February 21, 2022 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

Censorship, violence and lies — the ‘Lost Cause 2.0’

The point is creating conditions for doing horrible things.

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Our discourse tends to center on lamentations aplenty of the “division” and “polarization” fueling political animosities. Missing from our discourse is the fact that such lamentations are rooted in a liberal mindset. 

The liberal worldview presumes that political differences can be overcome with a combination of right attitude and right relations between people who agree on the fundamentals of democracy.


“Some of the laws and proposals target things like the 1619 Project, the Ruby Bridges story and others. Everyone serious about free speech, free expression and academic freedom must see that as censorship.” 


But “conservatives” – or, more accurately these days, fascists – don’t see the value in overcoming divisions. Unlike liberals, who see division as an obstacle to get over, the Republicans see it as a goal to achieve. The more divided the majority, the better for the Republican Party.

This is a timeless context. 

It resides everywhere in American political history. Indeed, it was not always the GOP that was seeking division. For most of our history, it was the Democrats who did that. Since the 1960s, however, and the white-power reaction that resulted in “movement conservatism,” the Republicans have been Dixiecrats under white hoods of respectability.

So that’s the context. What about the means? 

That, too, is timeless.

Like the southern apartheid Democrats before them, the Republicans inflame division the old-fashioned way, by stoking white hatred of Black people, but also anyone seen as insufficiently deferential to whiteness. The means haven’t changed. Only the method has.

That’s what Lee Atwater said. He was President George HW Bush’s advisor and part of the school of politics practiced maliciously by Karl Rove, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. Unlike the others, however, Atwater got his comeuppance. Brain cancer killed him. Here is what he said. (I am replacing the n-word with “n-word,” because it’s horrible.)

You start out in 1954 by saying, “n-word, n-word, n-word.” By 1968 you can’t say “n-word”—that hurts you, backfires. 

So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract that now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites. “We want to cut this” is much more abstract than even the busing thing and a hell of a lot more abstract than “n-word, n-word.”

“That quote is instructive here,” said Issac J Bailey, a professor of journalism at Davidson College and member of the Editorial Board

“It reflects how it was once OK for white people to use the n-word openly to gin up votes and how that evolved into abstract things like ‘tax cuts’ and ‘states’ rights’ to get at the same thing,” he said. 

“That’s what’s happened with ‘crt.’”

“Crt” is “critical race theory.” 

It does not exist in public K-12 education. It does not exist in most higher education courses. But that fact does not matter, because the Republicans don’t care about that fact. What they care about is exploiting something extremely abstract to inflame white hatred while making it appear plausible enough to maintain the support of respectable white people who’d ordinarily recoil from overt racism.


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“They can’t come out openly and directly – ‘we’re ginning up white fear for political purposes’ – because they know that won’t work,” Issac said. “But if they talk about the comfort level of white kids, if they use a distorted version of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, if they talk about a parents’ ‘bill of rights,’ then it’s easier to sell.”

While inflaming division for the purpose of winning elections would have been enough during Atwater’s time, it’s not now, Issac said. 

It’s part of a larger propaganda project Issac calls “Lost Cause 2.0.” 


Is the backlash against “critical race theory” censorship?

It’s worse than that. It’s the Lost Cause 2.0. For those who don’t know, the Lost Cause was an effort by apologists to whitewash why the south started the Civil War. That effort has caused enormous damage. 

If you live where I live, a lot of people, including highly-educated people, don’t know basic facts about this country’s racial history because of the successful propaganda efforts of the Lost Cause. 

That has made it exceedingly difficult to have important and necessary conversations about history. It makes it easier to pass laws that harm the vulnerable, including those among the white working class. 

When you don’t have a firm grasp of what is and how it came to be, it will be easier for you to be fooled into believing superficial platitudes that end up undermining basic protections that are reasonable. 


“Frustrating is too many members of the media who know it’s censorship are hedging their descriptions of it, often scolding others for not simply believing that all the angry white parents at school boards are just genuinely concerned about ‘critical race theory.’”


We know that’s what’s happening with the “crt” backlash. It’s most prominent crusader, Chris Rufo, has stated flatly that’s what he intends. Yet there are so many people who fall for it. If it were just censorship, that would be bad enough. But it’s much, much worse.

