Oregon GOP Party Chair Sells Pro-Slavery Novel, Tied To Theocratic Movement
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Oct 12, 2013 at 05:56:08 AM EST
This article examines - within the context of the religious right's increasing influence over state-level politics, especially since the 2010 election - racist content in Oregon GOP chairman Arthur B. Robinson's Christian fundamentalist home schooling curriculum, as well as his ties to top leaders in the movement on the theocratic Christian right known as Christian Reconstructionism.

On Saturday August 10, 2013, Oregon biochemist and global warming skeptic-turned Republican politician Art Robinson was elected head of the Oregon Republican Party.

Back in 2010, I wrote a story titled Oregon GOP Congressional Candidate Sells Racist Book Suggesting Africans Are Like Retarded Children. The issue was subsequently raised by a moderator in a debate between U.S. Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR) and Republican Arthur Robinson, who was running for DeFazio's congressional seat in the 2010 election.

Again vying for DeFazio's congressional seat in the 2012 election (and backed by the Koch brothers-funded group Americans For Prosperity) Robinson sought to rebut the suggestion of racism - by claiming that the G.A. Henty book in question was in fact anti-racist, in his autobiographical book Common Sense in 2012: Prosperity and Charity For America that pre-2012 election was mailed in mass quantities to Oregon voters.

In response, in a September 2012 extended analysis, I addressed broad patterns of racist content both within the Robinson-published G.A. Henty novels and also in Robinson's Christian homeschooling curriculum which includes, as I described,

"two entire books of constitutional justification for the American South's succession from the Union, as well as two written by unrepentant Southern supporters of slavery - one of those a pro-slavery advocate whose writing has helped inspire some of the most virulently racist, white separatist movements in contemporary America.

It's important to note that Robinson does not fit the description of an unabashed white supremacist - he portrays himself as opposed to racism in all forms, and his curriculum includes some anti-slavery books as well. But as I pointed out in my August 2012 article,  

"While Arthur Robinson can point out, quite accurately, that his curriculum also includes books whose authors are fiercely critical of slavery, the very inclusion of pro-slavery legal arguments in his curriculum might suggest to students that there is some legitimate question as to whether slavery should be legal or not, instead of informing them that this debate was considered settled a century and a half ago.

There are even broader issues at stake. Arthur B. Robinson emphasizes the need for Christian homeschooling parents to raise their children apart from contemporary culture and secular society, and this is reflected in his Robinson Curriculum, which for the most part omits historical and cultural content of the last 100 years.

Because the curriculum is designed to be a self guided program in which students explore the curriculum's small library of included books free from adult supervision, the likelihood is that Robinson Curriculum students will learn the cultural attitudes expressed in those books, many of which express the racism and bigotry common in previous centuries.

Robinson Curriculum students will also absorb the inherent bigotry of the curriculum's book selection, overwhelmingly written by white European males - with the implication that great great works of literature, science, and philosophy come almost exclusively from Britain, Europe, and North America, and the reverse implication, that writers and thinkers indigenous to Africa, Asia, South America, and Australia have never produced any writing worthy of inclusion in Art Robinson's canon of great literature."

As I explored in a subsection of my September 18, 2012 essay originally titled Slavery wasn't so bad, says book published by OR Republican Congessional Candidate, Arthur B. Robinson has numerous, close ties to leading Christian Reconstructionists who advocate,

"radically libertarian laissez-faire capitalism and the imposition of decentralized Christian theocratic government structures that would impose Biblical law...

Christian Reconstructionism aims to literally reconstruct society, to create a new cultural and political order based on Biblically-derived legal principles as determined by founder R.J. Rushdoony and his fellow Reconstructionist theorists, among them Art Robinson's friend Gary North."

Racist content in the Robinson Curriculum and in the G.A. Henty novels, which I explored at length in another subsection of my Sept. 18, 2012 article, is highly significant given ideological connections between Christian Reconstructionism and the neo-Confederate movement, whose thinkers depicted the Civil War as, at base, a theological war between an orthodox Southern Christian nation and a heretical, apostate North.

