Aug 7 • 1HR 4M

Theory of Change #082: Julie Millican and Olivia Little on right-wing media's new Satanic Panic

Rather than persuade new potential voters, reactionary elites decided to terrify their shrinking electorate

 
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Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? History is filled with stories of people and institutions that spent big and devoted many resources to effect change but have little to show for it. By contrast, many societal developments have happened without forethought from anyone. And of course, change can be negative as well as positive. In each episode of this weekly program, Theory of Change host Matthew Sheffield delves deep with guests to discuss larger trends in politics, religion, media, and technology.
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Illustration by Midjourney. Prompt: Epic painting of Donald Trump striking a demon with a magic staff

Ever since the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, the Republican party has been in a radicalization loop in which successive generations of leaders overthrew their predecessors by claiming they were not reactionary enough. But since Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, Republican radicalization has increased at a level never before seen.

And there’s a reason for this. Older, white fundamentalist Christians over 50 years old are the overwhelming majority of Republican voters. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 70% of people who voted Republican in 2022 were older than 49 years of age. Unfortunately for Republicans, their reliable core of loyal voters is slowly dying off and the number of people who aren’t religious has increased dramatically since the internet became commonplace.

Trump and other Republican leaders have realized the only way they can win elections without having to become more moderate is to whip fundamentalist Christians into a frenzy by merging DC Republican rhetoric with the previously fringe movement of QAnon, which is itself an outgrowth of the “Satanic Panic” that started in the 1970s and has never really stopped, even though it faded away from mainstream media in the 90s.

As you’ll see in today’s episode, right-wing media figures are telling their fan bases that progressives and transgender people are literally possessed by demons. The rhetoric we’ll be playing today is so extreme and so disturbing that it’s not often covered in mainstream media, which is a problem of its own as well.

Joining me to talk about all of these very concerning media and political developments is Julie Millican, she is a vice president at Media Matters for America where she’s worked for more than 15 years. Currently she oversees partner programs and media accountability efforts.

Also here today is Olivia Little, who is also at Media Matters as a senior investigative researcher. She’s written about many different right-wing media figures and most recently has been doing some incredible research about the new Christian extremist group that calls itself Moms for Liberty.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.


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MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thank you for being here today, ladies.

OLIVIA LITTLE: Thank you.

JULIE MILLICAN: Yeah. Thank you.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So, let's just start off with you, Julie, you've been looking at right-wing media for 15 years. Things have gotten worse in recent years. These fringe figures, well, formerly fringe figures, were always there at the margins. Is that right?

MILLICAN: Yes, that's definitely right. Yeah. Many years ago during the Obama administration, for instance, you would start to see some inklings of these more fringe figures or just internet figures, internet websites, like the Gateway Pundit, for instance, starting to have a little bit more influence over how the conservative media infrastructure at large was talking about issues.

We saw back then that this type of commentary was intentionally kept in the background, but that it was obviously gaining some influence and in certain circles what we saw at the time was say, some early inklings of conspiracy theories that were being floated around Barack Obama's birth certificate, for [00:04:30] instance, is one of the first instances that I saw some of these conversations that were happening in more fringe communities start to be a little bit more embraced by more traditional media outlets on the right as well as the Republican infrastructure as a whole.

It's where Donald Trump actually was able to gain a foothold. I think a lot of people maybe aren't aware of the fact that he used to have a weekly call-in segment on Fox and Friends which is Fox News's morning talk show. And he would call in every week, talking about the birth certificate.

He at one point, if I'm remembering correctly, had a bounty out for it. He was going to pay people to find his original birth certificate, but this was something that was really embraced the fringes and then started to kind of build a little bit of momentum, I think for where we.

See both the media infrastructure and the Republican Party today. A lot of it has been fueled by the increased prominence of social media. Particularly as a news outlet, it is allowed for more and more filter bubbles to form people to get pushed to more and more extreme content. And what this is kind of ultimately led to the Trump presidency that was then staffed by the very people who had been pushing some of the more extreme elements before. And then it fully became off to the races from there. Just like a race to the bottom, both within the right-wing media infrastructure and the Republican political apparatus that followed it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And it's also the case Olivia, that, the Republican, Donald Trump in [00:06:00] particular, his White House and political advisors, they saw when the QAnon movement began, they saw that as a useful tool for them and really kind of, tried to speak in code to it over the years.

And, it's gradually become much more prevalent in, in their rhetoric. Would you say that?

LITTLE: Okay. Oh, absolutely. They understand that it appeals to the masses and it's sort of this easy explanation for a complex problem. So of course they're embracing it because it's useful.

MILLICAN: Yeah, to jump in if you don't mind it's one of those things going back to your point about the satanic panic. It's always about the children, right? It is something that the right has. Successfully weaponized for decades. And it's appealing to people because nobody wants to hear about children being harmed.

Everybody wants to protect children from being harmed. And it's not, it's a gateway, I think, to kind of push people into more extreme positions. Because once you get them, I'm bored with the fact that or this belief that there's these global elite somewhere that are, in cahoots to harm children, like you can then start pointing the fingers at well, it's these groups of people and they're the ones that are doing it.

And they're not just doing that. They're doing all of these other terrible things. And it's a way to really push people to both embrace a political ideology that they may not have been involved with. previously. But also just to embrace, more and more extreme beliefs and [00:07:30] more and more extreme rhetoric and action that comes from that.

SHEFFIELD: Well, it's also that, the QAnon movement is kind of the final form of a lot of this Christian right rhetoric that we had seen earlier in Republican politics. And that it's easy to get people to focus on these fantastical, phantasmagoric conspiracies and Satan, imaginary stuff.

