Sian Norris and Heidi Siegmund Cuda delve into what happened on 6 January 2021 at the US Capitol and investigate how the white supremacist aims of the insurrectionists have led to a far-right capture of education policy

“This is America,” a man at the attempted insurrection on 6 January 2021 shouted into the camera. “We are America.”

Anyone watching the scenes unfolding outside the US Capitol a year ago will likely notice one thing: this was a revolution led by white men. Yes, there were women and black and ethnic minority people present. But they were vanishingly rare in a riotous crowd dominated by white men. 

These were men who believed the “big lie” that the 2020 US Presidential Election had been stolen and who wanted Donald Trump to remain in power – a desire so large that some, at least, were prepared to trigger a second civil war to achieve it. It was also the day conservative white men became murderous toward police officers.

This desire for civil war forms part of the fascist thought-architecture of the new far-right – a thought-architecture underpinning the actions of extremists taking part in the attempted insurrection.

Put simply, the modern far-right adheres to a conspiracy theory known as the ‘Great Replacement’, which baselessly claims that white people are being ‘replaced’ by immigration from the Global South as a form of ‘white genocide’. To defeat this apparent replacement, the far-right aims to wage a race war, codenamed “boogaloo”. It was this that was the goal of some, if not all, of those attending the Capitol on 6 January. 

This was a white supremacist revolution eager to keep a white supremacist president. While it failed, the aims of white supremacists have not gone away. Instead, they have taken their race war into the nation’s schools and cultural institutions.

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The Race War in US Schools 

Having failed to spark a literal war, the white supremacist far-right in the US have launched an all-out assault, in coalition with mainstream Republicans, at a concept known as “critical race theory”, leading to book bans in US schools and libraries, and fermenting racial tensions across the nation. 

Critical race theory is an academic field which explores ideas about white privilege and institutionalised racism. It is a subject taught at university not school, but this truth has not prevented a lie taking hold that white schoolchildren in US are being indoctrinated via ‘politicised’ teaching about ‘wokeness’ and even ‘cultural Marxism’ – a manufactured far-right enemy that has come to stand for a range of progressive movements such as Black Lives Matter, feminism and LGBTIQ rights.

Its opponents claim that the theory blames white people for past crimes against humanity such as the enslavement of black African people – ignoring that, far from doing so, it simply demands that white people recognise and play a role in dismantling structural racism. 

“They’ve been building their recent campaigns on the misappropriation of the term, Critical Race Theory,” Anne Nelson, author of Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right told Byline Times. “It’s all based on misrepresentation that amounts to a lie saying ‘we have to protect our children in elementary school from being told they’re racist’.

“First of all, that’s not what CRT does, and second of all, it’s not a feature of elementary schools. So they’re scare-mongering based on a totally false premise, several false premises.” 

There is now a right-wing onslaught against discussions of racism in the US school system. Nine states – Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona, and North Dakota – have passed legislation that ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the US is inherently racist, as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. The legislation also extends to discussions on gender. 

Of these nine, Idaho and North Dakota explicitly mention critical race theory, while the ban in Arizona was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court. School boards in a further four states – Florida, Utah, Georgia and Alabama – have introduced new guidelines barring critical race theory-related discussions, while state actors in Montana and South Dakota have denounced teaching concepts associated with it. It was also weaponised in the Virginia governor campaign, as Byline Times reported.

The white supremacist education agenda has extended to bans on books.

Last month, Oklahoma State Senator Rob Standridge proposed legislation that gives parents power to ban books on school shelves, with a $10,000 bounty to be collected by parents for each day a challenged book remains on library shelves. Stanridge justified his proposal by saying that “more and more schools are trying to indoctrinate students by exposing them to gender, sexual and racial identity curriculums and courses. My bills will ensure these types of lessons stay at home and out of the classroom”.

The American Library Association has even reported attempts to burn books that offer perspectives on race and gender, in what is a disturbing echo of 1930s Germany. In Texas, a new state law restricts how teachers can educate pupils about race and history, while a politician questioned why 850 books addressing issues of race and gender are on library shelves.

The attacks on critical race theory, black literature and writing raising questions about gender roles and stereotyping demonstrate how the far-right, white supremacist aims expressed by those at the Capitol have gone mainstream in the year since. That Republican law-makers are enacting this white supremacist aim in the legislature demonstrates the capture of a mainstream party by the far-right.

But in this, the US is not alone. 


The UK Impact

The UK is facing its own backlash against critical race theory and attempts to explore the role of racism and white supremacy in British history. 

Conservative Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch has publicly attacked the theory, saying that “any school which teaches these elements of critical race theory, or which promotes partisan political views such as defunding the police without offering a balanced treatment of opposing views, is breaking the law”.

Her intervention came as more and more of her colleagues attacked ‘wokeness’ and so-called ‘cultural Marxism’ – a conspiracist concept rooted in antisemitism – within Britain’s cultural institutions such as museums. 

One example was the backlash against the heritage charity the National Trust taking steps to recognise the role the slave trade played in creating the wealth that built many of its properties. In response, 28 Conservative MPs in the ‘Common Sense Group’ wrote to the Telegraph newspaper condemning the move as a form of cultural Marxism, saying that their aim is “to ensure that institutional custodians of history and heritage, tasked with safeguarding and celebrating British values, are not coloured by cultural Marxist dogma”.

Such actions form part of the manufactured ‘war on woke’ currently waged by the right on what the Common Sense Group call the “liberal elite bourgeoisie” but which is, in fact, simply schools, universities and cultural institutions recognising the reality of Britain’s imperial history. 

If the lessons from the US are anything to go by, the culture war against education on race and gender issues are an example of a far-right agenda being acted out by mainstream governments.

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