I had never seen a sanctuary so full on a Tuesday night.
The people packed into FloodGate Church in Brighton, Mich., werent here for Bill Bolin, the right-wing zealot pastor whod grown his congregation tenfold by preaching conspiracy-fueled sermons since the onset of Covid-19, turning Sunday morning worship services into amateur Fox News segments. No, they had come out by the hundreds, decked out in patriotic attire this October evening in 2021, to hear from a man who was introduced to them as Americas greatest living historian. They had come for David Barton. And so had I.
It would be of little use to tell the folks around me the people of my conservative hometown that Barton wasnt a real historian. They wouldnt care that his lone academic credential was a bachelors degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. It wouldnt matter that Bartons 2012 book on Thomas Jefferson was recalled by Thomas Nelson, the worlds largest Christian publisher, for its countless inaccuracies, or that a panel of 10 conservative Christian academics who reviewed Bartons body of work in the aftermath ripped the entirety of his scholarship to shreds. It would not bother the congregants of FloodGate Church to learn that they were listening to a man whose work was found by one of Americas foremost conservative theologians to include embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.
All this would be irrelevant to the people around me because David Barton was one of them. He believed the separation of church and state was a myth. He believed the time had come for evangelicals to reclaim their rightful place atop the nations governmental and cultural institutions. Hence the heros welcome Barton received when he rolled into FloodGate with his American Restoration Tour.
Throughout his decades of public life working for the Republican Party, becoming a darling of Fox News, advising politicians such as new House Speaker Mike Johnson, launching a small propaganda empire, carving out a niche as the American rights chosen peddler of nostalgic alternative facts Barton had never been shy about his ultimate aims. He is an avowed Christian nationalist who favors theocratic rule; moreover, he is a so-called Dominionist, someone who believes Christians should control not only the government but also the media, the education system, and other cultural institutions. Barton and his ilk are invested less in advancing individual policies than they are in reconceiving our system of self-government in its totality, claiming a historical mandate to rule society with biblical dogma just as the founders supposedly intended.
MOM, I DONT THINK YOU SHOULD SEE THIS. You should leave the room.
That was my younger son, age 7 or 8, purportedly trying to protect me years ago from a risqué music video on MTV.
We were relatively permissive parents. The boys watched MTV and The Simpsons from an early ageso many episodes of the latter so many times each that even now, in their thirties, both of them can spout the perfect bit of dialogue to fit any occasion, no matter how surreal. I see now they were rightthat show was hilariously and cuttingly on the nose about everything.
I thought of all this while reading a Washington Post account of a Donald Trump rally in Iowa. I thought I knew what these rallies were like: I watched one start to finish back in 2016 and since then Ive read many verbatim transcripts of Trump rallies and speeches. And I thought I knew Iowa and its unique political culture: I spent much of the 1990s and 2000s covering its liberal peaceniks, conservative Christians, caucuses and straw polls. I figured that, like many journalists and Americans in general, I was shockproof after eight years of Trump, though Ive tried hard to avoid becoming numb or bored or exhausted.
Hannah Knowles has proved I am not shockproof. Her Post story about Trumps rally in Fort Dodge on Saturday is, in fact, a continuing series of new shocks. Thats because her focus is not only on Trump but on the people who came to see him, and their children. Brace yourself:
Children wandered around in shirts and hats with the letters FJB, an abbreviation for an obscene jab at President Biden that other merchandise spelled out: Fuck Biden. . . .
One of Trumps introductory speakers from the Iowa state legislature declared anyone who kneels for the national anthem is a disrespectful little shit, quickly drawing a roaring response. And outside the packed venue, vulgar slogans about Biden and Vice President Harris were splashed across T-shirts: Biden Loves Minors. Joe and the Ho Gotta Go! One referred to Biden and Harris performing sexual acts.
A WEEK AFTER THE MASSACRE in Lewiston, Maine, left 18 dead, 13 wounded, and a swath of New England terrorized and on lockdown, the gun industry was thinking about its bottom line.
