We have a lot to say about this latest group to call itself ‘FAIR’ – Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism – but let the experiences with them from someone who participated in one of those boisterous school board meetings – this one in Vermont – get us started.
Vermont Fascist Watch
On the first week of Aug 2021, i was alerted of an “anti-CRT” teach-in being held in Island Pond VT. The speakers were Vermont State Senator Russ Ingalls, Ben Morley of Irasburg and a minor child who will remain unnamed. The event was introduced by Bekah Perry, a home-schooling parent. Senator Ingalls is active in organizing these meetings regarding Critical Race Theory (CRT) .
The meeting, which was promoted as “information only”, began with the pledge of allegiance. Senator Ingalls gave a patchy description of the concepts of racial privilege and said it was being taught by “Marxist groups”. He seemed to push the idea that being asked to recognize the privilege of white males is in itself racist. He pushed the idea that CRT is the main subject taught in schools which is patently false. He also claimed that 30 people stayed away from the meeting because they were afraid of losing their jobs.
The minor spoke complaining that the concept of systemic racism was being taught in schools. he claimed that he was taught that white people are being taught that they are prejudiced because of their
Ben Morley spoke first proudly of his school in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union. He spoke of “the dangers of CRT” which he claims to have studied in college. He described learning about “F.A.I.R.” – (Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism) that claims to offer ethical diversity trainings. He claims he has about 120 parents in his group at OCSU schools. Morley said that kids are not allowed to stand up and speak what they believe; that it was parents job to stand up for them. This echoed the statement of one of the community members at a recent school board meeting in Nashua, NH who claimed to be there to “speak for the kids” against trans rights. He claimed also that people speaking out against CRT were being victimized for their beliefs, and that anti-racism is “deeply based in socialism”. He said that the schools were not being transparent, even though school board meetings are open to the community. Morley also complained about being called a white supremacist and intolerant by school officials. He suggested that people hold up school budgets to push his grievances. He preached a mantra of “valuing equality over equity”.
At the beginning of the questions and statements period retired teacher Peggy Stevens had this to say: “I taught in the North Country Supervisory Union (NCSU) for 20 years – English. I have never experienced anything you are speaking of tonight. Um. I would like to ask you what you think the differences between equality and equity – because when i think about special education services for children, who have different learning needs for example, which are many of the students i ever worked with – the idea is that not every student comes to school with the same abilities as every other student. They may require specific supports. That’s equity OK ? Equality, what you are talking about, would be to say every kid gets the same education no matter what their education needs and requirements may be, and to me that is absolutely inappropriate when we are talking about educating all of our children.
(Ingalls interrupted): why does race come into it ?
Peggy Stevens: Well
(Ingalls interrupted again): Why ? Why does race come into it in this area ?
Peggy Stevens: Well (unintelligible due to chatter) I am (chatter) going to educate you on how race informs our society, ok, but it definitely has an impact.
(Ingalls interrupted again)
Peggy Stevens: For example – let me finish – I’ve had very few students of color in all of my 20 years of teaching. I have observed first hand what they’re up against socially in terms of the racism that they have received from their peers in the school, so to suggest that it’s inappropriate to discuss race when we are talking about this issue is ludicrous to me.
(Ingalls interrupted again) But why must every subject focus on race ?
Peggy Stevens: Excuse me, again in my experience –
(Ingalls interrupted again) How long have you been retired ?
Peggy Stevens: about a year.
Peggy Stevens: In my experience, honestly, i have never heard a math teacher talk about race when presenting a problem. In my classes as an English teacher we definitely read information texts about various historical situations that have occurred in this country related to race. It’s not like anyone here is going to deny (excuse me) that at least the southern colonies’ economies were based on slavery. So
(Ingalls interrupted again) But why in todays world does every subject in the school have to start out about race ?
Stevens: Excuse me sir, but that absolutely does not occur.
(Ingalls interrupted) unintelligible from Ingalls
Stevens: It does not occur.
The tactic that Senator Ingalls used is a well known abusive tactic used to derail discussions. This repetitive interruption with basically the same question is called sea-lioning.
Samantha Stevens spoke next. Initially, Sen. Ingalls did not continually interrupt her:
“My name is Samantha Stevens. I am the North Country Supervisory Union equity and community outreach coordinator and my concern for this meeting is that the presentation you have brought to the North Country Supervisory Union and to Essex County, which you do not represent Mr Ingalls, is a discussion about another region to which we cannot speak to and so you may present situational evidence that we cannot deny or confirm in this case. But I can tell you that I’m here because racism does still exist in our society. We’ve had multiple incidents of racism, at least six in Island Pond alone in the last six months, where racist graffiti has been written on public locations. I can tell you those theories and ideas are not coming from school. They’re coming from home. So if you think we’re going to eliminate racism in our society, we cannot rely on students getting that information from their homes and communities alone. Our schools have to be a part of that solution.”
