How a Conservative Activist Invented the Conflict Over Critical Race Theory - 2021-06-18
He thought that the phrase was a better description of what conservatives were opposing, but it also seemed like a promising political weapon. "Its connotations are all negative to most middle-class Americans, including racial minorities, who see the world as 'creative' rather than 'critical,' 'individual' rather than 'racial,' 'practical' rather than 'theoretical.' Strung together, the phrase 'critical race theory' connotes hostile, academic, divisive, race-obsessed, poisonous, elitist, anti-American." Most perfect of all, Rufo continued, critical race theory is not "an externally applied pejorative." Instead, "it's the label the critical race theorists chose themselves."
Last summer, Rufo published several more pieces for City Journal, and, on September 2nd, he appeared on "Tucker Carlson Tonight." Rufo had prepared a three-minute monologue, to be uploaded to a teleprompter at a Seattle studio, and he had practiced carefully enough that when a teleprompter wasn't available he still remembered what to say. On air, set against the deep-blue background of Fox News, he told Carlson, "It's absolutely astonishing how critical race theory"—he said those three words slowly, for emphasis—"has pervaded every aspect of the federal government." Carlson's face retracted into a familiar pinched squint while Rufo recounted several of his articles. Then he said what he'd come to say: "Conservatives need to wake up. This is an existential threat to the United States. And the bureaucracy, even under Trump, is being weaponized against core American values. And I'd like to make it explicit: The President and the White House—it's within their authority to immediately issue an executive order to abolish critical-race-theory training from the federal government. And I call on the President to immediately issue this executive order—to stamp out this destructive, divisive, pseudoscientific ideology."
The next morning, Rufo was home with his wife and two sons when he got a phone call from a 202 area code. The man on the other end, Rufo recalled, said, " 'Chris, this is Mark Meadows, chief of staff, reaching out on behalf of the President. He saw your segment on 'Tucker' last night, and he's instructed me to take action." Soon after, Rufo flew to Washington, D.C., to assist in drafting an executive order, issued by the White House in late September, that limited how contractors providing federal diversity seminars could talk about race. "This entire movement came from nothing," Rufo wrote to me recently, as the conservative campaign against critical race theory consumed Twitter each morning and Fox News each night. But the truth is more specific than that. Really, it came from him.