Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
The forgotten history of how right-wing college students invented 'cancel culture'

The forgotten history of how right-wing college students invented 'cancel culture'

Historian Lauren Lassabe Shepherd on how William F. Buckley and the early American right attacked their campus political opposition

Episode Summary

While it’s easy to believe that Donald Trump unleashed the radical forces that threaten American democracy today, the truth is that they have been present within our system for more than 50 years. And in many cases, some of the same people like Roger Stone or Karl Rove who were active on the student right in the 1960s and 1970s are still active today.

Although the mid-20th century is known as a time of left-wing activism and political change, the time period was also when today’s far-right began coalescing as well—and in a much more professionalized fashion that has managed to outlast many of their institutional former rivals on the left.

There are many areas where this trend can be observed, but one of the easiest to see is in the constant discussion about the term “cancel culture” in mainstream political discourse. The phrase has been repeated so often that it means almost nothing to most people, but it does seem to have a vague meaning when used by Republicans to imply that they are the victims of some sort of censorship and persecution campaign.

But in truth, the history of political cancellations really got started by the right wing. It's a history that is important to note and to discuss, especially because not only did reactionary college students invent the entire concept of getting people fired or reprimanded for their political opinions, they invented many of the tools of political consulting along the way as they battled the anti-Vietnam War and civil rights movements.

Joining in this episode to talk about all this is Lauren Lassabe Shepherd. She is the author of a new book that is coming out called Resistance from the Right: Conservatives and the Campus Wars in Modern America.

Due to some production difficulties, you may notice occasional glitches in the audio of this episode. The video of the conversation is available. Continue scrolling for audio time code chapters and an auto-generated transcript of the audio.

Audio Chapters

02:50 — While the left grew dramatically during the 1960s, so did the far right

07:53 — How far-right activists practically invented political consulting despite getting little attention from historians

15:39 — Reactionaries have been building fake student groups for 60 years

20:45 — How right-wing activists then and now use student athletes to build control on campus

30:07 — Today's far-right isn't conservative, and its creators didn't call themselves conservative

37:55 — How libertarianism provided rhetorical cover through "fusionism" to the Christian right

47:47 — More on fake student groups

54:56 — How right-wing students in the 1960s teamed up with campus police

57:31 — Reactionaries invented getting people fired for political views, but they falsely blame the left for it

01:02:32 — Left-wing groups and donors spend almost nothing compared to right-wing youth groups

01:13:28 — Many of today's far-right actors have been operating continuously since the 1970s

Audio Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: It's really great to have you here today, Lauren.

LAUREN LASSABE SHEPHERD: Yeah, thank you for the invitation.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Alright, so let's start with kind of a synopsis of your book is covering what time period is it covering here that, in your focus here?

SHEPHERD: A very short period, just three years, 1967 to 1970.


SHEFFIELD: And why those particular three years?

SHEPHERD: I guess it's easier to understand what the book is is about. So, I'm writing about the campus wars, so American higher education in the 1960s. And there's sort of this [00:03:00] misconception when people think of college campuses in the sixties that, they're radical hotbeds of activism and progressivism. We think of the anti-war movement. We think of the black power movement as it developed on college campuses. We think of Berkeley in 1964.

So that's kind of the common understanding of what's going on in American higher ed in those years. But my book pushes back on that and says, yes, it's true. All of those things are of course there, but there's also a smaller group of students on the right, but even though they're smaller, they have sort of an outsized importance in the way that these campus wars develop.

So, typically, we understand the war as being between left wing students, especially students associated with the new left and organizations like students for democratic society, or the student nonviolent coordinating committee SNCC and. What I'm suggesting is that the war is [00:04:00] actually a little bit more between students on the right and students on the left.

So, yeah, so 1967 to 1970 is the question of why these are the years that I cover is because this is like the intensity, this is when the battles seem to be most consequential and certainly most dramatic. And so there's in terms of the narrative, it's just more interesting to look at those 3 years.

This is the height of the Vietnam war. This is when the black power movement really starts to take shape. And we see a movement, at least among civil rights organizers, to step away from, this long tradition of nonviolence and to become a little bit more radical, a little bit more militant.

And so I'm looking at how students on the right really push back against that.

SHEFFIELD: And so, in this time period, it's, it is critical as a, sort of a formation for later decades in politics that came afterward. But I guess, to understand it fully, we have to maybe rewind it a little bit even [00:05:00] further to before your time period, especially to understand the figures that are involved here.

So as you noted the 1960s were a big organizing and foundational period for American reactionary politics. And there were several people who were involved in creating different organizations and groups. Why don't you discuss some of those people in the groups that they had founded, please?

SHEPHERD: Sure. Okay. So, some of the former students of the 60s whose names we might recognize today include people who have been very, very active in politics on the right. So, people like Newt Gingrich, Jeff Sessions, Bill Barr, David Duke, Pat Buchanan. Who am I missing out? David Keene, who is a one-time president of the National Rifle Association. Karl Rove. Gosh, I can't believe I forgot Karl Rove.

So these names are, if you're familiar with more like late 20th century, American political history, we recognize [00:06:00] them as either activists or politicians some of whom have run for president or have held high office. Dan Quayle, for example, was a member of Young Americans for Freedom. And I'm sure we'll talk a lot about YAF today. He eventually went on to become the vice president of the United States.

And of course, Sessions and Barr both have been American attorneys general. So, yeah. I introduced them to you as 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds before their national careers really took shape. They were still political activists. They were just college students really cutting their teeth for the first time in learning about what it means to be an activist or what it means to be an intellectual on the right.

Or what it means to be a partisan. For example I can start with Karl Rove, if you like. Rove was extremely important and the College Republicans at the time, and he actually did not even graduate from college. He went to school in Utah, before his senior year, he dropped out [00:07:00] to work full time for the GOP.

So College Republicans and YAF, other groups that, that we can talk about today, ISI is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It's the intellectual group for students on the right. They're all feeder organizations. And so through these organizations, the students learn the skills that they'll use for the rest of their personal and political lives.

And I use them as examples, but the story is about American higher ed entirely. As policy and precedent, the legislation that these men, and they were mostly men, shape and design that affects higher ed.

I mean, it's again, this is not just a personal story about them. It's something that affects all college students and faculty and alum and administrators. I mean, they've had quite a wide reach, and maybe they don't get enough credit for that for better or for worse.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah.

How far-right activists practically invented political consulting despite getting little attention from historians

SHEFFIELD: I think you're definitely right that people tend to, some of these 501c3 [00:08:00] organizations, they don't get a lot of press coverage or even historian discussion too much. And it is unfortunate as an analytical point, because these people basically invented political consulting. I mean, the way that it's currently known.

SHEPHERD: Their style. Absolutely. Yes.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And created the idea of the permanent campaign, the permanent interest political interest group, like these things did not really, I mean, you could argue that there were, like some special case organizations. So like, the NAACP, for instance obviously, is a very, one of the earliest ones.

But these were organizations for people who were not oppressed and trying to attain the same rights as everybody else. They were people who were solely dedicated to influencing policies and electing people.

And it was just not a thing until these guys invented it. Why do you think they don't get as much attention, these organizations?

SHEPHERD: Oh, [00:09:00] well, they do get a lot of attention. I think they just, the starting points maybe are less familiar to people. So yeah, if you'd like, we can talk about those individual groups and their functions. So, you mentioned these 501c3s, that's what many of them are, especially I. S. I. It's a nonprofit. And that nonprofit model, that educational model allows right wing benefactors ideologues to donate to it tax exempt. And then that money trickles down to students in classrooms.

One of the one of the bigger projects Of, so I need to move back even a little bit further. The larger post war conservative movement as it's developing across the country, the story that I'm telling this is the campus-based version of it. So many of the people that I talk about, so like Rove or Sessions all of the others, they're influenced by elders in that conservative movement.

So, like the William F. Buckleys, the Marvin Liebmans, the Richard Vigueries, other writers at conservative magazines, so [00:10:00] not just National Review, but also magazines like Modern Age and Human Events and Commentary, and a list of others. So the 501 C3 model really helps those older mentors recruit donors, people who can write big checks. And of course, you don't even need many of them, depending on how large the check is. And you can put that money inside these little shell organizations, and then go on to give that money to the students to help them stay on the college campus. So one of the big projects of ISI was literally investing in individual students to make sure that they go through graduate school, that they become lawyers or they become academics themselves and they stay in higher ed. It's this whole concept of balancing the academy. That's the terminology that they used and the idea is to like, let's start with Buckley. Buckley's big criticism of the academy is that it's too less left wing.

