School boards under siege nationally from right-wing culture warriors – just as Steve Bannon urged
Steve Bannon (Reuters)

The stories are popping up everywhere. A school board member in Colorado repeatedly gets called a Nazi. A Kansas school board candidate slanders a mother as "a child abuser" for supporting for her trans child. In a neighboring Kansas county, an awarding-winning memoir by a prominent LGBTQ activist is targeted as pornography by three other candidates.

Mostly the stories appear in local media, but this is no organic uprising. A well-funded roster of scattered -- and often shadowy -- national entities have sprung up to advance a strategy laid out by no less an insurrectionist than Steve Bannon.

In a May 19 podcast, Bannon sounded the battle cry: "The path to save the nation is very simple, it's going to go through the school boards."

The national impetus behind what superficially appear as local right-wing activism is becoming more apparent as shadowy groups intensify the culture wars at the school-board level. A common denominator is a presumed focus upon "Critical Race Theory" (CRT), a college-level philosophy rarely employed in K-12 public education in America.

But candidates endorsed by the CRT-focused groups are increasingly making headlines with culture-war attacks that anti-vax, anti-mask, transphobic and otherwise designed to fit the grievance agenda of Trumpism.

One such example is the "1776 Project PAC," reportedly headed by conservative author and activist Ryan Girdusky of New York. The organization's website is solely focused upon CRT, but the candidates it has endorsed in faraway Kansas are not.

Click on the 1776 Project PAC website -- or any tab -- and you will be interrupted with the prominent opportunity to "Report a School Promoting Critical Race Theory." The group's mission of "Promoting Patriotism and Pride in American History" appears to have a laserlike focus:

"We are a political action committee dedicated to electing school board members nationwide who want to reform our public education system by promoting patriotism and pride in American history. We are committed to abolishing critical race theory and 'The 1619 Project' from the public school curriculum."

The 1776 Project PAC has endorsed 55 candidates in seven states -- Pennsylvania, Colorado, Kansas, Minnesota, Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey -- but while the content of the website is limited to CRT, some of those candidates are making their headlines with sexier prongs of the culture war.

There's Jim McMullen, a 1776 Project PAC endorsee who last week retweeted an ABC News article about a mother of a transgender child asking President Joe Biden what he will do to protect LGBTQ rights. McMullen wrote, "ABC promoting a child abuser." McMullen last year posted on social media, "there are no 8-year -old transgender kids."

Reporting at Kansas City' NPR affiliate suggests there's pushback, even in conservative Kansas.

"On its website, the 1776 Project PAC says it is "committed to abolishing critical race theory" and sets itself up in opposition to the New York Times' 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles that aimed to "reframe the country's history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative."

The 1776 Project PAC's involvement in local school board races got heated pushback from Stand Up Blue Valley, a public education advocacy group, which wrote on its Facebook page last month, "Despite what this New York-based PAC wants you to believe, Critical Race Theory (CRT) is NOT being taught in Blue Valley Schools."

"NO East-Coast PAC should have ANY say in our kids' education and we know our members will agree," Stand Up Blue Valley's message continued. "So it's our job to Get Out The Vote and send a clear message to outside special interests eyeing our School Board races: 'You are not welcome here and the Blue Valley School Board is NOT for sale.'"