Why does the right-wing appear to out-organize the left-wing? What have they done to be so successful, especially with the advent of the Tea Party movement?
The purpose of this post is to provide a brief explanation based on my six years of reading their literature, especially their documents laying out their Fourth Generation Warfare strategy, reading the history and secondary literature on right-wing movements, and putting all this data into a political-warfare framework. Where necessary, I may link to other articles that provide more substantive information. But, in general, this post is based on my six years of observing and examining their operations.
National Level of Strategy and Operational Campaigns
The key to understanding why the right-wing successfully organizes in the Tea Party era starts in the mid-1970s to mid-1980s when the essential core structure of the Christian Right was established.
The core strategists of the Christian Right, who were surprisingly, for the most part, either Catholic (Paul Weyrich) or Jewish (Howard Phillips), had to find a way to overcome the schism between evangelical and other non-mainstream Protestants and the Catholics.
Sara Diamond in her book, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (p. 61), and John G. Turner in his, Bill Bright and the Campus Crusade for Christ (pp. 191-2) noted that the April 1980 "Washington for Jesus" rally signified that theological differences between fundamentalists, evangelicals, charismatics, Pentecostals, and Baptists could be overcome by identifying existential threats to the nation and, by implication, to themselves as Christians. Those threats ostensibly were abortion rights, homosexual rights, and the absence of sectarian Protestant prayer in the public schools. The national steering committee of the religious rally--several months before Ronald Reagan won the presidency--combined secular goals (reduce government spending) with religious goals (oppose abortion and gay rights) and giving the entire agenda a religious justification--to prevent God's wrath from befalling the nation.
That was one public face of the Christian Right.
The other public face of the Christian Right was Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority.
The widespread misconception, especially in the media and among some progressive analysts, is that the Moral Majority's underlying issue that brought the organization into existence was opposition to abortion. This is simply not true. Jerry Falwell and other Protestant ministers were in the forefront of opposing the integration of public schools. Catholic schools in the southern states were integrating, while public schools were being forced, either through federal pressure or court suits, to integrate.
The response of some southern state legislatures and Protestant denominations was to form private Christian academies and other types of private schools--the origin of the current school voucher and charter school efforts. The federal government saw through this racist smokescreen of private Christian academies and began using the federal Internal Revenue Service to revoke the tax-exempt status of these segregated private academies. Thus, the IRS earned the enmity of the right-wing not necessarily because of high taxes but because it was the federal agency that could cost white supremacists real money.
Thus, the preservation of white supremacy was at the core of the formation of the Christian Right's Moral Majority--the main political mobilizing vehicle in the 1980s. When the Moral Majority foundered, Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition became the main organizing vehicle. The mobilizing vehicles have become more diffuse, with groups like the Koch-funded Americans For Prosperity and the Steve Forbes-linked FreedomWorks becoming ideological and financial boosters of the Tea Party movement.
Beneath the surface of the Christian Right in the 1980s were four other developments that still play a significant role in the success of the right-wing.
Centralized Planning, Decentralized Execution
First, the core strategists of the Christian Right formed the Council for National Policy. The purpose of this secretive organization is to bring together strategists and conservative/Christian funding sources to execute at the local level campaigns against whatever target they believe can be portrayed as an existential threat to Christians and their way of life.
One example among many is the 1993 effort of the Christian Right to deprive any person of "homosexual, lesbian, or bisexual orientation" living and working in Colorado of legal protections from discrimination. The Christian Right's Council for National Policy, working with local groups in Colorado, attempted to pass Amendment 2 to the state of Colorado's Constitution. The late Jean Hardisty, founder of Political Research Associates, noted in her 1993 article "Constructing Homophobia" that in the 1980s at least 15 national organizations came together to plan centrally and then execute decentrally at the local level a strategy focused on the "Gay Agenda" and the "Gay Threat" to the American family and way of life. Hardisty also noted in her book, Mobilizing Resentment (p. 114), that when Christian Right organizations communicated with the faithful that they stressed "the religious principles undergirding their anti-homosexual politics" but when addressing mainstream audiences they used secular sounding language like the "'the defense of the family.'"
