The Claremont Institute is a fascist think tank, and it’s standing behind the Trump-Eastman coup

The Claremont Institute is a fascist think tank, and it’s standing behind the Trump-Eastman coup

July 27, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

The premise for examining the Claremont Institute, a far-right think tank that nobody ever much heard of before they began a precipitous lurch into extremism, is the embarrassment of having one of their key leaders, John Eastman, exposed as a dirty rotten traitor who was trying to overthrow all of American democracy with a plan that consisted of “Trump’s vice president should just say that the electoral votes in Biden-won swing states don’t count, therefore we win.” Eastman is a seditionist. He was one of the key architects of a plan to overthrow the legitimately elected United States government because Donald Trump wanted to, and because an extremely fascist sect of Republicanism has now convinced itself that the need to impose their version of America is so existential for the country that maintaining democracy itself can’t rank in comparison.

But the Post‘s premise is undone pretty quickly, because Eastman may have engaged in an act of sedition, but he is not in any way an outlier inside the Claremont Institute. They’re not just standing by the man who heads their “Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence,” and yes that is what they really call it, but pretty proud of it. The Post‘s report contains only vague wisps of sometimes-anonymous, sometimes-just-asserted embarrassment over Eastman’s role, but it’s clear that the “Institute” itself doesn’t feel particularly put out by Eastman’s new fame.

On the contrary—the Post really is going out of its way here to downplay the group’s key role in promoting a fascist agenda—not a “conservative” agenda, but an anti-democracy, destroy-our-enemies fascist version.

Most of the “Institute” refused to even talk to the Post, and when they did it didn’t go well:

“The Claremont Institute is not interested in participating in the fiction that the Washington Post is a legitimate media outlet, or that its chronically discredited journalists are dispassionate fact-finders intent on bringing their readers objective news,” extremely vapid-sounding think tank head Ryan Williams emailed the Post. So there you go. They’re that kind of conservative. The kind that applauds Donald Trump and his buffoonish insistence that any news he doesn’t personally like is “fake,” the kind that doesn’t recognize even the foremost papers in the country as “legitimate” but eagerly puts themselves behind the likes of … Charlie Kirk.

It’s the list of fellowship-gainers and other hangers-on that indicts the “Claremont Institute” as advocates for the fascist fringe. Among those who have gotten “fellowships” from the tiny “Institute”:

• Youth fascist leader Charlie Kirk, who heads the virulently fascist Turning Point USA.

• “Pizzagate” hoax promoter Jack Posobiec.

• Far-right “men’s rights” provocateur Jack Murphy, probably most famous for asserting that “feminists need rape.”

• Laura Ingraham, now an incendiary far-right Fox News host

• Hoax promoter Dinesh D’Souza

• Perennial self-promoter Ben Shapiro

• Sen. Tom Cotton, whose most significant contribution to the national discourse to date was a demand that the U.S. military be called in to eliminate Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

A theme quickly emerges: The Claremont Institute is devoted to selling a version of radical far-right conservatism that embraces the promotion of fraudulent hoaxes in service to the cause, far-right versions of masculinity, and a “shock jock” version of discourse that relies heavily on finding and targeting movement enemies.

This is fascism, right? Coupled with an eagerness to subvert the rule of law so as to win power even when the nation’s citizens vote against them, coupled with their promotion of the “constitutional sheriffs” scam, and especially the Institute’s own driving premise of existential national crisis—this is the promotion of a fascist agenda.

While the “Institute” insists on being treated as just another far-right-funded think tank, they don’t try very hard to hide that fascist agenda. The Post may not have gotten the group’s extremely weird president to sit for an interview, but notes his past Twitter bloviations about “unmanly liberalism” and dismissing evidence of Trump’s coup conduct as a “hoax.”

“By the 2010s, many at the institute had come to believe that America had fallen into precipitous cultural decline, accelerated, in their view, by the left’s demands for racial and gender equality,” says the Post. It “encouraged a flavor of patriotism that rejected the critical approach to American history dominant in some academic and media circles.”

So, a belief in national and cultural decline, one caused by non-whites and by a “left” that insists on civil rights for what past fascist regimes termed sexual “deviants.” A version of national greatness that relies on editing out the parts of history that do not flatter. All tenets of fascist movements.

“The pivotal moment for many at the institute was its publication of a 2016 article by Michael Anton called “The Flight 93 Election,” which argued that the United States was in such dire trouble that Americans had to do whatever it took to grab control over the country from liberals and social reformers — and especially from Hillary Clinton.”

A belief, then, that this alleged national decline is so existential that extraordinary means of wresting control away from the movement’s enemies is both necessary and justified. A fascist cornerstone, and one that easily justifies a coup of the sort Eastman’s plan proposed.

“The institute set up a Washington office last year, announcing that the Center for the American Way of Life would push for a ‘restored Right,’ proposing to counter ‘radical feminism,‘ and ‘globalism’ with ‘mental and moral toughness.'”

Themes of national “restoration,” premised on countering “feminism” and equating non-nativist, non-nationalist beliefs with mental unfitness? This is beginning to sound like a cookie-cutter version of fascism, one that could be plucked out of books from a full century ago with no edits needed.

All the pieces are there, in the Post‘s story, but readers are forced to put them together themselves. The Claremont Institute is a tiny but influential promoter of the hoax theory of politics, of the premise that the dangers of the “left” are of more import than maintaining the nation’s democracy, of performative masculinity, and of the relentless demonization of targeted enemies and the “left” that protects them. It’s a fascist organization. It might not have started out as one, but its operational tenets today match up to fascism’s own versions one to one to one.

This is much akin to media coverage of Charlie Kirk’s own fascist organization. Turning Point USA has all the bells and whistles of a fascist organization and, similarly, makes no attempts to hide them. The utter devotion to invented hoaxes, the obsessive naming and scapegoating of enemies, the slick marketing of vile and vapid cruelty; this is what the American version of fascism looks like, and the one that is now ascendent in Republicanism. The culture warriors of the “Claremont Institute” are similarly obsessed not with national policy matters, but with curbing the power of “feminist” and “leftist” enemies so as to bring forth a supposed national rebirth.

You can call them a think tank if you want to, and they can call themselves an “institute” in order to bring the money in and write about their “unmanly” enemies on Twitter, but the ideology here ain’t subtle. These are the fascist groups that have flowed into the gap created by a Republicanism that itself abandoned policy in favor of feckless performance art. At some point journalism needs to more properly identify extremists as extremists, because the current conventions of journalism are not themselves nonpartisan—they grant unwarranted dignity to any extremist group that wants to pretend at it.

This is Eastman’s movement. It would rather circumvent democracy than relinquish gained power. They’re not going to stop after the first try, and nobody involved is bothering to even distance themselves from the attempt. It doesn’t become gentlemanly just because the radical anti-feminist, pro-masculinity, anti-democracy, pro-hoax extremists know how to tie their ties.


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