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Moms For White Nationalism

Maybe we should call the wildly mis-named “Moms for Liberty” “Moms for White Nationalism.” Or “Proud Girls,” in recognition of their cozy relationship with the Neo-Nazi “Proud Boys.”

Heather Cox Richardson placed the organization in historical context.

The success of Biden’s policies both at home and abroad has pushed the Republican Party into an existential crisis, and that’s where Moms for Liberty fits in. Since the years of the Reagan administration, the Movement Conservatives who wanted to destroy the New Deal state recognized that they only way they could win voters to slash taxes for the wealthy and cut back popular social problems was by whipping up social issues to convince voters that Black Americans, or people of color, or feminists, wanted a handout from the government, undermining America by ushering in “socialism.” The forty years from 1981 to 2021 moved wealth upward dramatically and hollowed out the middle class, creating a disaffected population ripe for an authoritarian figure who promised to return that population to upward mobility… 

Richardson attributes the organization’s focus on America’s public schools to the fact that those schools teach democratic values–i.e., engage in“liberal indoctrination.”

As a Moms for Liberty chapter in Indiana put on its first newspaper: “He alone, who OWNS the youth, GAINS the future.” While this quotation is often used by right-wing Christian groups to warn of what they claim liberal groups do, it is attributed to German dictator Adolf Hitler. Using it boomeranged on the Moms for Liberty group not least because it coincided with the popular “Shiny Happy People” documentary about the far-right religious Duggar family that showed the “grooming” and exploitation of children in that brand of evangelicalism.

Moms for Liberty have pushed for banning books that refer to any aspect of modern democracy they find objectionable, focusing primarily on those with LGBTQ+ content or embrace of minority rights… A study by the Washington Post found that two thirds of book challenges came from individuals who filed 10 or more complaints, with the filers often affiliated with Moms for Liberty or similar groups. And in their quest to make education align with their ideology, the Moms for Liberty have joined forces with far-right extremist groups, including the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, sovereign citizens groups, and so on, pushing them even further to the right.

Richardson notes that Moms for Liberty is the contemporary version of  “a broader and longstanding reactionary movement centered on restoring traditional hierarchies of race, gender and sexuality.” It’s the modern version of “Women of the Ku Klux Klan.” 

Given media emphasis on the gender gap, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that not all women are progressive. The Guardian recently considered the history of female rightwing activism.

As a movement, Moms for Liberty draws from the long history of rightwing women’s activism in the US – particularly in such activists’ identity as mothers. Where mothers’ movements are often associated with projects of social welfare, a counter-tradition of women’s activism has politicized motherhood to pursue staunchly conservative aims.

Fueled by anti-communist panic, they fought for the removal of textbooks, teachers and administrators they judged to be tainted by progressive ideals. A defining feature of these groups was how they leveraged cultural beliefs surrounding motherhood for political ends.

White mothers’ organizations were some of the most committed players in the mid-century project of “massive resistance” fought to preserve the Jim Crow order…. And one of its battlegrounds remains central to the mission of Moms for Liberty: textbooks and school curricula. In the south and beyond, mothers’ organizations fought to eliminate books and teachings that highlighted white violence or white supremacy.

Given their goals, I’m sure these “Moms” applauded when the Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction explained that–under that state’s “anti-woke/anti-CRT” rules, schools could teach that the Tulsa massacre happened– but could not attribute it to racism.

Walters is a pro-Trump Republican who was elected to oversee Oklahoma education in November. He has consistently indulged in rightwing talking points including “woke ideology” and has said critical race theory should not be taught in classrooms. Republicans have frequently conflated banning critical race theory with banning any discussion of racial history in classrooms.

At the forum in Norman, Oklahoma, Walters was asked how the massacre could “not fall” under his broad definition of CRT.

Walters responded that the incident should be taught, but not attributed to the race of the victims. That, he said “is where I say that is critical race theory.”

