Rufo typing on a computer cultural war war by the right while sitting at a chair that crosses out "Segregation" with the new word "School Choice." Image: Alyssa Shotwell.

Man Who Started CRT Panic Openly Transparent About His Plans Against LGBTQ+ Community

Abortion isn't the only decades long project pushed by the organized right.

Despite how the conversations that incorrectly link the concept of grooming, indoctrination, and more with education seem to be coming out of nowhere—or, worse, out of genuine concern—to the general public, they are very much not. This rhetoric is not even coming out of one talk show host or think tank “just asking questions.” Instead, one man is weaponizing decades of culture war talking points, with some understanding of how news moves in the digital age, to manufacture fear, and his name is Christopher Rufo.

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Openly and proudly on Twitter, he lays out his plan for how he will fan the existing culture war flames. First, he publishes a story a week for a short period of time (often as a guest columnist across new and old media sites). Then, it’s shared, cited, and hyperlinked on bigger platforms and locked echo chambers like Facebook groups. It doesn’t matter how much something is true; the more it’s repeated, the more people remember those lies, and it becomes reality. He started the so-called “Critical Race Theory” panic intentionally and now is doing it with the concept of queer existence (especially regarding the visibility of transgender people).

I’m not trying to steal dubious credit from alt-right groups like Moms 4 Liberty, No Left Turns, Libs of TikTok, and more, who have all done their own harm. However, Rufo is making their propaganda very digestible and easy for them to hand out talking points to nationally organized “grassroots” groups that result in teachers being doxxed, books being banned, and legislation for an 1850s America being passed today.

Rufo has admitted as much

While phrases like “indoctrination” and the like have been used as a culture war issue for decades, Rufo is the main architect behind the rebranding of this particular phrase so much that there’s easily accessible data that tracks when people are searching for these words, and also when it’s in tandem with another topic like “education” or a general book. I included both CRT and critical race theory because they are used so frivolously that shorthand was called for.

Google Trend data showing how the searches for "CRT" and "Critical Race Theory" beginning to blow up after Rufo took his victory lap. Image: Google Screencap and Alyssa Shotwell.
(screencap & Alyssa Shotwell)

A few other words equally unrelated or weaponized were certainly bolstered by this rhetoric, like “woke,” for example. However, with “woke,” it doesn’t track as clearly because the word was a part of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and otherwise a general verb for a while. You’d be hard-pressed to find many Black artists using the word (especially if they have a predominantly non-Black audience) because of how conservative and alt-right media has appropriated it.

The end goal is the defunding of public education

Before conservatives—the “silent majority,” “legacy Americans,” or whatever they want to call themselves at any given moment—rallied against abortion, segregation was the big talking point. That fell out of fashion between the 1950s and 1980s, and now we are to the point where being called racist is seen as worse to many people than … actual racism (individual or institutional). During this shift of integration, white families (and some select ethnic groups of color) organized to abolish school districts and expanded private schools or (in places with little to no public transportation) opened public schools nestled into new areas (white flight). The linking of regional tax with education funding segregated the school funds, too.

When the former secretary of education announced that the department she worked to destroy actually (in her opinion) shouldn’t exist, I was not surprised. The Daily Beast followed this up with an article tracing the history of this sentiment back to 1955 (the year after Brown v. Board of Education) when phrases like “educational freedom,” “school choice,” and “parental rights” became more popular. The publication highlighted when libertarian economist and Nobel Prize-winner Milton Friedman proposed the idea to “abolish the public school system and eliminate all the taxes that pay for it” to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Fourteen years later, that right-wing group, ALEC, is the same group that Rufo is excitedly propping up. What’s frustrating is defunding public education has really been done overtly and slowly for decades along class and racial lines. This latest push (whether they’re crying “CRT or “groomer”) is just rapid-fire and is also touted by people across the political spectrum. With a recent Supreme Court ruling out of Maine, it is very clear that without concrete pushback, this is going to get much worse.

(featured image: Alyssa Shotwell)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.