Bari Weiss is an agglutinizing agent for losers

It does me good to see one of those hateful anti-woke organizations falling apart, but it’s also dismaying to see how easily radical conservative groups can suck money out of the pockets of the obscenely rich. I guess if you’re extremely wealthy you can easily throw a million dollars here, a half million there, as long as the recipient panders to the bigotry that comes naturally to bloated capitalist nepo babies. Here’s a long story about how a few IDW types built a short-lived organization on connections to the rich. It features Bari Weiss, of course.

Weiss had already been talking with a few of her friends about creating a new anti-woke organization. One was Melissa Chen, a writer and the managing director at Ideas Beyond Borders, a nonprofit that takes books about concepts such as liberty and reason and translates them into Arabic, to make them more accessible; she later described herself as a conservative who was forming her trajectory in “the anti-woke space.” Another was Peter Boghossian, a former professor best known for getting absurd papers about subjects such as dogs perpetuating rape culture at dog parks published in feminist and postmodern academic journals to expose what he saw as corruption in scholarship, and who has earned some prominence as a public intellectual defending free speech and opposing illiberalism. Chen and Boghossian had workshopped a pitch to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, for a project to create “a modern-day Death Star” to wage “ideological warfare” on the “enemies of modernity”; their plan involved writing coördinated op-eds and promoting anti-woke content, but it was rejected. Weiss and her friends also sought advice from Niall Ferguson, a historian at the Hoover Institution, about the best way forward.

OK. The recipe begins with Weiss, Chen, Boghossian, and Ferguson, creating a rather shitty roux that has no taint of progressive values. Then they invented a label and an ambitious agenda.

Eventually, they settled on a name and a strategy. The organization would be called fair: The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism. The name was an initial act of defiance, implicitly painting the group’s opponents, self-described “anti-racists,” as the real racists. The founders’ dream was for the group to replace the A.C.L.U. as America’s new defender of civil liberties—a mission they believed the A.C.L.U. had abandoned. The vision involved a three-pronged approach: legal advocacy, via letters and lawsuits; grassroots advocacy, via a network of volunteers; and education about the issues, spread through projects such as explainer videos and training programs.

Wait, wait, wait — FAIR already exists; it’s a progressive media watchdog, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. It’s been around since 1986. I have to assume that the confusion was intentional, and that we’re off to a sleazy start.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been around since 1920. It’s a distinguished organization that has fought for our constitutional rights, including free speech, and these bozos want to replace it with an ideologically biased group of bitter reactionaries? I don’t think so. So they added more extremists.

Weiss and the other founders recruited an informal board of advisers—a mix of podcasters, journalists, academics, and lawyers. Among them were the media personality Megyn Kelly, the writer Andrew Sullivan, and the anti-critical-race-theory activist Christopher Rufo.

Kelly, Sullivan, and dear god, Rufo? Can this recipe possibly get any more ugly and unpalatable? Sure can. They needed some rich sugar daddies, and they got ’em.

But it was Weiss, more than anyone else, who was clearly the group’s big draw. She brought in a half-million-dollar donation from Harlan Crow, a Texas real-estate developer who, ProPublica recently reported, paid for years of undisclosed vacations and private-jet travel for the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Suzy Edelman, another donor, who gave fair a million dollars in 2021, wrote in an e-mail to Weiss, “It’s your courage that inspired me to join the movement—not just to reform what’s been captured, but to build new, wonderful things.” I know Weiss a little bit—we’ve hung out in professional settings a few times over the years. When fair was founded, she had just left the New York Times in a very public way, and she was focussed on launching new organizations. “I think we are in a moment of profound change in American life, in which many old institutions are crumbling or have lost trust,” she told me recently.

You should begin to realize that what we’ve got here is a tiny, cozy in-group of destructive, bigoted assholes who have captivated a few bigoted asshole multi-millionaires who were willing to toss them big pots of money. This is the root of our current American problem: we have a surplus of spoiled rich people who know very little but are philosophically committed to the idea that their vast wealth was hard-earned, or they wouldn’t have it. It’s easy to milk them of cash by pointing at some poor people and saying that they’re out to get you.

