Say what you want about Glenn Beck, but do not dispute this: The man is enormously influential in the American political debate. Spend some time with any one of the new conserva-libertarians who've been getting so much face time since last spring -- the Tea Party, the 9/12 Project, or more extreme groups that are out there like the Oath Keepers -- and you'll often find that their activism traces back to Beck, whether it's something he said on his Fox News program or his radio show or the books that he's touted into best-sellers like the "The 5000 Year Leap," an obscure Christian-oriented take on the Constitution and the Founding Fathers by a deceased John Birch-era right-winger that has sold by the truckload since it was Beck-endorsed.
But now, with the 2010 elections approached, this bad boy behind blue eyes is actually planning to kick it up a notch. He's working on something called "The Plan" (which seems to involve a book, although I'm sure he's donating the profits back to "the cause) that will be unveiled at what he hopes will be a massive rally on Aug. 28 at the Lincoln Memorial, on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech at or about the same sport. But to work up to what he says will be a 100-year plan, Beck is starting out with a series of what he initially called "educational seminars" and he's now calling "American Revival." This week, Beck divulged the lineup for the initial 8-hour (!) event in Orlando on March 27. So what's the bottom line on where Beck plans to lead his flock next?
To parphrase Beck himself...fear for your country.
It turns out that Beck's blueprint for America is deeply rooted in a Christian fundamentalist misinterpretation of American history, one that is built upon made-up quotes and bogus historical facts. What's more, while Beck seeks to portray himself as a libertarian -- remember, classic libertarianism includes abiding respect for the wall between church and state -- his kick-off speaker at his first "American Revivial" is a leading architect of the right-wing same-old, same-old, the close alliance between the Republican Party and Christian activists that helped bring us George W. Bush -- and our current mess. That speaker is Texas GOP activist and school-textbook corrupter David Barton (pictured at top).
Here is Beck's announcement:
It is an eight hour event. You and I on stage with three different experts. David Barton is going to be the first one and we're going to talk about the meaning of faith in America. All the lies that you have been told, that this isn't a nation of faith, that religion played no role. I'm you will be stunned when you learn and see the real history that is no longer taught.
The real reason that history "is no longer taught" is because...it's bogus. Let's look at Barton -- who Texas Monthly called in a massive profile "The King of the Christocrats" -- and his track record"
Barton is the founder of a Texas-based group called the WallBuilders, a foundation devoted to proving that the roots of the United States and its Constitution are not based on the separation of church of state -- as is widely believed and widely taught -- but as country built upon a bedrock of Christianity. That is also the premise of a widely circulated book that Barton published in the 1990s called "The Myth of Separation" -- a book that was eventually re-written and issued under a different name because it was larded with bad information, some of which nevertheless became gospel on conservative talk radio. As noted in the 2006 Texas Monthly article (via Nexis):
In 1995 the historian Robert Alley attempted to trace the provenance of a quote that Rush Limbaugh had mistakenly attributed to James Madison, in which Madison purportedly called the Ten Commandments the foundation of American civilization. All roads led to David Barton, whose The Myth of Separation attributed the following quote to Madison: "We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God." Barton cited two sources for the quote: a 1939 book by Harold K. Lane called Liberty! Cry Liberty! and Frederick Nyneyer's 1958 book First Principles in Morality and Economics: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association. Alley couldn't find the quote anywhere in Nyneyer's book, however, and eventually concluded that Barton had pulled it from an article in a journal with the unlikely title Progressive Calvinism, which, in turn, had attributed it to something called the "1958 calendar of Spiritual Mobilization." In any case, Alley reported, the editors of Madison's papers were unable to find anything in his writings that was even remotely similar. "In addition," they added, "the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government, which he expressed time and time again in public and in private."
There is a lot more fabrication or misinterpretation in Barton's writing. As noted by Rob Boston of the Americans United for Separation of Church of State, who for understandable reasons began tracking Barton in the 1990s:
But Barton's biggest whopper concerns Thomas Jefferson, who coined the metaphor "wall of separation between church and state." Jefferson used that phrase in an 1802 letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association. According to Barton, Jefferson went on to add that the "wall" was meant to be "one directional," protecting the church from the state but not the other way around, and, furthermore, that it was intended to keep "Christian principles in government."
This is a complete fabrication, and if Barton would take the time to actually read Jefferson's letter he would see that he is simply wrong. Jefferson's letter says nothing about the wall being "one directional" and certainly does not assert that it was meant to keep "Christian principles" in government. Such sentiments appear nowhere in the body of Jefferson's writings or speeches. In fact, they conflict sharply with our third president's well known advocacy of church-state separation and religious freedom.
That's not all that he uncovered about David Barton:
In 1991 Barton addressed the Rocky Mountain Bible Retreat of Pastor Pete Peters' Scriptures for America, a group that espouses the racist "Christian Identity" theology. Advocates of this bizarre dogma insist that white Anglo-Saxons are the "true" chosen people of the Bible and charge that today's Jews are usurpers. Aside from being a virulent anti-Semite, Peters has advocated the death penalty for homosexuals. According to the Anti-Defamation League, other speakers at the event included white supremacist leader and 1992 presidential candidate James "Bo" Gritz, a leader of the radical and increasingly violent militia movement, and Malcolm Ross, a Holocaust denier from Canada. In November of that same year, Barton spoke at Kingdom Covenant College in Grants Pass, Oregon, another "Christian Identity" front group with ties to Peters.4
Asked to explain these actions, Barton's reply amounted to a not very creative "I didn't know they were Nazis" dodge.
Needless to say, none of these controversies derailed Barton's career as a rising star in either the evangelical movement or the Republican Party. In fact, for most of the 2000s, he served as vice chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, where he's also been a leading fundamentalist voice in that state's ever-raging debate over school textbooks. The national GOP hired Barton as a consultant in the 2004 election, and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas said Barton's "research provides the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today — bringing God back into the public square."
Indeed, his work rose to the level that a prominent critic assailed him in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, writing that Barton's "pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people." The author of that piece was another U.S. senator -- Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter.
Now Barton will be taken seriously by a lot more people, thanks to his new relationship with Glenn Beck. That is most unfortunate. His view of the Founding Fathers is completely at odds with the reality, which is that while many of architects of the Declaration of Independence had a personal belief in Christianity, the core founders including Madison and Jefferson believe profounding in both freedom of religion and a government that would be free of religious influence. Indeed, that's one of the tenets that makes the American experience so unique, and why that experiment is now at risk -- threat from the likes of David Barton, his high-powered allies in the Republican Party, and now Glenn Beck.
Beck's alliance with Barton also undercuts some of his most-repeated claims of the last year, that he is a libertarian placing a pox on both political parties, or that he wants to steer his massive following in a new direction for America. This in fact shows that his "100-year plan" for the nation would set us back more than 234 years, before the time when brave men imagined a nation where people would be free to worship all religions, or no religion. The Beck-Barton plan is a dangerous idea -- but given what we've learned about Beck's influence over the last year, it is also something that is too dangerous to ignore.