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Influential Anti-Woke Activist Christopher Rufo Open to Terrible Allies

Influential Anti-Woke Activist Christopher Rufo Open to Terrible Allies
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(Editor’s Note: The headline of this story has been updated to delete that Rufo is open to working with racists and fascists, which Rufo had explicitly denied. We have updated the story accordingly and added comment from Rufo.)

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A top ally of presidential hopeful Gov. Ron Desantis (R-FL) wants to explore an armistice between the establishment Republican Party and the “dissident right”: which is often used as a euphemism for right-wing radicals, including the racists and fascists who align with the conservative movement’s current trajectory.

If this kind of ceasefire sounds absurd, that’s because it is—and a less explicit version of this strategy is already assumed by diehard pro-Trump factions of the GOP, and is wreaking havoc against the Party in profound ways.

Christopher Rufo, a high-profile right-wing activist at the Manhattan Institute credited with forging the frameworks of modern moral panics about critical race theory and LGBTQ-inclusive educational programming, hosted a live voice chat on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, in which one participant floated an ear-burning idea: if a “real white nationalist” were to rise to power, mainstream conservative movements should want to align with that person to “destroy the power of the left.”

As reported by The Guardian, Rufo did not vocally disagree with that particular speaker’s proposal of entertaining and empowering like-minded extremists; rather, Rufo stressed the need for a “bridge” between the establishment right and the “dissident right.” (Later in the conversation, Rufo denounced white nationalist Richard Spencer as an example of someone who is “wrong, morally, politically, practically” and who doesn’t serve as a positive ally for the right.)

In writing, Rufo has argued for “prudence” in curating those kinds of relationships, including determining “moral non-starters” and excluding particularly heinous ideologues.

Given Rufo’s apparent affinity for at least one self-described fascist, one might wonder whether Rufo sees himself as the person who can smooth the tensions in that gap and help curate these kinds of connections. Rufo’s track record and proximity to power certainly make him a potentially more effective person to attempt that mending.

Rufo made his name strategically advancing inflammatory accusations about communities of color and LGBTQ people for the sake of riling up support for Republicans. Domestic extremist movements have been especially responsive to these sorts of campaigns, turning out at events and explicitly encouraging threats against LGBTQ+ people and their allies.

It would make sense that Rufo would want to connect more with the seedier underbelly perpetuating the hysteria he has helped to inoculate; after all, they’re largely responsible for doing the dirty work of his campaigns. What’s more, Rufo has been rewarded and mythologized among the modern conservative intelligentsia for his efforts.

Beyond Rufo, there are plenty more examples of this strategy in practice in today’s Republican Party. Figures like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) made themselves household names by hand-holding radicals. Presidential hopefuls lined up to kiss the rings of an “extremist group” earlier this year. Many Republican members of Congress held few qualms about cozying up with extremist groups ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Whether it was former Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, violent “alt-right” supporters, white supremacists and militia groups, or QAnon followers, former President Donald Trump has struggled to disavow his most dangerous supporters, when he’s not busy coddling them.

A willingness to break bread and barter with radicals can be partially understood as a natural byproduct of political narratives that claim an all-powerful leftist insurgency is threatening the very existence of the United States—a type of absurdist hysteria that Rufo made his political inroads popularizing.

Tales of an America under siege have existed as regular overtures of mainstream conservative media for decades and have proven their ability to polarize and excite audiences.

For true believers of these apocalyptic projections, there is perhaps no potential enemy worse than the mirage of leftist authoritarians with which they believe they are engaged in battle. And when that’s the case, a host of previously unthinkable allies resemble lesser evils, rather than potential threats.

But an anything-goes approach to political courtship is risky when adopted by base supporters, and decidedly more terrifying when internalized by wealthy mainstream conservative groups in Washington.

