A partially-transparent "One America News" logo superimposed over a red background with crumpled face mask and graph paper.
Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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OAN pressures school boards over COVID-19 controls and critical race theory

AT&T's right-wing network warns: “We can’t let the left parent the next generation, or America as we know it will disappear like a dream -- the American dream they deserve”

One America News Network has used its platform in recent months to attack local school boards nationwide, encouraging conservative parents and right-wing activists to “stand up” and “fight back” over their extremist opposition to most COVID-19 prevention measures and the supposed teaching of “critical race theory.”

In promoting this narrative of conservative victimhood, OAN also extensively hypes false fears that the FBI is targeting parents as “domestic terrorists'' for expressing their opinions. The network encourages viewers to fight this alleged oppression by running for office themselves -- in this case, local school board elections -- with the goal of entrenching misinformed opposition in the education system itself and advancing a larger right-wing strategy to turn local school policies into electoral wedge issues. 

OAN’s effort, which has largely eluded mainstream reporting, coincides with an unprecedented increase in harassment of school officials over these same topics. Though much of right-wing media is animated with hatred over effective COVID-19 controls and whatever it defines as “critical race theory” on any given day, OAN is unique in that its programming would simply not exist if not for the support of one company. In requesting a conservative news network from OAN’s founder, AT&T essentially asked for this type of belligerent misinformation to pollute the airwaves. And Reuters reports that according to a network accountant, “ninety percent of OAN’s revenue came from a contract with AT&T-owned television platforms.”

For AT&T’s foundational investment in OAN, Americans get a network full of paranoid hatred rooted in lies -- and school boards may find themselves under attack as part of right-wing media’s latest absurd grievance narratives.

  • OAN pressuring school boards over COVID-19 controls

    • Real America host Dan Ball has focused a lot of his on-air energy against his daughter’s school district, the Desert Sands Unified School District in La Jolla, California, using his show to depict DSUSD as a case study of school tyranny, and to demonstrate how parents can fight back:
      • On August 12, Ball bragged about his plans to pester his daughter’s school district over mask mandates, as well as “teachers who are spewing some of the CRT BS,” and encouraged his viewers to do the same: “What can you do if you're just one or two? Because we’ve got to do it in numbers. There is more of us than there is of them."
      • On August 17, Ball’s mic was cut off after he disrupted his daughter’s school board meeting by spreading misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic. The following night, Ball used the incident to encourage his audience to “stand up” against “tyrannical and overreaching” mask mandates. 
      • On August 19, Ball began his petty campaign against the DSUSD and its president, Don Griffith, in earnest. Ball promised to show a poorly edited image of Griffith wearing a dunce cap “at the end of every show” until he apologized to “all the parents who didn’t get to speak that night when he acted like a spoiled brat and stormed out of the meeting.” Ball made good on this promise as recently as October 7.
      • Also on August 19, Ball began promoting Celeste Fiehler of the California Policy Center’s Parent Union, which is training conservative parents in how to mount professional outrage campaigns over right-wing policy flashpoints. Fiehler has appeared on Ball’s show several times since they reportedly met at a school board meeting in his daughter's district. 
      • On September 22, Dan attacked the DSUSD again after he was “censored” at another meeting for encouraging parents and board members to oppose mandates and look into Project Veritas’ vaccine conspiracy theory videos. Ball complained that the school board cut part of his speech from the YouTube upload, which a DSUSD representative explained during a call Ball aired was a technical glitch. After the call, Ball called the explanation “some bull” and promoted a recall effort against the DSUSD board. 
      • On October 7, Ball put on a petulant performance, daring U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to arrest him for harassment over Ball’s obsession with showing his daughter’s school board president in a dunce cap. “Come get me,” Ball added. “I dare you.”
    • On August 26, Ball promoted a 13-year-old Turning Point USA ambassador’s speech to her local school board — in which she attacked mask requirements and critical race theory — as “an example to show kids and parents to take a stand at the school board meetings.” On October 28, Ball welcomed back the TPUSA ambassador to discuss an “LGBTQXYZ123-DO-RE-MI+ book with graphic sex found in school library,” as well as what they called “critical race theory” in schools.
    • On September 9, OAN host Stephanie Hamill interviewed Jonathan Koeppel, a Louisiana teacher who claimed that he was fired for refusing to wear a mask and opposing critical race theory, and promoted his Shopify page as well as a GiveSendGo (a right-wing-friendly fundraising alternative to GoFundMe). 
    • On October 29, former Trump Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson went on Real America to call school mask mandates “child abuse” because children “can’t see facial expressions.” Carson also listed several other conservative grievances against schools, such as gender identity education (“You don’t know whether you’re a girl or a boy”), as examples of abuse.
  • OAN pressuring school boards over critical race theory