It's too socialist. It's hostile to Christians. And so what, it's [00:11:00] what Buckley has in mind when he founds Young Americans for Freedom in 1960 is he'll create an activist organization on the right to counterbalance other groups like the Intercollegiate Socialist Society. So we've got ISI that does that. We have YAF that does that.

And then of course we can't credit Buckley or even the post war right with College Republicans, because that's an organization that existed before. But certainly, YAF and ISI had a lot of influence on College Republicans in the 1960s. And then we'll drive it further to the right beyond that time.

So, yeah, so those are the organizations, and we talked about them being a training ground just a second ago. Groups like YAF have an age cap, right? You age out of it at 30 years old. So once you've finished college and then even if you decide to go on to graduate school, once you finish that.

You can't be a member anymore, but there is the next step and that is the American Conservative Union, the ACU, which we do know more about today. That's [00:12:00] probably known among your listeners. And also the national political, sorry, CPAC. We don't call it national anymore, but CPAC is still like a large.

Right wing organization that works for right wing causes. So, even to bring it back to the college campuses college campus, these smaller groups, they all have their own purpose. So, right? We've said, I've said multiple times that is like the intellectual organization that train students to stay in the academy and influence higher ed from some intellectual.

Direct in some intellectual direction. YAF is really more partisan or more ideological. So, they're willing to work across the aisle, right? So more nonpartisan, I should say. They're willing to work with say Southern Democrats, right? There were plenty of Southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond who were on YAF's board at the time.

And then the other organization, College Republicans is the partisan organization. So it's not. As [00:13:00] ideological as YAF, it certainly doesn't have as many of the YAF fire brands. So like we, I use Karl Rove as an example of a college Republican. If you want a good example of a YAFer, that would be someone like Pat Buchanan the presidential, the failed presidential candidate in the late eighties and nineties.

But nevertheless, Buchanan still had a long career in Washington and along influence on the right, an outsized influence for sure. So yeah, these groups, they serve their individual functions, but they all work together too. And that's actually, the working together is a thing that doesn't really even develop until about 1968.

So, my book is divided into two parts. And in the first part I explain what these groups do, who funds them, who the members are the demographics of the different organizations purposes. But I also talk about the antagonisms between them. So kind of an interesting feature of all these groups, since they have different purposes, they don't their goals don't always align.[00:14:00]

So. We know today your viewers may be familiar with different, like, ideological camps on the right, like, traditionalists or libertarians. The, all of those differences were still there. So, there were antagonisms between the groups that prevented them from working together, and they were already such a small force.

Anyway, that being divided was not helpful. It was not helping them. Conquer the campus left in the way that they would have liked. So after 1968, after the spring demonstrations at Columbia, and we can talk about those if you like the elders, the Buckley's and others on national board. Sort of got the students all together and said, like, look, we there's strength in numbers since we literally can't agree on anything that has to do with like politics or ideology.

Why don't we just find the least common denominator among all of us? And that is we all hate the left, right? We all hate SDS. We all hate the black power movement on campus and the strikers and the sit ins and the peace Knicks and the hippies and the marijuana [00:15:00] smokers. So let's just. Let's just channel all of that energy, all that negative energy towards stopping them.

And so one of the larger theses in my book is that's today. I mean, the expression of owning the libs didn't exist, of course, in the sixties, but that really was what was happening. It's if you put all of these minds on the right together and have them sit down in the conversation, they'll just tear each other apart because they all have really strong convictions and they can't seem to get them in alignment, but what they can do is turn against a common enemy. And so that's really where this whole owning the left comes from.

Reactionaries have been building fake student groups for 60 years

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. It's basically that's when the sort of messaging model for Republican politics, which has never changed ever since that point, and basically it gave birth, it was not just that they couldn't agree, it was also that they understood that they themselves, the [00:16:00] policies that they wanted were not popular. And so, so let's maybe talk about that, that they saw them, that they realized that they were not representing a majority of young people but they didn't want to ever publicly admit that so they've not quite like that at all.

SHEPHERD: Yeah. Okay. So, let's talk about this concept called the majority coalition. So after the Columbia demonstration Columbia is just such a perfect example. So in the spring of 1968 if viewers aren't familiar with this story, that the short story is at Columbia university and New York, there were a group of mostly white left wing students of.

The new left members of students for a democratic society who were opposed to the university's affiliation with the Department of defense, and they wanted to shut down all university research that would in some way. Continue American involvement in Vietnam. So these are anti war students again, mostly white.

There are [00:17:00] there's another issue at Columbia at the same time. And that is that the university is trying to expand the campus into Harlem. The black neighborhood of New York and this expansion project is the construction of a new gym that would take over Harlem's morning side park.

So this is a recreational area. This is an important space for the black community that lives there. And so. Many of the black students on campus are organizing to protest the construction of what they call Jim Crow because it was literally segregated members of Harlem. People who lived in that community would have access to the gym, but they would literally have to enter on a downstairs.

Freeway downstairs door in the back, as opposed to like this spectacular main entrance that was up higher that Columbia students would use. And so it was it was really a matter of like territorial encroachment that was also extremely racist in literally the physical design. So we have two, two [00:18:00] left groups that are all going against Columbia administration.

So at the time there are four separate. Right wing groups at Columbia that are all opposed to the left. They're not working together. They're all their individual clubs. Of yeah, there's a students for a free campus. There's 2 others. And then they're really not all conservative. Some of them are the jocks, like the athletes, the football team.

And so why Columbia is so important is because for the 1st time, students on the right are able to get. All four of those groups to kind of work together under what they call a majority coalition. It was a majority of students on the right, but it wasn't the majority of the campus. But that's kind of the way that it was marketed or described.

And so anyway they fought back against the, they fought back against the SDS and the Harlem protest, and they themselves were actually Pretty inconsequential, right? They didn't have anything to do with [00:19:00] ending the sit ins and the protests that took place that was, those were ended by New York city police and also campus police at Columbia, but nevertheless, it was an important moment for the conservative students because they realized, oh, okay, we can we can help the powers that be by.

Sort of parading around on campus in our suits and praising administrators and presenting ourselves as clean cut squares saying we're the majority. We want to go to class. We don't. We've already paid tuition for our classes for the semester and these. Nihilist strikers are just trying to shut down the campus because they don't want to go to school or they're communist dupes or, whatever the reason was it was a way for them to kind of stick together.

So it was unsuccessful technically, but for their playbook, it was like, look, why don't we create more. Majority coalitions. So from that point forward, Young Americans for Freedom, its national board sits down and creates an action manual for organizing. And every year [00:20:00] it redistributes this manual out to every single chapter in the country.

Yes, has like 15, 000 members. So it's, I mean, it's not huge, but it is, there is a presence nationwide. We can say that. And so it's a gas job to Locate even moderate students on campus to start recruiting athletes or members of the student government, or just anybody who wants to go to class and doesn't want to see the campus shut down.

And that's their way of kind of pulling people into the right. And so it's also the way that can market itself as. The student silent majority. So again, this is 1968. This is throughout Nixon's campaign for presidency when he's talking about being representing a silent majority, they're just borrowing that language.

How right-wing activists then and now use student athletes to build control on campus

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And actually I did want to kind of highlight something you just mentioned with the idea of bringing in athletes into their coalition. It's something that actually you can see in the present day now as well. Like [00:21:00] Republicans have really focused on this in the past roughly five years or so through like, overtly elevating sports commentators to be Republican commentators also.

So like they've got this guy named Clay Travis, who is just a sports core guy. But now he is a regular political commentator. He inherited Rush Limbaugh's time slot and through the company that was syndicating him. Along with another guy and the two of the, and the weekday co host of Fox News their morning program Fox and Friends.

Ryan Kilmeade is a former sports reporter and then their weekend reporter I forget what his name is. They've got another guy over there who is also a sports commentator Will something or other. I forget his name. But yeah, and then.

