WallBuilders web banner outlining their mission
When I was a senior in high school my history teacher asked us to write a paper about someone other than an American who had a definitive impact on history. Taking the villain route I wrote about Joseph Goebbels who was the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. I used Goebbels diaries as my main source, which to this day remains one of the most fascinating and disturbing things I’ve ever read. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest confidants, and as a man who killed six of his own children before committing suicide, Goebbels was equally as insane as he was intelligent. He was also a powerful propagandist who preyed upon the German population’s yearning for national pride. Without him, Hitler would not have cast such a spell over his people.
Goebbels proved that you can convince anyone of anything if they are woefully ignorant, or in desperate need of something to believe in. One of Hitler’s most powerful tools for capturing the hearts and minds of the German people was the manipulation of history to support his political agenda. By skewing the facts, misinterpreting meanings, and propagating fiction, the Nazi’s were able to create an alternate history of Germany’s origins. This fantasy later evolved into a form of patriotism that reinforced the Fuhrer’s vision for a supreme Aryan society.
Today, we have our own version of historically-slanted political marketing that is being disseminated by right-wing propagandists masquerading as historians. No one practices this crime more blatantly than David Barton‘s WallBuilders whose version of history paints America as a right-wing, ultra-conservative Christian nation that is embattled in a culture war for the very soul of the country. And although I am not equating the underlying efforts of this organization to the murderous evils that were perpetrated by the Nazis, I am comparing their practice of using history to support a political agenda. Just as Goebbels falsified Germany’s past; Barton and Co. have manipulated America’s for political gains. (What is really sad is the number of gullible folks who have been roped into believing it, although one peek at a Tea Party rally or Glenn Beck audience may explain why).
Unlike Goebbels, David Barton started out as a fundamentalist evangelist. He is a Texas minister, founder of WallBuilders and former co-chair of the Texas Republican Party. His books are dedicated to the idea that America should reject the concept of separation of church and state and institute Biblical law. He also maintains the notion that the Founding Fathers would be ardent supporters of the conservative movement if they were around today. Of course academically certified historians call Barton a Christian “revisionist” and constantly question the source of his many out-of-context quotes of American notables in his works. Not surprising, Barton rarely answers his critics with any credible sources for his historical claims.
Why should he? He is the unquestionable darling of the conservative and evangelical movements and the personal historian for right-wing mouthpieces Glenn Beck and Mike Huckabee. In other words, there are plenty of rubes that adore him – and that makes him dangerous. Despite Barton’s lack of academic credentials and his sloppy scholarship, he has managed to create an important niche by traveling all over the country telling audiences that the Founding Fathers were evangelicals just like them, and intended to create a nation of, by, and for Christians.
In a report published by the People for the American Way Foundation titled *David Barton: Propaganda Masquerading as History those in the know take Barton to task: Academic historians, according to the New York Times, give Barton’s work at best a “B minus,” noting that while the historical facts he cites are more or less accurate, his biased interpretation of them is not. The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty said that Barton’s work is “laced with exaggerations, half-truths and misstatements of fact” and the Texas Freedom Network calls him “a pseudo-intellectual fraud whose twisted interpretations of history are little more than propaganda.”
In 1995, Republican Senator Arlen Specter wrote in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy that many of Barton’s arguments “range from the technical to the absurd” and that they “proceed from flawed and highly selective readings of both text and history.” Specter went on to state that Barton’s “pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.” (*See a list of Barton’s most ridiculous historical claims.)
WallBuilders mission statement reads:
WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built – a foundation which, in recent years, has been seriously attacked and undermined. In accord with what was so accurately stated by George Washington, we believe that “the propitious [favorable] smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation which disregards the eternal rules of order and right which heaven itself has ordained.” (Sounds like a blogger I know.)
This claim, like most of Barton’s claims, is absolute B.S. Their true mission statement should read like this:
WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to promoting David Barton’s book sales while manipulating American history in order to push our own conservative agenda on a highly gullible and susceptible portion of the American populace. By making up our own version of our nation’s origins and lacing it with outrageous religious claims, we hope to influence voters into supporting our own right-wing candidates, who in turn will support our own special interests upon their election into office. By mixing 1-part textbook and 2-parts bible, our special brand of psuedo-christian American history makes even heathen bastards like Thomas Jefferson look like devout, bible-thumping altar boys. PS. We vote like Jesus would.
For irrefutable proof of Barton’s dishonesty, I refer you to a 9-part video blog by Chris Rodda, author of the book, Liars of Jesus. In the video, Rodda attends a religious gathering featuring David Barton. At the conclusion of the meeting, Rodda approaches Barton and presents him with a copy of her book. A few months later, David Barton, on his radio program, mentioned Chris Rodda and portrayed the meeting as one in which Barton completely and utterly confounded the quote, "clueless" Rodda by expounding upon his wealth of historical knowledge. Rodda counters this claim by meticulously picking apart dozens of Barton's material with...get this, actual facts. (It is virtually impossible to watch this video series in its entirety and not come to the same conclusion.)
As a historian and as a Christian, I find the intentional politicization of my faith and the manipulation of my nation’s historical origins to be extremely offensive. I say watch out for the “David Bartons and WallBuilders” of the world. They are just as dangerous at skewing public perspective as the Goebbels. Stand up to them by speaking the truth in matters of both history and faith.