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The Red States’ War on Human Rights

From abortion bans to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills and attacks on critical race theory, the Republicans are waging a war against human rights, reports Heidi Siegmund Cuda

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signs the Don’t Say Gay Bill. Photo: Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire)/Alamy

The Red States’ War on Human Rights

From abortion bans to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills and attacks on critical race theory, the Republicans are waging a war against human rights, reports Heidi Siegmund Cuda

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When an anti-abortion activist crowed that “five years from now, we’ll realise that Roe versus Wade was slowly overturned without it ever making a big headline”, it turned out that time-frame was overly generous.

The right to abortion in America has never been under greater threat. In December, Texas passed a law banning abortion after six weeks, along with a vigilante-style ruling that would penalise anyone accused of assisting women to access reproductive healthcare. 

The Supreme Court failed to act, allowing the law to go through. The decision was a firing shot for other Republican, anti-abortion law-makers. Since then, Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana and Oklahoma have all introduced draconian bans. Idaho attempted to follow suit but its Supreme Court blocked the law. For now. 

Later this summer, the Supreme Court will hear a case from Mississippi which, if successful, will overturn Roe versus Wade – the court decision that legalised safe abortion nationwide on the basis of the constitutional right to privacy. When that happens, abortion laws will be decided on a state-by-state basis. Already, 86 bills to restrict or ban abortion are ready to launch in 31 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute

The attack on abortion is just one front of a war against human rights and progressive politics being waged by the Republican Party. Despite having lost the 2020 Presidential Election, the GOP is enacting its regressive agenda through the courts, the schools and the state legislatures – rolling-back women’s, LGBTIQ and people of colour’s rights.

Don’t Say Gay

The decision by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to implement the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law – which effectively bans the representation of LGBTIQ people in the State’s schools – is familiar to anyone who went to school in the UK in the 1990s.

During that period, the hated Section 28 law banned the so-called “promotion” of homosexuality and “fake family relationships”.

It’s also straight out of the Russian playbook – mimicking the gay propaganda rules, and Hungary’s ban on depictions of LGBTIQ people in media aimed at children. 

“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is checking the boxes for his presidential run in 2024,” Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, told Byline Times. “He wants to outflank Trump to the right, and part of that is going after critical race theory, corporations, their ‘stop woke’ agenda. It’s a checklist. They passed an abortion ban, they passed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. This is about book banning, censorship, and surveillance.”

But it’s not just LGBTIQ people under fire in the state’s education system. Florida just announced it rejected dozens of mathematics books, claiming that they referred to critical race theory. Otherwise known as CRT, critical race theory has become a flashpoint in the ‘culture wars’ on both sides of the Atlantic.

Despite the fact that CRT in the US is something students can choose to study in higher education – and does not form part of the school curriculum – right-wing ideologues have seized upon the issue to claim white children are being indoctrinated to feel guilty for being white. 

Florida Representative Carlos Smith recently tweeted that DeSantis was “hysterically pulling math books outta FL schools claiming they ‘indoctrinate’ kids with CRT. This isn’t just crazy right-wing pandering – next they’ll spend MILLIONS of tax dollars forcing schools to buy math books from GOP campaign donors”.

During his recent speech to the US right-wing think-tank, The Heritage Foundation, the UK Conservative Party’s Co-Chairman Oliver Dowden condemned CRT and explained how its teaching had been banned in UK schools. He did not appear to see the contradiction in talking about promoting freedom of speech and banning discussions about race.  

Smith said that these pre-scripted bills are multiplying throughout America.

“These bills are cut-and-paste from right-wing think tanks, so it’s not just Florida,” she said. “These bills are being introduced all across the country. The content of these laws are completely fabricated, and they’re designed to create this sense of outrage, this moral panic.”

Race is repeatedly weaponised in the culture wars waged by the Republican right.

“The Koch cadre was happy to weaponise the racist response to America’s first black president… to move their political agenda,” said Nancy MacLean, author of Democracy in Chains.

Her book documents the massive right-wing machine financed by the businessmen, Charles and David Koch, the latter of whom died in 2019.

“It’s about the cultivation of white Christian tribal identity and the daily provoking of that,” she told Byline Times. “They succeed by cultivating non-stop culture war. It’s clearly their strategy for the 2022 mid-terms. Attacks on trans people, Don’t Say Gay, really ugly attacks on any attempt to teach the truth about American history, and the role of race in our society.”

For Nancy MacLean, if the progressive wing of US and UK politics wants to defeat this attack, it is time to “learn how to walk and chew gum” – with specific emphasis on the need for a Democrat success in this year’s mid-term elections.  

“If Democrats have any chance of holding power, we have to have deep structural reform,” she added. “If we do row together, this could be a time of transformation.”


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Red Versus Blue

With red states hurriedly writing anti-abortion laws to enact, should Roe versus Wade be overturned this summer, 15 blue states along with Washington D.C. are introducing and passing legislation to enshrine abortion care s a state-wide right. In fact, California law-makers are creating a series of bills that would make it a sanctuary state for abortions. 

The response to the abortion threat demonstrates how the dichotomy between red and blue is increasingly stark – with those on the right increasingly relying on conspiracist language to push their agenda.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ spokesperson Christina Pushaw tweeted last month that Florida’s anti-gay bill could be “more accurately described as an anti-grooming bill”. This deliberate choice of words harks back to ugly stereotypes that gay people are predatory against children, and plays to the QAnon ‘Save the Children’ crowd which believes that the Republicans – and, increasingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin – will protect children from left-wing elites seeking to groom and abuse them.

The language was instantly repeated by far-right politicians such as Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene and showed up on posters at a Disneyland Orlando protest when the company came out against the bill. Pushaw worked for a Koch Brother-backed foundation, as well as for the former president of the country of Georgia.

Governor Ron DeSantis was approached for comment.

Author David Pepper cautions that the Republican-led states are operating as autocratic fiefdoms. His book, Laboratories of Autocracy: A Wake-Up Call From Behind the Lines, describes the corrosive chipping away of democracy by states and how it paves the way for authoritarianism.

“Authoritarianism is about control of bodies and policing sexuality,” Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of Strongmen, told Byline Times. “That’s why strongmen and their followers have taken away reproductive rights and have also persecuted LGBTQ+ people for a century.”

These threats often start against the weakest members of society, said Nadine Smith.

“What they sharpen their knives on is who they perceive to be politically the weakest, it’s why they went after trans kids,” she said. “Raise your hand if you know a trans kid. Not many hands will go up. With that victory, it emboldened them to come after a larger swath of the population. They’re coming for you right now, too.”

A spokesperson for Ron DeSantis told Byline Times: “we aren’t in the business of responding to partisan critics. The Governor will do what is right and in the best interest of Floridians.”

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