That’s what this whole story is about, petty bigots with buckets of inherited wealth, and grifters like Weiss who know exactly how to part them from their money. Just repeat “woke, woke, woke” at them and rely on their contempt for others to trigger donations.

Fortunately, the wheels started to come off Weiss’s FAIR gravy train pretty quickly. The thing is, grifters know how to get money, but they aren’t very effective at using it. The organization started to disintegrate in disputes over how nasty and mean they ought to be, and all they would do is talk, talk, talk.

Rob Schläpfer, a volunteer state coördinator in Oregon, told me that he worked on a plan to mobilize parents to attend school-board meetings, but it “didn’t go anywhere. I was just spinning my wheels.” He found it hard to get direction from the national office about what to focus on, or how his chapter’s work should fit into fair’s mission. As time went on, other volunteer chapter leaders around the country started calling and texting Schläpfer to vent their frustrations. “fair was basically virtue-signalling for the anti-woke,” he said. “It was not an organization designed to actually do anything.”

Oh, good. Please continue bleeding money that accomplishes nothing.

Then the initial crop of assholes started to jump ship.

There seemed to be a genuine philosophical conflict within the fair community. In September of 2021, two members of the advisory board, Rufo and the libertarian podcaster Kmele Foster, started squabbling on Twitter about Rufo’s methods for opposing critical race theory in K-12 schools, which Foster described as inviting “all kinds of reactionary hysteria.” Rufo resigned from the advisory board soon afterward. “The question with FAIR that I had was: what are the substantive wins the organization has accomplished? And it was very hard for anyone to explain this,” Rufo wrote to me in an e-mail. fair’s high-profile advisers were “transgressive enough to generate attention, but not transgressive enough to achieve results. It’s almost worse than doing nothing, as it creates the illusion of action and absorbs political energy that would be better spent elsewhere.”

Worst of all, the money was dissatisfied.

Behind the scenes, there was deeper trouble. Suzy Edelman, one of the donors who gave a million dollars in 2021, had started asking questions about whether her gift had been used appropriately, requesting fair’s receipts and copies of the contracts that it used for volunteers and staff. For months, Edelman had also been questioning fair’s approach, particularly on gender issues. “Sex-based rights matter. Single sex spaces for women and girls must be protected. Transgenderism is a fiction designed to destroy,” she had written in an e-mail. She noted that fair had positioned its programs as an “alternative” to mainstream D.E.I., or diversity, equity, and inclusion, training, but, she said, “You can’t ‘DEI-lite’ this issue.” (A spokesperson for Edelman maintained that her concerns about fair were not related to its politics, only its “governance and use of charitable funds.”)

Weiss and Bartning exchanged terse e-mails about Edelman in August. “I am quite nervous that she has gotten to the Crows, which would be really damaging to me personally,” Weiss wrote, referring to Harlan Crow.

Oh, dear. Grifters hate to lose a mark, especially a rich, gullible sucker like Crow. Poor Bari! If she gets a reputation for being an ineffectual, obvious money-waster, the rich people won’t talk to her.

Hmmm. Have any of Bari Weiss’s schemes ever accomplished anything? We should be pleased that she’s at the poisonous core of so many PR campaigns for the Right.

The lesson here is that “anti-woke” is a recipe for incompetence and failure — it’s just that it inspires so much suffering in its inevitable decay.


  1. birgerjohansson says

    I know Sumerian – or possibly the language of Urartu- was an agglutinative language, så it would be consistent if the group represented by Bari Weiss went extinct.

    But the Sumerians at least left behind a cool cuneiform script. What will Weiss et al be remembered for?

  2. Reginald Selkirk says

    Keep it simple.

    … Harlan Crow, a Texas real-estate developer who, ProPublica recently reported, paid for years of undisclosed vacations and private-jet travel for the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.


  3. birgerjohansson says

    Glenda Jackson 1936- 2023.
    Actress, politician, enemy of hypocrisy.
    Goddammit, we can not afford to lose the people with integrity.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    “Transgenderism is a fiction designed to destroy,”


    Destroy? Destroy what, exactly?