SHEPHERD: Limbaugh too came out of the sports world, right?

SHEFFIELD: That's true. Well, that's true. Yeah, he was a Kansas City Royals announcer, for a number of years and so there's always been a [00:22:00] very strong connection just culturally perhaps with right wing politics and sports media which is interesting because they're also On the flip side there were a number of black athletes, in the, in your time period also who were linked to more, left wing political causes, Muhammad Ali being probably the most prominent, but certainly far from the only.

SHEPHERD: So, wow, there, there's so much to unpack there, but I can tell you, at least for the sixties, part of the reason that the right wanted to recruit athletes is it had to do with pushing back against the peace movement? So, just to give you an example at the University of Southern California.

So big football school. The new left was protesting at football games because they decided the violence of football was just a proxy for the Vietnam war, right? It's just another symbol of Americans glorifying violence for entertainment. And so they would protest outside of football games.

They would try to get football games. Canceled.[00:23:00] Not in the way that we use cancel culture now, but actually maybe so maybe that is you could draw a straight line there. Anyway, so, so, yeah, so the right was very big on like recruiting athletes to say, like, look, these. Hippies, these peaceniks, they're against you.

They hate you. And you've done nothing wrong. Like, you are a star representative of this campus, right? You pull in alumni dollars and right, you enhance the school's spirit and its traditions. And so that was a really easy segue to get sort of the jock crowd to join some right wing causes, even if they weren't explicitly, understood to be right wing when those athletes joined.

And then I mean, if you want to go back even further to the right and athletics, you could talk about in this sort of, like, almost Christian nationalist tradition. There's this long history of, like, Christian manhood and, like, just, sort of an obsession with strength and virality that goes back at least to like Teddy Roosevelt, right?

At [00:24:00] least to the beginning of the 20th century. And I'm sure probably earlier than that, I'm just not familiar with the literature there, but I know if, Any viewers are interested Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne spends a lot of time talking about in the front part of her book, talking about the visions of Christian manhood and strength.

And it's, that's actually the reason for the creation of groups like the YMCA is to connect Christianity and athleticism and fitness.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and it was, yeah, I know I was going to say, and that's, I mean, the name originally was the Young Men's Christian Association. And so, for sure, it's that.

And, but and I guess another present day, maybe direct comparison to what you're talking about is that in Florida Ron DeSantis, the governor there has hired this far-right Christian nationalist named Christopher Rufo to oversee the rebuilding of a campus there called New College, and [00:25:00] one of the keys to his attempt to tear it down and rebuild it in their image is that they're bringing in a massive amount of athletes into the school and significantly expanding the budget allocated toward athletics, even though nobody at the school asked for that, none of the students or the alumni asked for it.

SHEPHERD: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I could talk for days about the New College situation. And I just, to start, I think it's an easy target. New College is a public campus. And so in that way, the state can have direct control over what goes on there. And also because it doesn't have an athletics program, like you can't, if you take a look at what DeSantis or what Rufo and others are doing at New College.

You that could never happen at the University of Florida, right? They can never happen with a larger state institution that has a major alumni donor base and a long sports history and long traditions like that. I mean, you [00:26:00] would never. People would not, the alumni would not be okay with their alma mater being taken over and just unpacked from the inside out.

But with New College, like I said, it's an easy target. It's much smaller. It doesn't have— it's alumni are, a little bit more hippie. They're softer. They're not going to throw hard punches and send nasty emails, although I hope they do. And I encourage anyone to do things like that in the name of saving new college from what it's always been.

But, I mean, this you're talking about a campus that was literally founded. By hippies, students used to go to class barefoot and shirtless. I mean, that was not an uncommon thing. It's kind of part of the lore of the institution. And so, yeah, I mean, it's just very clear that it's an easy target, but if we can hang out on the topic of fitness for a little while, I think that's so fascinating.

So, like, what comes to my mind is, have you seen the viral video of RFK doing pushups? Or just shirtless, right? [00:27:00] It's kind of striking to see someone of his age because he is more mature. He's older with like abs or biceps and, doing pushups. And I've read a lot of pretty hateful Twitter commentary about his form and about how strong is he, or he must be doping.

He must be taking like human growth hormone or testosterone or whatever. Maybe he is, who knows? I'm sure. And he claims not to, yeah. Yeah. Right. And so whatever they, I don't, I can't, I'm not a medical doctor. I can't pass any judgment on that, but I just think it's interesting when we see like, the RFKs or even like right wing CrossFitters, right.

The the couple, I think it was a husband, wife, or boyfriend, girlfriend, couple that, that started the first CrossFit box. And then now the whole movement. But I mean, we really saw them come out during the pandemic as being anti masks. anti maskers and anti vaxxers. And even, it's just so interesting to me, like, I usually associate, like, crunchy, whole, holistic [00:28:00] fitness and medicine with the left.

But we've really almost seen that kind of horseshoe become a circle on the topic of health and fitness, because there are a lot of right wingers who. Have suddenly they're not even vaccinating their dogs anymore. That was an article that I read recently as people are because of political ideologies are bringing their dogs to the vet and saying, why are we getting these shots?

Why is my infant being immunized for MMR? But it's just interesting though, when we see people like RFK. They promote fitness as such an individual thing, like such a personal responsibility. I have yet to see anybody, RFK or otherwise on the right say, you know what, as part of my platform, as part of my campaign, I'm going to expand public access to fitness.

I'm going to invest in like recreational spaces and parks and communities. Or overhaul the American like way of eating, right? You just don't hear people on the right. If they're so concerned about health and [00:29:00] fitness and vitality they're not interested in making that something that's available to everyone.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and certainly if you're concerned about people being healthy, you would probably want to support national health

SHEPHERD: care. You would think that would be the very first one to start.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And and you don't know this, but actually this episode is actually going to be released right after an episode that explicitly talks about health and fitness with a very interesting historian named Natalia Petrzela.

SHEPHERD: Oh, gosh. I can't wait to hear that. I love Natalia. She, so like me, she is also an ed historian. And like me, we are also fitness instructors outside of our part of work in academia. I love Natalia. I didn't realize that. That's exciting.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, her stuff's really great and and there actually is a through line though in what we're talking about here with this fitness of sort of politicization of fitness and that is that and again, this is [00:30:00] before your time period, but and we keep doing that, but I promise the audience here, we will talk more about your time period.

Today's far-right isn't conservative, and its creators didn't call themselves conservative

SHEFFIELD: Like when William F. Buckley first got started with his, God and Man at Yale book and YAF was getting started in ISI in the 1950s. They didn't call themselves conservatives. And that is a point that is really, really important, I think. They called themselves individualists.

That's what they call themselves. And, and it's important to understand because, like, these guys, they're not conservative. Like that's something that I think everybody needs to realize is that what calls itself conservatism in the United States is, it's like, it's sort of a, an imposter version of it.

It's a, it is a reactionary ideology of. Which is individualism. That's what this is. And so, and it filters down into everything that they say [00:31:00] rhetorically, but also in their policy desires. So that, that poverty exists because of individual. failure and immorality.

And, that's why they're so concerned about regulating people's sex lives and regulating their access to birth control or health care. And then, and then you see it, further in terms of the idea of collective action. And it's part of why they themselves have such problems creating an affirmative, policy goal, other than we want to destroy this stuff.

So why don't you talk a little bit more about it?

SHEPHERD: That's like the fitness topic. I mean, I could take this so many different ways. So yes when I, when Buckley himself, he was the first president of ISI at Yale in 1953, when he founded ISI, it was initially called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists.

And then one of Buckley's own mentors said, you can't call yourself an individualist. You sound like you're creating like a colony of nudists. And so, it changed, they still kept the ISI acronym, but it became in [00:32:00] the oh my gosh, what is ISI saying for now? Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Thank you. And so, so yeah, that's, but the whole individualism, I mean, we, you really see that now in kind of the libertarian camp and like the extreme right. But I mean traditionalists don't really ever— I mean, to me, I see, at least on the populist right or the traditionalist especially the Christian right the individualist thing is not there so much because they do seem to understand the power of the state.

