Fraud, liar, Rufo

I will never understand how someone could emerge from the dismal bowels of the Discovery Institute and be taken seriously, and not laughed off as a clown. But that’s the Chris Rufo story. He just moved off to an even more ludicrous organization, the Republican party of Florida.

A journalist and activist, Rufo is largely responsible for the rise of “critical race theory” as a major concern for the GOP. He has played a crucial role in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s attempt to transform Florida’s universities, spearheading the takeover and transformation of the New College of Florida, a small liberal arts school, as proof of concept for a new right-wing model for higher education.

Rufo has managed all of this before his 40th birthday. And he wants to go bigger: In recent essays, Rufo has argued for conservatives to treat authoritarian Hungary and Richard Nixon as models for a “counterrevolution” against the left.

Great. And here I thought creationism was as low as they could get. But then, this is a familiar story, or conspiracy theory.

Rufo claims that the American system as we know it has been overthrown, subtly and quietly replaced by “a new ideological regime that is inspired by … critical theories and administered through the capture of the bureaucracy.” Rufo’s “counterrevolution” is aimed at reversing this process; taking America back, starting with Florida’s universities.

That’s what John Birchers claimed in the 1960s! The American system then had been taken over by Commies…and now it’s all about the hippies and far-left radicals undermining the American way of life. It’s a great recipe for capturing the minds of paranoid idiots.

Except…Rufo has to make shit up to make that argument at all. And he admits it!

But many of his assertions, like the claim of secret regime change in America, are far less defensible. When pressed in an interview to defend some of his most extreme positions, Rufo ultimately claimed to be writing in “a kind of artful and kind of narrative manner” that does not always admit of literal interpretation. The retreat was necessary given the glaring lack of real-world policy evidence for what he had written and said.

The seemingly credible evidence Rufo presents of radical influence — the mainstreaming of once-radical concepts like “structural racism,” for example — thus ends up undermining his case. When radical language goes mainstream without accompanying radical shifts in policy, that’s not actually evidence of a radical takeover. If anything, it looks like a win for the liberal mainstream, which seemingly has coopted radical ideas and redirected them toward more moderate ends.

Radicals haven’t taken over mainstream America; they’ve been taken over by it.

Now that’s an interesting and defensible thesis: that maybe the ideals of those old-time radicals are popular and persuasive, but they’ve been effectively translated into milder, more pragmatic forms. That I can believe. I can also believe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, while also seeing that in many ways it neuters the radical agenda.

But the notion that American arms manufacturers have been taken over by radicals is ridiculous. Lockheed Martin builds weapons to maintain the American war machine. It is not owned or controlled in any way by sincere believers in the Third Worldist anti-imperialism of the 1960s radicals; it is using the now-popular terms those radicals once embraced to burnish its own image.

Rufo is getting the direction of influence backward. Radicals are not taking over Lockheed Martin; Lockheed Martin is co-opting radicalism.

That’s how a liberal system works, not by overthrowing everything everywhere all at once, but by pushing progressively for slightly better systems, one step at a time. We need the revolutionaries shouting at the margins to push everyone in the right direction, but face it, it’s the bureaucrats who will implement it. And it’s always been that way!

Historically, liberalism has proven quite capable of assimilating leftist critiques into its own politics. In the 19th and 20th centuries, liberal governments faced significant challenges from socialists who argued that capitalism and private property led to inequality and mass suffering. In response, liberals embraced the welfare state and social democracy: progressive income taxation, redistribution, antitrust regulations, and social services.

Reformist liberals worked to address the concerns raised by socialists within the system. Their goal was to offer the immiserated proletariat alternative hope for a better life within the confines of the liberal democratic capitalist order — simultaneously improving their lives and staving off revolution. The New Deal, which was explicitly pitched as a means of defanging radical passions, is an especially clear American example of this pattern at work.

