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David Barton – Extremist ‘Historian’ for the Christian Right

By Evelyn Schlatter on May 5, 2011 - 4:04 pm, Posted in Christian Right

The New York Times today published an article about David Barton, a self-educated, pseudo-historian who advises several prominent right-wing political figures, including Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Mike Huckabee and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Huckabee, in fact, recently said at a religious-right conference that he wished all Americans could be “forced — forced at gunpoint no less — to listen to every David Barton message, and I think our country would be better for it.”

Named by Time as one of the nation’s 25 most influential evangelical Christians in 2005, Barton is best known for peddling historical distortions promoting his view that America was founded as a Christian, rather than secular, nation. He served as vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party from 1997 to 2006, and he was hired in 2004 by the Republican National Committee to mobilize Christians for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. Since then, he has also become Glenn Beck’s unofficial “historian” (Barton and Beck below, recently in Israel).

David Barton with Glenn Beck

Times reporter Erik Eckholm noted that Barton “has steadily built a reputation as a guiding spirit of the religious right” even as many historians say he relies on flawed research. What the article didn’t reveal is the depth of Barton’s extremism.

Last month, People for the American Way released a report examining Barton’s role in the religious right and Republican politics. Barton, who often promotes conspiracy theories about elites hiding “the truth” from average Americans, subscribes to beliefs found in Seven Mountains Dominionism. This movement teaches that certain kinds of Christians are meant by God to dominate every sphere of society.

Barton has warned about the dangers of Islam but claimed that “secularism presents a greater threat to American traditions and values than does Islam” and that the Constitution was not meant to be a secular document. He has battled marriage equality and has campaigned for state restrictions on legal equality for LGBT people. He has involved himself in the new war on unions, claiming that Jesus and the Bible oppose minimum wage laws.

He has also been extremely active in the religious right’s campaign against so-called “activist judges.” His 2003 book Restraining Judicial Activism calls for the impeachment of federal judges who don’t interpret the Constitution the way he does. In addition, he says, members of Congress should use the threat of impeachment to intimidate federal judges.

Here are some other notable Barton activities:

  • His 2006 DVD, Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black and White is a 90-minute effort to paint the Democratic Party as responsible for problems faced by African Americans, saying that Democrats “bamboozled blacks.” He conveniently leaves out history after 1965 and the rise of the racist “Southern Strategy” within the Republican Party.
  • In 2007, Barton wrote an article critical of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison — the first Muslim sworn into Congress — in which he touted the works of Robert Spencer, a right-wing author of virulently anti-Muslim books. Spencer, along with Pam Geller, founded the vitriolic group Stop the Islamization of America, which is listed by the SPLC as a hate group. In 2010, Barton devoted several of his WallBuilders Live radio broadcasts to critics of the Park51 Project (incorrectly called the “Ground Zero Mosque” by opponents). One of the guests was Walid Shoebat, who calls himself a former PLO terrorist who converted to Christianity. On the show, Shoebat said that the imam leading the Park51 project was trying to implement Shariah law on America and that “liberals always agree with Muslims.” Barton agreed.
  • Barton is closely associated with a movement among conservative evangelicals to resist environmental activism in churches and to paint environmentalism as actively anti-Christian. In 2009, he signed the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which claims that efforts to reduce carbon dioxide would be economically devastating and are therefore against Biblical requirements of “protecting the poor from harm and oppression.” He is active with “Resisting the Green Dragon,” a project that portrays environmentalism as “deadly” to human prosperity, human life and human freedom.
  • Barton has argued against immigration reform, and claimed that God established the borders of nations. He has hosted the viciously anti-immigrant William Gheen of ALIPAC on his radio show. Gheen garnered national attention in the spring of 2010 when he demanded that U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) come out as gay. His refusal to do so, Gheen claimed, allowed President Obama and others to blackmail him into supporting immigration reform.
  • In 2010, Barton was influential in the battle to re-design the Texas state social studies curriculum in public schools to have it conform more closely to a right-wing view of America. Barton supported efforts to remove Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 1960s labor activist César Chávez from school texts. As noted in Washington Monthly, Barton conceded that people like King deserved a place in history but insisted they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities, because, as he put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in American’s constitutional society.” Barton’s involvement with the textbook controversy also demonstrated the partisanship behind much of his work. He claimed that since the founders “hated and feared democracy” — and created a republic instead — textbooks should refer to “republican values” rather than “democratic” ones.
  • Barton also believes the government should regulate homosexuality,  claiming in one of his radio shows in 2010 that “homosexuals die decades earlier than heterosexuals” and that more than half of all homosexuals have had more than 500 sex partners in their lifetimes. The claims are false.
  • Barton’s early activism put him in contact with even more extreme elements. In 1991, according to a 1996 article by Rob Boston, he addressed the Rocky Mountain Bible Retreat of Pastor Pete Peters’ Scriptures for America. Peters promotes the racist and anti-Semitic “Christian Identity” theology, which claims that white Anglo-Saxons are the “true” chosen people of the Bible. According to the Anti-Defamation League, other speakers at that event included James “Bo” Gritz, a leader of the antigovernment militia movement, and Malcolm Ross, a Holocaust denier from Canada. Later that year, Barton addressed another Christian Identity front group — the Kingdom Covenant College in Grants Pass, Oregon, which had ties to Peters. Barton’s assistant at the time, Kit Marshall, claimed they had no idea about Peters’ beliefs, even though Barton addressed the groups twice during the course of a year.

