Unearthing Right-Wing Treasure

People For the American Way is preparing to move its headquarters to another location in Washington, D.C. , after more than 20 years in the same space. That has meant a monumental effort to sort through decades of accumulated paper and figure out what to do with video recordings in more formats than you could imagine – and endless save-or-toss decisions.

Fortunately, earlier this year PFAW’s huge library of primary source materials on the Religious Right political movement was transferred to the University of California Berkeley’s Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements, where it will be more accessible to scholars and journalists. But even still, preparing for the move has meant weeks of memory-triggering moments while plowing through file cabinets and finding hidden stashes of materials.
 
Among the random bits of right-wingalia I stumbled across:
  • a letter from Jerry Falwell urging his supporters to call Congress and oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa in order to prevent a Communist takeover (an  accompanying 16-page “Fundamentalist Journal – Special Report” included a Falwell interview with the foreign minister saying that the West “has been doing the work of Moscow.”);
  • a 1990 Christian Coalition leadership manual that includes the assertion that the relationship between employers and employees should be based on Bible verses telling slaves to obey their masters, no matter how harsh;
  • a 1982 PFAW report on the Religious Right’s efforts to use the Texas textbook process to foist their ideology on American students nationwide (sound familiar?);
  • books and campaign plans for the takeover of America by once-obscure Christian Reconstructionist figures who are now in the news thanks to the frightening ascension of followers like Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann;
  • candidate questionnaires from Religious Right groups in the 1980s demanding to know whether politicians would support across-the-board tax cuts, a reminder that the Religious Right has been pushing Tea Party economics for a long time;
  • a lavishly produced press kit for the 2006 opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, where a disturbing number of Americans have flocked to be mis-educated about biology, geology, and history; and
  • in honor of Rick Perry’s recent prayer rally in Houston, a 1985 campaign flyer from the "Straight Slate" of candidates for Mayor and City Council, warning that Houston “has become the Southwest capital for homosexuality and pornography” and insisting that “We must not allow Houston to become another San Francisco!” (Current Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who was sworn in last year, is a lesbian who parents three children with her partner.)
It’s also been a reminder that the Religious Right has been declared dead more often than Freddy Krueger, usually by someone who is focusing on one organization in disarray or one election defeat for conservatives. But as our current political climate makes clear, the Religious Right and its political and economic allies have built a massive infrastructure of national and state-level think tanks, legal and political organizations, radio and TV networks, universities and law schools, and elected officials they have helped put into office at all levels of government.  They aren’t going anywhere. And neither are we – well, just a few blocks across town.