An Overview of David Barton's Very Bad Week
Rachel Tabachnick printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 01:14:15 PM EST contributors have referenced or featured David Barton in over 250 articles, including detailed debunking of his revisionist histories by Chris Rodda and Rob Boston, and updates from both Frederick Clarkson and Bill Berkowitz this week. Following is my contribution to the discussion including links to the coverage of Barton over the last few days and a brief look at the religio-political figure that Glenn Beck calls "the most important man in America."
This week Thomas Nelson publishing, described as the "world's largest Christian publisher" ceased publication and distribution of David Barton's latest book, The Jefferson Lies. A spokesman made the statement that the company had "lost confidence in the book's details."  (Hat tip to Right Wing Watch.)

NPR quotes a spokesperson for Thomas Nelson publishing.

"When the concerns came in, from multiple people, and that had weight too, we were trying to sort things out," said Thomas Nelson Senior Vice President and Publisher Brian Hampton. "Were these matters of opinion? Were they differences of interpretation? But as we got into it, our conclusion was that the criticisms were correct. There were historical details -- matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all."
David Barton has been a superstar in some Christian Right circles for many years, but gained more notice from the larger public with his numerous appearances with Glenn Beck. Barton coached "prayer warriors" in conference calls prior to Beck's Restoring Honor event on the Mall in D.C. in August 2010. Barton also accompanied Beck on his trips to Israel in 2011, and was featured along with Beck and John Hagee at the "Restoring Courage" events held there.  At Glenn Beck's "Restoring Love" event in Dallas on July 28, he promoted a David Barton talking point,  showing the audience a Bible that he claims was printed by Congress in the late 1700s.  (No, Congress did not.  Read the facts about the Aitken Bible.)

Barton's first book, The Myth of Separation, was followed by other slightly more subtle efforts at attacking separation of church and state.  In short, Barton promotes a theory that separation of church and state is a "liberal myth" and never intended by the Founding Fathers. He also claims that the nation has been in a steep decline since the school prayer rulings in 1962 and 1963.  His attacks on separation of church and state are conducted through his nonprofit organization Wallbuilders, based in Aledo, Texas.

Conservative Christian Scholars Led the Current Backlash Against Barton

Barton has been debunked for years by Chris Rodda, Rob Boston, and other defenders of separation of church and state, but this time it was conservative Christian historians and theologians who led the charge.  Barton has been controversial, even in conservative Christian circles, for his extreme politicization of religion and more recently for his partnership with the apostles and prophets of the New Apostolic Reformation and with Glenn Beck.

The most recent critiques of Barton's books have come from Christian scholars who countered numerous claims in Barton's latest book. These include John Fea, Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Fea argues that although Barton is very popular in some conservative Christian circles, virtually no Christian colleges, conservative or not, teach or endorse his revisionist views. Note that Liberty University Law School dean Matthew Staver list of required reading for his students includes David Barton's book Original Intent. Hopefully this is the exception to the rule.(John Fea - Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.)

Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College in Pennsylvania wrote a book dedicated to countering Barton's The Jefferson Lies, titled Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President.  In an interview for Religion Dispatches, Coulter stated,

"Sloppy and misleading historical writing used for advancing an agenda harms the general reputation of Christians as scholars."
World Magazine published a scathing critique of Barton's work by Thomas Kidd on August 7, and quoting Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute.  Richards asked a number of conservative evangelical and Catholic scholars to assess Barton's work and the conclusion was that Barton's books and videos are full of "embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims."

Greg Forster also sharply refutes Barton in First Things in an August 8 article titled "David Barton's Errors."  It concerns Barton's writings about John Locke.

The bad press for Barton from conservative sources didn't end there.  Rod Dreher in The American Conservative wrote,

Count me as a conservative Christian who is alarmed by this kind of thing.

...History will always be contended over, of course, but the goal should be trying to make the study of history an exercise in finding the truth, not massaging the past to make it fit a contemporary political narrative. When conservatives and Christians do this, we are no better than those we criticize. I don't want my children to learn politically correct history, from either the left or the right. You shouldn't either.

Surveying the Damage Already Done

Despite the debunking of Barton's work, he has already played a role in revisions of curriculum revisions by the State Board of Education (SBOE) in Texas and elsewhere. (He has sued two former Texas SBOE candidates for a You Tube video referencing Barton's speaking engagements in the 1991 to white supremacist groups, despite the fact that this is documented on the ADL's website and has been in the public record for two decades.)  

