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Molly Butler / Media Matters

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Inside the right-wing echo chamber's attempt to use Facebook to gin up outrage about critical race theory

Media Matters has identified 64 Facebook groups dedicated to opposing “critical race theory” and 187 Facebook parent groups shifting to focus on it

The right-wing media campaign against “critical race theory” has rapidly expanded on Facebook, with networks of pages and groups spreading viral videos from conservative media. Conservatives who are using Facebook to fearmonger against critical race theory have tapped into existing right-wing networks, GOP-connected activists, and conservative media outlets to leverage outrage against their latest manufactured controversy.

Critical race theory is an academic and legal framework that examines the impact of systemic racism on American society, but it has become conservatives’ latest boogeyman ahead of the 2022 midterms. And while they amplify lies about the academic theory, use it to shut down conversations about race and racism, attempt to scare parents, and promote laws to ban it in schools, they don’t seem to have a clue what the theory actually is and don’t acknowledge that it generally isn’t even taught in K-12 education.

As Media Matters has reported, Fox News has mentioned “critical race theory” nearly 1,300 times since February, and “month over month mentions of the theory have more than doubled … as the network has begun to spin an illusion of what it is and where it’s being taught.” As Fox’s coverage increased, Facebook activity around the topic did too. 

Media Matters has identified 64 Facebook groups dedicated to opposing “critical race theory,” with at least 9,800 combined members. Nearly all of these groups were created this year. We have also identified 187 right-wing parent and/or education groups on Facebook, many of which formed to combat “liberal indoctrination” in schools more generally and are now focused on critical race theory. These groups have more than 200,000 combined members.

Some of these groups that Media Matters has identified were created by people who have been amplified by right-wing media as “local parents and teachers” concerned about critical race theory -- but that doesn’t tell the whole story. These figures, including Tatiana Brahimi, Scott Mineo, Ian Prior, and Elana Yaron Fishbein, have been active in conservative politics and right-wing movements such as “Blue Lives Matter,” and now they are leveraging this moment with viral videos, interviews, and Facebook networks to amplify their attacks on critical race theory. 

We’ve also identified at least three networks of Facebook groups which are now focusing on “critical race theory” and have ties to local Republican politics, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups and figures, and/or the movements to reopen schools and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Tatiana Brahimi and Parents Against Critical Race Theory

  • Tatiana Brahimi's Facebook group Parents Against Critical Race Theory

    Video of Tatiana Brahimi, who is often referred to as “Tatiana Ibrahim,” at a local school board meeting spread quickly on social media, as she called the school board members “thieves” and “liars,” and claimed that they’re emotionally and mentally “abusing” children and “demoralizing them by teaching them communist values.” The spread of Brahimi’s speech was helped in part by right-wing media articles and videos that praised her testimony and media appearances that have elevated her.

    Around the same time as her video went viral, Brahimi created new social media accounts under her pseudonym, and on June 6 she created a private Facebook group called Parents Against Critical Race Theory. In the group, Brahimi uses both of her Facebook accounts to share media appearances and organize in-person events to protest critical race theory, such as at school board meetings. 

    Brahimi has been active in local right-wing spaces, particularly the “Blue Lives Matter” movement in her New York county. At a rally in September, she claimed, “Patriots of this county, we are under attack. We are being physically, we are being emotionally and verbally abused by the left, the radical, Marxist, communist groups.” She has also advocated for more funding for the local police to deal with anti-fascist activists and organized a petition against a county Human Rights Commission, claiming, “Reverse Racism is upon us. We are being treated as inhumane because we disagree, violated and living in fear.” 

    In a video posted on June 12, Brahimi encouraged supporters to vote against the local school budget, railed against “critical race theory,” and even claimed that the school is “teaching our children to murder our cops.”

  • Video file

    Citation From a June 12, 2021, Facebook video from Tatiana Ibrahim

  • Scott Mineo and Parents Against Critical Theory

  • As Fox News ramped up its coverage of “critical race theory,” the network interviewed Loudoun County, Virginia, parent Scott Mineo, who leads Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT) and sometimes uses the pseudonym “Vito Malara.” Under both his real name and pseudonym, Mineo has reportedly made anti-Black and anti-Muslim comments. Mineo is one of several right-wing activists organizing against critical race theory in Loudoun County.