    • In Focus host Stephanie Hamill presented former Trump Department of Justice spokesperson Ian Prior as a simple “Loudoun County parent” attacking his local school board for “referring to students by their preferred pronouns,” providing trans people with proper bathrooms, and pushing “critical race theory.” Prior frequently makes school-related media appearances that fail to disclose his government work and right-wing political connections.
    • Former Trump deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley warned Hamill that people “are starting to get really sick and tired of being told how horrible they are, and how despicable they are, because they aren’t succumbing to the thought of critical race theory and … apologizing for racism that they did not participate in nor do they condone.” Gidley also applauded Republicans and independents who “stand up and flood these school board meetings.” 
    • On October 1, Real America host Dan Ball denounced Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe’s “straight-up socialist commie-sounding crap” -- that “parents shouldn't really have any influence in tell[ing] schools what to teach their kids.” Ball emphasized, “That is why I go to my kid's school meeting. That’s why you need to go to your kids’ school board meetings. You need to speak up.” 
    • Former HUD secretary Ben Carson warned Ball’s viewers that so-called critical race theory is “clearly coercion,” and “if we don’t stand up to it now, it’s going to be too late” to stop the “fascism that’s going on in our country right now in front of our faces.” Carson also said he was “delighted” to see parent groups speaking out at school board meetings. “You cannot be the land of the free if you’re not the home of the brave,” he added. “We have got to become much more aggressive.”
    • Ball advised viewers with kids in Montgomery County, Maryland, public schools to “get them out” over what his guest, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, called an “anti-racist audit” of the school system that was serving as “indoctrination. The goal is to make children into change agents.” Ball said that “if I heard the school district was teaching this nonsense to my kid, you bet your you-know-what I’d be out in front of that school, I’d be at the school board raising holy heck.” Fitton also called it “naked racism” and child abuse.
    • On The Real Story with Natalie Harp, Carson said he is “so proud of those parents for standing up” against the public education system, which has been “infiltrated by those who want to fundamentally change our nation into something different.” Carson added that “it is so clear” that “communism and socialism and Marxism and how it starts, I mean this is textbook for what’s going on right now.”
    • On October 1, J.D. Vance, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, warned OAN viewers that “if we don't start pushing back against this [critical race theory] stuff, we're going to wake up and find ourselves completely ripped apart as society with a next generation that doesn't see this country as a beautiful thing to build upon and to keep making better, but as an evil thing that needs to be destroyed.” He also warned that teaching children to hate America is “how you entrench permanent Democratic control of our entire society."
    • On July 16, Hamill interviewed Jennifer Stefano, a Pennsylvania anti-CRT activist who accused teachers unions of being the “monopoly” or “cartel” of the Democratic Party. Hamill added that “it’s really important for parents to stand up and hold these school districts accountable” for supposedly teaching critical race theory. 
    • On August 13, Hamill interviewed Nicole Solas, head of Rhode Island Parents Against Indoctrination, who claimed she had been “targeted … as an enemy of the state” by a Rhode Island teachers union after she and her husband filed hundreds of public records requests for school communications about critical race theory and gender theory. Hamill described Solas as “like public enemy No. 1 there now” for “criticizing critical race theory.”
    • On September 17, Ball promoted Asra Nomani, vice president of Parents Defending Education, for her group’s work against “this CRT crap” and encouraged parents to “fight back against a school board” by sharing photographs, documents, and videos with Nomani on her organization’s website.
    • In June, an OAN news report celebrated a 9-year-old Minnesotan for “scolding” her school board for hanging Black Lives Matter posters, which the network described as “political messages that promote rioting and burning.” The OAN correspondent connected the student’s speech to “both schoolchildren and their parents” who have “made headlines for standing up to school boards’ teachings of critical race theory and other harmful leftist ideologies.” 
    • On October 1, Harp denounced various Democratic politicians for supporting “educational brainwashing” and believing that “parents shouldn’t have a voice in their child’s education.” Harp claimed that in “this new world order we’re living in, children aren’t seen as a gift from God, but as wards of the state,” adding, “We can’t let the left parent the next generation, or America as we know it will disappear like a dream -- the American dream they deserve.” 
  • OAN hyping fears of the FBI targeting parents

