades.

"They're learning the lessons of why the last fusion collapsed," said Jerome Copulsky: Different factions of the right can work together easily enough until their movement begins to gain power. Then they come to realize "that someone's policies will be implemented, that there will be winners and losers in this coalition."

The NatCons feel pretty sure which of those things they are. At one point during this year's conference, Hazony recalled, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler — perhaps the preeminent voice of the evangelical right— excitedly told him, "This is what it was like in the 1980s when the Moral Majority was first getting organized." In a midterm postmortem with British outlet The Spectator, Hazony sidestepped the question of whether Trump or DeSantis would win the right's civil war.NatCons would rally around Trump, or someone else, he said; either way, their ideology would lead.

* * *

In response, integralists vowed to build a coalition of their own. "NatCon is trying to put the constellation of right-wing organizations back together," said Pappin, "whereas I'm trying to articulate a political vision that could be successful at governing and also oriented towards the common good."

Considering various constituencies that have swung right in recent years — like law-and-order Latinos in Texas or the Midwestern white working class — Pappin said he was more interested in finding ways to keep them in the fold. That could happen through "something that a lot of Republicans would call left-wing economics," he suggested. "Can Republicans articulate a vision that might be more traditional morally, but also favor a supportive state?" Compared to efforts to reassemble the old right-wing fusion, Pappin asked, which was real coalition building?

"U.S. conservatism has so long been associated with pro-capitalist policies that we sometimes forget that conservative movements in other countries can look extremely different," said University of Michigan political scientist Matthew McManus, a progressive who's written extensively about the modern right. Postliberals' favored models in Hungary and Poland demonstrate that, he said, with expansive social welfare programs tied to "socially conservative and exclusionary practices."

It's not unthinkable that such a political gumbo might also work in the U.S., said University of Oregon professor Joseph Lowndes, co-author of "Producers, Parasites, Patriots." A clear lineage can be traced, he said, from the populist presidential campaigns of paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan in1992 and 1996through the Tea Party to Trumpism to projects like Compact today. "Not to put it in crude Marxist terms, but when you're under the material conditions of a second Gilded Age, when you have real gaps in wealth and neoliberalism becomes less and less credible," Lowndes said, "it opens up space for something that could wed the cultural politics of conservatism to a social order that seems more humane."

To that end, Patrick Deneen's forthcoming book, "Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future," calls for replacing "the self-serving liberal elite" with a "new elite devoted to a 'pre-postmodern conservatism'" that's aligned with the working class. Compact's own hybrid politics, said Ahmari, represents a similar attempt to forge a "positive vision" that is "liberated from the dogmas of the establishment right" and thus creates space for alliances with the left.

In practice, that has meant that Compact publishes essays on unions or trust-busting from conservatives and lefties who agree to disagree about cultural questions like abortion and same-sex marriage. Ahmari — who's undergone his own political odyssey, from socialist to neocon to postliberal, and increasingly these days, something like post-conservative — says he hasn't changed any of his positions on social issues but believes that building economic alliances can "lower the temperature" of those disagreements. "If you just have less corporate power," he proposed, "then whatever the corporate agenda is, wokeism or whatever, it doesn't bear down on ordinary people so much."

As for conservatives who dismiss their vision as a pipe-dream, Ahmari said there are "far fewer Americans than these folks think who favor the idea that the government is always an obstacle" and far more who might be mobilized by the resurrection of a mid-century conservatism at peace with the New Deal. After all, he said, "the last time Catholics voted as a united bloc was for the New Deal coalition."

That's not quite the whole story, argues James Patterson,recalling substantial Catholic infighting over FDR's agenda. But beyond historical quibbling, he says, the postliberal conviction that there is an untapped reserve of fiscally liberal, socially conservative voters waiting for something like integralism ignores the fact that most people who fit that demographic aren't the proverbial white working class but rather immigrants and people of color likely to be suspicious of a movement that "cites the Francisco Franco right." (Not coincidentally, Lowndes notes that Pat Buchanan's father was a legendary Franco fan and Buchanan himself called the dictator a "Catholic savior" and "soldier-patriot.") In an earlier critique of the new right's courtship of the working class, the left-wing journal Jacobin argued that right-wing populism is only viable in the context of "historic levels of demobilization and disorganization for the working class."

Perhaps, Patterson said, the integralists were setting their hopes on J.D. Vance (as of this month a senator-elect), and the possibility that their movement might influence, or even staff, his Capitol Hill office. After all, a sub-tenet of integralism is the contention that the movement doesn't need a majority, if enough believers can place themselves inside "the shell of the liberal order" to effect "integralism from within."

That's one answer, said Copulsky, to the question of how either side of the new right expects to "shape a culture when the majority of the public doesn't agree with you anymore." Neither the NatCons nor the integralists represent a majority position, "so they either have to go convert a bunch of people or use the coercive power of the state to make people follow their rules."

"People are always like, 'Who cares about the integralists? No one's going to vote for this,'" added Patterson. "But what if they don't know they're voting for it? What if J.D. Vance doesn't even fully know what he's getting himself into?"

* * *

Over the course of the new right feud, both sides have accused the other of betraying the cause. Integralists accused NatCons of being closet liberals and channeling populist anger towards safe external enemies. A NatCon speaker dedicated a podcast episode to arguing that "Catholic Integralism Is an Op," intended to "collect and discharge" Trumpist energies in ways "that are ultimately harmless." In short order, the allegations became as tangled asleftist infighting that dates back to the Russian Revolution. (Online, it became inscrutably meta, as when one "crypto-fascist" "anti-leftist Marxist" launched a Substack series charging that all dissident publications serve as an "exhaust valve for middle-class discontent.")

Shortly after Compact launched last spring, journalist John Ganz called the magazine an "unholy alliance" that recalled previous efforts to combine "socialism + family, Church, nation." Specifically, Ganz wrote, it sounded like a 19th-century proto-fascist French movement that synthesized left and right positions and whose adherents often called themselves "national socialists" — a term, Ganz notes, "that once sounded fresh and innovative."

Other observers pointed to a more recent analogue: the New York critical theory journal Telos, founded in the late 1960s by New Left devotees of Herbert Marcuse, but which by the 2010s was better known for its association with far-right thinkers who inspired the alt-right.

Telos' metamorphosis, explains Joseph Lowndes, who watched some of it happen, wasn't a simplistic example of "horseshoe theory" but rather the result of the people behind the project, frustrated by their search for an effective form of dissent, accepting "easy, far-right answers to complicated social and political questions." After Trump's election, Lowndes wrote about Telos' strange history as a warning: At this precarious moment in history, he argued, there were "two off ramps" from the vast inequalities of neoliberalism. One led to a very dark place.

Overall, Ganz views the postliberal movement as a "boutique intellectual project," a "tiny sect arguing with other intellectuals." But the possible inroads it might make with a disillusioned "post-left" were worrisome, he told Salon: "There's this broader thing going on where disenchanted leftists, who view their leftism as cultural revolt against liberalism, are becoming actually, substantially conservative. And they're crystallizing into a kind of quasi-fascist politics."

Beyond publishing articles about how the GOP might reconcile with unions, Compact hasalso published work by monarchist "neoreactionary" Curtis Yarvin as well as a number of leftists, or "post-leftists," who generally agree with the right on social issues: anti-immigration social democrats, anti-"gender ideology" radical feminists, leftists who see "wokeism" as "capital's latest legitimating ideology" (e.g., union-busting companies that fly Pride flags or post about Black Lives Matter). In September, the magazine published an essay exploring, withcautious sympathy, a hashtag movement called #MAGACommunism, which calls on leftists to abandon "toxic" social progressivism in favor of "the only mass working-class and anti-establishment movement that currently exists in America."

"[N]ot quite what I was going for," tweeted Compact cofounder Edwin Aponte in response. By then, Compact's resident Marxist had been gone from the project for several months, after disagreements over the leaked Dobbsdecision forced him to conclude that his politics were irreconcilable with those of his colleagues and ultimately led to the dissolution of their partnership.

Aponte told Salon that when he first joined the project, as a Bernie Sanders leftist disillusioned with the collapse of that movement, he and his co-founders agreed to avoid issues like abortion "because, per them, they weren't interested in relitigating settled issues. But the second the Dobbs decision dropped, it was no longer a settled issue." When Compact published what Aponte saw as a "weirdly triumphalist article" proposing that Republicans respond to the fall ofRoe by creating Hungary-style family subsidies, he had something of an epiphany.

"It revealed what they really cared about, and it was something highly specific and normative: that you can have a generous and materially comfortable state, as long as all these moral and cultural conditions are met," said Aponte. "On the surface, we wanted the same things. But the motivations behind it were different." It wasn't that he doubted their sincerity, he said, so much as that "the engine behind it is what goes unsaid, and is what actually matters more." For his right-wing partners, he said, "those material politics are a means to an end, rather than an end. And the end they have in mind is not something I think is good or just."

Exactly what that end is, Aponte doesn't feel sure, but he saw some troubling signs.

Inlate September, Compact held its first public event in an arthouse theater in downtown Manhattan: several dozen 20-somethings gathered in a basement screening room to listen as Anna Khachiyan, co-host of the quasi-socialist podcast Red Scare,introduced "heterodox economist" Michael Lind for an academic lecture about models of social organization.

It was one version of the weird, politically amorphous downtown scene where, as journalist James Pogue described in Vanity Fair last April, "New Right-ish" politics and converting to Catholicism "are in," and where Peter Thiel may or may not be "funding a network of New Right podcasters and cool-kid culture figures as a sort of cultural vanguard." (Earlier that month, the New York Times reported that a new Thiel network is channeling millions towards media projects, including journalism and "influencer programs.")

It's a scene suffused with a sense of ironic transgression, Ganz says, giving a "performance quality" to everything, "like part of this cultural revolt is about making yourself into a spectacle." For example: in recent weeks Khachiyan has promoted a "based literary journal" that includes an extended interview with heralongside a celebration of Kyle Rittenhouse and an exploration of whether the blood libel — the centuries-old conspiracy theory that Jews ritually murder Christian children — might actually be true.

"I don't think that white working-class voters who are even a little bit Trumpy are interested in this ideology," said Ganz. "It's a hipster thing trying to pass as working-class stuff, so it's kind of fake, but kind of scary. I don't really know where to situate it."

Throughout history, Aponte said, "Authoritarian reactionary movements have gained support and energy from such incoherence and contradictions." This movement seemed to have sufficient gravitational pull, he said, that "everyone starts falling in and gradually being converted. I've seen it happen with people I thought were really good leftists, who, next thing I knew, had turned into racists, transphobes and homophobes."

"Everyone's kind of on board, the specifics are blurry, but the direction is titled one way, whether anybody wants to acknowledge it or not," Aponte continued. "That's something we haven't seen in a long time. It's a vibe, and the kids love it, because the kids are not happy — justifiably so. It's a really spooky and dangerous time, and I feel foolish for participating. I feel bad."

In the end, what unites the right's various factions will likely hold more weight than what divides them. Generally speaking, said McManus, the right is better than the left at putting aside its internal differences to unite against a common foe. InJ.D. Vance's speech in Steubenville, he called for a ceasefire in the new right's civil war. "We can't be so mean to one another," he told the audience, noting that all conservatives who challenge GOP orthodoxies are taking risks. They were right to be on guard against "Fusionism 2.0," Vance acknowledged, but perhaps the best way to prevent that was "being charitable to one another's ideas."After all, they had real enemies to fight, like transgender health care.

"We need to do more on the political left to inoculate people against the temptation to move in these radically right directions that can masquerade as a genuine critique of the status quo," said McManus. "Some people are being very foolish in toying around with these movements,"perhaps because they don't take new right fulminations against trans rights or its idolization of Viktor Orbán seriously, believing "they won't actually go that far." In fact, McManus said, "There's a very large wing within these movements that wants to go exactly that far. Some of them want to go even further."

On Twitter, Aponte tried such an inoculation, addressingwarnings to "all my heterodox former-leftist friends" that he'd "seen what lies behind the curtain." "[B]e careful with whom you ally," he wrote. "Their enemies might be your enemies for a just reason, but the devil is in their programmatic details."

'Statewide book bans' are coming to Florida's classrooms, enforced by the far right

In early August, a video posted on TikTok by a Tennessee elementary school teacher went viral. The teacher was sitting on the floor of her classroom, before a bookshelf containing hundreds of slim books — a collection normally available to students if they finish their classwork early. But according to a new Tennessee law, the "Age Appropriate Materials Act," she was required to catalog every book in her classroom, then send it for several rounds of review and post a final list of approved books online for parents to scrutinize, before she could allow her students to read any of them. In the close to 14,000 comments the video received, a common theme emerges: "And people wonder why teachers are leaving in droves."

As of this week, it seems likely that teachers in Florida will be placed in a similar situation. This March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a policy, HB1467, that bans schools from using any books that are "pornographic" or age "inappropriate," and allows parents broad access to review and challenge all books and materials used for instruction or in school libraries.

In combination with other recent laws restricting public schools from discussing LGBTQ issues or racism — including Florida's 2022 "Don't Say Gay" law (HB 1557) and "Stop WOKE Act" (HB7) and its 2021 ban on teaching "Critical Race Theory" — this has led some school districts to advise teachers to box up their classroom libraries until each book is vetted. Others have instructed teachers to stop buying or accepting donated books for their classrooms until at least January, to give the district time to hire mandatory new staff to serve as "media specialists" who review each title.

As Book Riot reported in July, the new requirements are so confusing that "each district is interpreting them differently." In Palm Beach County, the district provided teachers with a checklist to assess their collections: did they have books (usually about LGBTQ characters or issues) that had already been flagged for review? Does a book "explicitly instruct" about sexual orientation or gender identity? Does a book promote the ideas that "People are racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously," that people should feel guilty about things members of their race or sex did in the past, or that systemic racism exists in the U.S.?

On Monday, the Florida Department of Education posted a new proposed rule for meeting the requirements online, clarifying that the restrictions apply only to traditional public schools (not taxpayer-funded charters) and that they do include classroom libraries.

Over the last month, Florida teachers have been sharing examples of the culling process on social media, with multiple examples of books featuring Black characters being cut, while books about Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims, Dick Cheney and Pope John Paul II are allowed. On Facebook, a mother in the Indian River County school district posted a photograph from her daughter's classroom of a wall of bookshelves roped off with pink tape, with all the books reversed so the spines didn't show. The mother told a local reporter that the teacher was close to tears as she explained she was worried she'd get in trouble if parents complained about her classroom library.

As the statewide anti-censorship organization Florida Freedom to Read Project has documented, there was good reason for that teacher to be afraid: in Indian River, teachers had been given the option either to close their classroom libraries or sign an electronic form confirming their collections complied with all new laws, potentially transferring all legal liability to them.

This week, Florida Freedom to Read co-founder Stephana Ferrell spoke with Salon about developments around book banning in the state.

There's a lot going on right now with book bans in Florida. Could you give me an overview?

It started in 2017 with the Florida Citizens Alliance. They drafted a change to an existing law, which limited challenges against books to parents. Their change allowed any citizen to do so, and in 2018, they started making challenges against what they considered "woke curriculum," which at that time was climate change curriculum in science books. Then it morphed into pornography in schools. Their earliest list had 14 to 18 books on it; now they've put out a list that has well over 100. We filed a public records request and found 27 counties that said Florida Citizens Alliance had reached out with their list of books, asked for an inventory of which schools had them, then asked for them to be removed.

In 2021, Florida Citizens Alliance announced a partnership with Moms for Liberty and County Citizens Defending Freedom. Then those groups began submitting the same challenges throughout the state. In some more conservative counties, the superintendents or the district legal counsel said, "Just pull the books." In one county, they put advisory labels on 115 books. So there's a parental advisory label now on books like "And Tango Makes Three" and "Everywhere Babies" — picture books that merely mention same-sex animal couples or same-sex parents.

The national narrative that all this started because of COVID and parents waking up to what was available in schools is just not true. This effort started in 2017. In 2018, two leaders from the Florida Citizens Alliance served on [Gov. Ron DeSantis'] education transition team, along with a superintendent who had pulled all the books from their list, and a school board member from Miami who had protested sex education books.

And this whole narrative of not trusting the curriculum or what's available in our libraries serves the purpose of creating distrust in our public education system. Florida Citizens Alliance's ultimate goal is parents moving their kids — using taxpayer dollars — over to private, for-profit education where they're not subjected to teaching about sex ed or evolution. On their website, they critique the public education system as being too "woke" and going too far from American values and morals. In their reviews, they protest LGBTQ+ subject matter as being entirely inappropriate in K-12 schools. There's no level of inclusion of LGBTQ people in the conversation or in library books that will ever be OK for them.

What else is being targeted under that label of obscenity?

Moms for Liberty's "Pornography in Schools" report includes books that include Black characters as examples of CRT, especially if there is a narrative about police violence. In Escambia County, a teacher has just challenged 117 books, and her list has more than a few books she describes as prejudiced and racist, such as a children's book about a Black female basketball player. They say that HB 7, the "Stop Woke Act," allows them to protest books that feature strong Black characters. They say HB 1557 is the reason they can protest picture books about LGBTQ+ people. And that's just not the case, because those two laws do not have anything to do with library books. They're about the appropriateness of classroom curriculum or discussion. They don't talk about what's appropriate for an individual student to choose for themselves to read on their own time. Those are two very different definitions: What's considered appropriate for a captured audience in the classroom and what's considered appropriate for an individual looking to find characters that reflect who they are.