According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the massacre was the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” White mobs burned down the Black neighborhood of Greenwood, in Tulsa, and killed hundreds of Black people.

Explaining why is now a “CRT no-no.” Moms-for-ridiculous-results must be so proud….

It’s All About Race

I have previously shared my youngest son’s analysis of the 2016 presidential election–an analysis with which I have come to agree, and which subsequent academic research has confirmed. As he put it, “there were two–and only two–kinds of people who voted for Trump: those for whom his racism resonated, and those for whom it wasn’t disqualifying.” 

I was initially reluctant to accept so oversimplified an analysis, but in the years since, study after study has confirmed its essential accuracy, and research clearly connects the importance of racism to the continued allegiance of Evangelical voters to Trump.

An article from the Brookings Institution is instructive. The linked article begins by looking at the characteristics of  White Evangelical voters, and finds that, overall, they are older and predominantly Southern. The aging of the cohort is due to America’s declining religiosity, and the departure of younger Americans from a Christianity seen as intolerant of racial diversity and the LGBTQ community. As the authors delicately put it, younger Americans are more “progressive”(i.e., less threatened) when it comes to “diversity.”

Evangelicals are 30% of self-identified Republicans–and they vote. Fifty-nine percent of them are older than 50; 52% hail from the South; 42% have a high school diploma or less; 69% identify as conservative. They have been shrinking as a percentage of the population–White Evangelicals are currently 14% of all Americans.

Interestingly, the current political divide between Evangelicals and others  on the issue of abortion is actually rooted in racism,  as has documented:

The movement to end legal abortion has a long, racist history, and like the great replacement theory, it has roots in a similar fear that white people are going to be outnumbered by people believed to hold a lower standing in society. Those anxieties used to be centered primarily around various groups of European immigrants and newly emancipated slaves, but now they’re focused on non-white Americans who, as a group, are on track to numerically outpace non-Hispanic white Americans by 2045, according to U.S. Census projections.

It’s been decades since the anti-abortion movement first gained traction — and the movement has changed in certain ways — but this fundamental fear has never left, as demonstrated by attacks on people of color, such as the shooter in Buffalo, New York, who expressed concern about the declining birth rates of white people. That’s because the anti-abortion movement, at its core, has always been about upholding white supremacy.

The Brookings  report focuses on Evangelicals’ continued devotion to Trump, which it attributes to “shared anger and resentments rather than a shared faith.” As the authors write,

White Evangelical politics is now predominantly the politics of older, conservative voters for whom ‘owning the libs’ and pushing back against cultural and demographic change has become a sacred obligation.

The movement of White Evangelicals to the GOP began long before Roe v. Wade–it was prompted by backlash against civil rights and voting rights. The continued role of racial reaction, which also prompts opposition to immigration, has been well documented.

In a 2018 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center,  38 percent of Americans said that the U.S. becoming more diverse would “weaken American customs and values.” This opinion was most prevalent among Republicans, who by a margin of 59 to 13 percent said that having a majority nonwhite population would weaken rather than strengthen the U.S. (Twenty-seven percent said it wouldn’t have much impact either way.) Another poll, conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found 47 percent of Republicans (compared with 22 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of independents) agreeing with the statement that “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants who agree with their political views.”

It has to be emphasized that the allegiance of White Evangelicals to the GOP under Trump isn’t new–they have voted overwhelmingly Republican for a long time. What I’ve found hard to wrap my head around was the fact that more White Evangelicals “converted to Trump’s cause” during his presidency than defected from it. How rational people could view Trump’s bizarre behaviors in office and increase their support simply astonished me–and is inexplicable without reference to the increasingly blatant racism displayed by Trump and the contemporary GOP.

So what does all of this mean for the 2024 election?

