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George Soros and Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories

The Genealogy of the Conspiracy Theory:

I am typing as fast as I can…

The “Blood Libel” targeting Jews in Europe
Protocols of the  Elders of Zion
Henry Ford and the Dearborn Independent
Father Coughlin
Nesta Webster
US Neo-Nazi Movements
Christian Identity
Lyndon LaRouche Networks (Research Affidavit on the LaRouchites)
William Lind and Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation
Anders Breivik, Terrorism, and Right-Wing Conspiracism (Citing Lind)
Trump Supporters and the “Deep State”
Leads to -> George Soros as a target

Cultural Marxism and Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories

https://www.researchforprogress.us/topic/16344/faq-collection/what-is-cultural-marxism/

 Dr. James Scaminaci:

Google Search:
https://www.google.com/search?q=Scaminaci+cultural+marxism

Chip Berlet

Mobilizing Resentment

Scripted Violence

Superhero Complex

Terrorism, Politics, Mental Illness, and Superhero Complex

 

 

 

Wayne LaPierre and Antisemitic Conspiracy Theories

Wayne LaPierre, ubër leader of the National Rifle Association, is calling the massive national marches against gun violence on Saturday March 24 the stealth work of “Gun-Hating Billionaires” and “Hollywood Elites.”

In doing so, LaPierre has blown a dog whistle of conspiracy theories which some members of the NRA will decode as a reference to a supposed Jewish menace of the philanthropy of George Soros and the Jewish bankers claimed to be the puppet masters behind Hollywood and the Democratic Party.

LaPierre, leader of the National Rifle Association, is known among most reporters as a gun rights fanatic. Due to gun-shy editors, however, LaPierre is generally portrayed in the corporate media as a defender of the Second Amendment.

There is a difference. Most hunters and target shooters support reasonable restrictions on gun ownership. LaPierre honed his ideological fanaticism based on the anti-government conspiratorialist claims of the Armed Militia movement of the 1990s.

After the Parkland shootings, LaPierre released a statement that accused “Democrats of pushing ‘socialist’ agenda in wake of Florida shooting.” Now he has added this loathsome dog whistle of antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Most Americans will not see or hear the antisemitic subtext. But anyone who is studied the rhetoric of antisemitism in the English language will see it clearly.

Note that antisemitic conspiracy theories traverse from the political right to the political left in today’s media and political environment. But connect the statement by LaPierre with the attempt by Trump to hire an attorney who is a notorious conspiracist crank; and Trump’s use of conspiracy theories during his Presidential campaign.

And keep an eye of Fox News, the Der Stürmer, of US media giants to see how they cover the story as it emerges. Will LaPierre become the Julius Streicher for Trump

When Silence is Deadly Cowardice in the Union Movement

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka takes a strong stand against racist thugs and Wall Street greedsters when talking to some reporters; but then he and other leaders in the AFL-CIO decided to not name Trump at their recent national convention. Apparently this was for strategic reasons.

While in DC for several meetings I spoke with workers rights advocates both inside and outside union staffs, and progressive Democratic Party activists. I kept hearing complaints that some of the same folks that steered the failed 2016 election campaign for the Democrats are leaning on unions to not take on Trump by name to somehow give Democrats an advantage in the midterm elections.

For over thirty years clueless inside-the-beltway strategists have been minimizing the growing threat of the Christian Right and White Nationalism. At the same time several unions made conscious decisions to not alert their own members about the right-wing juggernaut for fear of alienating their members who vote Republican.

I personally ran into this brick wall decades ago after being asked to brief the leadership of the National Educational Association at the recommendation of state-level staff who saw what was happening out in the field. After hearing my presentation, which included a warning that the NEA was a primary target for destruction along with the entire public school system…the NEA bigwigs decided to do nothing.

Now it looks like it is happening again.

Outside the Beltway, too many parents cannot feed their children. They cannot protect themselves and their families from verbal abuse, threats, and violence from White Supremacist, antisemitic, Islamophobic, anti-feminist, homophobic thugs. Some of those under attack are in unions.

What will it take to get those union leaders choosing “strategic” silence to see that they are turning their backs on our democracy when it is not only under siege by authoritarian bigots; but being targeted by fascists playing with fire?

The Erosion of Civil Discourse

Monday, May 30, 2005

Anna Quindlen, in her Newsweek column of May 30, writes that among the legacies of the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, is that “America has become a country that sets its young people the terrible example of closed minds. The terrorists want to kill infidels. We only aim to silence them.” Quindlen bemoans the fact that America has been “hijacked by those who cannot tell the difference between opponents and enemies, between disagreement and heresy, between discussion and destruction.”

As a country that aspires to be a constitutional democracy, this is more than just bad news. Democracy requires the type of informed consent that can only be achieved through vibrant and often tumultuous debate. Closed minds slam shut the door of civil discourse and block the path to civil society.

Oppose the war in Iraq and we become traitors. Challenge the increase in political repression and the decrease in civil liberties and we are allies of the terrorists. Call for basic human rights in the treatment of prisoners and we are soft on crime. Ask that immigrants and undocumented workers be treated fairly and we are throwing open our borders to criminals. Suggest that access to abortion is an integral part of reproductive rights for women and we become baby killers. Protest the demonization and scapegoating of gay people and we want to destroy the sanctity of marriage. Suggest that religious supremacy is toxic to pluralist democratic society and we spit in the face of God.