The way that they're doing things, currently with QAnon and some of this stuff is a continuation of how things were—I mean, like you look at Pat Robertson, he kind of really got this started in Republican politics by mainstreaming things like the New World Order conspiracy theory. He actually wrote a book by that title and was trying to push this extreme paranoia and as he got older and had more media under his own control, the mainstream media kind of forgot some of those aspects of him.

But things have just gotten so much worse in terms of the level of extremism that you see in large-scale Republican and right-wing media outlets.

So we've got a bunch of different clips here to get through. I want to get started with some of those. Basically the discussion here, we're going to organize it around these packages of clips. And what I want the audience to see in this first package is that Republican political elites, many of whom are not even religious themselves, necessarily, or [00:09:00] Christians for that matter, basically, they're telling the right-wing voter base and evangelical Christians, fundamentalist Christians, that there is a war against them. And that they need to think of themselves as at war with modernity. And they actually use that verbiage, you'll see in one of the figures here.

So the first one is an opening prayer that was given at the recent Moms for Liberty convention. And we'll play that. And then Olivia, maybe you can give us some more details on Moms for Liberty and what they're up to.

(Begin clip)

PAT BLACKBURN, Moms for Liberty: We have one father, and he's our God. He has called each of us here for such a time as this.

Nothing you've experienced this week has been a coincidence. I don't believe in coincidences. Because for months, the leadership team at Moms for Liberty met every morning at 9:15 in the morning for our daily fortification. We read scripture and we pray. And we gave this summit to God, and we said, God, you make it yours. And so [00:10:30] we have had a wonderful week. And no matter what our enemy tried to do to stop us, we've had a very successful summit. (Cut in video)

Lord, we celebrate every win and every success because you gave it to us. And we thank you.

And so some of us are going carry home some awards tonight, but most importantly, each and every one of us are in this because you called us, and because we're being a willing vessel.

So that we can walk in the spiritual walk that you would have us to walk in. And so our rewards are truly laid up in heaven. And no one and nothing can take that away.

(End clip)

SHEFFIELD: Tell us about Moms for Liberty, Olivia. How did they get started? What were their initial issues and what have they kind of gravitated toward and are known for today?

LITTLE: Right. So Moms for Liberty began in early 2021 in Florida. And they initially went all in on. Like anti covid mitigation policies. And they did that in order to cast this sort of like wide net and recruit new followers in a way that they knew wouldn't work if they went all in on like critical race theory.

Because they initially tried to, you go back on their archives you'll see that they tried to fundraise based off of anti-CRT advocacy [00:12:00] and they tried to, they had information pages about CRT and but so, so from there they shifted, went all in on anti-COVID mitigation policies.

And once those policies, like masks lifted and once schools were reopening, they did a 180 and they went back pursuing anti-CRT advocacy, anti-LGBT advocacy, and they made that pivot, but they were able to channel this parental frustration about the pandemic into pushing their own political agenda that wouldn't have happened without the pandemic.

So they really took advantage of parental frustrations during COVID to push their own agenda. And so from there, they grew, they started in Florida in early 2021 and really didn't have many followers or like much of a structure. But early on, we see that they had massive right wing media support and massive right wing political support as well.

And they have since moved across the country with the help of these right-wing politicians and right-wing media. They moved across the country harassing or strategically harassing school boards and teachers throughout the country and, now I was just at their summit in Philadelphia.

But we've seen a very consistent increase in radicalization or open extremism from the group that at first, they tried to at least mask it, but now it's completely mask-off [00:13:30] in terms of how extreme the group has become.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. It was worth talking about some of the rhetoric that was in that prayer, specifically in the context for it.

So it was at the recent conference that they had, which you attended and reported from. And the prayer was given at their award ceremony on the final night of the conference. The name of the awards were called “For Such a Time as This.”

And that phrase might not mean anything to most people, but in the fundamentalist Christian circles in the United States, it is a very important meme in right-wing Christian circles.

It refers to a verse in the story of Esther in the Hebrew Bible in which a character tells Esther, who was this Jewish woman who was captured along with many other Jews and made to become the sex slave of this foreign ruler. And her Jewish friend tells her, ‘maybe God has raised you up for such a time as this.’

And in the right-wing evangelical culture, they've kind of made that their mantra that they are God's personal servants. And you saw that also in the prayer that, God's, her repeatedly saying, God has designated us. And she used the phrase again “for such a time as this.”

I mean, this is some rhetoric I think that maybe a lot of times, Julie, maybe you can jump in about the fact that a lot of mainstream reporters don't seem to be aware of a lot of these code words that are being used?

MILLICAN: Yeah, I would say that's right. If they are aware of it, it's [00:15:00] certainly not being included in the coverage. I don't think the context of the religious extremism that's underlying a lot of the advocacy that we're seeing on the right these days is really being spelled out to people.

I don't know, sometimes it seems like there's an aspect of it where the media is just generally reluctant to talk about religious extremism, especially when it comes to Christianity, especially when it comes to religious extremism on the right, they certainly didn't have a problem talking about religious extremism when it was coming from other religious groups.

And we see the same type of reluctance when it comes to talking about acts of terror that are committed by people on the right or like that are inspired by issues on the right that not being described as acts of terrorism, whereas they would have been if they were religiously motivated from Islam, for instance.

So I think that there has been this general reluctance to either see the signs or at least contextualize the signs to a more mainstream audience. That is doing a disservice to people fully kind of understanding, the different codes that are being spoken, but also, it's not like we're really so much in code anymore.

I mean, pretty explicitly embracing a very right wing and work stream that I think, most would realize version of Christianity these days than they used to in the past. Like Fox News, for instance, I mean, their Fox Nation platform has an entire prayer show. They've had segments on their weekend [00:16:30] programming.