The historical affiliation of White Evangelicals and other “racial grievance” voters with the GOP means they are probably unmovable. They can be counted on to vote–and to vote for any candidate with an R next to the name. They are not a majority even in very Red states–but absent effective GOTV efforts, their anger and cohesion can elect truly despicable people.

Massive turnout has never been more important.





Now Alito

There’s a lot to unpack about the ongoing disclosures about Supreme Court Justices,  beginning with the old adage that power corrupts. 

Digging a bit deeper, it’s interesting to note just who has been shown to be morally–and probably legally–corrupt. (Hint: it hasn’t been the liberal female justices. There are stories about Elena Kagan’s refusal to accept a gift of bagels on ethical grounds!) The culprits are the far-right Justices who sit on the Court courtesy of Leonard Leo and the Federalist Society.

It began with disclosures about Clarence Thomas and his appalling wife. If a lower-level judge accepted–and hid– lavish gifts and travel from a billionaire ideologue and failed to recuse himself from cases involving that billionaire–not to mention cases in which his wife was an interested party–that judge would soon be removed from the bench. 

Now we discover that Justice Alito shares more than ideology with Thomas. Pro Publica broke the story:

In early July 2008, Samuel Alito stood on a riverbank in a remote corner of Alaska. The Supreme Court justice was on vacation at a luxury fishing lodge that charged more than $1,000 a day, and after catching a king salmon nearly the size of his leg, Alito posed for a picture. To his left, a man stood beaming: Paul Singer, a hedge fund billionaire who has repeatedly asked the Supreme Court to rule in his favor in high-stakes business disputes.

Singer was more than a fellow angler. He flew Alito to Alaska on a private jet. If the justice chartered the plane himself, the cost could have exceeded $100,000 one way.

In the years that followed, Singer’s hedge fund came before the court at least 10 times in cases where his role was often covered by the legal press and mainstream media. In 2014, the court agreed to resolve a key issue in a decade-long battle between Singer’s hedge fund and the nation of Argentina. Alito did not recuse himself from the case and voted with the 7-1 majority in Singer’s favor. The hedge fund was ultimately paid $2.4 billion.

Alito–like Thomas–failed to report the trip on his required annual financial disclosure form. Ethics experts tell Pro Publica  that the omission violates federal law. Those experts also report being unable to identify another instance of “a justice ruling on a case after receiving an expensive gift paid for by one of the parties.”

ProPublica’s investigation sheds new light on how luxury travel has given prominent political donors — including one who has had cases before the Supreme Court — intimate access to the most powerful judges in the country. Another wealthy businessman provided expensive vacations to two members of the high court, ProPublica found. On his Alaska trip, Alito stayed at a commercial fishing lodge owned by this businessman, who was also a major conservative donor. Three years before, that same businessman flew Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, on a private jet to Alaska and paid the bill for his stay.

Such trips would be unheard of for the vast majority of federal workers, who are generally barred from taking even modest gifts.

Alito claims he and Singer never discussed business, and that when Singer’s cases came before the court, he’d been unaware of his connection to them.

Right. And I have a bridge to sell you…..

Talking Points Memo points to the larger issue:  justices groomed and chosen by the Federalist Society “remain ‘kept’ in perpetuity” by the Right-wing donor network that got them there … “Sugar Justices, if you will.”

What is especially infuriating about these disclosures is that they involve Justices who posture as moral arbiters and issue judicial opinions based upon religious dogma rather than constitutional precedent. 

I have previously characterized Alito’s decision in Dobbs as profoundly dishonest, because he cherry-picked and misrepresented both history and legal precedent in order to achieve his desired (paternalistic) result.  Given Pro Publica’s report, it seems Alito’s dishonesty isn’t limited to his jurisprudence.

Thomas insisted that Harlan Crowe (whom he met after he joined the Court) was a “dear friend.” Alito says he had “no idea” that Singer was connected to ten cases before the Court. Neither allegation passes the smell test. According to Pro Publica, Alito and Singer have appeared together at public events, and Singer introduced Alito’s speeches on at least two occasions– the annual dinner of the Federalist Society (where Singer told an anecdote about their fishing trip) and a dinner for donors to the equally far-Right Manhattan Institute. 