Mel White, a closeted gay clergyman who ghostwrite books wrote for Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, observed in his own book, Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us To Deny Gay Equality (p. xi), that it is "beginning to look like the goals and values of the 'perverse segment' [Christian Right] have been passed from the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition to the Tea Party movement."
Strategic Theorists, Operational Planners, Funding Sources Together
Second, the core strategists of the Christian Right were successful in putting together conservative business and Christian funding sources to create a five billion dollar infrastructure of national level think tanks (the Heritage Foundation), secular-sounding, libertarian-orientated State Policy Network think tanks in virtually every state, and very similar religious-oriented, libertarian-orientated think tanks in many states, but linked to one or more religious para-church organizations.
And, that does not even begin to consider the Information Warfare infrastructure that includes Fox News, the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trinity Broadcasting Network, and conservative talk radio led by Rush Limbaugh and others.
And, it does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by corporations on lobbying and political contributions to Republican and Democratic politicians, as well as conservative/Christian businessmen contributing a billion dollars every election period to dark money, Koch-linked vehicles distributing even more money to Christian Right and Tea Party groups promoting opposition to womens' rights, LGBTQ rights, and labor rights.
Strategy of Offensive Destruction
Third, a very small religious group of Christian Reconstructionists formulated a Fourth Generation Warfare strategy with the central objective of destroying the secular, pluralistic, multicultural United States and replacing it with a government and constitution in which biblical law trumps all human-made laws. We know the public face of the Christian Reconstructionists' strategy from its Coalition on Revival documents.
We need not review every one of their 17 World View documents and 42 Articles of the Essentials of a Christian World View. From their A Manifesto for the Christian Church, a body of work produced by 500 theologians and scholars, it is clear that the Christian Right and their supporters advocate nothing less than the destruction of the current United States by placing every human institution under the authority of their interpretation of the Bible: "We affirm that the Bible is not only for God's statements to us regarding religion...but also the final measurement and depository of certain fundamental facts of reality and basic principles that God wants all mankind to know in the spheres of law, government, economics, business, education, arts and communication, medicine, psychology, and science. All theories and practices of these spheres of life are only true, right, and realistic to the degree that they agree with the Bible."
From that statement, one can derive virtually every Christian Right and "secular" right-wing movement since the mid-1980s fighting against: civil rights; womens' rights; LGBTQ rights, labor rights; voting rights; environmental protection; progressive taxes; and, the separation of church and state, as well as many other issues.
And, one can see that the Christian Right has, more or less, been constantly on the strategic offensive since the mid-1980s, except for some periods when they have sought to regroup and recalibrate their strategy, operational campaigns, tactics, organizational structure, network development, and technological sophistication. And, conversely, progressives (or left-wing) have been on the strategic defensive, always being under withering propaganda attacks and defending whatever gains they have achieved since the 1950s.
Common Narrative Structure With Multiple Variations
Fourth, the Christian Right developed an ideological narrative with several variants that could be borrowed and adapted by the various segments of the right-wing.
Jean Hardisty wrote that the Christian Right had tapped into an atavistic, emotional, anger--where most people make decisions, according to George Lakoff, who wrote in The Political Mind that 98 percent of our thinking is non-rational. Hardisty wrote that right-wing social movements are "built on a backlash fueled by anger—in the form of resentment, spite, vengeance, envy, loss, and bitterness over declining status....his social anger is also fed by the current religious revitalization, economic contraction and race resentment....and directed toward the targets of liberals, feminists, people of color (especially through stereotyping of welfare recipients, criminals, immigrants, and drug users), and lesbians and gay men, all perceived to be the beneficiaries of liberal social change."
The other part of the right-wing narrative that is especially adaptive is the idea of the New World Order. While the particular villains vary according to which version of the New World Order conspiracy theory is being peddled, stripped down to its essentials, the narrative is one of secret American elites conspiring with globalists or internationalists to destroy American sovereignty; these American elites, who promote the "anti-Christian" ideology of secular humanism, conspire with or manipulate the lower classes (read non-whites) to extort through force (read taxes) the income of the middle class (read whites).
