June 30, 2021

John Thompson: The Troubling Anti-CRT Story Becomes More Worrisome

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John Thompson, retired teacher and historian, offers a follow-up to his previous post about CRT and its position as a modern Willy Horton campaign.

Who would have thunk it?

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, at the site of the Murrah Building where 168 people were murdered by Timothy McVeigh, has an exhibit that asks questions like:

“Do you see a relationship from the violence that occurred on this site and the events happening in our world today?” It offers conversation prompts such as “What are the pros and cons of having a domestic terrorism law?” and “Does social media play a part?”

Isn’t that what leftist teachers ask when using critical race theory (CRT) in order to shame white people?

Seriously, as was recently explained by the Washington Post’s Hannah Allam, “combating violent extremism” was one of the three founding principles of the memorial. Its exhibit includes “a photo of McVeigh selling bumper stickers that read ‘Fear the government that fears your gun.’”

Thinking it was a “benign” contribution to a constructive conversation, “the Oklahoma Department of Education posted the memorial’s talking points on its official Facebook page.”  But Allam explained, “Some commenters were aghast that the link had come from the memorial.” One wrote,  “How in the world is this even remotely the same as the Oklahoma bombing??!!!” Another derided the education department as the “Oklahoma Dept of Socialist Indoctrination.”


Allam noted, “The same words are on the back of McVeigh’s T-shirt in the bombing museum.”

The Post interviewed “five influential Oklahoma Republicans,” who “quickly pivoted to discussing Black Lives Matter and antifa protesters,” as if they were equivalent threats. Other Republicans “privately expressed worry about the increasing extremism and its conservative apologists, but said that the potential political consequences were too great to speak out publicly.”

recently urged teachers to take the anti-critical race theory legislators – who claimed they were banning racism, not the CRT – at their word, and draft and share balanced lessons on race. Of course, I was joking when I suggested that rightwingers would join in the dialogue. But, as these well-funded anti-education campaigns ramped up in the last week, we learn more about what they are really trying to do.

Tyler Kingkade, a national investigative reporter at NBC News who has been investigating anti-CRT movement, was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air about the campaigns’ funding, tactics, and goals.  He discussed Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist who takes credit for bringing President Donald Trump on board in this culture war. Kingkade noted, Trump is known as “someone who takes on a lot of these race issues with sort of … dog-whistle politics.”

Moreover, Kingkade reported on how ALEC and the Heritage Foundation “have been hosting webinars, especially over the winter between the election and the inauguration of Biden, to talk about critical race theory.” He then recounted a grass roots effort, No Left Turn in Education, which “shot up from fewer than 200 followers on Facebook to 30,000 within just a day” after an appearance Tucker Carlson’s Fox Television show.

Kingkade noted the extensive coverage of the CRT on the Daily Wire, Breitbart, Washington Free Beacon, and Newsmax. It has been covered “over 1,300 times on Fox News within the past few months.” (A more recent count says the term has been used over 1800 times this year on Fox, and the number is obviously rising.) And Steve Bannon has said, “the path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going to go through the school boards.”

In other words, the campaign is a 21st century “Willy Horton” tactic for increasing rightwingers’ turnout  for the mid-term elections. And it is growing into something much worse. In a lot of states, said Kindkade, besieged school board members have faced “death threats and harassment online, leading them to install extra security cameras in their homes.”

School board meetings have needed extra security guards and metal detectors for school board meetings, board members have needed police escorts when they leave the building, and a Missouri school district “actually hired security to patrol two administrators home.” Some conservative groups harass districts by demanding that up to “hundreds or thousands of records,” and “the Nevada Family Alliance proposed putting body cameras on teachers to make sure that they weren’t teaching critical race theory.”
 The politics of destruction could be spinning out of control. Even as Alt Facts regarding CRT morph from another election dirty trick to an attack on public education to an even more violent assault on our democracy, when they try to censor and cancel, our answers must include public conversations, as well as challenging classroom discussions.
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