Depending how an individual district interprets the law, media specialists are also being assigned responsibility to approve books in classroom libraries as well as school libraries. What the Florida DOE just proposed is that all classroom libraries fall under the guidelines, which would mean the media specialist is then responsible for approving every single book in every single classroom that's available to a student at any time, in addition to what's available in the library. If that goes through, we'll see classroom libraries shut down across the state, because there aren't enough media specialists.

You're talking about withholding books from students for a very long time while this gets worked out. It's all at the expense of our kids, and under the notion that parents want this much restriction of their kids.

But that's not true. In Pinellas County, our colleague had a teacher send home a letter to parents saying, "I have 200 books in my classroom library. I don't have a list of all 200, but I have books that are inclusive, covering these topics. Here's a permission slip. Would you like your child to have full access to this library, or would you prefer they only take books out of the school library every other week?" Those were the options that teacher presented, for the sake of appeasing parental rights. And every single kid was opted into the full classroom library.

We see teachers across the state handling it in different ways and we see districts handling it in different ways. In Indian River County, they sent out a checklist regarding what restrictions had to be on classroom library books. They said if there's a child in a book that's questioning their gender or sexual orientation and you're in a K-3 classroom, you should remove that book. If there is a book that would possibly make a child feel guilt based on their race or gender, that book should be removed and reviewed. Then they asked all the teachers to certify and take full liability for what's in their classroom library, or not offer one.

The union in Indian River particularly wants to protect their teachers, because the Moms for Liberty chapter there basically led a course on how to teach your kids to find CRT or violations of HB 1557 in their classrooms. These parents are actively looking to file complaints in regards to these laws, and they're enlisting their children to help.

Does it seem like a foregone conclusion that the DOE's proposed new rule on classroom libraries will be passed?

Yes. It's hard not to be doomsday about it. I sat through hours and hours of House and Senate debate over all three bills where amendments were proposed to make the laws clearer, and they were shot down time and time again. There was one amendment proposed for 1467 that was just a promise that books would not be burned. Republicans voted that down. There was another amendment proposed on 1557, to change the language from sexual orientation and gender identity to human sexuality, saying that human sexuality would not be taught in K-3 classrooms. They voted that down because, as the bill's sponsor said on the floor of the Senate, that would negate what the bill was trying to do.

The worst thing about 1467 is what happens at the end of the year. Any book that a school received an objection about needs to be reported to the Florida DOE by every single district. Then the DOE compiles a list and sends it back to the districts for curation and collection decision making in the upcoming year. When the bill's Senate sponsor was asked about that in committee, he said that after the Florida DOE reviewed the list, they would send out a list to ensure statewide consistency. So we are talking about statewide book bans. We are talking about the most conservative voices, who have raised an obscene number of objections to a wide variety of books, having more say than those who would prefer their children have access to a broad range of ideas and information.

You've also warned about a new program for training the media specialists who will be tasked with doing these reviews.

The DOE has created a working group to develop the new training that will be required for our media specialists. Two of the people selected for this committee are Moms for Liberty chapter chairs. Another is a self-proclaimed "Mama for DeSantis." They met this week with a media specialist team that was put together from very red counties. Meanwhile, one of our colleagues at Florida Freedom to Read Project was actually nominated by her superintendent to be on this committee, and she didn't even get a call-back. So we know they handpicked at least three of the members representing the "parent voice," two of whom are advocating in their districts for a rating system to be used when evaluating books.

Our fear is that this new training will basically create an algorithm that no longer takes into account the value of the literary work as a whole but instead would rate books specifically based upon excerpts of sexual situations. So it would eliminate books based upon minor references — maybe 60 words out of the hundreds of thousands of words in a book.

When we look at our English literature standards for the state, that list is 300 books. The only religious textbook referenced on it is the Bible. The list is 70% by white authors, and a majority of the books were written prior to the 21st century, before we started to see widespread representation increase for LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors. So you can imagine how much we're cutting out and how, almost systematically, that list protects the classic white voices that everybody has grown up with and leaves out a lot of modern literature and more diverse voices.

Are people in Florida paying attention to all this?

I would like to say yes, but there's a majority of parents who aren't. It's evident in the new opt-out systems that some districts came up with. In several districts, when parents were given the opportunity to either opt out or restrict their child's reading, 97% of the parents did not turn in the form, which defaulted in those cases to their child having full access to the library. Currently less than half of one percent of students in Osceola County are restricted in library access by their parents. In Flagler and Polk counties, only 0.15% of students were restricted.

But in Indian River County, where Moms for Liberty is probably most active, the default option was no checkout access to the library until you turn in the form. A month went by and they still had 13,000 out of 17,000 students whose parents hadn't turned in the form. But even in very red, highly-active Moms for Liberty territory, only 5 to 10% of parents opted to restrict their students in various ways. The other 90% either didn't turn in forms or had full access to the library.

I think when parents opt their kids into public school, they're mostly making the decision to opt them into all of the school's offerings. Most parents naturally think, why do I have to opt my child into access in the library? So that 13,000, for us, represents the parents that are just not tuned in to this issue.

Is the question of reading access at a tipping point in Florida?

Yes. The leader of Florida Citizens Alliance was recently quoted saying they're not happy with how the districts are responding; they're not taking enough action to remove these books, and the group wants to put more teeth in the laws in the next legislative session. They're not a huge group. They don't bring in a ton of money. But they have the governor's ear. It feels very overwhelming. We see how weighted it is against the general consensus of parents, which is more access to information, not less; restrict your own kids, stay away from mine.

With November looming, every time I read a national article that chalks this up as "culture war," it tears the parents and educators in our group apart. Because it's not a culture war. These are rights; this is authoritarian. A culture war is something that can be dismissed when people don't get hurt. But we've had an increase in bullying. In Gainesville, there was vandalism of both the LGBTQ+ support center as well as another inclusive building. There's so much happening where people are getting hurt and rights are getting restricted. The right for a child to see a book on the library shelves that represents them or their family is getting taken away. That's not a culture war. That's hurting real people. It feels more like an existential crisis every single day.

'Without the Bible, there is no America': Josh Hawley goes full Christian nationalist

MIAMI — Republican politics may be about to get a lot more churchy than they already are. On Monday, the second day of the National Conservatism conference here, conference organizer Yoram Hazony, chair of the Edmund Burke Foundation, called on conservatives, repeatedly, to "repent." This chastisement was focused in large part on what Hazony — also the author of "The Virtue of Nationalism" and the recent "Conservatism: A Rediscovery" — considers excessive squeamishness on the political right to discuss what he sees as the Christian roots of the United States.

This might come as a surprise to many Americans who have watched the increasingly overt and forceful alliance between the Republican far right and Christian nationalism. But Hazony envisions something on a broader societal level: the restoration of Christianity as the "public culture" of America, meaning that Christian values and observances are assumed to reflect the will of the majority, and while non-Christians should not face active discrimination they also should not expect to see their values reflected in the public square. Hazony himself is Jewish, but has argued for the past several years that only such a restoration of public Christianity — through things like a return to Bible instruction in public schools — can stave off the threat of "woke neo-Marxism." Toward that end, he argued, Republicans need to be even more explicit than they already are.

"When politicians come and stand on this stage," he asked, "do they mention the Bible? No, never." He continued, seeming to directly reference a quote from the speech that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had delivered on the opening night of the conference: "Do they mention God? Yes, yes they do. They'll always say the same thing: 'Well, our rights come from God, not government.' OK, fair enough. Can you tell me, when did God give you those rights?" There was an answer to that question, he continued: "We got these rights from God in the Bible."

An hour later, when Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley took to the stage, he eagerly obliged, delivering a speech that might as well have been a sermon.

In 2021, when Hawley last spoke at NatCon, he drew nationwide headlines for his declaration that "the Left" sought to "unmake manhood" and create "a world beyond men," and widespread mockery for his contention that feminist critiques of masculinity had led to a generation of young men addicted to video games and pornography.

This year, Hawley said, he was focused on the left's "efforts to unmake history." But after the standard conservative reference to 1776 and the contention that "the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God," Hawley went a step further, saying that notion "comes from the Bible" and that, in fact, America's founding had only been possible because of the Bible.

"We are a revolutionary nation precisely because we are the heirs of the revolution of the Bible," Hawley said, in a clear response to Hazony's challenge that was echoed by other speakers throughout the day. "This was a revolution that began with the founding of the nation of Israel at Sinai and continued with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the days of ancient Rome."

"Without the Bible, there is no modernity. Without the Bible, there is no America," Hawley claimed. "And now our biblical inheritance is again at the center of our politics. It is the question of the age." The "woke left's" campaign to "remake" the country, he continued — from the "1619 Project" to trans rights — was actually targeting "the inheritance of the Bible."

"What they particularly dislike about America is our dependence on biblical teaching and tradition," Hawley said. "What they particularly dislike about our culture is the Bible. And now they want to break that influence for good."

If the tone of that speech seems unusual for a U.S. senator, it fit in at NatCon, which included other talks with titles like "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Christian Nationalism," "How Christian Conservatives Beat the UN and How You Can, Too," "A Christian Case for an 'America First' Government," and four separate panels considering the respective roles of both the Protestant and Catholic versions of faith within the movement. On Tuesday morning, Daily Wire media host Michael Knowles delivered a plenary address making the case that "the traditional definition of the United States" is inarguably "Christian nationalism."

Hawley went on to speak at length about scripture, invoking biblical stories of Abraham and Jesus, and told a story about early Christians in the Roman empire who drove an axe into the head of a statue of a "pagan" god, supposedly leading to "thousands of rats…surging out of the rotten insides." That, he continued, was akin to NatCon's political enemies today.

"The woke left, they seem powerful, and maybe they are," Hawley concluded. "Opposing them might cost us much, but the truth is worth any cost." Invoking the biblical through-line that, "though the God of the universe could have accomplished his purposes entirely on his own, he chose instead to call us to do his work with him," Hawley exhorted the audience to "count the cost and take our stand, and we will turn the tide."

'Barbaric': Michigan gubernatorial hopeful demonstrates how state GOP has become 'microcosm' of MAGA 'insanity'

In an interview that first aired last week, Michigan's leading Republican gubernatorial candidate, Tudor Dixon, said that a 14-year-old incest victim was the "perfect example" of her justification for a nearly total ban on abortion access in the state.

During an interview with journalist Charlie LeDuff, host of the internet talk show "No Bullshit News," Dixon, who formerly worked in the steel industry and as founder of a "pro-America, pro-Constitution morning news program" for children, doubled down on her previous statements that she opposes abortion in all cases except when necessary to save the life of the mother.

Asked by LeDuff about a hypothetical situation in which a 14-year-old girl became pregnant as a result of sexual abuse by a family member, Dixon said, "Perfect example." She went on, "Because I know people who are the product. A life is a life for me. That's how it is. That is for me, that is my feeling."

The story gained wider attention this week when it was first picked up by the regional news outlet Heartland Signal and then by national outlets. In a statement to HuffPost, Dixon, who is endorsed by Right to Life Michigan, elaborated, saying, "Not everyone agrees with me that every life has value and we should have the courage, as [University of Michigan football coach] Jim Harbaugh put it, to let unborn children be born.… I know that. I'm not hiding from it."

Dixon's position is in alignment with a 1931 abortion law in Michigan, which bans all abortions except to save the life of the mother, and which might go into effect in the state following the Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade last month. Currently, a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood challenging the law's constitutionality has resulted in a temporary injunction on the old law taking effect.

To moderate and progressive politicos in Michigan, however, Dixon's comments are par for the course in a Republican field that has tilted far to the right.

"It's not particularly shocking and it also doesn't really differentiate her much from the rest of the Republicans she's running against," said Michigan Democratic spokesperson Rodericka Applewhaite. "They have all pushed pretty extreme anti-choice agendas." One of Dixon's opponents, far-right pandemic skeptic Garret Soldano, declared this winter that rape victims should recognize that "God put them in this moment" and the child that could result from their rape "may be the next president."

While most Republican voters in Michigan say they support abortion exceptions in cases of rape and incest — and that position would have been normal just a few elections ago — Applewhaite continued, "It's just testament to the purity tests that have come to define the Republican Party at this point. In Michigan in particular, there's been a real sprint to the right." The entire GOP field of gubernatorial candidates, she noted, is basically in agreement on denying the validity of the 2020 election and stripping the state budget of funds for public services, from schools to infrastructure.

"The electorate isn't necessarily there yet, but at the same time, those voters are about to line up to support these people in 11 days," on the Aug. 2 Michigan primary, Applewhaite noted. "So the candidates are dragging the party to the right and I expect the electorate to follow them."

Jim Timmer, the former executive director of Michigan's Republican Party, agreed, saying Dixon's comments "show how far outside the mainstream the party has become." Timmer, who publicly opposed Donald Trump and has since left the GOP, said that, before Dixon, no past Republican candidate for the office "has ever taken the position that we're going to take a 14-year-old girl and make her carry her rapist's baby. Dixon is the first one to ever demand that that happen, and that's barbaric and it's insane."

That's indicative of larger problems in the GOP, he said: "Michigan is a microcosm of the insanity around the MAGA movement. We have what really amounts to unprecedented lawlessness within the Republican Party."

Throughout this election cycle, Michigan has stood out for repeated scandals involving Republican elected officials and candidates for office. Of 10 initial Republican candidates for governor, five were disqualified for submitting fraudulent signatures in their voter petitions. One, Ryan Kelley, was arrested in June on charges relating to his participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. ("Instead of ending his candidacy," remarked Timmer, "it catapulted him to the top tier.")

Further, Timmer pointed out, a GOP candidate for attorney general is under investigation for pushing false election fraud claims; the Republican speaker of the House is being investigated for both financial and sexual misconduct; the Republican Senate majority leader is being investigated for campaign finance violations; and the co-chair of the state party is being investigated, alongside others, for voter fraud in association with Republicans' "alternate electors" scheme.

"There's no top Republicans right now that aren't touched by criminal investigations," said Timmer. "It's unheard of."

And it doesn't even stop there. As Salon has reported, last March a candidate for state House, Robert Regan, said during a livestream that he'd told his daughters, "If rape is inevitable, you should just lie back and enjoy it." In April, state Sen. Tom Barrett, who's running for Congress, sent out fundraising texts claiming that recipients' children had been scheduled for "gender reassignment surgery," and if they didn't like it, they should sign up with Republicans now. In June, state Rep. Steve Carra proposed a resolution to mark Jan. 6 as an official day of "remembrance" for the Capitol rioters.

Earlier this month, Trump's pick for Michigan secretary of state, Kristina Karamo, was reported to have described abortion as a "satanic practice" and "demon possession" as a sexually transmitted disease." Not to mention that throughout the late winter and spring, a suite of right-wing ballot initiatives — restricting voting rights, curtailing state power to address pandemics and sending public money to private schools — joined radical far-right activists with mainstream GOP leaders like Betsy DeVos (and another dose of petition fraud).

Everything happening in Michigan, said Applewhaite, is "reflective of a trend we're seeing across the country in which Republicans are moving further to the right, it's turning off a lot of independent voters and it is galvanizing a lot of Democrats." A recent poll by The Detroit News found that almost 60% of Michigan voters "strongly oppose" the recent Supreme Court abortion decision overturning Roe.

Yet given the current state of politics, Timmer warned, the likelihood that even a far-right candidate like Dixon could become governor is very significant.

The easiest thing to do would be to look at someone like Tudor Dixon and say she's so outside the mainstream she can't win. Except that she might not just win the nomination, but any of those people could be elected governor in this climate, where any of these crazy candidates are going to get 47% [of the vote]," Timmer said.

"I think 2022 is a harbinger of what we can expect in 2024 and the return of Donald Trump," he continued. "A dark dystopian future for America can become a fait accompli this year if the MAGA candidates — like Tudor Dixon, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, Kari Lake in Arizona, Joe Lombardo in Nevada — win. If these folks win, we're looking at a very dark future, beginning in 2024, where how states like Michigan vote will not matter. Republicans will have their thumb on control of the certification process, and will use that power that they didn't have in 2020 to skew the election results. And that bodes very poorly for the future of democracy in America."

'National Conservative' manifesto: A plan for fascism — but it's not hypothetical

Last November in Orlando, dozens of the right's leading intellectuals, writers and think tank staffers gathered for the first meeting of the National Conservatism conference since the COVID pandemic hit, drawing journalists from across the political spectrum seeking to untangle what this high-brow gathering of avowed nationalists was all about. The emergence of the "NatCon" movement several years earlier had alarmed many liberal, centrist and even mainline conservative observers with its efforts to rehabilitate the concept of nationalism. But it energized many on the right who were starting to describe themselves as "post-liberal," meaning they were no longer satisfied with the conservative marriage of convenience that had existed since at least the Reagan era and had drawn together the religious right, anti-communists and free-marketeers in a potent but sometimes uneasy coalition. That consensus, they declared loudly, was dead, and a new conservative fusion must arise to take its place.