    • On October 7, Tipping Point host Kara McKinney complained that “while Chicago law enforcement may be refusing to prosecute gang members involved in explosive shoot-outs, the FBI and DOJ sure are ready to go after moms and dads who are concerned about what their kids are being taught in school. Who would have thought that the PTA outranked the Bloods and Crips as public enemy No. 1?” 
    • During an October 7 interview with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL), Real America’s Dan Ball said, “Parents, do not be scared. Don't be intimidated by what you heard from the DOJ and the deputy attorney general yesterday on the hill,” referring to a congressional hearing about harassment of school board members across the country. “Continue to go. Continue to speak up." 
    • On October 7, In Focus host Stephanie Hamill claimed that “the latest Team Biden plan is to go after parents who protest at school board meetings, and I’m serious.” Hamill also promoted right-wing activist Asra Nomani’s video falsely accusing the DOJ of “trying to smear parents as domestic terrorists.” 
    • On October 1, McKinney suggested that one of the reasons she no longer supports the Patriot Act is because she believes the Biden administration is using it “against parents who dared to stand up to teachers at these school board meetings that we’ve been covering so in-depth. An of course, they are using the new catchall buzzword ‘domestic terrorism’ and ‘hate crimes’” to crush political opposition with federal law enforcement.
    • On OAN’s Weekly Briefing, Judicial Watch Research Director Chris Farrell claimed that the Biden administration is using the FBI to “frighten and marginalize and even criminalize their political opposition,” namely parents who tell school boards that they oppose the “crazy, woke agenda, whether it’s CRT or this transexual thing.” Later on the same show, Farrell claimed that a team of undercover federal agents, including a helicopter, had been used to monitor a school board meeting in Fairfax County, Virginia. Farrell also complained that “kids are being programmed to be little junior Marxists” by “critical race theory and their diversity, inclusion, and equity classes. This is Bolshevik material, and they're pumping it into the heads of little middle-schoolers.”
  • OAN encouraging viewers to run for school board as conservatives

    • Real America host Dan Ball frequently encourages his viewers to “stand up” to their local school boards -- not just in meetings but at the ballot box: “Go to the school board meetings. Vote the school boards out. … Get people out of office and get new people in that will make a difference. Or get out there and protest by the tens of thousands. I’ll join you; I’ve been to the school board meetings, I’ve been to the rallies.” 
    • Ball also encourages parents to join or start organizations dedicated to pressuring school boards, on one occasion promoting Parents Defending Education in an interview with its president, Nicole Neily. “This just started in March for her folks — you can do the same in your community,” Ball said, warning viewers, “Don’t let this woke ideology take over your kid’s classroom.”
    • In September, Ball asked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) what “regular Americans” should do with their frustrations at the Biden administration. Jordan said viewers should defend each other against “the cancel culture” and “get involved, run for local office” against “this crazy, Marxist critical race theory concept out there, this anti-American curriculum. People are running for school boards.” 
    • On the October 8 edition of The Real Story with Natalie Harp, Michigan’s GOP chair shared her excitement about “100 candidates that I know of running for their local school board,” many of them “angry moms running to take over their local school boards.” She predicted they would lead “a red wave like we have never seen before” in 2022.