Barton says he has made about 8000 appearances around the country, speaking to churches, ministries and Tea Party groups.  His work is featured in many home schooling and private school curricula.  In 2007, Frederick Clarkson wrote about the significance of Christian nationalist history and reported,

Christian nationalism is permeating not just cultural but national political life. The Republican National Committee employed leading Christian revisionist author David Barton to barnstorm conservative churches in voter mobilization campaigns during the past few election cycles and to make appearances with GOP candidates. The talented Mr. Barton made hundreds of campaign appearances in 2004 alone.
Barton is the former vice chair of the Texas GOP and has traveled the state with one of the state's leading apostles to spread his revisionist history to African American churches.

In Alabama, two NPR executives were fired in June, apparently for refusing to air one of Barton's Wallbuilders series. (See Salon's article "Tea Party takes over Alabama public radio." On August 8, NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty profiled Barton on All Things Considered.  NPR fact checked Barton, including his claims that the clauses in the Constitution are direct quotes from the Bible. From the NPR report,

"We looked up every citation Barton said was from the bible, but not one of them checked out."
The broadcast also featured a quote made by Mike Huckabee,
"I almost wish that there would be like a simultaneous telecast,"  Huckabee said at a conference last year, "and all Americans will be forced, forced - at gunpoint, no less - to listen to every David Barton message.  And I think our country will be better for it."

Ongoing Damage

According to Chris Rodda, the inaccurate Founding Fathers' quotes promoted by Barton have been repeated on the floor of the U.S. House and Senate. He has been publicly endorsed and shared the stage with numerous politicians including Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and Marco Rubio.  His revisionist history can now be found on the websites of Religious Right and Tea Party groups across the nation, with many marketing his media.

Barton is one of the Religious Right leaders  pushing for Mitt Romney to name one of their own - preferably Mike Huckabee - as his vice presidential running mate.

Hopefully, the events of this week will slow the damage done to American history by David Barton, but those who want to believe his pseudo-histories will likely join Barton in dismissing his critics as "elitist academics" or claim, as Wallbuilder's Rick Green did in June, that the negative critiques are proof  that Barton is right. No doubt we will continue to encounter Barton's pseudo-history for years to come.

Also see:  

  • Chris Rodda's Liars for Jesus, which Rodda has made available online for free.  Pick a chapter - any chapter - and read it, to understand how Barton abuses historical facts.
  • and Right Wing's Watch's , recent list of "demonstrably false claims made by David Barton."

Display: Liberty University last December 2011:

by Bruce Wilson on Fri Aug 10, 2012 at 03:36:31 PM EST

Truth finally wins out.

by PastorJennifer on Sat Aug 11, 2012 at 12:26:13 AM EST

Thank you all.