They have a Faith and Friends concert series that was sponsored by the Museum for the Bible. They have on Fox Business; they'll sell airtime to like Christian nationalist pastors to give sermons on the weekends.

They've been pretty open, I think, in a way that I don't think you have to worry about being accused of being biased or anti-religion by reporting on what these people are actually saying and doing. But I do think that this aspect is being lost.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. And it's, it is important for the people who are outside of that worldview to understand this is what's coming for you, especially if you are somebody who is LGBTQ, or somebody in your family or your friends who are, that these are people that are being directly viciously attacked, pretty much 24/7 by right wing media now and—

MILLICAN: By demonic forces, as you would say. It's like they're literally being compared to demons. And it’s not just fringe people who are saying this, like we have Donald Trump himself, like regularly appears on the Victory Channel, for instance, as do many other mainstream Republican politicians.

And this is a network that openly embraces Christian nationalism. And this is the type of thing that they have a plan for what they will do when they retake control of the government, and they're pretty open about it.

And for some reason, this just doesn't get covered and people, broadly, I would say who don't live their [00:18:00] lives paying attention to what these right-wing figures are doing or don't live their lives surrounded by people who are more fundamentalist in their religious beliefs, they don't have any idea that this is going on, or that this exists. And it's just kind of happening right under everybody's nose.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I think that's right. And, and I think a lot of political reporters who came up before the Christian right was completely liberated by Trump, Julie, I think they may not know how right-wing media is so much more important and significant than progressive media is on the left. What do you think of that?

MILLICAN: Oh, that's absolutely the case. First of all, the right-wing media infrastructure is just massive. It is enormous. It is extremely well funded, and it's extremely well-established. And they've also done a really good job in being able to take advantage of the opportunities that social media has presented, as far as being able to spread and shape a narrative.

The right-wing media is particularly good at making a lot of noise around issues, and they are in lockstep in their messaging often and how they're talking about things and the things that they want people to be upset about. They spend a lot of time knowing first of all, that fear and anger drives engagement. And they play on that. They keep people angry. And they keep people fired up and that keeps people engaged and it keeps them motivated to want to act.

And so I think that the right has spent decades, very successfully [00:19:30] building up an infrastructure that could take advantage of the fact that they have a very engaged base that may be smaller, it may be a smaller group, a portion of the population, but they're extremely engaged.

They're extremely active, and they're very influenced by what they hear, and they don't trust anything that's coming outside of their circles. They very much are not going to trust information that's coming from a mainstream news source.

They're certainly not going to trust anything that a liberal or a progressive or a Democrat has to say about anything. And so they are all listening to one very loud group speaking from the same hymn book, more or less. And that has a lot of influence on how people behave and act.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, for sure. And actually to illustrate that point, we're going to go into another clip. This one is featuring Charlie Kirk, who is the founder of Turning Point USA, which is this extremely well-funded, I think over a hundred million dollars across all of his organizations, group that targets young people for right-wing radicalization, particularly young Christians.

(Begin video clips)

CHARLIE KIRK, Turning Point USA president: What changed is that an outgrowth of modernity, and we're living in this postmodern, post-structuralist, everybody gets to decide their own truth for themselves. This social contagion that is spreading the country at a rapid pace that disguises itself as “transgenderism.”

MICHAEL KNOWLES, Daily Wire host: This is yet another reminder that science is mostly fake, not, not that [00:21:00] scientism or the politicization of science or whatever other squishy language, the, the more I don't know, centrist kind of people want to grant, but the whole endeavor, the whole endeavor of the scientific revolution, the premise of which is that reality is fundamentally physical, that is flawed.

It's not true. The modern scientific culture has given us certain nice things, but it's given us a lot of bad things as well.

(End video clips)

SHEFFIELD: So Charlie Kirk, he's basically telling his audience and we'll get into the other guy as well, who was there. So Charlie Kirk is telling his audience of, basically white evangelicals and hardcore Catholics that. They are at war with modernity, that everyone is out to get you.

And then you saw in that second clip there Michael Knowles, who is a podcaster with another very well-funded organization, the Daily Wire telling his audience that science is fake.

Olivia, you've written about some of these people over the years tell us about Charlie Kirk's group and the Daily Wire.

LITTLE: Yeah, of course. So Charlie Kirk is behind Turning Point USA, which is a libertarian right-wing organization that is directly recruiting and trying to radicalize young people. It targets both students in college. They now have TPUSA [00:22:30] groups that are in high school as well.

And the organization exists to create a next generation of right-wing radicals, essentially. It's an organization that promotes far right, right-wing indoctrination and, again, intentionally targets young people so that they're able to spread that message through the years.

And then the Daily Wire is a conservative news outlet that Media Matters monitors as well, and the Daily Wire was started by Ben Shapiro, so the right-wing media outlet that has a number of shows that preach the same sort of sentiment of anti-science or culture war nonsense constantly to viewers.

MILLICAN: Yeah. And to your point, they've increasingly embraced, especially over the last couple of years, Charlie Kirk has been bolstering his connections to faith leaders and have started to increasingly embrace a far-right Christian message. I mean, even if you look at his presentation, frankly, like when I watch that video, I'm struck by the fact that he just looks like he a televangelist, like he is—his tone and his presentation. Just all of that is very clearly nods to an audience that is primed to receive a message in this very specific way.

And he's recognized that, and has taken advantage of that, I think, to build a bigger following.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and the other thing also about Turning Point is that they've been under a lot of pressure from the [00:24:00] even further right. From this guy named Nick Fuentes, who is an open Hitler admirer and self-proclaimed fascist who says that he wants to, basically, eliminate non-Christians from America and to drive out Jewish people seemingly, that had talked about maybe not directly about killing them, but hasn't said that was wrong or something that he would oppose.