The disclosures are profoundly depressing. They should also be a wake-up call.

It is past time to apply binding ethical standards to the Court. Imposing term limits, and adding Justices to the Court would dilute the influence exercised by corrupt culture warriors doing Federalist Society bidding..


About That Bubble…

Humans have always occupied bubbles–after all, as sociologists and philosophers tell us, we are inevitably embedded in the particular cultures into which we’re born and raised. But our ability to confine ourselves to a small slice of the larger culture–to occupy an agreeable, albeit distorted or manufactured reality –has been dramatically increased by the Internet.

When I first shared The Filter Bubble with my class on media and public affairs, a student objected that life in a bubble was nothing new. As she said “I was raised in Martinsville, Indiana, and I lived in a White bubble.” True enough–but her subsequent life in the “big city” (cough) of Indianapolis had allowed new experiences and ideas to penetrate that original, geographical bubble.

Today’s Republican Party depends for its continued relevance on two things: gerrymandering, and voters who live in a bubble that is also largely geographic (i.e., rural), but one that–thanks to the Internet and Rightwing media– reality can rarely penetrate.

A while back, the New York Times ran an op-ed focused on Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former spokesperson for Trump and now Governor of  Arkansas. Sanders had just delivered the GOP response to President Biden’s State of the Union address, and as the article noted, her message was inaccessible to most Americans, despite the fact that it was an opportunity to address voters who might not otherwise tune in to a Republican speech.

“In the radical left’s America,” she said, “Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race but not to love one another or our great country.”

Sanders attacked Biden as the “first man to surrender his presidency to a woke mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is” and decried the “woke fantasies” of a “left-wing culture war.” Every day, she said, “we are told that we must partake in their rituals, salute their flags and worship their false idols, all while big government colludes with big tech to strip away the most American thing there is: your freedom of speech.”

As the columnist noted, there’s nothing wrong with giving a partisan and ideological State of the Union response–after all, that’s the point of the exercise.

The problem was that most of these complaints were unintelligible to anyone but the small minority of Americans who live inside the epistemological bubble of conservative media. Sanders’s response, in other words, was less a broad and accessible message than it was fan service for devotees of the Fox News cinematic universe and its related properties.

As the columnist admits, this critique rests on the assumption that, in a democratic system, political parties actually want and need to build majorities. But he then considers another possibility: what if today’s GOP is uninterested in appealing to a majority of the nation’s voters?

What if the structure of the political system makes it possible to win the power of a popular majority without ever actually assembling a popular majority? What if, using that power, you burrow your party and its ideology into the countermajoritarian institutions of that system so that, heads or tails, you always win?

That’s a stunning question, but a lot of evidence supports its premise.

After all, there’s no need to win over a majority of voters if you can depend upon the structural realities that militate against genuine majority rule– what the columnist identifies as the “malapportionment of the national legislature, the gerrymandering of many state legislatures, the Electoral College and the strategic position of your voters in the nation’s geography.”

 And if your political party also has a tight hold on the highest court of constitutional interpretation, you don’t even need to win elections to clear the path for your preferred outcomes and ideology.

This analysis recognizes that America’s political system has become so slanted toward  overrepresentation of the Republican Party’s core supporters–the rural and exurban inhabitants of a deeply disturbing ideological bubble– that even when the party’s policy preferences are contrary to those of  most American voters, the party can remain competitive.

The question for the rest of us is: how long can this last? How long until that bubble bursts–and what will it take to burst it?

It won’t burst as long as Americans continue to choose the “facts” they prefer from an  information smorgasbord offering everything from credible reporting to propaganda and fantasy– and continue using those choices to curate and inhabit incommensurate realities.




