CRT: How to Manufacture a Moral PanicBreaking News
tags: culture war, critical race theory, Moral Panic, Christopher Rufo
Los Angeles public school teacher R. Tolteka Cuauhtin had Googled his discipline, ethnic studies, in March when he discovered he wanted children to honor the Aztec gods of human sacrifice and cannibalism. Should the state of California implement the curriculum that Cuauhtin had helped design, an article in the conservative magazine City Journal reported, students would “chant to the gods Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek, seeking ‘healing epistemologies’ and ‘a revolutionary spirit. Huitzilopochtli, in particular, is the Aztec deity of war and inspired hundreds of thousands of human sacrifices during Aztec rule.”
Cuauhtin found himself in crowded company, the latest educator singled out by right-wing activist Christopher Rufo for crimes against public education. Rufo’s article was picked up by American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher, who wrote it up in a blog post headlined “The Re-Barbarization of California.” The Daily Caller grabbed it. So did Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, who interviewed Rufo about his story. He has also captured the attention of liberals. He recently sparred with MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid on her show, visibly sighing as Reid explained the concept of whiteness to him.
Last summer, Rufo seemed to come from nowhere, arriving on the scene after a national uprising against racism to lead the charge against the supposed excesses of anti-racism education, branding it all with a once-obscure academic term: critical race theory. Armed with a prolific Twitter account and the backing of the conservative Establishment, he brandished “scoops” about the widespread infiltration of the theory and eventually caught the attention of the Trump White House. In short order, he had transformed himself from a limited kind of Twitter star to bona fide conservative influencer. The proof lies offline in the new moral panic he helped instigate. Republican operatives, legislators, and commentators, all professing concern for young hearts and minds, claim that children are being taught to hate white people.
A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal, Rufo didn’t just bolt onto Twitter from the void. He is the product of a right-wing movement that has formed countless others from the same mold. A documentary filmmaker who graduated from Georgetown University’s school of foreign service, Rufo possesses an impeccable conservative pedigree: Fellowships with unclear purviews litter his resume. A former visiting fellow for domestic-policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, Rufo was also once a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute alongside James O’Keefe of Project Veritas. Later, he worked for a little-known Christian think tank based in Seattle called the Discovery Institute, where he wrote frequently on the subject of homelessness. Before long, Rufo’s interests combined in a new cause. After last summer’s protests, he wrote a piece for City Journal comparing the diversity training conducted by the city of Seattle to “cult programming” that was picked up by the New York Post. A week later, he promoted a story about the Treasury Department that has since been debunked by the Washington Post. In Rufo’s account, Treasury allegedly subjected workers to a radical diversity training that urged them to “accept their white racial superiority.” In reality, the document Rufo cites as proof said no such thing.
Despite the flaws in his reporting, Rufo’s profile grew, and by last September, he had appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show to urge Trump to issue an executive order “abolishing critical race theory trainings from the federal government.” Three days later, Trump’s budget director sent out a memo relaying Trump’s desire that federal agencies “cease and desist” funding diversity programs that allegedly trained “government workers to believe divisive, anti-American propaganda,” as Yahoo News reported at the time. Trump would later issue an executive order banning programs that, in the words of the budget director’s memo, taught government employees that the “United States is an inherently racist or evil country or that any race or ethnicity is inherently racist or evil.”