It's just that they want to wield it for themselves. And I'll give you an example of that. Bringing this directly back to colleges. So, like, in Buckley's time in any of Buckley's writing and in all of the things that he had influence over with these college organizations, never did he say we need to dismantle the university as it exists.

Instead, he was worrying about he, he was concerned about subverting it. So, putting in. Agents of the right, like,[00:33:00] I, one of my chapter titles is called eggheads for the right. So he wanted the university structure to still exist as it was. He just wanted this, like, parallel or almost like interior compliment that would balance the academy as opposed to what you see today at new college and even in West Virginia.

Instead, it's like, no, we're just going to dismantle the whole thing. We're going to defund higher education. We're going to forget the humanities, forget the liberal arts. These are not important things. What are you ever going to do with an art history major? It's not helpful for the workforce, right?

And college is about workforce training, not classical education. And so we need to invest in STEM and like business, programs. And so that's just to me, that's like a 180 from Buckley. And I don't mean to sound like I'm being too complimentary of Buckley. I certainly am not, but I can see that there's a clear distinction between what the right wants with the academy today and what maybe, a couple of generations ago, the [00:34:00] right was calling for

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, it's, I mean, there, he was still, I mean, he did have a strong anti intellectual streak to himself as well. I mean, like he was constantly talking about how he would rather be governed by the first 500 names in the phone book than by the faculty of--

SHEPHERD: The Boston phone book.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So, it was always there for him but that tension has always existed on within the American right especially because it's so linked to the Christian right and American Protestantism of the fundamentalist variety. I mean, Buckley was more of a fundamentalist, I mean, he was a fundamentalist Catholic rather than a Protestant, but there was still this idea of what cognitive psychologists call intuitive reasoning rather than deliberative or reflective reasoning.

And so what those concepts mean just for people who haven't heard of them is that intuitive reasoning, basically it doesn't use [00:35:00] facts or observation to reach conclusions. It uses feelings.


SHEFFIELD: And so yeah, vibes and like we all use this type of thinking in our, regular lives and, like you, you'll be like, walking down the street, I don't know and think, oh, I have to be careful over here there's some creepy guys that. hang out here sometimes. And, maybe you had only seen them there once. But, it's possible they might be there, at some other point, right? And so that type of thinking it's not, it can be helpful in your regular life, but when it comes to evaluating, whether COVID vaccines are safe or, whether cutting taxes increases revenues for the government, that's not a good way to understand cause and effect.

SHEPHERD: These are testable things, yes.

SHEFFIELD: That's right. You can know whether the taxes bring in cutting them brings in moroni and spoiler alert it does not That's right and

so but like but it's it's [00:36:00] also the way that fundamentalist religion works as well because if you believe that the Bible is literally true Yeah, I mean, and I can say this having, been a I was born and raised as a Mormon fundamentalist. And so I literally did believe that the Book of Mormon, that First Nations people are, ancient, are the descendants of ancient Hebrews.

Like, I believed that. But I knew that I couldn't prove that. So if you were to challenge me on that, I would have been like, well, there's these ideas about this and that and. But I ultimately, I would have had to conclude, yeah, I don't have any proof for that. And

SHEPHERD: so... If you were honest enough to do so.

Because I've heard people say, well, that's why we have faith, right? And that the, like, the concept of faith is, you can't prove this, but--

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. But like, and so like, basically, yeah, you're right. But that's what they've done is that the political ideology of American reactionism is a faith based ideology, both in [00:37:00] terms of that it's built in for many of them on literal religion.

But it's also built on that their secular ideas are of faith, like, I mean, you look at some of the very influential right wing economists like, that they, were very big on and even to this day, like, Ludwig, von Mises, like he had this entire rejection of We don't need evidence to have our theories economic theories like that's That and he came up with this idea that everything, you can understand economics through common sense and he had no idea that is literally a Fallacy, in, in Logic 101, the appeal to common sense is a fallacy, and it's the argument for mean credulity.

SHEPHERD: So, while we're on.

SHEFFIELD: I know we went on for a while there, I'm sorry.

SHEPHERD: No, no, no, no, it's great.

How libertarianism provided rhetorical cover through "fusionism" to the Christian right

SHEPHERD: And while we're on this topic, I mean, I think that's really why the traditionalist [00:38:00] right needs the libertarian right. So, this is one of the things we're talking about in the book, but this is not my original idea.

There's this long, long pattern history of discussion of fusionisms. This is Frank Meyer's concept that the, Oh,

SHEFFIELD: definitely. I want to get into that. Yeah. Traditionalism. Yeah. Talk about that. Yeah.

SHEPHERD: Yeah. And so the reason is because traditionalism, I mean, it's, it. Is based on just the past and just like, some preference for a hierarchy that in the right estimate they benefit from right?

So, whatever it is, if it's patriarchy, if it's white supremacy, whatever it is, the way things have been in the past benefit people. Who think this way and that's why they don't want to change them, but they can't explain it that way. Right. And not because they in some cases, maybe they don't have the words, but in other cases, you can't just come right out and say, well, I'm racist.

I'm a white supremacist. I'm misogynist, right? None of that sounds good. And you're not going to be taken seriously, but

SHEFFIELD: I'm rich. Therefore I should keep my money. [00:39:00]

SHEPHERD: If you have some ideological justification, like some libertarian free market principles, small government principles, that's actually coherent.

A lot of times the traditionalists borrow that language from libertarians, even though they don't like all of their ideas. But they borrow their language when it's necessary. And actually tell a story about this in the book too. This is a quick story. In the summer of 1969, YAF has its national convention in St.Louis, Missouri. And there's a lot of tension at the convention because there's a libertarian camp. So the libertarians are the minorities in YAF. But the libertarians are really starting to find common cause with the new left when it comes to Vietnam. They don't want to be drafted, right? They call the draft, the selective slavery system and a violation of the 13th amendment.

And that, that doesn't sit well with the traditionalists who are very pro war, very interested [00:40:00] in American hegemony abroad. And they're anti communist, right? They don't want to see South Vietnam fall to communist North or to China or to Russia or, whoever, USSR, whoever they're afraid of.

And so there's some other things like the libertarians are okay with drug decriminalization. They're okay with marijuana use and LSD usage and they find common cause with the hippies on things like that. And they don't think that the state. Police should be brought in to restrict these liberties from people, right?

So it shouldn't be a crime to smoke weed if you want to and the traditionalist, right, just can't have that. So at the at this convention in 1969, there are literal fistfights between traditionalists and libertarians. After one libertarian student gets on the stage at this convention and he holds up a copy of his draft card and he takes a cigarette lighter to it and he burns it and that's symbolic, not just that he's burning his draft card because that's, of course, what the new left does, but it's also symbolic because yas. own emblem is the torch of [00:41:00] liberty. So he's, it's kind of a double entendre there and it's offensive to traditionalists in both ways.

And so, yeah, this huge fight breaks out and they're punching each other. And then even once the fight settles the national board takes away the credentials of the libertarians so they can't come back to the conference. And when they try to come in there's more fights about that.

And then the night that that Instance occurs they all meet under this is in Saint Louis. So they meet under the Gateway Arch, and they listen to speeches by Buckley who they boo the libertarians boo. And that's like, you can't do that. Buckley is a God. You cannot insult the master. And then they also there are speeches by Murray Rothbard, who if viewers aren't familiar, he's an archcapitalist. He is an arch-libertarian. I think he even sometimes calls himself an anarcho-capitalist. But anyway, he's a writer, a thinker. He's an extreme libertarian. And so, yeah there's more fights. There's more tussles. They make their way back that night to the hotel [00:42:00] room. You have students beating each other up in the halls calling for the death of the other of the other side.

And yeah, it's Extremely dramatic, but as I show in the book, even after that 1969 convention, when all of these libertarians are expelled, and then they go on to create students for individual liberty, which eventually becomes the libertarian party of the United States in 1972 or 73. Even though they've been exiled from YAF, it doesn't stop YAFers from using their arguments.

So it's a fascinating thing that these pro war traditionalists they're all for the war in Vietnam, but they themselves don't want to be drafted and so they get pressed on that all the time. The chicken hawk question. If you're so pro war, why won't you serve yourself? What are you doing?