MILLICAN: And he calls for, yeah, he calls for a holy war all the time. So I mean—

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and he's targeted TPUSA because he knows that the people who are going to these conferences of Charlie Kirk, they actually are very susceptible to his type of message. The metaphor that I use for this process of what's happening here with the right is that as their numbers shrink, when something is evaporating, that it becomes more and more concentrated over time, even much more of the essence of that thing, but also in the worst possible way. And that's really what we're seeing.

And in order to kind of counteract that, Kirk has become more and more extreme, much more Christian nationalist and apocalyptic in his rhetoric. What do you think about that Olivia? Do you agree with that analysis?

LITTLE: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. And I think it also aligns with what we're seeing from a number of groups like TPUSA and Moms for Liberty collaborate often. They were a sponsor or one of the nonprofit sponsors at this past summit, but [00:25:30] in the same way, we're seeing this increased radicalization because actors on the right themselves are becoming more radical.

They're keeping up with that or following lead to a point that we don't know where it's going to end because everyone is getting more radical and they're just following other right wing figures' lead. And that's both organizations and individuals.

SHEFFIELD: Did you want to add anything on that, Julie, before we move on?

MILLICAN: Sure. I would actually I think one of the things that I find interesting, but also disturbing about that trend is that it seems like it's really accelerated over the last couple of years, particularly since the pandemic. How quickly people have become radicalized and how quickly they then push these organizations and these movements and these figures to be further and further to the right.

It's not this type of—it's not a slow creep to extremism. It's really fast and it's heading to a place where I don't think any of us really want to think about what the end-game is. Because it almost feels like there's no bottom because at one point, some of the stuff that Charlie Kirk is pushing now around, demons and satanic influences and stuff like that, would have not been considered something that would be embraced by a well-funded right wing organization and the political infrastructure that supports it.

But now not only is it embraced, but he's chasing the lead of Nick Fuentes. Is that what's next? Is that what's on the horizon? Is there just going to, kind of [00:27:00] keep going down that path because they feel like they are increasingly responding to a base that's more and more radicalized, and so they have to continue to go that to maintain their power and influence.

I think the trend that we're looking at is really disturbing, and it's really disturbing how quickly everything seems to be moving in that direction.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, absolutely. And to that end we've got another package of clips here that show them talking explicitly about some of these demonic things that they're telling people.

And it's easy for somebody, if you're not superstitious yourself, to look at this and just be like: ‘Oh, that's so absurd. It's so stupid. No one could believe that stuff.’ And you need to realize that's wrong. A lot of people believe this stuff. And it's really concerning that that is the case.

(Begin video clips)

ALEX JONES, Infowars owner: But in this world, we're told men that who dress like women are women, and that women should act like men, and that really masculine men, that are real men, are a bad commodity.

And that's because an alien off-world force, it's spiritual, it's interdimensional. It has a transmission. It has a spirit, but it also has agents, aliens, demons. And they are working against us around the clock because they know we are about to go from our embryonic level to birthing into the next level. [00:28:30]

ERIC METAXAS, right-wing radio host: You were talking about something extraordinary, and I just love you to touch on, on that subject, because—

ROGER STONE, Republican consultant: True.

METAXAS:—it's, it's at least very interesting.

STONE: I think that there has, that, that a, a portal, a demonic portal opened above the White House around the time that the Bidens moved in. This was brought to my attention by a Christian who lives in North Florida who sent me a bunch of photographs and a bunch of documents and also some notations in the in the Bible about portals.

MICHAEL KNOWLES: Isn't it odd how depictions of demons, how depictions of weird, ghoulish, devilish, demonic figures are always androgynous? They're never super-duper hypermasculine chads. They're never beautiful, truly gorgeous women with classical proportions and representations of beauty. They're always androgynous. They're always trans.

And the reason for that is that the devil hates human beings. And sexual difference is at the, basically at the very core of human nature. The difference between man and woman, the complementarity of man and woman, is right there at the heart of human nature. And the devil hates humanity, and so he tries to cut away at the very core of humanity.

CHARLIE KIRK: Witchcraft and the occult is a real thing.

JACK HIBBS, far-right pastor and political activist: Yeah.

KIRK: And there are portals to darkness, and you have to be vigilant about this. [00:30:00] And that I believe that there are leaders—

HIBBS: Wait, they made fun of that?

KIRK: Oh, the mockery, Jack! ‘Who are you to say all that?’ Because, well, it's kind of interesting, they make fun of it because no one actually wants to say that out loud that we're in the midst of the high, most consequential spiritual war, I think—

HIBBS: Absolutely!

KIRK: Of a millennia, right? No one wants to say that out loud.

(End video clips)

SHEFFIELD: So, in that first clip, these people are telling their audience that trans people are demons. And it's almost unbelievable. Julie, when you have talked to people outside of work about some of these things, do they find it hard to believe that these things are being said in American politics by major figures?

MILLICAN: It depends on who I'm talking to. I come from a background where I actually have family members who have gone down the Christian nationalist path and tend to espouse very similar things.

But I also have people who have no exposure to any of this in my life. And then for them, it's absolutely just mind-blowing. They think it's a joke. They think nobody seriously, actually says this. And anybody who does say this is just in a frenzy. And anybody who would be listening to them would obviously see that this is nonsense.

And it's just not true. I mean, there is, there's an audience for this. There's a lot of people who believe in this. Spiritual warfare has become an extremely [00:31:30] common talking point among mainstream right-wing political figures and right-wing media figures. As I mentioned before—

SHEFFIELD: And what is, what is spiritual warfare?