During a Nov. 1 quarterly-earnings call, Ruger CEO Christopher Killoy touted the companys profits, and the sales boost from new products like its SFAR a small-frame auto-loading rifle, chambered to fire devastating, high-caliber bullets.
The firearms press is enamored with this new assault rifle, touting it as easy to carry, fast to the shoulder, and packing the punch of an old-school .30-caliber battle rifle. But had that deadly punch just been turned on civilians at a bowling alley and billiards bar in Lewiston? Law enforcement recovered a Ruger SFAR from the getaway vehicle of the military-trained shooter, Robert R. Card II, and the arrest warrant for Card highlighted numerous rifle cartridges scattered throughout the premises of both murder scenes.
Killoy did not mention the killings, directly. But he did address analysts who wanted to know if the company was picking up signals of a buying surge, based on the events of the last 30 days encompassing both Lewiston and the Hamas assault on civilians in Israel. There may be some good demand signals coming, Killoy advised shareholders. For all the wrong reasons, perhaps.
Almost immediately after Jan. 6, 2021, legal commentators began debating whether Section 3 of the 14th Amendment could be used to disqualify former President Donald Trump from running in the 2024 presidential election. They discussed, in particular, whether or not Section 3 applied to a former president, whether it is self-executing, and whether Jan. 6 could be considered an insurrection or rebellion.
Since then, the issue has become less abstract. In February 2021, the U.S. Senate acquitted Trump of an impeachment article for inciting insurrection, but with a bipartisan majority of the Senate voting to convict. Section 3 challenges have been mounted against several legislators, and one state-level county commissioner who participated in the attack was successfully ousted from his post under that provision. In addition, the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 Attack on the Capitol made the argument that Trump did inspire an insurrection, referring him to the Justice Department for prosecution under multiple criminal statutes, including one prohibiting insurrection. The Special Counsels Office has since brought a criminal case in Washington, D.C. charging Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 attack. In addition, some prominent legal conservatives have argued for a strong, originalist reading of Section 3 that they argue would apply to Trump, immediately disqualifying him from office.
Beginning with a case in Florida in February 2023, voters and advocacy groups have brought many Section 3 challenges in state and federal courts across the country, attempting to block Trumps name from appearing on ballots for state primaries and caucuses before the national election begins. This page is intended to track which states have active Section 3 litigation to remove Trump from the 2024 ballot. At the bottom is a selected reading of Lawfare's coverage on the issue. Note that the procedural posture and legal theories behind these challenges vary greatly, and a dismissal in any particular action does not necessarily bar other challenges from being brought in that same state.
On Wednesday, after weeks of chaos, House Republicans unanimously selected Congressman Mike Johnson (R-LA) as the new Speaker. Compared to the previous Republican candidates for Speaker, Johnson has kept a relatively low profile in Congress. He was first elected to the House in 2016, and previously served as GOP deputy whip, a relatively junior leadership position. Johnson, 51, spent most of his career working as an attorney for far-right religious advocacy groups. Before joining Congress, he had a brief but eventful tenure as a member of the Louisiana legislature.
Here is some information you should know about Johnson, now that he has been abruptly elevated to one of the most powerful political positions in the nation.
Johnson advocated for the inclusion of controversial Bible course in public schools
In 2002, a course created by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools was offered in eight Louisiana parishes. The course, according to an April 2002 report in the Sunday Advocate, called "for students to read the Bible as a history book." It was criticized for being "skewed toward Protestant evangelical Christianity," for treating "the Bible as an accurate record of history," and for being a "thinly veiled" attempt to push Christianity on public school students.
The Supreme Court allows for the Bible to be taught in public schools, but only "objectively as a part of a secular program of education." Johnson defended the Bible course on behalf of the Louisiana Family Forum. He argued that the "Supreme Court did not say you have to discuss everybody's view on the Bible." Requiring that public schools treat all religious traditions equally, Johnson said, was "the height of political correctness."
