On April 3, USA Today published an array of stories under the banner, “Copy, Paste, Legislate,” exploring the political impact of model bills on state-level legislation — more than 10,000 bills from 2010 to 2018 — based on a two-year joint investigation with the Arizona Republic and the Center for Public Integrity. The lead story headline said it all: “You elected them to write new laws. They’re letting corporations do it instead.“
OK, it wasn’t quite all. While corporate influence was the strongest, figures revealed that conservative groups weren’t far behind: There were 4,301 bills from industry and 4,012 from conservative groups, far more than the 1,602 from liberal groups or the 248 classified as “other.” The hidden origins of these bills often hides their true intent. The most notorious such group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, for instance combines business interests with movement conservatives.
But within the fold of “conservative groups” there’s a whole other story to be told about the organizing of extremist religious conservatives, whose political mobilization, as I’ve noted in the past, played a crucial role in electing Donald Trump. Indeed, just the day before “Copy, Past, Legislate” was published, the Texas Senate passed SB-17, a bill that would protect anti-LGBTQ discrimination by all licensed professionals who claim to act on a “sincerely held religious belief.”
“It’s time for Americans to wake up to the harsh reality that the religious right, fueled by their fear of loss of power from the changing demographics in our country and their support from the Trump administration, is emboldened and aggressively pursuing all means possible to maintain white Christian power in America,” Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, told Salon. “Project Blitz, for example, has already introduced over 50 bills in at least 23 states this year alone,” she added.
One spin-off story published in the Nashville Tennessean dealt specifically with an anti-LGTBQ adoption model bill. (Simultaneously, NBC reported such bills were “’snowballing’ in state legislatures.”) The Tennessee bill came from Project Blitz, which was described as “a legislative effort with the stated aim to ‘bring back God to America.’” But as Salon has reported in the past, Project Blitz is much more sinister than that.
Frederick Clarkson, senior research analyst at Political Research Associates, was the first to discover its three-tier playbook, produced by a coalition of right-wing activists he’d long been following, including Texas Republican activist and pseudo-historian David Barton, whose book, “Jefferson Lies,” which tried to remake Thomas Jefferson as an evangelical hero, was canceled by its publisher under withering criticism from conservative and evangelical scholars (followup here).
“The authors of the Project Blitz playbook are savvy purveyors of dominionism,” Clarkson told Salon at the time. “They are in it for the long haul and try not to say things that sound too alarming. But they live an immanent theocratic vision.” Not all their allies would go all the way with them, Clarkson told me, but the theocratic end they envision is chillingly akin to “The Handmaid’s Tale” — reason enough to warrant far more attention than they’ve gotten so far.
The first tier of Project Blitz aims at importing the Christian nationalist worldview into public schools and other aspects of the public sphere, the second tier aims at making government increasingly a partner in “Christianizing” America, and the third tier contains three types of proposed laws that “protect” religious beliefs and practices specifically intended to benefit bigotry.
“Although category three is divided in three parts, you could also see it as having two main underlying intentions,” Clarkson explained. “First to denigrate the LGBTQ community, and second to defend and advance the right to discriminate. This is one way that the agenda of theocratic dominionism is reframed as protecting the right of theocrats to discriminate against those deemed second-class, at best. As the late theocratic theologian R.J. Rushdoony said, ‘Only the right have rights.'”
The broader findings revealed in “Copy, Paste, Legislate” help to expand our understanding by highlighting three significant patterns shared in various ways with Project Blitz, which are used to advance their theocratic agenda, often hiding it in plain sight:
1) Misleading Language That Inverts Common Sense Project Blitz does this repeatedly with the most fundamental terms: “religious freedom,” “First Amendment,” and so on. In doing so, it mirrors what corporations and insurance companies did with “transparency” in the “Asbestos Transparency Act,” switching the roles of victims and perpetrators, casting themselves as “victims of litigation filed by people harmed by asbestos,” and requiring mesothelioma victims to seek money from an asbestos trust — a lengthy process many won’t live long enough to benefit from. How’s that for “transparency”?
2) Goalpost Moving The entire Project Blitz concept is premised on moving the goalposts. It’s built into the very structure of its three-tiered playbook, as well as the logic of the supporting arguments. A similar strategy was involved in promoting vouchers in Arizona, beginning with a voucher for students with disabilities, then following up with bill after bill offering vouchers to more and more students, eventually all of them, with no guarantee protecting the first group of recipients from getting lost in the process.