After the disruption of the pandemic, the loss of the presidency and the rage of Jan. 6, last fall's NatCon II conference was focused on the goal of building that new coalition along nationalist and post-liberal lines: blending extreme social conservatism with a skeptical approach to some forms of laissez-faire capitalism and a sharp hostility to both global or international authority and what they see as corporate-driven liberal cultural hegemony.

Now, the movement has formalized its ideas in a new manifesto, "National Conservatism: A Statement of Principles," released last week by the Edmund Burke Foundation. This ambitious document calls for the creation of a "world of independent nations" as the sole bulwark against "universalist ideologies" that would impose a "homogenizing, locality-destroying imperium over the entire globe." The credited authors include some leading lights of the NatCon world: Israeli political theorist and Burke Foundation chair Yoram Hazony, former American Enterprise Institute president Christopher DeMuth, First Things editor R.R. Reno and American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher.

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But the list of signatories is much longer, and also far broader, ranging from right-wing mega-donor Peter Thiel to former Trump administration staffers Mark Meadows and Ken Cuccinelli, Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA, anti-critical race theory activist Christopher Rufo, multiple officials from Hillsdale College — a nerve center of contemporary right-wing politics — and numerous other think tank staffers and writers from across the spectrum of conservative media.

The manifesto hasn't gotten much attention so far — which isn't surprising, considering how much else is happening in the political realm. A column by David von Drehle in the Washington Post declared its contents akin to fascism, and a more substantial fisking in The Bulwark by Cathy Young found it "a document steeped in thinly veiled and sometimes distressingly overt authoritarian ideology." That's not wrong. But it's also worth observing that, in the battle to build a new conservative coalition, much of the NatCon platform has already won.

As Young notes, many of the NatCon's 10 priorities read, at first, like banal restatements of conservative ideology in general: national independence, the rule of law, God and public religion, free enterprise, family and children. But in ways both subtle and unsubtle, those familiar terms don't all mean what you'd think.

The NatCons hope to divorce nationalism from its association with the Nazis, who they claim were not "nationalist" at all.

The first two items, national independence and rejecting globalism and imperialism, follow one of the core, if questionable, goals of the NatCon movement, which is to divorce the concept of nationalism from its most powerful associations, such as the fascist regimes of Nazi Germany and Mussolini's Italy, which National Conservatives see as imperialist. Instead, NatCons want to attach the term to smaller, scrappier scrappy countries that resisted the Nazis or Soviet Communism.

While the manifesto holds that "Each nation capable of self-government should chart its own course," in alignment with its own legal, cultural and religious traditions, it warns against their "transferring" authority to any "transnational or supranational bodies" and advocates opposing "imperialism in its various forms." Those forms include modern-day China and Russia, of course, but also "the liberal imperialism of the last generation, which sought to gain power, influence and wealth by dominating other nations and trying to remake them in its own image."

The "liberalism" described here, as in most NatCon contexts, isn't the center-left politics of the Democratic Party, but rather "classical" liberalism, focused on individual rights, free trade and pluralistic cultures, which until recently was embraced by most mainstream conservatives as well. But within the post-liberal and NatCon world, that small-l liberalism contained the seeds of conservatism's undoing, leading inevitably to the big-L liberalism of progressive ideology by creating a culture in which it's too hard to raise children along traditionalist lines. In this view, societies that uphold pluralistic tolerance and diversity are inherently unfair by denying the majority the right to live in a culture that supports their values — in essence, allowing the minority to oppress the majority.

While both Young and von Drehle read the jabs at boomer "imperialism" as allusions to the Iraq War — which is at least partly true — "empire" for NatCons also has a larger meaning. First, they believe that international compacts, accords and governing bodies like the European Union or the UN infringe on national sovereignty, particularly when it comes to social issues. In the movement's conference this March in Brussels, Hazony sought to align the NatCon vision with Ukraine's fight against Russian aggression. Vladimir Putin's disdain for borders and national independence, he suggested, mirrored the attitudes of bureaucrats in Brussels and Washington. The obvious subtext was that Hungary and Poland — two post-liberal, overtly nationalist countries greatly admired within the movement — were facing EU sanctions over a variety of human rights issues, which Hungarian and Polish leaders rejected as an attempt to squash the rights of the nation-state, and sympathetic fellow speakers cast as the workings of a new "evil empire."

"Empire," in the NatCon world, refers to the right's long, losing battle in the cultural sphere, these days largely waged against what American conservatives call "woke corporations."

Secondly, and more broadly, "empire" in the NatCon world also refers to the sense of fighting a long, losing battle on the cultural front, largely against what American conservatives have taken to calling "woke corporations." This can take the form of Twitter bans, corporate Pride celebrations or the Walt Disney Company lobbying against Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law. (That same call to fight back against supposed ideological imperialism also underlies Rufo's recent calls for conservatives to "lay siege" to America's cultural institutions.)

That leads to one of the manifesto's next items, on "public religion," which declares that "No nation can long endure without humility and gratitude before God" and that therefore the Bible must be restored to its place "as the first among the sources of a shared Western civilization in schools and universities, as the rightful inheritance of believers and non-believers alike." The manifesto goes on to say that, "Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision, which should be honored by the state and other institutions both public and private."

At the NatCon convention in Orlando last fall, that idea was the centerpiece of the conference's most significant panel, as Hazony and three other writers from different corners of the right debated whether a new conservative coalition could be founded on the premise that wherever Christians compose the majority of a nation, they should be allowed to set the terms of public life, with "carve-outs" for Jews and other religious minorities, but no pretense of a neutral public square.

Around the same time, several writers in the greater post-liberal orbit — including one of that night's panelists, Sohrab Ahmari — issued a rhyming call for Western countries to adopt the idea of "cultural Christianity." These writers were part of a loose coalition of post-liberals interested in the Catholic right idea of integralism, which argues that governments should "inculcate virtue" in the public, and laws should therefore focus less on individual freedoms than on the common good — as understood by conservative Christians, of course. The shift towards a call for "cultural Christianity" instead, was a pragmatic softening of that idea: rather than unrealistic proposals for a theocratic "confessional state," the writers argued that maintaining the trappings of public religion in "post-Christian cultures" — as seen in Donald Trump's patently insincere Bible-waving — can help create a society more hospitable to the faith.

Ahmari now appears to be on the outs with the NatCons over his opposition to aid for Ukraine, and is not among the manifesto's signatories. But the fact that this idea became one of the top items in the manifesto suggests that Orlando's trial balloon has become a core NatCon principle. But it also illuminates the apparent meaning behind a troubling section on national government, where the manifesto proposes that while federalism is generally a good thing, central governments should be ready to "energetically" intervene in states "in which lawlessness, immorality and dissolution reign." As Young notes, it's hard to read this as anything other than a potential crackdown on "blue states," which might encompass everything from banning Drag Queen Story Hours (one of the founding bugaboos of post-liberalism) and "immoral" books to National Guard raids on cities that allow homeless encampments.

Federalism is generally a good thing, the NatCons agree. But governments should "energetically" intervene where "lawlessness, immorality and dissolution reign" — in other words, a crackdown on Drag Queen Story Hour.

Other sections argue that "unconstrained individualism" and "sexual license" have harmed the traditional family; that free enterprise must be modified to serve the nation's general welfare, probably by banning "vice" industries and companies that "censor" political speech; that if universities are overly "partisan and globalist in orientation," they should be defunded until they "rededicate themselves to the national interest"; and that immigration should be overhauled or perhaps shut down entirely until more controlled and "assimilationist policies" are developed. (Last December, many people in the NatCon orbit were excited by the campaign of far-right French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, who vowed to take France "back from minorities that oppress the majority.")

So far, Young writes, this all amounts to little more than "flexing" by the terminally online. But if conservatives manage to retake the government in upcoming elections, the manifesto could "become the seed of a plan."

That's true enough. But it's also true that many of these ideas have already spread well beyond the ranks of the NatCon faithful. At CPAC Hungary a few weeks ago in Budapest, speaker after speaker extolled ideas that would have fit in seamlessly in Orlando, starting with the opening speech by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who championed "national conservatism" as part of his 12-point recipe for conservative success.

A drumbeat message throughout the conference, which drew government and political party leaders from numerous European countries alongside many American right intellectuals, was the sacred sovereignty of "the nation-state," under threat from both the "globalist agenda" and "major multinational corporations" who were working together to "undermine faith and nation."

Rick Santorum spoke about the need for societies to maintain a core "national identity"; Nigel Farage hailed sovereign states that stand up "against the globalist establishment"; and Mark Meadows declared that conservatives fighting to maintain family and nation in the face of "the open society" and corporations, should remember that "The empire of Caesar was defeated by the empire of a carpenter."

Anti-immigrant talk was vehement and ubiquitous, with mass migration described as a "weapon of mass destruction" worse than a nuclear bomb and the claim — less than a week after a gunman radicalized by "great replacement theory" killed 10 Black people in Buffalo — that leftists are seeking to eradicate "white Western nations." The most bombastic rhetoric came not from Hungarians defending their effective ban on Muslim immigration, but from Hillsdale College professor David Azerrad — one of the first names listed below the new NatCon manifesto — who said that bringing in "untold millions of people of different colors, creeds and cultures for decades on end" was the sort of thing "tyrants do to conquer a broken people," and that the "ruling class" of Western countries had come "to equate whiteness with evil" and so had decided to make their nations "less white" through "third world immigration."

And it's not just CPAC. Republican-dominated states like Florida and Texas, are doing their utmost to emulate Hungary, the country NatCons view as their primary model. (In April, manifesto signatory Rod Dreher suggested that Florida, in fact, "is becoming our Hungary.") The notion that conservatives are valiantly confronting a progressive cultural empire as powerful as any invading force from history has become the backbone of myriad cultural panics over things like CRT and LGBTQ rights, recasting the squelching of minority rights as a liberation struggle. Public universities in red states are already facing threats to their funding unless they appease conservative leaders. And corporations across the country are facing new campaigns to punish them for supposedly "woke" activism.

The seeds of the NatCon plan are now germinating, and its leaders are planning ahead. Two days after the release of the manifesto, Yoram Hazony tweeted an addendum, saying it was "not time to compromise," but rather to "Consolidate our camp," "Clarify its vision" and "demonstrate our strength."

Violent anti-abortion crusaders accuse Sonia Sotomayor's office of leaking draft Roe opinion

Almost as soon as Politico published its explosive story on Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's leaked draft opinion, which strongly suggests the court is about to overturn Roe v. Wade, conservatives responded by focusing not on the content of the news, but how it was obtained. Online Monday night, there were nearly immediate calls to find and punish the leaker. In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insistently told reporters that the prospect of recriminalizing abortion was "not the story for today," but rather the supposedly dangerous precedent of the leak.

Also on Tuesday afternoon, Operation Rescue, the notorious anti-abortion activist group responsible for some of the movement's most outrageous tactics, joined the fray, issuing a press release declaring that the leak had most likely come from the office of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

That claim traced back to pretty thin sourcing: a Twitter thread posted by a Republican political strategist who, about an hour after Politico published its story Monday night, suggested he'd solved the mystery: One of Sotomayor's staffers had joined hundreds of classmates in opposing the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh and, at an earlier point, had been quoted in Politico regarding a case on which he'd assisted.

Within hours, the staffer's name had become a hashtag and his picture was plastered across Twitter, along with abundant calls for the individual's disbarment, incarceration for life or prosecution for treason.

On Tuesday, Operation Rescue took it a step further, repeating the unfounded allegations in a press release along with the claim that the leak had been designed to "foment social unrest that would apply pressure and intimidate the conservative justices to the point of changing their support for overturning Roe and Casey." The group's president, Troy Newman, went on to charge that if the claims proved true — which is quite an "if" — Sotomayor should be impeached or forced to resign; anyone else involved, he continued, should be "arrested immediately for sedition and fomenting an insurrection against the Judicial Branch."

There's abundant irony here — now the right cares about "insurrection"? — as well as, apparently, some basic confusion about how journalism works. But there's also the more troubling prospect that Operation Rescue, which has long treaded a fine line between vitriolic advocacy and anti-abortion terrorism, and was deeply implicated in the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider in Kansas, could again be stoking vigilante violence against its political enemies.

Cheryl Sullenger, the author of Tuesday's Operation Rescue press release, served two years in prison for conspiring to blow up an abortion clinic in California in 1988. In its campaigns against various abortion providers, the group has blockaded clinics; commissioned raucous and graphic "Truth Trucks" to drive through neighborhoods where abortion-clinic staffers live; threatened clinic employees that unless they quit they will be subjected to "campaigns of exposure," including vigils outside their homes; and posted "WANTED" posters with abortion providers' photos — a tactic that, in Florida, preceded the murder of two other abortion providers and a clinic volunteer, and has since been ruled in court to be tantamount to a death threat.

For seven years before Tiller was murdered in his church, the group conducted a wide-ranging campaign against him, including mobilizing state legislators to try to bring bogus criminal charges against him and round-the-clock harassment. After Scott Roeder — who donated to and organized alongside Operation Rescue, and claims he discussed "justifiable homicide" over lunch with Troy Newman — killed Tiller, Sullenger's phone number was found on his car dashboard. It would later emerge that Sullenger had supplied Roeder with information about Tiller's whereabouts and schedule.

In many ways, Operation Rescue's campaign against Tiller lines up with a phrase that became popularized during the Trump era: "stochastic terrorism," meaning the public demonization of a person or group that leads, almost inevitably, to violence. In 2009, that pattern was still rare enough to be notable; today, it's the air we all breathe.

"The vilification of abortion rights supporters generally and even the Supreme Court has contributed to a one-way history of harassment, violence and threats of violence over time," said Frederick Clarkson, a senior research analyst at Political Research Associates as well as author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy," which focuses extensively on anti-abortion violence. In 1985, Clarkson pointed out, someone shot out a window in the home of Justice Harry Blackmun, author of the 1973 majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. Before the attack, Blackmun had received numerous violent and graphic threats from anti-abortion activists, and over the previous year, seven abortion clinics and related facilities in and around Washington, D.C., had been bombed.

"Beyond this, the history of bombings, arsons, assassinations and more always lurk in the background of the politics of abortion," continued Clarkson. "In today's environment, when violent mobs storm the Capitol and other governmental institutions across the country, unproven claims like this add volatility. Cheryl Sullenger served prison time for her involvement in an attempted clinic arson. So she is certainly familiar with what it means to add fuel to the fire."

Scholar maps out the myth of a 'Christian nation' — and explains why Christian nationalism is the 'asteroid coming for democracy'

If the New York Times' "1619 Project" and Donald Trump's 1776 Commission mark two defining moments in American history, as well as opposite sides of an ideological chasm, a new book by sociologists Philip Gorski and Samuel Perry identifies a third defining moment. It's not a new proposed founding, but rather an "inflection point," the moment when the nation's history could have gone in another direction.

In "The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy," Gorski and Perry argue that in the years around 1690 — when Puritan colonists began envisioning their battles against Native Americans as an apocalyptic holy war to secure a new Promised Land, when Southern Christians began to formulate a theological justification for chattel slavery — a new national mythology was born. That mythology is the "deep story" of white Christian nationalism: the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation, blessed by God and imbued with divine purpose, but also under continual threat from un-American and ungodly forces, often in the form of immigrants or racial minorities.

The result was an ethnic nationalism sanctified by religion as it established a new "holy trinity" of "freedom, order and violence," meted out variously to in-groups and out.

When rioters driven by that vision broke into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, they were just reenacting a story that has been told in this country for centuries. But it's a story that again threatens to "topple American democracy" unless, Gorski and Perry write, a new "united front" is formed to defend it.

Perry spoke with Salon this April.

You describe white Christian nationalism as the "San Andreas Fault" of American politics.

We see America torn apart by an authoritarian populism that was characteristic of Trump's movement, which distrusts any opinion not tied to the nationalist leader. There's a lot of distrust for experts, even medical experts when it came to COVID, in favor of somebody like Trump or organizations that put a conservative slant on all news related to politics, COVID, immigration, Muslims, all those things. So when we say white Christian nationalism is the San Andreas Fault, we mean it is a thread running through all of our current conflicts.

And the implication that we're waiting for the big one.

Exactly. We all observed the events that took place on Jan. 6 with horror and shock, but there's this puzzling juxtaposition of images from that day: violent chaos, suffused with Christian symbolism. There are "Jesus Saves" signs and Christian flags and a prayer in Jesus' name in the Senate chamber. Rather than see that event as fringe and those religious symbols as puzzling, we believe Jan. 6 should be thought of as an eruption of forces that have been building for a long, long time.

I appreciated the book's long historical view: You weren't just focusing on Jan. 6, but looking to the past to understand this idea of the "deep story" behind contemporary Christian nationalism.

