Maurice Cunningham: Beware the Koch-Funded “Parents Groups”

Prominent Republican political figures are rushing in to support the anti-critical race theory parent activists, hoping that these local battles will mobilize conservative voters in next year’s midterms and beyond.Matt Williams / for NBC News

Maurice Cunningham is a retired professor of political science in Massachusetts who specializes in following the trail of Dark Money into school issues. He was a major influence in turning the public against a state referendum to expand charters in 2016; he revealed the Dark Money behind the charter advocacy and that revealed the lies behind the rosy rhetoric.

In this post, he describes the role of Koch money behind “parent groups” harassing educators in Newton, Mass.

He writes:

On Friday Travis Anderson of the Boston Globe reported that two Black principals in Newton had received “racist and confrontational” messages for doing their jobs: to help their students process the verdicts in the Kyle Rittenhouse and Tracy McMichael, Gregory McMichael, and William Bryan Jr. (murderers of Ahmaud Arbery) trials. The hate came rolling in after the educators’ teaching methods were blown up in the right wing media network. Yes it’s terrible but it’s also deliberate.

The Globe reported that the hateful messages came after the radical right Breitbart News ran a heated misrepresentation about the Newton educators. Similar bulldust was published by conservative provocateurs Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, and The Federalist.

The generator of the story to the right wing propaganda network was Parents Defending Education. PDE is run by veteran Koch operative Nicole Neily, who refuses to discuss who funds the outfit (she can’t; it’s bad for business). PDE has ties to the Council for National Policy (CNP) which, as Anne Nelson has shown in Shadow Network, manages and coordinates strategy and tactics for an array of radical billionaire funders and Christian nationalist activists.

PDE is working on a model Koch and CNP have long used to attack college professors. Isaac Kamola explains how it’s done in “Dear Administrators: To Protect Your Faculty from Right Wing Attacks, Follow the Money.” Some information is received (PDE encourages anonymous tipsters) and then twisted or taken out of context. This works best if the educator is a woman, person of color (like the Newton principals), or LGBTQ. Then fringe outlets like Breitbart, Daily Caller, Federalist pick it up and publicize it. (With a little luck and the CNP’s connections, it might get on Fox). Post it online for the lip reading haters who act on this garbage and just sit back. The racist hate mail, phone calls, and social media posts will flow.

It’s depressing right? But it’s also intentional. This is part of a coordinated right wing attack on public schools (Critical Race Theory, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, billionaire funded “parent” groups) and an assault on our government and American democracy. Parents Defending Education, Campus Reform, Moms for Liberty, Breitbart, Federalist—they all know what they’re doing and they know the results that eventuate from their tactics.

This is a hard story for daily journalism to tell, but it has to find a way. American democracy doesn’t have much time left.

We all need to stand up for our democracy and our public schools.

Cunningham recently published a new book, Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

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