A coordinated backlash to anti-racism education is ripping local communities apart with backing from major conservative organizations and media outlets, according to a new report.
At least 165 local and national groups are working to disrupt lessons on race and gender, which they decry as critical race theory, with reinforcement from conservative think tanks, law firms, activist parents and -- crucially -- Fox News broadcaster Tucker Carlson, who launched their efforts into prominence and has kept the issue on the front burner, reported NBC News.
"He launched our movements," said suburban Philadelphia mom Elana Yaron Fishbein, who appeared on Carlson's show in September. "He doesn't know it, but he did."
Fishbein, a former social worker, had complained to her school superintendent that lessons on racism, privilege and justice following the police murder of George Floyd were a "plan to indoctrinate the children into the 'woke' culture," and she started a group opposing anti-racism teaching called No Left Turn in Education.
"The schools have been hijacked," she told Carlson. "Our kids are captive audiences, and they think they can do whatever they want with our kids."
Fishbein's group now has 30 chapters in 23 states, and members have confronted school administrators, sued school districts over alleged civil rights violations and helped conservative advocacy groups write proposed legislation opposing so-called critical race theory lessons.
"The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think 'critical race theory,'" wrote Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, in March. "We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans."
Fox News and other conservative media outlets have covered the issue obsessively, with 750 articles per week on Breitbart alone last month, and 2 percent of all Facebook posts mentioned critical race theory in May and 3.6 precent so far in June.
"It's being exploited by actors at the national level," said Jeffrey Henig, of Columbia University's Teachers College, "who see it as an opportunity to reshuffle the politics of the standard educational reform debate."
School board meetings have turned caustic in multiple communities, where activists loudly broadcast various right-wing causes rooted in opposition to anti-racism.
"The thing that disturbs me the most about politicizing school boards is there is no mention of kids. It's not community centered, it's centered on political thought and theory and things that don't connect to education," said Sonja McKenzie, a member of the board of directors of the National School Boards Action Center. "The things that have been politicized — reopening schools, mask wearing, critical race theory — a lot of these are above and beyond the purview of what you do as school boards."