  5. robro says

    Reginald Selkirk — In the spirit of Strunk & White? Eliminate needless words.

  6. Matt G says

    Bigotry for people who don’t want to be seen as bigots. Or don’t think of themselves as bigots. Or both.

  7. raven says

    Weiss and her friends also sought advice from Niall Ferguson, a historian at the Hoover Institution, about the best way forward.

    Oh Cthulhu, this is always a bad sign.

    Niall Ferguson?
    Calling him a historian really stretches the meaning of the word “historian”.
    He is a right wingnut hack and usually wrong. He is also an idiot.

    I remember him as the last person to defend the Iraq II war, long after Iraq had descended into chaos with the rise of ISIS and 100,000 Iraqis were dead while we accomplished nothing good.

    The Hoover institute isn’t a good sign either.

  8. robro says

    Here’s another one: The American College of Pediatricians. Per the Washington Post, Documents show how conservative doctors influenced abortion, trans rights.

    A small group of conservative doctors has sought to shape the nation’s most contentious policies on abortion and transgender rights by promoting views rejected by the medical establishment as scientific fact, according to documents reviewed by The Washington Post that describe the group’s internal strategies.

    The records show that after long struggling to attract members, the American College of Pediatricians gained outsize political influence in recent years, primarily by using conservative media as a megaphone in its quest to position the group as a reputable source of information.

    The organization has successfully lobbied since 2021 for laws in more than a half-dozen states that ban gender-affirming care for transgender youths, with its representatives testifying before state legislatures against the guidelines recommended by mainstream medical groups, according to its records. It gained further national prominence this year as one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit to limit access to mifepristone, a key abortion drug.

    Thing is, they weren’t very smart.

    The records of the American College of Pediatricians — a cache of more than 10,000 confidential files including strategic plans, meeting minutes, membership rosters, financial statements and email exchanges spanning at least 15 years — were exposed after the organization left the contents of its Google Drive publicly accessible…

    There’s more, of course, about some of the BS they’ve pulled, but nothing in the article about where the money comes from.

  9. raven says

    The American College of Pediatricians

    They are a fundie xian propaganda group on the lunatic fringes and generic horrible people.

    They are also small at a claimed 700 members.

    The real association is the American Academy of Pediatrics which has 67,000 members.
    This is nearly a 100 fold difference.

  10. says

    Weiss and co. might have also been trying to scam followers of right wing groups. Another group called FAIR is the Federation for American Immigration Reform, formed in 1979 to oppose immigration. There’s also a Mormon apologetics group called FAIR.

  11. says

    @2 Reginald Selkirk points out: Harlan Crow, a Texas real-estate developer who, ProPublica recently reported, paid for years of undisclosed vacations and private-jet travel for the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. (NOTE: I, ShermanJ, removed the strike-out)

    I reply: Yes, we are seeing a lot of money being spent to support odious people and causes. H. Crow seems to be a major malefactor (should that be hyphenated as male-factor?). I hope someone plucks and roasts him for his unconscionable acts. Then C. Thomas and Bari Weiss can ‘eat crow’.

    And, thanks PZ for pointing out how stupid (or intentionally obfuscatory) these idiots are by using the acronym of an already prominent, positive organization like FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), whose site I visit. And, the well-respected ACLU.

    @11 raven said: The American College of Pediatricians . . are also small at a claimed 700 members.
    I reply: so does that make them the true 700 club? /S

  12. wzrd1 says

    The initial crop of assholes jumped ship.
    Suzy Edelman asked to see the books, to see where her donation went.
    I don’t think we need to get into the Mystery Machine to figure out that mystery. It went to the assholes salaries and perks and when they saw that at risk, they jumped ship and likely, renewed their passports.
    Con artists know when to get out of town. Long before the cops arrive with warrants and shiny bracelets.

