Chris Rufo gave a lecture on
com­bating identity pol­itics in
American life.
Andrew Dixon | Collegian

Chris Rufo is a jour­nalist, film director, and political activist. He is a con­tributing editor at City Journal, a director of the Center on Wealth & Poverty at the Dis­covery Institute, a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute, and a Vis­iting Fellow at the Her­itage Foun­dation. In Sep­tember, he helped the Trump Admin­is­tration draft an exec­utive order banning critical race theory in gov­ernment diversity training. Vic­toria Mar­shall sat down with Rufo to discuss his work. 

How did you get involved in exposing critical race theory?

It all started by accident. I got an anonymous tip that the city of Seattle — where I was living at the time — had been con­ducting “inter­nalized white supremacy trainings” through their Office of Civil Rights. This tip piqued my interest. So, I filed a public records request and then forgot about it. But about two and a half months later, I got  an email from the city of Seattle Office of Civil Rights, responding to my records request with a PDF of all of their trainings on inter­nalized white supe­ri­ority and whiteness. And reading the PDF, my jaw hit the floor, and I realized that I had, in a way, hit gold. I mean, I knew imme­di­ately that this story was going to be explosive. At that time, I had no idea how explosive it would truly be and that it would lead me in a whole new direction in my reporting and intel­lectual work. It’s been a great journey of dis­covery: learning about the ide­ology, learning about the history of it, doing the field work, reporting, running public records requests, and just digging up the truth on all of these programs.

How would you define and describe your movement? Now it’s not just you writing exposés about dif­ferent school dis­tricts and gov­ern­ments across the country; rather you have a whole team of people around you. 

It’s a dis­sident movement. It’s a coun­ter­cul­tural movement. It’s rock and roll. And the team that we’ve put together is loose, it’s decen­tralized, it’s ready to adapt at any moment. And we are just running white hot, with stories, with leg­is­lation, with law­suits, all in this really beau­tiful, organic movement that’s involving people who aren’t tra­di­tional — reporters and attorneys and political oper­ators who really believe in this fight — and who want to win. That is really what dif­fer­en­tiates what we’re doing, from what so many other groups are doing. We’re playing to win. And we know what victory looks like, and we are not going to stop until we achieve it. And we’re having a lot of fun. And I think that optimism and excitement and sense of fun is infec­tious for people.

So what is the alter­native to critical race theory?

America. That’s it. It’s really not com­pli­cated. It’s not that we need to come up with an alter­native theory that is better than critical race theory. We’re not trying to make a better auto­mobile or, you know, develop a toaster with more slots in it. The alter­native to critical race theory is the American ideal. This is some­thing I’ve seen over and over in my reporting where immi­grants from for­merly total­i­tarian regimes — from the Soviet Union, from Com­munist China, from com­munist Cuba, from theo­cratic Iran — they’ve told me that they are fighting against critical race theory because it reminds them of the total­i­tarian regimes that they escaped, and that it vio­lates their deepest beliefs in what America is and should be. I think their tes­timony is exactly right, and I grew up here. So I think some­times people who grew up here take for granted how excep­tional and extra­or­dinary the American system is, and some­times we don’t even con­cep­tu­alize that there are American ideals because they are back­ground. But in talking with these immi­grants, it brings a new freshness and also it shows that critical race theory is just microwaved, reheated Marxism and I don’t like Marxism. 

How much did your fol­lowing grow after the death of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement?

All this stuff just exploded at the same time — critical race theory and Black Lives Matter and then what some people call anti-wok­eness. They’re all part of this organism. They’re all responding and reacting to each other. And George Floyd was like a lit match into gasoline. It just took all of this latent energy and latent desire from all these dif­ferent fac­tions and pushed it to the limit, and it played into the left’s nar­rative con­struction about white supremacy, sys­temic racism, and police bru­tality. Then the COVID-19 lock­downs increased the pressure on everybody in America. There was also a sense that things were spi­raling out of control and con­ser­v­a­tives were looking at all these trends and saying, “nobody is here to defend us.” Because the tra­di­tional con­ser­v­ative insti­tu­tions weren’t speaking to any of these issues per­sua­sively. And it created this gap, this void, where people were calling out for new voices and new ideas and new defenses — a new lan­guage. It emerged in strange places. I mean, I’m not even a lifelong con­ser­v­ative. James Lindsay is a center-left liberal. Coleman Hughes, I don’t know what he is, he’s some­where in the center. Yet, somehow they’ve been embraced. We’ve all been embraced by con­ser­v­a­tives who realize that the old defenses and the old struc­tures were no longer pro­tecting their values. And that’s that’s what we’re trying to do.

Where does the con­ser­v­ative movement go from here?

There’s a sea of change hap­pening right now, among con­ser­v­a­tives, among estab­lishment orga­ni­za­tions, and, gen­er­a­tionally, among baby boomers. Trump smashed Reagan orthodoxy. And now that Trump is gone, people are real­izing that you can’t put back together the thing that was broken. There’s going to be a major restruc­turing of the con­ser­v­ative movement both intel­lec­tually and polit­i­cally. And I think that the problems we faced in the 1980s were very dif­ferent. We had eco­nomic problems, pri­marily. Today, we have cul­tural problems, pri­marily. A new con­ser­v­ative movement would orient itself toward a series of cul­tural values, present itself as a defense of those values on behalf of the majority of Amer­icans, and then would operate as a counter-rev­o­lution against the rev­o­lution of the state that is being led by pro­gres­sives, neo-Marxists, and critical race the­o­rists. And it’s going to be an uncom­fortable evo­lution for con­ser­v­a­tives, because the country club, chamber-of-com­merce con­ser­v­a­tives of 50 years ago are no longer in charge. But they operate under the illusion that they’re still running the insti­tu­tions of this country. For the first time, I think they’re starting to feel that they aren’t anymore. They’re starting to realize that the insti­tu­tions they inherited are no longer in their cul­tural domain. Con­ser­v­a­tives need to shift from a tem­pera­men­tally con­ser­v­ative and more estab­lishment-ori­ented and business-ori­ented movement to a cul­turally-ori­ented and people-ori­ented movement. Ulti­mately, we’re here to defend and protect and inspire people. And that’s some­thing that has been lost, in my view, and has to be recaptured.