The Troops Of Takeover

The New Republic recently ran a chilling article. It was titled “Ten People You’ve Never Heard of Who are Destroying Democracy,” and it reminded me of Cold War allegations about the mechanisms of  communist “fifth columns” working to undermine the U.S.

Wikipedia defines a Fifth Column as “any group of people who undermine a larger group from within, usually in favor of an enemy group or nation…Clandestine fifth column activities can involve acts of sabotage, disinformation, or espionage executed within defense lines by secret sympathizers with an external force.”

The problem with suspicions of a Fifth Column, of course, is the credibility of the charge. After hearing from QAnon nutcases about pedophiles controlling the Democratic Party and the presumed evil intentions of the “deep state,” prudence dictates a healthy skepticism when such assertions are encountered.

That said, The New Republic is neither Fox nor OAN, and I actually was familiar with one of the ten I supposedly never heard of–and what I knew about that particular “soldier” of the Far Right was all too consistent with the article’s report.

The lede was worrisome enough:

In recent years, America’s democracy has faced countless challenges. Some seemed to materialize out of thin air, but many have been the fruit of secretive networks such as the 40-year-old Council for National Policy. Here are 10 individuals who have sown the seeds of disruption and disinformation—and who are setting their sights on the 2024 presidential election.

I encourage you to click through and familiarize yourself with the entire list, but the very first entrant was the President of Hillsdale College–a deeply ideological institution I had previously encountered.

For decades, Michigan-based Hillsdale has served as an academic partner for the religious right. The college has had a close relationship to the Council for National Policy, the secretive Christian right umbrella organization that directs so much right-wing activism, through Arnn and his predecessor, George Roche III (who left in a cloud of scandal). Hillsdale’s major donors have constituted a who’s who of the radical right, including the Koch network and leading figures from the CNP. Arnn has expanded Hillsdale’s role as a platform for the CNP’s network of megadonors, fundamentalist activists, and media outlets, providing their policy prescriptions with a thin veneer of academic respectability. The college enrolls around 1,500 students, but its leaves an outsize footprint in political messaging. Its highly politicized publication Imprimis is sent to more than six million recipients. Hillsdale operates the Kirby Center in Washington, D.C., where it has groomed young conservatives at the Capitol Hill Staff Training School, run by the Leadership Institute (see Morton Blackwell, below). Hillsdale is also playing a role in the current disruption of public education, which has been used for political leverage in Virginia and beyond. In 2020, Donald Trump appointed Arnn chair of the 1776 Commission, to promote a “patriotic” rebuttal to the 1619 Project’s racially inclusive approach to U.S. history. Hillsdale has led an ongoing campaign to politicize public schools, promoting anti–critical race theory campaigns and assisting in the launch of “affiliate” charter schools in 11 states.

Some years ago, I was contracted to write a history of an Indiana libertarian organization–the Remnant Trust. The Trust has collected first editions of rare and important historical books and manuscripts, and has created an educational display featuring those materials that it shares with colleges and universities around the country. Early in that effort, it had contracted with Hillsdale in a sort of joint venture (I no longer recall the details), and the Executive Director regaled me–at considerable length–about Hillsdale’s bad faith breach of that agreement in what he claimed was an effort to enrich the college at the expense of the nonprofit organization. He had been stunned and blindsided by behavior he hadn’t expected from an institution trumpeting what he’d thought were similar values.

Later, I had a couple of students who had matriculated at Hillsdale; their recollections (albeit far less accusatory) confirmed much of the New Republic’s description. I’m also one of the six million people who gets Imprimus (in my case, the slick publication goes straight into the trash.)

Most recently, I’ve been alarmed by the news reports that Hillsdale is establishing a nationwide network of charter schools.

Others on the list of ten “Fifth Column” actors were the CEO of Right Side Broadcasting, the  Daily Caller (Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel’s publication), the CEO of Tea Party Patriots, the founders of organizations called “America’s Frontline Doctors” and “The Leadership Institute,” and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

Bottom line: there are a lot of “underground” people and organizations that have been working hard to undermine America’s social safety net, and reverse any progress toward goals of equality and inclusion.

Some Fifth Columns, it turns out, are real.


  1. Yes, whatever you want to call the organizations formed by the oligarchy to control our government has been undermining our country prior to its inception.

    The “deep state” was used by Eisenhower in his farewell speech and since he was a retired General of the military, he probably knew the problems firsthand.