It Isn’t Just In MAGA-World

Let’s be honest: believing the people who tell you what you want to hear is a trait shared by all humans–Left, Right and Center. There’s a reason researchers study  confirmation bias–the current terminology for what we used to call “cherry-picking the facts.”

Just one recent example: MAGA folks who are frantic to believe that Joe Biden is just as corrupt as Donald Trump (okay, maybe not quite that corrupt…) have latched onto a report issued by James Comer, a Republican House member determined to find something to support that accusation. Unfortunately, as TNR (among many other media outlets) has reported, there just isn’t anything that we might call “evidence” to support that desired belief.

The House GOP accused Joe Biden and his family on Wednesday of engaging in business with foreign entities—but were unable to provide any actual evidence linking the president to any wrongdoing.

House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer released a 65-page memo detailing a sprawling investigation into Biden and some of his relatives, particularly his son Hunter Biden. Nowhere in the massive document was there a specific allegation of a crime committed by Biden or any of his relatives.

During a press conference explaining the investigation, Comer was asked if he had evidence directly linking Biden to corruption. The Kentucky Republican hemmed and hawed but ultimately admitted he didn’t.

It’s easy enough to see confirmation bias at work when a commenter to this blog “cites” to Comer, a lawmaker who has publicly admitted that he “intuited” misbehavior by the Biden family, despite the fact that even Fox “News” personalities have admitted that there’s no there there. But it isn’t only folks on the Right who engage in confirmation bias–and the strength of that human impulse to cherry-pick is about to get a test on steroids.

Researchers have recently warned about the likely misuse of AI--artificial intelligence–in producing misleading and dishonest political campaigns

Computer engineers and tech-inclined political scientists have warned for years that cheap, powerful artificial intelligence tools would soon allow anyone to create fake images, video and audio that was realistic enough to fool voters and perhaps sway an election.

The synthetic images that emerged were often crude, unconvincing and costly to produce, especially when other kinds of misinformation were so inexpensive and easy to spread on social media. The threat posed by AI and so-called deepfakes always seemed a year or two away.

No more.

Sophisticated generative AI tools can now create cloned human voices and hyper-realistic images, videos and audio in seconds, at minimal cost. When strapped to powerful social media algorithms, this fake and digitally created content can spread far and fast and target highly specific audiences, potentially taking campaign dirty tricks to a new low.

The implications for the 2024 campaigns and elections are as large as they are troubling: Generative AI can not only rapidly produce targeted campaign emails, texts or videos, it also could be used to mislead voters, impersonate candidates and undermine elections on a scale and at a speed not yet seen.

“We’re not prepared for this,” warned A.J. Nash, vice president of intelligence at the cybersecurity firm ZeroFox. “To me, the big leap forward is the audio and video capabilities that have emerged. When you can do that on a large scale, and distribute it on social platforms, well, it’s going to have a major impact.”

Some of the ways in which AI can mislead voters include the production of automated robocall messages that use a (simulated) candidate’s voice and instruct voters to cast their ballots on the wrong date, or phony audio recordings that sound as if a candidate was expressing racist views– AI can easily produce video footage showing someone giving a speech or interview that they never gave. It would be especially simple for AI to fake images designed to look like local news reports making a variety of false claims….The possibilities are endless. And what happens if an international entity — a cybercriminal or a nation state — impersonates someone?

AI-generated political disinformation already has gone viral online ahead of the 2024 election, from a doctored video of Biden appearing to give a speech attacking transgender people to AI-generated images of children supposedly learning satanism in libraries.

If we have trouble now knowing who or what to believe, today’s confusion over what constitutes “fact” and what doesn’t is about to be eclipsed by the coming creation of a world largely invented by digital liars employing tools we’ve never before encountered.

If regulators can’t figure out how to address the dangers inherent in this new technology–and quickly!– artificial intelligence plus confirmation bias may just put the end to whatever remains of America’s rational self-government.