At the root of this problem is the wedding of dualistic demonization and moral supremacy. It’s not just the dualism of “I’m right and your wrong.” It raises the stakes to “I’m the guardian of the morality and the society that you seek to destroy for evil purposes.” That’s a box that’s hard to get out of. What sane person would debate the devil incarnate?

This paradigm is operational in both religious and secular spheres of society, from the speeches of our President and certain Congressional leaders, to the guiding lights of the Christian Right, to television talk shows, to the lack of debate on college campuses. I tend to see dualistic demonization most frequently used as a tool of the Political Right. When I see it used by the Political Left, I think it needs to be opposed as well.

If we want to preserve the idea of democratic civil society, we all need to agree to certain ground rules regarding the boundaries of acceptable civil discourse. I don’t mean good manners. Non-violent civil disobedience may be bad manners to some, but it is one of the tools democratic civil society needs to protect. I mean claiming the intent of my opponent is evil and destructive. I have no problems seeing evil in the world, nor in arguing that the outcome of certain policies would be destructive. But when any of us assumes our opponent is inherently evil and intentionally seeks to destroy all that is good–we have driven a nail through the heart of democracy.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Dissidents or Extremists?

When we lump together all political candidates and movements outside the “mainstream” as “extremists” of the left and right we are not only stifling a potentially valuable debate, but also using a theoretical model that has been seriously challenged in academia during the last 20 years. After World War II a number of scholars looked at the popular appeal of fascism and communism and concluded that mass movements threatened the stability of society. Shocked by the acquiescence of most Germans to the Nazi genocide of Jews and liquidation of other groups, these scholars saw warning signs in the Red Scare of the McCarthy Period, the Presidential campaign of ultraconservative Republican Barry Goldwater, Jr., and the Populist Party movement of the late 1800s. The scholars concluded that people swept along by social movements were psychologically-dysfunctional grumblers who couldn’t play by the rules of democracy, and instead turned to irrational behavior to make their voices heard. The idea that extremists of the left and right threatened society was a dominant frame in sociology and the other social sciences until the mid 1970s.

I was not a neutral observer. I joined the Civil Rights movement through my Presbyterian Church youth group while I was in high school in the mid 1960s. When I went to college it was clear that many young sociologists were unhappy with the idea that people who joined mass movements were psychologically dysfunctional extremists (or “wing nuts”) on the fringes of the political system. Many of us had joined these movements. An increasing number of sociologists became participant-observers of various left-wing social movements that cascaded out of the civil rights struggle: student rights, the movement against the war in Vietnam, women’s rights, the ecology movement, farm worker rights, gay rights. In part because more academics were actively involved in these movements of dissent, a new set of social movement theories emerged in sociology that looked at participants in social movements as intelligent and rational people with shared grievances. As dissident activists they sought social change through demonstrations, sit-ins, and other forms of mass organizing outside the boundaries of typical electoral or legislative campaigns.

Eventually I dropped out of college to be a full-time left-wing social movement participant, and spent time as a journalist in the underground/alternative media of the 1970s. I am still a progressive political activist, and it is still my job to convince you that my ideological goals are worthwhile and my policies would benefit the common good, but if I do that by unfairly labeling my opponents using stereotypes, demonization, or scapegoating, then I am cheating. These techniques are toxic to a democratic process.

As I became a serious analyst of right-wing social and political movements, I returned to scholarly analysis using sociology and social movement theory. While most of the groups and movements originally studied using this scholarly lens were on the political left, an increasing number of scholars used this lens to look at the political right. Among the early authors who studied the political right using social movement theories were Sara Diamond, Kathleen Blee, Jerome Himmelstein, and Rebecca Klatch. Now there are scores serious books on right-wing movements such as Rick Perlstein’s excellent book on the Goldwater campaign or Lisa McGirr’s illuminating study of the suburban roots of the New Right.

The picture of social movements that has emerged is complex. There are a wide range of ideologies and methodologies. Skillful leaders mobilize resources, test the political opportunities opened and closed by the state, frame ideas in ways that resonate with broader populations, and develop cultures that support and energize participants. At the same time, movement participants often ignore the proclamations of their leaders and pick and choose among various policy positions. Some movements institutionalize themselves with social movement organizations such as national headquarters, think tanks, and alternative media. Other movements never sink institutional roots and are like whirlwinds that appear suddenly in a burst of energy and dissipate leaving only memories and debris.

A central question we must ask when we look at any dissident social movement is whether it is ultimately reformist or revolutionary. We need to recognize that the First Amendment protects calls for revolution that are rhetorical and not part of an active conspiracy to overthrow the government. And we need to understand that populist reform-oriented dissident movements on the left and right are situated between revolutionary groups and mainstream electoral political movements. These are important concepts for ensuring respect for civil liberties.

All too often government agencies decide that the way to find terrorists or other protestors engaged in criminal acts is to send swarms of infiltrators and agents into dissident mass movements. This is a bad idea no matter whether the target is on the left or right. It chills free speech and disrupts constitutionally protected political activity. Labeling all dissidents as “extremists” can lead citizens into ignoring abuses of government power. Even the label “terrorist” has been overused. Vandalism is not terrorism. Non-violent civil disobedience is not terrorism. Today, if a follower of the non-violent methods used by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. chose to highlight a call for political reform by kneeling down to pray in the crosswalk of a busy intersection in Washington, D.C., they would fit one definition of terrorism circulated by the Justice Department.

