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In this post, Bill Moyers conducts an important interview with investigative journalist Anne Nelson, who talks about her new book, SHADOW NETWORK: MEDIA, MONEY, AND THE SECRET HUB OF THE RADICAL RIGHT.
Read this and you will understand the dark forces that are undermining our democracy and our democratic institutions, including our public schools.
BILL MOYERS: Let me begin with the most current part of the story, which comes just a little bit after your book is published when the conservative movement is facing a very decisive encounter with the very forces it’s been trying to defeat now for 40 years. How do you think the shadow network reads the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court? What are they making of it?
ANNE NELSON: Well, I think that they consider it a great triumph and a kind of culmination of 40 years of effort. And I demure a bit at the term conservative because this is, for me, the radical right. It is so far to the right of mainstream American public opinion that I feel that it’s in a different category both in terms of its ideology and its tactics. But they decided way back in the day of Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of the movement that they–
BILL MOYERS: In the early 1970s, right?
ANNE NELSON: We’re going back to the ’70s and even earlier, because he was active on the Barry Goldwater campaign. And he was frustrated time and again by moderates in the Republican Party and people who were willing to work with Democrats to advance policy and solutions to public problems. And he created organizations and tactics that he openly declared should destroy the regime, as he called it, which would be the U.S. government as we’ve known it for the last century.
BILL MOYERS: Paul Weyrich is the man I remember saying–
PAUL WEYRICH: I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populous goes down.
BILL MOYERS: He was essentially saying, as a newly anointed leader of the religious right, what their philosophy was. The fewer people vote, the better their chance.
ANNE NELSON: That’s right. And from the beginning, in terms of their electoral tactics, it has been a matter of weaponizing certain churches and pastors and really exerting tremendous pressure on them to use churches as instruments of a radical right ideology. And then using similar tactics to suppress votes for Democrats, especially in key battleground states.
BILL MOYERS: So that’s why you conclude in your book they were to the right of the Republican Party. They were not just an offshoot of the Republican Party. They were not just fundraisers for the Republican Party, but they were ideologically and organizationally taking the Republican Party far to the right.
ANNE NELSON: Absolutely, and somewhat to my surprise, I found that their prototype was the Southern Baptist Convention, where they decided that in order to move it to the right, they had to use questionable tactics to elevate their supporters to key positions of influence and purge the Southern Baptist Convention of moderates in the seminaries and in the colleges and among the pastors. And it was a fairly ruthless process, and once these tactics were developed, they applied it to the Republican Party. And you had the same kind of tactics going on of purging moderates, some of whom had been in office for years.
BILL MOYERS: I should point out to some of our younger listeners and readers that the Southern Baptist Convention at the time and still today was the largest Protestant denomination in America. You know, something like it eventually reached 16 and a half million members scattered throughout the South and the West. We’ll come back to them in a moment. What do you think about the NEW YORK TIMES’ assessment that Amy Coney Barrett represents a new conservativism rooted in faith. That’s how their headline described a three-page portrait of her life and career. Does that make sense to you?
ANNE NELSON: Not entirely, because as a conservative Catholic, she follows in the footsteps of others such as Brett Kavanaugh and Antonin Scalia. So that’s not very new. And what I look at in my book SHADOW NETWORK is how these interlocking organizations support each other. The book is about the Council for National Policy– a radical right-wing organization that is very secretive, and it brings together big donors like the DeVos family and oil interests from Texas and Oklahoma and political operatives. And, for example, members include the leadership of the Federalist Society. Well, Amy Coney Barrett was a member of the Federalist Society for a number of years and is still a speaker at their events. It includes the head of Hillsdale College, which is one of their campus partners. Amy Coney Barrett was commencement speaker for Hillsdale College this year. So, there are all of these organizations that have been turning their wheels to promote her really for several years going back. She appeared on previous lists of potential nominees for the Supreme Court, and I don’t believe she would have been included in those lists had she not confirmed to their traditional idea of an activist judge.
BILL MOYERS: They knew what they were looking for.
ANNE NELSON: And I should add that one of the most powerful components in the Council for National Policy is the anti-abortion movement. Organizations such as the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America and other interests, which are anti-environmentalist interests from the fossil fuels industry. So, I think that we’ve seen a roadmap of what to expect moving forward.
BILL MOYERS: Tell me, who does make up the Council for National Policy?
ANNE NELSON: So, the Council for National Policy has traditionally been around 400 members. From the beginning, it’s included people with big money, a lot of them from the Texas and Oklahoma oil industries, but also the DeVos family of Michigan from the Amway fortune, and Betsy DeVos, of course. So, it has the big money to pay for things. It’s got the leaders of so-called grassroots organizations. Now, I say so-called, because they do not spring from the grassroots the way that you would expect from the name. They are organized with a great deal of money from the top down. So, for example, the National Rifle Association– their leadership is part of the CNP. They get money from the donors, they organize their millions of members, and you combine these with the strategists and the media owners. And I spend a lot of time in my book talking about the power of fundamentalist and conservative radio in swing states. Things that people on the East Coast overlook to a terrible degree. And the same thing with fundamentalist broadcasting, which has really several of these broadcasters — the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Trinity Broadcasting Network have really turned into outlets replicating the messaging from this organization. So, you have them interlocking and interacting and each supporting each other’s function. And I should explain something here, which is that they represent historically a white, Protestant, I’m sorry, but male-dominated patriarchy–
BILL MOYERS: No, that’s okay.
ANNE NELSON: And I have to say that demographically its time has passed. The United States has become more diverse religiously, ethnically, and racially. And they recognize that their core positions are not supported by the majority of Americans. So, they went to the limit, pulled out all the stops to get Trump elected by a tiny margin, but they doubt that they can do that again. The signs are not good. What they can do is make their hold on the federal courts concrete through the Supreme Court, and therefore, get majorities in cases like gerrymandering, voter suppression, and their political activation of the churches with tax-exempt status. And further their hold on power through the courts.
BILL MOYERS: So which part of the shadow network do you think chose, mentored, and groomed Amy Coney Barrett for this moment?
ANNE NELSON: Well, I have to speculate here. But I would see a fairly straight line from her position to Leonard Leo’s. Now, Leonard Leo is a very conservative Catholic. He was the operational figure of the Federalist Society for a number of years, and recently he shifted from that position to an even more activist position. Amy Coney Barrett was already a member of the Federalist Society. The Federalist Society has a pipeline through the lower federal courts, which she benefited from. So, in terms of this Catholic interaction they would be quite close to each other. Another key figure is Carrie Severino, who is from the Judicial Crisis Network, which was co-founded by Leonard Leo. And again, very right-wing Catholics who have tended to be overlooked while people focus on the fundamentalist Protestants. But Ralph Reed, who has been somebody who’s been active with the fundamentalist politicization for decades declared openly years ago that the next step to their campaign was to enlist the Catholic vote. And they’ve been aggressively doing that in recent years.
BILL MOYERS: And then there’s Don McGahn who was for three years Donald Trump’s chief White House counsel, graduate of Notre Dame, admirer of Amy Coney Barrett, who was scouting himself for recruits to bring up, train, groom, and put into the mix for potential Supreme Court justices. And I read that he was highly enthusiastic about her, had talked to Leo and that they had you had both these White House and legal forces behind her, knowing that she was one of them.
[The interview continues. I urge you to open the link and read it in full to understand the secret network that is currently running the federal government and selecting justices for the Supreme Court.]