How Powerful Is This Right-Wing Shadow Network? - 2020-02-19
Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right by Anne Nelson focuses on an organization that has attracted relatively little attention in popular studies of the right so far. Her subject is the Council for National Policy, a secretive, innocuously named organization founded in 1981 "by a small group of archconservatives who realized that the tides of history had turned against them." As the demographics of the United States shifted in the decades after World War II—and increasing numbers of people of color, immigrants, queer people, and atheists appeared poised to form a "decisive majority"—these archconservatives believed that their policy priorities would fail at the ballot box. They would need a new set of strategies and they would need to be tightly organized.
So a small collection of super-right-wing activists created a hub to connect, as one member put it, the "donors and the doers." Over the next two generations, Nelson writes, the CNP came to function as a "nerve center" for the ascendant conservative movement. In her telling, the council represents a sort of skeleton key for the right-wing takeover, "connecting the manpower and media of the Christian right with the finances of Western plutocrats and the strategy of right-wing Republican political operatives."
The CNP did not emerge out of nowhere. Nelson, a veteran journalist, traces its origins in part to the Southern Baptist Convention and its internal struggles. Founded in 1845 by breakaway Baptists who seceded from the national church because they disagreed with its opposition to slavery, the convention struggled over the century following the Civil War with how much to accept evolving social norms. As the convention began to grow more liberal in the 1960s and 1970s, a more conservative faction struck back; led by Texans Paige Patterson and Herman Paul Pressler III, a small group of fundamentalists employed get-out-the-vote tactics to engineer a conservative takeover of the convention in 1979. "Patterson and Pressler's next step was to extend their strategy from church to state," writes Nelson. "Their plan was rooted in the concept of theocracy: the belief that government should be conducted through divine guidance, by officials who are chosen by God." As Nelson notes toward the end of the book, both Patterson and Pressler were recently implicated in #MeToo scandals, with Patterson accused of covering up accounts of sexual abuse within his seminary and Pressler accused of committing sexual misconduct himself. But between 1979 and 2019, the "conservative resurgence" they fomented achieved extraordinary success.