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Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer publishes an article on one Washington, DC-area “study group” of the Constitution as sponsored by a local “tea party” organization. Such “study groups” have “mushroom[ed]” in number across the nation, according to Mencimer’s fellow Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum. The study group Mencimer examines was held in Woodbridge, Virginia, “a hotbed of tea partiers and anti-immigration Minutemen,” Mencimer writes. The group is led by Rick Dalton, a volunteer from the National Center for Constitutional Studies (NCCS). Dalton travels the country lecturing and leading “study groups” about the Constitution for tea party organizations around the country. Mencimer writes: “Many tea partiers believe the country’s economic and political woes are a direct result of Washington abandoning the Constitution, which they believe calls for an extremely limited federal government that does not concern itself with matters like bank failures or health care reform. They’ve turned to the founding document with the fervor of evangelicals seeking inspiration from the sacred texts of the past.” (Mencimer 5/2010; Drum 9/2010)
Connection to Radical Reinterpretation of Constitution, Fox's Beck - Many tea partiers, including Dalton, look to a radical reinterpretation of the Constitution as espoused by the late W. Cleon Skousen, a Mormon who told people he was an aide to then-FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. In 1981, Skousen published a controversial book, The 5000 Year Leap, a controversial reinterpretation of the Constitution that in recent months has been promoted by Fox News talk show host and tea party icon Glenn Beck; Beck wrote the foreward to the new edition of the book, which has achieved bestselling status. Skousen is the original founder of NCCS. Dalton is a graduate of George Wythe University, an unaccredited institution founded by Skousen protege Oliver DeMille, and a teacher at the unaccredited Heritage Academy charter school in Mesa, Arizona, a school largely attended by formerly homeschooled children. Dalton’s instructional presentation at the Woodbridge seminar is largely derived from Skousen’s teachings; some of the participants are clearly conversant in Skousen’s works and can recite from his workbook The Making of America, which Dalton uses in the presentation.
Constitution a Divine Instrument - According to Skousen, the material in the Constitution stems directly from information given by God to Moses. That, according to Skousen, makes the Constitution something of a divine work. Skousen taught that Northern Europe was settled by one of the “lost tribes of Israel,” and that the Anglo-Saxons, the descendants of this “lost tribe,” kept the teachings of Moses alive for thousands of years until their descendants emigrated to America and incorporated Moses’s wisdom into the Constitution. Mencimer calls Skousen’s “lost tribes” teaching “a piece of historical poppycock that has long held traction in the white supremacist movement.”
Racist, 'Capitalist' Teachings of NCCS - NCCS has gotten into trouble in the past over imparting pro-slavery and other racist ideology in its works; Skousen’s The Making of America incorporates material from a 1934 essay by slavery apologist Fred Albert Shannon, who wrote in part, “If the pickaninnies [a racial slur referring to African-Americans] ran naked, it was generally from choice, and when the white boys had to put on shoes and go away to school, they were likely to envy the freedom of their colored playmates.” In his Woodbridge seminar, Dalton criticizes slavery, but skips the Constitutional amendments referring to slavery and civil rights for minorities. Instead, he teaches that the Constitution protects the capitalist “free market,” and “proves” his contention by saying that the early Jamestown settlers starved because they were “Communists” until a new “HDIC—head dude in charge” took over and saved the settlement by using Biblical and free-market capitalism to provide a new and distinctly American direction. Dalton tells the participants that Karl Marx invented the income tax (Mencimer notes that it was actually first proposed by William Pitt the Younger, a conservative British lawmaker). According to Dalton, the federal government is subverting the Constitution by spending federal monies to buy or build any structures outside of forts, magazines and arsenals, dockyards, and post offices. “What about national parks?” he asks. “Think of all that land that could be put on the rolls and generating taxes!”
Interviews - Mencimer interviews a number of participants during the lunch break. Construction inspector Robert Jeffery tells Mencimer that he does not believe in gun law restrictions, saying that the Second Amendment is all the “concealed carry permit” he needs. He says Dalton’s teachings prove to him that the nation must return to “the founding principles to understand where the country had gone off track.” Ken Vaughn, who leads the Northern Virginia branch of the 9/12 Movement (see March 13, 2009 and After), says he became interested in the Constitution study groups after the Obama administration began “bailing out firms that had no right to be bailed out. I think that made people wake up and look at our debt and think, ‘Maybe we need to make changes.’” Ann Hardt, a Mormon, has three of her homeschooled children in tow, and tells Mencimer that she uses Skousen’s educational materials to teach her six children history. She is a veteran of the NCCS seminars and a tea party member. (Mencimer 5/2010)
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