Sunday, November 26, 2023

Chris Rufo Wants To Boost More Culture Chaos Agents

What if Chris Rufo, education dudebro, astroturf landscaper, and cultural chaos agent, could scale up his work? Looks like we may get to find out.

Chris Rufo is a special kind of magician. He tells the audience what he's going to and how he's going to do it, and then he does it, and somehow the audience is still amazed.

His first and in many ways still his most impressive trick was the creation of critical race theory panic. Rather than try to fig leaf the whole thing and try to mask it as some sort of spontaneous grass roots panic, Rufo told anyone who would listen (like The New Yorker) that he intended to take this obscure academic term and weaponize it, deliberately turning it into a tool to attack everything that folks out in right field didn't like. 

As he infamously tweeted, "The goals is to have the public read something crazy in the news and immediately think 'critical race theory.' We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.'

Of course, he only meant certain Americans. But there was a certain bracing clarity to his announcement that he would conduct a bad faith argument in order to strip the term of its actual meaning and instead use it to paper over the less savory term "stuff that right wing white people hate." 

This is not a new thing. As writers and historians like Adam Laats have chronicled, this sort of debate has surfaced repeatedly. "Teaching evolution" served as a shorthand for "indoctrinating children with a bunch of secular stuff." Evolution (and values-clarification and Common Core etc etc etc) was, for some opponents, emblematic of a larger trend in society, a symbol of the larger drift away from certain conservative christianist ideas and values.

What's striking about Rufo is how bald-faced he is about using convenient targets as tools for political purposes. 

It's impressive in its own way. "Se this stick," Rufo announces. "I'm going to use some words, wave my hands around, and convince you that it's really a snake so that you'll scream and run away from it, even though it's a stick." And shortly thereafter, a bunch of people can be seen screaming and running away from the stick.

He's tried the same trick with a few other sticks. "Schools should be more transparent," he said, explaining that the trick would be to "bait the left into supporting transparency" so we can force transparency on these "ideological actors." He hit on his next big stick with the topic of "gender ideology," a catch-all term for anything that promoted tolerance for LGBTQ persons. Rufo told the New York Times
The reservoir of sentiment on the sexuality issue is deeper and more explosive than the sentiment on the race issues.

This meant, he suggested, that the issue had even "more potential" as a tool for agitation. He may well be right; the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025 education document for guiding the hopes-for conservative President is dry and wonky except when it comes to gender issues, at which point it lapses raging mouth-frothing rhetoric. But Rufo's discussion of the topic (one that he didn't feel much compelled to discuss previously) is largely practical and tactical. The topic is another tool. 

It is impossible to tell how much of his own Kool-aid Rufo drinks, though he certainly shows a devotion to the fabulist narrative that America was take over by left-wing bad guys who flamed out in 1968 and then became somehow both a weak minority and also a vast powerful conspiracy to take over the country. If you have the time and the stomach, check out his ten minute video about Nixon, "a man, reviled in his time, who left behind a blueprint for counter-revolution—the last hope for restoring the American republic." (And for bonus reading, this artifact of his failed Seattle City Council run five years ago.)

But Rufo is a busy guy, and it makes sense to see if he can scale up his operation. So here comes the Logos Fellowship. Rufo announced it as "a year-long accelerator program I will be leading for conservative journalists, activists, and opinion leaders." Here's how the website for the fellowship describes it:

Modeled on successful tech-industry accelerators, the Logos Fellowship will consist of a three-day retreat in New York City and ongoing mentorship, amplification, and promotion. Fellows will bring a specific “culture war” project to the program, which our team will help nurture over the course of the year. The goal is to help move these independent projects from conception to execution, so that they begin to shape the discourse and change public policy. Some topics that we hope to address are critical race theory, gender ideology, higher education reform, crime and policing, and civil rights law.
Again, notice that none of this is about serious holding beliefs, acting out concerns, or examining complex issues. It's about a "'culture war' project" to be built up as lever for building political weight. 

If selected, you get your project kicked off at a three-day, all expenses paid retreat in New York City, where Logos Fellowship director Rufo will teach you about how to use "narrative, language, influence, power" to help you design your campaign to make people to treat your particular stick like a snake. Youi also get a $1,000 honorarium. Given that all of this is being handled by the Manhattan Institute, that seems kind of cheap.

In addition, you get:

Mentorship--workshops and office hours from Rufo and his team

Public events-- "We will host monthly Twitter Spaces to drive the narrative on our portfolio of issues" 

Connections-- get hooked up with cable news bookers, policy makers, and aligned organizations to get your stuff out there into the right wing bubble

Publication opportunities-- pitch stories to City Journal, a Manhattan Institute publication where Rufo is a contributing editor. 

So how can someone be considered for this awesome opportunity? Here's the criteria:

A qualified applicant for the Logos Fellowship is an individual who possesses a deep commitment to conservative principles, a track record of active engagement in conservative causes, and a compelling individual project for the incubator program. The ideal applicant will have strong communication skills and an active presence on X/Twitter.

Just submit a 300-500 word project proposal, a one-minute video, and a resume. The application materials "should convey passion, conviction, and a compelling narrative." I guess actually having those things is optional.  And if you've already got a regular job in the conservative thinky tank or advocacy world, that's totally cool. 

The deadline is December 1 (Rufo announced it on October 30), so you'd better hurry up and apply (though I'm going to call this right now for Daniel Buck). Gotta get things up and running for the new year--those astroturfed political outrage movements don't make themselves, you know. 

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