Barton has made a career for himself with myths and misinformation. And as People for the American Way notes, he and his work distort history and the Constitution for political purposes. He encourages religious divisiveness and feeds a political climate in which opponents are labeled “evil” and “anti-God.” His vision of America holds little promise for people unlike him.

  • m’lissa

    But,,
    If Barton is adviser to Newt G. Michelle B. etc.., why then are you not placing Newt on the extremist list, and Bachman as well? Call them all out

  • Ron

    I’m writing to encourage all supporters to drop your financial support of SPLC. There is no place in America for the kind of hate and contempt shown by this radical organization. Dry up their revenue and they’ll go away.

  • Chuck

    Barton recently claimed that there’s not a single grocery store within the city limits of Detroit (which a search on Google Maps can easily dispel)…how can he be trusted to report American history when he can’t even give accurate reporting on such general information?

  • Pastor Tom

    Wow, how ironic that most of this group of bloggers either don’t know or can’t tell the truth and vehemently oppose a man who just tells the truth about our nations founders. It mostly sounds like these folks haven’t read David Barton’s work. He may have made a mistake here or there, but he tells the truth and you folks apparently hate that. I feel sorry for you, the Truth can set you free if you let it.

  • Krista V.

    I know this article is over a year old, but I just came across it because of all the commotion on the David Barton/Wallbuilders Facebook page about SPLC labeling Barton a “far right activist.” Well, I’m sorry, but if the shoe fits…
    I’ve been banned from the David Barton/Wallbuilders Facebook page. Every time I posted an example or quote from the founding fathers regarding their position on religion and its role in government that did not jive with David Barton’s claims, or a hypocrisy like the uproar over “Dearbornistan, Michigan” and the dreaded thought of “Sharia law taking over America,” 2 people in particular, Ed McCray and BJ Swearer, would start attacking my character, calling me a “typical liberal,” “liberal troll posing as a Christian,” and a “liar.” It’s amazing how irrational, hateful, and vicious so-called “Christians” are to people who don’t think like them…even fellow “Christians” (and I mean that in the literal sense – “follower of the teachings of Christ”)!
    This is what scares me about the future of this country…not the supposed “war on religion” from the “atheist left” – the “war on ALL (including the ‘not-the-right-kind-of-Christian’) religions/beliefs by the Radical Right Fundamentalist Zealots”!