    Mineo created PACT’s Facebook page in December, following an investigation by the Virginia attorney general’s office which concluded that the Loudoun County schools’ practices had harmed Black and Latino students and outlined steps for the schools to address the “discriminatory disparate impact identified and help ensure equal opportunity for each student.” The PACT page has roughly 1,000 page likes and 1,000 followers and claims that its goal is “to provide awareness about how dangerous, disingenuous, and phony Critical Race Theory and the ‘Equity Movement’ are. CRT is destroying our society and creating an enormous amount of unnecessary racial problems.”

    PACT - Parents Against Critical Theory_facebook page

  • PACT is linked to the public Facebook group LCPS “Anti-Racism” Plan the Truth They Don't Discuss. Under his pseudonym, Mineo is the administrator of the group, which has 40 members and was created in August.

    LCPS "Anti-Racism" Plan the Truth They Don't Discuss_facebook group

  • Mineo and PACT also have ties to several right-wing groups:

    • On March 3, PACT and the Virginia Project, a Republican PAC, led a webinar about critical race theory and its “impact on Loudoun County schools.” A purported slide from the webinar claims that there is a hidden agenda “to undermine our constitution and individual sovereignty” and that it “erases history and culture and replaces it with a 'new, more equitable and equal' future.”
    • On June 2, Mineo, along with Patti Hidalgo Menders of the Loudoun Republican Women's Club and other anonymous plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit alleging that Loudoun County Public Schools’ “equity student ambassador” program “is a violation of constitutional guarantees of free speech and equality before the law.” Conservative organization Liberty Justice Center is representing them in the lawsuit.
    • PACT is a “platinum sponsor” of the Freedom Festival organized by Stand Up Virginia, which was founded in January and modeled after the anti-lockdown and anti-mask group Stand Up Michigan. The Virginia group has three “guiding principles,” including a pro-police campaign, efforts against critical race theory as “political indoctrination” in schools, and an “election integrity” campaign in favor of voter ID requirements.
    • PACT reportedly announced a collaboration with 1776 Action, a 501(c)(4) organization created “to counter critical race theory and the 1619 Project” and “pursue the type of educational vision outlined by former President Trump at the end of his term.”
  • Ian Prior and Fight For Schools PAC

  • Ian Prior, a longtime GOP operative and former spokesman for the Trump Justice Department who has also been involved in fighting against critical race theory in Loudoun County, has been interviewed on Fox News at least 15 times. Prior is the executive director of Fight for Schools PAC, which is leading a school board recall effort as part of “our cause to take back America's schools.” 

    The PAC’s Facebook page was created in March and has roughly 2,000 page likes and 2,000 followers. The page frequently posts about Fight for Schools’ rallies and Prior’s media appearances on right-wing radio shows, Fox News, Newsmax, and other outlets.

    In addition to Prior’s connection to the Trump administration, he and his organization have ties to at least one other local right-wing group: Fight for Schools is a “silver sponsor” for Stand Up Virginia’s Freedom Festival and the two groups even co-hosted a rally on June 8 to “stand up to the Loudoun County School Board.”

  • Lilit Vanetsyan and @teachers_for_trump

  • Video of “Loudoun teacher” Lilit Vanetsyan at a local school board meeting spread quickly on social media, as she claimed that students “are on the frontlines of these indoctrination camps” that will have kids “rooting for socialism by the time they get to middle school.” Right-wing media and local conservative groups in Loudoun County amplified the story and interviewed Vanetsyan. During an interview on Fox, Vanetsyan was identified only as a teacher, but she is affiliated with Turning Point USA and pro-Trump streaming outlet Right-Side Broadcasting.

