The Post Millennial caught up with Christopher Rufo to talk about the germination of his work exposing critical race theory education, and what he thought would happen once he really got into it. Turns out, he was driving for an executive order right from the beginning. And he got it.
Rufo’s work, in articles published this summer, has led directly to the signing of executive orders by President Donald Trump prohibiting federal funds to be used for education in critical race theory. Trump signed the order largely in response to Rufo’s work, and launched the 1776 Commission, which would extend grants for creating an educational curriculum that does not seek to view the nation through the lens of racism disguised as "anti-racism."
TPM: Your work this summer has directly led to the signing of executive orders prohibiting federal funding for reeducation for critical race theory, how does that feel, and how did that happen?
Rufo: It feels great, it’s a major victory. I set a goal at the beginning of August to try to get an executive order to ban critical race theory in the federal bureaucracy and I think the executive order that came out [Tuesday] goes even a few steps further. It not only gets rid of it in the federal training programs but also extends it to federal grants that go to support critical race theory in academia, as well as kind of preventing federal contractors, which includes a majority of the Fortune 500 companies, from teaching it anywhere in their corporation. So it’s a pretty stunning and breathtaking move by the president, and it exceeded my own hopes and dreams for the project.
TPM: How do think this kind of thing would be enforced?
Rufo: Within the executive order they built in some really strong enforcement mechanisms. First, all federal diversity training has to be actually be approved centrally through the OPM and the OMB. So there are going to be administration officials that actually review diversity training programs throughout the federal government before they can be deployed. So they’re going to be able to take a close look at all the content and make sure it’s not in violation. The second thing, they’ve created a pathway for adverse action. Essentially, demoting and firing managers that continue to host these training sessions, if they’re in violation. Third, the president instructed the attorney general to assess whether these trainings, across all of our institutions, whether its in government, private companies, non-profits, academia, whether they constitute a form of toxic work conditions, a form of racial harassment and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. There are a number of avenues and mechanisms for enforcement that I think will fundamentally change the calculus for every institution in the country, as they kind of wake up and understand what’s happened. They’re going to have to adjust their policies accordingly. It was a strong move.
TPM: Where did your reporting begin on this?
Rufo: Every single one of the reports that I've done has emerged from whistleblower documents, people from all of these institutions sending me internal documents, internal emails, internal training pdfs, internal videos in some cases. And that is really the kind of genesis of all these reports. You have people who, up until now, felt powerless to resist this stuff, and then I gave them a channel and a pathway to shine a light on what’s really happening inside these institutions. And then I was able to follow up with the investigative work and the shoe leather reporting, and able to contextualize it, analyze it, and advocate for changes.
TPM: How did people know to come to you about this?
Rufo: I kind of became the guy. A lot of people saw me on Twitter, on Tucker Carlson, at City Journal, and the NY Post. I raised the profile of this work through my original reporting and then it kind of snowballed. The more reporting I did the more exposure that it earned and the more whistleblower documents came into my inbox. It got the point where I had hundreds upon hundreds of sources, and I had to pick and choose the best ones, because I don’t have the capacity to follow up on all the stories.
TPM: How many organizations did people reach out to you from?
Rufo: Easily more than 150 whistleblower reports came to me of varying degrees of quality and calamity came to me. Any time you're analyzing a story, and you have a number of options in front of you, you’re looking for something that is both substantively and stylistically conveys a message, and either distills or crystallizes the critical race theory training into some tangible example that people can really latch onto to. I chose the stories that I think were the biggest violations of decency and the most explosive potential in the media environment. The goal was not only to do the reporting but to get the reporting to reverberate throughout the country and to drive the potential for changes.
TPM: So you were always looking at this with the goal of it inspiring this kind of action?
Rufo: I was. I actually announced early in august the goal that I visualized was to persuade the president to issue an executive order to abolish critical race theory from the federal government. And at the time, people told me “y’know that’s crazy, it’s not going to happen, that’s kind of a pipe dream,” and said it was naive. But I knew it was possible, and in some ways I knew it was going to happen. I had supreme confidence that this could get done, and I organized my work and activities in this way in order to achieve it.
TPM: How do you think critical race theory emerged into mainstream discourse? Going back into academia, and the arts, what kicked it off and why?
Rufo: It really didn’t even enter the mainstream conversation until recently. I think it started in academia and then spread through the affiliated institutions, whether it’s an HR department, or a non profit, or a K-12 education, or corporate diversity programs, bureaucracy. There’s kind of a network of aligned ideological institutions that were kind of a natural pipeline for this stuff. But I don't think people were actually thinking or talking about it in a very substantive way except for a very few renegade thinkers like James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose. There were only a few people who have raised the alarm in the past few years. I think the network around Dave Rubin, and the IDW people were talking about this. But it didn't really elevate into the mainstream until recently and I think there’s a couple reasons for that. One is that it’s just achieved dominance. It’s now it's the dominant ideological idea in our public institutions. The climate that’s emerged under the Trump administration enabled a lot of these ideas to come into the mainstream.