The press and pundit corps made “crt” seem serious, even threatening to kids. Why haven’t they identified the backlash as censorship or even censorship’s role in a larger propaganda project?

I’m convinced a lot of the press simply isn’t well-versed in the complexities of race to understand what’s actually happening. 

They are too quick to take some of these things at face value [ie, that so-called critics of “crt” are sincerely criticizing “crt”] and even scold those who don’t, despite what we know about American history.

But the frustrating part is that [anti-”crt”] has led to actual laws in numerous red states, and proposals for more, to literally limit speech. 

Some of the laws and proposals target things like the 1619 Project, the Ruby Bridges story, and so others. Everyone serious about free speech, free expression and academic freedom must see that as censorship. 

Also frustrating is too many members of the media who know it’s censorship are hedging their descriptions of it, often scolding others for not simply believing that all the angry white parents at school boards are just genuinely concerned about “critical race theory.”

Can you give a brief definition of the “Lost Cause”? Its narrative and rhetoric, I mean. I think that might help people understand how rightwingers infringe on free speech in the name of freedom.

Southerners angry about losing the American Civil War wanted to essentially find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. 

They did that by rewriting history. 

They claimed that the South did not go to war over slavery – even though pre-war speeches, proclamations and private letters made it clear that that’s precisely why the confederates did go to war – but rather for independence from a cruel north. 

That’s why they called it the “War of Northern Aggression.” 


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They painted men like Robert E. Lee as great honorable heroes who would have led them to victory if only they had enough troops. 

They even claimed that tens of thousands of enslaved Black people had joined their ranks against the north. In fact, it was about 200,000 formerly enslaved Black people who fought against the south. 

This led to memorial statues as well as history books taught in public schools throughout the region selling this big lie – that the south was the courageous one and that southerners had been wronged. 

The purpose was rewriting history so white southerners were the heroes. That way, it would be easier to do all sorts of awful things. 

I hear incredible echoes in these latest attempts. 

I don’t believe we are in for another civil war, a shooting war. But I do believe the kind of propaganda that permeated the south for so many decades, that is still present in a large way, is being used today. 

They are just in the form of anti-“crt” efforts. It goes hand-and-hand with January 6, a bevy of censorship laws and putting in place people and policies that will make the next J6 insurrection more effective.

How does all this go “hand and hand with what happened on January 6.” In your mind, there’s a connection. But to someone else, there’s a gap between the Lost Cause and the J6 insurrection.

The Lost Cause paved the way for Reconstruction’s premature ending, and often by violence. The KKK – still this country’s worst domestic terror group ever – was fueled and motivated by Lost Cause lies. 

White political violence overthrew Black-led governments to restore white supremacy. Anti-Black violence saw Black men and women being lynched and shot for supposedly not respecting white people.


“We have not seen KKK-levels of violence yet, thank God. But it should not be underestimated how much of what we saw on January 6 felt like the echoes of that ugly yesteryear. The lies seeded the ground that day and sprouted. The anti-‘crt’ stuff is related to all of that.”


That led to things like the 1898 massacre in Wilmington, NC, where a white mob violently overthrew a Black-led local government. 

It’s why a former South Carolina Governor Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman bragged about using lynching to regain political power. 

All of this violence and terrorism sprung out of the idea that there was a particular order to how things were supposed to be – with white people having political power and Black people not having it. 

We have not seen that level of violence yet, thank God. But it should not be underestimated how much of what we saw on January 6 felt like the echoes of that ugly yesteryear. The lies seeded the ground that day and sprouted. The current anti-“crt” stuff is related to all of that. 

It’s all of one piece. 

It has to do with fear of a diversifying nation. On the one hand, you have a lot of people who are disturbed by the changing nature of the country, not because they are racist or bigoted, but because change, good or bad, brings uncertainty, which breeds fear. That’s natural. 

The problem is there are a lot of people who are using that natural fear to amplify racial divisions to gin up votes. Many of those angry white parents at those school board meetings aren’t racist, at least not in the traditional sense. But the Lost Cause 2.0 propaganda has triggered their fear of a nation changing in ways they don’t understand.


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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