To Trumpers, "critical race theory" is as bad as the Taliban — and they're not kidding

A Trump fundraising email compares American teachers to the Taliban. It's an explicit invitation to violence

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published August 20, 2021 6:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Afghan Taliban militants (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Afghan Taliban militants (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The Trump-controlled Republican Party, other American neofascists and the white right more generally are continuing their attack on the bogeyman and moral panic known as "critical race theory."

As I explained in an earlier essay for Salon the white right's fictive version of critical race theory has little if any substantive relationship to the specialized academic approach to the study of social inequality described with the same term. As I wrote, the right's version of critical race theory is "a type of racial bogeyman or psychological projection, a function of white racial paranoia about the 'browning of America' and the threat of 'white genocide'":

As the truism holds, history is written by the victors. To that end, in dozens of states across the country, the white right is engaging in an Orwellian campaign of rewriting school curricula to prevent the teaching of "critical race theory" -- which in practice means stopping any serious engagement with America's real and often uncomfortable history of racism and white supremacy.

The white right's campaign against the teaching of real American history involves actual thoughtcrimes."

The mainstream news media has largely moved on from this white supremacist attack on the country's educational institutions — and by implication, an assault on truth and reality itself. This is another example of a much larger problem with the mainstream news media in America: As an institution it is less interested in the truth and doing the work of pro-democracy journalism than in chasing the next shiny, horrible object and controversy. In turn, the American people en masse take their cues about what is "important" from the news media and other "opinion leaders" and agenda-setters.

Consequently, many Americans now view the white right's attacks on "critical race theory" as just another controversy among the country's political elites, rather than as part of a larger anti-democratic and white supremacist movement that poses an existential threat to society.

While the news media and the American people are distracted as their very limited attention spans are drawn to other things, the white right continues to amass victories in its war against multiracial democracy and the truth.

As part of a larger nationwide campaign including states such as Florida and Texas, a Pennsylvania school board voted this week to ban "critical race theory" and the "1619 Project" and replace them with something called "patriotic education."

In Tennessee, the state now proposes to levy fines, beginning at $1 million, on school districts where a teacher "willingly violates" prohibitions on discussing white privilege, racism or sexism in class.

Republicans recently introduced a bill in the Senate that would ban the use of federal monies for teaching what the Hill describes as "'divisive concepts' such as critical race theory." The Protect Equality and Civics Education Act was sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Mike Braun, R-Ind. "The story of our nation is under attack as the radical left continues to attempt to rewrite American history and categorize our citizens into an oppressor and oppressed class," Rubio said in a statement.

The white right's attempts to purge "critical race theory" (and those who study and teach it) are not peaceful. As with other moral panics, there is the emotional and financial violence and other harm inflicted on those deemed to represent a "threat."

To that point, teachers and other educators will lose their jobs for committing thoughtcrimes because they dare to teach the truth about American history and its implications for the present. Educators who are committed to teaching America's real history are also experiencing fear and intimidation from being monitored in their classrooms as a pretext for firing them or inflicting other types of harm.

The white right's attacks on "critical race theory" are already escalating to include both explicit and implied threats of physical violence. A recent fundraising email from Donald Trump Jr. on behalf of the "1776 Project PAC" offers an ominous preview of the terrorism and other political violence that is being encouraged against those who dare to teach and study "critical race theory." 

Trump Jr. begins by addressing a "Fellow Patriot":

There are people out there in the far-off corners of the world who hate everything that the United States of America stands for — and they have made it their life's work to destroy our country.

But they're not who I'm worried about.

I'm worried about the people right here in our own backyards who share the same hatred for our country as the terrorists hiding in the caves of Afghanistan. 

Because when President Lincoln said "America will never be destroyed from the outside ... if we lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves" he was RIGHT.

The most dangerous threats to our republic aren't hiding in caves -- they're hiding in plain sight in our K-12 classrooms.

 They're training the next generation to hate our country, hate our freedom and hate our Constitution.

 Because they know the generation taught to hate our country from kindergarten to college will be the one that destroys it, and surrenders us to socialism once and for all.

The Radical Left has been quietly taking over local schoolboards one community at a time — using their legions of teachers and radical union operatives as foot-soldiers to overhaul our education system right under our noses. ...

They've put Marxists in classrooms across the country teaching children not how to think but what to think. They tell students that if they're white, that they're evil racists responsible for slavery, and if they're black, that they're helpless victims that will never accomplish anything.

Of course these claims are absurd lies. But they still must be directly, explicitly, and clearly exposed and refuted.

Those still in a state of willful denial about the existential dangers of Trumpism and American neofascism cling to a belief that it is all so "ridiculous" — and therefore not a real threat. Too many Americans desperately hold on to these self-soothing delusions even after the nightmare of the Age of Trump. Such people close their eyes when confronted by danger because, like children, they hope that such bad things will somehow magically disappear.