Spin-doctors and political strategists use the term “extremism” as a hyperbolic rhetorical frame of reference to demonize their opposition by sticking labels on them. This shrill strategy shifts political debate away from a candidate’s policies, plans, goals and vision of the future—ideas that could help form the basis of informed consent for a voter in a democratic society. It also marginalizes the type of populist political dissent and creative opposition to the status quo that makes a society flexible enough to meet the challenges the future always delivers. It is time to rehabilitate dissent and reject labels that demonize dissenters and unfairly lump together all social and political movements outside the current—and temporary—political center.

Adapted from Yale Politic magazine, February 2005.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

That word: “Extremism”

The rhetoric used by some sincere and well-meaning human relations groups—”extremists of the left and right,” “religious political extremists,” “radical religious right,” etc. — can actually unintentionally undermine civil liberties, civil rights, and civil discourse by demonizing dissent and veiling the complicity we all share in institutionalized forms of oppression in our society: racism, sexism, heterosexism, antisemitism, Arabophobia, and Islamophobia.

In the 1960s the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. at first bristled at being labeled an “extremist” by a group of clergy upset with his brand of activism. King’s response was contained in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

King wrote that he considered the label, and then realized that in their respective days, the Biblical Amos, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson had all been thought of as extremists by mainstream society. King responded, “So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice—or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

Two issues are raised by King’s clever reversal of the attack on him as an “extremist.”

First is that the term “extremist” has only relative meaning in terms of how far outside the “mainstream” norms of society a particular idea or act is located by some observer who claims a “centrist” position.

Second, King suggests it is important to determine whether any idea or action labelled as “extremist” defends or extends justice, equality, or democracy—or whether it defends or extends unfair power or privilege.

Ultimately, the concept of “extremism” is of little value in discussing prejudice, ethnocentrism, or the Christian Right. Sociologist Jerome Himmelstein argues the term “extremism” is at best a characterization that “tells us nothing substantive about the people it labels,” and at worst the term “paints a false picture.”

Some analysts use the term “extremism” in a way that implies that ideas and methodologies are always linked. This is not the case. We need to separate ideology from methodology. King’s ideas may have been outside the mainstream for his day, but he promoted non-violence; and while civil disobedience often involves a minor criminal act, it is not the same as an act of terrorism.

Given the way the term “extremist” is sometimes used, it can serve as a justification for state action that is repressive and undermines Constitutional guarantees. We need to use terms that are more precise.

Calling the Christian Right “extremists” tends to lump them together with members of organized hate groups. That’s a real problem, especially since most people in the Christian Right would willingly join in a coalitions to confront racist and antisemitic hate groups.

One of the reasons the term “religious political extremists” was picked, was that people tended to think the term covered everyone from conservative Christian evangelicals to armed neonazi terrorists. That’s just plain wrong. It’s time to stop using this type of language.

Adapted from Chip Berlet, (2004), “Mapping the Political Right: Gender and Race Oppression in Right-Wing Movements.” In Abby Ferber, ed, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. New York: Routledge.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Stop Labeling and Start Organizing!

More than a decade ago I sat in a conference room in Washington D.C. and was told I had to start using the phrase “religious political extremist.” This was the new way for people on the political left to frame our opponents on the political right. It made me unhappy. I already had problems with language such as “radical religious right,” “lunatic fringe,” and “wing-nut.” This new phrase just seemed wrong to me.

I’m uncomfortable when I hear people of sincere religious faith described as religious political extremists. What does that term mean? I worry that many people hear it as a term of derision that says we’re good and they’re bad. There is no topical content. It’s a label that says folks are outside the mainstream; and it lumps together leaders and followers, and blurs distinctions within the Christian Right that I think are important. Most conservative Christian evangelicals do not want to impose a theocracy on our country. I’d like to be able to talk to them about the issue of Christian dominionism within the Christian Right.

Polls show that most people in the United States do not agree with the narrow legislative agenda of the leaders of the Christian Right. Polls also show that most people think of themselves as part of an organized religion, and that as many as 100 million of our neighbors think of themselves as Christian evangelicals or “born again.” Why would an organizer start out by offending half their potential audience with language that is abrasive?

We need to challenge conservative policies as part of a progressive grassroots organizing effort based on civil and constructive dialog. The whole idea of grassroots organizing is to reach out to people who may not already think they agree with you. As a community organizer, when I heard discussions about slogans, I always asked: “What’s my next line?”

Let’s role-play. So here I am knocking on a door in Emporia, Kansas, and when the door opens I lead with “We have to stop the religious political extremists!” What’s my next line? (That’s assuming my nose wasn’t broken when the door was slammed in my face). Unless the person already agrees with me, there is no constructive next line.

I think it’s time to stop using phrases such as “religious political extremist” and “radical religious right.” A lot of my friends and allies use this language, but what are friends for if they can’t tell you when they think you are wrong? I also think that we should be asking folks in the Christian Right to stop pasting labels on those of us who are liberal or progressive. I’m an equal opportunity curmudgeon.

Over the next few days I will be expanding my arguments for this position.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Democracy is a Process

Democracy is a process that involves several components, all of which are necessary, but none of which is sufficient. This is how it works.