In an essay originally published in Canadian Review of American Studies, Issue 32:3, The US Civil War as a Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South, authors Edward H. Sebesta and Euan Hague, who subsequently helped co-edit the anthology Neo-Confederacy - A Critical Introduction (University of Texas Press, 2008) wrote,

"We argue that the theological war thesis originated in texts by theologians who between them contended that the Confederacy comprised an orthodox Christian nation, at times intertwining this religious viewpoint with, amongst other things, defences of slavery, denunciations of public education and mass schooling, and proposals to maintain a hierarchical and unequal society...

Tracing the theological war thesis from its origins to the turn of the twenty-first century, we show how the belief that the Confederacy was an orthodox Christian nation has gained increasing circulation and acceptance. Once a marginal revisionist reading of the Civil War, we contend that groups as diverse as the Sons of Confederate Veterans heritage organization, Christian Reconstructionist bodies such as the Chalcedon Foundation, and the League of the South now generally accept the theological war thesis. "

[for more context on Christian Reconstructionism and neo-Confederacy, see this July 13, 2011 essay by Sarah Posner, published at Religion Dispatches]

Art Robinson & Gary North

IN late 2002, Christian Reconstructionist theoretician and leader Gary North -- who is known for, among other things, dabbling in Holocaust denialism and proposing the implementation of the Biblical capital punishment of stoning, for such offenses as homosexuality, witchcraft, idolatry, and teenage rebelliousness -- recounted how in 2002 his friend Arthur Robinson, with whom North had co-authored a 1996 book on how to survive nuclear war (Fighting Chance: Ten Feet To Survival), purchased, for pennies on the dollar, a $3 million professional printing press.

Robinson uses the press to print, paper editions, all 99 of the controversial 19th Century boys' adventure novels by British novelist George Alfred Henty, as an optional component to Robinson's Christian fundamentalist homeschooling curriculum, The Robinson Curriculum, developed with help from an acolyte of the Christian Reconstructionism movement, which reveres the Henty novels. Robinson's curriculum is endorsed by a number of important Christian Reconstructionist leaders, Gary North included.

As Robinson explains, on pages 35-26 of his 2012 book Common Sense in 2012 - Prosperity and Charity For America,

"Our family developed a home school curriculum. It is on 22 CD-ROM disks and covers kindergarten through the second year of college. It is designed so that the students can teach themselves. More than 60,000 children now use this curriculum."

Racism in the G.A. Henty Novels

G.A. Henty's zesty, militaristic tales of plucky boyish adventure celebrate British colonialism, depict darker-skinned peoples as stupid, savage and childlike, and romanticize slavery. One of the novels includes a 'comedic' description of an American slave, during the Revolutionary War, being tortured with red hot irons. Another glorifies the brutal lot of Haitian slaves under French colonialism and depicts Haiti's freed slaves as unable to manage their own affairs without European supervision.

Characters populating G.A. Henty's novels also make racist jabs at white ethnic groups, such as the Irish. According to Kathryne S. McDorman, writing for the Historical Dictionary of the British Empire, Volume 1,

"As an imperialist, Henty reflected the predominant prejudices of his day. He never questioned British racial superiority of the necessity for British rule of subject peoples; he especially liked to put pro-British sentiments in the mouth of a "native" who would lament the shortcomings of his own race, nation, or tribe. Henty simplified and dramatized the racial sentiments of such men as Thomas Carlyle or Charles Dilke,* praising some "races," like the Afghans or Sikhs, as educable under British tutelage, while condemning others to perpetual inferiority, calling them "niggers" or "injuns"; Boers* and Jews were considered equally ignoble." [p. 514]

Below are quotes from two of the G.A. Henty novels, and one quote from Arthur Robinson endorsing the Henty books. [note: I have previously examined, at length, (1, 2, 3) racist content in the G.A. Henty novels, and in Art Robinson's Christian home schooling curriculum in a September 18, 2012 article.]

