David Barton and the Evolution of Lies

Christian nationalist pseudo-historian David Barton delivered a series of presentations to the religious-right organization City Elders earlier this month that contained, predictably, various misrepresentations and falsehoods. Ironically, Barton closed out his final presentation on the importance of truth by repeating two lies.

The fact that Barton filled his presentations with untruths is nothing new, but it is interesting to note how some of his lies have evolved over the years.

In this case, Barton closed things out by complaining that his reputation and work are regularly attacked by those who hate his efforts to expose the supposed truth about the Christian history of this nation.

“Don’t even think about looking me up on Wikipedia,” Barton said. “They literally spend millions of dollars—this is not hyperbole—it is literally millions of dollars a year they spend to keep my name discredited, to keep it high on the Google searches, to keep me in all sorts of stuff. Congress under [former President Barack] Obama—I was part of the domestic terrorism watch list because I teach this kind of stuff.”

Neither of those claims are true.

We first heard Barton make the claim that about millions being spent to discredit him in 2011, when he said that he had been told by a reporter from US News and World Report that “the ACLU just spent a million dollars to discredit you.” There is no way of knowing what alleged ACLU campaign Barton was referring to, but he has repeated the baseless claim a number of times, and it has now evolved from “the ACLU once spent a million dollars to try to discredit me” to “my critics spend literally millions of dollars every year to discredit me.”

The evolution of Barton’s other lie is even more remarkable.

The first time we ever heard Barton make the “domestic terrorism” claim was in 2012, when he said that the Southern Poverty Law Center had placed him on a list of “thirty terrorists to be watched in America.” As we pointed out at the time, the SPLC had simply included Barton in a report highlighting “30 New Activists Heading Up the Radical Right.”

By 2016, Barton had transformed that initial falsehood into the claim that the FBI had put him and his WallBuilders organization on a list of “hate groups in America.” By 2018, Barton was claiming that he and his organization had been “listed as an enemy of the state” by the Obama administration. And now, in 2022, Barton has exaggerated it once again to claim that Congress once placed him on “the domestic terrorism watch list.”

Barton’s teachings about U.S. history and Christian nationalism have often been discredited by actual historians. His book supposedly taking on liberal lies about Thomas Jefferson was pulled off the shelves by his Christian publisher after scholars, including Christians, pointed out its inaccuracies. But Barton remains an influential figure within the religious-right movement, where his Christian-nation narratives are widely embraced and promoted, and within the Republican Party, where he has served repeatedly on the platform writing committee.