Evangelical love of Israel is the love of the consumer towards the consumed, a hungry man for bread. Their fantasy is ultimately one of destruction: the annihilation of the Jewish faith through death, save an elect of 144,000 who convert to Christianity a number derived from the Book of Revelations. It is a necropolitical fantasy, one that views the tribulation with, as a post from Calvary Chapelthe church to whom Rep. Brian Mast, who has appeared in Congress this week in an IDF uniform, belongs, put itexcitement, anticipation, and glee; the end of the world is the highly anticipated kingdom. The apocalypse demands the agony of all but the elect; to the elect it is ecstasy. It is rapture.
The conversion and annihilation of the Jews must be preceded by their return to and absolute control of Israel; therefore the lives of Palestinians are worthless and forfeit from the start, a road-bump in this violent fantasy that was never accounted for in the Revelations map. They are an inconvenience to be disposed of, pawns to be knocked off the board so other pawns can be positioned to set up the moment of Christ's return, the end of history in blood. Palestinians are less than human in this vision; inconveniences at best, instruments of the Antichrist at worst. Either way, their annihilation is necessary. There have been many predictions of the apocalypse and many preludes. In this moment of death and displacement, there is joy for Christian observers from afar, the ecstatic terror of deliverance.
What it amounts to is cheering on Armageddon from the cheap seatsand directing funds to ensure it occurs. It's a grotesquerie of geopolitics and religion, and it carries undue weight in American foreign policy, thanks to the merger of the Christian Right and the Republican Party. A game of chess with eternity at stake.
Often, Christian Zionismthe fanatic belief that animates tens of millions of evangelical Christians in the US, many of whom have disproportionate power on the Christian right and by extension the Republican Partyredounds on Jews. The eschatological fantasy for which Israel is prime fodder requires our exploitation. Nonetheless, the I stand with Israel message that Christian-right congressmen, church leaders and governors proudly declare is viewed as another piece of evidence that Jews have unnatural and pernicious influence over American foreign policy.
No paywall link (It kills the nasty ads)
Conservatives are so confident about their ability to play the mainstream media that theyre now saying the quiet part out loud. After his successful work at getting the mainstream media to carry his anti-woke anti-critical race theory narratives, American conservative activist Christopher F. Rufo instructed them on the next step to tie terrorist organization Hamas to BLM and more.
Conservatives need to create a strong association between Hamas, BLM, DSA, and academic decolonization in the public mind. Connect the dots, then attack, delegitimize, and discredit. Make the center-left disavow them. Make them political untouchables, wrote the Senior Fellow at the center-right Manhattan Institute.
When his fellow conservatives pointed out that he was saying the quiet part out loud, he admitted it happily, Lots of debate in the replies. Many critics arguing that Im saying the quiet part out loud. To which I respond: Yes.
Maybe youre thinking, how much can one activist really do just tweeting his ideas, and sadly the answer to that is: A lot.
How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict Over Critical Race Theory, is the New Yorkers title over a 2021 piece on him. They note, To Christopher Rufo, a term for a school of legal scholarship looked like the perfect weapon. Rufo wrote to them, Critical race theory is the perfect villain.
Florida homeschoolers could take Disney vacations on the taxpayers dime thanks to a recently expanded school-voucher program. The new Personalized Education Program, or PEP, provides about $8,000 annually to thousands of homeschooled students to get taxpayer-funded theme-park passes, big-screen TVs, and other items with an attenuated connection to education, Judd Legum reported at Popular Information. Theme-park tickets are an approved expense under PEP, and in a private Facebook post obtained by Legum, one parent says they got passes to Disney World and Universal Studios approved through the program. Another asks for advice on getting an annual pass approved.
As Legum notes, Florida has delegated the administration of the vouchers to two private nonprofit organizations, Step Up for Students and AAA Scholarship Foundation. These nonprofits generate revenue based on how many students they can attract. So, they are incentivized to meet the demands of parents who receive vouchers. Though theme-park tickets werent originally an approved expense, Step Up for Students reversed course after parents complained.