by BaileyinMI on Sat Aug 11, 2012 at 07:19:19 AM EST

I wonder how long it will be before Barton, more in sorrow than in anger, quotes Jesus: "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also" ... and then goes on to interpret these events as either persecution of him and his noble work by the unrighteous, or the work of Satan and his demonic forces against him, brought on because of the righteousness of his cause. And I suspect that part of him really believes that, or at least tries to. I also suspect that there is still a part of him that recognizes his cynical, dishonest twisting of history, his distortions of the records, his inventions and false contrivances, and whispers to him that he is being dishonest, if not an outright fraud. But he probably labels that whisper the voice of Satan, and presses on in the service of what he rationalizes is a greater cause: Lying for Jesus. He personifies the evangelical mindset. The evangelical mindset is impervious to facts and argument -- all outside input gets filtered through the ideology before any meaning is assigned to words, facts, events, arguments. The ideology, and only the ideology, provides the meaning, for everything. I know this only because I held that very same mindset for nearly 20 years. It's amazing how one's mindset controls the interpretation of the input that comes our way. Despite the statistics that show otherwise, Christians -- at least, of the right-wing, evangelical variety -- really do think they are basically a marginalized, persecuted minority in this country, that the nation is relentlessly descending into a swamp of secular hedonism, and they are merely trying to keep from being overwhelmed by the dark forces in this world, and in American society in particular. Anecdotes of religious persecution abound in these groups, constantly reinforcing this worldview. They see themselves as right and everyone else as wrong, on every issue of any consequence. Virtually everything that happens in the public sphere is viewed as evidence of a giant conspiracy to destroy them and their sacred beliefs. They think they have all the answers, and that if they were in charge, all would be well. I once looked at the world in just this way. The secular world, on the other hand, sees just the opposite. They see the pernicious, destructive influence of religion everywhere, not just the millions of people slaughtered in the lost millenia of history (the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Muslim conquests, etc), but also the horrors occurring all over the globe today. They see fanatics like Barton perverting the curriculum for the Texas Board of Education, whose state textbooks dictate the contents of textbooks in public schools all over the country. They see a relentless push in state legislatures nationwide, by right-wing fanatic legislators, for prayer in schools, the teaching of antiscientific nonsense like creationism (and its bastard child, intelligent design), and the rejection of basic science such as evolution by natural selection. They see an increasing number of profoundly ignorant people, who proudly assert that the earth is only six thousand years old, in critical policymaking roles in politics and government. They see a tidal wave of religious nonsense overwhelming the wall of separation between church and state. They see world leaders who believe bizarre, end-times theology, and are only too happy to shape national policy accordingly. They are flabbergasted that Catholics do not flee the church in droves to keep the huge population of priestly pedophiles and pederasts away from their kids, while the Pope writes letters to the bishops instructing them not to notify civil authorities of these crimes, and to treat these matters within the confines of "pontifical secrets." They see the utter irrationality of the core doctrines, and the preposterous supernatural claims of all the religions, the blatant sexual and financial hypocrisy of the televangelists, and are mystified that people cling to these obvious frauds. I have finally migrated from the evangelical mindset to the secular mindset. I deeply regret that it took me so long to do so. I find it involves considerably less cognitive dissonance. It embraces reality itself, rather than embracing a belief system through which reality must first be interpreted before it can be "properly" understood. It does not require a perpetual suspension of disbelief, perpetual indulgence in magical thinking, nor belief without evidence. It does not hold to, and depend on, the unverifiable and the unprovable. It does not offer or provide promises or consolation, except such consolation as can be found in the unspeakably profound beauty of the universe itself. From this perspective, people like Barton are deluded frauds, a menace of the first order, and they need to be exposed at every turn. Their acknowledged goal is to turn this country into the Christian mirror image of Islamic Iran -- to impose a Christian version of jihad on unbelievers. They seek to enforce their bizarre beliefs on everyone, and to increasingly use the mechanisms of government to do it. That is why this has been such a gratifying week for those of us who do not buy into Barton's nonsense. Congratulations to Warren Throckmorton, Chris Rodda, and many other unsung scholars whose tireless devotion to accurate representations of historical facts about the founding of this country has helped bring about this public exposure of Barton and his dishonest, agenda-driven psuedo-scholarship. It's too bad that it will have no impact on those in the evangelical mindset, who will continue to believe in this man, despite the mountain of evidence that he is a complete fraud.

by RobMajor on Sat Aug 11, 2012 at 11:41:54 AM EST

This can be used to counteract Barton's falsehoods: Fathers Note that URLs get broken automatically.

by Villabolo on Sun Aug 12, 2012 at 10:36:55 PM EST

There's lots of screaming and yelling at Wallbuilders' about the "liberal elitist" who criticize him, although the last round of critics came from conservative Christian academia.  Barton's claiming that his critiques don't even read the source material.  

No doubt, Chris Rodda is up to her eyeballs in  primary source material on Jefferson and it's clear that many of Barton's other critics are well-versed in primary source material on Jefferson.  I don't claim to be an expert on Jefferson, but one of my favorite collections in my library is about 1600 pages of Jefferson's writings, letters and addresses. I've read it - all of it- and reference it frequently.

It bears little resemblance to Barton's Jefferson.  

by Rachel Tabachnick on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 12:56:19 PM EST

Rick Green, a buddy of Barton's, put a challenge on his blog to any of Barton's critics who could provide documented proof of a falsehood or misrepresentation by Barton. Chris Rodda replied right away, but her comments have never made it through moderation.

There's a lot of conversation on Chris Rodda's Facebook page right now about setting up a blog to collect all of the comments that are being held up by Green. He is apparently "winning his point" by refusing to allow any real critique through moderation. As soon as it is "live," I'll post another comment with the link.

And yes, Chris is writing frantically. She's said that as soon as she has something ready, she'll put it up on her blog and cross post to T2A, Alternet, et al.

by MLouise on Mon Aug 13, 2012 at 02:01:00 PM EST

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