The Buena Vista (BV) School Board race took on an added dimension this past week, as a mysterious flier turned up on the table at the League of Women Voters of Chaffee County Candidate Forum on Sunday,October 15.
It appears to misrepresent the attitudes and responses of moderate and more liberal candidates, clearly noting it is “approved for use in churches” and supporting candidates who according to the flier, have signed on to a worldview that may well be at odds with democratic values.
The flier espouses views that would seem to run counter to U.S. civil rights laws and frankly, to the history of this country’s record on civil rights. It was a clear push for candidates Brett Mitchell (who was pictured), Montana Brown, and George Richardson. They are all entitled to their opinions. However —
Just as misleading, was the fact that other more moderate candidates (Casey Martin, Mallory Brooks, and Norm Nyberg, were listed as “No response”, “no response”, “no response,” to the questions, when, in fact, they had never been contacted. Candidate Paula Dylan, running for the two-year At Large seat, was not even included on the flier.
According to that flier, the three candidates Mitchell, Brown and Richardson, say they agreed that:
“The United States is not systemically and fundamentally racist and students should not be taught that people are automatically privileged or oppressed based on their race or skin color.”
“Sex education should be age-appropriate, emphasizing the abstinence-based model.”
“Teachers have the right [read as would be required] to refer to a student according to the pronoun corresponding to the student’s biological sex at birth”.
“School is not a replacement for parents, and parents have the right to direct the education and upbringing of their children, including the right to see records, curriculum, and tests, [and it goes on] — to be notified if the student receives therapy or treatment for mental health and medical, gender and sexuality issues.”
Ark Valley Voice reminds readers that it is not AVV saying this — we are simply pointing out what this organization’s marketing materials claim these candidate’s positions to be. Should the candidates themselves wish to refute any of these claims, AVV will be happy to help them correct the flier’s claims.
Local Cautionary Tales
The Woodland Park School District was in effect taken over by a cabal of far-right power-seekers in 2021, bringing in a number of conservative changes, including an extreme history curriculum, the American Birthright Standard for Social Studies which reinforces white nationalism. It infuriated many teachers, residents, and even staunch Republicans in the town of around 8,000 people.
Then, the new school board brought in a far-right school superintendent (a former Jefferson County school board member who was recalled after pushing for the same controversial social studies curriculum there, that he put in place in Woodland Park). Next, they rejected state mental health services for Woodland Park students in a move counter to the rising anxiety and stress levels reported by Colorado youth.
Then, they placed a gag order on teachers preventing them from talking with the community and the media. The local teachers union and the Colorado Education Association sued the school for violating their First Amendment rights. In the controversy, nearly 40 percent of the school staff resigned in protest.
As recently as October 5, 2023 as reported by The Colorado Sun, more than 80 Woodland Park teachers signed a letter asking the community to urge the Woodland Park School Board to restore the social studies curriculum to state standards and reinstate youth mental health services for the district’s students. They went on to say they were no longer going to live and teach in what they referred to as “a culture of fear and silence.”
Just last week in the Cañon City School Board race in Teller County — a different scenario titled “We the Parents” has played out. But the same tune has emerged.
As covered by the Cañon Times Recorder, the flier handed out at the October 12 candidate forum was the exact same layout as the one spotted in Buena Vista, with the same tactic of presenting the moderate candidates as just not answering the questions, rather than the truth — which is that they weren’t approached.
One of the Cañon City “We the Parents” candidates, Matthew Alexander said he was unaware of the flier, but said he did answer questions from a phone survey without really knowing who was on the line.
In the Elizabeth School District in Douglas County, a newly-formed Moms for Liberty group created such chaos and harassment of the existing school board that it quit — and the far-right agitators were installed on the school board.
Their first move was to adopt a resolution straight out of the Moms for Liberty playbook; to create policies against vaccines, masking, and any kind of COVID school closure. Then they moved on to fight over critical race theory (CRT — not a thing below the level of graduate school) and LGBTQ rights. Ark Valley Voice has confirmed that the Moms for Liberty group from Elizabeth has shown up in Custer County too.
These goings-on in school districts and counties so near Buena Vista and Chaffee County do raise a local question: Could it be that some local candidates are against the Buena Vista Education Association to block their employee right to organize, but because they want to silence teachers and staff and prevent them exercising First Amendment rights?