From our perspective today, the white Christian nationalist deep story is that we as a country have our roots in white Anglo-Protestant culture, and that's what made us prosperous and successful. In the colonial era, we wouldn't have called it white Christian nationalism, but it would have tied together all the same elements: race, religion and nation. In the time of the Puritans, it could be called white Protestant Britishism: that the people to whom the land rightly belongs are white as opposed to Native American, Protestant as opposed to Catholic or any indigenous religious group, British as opposed to French or certainly the nations of Native Americans. White Christian nationalism in that form was just as exclusive, just as brutal, even apocalyptic in its thrust.

Manifestations of white Christian nationalism have ebbed and flowed throughout America's history, and usually they ebb and flow in response to threats against the ethno-cultural majority. Sometimes the enemies change. Early on it was Native Americans; later it was the French and Roman Catholics. At different times it was Asians and certainly Black Americans who were the out-group. Starting in the mid-20th century, it was socialists and all things associated with communism — which is racialized but also religious, because communists and socialists are thought to be godless. So all throughout American history, you see this tying together of race, religion and nation in the boundaries of who is and is not truly American. Who is not changes in response to the enemies. But the in-group is almost always the same. It's white, Christian and those who are either born in the U.S. or at least "belong" here as part of the dominant ethnic group.

The book includes a lot of original data research that's often absent from these conversations. Whatwere some of your most surprising or compelling findings?

One thing we really wanted to contribute is to operationalize this thing called Christian nationalism and see how it plays in response to various issues. We collected all this national data over the last two years that allowed us to track national events — the election, COVID, George Floyd's and Ahmaud Arbery's murders, all these different factors. One of the most surprising findings is how differently Christian nationalism works for white and Black Americans, how stark the contrast is to the same questions. When African Americans hear the language of "Christian values" or "Christian nation," either it doesn't change their attitudes at all or they seem to think aspirationally about the country America should have been, but never was. When white Americans hear that language, they seem to think nostalgically about a time when the right people ruled and the right culture dominated.

I was also not only shocked but discouraged at how Christian nationalist ideology shaped responses when we asked who Americans went to for information about COVID. White Christian nationalism was powerfully associated with rejecting everybody's opinion about COVID-19 except for Donald Trump's.

I was also taken aback by how powerfully Christian nationalist ideology was associated with responses to the Capitol insurrection. White Christian nationalism powerfully predicted people blaming the violence on antifa or Black Lives Matter and placing none of the blame on Trump. We saw even a correlation between Christian nationalist ideology and supporting the rioters or being reluctant to say they should be prosecuted.

The association between Christian nationalist ideology and violence used for political purposes is one of the more sobering findings. We've collected more recent data since we finished the book, and there is a quite linear association between affirming Christian nationalist ideology and believing that things have gotten so far off track that true patriots may have to resort to physical violence. This is an ideology that doesn't just acknowledge violence as a possibility but in some ways actually affirms it as the way to get things done in our society.

White Christian nationalism supports the idea that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun; it affirms the use of torture if it means national security; it affirms that police should be able to use any means necessary to maintain law and order. There seems to be this powerful connection between Christian nationalist ideology and support for violence to accomplish political goals, and often that means to control "problem populations."

You describe a "holy trinity" within white Christian nationalism of freedom, order and violence.

White Christian nationalism seems to be characterized by a libertarian mindset that's only applied to the inside group. The ideology powerfully predicted a belief that we need to protect the economy rather than the vulnerable during COVID and that socialism is anathema — actually, that socialists are the worst. White Christian nationalism predicts antipathy towards atheists and Muslims, but socialists are the real demonized group, because socialism represents everything that is leftist or "anti-American." It is not only an economic threat, but a cultural, ethnic and religious threat.

White Christian nationalism advocates for maximum freedom for our group. But there is also this connection between authoritarian violence and social order. Christian nationalism wants order in the form of hierarchies. Men on top. Whites on top. Christians on top. Heterosexuals on top. And any threats to that order are met with justified, righteous, good-guy violence. That is what we saw on Jan. 6: the justification of righteous violence in taking back our country from, in the words of the QAnon Shaman, "the tyrants, the communists and the globalists," and showing them "this is our nation, not theirs." So there is this kind of holy trinity: Freedom for us, order for everybody else. And when that order is violated, they get the violence.

You include a number of historical examples of how this played out, long before Jan. 6, at various times in American history, including in the post-Reconstruction era and through lynchings, which you describe as the "high mass" of white Christian nationalism. Why is violence such an important element?

A thread through our narrative is this metaphor of blood. White Christian Americans' place in the cosmos and in our country has always been interpreted through the idea of blood purity — that we are distinct and superior people. There is also the idea of bloody conquest: that America is out there and the land is ours and we are justified in using violence to take what God has given us. Then there is this idea of bloody apocalypse — that violence is an inevitable part of the story, that there is a cosmic struggle going on that will involve us going to war against evil forces who try to take away what God has given us.

One thing we try to underscore is that Americans gripped by the white Christian nationalist deep story see violence as inevitable. Christian nationalism doesn't seem to be too strongly associated with violence for its own sake. But violence in the service of our group and of control is what white Christian nationalism is about — not a celebration of it, but an endorsement of violence as a tool to maintain order and maximize our freedom and power.

Tell me about the idea behind "The Spirit of 1690" and where that fits into the narrative battle between "The 1619 Project" and Trump's 1776 Commission.

The 1776 project is one narrative of America's past: this whitewashed story where Anglo-Protestant values are the secret to our national prosperity, and yes, slavery was real, but it was an aberration. Obviously, "The 1619 Project" has a completely different narrative that sees slavery and white supremacy as a constant thread throughout our history, and that we as a nation were set on the trajectory of white supremacy because our roots are founded in it.

We take a slightly different approach from "The 1619 Project." We see contingency. We see opportunities throughout America's history where oppression could have been lifted. And yet we decided not to go in that direction but to continue to live according to this white Christian nationalist mythology. And of course, different from the 1776 project, we believe that white supremacy has been a constant thread throughout our nation's history, not one that had to be, but one we chose again and again and again.

Much of this mythology involves white Christian nationalism framing itself in a position of victimhood.

White evangelicals — the group most beholden to Christian nationalist ideology — have long been characterized by what sociologist Christian Smith called an idea of "embattlement." They constantly feel they are at war with a surrounding culture that aims to persecute or marginalize them. This is part of the Christian nationalist story, because when you believe your culture is inextricably linked to the state of the nation, and you believe it is not your story but America's story, when you start to see cultural change, you perceive that as an attack on your group.

It used to be that people like Jerry Falwell could look at pornography and say, "That is immoral" and use the language of "filth" or "degradation." America has shifted so profoundly that what Christians on the right now do is to evoke the language of religious freedom — to claim the defensive posture and say, "We are under attack for claiming our moral views." What is happening now is that language of rights or religious freedom is no longer a shield but a sword and a battering ram to slash at your cultural enemies and justify discriminating against certain populations, even in agencies that take money from the government.

It seems that language is also being used to cast voter suppression in defensive terms.

When we surveyed Americans in October 2020, we found that white Christian nationalism was the most powerful predictor that you already thought voter fraud was rampant, that we make it too easy to vote and that you would support hypothetical civics tests in order to vote or disenfranchising certain criminal offenders for life. This paints a picture of white Christian nationalism being fundamentally anti-democratic, that it supports limiting voting access to those who prove worthy — and the people who are worthy are the people like us. If there is a thread tying together today's white Christian nationalists with the founding fathers, it is that only white landowning Anglo-Protestants should be able to vote.

In subsequent surveys, we asked, "Is voting a right or a privilege?" Thankfully, the majority believe that voting is a right, which it is. But we found that white Americans who affirm Christian nationalist ideology are more likely to think voting is not a right, but a privilege. In other words, something we can take away.

The book discusses figures like Christian right revisionist historian David Barton. How has historical misinformation played a role in both getting us to this point as well as the conflicts we're seeing now around education?

One of the things we document is that Christian nationalist theology is powerfully associated not just with believing misinformation about COVID, QAnon or the Capitol insurrection, but about religion in American history. That you believe the Constitution references our obligations to God, which it does not. Or that the First Amendment says Congress can privilege Christianity, which it does not.

For years, we have known that evangelical Christians tend to do poorly on quizzes of scientific knowledge, not because they're ignorant per se, but because when they're asked questions about the Big Bang theory or evolution or even continental drift, they get those answers wrong because of ideology. Not because they don't know what the answer is, but because they intentionally say, "That isn't the way it went down." We find the same thing with Christian nationalism: It inclines Americans to affirm answers that paint Christianity as central to American history. Part of that is ideology, but another part is the misinformation put out by agencies like Barton's WallBuilders that contribute to the narrative that America has been evangelical throughout history.

We see the effort to try to control American history in Trump's 1776 Commission, which was led by executives at Hillsdale College, none of whom are professional historians. They threw together this document that is supposed to be a counter to "The 1619 Project," talking about American exceptionalism and slavery as an aberration, but all in all, America is great and here are the reasons why. That is an effort to control the narrative about who we are as a people.

We have always seen this and it's often tied to race. A great recent book, "The Bible Told Them So" by J. Russell Hawkins, argues that there was a segregation theology that motivated white evangelicals in the South. It wasn't just explicit racism, but this interpretation of the Bible that said segregation is good and God wants it that way. Over time, as it became clear they were losing, they developed separate institutions, and separate schools were among them. So in the late '70s, segregation theology started to morph into this "family values" conservatism that was ostensibly about protecting children.

So you have always seen this move on the Christian right to control education and raise fear about what children are being taught. How do you scare enough parents to be mobilized? By saying that nefarious elements are infiltrating the schools and they're going to infect your children. Within that, you have this push for homeschooling, for vouchers to defund public schools and support privatized education in which parents on the right can raise kids who are white, Christian conservatives, and you can maybe stave off the forces of secularization and diversity.

Toward the end of the book, you write about how other camps on the right, like Catholic integrationists and post-liberals, are also advancing ideologies complementary to white Christian nationalism. Can you talk about that coming together?

What we've seen in the political and religious realignment over the last few decades is the concern that the Christian right is no longer strong enough by themselves to win victories politically. That required them to relax the bounds of who is part of their team. So you see Christian conservatives on the right uniting groups that formerly did not like one another, like Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons and even "pro-Christian" secularists. Increasingly, we can't talk about a Christian right so much as a "pro-Christian right," because Christian identity isn't really necessary anymore. You can be a secular pro-Christian American and think "Christian" is an ethno-cultural category that supports traditional values. All of these identities are on the same team, since what you want is an institutionalization of white Christian ethno-culture and victories for the political right.

Over on the Democratic side, they have nothing close to that. This is why Republicans are a lot stronger as a group than many realize, because they're united around ideology and ethno-religious belief in a way that Democrats are constantly fractured.

Even though we see demographic decline among white Christians, the unity on the right belies the demographic numbers. We also know that Christian nationalist ideology ebbs and flows in response to threats: When you tell white Christians about their imminent demographic decline, they respond with greater Christian nationalism. If you are a savvy politician, you can stoke a Christian nationalist response that mobilizes people in your target audience to collective action.

You also talk about the need for a popular front that could counter white Christian nationalism. What would that look like and what would it require?

I think it will take everybody from never-Trump evangelicals all the way to the secular left. It's going to take concentrated effort to not only name this, but to make sure it can't be institutionalized any further in the name of religious liberty, and that political candidates can't continue to deploy the language of Christian threat without it being called out as dog-whistle language that just means white Christian ethno-culture. It's going to take organizations like the Baptist Joint Committee and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who are already trying to do this, and coalitions of Americans from all kinds of backgrounds to say this is what we're against.

That is difficult. Evangelical Christians, say, are understandably reticent to sign a document alongside people they fundamentally disagree with. Abortion is always going to be a sticking point. But we are confronted with a situation where the stakes may be high enough.

I'll say it this way: COVID should have been the asteroid that united us, but it just polarized us further. But if an asteroid was headed towards Earth, I wouldn't ask the neighbor next to me who they voted for in the last election. We would recognize that the threat is great enough to just focus on defeating this thing. For many Americans, it's going to take a recognition that the threat is that great.

One of the reasons we wanted to write the book is to say: This is the asteroid. This is the thing that is coming for democracy. And we've got to unite to overcome that.

DeSantis joins DeVos in online push for her plan to privatize Michigan public schools

Donald Trump may not pay his debts, but the man vying to replace him as standard-bearer for Republican grievance politics apparently does.

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has received close to $500,000 in campaign contributions from the family of Betsy DeVos over the last four years, returned the favor, appearing on a "tele-townhall" with Trump's former education secretary to promote her campaign to privatize Michigan's public schools.

Just days after DeSantis made national headlines by seeking to punish the Walt Disney Company for opposing his "Don't Say Gay" law and rejecting dozens of K-12 textbooks on fictitious ideological grounds, DeVos opened their conversation by telling viewers, "With your signature on the Let Michigan Kids Learn petition, we can bring some of that Florida success here to Michigan."

Since late last year, DeVos has been pushing a petition drive for a ballot initiative, "Let MI Kids Learn," which critics have described as a thinly-veiled effort to enact a school voucher system in Michigan through "an end-run around the normal legislative process," as State Sen. Erika Geiss, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, told Salon earlier this month.

Technically speaking, Let MI Kids Learn would establish hefty tax credits for companies and individuals who donate to a pass-through organization that provides scholarships for children to support "school choice," thus circumventing Michigan's strict constitutional prohibition on state funding of private schools. Also technically speaking, the Let MI Kids Learn campaign is gathering signatures to place the proposal on the ballot in Michigan this November. In fact, it's unlikely that will ever happen.

Democrats say that this petition is just the latest in a series of school voucher proposals that Michigan voters have overwhelmingly rejected — including a failed 2000 voucher push funded with about $5 million from the DeVos family — and point out that if enough signatures are gathered, neither the voters nor Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will even get the chance to weigh in.

That's because Let MI Kids Learn is being advanced by Republicans specifically to exploit a peculiar loophole in Michigan law that allows citizen petitions that meet a certain threshold of signatures to go directly before the state legislature, which can then pass them with a simple majority that is not subject to the governor's veto. As Salon reported this April, Michigan Republicans are currently at work on signature drives for four such "ballot initiatives" — including two related to DeVos' voucher scheme, another to restrict the state's public health powers and one more to curtail voting rights — that they hope to pass through this unusual process.

This spring, a reported shortfall in signatures for the initiatives led DeVos' Let MI Kids Learn team to make an unusual alliance with far-right activists to try to meet the petition quota. Now it appears that DeVos is hoping that DeSantis' star power might help boost her campaign.

At the Wednesday night tele-townhall event, DeSantis and DeVos spoke alongside Amy Hawkins, a staffer at Let MI Kids Learn and also a publicist whose consulting firm, Generation Strategies, has worked with numerous right-wing groups, from advocacy organizations like Citizens for Traditional Values to the influential conservative Hillsdale College to charismatic Christian right leaders like Lance Wallnau and Lou Engle. In 2020, Hawkins launched a now-defunct website, VictimsofWhitmer.com, to support the Unlock Michigan campaign, which sought to strip the governor of her ability to issue emergency public health rules. This year, a follow-up campaign, Unlock Michigan 2, is also using the petition process in hopes of limiting the ability of other state bodies to address public health crises as well.

On the call, DeSantis and DeVos suggested that conservatives have a unique window to radically alter public education in America.

"I think there's never been a better time to raise these issues with the general public because what you saw over the last two years is millions and millions of students throughout the United States denied opportunity to even go to school in person at all," DeSantis said. "And that was almost entirely because of the power wielded by these entrenched special interest groups like the teachers union."

The Sunshine State governor went on to say that these "special interests" "should not be in charge of our kids' education," and that parents should "[make] sure that power is taken away from those who have proven that they cannot be trusted to wield it."

DeVos agreed, calling this moment "an absolutely prime and perfect time" to push for changes in education. "I've often cited Florida as a really prime example of continuing to push forward to give families more and more power and more and more choices over their kids' education and futures," she said. "And we can emulate what Florida has done to a large extent and go even further by making sure the Let Michigan Kids Learn initiative is successful."

DeVos has sought for years to find ways to redirect taxpayer money from public schools to private and religious institutions. In 2001, she famously called on fellow wealthy Christian activists to embrace "school choice" as a more efficient means of advancing "God's kingdom" than simply funding private Christian schools. In Michigan, she used her influence to advocate for the expansion of for-profit charter schools in Detroit, which resulted in increased segregation and massive corruption, as millions of dollars were channeled to charters that never opened.

In early 2020, as Trump's secretary of education, DeVos directed COVID-19 relief funding toward private schools. After a 2020 Supreme Court decision, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which mandated that states that allow public funding of private schools must also include religious schools in those programs, she urged other states to quickly pass more "school choice" to allow more students "the freedom to pursue faith-based education."

Although DeVos and her supporters claim that Let MI Kids Learn would give parents $8,000 per child to spend on education as they see fit — from buying laptops to paying for tutoring or school tuition — in reality, only families with kids in private schools would see anything close to that level of support. While private school families might be eligible for $7,800 in funding, those with children in public schools could only receive a maximum benefit of $500. Democrats also estimate that, over five years, Let MI Kids Learn would drain $1 billion from the state's pools of public school funding.