    Charles and David Koch single-handedly, with the help of a few other oligarchs, destroyed what you considered the “sane GOP” and replaced it with the Tea Party and Pence’s lunatic evangelicals.

    But please, don’t ignore the MIC and their surveillance apparatus coupled with the silk suit thieves of Wall Street and their media conglomerates controlling the DNC, because they are just as bad.

    The wolves have devoured the media and the entire government. Who do you think is profiting from all the billions being sent to Ukraine? Same ones who profited from 20 years in Afghanistan, not including the opium trade.

    However, I think it’s coming to an end shortly and the hope is they don’t detonate any nuclear bombs before the world gets rid of them.

  2. Hillsdale used to be a very respected education institution, at least among conservatives. I am not aware of whether it has given up its principles (and become anti-democratic) during the Trump era like many other conservative institutions have. (Claremont Institute is just one example of that.) But the topic of the article is people who are destroying democracy. The president of Hillsdale is listed because: 1) the Koch brothers donate to them; 2) a lot of conservative activists graduate from Hillsdale; and 3) Hillsdale supports charter schools (which are public schools, by the way).

    One can disagree with any of these, but how are they an effort to “destroy democracy?” How is Hillsdale trying to change our system of government from a democratic republic to an autocracy? There are real, unprecedented threats to our democracy out there and it undercuts those of us warning about those threats to democracy when simple political differences are cast as threats to democracy.

  3. Todd; if your “Voice of Muncie” contains the totally negative view of all parties and organizations, you are one of those maintaining Indiana’s strong red state status coming from the “rural areas”.

    “Some Fifth Columns, it turns out, are real.”

    And some, like you, are brazen enough to post on blogs and have your own media site to work within red states to reach those who doubt who or what to believe who continue to vote against their own best issues. But; due simply to “the law of averages”, you sometimes hit the nail on the head which maintains your audience. President Barack Obama spoke against disinformation providers, you are one of those “Fifth Columns” working within small areas and go unnoticed by the larger public but add to the larger problems from our own government. You, like other pro-negative nay-sayers who have disappeared from the blog, are a danger to democracy.

  4. Hillsdale’s charter schools will probably be partially financed by the Indiana taxpayers, via the voucher system. Under the guise of religious education, they will be planting the seeds of revolutionary, not evolutionary changes in American culture.

  5. Read the Shadow Network by Anne Nelson. She talks about many of these organizations and how they have worked since prior to Reagan to subvert democracy and turn our country into a white, Christian nation. Really good book!

  6. JoAnn,

    Obama makes lots of speeches because he gets $500k a year speaking at Wall Street events. The same Wall Street he bailed out letting Citicorp executives manage the FED and his administration.

    Meanwhile, he basically did nothing for eight years to reverse the negative trends of income inequality. I wonder why?

    Saps like you keep voting for Wall Street shills like Biden and Obama and Clinton who do nothing for the working class while they blame the GOP. Until the party loyalists snap out of their trance, this country will continue swirling down the drain.

    My readership is almost all international because Americans don’t read – they watch TV from their couches. Especially in the rural areas of Indiana. 😉

  7. More again on what I like to call the “Right-Wing Ecosystem”. Though sometimes they don’t seem to be formally connected, because they are nearly completely in agreement on philosophy, it doesn’t really matter. They get the job done. For example, as reported in yesterday’s Guardian:

    “The Wisconsin supreme court adopted new legislative maps drawn by Republicans, a decision that will make it virtually impossible for Democrats to take control of the state assembly for the next decade.” Likely the same in many red states. Would not be surprised if they followed guidelines by the same “experts”.

  8. Todd, good morning.

    Some good points today! I don’t share all the prevailing viewpoints concerning your observations. Of course, I don’t always agree with your observations, but many times, there’s a lot of shared context, context that is derived from opposite directions.

    These fifth columns are directly related to those movements in the United States, the KKK was one, the Bund was another. These melded into society, especially after they were recognized for what they were. These gave birth to a lot of the supremacist movements and radical Christian dogma. It has permeated those supposed shepherds and and their organizations, turning them into greedy wolves. It gave them a power play opportunity, not to true worship or true dogma, but to their own power hungry desires.

    There is an uneasy alliance with many of the world’s religions, where, on the outside, they seem to be antithetical to each other, but have tentacles in contact with each other in a symbiotic relationship.