Sitting in a college classroom? If the college campus is so liberal and so terrible, go out and be a soldier, man, go fight. And then they come up, with all of these excuses, like, well, after I graduate, I'll go enlist. I'm just here because I want to be an officer rather than an enlisted man.

And they have all these reasons, but they. Borrow lots of [00:43:00] arguments from the libertarians. And of course they need to because their own ideas aren't coherent or consistent to be defensible.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And you did see some of that also with the women who, the few women who did come up in that environment tended to, talk praise and they still, and they've done it ever since, like Laura Ingram is childless, has never been married or actually, sorry, she adopted children.

And as a someone who had never been married and, a lot of these right wing women, all kind of do not practice what they preach. Oh, yeah.

SHEPHERD: Interesting. For sure. And yeah, it's a weird right wing feminism. It's very, it tends to be very high feminism. Like Laura Ingram, of course is, considered by many accounts to beautiful, right? She adheres to like modern beauty standards. Michelle Malkin's another really good example, but even going back to like, like Phyllis Schlafly, like, of course, Phyllis Schlafly was she was married and she [00:44:00] did have several children. I can't remember how many she had, but she just jet set across the country all the time on these speaking on these stop ERA speaking tours with nannies, right? While preaching about the importance of women staying at home and being homemakers and at holding to this Christian traditionalist view of what women should do and be.

But yeah, that's another good example of someone who is pretty hypocritical there. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah so, oh, absolutely. And on the sort of the reactionary slash libertarian feuding, I'm interested to hear what you think, because I do feel like that especially when the sixties, that there were a bunch of people outside of political movements, like they weren't activists who had a libertarian sensibility and they were not liberal or progressive. But. The issues that they were interested in [00:45:00] did align them temporarily with the political left. And so when we had those issues resolved as a society in favor of the left, so drug legalization, because it was a felony and imprisonment, you could be imprisoned for just engaging in same sex sexual relations. So like legalizing sodomy, legalizing same sex marriage marijuana, decriminalization reforms to the draft, et cetera.

These are all things that the libertarian. People as you said agreed with the progressive left on and then once those issues were sort of taken off the table because everyone agreed Oh, okay, the left was right about this Now those people who had those libertarian inclinations are now like any Elon Musk. It's a great example of this and you know that they never understood what [00:46:00] Politics was about and they never understood where they were themselves. Like they thought they were on the left and then they're waking up all of a sudden and realizing, Oh, wait a second.

These issues I was concerned about, now we're talking about different issues and what's wrong with the left now. I don't know what's your thought?

SHEPHERD: Yeah. I don't know if I would say that Musk would wherever on the left, but certainly a liberal.

SHEFFIELD: No, no, that they think they were,

SHEPHERD: That's what I'm saying, or Bill

SHEFFIELD: Maher, another example.

SHEPHERD: Yeah, I put Elon Musk or even Vivek Ramaswamy, like, who we have seen recently in the Republican debate. I can't predict the future, but it seems to me like he'll probably have a long career on the right. I don't know. We'll see. That those to me represent like a tech bro kind of personality who are interested in grift, and it seems like it's very, very easy to, become an overnight star on the [00:47:00] right and get a lot of celebrity and attention and money in ways that you can't do on the left. So, for example, like, Musk, right? He's, he makes a name for himself in developing, like, green energy vehicles, but now he's this right wing troll on Twitter, but it seems like he has found an audience there, right?

He gets attention that he likes. And so his views over time don't have to be consistent. It's. It's more opportunistic to me and that's what. I don't know. That's what I see. I'm sure someone else has probably more fully developed thoughts on that. But I mean, there's, there's just a lot of grift on the right, especially in like, conspiratorial thinking, which Musk seems to constantly be elevating on his website.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, we certainly does love that. Well, okay.

More on fake student groups

SHEFFIELD: So, let's then maybe go back to the idea of creating the sort of AstroTurf group because that strategy really did kind of solidify during your time period. You talk about it quite extensively [00:48:00] in your book and one of the things that they did with that was that, and Buckley did this earlier, but this generation that you're talking about also did is that they were, very.

They went very hard after some students and some professors who said things that they didn't like. And so they tried to get them fired. I mean, tell us maybe one or two of those stories of how they went after specific things like that. If you could.

SHEPHERD: Sure, so well, with the AstroTurf thing that's so the right is trying to, or claiming to represent a campus silent majority, but being very self conscious that they don't.

So, in order to make themselves look like an actual grassroots, truly popular movement they can't use the banner of YAF because by. The late 1960s, you have had already earned a reputation as an extremist group, and a lot of people didn't really take them very seriously. But they started creating front groups, [00:49:00] so they would create a new campus organization and they would call it something completely different, like students for responsible university or, and this is that majority coalition model we talked about earlier. They would take their entire same roster, add 2 or 3 more new names and create a new group. Right? And so suddenly it's like, look, we have not only offers on campus, but we also have this other group that thinks like, yeah, well, of course they do.

It's the same group. It's just their facsimiles. So that's where the AstroTurf comes in and another sort of dimension to that. Yeah. Astroturf implying that it's not grassroots is that they have all of these major funders. So, in 1 instance this is again at the University of Southern California.

There's an underground right wing campus newspaper. Called the true Trojan and it's funded entirely by 1 member of the USC board who's. Maybe I did not get permission to use but, yeah this board member cut checks that would cover the cost of an [00:50:00] entire an entire print run for the magazine.

And it would be coded as an alumni subscription. So just 1 alum subscription would pay for the whole thing. So that's another example of this astroturf nature. And then also the fact that yes, board members would create these annual, action kits and like manuals to, to teach all of their students how to work, how to hold certain events or how to invite speakers to campus, how to literally give them scripts of words to use to go knock around door to door in the case of like college Republicans asking for campaign donations.

So, yeah, I mean, that's that goes back to the AstroTurf thing in terms of, like, pushing back against faculties, there were, there's a number of instances in the book. 1 of the big ones that appears early on is students claiming that they were penalized for their grades. So, 1 student whose name I will use James Courtney talked about being in a macro economics course at the University of Washington or Washington University.

One or the other. [00:51:00] Anyways, in his, he said that he got a B in his back row course, because the instructor did not like the fact that he was a conservative. He was turning in papers with, a free market analysis, and then he got a B instead of an A. And so there was no, there's no way for me to test that, right?

That's a claim. And I don't have that student's records. I. Don't know how to get in touch with your professor who's probably been dead for decades at this point. So to sort of triangulate that and try to figure out, is this true or not? I asked that same question to other students. Did you ever feel like your professors graded you more harshly because you, because of your politics, because your politics were different than theirs and a lot of times what I heard from students is like, oh, no, they always graded fair.

If I got a bad grade, it's because I turned in some half baked analysis. And so, but that's an example of students like claiming, my professor is just brainwashing everyone and if you don't agree with him, he's going to penalize you.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and they also went [00:52:00] after students fellow students to try to get them expelled if they were engaging in left wing activism.

Can you talk about that?

SHEPHERD: Sure. So, I mean, there's instances of students literally beating up activists. So, an example is that Cornell in 1969 in the spring there was a black women's, co op, like a dormitory residence hall or house. And 1 morning, 1 night a burning cross appeared in the front yard.

And so after that, at the different black students on campus were organizing, they were protesting this. They were trying, they were demanding a black studies program. They wanted more black students to be enrolled. They wanted to see more black. People on the faculty and so members of a fraternity, which 1 was it?

I think Delta up salon. Anyway, when a fraternity members literally went and beat black students up who were occupying a campus building. And so that, I mean, that's 1 example. There's [00:53:00] so many examples of fistfights. Another 1 where no 1 got hurt. Another example had to do with Jane Fonda. So Jane Fonda.

Anti Vietnam War celebrity she would go around on her press junket advertising whatever big, headlining movie she had coming out and yaffers would show up and they would have these big giant signs and they'd stand behind her to make sure that they were on camera and their signs would read things like Hanoi or the title of Hanoi


Yeah. Well, they called her. I had

Hanoi Jane .

SHEPHERD: Yes. But one of the signs I'm specifically thinking of they're holding it up and it says movie title bombed. Why can't we? So meaning like, why can't we bomb Laos in Cambodia and north Vietnam? Or just heckle her at events. I mean, oftentimes her bodyguards would have to have them removed.