MILLICAN: It depends on again, who you're talking to or whose definition of it is, but essentially there is this battle for your soul and the soul of humanity, the soul of America, because it's often very much framed around this idea that we are agents of God. We have been put here. God has given us the power.

Government does not have the ability to control. We are fighting these satanic forces of evil who are putting the LGBT community and on the map who are, supportive of abortion rates who are not, traditional women who are not at home, et cetera. Like there is this a spiritual battle for your soul and the soul of America that these people are waging every day, or they see evidence of this every single day. And that is what's driving a lot of the political conversation. It's also driving a lot of the actions that we see. I think Olivia could speak to some of this, even just how it manifests itself on a very local level.

Moms for Liberty has adopted a lot of this kind of spiritual battle framework in their messaging. And you would See this come up, even when people were going to their local school boards to protest mask mandates, even you would hear them invoking God in this and saying, this is, you don't have the right, it's just God's will and God would never do this and all this stuff is fake.

So I think Olivia could speak to some of like how this plays out on the ground. But it's very much become an extremely [00:33:00] mainstream position within the right and way of rallying their base and their community.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and actually you gave a perfect segue to the clip the next part of the clip here that I'm going to play, which is from a Moms for Liberty convention speaker.

(Begin video clip)

KRISANNE HALL: I'll tell you why this is happening. Satan hates the image of God stamped on every human being. Therefore, Satan hates women because women bring forth the image of God.

Now we shouldn't be surprised by this, whether it be our Christian, our Jewish brothers and sisters, because the Bible tells us this is how it will be! Genesis 3:15 reads: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman. Between thy seed and her seed, it shall bruise thy head and [thou] shall bruise his heel.”

We are not only bringing forth the image of God, Satan knows it's through us that comes his ultimate destruction!

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: So Olivia, who was this woman that was in the clip there?

LITTLE: Yeah, so that's [00:34:30] KrisAnne Hall who is a far-right Christian nationalist, she was speaking at one of the general sessions at the Moms for Liberty Summit in Philadelphia, but her rhetoric was sort of mimicked by other speakers at the event.

As you heard, both by her and the video we watched prior to that these people are positioning their opposition as satanic, right? So anyone or anything that is opposed to them, or their ideology is satanic. And what they're also doing in that is positioning the members themselves as divine, as carrying out God's will and creating this sort of war of good versus evil and trying to convince these individuals that they're on the side of God and godliness.

And again, in the case of Moms for Liberty. They have framed public schools as something evil. Like there's some evil demonic force in schools that's trying to corrupt your children. And by doing that, they're not only scaring parents, but they're mobilizing them.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And it's important also to note that Fox News also is involved with this radicalization as well. Like these are not just, internet people or podcasters or whatever.

These are Fox News figures. And we saw that Jesse Waters, who is now the centerpiece of the Fox primetime lineup is pushing these demonic war allegations and whatnot.

(Begin video clip)

JESSE WATTERS, Fox News Channel host: So parents already have to deal with high crime and inflation and now they have to worry about demonic teachers turning their classroom into a drag show? [00:36:00] You'd think Biden, who's almost 80, would know better. But he doesn't. Maybe that's why they call him "Creepy Joe."

SHEFFIELD: But also, you have Tucker Carlson. He was probably the biggest proponent of satanic panic rhetoric before he was fired at Fox.

(Begin video clip)

TUCKER CARLSON, former Fox News Channel host: The trans movement is the mirror image of Christianity, and therefore its natural enemy. (Cut in clip)

Trans ideology claims dominion over nature itself. We can change the identity we were born with; they will tell you with wild-eyed certainty. Christians can never agree with this statement because these are powers they believe God alone possesses. That unwillingness to agree, that failure to acknowledge a trans person's dominion over nature incites and enrages some in the trans community.

People who believe they're God can't stand to be reminded that they're not. So Christianity and transgender orthodoxy are wholly incompatible theologies. They can never be reconciled. They are on a collision course with each other. One side is likely to draw blood before the other side. Yesterday's massacre happened because of a deranged and demonic ideology that is infecting this country with the encouragement of people like Joe Biden.

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: But you know, other people out there, Harris Faulkner has been who filled the spot for him a little bit. She kind of copied a lot of his rhetoric as well. You want to talk about the [00:37:30] role of Fox in this a little bit, Julie?

MILLICAN: Sure, I'd be happy to. So Fox has had a longstanding narrative around. They like to push this idea that their viewers are being persecuted in some way.

And that all these liberal forces are out to get them, et cetera. And that has really been translated into this like Christian persecution narrative. Like Christians are being discriminated against the people. They're the ones that are losing their first amendment rates.

When other marginalized communities gain rights that they don't think they should have access to gay marriage, for instance, equality under the law, et cetera everything always goes back to well, my religious freedom should Trump, X, Y, Z. And that it's really Christians who are being persecuted against.

So when you have that backdrop, this is not a new narrative on Fox. This is a narrative that Fox has been pushing for quite some time, but like everything else has just become more blatant and more extreme and more embracing of a. far right religious ideology. You have the Tucker Carlson's, when he was at his peak, with millions and millions of viewers every night pushing this idea that, transgender people are the work of the devil and that there is, Liberals are demons and like everything that has been framed in this way that anybody to Olivia's point earlier, who is in opposition to you is not on the side of God and therefore you only have to answer to God.

I think the kind of troubling part about this embrace as well is that there, there is no room for dissent within the right [00:39:00] around some of this rhetoric. And I think you could probably speak to that a little bit as well, based off of your own background and experiences, but it feels that if you try to challenge the religiosity and the message that they're sending and how extreme it has gotten, you're against God at that point. And you're part of the problem and you've been corrupted by the devil. And like, when you don't have the ability to have open and honest conversations about what's happening, it drives the conversation even further to the extreme, I believe as well.