This is what Christian Nationalism Looks like
The flier that appeared in BV was put out by the Truth & Liberty Coalition, Inc. It is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit based in Woodland Park, Colorado. It is directly connected with a spreading movement known as the Seven Mountain Dominionism, a campaign mandate intended “to bring about social transformation” on what appears to be a global scale — one rural county and school district at a time.
This past week a group of concerned mainline pastors and concerned leaders (including Ark Valley Voice) met at a conference at Denver Seminary called to address the topic of Christian nationalism. Keynote Theologian and Reverend David Richie who leads Redeemer Lutheran Church in Texas (and is the author of “Why do the Nations Rage?”) left no doubt about mainline church views of this supposed mandate.
“Christian nationalism is not just anti-democratic – it is anti-Christian,” said Richie. “Its object is political power.”
This blend of identity politics is known today as white Christian nationalism and its roots lie in something known as the Doctrine of Discovery. In other words, it doesn’t just claim that European civilization and Western Christianity are superior to all other cultures, races, and religions, it merged with imperial capitalism to condone the African slave trade, and as manifest destiny, the subduing and forced Christianization of Native Peoples. In other words — America was the promised land and white Europeans [apparently men] were supposed to rule it.
Richie said his pastoral response “is to stand against something that is as dangerous as Christian nationalism — those deceived by what in reality is a false gospel. When you confront idols you will get pushback – no other idol is as vehement as political idols… there is an anger that pushes back.”
The Truth and Liberty Coalition behind the campaign fliers that have appeared is a key component of the evangelical movement known as Seven Mountain Dominionism.
It was created by Andrew Wommack (the original prosperity preacher), Lance Wallnau, David Barton, and other far-right ministry leaders to establish and catalyze a movement called “Seven Mountain Mandate”. As the news organization Right-Wing Watch refers to it, their goal is that “Christians are supposed to be ruling the world,” exerting dominion across these spheres:
- Religion and Faith
- Government and Law
- Media, news, and commentary
- Arts and Entertainment
- Business and Economics
“We see a Church unengaged in the public square because we have been conditioned to believe there is a disconnect between the secular and sacred. There is not. We have been commissioned to bring heaven to this earth, to its people – every tribe and tongue,” intones the Truth and Liberty website. Noteworthy is that the early Christian church did that throughout places like pre-medieval Scandinavia too; it was ‘convert or die’. Come to think of it, that is often what was done to Native Americans too.
What might be heaven for adherents of this mandate sounds like hell to a whole lot of us, who might find it to be a real-life version of The Handmaid’s Tale, wrapped inside pseudo-Christian morals, bound up inside white nationalism.
That Christian Nationalism is a convenient frosting on the cake of white nationalism is becoming apparent. According to Christianity Today:
“Christian nationalism is a political ideology about American identity. It is a set of policy prescriptions for what the nationalists believe the American government should do. It’s not drawn from the Bible. It draws political theory from secular philosophy and their own version of history as well. Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry wrote a great book last year about Christian nationalism called Taking America Back for God. They say Christian nationalism is a cultural framework, a collection of myths, traditions, symbols, narratives, and value systems.”
The Truth and Liberty Coalition is heavy on middle-aged white men, who just may have their own issues with accepting that America is a multicultural society, or that civil rights belong to all citizens, not just their selected numbers. They might well wish the darn clock would just turn backward.
So why are they aiming for the Buena Vista School District — and rural school districts in particular?
That this extreme agenda is targeting rural areas, rural counties, and rural school districts is also apparent. They are relatively small and in-expensive areas in which to test their messaging. Given that rural areas have tended to be more moderate and often conservative, they could be seen as a measure of acceptance along the lines of … “If it will play in Peoria…”
“It’s really unfortunate that we have outside interest groups that really don’t seem to have the best interests of our local students, teachers, and staff in mind, trying to influence our local election by using disinformation,” said candidate Martin. “It’s sad. I don’t know what you do to call attention to the untruths being peddled. Candidates who are gaining the support of these types of organizations need to stand up and call it for what it is and reject this support.”
As Ark Valley Voice has often said – there is democracy — and then there is something else. This is something else. One could wonder if what might be at stake here is not just the structure and policies of our local Buena Vista Public School District, but on a larger scale — it may be the local battle in the far-right war on America’s public schools.
Editor’s Note: See upcoming Ark Valley Voice coverage of the forum by BV Reporter Carly Winchell.