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Former Alaska governor and Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin this week tried to sell the bizarrely twisted story that the midnight ride of Paul Revere to warn colonists that the British were coming was actually a ride to warn the British not to mess with the colonies. “I know my American history,” Palin said, arguing that “part of [Revere’s] ride was to warn the British that were already there that ‘Hey, you’re not going to succeed. You’re not going to take American arms.’”
As odd as it might seem, offering up twisted versions of history based on a hodgepodge of distortions has become extremely fashionable among ultraconservatives and antigovernment “Patriot” groups. In fact, the Tea Party Patriots, a group based in Georgia, plans to celebrate Constitution Day on Sept. 17 by spreading the work of the Idaho-based National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS), a conspiracy-prone think tank founded by W. Cleon Skousen.
“Patriots across the country are concerned that students in the public schools are not being taught about our founding documents,” a flyer urging schools to adopt the program reads. “We want our children and grand children to be taught the meaning of the fundamental documents that created our incomparable nation.” The flyer encourages supporters to write letters to school boards, school superintendents and media to inform them of Constitution Day, as well as flooding schools and libraries with NCCS materials.
In many ways, the widespread acceptance of the NCCS is the culmination of years of work. For nearly four decades, in fact, representatives from the organization have been crisscrossing the nation to propagate the group’s message. (Its president, Earl Taylor, told The Washington Post last year, “We’re trying to flood the nation. … And it’s happening.”)
The NCCS promotes three central ideas: that divine guidance allowed the United States to thrive; that the modern federal government is tyrannical and implicitly sinful; and that a divine reckoning looms that will tear society apart and bring down America’s government. These ideas have grown increasingly popular in both the Patriot movement and the Tea Parties.
Recently, Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN) spoke to an anti-tax group in Iowa and said the founding fathers ended slavery. (Several of the nation’s founders, including Thomas Jefferson, among others, were slave owners, and it wasn’t until the conclusion of the Civil War nearly a century later that slavery was abolished.)
While the Tea Party Patriots are busy spreading Skousen’s teachings, most constitutional scholars view the former FBI staffer and prominent John Birch Society member as a thinker prone to indefensible distortions. The Constitutional Accountability Center in Washington, D.C., a think tank “dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise” of the constitution, is fighting the “Adopt a School Constitution Week Education Program” by telling “school boards they should teach the constitution, but out of their history textbooks.”
“[The Tea Party Patriots’] interest is in educating/indoctrinating the youth of America,” said Doug Kendall, the center’s founder. “It’s incumbent upon our schools and our teachers to teach our kids historical facts, not the perspective of any ideological organization.”
At least one library has already begun collecting materials for the program. The Llano County Public Library in central Texas accepted Skousen’s books from the local Tea Party chapter, specifically biographies on George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Skousen’s magnum opus The Making of America.
County librarian Dian Ray told Hatewatch she knew the books offered a skewed version of history, but stressed it was not the library’s responsibility to “censor” a perspective from patrons. “We don’t censor,” Ray said. “We’re supposed to provide a balanced view of both sides of a subject, if we can.”