Devin Burghart of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights recently reported that a recent regional Tea Party Patriots conference held in Idaho was a far-right stew of
“…racist “birther” attacks on President Obama, discussions of the conspiracy behind the problem facing America (complete with anti-Semitic illustration), Christian nationalism, anti-environmentalism, and serious calls for legislation promoting states’ rights and “nullification.”
While Christian nationalism is often in the mix in such far right settings as this, the presentation on the subject stood out to veteran rightwatcher Burghart.
[One of the speakers was]…Sandpoint High School senior Brady Smith, who had attended something called “the patriot academy” in Texas. A lanky redhead in a dark suit. Smith read from his notes about how the root cause of the country’s sickness was that we’ve forsaken our Godly heritage as a Christian nation. He listed several problems: the attack on “traditional marriage,” abortion, and our public education system not teaching Christianity, as symptoms of the larger sickness. The cure to all that ails the country, according to Smith, was a return to our Godly heritage. His remarks were warmly received. But to the outside observer, Brady Smith’s youth foretold a tragedy in the making.
You may be wondering, as I did, what is the Patriot Academy? It turns out that it may not only be where Brady Smith got many of his ideas — it provides us with a window on the growing role of conservative Christian homeschooling in Republican electoral politics.
Patriot Academy is a training and ideological indoctrination program for young prospective conservative political leaders. Held annually at the Texas state capitol in Austin since 2003, the Patriot Academy is a project of Torch of Freedom Foundation, headed by Rick Green a former State Representative (1999-2003) from Dripping Springs, Texas. Green is also an associate of Christian historical revisionist David Barton’s Wall Builders empire. Green travels the U.S. giving Christian nationalist lectures at churches, Christian academies and home schooling conventions. He ran as a the Republican candidate in a close-but- unsuccessful race for the Texas Supreme Court in 2010. (David Barton is the former longtime Vice-Chair of the Texas Republican Party, who has barnstormed the country on behalf of the Republican National Committee in election years.)
The group’s Facebook page describes the event as “a five-day political training program where students age sixteen to twenty-five learn about America’s system of government from a Biblical worldview.” They claimed that 85 students from 22 states participated in 2010 and that they are hoping for 100 at the next session in August 2011. Many participants have been homeschooled.
Interestingly, the Torch for Freedom Foundation web site, has among its very few links to other groups, one to an apparently forthcoming electorally focused entity called Stand USA.. Also interesting, is that the Patriot Academy’s Facebook site “Likes” only two other sites — Rick Green and American Majority. The latter turns out to be an electoral training organization headed by Ned Ryun, the co-founder of Generation Joshua, the political mobilization arm of the Christian Rightist, Home School Legal Defense Association. He is the son of former Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) and is a former writer for president George W. Bush. American Majority, also produces historical material, which while de-emphasizing religious themes, seeks to adjust history to justify their current political views.
History is powerful, which is why the religious and secular right invoke it so often. But progressives have generally not done well in addressing how the religious and secular right manipulates history to craft a contemporary political narrative that places them conveniently as the true interpreters of the will of God and the Founding Fathers. I wrote back in 2007 that
Christian revisionist-influenced political breezes are even blowing in the Democratic Party. Prominent campaign consultants are advising their clients not to use the phrase separation of church and state because it raises “red flags with people of faith” and because the phrase does not appear in the Constitution. This is an excellent example of how successful Christian revisionists have been in their efforts to delegitimize the term as part of their efforts to shape and control public discourse in their direction. This is also symptomatic of the way that our political leaders are so far away from being able to articulate a compelling narrative of the story of religious liberty in America, that some are conceding the ground and listening to campaign consultants who say that it is better to say nothing.
Clearly, we need to do better, much better than this. Meanwhile, homeschoolers steeped in Christian nationalism have been systematically groomed and mobilized to provide fresh blood and perspective in the Republican coalition. And national pols who know better, from John McCain to Newt Gingrich are pandering to Christian Nationalism.
According to an article in World Net Daily, profiling the homeschooled (til the 9th grade) and then-Congresswoman elect Jaime Herrera (R-WA)
Homeschoolers were active nationwide in the mid-term elections, with a division of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association called Generation Joshua deploying 900 students in 21 races.
The Student Action Teams, or SATs, of about 45 or 50 were sent out five days before the election. In previous elections, they have worked for candidates such as Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Gov. Bob McDonnel of Virginia and Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Daniel Webster, a homeschooling father, who was infamously smeared by opponent Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., as “Taliban Dan,” was a beneficiary of Generation Joshua’s Florida efforts last week. Webster defeated Grayson by 18 points.
At this writing, American Majority (whose constituency certainly extends far beyond homeschoolers) has trainings coming up in a dozen states, notably the battleground state of Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the more extreme elements of the homeschooling movement have had many years to develop, and have done so largely unnoticed, with a few exceptions. The 2006 documentary Jesus Camp revealed neo-pentecostal summer camp director Becky Fischer proudly teaching children that their lives would be defined by their service in God’s Army, and that that was not merely metaphorical. The film also showed Religious Right leader Lou Engle personally coaching the children (on a field trip from North Dakota) in antiabortion protest at the U.S. Supreme Court.
All this follows the trends that were clear when I was writing about Christian nationalism and revolutionary theocratic elements of Christian homeschooling for my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. At the time, a staffer at the Home School Legal Defense Association, Chris Klicka wrote that sending children to public school “violates nearly every Biblical principle… It is tantamount to sending our children to be trained by the enemy.” Klicka also urged Christian homechoolers not to have anything to do with non-Christian homeschoolers. “The differences I am talking about,” he insisted, “have resulted in wars in the not too distant past.”
Journalist Eleanor Bader wrote about one revolutionary political training effort in 2009. She reported that longtime antiabortion leader (Operation Save America) Rusty Thomas was organizing what he called a Kingdom Leadership Institute, which is a forerunner to what he believes will be a bloody conflict the goal of which will be, writes Bader,
“…not only to criminalize abortion and homosexuality, return prayer to the schools, get women out of the workplace, and declare the U.S. a Christian nation, but also to impose Biblical rule on all who reside within our national borders.”
In briefly highlighting these elements of the homeschooling movement, I do not mean to suggest that all homeschoolers, or even Christian homeschoolers, are necessarily conservative, theocratic or even political. Rather, it is important to understand these elements that are active and significant, even if mostly operating just beyond our field of vision. It is also important to stress that just because parents and teachers might try to raise children to become theocratic end times revolutionaries and/or faux 21st century versions of the Founding Fathers, that doesn’t mean that they will succeed in raising up a generation of David Bartons, Rick Greens, Rusty Thomas’s, Lou Engles and Becky Fischers. But by that standard, it doesn’t mean that they won’t either.
[Crossposted from Talk to Action]
Frederick Clarkson is an independent journalist, author and editor who has written about politics and religion for thirty years. He is the co-founder of the group blog Talk to Action, Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates, and lives in Massachusetts.
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