So Fox has been pretty influential in mainstreaming a lot of what we had seen that had maybe been more contained to a more Christian media audience, because let's not forget, there is a massive Christian media infrastructure as well. Obviously, Pat Robertson was the vanguard of that, but it has expanded enormously.

But a lot of those conversations kind of stayed there. They weren't brought to a more mainstream audience. And Fox has really served the bridge, I think, between. Those two worlds and it's increasingly blurred together as just being part of the right-wing media narrative and conversation ever since.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And it's also the Fox itself has been under pressure as well from far-right rivals like OAN and Newsmax. I guess maybe not OAN as much, but like, Right Side Broadcasting Network. You see a lot of these new streaming internet streaming services that they basically all compete to be who can be the most [00:40:30] pro-Trump, who can be the most alarmist, who can, I mean, Newsmax regularly shows people praying these, really extreme Christian prayers. And there was a woman who I saw on right side broadcasting network who was outside of Trump's recent indictment in Florida. And she was talking about all of the same stuff.

(Begin video clip)

UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTER: Yes, he's our president. Loves America. Loves the people of America. And we have to fight. We have to help him and support him. All of this is lies from the deep of hell. These people are from hell. Okay. It's evil. Yes, it's evil. We have the devil reigning right now. I just want to cry.

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: As you were saying earlier, Julie, that, people who are sort of in the center left need to understand this is happening and that there is probably no limit to what the right wing media and political elites are going to tell their followers like, and it's, it's scary to contemplate that, but we need to, we need to.

MILLICAN: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: So I'm going to play the last clip here.

This clip is featuring it starts with some women in a school board meetings. What we'll do is I'll play the clips and then you guys can react to whichever ones you want to react.

(Begin video clips)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I'm from Oakland Park, and I'm here for the children. There is zero evidence that COVID 19 exists in the world. [00:42:00] PCR tests are recalled. This is a plandemic. Fake virus. Bioweapon jab. Fake president.

You will not experiment on my children. It's always been about the children. We know you're coming for the children. We will not comply. We only answer to God.

People are waking up. Nothing can stop what is coming! You vote yes, you will all be tried for crimes against humanity!

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: These are demonic entities, and we need to stick together. Remember, we have authority in Christ Jesus!

These are demonic entities in all the school boards of all the United States of America. And all of us Christians will be sticking together to take them all out!

All the police officers that kick us out for our First Amendment right will also be going down with them. Do you understand?

I'm a nurse. Infectious disease. 13 years. Masks don't work. These doctors that sit up here that were sneering at us and looking at us like we're scumbags, they need to go back to fucking medical school!

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Ma'am, you're out of order. This is your last warning.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (audio difficulties) Turn my mic on!

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Communications?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: They need to remember: Natural immunity is best. You are all [00:43:30] demonic entities! You are going to be taken down. The Lord--

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Excuse me ma'am, you've already had your first warning, and this is your last. She cannot speak anymore.

TIFFANY JUSTICE, Moms for Liberty: I don't know what to say to you. There is always a bridge. There is always a reason. There is always a reason why something happens, right? One of our moms in a newsletter quotes Hitler—

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Woo! Woo!

JUSTICE: I stand with that mom!

LARA LOGAN, Far-right media figure: So the next time you read somewhere, or hear on one of your shows or something, that the secret to everlasting youth is young blood.

Why don't you ask, whose blood? How many? How much? Is it a baby's blood? How much of a baby's blood do you need? Whose baby? What happened to that baby? How do you get the blood? It's not the hard questions. It's the simple questions. Because the devil is always in the details. Always in the details.

ALEX JONES: I think instead of them getting full satanic control of the planet and doing this, and turning us into lab rats, I think it's just best, God, I'm on it. God, go ahead and vaporize it if that's the right thing to do. Seriously.

In fact, I'm asking, and I'm not praying to God to vaporize the earth. I want to fix things. I want to turn it around. I'm saying if it [00:45:00] gets to the point where we're not going to turn it around, and God knows that, and we've chosen wrong, I ask for the children's sake that God not allow the earth to continue on to produce children for this thing to feed on.

I ask God, respectively, to blow the planet up immediately. Seriously, I mean, I want God to blow it up now instead of doing this, okay?

SHEFFIELD: That's really horrible stuff. Do you want to give us the Alex Jones overview, Julie, of what's been happening to this guy over the years. He's gotten even crazier, it seems.

MILLICAN: Yeah. Alex Jones is a really, really well-known conspiracy theorist who has managed to build a massive audience for himself and frankly made a ton of money advancing conspiracy theories and then selling products that conveniently help promote, the types of things that he's saying.

So, for instance, he's been a big doomsday er about the end of the earth and makes a lot of money selling, prepping, meals and things like that. He has herbal supplements that he will sell to increase your vitality and masculinity; and essentially is just preying on an audience of people who maybe don't have the best critical thinking, but don't trust mainstream news sources, have a kind of tendency towards spiritual thinking in the first place.

And he has built a huge name for himself. So he's probably most famous, I would think in most circles for attacking the children who were killed in Sandy Hook as being crisis actors, the parents [00:46:30] whose children were murdered or faking it and he got sued for that by the Sandy Hook families.

It was a long, protracted legal battle. But ultimately, they prevailed and were able to get massive awards from him. But I think what people maybe don't recognize is that, as he's needed to keep his own influence and to keep his listenership engaged and to gain more influence, he's embraced more and more extreme forms of conspiracy theories, but it's become a lot more religious in his rhetoric to do it.