Sam Inglot, deputy director of the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, part of a counter-campaign called "For MI Kids, For Our Schools," described the townhall conversation as whitewashing the catastrophic effect DeVos' plan would have on both public school and general public services budgets in the state.

"This has been DeVos' MO for decades," said Inglot. "And now it's happening alongside a lot of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and attacks on honesty in education and accurately teaching the history of America."

Not only is this "backdoor voucher scheme" insidious, Inglot continued, but so is the process by which DeVos, and the Michigan legislators she has funded for years, are pushing the initiative. "This is legislation that went through the normal checks and balances of government and was vetoed," he said. "Essentially what they're trying to do is buy a piece of legislation." They are also, he said, trying to circumvent the will of the public. "If the organizers [of Let MI Kids Learn] have their way, the people of Michigan will never have a chance to vote on this."

Over the last year, many Republican politicians and advocates have grown surprisingly forthcoming about the long-term goals of the educational culture wars they promote. In 2021, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran declared that Republicans would win the political "war" in education, while sketching out a plan to lure so many students out of public schools that the damage to the system would be permanent. This month, Chris Rufo, the Manhattan Institute fellow who turned "critical race theory" into an amazingly effective political scapegoat, bluntly explained that "to get universal school choice you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust."

State Sen. Dayna Polehanki, the Democratic minority vice-chair of Michigan's Senate Education and Career Readiness Committee, said that after the difficult time many parents had during the pandemic, "DeVos sees an opportunity here… She smells blood in the water."

Polehanki also warned that the Let MI Kids Learn initiative is being pushed by paid petition circulators who aren't legally required to accurately describe the measures they're promoting. Some have lied, claiming the measure would "help special-ed kids in Michigan."

"That's absolutely legal and it's absolutely what they might do," she continued. "But what you're really signing is one of a long line of attempts by Betsy DeVos and her GOP mega-donors to flout the Michigan Constitution."

Jan. 6 organizer labels former ally Rep. Mo Brooks a 'LOSER'

On Wednesday, shortly after news broke that Donald Trump had rescinded his endorsement of Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, a right-wing Republican currently running for Senate, one of Brooks' former allies denounced him forcefully across right-wing social media. In what amounted to a MAGA excommunication, Ali Alexander, the self-proclaimed founder of the 2020 "Stop the Steal" movement and a key planner of the Jan. 6, 2021, protests, celebrated the "de-endorsement" on multiple conservative social media sites, writing on Telegram, "MO BROOKS is a LOSER."

"I haven't told the story to anyone except the President's team and my lawyers or how Mo Brooks and HIS STAFF betrayed our election integrity movement before he did so publicly," Alexander continued. "With President Trump withdrawing his endorsement, I can finally be public about what a piece of crap Mo actually is. He's no longer on the team. And his staff is worse and smells worse. I hope they didn't lie under oath to the J6 Committee like they lied to Mo in private. Stay tuned!"

In another message on the site, Alexander wrote, "This is what Mo doesn't get... the voters already left him. And keep leaving him. Trump is following what many of us in private and public have said. Mo Brooks has the dumbest staff on the hill and everyone knows it."

On the competing right-wing social media site Gab, Alexander continued, writing, "I'm proud to announce that @realdonaldtrump has WITHDRAWN his endorsement of Mo Brooks. I can now go on the record about him and his office and their attempts to BETRAY the Election Integrity movement."

Alexander weighed in on Gettr as well, directing a message at Brooks: "Change your profile,@MoBrooks" (referring to Brooks' profile banner touting Trump's endorsement). "You betrayed our Election Integrity movement. We're done here. You've been rejected by#StopTheSteal and now Trump. Tell your staff to never come for me again."

Brooks certainly isn't the first Republican to be cast out of Trump World as an apostate. But this represents a striking departure from the way Alexander used to talk about Brooks.

At the Dec. 12, 2020, "Jericho March," a pro-Trump religious rally to protest the election results, Alexander appeared on stage to tell the crowd about Stop the Steal and to urge them to return to the capital in January to "occupy D.C. full of patriots." (Alexander, who was then in the process of converting to a right-wing version of Catholicism, promised the audience that they had "God's favor," and rallied them to fight "for God and country!")

At that event, Alexander praised Mo Brooks specifically as the first Republican member of Congress to vow he would object to the certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6. "Thank God for Congressman Mo Brooks," Alexander said. "He's said he'll object to the House certification on Jan. 6. We need some of his colleagues to join him. We expect them to join him — or we will throw them out of office."

He continued, "I want to tell the Republican Party that if one of these senators doesn't join Mo Brooks, we will burn the Republican Party down. We will make something new."

In a now-deleted Periscope video posted in December 2020, Alexander also claimed that Brooks was one of three members of Congress — along with Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, both of Arizona — who had helped plan the activities of Jan. 6. In the notorious video, Alexander said, "We four schemed up putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting" in order to "change the hearts and minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside."

None of those three explicitly confirmed the claim at the time, and a spokesperson for Biggs later attempted to distance the congressman from Alexander. However, reports emerged of Alexander hugging Biggs' wife at a rally, at which Alexander played a video message from Biggs, announcing that he would join Brooks on Jan. 6 in questioning the election certification. A video also emerged that showed him leading Gosar — whom Alexander had described as "the spirit animal of Stop the Steal" — through a crowd at a pro-Trump rally. In an April 2021 response to a House ethics complaint about his involvement with Jan. 6, Gosar defended Alexander as "a devout Catholic motivate[d] by an earnest search for the truth and love of his country."

At the pro-Trump rally on the morning of Jan. 6, Brooks delivered a vitriolic call to action, telling the crowd on the Washington Ellipse, "Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass."

As a February 2022 report noted, Brooks' speech that day also delved into Christian nationalist rhetoric. "Today, Republican senators and congressmen will either vote to turn America into a godless, amoral, dictatorial, oppressed, and socialist nation on the decline," he said, "or they will join us, and they will fight and vote against voter fraud and election theft and vote for keeping America great."

Brooks later protested that he was only trying to rouse the audience to keep track of Republicans who failed to support Trump's efforts to overturn the election, and had no intention of promoting literal "ass-kicking." But that claim seemed dubious in light of Brooks' later statement that he had worn body armor on Jan. 6, after receiving warnings about potential violence.

Last December, after facing subpoenas from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Alexander handed over some 1,500 text messages and other communications with Republican members of Congress and Trump White House aides. Among them were communications with Gosar and Brooks.

In response, a spokesperson for Brooks released a statement claiming that Brooks' interaction with Alexander had been limited to receiving one text from the Stop the Steal organizer in December 2020. The statement read, "The insinuation that this single text to Congressman Brooks from an unknown number by someone claiming to be 'Ali Alexander' somehow suggests Congressman Brooks in any way helped plan the Capitol attack is absurd, outrageous and defamatory."

But according to a filing from Alexander's legal representatives, Alexander told the Jan. 6 committee that he'd had phone conversations with Brooks' staff. An October story in Rolling Stone further reported that two unnamed sources involved in planning Jan. 6 claimed that they'd had "dozens" of conversations with the offices of six members of Congress, including Brooks.

At that time, Brooks told Alabama journalists that while he hadn't helped plan the Jan. 6 rally, if his staff had, "Quite frankly, I'd be proud of them."

Despite Brooks' stalwart support of Trump, his poor showing in polls — and the subsequent implication that Trump's endorsements are losing their potency, even in a deep red Southern state — seemingly led the ex-president to announce on Wednesday that he was withdrawing his endorsement. Trump accused Brooks of going "woke" by failing to campaign on Trump's stolen election narrative.

In response, Brooks made the startling but entirely plausible claim that Trump had repeatedly asked him to "rescind the 2020 election, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency." Brooks said he'd told Trump that Jan. 6, 2021, had represented the final chance to contest the election, and that "neither the U.S. Constitution nor the U.S. Code permit what President Trump asks."

Right-wing Christians dream of a total conquest

Earlier this week, a new Pew survey found that the share of Americans who believe Donald Trump was largely responsible for the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, has declined by nearly 10 percent over the past year, while the percentage of people who think he bears no responsibility has increased by almost as much. On Wednesday, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty released a new report that helps explain that shift: The same Christian nationalism that served as the unifying principle behind the Jan. 6 insurrection is also driving efforts among the faithful to rewrite the history of that day.

As two of the report's contributors, scholars Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry, co-authors of "Taking America Back for God," noted in a launch event on Wednesday, Christian nationalist support for Jan. 6 rioters has doubled in the past year, while support for prosecuting those rioters has declined by 20 percent. That suggests, said Perry, "that this ideology is powerfully connected to a reinterpretation of these events" in a way that could become "a powerful motivator for future potential violence."

At more than 60 pages and drawing on the work of a number of academics, journalists and researchers, "Christian Nationalism and the January 6 Insurrection" is the most comprehensive account to date of the role of the movement in the attack. Within the political and cultural universe of Christian nationalism, America is a special place: It was created as a Christian nation and its founding documents were divinely inspired. Christianity should and must have a privileged position in public life, and "true Americans" are understood to be "white, culturally conservative, natural-born citizens."

That ideology, argues the report, served both as the unifying theme for the various factions that joined in the assault on the Capitol as well as the "permission structure" that allowed participants to justify their violence. To call those fringe ideas is misleading: Surveys repeatedly find that close to half of the country supports the idea of fusing Christianity and civic life.

Christian nationalism also lends itself to a number of other convictions, notes the report. Surveys in early 2021 found strong associations between Christian nationalist views, such as the proposition that the federal government should declare America a Christian nation, and a whole range of far-right beliefs not directly connected to faith. Those include the disproved claim that Antifa or Black Lives Matter caused the violence on Jan. 6, while Donald Trump was blameless; support for various white supremacist and antisemitic beliefs; and even a willingness to accept the outlandish premises of QAnon.

Two-thirds of white Americans who strongly support Christian nationalist ideology believe that the 2020 election was rigged; 40 percent of them think that violence from patriotic Americans might be necessary to save the country; and more than 40 percent are convinced that Democrats are engaged in "elite child trafficking," said Whitehead.

The report includes some meditations on the movement's origins as well. Penn religion scholar Anthea Butler, the author of "White Evangelical Racism," writes that white Christian nationalism began moving more firmly into the mainstream after 9/11, as the "Holy War" coding of the "War on Terror" helped popularize its ideology, laying the groundwork for Trump's rise. The seemingly contradictory beliefs of Christian nationalism — that America is the greatest nation on earth thanks to its foundation in Christianity, and also that America has been overtaken by alien and even demonic enemies — only serves to keep the movement in a state of tense mobilization, observed journalist Katherine Stewart, author of "The Power Worshippers."

"It's astonishing to so many of us that the leaders of the Jan. 6 attack styled themselves as patriots," Stewart added at Wednesday's event. "But it makes a glimmer of sense once we start to understand that their allegiance is to a belief in blood, earth and religion, rather than to the mere idea of a government of the people, by the people and for the people."

Most of the report was written by Andrew Seidel, a constitutional attorney at the Freedom from Religion Foundation and author of "The Founding Myth." It consists of a meticulous accounting, drawing on hundreds of hours of video footage, of Christian nationalism's ubiquitous role in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and its execution. There are the flags, the signs, the cross and gallows that we've all seen.

There are also some less familiar pieces of evidence, such as the 50-person Christian choir singing about swords and taking possession of the land while the attack was underway. Multiple rioters recounted how God's hand or voice had urged them to enter the capital. One avowed white supremacist had convinced his parole officer to let him travel to Washington that week to hand out Bibles. And then there's the man who broke down Nancy Pelosi's office door, believing that "the crowd would tear her 'into little pieces,'" and later testified in court that God had been on Trump's side: "And if patriots have to kill 60 million of these communists, it's God's will."

Seidel also describes how the events of the previous two months — including the Million MAGA March in November, and the Jericho March events on Dec. 12 and Jan. 5 — served as test runs for Jan. 6 and a broader "permission structure that gave the insurrectionists the moral and mental license that they needed," through the promise that they were doing the Lord's work.

There's an exhaustive list of such examples. Paula White, "faith adviser" to the Trump White House, recorded nightly prayer videos calling on God to smite Trump's enemies. The Proud Boys prayed in the street and were "hailed as God's warriors." Evangelical speaker Lance Wallnau told his massive following, "Fighting with Trump is fighting with God," and said that angels were looking for some "risk takers" and "wild cards that are gonna go start something up."

"They marched around government buildings in state capitals and in D.C., including the Capitol and the Supreme Court, blowing on shofars and claiming to know God's will," said Seidel. "Sometimes I wonder how could we possibly have been surprised by the violence that day."

More than a year later, said the panelists, Christian nationalists continue to march under slightly new banners, leading efforts to suppress voting rights through gerrymandering and new legislation that would require everything from lifetime disenfranchisement of convicted felons to Jim Crow-style civics tests for would-be voters. Jemar Tisby, president of the Black Christian organization The Witness and author of "The Color of Compromise," said Christian nationalism is also animating numerous state and local fights, including culture-war battles like the manufactured debate over critical race theory, as well as efforts to silence dissenting Christians.

"Even the religious voices within the church are being labeled as critical race theory, as too liberal or progressive to be trusted, and even the communist and Marxist labels are being used," said Tisby.

Perry noted the mixed blessing found in recent polling that suggests Christian nationalist ideas as a whole have lost some support nationwide since Jan. 6. The other side of that, he added, is that groups that become more isolated also tend to become more militant. Indeed, added Seidel, researchers have seen an uptick in Christian nationalist pastors proudly and openly embracing the label.

Relegating Christian nationalism back to the margins, say the report's authors, will not be easy. That would require a national recommitment to the separation of church and state, countering the historical myths propping up Christian nationalist ideology, and coalition work between secular and religious allies.

"I don't really know if people understand how close we were to losing America that day," said Seidel. "If they decide to get a little more serious next time, we are in big trouble."

"America is really a shared ideal, and Christian nationalism refuses to share," said Seidel. "That's the choice we face: Christian nationalism or America. Because we can't have both."

Tucker Carlson's Hungarian rhapsody: A far-right manifesto for waging the 'demographic war'

Earlier this week, fans of the highest-rated host in U.S. cable news were told that one of the most recognizable and demonized Jews in public life is waging a "political, social and demographic war on the West." Hungary, they were told, is this monstrous figure's "main hunting area," but all of North America and Europe are in his sights, and only through the widespread embrace of aggressive conservative nationalism can he be defeated.

In fairness, not all of that is made clear at first. For the first quarter of Fox News host Tucker Carlson's new documentary short, "Hungary vs Soros: The Fight for Civilization," it's hard to tell why it was made. Yes, over the last several years Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's proudly "illiberal" Hungary has become the centerpiece of American conservative vision-boarding. Yes, many on the U.S. right would love to emulate Hungary's pronatalist policies to encourage early marriage and large families; its crackdowns on press and academic freedom, including the defunding of university gender studies; its effective ban on Muslim immigration, and its actual bans on same-sex marriage, adoption and LGBTQ content for minors. It's no secret that Soros remains one of the right's foremost villains, blamed for everything from protests against Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation to Donald Trump's election loss to migrants seeking entry to America.

But all that aside, the latest "Tucker Carlson Original" looks and feels, at least at first, like old news: a tighter, better produced, chalkboard-free remake of Glenn Beck's three-hour 2010 anti-Soros series, "The Puppet Master," which was widely condemned as antisemitic and is sometimes credited for helping drive Beck's departure from Fox the following year.

Carlson's reboot, which wasn't aired on Fox News proper but its seedier online streaming service, Fox Nation, includes many of the same ingredients as the original. There's the same sort of ominous soundtrack and grayed-out coloring when Soros appears on screen, and the same fixation on Soros as a "globalist" who is allegedly erecting a new world order through his sprawling web of influence and his control of media "storylines."

There's a familiar framing, early in the film, of Soros as being amoral in some difficult-to-specify way. In Beck's version, an opening quote from Soros noted that his mother, in pre-Holocaust Hungary, had been "ashamed of being Jewish." In Carlson's, within the first minute or so we see a clip of Soros telling an interviewer he doesn't believe in God. While Carlson doesidn't repeat Beck's use of ghoulish medieval puppet props, he deploys the same metaphor, accusing Soros of using his money and NGO network "to oust democratically elected leaders and install ideologically-aligned puppets into positions of power." And, like Beck, Carlson cites as evidence Soros's support for various Eastern European "color revolutions," without acknowledging to his audience that those revolutions were almost entirely peaceful protests against communist or post-communist dictatorships.

There are some notable differences in Carlson's update. In establishing Hungary under Orbán as the last bulwark against Soros's allegedly creeping empire, Carlson turns into something of a Budapest tour guide, marveling at airport advertisements encouraging people to have more children, the city's architecture and anti-Soros street signs. ("Will George Soros attack our country again?") He works in some combat reporter-style helicopter footage as he tours the Hungarian border fence, and lingers long on the faces of two hapless teenage-looking refugees who were caught trying to enter the country, and who Carlson darkly suggests probably aren't Syrian, as they claim. He even stops to appreciate Budapest's "mostly conservative" graffiti, like a wall spray-painted with "Fuck Liberals" (in English) and a symbol that looks a lot like the white supremacist rendering of the Celtic cross.

