Tea Party "Civics"
Boca Raton, Florida, is the location of Florida Atlantic University, as (FAU) well as the headquarters of one of the world’s largest private corrections corporations, GEO Group. At least four GEO executives have served on FAU’s board of trustees. In 2013, students organized protests after GEO was given naming rights over their football stadium in exchange for a $6 million donation to the university. Amidst the uproar, FAU’s president resigned after hitting a student demonstrator with her car’s side mirror and then fleeing the scene.
A less well known but even more alarming example of GEO’s partnership with FAU is the Inmate Civics Education Enhancement Project (ICEEP), funded by the Charles Koch Foundation, which aims to “change the culture within the prison and prepare inmates for their return into society.”
Inmates in DeRosa’s Koch/GEO Group civics course:
read and discussed a book called The Five Thousand Year Leap: 28 Great Ideas That Changed the World. DeRosa, who facilitates the class with a counselor, stressed that students should learn about civics in terms of personal responsibility and values. “We go back to the founding principles and talk about how successful liberty has been [at] advancing prosperity and progress.” Many of his students expressed astonishment. “They had never heard this before,” he says.
Originally titled Five Thousand Year Leap: the Miracle that Changed the World, this book asserts that prosperity in the United States is a result of the Constitution being inspired by God, and that “God’s revealed law” is embodied by twenty-eight “fundamental principles” that constitute “a moral code clearly distinguishing right from wrong” (5000 Year Leap: abridged, 2009). This provides the reader with religious and moral arguments to be made for the limitation of government.
The book saw a resurgence after being promoted by talk show host Glenn Beck (who attended at least one of Koch’s donor summits). It is regarded as the “handbook” of the (Koch-instigated) Tea Party movement.
Five Thousand Year Leap was written by the late Cleon Skousen, a longtime member of the John Birch Society (JBS) speakers bureau. JBS is a free-market anti-civil rights group whose earliest members and donors included Charles Koch, who followed the lead of his father, Fred Koch. A 1961 profile on JBS in Time Magazine featured both Skousen and Fred Koch (“The Ultras,” Time Magazine, 1961).
Skousen’s 1982 “Making of America” described American slave owners as the “worst victims” of the slavery system, and argued that . For these reasons, Skousen’s books have been subject to criticism after being discovered in Arizona charter schools. (More on the Skousen family.)
Skousen was also a member of the Koch-funded Council for National Policy (CNP). According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the CNP mixes “ostensibly mainstream conservatives with far-right and extremist ideologues” including hate groups the League of the South. (More on CNP in Chapter 1. Part 2)
Perhaps more concerning than the curriculum is the instructor himself, Marshall DeRosa, who was a long time member of a violent white supremacist group, the League of the South, from at least 2000-to 2009, and continues to be affiliated with "Neo-Confederate" organizations.
Dr. Dixie: Marshall DeRosa
Founded in 1994, the League of the South (LOS) identifies as a “Southern Nationalist organization” who openly advocates for the secession of southern states and “seeks the survival, well being, and independence of the Southern people.” In 2000, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designated the League of the South a white nationalist hate group. In 2004, it was found that Florida’s LOS branch had ties to known Aryan terrorists.
As early as 2000 and as recently as 2009, Florida Atlantic University’s Marshall DeRosa was a “faculty” member of the League of the South Institute, which describes itself as the “educational arm of the Southern independence movement.” Faculty taught week-long “Summer Institutes” and smaller seminars to aspiring members around the South.
The LOS Institute also acts as the charitable nonprofit through which the LOS accepts donations.
In 2014, the SPLC revealed that the LOS was “training a uniformed, paramilitary unit tasked with advancing a second southern secession by any means necessary.” The LOS considers itself to be currently engaged in a “race war.”
Many LOS faculty, including Marshall DeRosa, also formed the Abbeville Institute named for the birthplace of fierce slavery advocate, John Calhoun. Many faculty stayed at both for many years. While LOS faculty are not currently listed, DeRosa is still an active member of the Abbeville Institute.
Marshall DeRosa is on the research advisory council of Florida’s premier Koch funded think tank, the James Madison Institute. He is also a scholar at the nation’s premier neo-confederate think tank, the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
In a Charles Koch Foundation promotional video, Derosa states:
I want the students to realize that the American political order is not a liability but an asset. . . If you think about what America really stands for, free enterprise, free markets, individual dignity, [and] the rule of law. If I can connect those ideas in the students’ minds and worldviews, I think it could be transformative. I’m a real believer in the American political order, not necessarily as it currently is, but the founding principles (CKF, 2016).
DeRosa is a prolific speaker on the topic of the Confederate Constitution, and travels to campuses speaking on the virtues of the confederacy.