  • John Bovay

    @Sam Molloy. Thank you for mentioning the New Apostolic Reformation’s 7 Mountain strategy for the theocratic conquest of nations–including the U.S.

    For those who are unfamiliar with the 7M, here it is:

    For decades the New Apostolic Reformation has been quietly striving to transform the U.S. into a theocracy via its ‘Reclaim The Seven Mountains Of Culture’ strategy.

    Said strategy involves infiltrating and achieving dominance over seven spheres (or ‘mountains’) of societal influence: business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion.

    This is the NAR’s promotional video. Note that their worldview is couched in absolute terms: ie ‘good’ (themselves) or ‘evil’ (everyone else):

    YouTube – Reclaim 7 Mountains of Culture: http://bit.ly/j7LZln via @addthis
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQtB-AF41p8

    The overall aim of Mr. Barton and his fellow theocrats is confirmed in this article written by a former insider:

    I Was a Right-Wing Evangelical Pastor — Until I Saw the Light | | AlterNet: http://bit.ly/jnGW1c via @addthis
    http://www.alternet.org/story/.....ght?page=1

    “…I want you to know that the fundamentalist political movement is the beginning of a cultural revolution that will take our nation to a very dark place. You have to understand that this has been methodically planned and is being carried out with the utmost vigilance. In accordance with their worldview, my old friends do not in the least care about what you think. They are against democracy, and they are seeking to end the rule of the majority in our great country.

    They truly believe that if you have not been “saved,” you are living under a curse and are incapable of knowing what is best and that because of this you should be ruled over. You should also know they do not believe that even centuries-old Christian communities (Catholics, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, etc.) are “saved,” only those who think like they do.

    You might be thinking that a minority fundamentalist group of zealots can’t really take over the direction of a society. Just look at Iran, or the countless other places where people have allowed this to happen. Are you all really going to sit back and watch this happen? They will begin to attack all sources of accurate information. Public radio was first, next will be museums and then science books. Just listen to them argue against the scientific facts about the peril our planet is facing, because it does not fit in with their ideas. They represent a clear and present danger to our union…”

  • Jonas Rand

    Oh, doesn’t Beck look so pious in his yarmulke. If he loves Israel so much, why doesn’t he convert to Judaism?

    I have a suspicion that if it weren’t for Israel’s military dominance and suppression by force of Palestinian rebellions, all the right-wing Christian Israel-supporters would not be so tolerant towards Israel. Instead, they’d probably be raving antisemites, insisting that “the Jews” control the media and killed “Jesus the saviour”.

  • http://yahoo ruben

    if the founding fathers hated democracy as much as barton claims and we should govern by republican values rather then democratic ones….then why are the republicans/right wing the ones crying the loudest to send our young men overseas to fight and die in wars to spread democracy?why do they want to force unto other parts of the world a system of government that according to them is “hated and feared” here…..its apparent that this man does not know or is confused about what he is talking about.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    ““Only majorities can expand political rights in American’s constitutional society.” Barton’s involvement with the textbook controversy also demonstrated the partisanship behind much of his work. He claimed that since the founders “hated and feared democracy” — and created a republic instead — textbooks should refer to “republican values” rather than “democratic” ones.”

    Beautiful internal contradiction there. This Barton is a right muppet.

  • Gonzo

    Carlos…what part of the fact that Mr. Barton LIED in his interview on the daily show isn;t clear to you? He said he never had to retract anything he wrote on the founding fathers…however, he had to pull his books, remove multiple “quotes” from various founding fathers because they were either a) no sources to confirm the quote or b) just made up by Barton or others to support their claims. If we are generous, and go with a), it shows his lack of credibility as a historian. If the latter is true, then you are talking he knowingly violated a religious Commandment of the faith he claims should be in charge of the US!! Neither is a good place to be, IMO.

    And when historians (including Christian Historians) challenge his claims and use those nasty things “facts”, he retreats, makes the corrections (because he has been caught spewing falsehoods), then he continues selling his poorly research drivel to school systems and the Religious Right who then try to force us to accept poor scholastic ability as valid.