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The policy mandate for the deep-pocketed “Project 2025” conservative alliance seems to indicate that the panic engulfing partisan media has also captured political elites; the opening writings contain screeds against “globalist elites” and express fears of queer people, mirroring the “groomer” narratives persistent in anti-LGBTQ+ content.

As exciting as the “no enemy to the right” theory Rufo and his speakers were exploring has proven for the GOP base and its elites, overly excited commitments to culture wars and passive indifference to extremists has proven to be a turnoff for the general public.

Conflict always exists between people who care about maintaining a political movement’s reputation and those who insist on pushing movements to their ideological extremes—no matter the cost. Debates over the balance between acceptability and purity have been at the heart of many rifts in political movements throughout history, and often have a net positive effect.

Even when difficult, ideological rifts can have the unintended effect of isolating extremists from levers of power and sending diehard zealots back into the fringes where they often belong. But Rufo and his ilk want to discourage this process, accepting as allies anyone who shares the same “woke” enemies—even racists and fascists.

This highly influential activist—who Gov. DeSantis placed on the Board of Trustees of the New College of Florida—is curious about spelunking in the ideological sewers of the conservative movement in search of strategic gems.

While some dumpster-diving expeditions do in fact find treasure, most just leave those involved covered in trash.

Editor’s note: After this article’s publication, Christopher Rufo sent the following statement to The Daily Beast:

I have never suggested in any way, shape, or form that I am “open to working with racists and fascists”—and your claim that I have done so is deliberately false, malicious, and defamatory, with a clear intention of tarnishing my reputation. Contrary to your claims, I have repeatedly argued the opposite, including as part of the announcement for and during the proceedings of the “No Enemies to the Right” debate.

In my announcement, I explicitly argued against right-wing racialism and against an unrestricted policy of no enemies to the right.” I quote from the debate announcement:

The so-called dissident Right—a constellation of young right-wing activists, artists, and intellectuals—has brought much-needed vitality, and some tension, into the conservative movement. The best of this cohort has disrupted stale orthodoxies, launched publications, and broken into the culture with provocative new ideas. But others have fallen into some predictable dead ends: right-wing racialism, street brawls, and conspiratorialism, all easily highlighted and used by the Left to discredit the political Right as a whole. …

“My own inclination is one of prudence. The essential function of coalition management is to maintain a balance between size and strength and to calculate the tradeoffs between various arrangements, alliances, and entanglements. Furthermore, some elements on the fringes of any political movement are moral non-starters—they should be given no deference, much less support. Anyone who has spent time in large organizations will recognize a plain truth: sometimes, addition is accomplished through subtraction. This might be even more true in politics, which has always attracted an element of the pathological.”

In the announcement, I also link to an essay written explicitly against the politics of “right-wing racialism,” or, in other terms, “white nationalism.” I quote, with bold added for emphasis:“The vision of racialists, whether on the left or right, is pessimistic: the first is driven by a spirit of vengeance, the second by a sense of inferiority. They are two sides of the same coin. Despite real tensions and disparities, Americans are, on the whole, a tolerant, cooperative people who aspire to a colorblind standard, derived from the natural rights tradition, that remains the best guidepost for the country’s future. The temptation of racial politics must be resisted. The solution is not to mirror the frame of left-wing racialists, but to persuade strong majorities to abolish racialism from public life and entrench the higher principle of colorblind equality. That is our fight. Slowly but steadily, we can win it.”

Furthermore, during the debate on X Spaces, I explicitly and emphatically pushed back against the ideology of white nationalism. I quote from the debate:

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“A case study that I see as one being very instructive is, what should the Right do, according to proponents and opponents of the proposition, in the case of someone, for example, like Richard Spencer, whom I think we would all consider ourselves in opposition to his ideology, to his politics, to his activism. Assuming that, how would the proponents of “no enemies to the right” handle such a figure, who I think is not only wrong morally, politically, practically, but also really serves not as a positive effect on the Right in any capacity, but a foil that is used by the Left to then tarnish the Right as a whole.”





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