The majority of people,
Over time,
Given access to enough accurate information,
And the ability to participate in a free and open debate,
Reach decisions that will,
-Benefit the whole of society,
-Preserve liberty,
-Extend equality,
-Protect freedom, and
-Defend democracy.

Not all the time, and sometimes there are periods of backsliding–or much worse. And if the information is fraudulent propaganda, then the decisions are skewed. But if you don’t think this process works, then you don’t really believe in a democracy.

Democracy scares me sometimes, but that’s OK. Democracy is messy and chaotic.

The title of a recent book by sociologist Francesca Polletta on progressive social movements was titled Freedom is an Endless Meeting. That’s the joke line from 60’s civil rights activists who turned around the slogan “Freedom is an Endless Struggle”—probably while sitting in a meeting.

The point is, democracy takes work, and it is participatory or it is not real democracy.

That’s what this blog is going to talk about.

Investing in Ideas

Friday, June 17, 2005

For over thirty years conservative and right-wing foundations and funders have invested in ideas. They have poured over $2 billion into creating a right-wing network and infrastructure, and used that to build a large political machine and a huge populist mass base.

These funds have been spread across a range of ideologies and identities. Business conservatives, Christian evangelicals, libertarians, neoconservatives, military interventionists, anti-union activists, moral traditionalists, and others have been funded to pursue the ideas that facilitate action in the political and social arenas.

Most liberal and progressive foundations refuse to fund basic research, think tanks, alternative media, publishing, and conferences. That’s exactly what conservative and right-wing funders have targeted in a strategic way. And by funding a range of conservative ideas, it is now possible to hear a radio debate on some policy issue where there are three views from the political right, one liberal, and no progressives. That’s balance.

There is nothing new in this complaint. In the mid 1990s activist leader Suzanne Pharr asked Loretta Ross and me to help pull together some progressive strategy sessions at the Blue Mountain conference center in upstate New York. After one meeting we sent a delegation down to New York City to meet with representatives of over one dozen foundations and funders to explain how the political right had invested in the struggle over ideas. We talked about Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony, and the importance of being able to field-test slogans, frames, and different ways of explaining ideas and telling stories.

We explained how right-wing funders had shifted away from short-term project grants toward unrestricted grants over many years to guarantee and enhance the survival rate of right-wing think tanks and alternative media. We explained how an echo chamber had been created for conservative and right-wing arguments to challenge progressive and liberal theories and goals. We explained how we were being outmaneuvered. We explained that we were losing. We explained what would happen if we continued to lose in terms of the attack on gay rights, women’s rights, and immigrant rights. We explained that racism and xenophobia would continue to be rebuilt as acceptable public positions. To be fair, a few funders shifted their focus. Most did not.

The Institute for First Amendment Studies, which monitored boycotts by the Christian Right among other things, went under. The reproductive rights magazine Body Politic stopped publishing. The human rights group Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity (itself a merger of two groups) ceased operations.

In the mid 1990s groups such as People for the American Way shifted focus to monitoring legislative and political maneuvers by conservatives in the nation’s capital. This is an important task, but groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute, and Political Research Associates (where I work) could not raise the funds to hire more research staff to monitor and analyze the slew of right-wing campaigns being generated by the well-funded right-wing infrastructure.

In the early 1990s there were three progressive researchers who produced books and articles about the rise of the political right and the ascendancy of conservative Christian evangelicals into the political system: Sara Diamond, Russ Bellant, and Fred Clarkson. Not one of them could make a living writing about the rise of the right. Compare them to Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, and the swarm of right-wing ideologues financed with stipends, grants, and fellowships to do research and write about the political scene.

A real democracy requires the type of informed consent that emerges as many competing ideas struggle for acceptance in the public square. In the culture war, one side has been disarmed.


Post comments at: Talk2Action

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Skepticism or Cynicism?

This past weekend my wife and I traveled to Williams College to attend the graduation of our niece, Abby. The main commencement speaker was Thomas L. Friedman, columnist for the New York Times. The speech was an impressive display of public speaking that matches Friedman’s reputation as a top notch writer. Williams College Commencement 2005

I say this, despite the fact that what Friedman writes in his columns generally drives me crazy. I could provide a big list of my complaints as a journalist on the political left, but instead let me quote from Friedman on what is the heart of real journalism:

“Always remember, there is a difference between skepticism and cynicism. Too many journalists, and too many of our politicians, have lost sight of that boundary line….there [is] a big difference between skepticism and cynicism. Skepticism is about asking questions, being dubious, being wary, not being gullible, but always being open to being persuaded of a new fact or angle. Cynicism is about already having the answers — or thinking you do — answers about a person or an event. The skeptic says, ‘I don’t think that’s true; I’m going to check it out.’ The cynic says: ‘I know that’s not true. It couldn’t be. I’m going to slam him….’ Always remember, real journalists are not those loud mouth talking heads you see on cable television.”

On this matter Friedman and I are in total agreement. I know journalists across the political spectrum who see journalism as a craft that demands adherence to a set of principles. Fairness and accuracy for starters.

For over ten years I have been teaching a summer course on “Strategic Research, Analysis and Reporting” at Z Magazine’s summer institute; a course developed and taught over the years along with progressive journalists Holly Sklar, & Abby Scher. This coming weekend I head down to Wood’s Hole on Cape Cod to teach another session. Here’s how we traditionally open the class:

“Progressives have a long and proud tradition of muckraking, and there are plenty of role models such as Ida M. Tarbell, Nellie Bly, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, George Seldes, I.F. Stone, Rachel Carson, Alan Nairn, Deborah Nelson, Laura Washington, Sara Diamond, Russ Bellant, Frederick Clarkson, Trudy Lieberman and many more. If you haven’t heard of one or more of these journalists, get acquainted with their lives and work by doing your own research.”