"the negroes on a well-ordered estate, under kind masters, were probably a happier class of people than the laborers upon any estate in Europe." -- from George Alfred Henty's book With Lee in Virginia.

"The Henty books provide training in history and in many of the highest aspects of human character...

American young people should read not a few Henty books, but all 99 of them...

...the reader of Henty's books gradually gains an understanding of human nature and of the historical contexts of world affairs." -- Arthur B. Robinson, from his introduction to the Robinson Curriculum

"The intelligence of an average negro is about equal to that of a European child of ten years old. A few, a very few, go beyond this, but these are exceptions... They are absolutely without originality, absolutely without inventive power. Living among white men, their imitative faculties enable them to attain a considerable amount of civilization. Left alone to their own devices they retrograde into a state little above their native savagery." -- from G. A. Henty's By Sheer Pluck, a Tale of the Ashanti War

The 99 G.A. Henty novels are a standard option to the very modest $200 Robinson Curriculum package - for an additional $80, Christian homeschooling parents ordering the curriculum will receive the entire set on CD, all 99 books scanned by Art Robinson and his children. Wealthier parents can also opt for paper copies of the books: $1199 for hardcover editions, $699 for softcover versions.

Arthur Robinson & the Christian Reconstructionism Movement

Robinson has been roundly mocked from the left for various controversial positions, but little notice has been given to his myriad, close ties to the theocratic movement known as Christian Reconstructionism.

Explained journalist and researcher Frederick Clarkson, in the first installment of his landmark series on Christian Reconstructionism, in the March/June 1994 issue of Public Eye, published by Political Research Associates,

"[One] largely overlooked reason for the persistent success of the Christian Right is a theological shift since the 1960s. The catalyst for the shift is Christian Reconstructionism--arguably the driving ideology of the Christian Right in the 1990s.

The significance of the Reconstructionist movement is not its numbers, but the power of its ideas and their surprisingly rapid acceptance. Many on the Christian Right are unaware that they hold Reconstructionist ideas...  Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.

Reconstructionism has expanded from the works of a small group of scholars to inform a wide swath of conservative Christian thought and action. While many Reconstructionist political positions are commonly held conservative views, what is significant is that Reconstructionists have created a comprehensive program, with Biblical justifications for far right political policies."

Arthur B. Robinson has extensive and intimate ties to the Christian Reconstructionist movement, whose leaders such as Gary North advocate a radically libertarian laissez-faire form of capitalism, as a component of wider plan for a type of theocratic libertarianism.

Christian Reconstructionism aims to literally reconstruct society, to create a new cultural and political order undergirded by Biblically-derived legal principles as determined by founder R.J. Rushdoony and his fellow Reconstructionist theorists, such as Gary North - who in 1982 wrote,

"So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God."

In Christian Reconstructionism's dominionist vision, much of the current U.S. Federal government would be eliminated, with existing functions both privatized and also shifted to more decentralized Christian governing structures - at the state, county, or even local level - which would also to enforce Biblical law -- including capital punishment, by "Biblical" methods such as stoning or burning at the stake, for a range of alleged crimes including witchcraft, blasphemy, idolatry, adultery, female un-chastity (intercourse before marriage), homosexuality, and incorrigible teenage rebellion.

North and other Reconstructionist leaders endorse Robinson's curriculum, which is unsurprising:

A central strategic front in the Christian Reconstructionist plan for achieving dominion over all sectors of society are the Christian private school and home schooling movements. Explains journalist Frederick Clarkson,

"[I]t is in the next generation that most Reconstructionists hope to seize the future. "All long-term social change," declares Gary North, "comes from the successful efforts of one or another struggling organizations to capture the minds of a hard core of future leaders, as well as the respect of a wider population." The key to this, they believe, lies with the Christian school and the home schooling movement, both deeply influenced by Reconstructionism.

