“There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” — John Rogers
Any wonder why Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) staffers consistently conflate hate speech with free speech? Note the glaring lack of diversity—may be a melanin deficiency issue, no?
Write about education and other public policy issues long enough and you'll end up on everyone's press release (PR) list. To be sure I receive PR from right-of-center organizations like Center for American Progress (CAP) and National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), all the way to fringe-right outfits like the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Unlike "reporters" employed by the corporate media, I occasionally call the contact persons on the PR and ask fairly innocuous questions like "is the study you mention in your PR actually juried research, or is this just a policy paper?" The response is inevitably the latter, and I've documented such encounters with CAP and NCTQ in previous Schools Matter installments. Too bad "journalists" from organs like the Broad Foundation Newslett… uh, I mean the Los Angeles Times don't question these groups' PR before publishing their misinformation uncritically to the public.
One of the more lamentable groups sending me PR is the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). Somewhere on the political scale between Randian libertarians and unapologetic fascists, FIRE champions the "rights" of bigots, racists, nativists, misogynists, and other assorted reactionaries to spew various forms of hate speech unabated on college campuses across the nation. Their press releases typically celebrate victories over policies that would prevent exercising of oppressions over those whose educational experience is stifled by said oppressions. FIRE sends press releases celebrating calls to eliminate co-ed mandates, gushing defenses of rape culture, and apologetics for arch-reactionaries Karl Rove and war criminal Condoleezza Rice.
Late August FIRE sent me a PR that simultaneously caused me to retch and laugh — they were able to rescue the Ayn Rand Cult, I mean Club, at The University of California, Davis (UC Davis). The near vomiting experience is natural for any educated person having to hear Rand's name or of her associated "works." The laughing reaction came from the notion that any college student (especially at UC, where I graduated, albeit from the far more prestigious Los Angeles campus) would admit to having read Rand. FIRE, in their accustomed self-congratulatory style, waxed about how they forced the UC to do an "about-face" in order to accomodate kooks revering an "author" whose inspiration was a sociopathic murderer.
FIRE claims they are composed of individuals "from across the political and ideological spectrum", but even a cursory glance at their funders, advisors, and choice of causes reveals they are little more than a satellite of the John Birch Society. Let's start with the extreme right-wing reactionaries funding the FIRE Foundation. A selection from their own annual report:
Laura and John Arnold, Bradley Impact Fund, Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation, Milken Family Foundation, The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and Searle Freedom Trust.
Given that the Kochs and Bradleys are both founding families of the John Birch Society (both families are choice and charter supporters too), I want it noted that my allusions to that extremist organization are in no way hyperbole. FIRE's funders are some of the most powerful and extremist elements composing the right wing of our plutocracy. Moreover, noted misogynist Lawrence H. Summers sits on FIRE's Board of Advisors, as do several other reactionaries.
I've yet to see anything from FIRE about their defending the rights of LGBT groups, or Students for Justice in Palestine, or any other group that is oppressed under our, to borrow from the esteemed Professor bell hooks, "white supremacist capitalist patriarchy." Indeed, FIRE exists specifically to perpetuate the "rights" of the oppressors, not the oppressed. I, for one, do not conflate hate speech with free speech. I once said as much to FIRE's Greg Lukianoff in a Twitter exchange, during which he Klansplained me about how my stance would be different if I had a law background like him. I'm a second year law student now (2L), and I still don't find racist, sexist, and other spoken slurs acceptable on campus. Perhaps once I have my Juris Doctor in hand, I'll understand why Lukianoff and his fellow right-wing reactionaries despise what they call "groupthink" (sounds hauntingly like that trashy novelist FIRE was so proud to defend). Probably not.