  • Carlos

    This opinion piece by Evelyn Schlatter is a kernal of truth wrapped in baloney. Nearly the entire article is a “guilt by association” smear job. Today I watched
    David Barton interviewed on the “gasp” Daily Show. So does now that make him buddys with Jon Stewart? To be clear the Founding Fathers weren’t alter boys (Jefferson impregnating a slave girl?), but Barton does illuminate many of religous activities that apparently are repressed and hidden from the study of history today. If Schlatter opposes the Barton’s viewpoints she would do better to factually post the inacuracies, rather than broad brush insinuations, with knee jerk fear. My next stop is Amazon and buying one of Barton’s books because Ms Schlatter must have been afraid of something.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Mr. Izzy’s tizzy couldn’t be a better example of the tendency of these types to fabricate history — in the case the very history of the SPLC — and use it to make a cheap and false point. But Mr. Iz is also conceptually close to that wiz of anti-gay fabrication Robert George’s ridiculous claim that the SPLC lacked credibility. Mr. George got his hair all frizzy after the SPLC declared some so-called “pro-family” types he likes in an organization filled with hate, and also with half-baked history, dizzy.

  • A.D.M.

    The problem with people like Al Izzy is they don’t research. All they do is scream and shout about so-called “crimes” like the voter intimidation thing, which didn’t happen. Last time I checked, most people in that particular district of Philadelphia voted for Barack Obama voluntarily. By the way, Al Izzy, judging from your demeanor and words, I think you should look in a mirror to know who is a racist.

  • ruben

    all i can say is that these people are the christian version of the hard core imams of radical islam…..the ones they love to hate.i agree with peter paul fuchs,the right wing elements in america (which are mostly white) have pulled ahead of those in the middle east in concocted stories and paranoid fairy tales by far!….and i believe that the reason is because while in the middle east the radical right mix religion with politics here in america the white right mix religion with politics and racism which makes them more paranoid and dangerous.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    ” Justice Dept. They drop charges against a racist black panther that was performing voter intimidation on election day.”

    There is no proof that any voters were intimidated on election day. Also if you were referring to the election in 2008, you might be interested to know that the justice department was under control of the Bush administration, as the Obama administration wasn’t sworn in until 20 Jan, 2009. Research. Do some.

  • Mark Potok

    To Al Izzy: We’ve listed the New Black Panther Party as a hate group for close to 10 years now. Perhaps you should actually look before you leap. Here’s a link to a major profile we did of the NBPP:
    http://www.splcenter.org/get-i.....ther-party

    Oh, and here’s one to another black group we list as a hate group, the Nation of Islam:
    http://www.splcenter.org/get-i.....n-of-islam

    And then there are the Nuwaubians:
    http://www.splcenter.org/get-i.....n-of-moors

  • http://na Al Izzy

    I hate to say this, but SPLC is a bias racist organization. I have searched the site on hate groups and did not find “The New Black Panther” on it. Could it be because SPLC is involved with the current administration, that they kept the black panther out on their request. Just look at what is going on in the Justice Dept. They drop charges against a racist black panther that was performing voter intimidation on election day. They drop charges on crimes commited by black men towards white people. So before you supposely support this organization, maybe you need to look in the mirror at yourself to see if you are a racist.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Sam,