Donald Trump's followers are not "patriots." They are committed to a fascist movement that seeks to overthrow American democracy and replace it with a right-wing personality cult and white supremacist authoritarian regime.

Likewise, America's teachers and educators are not the "most dangerous threats to our republic." As the Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies have repeatedly warned, the greatest threat to the United States are white supremacist terrorists — which at the moment means Trump's loyalists and other cult members.

In an age of gangster capitalism, charter schools and the outsized and toxic influence of the right wing on the country's educational system, "Marxists" have most certainly not taken over America's classrooms.

Educators committed to teaching the truth about America's past and present are not instructing young people to "hate our country, hate our freedom, and hate our Constitution." In reality, those teachers are the real patriots, helping their students to become good citizens who reject authoritarianism and other anti-democratic values.

America's teachers are not the Taliban. Specifically, those educators at the college level and beyond who apply and teach the actual academic critical framework of critical race theory are not killing or torturing people deemed to be insufficiently religious. They do not live in caves, or reject modernity and science in favor of religious fundamentalism and other anti-rational forms of thinking. They are also not forcing women into a state of de facto bondage and subjugation where they are denied human rights and viewed as the property of men.

Donald Trump Jr.'s fundraising email for the 1776 Project PAC is not a version of stochastic terrorism. It is something worse and more dangerous. That email is an explicit encouragement to engage in acts of right-wing terrorism and other violence against "the enemy." The encouragement is working: Public opinion polls and other research have shown that a large percentage of Republicans and other self-identified Trump supporters and "conservatives" increasingly view political violence as an acceptable means of winning, holding and expanding political power.

How does this work? Today's "conservative" movement is highly effective at creating, manipulating and directing the fears of their public, where the goal is to keep the latter in a state of constant fear. The Taliban's reconquest of Afghanistan is only the most recent and therefore most convenient way of keeping the right-wing public in a constant state of fear arousal.

A central part of this manipulation involves a focus on death anxieties and other existential fears felt by many white Americans about being "deleted," "canceled," "replaced" or otherwise made obsolete in a more diverse American society.

As seen with the Trump Jr. fundraising email, the "Taliban" signify dangerous Islamic terrorists who can be used as proxies for other anxieties about race, identity and power being experienced by "real," "traditional" and "patriotic" White America.

Moreover, the Trump Jr. email's suggestion that "critical race theory" is somehow associated with Islamic fundamentalism, the Taliban and Muslims who want to destroy "Christian civilization" is an act of projection. In the United States, it is white right-wing Christian nationalists who long to overthrow secular multiracial democracy. On a fundamental level, those groups have more in common with the Taliban than they are willing to admit.

The Trump-controlled Republican Party and larger neofascist movement hold a competitive advantage over liberals and progressives. The brains and political personalities of conservatives and other right-wing authoritarians are primed for an emotional response to political and social issues that privileges yes-or-no binary thinking and what is known as "negativity bias." Conservatives and other right-wing authoritarians are also more likely than progressives and liberals to reject members of the "out group" and others deemed to be the Other.

Trumpism, like other fascist movements, has weaponized these traits.

On Thursday, one of the Trump movement's acolyte-terrorists apparently followed through on the Great Leader's commands. A man allegedly journeyed to Washington with the intention of forcing President Biden to resign, driving a vehicle that he claimed contained large amounts of explosive materials.  

CNN reports that the man was 49-year-old Floyd Ray Roseberry of Grover, North Carolina, who has "a history of supporting former President Donald Trump and who has said 'all Democrats need to step down.'" 

U.S. Capitol Police have said that no bomb was found in Roseberry's truck, but did live-stream a Facebook video from the scene, "holding a canister that he said was a bomb and speaking about a 'revolution.'" The Daily Beast has also reported that Roseberry appeared to be trying to speak directly to President Biden during his rambling live-stream.

Reportedly, the last video Roseberry posted on social media featured Donald Trump Jr. ranting about the failures of democracy, conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden, and proclaiming that he and his father were "victims" of a plot to smear their good names. 

The Trump movement is growing and tending a type of fascist garden, full of vines and tree limbs bearing poisoned fruit. Trump's cult followers eat the fruit eagerly and cannot be sated. It only makes them stronger and more determined to overthrow American democracy, and even to kill and die for their leader, in the belief that such behavior will make them immortal heroes and great patriots.

There will be more blood as the Age of Trump extends its power and pull over the United States. This is not a question of "if" or "when" or "at some point." We are well past the point when America's news media and other public voices should stop talking about the danger as if it were far away or hypothetical. Such evasion is a gross disservice to the public. American fascist violence is here and now and escalating.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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