We assume many of these names are unfamiliar to the mostly young audience, and hope they poke around and learn about their predecessors. All of these investigative journalists were skeptics, not cynics. Some could be acerbic or even harsh, but underneath the bravado was a clear sense that the point of their work was to make society a better place to live.

Skepticism helps us fix what is wrong with our society. Cynicism leads us to question if it is worth the effort. As we embrace skepticism, we need to reject–and criticize–cynicism.

Sacred Text, Progressive Voices

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Back in late 1960s and early 1970s I was part of a group of young adults who ran an ecumenical conference for youth concerned about social justice. It was held at a Protestant retreat center on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.

Some years ago a group of us returned for a reunion, and now we continue to gather every few years to renew our commitment to social justice and to search for ways in which secular ethics and spirituality can co-exist in these turbulent times.

This summer we decided to read a book for discussion, and we picked The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love, written by Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. When it came my turn to pick some text to discuss, this is what I selected:

“Anxious because God could not be reduced to a human formula, the leaders of the church contented themselves with the task of enforcing the faith they could not define. If one disagreed with these ever-more-differing explanations, one was simply evil. The problem was not in the words; it was in the hardened hearts of the heretics whose obstinacy and sinfulness prevented them from believing. The stage was thus set not for unity but for a purge. Whenever deviant beliefs were discovered, they had to be rooted out and those who espoused them killed in the service of conformity to the catholic faith. So Christianity turned demonic. Infidels like the Jews were constantly persecuted and Muslims as well as Jews were killed in the Crusades. Heretics were burned at the stake. Religious wars were waged to defeat anyone who did not worship properly. Efforts to force people to conform were accomplished by way of torture first and if that failed by execution” (Spong, p. 228).

For some people this represents the entire history of Christianity—and given this history, I am not surprised when people ask me why I consider myself a Christian. I usually toss off a glib line such as “I am unchurched but not uncouth.” What I mean by saying that phrase is the limits and flaws of all organized religions frustrate me, but I see in each a struggle for the identity of the faith. The lessons I learned from the Christian Bible were about helping the weak and the poor, seeking justice, opposing violence and war, speaking truth to power—all of which led me into the progressive movement. Moreover, I learned to highlight a different history of Christianity based on this perspective. As I learned more about the sacred texts of other major world religions, I came to realize that some members of those faiths highlighted these same concerns. They challenge those in their religion who turn toward demonization and scapegoating.

Spong explains that these different approaches derive from the fact that there are different ways to read sacred text. Peter J. Gomes, a preacher at Harvard University and author of The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart makes a similar argument. Gomes urges us to read the Bible carefully and be aware of what passages represent the contemporary prejudices and norms woven into the text by the all-to-human authors.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, author of several books, explores the need to unpack these prejudices when examining spirituality. She uses an analysis of race, class, and gender that sees them as “interconnected structures that create multiple differences.” The group Equal Partners in Faith is built around this notion.

In the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of media coverage declaring that progressive Christians have finally found their voice. We have had our voices all along, thank you. Glad you folks in the media finally decided to listen.


Post comments at: Talk2Action

Friday, July 01, 2005

Making Distinctions – Seeing Possibilities

We have learned a few things at Political Research Associates (PRA) over the past 24 years of studying U.S. right-wing political and social movements, and we have captured our best advice in a document titled “Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right.” There are three sections–Do Your Homework, Stay Cool in Public, and Keep Organizing–each with several suggestions.

When PRA staff speak in public we often expand on these recommendations, and a blog seems like a good place to enshrine these musings in written form. Over the next few months, I will pick one suggestion and write a short essay around it, with some useful links if I can find them.

To start, let’s look at the following recommendation:

Distinguish between leaders and followers in right-wing organizations.

Leaders are often “professional” right-wingers. They’ve made a career of promoting a rightist agenda and attacking progressives and progressive issues. Followers, on the other hand, may not be well-informed. They are often mobilized by fears about family and future based on information that, if true, would indeed be frightening. This so-called “education” is often skillful, deceitful, and convincing. These followers may take positions that are more extreme than those of the leaders, but on the other hand, they may not know exactly what they are supporting by attending a certain organization’s rally or conference. To critique and expose the leaders of right-wing organizations is the work of a good progressive organizer, writer or activist. In the case of the followers, however, it is important to reserve judgment and listen to their grievances. Do not assume that they are all sophisticated political agents or have access to a variety of information sources.


PublicEye.org – Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right

This does not mean that we should think that followers are dimwitted, ignorant, or crazy. That was a common perception promoted by centrist academics during the 1960s, but since the late 1970s sociologists have shown that people who join social movements–left or right–are remarkably similar to the population from which they emerge. And people in social movements are not mesmerized by crafty leaders, cluelessly following the whims of charismatic demagogues. Demagogues exist, to be sure, but they primarily succeed by swaying large groups of people by developing clever ways to frame ideas and issues.

Frames are necessary but not sufficient to build a movement, but frames are an important tool.