I mentioned the John Birchers — they hated the New Deal and Roosevelt. Even the slightest tinge of “socialism” would set them off. It’s the same with Rufo and his repellent ilk — they hate things with any hint of progressivism, it doesn’t matter if it empirically improves the lives of citizens, they’re agin’ it.

I do find it odd, though, that everyone writing about him ignores his personal history of anti-science, loony creationism. I also wonder if he ever really believed that nonsense. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just an opportunistic front.


  1. chrislawson says

    The concept of structural racism was never radical. It was invented in 1967 by Ture and Hamilton. It’s fair to call them radicals, because they fought for change, but the concept is self-evident to anyone who isn’t wilfully blind to the many ways racism infests institutions. Rufo is using the same lying playbook that defined ‘critical race theory’ as some kind of wacky leftwing fantasy, and the Vox article concedes the big lie before it even starts arguing.

  2. imback says

    I mentioned the John Birchers — they hated the New Deal and Roosevelt.

    Technically, the Birchers came after Roosevelt. My wife’s uncle served under John Birch in China right at the end of WW2. Her uncle told me that he was supposed to go out with the sortie during which Birch was killed by Chinese Communists, but his hemorrhoids had flared up and he was too sore to go. Saved by hemorrhoids! Anyway, Birch was supposedly the first US fatality against Communism, so the John Birch Society named themselves after him in the 1950s.

  3. Jemolk says

    Oh, I’d argue we need radicalism far more than that. The moderates and liberals have slowrolled the necessary policies for so long that upheaval is probably now inevitable. The deep flaw in liberalism is the belief that tweaks to the status quo are enough — or, sometimes, after the problem (climate change, for instance) has become undeniably urgent, that tweaks to the status quo will get us to the solution soon enough. I can certainly understand why someone would very much not wish to burn the current system to the ground. Unfortunately, the longer we go without real, deep, systemic change, the more that becomes our only option remaining.

  4. Sphinx of Black Quartz says

    I wish the mainstream had paid more attention to internet creationism back in the 1990s. Their epistemological nihilism and weaponized bad faith were templates for what would become known as the alt-right.

    Also, “a kind of artful and kind of narrative manner that does not always admit of literal interpretation” is a wonderfully abstruse way to say “lying through your teeth.”

  5. says

    I wrote down a recent comment by someone about repugnantcants that makes a lot of sense and is a good warning:
    Yes, they are clowns. But, they are clowns with flamethrowers!

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    … liberals embraced the welfare state …

    Itself an invention of the decidedly non-liberal Otto von Bismarck to consolidate and modernize the Germany of the later 1800s.

  7. Akira MacKenzie says

    “I will never understand how someone could emerge from the dismal bowels of the Discovery Institute and be taken seriously, and not laughed off as a clown.”

    Because 1) most people outside of politics and religion don’t know what The Disco Toot is, and 2) the press is lazy and corrupt and won’t tell people why Rufo and his ilk are bad.

  8. says

    I’ve written many times here on FtB (and elsewhere) that both outsiders and insiders are needed for effective change. The radicals are necessary but not sufficient, as are the centre-left who want to be seen as good people but don’t actually personally care that much about changing the system because they’re doing just fine.

    It’s all difficult, but it also has the advantage of providing a role for everyone, from the single mom who can’t risk her lawyer’s income if she wants to keep her kids in good schools to the single mom who has no income and will risk anything to get her kids any sort of education at all. We’ve all got a role to play in fighting the Rufos of the world.

  9. cheerfulcharlie says

    Rufo in his own words. This will tell you all you need to know about Rufo’s anti-CRT hoax.

    Christopher F. Rufo

    The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the
    newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory.”
    We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex
    the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular
    with Americans.
    2:17 PM . March 17, 2021. Twitter

  10. Ada Christine says

    I didn’t know until recently that Rufo is a fellow of the Discovery Institute and it told me everything I needed to know about him: everything he says is a lie.