    Thank you for endorsing my instinct, or analysis, about this complex matter. It is not always easy to discern given the maelstrom of polemics. But it is sure worth trying to be clear about, because it seems the future of our very society and culture is at stake. To wit, I saw a smart-sounding expert the other on Middle East affairs say on CNN (?) candidly, and with noticeable lament, that he used to think that the Middle East was far more given to paranoid tales and concocted stories than America. But he averred that in the last few years he feels that America now has pulled far ahead of even the Middle East in both the propensity and likelihood that such things will be believed. What a grim assessment. So, I think we have to make the collateral assessment that such a grim state of affairs could not have happened out of the blue. This is why I emphasized that the less egregious forms of this historical fantasy, often buried in “serious” books have been a crucial component of what has happened. And it speaks to why some intellectual trajectories happened at all, as in the case I mention with the Notre Dame prof, because they serve a wider purpose. Let me emphasize that I wholly endorse the very temperate view of the Souther Poverty Law Center that a principled distinction must be made between what some may feel to be retrograde beliefs, and hateful fantasy. I want to be crystal clear that many who engage in some historical misprision for a purpose, may not rise to the level of hateful fantasy at all. People have a right to go on believing what they want, and the day that anybody tries to stop them, I will be there protesting for their rights. But it is clear that many of them shade over a bit, and thus dip into the darker realm. Or they simply serve a useful purpose in providing cover for the development for the hateful fantasy.

    In the specifically Catholic realm the questions become a bit harder to disentangle. Largely this has to do, ironically, with the fact that there has been somewhat more development intellectually in the Catholic realm than in other fields of religion. Of course the amount of development does not speak to quality, but few would deny the long history of the Catholic Church’s interest in pursuing these matters per se. Yet because of the ambitions therein, there is a strong tendency to imagine that a “Catholic view”, which after all has certain parameters of belief echoing in philosophical corollaries, serves everywhere So, it is often assumed that this view might serve just as well in fields OUTSIDE the fields essentially connected with the religion itself. This explains how the Notre Dame prof mentioned believes that his very Catholic view of unchanging verities is fine and dandy for a social science view like sociology. And the very fact that he has pulled it off till now is very useful for all sorts of folks. How different it would be if, that one of my former professors, who now teaches biblical studies at Notre Dame, would hold as I expect, the same view of unchanging verities. But clearly these matters and fields are not fungible! In biblical studies it is one thing to say that even though you are a master of historical/critical subtleties that you still believe in certain eternal verities. No one should ever question that right, even though they might disagree in the applicability historically. Simply because you are talking about the Bible which is wedded to belief inextricably. But it is simply a category- mistake to imagine that the same can obtain in sociology, of all things! Especially when the author is offering prescriptions for how society — which after all is all of us — should be ordered and thought of, by this essentially Catholic view. To do so then involves a contradiction of historical accuracy and, I dare say decency, such that it is dangerous to let it fly under the radar. And it is clear that university types are wary of being seen as a trouble maker by criticizing anybody even from other universities. Thus, the whole field has been ripe for a certain genteel propagandization. So, my point is, in the Catholic world the question is more vexed. But since reactionary Catholics, lamentably are deeply invested in political agitprop nowadays, it utterly necessary call out those bolstering it, even if they are not the ones directly involved in the agitation- propaganda.