That’s good news for progressives who want to mobilize a counter-movement. We can examine the frames put forward by the Hard Right and devise alternative frames that drive wedges between specific constituencies. We can do that with topical analysis, for example exploiting the tension between Christian conservatives and libertarians on social issues such as abortion and gay rights. And we can recognize that participants have different levels of commitment and loyalty to social movements.

Letha Dawson Scanzoni has produced a useful set of distinctions that explain this in her AlterNet article The Gospel On Gay Marriage

Aggressive Combatants, who mobilize their followers to go to battle against whatever they consider to be the current threat (most recently, same-sex marriage);

Loyal Followers, who consider the Combatants to be their religious authorities, buying their books, tuning in to their broadcasts, accepting their interpretations of the Bible, and responding to their fundraising pleas;

Thoughtful Questioners, who were drawn to the movement by its emphasis on a personal relationship with God and the importance of the Bible in their lives but are not convinced that all issues are settled or that all the answers are already in;

Hurting Strugglers, sincere believers who earnestly practiced their faith and followed the rules they had been taught, yet were faced with some circumstance that turned their well-ordered world upside down — a divorce, a gay child, a pregnant teenager, domestic violence, mental illness, job loss, bankruptcy, a suicide in the family.

These are useful names for important distinctions. As Scanzoni observes, we should be focusing our attention of the last two categories: Thoughtful Questioners and Hurting Strugglers, because they are already in a place where new ideas and new frames have a better chance of finding fertile soil.

I happen to think that a commitment to the idea of civil society means we should be treating people with sincere spiritual belief systems with courtesy and respect–just as I think we should be treating secular ethical and moral belief systems with courtesy and respect. In this case, there are hardball pragmatic reasons to be able to talk with Christian conservatives about moral values…we just might change their minds.

DefCon: Campaign to Defend the Constitution

Friday, September 30, 2005

There is a new major effort to combat the Religious Right that is trying to be respectful of spiritual belief, yet sharply critical of Dominionism and Theocracy.

Launched only a few days ago, the website is a combination resource center and blog that proclaims:

“The Campaign to Defend the Constitution combats the growing influence of the religious right over American democracy, education, and scientific progress and leadership.”

As one post explained:

“We are dealing with a powerful group driven by a specific agenda, who seek to control many different facets of our culture. As their power has grown, the religious right has alienated, frightened, or infuriated millions of Americans along the way. DefCon is here to unite these Americans. Regardless of what drove you to fight the religious right, it is imperative we realize that advancements of their agenda anywhere increase their power everywhere.”

DefCon has already sent a letter to all 50 governors urging them to “keep science curricula based on science, not religious rhetoric.” The group has published “Islands of Ignorance: The Top 10 Places Where Science Education is Under Threat.”

Everyone concerned about the Religious Right, defending the Constitution, and respecting separation of religion and state should log on, join the debate, and make a donation. I plan to do all three.

OK, so I seem to be contradicting my last post. But when a new idea comes along that changes reality, I get to change my tune.

DefCon: Campaign to Defend the Constitution


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Monday, September 12, 2005

Democrats, Religion, and Rhetoric

Less than a third of Americans think the Democratic Party is friendly toward religion. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in July of 2005, only 29% of those surveyed thought Democrats were “religion-friendly;” down from 40% in 2004. More than half of those surveyed–55%–thought the Republicans were friendly toward religion.

At the same time, 45% of those polled thought that “religious conservatives” had too much control over the Republican Party, while 44% thought that “non-religious liberals” had too much control over the Democratic Party.

These results can be interpreted in many ways, but I think they show that the Democratic Party and its allies need to spend more time thinking about how the average American perceives their attitude toward religion. In reality, millions of people of faith are loyal Democrats. In the past few years, however, many Democratic Party leaders have demonstrated their inability to discuss religion, politics, and the Christian Right using language that teaches rather than trashes. Every week I get postal mail and e-mail solicitations for donations that use demonizing buzz phrases such as “Radical Religious Right,” or “Religious Political Extremist.” That type of rhetoric may scare some people into writing checks in the short run, but it makes it harder in the long run for grassroots organizers to build a broad-based movement for social change that includes people in progressive, liberal, and centrist religious groups.

I do worry about the Christian Right. I worry about separation of church and state. I worry about theocracy and the tendency toward Dominionism that leads some in the Christian Right to seek a form of Christian nationalism that would rewrite Consitutional protections for those with whom they disagree or see as sinful. Frankly, George W. Bush scares me. He owes the Christian Right a bunch of political favors for their electoral support, and he has been delivering.

Most Christian evangelicals, however, are not part of the Christian Right. I know from talking with evangelicals and fundamentalists across the country that they are offended by the rhetoric from some liberal and Democratic Party leaders who do not seem to be able to talk about religion without chewing on their foot.

I have this fantasy about kidnapping a busload of liberal inside-the-beltway pundits and driving them to some town in Middle America where they have to learn how to talk to voters who think that going to a church, or synagogue, or mosque or other place of worship is a normal part of life. The pundits won’t be given a ticket back to Dupont Circle until they don’t flinch when someone says words like “faith,” “prayer,” or “blessing.”

I suspect some will have to walk back to the Potomac.

Like I said, it’s just a fantasy, but rhetoric is important. If we are to change the perception that Democrats are not friendly to religion, then a good first step is changing language that is offensive.