So I mean, they were, they were rowdy. And, and after 1969, Young Americans for Freedom, the advisory board literally started in its in its communication to its campus chapters said, you can use violence, right? [00:54:00] Especially if you see the left beating up police, get in there and start crashing skulls.

That's not a direct quote, but that's the, that was the vibe that they were encouraging. Then to do they would also like explicit directions. They would say, okay, if a building is being occupied by, let's say the black student union, let's say that they're holding a sit in go cordon off the building.

So, let's get a group of, a majority coalition students to lock arms and not let anyone come out. If these people want to occupy the building, we're literally going to starve them. We're not going to let reinforcements come in and bring them bread or bring them, food or anything to eat.

They're going to sit in there for 567 days. Until, they have an agreement with the administration to come out, so they would do things like that. And then they would be very specific about what that cordon would look like. They would say, okay, everyone should lock arms. There needs to be a girl every 2 or 3 people because, no one's going to attack a girl.

How right-wing students in the 1960s teamed up with campus police

SHEPHERD: But if someone does start, start fighting back, start screaming [00:55:00] like, leftist violence oftentimes when campus police were called by administrators to. To shut down a sit in or to solve some, issue on campus students on the right would deputize themselves. They would act as if they were members of the police too.

And they would wear these little badges or, they would have code words like freedom that they would whisper to the cops to say, Hey, like, we're the good guys. We're on your side. We're here to help you. Just, stuff like that. But oftentimes they would identify themselves with blue buttons. So when the antiwar movement started wearing, like, it's black armbands they would wear blue buttons.

It was just like the, the counter symbol to let people know, like, Oh, we're here. We're on the administrator side. And then addition to physical violence, they would also threaten legal violence. I mean, yeah. There are several instances, especially after 1969, and then just exploding after 1970, after the Kent State Massacre, where students on the right sued their trustees, or they sued the president, or they sued [00:56:00] other students who were involved in strikes because they were claiming Like, we've already paid tuition, right?

You can't, you can't shut down the campus. You can't end the semester. Which was the case at many campuses after after the massacre at Kent State, you can't just stop the normal order of events when we've paid tuition. And so those, those suits weren't always successful, but in a number of cases 1, 1 instances at George Washington University where the injunction was, was ordered, right? A judge said, yes, you must keep the campus open. You must have normal class time operations. It doesn't matter that students are striking. And and that's important too, because even even the threat of suing a college president directly, like, like the individual person is can be enough to to make some sort of action occur to make them take some steps because they don't want to face the court system or whatever it is.

So that's something that you have to use all the time and continues to use. If any of your listeners are [00:57:00] familiar with the podcast, know your enemy. It's produced by dissent magazine. They're at two guys, Matt and Sam, they do deep dives on the right all the time on their Patreon page, the, the base level, I think like.

5 a month subscription to their podcast and, and the stuff they produce it's called a Young Americans for Freedom subscription. And yeah, YAF actually sued them. This was a month or two ago. And I think the, I think the suit got dropped, but I mean, it's, it's, it's a tactic that they're, they're still weaponizing all the time today.


Reactionaries invented getting people fired for political views, but they falsely blame the left for it

SHEFFIELD: Well, and it's, and it's important, really important because conventional political reporters, or local news reporters, they don't know this history at all, and essentially who kind of created political cancellations.

I mean, the entire purpose of National Review was because they hated Dwight Eisenhower and they wanted to get rid of him because he was conservative, basically, and they were not. They were, reactionary.

Let's talk about [00:58:00] that, that they moved into the Republican party and took it over and, systemically or systematically decided to bump off people who they did not find to be obedient to them. You want to talk about some of that?

SHEPHERD: I mean, that's a that is a direct parallel of what happened at that summer convention to me. Like, I mean, I've, I've view these things in those terms.

Mm-hmm. Of course, because it's my research. But yeah. I mean, so to, to me, canceling someone or, or this. Concept of cancel culture. It's just a boycott. So I don't know that we can give the right credit for the concept of boycotts because that I mean, that goes back. I don't know how long it goes back, but it goes back certainly before the post war movement in the United States on the right.

But yeah, I mean. But I

SHEFFIELD: guess as a they use, oh no, I was gonna say like they use it as a way of trying to claim that there's this, large group victimization of people with a, with a, an ideological, agenda. That is, they're trying to, I enforce it on us. And [00:59:00] we have no choice. No one everyone's trying to silence us.

I've been really, they're the ones that, I mean, like, and I can say that, having been a former Republican political consultant in media entrepreneur, like, I, I was not somebody who was ever on board with the Christian right in my political career, but, and I'll give you an example of what I mean by that, but like, so when I first moved to D. C. to start up my career in political consulting and media. I, this was around when Facebook was very early on and, and I put on my religious affiliation, I put agnostic atheist. And I had several friends of mine say to me, Matt, That's probably not a good idea for you to do that people aren't going to like that.

And, and, and at the time I, I thought, well, whatever, I don't want to work with those people if they hate that I don't believe in, their, their religious views. But in retrospect, they were a hundred percent right. Like I, I saw that people once they learned about what I [01:00:00] actually thought about things.

They came after me to try to get me fired from jobs or try to like there was a fellowship program that I was directly encouraged to apply for by the guy who was running it. And he was very excited about this book I was going to write, and then I never got the book and it turned out that.

Pretty much everybody on the judge's board was a Christian nationalist. And my book was about, here's how Republicans can sort of reconcile between irreligion and religion. That was the purpose of the book. And you can't do that. We can't have that according to them.

SHEPHERD: What was the press? If you don't mind,

SHEFFIELD: It was the Phillips fellowship journalism fellowship.

SHEPHERD: Oh, fellowship. Okay. Yes. Yeah. I mean, the rights really great. I got to say, I got to hand it to him. They're excellent about funding scholars. Or, where other. Other people who have ideas that might that might benefit the right. And it's really interesting. [01:01:00] At a time when funding for scholars from the traditional sources, like Ford foundation, or or even even federal grants when that's.

Going by the wayside, I mean, funding for the humanities for history for my discipline is almost entirely gone. I don't I don't know where someone would turn to today to get a grant for a historical project. I'm sure it would be extremely competitive. Yeah. So the right's very good about throwing cash at people or investing in their.

Their projects, but, yeah, you asked about, like, National Review and its function. So, yeah, I mean, it really was about trying to convince its readers, that they are a minority a political minority and that they are. Actively being ostracized by the liberal media by, New England elites and trying to convince readers that this is a product for you that appreciates you and that will give you the tools, like the conceptual tools and that language and the understanding that [01:02:00] you need to push back against all of that and National Review.

I had a had a major influence, the writers at National Review, so Buckley and others on the campus, right? I mean, they would, they would show them how to create a newsletter. And like the example I gave earlier, they would even fund them. So, and, and for your students who are headed for careers in the academy, that is, or for careers in journalism, CV.

Like I was the editor of the campus newspaper. Let's just ignore the fact that it was an unofficial newspaper. But

Left-wing groups and donors spend almost nothing compared to right-wing youth groups

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, it's true. And and it really is like that. That is the fundamentals of operational distinction between the contemporary American left and right is that the American left tends to try to see politics as something that should be organically developed.

And so they don't. Yeah, they don't fund a lot of student activism and don't, I mean, yeah, like literally, we're at the point [01:03:00] now where you've got, turning point USA, you still got Young Americans for Freedom, you still got college Republicans, you've got young Americans for liberty, you've got And God, there's probably like two or three other ones.

I can't think of right now. And

SHEPHERD: Sorry, I was gonna give you a couple more examples, but yeah, yeah,

SHEFFIELD: Go for it. Yeah, but but no, I was going to say, but like, basically the only analog is College Democrats, that's it, for the most part.

SHEPHERD: Yeah, somebody asked me this question recently too, and I was trying to think, like, who, who would be the 2023 version of, like, say, SDS?

Or, or even, like, the, the Black Panthers or some, or the Black Student Union, or the WEB Du Bois Club and I can't, I couldn't come up with an example, but I think maybe the closest thing, and this is not a, a one to one comparison, but, like, some Bernie Bros. Like, I don't know, like, there's no but they still

SHEFFIELD: don't have an organization.