TPM: You were talking about the IDW having brought all these ideas out, and a lot of those people were called white supremacists and racists for even questioning it. Why do you think that was?
Rufo: I think that’s a cynical power play where the people on the hyper-progressive deploy these linguistic attacks, whether they’re calling you a racist or a white supremacist, or a sexist, or a transphobe, there’s a whole vocabulary of these terms that 99 percent of the time that they’re deployed don’t actually match the reality of the person they’re attacking. The people of the IDW are predominantly liberals and progressives. There’s no substantive basis for that kind of accusation. But they use it because it has been effective. It’s essentially a social deterrent. It’s a social attack that carries an enormous amount of linguistic weight. The problem is that it’s been so over-used and it’s been so degraded that it’s almost become meaningless. I’ve read articles recently where they’re saying that square-dancing is white supremacist, that math is white supremacist, that logic is white supremacist, and when you these words in a way that completely demolishes any semblance of meaning, they are reduced in their power. So I think we’ve come to a point where people will lob these accusations totally unfairly at their political opponents. But I don’t think it has the same kind of bite that it did, and the same kind of impact as it did even two or three years ago.
TPM: Why do you think people have gone along with these ideas?
Rufo: Fear. I think they’re scared. And critical race theory is constructed in a way, much like a kind of cult ideology, where if you disagree with it, if you contest the ideas of critical race theory, of the cult, it’s just a proof point for your own guilt. So in critical race theory, if you say actually I disagree with this, they’ll say “well that’s your white fragility, or your internalized white supremacy, or your white privilege speaking.” And actually your dissent is really just a sign of your own complicity in your system, and more proof that you need to have your thoughts completely reworked. I think it’s been very effective frankly. They’ve done a good job at using social pressure and intimidation in order to bully the average person who wants to be part of a team, who doesn't want to ruffle feathers, who doesn't want to take a risk. They’ve preyed on the good nature of people to exploit people and essentially bully people into their cult-like ideology.
TPM: Lots of the anti-racism workshops tout the work that white people need to do to overcome white supremacy, what do you think this work entails, and do you think there is a motivation behind asking white people to do it? Does this work ever end?
Rufo: No, you just have to listen to the people who are running these things because the work never ends by definition. The kind of magical, reductive essence of whiteness can never be overcome. It can never be successfully purged from its own evil. And it is kind of a cosmological force that is a new Platonic universal. In the literature of critical race theory, it’s very explicit that people who have internalized whiteness can never truly be purified of this. This is line with classical Cult 101 programming, where you convince someone of an internal flaw, or defect, you present a solution to a it both at the individual and global level, but then you always keep it slightly out of reach in order to maintain control and power. And that’s exactly what the critical race theorists are doing. It’s deeply cynical, it’s deeply pessimistic, and it’s deeply destructive to both individuals and society.
TPM: Do you think American society is systemically racist?
Rufo: I don't. I think that American society certainly in the past has been systemically racist. I think that there’s a strong argument that there’s historical systemic racism in the United States. But I don’t think it’s a fair or factual assessment to say that America is currently systematically racist. You can have racial disparities in outcomes in a society that is not systemically racist. You can have a historical legacy of racism, which again I believe is absolutely something that is true in my own field-work, in America’s poorest communities, and yet the laws and institutions are not systemically racist. I think systemic racism is an abstract ,vague term that when you try to pin people down on it, they’re unable to truly define it, because actually more specific and more concrete, the argument for pervasive and unlimited institutional racism in the contemporary United States starts to fall apart.
TPM: Do you think that critical race theory is being used as a driving force behind the right to riot that we’re currently seeing in American cities?
Rufo: I think there’s a direct line that connects critical race theory to the pernicious diversity training programs to the street riots that we've seen for the past 120 days. And I think they’re all driven by the same core tenets and convictions of critical race theory: that the United State is irredeemably a racist country, that our institutions cannot be reformed but have to be overthrown, and that if we simply burn down the structures of society, some great kind of anti-racist utopia will emerge. This is false both in the premise and in the conclusion. It has no validity as an empirical argument, and I think that it’s extremely dangerous because you are essentially having an intellectual class that encourages and then validates rioting—that for the most part hurts the poorest neighbourhoods in American cities, and deprives the poorest people of opportunities. So I think that you just have to listen to the speeches that are happening at these rallies and riots and protests to understand that they’re the street translation of academic critical race theory. I think that the intellectuals hold the ultimate responsibility for fomenting this violence and disorder, and pushing an ideology that ends up hurting the very people that they claim to be trying to help. That’s really the moral scandal of critical race theory, is that it doesn’t do anything to improve conditions for racial and ethnic minorities in America’s poorest neighbourhoods. In fact, in actually encourages a world view that demolishes the concept of agency, that demolishes the concept of possibility, and demolishes the possibility of hope.