  • Sam Molloy

    PPF, I think you’re correct. The Left will pick one reason for some event out of the usual several and emphasize it for spin, but the right will just make stuff up.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I have seen this awful man on the Glenn Beck show, and elsewhere I think. He should be a vast warning to all people of goodwill. The reactionary mindset gains power by first having intellectuals clear away the brush for them. Unfortunately, “the brush” really means ordinary, solid historical veracity. They start with little things, little misprisions of intellectual history, and soon they can smuggle in pure fantasy into academic debate. Sadly, I think we are pretty far along in this terrible process. It must be said in fairness, that this is a process of both the right and the left to some extent. But there is a difference. To wit, when the left engages in historical fantasy it is usually in the form of a potentially rigid theme of interpretation, not so much alteration of facts. For instance, everything must be made to fit the matrix of “corporate greed”, when sometimes history is just more likely about prejudiced individuals, etc. But on the right, I believe, there is a particularly pernicious tack. Namely, the idea that you are deeply interested in analyzing history. But you will make it whatever your argument needs to be. This man Barton is just the tip of the iceberg. He may be one of the worst, but there are those whose effects may be even worse, though probably their intent is not so prejudicial. I encountered this recently in a very surprising way when I heard of a “sociologist” named Christian Smith on the website “The Mirror of Justice”, a Catholic site which I believe, as a gay man, actively engages in hateful rhetoric against gay people. When I investigated this author I found that he has been involved closely with analyzing what can only be called right wing evangelical religiosity in this country. He has produced books on the spirituality of young people which seem to me to be prejudicial, and hateful in a sub rosa way. That is, under the guise of “sociology” they all too conveniently include sociological analyses which suggest negative impressions of gay people, as if this were reliable “science”. . My sense of this with this author Christian Smith was cemented by looking at his books on “Human Nature”. In these books he states that nothing substantially has changed in our understanding of human nature from very long ago. Naturally, this assertion conflicts intellectual and specifically social science history, and thus I believe him to be similar to these right-wing types that distort history gratuitously. But it also can be taken as a sort of unarticulated code for bolstering very regressive notions about all sorts of people, and certainly gay people would fall under that potentially limited rubric. But the further surprise was that when I went on the most famous online bookseller on the internet, and left a review of Christian Smith’s book, I was bowled-over to find the author himself quickly responding in the most virulent way. His comments to my review filled with assumptions and what were tantamount to expletives were then deleted by him, in advance of the the deletion that the online bookseller routinely does of such hostile prose. And yet another epithet was left. What this odd “encounter” shows, I think, is that the academic world is unfortunately already filled to some extent with those peddling faulty views of history. It is already pretty late in the game. And I wish to emphasize that their historical misprisions are big ones, but apparently slide under the radar because they serve a purpose. They allow those who wish to stop or retard the simple advance of rights, and elimination of the more egregious forms of hate, to feel ensconced in academic respectability, because so-and-so has written a book saying that nothing has changed or ever really will. If that were really the case, I am afraid that cotton still might be king.

  • Sam Molloy

    Mr. Barton was on John Stewart on May 4, and the entire interview is on the Daily Show web site. I watched the TV show part and Mr. Barton says he is active in textbook editing but does not put his name on them. Like the Huckster he tries to come off as more normal when watched by a larger audience. The revisionist versions of the founding of America by Theocrats and the 7 Mountain group are the most dangerous things to come down the pike in a long time.

  • Ian

    Why is the organization called WallBuilders?

    By the way, the Right Wing Watch series “Fact Checking Barton” available at http://www.rightwingwatch.com is amazing.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Let it be known. The New York is nothing but a liberal rag.
    The NYM has a habit of bery leftist and liberal on many issues, and supports organizations like Planned Parenthood, Greenpeace, ASPCA and other leftist tilted organizations. Watch out Americans. The NYT and its ilk wants to conttrol the mass media, without being fair to all parties. Thank goodness the NYT isn’t federally funded, or isn’t it. Who knows?

  • Reynardine

    Tom Valerius, well met! You are right: the education system has been seriously dumbed- down and right-winged from what it was forty years ago. We had better hopes for it then, but with the likes of Barton around, it will become mandatory to teach that the Earth is flat and the Sun goes around it, at which point we will be surpassed in every respect by Lower Slobbovia.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Hey that’s great, when their are so few decent jobs it means more jobs for progressive people or at least anyone who doesn’t obsess over others’ sex lives!

  • Sam Molloy

    I hope there’s a video of Huckabee saying that. The Advocate posted one of him at a businessman lunch in Iowa saying, if I remember correctly, ” Be a warrior and stop the gay agenda even if it costs you your job”.

  • T. Valerius

    Idiots are followed by those who lack understanding or a willingness to seek out information. No questions – no reasoning! If a group could be convinced that “Red Lights” were a conspiracy to slow down America or the symbol of the far left – We would have a group throwing stones at stop lights. Sadly the need to publish textbooks that meet the need of a broad national student body stress generalities and broad assumptions and do not emphasize thinking or inquiry. Objective testing support the non-thinking education systems. Let’s get up and going – no more deportment grades – let’s challenge thinking! What do you think….