But the big reveal begins about a quarter of the way through, when Carlson first mentions "nationalism." Orbán was once the beneficiary of Soros's philanthropy, Carlson says, but now understands him as a threat after becoming "a Hungarian nationalist." This is likely to fly under the radar for most viewers, but that is effectively the documentary's guiding theme: Orbán is "the sort of man, the sort of political leader, who has taken these populist nationalist instincts and turned them into effective policy." Furthermore, "Soros opposes Orbán because Soros opposes nation states" and the upcoming Hungarian elections "will be the defining battle in the war between George Soros and Viktor Orbán, in the battle between globalism and nationalism."

None of that rhetoric is anything new when it comes to Orbán, who's made Hungarian national sovereignty the defining issue of his political identity. But it definitely says a lot about Carlson, and how he's helping to mainstream one of the most contentious and troubling ideologies of the contemporary right.

Last November, hundreds of right-wing academics and thinkers gathered in Orlando for the highbrow National Conservatism conference. Much of the three-day gathering focused on trying to develop a new conservative coalition along post-liberal lines. As I wrote in The New Republic earlier this month, the National Conservatives see classical liberalism — meaning old-fashioned, small-L liberalism, which prioritizes individual rights and private property, and is embraced by many staunch conservatives as well — as the root of modern society's problems. A society ordered around unfettered personal and market freedom, they argue, makes it too difficult to raise families according to "traditional" values. A widespread commitment to multicultural pluralism, in their view, has led to an oppressive cultural imperialism where individual countries are prohibited from protecting their borders or upholding their historical cultures. They'd like to see newly empowered national governments that embrace official or public religion, use state power to coerce people into leading virtuous lives (according to their standards) and reassert the sort of proud, unapologetic nationalism that reigned before the horrors of World War II.

Besides academics and writers, the National Conservatism movement has recently been adopted by former American Enterprise Institute president Christopher DeMuth, and is influential enough that the November conference drew a number of leading Republican politicians and contenders, including sitting senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio, and wannabe-senator J.D. Vance.

Many of the intellectuals heading up the postliberal/National Conservatism movement are Roman Catholic "integralists," who ultimately want to see the country governed according to a conservative Catholic vision of the "common good" (with most details about what that means left strategically vague). Other leaders are avowed nationalists, seeking to reclaim the term from what they see as its unfair association with the likes of Nazi Germany. A number of them have made that case prominently in books published in the last four years, including First Things editor R.R. Reno's "Return of the Strong Gods," National Review editor Rich Lowry's "The Case for Nationalism," and National Conservatism conference organizer Yoram Hazony's "The Virtue of Nationalism."

In both of those camps within right-wing intellectual circles, Hungary has emerged as the most practical model they can aspire to: It's the sort of nationalist "Christian democracy," as Orbán calls it, that they believe stands the best chance of replication in the U.S. (at least until there's enough support for the right-wing Catholic utopia sometimes described, jokingly or not, as the Empire of Guadalupe). As abundant media coverage has noted, the U.S. right has cheered on most of Orbán's most controversial policies. His government has assiduously courted their support, including through private institutions' offer of visiting fellowships and scholarships to numerous conservative academics and thinkers and Orbán's personal invitation to figures like American Conservative writer Rod Dreher that they consider Hungary their "intellectual home."

Those overtures have reaped undeniable benefits. Fulsome statements of support have flowed in from the likes of Dreher (who plays a starring role in the Fox Nation documentary) and Carlson, who broadcast his top-rated prime-time show from Budapest for a week last August. Orbán's reelection bid has drawn the endorsement of Donald Trump and many of his acolytes, all the way down to, just this week, the New York Young Republicans Club. In tangling with critics about the endorsement on Twitter this Thursday, the club's vice president taunted his foes by writing, "We're literally unifying the international right. …I'm not here to argue. I'm here to win.")

Orbán's regime also had a major presence at the National Conservatism conference in Orlando. There was a promotional table offering free conservative Hungarian books and magazines; a panel on "international nationalism" featuring Orbán's political director, Balázs Orbán (no relation), who enjoys a sizable American following; and a plenary address from Dreher on "What Conservatives Must Learn from Orbán's Hungary." (They must learn to unashamedly embrace "state power" in defense of conservative values and build a "conservative deep state" to ensure that entrenched right-wing policies can survive the unfortunate results of electoral defeat.)

Most of Carlson's viewers are unlikely to know much about all the ideological furniture in the background, or to care about it. But he's doing his best to bring them the Cliff Notes version, breaking the ideas discussed by Ivy-educated right-wing elites in Orlando into digestible bite-sized chunks, and delivering them, airplane-style, into mainstream conservative discourse.

One of those chunks is the rehabilitation of nationalism as a conservative virtue. Another is the idea that it's not just acceptable but commendable to use family policy as a means of engineering a country's racial makeup.

For years, Hungary had one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe. Combined with high emigration— mostly to other European Union nations — it was losing 32,000 people from its population annually. Orbán's government sought to address this by unveiling an aggressive suite of pronatalist policies in 2019, including interest-free loans to families that are forgiven with the birth of a third child, subsidies for minivans, and a lifetime exemption from income tax for mothers who have four or more kids.

Policies like these have enjoyed support from some conservative quarters for years. In 2007, the international right-wing coalition World Congress of Families called for similar measures while warning about what it called "demographic winter." This was the idea that European countries were producing too few children, leading to both "the graying of the continent" and the creation of dangerous population vacuums that would be filled with immigrants too difficult to assimilate. At the time, as I reported in The Nation, most of the racial hand-wringing was couched in euphemistic terms. But these days that subtext has become text, and sometimes the flashing headline, with the proliferation of conspiracist narratives about "white genocide" and the "Great Replacement," or Trump-era activists calling for a "white baby challenge."

In this new context, Orbán has been embraced by some on the right for framing his pronatalist policies as an intentional barricade against Muslim immigration, saying that while other countries were buoyed by immigration, Hungary didn't merely "need numbers" but rather "Hungarian children," or that Hungary didn't "want our colour, traditions and national culture to be mixed with those of others." Katalin Novák, the stylish and combative former family minister who became the face of Hungary's pronatalist campaign, warned that countries that abandon tradition will find themselves "condemned to [demographic] death." Conservatives on this side of the Atlantic swooned, with Breitbart dedicating regular coverage to Hungarian pronatalism, the National Review cheering that Orbán was "redefining the possibilities for modern social conservatism," and Carlson praising the plan as a model of family values during a 2019 interview with Hungary's foreign minister.

Orbán is not quite that blunt in Carlson's new special — the second half of which focuses on Hungary's pronatalist initiatives as part of the country's battle against Soros — but unlike other countries that choose to, in Carlson's words, "import new citizens from the rest of the world," the prime minister says Hungarians "would not like to leave this country to the migrants, we would like to leave it to our grandchildren." Carlson nods along with this, visiting a series of large Hungarian families as they beam at each other on playgrounds or buy new cars with government subsidies, before cutting to a black-and-white clip of a grim-faced Soros, saying that he's very concerned about the direction Hungary is headed. The unsubtle takeaway is that these amorphous questions of shifting populations and changing family structures is actually deliberate "demographic war," with Soros as general of the opposing army.

That's not an original idea either. It's the encapsulated narrative within or beneath the Great Replacement or white-genocide conspiracy theories, which hold that liberals — and specifically Jewish liberals — want to bring large numbers of immigrants and refugees into the U.S. or Europe to "replace" the white population there. That narrative has been the direct inspiration for numerous mass murder events, including the El Paso Walmart shooting, the mosque murders in Christchurch, New Zealand, and the assault on worshippers at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, where the killer blamed a Jewish group for aiding refugees.

In September Carlson finally introduced the term "the great replacement" to his audience — after hinting or gesturing at it for months — calling it a "policy" to "change the racial mix of the country" through "the replacement of legacy Americans with more obedient people from far-away countries."

In the documentary released this week, Carlson illustrates this premise with a series of images intended to land more powerfully than words: a back-and-forth contrast between scenes of white people strolling amid the old-world beauty of Budapest streets or boating on the Danube, and scenes of Black and brown people, almost exclusively in situations of violent chaos, surging against fences, fighting with cops or, at their most benign, crying on the street. Toward the end of the documentary, the video cuts rapidly and repeatedly between second-long shots of white couples on park benches and footage of a crowd of shirtless Black men, shouting in a foreign language and lunging at the camera.

The next shot is meant to come as a relief: Orbán, back at the interview table, saying that he hopes his administration's work will "be enough to convince the people that it's a reasonable decision to support us, and not give the country to George Soros."

Carlson's larger point appears to be that a similar decision, one with apocalyptic or civilization-scale consequences, faces Americans as well.

Florida county cancels civil-rights seminar for teachers over CRT 'red flags'

The day after the Florida state Senate's education committee passed a bill banning public schools and private businesses from making people feel "discomfort" when learning about U.S. racial history, a school district in central Florida canceled a teacher training seminar about the civil rights movement that had been months in the planning.

This past Saturday, Dr. J. Michael Butler, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of History at Flagler College in St. Augustine, was supposed to lead a day-long seminar for Osceola County elementary school teachers on "The Long Civil Rights Movement." The event was hosted by the nonprofit National Council for History Education, a leading provider of professional development for history teachers, and was part of a three-year partnership between the council and the district to enrich history education at underserved public schools. (Osceola County, just southeast of Orlando, has a population of close to 400,000, which is nearly two-thirds Black or Latino, and a median household income of $52,000, well below the national median.)

Butler, the author of multiple books about Southern and civil rights history, including most recently "Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980," planned three presentations, covering historic milestones like the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the March on Washington, the integration of the University of Mississippi, and the Montgomery bus boycott. Seminar attendees would then work with a curriculum specialist to translate that history into grade-appropriate lesson plans and classroom resources. A seminar agenda noted that teachers would receive two children's books to consider for classroom use: the elementary-targeted "White Socks Only" and, for middle schoolers, "The Watsons Go to Birmingham." Butler saw the training as part of his career-long mission to teach that "people who are marginalized have a history too, and it's a very inspiring American story."

But last Wednesday afternoon, Butler and his colleagues learned that Osceola school officials were forcing NCHE to cancel the seminar. The district, he was told, had instituted a review committee to investigate all training materials for the possibility that they might promote "critical race theory," and its curriculum director worried the seminar's advance reading materials would raise "red flags."

According to NCHE executive director Grace Leatherman, district officials were particularly concerned about the seminar's use of primary source materials, including decades-old political cartoons about the Great Migration and Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decision that established segregation's "separate but equal" doctrine, as well as images of contemporary civil rights protests like Colin Kaepernick kneeling on a football field. Since the committee wouldn't have time to review those materials before Saturday, the seminar was canceled and wouldn't be rescheduled.

To Butler, this was not just the culmination of Florida's year-long demonization of so-called critical race theory — however vaguely or inaccurately defined — but also the realization of something he warned his students about years ago. "When our former president used the term 'fake news,' I told my classes to be aware of what's coming next, and that's fake history," he told me. "If there's a topic that can be censored today, that means there's a precedent for the censoring of any topic in any state moving forward. And that should scare all teachers."

On Thursday, after Osceola's participating teachers were sent notice of the seminar's cancellation, with no explanation, Butler took to Twitter to warn that this is "what the war against CRT in Florida is really about": not keeping teachers from "going rogue," or protecting white children from feeling guilty, but "making it difficult — if not impossible — to teach any history that considers the Black experience," period.

At the broadest level, the seminar was yet another victim of the nationwide right-wing crusade against CRT. In vying to emerge as the face of that fight, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has launched numerous attacks against CRT, or related targets, over the last half-year.

These have included policies equating teaching "that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems" with Holocaust denialism; bans on schools using The New York Times' "1619 Project" or pedagogical concepts like "culturally responsive instruction"; requirements that civics classes teach "portraits in patriotism"; and two bills currently under consideration to establish an annual "Victims of Communism Day," mandating that schools observe the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution to teach about communist dictators, and DeSantis's "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," which would empower private citizens to sue school districts they believe are teaching CRT.

But that fight is also taking place at the local level, including in Osceola County, where the school board's general counsel, Frank Kruppenbacher, has taken repeated aim at the supposed specter of critical race theory in recent months. In October, Kruppenbacher, who has said that "as an American" he finds CRT "frankly frightening," investigated parents' complaints that a district center for new teachers promoted CRT because its website included references to race and "equity." After sending some 60 pages of documents related to parents' complaints to the state Department of Education, last Wednesday Kruppenbacher introduced a draft resolution to ban CRT at the district level, explaining, "We want to educate employees that they've got to adhere to this, and we'll be aggressive with dealing with every report we get," and warning that educators' teaching certificates were on the line. That was the same day that district officials canceled the NCHE civil rights seminar.

An administrative employee in a different Florida school district, speaking to Salon on condition of anonymity, speculated that Osceola's district authorities likely saw that the NCHE seminar would cover civil rights protests and "got so nervous that it was easier not to hold it than to not only have external opposition but internal opposition too," particularly "if your own school board attorney is not going to have your back."

Across Florida's school districts, the employee said, an environment of self-censorship and risk avoidance is becoming commonplace as DeSantis and his education commissioner, Richard Corcoran — who has described the primary purpose of education as instilling moral values — are running a multifaceted approach to overhaul Florida schooling, including by defining the central message of U.S. history and civics as "America was intended as a good place and always will be," and making educators "very afraid to bring up any topic that makes people feel uncomfortable."

The employee noted that their own request for anonymity in speaking to a reporter reflected that environment: "It's a really strange and hard time. Places like Florida and Virginia are living one reality, and places like New York and California are living a different one completely. The combination of this uber-patriotic Americanism, that's defined as 'either you're with us or against us,' and the demonization of questioning, are the worst aspects of fear and anti-intellectualism."

Butler says he has heard from numerous Florida public school history teachers who say their lessons are being scrutinized to see whether they run afoul of the DeSantis administration's new laws and policies. One teacher, Butler relayed, ordered photocopies of a handout for a lesson about the infamous Birmingham church bombing of 1963, only to have her request trigger a phone call from district authorities to her principal, asking what was going on.

In Dunedin High School in central Florida's Pinellas County, history teacher Brandt Robinson has been the target of one parent's attacks for months. First, a student's mother accused him at a July school board meeting of promoting "Marxist indoctrination of our youth," because he'd urged his school board to stand firm against the growing attacks on CRT. Then, after her son briefly enrolled in, and then dropped, Robinson's elective African American history class last August, the mother lodged multiple formal complaints about his curriculum. Specifically, she charged that Robinson's use of historian Nell Irvin Painter's 2006 book "Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present" must mean that Robinson was violating Florida's new ban on teaching materials from the "1619 Project" — even though Painter's book was published 13 years before the Times series.

"What's happening is these groups are conflating CRT with all these other initiatives," as well as basic, factual history, said Robinson. "Then that intimidates school boards. And, to the degree that these boards are politically vulnerable, some are caving."

That pattern is repeating around the country. A report released last Wednesday by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, studied the local impact of anti-CRT fights, and found that almost 900 U.S. public school districts, representing around 18 million K-12 students, or 35% of the U.S. student body, have been affected by local anti-CRT campaigns. Interestingly, the study notes that — as with the recent finding that participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection were often motivated by changing racial demographics around them — school districts where the percentage of white students has declined sharply in recent years were three times more likely to experience local conflicts over CRT. But across the board, what the study calls anti-CRT "conflict campaigns" have left educators "terrified" to do their work, often without the support of school or district authorities, and sometimes afraid to introduce subjects that might spark anger from parents, politicians or advocacy groups.

While Robinson's school stuck by him — a committee formed to review his curriculum unanimously dismissed the complaining mother's appeal — he said many of his colleagues fear being similarly targeted for a book they've assigned or a discussion they led. On top of the incredible stresses of teaching through the pandemic, he said charges that teachers are trying to "indoctrinate" their students or "teach them to hate our country" have left him, and many other teachers, feeling that they could "break down almost at any moment."

The Osceola School District didn't respond to multiple requests for comment, but in an email to seminar participants obtained by Salon, district superintendent Debra Pace explained that "the district team received the prereading document on Wednesday and felt like we needed an opportunity to review them prior to the training in light of the current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory." While the superintendent said she remained committed to "open discussion" about difficult topics, she added that the district must be "mindful of the potential of negative distractions if we are not proactive in reviewing the content and planning its presentation carefully."

Even in a time when caricatures of CRT have become a dominant prop in right-wing political theater, the call for "proactive" reviews of teacher training materials suggests a disturbing new development: the preemptive censorship of straightforward historical instruction — even when aimed at adults rather than students — out of fear that the content might spark community or political outrage.

"It's unfortunate that school districts in what is supposedly the 'freest state' in the nation are so concerned about retaliation from the governor that they feel compelled to review and censor instructional materials," said Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association, the state's largest labor union. "As this kind of second-guessing goes on in districts throughout the state, Florida's public schools are experiencing severe and sometimes overwhelming shortages of teachers and support staff. Inciting fear in our districts and classrooms is not the way to attract more employees. It does nothing to help students."