Chip Berlet, a respected analyst of right-wing populist movements, described this right-wing populist ideology of "producerism": ""Right-wing demagogues reach out to this supposedly beleaguered white middle class of 'producers' and encourage them to see themselves as being inexorably squeezed by parasitic traitors above and below. The rage is directed upwards against a caricature of the conspiratorial “faceless bureaucrats,” “banksters” and “plutocrats” rather than challenging an unfair economic system run on behalf of the wealthy and corporate interests."
Chip Berlet and Margaret Quigley in their 1995 article, "Theocracy and White Supremacy" for the book Eyes Right! (pp. 34-5, edited by Berlet), quoted from Pat Robertson's 1992 book, The New World Order. Robertson at the time was the head of the Christian Coalition and the Christian Broadcasting Network: “‘There will never be world peace until God’s house and God’s people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world. How can there be peace when drunkards, drug dealers, communists, atheists, New Age worshippers of Satan, secular humanists, oppressive dictators, greedy moneychangers, revolutionary assassins, adulterers, and homosexuals are on top?’” And, Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the Christian Right claimed the struggle was “between those ‘who worship in churches and those who desecrate them.’”
In 1992, pastor John Hagee, who would become America's leader of the Christian Zionist movement within the Christian Right--a movement which supports right-wing Israeli governments and advocates hardline, anti-Islam (pro-war) and anti-Palestinian policies--tied the New World Order conspiracy theory to global environmental policies. This version of the conspiracy theory would also be found in the (Christian) Patriot militia movement of the 1990s, and later emerge during the Obama administration as opposition to the United Nations' Agenda21 program.
In a 1992 sermon uncovered by Talk to Action researcher Bruce Wilson, Hagee stated: "'I have discovered, from a great number of sources, an environmental juggernaut that has come together and married the New World Order crowd and the occultists who have the objective to control the United States economy through environmental concerns, and laws that they have passed, and will pass.'"
Rachel Tabachnick, another respected researcher at Talk to Action, noted that the New World Order conspiracy theory came in secular and religious versions. The religious version was tied to the Protestant concept of the "End Times." She noted the "remarkable similarities between the New World Order conspiracy of white supremacist groups and that of Christian Zionist end times prophecy." Tabachnick observed that "the storylines are indeed parallel and sometimes almost identical."
In other words, the most ardent Christian supporters of Israel and the most ardent haters of Jews, promoted and distributed a common narrative to their respective followers even though they superficially disagreed on the status of Jews in America and the world.
In a separate article, Tabachnick reported that the New World Order conspiracy theory in the form of a "End Times" narrative was spread by Christian Right propagandists in the Prophecy Club into the Patriot militia movement and by Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches the Department of Defense's chaplains who are certified to preach by the group.
Christian nationalist Ron Paul (yes, the faux-libertarian) and other allies in the Christian Right and Patriot movement made opposition to the New World Order and the United Nations' Agenda21 a featured part of their nearly decade-long Freedom21 conferences that preceded the emergence of the Patriot militia under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
On the front page of the Freedom21 website the group explains its opposition to the United Nations, environmental sustainability, and Agenda21: "Freedom21 began in 1999 when its predecessor, the Environmental Conservation Organization, asked the leaders of about a dozen other organizations to assemble in Washington, DC. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a new strategy to counter the explosion of new laws and regulations that ignored private property rights and individual freedom. The meeting was hosted by the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow [the leading anti-environmental Christian Right coalition]. The group quickly agreed that the President’s [Clinton] Council on Sustainable Development, working to implement the recommendations set forth in Agenda 21, was a major source of the freedom-eroding policies being implemented by the government."