At Furman University, a student introducing DeRosa’s 2012 campus talk described the controversy caused when the campus was “flooded with Confederate images and flags in hopes of bringing attention to this educational and civil event” (video at 0:25).
DeRosa’s talk gave a “small government” defense of the Confederacy:
Now, you’ll probably come to this conclusion on your own, that conservative libertarian students, they favor the Confederate model, and people on the left side of the political spectrum don’t like it, because the Confederate constitution, what it does is, it limits government, and believe it or not, enhances liberty. Let me say that again. The Confederate constitution enhances liberty. We could talk about the slavery issue, but that would probably take the entire evening. Been there and done that. If there are questions, during the Q and A session I’d be more than happy to discuss them. But one thing you have to remember is that the Confederate constitution did not mandate slavery. It left it up to the states. And where in the United States was slavery initially ended? In the states. The Confederate framers, most Southerners and Confederates, anticipated the demise and ending of slavery. (Video at 3:00)
DeRosa gave similar talks on the Confederate constitution in his capacity with the League of the South Institute and the Abbeville Institute, with a distinctly violent rhetoric.
At the 2015 conference of the Abbeville Institute, DeRosa’s speech was entitled “The Confederate Rule of Law: An American Patrimony Worth Fighting for Then and Now.” DeRosa explains how:
The supporters and benefactors of the status quo realized that the confederacy poses a threat to their legitimacy and authority it cannot risk allowing confederate principles to rise from the ashes of 1865… It is not a mystery that accurate history and symbolic representations of the confederacy are the sources from which the confederate phoenix could rise from the ashes [and] the transfer of knowledge regarding every american’s rightful patrimony would cause discomfort about, if not rebellion towards, the status quo…[T]he Southern people could be regenerated, a new birth of freedom, if you will, from exposure to true history and confederate symbols…I started with the quotations of the men from the early 1860s, because they saw it coming, they saw the trajectory and they fought to prevent it. Once again, the American patrimony, the Confederate patrimony, is worth fighting for, but the the open question is this; are the American people, indeed the Southern people, worthy of that patrimony? The answer to that question will soon be carved, in granite, not far from here. (DeRosa, 2015)
The conference was being held at Stone Mountain, Georgia, the birthplace of the (second) Ku Klux Klan and site of a large stone carving of Confederate figures.
One far-right radio host summarized his 2016 interview with DeRosa, “what Professor DeRosa is telling us, it almost sounds like we’re being called to join the Sixth Crusade. Washington is Jerusalem” (Mike Church Show, 2016).
When the James Madison Institute published DeRosa’s 2017 report on his extremist “civics” program, it did not disclose the “tea-party” text book used. It does however reveal a more cynical political tactic. DeRosa points out how “conservatives” could gain political ground while appearing to support restoration of voting rights, proposing a “practical” approach that would:
restore rights to those who have completed civics programming while incarcerated, the results would be to expose thousands of new voters to the very constitutional principles which conservatives hold dear. (DeRosa, 2017)
Koch’s donations to Florida Atlantic University quadrupled in 2016. The Koch foundation website boasts:
“The class was supposed to be capped at 15 to 20 students, but we ended up with 38,” says DeRosa. . .The pilot course resonated so deeply with inmates that they pleaded with DeRosa to teach more. DeRosa applied for a grant and will launch two courses in 2016. This time, second-year students will have a chance to mentor first-year students."
Reporting by The Nation showed that DeRosa's Koch funding was extended "because of the program’s success," and now including "graduate students to teach alongside DeRosa at the prison" and and expansion to four courses, civics, economics, ethics, and literature." DeRosa told reporter that "he’s planning to apply for more."
IDEOLOGICAL AND INSTITUTIONAL WHITE SUPREMACY
Marshall DeRosa’s Koch-funded project for the James Madison Institute delivers several chilling reminders of how free-market extremism and white supremacy continue to infect public institutions, in particular, the education system and criminal justice system.
Marshall DeRosa is part of a larger network of extremist scholars with ties to white supremacists, many of whom joined him at the League of the South Institute, the Abbeville Institute, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
The Charles Koch Foundation's ties to DeRosa are not an anomaly.
Very many of these “neo-confederate” scholars are directly supported by the Charles Koch Foundation and hold high positions within Koch’s academic operations, including the Association of Private Enterprise Education, the Institute for Humane Studies, and George Mason University (the subject of Chapter 2).
Continuing in Chapter 1, Part 2, we examine Charles Koch's larger criminal justice reform movement, "Right on Crime," its political/profit motives, and its considerable ties to extremist organizations and the Prison Industrial Complex.
For more on DeRosa's involvement with "Campus Free Speech Laws" and campus groups like Turning Point USA, see Chapter 5, Part 2.