Unsurprisingly, Reconstructionists seek to abolish public schools, which they see as a critical component in the promotion of a secular world view. It is this secular world view with which they declare themselves to be at war. "Until the vast majority of Christians pull their children out of the public schools," writes Gary North, "there will be no possibility of creating a theocratic republic." "

In 1998, a heavily sardonic essay in the secular libertarian magazine Reason titled Invitation to a Stoning - Getting cozy with thoecrats, by Walter Olson, hinted at the growing influence of Reconstructionist ideas within the politicized religious right. Launching his essay, Olson quipped,

"For connoisseurs of surrealism on the American right, it's hard to beat an exchange that appeared about a decade ago in the Heritage Foundation magazine Policy Review. It started when two associates of the Rev. Jerry Falwell wrote an article which criticized Christian Reconstructionism, the influential movement led by theologian Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony, for advocating positions that even they as committed fundamentalists found "scary." Among Reconstructionism's highlights, the article cited support for laws "mandating the death penalty for homosexuals and drunkards." The Rev. Rushdoony fired off a letter to the editor complaining that the article had got his followers' views all wrong: They didn't intend to put drunkards to death.

Ah, yes, accuracy does count."

Homing in on Art Robinson's friend and co-author, Dr. Gary North, Olson unleashed his sarcasm,

"Reconstructionists provide the most enthusiastic constituency for stoning since the Taliban seized Kabul. "Why stoning?" asks North. "There are many reasons. First, the implements of execution are available to everyone at virtually no cost." Thrift and ubiquity aside, "executions are community projects--not with spectators who watch a professional executioner do `his' duty, but rather with actual participants." You might even say that like square dances or quilting bees, they represent the kind of hands-on neighborliness so often missed in this impersonal era. "That modern Christians never consider the possibility of the reintroduction of stoning for capital crimes," North continues, "indicates how thoroughly humanistic concepts of punishment have influenced the thinking of Christians." And he may be right about that last point, you know."

Taking Over the Republican Party

About six years after the incident Olson referred to at the opening of his essay, in 1994, libertarian conservative icon Barry Goldwater warned the Washington Post about "fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."

Almost a decade down the road, it's largely a mopping up operation. Which leads us back to Art Robinson:

From 2010 into 2012 I've written a number of articles [1,2,3,4,5] which have provided material for a good deal of subsequent critical liberal media reporting on Arthur Robinson's views [see 1, 2.] But coverage (and ridicule) of Robertson from the left has almost wholly missed a broader point:

Robinson's new position as Oregon GOP party chair conforms to a pattern in which politicians who are partisans of the religious right, or at the very least are aligned with the movement - politicians whose views and associations would have, even a decade ago, confined them to the political fringes, are are now heading state Republican Parties and, at the national level, undermining American government itself - for example, by repeatedly threatening to force a default on national debt interest payments.

Carrying Goldwater's apprehensions into the present, Former long-time Republican Congressional aide Mike Lofgren declared, in his 2011 book The Party is Over, "the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party." In a related essay written for Truthout.org, Lofgren declared,

"the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy. "

Lofgren has been only one among a host of former Republican loyalists, mainly from the traditionalist and secular wing of the party, who over the last two decades have regretfully left the GOP, fled from it, or been forced out, with radicalized religious ideologues filling the ensuing void.

What It Means

Although Arthur Robinson's new position won't likely have much immediate impact in solidly blue-state Oregon, with Democrats in control of both branches of the legislature, his rise within the Oregon GOP fits that ongoing, decades-long national pattern in which activists predominantly aligned with the hard religious right have captured the once-moderate party of Eisenhower and transformed it into a platform for passing extreme, anti-populist legislation, waging ideological warfare, and blocking efforts to advance bipartisan legislation in the national interest.

Arthur B. Robinson first came to my notice in early 2010, when I exposed his 1997 proposal to dispose of low-level radioactive waste by dumping it at sea. This was subsequently picked up by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show, which also aired a 1994 op-ed from Robinson's Access to Energy newsletter that suggested a government conspiracy was inflating HIV/AIDS infection rate numbers.