Prophecy Belief and Constitutional Boundaries

Friday, October 14, 2005

A group of ultraconservative political operatives have harnessed a particular reading of Biblical prophecy, known as Premillenial Dispensationalism, (embraced by tens of millions of evangelical Christians) and transformed these beliefs into campaigns to deny basic rights to groups of people framed as sinful and subversive.

Premillennial means a belief that Jesus Christ returns in the End Times and, after a series of confrontations and battles against evil, he reigns over an earthly utopia for a thousand years…a millennium. Therefore, Christ returns before (“pre”) the Godly millennial kingdom. Dispensations are epochs, or blocks of history, during which certain things happen. Premillennial Dispensationalists think that we are poised on the edge of that historic epoch during which the End Times preface the second coming of Christ and his millennial reign.

A large portion of Christian evangelicals who hold these specific theological beliefs also believe that devout and Godly Christians, before the tremendous confrontations or “Tribulations” that culminate in a huge global Battle of Armageddon, will be spared injury or death when they are brought away from Earth and held in God’s protective embrace in an event called the “Rapture.”

It is easy to poke fun at these types of religious beliefs, but it is deeply offensive and provocative in a way that undermines a serious and important public debate over the proper boundaries for religious belief and public policy decisions. It is not accurate to dismiss Christians who hold these beliefs as ignorant, uneducated, or crazy. Social scientists have thoroughly refuted these stereotypes with polling data and in-depth interviews. In addition, it is not fair to ask people of faith simply to abandon their beliefs when they step into the Public Square or political arena.

It is also not fair, however, for those in the Religious Right to use God as a trump card in public policy debates.

Premillennial Dispensationalism and a belief in the Rapture have only recently been steered toward a particular ultraconservative agenda. For many decades the evangelicals who held these beliefs were wary of too much political participation, which they saw as pulling them away from their religious obligations and devotions. Most felt that God’s plan for the End Times would reveal itself without the need for political activism. After all, God in the millennial utopia would ultimately reward devout Christians, and this was especially true if they believed the Rapture would protect them from all harm during the End Times confrontations.

In the 1970s a group of right-wing political operatives, seeking to rollback the economic policies and social safety net woven by the Roosevelt Administration, decided to recruit evangelicals into their political movement to take over the Republican Party. In doing so they pushed political debate in our country away from democracy and toward theocracy.

Evangelicals, however, require a Biblically based reason for their actions. Christian Right leaders, including Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Paul Weyrich, James Dobson, and Pat Robertson, provided the justification by arguing that, according to the Bible, Christians had an obligation to struggle against evil in the political arena, and to purify and restore the sanctity of secular society.

The leaders of the Religious Right mobilized millions by arguing there was no compromise with evil. The political operatives provided long lists of who was evil and how these sinners were subverting God’s plan for America. They presumed to speak for God and country. Moreover, they created a politicized religious movement willing to strip away rights from persons categorized as sinful. This type of demonization and scapegoating is toxic to democracy. It erodes the concept of informed consent and masks prejudice and bigotry with a veneer of religious devotion.

Because the leaders of the Religious Right have mobilized such a large voter base, they regularly have meetings with powerful political leaders, including the President. Today the Religious Right plays a major role in shaping foreign and domestic policies.

We can change this situation. The Religious Right does not speak for all Christians or even all evangelicals. The leaders of the Religious Right sometimes argue for policy positions that make their own followers uncomfortable. In a constitutional democracy, the ideal path for the nation is always open to debate; and the idea of God is too big for small minds to shackle. If we want to defend the Constitution, we must learn the religious beliefs of those evangelicals who dominate the Religious Right, treat them respectfully, and yet engage them in a critical public conversation over the appropriate boundaries for civic political debate set by the founders and framers of our nation.


Ported from Campaign to Defend the Constitution

The Christian Right, Dominionism, and Theocracy – Part One

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In a September 1994 plenary speech to the Christian Coalition national convention, Rev. D. James Kennedy said that “true Christian citizenship” involves an active engagement in society to “take dominion over all things as vice-regents of God.”

Kennedy’s remarks were reported in February 1995 by sociologist and journalist Sara Diamond, who wrote that Kennedy had “echoed the Reconstructionist line.”

More than anyone else, it was Sara Diamond who popularized the use of the term “dominionism” to describe a growing political tendency in the Christian Right. It is a useful term that has, unfortunately, been used in a variety of ways that are neither accurate nor useful. Diamond was careful to discuss how the small Christian Reconstructionist theological movement had helped introduce “dominionism” as a concept into the larger and more diverse social/political movements called the Christian Right.

Dominionism is therefore a tendency among Protestant Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists that encourages them to not only be active political participants in civic society, but also seek to dominate the political process as part of a mandate from God.

This highly politicized concept of dominionism is based on the Bible’s text in Genesis 1:26:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (King James Version).

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” (New International Version).

The vast majority of Christians read this text and conclude that God has appointed them stewards and caretakers of Earth. As Sara Diamond explains, however, some Christian read the text and believe, “that Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns–and there is no consensus on when that might be.” That, in a nutshell, is the idea of “dominionism.”
Just because some critics of the Christian Right have stretched the term dominionism past its breaking point does not mean we should abandon the term. And while it is true that few participants in the Christian Right Culture War want a theocracy as proposed by the Christian Reconstructionists, many of their battlefield Earth commanders are leading them in that direction. And a number of these leaders have been influenced by Christian Reconstructionism, which is a variant of theocracy called theonomy.