  • Vanetsyan also runs a pro-Trump Instagram account, @teachers_for_trump, which has more than 32,000 followers. On Instagram, Vanetsyan posts videos of herself speaking against “critical race theory” at school board meetings and claiming, “If you are prepared to defund our school resource officers, be prepared to lose your teachers.” In other posts, she seemingly mocked the idea that the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was an insurrection and criticized “the degenerates who are in charge of your child’s education.”

    As she makes her rounds on right-wing media, Vanetsyan is using the publicity to promote her “Make Education Great Again” merchandise.

    @teachers_for_trump_instagram story selling maga merch

  • Elana Yaron Fishbein and No Left Turn in Education

  • Elana Yaron Fishbein started No Left Turn in Education in June 2020, when her local school district “decided to teach students about the concepts of racism, privilege and justice” following nationwide protests against police brutality. The organization appears to target a range of conservative grievances, “from The 1619 Project, to Critical Race Theory, to Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” Fishbein and her organization have frequently used toxic and bigoted rhetoric on social media and in right-wing media appearances, such as complaining that “black bigotry towards whites” is a “very real problem” and writing that white people don't march “in the streets declaring ‘White Lives Matter’, much less loot and vandalize their communities to bring attention to this issue.”

    According to NBC News, the group now has 30 chapters in 23 states, which can be attributed to its rapid expansion after right-wing media amplified Fishbein and her group. In September, Fox News host Tucker Carlson interviewed Fishbein, and after her appearance on Carlson’s show, No Left Turn in Education’s Facebook page reportedly shot up “from fewer than 200 followers to over 30,000.” 

  • The No Left Turn in Education Facebook page now has over 36,000 page likes, 39,000 followers, and 64 linked groups, all of which are private. The main group, in which Fishbein is one of the administrators, was created in August and has over 10,000 members. The other linked groups are affiliated with state-based or regional chapters of the organization and have over 10,900 combined members.

    No Left Turn in Education_linked groups

  • The appearance also inspired a federal lawsuit, after a mother in Nevada reached out to Fishbein claiming that her biracial son could not opt out of a mandatory sociology class that “appeared to be teaching students critical race theory and intersectionality.” Fishbein connected the mother with Schoolhouse Rights’ Jonathan O’Brien, an attorney who also saw her appearance on Carlson’s show. Schoolhouse Rights is a project of extreme anti-LGBTQ group International Organization for the Family and says that it coordinated work on the case with extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and the deceptively named Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR). FAIR boasts advisers such as anti-trans writer Abigail Shrier and Christopher Rufo, an anti-civil rights activist who directs the Manhattan Institute's initiative on critical race theory.

    Some local right-wing figures are administrators of multiple Facebook groups linked to No Left Turn in Education:

    • Yael Levin Sheldon is administrator of the main No Left Turn in Education group and at least 15 state or regional groups. Sheldon is also the president of the Virginia chapter of No Left Turn in Education and has been interviewed by local radio stations. She received a lot of press when she started a learning “pod” of students in her home during the coronavirus pandemic and obtained state records about children’s hospital admissions for self-harm via the Freedom of Information Act to demonstrate the dangers of prolonged lockdowns.
    • Lois Kaneshiki is administrator of at least three regional No Left Turn in Education groups in Pennsylvania. She is also involved with the local Republican Party, serving on the local school board, as a county Republican chairperson, and as a state delegate to the Republican National Convention (RNC) in 2016. She created a local controversy when she called kindergarten teachers “babysitters” and when she opposed a textbook that she called “propaganda” for the “green agenda.”
    • Matt Throckmorton is an administrator for the Utah and Tennessee groups. Throckmorton is a former Utah state lawmaker and failed GOP congressional candidate who also went on to serve as a delegate at the 2016 RNC. In 2019, Throckmorton was the executive director of Utah Military Academy, but he was placed on administrative leave after allegations of widespread mismanagement at the charter school.
  • Suzanne Gallagher and Parents' Rights in Education

  • Media Matters has identified a network of at least 32 public and private Facebook groups that are linked to Parents’ Rights in Education, an organization that claims to be “working quickly to uncover hidden agendas which steal the innocence of children in your neighborhood K-12 public school.” The organization is run by Executive Director Suzanne Gallagher and targets comprehensive sexuality education, critical race theory, “anti-American” education, and “alternative lifestyles,” among other things.

    Parents' Rights in Education_website_issues

  • The organization’s Facebook page has roughly 5,200 page likes, 5,400 followers, and 32 linked groups that have more than 95,000 combined members. Gallagher is an administrator for at least 10 of the organization’s affiliated Facebook groups, which include state and regional chapters of Parents’ Rights in Education and three additional local right-wing groups:

    • Open Oregon, a public group with over 33,000 members that is affiliated with and promotes right-wing rallies.
    • Informed Parents of California, a public group with roughly 53,000 members that promotes “let kids breathe” rallies and encourages members to “bring your school concerns forward,” noting that “sex ed is a big one.”
    • Columbia County Republicans Forum - Oregon, a public group with roughly 1,600 members that is affiliated with and promotes right-wing rallies, such as protests against masks.

    Parents' Rights in Education_linked groups

  • Gallagher also has deep ties to right-wing politics in Oregon. Gallagher was previously the chairwoman of the Oregon Republican Party, but she was forced to step down in 2013 after a recall petition circulated claiming “that she had mismanaged the organization and misallocated party resources.” As chairwoman, she issued a press release against a law that allowed undocumented immigrants to apply for special driving cards in Oregon. She also spoke at an OPEN UP Oregon rally in August 2020, where she told a reporter that schools are grooming young children to be “militant activists.”

    Gallagher, who spoke out in 2018 against inclusion on a statewide reading list of a book about a transgender child, also has ties to anti-trans figures through her organization. Parents’ Rights in Education hosted an event in April of this year which featured Gallagher alongside anti-LGBTQ figures Vernadette Broyles, Walt Heyer, and Rebeca Friedrichs. These three panelists also appeared at a Heritage Foundation anti-LGBTQ event in 2019, where Heyer and Friedrichs referred to trans-inclusive education and affirming trans kids as “child abuse” and Broyles compared LGBTQ advocates to insects. Broyles is also an allied attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom who was involved in a lawsuit to repeal a trans-inclusive school policy in Decatur, Georgia, and now runs the anti-trans Child & Parental Rights Campaign, which provides pro bono legal representation to parents who want to reject their children's gender identity.

  • Sheri Few and United States Parents Involved in Education

  • Media Matters has identified a network about at least 26 public Facebook groups that are linked to the United States Parents Involved in Education (USPIE), which has refocused its efforts in the last year “from closing the Federal Department of Education to emphasizing the important role parents and communities have in the education of children.” This includes attacking critical race theory, with the organization providing resources such as a “Parents’ Guide and Resources to Fight Critical Race Theory” and “Templates for school board policy prohibiting CRT.” Right-wing commentator Michelle Malkin, who is known for her opposition to immigration and her support for Japanese internment camps in World War II, is on USPIE’s advisory board.

  • Stop Fed Ed National Campaign_facebook page_as of 20210623

    The organization’s Facebook page has roughly 6,500 page likes, 6,700 followers, and 26 linked groups that have at least 4,000 combined members. Most of these groups are state-based chapters of USPIE.

    Stop Fed Ed National Campaign_linked groups

  • Sheri Few, who founded USPIE, is an administrator for nearly all of the organization’s affiliated Facebook groups. Right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart have amplified Few and USPIE as they urge states to ban critical race theory. Few has also been involved in South Carolina Republican politics, even running for Congress in 2017 with what The Root called “a series of ads that might be the most racist, homophobic and craziest campaign ever.” She was also involved in the fight against Common Core education in South Carolina and ran for state superintendent of education.

    In addition to Sheri Few, there are two other administrators for nearly all of USPIE’s Facebook groups: 

    • April Few, Sheri Few’s daughter-in-law and the communications director for USPIE.
    • Michelle Moore, who runs at least two other education-related Facebook groups and a blog in which she called teachers unions “militant ideologues whose dogma became more important than their classroom pedagogy … or any child.”