He's also become more mainstreamed, frankly, like, Trump administration figures were, very, very interested in what Alex Jones was saying back during the 2016 campaign. Roger Stone, who is extremely close to a very close advisor, longtime advisor for Donald Trump.

He's a regular on, I mean, he was employed by Infowars Alex Jones's media entity. And he had been on this network for years. He pushes the same conservative and right-wing conspiracies. It's very cynical. I don't think they believe, well, at least Roger Stone doesn't believe any of this.

He's a man who's famous for having Nixon tattooed on him. back. This is people who started to get more and more mainstream embrace by the right.

He's good friends with Joe Rogan. He's been on Joe Rogan's podcast, has been influential in pushing Joe Rogan down a more and more explicit conspiratorial bent with his own thoughts and broadcasts. He is Joe Rogan is a [00:48:00] podcaster who really came from the MMA fighting world was, kind of started off, he was very famous for that, talking about sports and kind of started down this path of, I'm just asking questions, questioning authority to openly hosting and calling into Alex Jones's show. I think he even called him during the January 6th insurrection, talk to Alex Jones. I mean, it's pretty it's pretty disturbing that this is the type of rhetoric that so many people are listening to, but it's also influencing like more national, like conversation and position.

And I think the thing that that clip demonstrates to the main, the biggest, problem with all of this, is that it's really laid the groundwork and created an environment where it's acceptable for followers to be openly advocating for, or potentially even engaging in violence. And that, that is something that we have been seeing time and time again.

Obviously, it's been a lot of, lone, wolf with a gun, going in and committing atrocities. They're being inspired by of the Alex Jones is of the world and people who are pushing that type of rhetoric and it's only going to get worse, the more extreme that they get.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and it's important to note also that yeah, like you mentioned these mass murderers motivated by right wing beliefs that, within the kind of even further to the right of Nick Fuentes, you have people that they venerate these mass murderers and call them saints, just like, seeing themselves as sort of the early Christian [00:49:30] crusaders against the evil, demonic forces.

That's really what they're doing and there is no sort of centrist base of media or political power in the Republican Party. All the energy, the gravitational force of the right is on the far right. And so what they want filters into everything, even people who may not agree with that and may have never heard of these people.

Like, I think that's something that, having been, come up in my own experience as a former conservative media person, a lot of people that I knew didn't really, including myself, had no contact with these extreme right-wing figures. And so they thought that they didn't matter.

And that was ultimately what led me to leave the right was that I realized, oh my goodness, these people, they set the agenda for the Republican party. They're the ones who have the base. That's where the base of the voters is.

And it's really awful stuff. And Olivia, you found the clip there that we were playing there with the from the Moms for Liberty there. You and I had some got some new friends on the internet after, after that clip came out.

But what that, so tell us about that clip and what was going on there.

LITTLE: Yeah, so that clip is from the final night of the Moms for Liberty conference. And that is Tiffany Justice, one of the Moms for Liberty co-founders going on stage and saying, everything happens for a reason.

And then goes into, [00:51:00] saying that like one of the moms from a chapter quoted Hitler, someone like cheers in the audience, and she's like, I stand with that mom. But I thought it was really jarring that instead of apologizing and saying it was a miscommunication from the chapter they doubled down on using an uncritical quote from Adolf Hitler on the front of a newsletter. And so that was Tiffany Justice, once again, like doubling down on that use and failing to admit any sort of wrong, which is what we're seeing over and over and over, is that they are becoming more extreme because they fail to acknowledge that something is wrong within the group or, like, that they've made a mistake.

So instead of rejecting it, they just accept it and move on, which has increasingly radicalized the group. Yeah,

MILLICAN: if I may jump in there, Matthew, I was going to say just to add to that, to get back to your point, very much at the beginning of all of this about, Donald Trump taking everything further and further to the extreme, I think that lack of accountability, lack of apologizing and just going full force, like there is no Ability at this point for the right to back down on anything, and that I think also is something that, you see play out time and time again.

What Olivia was just talking about they can put Hitler quotes out there and it's going to be defended because anybody who criticizes them is obviously the enemy and we will not back down to the enemy and that is an adjustment. That is a change that I think has played a huge role in just how much more extreme and how much works from the voices are that are coming out of the right at this point when there's no accountability at all, and there's no [00:52:30] shared sense of what's just regular decency at this point, that that's going to create a lot of problems. And that's what we're seeing play out time and time again. To your point and to Olivia's point about this earlier.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and it's that they feel like that apologizing for something awful that someone said is wrong, that in and of itself is the wrong act and Olivia, there was a panel at the Moms for Liberty event, and I guess you were not in that one, if I remember right.

You guys weren't there for that. But it was like, there was this panel where they discussed the idea that you should never apologize for anything. Can you tell us about that a little bit, please?

LITTLE: Yeah, and the speaker at this panel was actually Christian Ziegler, who is the husband of one of the Moms for Liberty co-founders, Richard Ziegler and also the chairman of Florida's Republican Party.

And he basically told the audience that, never apologize, never apologize. Because it, I mean, obviously for a number of reasons, but I think for them, they think it shows weakness. is one part of it, but two, they just never want to be wrong. And I think that's caused so many problems, not just within the organization.

But I think it's a tendency of different right wing. Individuals and organizations to not apologize and it's just sort of like spiraling out of control at this point, because again, this is like a Florida, like political operative it's someone who was Trump's digital surrogate in [00:54:00] 2016, telling people don't apologize and something that Trump does as well.