    Judaism outliers, Christian sects, Islamic radicals, work together to supposedly bring about the final war, and, welcome either the rapture, the second coming, or the first coming of the Messiah, or armageddon!

    Along with all of these shenanigans, there is a huge flow of money. So, hedging their bets, these groups want to make sure that they are at the top of the food chain if any of these things happen!

    The key to the situation is if secular authorities realize these things and take action. As Todd alluded to, there probably will be a movement to clamp down on religion as a whole. Those who are threats and those who are more benign. There really won’t be much deference concerning that.

    Like a political chemotherapy so to speak, it will eradicate everything, bad and good! After all, it’s much easier to eliminate everything than to pick and choose. Picking and choosing while eliminating the rot, will cause an uproar, so basically no groups will be left untouched.

    The vehicle behind this purging is still sort of vague. Will it be, as mentioned yesterday, a martial law to bring it under control? Or, some sort of physical conflict? Either way, it’s going to effectively change government and lifestyle permanently.

    It will be especially grievous for those who tried to subvert secular government. Not just in this country but across this very small globe.

  9. Lester, I like your term, the “Right-Wing Ecosystem”. Truly it has become pervasive and systemic.

    It could be a force in support of our Constitution but seems to have chosen otherwise primarily by how it defines its opposition and assumes entitlement.

    It’s one thing to respect our history and cultural traditions as conservatism typically does but our type has become way too selective about that. It seemingly has become focused on our history and traditions of who’s in charge of society and instead of adapting to reality assuming that the days of the not recent European immigrant wealthy businessman in charge needs to be extended beyond their “majority” status.

    That’s a return to the European model of aristocracy that we keep throwing out, first in our Revolution.

    All political persuasions in order to be useful have to be based in reality not in opposition to it. Fundamental governance. As long as they fight that they will be a danger to the country not in service to it.

  10. Good post(s), Todd.

    It’s hard to bring truth to people who seem to need approval from others. Until I found this forum,I thought critical thinking was something different than just simply agreeing with the status quo.

    Critical thinking is now just simply being in agreement with the majority among the forum. Hmmm,Dunning Kruger.

  11. You’re a little late in the game, Todd. My old World Politics professor at IU (in 1948) refused to label us humans as homo sapiens, instead insisting that we be known as “homo saps.” I suppose by your definition that I am a sap since I have consistently voted for Democrats since Truman, but that by his more general definition you are included in such category. What goes around comes around.

  12. “The Shadow Network” is now on my reading list.
    Read ‘Democracy in Chains: the Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America,”- by Jill Lepore, for a thorough picture of the Koch
    Boys nefariousness.
    Christopher Hitchens wrote “Religion spoils everything,” and one can see the truth in this by looking at the religious right’s agenda to turn
    the country into their sort of Theocracy. It ought not be lost on them that to see what a theocracy looks like, they need only turn to Iran! But,
    of course, they would rationalize their goal, by saying “Yes, but, THIS would be OUR kind of theocracy, doing OUR God’s work!
    I’m sorry, but whomsoever’s fairy tale one follows, it’s still a fairy tale.

  13. By my personal count, “Stand Together” (used to be Koch Affiliate Network) funds at least one dozen foundations that distributes billions in funding to way more than 120 non-profit institutions that train anti-democracy extreme right operatives and propaganda churn machines. But, that’s just by my count. I’m probably way underestimating. Read Democracy in Chains to start learning about this 70-year fifth-column operation.

    And that is just one billionaire cabal of many that are actively, systematically undermining American democracy. Don’t mind me. I’ve been ignored for two decades. I’m used to it.

  14. I sent Hillsdale College a message on their website demanding to be removed from their mailing list, shortly after reading a particularly offensive opinion in the newsletter. I haven’t gotten one since.

  15. Paul K. Ogden – You asked, “How is Hillsdale trying to change our system of government from a democratic republic to an autocracy?”
    Hillsdale was established by a group of bankers. Their writings are featured in their publication, Imprimis, where they try to convince people that taking care of Big Money is the best thing to do because they have high values. Yet, upon reading the publication several times, I concluded the obvious: They are teaching young people why the Big Banking system is good for the world, and how the will of the people is not. Check it out for yourself.

  16. Mitch D- I added Democracy in chains to my read list.

    Another book is Holy Smoke: How Christianity Smothered the American Dream. It was really good as well and very insightful.

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