The Southern Poverty Law Center's report on the 2008 Freedom21 conference featured the Texas chapter of Eagle Forum, "a hard-line Christian Right organization," which actually led the successful fight to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment; the Christian Reconstructionist Constitution Party's presidential candidate Chuck Baldwin, the "anti-'New World Order' American Policy Center, the anti-United Nations Sovereignty International, one of the founders of the Freedom21 annual conference; Jerome Corsi who would emerge as a leading "birther" conspiracy theorist attempting to delegitimize President Obama; the John Birch Society; and the gun rights absolutist and militia promoter Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America.
The New World Order and its variant, opposition to the United Nations' Agenda21, is a potent mobilization vehicle that appeals to Tea Party groups across the country: to mobilize the Tea Party movement in general; the East Bay Tea Party in the San Francisco Bay Area; the Gaston Tea Party in North Carolina; publicized in the Tea Party Tribune; publicized as the number one threat to America by the Tea Party Nation; the Central Valley Tea Party in California; spread by Fox News and into the national Republican Party; endorsed by candidate now Senator Ted Cruz from Texas; considered by legislatures in Tennessee, Georgia, and Oklahoma; defeated consideration of a $285,000 planning document for Horizon 2025 in Baldwin County, Alabama; Laverkin, Utah, as well as the Utah Republican Party advocating U.S. withdrawal from the United Nations; and, denunciation of Agenda21 by the Republican National Committee.
The Christian Right, the Patriot militia, and the Tea Party movement appear successful in organizing at the local level due to four principal factors and two corollaries.
Leaving aside the enormous financial resources poured into their organizational structures and Information Warfare apparatus, the two fundamental elements of their success are: (1) overcoming theological differences to allow different denominations to cooperate in a religious-political movement; and, (2) developing a common narrative, with allowances for variations for different audiences, so that the broad right-wing movement--from the Republican Party, to the Christian Right, to the Tea Party movement, to Patriot militia, to the white supremacist Hard Right--all share a common set of ideas, enemies, and courses of action.
First, at the substructure of the Christian Right is an enormous infrastructure of ideologically-committed think tanks serving "secular" libertarian adherents and Christian libertarians. The libertarian economic ideas, common to both the "secular" and the Christian wings, are identical with the exception that the Christian wing grounds their libertarian economic ideas in the Bible. Even the "secular" sounding Heritage Foundation incorporates religious ideas and values into its propaganda campaigns.
Second, again, at the substructure level of the Christian Right is the enormous Information Warfare apparatus in the forms of Fox News, conservative talk radio, and Christian radio and television networks.
Third, at the superstructure level of the Christian Right, since the 1980s the Christian Right has overcome whatever theological differences exist between fundamentalists, evangelicals, charismatics, Pentecostals, and Baptists to make them pragmatic collaborators in bringing about the Kingdom on earth. While not explicitly saying so, they are ideological Christian Reconstructionists.
Related to this religious collaboration is the spread of religious networks to mobilize pastors and adherents alike. These entities have names such as a named state "Renewal Project" or "Patriot Pastors" network or "spiritual warriors" or "prayer warriors." These have implicit and explicit political functions to mobilize pastors and adherents against specified targets of a propaganda campaign, be it reproductive rights, labor rights, civil rights, voting rights, or LGBTQ rights.
Fourth, at the superstructure level, the Christian Right, the John Birch Society, the Patriot militia, and the Tea Party movement are joined in the theological, ideological, and political struggle against the New World Order and its variant, the United Nations' Agenda21, though there are other variants.
Again, opposition to the New World Order and Agenda21 allows a diverse collection of groups at the local level--Christian Right groups like Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, a militia-linked group like Oath Keepers, Ron Paul's Campaign for Liberty and other Ron Paul groups, and Tea Party groups to collaborate to undermine federal, state and local governments.
It is an almost seamless and interactive network that operate on multiple levels--national, state and local; operate through different dimensions--secular and religious; operate using different organizational forms--centralized groups and diffuse secular and religious networks; and, all are supported by an enormous Information Warfare infrastructure operating through religious and secular networks.
All of these efforts affect the Republican Party at the national, state and local levels; indeed, many Republican leaders openly support these movements and seek to enact their agenda.