Among Robinson's other notable positions - he has advocated "sprinkling" low-level radioactive waste from airplanes (Robinson claims this would improve public health), is a strident opponent of public schools ("tax-financed socialism"), rejects evolution (a "pornographic" theory according to Robinson), and has been in the forefront of efforts to discredit the theory that human activity is driving global warming.

The latter may prove Robinson's unfortunate, lasting legacy to life on Earth -- In 1998, Arthur Robinson's Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, together with the Exxon corporation-backed George C. Marshall Institute, launched the now-infamous "Oregon Petition", which claimed to bear the signatures of 17,000 scientists skeptical that human activity is driving climate change. The petition has played a major role in driving climate change skepticism.

Following Robinson's nomination to chair the Oregon Republican Party, Rachel Maddow revisited the controversial views of Robinson covered in her 2010 MSNBC segment.

But such critical liberal media coverage, including from the liberal/progressive Mother Jones magazine has missed both Art Robinson's promotion of racist materials within his home schooling curriculum and also his extensive ties to the theocratic Christian right, especially to the Christian Reconstructionism movement - whose members are credited with helping to develop and market the Robinson Curriculum.

Why are the latter aspects important to note ? Well, the prevailing narrative today, both in mainstream media but also in secular left/liberal/progressive discourse, holds that  the religious right can be safely discounted and ignored because the movement is said to be in decline.

Meanwhile, through the 2010 and 2012 electoral cycles politicians affiliated with the hard religious right gained control of state legislatures and governorships in states across America and have been busily rolling back reproductive rights, de-funding Planned Parenthood, funding the religious right's antiabortion "crisis pregnancy centers" and all-but banning abortion in some states, privatizing and gutting public schools (a major priority for the movement), and advancing movement goals along a range of other fronts - from passing business tax cuts and selling off public assets to private companies to cutting unemployment benefits, to drafting legislation that would ban sustainable development and redefine environmental activism as "terrorism", to attempts to outlaw implementation of Sharia law.    

While a strong case can be made that the religious right has never enjoyed greater political success, both secular public and media interest in the movement has fallen precipitously since 2005:

A simple search on Google Trends, on the term "religious right" reveals that from the period of 2004-2013, interest in that term (as measured by its use in news stories and Internet searches) peaked in 2005 but by 2013 had declined to a mere 7% of the 2005 high frequency. The same search on Christian right shows a similar decline, with the 2013 term frequency down to only 19% of its 2005 high.

[image, below: Google Trends search on frequency of "Religious right", 2004-2013]

The last serious, comprehensive effort to assess the mounting influence of the religious right in state-level politics may have been a study published in 2002, sponsored by the magazine Campaigns and Elections, Spreading Out and Digging In; Christian Conservatives and State Republican Parties which determined that "Christian conservatives" held a "strong" influence in 18 state Republican parties, "moderate" influence in 26 state Republican parties, and "weak" influence in only 7.

By most indications the trend has continued since, and the nomination of Arthur B. Robinson seems to indicate the Christian right takeover of yet another state Republican party structure.

The ongoing religious right takeover of the GOP, which began in the mid to late 1980s, has been chronicled by a number of journalists including Frederick Clarkson. A collection of such writing can be found at the website of the nonprofit TheocracyWatch, in a section titled Taking Over the Republican Party. Also see, at the website Talk2action.org, which I co-founded with Clarkson, the series Taking Over the Republican Party, by TheocracyWatch co-founder Joan Bokaer, and the six-part series from Dr. Bruce Prescott, which begins with On Restoring America  

[image, below: Google Trends search on frequency of "Christian right", 2004-2013]

     

my other articles on Arthur B. Robinson:

5/24/2010: Dump Nuclear Waste at Sea, Proposed Oregon GOP Congressional Candidate

6/29/2010: Oregon GOP Congressional Candidate Sells Racist Book Suggesting Africans Are Like Retarded Children

6/30/2010: GOP Congressional Candidate Friends With "Execution By Stoning" Advocate

9/18/2012: Slavery wasn't so bad, says book published by OR Republican Congressional Candidate

9/19/2012: Republican Proposed "Sprinkling" Radioactive Waste on America

 




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