"What happened in this case is a really good example of how [the anti-CRT discourse] is going to affect everyone, and the kinds of erasure of history or censorship we're going to see," said Kirk Bailey, political director of the Florida ACLU. "In this case, it's even pre-censorship. The legislation being discussed in Tallahassee hasn't even passed, and we're already seeing school districts changing their behavior. I think we just don't know how far it could go."

Butler warned that what happens in Florida could become a disastrous national model, quoting documentary filmmaker Billy Corben's maxim that "the Florida of today is the America of tomorrow."

"That has always resonated with me," Butler said, "because what we've learned from the Florida experience is that, ever since the passage of Brown, this state has perfected the tactics of stonewalling, delaying and complicating the process of integration. That's Florida's contribution to the civil rights narrative: You can't stop it, but you can slow it down. You can stonewall, delay and use rhetoric to say, 'This isn't about civil rights, this is about laws, this is about procedures, this is about local parents determining their own decisions for their children.'"

Today, he said, that historical narrative is playing out again. And the only silver lining he sees is that developments like these may force educators, and the rest of the country, to recognize "what the stakes are in this battle."

Texas GOP candidate won’t ditch overt white nationalist staffer — blames 'cancel culture': report

The Texas Republican gubernatorial primary has shaped up, as journalists in the Lone Star State have observed, into a "contest of extremism," with the various challengers to already-very-conservative Gov. Greg Abbott competing to one-up each other's right-wing credentials. Last week, that even included an awkward remake of Clint Eastwood's infamous 2012 speech at the Republican National Convention, as three of Abbott's opponents gathered at a roundtable hosted by the tea party-affiliated True Texas Project to argue against an empty chair with the governor's name on it.

But in the race to the right, one Republican candidate stands alone: former state senator and real estate developer Don Huffines, who has promised to "stop the illegal invasion of Texas" by migrants, vowed to reinstate prayer in school, described gender-affirming medical treatment for trans youth as child "sexual abuse" and "predatory grooming," and took credit for scuttling two diversity training programs being used by Texas's child welfare department after publicly calling them "Marxist" critical race theory. The Texas Democratic Party has denounced Huffines' anti-immigrant rhetoric as identical to that which drove the 2019 mass murder in El Paso, and warned that his attempt to "scoop up extremist primary voters" comes at the expense of Texans' safety. The progressive media company Texas Signal called him "the most dangerous man in Texas" (a tribute Huffines immediately shared on Facebook), and media across the state have attributed Abbott's rightward moves to Huffines' influence.

But Huffines' seeming victory as king of the right isn't just about his positions or his rhetoric. It's also because of who he's hired.

On Saturday, Ben Lorber, a researcher at the progressive watchdog organization Political Research Associates (and, full disclosure, my former colleague), reported that Huffines appears to have an open white nationalist helping run his campaign. Until this week, Jacob Lloyd Colglazier, a 24-year-old former leader within the far-right America First or "groyper" movement, who's better known online as just Jake Lloyd, was advertised as Huffines' deputy communications director for three upcoming events hosted by the True Texas Project. (Since PRA's report, the tea party group, whose entire board backs Huffines, appears to have removed language connecting Lloyd with the campaign, but the original description can be seen on archivedpages.)

Although Huffines' campaign website doesn't list staff online, and, in an emailed statement to Salon Huffines said "Jake Colglazier is not my deputy communications director" but someone who has "done field work for my campaign," on Jan. 14, a staffer at the campaign's headquarters confirmed to Lorber that one Jacob Lloyd Colglazier was indeed their deputy comms director.

So who is Jacob Colglazier, or Jake Lloyd?

As Lorber reports, Lloyd initially gained a platform as a host on Alex Jones' conspiracy-theory outlet Infowars before becoming a leading figure in the America First movement around 2019. Founded by livestreamer Nick Fuentes, who garnered his own infamy participating in the deadly 2017 "Unite the Right" protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, the America First movement has largely supplanted the "alt-right" over the last several years. It helped lead the 2020 Stop the Steal protests and regularly traffics in "white genocide" and "great replacement" conspiracy theories. The movement's overwhelmingly young, male followers are also known as "groypers," for their adaptation of the alt-right mascot, Pepe the Frog.

Last February, Fuentes and his groypers drew national attention when Rep. Paul Gosar — the notorious Arizona Republican who may be the most right-wing member of Congress — delivered the keynote address at their annual America First Political Action Conference in Orlando. The conference, where Fuentes said the conservative movement "need[s] a little bit more of that energy" seen last Jan. 6, was timed and placed to collide with the simultaneous meeting of the somewhat more mainstream Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), happening nearby. That sort of attack-from-the-right stunt has become the calling card of the America First movement, which rose to prominence three years ago after a series of public confrontations with other right-wing leaders — from Donald Trump Jr. to Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk — whom they derisively grouped together as "Conservative Inc."

It's the sort of rapidly shifting Overton Window — Don Jr.: mainstream RINO? — that seems to demand a new vocabulary to describe the competing factions of the ever-more-radical American right. But as Lorber, who has reported on Fuentes for years, noted earlier this month, that's exactly the point. As Fuentes put it last spring, "My job, and the job of the groypers and America First, is to keep pushing further," and drag conservatives "kicking and screaming into the future, into the right wing, into a truly reactionary party."

Within that movement, Jake Lloyd became a leader and YouTube personality, describing himself as "heavily involved" in the 2019 "Groyper Wars" against "Conservative Inc." As Lorber reports, he was a featured speaker alongside Fuentes at a 2019 "Groyper Leadership Summit" (held to coincide with a Turning Point USA summit), and in November 2020 joined Fuentes for an election-night livestream. Lloyd was an active participant on noxious far-right discussion forums, including the so-called "Nick Fuentes Server" on Discord, as well as another forum he established himself, "American Dissident," where members talked about "Aryan bloodlines," Nazi salutes, and called for "death to all minorities."

In his livestream show, which has been banned from various streaming services and is now hosted on the largely unregulated DLive, Lloyd waxed on about "restoring historical America … which means by and large maintaining a supermajority of the original stock of the United States," and complained about "the fact that my race is dying." And, in a series of disturbing videos Lorber unearthed, Lloyd also used his platform to say that he "spit[s] on George Floyd"; to celebrate a video of police killing a Black man with an impromptu sing-song tribute to cops; and to pound his fist into his hand while showing a photo of an Asian woman who Lloyd said "needs to be in China, getting the shit beat out of her by her husband."

Lloyd also isn't the only groyper-aligned, or at least groyper-curious member of Huffines' staff. Several weeks ago, the right-wing website Current Revolt published a profile of their favorite young Texas political activists, all of whom support Huffines. Among them was Huffines' son Russell, who said he's working on his father's campaign, and described "Jake Colglazier" as "without a doubt" his "favorite right-wing e-celeb." Another profiled activist working for the Huffines campaign, Konnor Earnest, told the website that he regularly watches Fuentes' show.

The depth of support for Huffines' campaign on the far right, and sometimes their open association, could be a sign that groups long excluded from the more polite quadrants of conservative politics are increasingly finding their way inside. As Lorber wrote in his report last weekend, "Lloyd's embrace of Huffines' campaign can be seen as one application of the groyper movement's broader strategy to accelerate the rightward drift of the conservative movement, in order to move White nationalism mainstream in the post-Trump era."

Since PRA published Lorber's report, Fuentes seemed to offer a protective distancing from Lloyd, posting on Telegram that Lloyd "is no longer affiliated with Nick Fuentes or America First — please issue a retraction!"

That, said Lorber, might be significant, "because it says that Fuentes, and his ideas, are still toxic and it's dangerous for people in mainstream politics to associate with them."

On his own Telegram account on Jan. 18, Lloyd, who didn't respond to requests for comment, seemed to allude to the controversy, quoting the Bible's Psalm 17, a call for divine intervention on behalf of the righteous: "Mine enemies compass me round about, to take away my soul. Up, Lord, disappoint him, and cast him down; deliver my soul with thy sword from the ungodly."

In a statement to Salon identical to one the campaign gave HuffPost, Huffines said, "I have 12 field offices across Texas and over 70 people on payroll with my campaign. If I were to go through the social media history of any young Texan I would find something I disagree with. My campaign will not participate in cancel culture." But on Wednesday morning, the candidate seemed to offer another response as well, with a terse tweet reading, "America First. Texas First."

How Christian nationalism drove the Jan. 6 insurrection

In the midst of the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Jacob Chansley, the bare-chested man in Viking horns who's come to be known as the QAnon Shaman, stopped his fellow marauders in the Senate chamber to pray. "Thank you Heavenly Father for gracing us with this opportunity … to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs," he said. "Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn."

The prayer, caught on video by New Yorker reporter Luke Mogelson, was just one moment among hundreds that day illustrating how deeply the insurrection was intertwined with Christian nationalism. Across the sea of protesters in and outside the building, t-shirt and ball-cap slogans proclaimed it: "Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president"; "God, Guns, Trump"; or, on the sweatshirt of a man helping construct the rough gallows erected on the Capitol lawn, "Faith, Family, Freedom." (The gallows itself was quickly covered in handwritten notes — "as if it were a yearbook," observed lawyer and author Andrew Seidel — reading "Hang them high" and "In God We Trust.")

Elsewhere, protesters carried gigantic portraits of Jesus and replica statues of the Infant of Prague, or chanted about the blood of Jesus washing Congress clean. A long-haired blond man sang praise songs into a microphone plugged into a stack of amplifiers he was wheeling on a hand-truck. A Nebraska priest performed an exorcism on the Capitol building to banish the demon Baphomet, who he claimed was "dissolving the country" in order to "bring it back as something different." One rioter later indicted for breaking into the Capitol was actually a cast member in a touring production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Another, Leo Brent Bozell IV, came from a long line of Christian right activists: His father, L. Brent Bozell III, founded the right-wing Media Research Center and his grandfather, L. Brent Bozell Jr., wrote speeches for Joseph McCarthy and a manifesto for Barry Goldwater.

"It was evident to anyone watching that there was this religious character to what was going on, both in the Trump movement writ large but particularly in the leadership of the 'Stop the Steal' movement," said religious studies scholar Jerome Copulsky, co-director of a new website, Uncivil Religion, dedicated to collecting "digital artifacts" of Jan. 6 religiosity and exploring what it means for, say, violent protesters to dress up like Captain Moroni — a legendary warrior from the Book of Mormon — or sing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" alongside fellow protesters carrying Confederate flags. "It wasn't just the Stop the Steal rally, then the assault," Copulsky continued. "People really wanted to display their religious commitments, literally wearing them on their sleeves."

The Uncivil Religion project developed from a Twitter hashtag, #CapitolSiegeReligion, created by author and religious historian Peter Manseau and based on his sense that the religious subtext (and text, and blaring headline) were "*the* story of what happened" on Jan. 6. In Manseau's view, religion wasn't an incidental element, but had been the driving motivation that had brought many people to the Capitol. Much of that had begun much earlier, with Christian right leaders — both official and self-declared — framing the 2020 election, and the rest of America's polarized conflicts, as an all-or-nothing showdown between good and evil.

Some were national names, like Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham, who in August 2020 warned in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview that if Trump lost, churches would close down and Christians would be attacked. But that message was echoed so widely, in both religious and secular conservative media and across numerous niche religious right communities, that allegations about the "stolen" election became nearly inseparable from messages of apocalyptic faith.

Much of that was on display on Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington, when a large-scale interfaith prayer protest, the Jericho March — widely seen as a forerunner to Jan. 6 — brought together a number of religious right factions to pantomime the biblical Battle of Jericho in praying to "bring down the walls of the Deep State." The carnivalesque full-day rally — organized, as journalist Sarah Posner reported, by two then-current employees of the federal government — featured an odd fusion of charismatic evangelicalism, Christian Zionism and right-wing Catholicism. There was contemporary Christian praise music and Virgin of Guadalupe iconography; a rendition of "Ave Maria" that concluded with the singer whooping "Giddy up"; and the female pastor of a New England pro-cannabis church wearing Catholic vestments while blowing on a Jewish shofar.

Emceeing the event was evangelical radio host Eric Metaxas, author of a bestselling biography of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a key figure in building an alliance between conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Metaxas had become increasingly extreme throughout the Trump era. The week of the Jericho March rally, he told TurningPoint USA founder Charlie Kirk that the 2020 election was like "somebody is being raped or murdered … times a thousand," and that conservatives would need "to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood" to keep Trump in office.

That December rally featured several notable names on the Catholic right, including a bishop from Texas who refused to acknowledge Biden as president-elect, a nun who had delivered a fiery pro-Trump address at the 2020 Republican National Convention and, most prominently, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a dissident Catholic figure who had once been the Vatican ambassador to the U.S. but fell into disgrace after calling for Pope Francis' resignation in 2018. Since then, Viganò has turned into a sort of alternative pope for disaffected Catholic traditionalists at odds with their more moderate pope, and in 2020, he published an open letter to Trump warning that a "deep church" was working with the "deep state" to use the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests to undermine his presidency. After Trump tweeted a link to the letter, Viganò attracted so much support on the broader right that when he appeared, via video, at the Jericho March — praying "for the conversion of public officials who have become accomplices in public fraud" — an audience largely composed of evangelical Protestants cheered alongside his Catholic fans.

Evangelical speaker Lance Wallnau, who in 2016 famously compared Trump to the biblical figure of Cyrus — a "heathen" king who nonetheless served as the instrument of God — also sounded the theme of intra-religious conflict. "This is the beginning of a Christian populist uprising. There is a backlash coming," he said. "And you're going to see this wrecking ball of a reformation hit the church as well … because it's going to divide between those who are awake and those that are asleep. … There is a great awakening coming, and this is the spark that is starting it right now."

Not all speakers at the Jericho March were religious leaders in the traditional sense. Stewart Rhodes, the devoutly Christian founder of the militia group the Oath Keepers, was on hand to urge police and military members to prepare to fight Chinese "proxies" in the U.S., who he claimed were working to install Joe Biden as their "puppet." Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, freshly pardoned by Trump for lying to federal investigators, appeared in a flag bandana to talk about spiritual war and lead the crowd in an "Our Father." And conspiracy-theory talk-show host Alex Jones delivered a barn-burning near-sermon, proclaiming, "This is the beginning of the great revival before the Antichrist comes. World government, implantable microchips, Satanism — it's out in the open. The Bible is fulfilled, Revelation is fulfilled."

And there was Ali Alexander, the bombastic founder of the Stop the Steal movement, who appeared frequently on stage alongside Metaxas, vowing that if Biden was installed as president, Alexander and his supporters would return to "occupy D.C. full of patriots," adding, "We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us."

In the following weeks, Alexander repeatedly underscored the religious dimensions of his mission. In late December, he told the Epoch Times-affiliated NTD television network, "We are in a fight of good versus evil, of light versus the darkness, and a global order over sovereign citizens. … I believe that this is a metaphysical fight and we are channeling all energy in heaven and on earth towards a favorable outcome."

On New Year's Eve in 2020, Alexander announced on Twitter that he was converting to Catholicism, in part, he explained, because he'd become convinced that the Catholic Church had been "infiltrated" by an "earthy [sic] order that works in concert with Satan himself against the Church," and that he had been personally called to join the battle. And when the Jericho March returned to Washington on Jan. 5, for a slate of protest events leading up to the following day's MAGA march, Alexander spoke again, whipping the crowd into a chant of "Victory or death."

"The Jericho March put a definite religious imprimatur on Jan. 6," said Posner. "After Jan. 6, the organization put a note on their website that they condemned violence. But they held multiple rallies in which they talked repeatedly about the election being stolen, that God told them they must have the church 'roar,' and that they were going to be like Joshua's army in the Bible and the walls of the Deep State would fall."

But no matter how explicit — and violent — the religious rhetoric swirling around Stop the Steal was, it was little recognized before the Jan. 6 attack. "We have gotten so used to religious language used by evangelicals and other religiously-affiliated officials that the danger that was there — whether at the Jericho March or the Jan. 6 rally that led up to the attack on the Capitol — was really just noise to some people," said Anthea Butler, chair of the religious studies department at the University of Pennsylvania. "And then it happened, and everyone pretended to be shocked. But that's willful ignorance about the role religion has played in the last 40 or 50 years in the Republican Party. It hasn't just been this alliance of how to get people elected, but has had this element of things that have fed upon each other to create a monster that threatens democracy."

That has remained central to the legacy of Jan. 6, as religious leaders have used the rhetoric of faith to minimize and redirect responsibility for the violence of that day: whether it's people like Wallnau or South Carolina televangelist Mark Burns blaming "antifa soldiers" for perpetrating a false-flag operation to smear Trump supporters; Mike Huckabee suggesting, in email newsletters over the last six months, that Nancy Pelosi may have orchestrated the attack, and casting indicted Jan. 6 protesters as political prisoners; or former Vice President Mike Pence, in a December interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, downplaying the very attack in which an angry mob called for his execution.

