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).
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.