Like, it's just a strategy that they're using, And I think it's really alarming, especially in the context of uncritical Hitler quotes, too. That's, that should be a no brainer of an apology. And even then, they can't do it. Or instruct mom to do it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and also that several of the audience members, just at the mere mention of Hitler, she hadn't even gotten to the point about I stand with that mom, or whatever quoted Hitler.

Woo! I mean, that's, that to me is the most shocking part of that clip. Yeah, that they were applauding such a thing.

And, and it's, and there is also another religious aspect of this and, as somebody who was born and raised and as a fundamentalist Mormon, like there is this very strong tradition in reactionary Christianity that it would be, you have to regularly contemplate dying for Jesus, you personally need to think about that.

And Jenna Ellis, who, who was one of Donald Trump's election heist lawyers she has as her pin tweet up there that if they try to cancel Christianity, I will not bend, I will not break they will have to kill me first.

Like they really do see themselves as being—they glorify at this idea of having to die for their beliefs.

And we saw in the, in the Alex Jones clip that, here we have him saying, God, please destroy humanity rather than [00:55:30] let Democrats beat Republicans. That's basically what he's saying there. I mean, it's really horrible.

And yet these, this rhetoric is not something that we see featured in news coverage, whether it's on TV or, like a lot of the reports that came out of the Moms for Liberty summit, they didn't mention this stuff, and they heard it being said, like that prayer that we showed earlier, all of these reporters were at this event, they didn't mention that she had said that, they didn't mention it.

There was a reporter for Mother Jones who was there who did mention it in an article, the video that you captured, Olivia, with Tiffany Justice, but that was it. You and that Mother Jones reporter were the only people who mentioned it. And yet, they had probably at least 30 or 40 people, you can tell me the number, Olivia, but they were there. They saw all these things happening, and it was a real failure of journalism, in my opinion.

What do you think?

LITTLE: Yeah, I absolutely agree. And it's something that we've seen from the beginning, and I think mainstream media has long platformed Moms for Liberty and un inaccurately covered them.

By letting them get away with extremist activities or harassing school board members giving or sending violent threats against school officials and in, framing them as just moms, which is sort of, which is what we've seen mainstream media do. They've allowed them to get away with so much [00:57:00] extreme activity While keeping, well, while sort of, wearing this mask of respectability, or this mask of just being mothers and, yeah, so, so this inaccurate coverage, whether it's at the beginning or at the summit I think, is dangerous for one because it again, lets them try to frame themselves as a respectable, like rational group when that's not the case at all.

And omitting those things allows them to maintain that false image. And so they're actually doing them a service, right? Or giving them good publicity, which is just absurd given what they're saying, what they're doing and what they've been doing for years, frankly, at this point.

SHEFFIELD: As we're getting to the end here, we've gone through all the clips here. What's the message that you would have, Julie, to people who are just regular viewers or listeners that, what can they do about all this stuff?

What would you, what would you say to them?

MILLICAN: I think one of the things that I would say to them is to pay attention to what's happening in your own community. Because a lot of this organizing is happening on the ground locally. They're able to take advantage of like elections that people don't tend to pay a lot of attention to, I think particularly on the left, people are very fixated on national politics and don't pay as much attention on what's going on in their schools, for instance, and they don't pay attention to school board races.

They maybe don't have children, and so they don't think about it. They also are not paying attention to what's happening in the local state houses. And there's also coupled with that [00:58:30] really a dearth of local media. Local media has been gutted. There's not a lot of places where people can get good information about what's happening on the ground.

And I think that's how these types of movements are able to gain, take advantage of that and gain a foothold. So the thing that I would say people should do is get involved with their own community and find out where is this activity? Is this happening? I promise you this is real they are a very, again, well-funded and well organized movement but they're not in the majority and the ways that you need to start to counter is to get involved with what's happening locally in your own community and start to take this on and don't be afraid to hit it head on so that, that's where I would say people should start to focus their attention and their efforts.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, yeah, no, I think that's great. All right, well, Olivia, what were there any aspects out of Moms for Liberty that when you went there that that you think we haven't talked about here that might be worth knowing?

LITTLE: Well, I think we've covered a lot from the summit, but just to jump off of Julie's point and something I even observed there is that they're not as big as they say they are.

And we know that like an early Washington Post article had one of the co-founders talk about how they include Facebook likes and Facebook members in their group totals. Which is just a totally inaccurate and inflated number which, it makes people on the ground feel sort of powerless, but there is hope because they're really not that big, they're just really loud and have a strong political [01:00:00] infrastructure backing them.

But combating them or pushing back against their frankly, bigoted policies and advocacy is not insurmountable. It's something that you can do, and you shouldn't be intimidated by them because they lie all of the time. All of the time.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, no, that's a great point. And also, yeah, you're, what you said about not being intimidated as well. That's the goal of these groups is to so pollute the political discourse to make people who have, who are decent and normal and support human rights to just be so disgusted that they leave that they see the battle to these radicals, and we can't do that, we can't do that.

MILLICAN: Yeah. That’s a hundred percent right.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So, this has been a great discussion. I appreciate both of you being here for it.

So, Julie Milliken is on Twitter at JMillzDC. That's J-M-I-L-L-Z-D-C.

And then also Olivia, you are on Twitter as well, and yours is OliviaLittle. So, I don't have to spell that one out for people, hopefully. But, yeah, thanks so much for being here. It's been a great discussion.

LITTLE: Thanks.

MILLICAN: Thank you for having us.

SHEFFIELD: Alright, so that is the program for today. I appreciate everybody for joining us. And if you liked what we're doing, please go to theoryofchange.show where you can subscribe. We have free options on [01:01:30] Patreon or on Substack. And then if you are a paid subscriber, you get full access to the archives with video, audio, and transcript of all the episodes.

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