Senator Ingalls interrupted her at this point asking incredulously: “We can’t allow parents to teach our kids not to be racist ? It’s on the schools…?” Ingalls trailed off into the echoing of the space.
Samantha Stevens continued:
“It’s everyone’s responsibility to teach this community about racism and its’
effects. And we will continue to see students from the North Country Supervisory Union who refuse to shake the hands of black students who come from other community schools. We will continue to have our own students experience a lack of representation in their reading materials. We will continue to have students who hear language from their friends that denies their humanity if we do not take an active stance in our schools against racism. And we will continue to do that work because we know that our community respects and believes that that is important regardless of the presence of this body.
The further comments went from bad to worse with only a few comments worth repeating. One parent bitterly complained about a Muslim student who was given a space to pray in school. There were many defensive complaints from people who had to state how they were not racist. Almost out of nowhere and out of context Representative Brian Smith from Derby stated that he was “proud to be white”. Rep Smith is a sponsor of a bill that would prevent flags other than a few official flags from being flown at schools. This would stop schools from displaying BLM or gay pride flags. There were a number of well thought out comments from North Country Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle who turned the table on the presenters asking: “Do you believe it’s important for us to teach McCarthyism?”.
Many of these anti-CRT “trainings” are sponsored and promoted by a group called “Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism” or FAIR. To understand FAIR we need to ask the question “Who is Bion Bartening ?”.
Before founding the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, Bartening’s LinkedIn and other business listings show him as having high level jobs at American Express, Booze Allen Hamilton and a number of enterprises some of which he may have developed. He claims to be of mixed Jewish, Yaqui and Mexican origin. He loudly proclaims that he is married to a Jewish person who left the Soviet Union as a refugee. There are property listings for Bion Bartening in Manhattan for 2 adjacent properties: One worth nearly 1.9 Million Dollars and one worth a bit over 900 Thousand dollars. There may also be a house in the Hamptons, a very wealthy community on the Atlantic shore of Northern Long Island. He claims to have an affinity for Martin Luther King, however when his kids, who were attending the $54,000 per year Dalton School, were asked to do exercises on Ally-ship rather than patriotic rituals like the pledge of allegiance, Bartening pitched a fit and pulled them out of the school.
Bartening says his identity was not based on race and that there was no place in this exercise for him or his kids. At this point he co-founded the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. What we see is a wealthy, highly-privileged individual who, while not white himself, resists efforts that would challenge the privileged millieu in which he lives and works.
Ostensibly FAIR claims to be a “pro-human group”, but their main activity appears to be combatting any anti-racist training that they falsely label as “critical race theory”. According to their Koch-connected employee, Eugene Volokh, they are looking for opportunities to engage in litigation to stop what they feel is enforced speech and censorship in anti-racist training. Their catch-phrase seems to be looking for any program promoting equity.
An analysis of the “board of advisors” of FAIR shows a deep skew towards the right and even far right. Koch employees are amply represented, as are people who contribute to Quillette, a publication known for platforming racist “race
realism” , far right thinkers and anti-trans bigots. Even for an organization of this type transphobes seem to be over represented. Perhaps that is a sign of things to come with this organization.
IRS Form 990’s are not available as the organization is less than 1 year old and has not needed to file, but given the preponderance of Koch-connected people on it’s board it is an easy jump to assume that Koch is the source of
some of the funding. At the present time, FAIR is using United Charities as a fiscal sponsor.
While many of the people involved with FAIR or Quillette present themselves as being liberal, open minded free speech supporters one does not have to scratch very deeply to find that they are deeply hostile of any movement to
change the status quo. They tend to be highly supportive of corporate interests and also tend to deny the existence of structural racism. As described in the website, pinkerite.com, they can be best described as ‘Status Quo Warriors’ (SQWs) or even ‘White Status Quo Warriors’. Their ranks are filled with people from evolutionary psychology. The nutshell definition of evolutionary psychology from Wikipedia is as follows. “Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological structure from a modern evolutionary perspective.” The problem with evolutionary psychology is that many in the field use the discipline to justify social hierarchies and reactionary political positions saying it evolved for some reason based on the environment and human biology.
Some of the SQW’s have even been published in the highly racist publication “American Renaissance”. The rhetorical strategy of these groups tends to be the introduction of bigoted themes as “debate” or open minded “discussion”. This is done almost entirely in bad faith. The presentation in Island Pond was promoted as “informational only” when the purpose was to strongly promote an anti-CRT agenda. When encountering this group extreme caution is warranted as they are: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”. They claim to have affinity with black civil rights leaders of the past, while doing their best to undermine efforts to stop the structural racism that is behind prisons full of Black People, police
killings of minorities, and even efforts to educate children on the realities of racism.