The rest of its legacy is more diffuse, but no less troubling: Metaxas suggesting that the creation of COVID-19 vaccines is akin to experimenting "with the bodies of Jews we murdered in the concentration camps," or Viganò writing that COVID exists merely as a "psycho-pandemic"; Wallnau calling "wokeness" the religion of the Antichrist and, on the eve of the Jan. 6 anniversary, blessing a cardboard cutout of Trump; Flynn declaring that if America is to be one nation under God, it must have only one religion. More systematically, there's the fact that much of the religious organizing energy that went into Stop the Steal has now transferred itself, as Posner reports, into mobilizing the Christian right on behalf of voter suppression initiatives.

A year later, none of the religious fervor that helped drive Jan. 6 has vanished, says Copulsky. "It's built into the fabric of American life. There's a radicality to it, but this didn't come out of thin air. And it's not going to go away. It's incumbent on religious leaders and organizations to think about what that means."

Here’s how Christian nationalism drove the Jan. 6 insurrection

In the midst of the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Jacob Chansley, the bare-chested man in Viking horns who's come to be known as the QAnon Shaman, stopped his fellow marauders in the Senate chamber to pray. "Thank you Heavenly Father for gracing us with this opportunity … to send a message to all the tyrants, the communists and the globalists, that this is our nation, not theirs," he said. "Thank you for filling this chamber with patriots that love you and that love Christ. Thank you for allowing the United States of America to be reborn."

The prayer, caught on video by New Yorker reporter Luke Mogelson, was just one moment among hundreds that day illustrating how deeply the insurrection was intertwined with Christian nationalism. Across the sea of protesters in and outside the building, t-shirt and ball-cap slogans proclaimed it: "Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president"; "God, Guns, Trump"; or, on the sweatshirt of a man helping construct the rough gallows erected on the Capitol lawn, "Faith, Family, Freedom." (The gallows itself was quickly covered in handwritten notes — "as if it were a yearbook," observed lawyer and author Andrew Seidel — reading "Hang them high" and "In God We Trust.")

Elsewhere, protesters carried gigantic portraits of Jesus and replica statues of the Infant of Prague, or chanted about the blood of Jesus washing Congress clean. A long-haired blond man sang praise songs into a microphone plugged into a stack of amplifiers he was wheeling on a hand-truck. A Nebraska priest performed an exorcism on the Capitol building to banish the demon Baphomet, who he claimed was "dissolving the country" in order to "bring it back as something different." One rioter later indicted for breaking into the Capitol was actually a cast member in a touring production of "Jesus Christ Superstar." Another, Leo Brent Bozell IV, came from a long line of Christian right activists: His father, L. Brent Bozell III, founded the right-wing Media Research Center and his grandfather, L. Brent Bozell Jr., wrote speeches for Joseph McCarthy and a manifesto for Barry Goldwater.

"It was evident to anyone watching that there was this religious character to what was going on, both in the Trump movement writ large but particularly in the leadership of the 'Stop the Steal' movement," said religious studies scholar Jerome Copulsky, co-director of a new website, Uncivil Religion, dedicated to collecting "digital artifacts" of Jan. 6 religiosity and exploring what it means for, say, violent protesters to dress up like Captain Moroni — a legendary warrior from the Book of Mormon — or sing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" alongside fellow protesters carrying Confederate flags. "It wasn't just the Stop the Steal rally, then the assault," Copulsky continued. "People really wanted to display their religious commitments, literally wearing them on their sleeves."

The Uncivil Religion project developed from a Twitter hashtag, #CapitolSiegeReligion, created by author and religious historian Peter Manseau and based on his sense that the religious subtext (and text, and blaring headline) were "*the* story of what happened" on Jan. 6. In Manseau's view, religion wasn't an incidental element, but had been the driving motivation that had brought many people to the Capitol. Much of that had begun much earlier, with Christian right leaders — both official and self-declared — framing the 2020 election, and the rest of America's polarized conflicts, as an all-or-nothing showdown between good and evil.

Some were national names, like Samaritan's Purse president Franklin Graham, who in August 2020 warned in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview that if Trump lost, churches would close down and Christians would be attacked. But that message was echoed so widely, in both religious and secular conservative media and across numerous niche religious right communities, that allegations about the "stolen" election became nearly inseparable from messages of apocalyptic faith.

Much of that was on display on Dec. 12, 2020, in Washington, when a large-scale interfaith prayer protest, the Jericho March — widely seen as a forerunner to Jan. 6 — brought together a number of religious right factions to pantomime the biblical Battle of Jericho in praying to "bring down the walls of the Deep State." The carnivalesque full-day rally — organized, as journalist Sarah Posner reported, by two then-current employees of the federal government — featured an odd fusion of charismatic evangelicalism, Christian Zionism and right-wing Catholicism. There was contemporary Christian praise music and Virgin of Guadalupe iconography; a rendition of "Ave Maria" that concluded with the singer whooping "Giddy up"; and the female pastor of a New England pro-cannabis church wearing Catholic vestments while blowing on a Jewish shofar.

Emceeing the event was evangelical radio host Eric Metaxas, author of a bestselling biography of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a key figure in building an alliance between conservative evangelicals and Roman Catholics. Metaxas had become increasingly extreme throughout the Trump era. The week of the Jericho March rally, he told TurningPoint USA founder Charlie Kirk that the 2020 election was like "somebody is being raped or murdered … times a thousand," and that conservatives would need "to fight to the death, to the last drop of blood" to keep Trump in office.

That December rally featured several notable names on the Catholic right, including a bishop from Texas who refused to acknowledge Biden as president-elect, a nun who had delivered a fiery pro-Trump address at the 2020 Republican National Convention and, most prominently, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a dissident Catholic figure who had once been the Vatican ambassador to the U.S. but fell into disgrace after calling for Pope Francis' resignation in 2018. Since then, Viganò has turned into a sort of alternative pope for disaffected Catholic traditionalists at odds with their more moderate pope, and in 2020, he published an open letter to Trump warning that a "deep church" was working with the "deep state" to use the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests to undermine his presidency. After Trump tweeted a link to the letter, Viganò attracted so much support on the broader right that when he appeared, via video, at the Jericho March — praying "for the conversion of public officials who have become accomplices in public fraud" — an audience largely composed of evangelical Protestants cheered alongside his Catholic fans.

Evangelical speaker Lance Wallnau, who in 2016 famously compared Trump to the biblical figure of Cyrus — a "heathen" king who nonetheless served as the instrument of God — also sounded the theme of intra-religious conflict. "This is the beginning of a Christian populist uprising. There is a backlash coming," he said. "And you're going to see this wrecking ball of a reformation hit the church as well … because it's going to divide between those who are awake and those that are asleep. … There is a great awakening coming, and this is the spark that is starting it right now."

Not all speakers at the Jericho March were religious leaders in the traditional sense. Stewart Rhodes, the devoutly Christian founder of the militia group the Oath Keepers, was on hand to urge police and military members to prepare to fight Chinese "proxies" in the U.S., who he claimed were working to install Joe Biden as their "puppet." Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, freshly pardoned by Trump for lying to federal investigators, appeared in a flag bandana to talk about spiritual war and lead the crowd in an "Our Father." And conspiracy-theory talk-show host Alex Jones delivered a barn-burning near-sermon, proclaiming, "This is the beginning of the great revival before the Antichrist comes. World government, implantable microchips, Satanism — it's out in the open. The Bible is fulfilled, Revelation is fulfilled."

And there was Ali Alexander, the bombastic founder of the Stop the Steal movement, who appeared frequently on stage alongside Metaxas, vowing that if Biden was installed as president, Alexander and his supporters would return to "occupy D.C. full of patriots," adding, "We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us."

In the following weeks, Alexander repeatedly underscored the religious dimensions of his mission. In late December, he told the Epoch Times-affiliated NTD television network, "We are in a fight of good versus evil, of light versus the darkness, and a global order over sovereign citizens. … I believe that this is a metaphysical fight and we are channeling all energy in heaven and on earth towards a favorable outcome."

On New Year's Eve in 2020, Alexander announced on Twitter that he was converting to Catholicism, in part, he explained, because he'd become convinced that the Catholic Church had been "infiltrated" by an "earthy [sic] order that works in concert with Satan himself against the Church," and that he had been personally called to join the battle. And when the Jericho March returned to Washington on Jan. 5, for a slate of protest events leading up to the following day's MAGA march, Alexander spoke again, whipping the crowd into a chant of "Victory or death."

"The Jericho March put a definite religious imprimatur on Jan. 6," said Posner. "After Jan. 6, the organization put a note on their website that they condemned violence. But they held multiple rallies in which they talked repeatedly about the election being stolen, that God told them they must have the church 'roar,' and that they were going to be like Joshua's army in the Bible and the walls of the Deep State would fall."

But no matter how explicit — and violent — the religious rhetoric swirling around Stop the Steal was, it was little recognized before the Jan. 6 attack. "We have gotten so used to religious language used by evangelicals and other religiously-affiliated officials that the danger that was there — whether at the Jericho March or the Jan. 6 rally that led up to the attack on the Capitol — was really just noise to some people," said Anthea Butler, chair of the religious studies department at the University of Pennsylvania. "And then it happened, and everyone pretended to be shocked. But that's willful ignorance about the role religion has played in the last 40 or 50 years in the Republican Party. It hasn't just been this alliance of how to get people elected, but has had this element of things that have fed upon each other to create a monster that threatens democracy."

That has remained central to the legacy of Jan. 6, as religious leaders have used the rhetoric of faith to minimize and redirect responsibility for the violence of that day: whether it's people like Wallnau or South Carolina televangelist Mark Burns blaming "antifa soldiers" for perpetrating a false-flag operation to smear Trump supporters; Mike Huckabee suggesting, in email newsletters over the last six months, that Nancy Pelosi may have orchestrated the attack, and casting indicted Jan. 6 protesters as political prisoners; or former Vice President Mike Pence, in a December interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, downplaying the very attack in which an angry mob called for his execution.

The rest of its legacy is more diffuse, but no less troubling: Metaxas suggesting that the creation of COVID-19 vaccines is akin to experimenting "with the bodies of Jews we murdered in the concentration camps," or Viganò writing that COVID exists merely as a "psycho-pandemic"; Wallnau calling "wokeness" the religion of the Antichrist and, on the eve of the Jan. 6 anniversary, blessing a cardboard cutout of Trump; Flynn declaring that if America is to be one nation under God, it must have only one religion. More systematically, there's the fact that much of the religious organizing energy that went into Stop the Steal has now transferred itself, as Posner reports, into mobilizing the Christian right on behalf of voter suppression initiatives.

A year later, none of the religious fervor that helped drive Jan. 6 has vanished, says Copulsky. "It's built into the fabric of American life. There's a radicality to it, but this didn't come out of thin air. And it's not going to go away. It's incumbent on religious leaders and organizations to think about what that means."

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Catholics and Contraception


In the midst of the wall-to-wall press coverage of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the U.S. last week, The New York Times paused to note that many American Catholics pay little heed to papal authority, and instead bestow on the pope a particularly American commendation: They'd love to sit down and chat with the man, Catholic to Catholic. However homey the image, a stained-glass rendition of the favored American method of choosing a president (sans beer), the Times also pointed out, in explaining the lack of official Church data on how Americans really feel about the authority of this or any pope, that the Church is not a democracy. And, despite how nonchalantly many Americans speak about the relevance of the Vatican on their lives, the effect of a hierarchy headed by a man who built his career on opposition to liberation and feminist theology is real, and renders liberal or pro-choice Catholics today dissenters criticizing doctrine from outside the Church.


While Benedict pointedly neglected to address the issues those dissenters press on -- the bans on contraception, condom use, gay and lesbian rights, and ordination of women -- the unbending position of the Vatican was made clear during a 60,000-person mass at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, where he reminded the throngs of faithful that obedience as a Catholic is non-optional.


"Authority. Obedience. To be frank, these are not easy words to speak nowadays, especially in a society which rightly places a high value on personal freedom," he told the crowd, continuing to cite the scriptural lesson that "true freedom" comes from turning from sin, from "self-surrender" and "losing ourselves": an emphasis on hierarchy and submission more common to fundamentalist Christianity and orthodox doctrine across denominations than within the heterogeneous Catholic church itself.


It's also an unsubtle reminder that, however much American Catholics may disdain the 40-year old order of Humane Vitae -- that "each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life" -- following their own consciences on matters of artificial contraception is still an act of rebellion.


An immediate outpouring of dissent greeted the document in 1968, when 600 theologians protested the ruling, Rosemary Radford Ruether, a feminist theologian at the Pacific School of Religion, recalled on a conference call convened by Catholics for Choice to commemorate the document's fortieth anniversary. These theologians, she explains, were responding to the real consequences of Natural Family Planning -- the only method of birth control the Church had allowed since 1930, when it banned condoms and diaphragms in a renewed emphasis on Augustine's anti-contraception teachings -- in Catholics' family life, where the anti-contraceptive emphasis "almost began to seem the point of being a Catholic." As representatives of lay Catholic couples testified to the 1966 Catholic Commission on Birth Control, the pressures of following NFP, and abstaining during infertile periods, led to great marital discord for Catholic couples. The priests on the Commission were shocked by the experiences of the laity, and voted overwhelmingly to recommend that birth control be allowed for married couples. A small group of anti-contraception dissenters created a second "minority report" for the pope, calling the Commission's conclusions threatening to the Church's authority, as the Church could not admit to having "so wrongly erred during all those centuries of history." Four years later, it was this dissenting point of view that was reinforced in Humanae Vitae.


Today 97 percent of sexually active Catholic women use some form of contraception at some point, and, Radford Ruether says, many Catholic priests don't press the issue, considering it a "teaching that has not been received" by the people. Indeed, in 1974, 83 percent of Catholics said they disagreed with Humanae Vitae, and in 1999, according to the National Catholic Reporter, 80 percent of Catholics said they believed they could practice birth control and remain "good Catholics" (presumably leaving the remaining 17 percent guiltily disobedient). But despite this 40-year disconnect, which many theologians agree has led to greater skepticism about Church infallibility than acceptance of contraception ever could have, calls to liberalize the doctrine are repeatedly shot down with what theologian Anthony Padovano calls "incredibly inflated language," such as Pope John Paul II's assertion that questioning the ban on contraception was equivalent to questioning the holiness of God.


How this plays out in day-to-day life, explains Mary Hunt, of the Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, is that many Catholic women who approach their priests about contraception are given personal exemptions, while the same priests or bishops continue to preach against it in public. "Many Catholics are disgusted by the duplicity, or at best they're confused," said Hunt. There is "little evidence that those who believe contraception is healthy, good, natural and holy, as I do, have any input into Catholic theology."


Or, if they have a vote, it's one that can only be used once, in leaving the church. "The Catholic hierarchy holds its power," says Hunt, "and laypeople, many of them women, are walking away." Or, as Daniel Maguire, a professor of Moral Theological Ethics at Marquette University who laments that the public face of the Church excludes dissenting theologians and laity, jokes, "The current teaching of Catholic bishops is the making of Unitarians." On the eve of the Pope's visit, Catholics for Choice issued a publication studying the full impact of the contraceptive ban, Truth and Consequences: A Look Behind the Vatican's Ban on Contraception (PDF).


Perhaps the exodus of those Catholics who feel strongly about reproductive health and rights explains the sometimes confusing poll numbers attached to American Catholicism. For all that people obviously reject Catholic hierarchical teachings in practice, and tell pollsters the Church is "out of touch" on modern issues, there's a conflicting rise of believers who say they support the traditionalist path Pope Benedict XVI represents. According to a poll conducted by The Washington Post, over the past five years, the percentage of Catholics who supported modernized doctrine from the Vatican has dwindled from 66% to 45%, and those who wanted the pope to "emphasize Catholicism's traditional teachings and customs" rose from one-third to one-half.


Maybe that rise in appreciation for tradition, even among believers who are flouting the doctrine, is because the impact of Vatican teachings is far less consequential in the U.S. than in developing nations where the Catholic hierarchy has a heavy hand in public policy, hampering condom distribution in Africa, emergency contraception availability in South America, and family planning options for women in countries with high rates of maternal mortality. In Yankee Stadium, the pope's words on obedience may be a plea to a rich nation, but elsewhere, it's an enforceable demand.


"The tragedy is that those of us in the Global North can circumvent any restrictions on contraception," says Catholics for Choice President Jon O'Brien, reflecting a Vatican recognition that they've "lost the battle for our hearts and minds." Instead, the Vatican has taken their argument to the level of global public policy at the U.N., and exerts its influence most immediately on the developing nations of the Global South. There, says Mary Hunt, "Anti-contraceptive theology, implemented in public policy, results in a lack of available, affordable birth control, and this plays a significant role in [maternal] deaths" -- even as vast majorities of Latin American Catholics, including 87 percent of Colombian Catholics, 84 percent of Mexican Catholics, and 81 percent of Bolivian Catholics, believe you can use contraception and still be a good Catholic.


Perhaps a greater awareness among the majority of Catholic laity who disagree with Vatican teaching on contraception -- whether they voice that disagreement in words, with their feet, or through the quiet example of their private lives -- of how such "irrelevant" teachings play out in the lives of their poorer sisters, would make the issue of Vatican authority relevant again. It certainly is for those who don't have the freedom, "true" or otherwise, to disregard an authority that directs the healthcare they can receive.
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