In the Facebook posts, parents treat the program like its their private candy jar. Theyre right: It is. What Legum uncovered isnt abuse, exactly. Rather, the program works as designed. Homeschooling parents now enjoy the financial resources and freedom the state of Florida denies public educators. Thats a deliberate choice on the part of Florida lawmakers and a natural outcome of the parental-rights movement.
As implemented by Step Up for Students and AAA Scholarship Foundation, PEP can cover big-screen TVs and expensive Lego sets and even some video-game consoles, if parents have a child with special needs. (In another private Facebook post, a parent asks if they can purchase a PS5 bundle that includes God of War, which is rated for adults only. They said their child is 5.) Homeschooled students can now pay for swing sets, foosball tables, air-hockey tables, skateboards, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, dolls, and stuffed animals through PEP, Legum added.
Call it the end of an era for fantasy-fueled reading instruction. In a move that has parents like me cheering, Columbia Universitys Teachers College announced last month that it is shuttering its once famousin some circles, now-infamousreading organization founded by education guru and entrepreneur Lucy Calkins.
For decades, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project was a behemoth in American education. As many as 1 in 4 U.S. elementary schools used Calkins signature curriculum. But that number is dwindling as a growing chorus of cognitive scientists, learning experts, and parentsmany amplified by education journalist Emily Hanford via her 2022 podcast Sold a Storyargue that the Calkins approach to reading is ineffective at best, actively harmful at worst, and a large part of why more than half of our countrys fourth graders arent demonstrating proficiency on reading exams.
Its common knowledge that never learning to read well damages childrens self-esteem, their life prospects, and our countrys future workforce. Whats less talked about is how, when schools fail to teach reading, it harms the publics trust in schools. An unspoken contract between public schools and parents is that schools will teach their children to read. In many places, that contract was broken when schools adopted Calkins methods, kids didnt learn to read, and responsibility for teaching reading transferred onto parents and guardians.
Thats what happened to me. I live in New York City, home to the nations largest school district and ground zero of the Calkins approach to reading. Mayor Michael Bloomberg brought Calkins curriculum to our schools some 20 years ago, and her methods have remained entrenched here ever since. Often called balanced literacy, this approach treats reading not as a taught skill, but as something innate that emerges under the right conditions. It rests on the fuzzy fantasy that drenching young children in a literacy-rich environment is what gets most kids reading.
Yes, the Christian Right supports Israel. They see the establishment of the modern State of Israel as fulfillment of prophecies they believe to be necessary to the Second Coming of Jesus. They want to see the Temple rebuilt and for Israel to expand to control all of the territory described in Scripture. They believe a tiny minority of living Jews will, in the End Times, convert to Christianity and the rest will be damned to hell for their disbelief. They are, on those grounds, no friends of Jews.
I was making a point that is increasingly relevant in the Trump era: that untempered support for Israels most reactionary policies is no bulwark against antisemitism, just as criticism of Israeli policy is no indication of such. Many in the room nodded their agreement. Even the man whod asked the question seemed, if not exactly satisfied, to have something to think about.
But even then, I recognized that it was a partial response, because Christian Zionism is much more than a set of beliefs about the role of Israel and the Jews in the Second Coming, beliefs that are all too easy to trivialize for those who dont share them. Rather, Christian Zionism is part of a set of interlocking, theologically grounded beliefs about how Christians should engage with the political world.
Today, President Trumps administration is staffed by Christian Zionists at the highest levels, including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. And adherents of the belief system form a key component of Trumps electoral base. Up to 81 percent of White evangelicals voted for him in the 2016 elections. Of that number only a slim majority, about 53 percent, unequivocally supported his recognition, in 2019, of Jerusalem as Israels capital, but it would never be a make-or-break issue for doubters. For full-throttle Christian Zionists, however, the embassy move prompted comparisons of Trump to Cyrus the Great, the Persian king celebrated as a friend of the Jewish people for his decision to allow those in exile to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.
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