William Martin is the author of the 1996 tome With God on Our Side, a companion volume to the PBS series. Martin is a sociologist and professor of religion at Rice university, and he has been critical of the way some critics of the Christian Right have tossed around the terms “dominionism” and “theocracy.” Martin has offered some careful writing on the subject. According to Martin:

“It is difficult to assess the influence of Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, ‘Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same.’ “

According to Martin, “several key leaders have acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have endorsed Reconstructionist books.”

Before he died in 2001, the founder of Christian Reconstuctionism, R. J. Rushdoony, appeared several times on Christian Right televangelist programs such as Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and the program hosted by D. James Kennedy, writes Martin.
“Pat Robertson makes frequent use of ‘dominion’ language” says Martin, “his book, The Secret Kingdom, has often been cited for its theonomy elements; and pluralists were made uncomfortable when, during his presidential campaign, he said he ‘would only bring Christians and Jews into the government,’ as well as when he later wrote, ‘There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.’ ”

Martin also points out that “Jay Grimstead, who leads the Coalition on Revival, which brings Reconstructionists together with more mainstream evangelicals, has said, ‘I don’t call myself [a Reconstructionist],’ but ‘A lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible is God’s standard of morality . . . in all points of history . . . and for all societies, Christian and non-Christian alike. . . . It so happens that Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North understood that sooner.’ He added, ‘There are a lot of us floating around in Christian leadership James Kennedy is one of them-who don’t go all the way with the theonomy thing, but who want to rebuild America based on the Bible.'”

So let’s choose our language carefully, but let’s recognize that terms such as “dominionism” and “theocracy,” when used cautiously and carefully, are appropriate when describing anti-democratic tendencies in the Christian Right.


Originally posted on Talk to ActionTalk2Action

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Human Rights, Dignity, and Spiritual Belief

Last week I stood with hundreds of people clapping and singing at the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The congregation was hosting an evening event for the national conference of the United States Human Rights Network.
First Iconium is a predominantly African-American congregation with a special mission to serve the cause of equality, justice, and human rights. They enthusiastically welcomed us, an audience that included Black, Latino, Asian, and White conference attendees from a wide variety of social, political, and religious movements.

Keith Jennings, coordinator of Iconium’s Social Justice Ministry, strode to the podium and told us that while the gospel choir sang of Jesus, he wanted us to understand this was just one way to affirm our collective humanity. He welcomed us all, and recognized that in the audience there were believers and non-believers, and that some were straight and some were gay, but he said that everyone who was struggling for justice and basic human rights was welcome in the sanctuary of the church he attended.

Around the world there is a growing movement that uses a human rights framework to expand the protections offered by civil and constitutional rights.

It is easy to see that the Christian Right seeks to deny civil rights to those individuals its leaders label as sinful. The Christian Right undermines constitutional rights as it continues to breach the wall of separation between church and state. At Talk to Action, we also argue that basic human rights are being trampled by the policies promoted by the Christian Right in the United States.

By articulating a human rights framework, we begin with the benchmark set by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which elaborates a clearer picture of what is meant by freedom of religion:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change [his or her] religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest [his or her] religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

As the brackets suggest, this was an imperfect document, yet it sparked a new movement that we join in progress.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights set a critical standard when it linked equal protection under the law to not just acts of discrimination, but also “incitement” to discrimination:

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

The Christian Right has attacked the rights of women as well as gay men and lesbians in a concerted effort to impose their theological views on the secular body politic–and the bodies of millions of people in our society. Furthermore, the relentless “incitement to such discrimination” by the Christian Right is itself a violation of basic human rights. It is ironic that the Christian Right has sown the foul wind of discrimination while claiming Biblical justification (Hosea 8:7, KJV).

Finally, the issue of dignity is central to our outlook here at Talk to Action. We note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states clearly:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Not just rights, but dignity. Click over to the Guidelines page at Talk to Action where this essay was first posted, and you will see that dignity is a core part of our process. Dignity is a basic human right. We take that seriously here, and it means that we will strive to not demonize people swept up by the windstorm of fear and resentment sown by the leaders of the Christian Right; even if we believe they eventually “shall inherit the wind” (Proverbs 11:29, KJV).

OK, so I have been citing Biblical text just to make some of you restless. But here’s the deal: the right to dignity flows in all directions. Honoring the right to dignity means we not only must respect the right to hold sincere religious beliefs when we criticize the policies of the Christian Right; but we must do the same with our own allies.

In practice, this means learning to listen without offense to quotes from not only the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, but also the Five Books of Moses in the Judaic Pentateuch, the Old and New Testaments in the Bible, the Koran, the sacred texts of Buddhism, Hinduism and any other religious texts our allies find meaningful. And, yes, any secular text that our allies find meaningful. To borrow from feminist theory…it’s not “either/or” it’s “both/and.”

The issue is not secular belief versus spiritual faith; the issue is how to craft a pluralist civil society that honors the dignity of both secular philosophy and spiritual faith, while insisting that theological claims alone should never dictate public policies. That’s why we say we are challenging theocracy; because that’s what the Christian Right is increasingly sowing: a theocratic society.

It is up to us to see that they reap the whirlwind generated by a unified human rights movement defending civil and constitutional rights–but demanding human dignity as well.

We want rights and dignity–bread and roses.