Like, that's the thing.

SHEPHERD: Yeah. Yeah. So it would be ad hoc, like, during a political campaign season. But, but now I'm thinking, I mean, I [01:04:00] really am seeing, especially among graduate students and among non tenure track faculty, postdocs visiting assistant professors. I mean, there's, there's a labor movement afoot, which is really exciting to me to watch unfold.

And so, so maybe that might come something in the near future. I hope maybe that could parallel a, a new left group. Similar to like, what we saw in the 60s even, even like BLM, the BLM movement doesn't that I'm aware of have a campus base. I don't know. I don't know.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and, and it is like, and I'll say, like as somebody who has been on the inside of the right and left the right understands at a central, in a central way that giving people a way to have a career in advocacy.

Is important if you want to have it and, and, and like, [01:05:00] and it extends in terms of not just, donors, showering things with money, but it also extends to like media appearances, like Fox News will, they'll put on, any random person. who has an idea that they are interested in like that Oliver Anthony guy is a great example

SHEPHERD: of that.

The debate. Yes. Oliver Anthony is a perfect example. Even the the Republican debate, there was a question from a yaffer. I don't know if anyone caught that. I mean, it certainly jumped out to me. From young America's foundation, how they call it, but it's still it's the same organization as Young Americans for Freedom was.

Yeah, there was not run

SHEFFIELD: by anyone who is young though,

SHEPHERD: right? Yes. Yeah. And like you mentioned campus reform and turning point USA, all these groups. I mean, like Charlie Kirk is like 30. I mean, he's not a college student and never was. So yeah, Candace Owen, another example of a 30 something shock job, but who, who [01:06:00] speaks on college campuses, that's, that's literally her, one of her main duties.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, yeah, well, and at the same time though, like, in her case, he was just a random. Low audience YouTuber who was making basically racist comments against black people. And that was how she got picked up. But like, I mean, you, you see that over and over that the right is very like, and I'll give you an example of somebody that I know, like he, he's a, has a pseudonymous Twitter account, doesn't run it under his own name.

But one day he was making fun of some New Jersey Republican, local Republican. And. He got contacted within the week by another New Jersey Republican who didn't like that same guy and was like, repping one of his rivals. He got contacted within the week, an anonymous Twitter account, whereas on the left.

Like, you can't even get these big podcasts to even post people on their show. Like, they always host the same guests [01:07:00] all the time and it's just like there is this complete freeze out of new voices on the, on the sort of established left. And maybe it, maybe it's a function of that there's not as much money available to them.

But it is an interesting dynamic, I have to say as somebody who's seen things from the inside on both sides. Yeah,

SHEPHERD: yeah, that goes back to what we were saying earlier about grift and opportunity with, Elon Musk and so many others, like, it's just easy to just become a right wing troll and then quickly get showered with attention and Oliver Anthony is another good example.

And I know he's come out recently and say, like, after the, after the debate, he said, these are actually the people I was making fun of, but I mean, you can, I think he was funded by some. Some right wing producer like discovered and paid for his music and paid for the music video, like the outdoor video where he's playing his guitar at a concert.

And it seems to be recorded live. It's it's not it's professionally recorded

but I do know that that song was produced by somebody who had an [01:08:00] interest in this sort of like, right wing populism that they could hear and conspiratorial sort of, through line that was in the lyrics of that song. So yeah, it's easy to just. To just rise up to stardom really quickly. Oh Oh my gosh.

Why can I not think of his name? The Kenosha shooter. Young guy, Kyle Rittenhouse. Yes. He's another example of someone who just happened to be in front of cameras and do something that the right light. And then he's quickly elevated to fame. And I think he's been at Republican events ever since then.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah and there's another guy who had just recently passed away Joe the Plumber, aka Joel Wurzelbacher, he was just a guy who asked a question to Barack Obama in 2008 and became an overnight right wing celebrity. And obviously there are some bad things about just elevating random people into your political discourse. Like the Republicans over the years, [01:09:00] several times have promoted people who are just outright fascist or a secretly a Nazi activists or things like that, but on the other hand it really gives them-- this elevation of new voices and willingness to put new people forward-- it gives a dynamism to the right wing that the left in the current day and age doesn't really have I would say.

SHEPHERD: Yeah, I mean, there's this what is the saying about the left always eating its young. Yeah, I mean, there's so much like infighting and. Again, this is going back to some of the things that I talk about my research is what we saw on the right to before someone that in a leadership position and an inspirational position said, you know what y'all, stop and work together.

And then they did but, yeah, that's that has yet to materialize on the left.

. I guess what I see is like the left fighting liberals and liberals fighting the left rather than to me, liberals are our centrist, I, I kind of think of them that way and I know everybody does. But on the [01:10:00] spectrum, my understanding is that a liberal is probably more towards the center. And so there's like, the center to left, like, in fighting that it's just like, if all of that could be redirected to fighting against like this bubbling American fascism that is so apparent to me we can probably really do something about it.

SHEFFIELD: I do think there is. There is also a New York DC problem with the left, much more than the right and like they, they don't want to include people who don't live in the "Acela Corridor" as it's commonly called. This is like a larger left problem that if you can't come to their office every day, then you're not going to get a job at a progressive organization because they want you to be in DC, even though basically what that attitude means is that they're totally cut off from understanding how to talk to people outside of their little bubble. And so [01:11:00] basically they become overly reliant on public polling. And public polling is, and I used to be a pollster so I can say this, is that it actually distorts your thinking if you don't understand how to use it.

And the right is much better at understanding what polls are for because they basically invented it as a campaign tactic. But polls are for understanding how to say your message. They're not for determining what your message is.

And that's the real difference between the left and the right in terms of how they use polls. The right will look at polls and say, this is how we need to talk about what we want to do. Whereas the left will look at a poll and say, oh, this idea is unpopular, which we want, so therefore, we're not going to talk about it. And we're not going to take action about it. And I have interviewed a number of very early same-sex marriage advocates and they all have uniformally told me that the Democratic party, [01:12:00] as a public matter, refused to do anything for them. And that they had to push for everything on their own. And in some cases were actually opposed by a prominent Democrats in their particular areas, even though privately they believed in, and Barack Obama was an example, Joe Biden actually was the first national left politician, to come out and he was, he was alone in being in favor of, it was actually courageous of him to do that.

Most of them, they wouldn't touch it.

SHEPHERD: That, that makes me think about like the, the right and it's relationship with the gay community. There's a really, I'm so excited about this, a really fascinating book that will come out next spring about gay Republicans. And it'll be written by Neil J. Young, University of Chicago. Yeah. I've gotten to read two chapters and they're both really fascinating. But yeah, that's, that's another thing too, is like watching, and also many closeted [01:13:00] Republicans.

There are a lot of leadership a lot of members of the leadership on the right that were closeted over the years.

SHEFFIELD: Absolutely. Well, let's, maybe get back to some of your book stuff. So you have some kind of fun messaging details that I thought are not commonly known about, like what YAF was doing against the Richard Nixon supporters, you want to talk about some of that? They're kind of funny and just weird. Let's talk about that.


Many of today's far-right actors have been operating continuously since the 1970s

SHEPHERD: So in preparation for 1968, Young Americans for Freedom were recycling all of the things that they used in a 64 campaign.

So, They would have like banners that would say apple pie mother and Nixon or they would dress up as cowgirls and call themselves. Yeah. Fats and they would pass out different campaign materials and just really make over the top sort of over the top sort of like. They would come out and over the top sort of [01:14:00] ways to where they're stunts.

Absolutely. So, leading up to 1968, so there are a couple of different candidates that the right supports. And one of them is George Wallace. So I actually opened the book with a story about George Wallace coming to Dartmouth in 1968. And he, this is a speaking engagement. He is invited to campus.

He comes up on the stage and he says all sorts of provocative things. But even before he gets there, there's already a mass of students outside who are ready to protest his appearance. And if somebody has said about the book before the way that that little vignette opens, that's actually something we would see today as students protesting conservative speakers on campus.

So this, this thing, has a long history. But anyway, so, Wallace is there. There's Literally 1400 seats in the stadium or in the the room where he's speaking. And they're all full and there's an overflow crowd on the outside. There's campus police and [01:15:00] security to to take care of the hecklers.

