Roots of Right-Wing Populist Rage -- the Christian Right

Listening to the rhetoric and reading the placards at recent right-wing events has led many progressive observers to conclude that "these folks are nuts!" Well, they are no more crazy or ignorant than most Americans (stifle that giggle), but they do live inside a bubble.

We all live inside our own bubbles in terms of where we get our information. If you grew up listening to right-wing libertarian talk radio and conservative Christian televangelism programs you might be able to break out of that that bubble, but it is difficult, and the exception, not the rule.

Sure, many of the ideas in the Political Right ignore about 50 years of social science -- but not in their book -- literally not in the books they read. Or the TV they watch. Or the radio they listen to. Or the magazines, newsletters, and direct mail that arrive in their mailbox. And this is what it is important to understand. These folks are no more crazy or ignorant than we are, but their "fact" base is produced in a parallel political universe.

The 2,000 or so folks at the 2009 Values Voter Summit this past weekend in Washington, DC share a set of ideologies with minor variations and differing combinations. While most of these folks have economic libertarian beliefs, they differ in form and focus from secular economic libertarians. I'll cover the "Free Market" sector of the populist right in another post.

Conservative Christian evangelicals allied with the Christian Right represent about 15% of the electorate. Most of them also have apocalyptic beliefs about the second coming of Christ, and many of those see it as an impending event they will witness in their lifetime. That explains why 15% of Republicans in New Jersey say they think it is possible that President Obama is the Antichrist (one of the signs of the arrival of the prophesied End Times); while 14% are absolutely sure Obama is the Antichrist.

For those Conservative Christian evangelicals with this specific set of apocalyptic beliefs, stopping Obama is a mission from God; and also a test of faith which might determine whether or not they go to Heaven or get Raptured.

Conservative icon Phyllis Shlafly received the Values Voter Summit major award at the concluding banquet. It recognized her role in creating the contemporary conservative movement. Schlafly's ideology is rooted in that of the Old Right, based on the policies of President William Howard Taft who served from 1909-1913. After WWII, in the 1950s, Schlafly organized conservative women to roll back the liberal policies of the Administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945). She also backed the failed Republican Presidential candidacy of Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964. When the New Right began to emerge in the late 1970s with major support from veterans of the Goldwater campaign, Schlafly, a devout Catholic anti-communist, helped bridge the gap between the Old and New Right, as well as between conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants.

What books did the Old Right bring into the New Right? Several authors were named at the Values Voter conference. In addition to Schlafly, authors W. Cleon Skousen and Fred Schwarz were mentioned from the podium. In terms of the contemporary Christian Right, these authors along with Gary Allen, John Stormer, Tim LaHaye, Larry Abraham and a few others wrote the books that contain the basis for almost all the Values Voter rhetoric, slogans, and workshop sessions decried as lunatic by the Left over the past week.

The best known book was Phyllis Schlafly's A Choice, Not an Echo which suggested a conspiracist theory in which the Republican Party was said to be secretly controlled by elitist intellectuals dominated by members of the Bilderberger banking conference, whose policies were designed to usher in global communist conquest. Schlafly's husband Fred had been a lecturer at author Fred Schwarz's local Christian Anti-Communism Crusade conferences and training seminars. The title "A Choice, Not an Echo" became one of Goldwater's campaign slogans.

Schlafly elaborated on the theme of the global communist conspiracy and its witting and unwitting domestic allies in a number of books. The Gravediggers, was a Schlafly book on military preparedness co-authored with retired Rear Admiral Chester Ward. Ward, a member of the National Strategy Committee of the American Security Council was also a lecturer at the Foreign Policy Research Institute which formulated many benchmark Cold War anti-communist strategies.

The Gravediggers claimed U.S. military strategy and tactics promoted during liberal Administrations (both Democratic and Republican) were actually consciously designed to pave the way for global communist conquest. The Gravediggers was also tailored to support the Goldwater campaign. Schlafly and Ward also wrote Strike from Space, which later formed the basis of President Reagan's missile defense program. Schlafly was appointed by Reagan to his National Security Task Force, and she worked with retired General Daniel O. Graham to promote space-based missile defense.

For over 50 years ultra-conservative Christians have been reading these types of books which lay out arguments that lie at the roots of contemporary right-wing populist rage. These are not marginal or "fringe" figures. They have played a major role in Republican Party politics and governance for over 30 years. Dismiss them at our own risk.

More to come.

Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, is co-author with Matthew N. Lyons of Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. He has studied and written about the Political Right for close to 40 years.