Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed right-wing activist Christopher Rufo, who rose to national prominence demonizing racial justice advocates and attacking LGBTQ communities, to the board of trustees of the New College of Florida. The appointment is all the more noteworthy given that Rufo lives in Gig Harbor, Washington.
Rufo is a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and has spent years attempting to inject bigotry and incorrect information into mainstream discourses about gay and trans people, drag queens, and the academic discipline known as critical race theory. Rufo is also a frequent guest on Fox News, including on Tucker Carlson’s prime-time show.
“My ambition is to help the new board majority transform New College into a classical liberal arts institution,” Rufo tweeted in response to the news. “We are recapturing higher education.”
Rufo has long wanted to exert conservative control over educational policy, calling teachers “political predators” under a pretext of curriculum transparency. Now, with a new formal appointment, he’s positioned to threaten the safety and well-being of Black and LGBTQ students at New College of Florida, a public liberal arts school with a reportedly significant gay and trans population.
“A lot of the students there are trans and even more are queer,” Parkland shooting survivor and gun control activist X González recently wrote in The Cut. González added that “In the queer space of New College, changing your pronouns, name, or presentation is a nonevent.”
Rufo has repeatedly voiced his opposition to respecting trans and nonbinary people’s pronouns, further evidence that his presence could very well endanger the school’s supportive environment. If that’s DeSantis’ goal, it would be fully in line with the governor’s other anti-LGBTQ policies, and his broader strategy of harming vulnerable populations to create a spectacle to further his own political ambitions.
Rufo largely owes his standing in conservative media to his successful attacks on critical race theory, or CRT. As nationwide protests erupted in the summer of 2020 following the police murder of George Floyd in a Minneapolis suburb, Rufo began writing about Black Lives Matter with the goal of discrediting the movement. That September, he appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight to press then-President Donald Trump to prohibit any federal training programs geared toward racial sensitivity awareness, and he took credit when Trump followed his advice. Days later, Carlson launched his own attacks against CRT, praising Rufo in the process. Fox News completely embraced the anti-CRT panic, and by the end of 2021, had hosted Rufo at least 52 times and mentioned CRT nearly 4,000 times that year.
Rufo has admitted that he doesn’t know anything about what CRT actually is and isn’t interested in learning about it. His openly stated goal is to brand the term as “toxic,” thereby rendering attempts to redress racial oppression through education as difficult as possible. Already, professors in Florida are avoiding including CRT ideas in their curricula for fear of violating a law DeSantis signed in April 2022 that essentially prohibits teaching students about structural racism.
Early last year, Rufo redirected his focus onto LGBTQ communities, joining in the chorus of right-wing activists who adopted the slur “groomer” to refer to gay and trans people. In March, he claimed that Disney was sexualizing children, part of his campaign to support DeSantis’ so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. Those attacks were further amplified by the anti-LGBTQ account Libs of TikTok, which led to harassment of teachers and parents who supported gay and trans students. These bigoted attacks exploded on Facebook and other online platforms.
Then, in the summer, Rufo again appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight, this time to circulate disinformation about a children’s hospital that provides care to trans youth. Rufo’s appearance was part of a larger right-wing attack on health care providers for trans kids and adolescents, culminating in a bomb threat against Boston Children’s Hospital in August 2022. Rufo and other right-wing personalities attempted to sow doubt about the veracity of the threat until the FBI announced it had arrested a suspect.
In another Tucker Carlson Tonight appearance, Rufo attacked drag queen story hour events, arguing that they sexualize children and put them at risk. Those false claims were repeated elsewhere on Fox, further amplifying their reach.
Rufo’s appointment comes amid speculation that DeSantis will run for president in 2024. If he does, he will likely highlight his success in what the mainstream press often refers to as so-called culture wars but which are in fact unrelenting attacks on LGBTQ, Black, immigrant, and other marginalized communities. He has already received friendly profiles in The New York Times and The New Yorker, which both provided Rufo a national platform to spread his ideas with little pushback. Now, he’ll have every incentive to continue to harass, and marginalize those communities from his new official position, and the people who will suffer the consequences first may be the gay and trans students at New College of Florida.