    We know it’s a scam when they still go on about CRT in k12 schools. Frankly, most of the alt-right and far right “think tanks” are grifts, which is fine by me, as it dilutes money that would otherwise be effectively spent to halt and reverse all progress. Otherwise, we’d be back at feudalism in no time.
    Let those grifters grift away, let Trump keep digging, hell give him new shovels. It’ll collapse under its own weight more quickly and Trump will end up convicted and fully disgraced to all save a small percentage of his faithful, who would never abandon their godless god.

  13. drew says

    radical conservative groups

    Those aren’t “radical” groups. They’re what happens when the Overton window slides so far to the right that (alleged) socialists are openly supporting Biden. They’re what happens when liberals don’t protest against wars. They’re just normal conservatives now.

    Want it to change? Push to the left. Ideally in a meaningful, non-identity-politics way. Tell you politicians we need health care, not bombs. Tell them we need housing and food and social care, not cops. And tell them they’re not getting your vote until they do it.

    No? You can’t because “orange man bad?” Then STFU because you’re part of the problem.

  14. Rich Woods says

    @timgueguegen #12:

    There’s also a Mormon apologetics group called FAIR.

    My first thought was to be fair to them and look up their acronym, but my second thought was ‘Sod it’. My third thought was that it must stand for Fuck All In Reality.

  15. StevoR says

    @1. birgerjohansson :“But the Sumerians at least left behind a cool cuneiform script. “

    Plus didn’t they also leave some pretty impressive ziggurats and other structures and things too?

  16. John Morales says

    StevoR, heh. I like this digression onto agglutination and memory.

    Sumer, BTW, is mentioned in the Babble. Genesis 10:9-10

    (I brought up Nimrod recently, so this came to mind)

  17. wzrd1 says

    I still am pondering, yes, she’s an agglutinating agent, but we’d still be far better with flocculant agents, so that they’d settle to the bottom with the rest of the sediment. Precipitating agents, even of greater superiority.

    A lot OT: Judge in Trump’s nascent cloistersmurf of a trial has ordered security clearances all around for attorneys and support for Trump’s trial. I’ve no clue if jurors would have to have a clearance.
    Although, if jurors did, the jury would either be massively delayed by a year or so to get cleared or the jury would pretty much be the IC and there’d be bias against him as sure as Carter made little liver pills.
    Again, I’ve no clue how that’d work, despite being a juror in unclassified cases repeatedly.
    I do not envy any member of the court in this mess! As in, I’d rather use a wood chipper as a bidet than to have to wrangle that entire hot mess.

  18. Pierce R. Butler says

    StevoR @ # 20: Notably the wheel…

    Aw, c’mon: we have documented evidence that the wheel was invented by Homo erectus

    Of course, he could have invented it in the southern Euphrates-Tigris area… nemmind!

  19. John Morales says

    Pierce R. Butler, and then forgotten. And then rediscovered.

    (I like your thoughtless ‘he’ there, BTW –fits with the theme)

  20. wzrd1 says

    Huh, didn’t think of it, rather like Vlad Drăculea.
    Coincidence? I think not.
    I’ll see myself to the door, thank you.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    John Morales @ # 24: I like your thoughtless ‘he’ …

    ‘Twas deliberate, believe it or don’t!

  22. John Morales says

    [I believe you, Pierce — presumably playing with erectus, in which case, heh]

  23. StevoR says

    Chen and Boghossian had workshopped a pitch to the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, for a project to create “a modern-day Death Star” to wage “ideological warfare” on the “enemies of modernity”; their plan involved writing coördinated op-eds and promoting anti-woke content, but it was rejected.

    Guess it depends how you define it but seems to me that the “enemies of modernity” are these reactionary regressives who seek to take our society backwards. We made a huge amount of positive social changes due to Feminism, The Civil Rights movements, LGBTQUIA liberation and progress and Unions which looks to me like these reichwingers wish to reverse and oppose. Ironic?

    Also they do know the Death Star was both the baddies craft and something that failed twice right?

  24. wzrd1 says

    StevoR, no, they don’t realize that. They see a single destroyed target, then they go blind.
    The laugh is when they still occasionally refer to themselves as “the party of Lincoln”, which they’re decidedly not, but 180 degrees away from the party’s positions during his lifetime.
    Thank Nixon for that and the potential demise of this republic.