And as he's speaking, a group of students just flush through the barricade and they. Dorm inside and they run down the center aisle and they are trying to take Wallace off the stage but they're not successful. Wallace has his security. He literally has a getaway car already running and waiting for him and they take him out to the car as quick as they can.

The mob of students follow him out to the car. They start beating in the top of the car and just, making a big ruckus. And I argue that all of that is purposeful. The students, of course, want to create a spectacle of their dissent. They want to show, like, we don't appreciate this guy who's out here saying, segregation today, tomorrow, forever.

They don't want this person speaking on campus. Wallace, on the other hand, Loves that, right? That's catnip for him because then he can say things like, see, this is academic freedom. That's actually a direct quote. He says, this type of academic freedom will get you killed.[01:16:00] And so it's a, it's a good, that whole spectacle is a useful tool for both sides to talk about the intolerance of the other, so that's that's 1 Wallace story that appears in there. And, of course, in the 1968 campaign, there are lots of lots of students that try to get him nominated. There is, we were speaking about grift earlier. There's a lot of grift behind that. There's an unofficial youth for Wallace organization that uses Wallace's mass head is banner head for, for All of this stuff and they're soliciting campaign donations, but it's coming to the, the guy that's behind it.

His name is his name is Joseph accord. And so accord is taking all of this money. He has no official affiliation with Wallace. Wallace literally his campaign headquarters in Montgomery literally sends the sky like a cease and desist. That says we're not affiliated with you.

SHEFFIELD: Just like today. Just like today with all these people using Trump's name to raise money for themselves.

SHEPHERD: Yeah. So, so that's another thing. And then [01:17:00] that group actually goes on. So Wallace will not get the Republican nomination. Of course that goes to Nixon, but he'll still go on to run as an independent and then he'll lose in the general election in 68, but he promises that he's going to run again in 72.

So that Youth for Wallace group, so, not only is Accord behind it, there's a couple of other, like, extreme far right, white supremacists let's see, who else is there? But they, anyway, they all--

SHEFFIELD: Well, Richard Viguerie is there also.

SHEPHERD: Yeah, Viguerie, Viguerie is in my story, he, he's kind of in the background as like this advisor. I don't talk about him too specifically except for, to, to talk about his ability to help fundraise. But this group goes on and it becomes the National Youth Alliance, the NYA, and it's a white, literally it's a white supremacist college group, like, its whole function is to attack black students.

They sell pepper spray as they use the slur, [01:18:00] but as basically control equipment is what they call it. And yeah, they just produce all sorts of horrible literature. David Duke is affiliated with this group. He has a chapter at LSU. There's an infamous image of Duke. I, I didn't include this in the book.

Plenty of people might be familiar with this picture, but it's Duke, not at LSU. He's at Tulane in New Orleans. And he is protesting the, the trial of the Chicago defendants, he's, he's carrying the sign that says gas, the Chicago seven and then on the reverse side of the sign, it says something in relation to like communist Jews.

And he's referring to members of the new left who are on trial, not all of whom were Jewish but, but some big name players like Abby Hoffman where and then also their defense attorney was Jewish. So anyway, they're anti Semitic, they're anti black. They're just. Scary people, but they're affiliated with Wallace and then the N. Y. A. Later changes names again. And it becomes like a neo [01:19:00] Nazi organization. That's still around today. Well, it's cartoons and another another name that sponsors the organization. Okay, so that's that's Wallace. There are a sizable group of YAFers who are behind Reagan. Reagan, again, like Wallace, loses in the general and he won't become president for a long time.

But, when Reagan does become president, a lot of his former, like, YAF students will have positions in his administration. And for Nixon, the Yaffers do not love Nixon but they have to come around when he's the GOP candidate because they're certainly not going to support the, the Democrats anti war candidate.

So, yeah, they campaigned for Nixon. He wins the nomination or he wins the election, and then they expect that he will keep this war going and that we will win the war. And then when Nixon starts doing things, just a few months into his role as president, when he starts doing things like Making the draft more equitable.

Yeah. Other things that they don't like, [01:20:00] suddenly they turn on him and they literally, I mean, there's one of my archival trips was to the Nixon administration. And as I'm looking through like his college files they're all these nasty letters from Yafers, like demanding that he changed course on Vietnam and that he, that he stops Vietnamization and that he.

Makes, he escalates the war. And then after Kent State in May 1970 for, for viewers who aren't familiar with this story, there's an anti war protest and the National Guard is sent in. The, the guards members shoot just a volley of bullets into a crowd of students and onlookers, not all of them were students almost a dozen people are injured, four people die.

And Yaffe. Has just a sort of come to Jesus moment about how do we respond to something like this? The Kent State Massacre, by the way, that protest was in response to the United States invading neutral Cambodia. So on one hand, yeah, it's like, yeah, this is exactly what we want an escalation of the war into other territories, right?

They're [01:21:00] concerned about this domino effect of communism. So they're. They want to get into Southeast Asia and just like take over everywhere. So they're excited about that. But then there are national guards been executing college students on campus. And again, like we said, not, not all of these people who were killed that day or shot and injured that day were even students at Kent State.

Some were just literally passers by. The bullets extended 700 feet and beyond. I mean, there's literally a volley up into the air and over. So, but some students said, you know what, they deserve this. They shouldn't have been at the protest. They shouldn't have been around. And so,

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and again, that's, you see that same type of attitude today, with the, oh, it's okay to run over protesters and, or, we support we support Kyle that, I mean, you see all that stuff as well.

Yeah, that's right. And, sometimes I think there's a temptation on the center to left to think that Donald Trump did this to the Republican Party [01:22:00] and your book, your book shows that that's really not true at all.

And all these tendencies that people see, now it, fascistic tendencies religious discrimination, racial discrimination. I mean, you've got it all right there. And. And it was done by people who nowadays are seen as sort of, perceived as anti Trump, stayed reliable conservatives.

And that's not the case at all.

SHEPHERD: No, that's not the case. And I, and I also, I, I don't want to overstate. My intervention here, like, that that argument is not one that only I have made. I mean, there are other scholars, John S Huntington in his book, far right vanguard, argue something really similar. I'm extremely excited about David Walsh.

He's, he's a postdoc at Yale right now, but he's working on a book on the, on the far right. And he'll, he'll argue the same thing that, and even if you, if you look into like studies of the John Birch Society Edward Ted Miller [01:23:00] has two really good books, Nut Country.

SHEFFIELD: I've actually had him on my show. Yeah. He's great.

SHEPHERD: Oh, perfect. Okay. Yes. Yeah. So, I mean, yeah, I don't want to overstate my, my contribution to this. I mean, there's certainly other scholars that would say the same thing. I'm not breaking anything around here.

SHEFFIELD: You did a good job. That's what I'm saying.

SHEPHERD: Thank you. I, I appreciate that. But yeah, I mean, these, these tendencies have been there for a long time and you're right there, there is a, some nostalgia, especially from like Never Trumpers from the Charlie Sikes of the world or from the Bill Crystals to say something's been lost since 2016. It hasn't. It's been there all along. It's maybe it's bubbled to the surface and maybe it's more transparent. You can see it now, but Trump didn't bring this in, he just fanned the flames.

SHEFFIELD: Well, I think that is a great summary there.

So we've been speaking today with Lauren Lassabe Shepherd. She is the author of a great new book that I encourage you to check out. It's called Resistance from the Right. [01:24:00] Thanks for being here, Lauren.

SHEPHERD: Thank you, Matt. I appreciate it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, it's been a great conversation. So where can people who want to stay in touch with what you're up to follow you on social media?

SHEPHERD: I'm still on Twitter. I know it's a sinking ship, but I'm there for now. So.

SHEFFIELD: What's your username on there for people who want to follow you?

SHEPHERD: Oh, yes. So if you want to follow me on the social media site formerly known as Twitter, you can find me @LLassabe. That's L L A S S A B E. I'm also on Bluesky, but I'm not super active there. I'm very active on Instagram and my handle across all these platforms is at LLassabe.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. Awesome. All right.

Well, I encourage everybody to check that out and definitely get your book if you want to know the true history of the right wing of the 1960s.

SHEPHERD: Thank you.

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Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.