Students in Constitution Class Are Probably Fringy Militia Types, WaPo Implies

Saturday's Washington Post carried a story by reporter Krissah Thompson on constitution classes in Springfield, Missouri on its front page. The headline was anodyne: “For answers to today's problems, Fathers know best: Conservative group's course on Constitution touts founders' wisdom.” But Thompson is traveling halfway across the country to identify the fringes of the right wing, a Glenn Beck-endorsed Constitution teacher named Earl Taylor with a “far right” inspiration. This sentence stands out:

Since the nation's earliest years, some Americans have revered the Constitution as a bulwark against government expansion.

It's hardly strange for “some Americans” to believe a document written to define limits to the national government's powers would still be seen as a “bulwark against government expansion.” That would seem to indicate you've read it -- and not treated it like Eric Holder treats the Arizona immigration law.

It might seem less bizarre if Thompson explained that “some other Americans” believe in ignoring the plain meaning in the document's text and expanding the national government to meet any perceived need. Thompson continued her exploration of history:

In George Washington's Cabinet, the debate played out between Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. In the mid-1960s, conservatives pushed for a return to limited government and a literal interpretation of the Constitution amid Barry Goldwater's failed run for president.

Today, reverence for the Constitution and the Founding Fathers is an important part of the militia movement. Taylor's work has been embraced, for instance, by members of Oath Keepers, a group of current and former police and military personnel who renew their oaths to the Constitution, and call themselves "guardians of the republic."

That paragraph implies that anyone who reveres the original meaning of the Constitution most likely believes in black-helicopter conspiracies and plots in the woods to resist the armed invasion of Michigan. There are actual fringe types at this Missouri event:

Nich Taylor and Schuyler Blue sat in the front row. Later, they passed out DVDs and CDs warning of a "new world order" to destroy the United States and mysteries behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that assert that the government played a role in them.

Thompson was sitting in on Taylor, the teacher endorsed by Glenn Beck, noticing his class was nearly all-white, and included no Democrats:

Taylor walked them through a 131-page, fill-in-the-blank workbook that frames the nation's founding in a religious context and portrays the size and scope of the modern federal government as a form of tyranny.

His course became popular in part because of an emotional endorsement last year from Beck, who has praised the late W. Cleon Skousen, who wrote the course's curriculum. He was a far-right anti-Communist Mormon fundamentalist and professor of religious studies at Brigham Young University whose historical work has been criticized by academics as ill-conceived and inaccurate.

This class may have some intellectual issues. Thompson did find actual experts on conservatism – Kevin Gutzman (identified as a “libertarian) and Michael Kimmage, but she also slipped in leftist Sean Wilentz without any ideological label. She makes a point that this education is fringy because it's unaccredited.

But the Post has suggested it's outrageous to question the teachings of global warming scientist/lobbyist Michael Mann as “ill-conceived and inaccurate.” It's a sordid violation of his academic freedom for Virginia's attorney general to question his methods and extremism. That's not the Post approach to conservatives.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis