The newest attack on “critical race theory” echoes the Great Replacement conspiracy theory — and Fox's “news” side is promoting it

Fox publishes former Trump official’s pamphlet accusing the left of trying to “replace you,” along with proposal to forbid teachers from acknowledging systemic racism

Fox News has been openly pushing an effort geared toward the midterm elections to elevate the specter of “critical race theory” — a broad academic discipline that seeks to explore how the history of racism in America still has an effect on modern life and society — and to present it as a national threat.

Now the network has gone one step further and has actually published materials that seek to recruit people for local school board campaigns.

In an article on Wednesday, headlined “Conservative think tank creates 'A to Z guide’ for stopping critical race theory in schools,” the Fox website promoted the political organization Citizens for Renewing America, headed up by Russ Vought, who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration.

The story contains a byline of Fox News reporter Matt Leach, part of the network’s purported “straight news” division. Its opening paragraphs, however, were more a direct call to action rather than straight news coverage.

Parents across the country are standing up and speaking out against critical race theory in schools. From Loudoun County, Virginia, to Carmel, New York, school board meetings have become must-see TV. But what happens when the cameras turn off? How can parents turn their outrage into meaningful change?

“We are asking people to go into the arena in a situation where they are going to be called a racist," said Russ Vought, president of the Center for Renewing America and former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Trump. “They’re not, they’ve got the moral high ground, but no one wants to be called that."

The article carried embedded copies of two different PDF files from Vought’s organization, one a 33-page political guide that lays out both grievances against the supposed teaching of critical race theory and general methods for organizing a local political campaign. The other is an eight-page document, with a model proposal for school boards to adopt.

Vought appeared Wednesday morning on Fox & Friends, to promote his campaign.

“I don't really think I have seen something spur up with so much passion out of the grassroots like this has come up,” Kilmeade said, at the end of the interview. “I can't go through a day without reading two or three separate stories from around the country about people wanting to take action that never did before.”

Video file

Citation From the June 9, 2021, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends

Of course, the reason Kilmeade “can’t go through a day” without seeing stories about the dreaded menace of “critical race theory” may be because he works at Fox News, which has mobilized those same efforts. Indeed, network figures have acknowledged that hardly anyone was even talking about this subject — that is, until Fox itself kicked it up.

According to Media Matters research in May, Fox News had covered the topic over 550 times in 11 months, while another of our studies found that nearly 90% of Facebook posts on the topic of critical race theory between November and May came from right-leaning sources.

As another example, on Thursday’s edition of America’s Newsroom, the network highlighted a wave of political efforts involving multiple Republican governors and private citizens attending a school board meeting. Later, the program featured an interview on the subject with Glenn Youngkin, the Republican nominee in this year’s election for governor of Virginia.

In addition, Fox’s coverage over the past year has been geared toward insisting that systemic racism against Black people does not even exist — but instead the real threat of systemic racism is pointed against white people.

Vought’s guide promotes numerous conspiracy theories — and it is dangerously close to the “Great Replacement” theory

Given Fox’s promotion of the political handbook in an effort to create outrage among Republican voters ahead of midterm elections, it is important to examine exactly what Vought’s group is saying.

First off, the document aims to teach its readers “how to spot” critical race theory, saying, “CRT often, if not most of the time, isn’t actually labeled as CRT,” and also that “it isn’t always easy to spot CRT in action.” (Educators and public officials in education across the country have tried to explain that critical race theory is not generally taught at the K-12 level, but rather in more advanced levels of academic study.)

This rhetorical widening of the range of discussion is consistent with the efforts of Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the right-wing Manhattan Institute and frequent Fox News guest, who has been a driving force behind this scare campaign. Rufo has also admitted that his targeting of “critical race theory” has less to do with the higher academic pursuit itself, but is instead a political branding exercise to “put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”

In total, the document’s version of critical race theory becomes a subversive plot that is at once everywhere and nowhere. The document even presents a straw-man argument about what anti-racist education would say, turning it into a plot to overthrow the United States itself: “The way society operates is racist. In light of that, proponents of CRT would argue that our representative form of government and civil society need to be torn up, root and branch, and replaced with something else.” (This accusation from a former Trump administration official may seem a bit ironic.)

But beyond a conspiracy theory about the overthrow of America’s constitutional system, the document also invokes some other very alarming language about “replacing” people (emphasis original).

CRT proponents do not care how they win as long as they win. They are not trying to win an academic debate, they are attempting to socially replace you. Read that line again: they are not trying to win an academic debate, they are trying to socially replace you.

This language echoes the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, which posits that white people are being systematically “replaced” by people of color through mass immigration at the behest of shadowy elites, often referring to Jews.

Back in August 2017, during the infamous white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, participants flashed Nazi salutes and chanted the slogan, “You will not replace us.” The white supremacist event culminated the next day in the murder of counterprotester Heather Heyer. The conspiracy theory has also been linked to far-right terrorists who committed mass shootings in both Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas, in 2019.

In addition, Fox host Tucker Carlson has spread the conspiracy theory, prompting both praise from white nationalists and calls for his firing from the Anti-Defamation League. (Fox Corp. CEO Lachlan Murdoch has given Carlson the network’s full corporate support.)

The group’s goal: Outlaw any mention of systemic racism as a societal problem

More troubling than just the organizational handbook is the group’s proposed “Model School Board Language to Prohibit Critical Race Theory,” also promoted in the Fox article, presenting the actual legislative agenda the group is asking its supporters to enact once elected to school boards.

In order to prohibit the use of “critical race theory” in legislative terms, of course, a proposal must provide a written definition. And in addition to incorporating the right-wing straw man about anti-racist groups believing “one race or sex is superior to another race or sex” — which is logically absurd — the proposal also includes any teaching that “promotes that social problems are created by racist or patriarchal societal structures and systems.”

In other words, any acknowledgment of systemic racism as a problem in society would be forbidden.

Indeed, a later list of proscribed “additional terms” includes such examples as “anti-racism,” “diversity training,” “under-represented communities,” “multiculturalism,” “racial prejudice,” “white supremacy,” and of course “systemic racism.”

The legislation would also allow for “discussion of otherwise controversial aspects of history … only if done so by presenting, from a holistic point of view, a complete, neutral, and unbiased perspective of the subject matter or prism” (emphasis original). This is exactly the sort of language that educators say would have a chilling effect on any classroom discussions about racism and its legacies for the society, by forcing a false moral equivalency between racism and anti-racism. For example, how does one have a “neutral” and “unbiased” discussion on such matters of history as slavery, segregation, or the dispossession of Native Americans?

The proposal also infringes on basic freedoms of political speech in another very profound way: it seeks to outlaw other elected board officials from speaking in any way against the newly established party line. A provision holds that if a board of education member were to give “material or any other tangible or intangible support … to critical race theory” as defined above, they would be subjected to a public meeting aimed at removing them from the board and holding a special election. Obviously, no such provision would apply to an elected official who advocates for right-wing politics and the denial of racism as a problem in society.

And on a somewhat tangential but still very important point, the legislation also forbids what it calls “sex scapegoating,” partially defined as the notion that “members of a sex are inherently sexist or inclined to oppress others.” This phrasing is so broad and vague, it would arguably forbid any basic teaching around preventing sexual harassment and assault, or discussion of misogyny as a social problem.

What the group seeks —and what Fox News is promoting — is an enforced prohibition on acknowledging the existence of any social problems or that people should want to do something about them. Along with the denial of systemic racism as a concept, is any honest person going to argue that teenage boys are not sexist and in need of some basic manners?